Monday, December 08, 2008

Happy Eid!

It was a lucky day today, and my girls and I were the beneficiaries of an unexpected little blessing.

It’s very, very cold today: the coldest day yet this year. And yet, this was the day for the little one to get her flu shot. We don’t have a car in New Jersey, so that means walking a mile uphill into the wind for the shot, pushing the stroller, and then walking back downhill forty minutes later to drop her off at daycare. I walked back home, picking up some groceries on the way (another half mile or so), worked for an hour, and then walked back to school (that same half mile again) for a parent-teacher conference. Then, I walked downtown, had lunch, and took the train into the city, did some errands that needed doing today, got a cup of tea and worked a bit, and walked the half-mile back to school to pick up my kindergartener. I was cold and my feet were tired.

And there was Mrs. Z., a beloved after-school teacher, now transferred to work with the big kids. We both greeted her with love. She is, after all, the woman who painstakingly planned little crafts to amuse my daughter every day after school last year.

I complimented her headscarf. Today, it was a brilliant hot pink with sequins and hot pink lace detail.

Today is my holiday, she explained. And I have to work. So I thought, I’m just going to work with my pink and my new handbag. It’s a holiday but I have to work, and besides, my children are in college and they both have finals today. What am I going to do? Stay home and celebrate with my four walls?

She was practical, but sad, I could see. I remember when her mother died in Egypt last year. Although her children are grown, we are the same age, and I can imagine how it would feel to be far from home, motherless, and wanting to celebrate a holiday that few Americans know about.

We said our goodbyes and headed home.

A few moments later came a honk. There was Mrs. Z., in her huge gray minivan. Are you walking, mommy? Do you need a ride? It’s too cold to walk, mommy. Get in.

I protested that I had to get the baby. But she loves the baby. She would be happy to wait in the car. We got the baby. I put the stroller in the front seat and we drove off.

Do you have a special way to celebrate Eid? Is there a dish you’re going to make?

You mean in Egypt or here?

Well, both.

In Egypt, we go to the farm and get a sheep. They kill it and clean it for us and then we take it home. We keep a third of the lamb for ourselves, give a third to our friends and family, and give a third to the poor. We eat lamb. Lamb and rice. But we don’t keep it all: that’s part of our religion, to remember the poor. And we get new clothes, especially the kids. And we visit each other. And everywhere you go, the kids get money, even if it’s just a little bit, one dollar, five dollars.

Here, I went to the store and bought some lamb. I haven’t even cooked it yet!

We laughed.

She dropped us at home.

The children were thrilled: so happy to be spared the cold, to be spared that long walk. I was too. Best of all, I could see that we were the poor to Mrs. Z: the recipients of her good deed this Eid. I am very, very grateful.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Celebrating a quarter century of procrastination

It's early December. Finals are around the corner, but so is Christmas. And when I should be grading papers and finishing up loose ends, I find myself researching the pros and cons of various Christmas presents on the web and trying to figure out when it would be best to go visit Santa.

I remember this feeling so vividly from my freshman year of college--in 1984! My college had an honors code that allowed you to take exams at any time during exam period. We all pledged not to discuss exams after we'd done them. It sounds implausible, but it actually worked: there was very little cheating--I never saw any. While most of my fellow students mapped out reasonable schedules wherein they'd take a morning exam, rest in the afternoon, study for a day, and take a second exam, I planned to take my exams one on top of the other: one in the morning, one in the afternoon, until I was done. I hopped in a taxi, headed to Logan, and flew home to Seattle. I wanted to make cookies with my Mama.

I find it a little amazing--sad, funny, and strange--that now, a quarter century later, I remain just as stubbornly poor at finishing up what I've begun.

I just want to make cookies with my girls.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

So THAT's where the money's been

I got an email yesterday from my publisher. My royalty checks have been going to my old address. They've come back returned. If I send her my current mailing address, she'll cut a new check in the new year (times are tough all over, I guess).

I am trying hard not to think about how much the check will be for. It was a fun email to get.

I'm hoping that it'll be at least twenty dollars. That'd keep me in lattes for a couple weeks, with some careful budgeting...

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Memes

Remember the old meme about going to page 56 (or whatever) of the nearest book & typing in the 5th sentence (or what have you). It always seemed dull to me. But I am "facebook friends" with a boy (man, now, for sure) that I went to high school with. I had a huge crush on him but he was way out of my league AND younger than me. No dice.

He is a glass-blower now.

He posted the meme and got these results:
  • The color of joy.
  • Feeds on fish, small mammals, and other prey.
  • Our balance, the horizontals we want to achieve, come out of the interaction of movement in three planes: the knee moving forward, the elbow moving sideward, and the head moving upward.
  • In fact, several psychologists argue that the tendency to respond to items on the basis of characteristics other than content may be minimal.
  • It is the attachment to the results and the assumption of the existence of an actual responsible individual that cause the problems.
  • Brush border enzyme (embedded in the plasma membranes of microvilli).
  • More vigorous varieties of gourds can get quite heavy and are likely to need more substantial canes.
  • Although he is not actually discouraging interest in the flat, he likes the status quo.
  • My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams, and laughed.

My mother is no doubt laughing now.

Back to Junot Diaz....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pure Poetry, Alaska style

via Andrew Sullivan, a quotation from Sarah Palin's communications specialist, Kate Morgan:
Other issues facing the state — what some people consider to be inaccurate — how would I put that — listings of certain Alaskan animals as endangered or what is that second term that they use? They’re at risk? No… That’s not the technical term. Anyway, there’s two listings there specifically dealing with polar bears and there’s also the issue with beluga whales. So there’s different things and the issue there is of course wanting to provide a substantive lifestyle for our first Alaskans here which are the indigenous people and also wanting to protect our environment wanting to be good stewards to that and to take care of the animals that make Alaska. What it is however if they are improperly categorized then that can run snags on other types of development that would benefit not only people of Alaska but the world such as depending on certain kinds of drilling that we do off-shore either or people are in a hurry to list groups of whales as endangered or at risk than that might impede the progress that we’d be making to free or to lighten the the load that America has us obtaining oil from overseas. Emphasis added
I don't know whether to be amused or alarmed by the utter lack of knowledge--and lack of embarrassment about that lack. Or the free-floating "also" and "anyway" and "of course" as filler. Or all the sentences that begin one way and then veer off in an entirely new grammatical direction.

Putin may not be rearing his head, but literate people everywhere have their sights trained on Alaska. Oh Alaska!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Woolf's Play, "Freshwater"

It's a banner year for Woolf in New York. Here is yet *another* Woolfian theater piece upcoming, with a premier on January 25th. I've pasted in information from the press release. This is, they tell me, the first professional production of "Freshwater" in the U.S.
Women's Project and SITI Company present Virginia Woolf's Only Play
FRESHWATER
Directed by Anne Bogart
Previews Thursday, January 15, at 8:00pm
Opens on Woolf's 128th B'day Sunday, January 25, at 7:00pm
NEW YORK - Women's Project and SITI Company are not afraid of Virginia Woolf or of her only play never seen on a professional stage in New York, the 1923 comedy Freshwater. Freshwater will open on Virginia Woolf's 128th birthday, Sunday, January 25, at 7:00pm after beginning previews Thursday, January 15 (for a run through Sunday, February 15) at Women's Project, 424 West 55th Street.

Women's Project Producing Artistic Director Julie Crosby has wanted to produce Freshwater since first she discovered the comedy a dozen years ago while teaching at Columbia University. Anne Bogart, with whom Dr. Crosby worked on Laurie Anderson’s Songs & Stories from Moby Dick ten years ago, was the first director she approached for this adventurous project. Presented by Women's Project and Anne Bogart's SITI Company, Freshwater is a theatrical escapade set in a Victorian garden on a summer evening. Woolf, who wrote this play for friends and family, creates a deliberately witty and wacky universe peopled with a tribe of artists, friends and lovers in a playful mood. Written in 1923, revised in 1935, Freshwater has never been produced professionally in the United States. "The characters in Freshwater - Julia Cameron, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Ellen Terry and the others - had tremendous significance for the Bloomsbury Group, of which Woolf was a founding member," said director Bogart. "In this production, our challenge will be to channel the humor, intelligence, talent and giddiness of the original Bloomsbury group and deliver it to a 2009 audience."

Anne Bogart, one of the most celebrated directors of our time, is the Artistic Director of SITI Company, which she founded with Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki in 1992. A professor at Columbia University, she runs the Graduate Directing Program. Recent works with SITI include Who Do You Think You Are, Radio Macbeth, Hotel Cassiopeia, Intimations for Saxophone, Death and the Ploughman, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, La Dispute, Score, bobrauschenbergamerica, Room, War of the Worlds, Cabin Pressure, War of the Worlds - The Radio Play, Alice’s Adventures, Culture of Desire, Bob, Going, Going, Gone, Small Lives/Big Dreams, The Medium, Noel Coward's Hayfever and Private Lives, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and Charles Mee's Orestes. She is the author of a book of essays entitled A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater and the co-author with Tina Landau of The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition. Her newest book of essays is And Then You Act: Making Art in an Unpredictable World.

Women's Project in collaboration with SITI Company presents
Virginia Woolf's FRESHWATER
Directed by Anne Bogart
January 15 - February 15, 2009
Visit www.WomensProject.org for details!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama Mix

A week ago, I sat in my office, knowing that it would be a L-O-N-G weekend of hope and worry. I needed a new mix for my iPhone to get me through Tuesday and beyond. I decided to make an Obama mix that would make me feel fierce and inspired; something to give me the courage to keep working whilst awaiting election results, something to boost me at the end of a long day, something both tough and idealistic. I started with the Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and knew I would end with Springsteen’s “The Rising.” Lots of the Jackson 5 in the middle because that’s been sounding good to me lately. Today, I added the Sondheim song that I blogged about yesterday and Shirley Horn’s version of “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” I did download CocoaTea’s reggae hit and the new Will.i.am, but they’re not the best parts of the list in my view: still, it was worth the .99 cents times two to have those little snapshots in song. The playlist is swelling and I expect it to be in heavy rotation until January 20.

Some highlights:
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly--Ennio Morricone—because that whistling makes me feel tough.
  • The James Bond Theme (Original Version)--City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra—you have no idea how awesome, in a Clark Kentish way, it feels to be riding a crowded train in my little jacket, burdened down with groceries and papers to grade, with James Bond blasting in my ears. Besides, like Obama, it's just cool. And a little nerdy.
  • La Ronda--Marta G√≥mez—a gorgeous acoustic song, “Dame un besito…”
  • Green Light (feat. Andre 3000)--John Legend—the Starbucks freebie (with $4.06 latte) a few weeks back, but it features the line “Even Steven Wonder got down sometimes” which makes me smile so hard.
  • Galveston--Glen Campbell—which I downloaded when the hurricane hit. It’s a great retro-country song and it reminds me to remember Katrina, to remember the neediest.
  • A Prayer For Our Time--Vusi Mahlasela—I love Mahlasela’s sweet sincerity and this came up when I was searching for the Sondheim so I added it in.
Other suggestions? Several friends sent me links to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—the Rufus Wainwright version, or a friend singing it himself. What songs have you been singing to celebrate?

I’ll close with a disclaimer: I continue to be proud and amazed at how many of my friends and acquaintances worked at all levels of the campaign. No such work here: with two jobs and two little ones, it was all I could do to boost Obama from this little blog, blog once in a while over at DailyKos, and send all my spare change to Barack. I did what I could. I'm relieved my little was enough and I'm SO grateful to all who did more.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Yes we did! Still smiling edition

Well, we did it: President-elect Obama. What a great week.

I'm still exhausted and overwhelmed. And just now, in my little stolen hour (my husband took the kids to the park), I'm listening to Jonathan Schwartz' very old-fashioned standards on WNYC. Critics say it's like being stuck all afternoon at a stuffy great-aunt's house, but I love all the Sinatra and Sondheim.

He's been playing a version of "It's not Easy Being Green" for weeks, one in which the singer stops to talk & says, "Maybe one day, we'll even have a green president. Hmmm...a president of color...." It's very dear--just as dear and touching as the song has been for 40 years.

Today, though, he opened with Sondheim: "Our Time" from "Merrily We Roll Along."
Something is stirring,
Shifting ground …
It's just begun.
Edges are blurring
All around,
And yesterday is done.

Feel the flow,
Hear what's happening:
We're what's happening.
Don't you know?
We're the movers and we're the shapers.
We're the names in tomorrow's papers.
Up to us, man, to show 'em …

Oh, I'm weeping like a baby. And not for the first time this week. So happy. So relieved.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

VOTE!

Yes we can! Hooray! Believe it, dream it, do it.

VOTE.

I did.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's raining, I'm poring....

I'm going over some quick edits for a short article.

I wrote:
I tremble at the thought of other textual editors poring over my work for errors and misjudgments.
The editor changed poring to pouring. No! I'm not transferring liquid from one vessel to another, nor are the other editors. They're staring, concentrating. So, with some trepidation, I change pouring back to poring and add a comment:
NO. Not pour like liquid, but pore (verb): OED 1 cTo think intently about something; to meditate, muse; to ponder. With on, upon, over. Also occas. trans. with clause as object.
These moments do fill me with trepidation--and irritation. I see the change and have a little panic. Did I err?

I look it up and have a little exaltation. I was right.

I fix it back, keenly aware that it's just this kind of mood that hovers over the last page of my book. For, in the very, very last stages of copy-editing, one of my evil and incompetent copyeditors queried my use of the word "graft." Don't you mean "grant"? No! STET! OED n.1 and the definition... which, I'm sorry to say, they printed in a parentheses in the margins in my book. So it goes.

(The links take you to the nightmare as I lived through it, but I see that I never did post about that final humilation....)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Socialism?

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.--Luke 12:48.

When Obama talks about tax reform and tax breaks on the middle class (those making annual salaries less than Sarah Palin's wardrobe & make-up allowance for early October, say), it's not so much Marx as it is a revisitation of JFK's modernisation of a verse from the Bible.

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

HOW party Thursday

My friends have started a literary magazine that is also a charity.

H.O.W. publishes literature & art and also sends money to an orphanage for children affected by the AIDs pandemic.

Tomorrow night, for a $10 cover, you can do good and feed your literary soul. The festivities are at Housing Works, the source of much goodness, and kick of at 6:30. It's a launch party for issue #3 which is a beauty.

Jonathan Lethem and Barry Youngrau are reading.

See you there?

(Housing Works is at 126 Crosby St., btw. Prince & Houston. email info@howjournal.com for more info.)

Etexts and other editions of Mrs. Dalloway

A reader from Iran writes:
i … was searching to find out which version is correct-the etexts of mrs dalloway or the printed one regarding this passage and if there are other instances that you have knowledge of.

etext:
She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.
printed:
...thrown it away while they went on living. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. But she must...

i'd really appreciate it if you tell me about it. i am writing from iran!

The e-text includes the phrase “he made her feel the beauty, made her feel the fun,” which is also included in most American editions of Mrs. Dalloway. The printed version that my reader quotes must be a British edition. Woolf’s addition of this phrase to the American proofs, but not the British ones, is probably the most striking difference between the American and English editions of Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a huge difference. This is the kind of sentence that one might pin a reading on. Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert did.

What does it mean? The “he” is Septimus Smith, of whose death Clarissa has just learned. So, Clarissa thinks that learning about Septimus’ death—or, rather, about the death of a shell-shocked soldier—makes her enjoy the party all the more.

It’s a shocking thought. And a very human one, I think. Sometimes, when we hear of a death during a celebration, we do feel a little electric jolt, an animal response that, in words would be something like “I’m alive, anyway!” It is a callous statement of the connection between Clarissa and Septimus, one that fuels readings of him as a scapegoat.

But why isn’t that thought in the British edition? There are a couple possibilities, so let me reason my way to the most plausible guess. We know that Woolf corrected three sets of proofs simultaneously. Her diary accounts of this process, regarding Mrs. Dalloway and other novels, indicate that she found the task tedious. This suggests that the inconsistencies between editions are likely as much an indicator of fatigue and error as anything. This makes it unlikely, in my opinion, that Woolf meant a change for her American audience. Thus, though the thought is hard to shake, I do not think we can read the change as evidence of Woolf’s pandering to an American readership.

I do think, however, that her failure to make this correction on either her personal proofs or the British proofs, indicates that some ambivalence about it as a correction.

This is a aesthetically consistent. Woolf typically revised explicit statements of meaning and intent out of her drafts as they approached publication, so this addition seems like a hiccup, a momentary lapse of confidence and judgment.

What do you think?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yes we can! Nothing naive about that.

So, Obama is up in the polls. My fingers and toes are all crossed. But I’m missing a little of that joy that occasionally flooded over me in the primaries. I can see it from here, but I’m too deep in the muck of the bailout and my plummeting 401K (not to mention my daughters’ 527 plans—why did I look?), I needed a jolt of joy.

Luckily for me, a friend passed along this link to an essay in The Brooklyn Rail. The author, Alex Gallo-Brown, writes about his continuing optimism and admiration for Obama. It’s a stirring testimony from a young writer eager to move into a new era of race relations, one that keeps its main focus more on the promise of the future, that seeks to emerge from what Obama calls a 40-year stalemate, not by forgetting, but by looking to the hope and power of youth, of the future.

In a week when the Republican ticket has been so despicable in its invocation of past hatred and fear, it’s quite stirring to remind ourselves that we can know about racism, current and past, without succumbing to it. We might, maybe, even be able to push ourselves forward into a future that looked brighter for all.

He writes about the effect of his time at Garfield High School on his perceptions of race, too. I’m a lot older, but I’m a Garfield alum, too. I’ve written about Garfield a couple of times here, but I’ve never captured the feeling of a Garfield assembly as well as he did in these paragraphs:
In February of my freshman year, we had an assembly to honor Martin Luther King Day. It wasn’t very much different from previous assemblies held at my middle school: A black girl performed a soulful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner; a white boy gave a platitudinous speech about leadership or hard work, I can’t remember which. (There was one novelty, a troupe of Ethiopian girls who shook their asses so fast they managed to titillate the audience and inspire a sense of cultural appreciation all at once.) Then there was more singing, more dancing, more speeches.

I don’t remember exactly what it was about that day; but I do remember the feeling as I stood in the bleachers of the Garfield gym, this surge of emotion. It said—and we said back!—we are here, and we are different than what came before.

It said that we weren’t like our parents, or our parents’ parents—we weren’t subject to their prejudices or preconceptions. We weren’t connected to the America that practiced slavery and put people in internment camps, slaughtered Native Americans and tolerated the laws of Jim Crow.

It said that we have this power—awesome power—to make something new.

Such were my feelings in high school. Then I went to college, the first of three I would attend, and quickly received a remedial education in small-mindedness and unconscious bigotry.
I don’t quite know how to explain it any better. I am amazed and moved to think that the ethos of my Garfield persists. But he is utterly right: Barack’s Yes We Can! seems deeply, deeply familiar to me, and I think it comes out of those assemblies in that old gym. A willful, intense sense of power: aggressive, occasionally even a little angry, a little naive, but full of hope. And that, for me, is the best argument I know for strong, diverse public schools: they help a diverse world full of difference feel like home. They can show young people that their job is to know our history and change our world for the better.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Youme Landowne & Anthony Horton

I am busy. Beyond busy. Busy like never before in my life. Two more weeks of this and then things should settle back into the regular level of chaos. But for now, I'm at a stage where I have unopened emails from a week ago.

Still, once in a while, I do open and read. And then I look on in wonder.

My little local independent bookstore, the Imagine Atrium, is hosting Youme Landowne on Friday, 10/17 and I'm so excited. I hope I can go. If you're in Jersey City, do go.

Landowne writes children's books and her Selavi, about Haiti's restaveks is really beautiful. The restaveks are the poorest of the poor children in Haiti, children whose parents farm them out to "reste-avec," or stay with, less poor families who promise to feed, clothe and educate them. In reality, the restaveks are often little better than slaves. Landowne's picture book, which she wrote and illustrated, tells the true story of some restaveks who made a little family which then turned into a real home. It's the kind of children's book I love: it tells are hopeful story about a really, really dark, real thing. I can share it with my children and they learn about the bad things in the world without learning too much about evil (a delicate balance, but I lean toward realistic pollyannism, the audacity of hope, and all that).

This new book is a collaboration with Anthony Horton, a homeless subway artist. The challenge? Here's what the Imagine Atrium post says:
How do you tell the story of a life that starts something like this?
I was born to people who didn’t want me and so they gave me away. But I guess the people they gave me to didn’t want me either. No one wanted me. That’s why I ended up on the streets alone and uneducated. I couldn’t read or write. I didn’t know anything and the whole world knew it.
This is the voice of Anthony Horton. Born in 1968, Anthony is a homeless artist who lived underneath New York City. If you want to see his work, you’ll have to walk along the tunnel walls in the darkest parts of the transit system.

The drawings look lovely and I already know that Youme's work is cool, so I have high hopes for this one. Check it out.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Assertions

I'm writing and trying to keep the children occupied. Without much success. The little one, 2 1/2, after great effort, finally got her tiny foot into one of her father's shoes, great, handsome black pilgrim loafers. She looks up at me and makes the pronouncement of the day:

"I not Daddy. I Is-bel."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Words: Gangbusters, scheme

I recently sent an apologetic email to someone whose lecture I could not, in the end, make the time to see. I copied a second friend, just to let her know that I wasn’t going. In it I said that the semester had come on like gangbusters and I didn’t have any choice but to just try to keep up the pace.

Gangbusters. A very good word.

But in reply, both recipients asked me about the word. Gangbusters, Anne, really?

I guess I’m alone in keeping it alive.

Then, on the radio the other morning, a British journalist described the Bush administration’s scheme to bailout the failed banks. I was taken aback by the word before remembering that scheme does not have such a firmly negative connotation in England as it does here.

Nonetheless, I suspect I’m right to have detected the slightest little sneer in the American journalist’s voice when she picked the story back up, saying that yes, many Americans , too, had voiced concerns about the scheme.

Scheme. Another good one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Time Out

I am suspending this blog until we can solve the problems with our economy.

Ha!

Friday, September 19, 2008

6 Days to go

Not till the election, but till something else very important.

Readers, take note. The Bush administration is trying to pass a rule that would allow health care workers to refuse any treatment they don't agree with--including not just abortion (which is already such a procedure), but also contraception and sterilization.

If you haven't read HRC's op-ed yet, please do:
LAST month, the Bush administration launched the latest salvo in its eight-year campaign to undermine women’s rights and women’s health by placing ideology ahead of science: a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would govern family planning. It would require that any health care entity that receives federal financing — whether it’s a physician in private practice, a hospital or a state government — certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable.
And then go to the Planned Parenthood website and follow the links to register your protest against the rule.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Priorities

This year, again, I’m trying to reset my priorities, to think about how I can achieve my goals by setting aside the time to do what matters: writing without neglecting the children. That’s a big and continuing challenge.

In graduate school, two of my very best friends and I went to New Orleans and got obsessed with Mardi Gras beads. We all noticed the pleasure we took in the pretty little things and, in them, we saw some parallels to the intense detailed work we were doing on our dissertations. My friends have gone on to storied careers and academe.

As for me, I’m doing fine, but I still think that little beads are a good metaphor for my magpie mind.

So, as I think about resetting my priorities, I can see all these little beads and seeds, scattered through my life, randomly, with more hope and enthusiasm than actual forethought. I have sewn so many seeds, scattered so many beads, promised so many small pieces of writing, set in motion so many arguments, so many relationships, so many promises, that when they come back to me, I am sometimes surprised to see them.

Sometimes, I step on a bead and it hurts like that last tiny Lego, invisible on the patterned carpet.

Sometimes, for days (no great housekeeper I), I notice the bead’s presence without ever actually thinking about it, without ever really letting it enter my mind in a way that would let me nourish it into growth. Then, it’s like the little toy or barrette, forgotten in some forlorn corner of the apartment, a tiny gamepiece that I notice for days without ever being able to muster the focus to pick up and take to the toy chest because to put it away properly just feels too hard and to throw it into the dark chaos of the toy chest feels like a worse kind of giving up.

Sometimes, after weeks or months of real forgetfulness, I turn to find that the little seed has grown up like one of the more primitive and terrifying weeds in our backyard, sprung up overnight, leafy, rangy, wild and demanding: the deadline was a week ago, the email says, can you deliver? A shudder goes through me and gradually, with a hollow and panicked feeling, I remember that yes, I did promise to write that review, send in that recommendation, apply for that grant, organize that meeting.

So, what to do?

Well, here is the current plan: I’m good at exercising 3 days a week. What if I got up at the same time on the other two and spent that time writing? It worked yesterday. That’s one.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7th Anniversary

I didn't live here in 2001. I was in Indiana.

In early September, I was setting off to pick up a guest speaker from the airport. He was flying in from Newark. At loose ends, I sat at home for a moment and turned on the Today show. It seemed strange that a plane would have crashed into the World Trade Center.

I called my mom in Seattle.

We were on the phone together when the second plane hit.

We rescheduled the lecture for a couple weeks later.

One of the things I loved about DeLillo's novel was how accurately he captured the numb pragmatism of those days. Oh: the world as we know it has changed. Perhaps you can give your lecture next week instead?

Yesterday, I took MetroNorth from the Bronx to Grand Central; the PATH from 33rd to Jersey City. There were cops. There were dogs. We must, I thought, be at dark orange or maybe red. But why?

I had forgotten that the anniversary was upon us.

Is that a loss or a victory? And for whom?

As you think about what has changed, do read Erica's lovely essay on what we've lost.

53 days...

....books for Barack.

Speaking of autographs....Ayelet Waldman is having a silent book auction as part of an Obama fundraiser. I don't even have any copies of my out-of-print scholarly book to hand. Does anyone really want a copy of the instructor's guide to *The Norton Reader*? No.

But maybe you, dear reader, have written a book? And maybe you would like to donate a copy to a tony Bay Area fundraiser where donors will bid and raise money for Obama. If you do, pop your book into an envelope and send it her way.

(Don't have Ayelet's mailing address in your iPhone? Public as she is, I'm not sure she wants it all over the web. I got it fourth hand from my friend Kenny. So email me: fernham@gmail.com. I'll hook you up.)

Updated: Did you think I was kidding?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

54 days

I'm not quitting. No time for substance on a very busy day. But I did send Barack another tiny chunk of change.

Warm-Up Act

Fine. Go to Brooklyn on Sunday for their book festival. It will be very fancy.

But if you want a warm-up act, pop over to my neighborhood. Jersey City is hosting its first ever book festival, sponsored by the public library (yay!) and our local independent bookstore, the Imagineatrium and hosted in Van Vorst Park—just a few blocks from the Grove Street PATH station and just one block from MY apartment. Hurrah!

Helene Stapinski, author of the JC memoir Five-Finger Discount, will appear. Bill Gordon author of JC novel, Mary After All, is out of the area now and can’t make it. Others will be there, too.

Maybe Walter Dean Myers will make a showing?

Of course, I’m holding my breath for an appearance by my favorite JC writer: Tayari Jones!!!!

And as long as we’re linking to Carolyn’s gig at the LATimes, did you see her piece on favorite autographs? I am partial, since I was quoted. Fun!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

55 days to go...

So, today's little project for the presidency is this:

Calculate the tax cut you'd get under the Obama administration here. And pass it on...

Monday, September 08, 2008

We interrupt this blog...

Being lied to makes me crabby.

So I'm embarking on a 60-day "What did you do for Obama today?" campaign. No more hand-wringing, just hard work for the good old USA and our best hope of some change.

Here's my first contribution:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Lies, Lies, and more Lies

Like the rest of us, I am utterly distracted by the Palin story and too overwhelmed by all of it to really collect my thoughts.

But when I heard her position herself as an advocate for special needs children last night, my antennae went up. As a small-town mayor, she would have had oversight of a school budget which would have included funding for special needs children. Before the birth of her baby, how was her record?

Well, as you would expect, not good. This from "Hilzoy" on the CBS news blog:
Palin: "To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House."

Sarah Palin might have changed her mind on this one recently. However, a comment here notes that Palin actually slashed funding for schools for special needs kids by 62%. Budgets: FY 2007 (pre-Palin), 2008, 2009 (all pdfs).
There is a lot to be outraged about in this VEEP pick and Gloria Steinem nails it this morning when she calls Palin the new Schlafly.

Remember Phyllis Schlafly? She was a prominent crusader against the Equal Rights Amendment, a smart, charismatic woman, a mother, who used her identity as a professional mother as a cudgel against other women. Here's what the conservative Eagle Forum says about her (emphasis added):
Phyllis Schlafly has been a national leader of the conservative movement since the publication of her best-selling 1964 book, A Choice Not An Echo. She has been a leader of the pro-family movement since 1972, when she started her national volunteer organization now called Eagle Forum. In a ten-year battle, Mrs. Schlafly led the pro-family movement to victory over the principal legislative goal of the radical feminists, called the Equal Rights Amendment. An articulate and successful opponent of the radical feminist movement, she appears in debate on college campuses more frequently than any other conservative. She was named one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century by the Ladies' Home Journal.
I take some small comfort in the recognition that Schlafly is no longer a household name. I hope that one day, too, Palin will be the darling of some neglected fringe movement, maybe back in Wassila.

UPDATED: As SFP notes in the comments and I heard intimations of elsewhere, it does look like Palin raised the budget on Special Ed. last April (her baby's birth month) [Education Week]--the confusion and apparent drop came because the name of the budget line changed. I'm correcting this in the interest of accuracy, but I still feel frustrated and indignang about her lying ways.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Too Many First Days of School

How I used to love the first day of school! I have fond memories even of those tense, excited breakfasts in elementary school when my father would tease me that my new teacher for the next grade was going to be “Mrs. Awful.”

“Really, Daddy?”

“Yes, and I hear she’s awful.”

Quivering lips and plaintive glances at my mom who’d remind me that it was only, after all, Ms. Pogue.

I remember great new outfits in red, yellow, and blue, with new knee socks, and heading off to school with a new lunchbox.

And I remember, years later, poring over Seventeen magazine in search of just the right plaid jumper for a cute new back-to-school look and having my mom help me put pennies in my new loafers.

Part of becoming a teacher, I’m sure, has to do with my fondness for this rhythm of the year, this sense of September beginnings, of autumn promise.

But this year, there are just too many first days. Instead of feeling like a fond old hand, I’m just a nervous little kid, each new day turning my stomach upside down again.

Yesterday was the first day of school at NYU, where my husband teaches. It was also my first day of the practicum for new graduate student teachers, a course that I’ll be taking over for at least part of the semester while a colleague is on personal leave.

Today is the first day of school at Fordham, where I teach. My classes don’t meet today, but I have to head out soon to hold the orientation meeting for the new adjuncts who’re just starting out.

Tomorrow is my daughter’s first day of kindergarten!

And Friday is my actual first day of teaching my own classes.

You can wipe me up from the floor on Friday afternoon.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I'm so glad

Win or lose, rain or shine, we'd sway in the stands after every football game:
I'm so glad I go to Garfield High... (x3)
Singing glory hallelujah, I go to Garfield High.
The last line's a little histrionic, for sure, but we did feel it. Garfield was a great, great high school and we were super proud to be part of it. Imagine, then what it would feel like to go to this Garfield!

My old Seattle high school has reopened after a multi-million dollar renovation. Wow!

When I was there, the window frames were painted bright yellow, cracked, chipped and fading, with purple accents. The renovation is grand and positively Microsoftian. Wow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Untelling

I finished Tayari Jones’ The Untelling a couple weeks ago and it’s only the vagaries of making the transition from summer back to teaching that have kept me from writing up my enthusiasm for the book.

I knew from the combination of humor and passionate ethics on her blog that I would love her novel; her reading at the Girls Write Now benefit only confirmed that feeling. It was just a matter of getting to the book…

There is so much to love about this novel. Ariadne, the protagonist with the burdensome, ambitious name, is a young Spelman grad, drifting through her twenties. She doesn’t really know herself if her job teaching literacy for a community organization is a testament to her commitment to social justice or a symptom of her lack of ambition. She has a nice boyfriend, a locksmith and this character, Dwayne, is one of the book’s real pleasures: a lovely, lovely, settled young man, utterly confident of himself and his place in the world in all kinds of ways that unsettle Aria.

Tayari is really genius in writing about class: the scene in which Aria sits and watches as the pregnant teen from her literacy class does calligraphy to address envelopes for her roommates wedding invitations is so rich. A regular middle-class girl, newly graduated from college but without family money to draw on, Aria looks in wonderment at both women and sees clearly how strange each is to the other, and, most distressingly, how far she is from either. This seems utterly right to me: so often, we skate along assuming equality and suddenly someone mentions their sailboat, or that they’ve reached the time of the month when it’s down to Ramen and tuna, and we’re brought up short—or, worse, see that we’ve brought someone else up short. Again and again in The Untelling, Tayari captures those economic complexities and brilliantly articulates the specific prism of the young, gifted black women who’ve gone to Spelman and remained in Atlanta, expecting their Morehouse man, expecting a lot of themselves, and caught in a richly conflicted relationship to all the various neighborhoods of their city—this one too bourgie, that one too ghetto, this one uneasily gentrifying, that one stubbornly down at the heels.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you because I think you should read it yourself. I know it’s a few years old now, but seek it out. I gobbled it. It’s an important book, a lovely book, with a real plot, rich characters, and a deeply satisfying ending.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bannisters

Why, if you were a copyeditor working at Harcourt in 1925 would you let colour and civilisation stand in their British spellings but insist upon changing banisters to bannisters?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Winner of Sorrow

I promised some Cowper news—not something anyone has every day, Cowper being long dead. But when I wrote about Dalkey in my swoon over Michalopolou’s I’d Like, the press’s associate director popped me an email to say, among other things that Dalkey’s going to be publishing Brian Lynch’s historical novel, Winner of Sorrow, about Cowper this winter.

I can’t wait.

And the title is utterly beautiful.

Here’s what the press says:
A fictional imagining of the gentle but troubled zealot William Cowper—best known as a precursor to Romantics such as Wordsworth and Burns—Brian Lynch’s The Winner of Sorrow brings to life the mind and times of an eighteenth-century poet. Intense and exhilarating, this is literary fiction at its finest—the reader will be hard-pressed not to rush ahead to see what happens next. Yet you’ll want to savor every word as Lynch traces Cowper’s tragic descent into madness, which is presented matter-of-factly so that the novel is not sentimental but austere, not precious but serious, and yet, remarkably, lively, sensuous, and blackly comic.
I first learned of Cowper from Woolf, as he wrote “The Castaway,” the deliciously self-dramatizing poem that Mr. Ramsay recites in To the Lighthouse. The poem, about a man who falls overboard in a storm and gets left behind. Cowper at first seems to be celebrating this scary, humble, brave death, but the gem of the poem is its final lines, in which the poet’s own depression—and all our solitude—trumps this sailor’s watery grave:
No voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone,
When, snatched from all effectual aid,
We perished, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.
I love this poem and love Cowper.
While you wait for Lynch’s novel, you might read some Cowper or Woolf’s wonderful essay on him, the first of “Four Figures” in The Second Common Reader.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More of the Best, more BAHLER, plus: JERSEY!


Michael was asked: How Has Being From New Jersey Influenced My Writing?

Answer: Got me.

Dan Wickett asked me to help spread the word about this new anthology by letting New Jersey writer Michael Bahler guestblog at Jersey City's own Fernham...I hope it's sparked your interest in checking out more literary magazines and, especially, picking up a copy of Dzanc's new anthology...

BEST of the WEB: More Michael BAHLER


Michael Bahler writes:

The Perils of Online Publishing

My first online story, “Stephanie’s Blood,” was about a woman who bit her toenails. My girlfriend at the time was so excited when it came out, and she emailed the link to all her friends. The next day, however, she was not so excited.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Will you please tell everyone I don’t bite my toenails?”

My second online story, “Virgin Annie,” was about a guy lusting after a Korean woman named Annie K— who he suspected was a virgin. Just last year, I received a surprise email from a real-life Annie K—.
“I googled my name and found your story,” she wrote. “I am Korean, but I am definitely not a virgin.”

I recently showed the “The Stiff Jew” to a colleague.
“Michael, you’re Jewish?”

But my most harrowing online publishing experience had to do with a story I wrote entitled “My Blankie. My Penis.” The opening paragraph of the story read:

“Herpes. Could it be anything else? I’d slept with Adina on a Saturday. The condom had burst. I’d woken up five days later with itchy red dots up and down my penis.”

Around the time it was posted, I was interviewing to become a federal prosecutor. I’d made it all the way to the third round, and had met with the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. “I have no doubt,” he had told me, “you could do any job in this office.” I was also doing online dating, and had been emailing a woman I really liked.

I received a form rejection from the U.S Attorney’s Office, and the woman blew me off. These two developments could have had something to do with “My Blankie. My Penis” showing up first when my name was googled.

I love online publishing, but I think it’s unique from print journals in that stories become readily available to people who might not necessarily be interested in reading them as stories. It makes publishing a little dangerous. My father told me that I should start writing under a pseudonym, but instead I changed the heading on my resume from “Michael Bahler” to “M. F. Bahler.”

The site that posted “My Blankie. My Penis” later reinvented itself and took down my story. I changed my resume back to “Michael Bahler.”

Guestblogger MICHAEL BAHLER: The Saga of The Stiff Jew


Michael writes:

I originally wrote the “The Stiff Jew” for an anthology about Jews dating gentiles (called something like “Was She Worth It?”). The editor of the anthology ultimately passed on my piece, emailing me: “Hi Michael, I thought the narrative was obtuse and underdeveloped . . . . Best wishes and Happy Rosh Hashanah!”

So I took “The Stiff Jew” and I showed it to my writing mentor, an established fiction writer who usually heaped praise on me.
“This is probably the worst thing you’ve ever written,” she said.
“I don’t remember showing you everything I’ve ever written.”
“I’m not saying it’s not salvageable, but it needs a lot of work.”

So I forgot about the “The Stiff Jew” until I saw that Swink was accepting submissions for an upcoming online edition with the theme “taking sides.” Since my piece was—on a basic level—about taking sides on Jesus, I sent it over. Almost two years later, I got a response:
“We love it. We want to publish it an upcoming edition. Please say yes!”

Somewhat ironically, “The Stiff Jew,” written for a Jewish anthology, has now ended up in an anthology with so many gentiles.

Curious? Check out the new Dzanc books anthology, collecting the best writing from online literary mags, The Best of the Web 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We interrupt this blog...


A few weeks back, Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network, Dzanc Books and formerly a force behind the Litblog Co-op wrote to ask if I'd let a guestblogger pop in to help draw your attention to Dzanc's new anthology, The Best of the Web, 2008 (edited by Steve Almond). To me, Dan is one of the real heroes of the literary blog so I jumped at the chance to participate.

The idea behind the anthology is to collect some of the best writing from online literary journals in one place: a *great* idea, and one that really shows the coming-of-age of blogs, online publications, and the links between technology and literary life. It's an exciting prospect.

Since I blog from New Jersey, Dan's paired me up with a New Jersey writer and contributor to the anthology, Michael Bahler. He'll be posting here tomorrow. Enjoy!

(Cowper and Stevenson, Jones and Robinson will have to wait...)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fitness

Like Dorothy, I'm finding myself back in the city and a bit out of shape for work and the semester to come. I have lots and lots of things to tell you about--cheese and Robert Louis Stevenson, Cowper!, books in Van Vorst Park, Tayari's amazing book, Roxana Robinson, poetry...

But after six weeks upstate, I'm in great physical shape (for me) and terrible bureaucratic shape. I come home exhausted and bleary. It took me an hour to make a dinner that ought rightly to have taken half that: I kept standing in front of open cabinets, open fridges, staring... Each thing I had to throw away took two tries: I tried to put paper in the garbage, garbage in the recycling, missed the bin for recyclable glass. You get the idea.

So I'm back but not back... More to come...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dr. Seuss

Were I younger or even more procrastinatory, I would make this into one of those quizzes that are all the rage on the internets these days.

For now, let’s just keep it to this: my favorite Dr. Seuss was always Green Eggs and Ham, the story of a gourmand and a picky eater, the story of gathering up your courage to try a new thing and finding that thing to be great, the story of the ever cheerful Sam-I-Am, the friend who is just so enthusiastically sure that you may like them…

The older girl loves that book, too.

She has seen the movie of The Cat in the Hat at daycare and likes the idea of it, but she has never sat through the whole book (and she has an amazing attention span).

The little one, by contrast, has been very slow to sit still for books but, oh! The Cat in the Hat, that story that I found so upsetting and unsettling as a girl, the story her sister finds dull, is a delight to her. Oh, Mommy is gone and someone else is making a BIG MESS in our house and it’s really funny. She finds the whole thing riveting and hilarious and, clearly, fully of really good ideas for what to do when my back is turned. She sits through the whole thing, commenting on the pictures and, occasionally, “reading” along.

We are in trouble!

What was your favorite Dr. Seuss book? Do you think it true to character now?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dagmar Mohne Hansen Lahlum

Were I a novelist, were I really going to write an espionage bestseller—as my mother-in-law announced to relatives at dinner the other night (mostly to cover up a lull in the conversation), I would write a novel based on the life of Dagmar Lahlum.

Lahlum was Agent Zigzag’s lover during his 11-month stay in occupied Norway. He picked her up at the Ritz and, neither knowing the other was a spy for the allies, they became lovers: Dagmar, fond of Chapman but also working for the Norwegian resistance; Chapman, well, being Chapman, a sentimental womanizer, finding his port in the storm.

Still, they bought a skiff and together sailed up the coast to the estate that Quisling had taken over. When Chapman returned to England in 1944 he was able to provide MI5 with a precise map of the Quisling compound, should the Allies want to bomb the Nazi government in Norway.

That’s a great scene to imagine from her point of view, isn’t it? Sailing with your lover, who has just confessed that he’s spying for England, and then picnicking on Quisling’s grounds together…

She never had children and lived a long life, always beautiful, in leopardskin and red lipstick to the end. At her death, her niece burned a drawerful on unsent letters to Chapman.

Oh, you can hear, it’s practically a movie already, isn’t it?

Reading Jenny’s account of traveling to Copenhagen to get the flavor of the place for the Explosionist, I had my own momentary fantasy of a Norwegian visit for background material for my novel.

Unwritten novels are always the best..

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

1916

Well, I made it to 1916 in Woolf’s letters. I must say, I find the reading very hard going. There is so much struggle and grief in the first three decades of Woolf’s life that it comes as a tremendous relief to read this editor’s note: “The increasing vigour of Virginia’s letters indicate her complete return to normality, and she was not to have another total mental breakdown until she killed herself 25 years later.”
Phew! Plain sailing ahead.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Codes: More on Zigzag

Chapman’s success as a double agent was not only due to his own criminal genius. German intelligence was not nearly as strong as English. Specifically, England cracked Germany’s supposedly uncrackable code long before Germany recognized it.

Macintyre reprints the explanation of Chapman’s code in full from the MI5 archive.

Puzzling over it, I’m reminded of my girlhood fascination with codes, secret ink, and hidden messages. But my problem, of course, always was that, not being a spy but, rather, a 10-year-old girl in Seattle in peace time, I had no message to impart other than “Hi. Can you read this message?”

Leaving the war to the side for a moment, there is something thrilling in having a message so important, so particular that you would want to take the word CONSTANTINOPLE, assign each letter in the word a number according to its place in the alphabet, then, the word (A=1, there being no B in Constantinople, C=2, the first O=9, the second O=10), multiply the resulting number by the date of the transmission, then do four or five other really complicated things so that
I HAVE ARRIVED AND IN GOOD HEALTH FRITZ [Chapman's nom de guerre]
becomes
HILNO PHFYL YFZVQ VNFCR FLTOX VDMHH MYPBN RRVBB

And then, too, it’s exciting and useful to know that even spies had to send dull messages at times. I will be sure to impart this information to my children when they send each other messages in code. You can pretend, I’ll tell them, that you’ve just completed a very, very dangerous mission and your control agent needs to know that you’re ok.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Agent Zigzag

I finished Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag with relish! What a great story—a nonfiction work that truly earns its subtitle: Lover Traitor Hero Spy.

Eddie Chapman was a young career criminal (26 or so), imprisoned in Jersey, UK, when the Nazis occupied the island. Bored and hungry, he offered himself to the Germans as a spy, got crack training, and then, upon landing (by parachute) in England with a mission, thought better of it and offered himself to the English as a double agent.

The English ran him for about 2 years (1942-1944) and he played an important role in the war, spreading, for example, misinformation about the location and damage of the doodlebugs, Germany’s unmanned bombs that did such damage to London during the blitz.

It’s a gripping, fun story, somewhere between Hogan’s Heroes and James Bond—but true. Macintyre is a strong writer who never loses his narrative thread. There are many, many moments when he might have been waylaid by an interesting or distressing side story, but he keeps the plot moving and keeps us focused on Chapman. The prose is fine—good enough that, late in the book when he permits himself the execrable (but inevitable) Ian Fleming pun (Fleming, Ian Fleming), I didn’t just forgive, I laughed.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More Michalopoulou

The opening story of I’d Like has a woman, a frustrated painter, disappointed in herself, sitting at a reading with her husband, a novelist who is not as famous as he thinks he should be. As the great Greek-American novelist strides on-stage, the husband grips his wife’s hand and, in their edgy, jealous stress, he grabs it so hard that he breaks her finger. They have to leave before the reading….

Another story has a professor, sitting in his office late at night, bored by grading papers. He pours himself a whiskey (do professors really keep whiskey in their offices?) and, out of boredom and a sense of practical joking, calls his house just to hear his own voice on the answering machine. But instead of the machine, his own voice answers and informs him that he is, in fact, not a professor but a character in his voice’s novel. He is not, somehow, the real him but the phantom one. Irate, he threatens to drive home and prove his own reality to his voice, but he can’t find the door out of his office…

This second story is the only one so far that ends with what I’d call a magic realist gimmick. I loved it. It tells well—which is why I tell it—but it’s far from the best story in the lot. The other, better stories deploy their magical touches with tremendous feeling and irony.

When I met her—for thirty seconds, to thank her and sign my book--at the PEN festival, I had the urgent and embarrassing sense of meeting a kindred spirit. She cannot have shared this feeling, of course, which made me all the more embarrassed. But now, reading these stories, my crush, my enthusiasm is renewed. I am hungry for more. The back of the book tells me there is a lot more, so I’m going to seek it out, but I find it’s mostly in Greek or German…

Friday, August 08, 2008

I’d Like

Amanda Michalopoulou’s collection, which I haven’t quite finished, is stunning. Her note says:
My original objective was to write a few short stories to supplement the twenty or so I’ve published here and there in the past few years. When I started to write, the old stories didn’t fit in anywhere—they scurried back to the anthologies they’d come from. So a new objective took shape: to write stories that would read like versions of an unwritten novel. Or, better, to write the biography of those stories as well as of their fictional writer.
An unwritten novel is a very Woolfian thought, and a lovely one. And these stories are linked in brilliant dream-like ways: it’s a pleasure to see the red beret show up in one story, then another, then another, and then “oh, so that body on the hospital gurney was her…” It’s like the lovely coincidences in a Kieslowski movie. But unlike those films, these stories feel deep and finely-crafted. I have the feeling that were I to make a study of them, I would continue to understand how the sisters are related to the mothers, how the daughters are like each other, etc. It’s not just the image of a red beret tossed into the air for effect, it’s the feeling that these lives are tangled in each other, full of ambitions and disappointments, full, in short of the lives of women who want to be artists and are always pulled back by the needs and desires of family, the needs and desires for family.

A picture and a brief bio are here.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dalkey Archive Press

When Dalkey sent me the galleys of Theater of Incest and some other book with bugs in the title, I sympathized with the publicist’s plea: however great a book Theater of Incest may be, it will not get the readership it deserves, given the title.

I certainly have not read it yet.

But I admire Dalkey tremendously. As Djuna Barnes’ publisher and the publisher of other lesser known modernist works, I see Dalkey as one of the real heroes, a house with a distinct personality, publishing books of high quality that for all their variety, seem to go together.

But I have found a Dalkey book that I am totally, utterly thrilled with: Amanda Michalopoulou’s I’d Like, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich. I learned about it when I heard her read and speak at a PEN event last spring. It is a dazzling, moving, strange collection of connected short stories. I’m not done with it yet and I think I’ll have a lot more to say. It’s stunning, though.

Bravo to Dalkey for bringing us this great work!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Definitely gifted."

"Definitely gifted!"

I spent fifth grade in a "gifted" program. Being labeled as gifted was comedy gold for my family. For the rest of my life, whenever I did something foolish, clumsy, or embarrassing, my family could look at each other and nod, "definitely gifted."

I'm finally reading Tayari Jones' The Untelling. I'm not very deep in but it's every bit as great as I guessed it would be and the mother in that book, with her very, very high expectations, has a phrase to shame and intimidate that leaves "definitely gifted" in the dust:

"That is not what Dr. King died for."

Oh wonderful! The pressure. The expectations. The delicious disproportion between an ordinary daughter's foibles and Dr. King. It speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Yay, Tayari! I feel like her stalker, reading all about the progress of the new book here as I read the old one, but this is stalking from a distance and for pleasure. Now she really is gifted....

Textual Editing as Meditation

And then, every time I go through the book, just as I am my most bored and irritated, I find something.

It feels like a glimpse of enlightenment must feel to those who meditate: patience, patience, patience, then, suddenly, with a quiet but brilliant clarity, the curtains part and I can hear something I had never heard before.

Thus, when Dr. Holmes gives Rezia a tranquilizer after Septimus’ death, she falls to sleep, “She put on her hat, and ran through cornfields.” And, somehow it’s clear: Rezia, the young widow far from home, Ruth, “in tears amid the alien corn,” as Woolf had it in the essay she wrote alongside Mrs. Dalloway.

I think I am the first person to notice this. Of course, if I’m not, do tell me and I can give credit.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Textual Editing’s Weird Knowledge

Have I made it clear enough that this stage of editing is a bit of a slog for me? Still, going through Mrs. Dalloway for the 20th or 21st time still has its pleasures. I am still convinced the novel is a masterpiece even as I guard against the sense one gets, when working hard, that anything one has spent a long time on must be worth something.

It’s strangely fun, for example, as I work on this little appendix of corrections to the proofs (and appendix that may or may not end up in the book), to see the following note:
118.8 air-cushion-- UP ] ~; AP
and know, just from that, the exact paragraph in the novel that this comes from, and then to think, while carrying on with the mundane task of reformatting my list of corrections, about Peter’s thoughts on Clarissa, on her little attentions to her friends—getting someone an air-cushion or a book or some flowers—and how this womanly care is both lovely and a little irritating.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Pleasures of Zigzag & Kite Runners

Back in July, both Ana Maria and Dorothy expressed their annoyance—even, perhaps anger—at a little essay in the Guardian about Reader’s Block, the inability to finish a book. I read the piece and didn’t find anything in it to irritate me. I admire their venom and frustration--maybe I'm missing something in my own make up as a reader? But then, I experience reader’s block a lot and find the phenomenon fascinating--and I'm clearly not alone. I cherish the knowledge that Charles Darwin’s reading journal recorded where he stopped reading books and, occasionally, why. (Oh to be a Victorian, recording everything!) And I loved Germaine Greer’s testy response to reader’s block, too:
Have you experienced reader's block?
It's just a different world. I read all the time; I can't stop reading. It might apply to my assistant, but she is on holiday, so she is probably reading like mad.
Could you recommend a book to get people reading again? Oh God, I don't read novels! Why do people think that reading a book means reading a fucking novel? You finish reading the book and you think "Well, that's over. There's four hours down the drain." At least in non-fiction you might pick up some information you can trust. My whole world is built out of books, but they aren't Booker prize-winners, which I frankly always think are overrated. Like lots of people who end up reading stuff they don't want to read, what I pick up is mainly dictated by what's in the airport bookshop, which is a very depressing cross-section. I think some people are reading a whole lot more that they need to be. I think all these children banging themselves on the head with Harry Potter would be better off doing almost anything else. Why are we so sanctimonious and moralistic about reading?
Her solution is more extreme than Woolf’s which is all about variety: read for pleasure; reading is an end in itself; choose a book that complements what you have just read.

In this summer of isolation and Woolf, the action heroes of Agent Zigzag (on whom, more soon) and melodrama of The Kite Runner have been welcome breaks.

Mondegreen

Another word to add to your vocabulary, another reason to love Wikipedia.

I was listening to “Proud Mary” and googled the lyrics to figure out the phrase “pumped a lot of tane.” The Tina Turner version is ‘tane, for octane, which makes sense as the kind of lousy, hard job someone might have in New Orleans, but wikipedia suggests, too, that the line may be a mondegreen, helpfully linking to an entry on the topic.

The coinage comes from a 1954 essay by Sylvia Wright in Harper’s:
When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray, [sic]
And Lady Mondegreen.
The actual fourth line is "And laid him on the green." As Wright explained the need for a new term, "The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original."
I love mondegreens—and I’m thrilled to have a word for them! The homespun ones are best. The widely circulating ones tend to have a bit of a Reader’s Digest-y “oh, the funny things kids think” quality.

In high school, a friend of mine, very straight-laced but funny and brilliant, loved the Soft Cell hit “Tainted Love.” This seemed to open new windows into her tolerance and personality until we determined that she thought the song was “Painted Dove”!

Do you have a favorite?

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Twin Towers

My friend Erika has a lovely essay on her memories of the Twin Towers and Windows on the World over at Quay. I love this kind of essay—snapshots of the same thing, over time, and it seems to me an elegant and thoughtful way to evoke those ghosts now. Her evocation of the restaurant is so much more human and humane than DeLillo’s or Begbeder’s, so I am glad to add it to my little interior anthology of 9/11 literature.

(Not to mention that I take a secondary and far more vain pleasure in being the unnamed friend in the fourth section!)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cowper footnotes

Reading a few William Cowper (1731-1800) poems the other day in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, I came across the following footnote: “Cowper exercised his hares on his parlor carpet of Turkey red.”

Well, there is a lot about Cowper that I don’t know, but, reading these lines from “Epitaph on a Hare”:
A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
Whereon he loved to bound
I could have figured out that this domesticated rabbit, now dead, used to run around on a Turkish carpet.

Why on earth note this?

Or, on the next page, “Puss, the longest-lived of Cowper’s three hares.”

There is so much else that I would love to know, there are things I know that I think other readers might take an interest in. But this is an old Norton (1975), from the new critical days where biography and history were anathema: there are no historical footnotes, no biographical notes. Most of the footnotes identify classical and Biblical allusions. Fair enough. But one of these storied editors must have been an animal lover…

Monday, July 28, 2008

Woolf-Tolstoi-Eliot-Joyce

In the fall of 1922, Woolf was working on the very first bit of Mrs. Dalloway. She was also reading Ulysses and spending time talking about it with T. S. Eliot. Twice in her diaries that season, she offers accounts of conversations with Eliot about how Joyce is a genius, but Ulysses, in Eliot’s opinion, does not capture life as fully or richly as War and Peace. (Woolf herself was ambivalent about Ulysses, ultimately finding it inadequate.)

There is a lot to think about in this constellation of Woolf, Eliot, Joyce, and Tolstoi (as Woolf spelt it). Of most immediate interest for me is how it might build on our understanding of Mrs. Dalloway. This, as much as any small literary allusion or biographical note, is the big challenge of creating an edition, it seems to me. How to get that intellectual context and texture into my introduction?

Here, then is a tiny start. I read Bob Kiely’s riff on the title, Mrs. Dalloway with great admiration: how, in titling her novel after a married woman’s public name, Woolf announces her departure from the tradition of the novel which tends to use either women’s first names only (Clarissa, Pamela, Amelia, Emma) or men’s whole names (Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, Tristram Shandy). Such a practice reinscribes marriage as the end of women’s lives by showing the assumption that the woman’s surname will change. Building on that, then, and returning to Tolstoy, I am reminded of Anna Karenina as well as of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, two novels about adultery which break the English title tradition and end with the heroine’s death. Mrs. Dalloway is every bit as big a novel, but its events, insofar as Mrs. Dalloway is concerned, are thoughts: thoughts about romantic possibilities passed by and death, not adultery and suicide.

In that, I think Woolf shows how she tried to navigate the channel between the raw meat of Tolstoi (her expression, her sense that really only the anemic Eliot could rate Tolstoi so highly) and the empty undergraduate genius of Joyce (again, as she saw it). That is, Mrs. Dalloway is an attempt to write a psychological novel that matters, to use stream-of-consciousness not as an end in itself but to give an account of real consequence all the while avoiding the simplistic equation of consequence with event.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Envy

I am reading for the footnotes for my edition of Mrs. Dalloway. Meanwhile, my husband is reading Levinas and drafting a new chapter of a book down the hall. The problem? Woolf is always reading Apuleius or Thackeray or The Princess of Cleves and my spouse reads, as I said, Levinas, while, for my part, I am combing over the dregs of Woolf.

For the first time in ages, I tire of her. I tire of being so much in her head. I grow bored of having only her rattling about in my head. I spent an hour reading Ovid last night: that is certainly a welcome change. And then, when insomnia struck at midnight, another hour with the thrilling Agent Zigzag. I begin to feel less mad, less claustrophobic.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Motherhood, again: the Dolphin

As I said, I can see that I’m getting better at this motherhood thing, 5 ½ years into it, but I still get tripped up. The latest comedy was down in Great Aunt Mary’s pool with her grandson (11) and a bunch of his friends from across the bay.

The deep end was full of big kids, noodles, floaties, yelling. I was in the shallow end supervising my little life-jacketed darlings. I watched their fascinated gaze upon children doing cannonballs, pencil dives, and playing Marco Polo. Visions of future mischief danced across their little faces. Then, one of them found a little plastic dolphin, about the size of a small squirt gun.

“Fish,” said the little one.

“Dolphin,” I supplied.

“Do-fin,” she repeated.

I took it. A fine toy, a realistic dolphin. I squeezed its belly. The valve in its mouth was cleverly made so that the usual squeak was replaced by a realistic dolphin noise. By varying the pressure and duration of the squeeze, you can make it seem to speak. A veritable Flipper.

I showed the girls how to do it. The loved it.

The noise was earsplitting.

They were delighted.

As we left, I asked the little one to give the dolphin back.

“Oh no, I gave it to her. She can have it,” says the mother of the 11-year-old.

“Really? Thank you.” SQUEAK. SQUEAK. SQUEAK. “That noise sure is loud.”

Gotcha.

Maybe when I have an 11-year-old, I will be able to fob off the dolphin on the unsuspecting mother of young children with equal aplomb…

Friday, July 25, 2008

Motherhood

The routine may be ideal, but the devil is in the details.

In the abstract, I do a great job knowing that I am a fine mother, that I am making good decisions about balancing my time with my girls and my writing. But every day presents a pang, a moment of real doubt and grief. I long to be free of these feelings.

What to do, for example, about swim lessons?

The town pool is 20 minutes away. Lessons are in the morning, cutting into prime writing time. But the big girl is 5 ½ and needs to learn to swim.

For the first session, the lessons were full, so we didn’t pursue it. I worked on my writing and tried to teach a bit of this or that during our afternoon time in the River. But little girls don’t like to learn from their mommies. They are so dependent on us for so many things, the last thing they need is our telling them “You can’t float if you don’t put your head back! Tummy to the sky! I’ve got you. Just jump in! Blow bubbles. Kick! Kick! Don’t forget to kick, honey!”

The second session began on Monday. I spent Sunday brooding. I called the pool. Session two was full, too, but lots and lots of kids hadn’t showed up for session one, so I could call back in the afternoon.

Thus, everyday at 11, I drive to the pool, tense with resentment and the sense of interruption, to watch my daughter try to get through a half-hour long swim lesson without getting her head wet. I turn the music up loud both ways and we sing.

I know that this is precisely the right compromise: I got enough work under my belt in our first two weeks here to make the interruptions now less painful. I know that she needs the lessons. I adore her. I have such happy memories of the swim lessons in Lake Washington that my mom got for us when we were little girls. And, of course, I would never want to be the kind of mom who didn’t give her daughter swim lessons because she was too busy working on her book.

Still….well, as I said before, the devil is in the details: the decisions may be rationally utterly right, but the feelings are strong and confusing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Retreat

I’ve been reading Tayari and Lauren’s accounts of their retreats with interest and pleasure. I love reading stories of isolation, productivity, and renewal. That is one of the pleasures, too, of reading Woolf’s letters and diaries as I have been: reading the accounts of her youthful jaunts to Cornwall to work for a week or two on The Voyage Out, of her middle aged weeks at her and Leonard’s country house in Rodmell.

We are just over halfway done with our time up on the St. Lawrence. I have only finished one book since my arrival: volume one of Woolf’s letters. On that score, and by most other measures, this has not been as immensely productive as I might have hoped it to be. Still, we have a lovely routine and I know that I feel less jangled than I would were I down in the Jersey City swamps for the whole summer.

Three mornings a week, I start the morning off with exercise: I had been running but now that the races (2—one 15K and one 10K!) are over, I have gone kayaking twice.

Our babysitter, recommended by the high school guidance counselor, is a gem: a farmer’s daughter and honor student, swimmer and equestrian, she has all the coltish confidence of one of Emerson’s boys sure of his supper. She arrives each morning at 8:30 and plays with the girls at my mother-in-law’s camp, four houses down this sleepy gravel road, until 1:00. There is a state park at the end of the road, accessible through a gap in the fence. Most early mornings, the girls all walk down there and go to the playground.

The children nap at 1:00, when one of us drives the sitter home. We work a bit more and then, at 3:30, I wake the children. We swim in the River until dinnertime and we all eat together: our little family, my mother-in-law, and her mom, great-grandma.

After dinner, the little one and I head home. She checks the little plants behind the garage for wild strawberries. If there is one, she feeds it to me; if two, she eats the second. My husband does dishes. The big girl walks down the road with grandma and the dog to check in on Great Aunt Mary and check the tomatoes and squash in the back garden. I read a few pages of Treasure Island to the big girl and she goes to bed. We pour one last glass of wine and read a few pages before bed.

I must say that the routine is pretty ideal. It certainly sounds like a person would return to New York weighing less, having written more…

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More on Nana’s Books

When Nana’s books came, my father was very kind and clear: I was only to keep what I wanted and needed. There was no need to preserve her library intact or to keep books of little value for sentimental reason. Her library was good in its contents, but most of the paperbacks had come unglued from neglect and bad weather. His kindness and my studio apartment helped me winnow the boxes down to a more reasonable bounty (though you would never know that from the mammoth library that burdens us in our little apartment today).

One book that I kept, then got rid of, and now regret giving away was my Nana’s Milton in one volume.

It was the Bobbs-Merrill Milton, the same one I had used in college. And disliking Milton as I think I do (I suspect that he intimidates me more than I dislike him) and having my own college notes in the margin of my copy, it seemed strange to keep another copy of the very same book simply for sentimental reasons.

Except for one thing: it was all marked up with my Nana’s notes. The notes she made as she was losing her sight.

And the one note that made the book radioactive to me at twenty-four is the note that makes me now curious to see what else was there: Randomly, in the margins of Paradise Lost, Nana wrote “Why doesn’t Graham [my father] make Anne learn Latin?”

Somehow, back then, my mother and I pieced together that this had to have been written when I was seven or eight, around the time that my Nana pronounced, to my young mind, my failure as a writer. For, visiting her down in Florida, I showed her a short story I had written, heavily indebted to Hans Christian Andersen, about a little mermaid. She took out that Bobbs-Merrill Milton and turned it to Milton’s juvenilia: “Here’s a poem Milton wrote in Greek when he was six. Well, this is the Latin translation he made a few years later…”

I threw in the towel.

And, at 24, I threw the Milton in the recycling.

After all, a girl has to live.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Marginalia

I write in my books.

So did my grandmother.

When Nana’s glaucoma got bad enough that she couldn’t see anymore, she sent me her books.

I was twenty-four and I was living in a tiny, junky studio apartment (aluminum framed windows, a view of the parking lot, pink tiles in the bathroom) in New Haven, surrounded by books. Box after box of books, mildewed and worn from years in Nana’s attic in Maine, her garage in Florida, arrived at my doorstep.

Thanks to her, I have Woolf’s complete letters and diaries, sometimes with clippings of reviews stuck inside. And I have her margin notes: “Geo. Duckworth controversy/ see #576” she writes; “more Re. G. D. #12.”

Woolf’s half-brother, George Duckworth, molested her. The extent of the violation cannot fully be known, but he was wrong.

Strange as it is to be so engaged in working on Nana’s favorite writer, strange as it is, through Woolf, to remember what I have in common with a very difficult and distant Nana, I’m surprised that this is the thread that she was following through the letters.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More of Woolf’s letters

While the letter to Thoby is wonderfully sisterly, other letters have wit tinged with more pain. Going through this first volume, something I have not done before, in search of notes for the Mrs. Dalloway edition has been tough: too much pain, too much posing, too much showing off and worrying. And too much death.

When I had read in biographies about the centrality of Violet Dickinson’s friendship in Woolf’s girlhood, I turned away without much interest. There is no fictionalized Violet in Woolf’s writings—no one character we can point to and say, “the original of this character is Violet.” Woolf’s intense attraction to her, her fond, affectionate, and loving letters suggest to some critics (and to this reader) Woolf’s nascent lesbianism, perhaps still at this point unconscious to Woolf, perhaps not. But I hear grief much more loudly.

Reading the first volume of Woolf’s collected letters is to be struck with the overwhelming importance of Violet Dickinson. The first 42 letters are only spottily saved: the very first one, from 1888, is to James Russell Lowell, and was, as her father notes “this is a spontaneous production of Miss Stephen [then age 6], on seeing a picture of the Adirondacks and hearing that you had been there”:

“MY DEAR GODPAPER HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE ADIRONDACKS AND HAVE YOU SEEN LOTS OF WILD BEASTS AND A LOT OF BIRDS IN THEIR NESTS YOU ARE A NAUGHTY MAN NOT TO COME HERE GOOD BYE
YOUR AFFECTe
VIRGINIA”


The next forty-one letters perk along without much incident. Then, suddenly, it’s 1903 and Woolf is a young woman and Leslie Stephen, her father, aged 70, is dying of abdominal cancer. As the editors note, the vast majority of the saved letters, 42-164, written during Leslie Stephen’s long, slow decline, are to Violet. It’s rough reading. I raced through them and then slept fitfully.

I read letter after letter apologizing for being worried or preoccupied; begging for a crumb of news or a visit; thanking for the last visit; reporting that Violet’s idea that Woolf talk to the nurse and get to know her was working out, lessening the boredom and fret.

Cancer is still cancer. Slow deaths are still excruciating. As Woolf herself writes in one letter, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it.

So, when Woolf writes that she wishes Violet were a kangaroo into whose pouch she could climb, I guess I hear grief, loneliness, and a longing for motherly comforts as much as I hear incipient sapphism. I wouldn’t put it quite that way, I wouldn’t find the kangaroo metaphor—few of us would—but then, few among us have had that degree of grief to bear, motherless, trapped in a Victorian home, entertaining the relatives and admirers of an elderly father whilst one’s brothers are at Cambridge and one’s sister has a couple art classes a week with John Singer Sargent. Woolf’s only relief were Greek lessons with Janet Case and, later, Clara Pater, and these were in her house. The claustrophobia is palpable. And it’s not as if Greek literature is full of cheer and celebration. And all among us who have grieved over a beloved’s slow decline know what it is to want to curl up somewhere safe and dark and hide until it’s all over and healed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Woolf’s Letters

Sometimes what these letters turn up is not a pearl of wisdom but simply the delightful recognition of the mundanity of all our lives.

In January of 1903, Woolf (then, of course, not yet Woolf at all, but Virginia Stephen, just turned 21), wrote to her brother Thoby at Cambridge to let him know that their half-brother had helped them each open a bank account and that Thoby needed to send the bank his signature for their files.

Thoby turns out to have been just as negligent with his banking as the rest of us, so, a week or so later Woolf writes him back:
“My dear Grim,
I suppose the Bank wants your signature not from mere curiosity or for purposes of decoration—or to put in its autograph book—but simply so that unscrupulous persons may not forge your cheques. Write your name again as you will always write it on the back of cheques and send it to
The Union of London and Smiths Bank Ltd.
Charing Cross Branch,
66 Charing Cross,
S. W.
Yr. Goat”

Saturday, July 12, 2008

More on Rock the River

Amber Rubarth wasn’t the only star of the show. In fact, the bigger name—though utterly new to me—was Joe Purdy. He is the real thing, clearly, gifted, serious, and a real River musician. With his dungarees, beard, and crew cut, he isn’t advertising his success. (By contrast, Jay Nash’s producer, who is also in the Low Stars, of that great song from last summer “Calling all friends,” was in an untucked white shirt and jeans like everyone else but, man, even from ten rows back, I could see that they were expensive jeans…)

Purdy’s song “Wash Away” is lovely and simple. Not watching either “Lost” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” I can’t tell you which one it was featured on, but I can see why you’d choose it. And the whole album “Julie Blue,” our other purchase, was recorded during a week on a tiny island up here in the St. Lawrence. We have been listening to it a lot and it’s just lovely.

The other song that Purdy performed was an old Dylan tune, maybe “Sister, Sister”?, which he sang as a duet with Garrison Starr. Their voices blended together like nothing I have ever heard live. It was utterly transcendent.

Garrison Starr came out in her gray jeans, gray t-shirt, and gray porkpie hat, and shuffled over to the mic next to Purdy. He motioned her to join him on his mic. “Are you sure?” “Yeah.” As they sang, their heads bobbed in and up, their lips nearly touching the microphone, and the music of each voice blending into one perfect, plaintive voice, wispy but strong. They went in and out of each other’s voices through the whole song, and if the applause was not as loud at the end, it is only because we were too stunned to move.

She was the other standout for me, and I want to get one of Garrison Starr’s cds next time I’m music shopping. When Amber Rubarth sings “I / like you / a lot / and I guess you know it’s worse than that,” she is disarmingly naked. Star is an utterly different kind of performer than Rubarth. Where Rubarth bares all, Star’s songs were beautiful and ambiguous. Her stage presence is confident and generous; she was the first to really thank Jay Nash for organizing the event and, in thanking him, she paid tribute to his friendship with real feeling. For all that, then, and for all that is interesting, rich, and moving about her voice, I don’t feel that I know her. But I am super interested and I plan to hear more.

And I loved watching Jay Nash host the event, popping out from backstage to watch for a minute and then check the soundboards, popping back up to tell a quick lame joke and keep things moving as performers searched for cords and plugs and tripped over the shoes that Amber Rubarth left behind onstage. His songs were strong, folk-pop, great tunes. They don’t stand out for me as my favorites, but I want to hear more, so he’s on the list for the next trip to the store.

Chris Pierce was a big teddy bear most of the night, coming out and adding depth and fun with his harmonica, but he brought down the house with a couple party songs at the night’s end. His James Brown influenced “Change Yourself,” was fun and so naughty—If you don’t like me the way I am, well, change yourself! Ha. You tell them. Eliza Moore’s Enya-y violin playing was not for me, much as I loved what she added as a side player on other songs. And there were a couple other performers who were fine, but not mind-blowing. A woman came out and sang a new song, the love song she would want written to herself and it was so utterly hyperbolic, about crossing seas and turning over every blade of grass and overcoming all kinds of impossibilities that I felt squirmy with embarrassment.

Finally, I do want to single out the utterly adorable Joey Ryan, though: tall, skinny, young, with a huge mop of hair, his song “Cloak,” about how, since you’ve been around, honey, your love is like a cloak, was so sweet and adorable and he had a great, sexy stage presence, like the young James Taylor. But then, as my mother-in-law and I both noticed, he was also a lot like my husband years ago and, I suppose, like my husband, he’ll one day age into having a little more flesh and a little less hair. Both ways are nice, but it’s fun to have a little glimpse into the past.

So there. If you, like me, are at a loss for some new music, three more new names: Joe Purdy, Garrison Starr, and Jay Nash.