Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In the Eleventh Hour

My tendency to interpret things literally was particularly pronounced when I was a kid. I wrote about it in a previous post, and I will write about it again. In the meantime and as an example, I’ll share one short anecdote: During my “Wonder Years,” I lived in a small Virginia town that was home to both a GE facility and a DuPont plant. Accordingly, many of my classmates’ fathers were engineers. But I didn’t understand the connection, and so I always felt baffled. With so many engineers, why were there so few trains?

When a five-year-old interprets something literally (based on the information she has), it’s pretty darn cute. When someone my age is incorrect in her literal interpretation, she just looks stupid. At the very least, she seems quite gullible.

I was reminded of this fact last week when, hearing news of an 11-hour Wimbledon match, I believed – quite sincerely – that the two players had actually played tennis nonstop that whole time.



Okay, once I heard follow-up news and read follow-up copy, the reality made sense. The 11-hour match did not take place all at once. Rather, it was divided into a few sessions that were ridiculously long in their own right.

… Even the subsets of the full set would boggle the mind of some. But no, not me! I was willing to believe that the full match was played without a break!

Where the hell am I coming from?

Good question.

A part of where I’m coming from probably reflects my love of tennis. My parents played it a lot when they were in their late 30’s and early 40’s, and they encouraged my sister and me to play as well. My sister obliged their desires, which left me in the position of rebelling. Always and insistently the family’s “other member,” I wanted no part of the game.

So I stubbornly sat on the sidelines.

But I picked up a racket when I was 16 or so, and I enjoyed the opportunity to play at my prep school, where four or five tennis courts across the campus allowed pick-up games throughout the afternoon. Having learned just enough to understand scoring, I was ready to compete, and without a teacher telling me what I had done wrong… without a team on which I would have to do right, I hit those balls like nobody’s business. I came to love tennis, and had I not also become an urban-dweller, I probably would have continued to play for years on end. I’d probably still be playing. But, that’s not how things turned out. These days, the most access I have to tennis is through the television, where I can watch a tournament for hours, enchanted by the game’s powerful rhythms and possibilities, by its capacity to reveal individual strength and stamina.

What will seem unrelated to these musings on tennis is an observation my sister once shared – an observation that I cannot dispute: “You know,” she said, “I think it’s a good thing you never had kids, because everything you do, you do thoroughly.”

I get her point. And while I don’t think I would have become the type of mother whose intense approach to parenting is ultimately depicted in a movie-of-the-week about murder among cheerleaders, I believe that if I had had children, there would have been a death in the family. My own.

The fact of the matter is, I need complete and utter freedom to attack what I do.

When I’m focused, I want to stay focused.

Whether I'm making a bunch of long beaded necklaces or writing a novel, I attack. And I can stay in that mode for extremely long periods of time.

But what you also need to know is that, in spite of my using the word “attack,” those hours I put in are relaxing and magical. There is absolutely nothing aggressive in that time. It is natural, and it is beautiful.

Yet, I’ll admit, it takes a physical toll. Not so much on my stamina, but on my appearance.

… I remember – more than 30 years ago – back when I was waitressing at the Hungarian restaurant near Columbia on Manhattan’s upper west side, a woman came in to ask for a table. She was expecting a dinner companion who had not yet arrived. And because we were quiet that night, I was permitted to show her a table where she could wait for her friend.

None-too-busy myself, I was able to inquire about the woman’s friend. “What does she look like?” I asked, offering to keep an eye out.

“Oh,” the woman said, hanging her head a bit (some guilt, perhaps, having its way), “she’d probably hate me for saying this, but… she just looks… tired.”

I was too young then to appreciate what that woman had said, but today, I feel a special bond to the dinner partner who eventually showed up that night. Was she tired or simply an artist? And if the latter was true, was she perhaps an artist who had reached a menopausal plateau whereby the concept of bedtime is nonexistent and the idea of an 11-hour tennis match seems realistic?

I’ll never know.

But with any luck, I’ll sleep on it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt One

A NOTE BEFORE READING: Beginning today, I am sharing short excerpts from my debut novel, The Somebody Who. Once a week, I will share a passage -- in order, beginning at the beginning. If you want to read more sooner, there’s a button over there on the left. It’ll take you directly to Amazon, no toll required. (For those outside the US, check your nearest Amazon site.)




Evelyn is quiet as she gets ready to go out. Davy is asleep in the bed. He began his nap more than an hour ago, and though she knows he probably shouldn’t sleep so much, she also is hesitant to wake him.

She tries on a third pair of slacks. There had been nothing wrong with the first pair—or even the second. This is simply her routine. The third pair is always the right pair. That’s how it has been for the longest time. And that’s how it is today.

Her slacks selected, she slips on a pair of socks, some comfortable shoes, and then she tiptoes past the bed where Davy is sleeping. She enters the bathroom they share.

Evelyn looks into the mirror as she runs the brush through her hair. It amazes her that there are so few gray strands. How has she managed to avoid those? It amazes her that she can even look anymore—that she can look at this woman whose history seems to be unraveling so quickly. So quickly, so sadly, so relentlessly.

“What are you doing?”

It is Davy. Standing at the bathroom door, his hair slept on and awry, sleep in his eyes.

Part of Evelyn wants to ignore him.

“What are you doing?” he asks again.

“Thinking about mascara,” Evelyn replies, still confronting her own reflection.

“Is that good?”

“Mmm… Depends, I guess.”

“Are you going somewhere?”

“I’m going to the mall.”

“Am I going, too?”

“No, you’ll stay here.”

“But what will I do?” Davy’s tone is beginning to change, beginning to take on the whine that drives Evelyn up a wall.

She wants to say, I don’t care! I don’t care what you do! I don’t care!

But, with her reflection standing there—observing—she can’t possibly pull it off.

All she can say is, “You’ll be fine.” And she adds, “Claudia is here.”

“Who is she?” asks Davy.

“She’s your friend.”

“Do I know her?

“You see her everyday.”

“But I don’t know what—I don’t know—”

“You’ll be fine,” Evelyn says again. As if it were a mantra. As if it might really mean something.

The woman in the mirror looks back at her and shows no sign of support.

Davy has turned and is heading down the hall. He is looking for Claudia—this person he allegedly knows. This person who will take care of him that day—who will take him on a walk, see that he is fed, and see that he is safe. And Claudia, by taking care of Davy, will allow Evelyn to go to the mall.

* * *

to be continued on July 3rd.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some Thoughts from North of Brazil

Several months ago, I had an appointment on the west side of Los Angeles. While I know that general area quite well, the address I had been given included the name of a street I’d never heard of. So: two hours or so prior to my appointment, I logged onto Mapquest. I typed in the address and immediately was presented with a small, neighborhood map. Within that map, a red star indicated my destination. Helpful, but… the map was still a little too small. I needed to see the names of some major thoroughfares. I needed a sense of orientation.

I chose the Zoom Out option.

I guess I was a bit overzealous when I clicked my mouse on a line closer to the (-) sign. The next map that appeared – the Zoom-Out map – included Brazil.

When I saw it, I laughed at the screen.

“Thanks, Mapquest,” I said. “That’s really helpful! So, the place I’m going is north of... Brazil.”

Ah yes, zooming in and out. What handy functions. For folks with fancy cameras and other image-capturing instruments, the opportunities to virtually move forward or step back are familiar. But for me, these are options I never consciously entertained. At least, not until I started using the internet and its maps.

More recently, I’ve come to appreciate the metaphoric value...

Zoom out: the BP spill in the Gulf
Zoom in: the kitty litter box in the middle hallway closet

Zoom out: the national unemployment statistics
Zoom in: my need for two or three more consulting clients

Zoom out: the situation in the Middle East
Zoom in: the gangbangers who keep tagging the cement wall at the corner intersection

Zoom out: the crisis on Wall Street
Zoom in: my bank account balance

There’s a lesson in the zoom option, I think. A lesson about perspective.

If you find yourself, as I do, listening to way too much NPR, then maybe you just need to turn it off for a bit. Clean out the kitty litter, take a walk around the neighborhood, balance your checkbook, and be glad you don’t have to worry about stepping on any landmines as you walk from your car to the grocery store.

If, on the other hand, you are engaged in too much self-involvement, then I suggest you get away from yourself and whatever concerns you might be entertaining about your latest pedicure. Turn on the real news. Read a reliable paper. Remember that the world outside of you is dealing with issues that may never, ever be resolved.

Thinking about this stuff leads my mind to the adage attributed to Dale Carnegie: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

In the case of that adage, I think of the lemons as the Zoom In; the lemonade, the Zoom Out.

A lovely thought, but Carnegie was living in a different time.

These days, I wonder if the sentiment he expressed is possible to achieve. Are there enough good lemons left?

I consider myself a decent person, and I am fortunate to know a lot of other good people. People who are kind and generous. People who were lucky to be born with a healthy intelligence. But does that make us lemons? I don’t know. It seems that without huge handfuls of cash or an abundance of tangible possessions, our status is inconsequential.

As for the existing lemonade, it is beyond toxic. There’s an oil slick covering its surface, and everything below it is about to go into some kind of foreclosure.

So I sit at my computer, mouse in hand, zooming in and out.

Hoping to find that happy place in the middle.

A happy place in the middle… somewhere between the dreams I’ve always entertained and the realities of the day.

Zoom in.

Zoom out.


A NOTE FROM KATIE: Readers, followers, and droppers-by: this Saturday (6/26), I’ll be launching a new weekly feature, so come back in a few days and take a look!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And That Would Mean…?

Old-fashioned gal that I am, I still keep a thick, tangible, small-fonted, page-infested dictionary within reach of my workstation. (Okay, maybe I’m not so old-fashioned. I didn’t call where I sit a “desk,” right?) I like going into the tome to double-check the meaning of a relatively abstruse word. Other times, I enjoy looking up a word I’ve taken for granted for most of my literate years.

Today, because of an issue I’d like to explore in this post, I looked up the word “word.”

According to my copy of the New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language, the primary definition of “word” is this: “a speech sound or combination of sounds having meaning and used as a basic unit of language and human communication” [then there are two vertical parallel lines followed by] “the written or printed symbol of one of these basic units of language.”

Nothing new there, right?

Okay, so against that definition, here’s a list that may be of interest.


See any words in there?

Neither do I.

And yet, those are some of the “words” I have had to “verify” lately when posting comments on blogs and making other online maneuvers that involve the use of my email address and various passwords.

Word Verification, they call it.

I don’t think so.

The administrators of cyberspace need to reconsider that phrase. If they want to keep “Word,” they should lose “Verification.” If they want to keep “Verification,” they need to come up with something other than “Word.” I mean, come on, who are we kidding here!

On the other hand, I’m always one to rise to a creative challenge, so I thought I’d come up with some definitions for these alleged “words.” Some possibilities:

hornu (n.): a prostitute-in-training
poolume (v.): (from the French; accent on the final e): to strut about as if one has the feathers of a peacock
malitza (adj.): simultaneously sick and adorable
reddedi (n.): a spiral-shaped pasta made from radishes (hence, the scarlet hue)
undeverr (n.): German lingerie
irlati (n.): short-temperedness resulting from the consumption of too much coffee
roudom (adj.): appearing to be random, but actually passive-aggressive
pedine (n.): the shine emanating from nail polish freshly applied to the toes
opsion (n.): a choice available only to the pretentious
derminte (n.): a skin condition generally caused by an overdose of Altoids
afretrim (n.): an over-the-counter weight-loss supplement whose common side effects include, but are not limited to, an inability to find one’s tweezers

I don’t know. Should we compose a new dictionary for modern times?

The list above is by no means exhaustive. Following are several more “words” I’ve had to verify lately. Please feel free to suggest some definitions for:

verspen….. agies….. amoli….. gloggist….. boopy….. culne….. peedio….. devokers….. plopread….. fulneu….. hewsent….. oraver….. elebod….. lessessi….. sylshimi….. eleaun….. entsmana….. cowsesse….. untous….. amideamp….. mytor….. nomaersl….. patoxe….. donsphe….. recophoa….. phedlge….. wanin….. phythe….. hanki….. fitypep….. hohotagg…..

Oh, and to be perfectly fair, I should confess that, recently, I did have to verify a word that was really a word. And here’s the best part. The word was: mistype.

I cannot begin to tell you how tempted I was…

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Reflections on a Prime-Time Addiction

Several weeks ago, in my posting entitled Observations from the Niche-Free Zone, I confessed to being an American Idol watcher.

It’s true.

I love the show.

But, I also love my time, and so I am glad the show is over.

What I didn’t confess in that April 21st posting (and, frankly, the context didn’t call for it) is that I also have got caught up occasionally in Dancing with the Stars.

It’s true.

I can be drawn into that show, too.

But, I still love my time, and so it takes a certain amount of talent to draw me in completely.

This year, in DWTS, the talent was awesome when it came down to the bottom three.

And so I watched.

And so… my Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights were a bit “booked” in May.

But, am I wasting my time? I don’t think so. I get too much joy from what I am witnessing. And, in my opinion, joy should never be deemed a waste of time.

A couple years ago, when I was on the East Coast, I had dinner with a friend in the D.C. area. She told me of a man she worked with at the relatively conservative law firm that has employed her for decades. She recounted hushed conversations by the water cooler, her co-worker – this man, high up on the corporate food chain – wanting to sneak in some whispered dialogue about the previous night’s American Idol or Dancing with the Stars episode.

It’s sad to me that a person might feel at risk of being judged negatively simply because he or she enjoys this prime-time entertainment. One could do a lot worse…

When I posted the aforementioned Observations essay and therefore essentially “outed” myself as an Idol watcher, I also shared that there’s a character in my second (not yet published) novel who did a good job of explaining the desire to watch that show. Now that the season’s over, I feel like sharing her words.

So, I’ll set up the scene for you.

The Idol-watching character is Brittany. She’s a pierced, tattooed, heart-on-her-sleeve twenty-something who has endeared herself to Martin, the new neighbor in her Los Feliz apartment building. Martin – the protagonist of my novel – is going through a midlife crisis and has recently moved from the Valley Village house he shared with his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Unrelated to all of that, Martin has never watched Idol.

When Brittany mentions “AI” in conversation and Martin doesn’t make the connection, she teases him. In response, he shares that he has no interest in “reality shows.”

This is how Brittany reacts (bouncy from her Mountain Dew buzz):

It’s not a reality show. It’s a talent show. And it’s beautiful. I swear, I’m such a sap. By the final six or seven weeks, I can’t get through an episode without crying. I mean, God, Martin, it’s about dreams. It’s about risk-taking. It’s about taking a lot of shit, putting it on the line, competing with people who have become your newest friends, wanting to win and not wanting anyone else to lose. It’s amazing. It’s people younger than me being so incredibly fucking brave.

I hear you, Brittany, I hear you. Because, I’m also a sap.

Without fail, I cry through the final few weeks of that show.

But is that so surprising?

Absolutely not.

I invented Brittany. She is a part of me.

Just as Martin is.

Martin’s the part of me that thinks it’s all silly and a waste of time.