May 26, 2016
I took up tango dancing almost twenty years ago. Around the time I began, Sally Potter released The Tango Lesson, an autobiographical film about the tension between artists and their art. In the film, Sally plays a filmmaker with writer’s block whose procrastinations include tearing up a floor in her house and traveling to Paris, where she discovers Argentine tango. She begins taking lessons from Pablo Veron, and in exchange gives him a role in a film. Thus begins an artistic tug of war.
Argentine tango is both intricate and intimate. The basic step is itself complex, requiring two steps and a cross that can tangle the feet of the unwary or inexperienced. From there, the leader can take the pair through a multitude of pivots, turns, and kicks executed in slow and rapid motion, all at his whim—improvisation is a central tenet of the dance. The tango originated among dockworkers in Buenos Aires at a time when most available women were prostitutes. Read more …
April 27, 2016
I’m launching a new book in September and as part of the audience building process, I’m trying to do a better job maintaining my own blog. Regular posts about interesting topics are supposed to build readership. With this in mind, I diligently wrote out a list of topics I’d like to cover in the coming months, figuring that if I had a topic list, I couldn’t use the “I have nothing to say/write about” excuse.
Today I opened a blank Word document with the intention of covering one of my planned blog topics, and I hit the wall of doubt:
No one will read it.
No one will find it interesting.
No one cares. Read more …
March 31, 2016
When I heard Donald Trump’s comments on abortion Wednesday—the formerly pro-choice Republican candidate said that if abortion was illegal, women who sought one should be punished, and then under pressure from all sides, Trump revised this statement and said only abortion providers should be punished—I thought, well, if the woman does the crime, she should do the time.
You read that right.
Let me clarify. First, I am 100% without equivocation pro-CHOICE. If I were empress of the world, I would make abortion legal in all cases and let it be given in any willing gynecologist’s office as part of the routine menu of procedures, so women could truly keep their reproductive decisions private and never have to endure a gauntlet of protestors calling them murderers. Unwanted pregnancies happen for all sorts of reasons. Read more …
January 27, 2016
I finally put away our Christmas decorations this past weekend. I’d wanted to take them down on January 9, the first weekend after Twelfth Night, but I yielded to pleas for “just one more week” from husband and daughter. Family obligations, work obligations, and a stack of higher priorities kept the Christmas tree standing and the wreath on my door past Martin Luther King Day. Meanwhile, mortification grew as my neighbors’ lights winked off for the season, and spruce and pine trees piled up on the sidewalks. A new neighbor dropped by to borrow the clicker for our apartment building’s garage. He raised his eyebrows at the wreath still up on January 22, and that sealed it: no matter how many other priorities and tasks had piled up, the Christmas decorations had to come down.
My daughter gathered all the angels and Santas from bookshelves and doorknobs, while I removed the ornaments from the tree. I’m very particular about how the ornaments come off and how they’re organized for packing, but my daughter complied with my sorting rules and we slowly stripped the tree together. Read more …
January 13, 2016
We say these words when a friend or loved-one screws up, but “It happens to the best of us” sounds like a lie when the screw-up is oneself. In my professional life, I’m frankly used to patting myself on the back, not kicking myself in the keister. Last week, there was a keister day that had me repeating “It happens to the best of us” like a mantra while my brand new Fitbit recorded a racing heart.
I don’t often screw up, but this one was a doozy. An important client contacted me about a major snafu—why did a particular publication say “X” instead of “Y”? I confidently responded that “X” had been the direction the publication team had decided upon, and I asserted I had an audiotape of a conference call to back that up. I offered to transcribe the relevant portion of the call. Read more …
December 2, 2015
One morning last week, we all woke up to the news that Turkey had shot down a Russian fighter jet. This prompted one of those foxhole prayers we agnostics offer up in times of crisis:
God, please let this not be a shot heard round the world and the beginning of World War III.
It takes quite a lot to scare me into prayer. I’m often grouchy, and I’m nearly always sarcastic and cynical, but I’m also a glass-half-full optimist who feels very lucky with how her life has played out so far. I usually shrug off a Facebook feed full of doom and gloom, confident that humanity’s march toward little-E enlightenment, tolerance, and peace continues. Read more …
October 21, 2015
The last time I paid attention to a baseball playoff, my nine-year-old daughter still needed a Bumbo to sit upright. It was Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championships, and the Mets’ Carlos Beltran stood at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two strikes, the bases loaded, and the Cardinals up 3 to 1. This is the stuff baseball legends are made of: a batter who could win a championship with walk-off grand slam home run; a pitcher who might do the same with a final strike. Triumph and ignominy loomed. As my husband stood beside me, rocking from foot to foot, blood heated my face, my heart pounded and I felt like my head might explode. I needed to sit down but couldn’t. Adam Wainwright’s final pitch took flight. Carlos Beltran watched it zip into the catcher’s mitt; he didn’t even twitch his bat. Ignominy it was. Read more…
October 8, 2015
As regular readers know, the One Year of Letters contributors have been commemorating the first anniversary of this blog by reflecting on our lives and work over the past year. Ever-gracious Kerry expressed her enthusiasm for the OYOL team’s introspections and observations. Elaina heroically looked back at her demons and once again stared them down. Colleen analyzed trends in our work and explored where this blog might go in the future. And our resident Picasso of words, Sigurd, took us on another journey through his thoughts and memories, each of which is a treasure. And Mary and Tatyana will be posting their one-year reflections soon, so be sure to come back for their wisdom and and insights.
The past week, I’ve looked over my old posts to prepare this blog but also because a client wanted some writing samples that were “light, warm, and witty.” A few of my blogs have been light (running toilets and wasps), and I’ve certainly tried to be witty, although only the OYOL readers can say whether I’ve succeeded. I do get preachy—themes of procrastination and social justice prevail in my blogs. Read more …
September 24, 2015
The last time I cried at a birthday party was when I was nine or ten. A friend invited a dozen or so girls to a roller rink, and I was the only one who’d never skated before. Game to try, I giggled with the other girls as we shuffled across the thin carpeting of the shoe-changing area. The friction slowed down the skate wheels, providing me with a false sense of “this is easy!” Then I stepped onto the rink. The skates whizzed over the glass-smooth concrete but failed to bring me along and I fell splat onto my rear. I struggled up and slipped slowly around the rink, clinging to the wall. I don’t remember how many circuits I hugged that wall—I probably struggled through at least two before giving up. I spent most of the party sitting by myself, quietly weeping while everyone else rolled past, having fun. As the icing on the bad birthday party cake, the birthday girl’s mother scolded me for crying and ruining the party (my young brain logged the mother’s behavior under the category “things not to do when you’re a grown-up”). Read more …
September 9th, 2015
I love movies that make you think, and I saw one over the weekend: All Is Lost. This seafaring adventure is as tense and suspenseful as a thriller and has a knockout solo performance by Robert Redford. It’s also a fable about our world as we have made it. After thinking about it a lot, I decided the ultimate message is even the most competent, self-reliant person cannot succeed without help.
This message resonates in our current, highly divided political climate. I don’t know about you, but an awful lot of hate fills my Facebook feed. I’d planned to list some examples, but as I started to write them down, I stopped, because we all see it every day. We’ve also talked a lot about the hate here on OYOL. Read more…
August 26, 2105
All right, I’m fessin’ up. I signed up for Ashley Madison, and my email is probably on that list.
Now that you’ve climbed back into your chair, I’ll tell you I signed up with full knowledge of my husband, and I did so to research the site for a friend. No, really, I did it for my friend. I never went past the free trial and never provided a credit card, and I closed my account after a single day and several emails from some desperate dudes.
The desperation made me sad, that these folks would reach out to a faceless stranger (I didn’t post a picture). The messages also skeeved me out, but they didn’t anger me. Who am I to judge these guys? Read more …
August 12, 2015
The blank page. A field of white, unsullied and wholesome, unexplored and terrifying. There’s a reason you don’t see a blog from me every week here on OYOL. When Colleen and Elaina asked me recently if I could step up my frequency and submit every week, I cringed and begged off. Oh, no, I’m far too busy to commit. I have the family and the day job, not to mention two works in progress that need to be finished. One is a heavy rewrite of the third book in my fantasy/scifi series, the other my foray into literary fiction. Progress on the one is slow, while I haven’t worked on the other in years. Years.
If I applied myself, I could finish the one and get the other back on track. But the blank page stands in the way. To some writers, the hair-thin cursor, with its vertical wink, offers an invitation to explore new vistas: Let us begin and see where this journey takes us. I only feel the pull to forge ahead when the trail of words stretches a good long way behind me. That first step is hard. Read more …
July 29, 2015
Wow! The wrath of the Internet has descended full-force on Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, a beloved inhabitant of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Palmer and his guides lured Cecil from the preserve and wounded him with an arrow. The lion fled, and the hunters killed him two days later when they finally tracked him down. Then the hunters had their oops moment: they found a GPS collar on Cecil, and then they tried and failed to destroy it, suggesting they knew they done wrong.
Palmer, an experienced big game hunter (who’s also had previous run-ins with the law), does not deny killing Cecil. He released a statement saying he regrets killing the pride leader, not because he was a magnificent animal (which, one presumes, is exactly why Palmer wanted the lion’s head for a trophy), but because Cecil is a known and popular icon of the national park. Read more …
July 15, 2015
The husband is making plans for the future, looking ten years ahead to the daughter’s high school graduation and his retirement. He’s fixing to make a liar out of you, because you’ve been telling people he wants to live in your current apartment for the rest of his life. Turns out that’s not the case: he wants a house in the countryside, far enough from city light pollution to have his backyard observatory, but close enough to cultural comforts like movie theaters and museums. Living near like-minded folk is important too—he doesn’t want his blood pressure to skyrocket every time he drops by the post office or buys a cup of coffee. Read more …
June 24, 2015
On Father’s Day, my family and I saw the movie Inside Out, and it served as antidote for a rough week preceding. Nothing bad happened to me personally, but once again Americans had to face an ugly scene of more lives lost, this time of middle aged and elderly black people to a young white supremacist. Once again, friends gathered round the Internet water cooler to shake their heads and talk about what could have caused this horror: racism, lack of gun control, poverty, lack of mental health care, psychotropic drugs, food additives…the list ranged from the reasonable to the ridiculous, with wildly divergent opinions on which was which.
I’m going to propose a root cause: fear. Read more…
June 10, 2015
You’re lucky, and you’re grateful to whatever accident of fate made it so. A sign of your luck, or perhaps an outcome of it, is that you have never felt the need to pretend to be someone else to satisfy an expectation of society.
The movement to extend human rights to the LGBT community has gotten you thinking, though. You have friends and neighbors who have married someone of the same sex, and your daughter attends a school where many kids have “two mommies” or “two daddies.” Again, you’re lucky to live in a community where these families are unremarkable. But there are also people in your circle who face daily struggles between their inner and outer lives. Read more …
May 27, 2015
Today is my first annual 49th birthday, coming ten years after my first annual 39th. I repeat these age-vanity jokes with a smile and a wink, certain a year from now I’ll be celebrating the full half-century mark with good grace. The fact is, life so far has been pretty good. While I have my share of regrets—mistakes and missed opportunities and failures—on balance my life has gone pretty well and I still spend more time wondering what’s around the next bend than worrying about what I’ve left behind.
Still, our memories make us. They inform our present actions and drive our future reactions. Good or bad, our memories are created out of perception and emotion, which are inextricably linked. Read more …
The sock man shuffles down the sidewalk, black plastic garbage bag in one hand, packages of new socks in the other. “Socks, socks,” he mumbles. He doesn’t cry his wares loudly like the hat peddler in the story, who matches wits with mischievous monkeys. Rather you can barely hear him. You can tell by his sagging posture and painful gait he’s in poor health. His eyes are rheumy, his tongue coated with white film. If you buy socks from him, he nearly weeps with gratitude, and it breaks your heart.
The sock man has haunted my neighborhood for a decade or more. I’ve bought socks a few times, over the years. The other day I bought a package, paying four times what I’d have paid in a store. Read more ….
While browsing through my Facebook newsfeed this weekend, I came across a post that made my blood boil. We’ve all experienced this: a Facebook friend posts an inflammatory message that demands a response. Heart pounding, we pounce at the keyboard and hammer out an appropriately scathing—or archly informative—reply. Perhaps we hunt for an online article to prove our point, or perhaps we merely offer a withering scold. And then we hit return.
Or, we don’t. Read more…
How often have you passed a shop window, caught a reflection of an old, jowly broad out the corner of your eye, mutely snickered at her, then realized it’s your own reflection? How many times have you stood up, turned your head, crossed your leg, or picked up your purse and felt pain streaking through your nerves as a no-longer supple muscle seizes up? How often have you not written down that task or that message, confident your steel-trap memory will retain it, and found yourself in trouble later, because the trap has morphed into a sieve? Read more…
You’d hoped to type write this message while sitting under a beach umbrella, surrounded by an expanse of white sand and turquoise ocean. You had planned to paint a dazzling picture: the water an assemblage of prisms that flash and sparkle with reflected sunlight, the blues grading out from the shoreline, each stripe a deeper shade and a deeper drop to the underworld. You thought you’d have a dive under your belt already, and you planned to convey the magic you saw in schools of parrotfish and yellowtail. You also thought you’d write about family, and what it feels like to see relatives you haven’t seen in 20 years. Unfortunately the weather conspired against best-laid plans, and a two-day departure delay plus your One Year of Letters deadline prompts you to explore other vistas. Read more…
This can’t go on. Really, it can not go on.
You say this to yourself every time you flush the toilet in your bathroom and find yourself pulling the lid off the tank, pushing up your sleeve, and reaching in to adjust the stopper so the toilet won’t run. That stopper has failed to properly seat itself upon flushing for over a month now.
A month. Maybe two. Read more…