April is the Coolest Month (Looking Ahead)

March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment


I’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately, some referring to recent emotionally distressing events/memories, but most feature strange men and vampires trying to kill me, which they have been trying to do since my 20’s. (Before that, it was ghosts, swarms of insects and evil fog.) The cat persistently meowing me to wakefulness, the husband making toast, the sounds of New York in the spring – these are welcome reminders of the little sorrows I really face: working for a living, getting older, remembering to open my mail.

I have a new Macbook Air, which is making me happy. I like all my clients and enjoy editing – novels, memoirs, academic papers, other – except for the inconvenient effect it has of making me want to write my own books.

I’m learning more from editing and from reading self-published novels than I ever did in writing workshops. In particular, watching the writing/reading process minimally obstructed by the publishing industry is fascinating: so many “bad” books are very well liked by readers, maybe not in the tens-of-thousands-sold sense, but in the hundred-plus five-star reviews on Amazon sense.

I’m sorry to have to lost my financial freedom, but I appreciate having work come in over the airwaves – from all over the world at any time of day – meeting strangers and hearing their stories, honing my skills, feeling useful.

But mostly I love walking my city in the spring, buying strawberries and cupcakes, broccoli and tortellini, looking at the young beautiful women, the dreamy-eyed elderly, the street people with their snarly charm, and the groups of teenagers pouring out of the W 4th or 14th Street stations, thirsting for novelty, adorned with attitude.

The nightmares can have my slumber. I want the April days.

A new poet I’ve discovered—

Nothing is Lost

She would emerge from nightmares,
inch by inch, in the kitchen. Perched
on a wooden chair, she hugs her knees
. She is five, wearing a flannel gown
down to her ankles, with blue pistols
scattered over it, for killing mice at night,
her brother said.

The window lights up
like an altar. With her eyes half closed,
she looks at the particles of dust turning
inside the light, landing on the floor,
painted warm chestnut, as Mother

The coal stove still unlit,
she hears the breathing of the house,
its sunlit silence rising and falling,
a fly stirring, brushing its wings, buzzing out of the dark corner.
I see her
making room among the shadows,
and remember: nothing is lost
until we miss it.

–Lucyna Prostko

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Bed Work

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment


I didn’t get outside today, but the light was lovely from my bed. I woke up tired, tried to nap after breakfast but was kept awake by Fitzroy batting my face and sucking on my hair. Then I imbibed more coffee and got to work, editing almost seamlessly, in the zone. The romance novel I’m working on is all sex and champagne, cashmere, Louboutins, pink marble, MoMA. Sonoma, Manhattan, Stockholm. My favorite parts are the descriptions of vintage kitty litter odor coming from a neighbor’s apartment, and the erotic dream where her boss rips her shirt off.

The light brightened and faded. Charles took checks to the bank, fed the cats. I ate leftover wild rice and Brussels sprouts, browsed Valentine’s chocolate online, wanting it now.

“Did anything come for me today?”
“Just the cat food. Are you expecting something?”
“No, but I want a present.”

I miss being nine, my body painless and nimble. Tobogganing in the back yard, making Valentines cards with construction paper, Elmer’s glue, little red heart stickers and doilies. The one for my mother was the masterpiece, of course, though as I remember it I always put too much stuff on, hearts upon hearts, a big mess of needy love.

I can’t make money and do my creative work at the same time. My imagination folds over and hides its face. Even letting it out this far to say hello to you all feels dangerous. One of my clients emailed, “You’re such a good writer! Why aren’t you doing your own stuff?”

The light today was like children singing. Like a crystal bowl of lemons, silver steak knives, and eight-year-olds singing in French.

Just found this poem by Cynthia Huntington. It brought back memories.

Shot Up in the Sexual Revolution: The True Adventures of Suzy Creamcheese

“So, why don’t you sleep with girls?”
“I’m not really attracted to girls.”
“Are you telling me you were really
attracted to every man you slept with?”
Conversation with a friend

After twenty I stopped counting,
not like my friend Beverly, who sewed
an embroidered satin star on her bell-bottoms
for every new guy she fucked.
She had them running down both legs
and around the billowing hem,
and was starting up the inseam
when the jeans gave out in the wash.

It was a boys’ game anyway, those years
of our extended homage to the penis:
the guitar playing the penis, drums saluting it,
cock rock, Molotov cocktail, the motorcycle
gripped between the thighs, and I went down,
we all went down, in the old cultural disaster
of idol worship—a thousand-year bender.
Only this time it was the adolescent member,
oiled and laved, thrust forward arcing,
thin with ache, all tight flesh poked upward,
claiming its own. How it came and went,
penetrating but never settling down,
and how often we were caused to admire it:
hairless sweet warrior, raider against the State.

But I have this sweet pink flower
here between my legs—I put my hand down and touch it,
still soft and wet, and many-folded, endlessly opening,
hiding, seeking, hidden and sought,
but never very much admired or even smiled on
in those years, never served much less sung to.
Not a garden then but a citadel,
a wall to be breached, a new land claimed,
but linger there? No, I would say
there was an overall lack of appreciation,

though breasts were well respected, slopping loose
under T-shirts like little animals,
and I would feel my nipples brush the cotton
with pleasure, see them regarded also with pleasure.
Still, sex then was a taking, like spoils of war, a victory
over all those straight fucks back home, marooned
in the dismal suburbs that birthed us squalling and red
and watched us flee in ungrateful cars down night highways.

And God knows it felt good those nights.
I was ready, it was ready, to open and answer the call.
And take me down and roll me over, yes, and give
it to me—but why all this riding away afterward?

Where was everyone going
and why didn’t I get to ride along? Who knew at first
nothing had changed, just wanting the thrust and tug
and slam up against the headboard, I should say so,
but left still wanting more, wanting to leap
out of centuries’ shame and be something new,
not this old consolation of women for the powerless,
some kind of cosmic door prize awarded
just for showing up with a dick,
some proof to themselves these boys were men.

“You’re good,” he said. Hell, I wasn’t taking a typing test,
I was fighting to live in a dying world.
I was throwing myself away, an offering to wildest space,
surrender to the mind’s dissolve, the body’s electric light,
nerve endings firing like exploding stars.
“You’re good,” they all said:
you’d think somebody was doing a survey.
Girls say yes to boys who say no, and then
your professor asks if you’re wearing underwear,
when you meet for your conference on the poetry of Yeats.

Crossing the border after midnight in a borrowed car
after a visit to the after-hours doctor’s office in Sarnia.
Nodding out in the back seat, pills wearing off.
He was a legend among undergraduates:
cheap and reliable, always on call,
until a month later the headlines screamed
“Abortion Doc!” when a girl died in his office
and he dragged her down to the river
and dumped her body in the underbrush.

Cynthia Huntington

Grimm and Grimmer

May 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

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On this glorious spring day, I looked at my blog stats and saw that the most common search words lately have been: personal, suicide, writing and Sylvia Plath. I should probably start an anonymous blog for depressives so I can give this audience what they long for: dark and more dark, funny dark, scary dark, sexy dark, down into the underworld where fat little devils wait with forks and knives dark. Because I know the rest of you want descriptions of nights out and cat antics and stories that startle but don’t make you worry about my mental health, and to see if I’ve mentioned you lately.

I just came from a brunch meeting with Lisa and Laura about the possible fairy tale event at the Cathedral to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. What we said is top secret but I can tell you my favorite Grimm’s tale: Hansel and Gretel. I feel a great desire to write my own version of the story, which wouldn’t change the plot—the plot is perfect—or the characters, also perfect. I would just play around the edges, embroider, embellish, or simply write it down as I remember it and imagine that I’m making up this story that will frighten and embolden children for hundreds of years, and prime their consciousness for three key ideas: a) siblings should stick together, b) sugar is deadly and c) parents can be forgiven much if the unemployment rate is through the roof due to the machinations of the wealthy.


My cat Fitzroy is unhappy. I have fed him, brushed him, cuddled him, scolded him. None of it changes his belligerant distress, his meows and meows that make me feel guilty for writing instead of thinking up new games with string.

It occurs to me that the Mouchette has not shown her face since I got home, so it’s possible he murdered her and is now feeling bad about it, wanting me to bring her back to life. She wouldn’t do that to him. She’d make a good Gretel. He’d do better in another fairy tale, the lazy brother who doesn’t win the princess, who sets off on his quest and immediately starts complaining about how unfair everything is.

I really thought by now I’d be a witch with my own mossy cottage. Not a child-eating witch, but a woman with power in her hands, trees that know her name and a few humble but tidy rooms without landlord or electric bill.

My life feels as thin as tissue. Fear does that—takes away the solidity of things. But there’s no escape from fear. I used to think there was. I thought I’d beat it; grow strong and wise, etc. But it’s here for good and I have to accept the stones it throws in my path: the longing to give up, escape, forget, not love anyone anymore.

Fitzroy is staring at me now. It’s 4:48. Not even the elderly in Florida eat dinner this early. But I’m going to feed him anyway and then go out and buy some lemon ice cream, a bottle of vodka or a dirty novel. Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody.

Ice cream is by far the most likely, by the way. Vodka’s no fun alone and I can write my own dirty novels. Reading fairy tales has given me lots of ideas.

Gretel in Darkness

This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch’s cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas . . .

Now, far from women’s arms
and memory of women, in our father’s hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.

No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln–

Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.

Louise Glück

Spring Has Sprung

March 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Lovely springtime weather in New York, that softness in the air, the tender shoots greening the soil in the park, afternoon light lavender on the 19th century stone houses. I was wearing my boots and winter jacket, unzipped; in the park a young woman was hula hooping in a two-piece bathing suit and knee socks. The families are out; the lovers are out; the old people sit on the benches, basking like reptiles in the sun.

That was Sunday. Yesterday was even warmer, in the 70’s, and all the memories of summer came rushing back, good and bad. I’m putting the bad aside for the moment. The best thing about this year is that it’s not last year.

It’s been long enough now that I haven’t spent weekends in the country that the flowers and trees of Manhattan, the hyacinths and daffodils, have full potency; all it takes is two feet square of new blooms in turned earth to make me feel that renewal that I’ve been so desperate to attain, that people keep insisting I’m capable of.

The future is precarious; I very much need new work so if anyone needs a crack editor/writer; if you need your novel critiqued, your academic paper edited; if English is your second language and you write it well but not perfectly and you’d like any professional communication polished and checked for errors; if you want your website improved (with words, not programming skills), get in touch. I’m in this position because I spent too many decades devoted to creative work, and had the means to do so, which I don’t anymore. But coming late to the professional world has its advantages: the worldly knowledge of age, the curiosity of youth…and if I don’t quite have the stamina of youth, in freelance work that’s not the problem it might be if you were hiring me for a 60 hour work week.

But I’m feeling optimistic. They say (far too often they say) that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; it’s also true that what doesn’t kill you now will kill you later, so it’s best to get on with things. The cats need new catnip mice. I need a haircut and sandals, and to have my teeth cleaned. Money should grow in the spring, not outdoors where anyone could take it, but inside, behind the books, beneath the lacy things, under the bed. My friend Paula once told me about a Brazilian voodoo (not the right name for the magical tradition, but whatever is Brazilian that’s like voodoo) belief that if you said the right prayer over your money as you spent it, it would come back to you, creeping out of cash registers and others’ pockets to return like a dog, faithful to the end. Let’s call this a metaphor for art—though I’m quite sure it wasn’t meant to be so; let’s pretend all the ninnies are right and if I ask the universe nicely, it will pause in its endless expansion, and toss me a few of its magic marbles, beans, geese, what have you. When the beggar accosts me, I shall be kind. When the frog asks for a kiss, it will be given. I just hope the good fortune doesn’t show up in some especially dodgy guise because I’m really not going to answer any chain letters or send my social security number to that U.K. site that keeps claiming I’ve won a million pounds. Nor am I going into any dark, stinky  basements just because I hear a ghostly whisper, “Come, dear child, I have a little surprise for you.” You have to do better than that, Fairy Godmother.

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