Posts Tagged ‘LinkedIn’

Fall Means Changes for People Too

August 26, 2014

As summer draws to a close and fall approaches, our family finds itself going through a lot of changes. My oldest son, a recent graduate, is looking for a job and facing student loan payments. My middle son, a junior in college, has a new apartment off campus, a part-time job, and a car both of which come with more adult responsibilities. And my youngest, who just returned to school the other day, is living in a suite with five other boys and has a full course load, a girlfriend, and an internship at the school literary magazine. My husband and I are once again contemplating our empty nest, but 2014 is no longer an adjustment/transition year. This September we have a good sense of what it feels like to be a couple once again, only this time with adult children.

Why is this important enough to blog about? Because what our family is experiencing is universal but sometimes, when everyone is struggling and suffering at once, it feels very isolating. Writing about our daily dilemmas is one way to share what’s working for us and what isn’t. Putting words to feelings makes them more manageable and often, as you write it down, what was initially a hopeless tangle of emotions suddenly unravels itself and a path to a better place emerges. Here’s the thing-when the kids were little it was our job to teach them all sorts of things, from how to tie their shoes to good table manners to knowing how to admit when they were wrong no matter how hard it was. Now that they are young adults our job actually becomes much harder because we have to trust that we gave them the skills to handle almost any situation that arises and we have to be willing to step back and let them succeed or fail on their own merit. That is really difficult to do, but in fact, saying the words “You can do this” or “You’ll figure it out” is the best gift you can give both your son or daughter and yourself. Gradually letting go means that you believe in them and in your parenting. Here are three ways I’ve used writing to help myself during this period of constant change.

Send a card

In this day and age sending something with a stamp may sound hopelessly old-fashioned but I’ve noticed that, when the going gets tough, a funny or encouraging card will still bring a smile to my sophisticated boys’ faces. Use the blank space to tell them how proud of them and the choices they’ve made so far and that you know they have the strength and intelligence and compassion to get through anything life hands them. Don’t forget to remind them you’re always there if they need to talk!

Keep a journal

This is where you’re allowed to write down all the things you want to do but know you shouldn’t. Vent all you want and then move on! Use a daily journal to refocus all the energy you used to expend on the kids on yourself and your goals. Amazingly, once you ease up on the twenty-something’s, you’ll have more time to spend on your career and personal aspirations. Write that novel, take a class, volunteer to lead a teen book group and keep telling yourself the same thing you tell your offspring, “You can do this” and “You’ll figure it out”.

Write articles or personal essays

As I mentioned, the odds are that you are not the only family going through all these readjustments. Articles are a great way to get paid while also being helpful to other parents. We all like to read about how others cope with or solve problems, and parenting young adults, restructuring your marriage, and reviewing your future are all fascinating topics for people in our age bracket. So, write away! Before you know it, it will be Thanksgiving and they will all be home again, along with a whole new set of adjustments to make!

Any other ideas? Please send them on!

Think Ahead!

August 15, 2014

September is just around the corner which means,for many,  it’s time to head back to school. We writers are no exception. Once Labor Day has come and gone, educational opportunities for writers abound. Here are a few places I’ll be continuing my education this fall:

Local writing organizations

Writers and Books will begin offering their “Writing Aerobics” classes once again on Saturday mornings. For an hour and a half and a minimal fee, you get to do timed writing exercises, share what you wrote with the rest of the group, and get to hear advice and suggestions from a writer more experienced than yourself. Every week these are taught by a different writing teacher so the exposure you receive to a variety of writing styles is invaluable. It would be a mistake to think that, just because you’re sitting down, you’re not doing much. Every time I’ve been, I leave the writing room finding that both my hand and my brain are quite exhausted from the effort I’ve put forth. But I also feel that special glow of positive energy that you get after a really good workout. Which is why I keep coming back for more!

Area Colleges

Here in my little corner of the world, Cornell University will also be resuming their reading series this September with free talks by literary agents and editorial directors, along with readings and discussions led by notable poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers. These are open to the public and students and faculty are also encouraged to attend so the audience is made up of people from all walks of life, making the Q&A sessions much livelier.

Bookstores

Buffalo Street Books is an independent bookstore in Ithaca which hosts all sorts of reading and writing-related activities. Next month I’m planning to hear Alison Lurie discuss her latest novel, The Language of Houses and author Edward Baptiste talk about his nonfiction book. Also on my “to do” list is a long overdue visit to Trampoline, Ithaca’s Competitive Storytelling Event, where participants get five minutes to share a story related to a chosen topic. The September theme is “Your Mom” which I have no doubt will be absolutely fascinating. After all, we all have mothers!

All of these homework assignments are geared towards making me a better overall writer. I’ll let you know if it works when October rolls around!

What’s In My Cape Cod Travel Journal-Part II?

August 7, 2014

As tent campers, our family tends to eat simply on vacation-easy foods like hot dogs and hamburgers, baked beans, and s’mores. Given this, we always try to set aside some money to treat ourselves to at least two or three interesting lunches and dinners just to add a little spice to our daily meals. This year, thanks to a timely article in the Boston Globe, we tried something a little different. Instead of going to one restaurant in Provincetown, we experimented with a tapas system, visiting several places we’d never been to before, all of which had unusual menu items that we couldn’t resist sampling, sharing, and comparing. To make it even easier, all three are located on Commercial Street in the West End. Our final verdict:

Relish (http://www.ptownrelish.com/#about)

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This airy restaurant features sweet and savory sandwiches, salads, and desserts created by Chef Mark Buchholz who, to his customers’ delight, continues to hone his craft on a daily basis. There is something for everyone with gluten-free, organic, free-range, and vegan options and all menu items feature the freshest of ingredients. Since it was almost dinnertime, we opted to sample the chicken salad with Gorgonzola, fresh pear, and sweet onion-a daring, but delectable, choice and the Italian, seasoned with balsamic and Sweet Heat. Sadly, despite the rumor that the cupcakes were beyond delicious, we were too full to sample them since this was our last stop. Next time…

Pop + Dutch (http://popanddutch.com/about/)

 

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This friendly corner store/deli intrigued us by mentioning that the counter jars held candy, dog biscuits, and condoms! Once we arrived, we felt obligated to taste the oddest thing on the menu which was a Nutella and Fluffernutter sandwich on white bread. Though it was way too sticky and sweet for my taste, my college-age son loved it and I think most kids (and perhaps seniors with a sweet tooth) would too. The service was so friendly and the atmosphere so funky that we plan to go back next year and order some of their other in-house specials for a beach picnic at Race Point or Herring Cove!

The Canteen (http://www.thecanteenptown.com/#about

This culinary find was recently voted one of the top ten best small restaurants in the area by Cape Cod Magazine and we could instantly see why. An ocean breeze, drifting gently through the windows and the chalkboard menu give it a beachy, vacationy feeling. Add a raw bar next to the counter and a selection of beer and wine and it’s a colorful and inviting place to share a meal with old friends or hang out and make a few new ones. We opted for three items to share. The grilled P ,B, and J, made with peanut brittle and fresh strawberries, was even better than it sounded, just the right mix of flavors and textures. The Mexican corn, with crumbly cheese, chili powder, cilantro, and lime tasted great but, sadly, was a real mess to eat from the cob (you almost need a lobster bib!) An unexpected surprise-the kale, linguica, cranberry chutney, and garlic aioli on French bread was an eclectic and amazing combination of flavors. One thing that we didn’t try (since we all hate the round green vegetable) was the Crispy Brussels Sprouts in Fish Sauce, which is reputed to be The Canteen’s best seller. This is one more restaurant we will definitely return to again and again.

 

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 This jaunt was a pleasure-filled reminder that, even when you’re on vacation, a sense of adventure is a writer’s best friend!

What’s In My Cape Cod Travel Journal?

August 5, 2014

You’ve got to love summer, especially vacation week! This year I was extra lucky and was able to take 12 days off, instead of the seven I’m usually allocated. Maybe having three kids in college this year had something to do with it…So off to Nickerson State Park in Brewster. MA I drove for my annual dose of the ocean and a rejuvenating break from reality. Here are a few highlights from my first week on the Cape.

Nickerson State Park (Brewster)

 

 074S’mores!

If you’re a diehard tent camper, you can’t beat this 1,900 acre park, conveniently located mid-Cape. I’ve been coming here myself for about 40 years and I still love it!  The park has several freshwater kettle ponds (formed by glaciers) where you can swim, kayak or canoe, of float on something inflatable to your heart’s content. Motorboat use is restricted to small craft and to get to Cliff Pond (our favorite) it’s a steep hike (bordering on treacherous) so the beaches aren’t too crowded and very peaceful. Nickerson also has miles of biking, jogging, and hiking trails and is one of the gateways to the popular Cape Cod Rail Trail. Not completely rustic, it has a camp store, flush toilets, and hot showers, along with nature programs.

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon Society-Wellfleet)

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This is a great stop for anyone who is interested in learning more about the flora and fauna on the Cape, as well as about the native species (aquatic and landlubbers) who live there. My friend Tammy and I saw wild turkeys, snowy egrets, many types of butterflies, and hermit and fiddler crabs. Popular trails provide a variety of paths to hike on, including pine needles (forest), sand (beach), and boardwalk (marsh) and plenty of viewing areas, including bird blinds and wooden docks. None of the trails are more than a few easy miles long so you can traverse them all in one day if you’re feeling ambitious, a real bargain for the $5 admission fee. The nature center is small, but well maintained, with all sorts of informative exhibits and a commitment to being as “green” as possible. Be sure to check out the “compostable” toilets!

 

Nauset Beach (Eastham)

Though the admission charge might be steep for some at $15/car, Nauset is free after 4:00 and has free concerts on Mondays throughout the summer. It also has good surf and you’ll often spot seals frolicking in the waves off shore (hopefully without the accompanying sharks!). The other perk is Liam’s Snack Bar, featuring the famous onion rings. For you writers out there, it’s also the best beach for eavesdropping and people-watching!

Sundae School (Eastham)

After a full day at Nauset, there is nothing we’d rather do than stop at this local institution for an ice cream treat to tide us over until dinner. The banana splits are beyond delicious, and we have even been known to make them our dinner! If that’s too much for you, try an old favorite like peach or mint chip or be daring and order a “raz Oreo” or chocolate mixed with orange sherbet, which sound gruesome but are actually mouth-watering.

Head of the Meadows National Seashore Beach (Truro)

 

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If you prefer a more low-key beach atmosphere, try this favorite of ours. It’s more primitive, with limited toilets, a public changing area, and two shower spigots but there’s a sandbar to catch the waves on and a few miles down the beach, it’s possible to watch the seals sunbathing on the sand at low tide. The National Seashore beaches are also $15/car but you can use the pass at any of its other beaches to get in free for the rest of the day.

Beer!

Next to ice cream, nothing tastes better than an ice-cold beer at the end of a long day at the beach. The Boston-based Samuel Adams Seasonal Summer Ale is always popular but my hands-down local favorite is Whale Tail Pale Ale. I think I like saying it as much as drinking it!

Let me conclude my post with an apology for not blogging in over a month. Between a hectic summer and some computer issues, I fell behind, but I’m back on the blog wagon with all sorts of new ideas and information.

Next up in my travel journal-Provincetown restaurants!

Chautauqua-A Writer’s Dream

June 18, 2014

I admit that I signed up for the Writers’ Festival at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York without really understanding what it would entail and how much I would actually get out of it. I’ve been to a fair number of conferences at this point but most of them have been more of the lecture and presentation variety rather than Chautauqua’s focus on daily small group workshops and multiple readings and panels by both the “experts” and anyone else who wants to give things like “Open Mic” a try (I wasn’t quite up for that yet but I really enjoyed listening to others read from their work).You also get an individual conference with your small group leader, which was immensely helpful for me in focusing what I’m trying to accomplish.

One of the best things that happens at Chautauqua is that you experience total immersion in everything literary. From 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. you are busy doing something that has to do with writing or reading or you’re eating a meal or having a drink with other writers. Because the Festival fee includes everything, you don’t have to think about mundane things like jobs, volunteer work, cooking, cleaning, laundry, children, other family members, and pets. All you have to worry about is getting to different rooms on time so you don’t miss anything! And the Festival organizers clearly “get” us. They’ve built in time for just sitting on the spacious hotel porch overlooking the lake and thinking, time to write quietly wherever you’re most comfortable, and time to take a walk or get some other type of exercise. The whole atmosphere evokes the literary retreats of old and most of the four days feels like you are in this blissful writing bubble.

My group was nonfiction, historical and memoir, and there were 12 of us from all over the United States and all ages and walks of life, along with our fearless leader, Patsy Sims. Despite the fact that five members had MFA’s from Goucher College in Maryland and some of us were just starting to dip our toes in the water of serious writing, we instantly bonded, both as a group, and with Patsy. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t feel comfortable offering constructive criticism or suggestions, or asking questions, about each other’s works-in-progress though. In fact it was quite the opposite. As a result, I came away from the four days with all sorts of practical ways to increase my writing skills, a seemingly endless reading list (thanks Tandy!) and a better sense of where I’m heading with the book I’d like to write and how I can get there.

When I first walked through the front doors of the Athenaeum Hotel, I was apprehensive and intimidated, not sure that me, or my writing, would measure up to the other participants. When I left, I felt like I was finally part of a real writing community and that I had made some connections that I hope will last for a long time, with people that love words and their endless possibilities as much as I do. I look at the picture that Bob took on our last day of us all standing together in our little conference room and I smile, thinking to myself,”This is my tribe.”

Do Comics Count?

June 1, 2014

Do comic books count as “real” literature and reading material? Twenty years ago my answer would have been an unequivocal NO! But then my son Calvin was born. I have been a voracious reader since day one. My mother read to me, took me to the library, and bought me books for birthdays, holidays, and just for fun. Naturally I did the same for my three boys and the first two followed in my literary footsteps like ducks take to water. The third son, Calvin, started out like them but, by the time he was in first grade it had became apparent that, though he loved to have others read to him, he had no interest in picking up a book on his own. What to do? After wailing and gnashing my teeth for a while, I decided that the situation called for some type of innovative strategy. That’s when I thought of Calvin and Hobbes, the much beloved comic strip by the elusive Bill Watterson. After all, what adventurous and active young boy could resist the allure of a book that featured a hero with his own name? And, who wouldn’t love a loyal stuffed tiger with the voice of reason? I rushed to Barnes and Noble and quickly purchased a book to try out my latest idea on Calvin Henninger. This proved to be one of the smartest parenting moves I ever made. The comic strip panels in the book were short enough to be manageable for my young son to handle on his own, engaging enough for me that I didn’t mind reading them over and over to him when he was too tired to read on his own, and funny enough that soon our whole family became huge fans of Calvin, Hobbes, and the various other colorful characters in the books. Calvin is the little kid we all can identify with, slightly weird, with a vivid imagination, a touch of compassion, an indomitable spirit, and a twisted sense of humor. Watterson is spot-on with everything he writes. We all had a teacher like Mrs. Wormwood, a babysitter like Rosalind, or a pesky neighbor like Susie. If we didn’t have a “Get Rid of Slimy Girls” club and a tree fort, we wished we did. And Calvin’s snowmen are the stuff legends are made of!

Gradually my Calvin segued into story books and then chapter books, something I’m convinced never would have happened had we not used the lovable comic strips as a springboard. However, even though I knew I’d done the right thing, and really enjoyed reading them myself (though I’m not normally a huge fan of comics), there was still a part of me that was embarrassed that I had resorted to comics to raise a reader.

Then a young man, about my Cal’s age now, started a Kickstarter campaign and released a Netflix documentary called “Dear Mr. Watterson” about the huge impact the comic had made on readers over the years. The interviews in it made me realize that my experience with the comic wasn’t mine alone; it was universal. Those of us who spent time with Calvin and Hobbes have a special bond, an understanding of life that unites us and, I believe, makes us all better people for it. As I watched the documentary with my son, I began to understand just how much our whole family had gained from reading every single Calvin and Hobbes book over and over. As the film showed different clips from the books, I felt like I had come home again and I found myself laughing out loud at the way the characters seemed so real to me and at how joyful I felt to be reunited with them. I also felt an incredible sadness that Mr. Watterson has retired Calvin and Hobbes because, honestly, I would have gone on reading about them forever. That, to me, is the true mark of a good writer.

These days my Calvin is a creative writing major and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes were a huge influence in his career choice, the characters he creates and , above all, his crazy sense of humor. So today,  when people question the validity of comic books as literature, I find myself one of the genre’s staunchest defenders. Thank you Mr. Watterson!

What’s in my Texas Travel Journal-Part II?

May 28, 2014

When my son was admitted to Southern Methodist University, though the music program there was phenomenal, I must admit that I was slightly uneasy. The culture, beliefs, and attitudes in Texas seemed very different from what we were used to in upstate New York.

In fact, in the 1960’s, Dallas was frequently referred to as “the city of hate”. Fifty years later many things have definitely changed for the better. For example, there is a thriving arts district and an eclectic food scene. As a musician, my son has spent time in the arts venues there, including the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, permanent home of the nationally recognized Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House (which hosts a wide variety of arts performances, including things like “Matilda The Musical” and Conor Oberst and the Dallas City Performance Hall, which aims to host performances that reflect the diversity of the city. Close by, there’s also the Dallas Museum of art (free!) and the Nasher Sculpture Center (nashersculpturecenter.org). There’s also this really cool urban green space, the Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre deck park built over the recessed Woodall Rodgers Freeway between Pearl and St. Paul streets in downtown Dallas. The park has food trucks, games like ping pong, a playground, and a dog park. Fantastic place to people watch or to be the “I” in the Big.

Ray's Graduation-2014 022    Klyde Warren Park

In the four years Ray has been in Dallas, I haven’t had one bad meal. We have been hearing about Jimmy’s Fine Italian Food and Wine(http://www.jimmysfoodstore.com) forever. So it seemed only fitting that we check it out and we weren’t disappointed. My Italian beef sandwich was mouth-watering and my men all liked the muffuletta, both its size and the taste! We also checked out a few taco places and were especially captivated by the nighttime atmosphere of Velvet Taco (along with the street corn). But, in the grand tradition of saving the best for last, our graduation dinner at Sissy’s Southern Kitchen & Bar (http://sissyssouthernkitchen.com) was unbelievable! From the outside you would never guess what gastronomic pleasures await you inside the restaurant. It’s traditional southern home cooking with just enough of a twist to make you feel like you’re being adventurous and somewhat healthy. For example we started off with squash puppies, oven-roasted collard greens, and chili-fried oysters with spicy mayonnaise. We then moved on to chicken fried flat-iron steak and crispy Texas catfish. But the crowning glory was the fried chicken; house-spiced, pressure-fried, and buttermilk-soaked for 24-hours. We all agreed that it was the most tender, tastiest chicken we have ever had in our lives (and we have tried lots of fried chicken!) It was even better when we ate it cold the next morning! Sadly, there was no room for desert but we will be sure to return as soon as possible.

 However, even with all these great discoveries, we also made time to visit Dealey Plaza, the “grassy knoll”, and to walk past the outside of the Texas School Book Depository. After all at the risk of sounding trite, we all know that those who forget history are often doomed to repeat it.

 

What’s in my Texas Travel Journal?

May 22, 2014

Having just returned from a marathon drive to Dallas for my oldest son’s graduation, I feel like once again I’ve gotten a glimpse of America that you just don’t seem to get from the sky or the rails. I’ll be writing a few posts about what we saw and did in the hopes of encouraging any readers who have been contemplating a road trip to fill up the gas tank and hit the highway this summer!

First stop was the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel (http://civilrightsmuseum.org) in Memphis, TN.

 National Civil Rights Museum-Memphis-2014 010

Other than knowing that the motel was the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect from my visit but I was looking forward to learning more about the Civil Rights era from a southern perspective. The Museum begins with a short movie which orients visitors to some of the past and present issues impacting civil rights. Once you’ve watched that, you’re good to go and begin touring the museum at whatever pace you decided to set for yourself. It begins with a representation of the Atlantic slave trade and the global impact that had. Next up is the Rise of Jim Crow (1896-1954) which clearly shows, through a variety of means how the amendments and rights granted to African Americans following the Civil War were gradually eroded and replaced by laws which reinforced the “separate but equal doctrine that prevailed for many years. The oral history component of this section is heartbreaking; hearing real people (from children to senior citizens) tell in their own words how it felt to be discriminated against on all levels on a daily basis is something you definitely don’t get in many history books. When one older man talks about being beaten by police as a child for an innocent peck on the cheek with a white playmate and then wonders, “What could have been or done if this incident hadn’t defined my life?” you can begin to get a sense of what an enormous impact Jim Crow had on blocking the contributions that many Americans could have been making to the United States during those decades. Also I knew that the number of lynching’s spiked during those years but reading about the “carnival-like atmosphere” that accompanied them, including watchers “scrambling for souvenirs” like pieces of charred remains or taking photos of themselves with the murdered person , was chilling.

 In the next exhibit room is “Separate but not Equal” which addresses the fight to desegregate public schools, both in the classroom and in the courts. Here you can see how desegregation unfolded all over the country as well as in your region or home state. Once again there is so much rich detail in this room that I found it impossible to rush through it. For example though I was familiar with the Brown v. Board of Education case I didn’t know that Brown was actually five cases bundled into one. Another common misperception that may be challenged in this museum is John F. Kennedy’s role in the civil rights struggle, which seems to have been influenced more by how America was being perceived abroad and less by his commitment to human rights. Something else we all learned was how difficult and unpleasant trying to take a vacation could be for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. There was an exhibit about travel guides which were developed during those highly segregated times that listed “friendly” accommodations, aptly known as “vacation/recreation without humiliation”. In fact the Lorraine Motel where the Museum is located was one of these destinations. Other exhibits my college-age kids liked included the 3-D F.W. Woolworth’s counter and the Freedom Riders and the Freedom Bus.

National Civil Rights Museum-Memphis-2014 007

I soon discovered that these rooms are just a drop in the bucket. Having failed to review the museum exhibits in-depth before visiting; I wasn’t aware of how extensive the Museum is. The website suggested allotting a minimum of two hours to visit but it has so many interactive activities and interpretative panels that after two hours I had only gone through three or four rooms. When my husband told me I still had about twelve more to go, I was shocked! I skimmed through most of them just to get an idea of what they contained but I am definitely planning a return trip.

 After leaving the Museum, we walked across the street to Central BBQ on Butler Avenue (http://cbqmemphis.com/about-central-bbq) where we had ribs (of course!) and pulled pork sandwiches, along with a draft beer from Ghost River Brewing (http://www.ghostriverbrewing.com) which was quite thirst-quenching!

National Civil Rights Museum-Memphis-2014 012

 Next stop-Dallas!

What’s on my Bedside Reading Table?

May 6, 2014

First post in May and luckily I’ve been reading up a storm! These three books are quite different but all of them have something to offer the avid reader and aspiring writer.

My Education by Susan Choi

This is my first book by this author. Though it’s not always the type of novel I’m drawn to, I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t even the plot (though the ending was extremely satisfying, something I’ve really come to appreciate after a few bad ones), it was Choi’s descriptions of her characters that really impressed me, especially since that’s my goal for the month of May-to become more descriptive. I felt like I would instantly recognize Regina, Dutra, Martha, and Nicholas if I saw them on the street this morning (which I might since I have the sneaking suspicion that My Education may have been set in our fair city!) I also thought she wrote the sex scenes very well which is not the easiest thing to do either. Plus, Choi has a keen eye and a wicked sense of humor. This is one; I’ll probably read at least once again purely for the stylistic elements and I highly recommend it to all of you.

Run by Ann Patchett.

I haven’t read as much of this author as I’d like to so when a friend recommended this book when I ran into her in the library, I snapped it up. It was a quick read and I did like it overall. However, the book reminded me that it’s really important for writers to make sure that their writing allows readers to also see what may be so clear to them in their own heads as they are writing. Without giving the plot away, there is some sort of dream sequence while one character is in the hospital that I found both puzzling and distracting and, though I liked the characters and felt they were well-drawn, near the end of the book they all arrive in a hospital room together and I found myself feeling like it was a little too overwhelming and confusing to have them all there. I would have liked it better if Patchett had just had a few of them there and gone more deeply into what they were thinking and feeling.

What I liked most about this book was its observations (through the characters thoughts and feelings) about choices we make and the long-range, sometimes unexpected, repercussions they can have.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute

I have been planning to read this book ever since I read an interview of the author several years ago so I was happy to finally get to it. Let me start out by saying that it is completely different from the two other novels in this post. Set in small town Maine, the Bean clan is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever come to know the rural poor. The Beans do not live in a pastoral or bucolic Norman Rockwell painting, they live in trailers or houses that are falling down around them. They have more children than they can take care of and suffer from all the things that frequently accompany generational poverty; poor health, alcoholism and other addictions, mental illness, and learning disabilities. The Beans are not lovable but there is something about their tenacity and ability to turn a situation to their advantage, along with their desperate desire to be loved, that, while not exactly endearing them to readers, still forms enough of an emotional connection that you find yourself hoping that, against all odd, things might somehow get better for them.

In terms of technique, I was captivated by the way Chute shifts the narrative to different characters voices as it adds both depth and understanding to the story. Plus, I think it’s much harder to do this effectively than it is to write from a single point-of-view. The details she uses, as well as the regional dialect, effortlessly engage all of the reader’s senses so this is a book I may well read a second time to try to see just how she does it. The Bean’s and their neighbors are a perfect example of the old adage “show don’t tell”.

 Enjoy these books and please  forward on your own reading recommendations!

Poetry Month Post

April 29, 2014

This is exactly why it’s so hard for me to throw anything away. You never know when you might need it. Take for example, this last post of April, which happens to be National Poetry Month. Just as I was trying desperately to think of something I could write about that had to do with poetry, what did I come across in an old notebook? Some scribbles dated 2011 when I went to hear a Hindi poet speak at Cornell University. Described as “One of India’s leading cultural figures…” in the press release, I remember really enjoying Ashok Vajpeyi’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashok_Vajpeyi) talk, titled “How not to Approach Indian Art, Literature, and Culture”. In fact, in the margin of my notebook paper I noted that he was something of a “creative globetrotter”! Here are three of my favorite quotes of his that have to do with poetry and why I liked them:

“Poetry gives a voice to those who don’t have their own voice.” He went on to clarify that this is not just meant for oppressed people but also for things like birds, mountains, or trees. When you write a poem, you can imagine and take on any voice or characteristics that you think the person, place, or thing you’re writing about might have. You can also say things that you think they might be feeling but have no way of expressing. Or you can reference, or allude to, a situation or emotion that you sense and let readers form their own interpretations.

“Poetry is a way to recall.” Like when you write a story, poetry is a way for you to articulate memories and feelings long-buried. I’ve found is that sometimes trying a less commonly used style of poetry writing (i.e. a tanka or elegy), will help you excavate valuable inner material.

When writing poetry “Don’t allow the smallest detail to go to waste.” As with writing articles and stories, it’s all in the details. Poems need the five senses every bit as much as a good piece of prose. This can be especially fun and challenging to attempt when you’re trying to compose a poem that rhymes, like a limerick, or a haiku!

As you can see, Vajpeyi’s advice for poets is quite similar to the suggestions aspiring writers of prose receive from the experts.

As an aside, I am a not-too-distant relative of the 20th century poet, Edgar A. Guest, also known as the “People’s Poet”. So perhaps there is hope for me as an amateur poet yet! To mark the end of the 2014 National Poetry Month, I’ll close with a favorite quote from one of Edgar’s many poems:

“Keep your dreams, they’re richer far

Than the facts discovered are…”


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