Sunday, November 30, 2008

Q: What's a Girl To Do?

A:  Good question.  I guess take a midnight ride with wheelie-poppin' wildlife, and keep riding?

(love, my bat-lightning-heart.)

What I Saw and My Inner Bookworm

Lately, I've been feeling the acquired NY survival-abilities of multitasking, noticing the 25+ things my students are doing, and looking in 5 directions while walking down a busy street,  have taken over my brain, resulting in a near inability to complete, finish, focus.  (look, I hardly stopped to punctuate or finish that sentence!)  For example, I've taken to dip-reading into 5 books at once, and barely finishing one, all excitement, little follow-through, as the leaning tower of paperbacks on my bedside table attests.

Enough!  In an attempt to prove to myself I can still be Focused and Smart, my before-New-Year's resolution is to return to reading one book at a time.  Thoroughly, completely digesting it.  Underlining even.  Like I used to in college, or at the dinner table when I was eight.

Luckily, I started my mission with this book.

I picked Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied because of a friend's recommendation and the fact that it just won the National Book Award.  And its YA, and I'm writing YA, and needed to do some applicable Research.

The experience of tearing through a novel, being annoyed at interruptions like Real People and Holidays, et al, and slightly mourning when it was over was resurrected for me.  Yay!  I reconnected with my inner bookworm.  I was immersed in Blundell's world, and am kinda sad to be back in this one.  I miss the finger waves, red lipstick, espionage, spooky hotel, and cute boy with the sexy forearms!

The book was mostly a swampy run through post-WWII Florida, when Palm Beach was off-limits for Jews (wha?!) and people pocketed their war-secrets like cigarettes for after-dinner.  It was fabulous to try to piece together what the adults were up to through the eyes of a swoony yet earnest 15 year old.  And to watch her grow.

The book leaves us on 48th street in Manhattan, just as I was gratefully rolling in to 42nd after a Weekend Away.  

"Dusk had fallen, and lights were coming on in all the apartments around me.  Little squares of gold. ... Behind every square of gold was a person.  Maybe a family.  How nice it must be to wake up and know so many busy lives were around you, in the humming hive of the city.

I felt something clear and straight inside me, and I knew I'd found home.  I'd live here one day.  I'd be in one of those golden squares of light.  Around me would be a bunch of lives, some better, some worse.  I'd be smack in the middle of all that living."

Swoon!  Thanks, Blundell.  I guess I don't have ADD after all. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alphabet Juice

"Real writers are supposed to “murder their darlings” — that is, purge any vivid phrase that calls excessive attention to the author. This advice has been variously attributed to Twain, Faulkner, Hemingway, Orwell, Auden and others, but Blount traces it to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s 1916 book, “On the Art of Writing.” “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — wholeheartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press: Murder your darlings,” Quiller-Couch wrote.

As one who labored for 15 years as an editor urging writers to birth their darlings and nurture them so that we would have something interesting to publish, I cheered after reading Blount’s critique of this maxim. What is “murder your darlings” but a giant, throbbing, attention-grabbing darling itself? Quiller-Couch could have written “kill your pets” or “eliminate your sweeties” if he was so keen on scrubbing his copy of brilliant phrases, Blount writes, demolishing the famous directive by quoting passages in its vicinity. They swarm with darlings!"


Sunday, November 23, 2008

New York Cheat Sheets

- i have so many of these in my head...

I love this Kid.

these make me want to hang out with a French kid.....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

poetry and emotions

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.  This may sound easy.  It isn't.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel -- but that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling.  And poetry is feeling -- not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel.  Why?  Because whenever you think you believe or you know, you're a lot of other people, but the moment you feel, you're nobody- but- yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine.  Why?  Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else.  We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time - and whenever we do it, we are not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you've written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is:  do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world - unless you're not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does that sound dismal?  It isn't.
It's the most wonderful life on Earth.

-e.e. cummings

A poem begins as a lump in the throat.
-Robert Frost

Saturday, November 15, 2008

emptying my quote drawer of poetry

"Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you - like music to the musician - or else it is nothing, an empty, formalized bore around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations."  - F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Exuberance is beauty."  - William Blake

"A poem is a naked person."  -Bob Dylan

"A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language."  - W.H. Auden

"A poem is made of thoughts, each of which filled the whole sky of the poet in its turn."  - Emerson

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.  I am, I am, I am."  -Sylvia Plath

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence 
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

-Mark Strand

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vampire Mermaid

(part of the VampireMermaid story....)

"It's a city that chews people up and spits them out."  She was sitting next to him on the banks of New Jersey, listening to him talk.  He was smoking a hand-rolled, flicking the ashes into the rocks fringing the Hudson like his stubbly mustache.  She watched his mouth move with smoke and words.  She followed his eyes.  There stood the Manhattan skyline, a set of killer chompers, the Chrysler and Empire a pair of fangs, the box-buildings of the projects, molars that would grind and pulverize.

"Yeah, well, you don't know my block,"  she said.  Her block had the only tree in a five-block radius.  She imagined its gnarled tawny trunk to be like her backbone, tough after all these years of holding her up and pushing her forward, a bit twisted from the weight of the world.  The tree was crowned with a halo of petal green leaves, soft fringe, like baby's eyelashes, like an explosion of good ideas after a drought of creativity, a burst of spring after a long, brutal winter.  She loved that tree, it was a misfit, like her.  It was probably the only reason she stayed in Manhattan.

"I think it looks more like a row of books," she squinted into the sunlight the Hudson was splashing into her eyes.  "Like the way disorganized libraries lean on each other."

She leaned on his shoulder and it was bonier than she remembered.  He smelled of sandpaper and vanilla ice cream.  "Tell me more about your block,"  he said.

She told him about the pale blue stucco church that looked like it belonged in the dusty desert of the South West.  She told how she'd spend hours with the tree and the church, writing of places with no tree and no church.  The gilded cross crucified the strip of sky between 4th and 5th, sending shadows onto her notebook as she filled them.  She told how she had begun to lace white Christmas tree lights in the heart-branches of her tree one night so it wouldn't feel so out of place in this lit-up city.  She had to lean far out her fire-escape to get to the tippie-tops.

Soon his lit-up-cigarette was the brightest light on the shore.  The night had begun to throw its dark blanket over the City sky, obliterating any chance of stars to wish on.  The teeth-buildings lit up into a beaming grin, the tip of the Empire suddenly blood red because it was almost Valentine's Day.

"Look at that Vampire City,"  he said.  "Luring people in and then sucking their blood right out."  He took one last drag before throwing his light into the water.   She watched it float, down-current, against the reflection of Manhattan, a city streaming in silver lines like tear-stains on a dark cheek.

She turned to look at his face in the half-dark.  There was always something half-dark and beautiful about his face, even in the daytime, like there was a whole side of him she was waiting to be revealed.  She'd known him for so long, but there was a part of him that was deeper than she'd ever gotten to, even though she knew how to swim to the bottom of dark waters.

He turned and smiled, his pointy cusps growing in front of her eyes.  She always loved that part, like they were excited to see her.

She lifted her skirt a bit, and they both watched her legs fuse and extend into a long blue-silver tail, like Darryl Hannah's in Splash.  Only prettier.

"It's a city of magic, only everyone is chasing the wrong kind,"  she smiled, and so did he, the whites of his eyes gleaming as white as his fangs.  His bright smile lit up the branches of her heart, she felt less alone next to him.  She flexed her tail like Popeye's bicep catapulting herself into the water.  She disappeared under the frothy surface, only to reappear several feet away.  She turned to him and waved high as an Olympic swimmer.  When she returned, she had the seaweed hair and saltwater lips he always wished to puncture, but Mermaid blood wasn't good for him.

He waited for her to return with handfuls of little silver fish wiggling like extra fingers in her palms.  He would puncture them underneath their eyeballs and suck on them like half-empty ice-cream cones.  It was a dirty habit, but it kept him from dirtier ones, she figured.  She always said a little prayer for the fish as she scooped them up with her long fingers, the kind of prayers she heard while sitting outside the blue stucco church in her daytime life.  

Her daytime life was one of walking and writing and waitressing at the restaurant.  Everyone at the restaurant assumed she was an actress, and she just said yes, for she was always pretending to be something she wasn't.  Normal.  Normal like the girls who came into the restaurants with their boyfriends and split the bill.  Normal like the owner, who paced back and forth counting busboys' mistakes and tips till nighttime.

Nighttime was messier than day, even for normal people.  She'd watch them roll out of the restaurant on Friday nights at 2 in the morning like rowdy sailors on port call.  They'd swerve like vampires with full bellies, leaning into each other's necks.  She would watch for the glint of fangs, but never saw them.  What she saw were watery eyes, like everyone had been swimming too long and had gulped too much salt water.  Drinking too much salt water was an easy way to forget, every guilty mermaid and merman knew that.  She wondered what these land creatures could want to forget so badly.  She watched them lean out the restaurant door, sea-sick into the night streets, then totter off like small boats in choppy waters.

But Monday nights she did not have to pretend.  Monday nights she could lean on his shoulder and watch the sky turn off and the city turn on.  Monday nights she could grow into herself and he could, too and no one would flinch.

(to be continued....)