Friday, September 28, 2012

Week in Seven Words #138

Meeting kind people in stairwells.

He holds the last shofar note for an eternity. In that note is every hope, appeal, and wordless scream.

The men behind me in line at the post office act as if they're in purgatory: they lament the delay, dissect the reasons for the delay, wonder aloud how long they must wait until they can hand their letters or parcels over for deliverance.

He's become accustomed to speaking about people as if they're abstractions. He prides himself on talking about heinous crimes with little feeling or outrage and providing "logical" explanations of crime and justice that sound tidy on paper but fall apart when applied to the messy reality of human life. I think he derives superiority from feeling that he's "above it all" when for the most part he's confusing callousness with rationality. But his comments do highlight how any system of justice on Earth will always have shortcomings of one kind or another, though some of course are much worse than others.

The sign that the High Holidays have commenced: a dish of honey on the table, for dipping challah and apple slices.

Casting my sins into a soft swollen gray river.

At first she seems sullen and withdrawn. But just give her the chance to speak, without getting impatient or trying to win her over with fake smiles, and a more interesting picture emerges.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Interview with Juliet Wilson

I don't remember when I first discovered Juliet Wilson's blog - Crafty Green Poet - but I've always found it worth visiting for many reasons including the haikus and other poems, beautiful photos, descriptions, and discussions of nature (she lives in Scotland), posts on crafty projects, and reviews of movies and books (for reviews also check out another blog she runs, Over Forty Shades). I'm happy she accepted my invitation to be interviewed here.

For starters, here's some background on Juliet:

Juliet is a writer, crafter, adult education tutor and conservation volunteer. She has written poetry since she lived in Malawi for two years, but recently has started writing much more fiction and non-fiction. She is currently working on her first novel. She blogs about literature, nature, environmental issues and recycled crafts at Crafty Green Poet and edits the poetry journal Bolts of Silk.

Now on to the interview...

HK: Why do you write?
JW: I write basically because I feel I have something to say and because I enjoy it. I like putting words together and polishing them to create something that hopefully other people will enjoy.

HK: Why are you drawn to poetry in particular?
JW: Poetry was what first spoke to me I think, thanks to a school teacher who used an excellent poetry anthology in introducing us to poetry. Plus I have always been a relatively concise sort of person, so the fact that poems can be really short appealed to me. (My favourite poetic form is the haiku, both for its brevity and its connection with nature.)

HK: What do you think your strengths are as a writer, and what do you hope to improve on?
JW: I think the fact I'm very concise benefits my poetry. However, now that I'm working on a novel, I'm starting to think I need to expand my writing sometimes! In general I think there's always room to improve and I enjoy attending writing classes.

HK: Through your art (and your blog) you communicate a love of nature and a commitment to environmentalist principles. In what ways has your art been an effective vehicle for addressing and promoting various environmental issues? (e.g. have you found that your work has changed people's minds, made an issue better known, etc.)
JW: This is an interesting question and it can be difficult to find out the answer, particularly looking at the bigger picture of environmental issues! I do know, though, that several people have read books after I've posted reviews about them (one reader of my blog seems to read almost every book that I review!). A couple of my readers have left comments on my blog to say they've started getting out into nature more often as a result of reading my posts.

HK: You also make a lot of crafts (and recycle materials while doing so). Describe what you feel are some of your cleverest moments of craftiness.
JW: I recently blogged about bookmarks I made from left over thread and chunky beads (which inspired a few people to make their own!). Even more recently I've been making bookmarks threading small beads onto discarded fishing line that I found by the Water of Leith, the river I volunteer to help look after. These are probably my best examples of using imaginative recycling to make pretty things that people want to use.

HK: If you could assemble a panel of any three poets (dead or alive) to give you feedback on your work and discuss poetry with you, who would they be and why?
JW: Margaret Atwood because she knows how to make every word count and every poem of hers feels significant. Chrystos because she has such a wonderful way with words and such a clear sense of connection with nature as well as a genuine engaged commitment to human rights, yet even her most political work is lyrical. Edwin Morgan because of his amazingly inventive poetic imagination. I think those three would make for a very stimulating discussion on how to make the most imaginative and powerful poetry.

Thank you, Juliet!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Good Short Fiction: Louisa by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Title: Louisa
Author: Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Where I read it: A New England Nun, and Other Stories

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's stories are set in 19th century rural New England, and her female characters, in one way or another, don't fit the mold of "normal" or "respectable" womanhood; they don't always do what's expected of them by their families and by society at large. They aren't necessarily rebellious in a flagrant way. They're pious and hard-working, much like their neighbors. But from one story to another there's something that sets them apart. They might be marginalized, living on the fringes of their society, in poverty, old age, and/or spinsterhood; they might be too firm and independent, with too little care for what others think, or they might have some unusual interest or hobby. They make unconventional decisions that aren't immoral but nevertheless raise eyebrows.

In this story, Louisa is a young woman who has no money and is pressured by her mother to marry. She used to work as the schoolteacher in her village, a job that earned her enough income to support herself, her mother, and her senile grandfather. But then the position was given to the daughter of the school's superintendent, and what other jobs are available to a rural village woman in Louisa's position? She raises some crops on the scarce land her family owns, and she helps out with the hard labor of planting and harvesting on other farms. It's barely enough to keep her family afloat.

Her mother meantime is leaning on her to get married to a young man who's shown an interest in her. But Louisa refuses to respond to his overtures. It's not that he's terrible in some way, it's just that she doesn't love him, and she wants to avoid a marriage of convenience driven by a lack of options. It's an impractical way to behave, her mother thinks, but Louisa's whole life is made of hard practicalities and this is her one "romantic notion" - marrying for love, if she marries at all. In the meantime she treasures her self-sufficiency.

So what happens to Louisa? The author it turns out decides to give her an important triumph. I won't say what, only that it involves a long difficult walk - a symbol for strength of will and independence. Freeman shows, without melodrama, both Louisa's desperation and her refusal to compromise herself in the face of desperation. It's a powerful story, not least because it could have easily had a different ending, with circumstances requiring Louisa to give in after all.


Other stories in this collection include: A New England Nun.


This post is linked to at the September round-up of the Short Story Initiative at Simple Clockwork.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Week in Seven Words #137

Two elderly wheelchair-bound ladies sit side by side in an elevator. One reaches over to the other, clasps her hand, and says, "Your hair is white." A pause, before the other replies, "I haven't been in the sun for so long." They lapse into silence.

Little girls in a ballet class, spinning, spinning, stumbling, one of them picking her nose as she twirls.

He wrinkles his nose at the pink frosting on the cupcakes. I tell him the color doesn't matter because once it's in his stomach it's going to look like the pizza he just ate.

Phone static swallows up most of what he's telling me. The only thing I can make out is his reference to I Love Lucy.

She's half-pixie, bangs her head on the table, smiles, clutches my hand, wants a co-conspirator in mischief and song.

Do any of them think of this as their safe place? It has a warren of bookshelves and desks, a lounge, a little room with computers, and no windows looking out onto the outside world.

A local train turns express, sweeping me off to a stop I didn't intend to go to.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Resolutions for Rosh Hashanah and my birthday

Rosh Hashanah is approaching, and just recently I celebrated my birthday (on the Western calendar; my Hebrew calendar birthday is coming up soon). It's a good time to remind myself about important resolutions:

To successfully fight inertia, to not squander time, to be mindful of my blues, to make and embrace opportunities (in work, in love, in performing kindnesses), to study every day, to connect with more people, to not let my fears rule me, to accept uncertainty, to put less weight on the words of naysayers, to take care of my health, to be mindful of what I'm blessed with.

I hope everyone has a healthy, sweet, happy, memorable, and meaningful year.


Week in Seven Words #136

The narrow lot has been abandoned by everything but hibiscus flowers, promiscuous against the brick walls and chain-link fence.

With me she doesn't have to put on a pretense that all is well.

Beyond a red door and up a narrow set of stairs I find a new foothold in the world.

Yes, roaches can be found in computer keyboards. (But thankfully not mine!)

Well-meaning and self-important men are sometimes thwarted by poor acoustics.

I get a sense that it's a welcoming society as long as you're a certain sort of person, otherwise you must oblige them by remaining invisible.

During the two hours I spend in a room with stained glass windows, a storm blows over the city.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Short Story Initiative (Getting to Know You Post)

Nancy Cudis, at Simple Clockwork, had been hosting Short Stories on Wednesdays (which she had taken over from Risa at Breadcrumb Reads). Now Short Stories on Wednesdays has morphed into the Short Story Initiative. At the end of every month Nancy will put up a post where bloggers can add links to their own posts on short stories from the past month; she even has suggestions for monthly short story themes, but those are optional, and to participate you can write about any short stories.

To start off the Short Story Initiative Nancy has suggested a getting to know each other post with the following questions:

1. Why do you want to join The Short Story Initiative?
I love reading short stories, and I'd like to connect with other bloggers who have a similar interest.

2. What kind of short stories do you read? Is there a specific genre or culture or nationality you would like to explore through short stories?
Looking through the growing list of short fiction recommendations (at the Reading Lists tab above) I wasn't able to find a type of short story I've liked best. It just has to be a good story and memorable in some way (I haven't yet come across a story with zombies that I like, so maybe 'zombie fiction' is out for me). I read a variety of styles and genres, and I'm branching out to different nationalities and cultures as well. One of my goals is to read as many of the Oxford series of short story anthologies as possible, when they're available at the local library; they offer collections of short stories from cultures around the world (e.g. The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories).

3. Who is your favorite short story writer? Why?
I don't have a single favorite author. Most of the anthologies I read present a mix of different authors, either from a certain culture or writing about a certain theme (e.g. love, crime, cats).

4. What is the most memorable short story you have read?
Tough one... Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" for the dementedness of the narrator, Isak Dinesen's "The Immortal Story," Graham Greene's "The Destructors," Alejo Carpentier's "Journey Back to the Source," Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's stories (surprisingly so, because they aren't full of magnificent dramatic events, but they linger in the mind for a long time after).

5. What is your experience with short stories in the past? Is it a good or bad experience?
I don't remember having bad experiences with short fiction. I used to read short stories in high school and liked them well enough, but then hardly read them at all for close to ten years. But last year I dove into them again. I don't remember what suddenly rekindled my interest.

6. Share one book confession when it comes to short stories?
It's harder for me to read short stories online because I get fidgety reading multi-paged works off of a computer screen. I prefer reading out of a book (I haven't tried e-readers yet). Not much of a confession, but there you go.

7. Share something about yourself that has nothing to do with short stories.
I'm mildly addicted to Khan Academy videos.




Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week in Seven Words #135

The awkwardness when the doctor attempts polite chit-chat during an annual check-up. How do you like the city so far? Uh, it's great. Super. Lots to do here, yep.

Among the harried people rushing from block to block there's one person sailing along half-nude on a bicycle and wearing a glittery silver wig.

Old men on a bench outside a cafe looking around at a neighborhood that's changed.

Evergreens and harbor air.

Health insurance options.

A grove of trees, a copper bell, and geese.

There are many stories to be found in the silent houses.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why Governor's Island Gave Me a Sci-fi Vibe

Last Sunday, a free ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan took me to Governor's Island.


My initial impression was the following...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week in Seven Words #134

The mind tends to make decisions based on familiarity and comfort. But this time I stop myself and ask, "Why?" - Why are we going for this problematic option that will cost more and give us a poorer return on our efforts?

When reading at the park on Saturday afternoons I'm used to seeing squirrels dart across the small paths by the lake. What I'm not prepared for are rats. Rats don't belong here. The first rat is a large one with a long tail dragging behind it. The second rat, which darts out a minute later, is smaller and might have been cute had it been in a cage at the pet store. Rats aren't 'park animals.' They're pests or pets (or lab specimens). Then I remember meeting with someone once in an old building in west Philly where our conversation kept getting interrupted by loud thumps from inside the walls. "The squirrels are lively today," she told me, and I guess any animal can be a pest if it violates the boundaries people have placed around it.

After playing piano for half an hour I sit down again in front of the computer and forget how to type. For ten seconds or so my fingers can't settle on the keyboard and every movement I make with them feels alien. It's as if my brain is still in piano mode, wanting me to play chords and trills instead of typing (this is what a trill looks like on the keyboard: jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkj). It takes a mental shift just to get started again.

She plays hopscotch on a basketball court where her brother and his friend shoot hoops with a soccer ball.

We're a pair of misfit Jews.

More bookshelves!

We talk over runny eggs. At the table next to us a baby shrieks.