Monday, September 26, 2011

Well, How Did I Get Here?

Today I received an award for this blog here, or really what I should call an appreciation, from my friend Hope, whose blog, Unmapped Country, is always worth reading.

And the award comes with some rules, which is to thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post (see above), to share 7 things about yourself (an excuse for another list!), and to pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know about it.

So now, 7 things about me:

1. I am really good at ironing shirts, but I hate to do it.
2. I am 5’6 ½” but I pretend I’m 5’7”.
3. When I was a kid, I once rode on the shoulders of a clown while he was riding a unicycle. Clowns don't scare me.
4. This.
5. I have a literary crush on J.D. Salinger, which is almost too obvious to mention.
6. I wish I could draw well, but really I'm terrible at it.
7. One time (maybe 15 years ago) I bought a falafel at a cart somewhere around 23rd Street in Manhattan. What do you want on it? Everything? the guy asked me. Sure, I answered. Now I have no idea what “everything” was, exactly, but to this day, I have not stopped thinking about the most perfect falafel of my life.

As for fifteen blogs to recommend, well. I must always give props to the wonderful Li'l Blog of Lists, which includes my favorite list of all time, plus a list I once wrote myself and was generously allowed to post there. And if you're a fan of SZ, as you should be, you might also greatly appreciate Vegetarian Astoria, which will not cover the neighborhood schwarma scene, but will, I am told, feature falafels at some point. (Sooz, do not forget the loukoumades at Telly's Taverna, which they might still give you for free on weeknights!)

And then there's also the fabulous Catherine Newman, whose writing I have admired for years and years and who I once had the pleasure of meeting in Cape Cod, of all places, and who shares with me a great appreciation for this commercial, which, if you also were living in NYC in the late 1970s, needs no explanation.

But I think all the rest of the blogs I read are probably ones that you already know about or that someone is always sending you links from or something so I won't list them here. And I'll probably be back again soon writing about something that I'm reading or that I read a while ago or something that has nothing to do with reading at all. And I'll get in some Salinger too. I mean, it was his own character Buddy Glass who said: "I don't really deeply feel that anyone needs an airtight reason for quoting from the works of writers he loves, but it's always nice, I'll grant you, if he has one."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ten Songs I Wish Were Actually About Me

Sometimes when you are trying to get work done and your mind is all over the place, it helps to make lists like the following. As I learned years and years ago from my good friend SZ.

1. Stephanie Says - The Velvet Underground
Actually Lou Reed spent a lot of time listening to what women said and then writing songs about it. As for Stephanie, the people all call her Alaska. Damn, that girl is cold!

2. Perfect Skin - Lloyd Cole
Not only did she look like Greta Garbo at the age of ten, but she’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin.

3. The Element Within Her - Elvis Costello
If only for the line, “But back in the bedroom with her electric heater. He says, Are you cold? She says, No but you are…” Yeah, she’s pretty damn sharp. I wish I had said that.

4. Foxy Lady - Jimi Hendrix
Well, really it’s just this: Foxy lady, I’m coming to getcha!

5. Short Skirt/Long Jacket - Cake
I am certain my fingernails shine like justice, though my voice may not be like dark tinted glass. Yet.

6. Debra - Beck
Not only would he offer me a fresh pack of gum, but he’d pick me up late at night after work and say, Lady, step inside my Hyundai. Who would say no to that?

7. Janine - David Bowie
Aw man, remember when Bowie wrote gorgeous songs like this? I mean, like a Polish wanderer he travels ever onward to her land. Lovely. And were it not just for the jewels, he’d close her hand. Not sure about this, but it sounds good.

8. Tiny Dancer - Elton John
You must have seen her, dancing in the sand.

9. Greetings to the New Brunette - Billy Bragg
“I’m celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo.” That pretty much says it all.

10. Hey Hey What Can I Do - Led Zeppelin
Do I really need to explain this one? Something about being in the bars with the men who play guitars. Well, actually you know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Got By In Time

When I was about eight years old, I had this plan to give my Barbie doll a perm. I’m guessing that this was probably the only Barbie I had left with a reasonable amount of hair since all the others were unfortunately suffering from my poor attempts at haircuts. (This terrible skill at cutting hair would follow me into adulthood. Can you just trim my bangs, my younger daughter has asked. To which I must answer a horrified, No!) Looking for something that would help the perm set, I came upon my mother’s bottle of patchouli on a tiny shelf in the bathroom. There were many bottles on that shelf, but this one was unfamiliar to me. The strong smell of it was so shocking I couldn’t imagine it as anything but medicinal. I was sure it would do the trick.

Some hours later this would result in my mother yelling at me for using practically an entire bottle of her very expensive oil on a doll's hair. For what reason? she demanded. I thought my explanation made perfect sense, but apparently she did not. In fact, she just could not believe what I had done. I should point out that in all my life I had never known my mother to wear patchouli and the three-quarters-full bottle of it remained in the bathroom for years until one day it was just simply gone. My Barbie’s perm, unfortunately, never took.

But meanwhile. That faint smell of patchouli that never really went away worked its way into my sense memory, winding its way through the various food co-ops of my life, until one day many years later I found that I did, in fact, like it. Which is maybe the way anyone comes to like patchouli when they didn’t plan on liking it, you know, gradually and unexpectedly. I’m not saying that I would ever wear it or anything (I mean, really now), but I have been known to burn patchouli incense and thus both horrify and confuse my children. What is that smell? asks my older daughter, horrified and confused. Oh, don’t you like this? I answer, knowing that of course she doesn’t, but also knowing that as she heads down the winding path of food co-ops in her own life she will at least be familiar with it.

You think I’m going somewhere with this? Well, now, let’s just see. A couple weeks ago my friend Kate told me how she had just finished writing a novel. And I reacted the way I always do at the thought of something like that: utter astonishment. I could never write like that, I always tell people who think that I am actually planning to write a novel someday, though I’m not. I could not keep going on one story like that. And Kate surprised me by saying simply, Well, of course, you read a lot of short stories, don’t you? I think writers who like short stories the most write short stories. And there it was, the best explanation I’d ever heard. It’s true. I love short stories. I read books and books of them, even though everyone wants to talk about and read novels. I read novels, too, of course, but I think I might actually like short stories better. Is that possible?

What I like best actually are books of short stories in which the same characters show up in different stories, and I consider Alice Mattison and Edward P. Jones the masters of this. Right now I’m reading books of Amy Bloom’s short stories and I feel like I’m wolfing them down like a bag of potato chips that you don’t even remember opening and I end up having to go back and reread most of them. And the story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Anne Porter, which I read twice in a row recently because I liked it so much. The thing about stories is that half the time with a really good one it feels like it’s over too soon. But isn’t that kind of the best thing about them? It’s like leaving the party when it’s still going strong, or, you know, like The Jam breaking up at the height of their success. The best kind of short story invites you into a world and then ends with a snap and you are left longing, but only in the very best of ways. This is why I always keep reading them and also why I keep trying to write them.

So now I need to tie this back to patchouli, right? Well, let’s just say that short stories have also worked their way into my sense memory throughout my life and now I can finally admit a kind of preference for them. And I will keep on reading and reading them. And, oh yeah, writing them too.