Saturday, October 3, 2015

I feel fortunate and happy to have a job

I'm busy writing my book.  If I didn't have a contract binding me to a delivery date in the near future, I would not be working this hard.  I feel fortunate and happy to have a job to do and realize that my happiness is based on purposeful work. I like to work.   Happiness, by the way, is a quiet thing.  Happiness is like an agreeable companion who links arms and walks with you and let's you lead the conversation.

 I have no concept of what "working hard" means for a writer.  People who jackhammer concrete in 90 degree heat work hard.  Window cleaners in high rise buildings who dangle over the abyss while they swipe a squeegee over glass work hard.  School teachers who teach teenagers work hard. 

Sometimes the characters in this book speak up and tell me how they want to proceed.  Sometimes minor characters show me how they can be used to move the story along.  I am continually amazed at the process because it defies explanation and sounds false.  It is not false.  This is my seventh book and the writing experience is very different.  I'm trusting it but I'm not sure I should trust it completely.

I'm posting today because my book, Three Daughters, is part of an Amazon promotion for the month of October.  You can buy all 722 pages of the Kindle edition for 1.99.  It's going to be on sale in the UK, too, beginning Oct. 9th.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"You're promised nothing. Ever." Marlon Brando

Every time I think of saying good-bye to Facebook, I will get a snippet in my feed from Joanne Woodward.  I don't know Joanne and I'm not sure how I became one of her FB friends but almost daily she posts quotes from two works by James Grissom: Tennessee Williams biography, "Follies of God" and from Marlon Brando's portrait "Come Up A Man: The Hungers of Marlon Brando. We knew Tennessee was brilliant but who knew Marlon Brando was a brilliant thinker?  All of Brando's quotes are so incisive it makes you realize he could have been a great writer as well as a great actor.  He gets to the deeply buried truth about things.  In the quote below he talks about talent in a way I hadn't considered.

"Work the talent. Hone the talent. Share the talent. This has been my life, and this was seen as healthy and necessary. Talent gives nothing to its owner: It only gives momentary pleasure to those to whom it is given. The application of talent depletes a person, while the study of things and people to feed it give great pleasure. But when you're done sharing the talent, you're empty and tired and terribly vulnerable, and if you have no one in your life to tell you to do things and to be there for them, you're dead. Talent is not enough. Judy Garland is proof of that: She gave and she gave, and she had, in the end, nothing. No one to hold her--I mean HER, not the person known as Judy Garland. I am an example of this: I pursued talent and work and the marketing of it, and what do I have? What do any of us have? A lonely phone call in the night."--Marlon Brando/ From Grissom's "Come Up A Man: The Hungers of Marlon Brando

And also from Brando: "You're promised nothing. Ever. Without becoming entirely nihilistic, keep this always in mind. The pursuit is everything. The reaching. The straining. Harold [Clurman] told me once that to die with your arm stretched toward something that is impossible for you is the greatest goal to have. Keep reaching. Expect nothing. And then--one day, amazingly--you grab hold of the play, the film, the book, the person. And life is that amazing thing you hoped for, dreamed of." 

The other quote is from  Grissom's extraordinary portrait of Tennessee Williams' and his take on Ernest Hemingway.  It is exactly the way I feel about Hemingway, "he altered the literary scene for all of us and his rhythms are now our rhythms....."  By the way, this book is a masterful biography of Williams' creative process which can overlap to include even the least of us.

 "Whatever we may feel about him personally--whatever his particular demons may have been--he altered the literary scene for all of us, and his rhythms are now our rhythms, and his nightmares our nightmares. We are all indebted to him even in small ways."--Tennessee Williams on Ernest Hemingway.

 Off subject:  on a personal note, I have been fortunate to sell another book (one that isn't written yet) and my posts may be farther (further?) apart.  I'm a little scared if I will be able to fulfill the enthusiasm and expectations of the publisher but I'm going to keep writing and do my best.  Writing this blog has helped me become a more facile writer.  By that I mean I can summon the emotional context in which to place events without too much agonizing.  My mind is used to finding the best way to present even small ideas.  I notice the writing process is markedly different from when I wrote my last book.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The best bs ever!

As some might know, I live in East Hampton and not too far from my house, is the gorgeous barn of Ina Garten, the doyenne of all things culinary and tasteful and high end.  I love watching Ina and Jeffrey giggle and adore each other.   I love watching Ina cook with her beautiful commercial grade equipment and her gorgeous produce and her first-name relationships with the shopkeepers of the high end food that she buys.  Ina tells us to always have chicken stock in the freezer and then she pulls out gallons of clear earthy stock that must have required a hundred chickens to produce and then also strained through unbleached muslin.  I marvel that any earthly being lives in such a perfect yet relaxed world. 

Yesterday, I found a headline on my Yahoo news feed with these words:  
Ina's Barnlike Abode

On  a shady side street of East Hampton, New York, Ina Garten built her "barn," inspired by the simple country buildings of Belgium and designed by architect Frank Greenwald.  Ina loves to entertain outdoors, and "all my guests love to sit on the stone sitting wall before dinner, having a glass of wine," she says.  After dinner, everyone gathers around the big iron fire bowl to roast marshmallows and make s'mores.
In the entry, a 19th century muslin-covered settee from Bloom is just right for donning summer flip-flops or shucking winter Wellies.  A 17th-century Venetian mirror hangs on a wall painted Farrow and Ball's Light Gray.

Some BS is bad, some BS is good but this is the best BS ever!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed. So what?

When I came upon a book titled, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Well.  You know.  Magic. Life-changing. The author is foreign giving her message more weight. The book's suggested regimen is so radical, we assume a payoff of spectacular personal change.

My life, by the way, is already magically transformed.  Logically I had no right to succeed at anything. I perfected the maneuver of sounding smart by remembering everything and knowing nothing completely. It has brought me far.  I have received almost everything I've ever wanted and expect to get the few items left very soon. I share this because, like many, I enjoy any documentation of all the things that are seriously wrong with me and are blocking any hope of a good happy life. 

Are books like this of any use?  Yes.  Books like these are useful when there is something mildly wrong with us and we need a little kick to try out a new idea and challenge some dusty status quo.  A new idea that requires action (getting rid of all useless possessions) takes hold in stages.  There's the first layer where you get rid of obvious trash: torn clothing, broken utensils, etc.  A few days later, your eyes and mind open a little wider and you get rid of stuff that isn't broken but is useless and possibly worthless.  All subsequent stages are true awakenings wherein you realize how all this stuff is mentally weighing you down and you can't get rid of it fast enough.  No regrets!

Let's take the book, Stuff - compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things. I had all the classic symptoms of a mild hoarder and the evidence was in my garage. I was certain I would one day sell the stuff in my garage so why should I throw it away?   I don't feel that way anymore and although I have sold a few things, I have also given away or thrown away much more.  Sadly, I still hoard some clothes from when I was thinner. 

I received two useful messages from these books and both improved my life.

It's okay to let go of stuff.  It takes a while for this idea to take root. Familiarity is not a reason to retain anything.  Let it all go by whatever means.  It's beneficial. Think of it as psychic income.  Visually, it's liberating to see empty space.  Emotionally, there's a sense of relief not to be responsible for fixing, refurbishing or using any of the stuff.  Mentally, you now have room for other thoughts.

It's not a sin to throw away/give back sentimental keepsakes and you won't regret it later.
All the "awwh" stuff you kept from when the kids were little, including handprints in clay, macaroni portraits, abstract paintings, sat scores, mother's day cards, etc. can be boxed and given to each child to do with as they wish. 

My favorite title by far is  Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed.   That should be my autobiography.  If we are realistic, it is probably the universal autobiography. We want everything to be about us. So what?  Think about it.  That's the way it has to be. By the way, the above book is about deciding not to have children but you can have children to enhance your selfishness, shallowness and self-absorption because what are children but miniature versions of us.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Editors who used to show up at your house to hold your hand

I belong to a site named "Narrative"

I don't feel worthy of being anywhere near this site because they are the kind of serious writing place that will publish a story by Virginia Woolf  which they did in the current issue.  It is called Monday or Tuesday.

The poem of the week Scars  by Tod Marshall is about the debris that lives under a trailer that is exposed when a windstorm blows off the skirt. 
Everything they publish is literary as in Farrar Straus and Giroux when Roger Straus ran the ship and Michael di Capua was an editor,   as in Viking Press when Tom Guinzberg was editor in chief, as in when the first Tom Wolfe was screaming out in the street at one in the morning that he had written ten thousand words that day.  As in, people who remember who Ford Maddox Ford was and the name of Hemingway's editor. As in Maxwell Perkins. As in, editors who used to show up at your house to hold your hand.    As in, more recently, Jennifer Egan. They have writing contests and award prize money.

Today this magazine arrived in my e-mail box and offered a free - as in free - ad of  100 words.  Just in case I misunderstood, they said it was free about eight times.  Just place the ad between aug 6 and aug 8. 

Anyway, I'm passing this along to my blog readers in case they want to take advantage of it.
72-Hour Classifieds Giveaway!      
To introduce you to our incredibly easy place-it-yourself classified ads, we’re offering free one-month ad placements for all our ad categories.

Any ad placed from August 6 to 8 will run for one month absolutely free. See the ad categories listed below.

In placing your free ad, you may include text highlighting and an image for enhanced marketing of your workshop, contest, services, books, or other items of interest to readers and writers.

Our classifieds are a fast and easy way to reach more than 200,000 readers, and you can create and post your ad online in just a few moments.

See our classified ad categories today, and plan your free ad!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Why don't we just quit this "dog and pony" show called Democracy?

This morning I read that President Obama feels "most frustrated and most stymied" by the failure to pass "commonsense gun safety laws through Congress, even in the face of repeated mass killings.  He blamed it on the political clout of the NRA. 

Does the NRA have more political clout than all of Congress?
Yes it does.  It has more political clout than the 100 Senators and the 435 voting members of the House of Representatives.  The NRA and most lobby groups have way more power than even the president of the United States of America.

What does that mean?
It means the National Rifle Association can bully 100 Senators and 435 voting Members of the House into voting for its interests even though the outcome fuels senseless and heartbreaking mass murder.

How can that be.  I didn't elect the NRA.  You mean the NRA is more powerful than my precious democratic government?
Yes.  And not only the NRA.  The Dairy Lobby, The Phramaceutical Lobby.  Big Agra. Big Pharma.  AIPAC.  Almost every industry or special interest group has a lobby and all have political clout.  They can and do bully the congress into doing what they want.

Are you saying  that although billed as a democracy, the USA is run by a shadow government that is killing its citizens with guns, with antibiotic infested chickens, with radiated milk, with high fructose laced food, with plastic water bottles that leach poisons into our bodies, with drugs that create more havoc than they alleviate disease.

Don't we rail against governments that kill their own people? Aren't we trying to sell them on democracy?
Yes.  That's our mission. 

Why aren't the citizens outraged by this shadow government?  Why isn't there an outcry?
Because the press and elected officials keep the citizens in a frenzy over things like animal rights, transgender rights, racism, inane political correctness, abortion, immigration, the Kardashians.

But aren't those issues important, too?
Of course, but if the press devoted one tenth the media attention to the totalitarian bully tactics of the shadow government of unelected thugs that run the Congress, as the air and print space they allot to Caitlyn Jenner, we would be raging at the door of the Supreme Court to outlaw lobby groups or impose campaign spending limits so we can make this obscene rape of our government a punishable act.

How do the lobby groups get so strong?
They dangle a lot of money in front of the Senators and Congressmen.

Whuck? You mean they buy them off?
Yes.  They buy their allegiance.  They buy their vote.

Are you saying my elected congressman and my elected senator are not really working for me but they are working for the NRA and the Dairy Lobby, and big Pharma and Big Agra and AIPAC and god knows who else?

Then what's the sense of having elections and spending all that money.  Why don't we just quit the dog and pony show and call ourselves a totalitarian government.
There is no sense.  No sense at all.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

There is a purity of intent in our president.

Yesterday I changed my mind about two things:  President Obama and sports.

Normally, I would not watch a presidential news conference in the middle of the day but it interrupted one of my favorite game shows (yes, I know, you think less of me now).  Instead of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" there was our fabulous looking president telling us in a sure, strong voice why the Iran deal is much better than no deal because the alternative is to blow Iran up into smithereens (little bits and pieces.)  The president didn't say that last part.  He said war was the alternative.
The president also mapped out all of the safety nets that were in place in the deal in case Iran wanted to sneak around and build nuclear weapons behind our back.  The president also said that a nuclear plant is not something you can put on a dolly and wheel out of sight.  I was astonished at the reasonableness of his remarks considering that this initiative is a major game change in the way we deal with the Middle East. 

There is a new note in our president's voice. He is calm and sequential.  There is a purity of intent that comes across when he lays out his reasoning.  There is a purity of intent when he challenges the opposition to be courageous enough to embrace the alternative view which would be war. 

Normally, given my penchant for grand irony, I should have been madly in love with a president named Barack Hussein Obama II.  Holy Toledo, is this a joke?  In the early years, I was not a fan. I didn't mind that he was not as pure as advertised.  I didn't mind that he was backed by Wall Street money or had to repay lobbyists like the unpure presidents. Remember the $536 million sunk into that trainwreck Solyndra? I particularly didn't like the stealthy way the health bill was passed, cobbled together with possibly non-constitutional legislative tricks. I didn't like the way the press was slobbering (yes, slobbering) over him because I considered it democratically unhealthy.  I had a hunch that Michelle had a chip on her beautifully toned shoulder.  After all, she was a brainiac, too, and why should she be demoted to issues like childhood obesity instead of making the big decisions.

My respect for this president grew slowly and is now complete.  I began to pay attention toward the three quarter mark of the first term. He was publicly stubborn.  He would not be bullied by the press to provide answers before he was ready.  He had his own way of dealing with the world outside of the USA.  We didn't have a puppet in the Oval Office.  Maybe the president grew, too, and I'm appreciating the man he has become.  Either way, we are the luckiest country on earth to have this intelligent man who has nothing political to lose, leading this country as best he can.

My second awakening is about sports.  I have only a passing interest in sports.  I know from the headlines that sports figures sometimes do very dumb things.  Two of them blew off a finger over the July 4th holiday.  A couple of them have shot people.  Dead. Many of the men marry gorgeous women and then divorce them.  Those were my default thoughts about sports but last night I changed my mind.  I watched the entire Espy awards show and not for the reason you think.  I did see Caitlyn's good speech but that came late in the proceedings.  I watched the entire show because I was riveted to the men and women who received awards. The clips of their feats were fantastic and showed tremendous physical talent.  The recipients were modest, thoughtful, grateful and gave short interesting speeches. Two of them made me cry.  Yay sports!

And by the way, have you noticed what a brilliant and interesting man Mike Tyson has become?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Three Daughters paperback 40% off now to 8/13

Are you one of those people who still likes to read a physical book?

Yes.  And I object to the phrase "one of those people."

Calm down.  I have good news.

I doubt it but go ahead.

If the price point for paperbacks has kept you from reading my bestseller, Three Daughters,
Amazon has reduced it by 40%.

If I had wanted to read Three  Daughters I would have bought it by now.

Some reviewers say it is one of the best books they have ever read.  It has over 800 5-star reviews.

Are you talking about some of the nut jobs who review on line?

I guess so.  But the Washington Post also gave it a good review (and that was before Jeff Bezos bought the paper).

If you stop pestering me right this minute, I might go over there and take a look.


Monday, June 29, 2015

One important point I missed.

This morning, I was taking a bath and I thought of something I missed in yesterday's post on Dr, Oz, perhaps the most important point of all.   Here it is.  When a group coalesces with the intent of punishing someone who holds an alternative view, especially if that group represents an event approved by the government, it makes Uncle Sam (the government) look thuggish. 

I can take you down.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Something's up in the Land of Oz

There's a gang of ten MD's who are hell bent on discrediting Dr. Oz and getting him kicked off the Columbia University faculty.  They claim that Oz is manifesting an "egregious lack of integrity" and practicing quack medicine and shows "disdain for science (GMO's) and for evidence-based (Big Agra, Big Pharma) medicine."

Dr. Oz was the man who used to bring dried out lungs and disease-ridden livers to Oprah's old show and make her handle them.  He would present the organs as if he were offering her a muffin.  Oprah would eye-roll but played along.  Oprah always hauled out the good doctor  to answer questions we were too embarrassed to ask our own doctor:  malfunctions going on below the waist which are plentiful.  Dr. Oz would lay it all out matter-of-factly and give us a diagram of our plumbing.  He is a mild mannered man in uniform-catalog clothes and a bad haircut.

After a while, Oprah gave Oz his own show just as she had done for Rachel Ray.  Oprah chose these two non threatening regular people with regular faces and bought them shows. They didn't disappoint her.  But now a bunch of doctors signed a letter asking Columbia University to throw Oz off their medical roster.  Is it sour grapes?  Dr. Oz makes money being on television and also makes money being a doctor.  So what?   He is trying to help us, the viewers, have a better experience in this vale of tears.  He uses  normal life situations and puts out mostly good information.  Does he sometimes give air space to "miracle" cures for weight loss? Garcinia Cambogia. Raspberry Ketones..  Sort of.  But the majority of his advice has to do with recognizing serious illness, avoiding serious illness and  swapping bad food and habits for decent food and habits without too much sacrifice.  But the gang of ten isn't focused on green coffee extract for weight loss.  They are focused on "baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops."  Whuck?????  They are mad at Dr. Oz because he has said on the air that GMO food should be labeled for what it is.  Not forbidden.  Just labeled.  It's worth noting that the doctor who signed the letter, Dr. Miller, used to work at the FDA reviewing genetically engineered drugs.  

Are you a GMO?  No. I'm Lutheran.

I would bet the doctors that signed the letter have no qualms about giving their patients expensive drugs that the drug companies tout and probably make people sicker but because they have the imprimatur of the FDA - the laziest and most compromised agency in the govt. -  they are integrity covered.  I have no basis to make this assumption but I will make it anyway.

This is off subject:  once, I bought the green coffee extract pills.  They were 9.99 at CVS.  I took them for two days.  When I didn't lose twenty pounds in those two days, I lost interest.  Here are some typical Dr. Oz attention getters: "Cut your heart attack risk in half by this one simple rule."  The rule is usually to take some baby aspirin daily.  Or "How do you know you are having a stroke?"  A couple of clues are to smile and/or give your address. (By the way, recently they added the tongue as a clue.  If it's listing to one side, not a good sign.)

Anyway, I'm team Oz.  Of all the bad things, he isn't so bad.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Clotted cream, crème fraiche, chagrinned and Andy Warhol

(reposting this from Feb. 21, 2014 because I love Andy Warhol's diaries)
Clotted cream, crème fraiche
Last night a friend brought a dessert that was everything that I find delicious.  First it had lemon in it and also cream and it was all real (home made) no funny stuff.  I think the cream was what the British call clotted.  If you want to sound smart and sophisticated in any conversation just use two phrases.  Even if they make no conversational sense and you are eating a pork chop say, “clotted cream” or “crème fraiche.” Those around you will start re-computing your IQ and EQ.  You can also throw in “chagrinned.”
As for my love of lemon, once I made rice with only lemon juice and no water.  Don’t try this at home because you will get rice gum (it tastes fantastic to a lemon freak but your guests might pause or even leave).  Lemon tends to gelatinize things I found out.  Oh, and by the way, I finally learned something useful from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa.  She said that using mustard in salad dressing helps to emulsify the lemon and oil.  I tried it and it is true.  Previously, I couldn’t get the lemon and olive oil to end their stand-off however mustard does the trick.
And Andy Warhol
A person I would be happy to live with full time would be Andy Warhol.  I was reading his diaries as I often do for inspiration and comfort.  I realized that we share the same blurty, ADD, hard to follow thinking process that makes perfect sense to the speaker but annoys and confuses those around us.  Here are a couple of examples from my favorite book The Andy Warhol Diaries.  Andy dictated the diaries every morning to his assistant to keep a record of his activities and the expenses they generated.  His assistant compiled all the entries into the Diaries.
The entry below is from May 22, 1984. 
“Jean Michel came down to the office early.  He was reading his big review in the Voice.  They called him the most promising artist on the scene.  And at least they didn’t mention me and say he shouldn’t be hanging around with me the way the New York Times did.
I opened up one of the boxes in the back that’s being moved and it had ……letters from Ray Johnson the artist and I think my bloodstained clothes from when I was shot.
I realized the reason Tony Shafrazi hasn’t gotten even one of the artists in his gallery into MOMA is because Tony’s the person who defaced Picasso’s Guernica.  But that’s not fair.  Keith Haring isn’t at MOMA.  And they have just one thing of mine, the little Marilyn.  I just hate that.  That bothers me.
Then in the afternoon I went to Doc Cox’s (cab $7) and I protested over the thermometer that they used because it just sits there in water and everybody uses it, it’s not right.  And Rosemary took my blood pressure but I have a feeling they just throw these tests out.  And they have a new heart machine so now I don’t have to run up and down the stairs in the hallway to get my heart going – it’s a big improvement.  And Freddy won’t take your blood if she doesn’t know you.
….After dinner ($120) at Hisae and drinks at Jezebel’s we went over to Stuart Pivar’s because he was having people over and I wanted to learn about art.  I brought a small bronze and Stuart said it was a piece of junk, so tomorrow I’m returning it.”

An Amazon reviewer gave the book one star and commented “Incoherent ramblings for 1,000,000 pages.

They are perfectly coherent to me.

Another one-star review called it “Boring and Self Indulgent.” 
“Warhol's prose is horrible considering the creative mind he posseses (sic). I bought it used (thank God) and was bored to tears reading about taxi rides and what so-and-so was wearing. It was like reading a dreadfully boring gay man's blog. A bio on this character would be much more enlightening and a much less waste of time.”
A wise patient person commented on the bad review and said, “This isn't a bad book, you just weren't sure what to think of it: it confused you, so you don't like it.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

One of those frozen, hectic instants that you just know has a whole happy life attached.

 (I wrote this post three years ago.  I think I was smarter three years ago because this short post is more thoughtful and necessary than some of the drivel I write today.  A snipet of clarity is far better than five paragraphs of whining.  Jennifer Egan's writing is chock full of snipets of clarity therefore, I'm re-posting this)

I've gone nuts over Jennifer Egan. I want to share some of her smartness with you from her novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer:  One of those frozen, hectic instants that you just know has a whole happy life attached. 

Consuelo:  I do know. I've seen many of those moments and I think:  "Oooh, happy life attached."   

Jennifer: “I felt no shame whatsoever in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park.  In fact, there may have been no difference at all.

Consuelo: This seems harder to believe but I believe it. Comparisons are all in the internals, after all.

This last revelation can be used to dismantle almost all of the values hogging airspace today that most fail to grasp.  If you study the internals and discount the prevailing agenda, there is almost no difference between telling the truth and lying, between being generous or stingy,  between living a life of virtue or one of sin.  Almost no difference between sin and good works.  There was a book written a long time ago titled, It's All Zoo.  It is all zoo.  Don't take this to mean I'm a pessimist.  The opposite.  I am childishly optimistic.  I expect miracles every day.  There is an abundance of miracles.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

experience therapy

Whenever I have to leave my car at the mechanic, I take the bus home.  The mechanic, who is honest and helpful,  offers a ride but I prefer the bus. Taking the bus is orderly.  You wait on a bench. Sometimes the sun is warm and it feels good to sit and wait even though the bus is always late. There is nothing pressing.  Someone else is going to be in charge.  Once you put your fare in the box, you have no responsibilities.  When the ride begins you are free to scrutinize the passing scene.

One thing, I know.  I'm different from the other passengers. They don't take the bus for experience therapy.  They need the bus to get to their jobs or to a necessary destination. 

The Suffolk County Transit seems to hire eastern European drivers for the East Hampton route.  They begin their sentences with the verb and seldom elaborate.

When I took the bus last Friday, a man came around and gave every rider two dollars as a present.  I shook my head but he pressed the bills on me and it would have been rude to turn him down.  I thought maybe it was like those stories you hear of a millionaire throwing money into a crowd at Christmas.  I didn't want to touch the money because, although I like to ride the bus, I am phobic about touching strangers' hands even in church.  Also, dollar bills are probably one of the premier germ-laden objects along with the handrails in the subway.  The man who gave the money wore madras Bermuda shorts, a pullover with a shirt underneath and  good sneakers. 

The two dollars are still
You will need me one day
on the table. Unfolded.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Whatever you have done, let it go. Let it all go. It's all right.

( This is an excerpt from my book, One Hundred Open Houses.  It has a hopeful message in it.  Some readers don't like this book but the ones that do, like it a lot.)
Given my present thought process, something really strange happened in church on Sunday. Father O’Connell is on vacation and this other priest said mass.  He was quite old and we could hardly hear him.  
We were prepared to just sit through it, the way we did when we had a substitute teacher.  Almost in a whisper, he began talking about reconciliation – that’s what they call confession now.  He said,  “Whatever you have done, let it go.  You aren’t children anymore with a laundry list of sins – I hit my brother, I told a lie, I stole some candy - in order to be okay with God.  Just get rid of everything – let it go and you will be closer to Jesus. If you’ve had an abortion, if you’ve been abusive to your family – just let it go. Let it all go.  It’s all right. One of you,  “he emphasized, “sitting here today, will be transformed.” 
The entire congregation remained still.  Almost dumbstruck.  We weren’t prepared to actually hear something we could use never mind being transformed.  After church, I saw this young handsome man – not your typical devoted Catholic - go up to the priest and say – “I’m not from this parish but that is the best homily I have ever heard.”  There was a long line of people and they were all saying much the same thing.  They had been longing to find a way to get rid of all the things they were ashamed of doing and this brilliant old priest had told them it was okay to let it all go. He was telling us that he was certain – without a doubt – that this was not only okay, but also necessary.
After mass, I did something I seldom do – something all of us seldom do – I sat in the living room.  I sat on the couch I had bought at the Bloomingdale’s outlet store.  There was nothing to do in the living room except look around.  You couldn’t cook there or eat or watch television. The living room, I have to tell you, is a useless room that we have been told is necessary.  I felt as if I was visiting and all the stuff in there was new to me.   After the “letting go” talk, if you take it seriously, you have a lot of space in your head to think about other things.
It has resulted in putting me in a strange state of lethargy.  I feel all dry and papery.  I’m made of parchment paper. I keep thinking that contrary to my current fervor for staying alive, there might be something to dying.  No more humidifying and dehumidifying.  No more coughing at night or worrying about anything.  If nothing else, the weight issue is moot.
When you send the e-mail down to your psyche saying, “hey, it’s time to open up, we want some life changing moves up here,” it reacts.   I had stated a purpose and begun a plan and although it wasn’t frontal lobotomy or entering a non-speaking religious order, it was change and there’s nothing like change to make the psyche squeeze out a miserly bit of self-revelation.
What was revealed to me on that chilly for June Sunday morning was that no matter what I did or where I lived or if I chose to pitch a tent in the Mojave dessert there was a fist sized hunk of worry smack in the center of my chest and if I didn’t address it, I was not going to really move. 
There was no media noise so I was aware of the silence in the house.  In my Sunday morning clarity, I knew that it was a hunk of heaviness that had been sitting in my chest for a very long time.    I went into my default site of things to worry about, the kids’ safety, my health, mental illness and plumbing problems in a town where plumbers are the new rock stars.   If you’re not going to follow the blueprint for the American Dream, you have to fight hard not to think ill of yourself.
This wasn’t about the kids or the house. This hard impenetrable thing was a hunk of worry about me, Rebecca, and what had happened to her.   I bypassed my instinct to find some quick answer and thought about what my life was like from moment to moment. What I said to certain people and what I said to others.  Was I authentic with anyone? Did I have enough friends? What mattered to me? Did anyone really love me?  Was there anyone who couldn’t live without me?  Do you even want someone who can’t live without you?  No, you don’t!  I’ll give you a profile of that man without even meeting him.  Needy, needy, needy.  And possibly in need of long-term therapy.  You want someone who can live without you but would like to spend some time with you. 
I had an m.o.  As long as I could find the irony in everything that happened, I could make a case for an existence that resided on the sidelines while everyone else was actually living. Being ironic was no substitute for living but so help me I thought it was.   Louise was living all of the time.  She knew at least a dozen couples that she and her husband saw on a regular un-ironic basis.  She had friends she had known for forty years. She played tennis with her friends and went to baby showers.  She had a sequential life.  She definitely did not start over every morning.
I thought about my premise that a move outside my comfort zone would jump-start a new life, a new routine, new connections and a new me. I was definitely ready to re-define myself.  As what?  A spunky middle-aged woman?    Then this British guy was on Oprah and he wrote a book on happiness and he said you would never be happy if you had a destination addiction.  First, why anyone would listen to a Brit talk on the psychology of happiness is beyond me.  But I did take a little interest in his “destination addiction” theory.  He was saying that as long as you thought that your happiness depended on something that was going to happen in the future, you were a dead duck.  Or an unhappy duck. What I got from that Brit was that if I thought I was going to jump start my stalled writing career by moving to a monastic cell in New York City, I was stupid, stupid, stupid. And misguided.  And delusional.   I had to start being happy right here in Huffy The House. And while moving was a good idea, I would already be the committed reclaimed writer when I arrived.
So there was no avoiding it then.  I had to begin thinking of the story I wanted to tell.    What story was I just bursting to tell?  First of all, no writer is bursting to write anything.  Most are bursting to keep from writing.  Writing is incredibly hard and beside it, everything else appears incredibly easy.  But this particular moment, I kept still and continued thinking until I had an “aha” moment that sounded so simple, I didn’t trust it but since I had nothing else, I went with it.  Maybe the story was me!   The routines, the bad habits, the small pleasures, the calls to the utility companies, the yanking of weeds, the phantom tandem life that I was going to live one day.  Not this life but something better. Maybe this was the better life – maybe what I was writing down in my journal would make a fabulous story. Maybe my life was the story of the century.  Every single day of it  – Louise and Shana and the rep for the Dubai place and Itzonlyphil were what was in my life and if I shaped what I was writing in my journal into the odyssey it had become, I could make sense of it for myself and maybe for others, too.  Maybe what was in my head was not the jumbled thoughts of a textbook AADD but LIFE.  
 I had just read an article in the New Yorker about the dictionary of mental disorders (I’m thinking someone is sitting around saying:  there’s stealing and let’s call that kleptomania and there’s unsubstantiated euphoria and let’s call that manic behavior) There was a phrase in the article that I liked.  It said someone had an unruly inner life.  That’s what I had to document!   My unruly inner life.  I would shape what I had been writing in the journal into a book.
 It was Sunday morning and my instinct was to turn on the television and watch Meet The Press. Anything not to test my new theory that, at best, seemed weak.   I went to the computer instead.   I wrote the date and Chapter One – 9-G I wasn’t looking for an apartment…
 I started and before I knew it, Meet The Press was over and so were the McLaughlin Report and even Lydia’s Family Table.  I had just plunged into the story in an unruly way.  I introduced the old priest and what he told us and Ms. DuBois at the bank and KooKoofor$ and also Ben and Harry and even my mother and my fear of the voodoo she might be doing on my life.  When I was done for the day I felt spaced out the way you do when you spend a day at the beach and the bright sun glinting off the water makes you feel surreal.  And the salt air makes the indoors feel too quiet and unfamiliar. And your eyes can’t adjust.  I turned off the computer and had a cup of coffee.  There was no milk so I put some Turkey Hill vanilla Ice Cream in it.  I drank it slowly, in the living room. Just me sitting there.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Virginia - you've got it, girl.

On one of my periodic clean-up/dispose missions, I found a box of books that I had planned to sell on the internet two years ago when I was on a previous clean-up mission.

The books had pristine colorful jackets. There was Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (the infamous Oprah's Book Club edition.) Remember Mr. Franzen capriciously said he didn't want to go on Oprah. Television was too banal. That was the day that his publisher, Farrar Straus and Giroux, flew their flag at half mast as they saw a couple of million dollars drift into the ether. By the way, since this is a post about good writing, I will point out that although The Corrections was the most lauded novel of 2001, it only drew a 3.2 average  rating on Amazon.  Many of the Amazon customer reviews called it a "tedious piece of crap."   

Another book in the box was Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full  (a snarky critic re-titled it "A Man So Dull").  Nestled with the bestsellers was a modest student edition of To the Lighthouse by the venerated Virginia Woolfe.  I opened this book to Chapter One.  What kind of writing does it take to separate an author from the pack and give her iconic stature forever?  I was curious to read her prose because she was part of that high strung, literary aristocracy, the Bloomsbury group. Here is one of Ms. Woolfe's paragraphs from To The Lighthouse:

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay.  "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.
To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled, the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and a day's sail, within touch.  Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss.

And then came Hemingway with his simple declarative sentences.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Everyone thinks it's just love but there's fear, too.

(This is a repost for Mother's Day)

In 1998, at a time when I could least afford the emotional energy to commit to a pair of socks, I decided to look for my mother.  She had disappeared for over twenty years.  She had never met two of her grandchildren.   I hired a private detective, Brian P. McGinnis and four months later he sent me a letter on beautiful business stationary.  The letters all had serifs. Dear Mrs. Baehr,  I am happy to report that I have located your mother.
It was not a joyful reunion but we did the best we could and I transported her to New York to the seventh floor of the Terrance Cardinal Cooke Health and Rehabilitation Center on Fifth Avenue and 105th Street. Her room overlooked the wrought iron gates to Central Park’s formal English Garden, a favorite wedding locale for Asian couples.  In that room, I learned more about my mother than I had up to that time.
I learned that my mother, still in her twenties and freshly divorced, had started a business importing dresses and other things from Montgomery Ward and selling them to the women in her village.  She had run a dressmaking shop, a beauty salon, a boarding house, she called it a hotel. When the war made importing goods impossible, she traveled to the U.S. by bus through Texas, made her way to San Francisco where she worked in a Lucky Strike factory putting the official stamp on packs of cigarettes.
She was a woman who placed all importance on dressing well and looking good. She would apply and re-apply lipstick throughout the day.  She drew in her eyebrows. When I told her that her nephew was dating a girl and that she dressed very well, she said, “That’s all I want to know.”
Here’s the dialogue.
“Your nephew is dating a girl.
“Oh, yes? What’s her nationality?”
”She’s Armenian.”
“Very clean.  An Armenian woman lived next door to me. She was very clean. Tell me, does she dress well?”
“As a matter of fact, she does.”
“That’s all I want to know.  I like that girl.”
“Really, that’s all you care about?”  In the dreamy Fellini atmosphere of the high ceilinged room, the kind of room you would see in an old war movie where the soldiers convalesced and got used to their injuries, whatever she said had more weight.  Maybe how a person dressed said everything about that person but I wanted to take it further.  “That’s all you care about? How she dresses?” I didn’t even raise my voice for this but remained matter of fact.
“More or less.”  My mother answered most questions with “more or less.”
Did you like the ham?  More or less.  Didn’t you think that show was terrible?  More or less. She wasn’t trying for a conversational style. She was a straight shooter. If irony is for ironists.  My mother was an anemianist. I altered my personality in her presence and was a straight shooter, too.
“Yeah, you’re right.  She dresses well.  That’s all we have to know.”  As a matter of fact the potential girlfriend not only dressed very well but she put on makeup in the morning before showing up for breakfast. I go days without makeup and dress erratically.  No wonder my mother thinks she got gypped.
 My mother was 88 and could no longer hold an idea in her head for more than five seconds.  One day she asked me fourteen times if her granddaughter was coming to see her for mother’s day.
“She’s in California.“
“Still in California?” 
“Is she coming for mother’s day?”
“No, Mom. She’s still in California and she can’t make the trip.”
“Is it the boyfriend?”
“No she has a job.”
“Is she coming for mother’s day?”
“No. She’s in California.”
You might think this drove me crazy but it didn’t. Sometimes my voice got sharp and I thought, how can I kill her, but then I’d take a breath and look around that Felliniesque room and hang in for the long haul. 
“Is she coming?
“No, mom. She’s in California.” 
I got a little thrill using the word “mom.”  It implied a normal sunny childhood.
Just when I was certain this was the last lucid conversation we would ever have, she said, “They came yesterday to see if I was crazy.  They asked me who the president was.  I said the new Bush. I forget his first name.  I never liked the old Bush.  They asked who is the one before that?  I said. Cleenton.  William Jefferson Cleenton.  By the way,” she said, “you have to buy me chooz?” She still has her Spanish accent although she would be horrified to be told this.
“You’ve got shoes.”
“I can’t wear those chooz.  It came with a paper that says don’t wear for more than two hours. I’m not going to wear cheep chooz that say you can’t wear them for more than two hours. That’s ridiculous.”
“They mean don’t wear them too long the first day.”
“No, my dear. These are cheep chooz.  I never heard of such a thing.”
“So don’t wear them.”
“Will you buy me chooz?  Anything.” 
“I can’t understand why your daughter moved to California.  Her family is here.  You have to stay with your family.”
What emotions come to mind with mothers? Everyone thinks it’s just love but there’s fear, too. Think about it.  There is fear, too.

Thursday, April 23, 2015



This is my new favorite word.  My old favorite was Wait. What?

Whuck says the same thing but with an edge.  Whuck is weary of all the trash that goes down.

Today and all week, for instance, my local Waldbaum's had no Earthbound organic greens.  " I don't know why but they haven't come in," said the greengrocer.  Whuck????

Am I late for the party?  Did you already know about this word?

I hope you like it, too, because undoubtedly it will be used here.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Selective news and Jell-O Redux

(A visitor looked at this post.  I re-read and it seemed better than most so I decided to re-post)
Going, going, gone for One Hundred and Nineteen Million Dollars

Most of us know The Scream as a painting of excruciating desolation. You have to be a learned art connoisseur to appreciate the artistic quality of this painting.  My grandmother, Farida, who suffered transplantation during WWI, would probably not have included it when she packed up the few things to put in her knapsack. 
The version of The Scream (there are four) that was in the news recently was a crayon pastel with a blood red sky. They say the figure is a man but it looks more like a woman in a shirtwaist dress reacting to a washing machine that has overflowed and is sending a cascade of suds into the wood floor of the living room.  The painting sold for 119 million dollars last week. If I sound like an ignoramus making fun of this iconic symbol of human anxiety, it is because I am an ignoramus. The artist left this explanation for the painting in his diary:
I was walking along a path with two friends the sun was setting I felt a breath of melancholy. Suddenly the sky turned blood-red I stopped and leant against the railing, deathly tired looking out across flaming clouds that hung like - blood and a sword over the deep blue fjord and town My friends walked on - I stood there trembling with anxiety And I felt a great, infinite scream pass through nature. (1892)
Norway, the artist’s home, has an extensive social welfare system. Norway has a lot of money acquired from their extraction of petroleum in the North Sea. They keep their money for their citizens and don’t dribble it away on wars and foreign aid to countries that hate them.  A compulsory National Pension plan provides citizens with benefits such as universal child support, one-year paid maternity leave, and pensions for old age, disability and rehabilitation. Norway's extensive attention to the medical and financial needs of its people translates into a long average lifespan.  Seems like a happy place to me.

Mensa, Mensa, Mensa
A two year old has been admitted to Mensa.  The toddler with an IQ of 154 can recite the alphabet backward and forward, count to 1,000 and name the planets in the solar system. Memorization seems to be the measure of genius here.  What about original thinking? Has that toddler ever had a unique thought? Can you imagine anything more dreary than going to Mensa meetings where everyone is trying to play extreme smartness. You only hear of Mensa when unlikely candidates are admitted.  If Jessica Simpson was admitted, we would be like “huh?” 

Jell-O Redux
I haven’t thought about Jell-O in decades. I was never a big fan of Jell-O (the dessert) and aspics (the savory version of gelatins).  It would take a lot of money to get me to willingly make an aspic. Last week, I was browsing the baking aisle in the supermarket and discovered a shelf full of puddings and gelatins. 
The cursing angel of good, said to me “Why the f**k are you so against Jell-O?” To my surprise, the sugar-free version of Jell-O has O calories. What?  I took a box home.  It was so good, I ate the entire portion while it was still only half jelled.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Don't show me this message again" Redux.

Note:  This is an excerpt from my favorite book: One Hundred Open Houses.    This is the book that saved me from total deterioration at a certain time in my life. My agent took me to lunch in Sag Harbor.  We changed restaurants twice.  We'd look at each other and say, You want to leave?  Let's go.  After we finally settled down and started to eat, she said, Write another book.  It's time.  I like the book Julie/Julia.  I like the structure - cooking all of the recipes in the one book.  What if I did one where the structure was looking for an apartment and going to open houses, I asked? Great, she said.  Do that.
One of the happy outcomes of having a bestseller (Three Daughters) is the spillover reader interest in One Hundred Open Houses)

Don't show me this message again!
The pseudo-porn magazine contact has sent me an e-mail with a huge file attachment  because his parent company has had ten lawyers drawing up the contract.  Lawyers on staff of large corporations are lazy and careless.  They send you boiler plate stuff written in the Middle Ages and when you point out that the terms are impossible to enact, they tell you to just cross it out.  When I try to open the attachment, the message says that the file is compressed.  I e-mail back that the file is compressed and he tells me to use WinZip to open it.  That’s like telling me I have to turn into a crocodile to open it – in other words, impossible.   I look on my desktop and there is an icon of a vice squeezing a file cabinet as when you want to glue furniture. I click on the icon and whoa! WinZip appears right over the e-mail. It says. “Do you want to unzip this now?”    I love it when the message is clear.  
Once I called Dell for advice on an e-mail problem and the tech person in Sri Lanka or wherever told me to check “Don’t show me this message again.”  The minute I checked it I realized I needed the message to get to my e-mail. He said, “I’ve been working here 10 years and I know pretty much and I could probably help you solve your e-mail problem but I have to follow the rules.”  I should have known he was telling me in a subtle way to urge him to help me but (not knowing the next help station was going to charge me to undo the damage from their bad advice,) I said, “Oh, that’s all right.”  I think the people in Calcutta or Sri Lanka have better ethics.  They are more empathetic and want to do the right thing unlike American telephone companies.  When I called back almost in tears, a soft voiced man said:  “I know one way to help you get that message back.  It’s called ‘system restore’ and it allows you to go back to any date you select and start all over again.” And that’s exactly what I did.  I went back to May 10, a Monday, when I still had not checked: “Don’t show me this message again.”
Imagine if you could do this in real life.  I’d go back to 1999 and be rich again.  And then I’d go back to 1960 and accept a date with Butch Ordway.  Or I’d go back… oh, hell, I can’t go back.  
When I first came to work here, I didn’t know how to transfer a call.  I was on overload for about two weeks and even with a gun to my head I couldn’t have told you what color the walls were.  Now I’ve used WinZip. 
I open the contract and try to compare what we sent to the pseudo-porn people and what they are sending to us.  It’s tedious and confusing and I already have a slight headache
Before work today, I went to see the dentist to see what is making the right side of my face hurt. They took an x-ray of the pain site and I thought the technician was going to look at the x-rays scream and say: oh, my god, your teeth are all messed up.  That’s not what happened.  She said my sinus was resting on the nerve. If you thought they were going to say: you don’t need us, go home, no charge.  That was not the case. The dentist looked in my mouth and said I had some fillings that were decomposing and now he’s going to do a whole bunch of things that are going to cost a lot of money.   I’m obsessing about it because in the moment of relief that my teeth were okay, I relaxed my attention and the medical establishment swooped in and mapped out a plan to keep me there for a year and separate me from thousands of dollars.
Three calls to the dentist’s office and now his whole desk staff has doubts about me.  I want to know why he can’t do everything in one visit.  I want to know how much it is all going to cost.  I want to know whether it is necessary.   For some reason the woman on the phone finds these questions unreasonable and obscure, as if no other patient has asked them before.  In the medical establishment, if you ask a question the staff always sees you as trouble. It’s our own fault.  The rules that the medical man is the king and the patient is damn lucky to be in his presence were made a long time ago.  So I have to let this bullshit dentist have his way about “decomposing”: fillings that haven’t given me one iota of trouble. On top of that, without any permission from me, he has numbed the entire left side of my face and ground down one poor tooth to a nub. “You’ll need a crown on that one,” he says.   Yes, I obsess but this dentist is nuts.  Trust me, he is nuts.
There was something on the news today that vindicates my theory that you should never have a medical procedure by the ‘top man.’ Every horror story I’ve ever heard about a procedure is always prefaced with the words ‘he’s supposed to be the top man.’
This man went in for a knee operation and when he comes out, the nurse is wheeling him to his room and says casually:  “Well you have a new left knee.” And the patient says, ”It was supposed to be the right knee.  The doctor marked it.”  Sure enough there’s a big x on the right knee but the numbskull replaced the left knee.  And the hospital is only awarding him half a million dollars.  I would have ruined that lazy crazy bastard.  I’m ready to stab that dentist who ground down my poor tooth. If someone replaced a perfectly good knee and left me with the same problem I came in with, I would never be done hunting him down.  Dr. Feldman was the name in case you need knee surgery.
I can’t stop thinking about that dentist that absolutely ruined two of my teeth and drilled them down as if he were excavating for a new subway or something.   Why do people become dentists anyway, to be legally aggressive?  Now my mouth hurts and I can’t eat peacefully. I guess I shouldn’t complain about that.
On top of this, Shana’s dog has pooped in the office and in order to kill the smell they sprayed the kind of floral scent that gives you a big headache.  I just read a story about a woman who was frequently ‘employee of the month’ but had to quit because of the excessive scents people wore to the office.  While I’m talking about scent assaults, I may as well call your attention to the soap Lever 2000.  I went up to my second floor one day because I smelled the overpowering scent of cheap perfume mixed with stale sweat.  I thought a cologne-crazed robber might be hiding up there.  The smell was suffocating and it was coming from an unwrapped bar of Lever 2000.  I began to feel nauseous and had to take it far out of the house and throw it away.  I would vote for any candidate that would outlaw perfumed soaps, shampoos or anything else.  Thank god for scent-free All.
Shana has no reprimand for the dog.  She loves, loves, loves the dog.  Twice the dog has done number two in the office.  Once right next to the hardest working employee who takes twelve hours to tell you something that could be said in half a sentence.  However, she claims to work until two in the morning (which, by the way, is Shana’s dream employee).  If you worked past seven at night, she would hire you forever even if you were dealing drugs.
So the hard worker had to go out and buy Febreze and clean up the poop and spray everywhere.  But then she said a brilliant thing and a courageous one, too.  She told Shana, there are no bad dogs, just bad owners.
I know too many people who are blindly in love with animals. Peta petitioned the government not to give Timothy McVey any meat for his last meal. The reasoning was why should one more living thing be killed for the monster. Ay, mommie!   I know people who prefer their pets to humans and many of them are women who never had children.  These people are perfectly okay with having the dog knock you down or put his muddy paws on your best silk dress. They let cats sit on the dinner table before and after you eat and only say, “Now Fluffy get off there,” in that tone that Fluffy has learned means “I love you so much, you can sit on my toast for all I care.” And Fluffy does want to sit on the toast especially when it’s still warm. 
When Oprah was on Ellen, they had a dog love competition.
Ellen:  What makes you happiest?
Oprah:  Being with my dogs. 
Ellen:  How many do you have.
Oprah:  Three and I’m getting two more.
Oprah:  I don’t understand people who don’t love dogs.
Ellen:  Me either.  Where are you going after the show?
Oprah:  To play with my dogs in the dog park.
Ellen:  I’ll go with you.