In Memoriam: Levi, A Very Good Dog

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Levi

Philosophy is really there to redeem what lies in an animal’s gaze.                             Theodor Adorno

So many things remind me. When I open a jar of peanut butter, and I don’t hear him clicking into the kitchen. When I wake up and don’t have to roll out of bed, clip on his leash and head outside, whatever the weather. When I dropped Thai takeout on the floor and there was no one to accommodatingly gobble it up.

Last week I said goodbye to a dear friend and companion, an exuberant and lovable pooch named Levi. Twelve years ago, my roommate Amy talked me into adopting him. I was apprehensive because he was a pit bull mix. Like many people, I’d been influenced by the media’s portrayal of pits as mean and aggressive. But four-month-old Levi looked more like a bunny. So, I did some research. Continue reading

Away We Go!

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bookI can write about years in a paragraph, but the years took years to pass.                                                                                            –Dorothy Allison

Gentle readers—

You may have noticed I’ve been absent a minute. That’s because I really wanted the next time I posted to be able to say—

Pop the bubbly, kids, I’ve finished my manuscript!

The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures is ready for the next stage in its journey to a bookshelves, beach bags and bedside tables. Next steps are to hear back from a small cadre of readers who’ve generously offered to give me their impressions and then letters letters letters to agents. Though I haven’t printed the manuscript in its entirety, I’ve been doing the screen equivalent of picking it up and hefting it in my hands by opening the document and scrolling through. It’s clocking in at seventeen chapters, three hundred eighty four pages.

I just read Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett’s memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy. She describes standing on her first novel the day she finished the manuscript to see how much taller it made her. I do feel taller. Very important allies and friends Jordan “Pittsburgh Road Trip” LaSalle and Lindsay “Self-appointed Biggest Fan” Porter helped me celebrate with an enormous pasta dinner.

And away we go! Stay tuned…

Late Bloomers

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Paul Cézanne, Bouquet in a Delft Vase

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.                                             —Saint Francis de Sales

I’ve often felt like a late bloomer. Not as a kid—I learned to read at age three, and that saw me through for a while, impressing grownups and whatnot. But now I’m grown up myself, I sometimes feel like it’s taking an impossibly long time to get there. I’m not 100% certain I know what there even is. Not fame and fortune. Weeell, maybe a teensy bit of fortune. Maybe a laurel or two. At a minimum, I really, really hope I can quit waiting tables before I’m half a century old. I don’t know if it’s because academic achievement came so easily when I was young or if it’s because our culture is infatuated with youth and early success, but for some time now I’ve had to ignore this refrain that ticks through my head like a very nasty white rabbit: too late, too late, too late. I’m much happier when I forget about time altogether and just settle in to the work at hand.

I subscribe to a “weekly interestingness digest” from a really cool site called brain pickings. This weekend it included a letter from Charles Bukowski to the editor of Black Sparrow Press who offered him $100 a month to quit his post office job and write full time. Bukowski was 49. Seventeen years later, he wrote a thank you: Continue reading

Law of the Jungle

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peaceable

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, from Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking it’s time for an excerpt. This is from a chapter called “Law of the Jungle.” It was published last year in The Chattahoochee Review. I suppose it’s not surprising that there is a fair bit of animalia in a book called The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures, but this chapter, in particular, investigates some of my fascination with the four-legged world.

Now this is the Law of the Jungle—
as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
                  – Rudyard Kipling

 

They’d been tucked between the electric hued running shoes and the prim ballet flats: a pair of Coach wedge sandals the color of cognac. They were almost seventy percent off. And they were leather—which is why I shouldn’t have tried them on in the first place and why I’d been carrying them around for a good quarter of an hour trying to make up my mind whether to take them back to the shoe department or up to the register and accept that I was a hypocrite. Continue reading

Sand, Simone de Beauvoir and a Secondhand Sea

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sand-dune-with-grass-on-itSand dunes are in my recent past and my near future! I had a lovely sojourn on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this month, and last week I was invited to the Calumet Artist Residency on the southernmost shore of Lake Michigan for two weeks—from the end of August through Labor Day weekend. It’s in Miller Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Nelson Algren bought a cottage there in 1950 with the proceeds from selling the film rights for his novel The Man With a Golden Arm. Supposedly, Simone de Beauvoir created a bit of stir by sunbathing naked in his yard. Continue reading

Sweet Tooth

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birthday DCCome out tonight! Tellin’ Tales Theatre’s Food for Thought, tonight at 8. Prop Thtr, Chicago. Tix here.

In an epic journey that spans continents and decades, I seek the root of my sweet tooth, resolve to put the kibosh on sugar once and for all (except for birthday cake, and, um, maybe a few other things) and practice the art of savoring.

 

A Taxonomy of Couches: Listmaking in Writing and Life

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Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I make lists. I’m soothed, in particular, by the kind where you eventually get to cross things out or check them off. But I make other kinds of lists, too. Lists are containers; they are maps, taxonomies, blueprints. As a kid, I listed ways to make money, things I wanted to have when I grew up, things I needed to pack for vacation, boys I liked, books I liked, songs I liked.

I like writing that’s based on lists. I liked the litanies we said in church when I was a kid—Heart of Jesus, Lamb of God, pray for us. Nowadays I often used list-based writing in teaching.

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right… Continue reading

7 Things I’m Looking Forward to This Summer

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photo by Julie Falk

photo by Julie Falk

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.  —Henry James

 

Even though the official start to summer is solstice on the 21st and even though I like the idea of kicking things off with a nice pagan ritual and bonfire, the real onset of summer feels like the last day of school. And it’s here! My fourth graders at Morton performed their superhero stories, we said goodbye and now it’s onward ho to long days, leisurely dog walks and summer adventures. Here are a few things I’m excited about this summer:

1. Writing, writing, writing.

I’ve got two essays that are a hair’s breadth from being ready and four that still need a fair amount of elbow grease. Then, at last, I can start querying agents.

One of the essays I’m working on is called “Sweet Tooth.” At this stage it’s essentially a collection of notes on the topic of having a sweet tooth and sweetness in general. As an initial step, I decided to try to catalog my history in sweets, remembering things like— Continue reading

Summer Reading

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photo by Maureen Didde

photo by Maureen Didde

I was thinking this week about all the books I’ve read over the course of writing The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. Some I read primarily for research, others to immerse myself in the genre of personal narrative and memoir. I wouldn’t say all of these are suitable beach reads—some are what my friend Marie would call kind of “intense.” (Marie calls lots of things intense, including certain movies and giving birth.) Nonetheless, here, in no particular order, are some selections from my Saltwater reading list.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Jonathan Gottschall

From the dust jacket:

Humans live in landscapes of make believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives… Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.

“The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen

Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above.

If you haven’t read this, you really should. It’s a perfect, creepy and utterly disturbing and magical fairy tale that has been analyzed and dissected in fascinating ways by feminists and other smarty pants scholars.

Lonely: A Memoir, Emily White

The feelings of isolation that accompany loneliness are entirely different from the more sated and creative feelings that accompany solitude, and it’s entirely reasonable to feel lonely and yet still feel as though you need some time to yourself.

A thoughtful investigation into a hard to quantify and describe state.

The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice

In which I learned this word: anthropophagy—the eating of humans and in which the author discusses humans’ peculiar belief that we have a special place at the top of the food chain. (We really don’t.) We are, however, far more proficient at killing human beings than any other animal on the planet. Continue reading

Some Advice on Writing and Life

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photo by Victoria Ristenbatt

photo by Victoria Ristenbatt

So right about now, this book I’m writing is feeling a little bit like that mean kid who holds something like your notebook or your hat just out of reach while you jump at it over and over, thinking this time you’re going to grab hold and not let go. I’m feeling kind of blue about the fact that I’m not done. (Side note: If you are feeling kind of blue, listening to Kind of Blue may actually help, especially “Blue in Green.”) My self-imposed deadline of the end of March has come and gone, but I’m still not done. Every essay I plan to include has at least been started, but I’m still not done. Since beginning this journey, I’ve written fifty posts for this blog, I’ve published excerpts from my manuscript in Creative Nonfiction and The Chattahoochee Review and have one forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, I’ve read selections from it at several story nights in Chicago and I have one more slightly thrilling book-related announcement I’m not at liberty to make yet. I’ve learned a lot, I’m a better writer than I was when I started—

But. I’m. Still. Not. Done.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a writing conference in Poets and Writers that sounded kind of dreamy. It takes place at the Algonquin Hotel (among other spots) in Manhattan, surrounded by the ghosts of writers past; they only accept a handful of writers—and they hook you up with literary agents cherry picked to be a good fit for your particular manuscript. And though it costs beaucoup dollars, which I don’t currently have on hand, I applied anyway in case they had financial aid or scholarships or something like that. Continue reading

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