Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A national sympathy card to the Sandy Hook families and communities.

We are better than this "A national conversation on how we can prevent gun deaths and injuries."

Sandy Hook Family Fund

Also if you get a chance, read these:

"Of course, now is the time to talk about gun control in the U.S." by Tim Denis, The St. Catherines Standard 

"The right to own a weapon doesn’t trump the right of a six-year-old kindergartener to be alive."

And another good one from The Washington Post by E.J. Dionne Jr.

"Now is the time for meaningful gun control"

"...we will have to avoid the paralysis induced by those who cast every mass shooting as the work of one deranged individual and never ever the result of flawed policies. We must beware of those who invoke complexity not to further understanding but to encourage passivity and resignation." 

"After mass shootings, it’s always said we must improve our mental-health system and the treatment of those who may be prone to violence. Of course we should. But this noble sentiment is too often part of a strategy to evade any action on guns themselves.

Not this time. Americans are not the only people in the world who confront mental-health problems. We are the only country that regularly experiences horrors of this sort. The difference, as the writer Garry Wills has said, is that the United States treats the gun as a secular god, immune to rational analysis and human intervention."

Image by Captain Cartoon

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Seemingly a pitch for moderation with no real conclusion, but nevertheless a cute delivery and some good info in "For parents, where to draw the line on risk?" (Joanna Weiss, The Boston Globe). It was forwarded on to me by my friend Mark, formerly of New York, now in Boston (we switched). Until now I had forgotten all about Zuckerman's daredevil swing. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

In Dreams and Memory

There’s a picture under the glass on the desk where I work of my sister and me in high school. From the trees in the background I’d guess it was taken late October or early November. We’re only wearing turtlenecks, so it could have been an unseasonably warm day, but we were still tough New Englanders back then, and a single-layer might have sufficed into the low 40s. Now when I visit I've been spoiled by warm New York City winters, apartments with heat blasting that you can't control. I wear a winter jacket now in Massachusetts while locals barely think to grab a fleece. It is a sign of weakness to be cold, something I hate to admit to.

Today Wally asked where the photo was taken. I told him “Drummer Farms, where we used to live.” He was there two times, as an infant, and of course has no memory of it. I don’t miss it I but still-- in my dreams—whenever I picture being home I picture I'm there. I wake up from these dreams with a cozy feeling. It was a fairly small condo; my sister and I always shared a bedroom. I loved it. She hated it. It was the master bedroom, and a pretty good size. She tried various divisions over the years, consenting to give me the bigger half as long as she could have the inside half meaning I’d have no reason to ever cross the boundary into hers. She walked through my half to come and go. I remember we once had a bamboo shade hanging between the two beds that gave an illusion of some privacy. Another time we had a stack of yellow plastic tables we used as bookshelves erected as a kind of wall. She couldn't really escape me. 

When she went to college, I mostly took over. She got rid of almost everything except a few VHS tapes of her dance recitals, some photos and books. I had boxes of stuff to sort through and get rid of all through college and the years that followed. A gray stuffed animal kitten “Twinkles” in a little cardboard box made to look like a cat carrier was one of the last things to go.

Wally asked, “Can I go there some day, to Drummer Farms?” I said sure – it’s easy enough to go back there, in fact I have driven through a few times since my parents moved. For condos these ones were always considered pretty – four units together spaced well apart from each other with lots of land and trees. And there was always that lovely moment I’ve described earlier on this blog where friends driving me home would think at first glance that we lived in incredible mansions, that the four units were in fact one. 

Why did that matter to me, to have them think that? In that posh town where we’d always had the smallest house among our friends, the only ones with a shared bedroom, the second-hand clothes, the used, breaking-down cars, (I remember even being mocked for getting a winter coat one year for the first night of Hanukah because a winter coat was a requirement and shouldn’t be considered a gift), why did it feel good, just for those few seconds, for new friends of mine and their moms to think otherwise? That we weren’t just equal to them with their grand houses in Patriot’s Hill or on Strawberry Hill Road, or even the nearby Silver Hill (it’s really not all that hilly), but that we lived in an even bigger house, that--in that fairy tale moment of watching their amazed faces--we were somehow superior, the subject of envy.

Even though I knew compared to most of the country let alone in the world we were rich beyond imagination and even though I had everything I wanted. That's what's so strange about it. Even given that I wasn’t immune to that toxic American dream of having the biggest house on the block. I don’t think I would have wanted it, none of the decisions I’ve made in my adult life would indicate that I do, yet the fantasy was there.

Drummer Farms was nice for a condo complex but not an elegant place. It wasn’t run down or decrepit like “Sin City” (I don’t know the real name) and it was a step up from the Briarbrook apartments where we’d lived before. You didn’t have your own land, but the land you had to use – just the backyard even – was immense. And we had plenty of places to wander. Through woods, fields and pathways, and before another development came, a wonderful wild rocky expanse full of weeds and a million hiding places.

Today I thought about what Wally, judging from the name, and the picture—with the land stretching out covered with leaves, the stretch of empty oaks and rows of luxurious pine trees—will imagine it to be. Drummer Farms – does it have animals? Apple orchards? Blueberry vines? Hayrides? A pumpkin patch? Christmas trees? Long ago, it had likely been farmland, but now Drummer Farms is just a group of condominiums, not a particularly attractive neighborhood for anyone moving to Acton these days. A developer had a list of possible names, at one point, and selected the one that would most appeal to homebuyers, that would best suit their vision of climbing up another rung on their ladder from rags to riches, best signal an advance toward some mythic day in the future when they'd accomplish that enchanted dream of owning their own home. 

The fantasy of a giant house wasn't what pleased me about living in that place; it was a momentary satisfaction, but hardly factored in at all. What I loved were the paths through the woods, the railroad tracks, the mournful sound of the commuter train, the lawns to play frisbee on, the back porch to read on, the pool, the stone steps, the little mail house, the hill we sled down in winter and shouted echos from in summer, the cozy basement, the tiny kitchen, the view of snow-covered trees, the room I shared with my sister.

Maybe what Wally imagines it to be is what I imagined it to be, a place much grander than it is. "Drummer Farms" sounds like a more charming and picturesque place than it is, but not than more it was--or is still--in dreams and memory.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The dark of December

Already the afternoons are getting lighter. Yesterday was the earliest sunset, now we go back the other way. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Just in time for your holiday shopping, here's Wired magazines take on 

The 5 Best Toys of All Time

(Hint: Nothing on the list makes beeping sounds, flashes lights, plays songs, requires batteries, costs money to procure or claims to be educational, improve hand-eye coordination or otherwise "produce results". And nothing's made of plastic!)                                                                

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Writing and Insomnia

I am writing first thing in the morning. That seems to be the best and only way to reliably do it. Same with exercise. But you have to pick one. Lately I've given up exercise, except for a mind-bogglingly slow 5K Turkey Trot in my hometown a week and a half ago. I knew I was going slowly, but I was still surprised when to come around the bend of the high school track and see the clock already ticking away in the early 40s. That was the slowest by far I'd ever run.

I like how the race ends on the track there, circling the football field where freshman year I played xylophone to "Oye como va" and the other years in the chilly fall evenings I meandered around with friends in the field behind the bleachers crush-spotting, drinking hot cider (and I really do mean cider not  "cider", weirdly none of us ever drank), paying no attention to the rushing, passing or scoring on the field. There was that intoxicating smell of crushed leaves, the cold, clean air, the trace of a wood stove burning. Later in the car we'd listen to Concrete Blonde and ache for that doomed Wendy underneath another chilly gray November sky, wondering why she had only one more day to live.

I have a lot of writing to do. I have to write a Statement of Intent for my grad school application. I think of the Blaise Pascal apology about writing a long letter because he didn't have time to write a shorter one. The application essay is only supposed 500 words, which is why it's taking me so long to write. Also, the pressure applying for an English Master's with a Writing Concentration is immense. Could there be any field of study for which the expectations for an application essay would be higher? A traditional English Master's requires strong research, reading, analytical and theorizing skills. You have to be able to think and write clearly to be a scholar, but not particularly well. An applicant for a creative writing MFA plans to master the art of fiction or poetry or playwriting and makes no special claim to the craft of essay writing per se. I suppose an applicant planning to focus on creative nonfiction would face equally high expectations, but that's about it. In no other field do you have to demonstrate your particular expertise in both form and content of the very essay describing what you plan to do and why you're capable of doing it. In other fields you can make claims about your background and capabilities without the danger of undermining the truth of those very claims as you make them.

I am done at least with the GREs. It went well and I'm glad to have it over with. The verbal section was much easier than described in the Princeton Review book. I don't think I came across a single vocab word on the test that I didn't know a year ago. Now I can let the relationship between meretricious (gaudy) and bedizen (to adorn, especially in a cheap, showy manner; festoon, caparison) fade from memory. It will be okay to mistake jocuse for jocund, to forget that maunder not only means meander, but mutter as well, applying to an aimlessness of both movement and speech.

The Manhattan-parenting thriller/romance I wrote with a local mom friend last winter has been rejected by two agents now. I don't mind the rejections themselves -- they're something of a badge of honor and proof that we are at least out there on the field (not simply maundering with our cider in the background) but I do mind all the time that's gone by. Whenever I read about A Wrinkle in Time being rejected 29 times, or Gone With the Wind 25, or J.K. Rowling being turned down by 12 publishers, I admired the tenacity of these writers to keep facing rejection, but I hadn't thought about the time that those rejections would have taken. It's been nine months since we first sent out a query letter and in that time the manuscript has been requested and rejected by only two agents. More than a decade could go by before we get to that final rejection letter, if we ever do. (On a side note, I think my all-time favorite rejection-letter line is from the publisher who told Fitzgerald "You'd have a decent book if you'd get rid of that Gatsby character.")

I realized Sunday wandering in a hazy, dreamlike state of fatigue that the wide-awake feeling as the clock ticked along in the early dawn before had been  worse than the fatigue itself. While I read and the rest of the building slept (except for the spirited upstairs neighbor) I kept hoping to feel a a sign of weariness, just a hint of heaviness around the eyes. The minutes ticked by, and no sign came. That wide-awake feeling any other time of day is great, yet in the night, when you are bright, alert and attentive with insomnia it feels dreadful. You have this running clock of how much more sleep you could hope for at any given point. If I'm lucky maybe I'll get another hour and a half. Later...maybe still a good hour. A 20 minute nap before the alarm goes off at 6:15? Instead it went off and there I was attentive as ever to the words written on the first Sumerian tablets in Manguel's book. Still the fatigue that I dreaded suffering through the next day was actually not as bad as experiencing the lack of fatigue the night before. One is merely uncomfortable, the other feels distressing in some existential way. Not able to sleep, you feel off kilter, alone, out of sync, lost to the world. You want to rest but your body doesn't seem to need it. What feels so awful is the dread of the opposite feeling the next day. 

Early Sumerian tablet

Why are those wasteland hours of the night so hard to use productively? Why is it so hard first just to will myself out of bed? It's not cold in my apartment, (or anywhere in New York, right now) so I don't have that excuse. I have plenty to do to occupy myself. We all wish we had more time, so when we're given it, why not just accept it? I have to will myself just to turn the light on and read. I haven't yet gotten myself to use those hours in a more productive way, to work, to write. Something just feels so not right at that time, but I want to try to change that idea. There have been studies lately on how people aren't meant to sleep all in one straight shot. That maybe four hours here and then four hours somewhere else is more natural. True most of us don't have schedules that allow us to catch up on that lost time, but eventually you will, you'll manage, you'll get through exhausted days. As long as you don't have to perform surgery or fly a plane in that state -- what's so terrible?

I can write first thing in the morning. Any time of day, or late into the night, but not during the night, not when I should be asleep. The motivations for writing and prayer are similar: in both we seek guidance, understanding, we process the day, express gratitude, hope and confusion. The middle of the night feels like desperate, lonesome time, when instead of enjoying the solitude you'd usually luxuriate in you feel bereft and abandoned, not only by companions but by that precious elixir sleep. I could see the least devout among us turning to prayer. If I can't commit to my Statement of Intent, or a novel, a poem, or even a blog post, why can't I turn to writing as prayer? Why not offer that time to the quiet practice that satisfies me more than almost any other? Why can't I choose that time to be still instead of restless? The rest you lose for the chance to be still with your thoughts is not such a heavy price to pay.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I've been up since 3 in the morning. It's now just about  6:30. Not just up tossing and turning, but really truly awake, reading The History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. Well, in the beginning listening to my upstairs neighbor walk back and forth endlessly across the apartment's hard-wood floor, wondering what could explain someone walking back and forth endlessly across an apartment, let alone doing it at 3 in the morning. Then finally giving up altogether, turning on the light, and picking up the book. And yet it doesn't make me feel productive in the least. One good thing is I'm ready for this early Central Park walk today. No trouble getting up, at least. Leaving here soon with my friend Morning, before the kids are even awake.