Show and Tell Time

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Since yesterday was a whirlwind of deadlines and today is a whirlwind of meetings, I thought for the blog today I’d share a bit of what I was working on yesterday.

The deadline was for the Arthouse Co-Op, located in Brooklyn.

I participated in a project they have going called The Fiction Project.

They sent me an 80 page Molskine notebook and challenged me to fill up the pages with stories. My topic for the stories was, “And suddenly…”

Whoo. And I thought this was going to be *so* easy to do. I love to write short stories and flash fiction. What a snap!

Silly me.

It was a fun challenge. Writing the stories wasn’t even the hard part, though it was hard enough. The rough part was in actually putting all the stories into the book in some coherent form. It’s harder than you’d think.

I thought I was done and had a full book of stories, but when I glued it all into a first draft piece, I still had four pages left to fill.

I suppose I could have left those four pages blank, but that seemed like cheating.

So I sat down to dash off something quick.

Dash off something quick. Har, har. Of course, that’s when writer’s block set in.

Anyhow, it took a while, but when I did finally write, what is below what came through.

It’s in need of more editing, but as I ran out of time, I had to just run with it. This is what covered the last four pages of my Moleskine book. For your perusal.

It’s called “And Suddenly…It’s Over”

*****************************

I look at my oldest, most reliable friend and plead silently, “speak to me!”

The blinking eye of the cursor just beats a perfect metronome rhythm back at me, waiting. The whole empty white page, devoid of the text I yearn for so much, mocks me openly.

I love the words, the black squiggles and marks on the page. Words that express how I feel, how I want to feel, how I ought to feel. But the words don’t flow so easily from my veins.

I plead with the empty page to fill up quick, but it never helps. So I take another course and appeal directly to The Muse. She is recalcitrant and obstinate, but I goad her along.

She wakes from her satin sheets, stretches her pale, lovely long arms, and rises.

“Oh, all right,” she concedes after I’ve wooed her with mimosas and caviar.

And so we sit down to write.

I step back, ceding control of my body, my thoughts, and my mind to The Muse. I let her dance. I let her sing. I let her weep if that’s where she wants to go.

I am at her service, totally, completely.

We write tales of the life cycles of the human, of cranky old men with faithful dogs riding in rusted old pickup trucks. We write of lost girls with music in their head and small town girls finding their way in the big city. (editors note, these were the topics of the other stories that filled the book)

Sometimes we write of horses and cows, other times about diamonds and millionaires. We write of everything and nothing. All of it and more.

Today, however, this day when there is nothing I want to do more than write, I can’t manage to coax her to give more than a single paragraph.

This is the worst. We begin the takeoff sequence, the words start to form, but I can’t get wind under my wings. Soon we stutter and the engine fails. We write, but then we don’t get very far before we don’t write anymore.

The cursor blinks. Waiting.

I sit, begging, pleading with her. I try to do it on my own, force the words to come through, but each letter oozes painfully out of me like blood from a fresh, deep wound. It’s not natural like when she does it.

I used to think this was a terminal condition, this writer’s block, and would last forever. Over the years I’ve come to know that the diva inside of me, she of all the ideas and brilliant turns of phrase, will always come back. No matter how firmly she leaves or how far she goes, one day, I know she will return.

And she does.

She’ll always find a way to embody my fingers and my soul because she just can’t resist. The pull toward the joy we feel in those moments when the words flow free is too great. It’s like an addiction, stronger than any drug or drink.

We write because we must write.

And so today, I wait her out. The first paragraph is written and I wait, blinking in time with the cursor.

If I don’t squeeze too hard, if I don’t press her, it will happen.

Magically, it will happen.

So I avert my eyes and pretend it doesn’t matter. I fix a cup of coffee and I read the news and I say in a sighing way, “oh, I guess we’re not going to write today.”

And finally, when I’ve got her fully convinced that it just doesn’t matter, The Muse shows up with a “who me?” look on her face and suddenly has the will to write.

So we take another go at that runway. Faster this time, we let the words start to flow free. Soon, with enough speed and plenty of ideas to fuel our ascent, we break away from the land below and we begin to rise.

The adjectives and adverbs and participles flow smoothly over the wingtips and we soar, together, my fingers are her engine while The Muse is pulling all the levers.

It’s magnificent. Suddenly, we kill off the main character and bank hard to the left. Oh this is a great run. Then a plot twist, some suspense, upward we climb, faster, faster.

And finally, when it feels like my fingers might snap off from the speed and the altitude, the climax of the story arrives and we climb to impossible heights and finally crest that hill.

Once over the apex we begin coasting down the story arc of the glorious dénouement.

Then, the story draws to a close. The engines slow, the fingers wind down, and we touch gently back to down earth, weary but fulfilled.

Flaps come up, we coast to a stop and ease our rig back into the slip.

And suddenly…it’s over.

It is then, with much melancholy, together we type the words…

The End

Things They Didn’t Teach Me

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I’ve been a proud holder of a driver’s license for, oh say, about twenty-five years.

I first learned to drive our automatic transmission, four-wheel drive, 1972 Chevy Blazer on the hard packed dirt roads around Logan, New Mexico. Population 1,002.

Those roads were wide, empty of other cars, and easy to navigate.

Ya wanna park? Sure. Pull up somewhere near the house. That’ll work.

Then I got a more formal education from the ubiquitous McGinnis School of Driving. Don’t know if it is still the same now, but back then, every high school kid in Albuquerque learned to drive from McGinnis.

We got the usual lessons. Hands and 10 and 2. Back up in a straight line. Parallel park between the orange cones.

That parallel parking one…I didn’t need that much in Albuquerque.

I needed it A LOT more once I moved to the Bay Area.

Parallel parking in San Francisco is like a sport. People will actually spectate the event. Comment on your technique. And point and laugh as you make six runs at that freaking small spot that you’ve just spent over an hour searching for.

These are things that Mr. McGinnis didn’t teach.

That “spent an hour looking for a spot” is what got me thinking. Last night, The Good Man and I had an event up in the great City of San Francisco. It was to be held in the part of the City they call the Marina.

Now…we were feeling pretty good about our odds of parking (another thing McGinnis didn’t teach, thinking ahead to where you’ll park) because where we were headed has a pretty ample parking area. It’s a big wide street with a line of parking spaces down the middle (Fillmore, for my SF readers). Plus, it was a Tuesday night.

Lots of spaces and a weeknight? High potential! Score!

However….

Luck was not on our side. An accident on 280 and backed up traffic for a hometown baseball game left us running late as it was. And when we got to the Marina…there wasn’t a spot to be had.

So we did what we had to do. We began the slow circle around and around and around. Trolling for a spot.

McGinnis didn’t teach me that.

Then the consideration of an ever so slightly empty spot at the curb. Can I fit my car in that? What are the odds the people living there will call the cops because my bumper is hanging in their driveway? Am I leaking over into the red zone? What are the odds I’ll get a ticket?

Mr. McGinnis also did not teach me that.

And then, while panic growing and growing as we are now a half hour late for our event, the sheer ecstasy of actually FINALLY finding a spot. A big spot! A good spot! A spot we didn’t even have to fend off other drivers to get into!

Yes! Sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!

Oh the relief. The weeping. The joy.

McGinnis School of Driving definitely did *not* teach me that.

I had to learn that all on my own.

I’m pretty lucky these days because The Good Man, a longtime San Francisco dweller by way of a Brooklyn upbringing isn’t a’feared of these sorts of things. He’ll plunge into the wackiest of driving, parking and navigating situations with ease and aplomb. Most of the time, like last night, he’s got the wheel and I don’t have to worry about it.

Because me, I learned to drive on empty dirt roads.

What the hell are all these cars doing around here!?!?!

(Don’t think I haven’t TOTALLY whipped in front of a Trolley Car to get to a good parking spot. Because I have.)

So one day, you’re walking down Vegas Boulevard and…

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Oh man, I can’t *believe* I forgot to blog about this… I think I Tweeted, but 140 characters does this no justice.

So picture it if you will. Las Vegas Boulevard just a week or so ago.

I’m over at the Mirage because I was hungry and wanted the fare offered at the Carnegie Deli***.

I swear, I am a New York Jewish girl, because I gotta have their chopped liver salad. Just *gotta* have it!

So after finishing my meal and losing a few bucks to the slots, I decided to walk.

I always have to take some time to walk Vegas Blvd to see how it has changed. Plus, you get a whooole different view of The Strip at street level.

There I am walking north on the strip headed toward Fashion Show Mall with a destination of the Trump Hotel nestled in behind the mall, when I see a little alcove-like thing in the wall around the Mirage.

People are lined up there and I figure, well, it’s some Vegas thing, a mostly naked show girl, an “amazing double” dressed up as Michael Jackson (only I just saw him a couple hours ago back at the Bellagio) or a Three Card Monte game, who knows.

I was not prepared for what I saw.

Not. Prepared.

I come around the bend and see this lush green inset in the wall with a railing.

Ok, you know when you go to a cathedral or a really large Catholic church and they have the Virgin Mary Grotto? With the statue and the railing and the somber tones?

Yeah. It was like that.

Only the statue people were worshiping was this (click for full size):

If the imagery isn’t immediately clear to you, that’s a golden rendition of Sigfried and Roy and a white tiger, festooned with fakey shards of crystals shooting out of the cement moorings.

Oh man, everyone was snapping photos like the red carpet. They’d put the kids in front of this thing, or the lady would get in front and the guy would take the photo then the guy would get up there and the lady would snap away, and then the whole family would crowd in there.

People were beside themselves to get photos with this statue.

In a non-ironic way.

Well, I found a break in the crowd and grabbed a couple iPhone photos so I could show The Good Man and we could look at this later and ponder just WTF.

I have no answers.

Other than that’s Vegas, I suppose…

***Not intentionally, but we ended up having an “old home” week in Las Vegas. We went to Garduños to fulfill longing for the food of my youth, then later I took The Good Man, a Brooklyn boy, back to the Carnegie for a monster Reuben (corned beef, if you please).

Lighting a votive for, uh, peace?

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Oh, this could be a serious and solemn post.

It’s not gonna be, however.

So you see…my rock star mom-in-law is a Brooklyn girl, and at the holidays, she has traditions in keeping with where she was raised.

In her words: “Not untypically for someone from Brooklyn in my day for most of my adult life, I’ve made Italian food for the holidays. Often the menu included a seafood dish like spaghetti and clams for Christmas or New Years Eve and usually a lasagna on Christmas Day.”

Italian food? Oh I’m ALL about that.

This holiday season it was her very generous idea to celebrate the holidays with the foods from my childhood in New Mexico.

That means tamales that we handmade together, a pan of Hatch green chile enchiladas and a big pot o’ beans.

To help set the atmosphere, my mom-in-law brought over some accoutrements including Mexican hot chocolate, a tortilla warmer, and an Our Lady of Guadalupe votive candle.

We lit Our Lady up and enjoyed dinner by her warm candlelight.

So the holidays passed by, as they will. The Good Man and I began to dismantle the holiday displays in our home and put things away.

Our Lady of the Fabulous Christmas Feast had been on the coffee table for a couple weeks, but after New Years she had disappeared. The Good Man had stowed her away somewhere. Fair enough, right?

But then…I was rather startled to, uh, find her.

Here:

I call her “Our Lady of Fartima.”

The Good Man never laughs when I do.

But I crack myself up every time. I think being able to make your ownself laugh is the key to a long life.

Side note to Ephraim: I realize yesterday I promised to try and keep it classy on the blog today. I failed miserably. I’ll try again on Monday, ok?

I happen to like New York

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This winter, the holiday season, has me profoundly missing New York.

Well sure, you might say, New York in December is beautiful!

And I’m sure you are right.

Only, I’ve not been to New York at the holidays.

I’ve been only once. And it was in May.

So how, you might ask, would you miss a season in a town where you’ve spent the sum total of ten days visiting?

Well.

I’d say, first of all, that maybe normal logic doesn’t apply to me.

But I’d go further.

Last night The Good Man was out at dinner with a friend from out of town, so I was on my own. Chilled to the bone from the freezing rain I went to my local grocer to find something ready-made to warm up (and yes, surprisingly, I wore a jacket on this jaunt. But only because of the rain. Otherwise I would have left it at home.)

I prowled the aisles of ready-made food looking for something to satisfy.

And my eyes landed on pre-packed containers of…

(Oh, my heart flutters just thinking of it)

Matzoh Ball Soup.

Here! In California!

I almost cried, I really did.

I know that I was baptized and raised Catholic, but I honestly believe there is a part of me that is fully Jewish. I’ve thought this for a while. Mainly, because I love Jewish food. Matzoh ball soup is only the beginning.

There is my deep and abiding love for chicken liver. Egads. It’s borderline obsessive.

And let’s talk schmaltz! If someone says something is schmaltzy, I’ll run toward it with a cracker! Delicious!

If it weren’t for that whole keeping meat and dairy separate, I might be kosher. But I need cheddah on my beef tacos, so that ends that.

But back to New York. I *loved* every minute I spent in New York. Every street block has a diner and every diner serves their version of the delicious healing chicken broth over a lump of matzoh-y goodness. Twenty four hours a day.

And I got to the point, after bowl upon bowl of the stuff, that I know my preferences.

Some serve a huge matzoh, some small. I prefer smaller.

Some matzohs are dense, some are lighter and almost fluffy. I like the lighter.

Some broth is heavily salted and with an onion flavor. Some lean toward bland. I like the salty onion infused broth.

Some broth has almost no other veggies included. Some have quite a few. I like no veggies, preferring to enjoy the broth as is.

But you can see, you get all kinds of variations depending on who is doing the cooking.

So as I paid for the soup last night, anticipating the chickeny healing goodness, I knew intuitively that it wouldn’t be good. It wouldn’t be right.

But, it was matzoh ball soup, and that was something.

See, you can look for yourself. It was ok, but it wasn’t right.

What’s with all the carrots!?!?

The matzohs were too big and too dense. I didn’t eat all of them (there were FIVE in the container!), preferring to slurp at the broth instead.

So while it wasn’t perfect, it was close enough to make me content.

Close enough to make me miss New York. I long to be back there, and not just because of the soup. The soup just reminded me.

I remember very clearly, as soon as I set foot on the island, my heart began to beat in time with the rhythm of the city. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

As Cole Porter famously said (and in this version, Bobby Short sings), I happen to like New York.