So many good books

November 29, 2013

3 by friends:
The Herbalist, Niamh Boyce, which is winning all sorts of prizes in Ireland
The Crooked Mirror: A memoir of Polish-Jewish reconciliation, Louise Steinman, which should win some attention here
Disease Proof: The remarkable truth about what makes us well, by Dr David Katz & my old colleague (more…)


November 28, 2013

Tags: privilege, Epictetus

A friend objected when I called her kids "privileged" because they go to private school. There's more diversity at their school, she said, than at the local public school, and many students get financial aid. Perhaps I should have said "lucky" or "fortunate" or "blessed." Perhaps "privilege" implies that one's advantages come at the expense of others.

I myself feel extremely privileged, given that I have a low rent and my times is, for the most part, my own. That's not most people's definition of privilege, it seems: They value money over time. I live in a hovel, so in their eyes my claiming to be privileged is eccentric.

It's a little dicier when someone has (more…)

Snow jitters

November 27, 2013

Tags: Willis, snow

My friend Steve, who lives in Spartanburg, SC, loves weather, snow in particular— something that's rare in the Piedmont area of the state where he lives; he's been known to drop everything & take off for the mountains in the hopes of getting snowed in. Steve spends a lot of time on arcane weather sites discussing weather patterns. He probably knows as much about meterology (not the study of meteors, oddly enough) as people with a degree in the subject.

Years ago, when he first got a phone after living in the woods (more…)


November 26, 2013

This little fir reindeer makes me happy too
A juicy Fuji apple
Back to class, painfree, ankle strong
Laundry done
Work done
Winter snow on the way
Found two warm gloves to bike in (the fingerless ones don't cut it)
Two babies a'coming in the family
A favorite cousin coming to the city
Books books books
A loving cat
I could go on

Almost sleeping

November 25, 2013

For some reason, Johnny doesn't like to be awakened by me taking his picture.

Marriage equality

November 24, 2013

Seeing them happy. Knowing they're protected: she can visit her wife in the hospital, if need be. They can inherit. Love. Getting to go to twice as many weddings. No longer feeling privileged; now that they have a right, my privilege has been normalized. Happy.

Half a century ago

November 22, 2013

Tags: JFK

Me, I was in grade school. When I came back from lunch, some girls told the strict teacher who had playground duty, and I knew it had to be true: No one would tell Mrs. Wootten a lie.

My mother was running errands, heard on the car radio, & threw up her hands in shock—almost crashing into another car, whose driver gave her a dirty look. What I love is my mother as an anonymous player in someone else's story. If she's still alive, that woman is telling the story yet again today.

Our house is a very, very fine house

November 21, 2013

I love being at home, now that I threw out half my belongings, bought a comforter, & turned on the string of holiday lights.

There's one cat too.

Many years ago I was telling my cousin that I lived in the best apartment in my building. And this was the best building on the block. And ours was the best block in the neighborhood. And the East Village was the best neighborhood in the city. And New York is the best city in the—holy cow! It dawned on me: I live in the best apartment in the world!

Well, El, he said in his soft Oklahoma drawl, I'm not sure everyone agrees with you about that.

Oh. Right.

Johnny's useful advice

November 20, 2013

Johnny once said that if you want people to leave a party, put Marty Robbins on the stereo.

I tried that once, & in 10 minutes the room had cleared out

And I like Marty Robbins.

Dicks of New York

November 19, 2013

The B Cup
My friend Heli & I were having breakfast at a nice neighborhood joint, the B Cup on Ave B & 13th St. A young man walked in, dropped two large suitcases on the table right next to ours, & turned to the counter to order.

Ugh! Heli politely told him it was dirty & disgusting to put bags off the floor on a table where people eat. Politely, really: I'm summarizing.

With a patronizing smile, he said, "Welcome to New York." She sputtered, I fumed. "Hope the rest of your day is better," he male-priviliged further at us. It will be, with you out of our lives, Pencil Dick.

"He shouldn't even be allowed in here," Heli said.

"Yeah. And I bet he didn't tip."

The Crooked Mirror

November 18, 2013

Tags: Louise Steinman, Beth Thielen

I suppose writing about a book before I read more than a few pages of it is dumb, but in this case, writing this is part of the anticipation. The book is (my old friend) Louise Steinman's The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation. She says that 80% of American Jews are at least in part descended from Polish Jews. I'm not, so a lot of what she remembers or has found out didn't resonate personally—and yet, I share attitudes, such as thinking Poland was the worst, most antisemitic country. It wasn't. It seems a lot of our assumptions and beliefs are just wrong. For example, she says there are more Poles among the Righteous Gentiles honored at Yad Vashem.

From the short excerpt she read at her book party yesterday, I can tell you it's beautifully & thoughtfully written. "Do they miss us?" she asks, and we all caught our breath.

James Russell & Jim Lowell

November 17, 2013

Tags: James Russell Lowell

Soulful poet
Our milkman when I was very little was named Jim Lowell. He would give us rides in his truck, one of those old milk trucks with no doors and no front seats. He would creep along at 1 mph for about 10 feet. Nothing I relished more than standing up in a moving vehicle.

So it was not at all surprising to me that my elementary school, James Russell Lowell School, was named after a hero like him.

What was surprising was finding out that James Russell Lowell was someone else entirely. I don’t recall spending any time on the poet at Lowell School, except to memorize his most famous line: “And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days”—lines that I still repeat automatically on every lovely late spring day. (more…)

Local chicks are better

November 15, 2013

Tags: eggs, chickens

My friends in Duluth sell LOcally LAid eggs (all their chickens are named Lola) and right now are one of the 4 small businesses in the running to win a SuperBowl ad.

Locally Laid is all about sustainable agriculture: They use solar power and non-GMO corn, they set up a carton return program, and they plant a tree with every delivery & t-shirt sale.

Duluth isn't exactly a suburb of New York City (or vice versa) but I sure do wish I could get Jason & Lucie's eggs here. I'll make do by voting for them.

Here's the lyrics to a terrific little song by Mississippi John Hurt (more…)

I look like an angel

November 14, 2013

Me 'n' my sister Varda
Or maybe like I'm already dead


November 13, 2013

One of my all-time favorite books
I'm so excited that Tony Towle and Ron Padgett are reading at the St Mark's Poetry Project tonight. Two of my all-time favorite poets, whose work I turn to again & again, for pleasure, for enlightenment, for a good laugh. Ron has an 800-page Collected just out (haven't seen it yet), which kind of makes me feel like I may never buy another book of his.

Snow falling on spaghetti

November 12, 2013

Discovering that I can cook pasta in the microwave has changed my life. Well, everything changes one's life, right? It snowed in Brooklyn today. My friend Steve, who lives in Spartanburg, SC, loves snow as much as me. He lets me know what's coming. Snow & pasta. If I could only find the book I lost, life would be pretty darn perfect. Oh, and if I never had to get on a plane again.

I let Becca wear the birthday hat...

November 11, 2013

... because it's her birthday, & because she will wear it (unlike some or many of my less fun-loving friends), & because I'm the kind of person who likes other people's birthdays almost as much as my own, & because my favorite day is Monday, when Becca shares my office.

And now I want—what? a sandwich? a phone call? a vanilla bean?

I couldn't work out because I'm resting my ankle, so I'm a little antsy.

Happy birthday, Becca!

Doin' the Twist

November 10, 2013

Yeah, after you stumble, it's easy to see that the leaves were covering the lip between sidewalk and the square dug out for a sapling, and you wouldn't have tripped if you had, but it doesn't help when your ankle is throbbing and your heart is too over all the websites' dire warnings about ankle injuries. Twist, strain, sprain, break. I'm clapping (but not dancing) along with Hank Ballard & sure I'll be fine tomorrow. Round & around & around & around. Just like this. C'mon, baby.

Prose Pros

November 8, 2013

Bradley Spinelli, SideWalk café, November 7, 2013
Hosting a monthly reading series requires some amount of coordination & energy; all the more do I admire folks who put together more frequent readings. Prose Pros, my series with Martha King, is in its 7th season and still as fun to us as it was at the start.

Some combos seem implausible but work great: Last night a dynamic young fiction writer, Bradley Spinelli, read from his novel Killing Williamsburg and from a new novel set in Thailand (finish it already!), followed by Ruth Danon, who's writing a thoughtful memoir about her family, which comprised refugees, revolutionaries, scientists, artists and feuders. The two writers' themes of dislocation and exile echoed & enhanced each other—something I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't heard them together.

We have a nice crowd every month, with a few people that come no matter who the reader is (looking at you, Mike!). A group that listens, laughs, asks, cheers.


November 7, 2013

Instead of taking a karate class this morning, I retraced my bike route twice, hoping the keys that fell off my handlebar on the way to the dojo would still be lying wherever they fell.

But no, some concerned citizen thought they were doing me a solid by picking them up. Then what? If (more…)

More Devil

November 6, 2013

Now that I've finished Devil in the Grove, I have a little more to say.

I was talking about the book with a young black man at the gym. He asked if I'd ever witnessed a racist incident. I couldn't really think of any: because they didn't happen or because I don't (more…)

Totally superficial

November 5, 2013

But hey, this is my new polka dot nail polish.

Yes, different on each hand.

Devil in the Grove

November 4, 2013

I've been reading the 2013 Pulitzer winner, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, by Gilbert King. It centers on a 1949 case in Florida similar to the Scottsboro boys in Alabama, at a time when any white person's word was taken over any black's, and a white woman crying rape would almost inevitably lead to a lynching. The trouble also sprang from the economic conditions at the time: Citrus growers depended on peonage, with the KKK and violent lawmen like Lake County's sheriff, Willis McCall (who held that elected office until (more…)

Where am I?

November 3, 2013

Cairo in all its monochromatic glory
I don't have a great sense of direction. I still get lost in the neighborhood where I've lived for more than 3 decades, and don't have any instinct for which way is north or east. I think it came from growing up on the prairie, where there's no monument to orient yourself by. When I lived in Colorado for a year in my 20s, I thought that everyone from Denver must always know which way is which, since the mountains instill west as a matter of instinct, like getting perfect pitch by practicing as a baby.

I can read a map so I don't always get lost. (more…)

Oh, Johnny

November 1, 2013

Johnny woke up moaning. "Ugh, I was up half the night." He wondered if it might be due to the fish tacos he ate last night at a bar near us.

A really grim bar, I might add.

"Fish tacos? There? What did you expect?" I said sympathetically.

"But they were only a dollar."