Wednesday, November 23, 2005

This Stuffing--I Mean Dressing--Looks Awesome!

I've been enjoying Myfanwy Collins' blog. Not only is she a super-talented writer and perceptive reader, but she can cook a mean feast. She's posting the whole Thanksgiving project, with pictures, from her pre-prepped dressing (not stuffing, since it's not in the bird), to the turkey soup afterward. Enjoy vicariously with me. Scroll down to see her super-cute dog.

Don't Submit Until Dec 4, I've Been Told

Last night at my writer's class, another student advised not to submit any stories anywhere until December 4, because Mercury has been in retrograde since mid-November. Mercury takes no mercy, I hear, on communications, travel, systems, and logistics. So if you submit work, it will either get lost or misunderstood.

I don't hold much stock in astrology, given that I share a birthday with Vladimir Putin and Ollie North, and I'd like to think I share nothing more with those individuals. But evidence of Mercury in retrograde has been abundant this week. And it's been pushing my buttons. A sample:

1. My day job has been Sisyphusian and ridiculous. I've been trying to facilitate a simple data request with a counterparty, and have been unable to do so effectively, nor to understand their product explanations. It has involved long conference calls with lots of friendly and professional but also exasperated parties, email waylaid in spam folders, and me trying to translate traderspeak into programmerspeak, which is usually my forte. So I show no progress whatsoever, while my bosses are away this week, and when the cat's away, dammit, this mouse likes to catch up. Some traction, but not much. I ended up crying into my keyboard Monday. What a pathetic Libra careerwoman I make!

2. Wilbur needs a prescription, and my hubby could not find parking in Park Slope, a rather oxymoronically-named hood, for 45 minutes. Finally parks, hikes, goes inside, and the scrips promised ready on the phone aren't all there. So I confirm readiness again on the phone, go in myself, and they've filled it with something else. Maybe Friday?

(I interject: I don't blame people at the vet's office. I don't blame the contacts at work. This is all miscommunication, which I thought was my fault, but now I blame Mercury. )

3. Hubby had a 4-hour layover in Philly on Saturday, so we said ha! I'll drive down to meet him instead of the Laguardia pickup. Staten Island alone took 4 hours to cross (2 each way), prompting this control freak to bang her hand uselessly on the steering wheel.

(Interject: I kind of blame Staten Island. I know, that's prejudiced.)

4. Tons of little crap. Numerous work problems--upload/download failures, communication snafus, and this is with people I know well and love. My subway rerouted to from East Side to West. Uploading homework to my work machine, only to find it corrupted on the other end, so I go to class empty-handed. (See what I get for printing at work? Bad girl.) appears to be down (I won't bother linking for obvious reasons). Even the daffodils in the garden are confused--why are they sprouting in November? No joke.

Anyone else completely rattled and overwhelmed with trivial and/or bourgeouis difficulties this week, like traffic? It's not your fault! We have common enemy: the planet Mercury! And as I go into Turkey Day, I remind myself there's plenty to be thankful for:

1. I have a great damn job, where my paychecks don't bounce, and they even buy me lunch.

2. Wilbur's skin problem has been biopsied and diagnosed as an allergy, not a serious disease.

3. Most important: my sweet, smart, funny husband got back from Europe in one piece. And I should quit taking him for granted. Baby, I love you!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Literary Classics Condensed to Text Message

A new study aid in the UK condenses Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. into phone text messages. Wow!

Quiz, what novel is this:


Can I pay them to do this for my bloated novel? I need a new tagline.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

Paris is More Than Just Burning

It's not just charred cars, and angry "immigrants," and racist cops and policymakers. Along with the unrest comes the art of a polyglot culture, and the music is getting really interesting. Let's honor the voices coming out of that multicultural nation.

In my opinion, for example, today's European hip-hop is leaving American mainstream hip-hop in the dust. Just listen to Excuse My French, a radio program out of Brighton, England, highlighting some cutting-edge stuff coming out of France.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Finally Read the Smiley Book

After a couple weeks on a NYPL wait list, I finally got my hands on Jane Smiley's 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE NOVEL, and I'll barely finish it in time to return it. It's big, it's dense, and it's been worth every second of my time. And I can't just renew it, it's a hot ticket item in our burg. (Question, are all the others on the waiting list writers too? Just how many of us are there?)

I'm buying it when it comes out in paperback, because it's a great reference book for any writer's shelf. Smiley read 100 novels, from THE TALE OF GENJI to WHITE TEETH, and recaps each in the 300-page 13th chapter of the 570-page book. While Smiley's recaps do fit the novels into a historical continuum, they are not academic. They are experiential, and come from a love of reading.

Smiley's list goes beyond the canon of American literary education, and she's got me jazzed to read a few older works I hadn't heard of before: THE HEPTAMERON, by Marguerite de Navarre; ZENO'S CONSCIENCE by Italo Svevo; KRISTEN LAVRANSDATTER, by Sigrid Undset. (All of these happen to be works in translation, and Smiley provides info on the edition of each novel she read.) I'm also inspired to read some more familiar stuff I never got around to: Proust's 7-volume quasi memoir (Smiley calls his narrator a "kindly narcissist"), and Forster's A PASSAGE TO INDIA, which has themes of particular interest in contemporary times, with the legacy of colonialism still playing out in our daily lives.

Her recaps are daring too. I nearly gasped when I read her suggestion that THE GREAT GATSBY should have been 100 pages longer, that it suffers from the shallow-character problem shared by many writers in their twenties. After so many years of living in the standard assumption that GATSBY is the pinnacle of American literary achievement, it was refreshing to hear this opinion, and in retrospect, it rings true to me.

The first 12 chapters of Smiley's book are thematic ruminations on the novel and its evolution. She defines the novel as a "lengthy prose narrative with a protagonist," which is the bare skeleton of this big analysis. One of the most interesting themes that she returns to repeatedly in the first 12 chapters is women and marriage, or the big question: can a woman act on her desires and still be virtuous?

My favorite of the thematic chapters is a case study of her writing process for GOOD FAITH. In a way, the relationship between a writer and her work is like romantic love: sometimes it's a honeymoon, sometimes it's a matter of pragmatism and/or habit. GOOD FAITH wasn't one of her honeymoon books, and since I'm in the process of revising a novel I kind of can't stand, this chapter comes at a very good time for me. Smiley advises:

If the novelist especially likes a book or feels a kinship to it, his attachments blind him to the independence of the novel and make him feel that his views about the novel are more primary or more important than other readers' views. In fact, they are only different. When I published a novel that I was satisfied with but did not like, I saw that no novel can help communicating many things to every reader, and that the novelist's ideas about what is being communicated are as valid as any reader's ideas, but no more so.

Thanks, Ms. Smiley, for helping me over this hump. And reminding me that I don't have to be on a honeymoon with this darn writing project every second of the day. That it may still have value, even though it's hard to see through the haze between me and my screen. And that I don't have to be in charge of what that value is. I only have to write the story.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you are working on a novel. Makes me realize how much the workshop system is skewed to short stories, which is a little strange given the appetite of most of the reading public for longer works. It's helpful to focus on "what is a novel" for 570 pages, to remind myself that everything can't be a honed, compact nugget. Some things need to spread out and breathe. And some writing projects take years, not months.

P.S. Check out Smiley's radio interview with Michael Silverblatt...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New Uke Stokedness.

Here's my cute husband holding my new uke, which is so cool I won't even have to know how to play it. Just plug it in, throw some distortion on, and stand there with a sustained chord, and the audience will be right there with me!

OK, so gimmicks like that don't last. Time to start practicing and getting used to this thing. It's a real different feel from the acoustic uke, but now I can do more with pulling-off/hammering on the fretboard, so possibilities are endless. It doesn't really sound like a uke, and not really an electric guitar either. Closest thing maybe is an electric mandolin (which of course does not sound like a mandolin).

I'm researching MP3 hosts so I can share some songs with y'all. Host recommendations welcome. Especially free ones.

Willie had to check it out too. "Woof!" Translation: "My dog has fleas!"

Friday, November 04, 2005

New Ukulele On Its Way! Celebrating.

After being held up at the manufacturer for a month, my new birthday uke has been shipped from Lansing, Michigan. Hooray!

(I'll save pics for when it arrives.)

In the meantime, enjoy with me these episodes of Midnight Ukulele Disco.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Mucho Literary Weekend, November 5 & 6!

Care to join me on any of these NYC literary excursions? It's a conflagration of interesting readers. I'm going to both of these, maybe I'll see you there. I'll probably be the one with the Hello Kitty accessories and/or loud crowd.

Sat. November 5 - 6:00PM

Poet & playwright NATHALIE HANDAL, author of The Lives of Rain and The Neverfield

SHOLEH WOLPE, poet and author of The Scar Saloon

LAILA LALAMI, author of Hope and other Dangerous Pursuits and the popular blog Moorishgirl

Poet, educator, & activist MATTHEW SHENODA, author of Somewhere Else

Host: Nada Taib
Cornelia St. Cafe
29 Cornelia St.
Cover $8 (includes one house drink)

November 6th - 7p.m.

LISA SELIN DAVIS, author of the novel Belly

ANDY HORWITZ, professional Potty Mouth and author of groovy blog Andy's Chest

CHRISTINE HAMM, poet who grows literary culture in a milk carton

TSAURAH LITZKY, icon of literary erotica

Curated and Hosted by Cheryl B., brilliant memoirist & keeper of The B List.

Lucky 13 Saloon
273 13th St. (5th Ave.)
Park Slope, Brooklyn

A Cure for My-People-Are-At-Work Blues?

Willie, my guest blogger, says: "I miss my people! This cat (Angus, see behind) is only interested in playing with string! Maybe I'll login to DogCatRadio for some upbeat pop music and barking interludes!"