Wednesday, October 4, 2017

(Be true) "to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge."***

If I ever appear smart it is because I allow Maria Popova, brilliant editor of the newsletter Brain Pickings,* to do the heavy lifting.  Maria reminds me that it can be satisfying to think.  She’ll quote a phrase “ fighting the cowardice of cynicism” ** and my mind takes a gleeful u-turn from my diet of vapid.   Of course.  Cynicism is a cowardly and lazy exit.   But I love it so. I'm cynical about everything: marriage, parental love, the flu vaccine. etc.   I wish there was a cooking show that served up irony and cynicism.  Chicken pot irony.  Cynicism alfredo.  Yum.

This week, Brain Pickings  reintroduced me to e.e. cummings, the poet most remembered for using quirky punctuation.  He was much more. Cummings was a slayer of cultural repression, a rebellious son of puritanism.  This is how he mocked Harvard and Cambridge as the epitome of stifling respectability.

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things --
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
....the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

This is almost exactly how Tom Wolfe mocked the New York establishment decades later in Radical Chic.

Cummings became a member of the Lost Generation, following Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Paris and eventually settling in Greenwich Village to capture the Bohemian mystique of literary and sexual experimentation.   He made the establishment angry.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, not many poets were offering lines like this:

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows....

Here is one of cummings’  more annoying poems:










is upon a gra





Someone described this poem as letters falling from a cliff.

Cummings was showcased in Brain Pickings this week along with quotes from Seamus Heaney “involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.”and even Nietzsche, “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” because of his enduring message to be yourself and defy any culture that rules through fear. 

This direct quote from this week's newsletter is my contribution to the citizens on both sides of the current political battle that are cowered by fear of reprisal or physical harm from expressing their true selves.

Every generation believes that it must battle unprecedented pressures of conformity; that it must fight harder than any previous generation to protect that secret knowledge from which our integrity of selfhood springs.  But much of it in the century and a half since Nietzsche, and especially in the years since Heaney, is an accurate reflection of the conditions we have created and continually reinforce in our present informational ecosystem — a Pavlovian system of constant feedback, in which the easiest and commonest opinions are most readily rewarded, and dissenting voices are most readily punished by the unthinking mob.

** Caitlin Moran
*** Seamus Heaney

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Both disturbing and enlightening

When you read a book on your kindle, Amazon knows exactly what page you are on, how long it took you to finish and any passages that were highlighted. Here are the passages that impressed the readers of "Fortune's Daughters"

Popular Highlights
The wanting of the thing was everything. Fulfillment lessened the thing desired.
16 Highlighters
“Married love is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Married love is based on different criteria than any other kind of love. You have complete and precise knowledge of the other. You know better than anyone how to hurt them. Every day, unconsciously, you add it all up and make a decision to cherish the union. Yes, I cherish our union. It works better than what most people think of as love.”
10 Highlighters
She told herself that she loved him enough for both of them, and after all, she had never been able to inspire intimacy in anyone.
7 Highlighters
“What do you mean by intimacy?” “Closeness. Physical closeness and mental closeness. Sharing of ideas, warmth, silent understanding, tenderness, touching without sexual overtones. Love. Who in your life are you intimate with?”
6 Highlighters
“That is how we think of money in this firm. It exists for the sole purpose of making more money.
6 Highlighters
The money exists not for buying groceries or paying rent. It exists for the sole purpose of making more money. The sums grow silently through the night as interest compounds, doubles, and triples. The sum staggers the imagination and people grow quiet when thinking about it and it makes them want more.
5 Highlighters
What happened to Alice Simpson after her son died was transformative, a unique gift that Billy had given to his mother in death.
5 Highlighters
In 1900, when Hope was just a toddler, there were only forty-five states. The average worker made twenty cents an hour. Fewer than 150 miles of paved highway existed in the entire United States,
4 Highlighters
stupid mistakes of the poor. The mistakes of drink, the mistake of illness gone untreated, the mistake of making do with dead-end jobs that the Jews and Italians would not take.
4 Highlighters
“There’s another kind of love that is beyond reason. It overtakes you like an illness and keeps you suspended in a kind of frightening abyss. That’s what I felt for you. The months we were together were like being suspended over an abyss.”
3 Highlighters

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Too much. For mercy’s sake. Too much.

Things we use too much of;

Shampoo. We use at least three times as much as we need every morning in the shower.  Some shampoo directions urge a second washing, six times as much.  That acid mantle of protection on your scalp?  Say goodbye to it. 

There is an entire movement against washing your hair with shampoo. I read the book “NO MORE POO” and didn’t wash my hair for a week.  My hair didn’t care.  Not only did my hair look flat and listless, my thoughts were flat and listless. I went back to Ivory soap, my go to cleanser, scent-free.  I just heard you shudder.  What? Not good?

Toothpaste. That big swirly inch long thing?  That's a week’s worth. You only need a pea-size amount and it probably has arsenic in it so the less, the better. They found arsenic in baby formula from China.  I wish Trump had asked the Chinese guy, "Just out of curiosity, why arsenic in baby formula? Was that a spite thing?"  

When they reported that brown rice BROWN RICE!!!! had more arsenic in it than white rice and it might be better to eat white rice, I had to sit down.  How did arsenic get anywhere near the rice?  Don’t you have to make arsenic?  Did the farmer say, I think I’ll place my rice paddy right next to the rat poison plant so my rice can benefit from the arsenic run-off.

Dish detergent – if a dish just had bread or celery or a peach on it – does it need twenty-three chemicals to make it usable again?  Hot water will do the trick.

Laundry detergent.  Who of us has believed the recommended capful is enough?  Who of us has not waited for a cover of suds to feel satisfied?  Who of us has washed 36 loads with a 50 oz jug of detergent? Who of us has not gifted their psyche to the market research people and refused to believe (as they planned) that 3X concentrated means you only need 1/3 as much?  As much of what?

Paper towels.  I use paper towels for everything.  This is wrong. I once had to pay $2500 to get a tree removed so maybe it's revenge.  I sometimes get the shorter sheets to assuage my guilt.  Wait.  I really don’t have guilt about paper towels.  

In order to save the earth, I tried the toilet paper without the inner stabalizing cardboard cylinder.  The entire roll was smushed and misshapen from shipping and there was no good place to put the roller in.  I had to dig around and ruin about half of it.

The word “so.”  Many sentences, especially answers to questions or general informational sentences,  now begin with “so.”  It’s as if we are in the middle of a saga where a snowstorm has overtaken the wagon train and everyone (including a suckling baby) is about to freeze to death.  So the travelers huddled together for warmth and prepared to meet a stern God.”

The phrase “for sure.”  This slipped into conversation about three years ago and I blame it on re-runs of “Little House On The Prairie.”  A lot of television guests slip in “for sure,” instead of saying “yes.” They think it makes them sound Sarah, Plain and Tall.  I took off all of my clothes in the movie but I’m a shy Amish prude in real life.  For sure.

When my kids were little I use to caution them like this:  “Mind the high step.  Mind, your fingers where the door closes.” I was pretending to be British and have British children otherwise we would have fallen apart.  The “for sure” disease is the same thing.  With ever more depraved behavior filling the airwaves, we hold together by talking like puritanical hardscrabble folk.


I’m too lazy and self-involved to be an activist.  BUT the story of Flint Michigan is ever on my mind. I lay out all the facts and can’t figure it out.   Even after they found out the people, the children, were getting seriously sick.  Even after the governments - local, state and federal - knew about the water and how it had become a horrid lethal weapon pointed at innocents.  Even after there was clear evidence that the poor people – and many of them were poor – continued to be irreparably harmed, THEY DIDN’T DROP EVERYTHING AND RUSH TO FIX IT AND GIVE medical aid to all the victims and get down on bended knee and beg forgiveness and give them all a good house with clean water and new hope. Why didn’t Oprah or Ellen go there with a big Shutterfly check and new vans?  I don’t get it.  It still weighs on me.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Publication Day - It's exciting, reflective, frightening - all those things

In April of 2014, I was "discovered" by Amazon and they re-published my historical novel, Three Daughters.  Since November of that year, the book has sold over 200,000 copies and received 2300 reviews, the majority of them five stars. (Although one woman said it was the best book she had ever read and gave it one star.  I wonder if she was being sarcastic or just thought one star was the best.) The book was originally published by Delacorte Press almost twenty years ago.  Amazon resurrected this 700 page saga and made it a bestseller.  How lucky am I?  I am grateful to the brilliant Jeff Bezos for giving writers a friendly and welcoming outlet for their books.  I am particularly grateful to my editor, Jodi Warshaw, who found me, the needle, in the huge haystack that is Amazon.

Imagine, if you can, me in a mid afternoon sugar fog, trying to decipher that initial e-mail from Amazon with the subject line: Interest in Daughters.  As I've written before, I thought someone wanted to marry my daughter.  I thought, how sweet, they are asking for her hand in an e-mail.

Early last year, I sold Amazon a new novel, Fortune's Daughters.   Again Jodi Warshaw held my hand through an arduous editing process and the outcome is being published today.  When I post in this blog, I try to offer up humor and silliness, but I can't think of anything funny today.

I know many of you have pre-purchased Fortune's Daughters and will receive it today.  Please consider leaving a short review on the Amazon site.  The review can be as simple as:  I enjoyed this book.   Reviews are the lifeblood of all books and I need your help.

Thank you to so many of my e-friends: both Carolyns, Diane, Carlaray, Mark Williams, Peggy Muller, Carol, Rod Sharp, Jeff, Sandra, Sandy, both Mollys, Michael, Susannah, Amanda Brett (we go way back), Maria, Denise, Sherry, Elizabeth (the faithful), Ruth, Paula, Meredith, Amy, Carol O., Andy, MamaRobot, Alexandra, Carin, Cheryl, Charles, Barbara S. Sandra T, Nicco, Anne, JoBeth, Kacy, Lisa Y., Neva, L.C Evans (dearest friend), C. J, Pamela, Kathleen (admiration), Chris, Mel, Linda P., Charlotte, Dona (copywriting roomie), Jane, Liz,  among many, many others.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Leave a review on Amazon today for an author you love

My new novel, Fortune's Daughters, publishes on Tuesday, May 9.  If you read it and like it, please consider leaving a short review.  I would be so grateful.

Many readers  who would not hesitate to write a dissertation, freeze up when it comes to reviewing a book.  The manifesto below should take some of the mystique out of the process.
Amazon's review system has some of the wild, wild west about it.  Readers say all sorts of things:  
This book sucks.  I fell asleep every time I tried to read it so I gave up.  I loved this book but hated the ending so much I'm giving it one star.  Haven't cooked dinner all week, can't put this book down. 
The chapters were all mixed up and some were missing.
 My book, Three Daughters, has received almost 2300 reviews and they run the gamut of emotion. I recently received a review that said, This is the best book I've ever read and the reader gave me one star.  She thought one star was the best.
I love that review because it is honest and the reader did her best.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Penniless, insolvent and on the way to the breadline.

(Poverty redux)

The poverty level in the U.S. has risen for the fourth straight year. I don’t have a clear idea of what poverty means today. When do you reach that point where you say: “Oh, I’m at the poverty level. How did this happen?”
The conservative Heritage Foundation says living in poverty is better than many people imagine. (Possibly because none of the members has lived in poverty.) Due to housing and food subsidies, poverty doesn’t necessarily exclude having a television or two, a computer, internet service, a dishwasher or Nike sneakers. You might not be able to afford a personal trainer but you can probably get a free gym membership. Even if you’re not quite at the poverty level there are many handouts for people whose income is under a certain amount. You can receive help with your heating bill and your electric bill. You can get food stamps and could spend them on Lays salt and vinegar chips and Entenmann's powdered donuts if you wanted to.

I have some markers for what rich means. Rich is going into Citarella and throwing some Tuscan herbs into the cart without a thought even though they are 3.95 for .56 oz bringing the per pound price to $125. I don’t know if Citarella takes food stamps but I’d like to see the cashier’s face when someone hands them in. (Citarella is where I buy mesclun. The pieces are loose and it has a good ratio of radicchio and frisée to baby beet greens, etc.)

Rich sometimes means being able to take a long hot shower any time it suits you. A long hot shower especially if the shower has a built in seat and is exclusively yours, is an activity that makes me feel financially healthy if not outright rich. Also keeping the house at 72 degrees in winter. Whenever anyone walks into my house in winter they say, “It feels good in here.” You bet it does.
Poverty level varies wildly depending on the city you live in. In New York City, you can be at the poverty level and make $100,000 a year not only because of the high rents and high food costs but because the figure messes with your good sense.
“Hey, mom, guess how much this job pays a year?”
“How much?”
“Wow, Bobby, that’s a lot.”
Bobby begins charging like an AlphaPower Battery and pretty soon his Visa bill is at $30,000 from eating out and taking trips and buying rounds of drinks and before you know it Bobby is in debt and having to call Suzy Orman’s show and ask her to approve any purchase.

There are no subsidies that dispel the psychological disgrace a father or mother might feel when the family slips into the poverty level. The Brookings Institution says that in spite of having certain amenities, poor families face severe challenges. They probably have, as the Department of Agriculture so romantically puts it “food insecurity.” That’s a phrase I would use for single males living alone but it turns out it’s a phrase the Agriculture Department has for poverty level citizens. I take back everything I’ve thought and said about the dullness of government bureaucrats. Somebody there had an existential thought:
“What shall we call it when people feel they won’t be able to buy the food they want?”
“Call it food insecurity.”
Again this doesn’t mean that you don’t have the staples or that you can compete in the poverty sweepstakes with a family from Bangladesh. It only means you have free-floating anxiety about your food supply. (Many middle-class families also have free-floating anxiety about food when tomatoes are 3.29 a pound.) The Department of Agriculture says 17.2 million households were defined as “food insecure” last year.
Even if you are living at the “poverty level” you are not destitute - a word you don’t hear much about.  The dictionary defines destitute as: lacking the necessities of life and the synonyms are penniless, impoverished, insolvent, on the breadline. I have not seen any statistics for people who are destitute.
The truly forgotten when it comes to the empathy spotlight is the middle-class, the breadwinners who are just barely hanging in there. These families earn too much to qualify for subsidies and earn too little to avoid constant worry. They are “future insecure.” They have to make ends meet all on their own and there is no safety net.

(I apologize for re-posting old posts.  It's not that I'm lazy and don't feel like writing anything fresh. Well, yes.  It's exactly that.)

Don't forget to go over to Goodreads and enter the Amazon giveaway for my new book.  They are giving away 100 copies so you've got a good chance of getting one.