Wednesday, January 29, 2020

James in January

James Schuyler, In January
"In January
After Ibn Sahl

The yard has sopped into its green-grizzled self its new year

A dog stirs the noon-blue dark with a running shadow and dirt
        smells cold and doggy

As though the one thing never seen were its frozen coupling
        with the air that brings the flowers of grasses.

And a leafless beech stands wrinkled, gray and sexless–all bone
        and loosened sinew–in silver glory

And the sun falls all on one side of it in a running glance, a
        licking gaze, an eye-kiss

And ancient silver struck by gold emerges mossy, pinkly
        lichened where the sun fondles it

And starlings of anthracite march into the east with rapid jerky
        steps pecking at their shadows."
— James Schuyler, “In January”
Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, snow, outdoor, nature and water

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Exceeding Expectations

My friend turned 70
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And we had a surprise party for her. I whispered to another friend as we waited in the darkened room, “I hope she doesn’t have a heart attack.”

No problem there, my friend is the youngest person I know. She could practically run the North American BTS Fan Club by herself. My friend lives and breathes BTS the famous South Korean boyband. She collects memorabilia and goes to their concerts every chance she gets.

She loves all things Korean. She watches Korean TV and movies. She has episodes on tape. She’ll have girls up to her room to watch with her. She takes these same friends out to the Korean supermarket where they also sell fresh prepared foods; it’s a date, and they stay all day.

Recently at a bootcamp a fellow attendee made an ageist comment, one where they sort of low-browed another. My experience has always told me that you cannot judge a book by its cover. This isn’t just a saying. The truth is you cannot even begin to guess someone’s story just by a few outer details, such as age, weight, color of their skin. Nine times out of ten we will be surprised to learn something that goes against type.

For example, people are always surprised to learn I am a long-distance cyclist, because I present like a middle-aged, frumpy housewife. If in a line-up of REI models I would be the stand-out—the one who doesn’t fit. Yet, every year I take off on my bike racking up a thousand miles in a couple of weeks. I’m not an athlete; I just love to ride.

Thus, you can’t make assumptions about people—yet people do. My friend who turned 70, is ready for 70 more years.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

I was Young, and now I’m not

A couple posts ago I wrote about my Norwegian Sweater ( Specifically I wrote about how when I was younger the idea of wearing a thick, wool sweater set me aflame in hot flashes.

This is not exactly a series of flashes about hot flashes (though it sounds alliteratively interesting), but I would like to write and explore the idea of what used to feel totally wrong, now is exactly who I am now. Basically I was Young, and now I’m not.

Case study: Sundays

I used to burn with the energy of a thousand suns. I Sunday came around and I had not done “anything,” then I would have to fix that. Sundays were for ten-mile runs. Going down to the park and playing soccer. Finding someone and riding my bike –60 miles. Sundays were the capstone to an epic weekend. If Sunday night rolled around and I didn’t have anything to tell my friends at work the next day then the weekend was a wash-up.

At bootcamp when I go to the Saturday 9 a.m. workout afterwards the instructor asks us: What are your plans for the weekend?

Nothing, I answer. That, to me, at this stage of my life, sounds like a perfectly good answer. I like this clip of John Mulvaney basically saying the same thing (about a minute and a half in)

Case Study: Pajamas

Remember that line from Steinfeld (YouTube ) that wearing sweatpants when not working out is like giving up. I am, at this stage in my life, a huge proponent of loungewear. There is nothing I want more after dinner than to switch into my pajamas. At about 6 o’clock. Sometimes as early as 4 pm. In fact, as soon as I take off my pajamas in the morning I immediately want to get back into them.

I’ll stare with longing at my pajamas bunched up on the floor of the bathroom and feel nostalgic.

When I was younger, though, it was the opposite. I would do anything to avoid the end of the day, and the work it took to get ready for bed. I wanted to skip over that whole getting into pajamas thing, stay up super late, and then fall into bed. In fact, I never got into pajamas before 11 pm. I might if I was sick.

It was the same thing with the television. I never watched TV during the day because that was like giving up. You were broadcasting to the world that you had nothing better to do than to what crummy daytime TV. It was like giving up. Even worse was watching daytime TV while still in your pajamas. Now that sounds like the perfect thing.

Obviously, I am no longer young. But hopefully I’m not old.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Congrats Little Women

With the release of the nominees for Oscar this past week I am reminded once again of how a movie like Little Woman goes against the Hollywood grain.

Most of the movies nominated for Best Picture are films that show violence; front and center are car chases, male-dominated leads—with one exception.
Best picture
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Greta Gerwig on set with Emma Watson Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh.

In her piece at Vanity Fair, Greta Gerwig on the Lives of Little Women—And Why “Male Violence” Isn’t All That Matters, Gerwig writes about the film, her script and the utter lunacy of a book about 4 girls, their lives a collection of mundane details. Frm her article:

I think Louisa May Alcott, whether she knew it or not, made the ordinary lives of girls and women extraordinary by turning her pen to them. I still think we very much have a hierarchy of stories. I think that the top of the hierarchy is male violence—man on man, man on woman, etc.

This is exactly what I was hitting upon in my review of the movie, Little Women. (

Another thing I love about this article is a “fake” page of script where Gerwig imagines a conversation between the girls about art imitating life:
Image may contain Text Page and Menu
This seems to be an old, Plato’s Cave kind of conversation/debate. Does art imitate life and what makes which more important? If one had not collected data, minutia about the glaciers (ColdWar Spy Satellites Reveal Substantial Himalayan Glacier Melt) we wouldn’t have milestone or anyway to compare to what is happening today. So also the “story of domestic struggles and joys” reflects back to the audience/readers the lives of women post-Civil War and conclusions we might make today about where we stand in literature/history.

I’ve included a link here to the article:

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dolly Parton’s America

During Christmas I listened to Dolly Parton's America, a podcast from journalist and podcast celebrity Jad Abumrad, creator of Radiolab and More Perfect. Like all good podcasts there are surprising and insane connections made—where the conversation takes a left turn to something else. I loved the interweaving of themes and threads=all from Dolly Parton. This is America in all its forms.

The podcasts begin with Parton in Nashville on the Porter Wagoner Show. She was meant to be the “Dumb Blonde”, second fiddle to the main man, but her ability to carry an audience and build her own fan base was immediately apparent. What Abumrad emphasized is that Dolly’s fans are diverse. She appeals to not only country music fans but to the LGBT crowd. People who vote for Trump, people who would rather die than vote for Trump. In fact, she has more of a following now in her 70s than she did when at age 21 she broke onto the scene on Wagoner’s show. Her songs speak to a whole range of people and subjects and have an emotional immediacy.

In the 7th episode we go back to class. To the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where a professor teaches a course on Dolly Parton. When Abumrad visits the classroom he asks select students questions about identity—now to be honest Abumrad is no stranger to these parts—he grew up in Tennessee, son of a Nashville doctor, a Lebanese immigrant. What many of the students shared resonated with Abumrad:

The sense of being an outsider
Shame, and having to cover up their accent

Coincidentally, I deal with all this (and more!) in my novel Cloud of Witnesses. The book is set in the foothills of the Appalachians in southeastern Ohio in 1979. Tested as gifted, Roland Tanner is bused to the town school, where his new classmates only see him as a hillbilly. Self-conscious to a fault, Roland is ashamed of living in a trailer. He hopes someday to be able to go somewhere, maybe collage, and forever leave behind his family. At the town middle school Roland meets Hassan, another outsider, whose family has relocated to from Iran to Athens where his father works at the university. The friendship is challenged when hostages are taken when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is overrun in November 1979.

While crowds in the streets of Tehran chanted “Death to America,” news outlets depicted incidents of Americans burning the Iranian flag. Roland is forced to examine his alliances and loyalties. In many ways Roland and Hassan have a lot in common—both feel like they don’t belong.  The boys are able to put themselves in each other’s shoes.

Hassan: “The kids at school think I’m a terrorist.”

Roland: “People think that because I live in a trailer I’m ignorant, a hillbilly.”

There are also historical analogies in the manuscript that are relevant now more than ever (the Iran Hostage Crisis, Islamophobia, the outsider, etc).

At my publisher’s website is a media kit which includes a reading guide for teachers and students as well as other resources.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Shouldn't we be worried?

In 2016 I felt like I was rockin' the blogging world. This little blog was getting over 10,000 hits each month--a sudden uptick. Of course I was thrilled. I checked with some fellow bloggers to see if they were experiencing the same thing. Yes, but not at that rate.

Well, we all know how 2016 turned out.

And that Russia was trying to hijack our election and feeding Facebook deepfakes. I know some might debate this, but it has been investigated and proven.


I checked my stats today and saw that I'm suddenly getting LOTS of views and the audience traffic is mostly from Russia. Today alone, over 300 views from Russia and 18 from the US. Whoever they are, they're trolling blogs and websites for content to create memes and gauge the American mindset (am I typical? bot sure, hope not).

This is disturbing and I believe we should all be worried. I'll update as I see more activity.
Image result for russian influence in election

Monday, January 13, 2020

gods With a little g, book review

gods With a little g
by Tupelo Hassman
book review
Image result for gods With a little g

No one does hopeless teenagers quite like Tupelo Hassman. And, god with a little g is chock full of gloom. Rosary is a dead-end town inhabited by a majority of Thumpers, folks who beat you over the head with the Bible to prove a point. The symbolism here could be cloying if the book was not so damn great. The prose, people, the prose. I could have finished the 356-page book in one night but I kept it for over a month and had the library renew it because I wanted to linger with it, with the feeling—remembering what it was like to grow up, to change from a senseless teenager into a senseless adult. Nothing makes sense—at least since Helen’s mother died of cancer. She spends her time, endless hours, down at Fast Eddy’s tire yard while dark clouds gather above the refinery—Rosary’s polluting industry.

There’s the sex—both real love and animal craving. And, the variants, the in between. You see, despite all the sanctimonious speechifying the town is pretty much going to Hell in a handbag. There is so much misery they could bottle it up and sell it except no one had much ambition—save for Aunt Bev who runs a Palm Reading salon. That predictably gets torched by the Thumpers. But, with this story there is no assurance—I was never sure where the story was going.

There’s the tension—both sexual and lethal. You want the characters to be safe, but there is no sanctuary in Rosary. All the vices are on display. (Can you say, incest?) That all the stuff that seems taboo becomes the gold standard and everything else is out-of-step.

The book is broken into sections separated by “lost” posters that refer to moments in Helen’s life ie losing her cat, losing her virginity, losing her best friend, her dad—lost after the death of her mother. Lost dreams. Hassman has a lyrical way of weaving together ideas that create emotional bombs. Another reason I was afraid to turn the pages, I’d get my head or heart ripped out.

If you liked The Secret Life of Bees, then this book and its protagonist will appeal. If you like To Kill a Mockingbird with its small-town Maycomb secrecy and dysfunctionality, then gods with a little g will make your skin crawl.

Spoiler Alert: fundamentalist religion does not come out looking like a winner in this novel.