Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Slice of Life, #31

(a story inspired by this photograph by Barrie Karp)

            Lucy tapped into her phone “where r u” and pressed send. It was the fifth text she had sent Jason in the past five minutes. He was supposed to meet her at Chelsea Pier an hour ago, and, yeah, he was always late, but he would text her. “c u soon, bby” sometimes every 10 minutes, but he would be in touch. Today, nothing. She watched gulls diving at the ice. Could they actually catch a fish in this cold water?
            She tried to remember what Jason said he’d be doing this morning, something with his dad. That man was no good. Whenever she went over to Jason’s and his dad was there, which wasn’t often, he was all over her. The last time, two weeks ago, she had no sooner walked in the door than he was up, arm around her, dragging her over to the sofa and sitting her down, then next to her, his arm around her shoulder and pulling her close, nuzzling her neck.
            “Jason, you got a real sweetie pie here, you know that?” And Jason just sat over there on the window ledge looking out, not making a move to get her away from this old letch. “Yeah, you’re a real cutie, too good for that sonuvabitch son of mine, if he really is a son of mine.” Lucy kept herself rigid and sent pleas from her eyes, weak little arrows, “get me out of here, Jason, pls.”
            Today they were going to go skating at the Sky Rink. Jason was going to teach her some dance moves. There was a competition later in the month, and Lucy had already entered their names, but she hadn’t told Jason yet.
            Her phone buzzed. “cnt tdy. dad in jl. need bail. c u l8r” Lucy stared at the icy water in the Hudson. She imagined gulls diving and pulling Jason’s dad, dripping icicles, out of the cold water. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Slice of Life, #30

            I had a doctor’s appointment this morning on East 63rd Street. Afterwards I walked across town to Columbus Circle. If it had been spring-like, instead of simply springtime, I would have walked through Central Park, but it was too breezy and too cold for walking anything but the most direct route, almost a mile and a half.
            At the southeast corner of the park, Fifth Avenue and 60th Street, I came across this structure.

It’s a public art work by Tatiana Trouvé , an Italian artist who's created three “spool racks” that respond to the miles of walkways throughout the park. After looking at maps, Trouvé found 212 paths in the park; then, she estimated the length of each one. There are three structures containing 212 spools, one for each of the pathways, and the cable wrapped around each spool approximates the length of the path. And each spool has a metal plate identifying the beginning and end point, as well as a name that conjures the cultural significance of walking.

            The spool racks will be up through the end of August. If you’re in New York City, stop by to see them. They are impressive, and may just lead you to try walking one of the paths memorialized by a spool. Pick the one with your favorite color, perhaps, or one of the black spools. And check out the Public Art Fundfor more information and more public art in New York.
            Here's another spool rack.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Slice of Life, #29

            Communities of writers are wonderful and necessary. They nurture and provoke, engage and challenge. They can take many forms: writers’ groups, workshops, reading series, salons, open mikes (“mic” looks to me like it’s pronounced “mihk” and only came into use when “mic” was engraved on recording equipment in the 1980s; “mike” was the word before then). I am in several: a writers’ group I’ve been in for more than 20 years (and it’s been in existence for more than 30 years); a continuing workshop with an old friend focusing on short fiction, as well as the Blueprint Your Book workshop with Minal Hajratwala; the Big Words reading series; and the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and Open Expressions Harlem.
            Today the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon met at the Brooklyn Workshop Gallery for an afternoon with featured poet Cynthia Manick. Cynthia led a workshop on character poems, with examples by Patricia Smith (“Medusa” was really powerful), Lucille Clifton, Carol Ann Duffy, and Cornelius Eady, and direct address poems, with examples Chris Abani. We then had the opportunity to write our own examples, with many amazing poems written in just 10 minutes. Cynthia read some of her own work. And then the open mike, with, again, many beautiful pieces of writing. And of course, the Two Writing Teachers, with their Slice of Life Story Challenge in March, and National Novel Writing Month, in November, which pushed me to finish the first draft of a novel some years ago (it still sits, with half a dozen attempts at a second draft, in a drawer).
            There are more out there. In April, National Poetry Month, there are at least a couple of 30 Poems in 30 Days challenges. I hope you are in more than one writing community; maybe you can join one in April.
            Write on!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Slice of Life, #28

        Last Thursday’s Open Expressions didn’t have the usual group poem. Instead, we were asked to jot down words we heard during the evening, and before we left, to write a poem for women’s history month addressing journalism’s classic questions to women:
who are women?
what are women?
where are women?
when are women?
how are women?
why are women?
            Here are three of my efforts.

Women nestle into frozen culture
Women’s hair cushions the harsh chains of lies
Women bring exciting accents to bear, unhearing lies
Women are unrepenting in their imagination
Women are essential.

Women deny the harsh culture of hair
Women’s accents nestle in repenting sighs
Women leave the essential lies behind the barn
Women’s disordered minds reveal frozen truth
Women leap into exciting imagination.

Who are women? exciting imagination of culture
What are women? essential hair repenting its chains
Where are women? in harsh rooms echoing screams
When are women? now, then, before, after, never, forever
How are women? frozen accents undermine disordered minds
Why are women? truth nestles among the lies

Friday, March 27, 2015

Slice of Life, #27

            It’s the end of the week. How does that feel that’s different now from all the other end-of-weeks when I was working full-time? I wrote the other day about what I love and what I hate about this job. This is a different question.
            This past week has been like a time capsule. Can I still keep on top of all the many pieces that go into the magazine, and keep them moving so we can meet the deadline for the printer? There is always a moment on closing day, Friday, when I have to be doing three things at once: today it was double-checking the page proofs of one of the main features, finishing off two different color pages, and rewriting table of contents entries when one story dropped out and a new one was put in. This week was relatively easy; no major stories came in late; no editors disappeared when they were needed.
            And I feel nothing but relief that I do not have to go back next week and go through the process all over again. Next week, I can stay home, do some freelance work at my leisure, write, go for a walk, do some cooking, all at my leisure. And read the New York Times for as long as I like in the morning. Now that’s luxury.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Slice of Life, #26

            Tonight I went to Open Expressions in Harlem.  Started by CeCe Falls and held the fourth Thursday of the month, Open Expressions has a featured poet, but first an open mike for poets, fiction and memoir writers, singers or musicians. Tonight Cece was the featured poet, and she was terrific.
            I read a very revised version of my March 21 Slice, which I would post here, but it’s on my computer at the office. Sorry. It was fun, though, and most of the poets were really good. Ed Toney’s piece about his grandmother was a lovely evocation. 
            When I left to get on the subway at 125th Street, it was cool but still pleasant, with no hint of dampness. When I got off at 110th Street in Morningside Heights, it felt like New York had suddenly acquired micro-climates: it was raining lightly with a  bite in the air. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Slice of Life, #25

            I just finished reading a superb first novel today. It’s called The Only Ones, by Carola Dibbell. In a distinctive and strikingly original voice, Inez Fardo relates what life is like in mid-21st century New York City and environs, when pandemics are ravaging the entire world, and no one can have children in what Inez calls “the regular way.” She’s been orphaned twice, once as a baby, again when she’s 10 by the woman who found her, and she’s had to survive on the street ever since. Which she can because she is a hardy, someone who is mysteriously immune to all the pathogens swirling around the world.
            At 19 she becomes enmeshed in a scheme to harvest her hardy eggs and, eventually, to try the possibly criminal act of cloning. When the client changes her mind, Inez is left with Ani, a baby she’s not prepared for and has no idea what to do with – she’s never even seen a baby.
            From here on, the story pulls you into the feelings of every new mother -- is the baby still alive? what do I do when she cries? when does the mother sleep? – exacerbated by there being no community of other mothers for her to consult. When she sees the rare baby or small child, she wonders, is that one a clone, or a “regular” child? Is Ani the only one, or are there others? But she can’t ask, because it could put both of them in danger.
            Inez’s efforts to keep them both alive are Sisyphean, because her wits are virtually their only resource; she’s a poor single mother, and even when the city is falling apart, the well-off live in Domes and their children are just as spoiled and snobbish as well-off kids are today.
            There is so much going on in this novel, about love and connection, desperation and bureaucracy, the lengths one will go to, to survive. It’s brand new, from a small publisher. Ask your library to order it, buy it from your local independent bookstore; it’s even an e-book. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Slice of Life, #24

            Working temporarily in an office where you worked for a long time but haven’t been in regularly for a while is interesting: it helps me understand why I liked the job so much, yet am very glad I no longer have to go there every day, week after week.
            The job is managing editor at a weekly magazine. Half the magazine is a set list of stories that go through the same process every week. The other half consists of a changing variety of news and features. Different editors are involved, different writers; some are good with deadlines, some less so. Someone always has a personal problem that has to be accommodated because we are human beings, not cogs – and this place appreciates our humanity and doesn’t try to turn us into machines. But the machinery of the weekly deadline is always there, and the printer needs our copy on time because he has his own schedules and other jobs to accommodate.
I love making it all work. I love deciding what the other copy editor should stop doing so he can work on another story that has a slightly higher priority. I love talking out with an editor whether a bunch of sidebars should be in one file so clumped at the end of the main story, or scattered throughout the main story so each being in its own file. I love catching writers' mistakes and saving them from themselves. I love working with language and making the stories be the the best they can be. Most of all, I love the camaraderie of this group of people, all fun to talk to, whether about work or life outside, movies, books, politics, where to eat lunch in the neighborhood.
            I hate having to deal with a software system that seems designed for cogs, not people. (Would I hate it less if it weren’t from a German company?) I hate it when the system won’t let me highlight a word, so I have to close the story, wait a couple of minutes, then open up again. I hate forgetting the new ways of doing things that my successor has devised. I hate having to decide at the end of the day whether the work I haven’t done yet can wait until tomorrow or do I need to stay late to get it finished. And I hate having to get up at the same time every day.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Slice of Life, #23

            I’m working all week at the office that I retired from a couple of years ago, replacing the person who replaced me so he can take a much-needed vacation (and going somewhere warm!). Since there are lots of nice eating places in the neighborhood, I plan to get takeout all week. (There’s usually no time to take an actual lunch hour.) But I had a bizarre experience today.
            I went to a Mexican place nearby. It has restaurant seating in the back and a takeout counter in the front. I ordered three tacos. The young man rang it up and said it would be $10.72. I gave him $21. He rummaged in his cash drawer, then walked away, and I assumed he was looking for a $10 bill. Indeed, he came back shortly and handed me the $10 bill – and that was all. I felt a little confused and went to sit down while waiting for my order.
            When it arrived, the bill clearly said: $10.72. I looked at it and then at him.
            “Didn’t you say it would be $10.72?” I asked.
            He smiled. “We don’t usually do coins.”
            What? Is the restaurant just arbitrarily deciding that a $10.72 lunch is actually going to cost me $11?
            “Well, I do,” I said.
            He went off and brought me back a quarter. Was I going to quibble over three cents? Some stores really don’t do pennies anymore. If something costs $10.96, and you pay $11, you’ll get a nickel back, and if it costs $10.93, and you pay $11, you’ll get a nickel back. Okay, I can deal with that.
            I started to leave, but stopped and told the restaurant hostess what had happened. Was this a restaurant policy? I wondered. She looked puzzled and said she didn’t know anything about it, and it didn’t sound right. And she would speak to someone about.
            As I write this up, I wonder whether the restaurant was keeping the change, or whether the takeout countermen were treating the change like an involuntary tip. There was no tip jar; while many takeout places now have such things, perhaps this restaurant forbade that. Personally, I think establishments should pay their workers a living wage and tips banned. In revolutionary Russia tipping was considered insulting, a holdover from czarist times when tips were given servants as a form of noblesse oblige. Who can say what one person can “afford” and what another can’t? A sticky question.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Slice of Life, #22

            My apartment building has a basement lending library. Someone moved out and left a bookcase, and someone on our co-op board thought it would be nice if residents donated books they no longer wanted to share with their neighbors. Soon enough, the shelves were filled with bestsellers and old paperbacks, 20-year-old travel guides and discarded chemistry textbooks, picture books and YA novels. (From the beginning we said, “No magazines!” but some forget.)
            Periodically one resident is in charge of keeping the bookshelves neat; currently that is my job. The first thing I did was sort: all the fiction on two shelves, all the children’s and YA books on two shelves, all the nonfiction on the remaining shelf. Next, I threw away (don’t gasp, it was as hard for me as it would be for you to toss a book) the textbooks and any travel book older than four years. A guide to New York City restaurants from 2000? More than half of them will be closed by now. Computer manuals for long-superseded software and operating systems? Gone.
            I found friends and neighbors who know of organizations that take children’s and YA books, like Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, and they have come and taken books away. And some of the fiction and nonfiction have moved out. But more and more are pouring in.
            The fiction currently available ranges from Stephen King and Dean Koontz to Barbara Kingsolver and Julian Barnes, as well as classics like Edith Wharton and Shakespeare (paperback of Othello). The kids’ books include many Nancy Drews and Junie B.s and some Lemony Snicket and Suzanne Collins, among others.
            A PLEA: if you know of any schools or organizations in New York that could use gently used books and are willing or able to come for them (I don’t have a car), please let me know. Once the weather gets nicer, I can donate many to Housing Works, but the shelves are getting close to overflowing now. To throw away a book is painful, but the bookcase cannot get any bigger than it is.

Slice of Life, #21

Part I. The Afternoon
            I met with a group of New York Mets fans who have been gathering before the season starts for 30 years -- I joined five years in. Three of the original members are still in it, all trivia mavens and sabrmetricians (people fascinated by baseball stats, from the Society for American Baseball Research), and they have real lives as well. We meet to talk about the team, its recent past, and, hopefully, better season this year, and then play a round of baseball Jeopardy. This year's categories were "Rogers" (players whose first or last name was Roger or Rogers); Mickey, Willie, and the Duke; Mets Hall of Famers; the Roaring '20s; and Cy Old (pitchers who won the Cy Young award when they were old -- by baseball standards). I won last year's pool for how many games the Mets would win: 79.