Six Impossible Things before Breakfast

The Red Queen lecturing Alice, by John Tenniel
The Red Queen lecturing Alice, by John Tenniel

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Things are happening, friends. I can’t say just what yet; the chickens aren’t hatched—but they are pecking mightily. There have been some heady phone calls and emails and talk of big things to come. It’s been gratifying and exhilarating—and nerve-racking.

On that front, I’ve had two good bits of advice. I called my sister in a slight tizzy over the uncertainty of it all—the possibly big-exciting-it’s-about-time things still up in the air. Her counsel was to soak it in, enjoy the anticipation of the moment before. This particular moment before may not come again, she said, so take pleasure in it now. Continue reading Six Impossible Things before Breakfast

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Birthdays

photo: Wikimedia Commons
photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?                                                                                                     ― Mary Oliver

I like having a February birthday. February needs something—it’s a rough month at this latitude—and Valentine’s Day just does not cut the mustard. Mardi Gras often falls in February which helps mitigate winter malaise. (In 2021 it falls on my birthday, which might be solid justification for a New Orleans trip in six years. Laissez les bon temps rouler, ya’ll.) But, anyway, I’m a fan of birthdays, in general, as opportunities for both merrymaking and taking stock.

As it happens, February is this blog’s birthday month as well. I didn’t plan it that way. It must just feel natural to me to start things in February. I came in just under the wire with my first post on February 28, 2012. It featured one Mr. Rocky Balboa, and it was basically a pep talk to myself. Continue reading Birthdays

because, books

A Young Girl Reading, c. 1776, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
A Young Girl Reading, c. 1776, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Beware of the person of one book.  –Thomas Aquinas

I fell in love with Jane because she was dressed for the first day of second grade in a blue and white sailor dress like a girl from one of my books. I remember a hat and gloves to boot, but I don’t quite trust that memory because I’m sure as soon as I saw the sailor dress I gave her a hat and gloves in my imagination. She had a British accent: her family had lived in England and Africa and on weekends her father dressed in white trousers and sweater and played cricket in the park, which took like ten hours.

Besides Jane, I was in love with books. Lustfully, extravagantly in love. Jane’s father called me a bluestocking. He said it meant a girl who liked to read. I liked the sound of it: bluestocking. It sounded whimsical to me, old fashioned and romantic, like Jane’s sailor dress (and hat and gloves). Continue reading because, books

In Memoriam: Levi, A Very Good Dog

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 In Memoriam: Levi, A Very Good Dog

Away We Go!

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…

Sand, Simone de Beauvoir and a Secondhand Sea

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 Sand, Simone de Beauvoir and a Secondhand Sea

The Names of Things

photo by janetandphil
photo by janetandphil
I like good strong words that mean something.
                                    — Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
 

I love knowing the names of things. I appreciate knowing, for example, that the birds that shriek and wheel over Chicago supermarket parking lots are ring-billed gulls and the chittering birds in the enormous dry shrub outside the elementary school where I teach are house sparrows—which in a group can be called a host or a quarrel. (I wish I knew the proper name of the shrub.)

All words are names, really. They name objects and actions and interactions and qualities and spaces and creatures and time. They create worlds. As a young reader, I fell in love with diction. It delighted me that Nancy Drew ate luncheon and drove a roadster and the Little House books abounded in johnnycakes, deer licks and calico. For some reason, I remained enamored with the term “fortnight” long after I read Little Women. Continue reading The Names of Things

Happy Valentine’s Day

photo by Joshua Zamryki
photo by Joshua Zamryki

A poem I love by Billy Collins from his book Nine Horses.

Litany

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
-Jacques Crickillon

 

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

Billy Collins

 

Twinkly Lights

photo by giveawayboy
photo by giveawayboy

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the twinkly lights. I love the light imagery abundant in the midwinter holidays—the strands woven through bushes and strung along eaves, the Hanukah and Advent and Saint Lucy candles, the Yule logs. For those of us who sometimes feel keenly the dark and the cold, the shadow parts of ourselves, those holiday lights are a tonic and reminder to stoke our own fires. Continue reading Twinkly Lights

What I Learned from Peter Pan: In Praise of Crowing

photo by David Jones
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, London
photo by David Jones

One of my first heroes was Peter Pan. He was a kid who could go toe to toe with grownups—pirates, even. I liked the way he unabashedly crowed whenever he was pleased with himself, which was most of the time.  He bragged incorrigibly and unapologetically about the smallest achievement. The narrator doesn’t sugarcoat it:

“To put it with brutal frankness,” he says, “There never was a cockier boy.”

I envied Peter’s confidence. It thrilled me when he crowed,

“How clever I am! Oh, the cleverness of me!”

I longed for that kind of self-assurance, let along the audacity to stand on a chair and shout about it—the way Peter did at every opportunity. Continue reading What I Learned from Peter Pan: In Praise of Crowing