Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shopping for very large metal things

Yesterday my husband and I strolled up Broadway on a rather warm foggy evening and window shopped for big machines. We discovered that a really good gas range costs upwards of a thousand dollars for a 24 inch wide model. Those fancy ones have easy clean burner tops, sturdy knobs and oven doors that open with a satisfying well balanced thunk. The cheap one we had installed after the fire in our building, is working but the handles are smashed, the top is chipped--it now looks like it is 40 rather than 7 years old--and the oven itself is temperature iffy. Ugh. But a thousand bucks to cook lasagna? When the hotbox we have works? Gonna wait.

The under the sink dishwasher is very expensive to replace. We went through heck trying to get GE to fix the one we have. They sent a guy, whose visit cost half the price of a new dishwasher, he said we needed a new part for the pump because a piece of glass had torn the seal. It worked in a leaky but not pouring sort of way. He would come back once the part was sent. Then three times running GE sent us a new fridge light. We could not get the part we needed to fix the pump. Phone calls were useless, they just sent the light bulb again saying this was the part the service guy had asked for. They offered to send another service guy to look at things for half the cost of a new dishwasher... so we could not ever get it resolved. We have been without a dishwasher for two years. The only under the sink dishwasher available in the city is, you got it, the same GE model. The cost of a new one, delivery and hook up is about a thousand dollars. Or we hand wash. But wouldn't fixing the one we have be the most economical approach? Apparently GE won't service us ever again if we don't use their crack team... And we know how that worked out. A plumber is our only hope. For non DUI types like myself, ignoring the broken space hog under the sink has been the easiest thing. But no more, my new years resolution, fixed dishwasher or new storage space!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Craft time

This afternoon my daughter Caitlin and one of her high school friends (who now goes to RISD) sat at our table beading necklaces and earrings, my other daughter Natalie sat next to me on the couch cross stitching a leaf, I enjoyed their life, college, and craft chatter and felt the urge to make something, so Natalie requested a hot water bottle (crocheted) cover in her favorite colors.
"What about granny square variations?" I asked, pulling orange and red skeins out of one of my many craft project boxes.
"That sounds great ma."
I am remembering that I used to know tricksy moves like the "Front Post Double Crochet"and now have to look at photographs with detailed instructions in order to make these stitches.

It feels so good to make something that only has to be functional and pretty. I don't have to worry if I've inadvertently picked up some great poet's imagery, I don't have to worry that I've swiped a Chip Kidd or Honi Werner cover flavor, I don't ever have to ask if my sock monkey or oven mitt is ready for a professional hall of fame. Nope, pretty and functional, which is about all I could ask for the holiday season playing out here at home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

wish list for 2008

For all of you muses looking to give me a last minute gift, here it is, my wish list!

In no particular order I would like:

1. more time in the day, especially for seeing friends.
2. a heaping sack of self discipline.
3. a laurel wreath, like the singing bass, that I can place on my brow and it will belt out "you were a finalist, even if you didn't win, in the Pushcart Prize."
4. a green and orange parrot, but not before my cat departs for the afterlife.
5. a stay at Yaddo or any of the other writer's retreats.
6. an osmotic transformation whereby I wake up knowing how to write in form and rhyme and this doesn't come at the expense of my immortal soul or require me to avoid sunlight because I no longer cast a shadow.
7. a vacation in Nice.
8. a chance to chew and taste all the great meals I see on the cooking channel.
9. the benefits of exercise without having to actually do it.
10. renewed faith in the U.S. government. Oh yeah, peace on earth and a balanced budget.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Speaking in verse

So just how hard is it to make people talk in meter and rhyme? If you are Shakespeare, apparently not that hard. If you are me, daunting.

And I want to create an entire book of poetry with people talking this way. I'm insane. I need to be infused with a little Alexander Pope, a dash of Dante, some... wait! I want people to be talking like it is 2009ish.

Bad extemporaneous example:

Ding-dong. "Hello?" I look through the peep hole,
do I know this woman in the blue stole?
"Hi there, come to our holiday party
we're starting tomorrow at six thirty."
I open my door a little wider
my dog charges out and tries to bite her...

Maybe aa bb rhyme a little too Seuss? My meter sucks. Heroic couplets a fools quest? All end stopped boredom. Just hand me that glass of wine and I'll drown my ambitions. Or does this call for some bracing up with the Norton Anthology? It's fat enough to whack my brain with. Jim would tell me near rhyme is a desecration, but my muse allows it. Free verse isn't called free for nothing, it is easier! I'll go crawl under that excuse known as work deadlines as I mull, brew, and whine this one over.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

When museums are the messenger and art and niceness heals

I went with my old friend Brooke Richardson, visiting from Seattle, to the Climate Change exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. Humanity's impending doom was presented in well designed videos, maps, exhibits, and interactive kiosks. We were exhorted to change our ways. I grew increasingly depressed and by the time we got to the ruin of the oceans I was muttering it was high time a new plague, asteroid hit, World War, or erupting caldera came along and reduced population. No, no, I said to myself, no this isn't the answer. No mass deaths, no genocide. What about voluntary sterilization programs, education, green technology, and planned parenthood--China style? It'll help. Mostly I think humanity is like the Norway rat, we leap ship and find an island, eat everything in sight, turn it into a wasteland of our waste, and once it is barren we swim to another site to populate, pillage, and all too often perish in as our colony collapses. On and on and on. How do you change the essential selfishness of the human animal? Me me me. The Bush years were all about denial and selfishness. Then bridges collapse, reputations, and economies; lies and pretense make for weak infrastructure.

Even if we make energy efficient machines and dwellings, cut our consumption of energy in half, what happens when the world's population doubles again in 30 or less years? Half as much energy with twice as many people, equals same problem. How do we get the Christians and Muslims and others to agree to small families? Their religions generally say beget and beget. Supposedly we are rational cooperative beings, building temples, universities, bridges, ships, airplanes and space stations. Not to mention nations. And smart, we build medicines, machines, and ideas and ideals--like justice systems and operating systems. But we are also very very short sighted. Look at the rat. Humans developed an instinctive aversion to them for good reason--they do carry plague and generally chew things to bits. Maybe the environment will likewise develop an anti-human response, at some point the colony poisons itself and nature adjusts...

So to recover from the gloom, Brooke and I spent a giddy half hour holiday shopping in the museum's delightful gift shop. He is looking for a cool snow globe. And it was snowing outside. Seattle isn't known for snow...

I went to Barnes & Noble and bought myself a book on how to write and draw a graphic novel. This is how I made the selection. In the graphic novel how-to section, on the floor, sat a collection of awkward young black clad people with sketch books. They all had that social introvert hunch of shoulder. Ah-hah, I thought to myself, experts. "Excuse me. What book would you recommend for someone like me, starting out with this?" To her credit, the young woman with a ring in her lip didn't give me a scoffing what is granny doing in my world look. She told me one of her teachers had recommended one, and it was very good, she searched the shelves but didn't find it. I thanked her and wandered to the new books section. And there was a 15 week course in book form on comics/graphic novel/manga: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by Abel and Madden (it is to graphic novels what Uri Shulevitz's great how-to Writing with Pictures is to writing and illustrating picture books). I flipped it, looked just right, went back to my expert, held it up, said "is this it?" and she nodded vigorously. "And, by the way," she told me, "get a sketch book that flips open at the top, not the side." I wished her well and went to the cash registers.

Once I had my turn to pay the cashier, who looked delicate and strong like a ballerina, she picked up the book and said, "Oh! this book is good. My sister does this, I am so proud of her." And we had a nice chat about it. She even gave me a link to her sister's work.

I staggered through the slush and sleet to a bus stop. A woman soon joined me. We waited. We waited some more. "Do you know if the subway is running?" I asked. "No, there's a fire at 96th that's why I'm here." We waited some more. "I'm going to hail a cab I'll give you a ride if you are no further than 109th." She looked at me dubiously, sized me up. I didn't look like a serial killer I guess. Then by great good luck someone exited a cab a block away and I was able to flag it down. On our trip up we discovered we had the same landlord and managing agent. It was wonderful to discuss in depth our feelings about their taste and ethics. At her stop I told her she didn't owe me any money because I would have hailed the cab anyway. It just felt good to be nice to someone after wishing mass death and destruction on the human race.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Picture book hunger & holiday book gift round up

I regularly scout the shelves at our local children's book store, the most enticing if blandly named Bank Street Bookstore. The Bank Street school used to be downtown, Bank Street, but has been many years up here off Broadway and 112th. The interior is a small well lit two flights of den, books to the ceiling, with just enough puppets, puzzles, and kaleidoscopes to satisfy anyone looking for gifts.

I love kids books, picture, chapter, novel and novelty. I read more YA books than any serious poet should admit to. But they are some of the best written novels that just happen to be about coming of age. No room for excess blather. No chance they can forget about plot. No minimalist posing. Refreshing dynamic writing in so many of them compared to the adult fiction section. And picture books, here is where so many talented illustrators and writers turn for lush visuals and concise verbals. Yum. And chapter books, who said brevity can't increase levity? It does, and since potty humor makes me laugh if I can read it aloud to kids, so many good ones to choose from. Or heartwarming. Or detective stories...

For instance some geniuses turned Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola, into an ingenious pop-up. My kids loved this story when they were small. Here: Brava, Strega Nona!: A Heartwarming Pop-Up Book by Tomie dePaola, Robert Sabuda, and Matthew Reinhart.

I loved Neil Gaiman's latest novel The Graveyard Book, an homage to Kipling's two Jungle Books, told with his delightful mix of creepy-crawly and heart-warming. He writes so well too, from a true love of words to mastery of plot. He pulls the reader in with his distinctive imagination, humor, horror, hope, and with a restraint I tend to think of as English. Orphaned boy protected from killer and raised in local graveyard by ghosts and others. My daughter Natalie started reading my signed copy and I didn't want her to take it away to college where it might get dinged up. I am thinking of getting her her own copy. Perfect gift.

I keep my eye out for anything new by Diana Wynne Jones a YA fantasy writer who deserves to be as famous as J.K. Rowling but mysteriously isn't. She romps through time and space with a cast of kids and young adults that are both real in their feelings and surreal in their abilities. She is rather like the Blake Edwards of fantasy plots as many of her novels end in a big scene of satisfying mass chaos where everything somehow ends up all right. One of her novels was made into an animated Japanese movie,
Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl's Moving Castle. I love her writing, the Crestomanci series, and one stand alone, Dogsbody.

But as I prowled Bank Street I was also looking for favorite illustrator/authors in picture books. There was no new book by the fantastic David Weisner who creates wordless adventures using meticulous and breath taking water color illustrations. His last one, Flotsam, is my all time favorite gift. A boy finds a camera on the beach, it contains photos of fantastic places each irrefutably taken with this same camera as each is a picture within a picture. There would be a thousand and one ways to read through this book. It could put finding Waldo to shame. So David, where is your next book? I have many nieces and nephews. Ahem.

I did find a new book illustrated by Ed Young, Wabi Sabi, who always does lovely books with a zennish quality. And a new retelling of The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry has been nicely illustrated by P.J. Lynch but it is in that somewhat amber hue that I get a bit tired of, my memories of the past don't come in sepia tone, why should time periods be done this way? Even so, it is lovely, lovely.

Ah, I could go on and on. And when I have time I'll add more.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I met a parrot

I don't know horse.
I don't know bird.
I know a lot of cat and some dog.

Today some of that changed. Birdwise. Well one in particular, a green and orange conure parrot that sat on my lap as Sandy McIntosh and I discussed the design of the next Marsh Hawk Press book catalog. Pixie kindly groomed my hands and asked most politely for me to pet the back of his head and under his wings. We danced together, we clicked at each other. Really, it was like we were old friends by the end of the meeting.

Damn but parrots are smart. Sandy showed me the parrot's toy bag filled with chew toys. The pillows he likes to hide under, the ladder he proudly struts to his home, where the door is always open. On the roof of his home he nibbles delicately from a dish of fresh fruit and eyes me one side of his head at a time.

Sandy said he once accidentally put a cup of coffee on the top of the cage. Pixie knocked it to the floor. Here is someone who knows what is his and demands respect. I can understand that. Violators will be hurled at their own expense.

I have learned that parrot tongues are far softer than their beaks. That the feathers are not as soft as a cat's belly fur but far softer than the coat of a wire haired dog. That they can bite through chicken bones and this one will live to 40 or more. That a world of personality can fit into 4 ounces of bird.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Guys and Dolls and New York at Night

So. Watched half of Guys and Dolls tonight and there was Marlon Brando, on a set that was perfectly suspended between reality and fantasy, making his observation that you can actually hear footsteps at night in Manhattan, the only time it is quiet enough to hear them. Now, for instance, with only a few cars passing by, it would be possible to hear the tread of the hungry acorn-deprived squirrel if it came back to haunt my window. I could hear a fir tree brushing the bricks if it was defenstrated by a cat trying to sharpen its claws. I could hear leathery wings flapping if vampires landed on my fire escape.

My dog is noisily licking the inside of her mouth for lingering flavors. With her vastly superior nose, even the littlest shred of dinner must deliver a bouquet of scent memories.

No ghouls, no fanged or bushy tailed creatures of the night, no Fosse inspired break dancers tapping and spinning on the pavement. The lights on Broadway go green, go red. An occasional person heads home from the bar or the all night shops. I can hear individual cars gear for the final incline over this hill which has enough colleges at the top to form a brick crown. Footsteps? Tires on damp tar. With a whoosh, heading north past me and my muzzy brain.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New depression era poetry

Should I write poems that are scant in length to save nouns?
Can we legislate for verbs that are direct and transformative?
What about taxing euphemisms and cliches? They're at least as bad for your verse as diet cola.
Isn't it time to legislate against selfish reasoning and specious conclusions?

Maybe the new old depression will bring a revival of new old timey forms. A surge of limericks, drinking songs, and heroic couplets could be just around the corner. Anything is possible. It's up to us to boldly claim this new era. Maybe, even, odes of celebration and thanks at some point. Here's hoping.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

When antibiotics are a freelancer's best friend

After a week of low fever, sinus infection, coughing, snoring, aches, gravel voice, zombie brain, etc. I finally called the doctor and got a prescription. Various well-meaning friends advised against taking the antibiotics, they said it is probably a virus and if I take the meds I'll be directly increasing humanity's risk of developing drug-resistant super-bugs. Beware. Bewise.

My friend Deborah scoffed, "this is bacterial, take the drugs, it worked for me." Since I think I may have caught this from her at our last writer's workshop, she should know. And she did.

24 hours ago I took the first pill. My nose is clear, I'm no longer coughing, and I don't need to sleep 18 hours a day. Wow. It works. Yes, the meds make me a bit pale and aren't friendly to the bacteria farm known as my guts, but for the first time in a week, the main thing between my ears isn't a sneeze. What will I fill my head with now?

The winter issue of Alimentum arrived, looking very nice and holidayish. I plan to read it. Setting & designing the journal only gives me an introductory whiff of narrative. Now I get the full meal.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hand me down dress on dress me up daughter

Here's a photo of my daughter Natalie in the dress I loaned her for the Miss New York Pageant. All I can say is it used to fit me once too but ankle length...

Weddings and other madeleines

I've had two and as of tomorrow, my ex will have caught up with me. It is odd to think the man I was once married to is getting married to someone else, but I also think it is odd that I used to speak with a Louisiana drawl. Time and place... My former accent and marriage are long behind me but I remember much that was good, I wish him and his bride all the best.

I was playing one of the records my mother used to love. One piece in particular brought me right back to our living room in West Hartford, Connecticut. There she was, writing poems or grading papers at her roll top desk--cigarette carbonizing in the corner of her mouth, I'm sprawled on the mid-century modern olive green couch rereading Joan Aiken and noisily sucking on Necco wafers, it's just a guess that Franz Liszt didn't have this scene in mind when he wrote the Hungarian Rhapsody #6 in D flat. Last night I dreamed about a magical skinny dipping college night, innocent and freeing. I remembered I'd had to take my glasses off before I felt brave enough to take off my clothes, reasoning if I couldn't see anyone I would be less embarassed. And it was so. In the dream the green perfume of late spring hovered over the water. I'd forgotten that detail... But who is to say what strain of music, what scent of soup, what remembered colors gently shake our hearts and make us smile a little, cry a little.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Labyrinthian Plotting Disease

Speaking of mazes, people assume I must be a rabid Heroes fan, it looks like a graphic novel come to life on TV with fantasy and science-fiction style struggles, historical romping, humor, and pop culture wars, all good stuff. But I can't stand the overly complex increasingly fractal plotting. This is what ruined Lost for me. In the end, the true villains become the show's writers, since they seem to flip a coin weekly to decide who looks good and who looks bad. Good, Bad, Goo, Bah. Seriously, most of the people doing evil in the real world think they are the good guys, and this show is able to mostly get that right, but the narrative itself is the victim. So those of you keeping score cards, maps, and other mnemonics to keep the plot from escaping you, have fun. I'll be rereading Dickens and tuning into Dr. Who.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pithy & Company

I grabbed The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks by our poet laureate Charles Simic from the new shelf at the public library. I love having bite sized smarticisms. I pop them in my brain as I take the subway or wait on line to buy Dayquil. Some make me laugh. Many make me think. He takes on poetry, history, nationalism, insomnia, jazz, and love, to name a few. I feel inspired to gather together my own pronouncements and aphorisms, dress them up in some nice nouns and sit them in their appropriate classrooms...but could I fill an entire book and keep it this refreshing, sage, and funny? No way! Simic's collection makes a good companion.

A short sampling of Simic:

Imagism is realism minus the moral. If Imagist poems were didactic, people would find them more acceptable.

Religion: Turning the mystery of Being into a figure who resembles our grandfather sitting on the potty.

Orphan factories and scapegoat farms are the Balkans' chief economy.

Poetry like the movies worries about sequencing, framing, montage, and cutting.

When even evil squirrels want to watch me work

Do you envy the life of a freelancer? If I told you I often work on the couch, in my jammies, with the cat on my left, dog on my right, and laptop claiming the lap, would you sigh and say, hey that's the life for me? Apparently you wouldn't be the only one to feel this way. Today I looked up and found I had an audience of a squirrel who was pawing the window and looking in with longing. It tapped the glass and gave it's best Disneyesque head tilt and tail curl. Tap tap. Scrape. Paw sliding slowly down to sill. But I am no fool. First of all, it is unbelievably boring to watch me work. I sit and sniff and scowl at the laptop for hours, only my fingers moving. It puts the pets to sleep. It puts husband to sleep. Secondly, what sane prey animal wants to attract the attention of a CAT and a DOG? Both pets gathered at the window and made their species appropriate noises. It didn't back away. Clearly this winsome thing was rabid or worse, possessed. I will assume the latter. Given the things I've been hearing on the news it wouldn't surprise me to find demon rodents are marching across the nation and infecting people with the urge to offer fat-cat bail-outs and for-sale-senate seats. I wasn't fooled by the winks. All the crazy hell spawn rodents can cha-cha on my fire escape all they want. I kept the window shut. None of that for me. I'm safe, for now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Alimentum wins again

The magazine has won again! The design talents of Peter Selgin and myself are to get laurels, certificates, and a plate of canapes!

The 2009 New York Book Show Committee:

Congratulations! It is our pleasure to inform you that your entry: ALIMENTUM: THE LITERATURE OF FOOD, in the category of General Trade/Quality Paperback Series, has won an award in the 2009 New York Book Show.

And speaking of design, I am struggling to learn Dreamweaver CS4. In my new freelance life I am designing websites, something I last did with any regularity in the late 90s at MTV Networks. With one of my big clients I only have to do the design in photoshop and a team of web builders takes my design file and cuts it up into a live functioning website, building all the programs that run the thing invisibly from a server somewhere. But for smaller clients who aren't looking to do large scale business with their site, I am the one creating the HTML and all the "back end" stuff. I need to avoid jargon, "yeah, I'm a back end specialist" it sounds mmmm..... not work-like.
Here is a first go at a homepage for a very talented and skilled poet who also happens to love hot color.
And just in case you were wondering where my new found love of graphic novels is taking me, right now I am delighting in Craig Thompson's Blankets. It is a terrific autobiography, over 600 pages. He was raised by Christian fundamentalists in a small farming town in the cold north wastes of the US. It is amazing that his struggles with faith, girls, his family, bullies, snow, and first love are told with vivid black and white drawings. His line is vigorous, at times spirals into beautiful spiritual doodling, can capture humor and brutality, can lampoon other art styles, and keeps the story moving to its satisfying conclusion. Bravo. I have no trouble believing him when he says he has a fascination with calligraphy. The faint toothiness of his paper and the gestures of his strokes helps make his work breathe on the printed page.

I hope he takes some calligraphy classes, I loved all the ones I had with the great artist Jeanne Wong. The ability to move your whole body, not just your hand; to put your whole spirit, not just your words onto the blank possibility of a page, to capture the fluid moment in dried ink. I took italic, roman, uncial, and more italic, but it all was really about the same thing, no matter what the style, beauty happened when practice leaped into a joy of doing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stuffing the Not-Miss New York State

Natalie calls me on the road returning from Albany. I'm getting ready for bed.

"I didn't make it to the semi-finals, I didn't win Ma."
"Well that's OK," and I mean it. I really really mean it.
"I don't mind. I had a terrific time. I think I'll do it next year. I need a real evening gown. The one you loaned me, just doesn't make me look like a Barbie doll."
"Nah, I guess my hand-me-down dress I got from an opera star who last fit into it in the 1980s just isn't the right stuff."
"Nah, but it is a nice dress, just not beauty pageant league. The semi-finalists had amazing gowns."
"Yeah, when Jada painted my portrait in it I looked pretty good in red velvet too, but I don't fit in it anymore, too many meals between then and now."
"Look Ma, I haven't eaten since 9 am and I'll be passing by on my way back to college, I have a rehearsal I have to make tonight. Do you think you could run me down a bite to eat?"
"You'll never believe it, when your sister left this morning to go back to her college she forgot the bag of left over thanksgiving food your father and stepmother prepared. She was so sad she forgot the food. Perfect though, how about Jim makes you a turkey sandwich and we'll fill a plate with the stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce?"
"Oh wow, that would be great, I'm just making the turn off the George Washington Bridge."

So she double parks outside our door, I bring her the platter of food, a bottle of water, and sit in the car as she devours the meal. I am wearing my blue cloud pajamas disguised under my long winter coat. She still has on the make up and her hair is swept back in a do. She looks brilliantly lovely if you just don't watch her chew too closely. Sort of a feeding frenzy really.

"So what did you like about being at the pageant?"
"I loved being able to wear high heels and not feel self-conscious. It was OK to be that tall. I had a great roommate. She was fun to talk to. I loved having people do my hair and make up. People took photos of me on my camera. They're selling an expensive package of photos from the event, but I think my shots will be fine."
"How did the interviews go?"
"I think most of the judges enjoyed talking to me. They all asked about my time in India. I described the terrible poverty I saw there, how it made me realize how much we have here. One of them asked me why I was at the pageant after an experience like that. I said this was just the complete opposite. I didn't have time to expand on it, the interview was only a minute, but there is something about the contrast, I'll have to write about it..."

Delicately belching, she wipes her face and asks me to tell Jim the sandwich was delicious and we are awesome to provide a drive-through dinner spot for her.

After many hugs and an "I love you guys" she drives East leaving me enveloped in a whiff of her perfume. What shall I call it, eau du no regrets?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I will fulfill my 25,000 words, Dad finished his novel

I am the marathoner with two flat feet huffing to the finish line halfway behind the winners and halfway ahead of the quitters. I've been typing madly and will reach my midpoint goal today. And while I didn't have the joy of "winning" a NaNoWriMo you-did-all-fifty-thousand-words badge, I was able to upload Dad's novel and send him his PDF certificate. With 50,061 words he has completed a draft of Faust, The Prequel which he describes as "a romp through the Renaissance with Faust the physician-scientist and his first fifty years that gave rise to the lies known as the Faust legend."

And he wrote this off the top of his head. Knew exactly where to go for further details. He has so much research stuffed between his ears he can leap into almost any time period with no fear. He is rather ecstatic. Says in all the many years of writing non-fiction biography and science books people would tell him he should try fiction and he'd scoff and say he didn't have the talent for that sort of thing. And the NaNoWriMo one month first (and second actually as he had to expand from 39,000 words) draft was enough for him to realize that fiction can free him to play with ideas like never before. He says, at his age, he can still write many more novels, and already has the next one plotted out. He figures he'll develop a 3 draft process, show it to trusted readers, and then send them out to prospective publishers.

I am happy I've come this far. I'm seeing that it takes gobs of pages to find my way into a character and story. Much of it will need to be expanded or discarded. It's like clay, pull some off, stick more on, and at some point in the revision process it gets fired into its final shape. I crown myself a semi-finalist.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Missing Miss New York but not Playboy

My daughter Natalie is in Albany this weekend participating in the Miss New York USA pageant which started the morning after Thanksgiving. I am here in Manhattan writing and working. It is undoubtedly an odd thing having a child want to do a beauty competition when I am a feminist. Odd for me that is, she's having a blast and enjoying the pampering from the staff, hairstylists, and makeup artists.

I had this conversation with her a week ago:

"I think we should come see you in one of your Miss New York beauty pageant thingies, be supportive and all, but I don't think I can handle seeing my daughter in the bikini one."
"Ah Ma you don't have to do that, there are other things I'm doing, you can see me in Playboy."
"WHAT!" I gasp, spluttering.
"Playboy, remember I'm in Playboy? You always forget everything I tell you, I've been telling you for months I'm going to appear in Playboy!"
"No, no," I say. I'm clutching the edge of the couch and sanity.
"Oh...oh.....hahahahah...remember I'm in the play Playboy of the Western World by Synge, not THAT Playboy, hahahahah."

Natalie is an acting major and a friend of hers suggested she do this. She figured, why not? Growing up around me she didn't learn much about hair, heels, and makeup beyond comb, loafers, and chap stick. And as an actress it must be great to really learn how to apply double sided tape where needed and how to walk that walk in heels that make you over six feet tall. But she must be one of the most relaxed contestants going in. She ate a huge Thanksgiving meal the day before--beat my father to a heaping plate of seconds (which has never happened in family history before)-- and happily clutching her full belly staggered to a sofa murmuring "sooo goood" and I wondered how many of the young woman shorted their T-day gorging to mere tidbits in order to maintain their svelte silhouettes? Not my girl.

Go Natalie go.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

20,072 words and sprinting

I am nearing the half way point in my NaNoWriMo write-fifty-thousand-words-in-thirty-days novel. Which, given I'm in the second month of starting my own business, having Thanksgiving tastefully interrupt, and had the launch/reunion trip...not bad. I've also discovered Ebbets Field opened just the year I needed it to and there were two, not one, big comets lighting up the fears of 1911.

I won't finish all 50,000 words but 25,000, you bet! Very delighted I can write 60 pages in such a short time. I'll write the rest at a more leisurely pace of 1,000 words a day and cycle the chapters through my most excellent writing group. I am looking forward to the rewrite, I feel like I finally knew my main character by chapter 11.

Three Astro Spouses and me

Post launch Micki Pettit was celebrating and relaxing on the balcony of her ocean view hotel room, with her close friends, who came for cheer and support, from left: Lisa Fuglesang, Micki, Mandy Sellers and me. Don was well into in orbit as we popped the champagne. Did I mention they were all funny and great to visit with? Micki was relieved when Don got to his destination safely. Among other things, Don is installing a second toilet on the space station. From high to low, keeping people working in orbit takes a huge effort.

Micki is a really good singer and is in a band, Bandella, with two astronauts. For his NASA morning wake-up song, Don was serenaded by his wife. Hear here on days 7 and 12.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The curse of...Tattoo Diabetes

OK that isn't what the TV ad actually said but that's what I what would that be, if it were a real disease?

Woman walks up to a receptionist in a doctor's office and hands in her form.
Nurse: I'm sorry you forgot to fill all of this in, what are your symptoms?
Patient: [whispering] These roses I had tatted on my butt, I'm having an allergic reaction.
Nurse: You need to describe it.
Patient: Can't you smell it? [voice gets louder] I can't stand the smell.
Nurse: [sniffing] I thought that was your perfume.
Patient: Every pore and more is passing attar of roses, you have to help me. I can't take the sweet stink. It's destroying my life, my husband is wearing garlic, people move away from me in elevators, my dog sneezes as soon as I get home!
Nurse: OK, take a seat next to that man with the Pepé Le Pew tattoo.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

STS126 Shuttle Launch in Photos

Click on photo to see it large enough to read captions.

Don couldn't make his own farewell party, none of the astronauts can, they have to pay for and throw a party they can't attend since they are in quarantine. At the party I ran into the talented Chris Jones, journalist and author of Too Far From Home. That book started as an article in Esquire magazine. Micki and Don are the focus, we agreed both of them are fascinating. He was also on assignment with the McCain campaign and described traveling with a pool of itinerant journalists who would have betting pools for key choices and how surprised they were when Palin was picked for running mate, they hadn't even put her on their 30 person list. He says McCain really is someone you would enjoy having a beer with and no matter how long ago you last spoke to him he'd remember what you told him and ask after your wife or mother. McCain has an amazing memory.

Don's middle school science teacher was there and said proudly that in 31 years of teaching there were a score of great students but only one Don. Don was just light years beyond his grade level. Chris noted that Don's college profs said the same thing about his brilliance, as a freshman he sounded like a graduate student. The middle school teacher gave an example, he had his students make a simple pinhole camera with cardboard just to see how light enters and reverses the scene inside the box, a two week project. Don is done in about five minutes. So to make it more interesting for Don he has him build one with a double lens reflex viewfinder. So Don goes home to the well stocked Pettit family workshop and bores a hole in metal and builds the thing out of real materials--prisms and all.

The night after the launch we had two of Micki's friends stay with us, we had an extra room. The fact that they were wives of astronauts was cool, but most of all they were great to talk to. Astronaut spouses are well traveled! Mandy is from the UK, Lisa from Sweden. Mandy and Lisa were smart, strong, and fun. Lisa speaks at least five languages, is an engineer by training. Sweden is exceptionally proud of having an astronaut in the space program, they are celebrities back home. Mandy is a RN. Mandy kept us laughing. If I was in the hospital I'd want Mandy to get me laughing back to health.

Kudos to NASA, they gave us VIP treatment, briefings, and a chance to enjoy their facilities. I wish you all could have been there. Seeing it, hearing it, is so much more exciting than watching it on TV.

Jim's mom and dad hadn't seen each other in 30 years, so it was kind of cool to see them in the same temporal plane. Wish I could have gotten a photo of them with Jim. We hung out with Jim's step-brother Dennis and wife Cathy, his half-brother Brandon, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws by the dozens, the same for Don's side of the family and through it all Micki and Don's twin sons Garrett and Evan were literally running circles around all us adults. I said to Garrett, I'm your Aunt Claudia, this is your Uncle Jim (they didn't quite remember us from last summer's Montana family reunion) and he morosely said "everyone here keeps telling me they are an Aunt or Uncle!" Being seven and at a family gathering is its own special trial. Then he took off after Evan, who was lurking, and went into orbit again.

Stayed two nights with our friends Joe and Jen in Orlando. As always, I wish I could see more of them. Jen is doing NaNoWriMo too. Her first novel ever. She recently left her newsroom job (like everyone else in the dying newspaper business) and is figuring out what's next. And writing a novel with bees in it. Joe is writing plays and designing websites and writing articles. We gorged on lightly steamed oysters by the bucketfull at a seafood bar that offered a concrete trough to throw the shells in. Ah bliss.

I am behind in my word count. To my vast disgust my father is ahead of himself, 75% done. Arrrgh. He chuckled wickedly at my angst. I will be writing a lot over Thanksgiving.

Bitter news, Dad has joyously completed his first NaNoWriMo novel and I am only 1/3 of the way through mine. His follows the Faust story through time, mine is a YA fairy tale. OK compare not apples to oranges, OK, but he is done! Finished. Oh the ignomy, oh the shame, where is my word count now?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

14,241 words and behind the count in Cocoa Beach

Hi, in Florida. Managed a thousand words this morning but now off to sign in at Kennedy Space center for the launch. Special passes. Will see night viewing, tonight. Will write another 1,000 words, somehow.

Top photo: of Don and Micki Pettit greeting friends and family while astros and one partner at safe distance due to quarantine. Don having to explain to their sons why the boys have to stay back with the crowd. He is pointing to where he will be getting a ride tomorrow.
Bottom photo: NASA provided bus rides to take us to a field where we were warned to watch for ants and snakes. There it was, lit up and unveiled.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Van Gogh and the Colors of Night Show

Our friends Glenn and Ryoko and their baby son Tris took us to the member's only preview of the Van Gogh show at MoMa.

My mother's favorite Van Gogh was the painting of a cafe in Arles at night, the spooky lemon yellow gas lighting under the awning, oddness of distance from viewer to patrons, table to chair, and between people; the starry sky over the cobbled road (with echoing patterns), all in an affordable poster that she framed in beach wood she had found herself. At the MoMa show I got to see the sketch for Café Terrace at Night, 1888. It is so fascinating to see the vigor of Van Goghs calligraphic strokes, they express the energy of natural and man made things. He indicates the direction of wind, of light, of animism of line. They didn't have the final painting in the show but I found a Wikipedia image of it. Also great to see what color adds, how it heightens the separate rectangular spaces of man and nature, inside and out, dark and light.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2nd week

Something is starting to change in how I write my novel. The characters are finally turning around and telling me to quit ordering them about. They're shoving back at me. They would like me to start making things happen, already. My main character would rather have a better sense of humor. The neighborhood is starting to have actual smells and seasons. The historical setting is like a pair of new loafers that is finally losing its shoe box shape and with creaks and creases is fitting around my imagination.

I still know I'm writing a derivative (American Girls Dolls novella meets A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) bad first draft but there are finally moments, a few scenes, that might actually be seeds of a better second draft. They happen and I feel as if I am merely taking dictation. Cool. But I am behind in word count. I go on vacation with this laptop and despite beaches, pools, rum and fruit blender drinks, allure of just reading mysteries until my brain goes fuzzy as beach foam, and demands of a launch and family reunion, I will write my 2,000 words a day.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Happy happy joy joy: Neil Gaiman & Chip Kidd

Here are my autographed sketches. I apologize to Mr. Kidd, I wasn't close enough to get a good likeness... and I have a better idea of what Neil looks like due to chance to sit up close and see him read the first chapter of The Graveyard Book.

Tonight I heard Chip Kidd, graphic design Jedi master, Batman enthusiast, and talented author interview Neil Gaiman the talented novelist, graphic novel author, screenwriter, up and coming director, and bee keeper. The event was at the 92nd Street Y, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, rather pricey but totally worth it. Chip asked all the right questions. Neil is such a superb natural story teller he could undoubtedly make a visit to his dental hygienist sound humorous and satisfying. I loved finding out he used to have wake yourself up and feel haunted bad dreams until he started mining them for material in his Sandman comics. It is incredible he wrote 75 issues of Sandman. 20 years later. A lovely commemorative event.

But wait, for a fan like me, this was a double header. Thanks to Neil I read about NaNoWriMo and am now in my second week of writing my first novel. Thanks to Chip I have seen the path a book designer can travel and his creative process has helped me take courage.

So I waited in line to have Neil sign my copy of Stardust, already signed by Charles Vess. I told Neil I'd sat next to Charles at the world fantasy convention and caught his dreadful cold in order to have his lovely sketch and signature in the book. (I really like Charles, he treated me and a friend to a whiskey too) I said I had also published Neil in The Poets' Grimm anthology and he remembered it fondly. Then I had him sign the sketch I'd done of him with my Pelican and he knew a good pen when he fisted it! Looked it over in the way we pen people do. And I use a lovely reddish brown, really a scab colored Mont Blanc ink (I've been using for years, even before I read Neil) in a hue he uses although a different manufacturer I think. He asked if it was a flexible nib and I said no, just that I'd used it a lot. He shook my hand and I am pleased to report that he does not have a cold clammy hand. It is good to know. I felt so happy I sort of floated away. My husband Jim got a shot of it.

I also got to talk to Chip Kidd and get his autograph on my sketch of him and tell him how tremendously much his work, career, talks, book on design, and slideshows about his creative process have helped me. I told him I came in first place in a category in the NY book show last year because I had stolen his ideas and in the process had created something, Alimentum, that looks nothing like his work. And the fact that he has turned his vision to writing novels is also inspiring to me. He was interested to hear I'd quit working as an art director to go freelance. Told him that so far I was getting plenty of work. He flipped through my sketch pad and saw the beginnings of my sketches for a piece on water. And found it interesting. How cool is that! I mean this is Chip Kidd! He was gracious and lovely in person and just as handsome up close.

Jim enjoyed the interview and he reads no comics, graphic novels, and has never once read anything by Neil. But I knew he would be captivated. Luckily someone asked Neil about mythology and and he answered in depth about how religion becomes myth becomes story, comparing the excised gospels about young Jesus and how they read like superboy's education. Complete with naughty killings and resurrections that are at odds with the gentle Jesus I got in my two years of Sunday school (the part of my religious eduction not covered in Synagogue). All of this is so part of Jim's creative landscape. Fascinating. Jim writes musicals, uses myth, I've heard him say many of the same things, explore the hero's journey... there is just something so nourishing about hearing accomplished witty people discuss their projects, past, present, and future. I am in fanville.

Jim says that Neil, like me, speaks in complete sentences, no ums. I had never noticed I was like this, but look at my mother and father, they spoke/speak in complete monographs, dissertations and books. Maybe the other faculty brats are like me in this way. I dunno. But tonight, after all that, I can only say "doh."

p.s. I wrote 1,800 words today in my novel. And a sonnet. I'm on a roll.

I shoulds of me

I should be working on my freelance jobs.
I should be writing my nanowrimo novel.
I should be unpacking the too many boxes in my dining room that have been there for a year (OK longer, but I tell myself it is only a year) since they moved out of storage and I ignore them as if they were schizo ghosts I shouldn't be hearing or seeing (I think individual boxes are starting to hum themes from Holst's The Planets).
I should be packing for my trip to Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach for the family reunion/launch. (Note: Don Pettit is my husband's brother-in-law and very fine chronicler himself from outer space to his ice down under adventures.) And I should be recharging my good camera's battery and packing the tripod because we get to go to the night viewing. Since it is a night launch, if it launches on time, I hope to get some great shots. I wonder if I should bring something to suggest size, as in a troll doll to photograph on the tarmac with the mongo rocket behind it?

But no, I am back to writing sonnets for a crown of sonnets sequence. Seven sonnets where the last line starts the next. I've picked the perfect obsessive yet deeply varied subject, marriage. I am not used to writing in form and it really is hard. I showed one to my friend Chris and after the encouraging bits he wrote, "there are a couple of moments where the syntax gets a little stilted to get the rhymes in the right place," which is a really nice way of saying I'm writing like I have marbles in my mouth. To do what I consider a modern sonnet I want it to read aloud like it isn't in form (no sing-songiness) but show its chops on the page. Wish me persistance because luck is not what sonneteering is about. But then again, neither is a novel. Word by word by word.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My NaNoWriMo graph

Freelance work & election slowed me down (red wordlessness) but today was wordy...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another issue of Alimetum almost out

I spent the day tidying up and correcting the interior and designing the cover of issue seven with Peter Selgin, publisher and coeditor of Alimentum: The Literature of Food. Peter is also an award winning author, teacher, and artist as well as a good looking guy who swims a lot. If he also happens to be a bit tense when we are down to the wire, I forgive him. I swear a lot at the computer, the software, and blame the aforementioned for my slowness of finger/brain connection.

Peter mentioned he doesn't need NaNoWriMo to get him going. Well fine, I thought, you don't need the world-wide-will and energy of thousands to make you type a word, but I do. Deadlines and rah-rah are getting me into the habit of daily writing. This is a good thing.

Peter is working on two children's books now. I think I'll invite him to meet me & Chris Raschka. He has a great eye. Even if we do growl a bit at each other over punctuation and art placement. Out of growling comes this great collaboration, one I am proud of, one that will appear on news stands and bring reading and looking pleasure around the US and the world. By the way, Alimentum makes a lovely holiday gift...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

7766 words (25 pages) only behind by 2230 words

Think of me as Rip Van Winkle waking up after the election and saying "holy cow I missed a day of typing how am I ever gonna catch up?" The good thing is that after some serious procrastination attempting to find photos of Bushwick Avenue specifically and Williamsburg in general in 1910, and then time procrastinating with a what's playing on Broadway in 1910, as well as a general hunt for kids in 1910... I finally stopped procrastasurfing and did some serious verbiage. 2369 words this afternoon. Catching up with myself. Oh yeah, Obama is still president.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A special break for election '08 coverage

I had a fantastic time last night, along with about 100 million other Americans. And masses of others across the globe, no doubt. First Jim and I joined Len at the cool Exit Art election event. Big space, huge screens with CNN, much smaller silk screening area making posters and fabric with a quote about change and then someone sewing the fabric into change purses! Also masks and cupcakes and photos and poster art on the walls. Lots of people, fewer seats. But when the bands began to play and the TVs no longer made noise, as in talking heads, we left for Times Square, taking along Charlotte an interesting new New Yorker who assured us her home state of California would give Obama the win. And it did.

Times Square was the place to be. We were surrounded by tourists speaking French, German, Italian, Spanish, and English in non-American accents. Not to mention acres of young American voters. At 11 pm when the results came in and Obama was crowned President elect, a wave of joy went through the streets. TV crews went by filming our jumping and cheering. I waved my hat. Escaped balloons briefly hugged the McCain image and then wedged themselves firmly next to Obama.

Then we went to a Westin bar to hear the speeches. The whole bar was silent for the two candidates... John McCain gracious in defeat, the old honorable John McCain, not the snide liar inhabiting his body in the last few months, was back. Then Obama. I admit that the 10 year old scotch may have loosened me up, but I cried through most of the speech and I am pretty hard to affect this way. It was just so good to hear the American story retold through his mind and heart.

Cheers rebounding from buildings, subway cars, and from the streets all the way home and for hours after. Called my daughters, both voted of course, Caitlin for the first time, she told me Skidmore students so happy they had an impromptu parade singing patriotic songs that spilled from campus into downtown Saratoga. Feels like America has really turned an important corner. Away from the fear, illegal war, unregulated greed, Guantanamo concentration camp, political Palin-style suicide, racism, and disasterous economic and disaster relief fumbles of the last 8 years. One CNN guy was a bit surprised Obama got 78 percent of the Jewish vote. How can he be surprised? Duh. Jews and Blacks have been looking out for each other for a long time, they both know a little about persecution... Jim said he hoped science and intelligence would once again be supported. I want to see WPA style options for the young and out of work. I want change.

And so begins the real sweat of turning promise into action. Mario Cuomo said "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose." Yeah, but even realizing part of Obama's vision is going to help the US. I am so glad I don't have to feel quite so apologetic with my European and Canadian friends anymore.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

4021 words, must sprint, must type faster

Falling behind a bit. Had a lot of freelance work yesterday and just clipped my fingernails so I can type here and pull levers in polling booth with greater ease.

My father, having read this blog, is now also writing a novel in a month. How cool. And he is already up to chapter 5. Being the most prolific of writers, I suspect dad could write two or three novels in a month but won't do so out of politeness to my efforts.

Here is what he wrote:
Dear Claudia, The nice thing about reading your blog is that I can follow your activities and enjoy the way you write (and illustrate) your activities. When I read your blog last week about November is Write a Novel Month, I thought, hmmm. Could I try that? So I started a novel, using the theme of Faust. Now in Goethe's Faust he begins with Faust at mid-life criseis, about 50, and follows his life for the next 50 years (mostly leaving a wake of unhappiness behind him, although he is redeemed in the end). So I make Faust at 50 a sort of Augustinian Confessions and follow his first 50 years and make him the anti-Faust, the Goethe Faust being a calumny against his good name. I then romp through the Renaissance and follow his good deeds and good thoughts. So far I've done 5 chapters (all short) and have a vague idea of where I am going. So thank you for getting my creative juices flowing and come December we can trade first drafts. love, Dad

Monday, November 3, 2008

When Life Goes to the Comics with Bechdel

I just read Alison Bechdel’s memoir in a graphic novel, Fun Home. It is as obsessive as a (visual) villanelle. The novel keeps cycling back to the moment when her father's life ends in an accident that could equally well be a suicide. Her father, her family, were clearly a painful collision of secrets and surfaces. It stunned me. It is well written, well drawn, and above all brave.

For me, with my own mother who died at 43 (Bechtel's father was 44) when I was 18 (she was 19) this memoir comes the closest to capturing the pleasure and terror of having an artistic narcissistic closeted self-destructive teacher parent. We had parents that both flunked parenting 101 and still manged to pass on their capacity for hard work, aesthetics, and enthusiasms. Fun Home was the equal of autobiographies (with no pictures) such as Mary Karr's funny and sharp The Liar's Club. It shared something of Robert Coover's cycling through plot while exploring meta-fiction in his Briar Rose. I could go on. It was good in a way that startled me, given my mother. I have explored memoir in my first book of poetry, but Bechtel's homage shows me there is far more to say and more ways to say it. If I chose to go there. If I dare.

Ms. Bechtel made this fan very happy by thanking me and writing "'obsessive as a (visual) villanelle!' I think that's my favorite thing anyone's ever said about Fun Home!" See, not all gushing fan mail goes unanswered.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

3,774 words and typing

Day 2 of the nanowrimo Olympics found me at another Cosi restaurant in the Village. One enormously long table had been created and I recognized fellow writers from yesterday. Cheery hellos. Then I sat down and just started...typing.

I now realize my entire problem with unedited writing is that my muse is in fact a sweets addicted 6 year old who favors touching scenes devoid of evil and irony. It kills me that I, once voted the most sarcastic salad chef to work a Magic Pan in Minneapolis, the most utterly nasty putdowner of cuteness ever allowed to prowl a toystore in a mall, the gimlet eyed social satirist of a short lived college cartoon strip, am writing sweetness that borders on full bore Disney. I should just march over to the editors of American Girls Dolls and say take me, I am the voice of your dolls...I can only watch the unfurling candy ribbon of prose and tell myself that in rewrite my harsh cynical editorial voice will take a chainsaw to the fudge.

I did have this fine thing happen on my trip to the write-in. Sat next to a dad and his son talking in what even I could tell were London accents. So naturally, after drawing for a bit, I asked them where they were from. "Upper West Side," says the dad, "but I was born in London, as was my son. But my other children were born here." His munchkin was one of those amazingly cute little geniuses. He was sounding out words like "transportation," as he read a subway map. "Look son, this woman to the left of us is drawing and this woman to our right is doing physics." And it was true. "So what do you do in the middle?" "Oh me, sitting? oh, work?" (Europeans just don't naturally discuss what they "do" for a living, I guess this is a rude American thing and yet he chose to live and beget here so I guess it is OK to ask Americanny questions). "I'm an accountant but I'd like to be able to draw--don't know how at all, I like your drawings, and I'd also like to be doing physics. I want to do everything but don't have the time what with changing nappies." I urged him to check out the Art Students League, cheap, pay by the month, stick-figure-only beginners welcome. A month of classes and your doodles would be better, I said. His son likes to draw. We talked about that for a bit. And then it was time for them to get off. Sometimes you meet people briefly and you just know they are good dads. Hope he doodles, classes or not. If I can write a novel, he can draw.

On my way back home I finished my sketch for a graphic novel style food story I plan to submit to Alimentum. Here is what nanowrimo is doing for me, just the act of creative flow (even if it is pure non-diet froth) is freeing me up elsewhere. I'm blogging more, I'm drawing more, I'm smiling more.

The role of a novelist is toppling off that English major pedestal. What Neil Gaiman and so many others have said, you write a book word by word. (Is a small voice whispering talent, research, rewrite? Ignore that smartass until December.)

Of course, I will probably have some deflation of joy in the second week. Plus all that freelance work. But tonight, I'm happy my fingers are creating words and shapes.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One thousand eight hundred and one words

I did it! I wrote the first 5 pages of my novel. It isn't very good, I am aware I haven't found my tone, it suffers from repetition and a lack of research--which for a historical is a tad troubling--I freely accept that it has the depth of coffee lid and the stale aroma of refried plots, that I was a fool to turn from verse to prose, but it is getting written. Welcome to the first draft.

It was lovely to join a back room of fellow nanowrimo enthusiasts at a nearby Cosi restaurant. I much enjoyed their company. And how nice to answer the odd questions, as in "what did people cook with in dorms before microwaves?" which I was in a position to answer, "toaster ovens and hotplates." Or "what would be a good name of a fake literary novel in a lit course?" And I said "the somethings daughter" since so many novels are named this way lately. As in the Mapmaker's Daughter or The Kayak Maker's Wife... And they helped me with finding names for characters.

They had 10 and 15 minute timed drives, to type full speed ahead with no other aim than quantity. Some were able to type twice as fast as me. I was astounded. Such speed... But at my rate, I realize that it will take me a minimum of two hours a day to do the writing. That pausing for research, quality, or even good plotting probably isn't necessary, and if I must do these things, do them later after the rush of just writing.

And in the small world department, the lovely funny young woman to my left who goes to Barnard turns out to be friends with the one person I know going to Barnard. So I told her to say hi to Hilly and she tells me Hilly is also a nanowrimo-ist and maybe the three of us should get together to write sometime and I am just so happy really that there are all these other people going through the same struggle at the same time.

There is also this delicious urge to write more than our equivalent city. Are we competing with Toronto or London? Does it matter? We are in this inexorable flood of creation, even if it is all dreck, it is dreck in progress, a novel, a rough first draft. Doable. Only 170 pages to go.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

nanowrimo madness

Many of you may know that November is National Novel Writing Month.

No? It was started ten years ago by 21 people in the San Francisco Bay Area who decided "someday I'm gonna write a novel" was now. It grew. It grew under the leadership of Chris Baty. And grew some more.

So here's the deal, me and about 100,000 other people will each try to write a 50,000 word (175 page) novel in one month. Last year 15,000 actually did it and have bragging rights. The month of November, as in 4 days from now. I will write about 5 pages a day. For a month. Rain, shine, turkey, or nerves. The idea is I'm writing a first draft at such speed that the internal editor will be double parked in Milwaukee while I'm out of earshot and zooming across the Nevada highlands. Or something like that. A first draft that won't stop for quality, punctuation, fact checks, or inconsistencies. Quantity, not quality. Zoom zoom. I may not finish but I suspect that I'll get a lot of writing exercise. Since going freelance I haven't been putting enough time into my writing. This will get me in practice to write an hour a day, even if I produce a novel that is a steaming pile of effort. And I'll exercise my imagination and finger muscles.

Luckily I have a plot outline that uses a fairy tale for a framework and it is set in an unfairytale setting. A setting I've researched a bit. What I don't know I'll just add the word "lookitup" and keep going.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

First prize quilt

How splendid, the wedding quilt my stepmother is making me and my husband just won best in show at the Smithtown Stitchers Quilt Exhibit XIII. It also won best use of color and best large pieced quilt. She is very good at this.

Here is what I said five years ago when I was planning our wedding and Nedra asked what colors and themes I'd like for one of her heirloom quilts. Well... a compass rose, I had a long journey before I located Jim. Plus all those years I spent making maps, I love maps. And purples and greens, those are great colors together. Go wild though, just let yourself have fun. And she did. Including quilting stitches shaped like roses and another quilt block that suggests the statue of liberty's crown...

These things take time, all the designing, selecting fabrics, piecing, hand set of friends had a wedding gift, the "forever quilt" that took decades for Nedra to complete. Luckily I think we will get ours a bit sooner than that. But I suggested she enter it in other is so vibrant, the photo doesn't come close.

Dad says he is so proud the buttons are busting off his shirt. Plus, luck was spelled Carlson today, my sister Christina won one of the quilts Nedra and a team of quilters made and raffled.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The unbelievable incredible dream drawing brain

Last night as I was dozing off I thought about how I would draw a parade. Suddenly my brain began to transcribe this into a dream animation, my pencil drawings of anxious ogres and witches and middle managers staggering or swaggering under the influence of over sized drums and explosively feathered and beaded hats... I could see it in good perspective, nice tints of watercolor applied, and the B4 pencil digging and smooshing into the lightly toothed bond. But they were moving, singing, jazzing, and celebrating in my own mind's eye. I had no idea I was capable of such good 3D animation. As I slipped over the gibberish edge of true sleep I was so sad that my awake ordinary self could not produce such a scene in the flick of a thought. That no matter how I tried, I'd never capture it as well or as effortlessly. My mind was gleefully playing with the whole idea, I could barely catch half of the fun and visual puns. I think by day we are shoddy franchises getting blurred faxes from our subconscious genius director. Oh the disconnect, where is my carnival now?

Friday, October 17, 2008

happy birthday to me...

I had a very nice birthday which included treating myself to an envy inspiring retro look dress from Liberty House, an art opening, a poetry reading, a bag of chocolates, a haircut, a big healthy berry and bee pollen and god knows what else but no milk shake, and a small box from Jim which contained a lovely Venetian glass necklace I had admired at a street fair recently.

I also did no work on my birthday since it is my personal national holiday.

Just in case anybody is wondering, freelance life is going pretty well, now have almost more work than I can handle. All good. And tonight we are going to a lively evening at Drom. The event is the Global Brass Explosion: Titubanda, Environmental Encroachment, Paprika & Hungry March Band. Brass, eats, laughs, and unquenchable beat shared with friends.

Wonderful joyous music, feathers bobbing on hats, bunny ears on the men, jugglers with glowing balls, waving flags, and as each band left and joined the audience it became a mardi gras parade on the club floor...and best of all a surprise arrival from my daughter Caitlin who I hadn't seen since she left home for college. Happy for such delight.

Tomorrow I go out to my folks and they will make me dinner. Leg of lamb. Ah. Life is good. And my friend Martin tells me that I share a birthday with Oscar Wilde, Eugene O'Neill & Gunter Grass. Go team.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday welcomes The Anxieties

I am thinking of (re)joining CBIG. Children's Book Illustrator Group. Way back when, I met the excellent Jada Rowland and Chris Raschka through them, and many others. Then I had kids, worked as a book designer and didn't do picture books... But just thinking of getting back into the illustration biz led to these sketches...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Manna from Cricket as the stock market dives

Here's what I love about Cricket Magazine. Every now and then I get an unexpected contract in the mail because they want to reprint one of my illustrations. Just as I was listening to the bad news about the stock market and world wide financial crises, I discover one of my mazes for kids will be reprinted and I will be paid again for work I did years ago. Take that gloom & doom.

On the other hand, my folks can't sell their large house and move to a smaller house in this market. Dad says that if we have another Depression, he'll have plenty of rooms for his adult children to move into. Hmmmm. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. I don't think I'm ready to relive my teen role in the family. It was bad enough the first time and that was improv, this would be a scripted rerun.

Maybe I should do new mazes for adults, like find your 401K and looking for a car loan. I could have high hedges and variable routes to obsfucate the seeker. With sharks circling the murky waters and dead ends heaped with worthless stocks. I can see it, but don't have the heart to draw it. Yet.

Go listen to Neil Gaiman read his new book

It's free, on his site, and has afforded me a week of daily pleasure. I was in the audience for the first chapter in NYC. Right up front. I loved it. I even sketched him in the dark... As he reads his expressions and his pauses become an entire cast (not counting an actual cast on finger). He has done a multi-city U.S. tour, reading a chapter a night, and the video tapes are up and free and wonderful and the concluding chapter made me cry because it was so good and partly because it was over. He knows a thing or two about coming of age and how to tell an utterly true story in a totally made up place. Bravo.
(P.S. my question was on his site yesterday...)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Shakespeare and Neruda and William Carlos Williams, oh my

One of the great things about having daughters in college is they get excited about their reading and performing and I get to vicariously fall in love with poets again. Caitlin is enraptured with William Carlos Williams. She is taking a book history and binding class and plans to put shorter WCW poems into the pages she is building. She is at that stage of quoting a few lines and practically swooning, "Tufts of purple grass spot the / green meadow and clouds the sky" she says, "I could eat those words." Not to mention the plums.

I have directed her to Neruda (Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair) and the visual treats of William Blake.

Natalie is performing a gruesome scene from one of Shakespeare's bloodiest romances, Cymbeline, for her acting 3 class. As princess Imogene she awakens next to a headless corpse she believes is her husband, the appropriately named Posthumus. Lots of shock and weeping, and smearing of gore. Delicious amounts of rage. She did a summer intensive at Shakespeare & Company when she was 18. Since then she has had classes that have added more depth to her understanding of the language and context. Not to mention becoming 21. How I wish I could see her perform. I hear the excitement in her voice.

And I am rereading the wonderful poetry of Bill Matthews. God he could write. He made the meditations of a drunk man pissing off the back of a boat into poetry. His language has that immediacy of surprise. The sure heft of original observation. So good to rediscover and find it still is as good as I remembered.

When I was 18 I was crazy about Don Marquis' Archy and Mehitabel poems. I still am.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why drawing with wacom is kinda lame

Can't help it, even with a pretty good wacom tablet and a program like photoshop or painter, I still draw like my mind is in a cast.

I just sent a thumbnail sketch for a cover illo to a client. I could have created it in a program with my digital pen/mouse/touchpad but the truth is, I don't feel nearly as free to change my lines or see alternates in the all too crisp world of laptopville. Pencil on paper, smudges, eraser bits, rubbing my finger to create shadings of gray...I am sure some of you can do all that without analog artifacts, but I can't. There's something in how I see it, or see things into it, like cloud shapes and ink blots, a venue for vague, a possibility field.

Also, sketching and layout in a program makes it seem much more finished (crisp edges, perfect shapes) than it is. Until I figure out how to draw inside my apple box, here's to old tech (sound of scotch & soda clinking).

I sent the client a photo of my pencil sketch. And then wrote a sonnet.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The literary graphic novel

I am entranced with Posy Simmonds new book, Tamara Drewe. It was originally published serially in the British paper, The Guardian. But it is nothing like the lame stale joke comic strip such as Garfield or the macabre fantasy operas of Gaiman and company (Sandman). Her social satire is deliciously contemporary, pungent, funny, spot on, and she builds it using the frame of a classic novel. This one adapts the plot of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Her previous graphic novel was based on...well the title tells all: Gemma Bovary. And her drawing is as good as her dialogue. Advice to teens and wannabe novelists, don't let Ms. Simmonds overhear you ranting in public, she'll capture every nuance with ease and transform it into art.

Her bumbling middle aged characters are drawn with both affection and remorseless accuracy. The pencil and watercolor are so convincing I start to see my world with her strokes.

I lent a copy to my friend Hilary and she couldn't put it down once she started it. It becomes a novel with sketches. But more than that since Simmonds makes use of all the tropes available in the form, the speech bubbles, the pacing, juxtaposing image and word. I'm deeply inspired. Last time I got this gaga over a graphic novel was with Shaun Tan's The Arrival.

Many years ago a friend gave me a copy of Simmond's picture book, Lulu and the Flying Babies for me to share with my daughters. I thought it a lovely way to introduce the pleasures of art museums and the girls loved it. This is like getting the same thrill for adults.

The anthology I edited with Jeanne Marie Beaumont, The Poets' Grimm, featured poems that used Grimm fairy tales as a starting point and poets had remade them into something strange and new and utterly their own. So much can be done by creative adapting. An armature, a recipe, a sandy footprint in which you press your own bare toes.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rochelle's memorial

It was lovely, all agree she was generous, intelligent, talented, at times fierce, always tenacious, and missed. She taught writing to people affected by illness, bad luck, or bad choices, in prisons and community centers, she edited, she translated, she fought bad politics and policies, she wrote a lot of poems and novels, took photos with the same passion as she wrote, she loved her husband, city home and country house. This saying goodbye is hard stuff. Jim and I grouchy after, the sadness collecting into an itch of the spirit. I am thinking, when I am gone, throw my ashes off a cliff and get rip-roaring drunk in a bar as you roast me, toast me.

Once home, I made my weekly trip to the library, return & take, and Mondels chocolate shop, spend & savor. I am so thankful I live in this neighborhood. The college town bars and cafes and bookstores. As I popped and crunched the dark chocolate rum balls in my mouth and strolled down Broadway on this particularly clear afternoon, I nodded at the guys playing chess and slapping their timer, the vendors selling their dusty romances and sci fi books on rusty card tables, the college students in their artfully distressed sneakers, the double decker strollers with the double pairs of eyes, the pastel paintings of Hilary and Obama done by Hani now fading back into cement, and the legions of hounds on leashes splashing curb and post with their own, I was here.

If a life well lived is to be remembered as Rochelle has been, then I have some work to do. As I get older the giving back part is starting to seem a whole lot more important than it used to.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A different look at the creative process

Yesterday, as I was implementing my free WiFi with one costly cuppa joe at the local Starbucks joint, it occurred to me that visualizing the fits and starts of getting back into illustrating would be good fodder.

I came to NYC just out of college with the intent to write and illustrate books. I underwhelmed a number of art directors with my portfolio. I illustrated one modern fairy tale book for an obscure press (with a tie-in to Sting, go figure) and a Darrell Schwitzer tale in Twilight Zone Magazine. I looked at my work and decided I had to learn to draw better. I took classes. My drawing got better but then I realized I was passable but never gonna be someone whose illustrated works I'd buy eagerly. I lost heart. I was not a genius. Plus life was becoming busy with learning how to be a book designer and starting a family and yadda yadda here I am, still drawn to drawing and wondering what to do with it.

So when a well dressed young woman sat down next to me and whipped out a shiny new mac book air I tuned my battered mac to google images and pulled out pencils and paper. Take that you newer toy showoffsky...

And I personified the whole mess.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The maze and amazment of research

Tonight I amused myself by searching for images of plants and animals on tiles. I need inspiration for a home page I'm designing. This divides into several paths: terracotta carved and polychromed tiles, majolica plates and panels as well as tiles, Edwardian illustrations hand painted on tiles, mosaics dating back as far as the ancient Crete and Rome, and some seriously ugly refrigerator magnets. Apparently the world is stuffed full of crafts and the people who are crafty.

Some of the most beautiful were old friends from the Topkapi Palace. Not that I've been to Istanbul, but years ago the first story I illustrated was Frank Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" which I took a week off work to research images from books in the New York Public Library and also peering at the illuminated manuscripts at the Metropolitan Museum. It's pretty cool that I can stay right here on my couch and do all the research with web searches.

All those artists making so many walls and plates and floors and baths with patience and enormously skilled fingers. People just need to say, I was here, even unsigned. With a leaf, a dragon, a lotus, a brilliant blue.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Silly brain and the creative process

Jim and I sit around and pretty regularly congratulate each other on possessing brains that have plenty of alternate route signs posted. If it weren't for all the road blocks, we'd never have become so adept at finding local lanes that offer unexpected visions. Some people might think it inconvenient to forget where you parked your to do list, or be incapable of following directions, but we have come to see it as an advantage.

Well, not always such an advantage. We don't have a swanky lifestyle. Jim isn't Emperor of Wall Street, I didn't become a CEO or investment banker... Hey, wait a sec, bunch of those folks will soon be out of work. They lost their jobs due to someone taking the quickest route to Greedyville. I quit my job so I could go slow. Slow myself into doing creative work. Work that requires me to deliver surprises.

So if you hear me say garlic when I meant ginger, or I get that misty look in my eyes that has nothing to do with needing to clean my lenses, you'll know I'm cogitating through the creative zone.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The thing about drawing maps

especially historical maps, is they take forever to do. I'm struggling a bit with all the new tricks Adobe Illustrator does, but that isn't the real problem... It's not the software but the sources. The dozen old maps I'm using were drawn over a span of 3 centuries by people of various skill, getting the pieces to line up is is kinda like jamming a puzzle that warped in the rain.

And you can't just cheat and use a Google map. Things change in 400 years, they do, rivers are dammed up or change course, town centers shift, cemeteries fill up, ponds disappear, land fills fill up, and wars change things. Plus modern highways and rail bridges obscure the sheep paths and hills that seemed to dictate the way roads happened back then.

I'm learning a lot. Bet most of you didn't know Walden Woods (of the famous pond) was a skanky hummocked tract of sandy unfarmable land, which is why it was a woods when Thoreau hung out in his cabin. Or that freed slaves moved there.

I didn't know that so many writers serially lived in one house in Concord that just going there should relieve writer's block. Here it is: The Wayside home to: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Sidney (who wrote the Five Little Peppers, I can't be the only one who ever read those books!). How many transcendentalists does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, they were lit wicks.

But I'll be glad to leave Concord when I'm done with the map. No offense. I'm sure it is a lovely town, even two centuries later. But I need to stop gawking at all the old sites.