Thursday, December 29, 2016

Deal Me In 2017 - Short Nonfiction Version

Over at his blog, Bibliophilica, Jay has announced the 2017 "Deal Me In" Challenge.

Pick a bunch of short stories, assign each of them to a different card in a deck, and each week pick a card at random. Read the story and share your thoughts about it. (If you don't want to do this on a weekly basis, use only two suits from the deck or something like that.)

The thing is, I don't read short stories based on a pre-planned list. But I'd like to participate. Given that the challenge allows for variations, I'm focusing on essays, feature articles, letters, and speeches. I've been making a list of my own anyway as part of my effort to study more short nonfiction.

So here's my list. I plan to comment on these here or at Words in Bold, depending on the topic.

(If you're interested in participating in this challenge, whether with short fiction, short nonfiction or a mix, go for it, and let Jay know.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Week in Seven Words #320

It's a crackling park. Branches bristle, evergreen needles scritch, mulch grinds underfoot.

The branches wave about the tree's crown as if it's casting a spell.

In everything, she chases love, sincere unflinching love, withheld from her as a child and longed-for decades later.

Shoulders relaxing as I settle at the table with a glass of sparkling wine.

Forehead-slapping moment when the words I've rehearsed come out costumed in a different meaning and tone.

"They don't know how to write," he says of his students. "They don't care. They think they have nothing worth sharing. Maybe they don't!"

Sucking on cough drops as the wind nips my cheeks and throat.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"I see you when you're sleeping..."

Before I go off to light the first Hanukkah candle, I wanted to share this, as it gave me a much-needed laugh earlier this week. Happy holidays, folks.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Week in Seven Words #319

Half the content of these books is beautiful nonsense, lovingly tended to in the small, dim library.

One ranger is a flinty middle-aged woman. The other is a younger woman with red, wind-bitten cheeks and an honest face. They takes us down paths strewn with the sweet gums' spiky seed pods.

"You have a special bond with her," she says. "And she loves you so much."

American beech bark scarred with names.

A long stretch of gray glass buildings broken up by a grocery store, flowers huddled by its door.

It isn't a discussion he wants, but a chance to speak his opinion as if it's law.

This is love, or some of what love is - sharing the best parts of yourself with others, and hoping their own best self responds.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bye, Autumn

These Central Park photos are from a beautiful day at the end of October. It had unexpected warmth. (And, towards the end of the day, I got an unexpected sting from what was probably a bee. This was followed by a massive howling rainstorm. But up to that point, the day was a dream.)



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Week in Seven Words #318

She married someone who picks at her like tissue on the bottom of his shoe. With a determined smile, she spins his sullenness as shy charm, his malice as social awkwardness.

Under the fluorescent lights, the fake plants look anemic. So do the people - washed out, moving as if their feet were planted in deep, sucking mud.

All the information we've found suggests there's no way the problem will disappear on its own. (Yes it will, he says.) Let's try a treatment. Giving it a try costs almost nothing. (It's unnecessary.) Why? (Because.)

She gets a hit of anger from the TV news, her round-the-clock drug.

They're tech-savvy, but that doesn't mean they don't like offline games. Case in point - her scavenger hunt with clues planted among stuffed animals and kitchen appliances.

Once people go into the little soundproof room in their mind, it doesn't matter how hard you pound on the door. I forget this, even though I've seen it often and done it myself.

PowerPoint, pizza, multi-colored plastic chairs - it's like I'm back in grad school.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Week in Seven Words #317

It's an old-timey lobby with wood paneling, cubbyholes for mail, and a brass call bell at the front desk. I expect to see men lounging around in homburgs and high-wasted trousers.

The corridor has a triangular glass roof. Beyond it are roosting birds and gray sky. Lamplight reflects off the metalwork.

Mirrors extend the front hall infinitely. The doorman sends us up to where the old man lives on every last drop of his fixed income.

By mashing buttons, I score a slam-dunk in video game basketball. When in doubt, mash the buttons. Something will happen. I try it again, making a shot across the full length of the court. I wish I could say it goes in.

I stare at the payphone as if it's prehistoric. My friend comes up behind me and says, "You can... call people on this?"

With the slogan, he identifies his tribe and takes a mental shortcut. The conversation ends.

Pushing through to the other side of tiredness to finish a project on time.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Age of Innocence: Newland Archer as an Opera Singer

Both at the beginning and towards the end of The Age of Innocence, the same aria from the same opera gets performed for the same group of people, the upper crust of New York City in the 1870s. The same soprano, Christine Nilsson, sings it both times. No doubt her voice is beautiful, but because the novel highlights the words of the aria in little outbursts, the effect is a plaintive bleat ("M'ama!").

The fine music and the aria's tribute to love plays in the background. What's in the foreground are the social rituals of the upper class, who examine each other with their opera glasses. One of the mistakes Newland Archer makes is assuming that love and fine art reign central and supreme, while less worthy social machinations can unfold in the background.

Newland is a young man from an old family. Even if he isn't outrageously wealthy, he embodies class and respectability. His mother and sister dote on him, and his life is leisurely. His position at a law firm exists mostly for form's sake. Cultured and at ease with himself, he has every reason to believe he's in command of his world.

At the start of the book he becomes engaged to May Welland, in all outward appearances an excellent match. But soon after, he falls in love with her cousin, Ellen Olenska, who has fled to New York from her husband. In the drama that plays out, Newland hangs on for much of the time to the belief that he's master of himself, and that fine thoughts and passionate feelings, truth and beauty, are central in his life. He's pulled between personal inclinations and powerful social demands, but even as he struggles, he believes that it's his choice that matters. His and Ellen's.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Week in Seven Words #316

She's always struggled with writing, so it's with stunned pride that she sees her piece on the wall, winner of a weekly contest.

She hits replay on the music video (please don't let this get stuck in my head), and there it is again, the Vegas-style Egypt with a talking sphinx throne.

Stirrings of hope and love, late at night. I encourage these feelings with a pep talk, like using bellows for a fireplace.

It wouldn't take much for me to vomit. A sudden movement, maybe. I fold myself into bed on my side, knees to chest, and hope that sleep will ease the nausea.

As four of us play Monopoly, she sits apart, a few feet from the TV, to better shout at the pundits and politicians.

Floating on "Dreams" by The Cranberries in breaks between assignments.

Critical thinking, he assures me, is impossible. There's even a script for giving up on it. ("Other people are thoughtless and extreme, and I'm just reacting to them. They're making me do this. If they didn't, I wouldn't.")

Friday, December 2, 2016

Week in Seven Words #315

Open doorways breathe out sour smells, moist wood smells. People wait for death with the TV on as round-the-clock company.

When she sits, her cloud of perfume settles like a soft cloak, cushioning the bench and protecting her from other people's touch.

The elevators groan open and admit you at your peril.

With a sense of satisfaction, she tells me that the world is going to pieces. It could be that it's her own world she's talking about, the one of slowness and illness. If her body is crumbling, so must everything else. She's not alone in her disintegration.

She speaks with command, her message urgent and worth hearing. Most of us won't act on it. We'll think we've done our part by showing up and appearing attentive.

One of those hopeful days, when the storms have ended, and it's possible to think there'll be no time wasted. The future is all mellow morning sunlight.

A dim marble lobby where a doorman paces, muttering about his dead phone.