October 18, 2012

Please don't call me Ishmael

If you visit Google today, you'll find a graphic celebrating the 161st anniversary of Moby Dick . I found another source which suggests that it came out on Nov. 14th, but maybe that was the paper back release...

Anyway, seeing this reminds me of a book I read this summer: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. This is a novel about baseball and Herman Melville and I very much enjoyed it. Unlike Moby Dick, it is not laden with heavy symbolism. It is straight-forward story telling featuring a cast of the most likeable characters I've read in recent fiction. It's in paperback now, so pick-up a copy and read it before baseball ends on Nov. 2nd. Of course it ended for me some weeks ago when the Pirates finished their 20th straight season with a losing record.

We'll get em' next year, boys...

October 12, 2012

Double Holy Cow

A few nights ago I went to Starbucks. I placed my order at the drive-thru window: one non-fat decaf latte, one kid-sized hot chocolate, and one large Rice Krispy treat. Normally, I spend $2.84 on the latte, and I tell the teenager NO when she asks for the cocoa and marshmallow combo, but because it was Monday, and everyone is entitled to a treat on Monday, I indulged her. I wish the bakeries of the world would embrace this truism. Why not close on Fridays instead of the most difficult day of the week? The day most of us long for the kind of comfort only an apricot danish can provide. Friday is its own treat.

The point is this was a big order for me. Totalling close to ten bucks.

Waiting my turn to pay, I noticed the car in front of me. It was small and red like mine but with a Baby on Board sign swinging from the rear windshield. I heard its driver laugh heartily - a woman whose profile I couldn't see in the dark - as money and goods were exchanged.

She drove off, and I smiled, as usual, extending my card out the window.

"Actually," the girl said. "The car in front of you paid for your order."

The best thing I could think to say was, "Nuh uh."

"Uh huh," she said,handing me the hot chocolate. "And we ran out of kids' size cups, so I hope you don't mind the bigger size."

"Am I on candid camera?" (Who says this in real life?)

The Starbucks gal seemed as pleased as me. She said the woman asked her to wish me a blessed day. We must have looked like a couple of real goofballs, smiling at each other. Stunned. Stupified by kindness.

"Holy cow," I said when I got home and explained to the teenager what had happened.

Sizing up her treats, she said, "Double holy cow."

Double holy cow, indeed.

May 24, 2012

What's New?

The other day I posted a link to this blog on the Cactus People blog which, as you may remember, I facilitate for my potted green friend, Fred. Today, I thought I'd return the favor by asking you to check out his latest post.

When clicking the link along the right hand margin (chroniclesofawesternpacactus.wordpress.com), you'll find a review of Kevin Wilson's book The Family Fang as well as a song by Eleni Mandell. Aren't links fun? It's like following a treasure map. One thing leads to another and before you know it, hours have passed; your tea kettle has boiled dry on the stove, and there are 15 windows flashing across the the bottom of your screen.


May 22, 2012

One Good Deed Deserves Another

I promised myself that after May 1st, I would be finished submitting my manuscript/selections from said manuscript to contests. I wanted to take a break for the summer. Free my mind to write something fresh. But (certainly you could sense the but coming) everytime I think I'm out...they pull me back in. (Please pardon the shameless Godfather reference). So, in the last two days I've written at least five checks to assorted literary contests, each promising to lovingly care for my work - to massage its feet and lavish it with praise - or at least that's what's implied by the slick phrasing of their ads in the magazines I can't keep myself from reading. Send us your cash, and we'll do the rest. And really, I'm happy to support the industry that I hope will one day support me. Such is my devotion (read obsession) that last night I went in search of a recently published novel written by one of the contest judges (I won't say which one). I had seen this book prominently displayed on the shelves at B&N in weeks past, but naturally, now that I was hoping to purchase it, it was nowhere to be found. The gal who consulted with the computer on their inventory appeared puzzled when none of the five copies they were supposed to have in stock appeared on the shelves. She resorted to asking a fellow human being who suggested she check the "Return" rack in the back room.

"I'll be back," she said. And in short order, the youngster returned carrying a stack of hardback books.

"These were going back to the warehouse?" I asked.

"No. I don't think. But no one has bought one yet, and they needed room for other stuff."

"So I saved her from oblivion?"


"I've brought her back to life!" I said, waving my copy triumphantly in the air.


Again, I won't mention the name of the book because I wouldn't want to be disqualified from the contest she's judging. I mean, can't you just see it unfolding? Somehow the 20 year old readers select my story from the stack. They manage to forward it to the 22 year old editors who miraculously agree with their understudies and voila! The unnameable judge reads my story. She loves it. Kicks herself for not writing it herself. And such is her devotion, she runs a search on my name. Stumbles upon this blog. Sees that I've rescued her book from the remainders and realizes that she can't choose my story because now we have a personal connection. In the fantasy world raging in my head, this is just exactly how it would happen.

So, I won't tell you the name of the book or the name of the contest or the name of the judge. And because of this one day some starry-eyed reader will save my story from obscurity. She will be compelled to read beyond the first three sentences all the way through to the last three sentences, run her fingers along the words as if they'd been written with her in mind; march right into the editor's dorm room, my story dangling from her armpit - demanding an audience. Undeterred by the naysayers. The heavily pierced skeptics. Stopping at nothing until she's granted a meeting with the big (un)nameable judge.

May 7, 2012

No more pencils? No more books?

With the last of my finals over, the last of the 55 essays critiqued and grades submitted to the registrar, I should be elated. I should dive into the pile of words I've been meaning to sort through all year, ideas I've stashed in various crevices of my brain and on the backs of crumpled receipts. I should write. I should nap. I should watch a movie. It is summer vacation! But I've always preferred fall to summer, and to be honest, I already miss my students as much as I used to miss my teachers when I was a little girl.

I guess that means I'm in the right profession. School is where I feel most complete. Most alive. Most likely to succeed. (Did you know that I was featured in my senior yearbook beside this prediction? Of course the other kid voted Most likely to succeed became a brain surgeon or something. Seriously. This is not me trying to be funny; I believe the man actually operates on brains. But how does one define success, anyway?)

Aside from some really extraordinary things - things like taking a trip to Italy with my family - I will probably spend the summer doing what I did as a kid: playing school. Reading up on books I want my students to read. Plotting out my lesson plans. Sharpening pencils...

Here is a video of some of my students conducting a mock-trial for their final presentation grade. Half of them were prosecuting President Bush and the rest of the federal gov't for failing to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina; the other half tried to pin the horrific relief efforts in New Orleans on the local and state gov't. Very compelling stuff. I filmed their arguments on my phone, and my stupid thermos has a starring role, but I am proud of what they accomplished - of their creativity and zeal. And of the fact that I actually figured out how to upload something to YouTube. That's the great thing about being a teacher - there's always something new to learn.

April 13, 2012

Congratulations, it's a blog!

Who'd have thunk it? ME - with not one but now TWO blogs! Unthinkable! ME who, just six months ago had nary a Powerpoint presentation to her name. And while I'm on the subject of things remarkable, have you noticed how often the exclaimation point is used in daily life?

Good Morning!
How are you!

This kind of punctuation has traditionally been reserved for words like Fire! Stop! Help! and now, perhaps in an attempt not to come across as hostile in email, we are maniacs with the Shift key.

Anyway...I have some excellent books to recommend (somehow I have managed to read a number of terrific things in the recent weeks) but first I want to tell you about my new (additional) baby blog. In truth, I am only the facilitator of this second blog: Cactus People/Chronicles of a Western Pennsylvania Cactus - see the link on the margin. The real author is my cactus. Please check out this new site and consider clicking the 'follow' button to track Fred's adventures and inner thoughts.

Now for the books: (or as an Irishman might say, the Bukes - which rhymes with Lukes)

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. A National Book Award Finalist, this very short novel reads like a beautiful prose poem. Told from the collective 'we', Otsuka follows the lives of several Japanese women from their first boat ride to the U.S. through their forced exodus from American society during WWII. Unfortunately, you will likely find this book on a table at Barnes & Noble labeled 'New Releases' among other paperbacks featuring handcuffed women in negligees. Book Store design and layout is only one of the many careers I wish I had time to pursue.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. A non-fiction account of one family's Hurricane Katrina nightmare come to life. Dave Eggers is a new hero of mine.

Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. A truly wonderful collection of linked short stories. In a world where so many authors misuse the comma, Ms. Bynum is ever-faithful to the correct form. She gets a gold star for grammar and for her intelligent, heart-felt tales of a seventh-grade teacher.

Other People We Married by Emma Straub. Another collection of short stories - unlinked. I didn't love every story, but overall, a solid debut by a woman who works at an independent book store.

Reviews forthcoming: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward; When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams, and Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman. If you've read these or if you run out and buy them right now and want to chime in, please drop a line. I'd love to have a chat about the bukes.

March 22, 2012

Moving Pictures

Sometimes the internet is a really amazing thing. Yes. I said it. Here's why...in the past ten minutes I've read a beautiful poem by Gary Young called "In the Heat of Late Afternoon". I would never have known about it if it weren't for the daily email I receive from The Writer's Almanac. Also in the last ten minutes I've read a wonderful piece from the Chicago Tribune which recalled a eulogy for a journalist who recently died in a car crash - a reprint of a letter written to him when he was an advice columnist. And I've watched (twice) an incredibly moving YouTube video uploaded by a Japanese comedian referred to as "Tekken" (though his stop animation short film is hardly funny.) I actually have a lot I would like to write. So much to 'blog' about. But I think I'll save my words for another time in lieu of offering up these moving pictures. Here are the link to the column (in red) and the film. (below) In honor of the wisdom of Jeff Zaslow