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Showing posts from September, 2011

When Apples Go Bad: Part-2

Explained situation to first Apple Customer Service Rep. Informative, polite exchange leading to transfer to a rep. who could look into the specifics. Transferred to Dave. Explained more in-depth, took picture of IPod, emailed Dave. Dave explained policy, issued a special code and explained the exception. Dave took notes of the exchange and determines the store needs to be held accountable for their behavior. I am impressed. Happily awaiting package to return and exchange my daughter's broken IPod.

Baltimore Book Festival (Repost)

If you've been within a mile of Mount Vernon Place this week; if you've visited the library, a book store, a friend with a book; or if you’ve perused the Sun, the City Paper or b, chances are you already know The Baltimore Book Festival is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m honored to be reading with Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, writer, editor, Hopkins professor and advisor. We’ll be at the CityLit Tent from 1:45 to 2:15 as part of their School of Lit . School of Lit features faculty and students from some of the area’s finest writing programs. Joanne and I will be reading nonfiction essays, short stories and talking about Johns Hopkins University Advanced Academic Programs MA in Writing. I hope to see you there.

Things I Want My Children to Know

1. I love them more than I can say. 2. I am so proud of them.
3. It’s a pleasure watching them grow as individuals–even though it means I will no longer be the center of their lives (and, yes, I am oblivious enough to believe I am now the center of their lives).
4. I enjoy engaging in conversations with them (which is not the same as arguing with them, see things I learned from George Bush).
5. They are talented, beautiful, wonderful children who will grow in to talented, beautiful, wonderful adults who will never try to force me in to a nursing home (unless it’s a really nice one where I can write for hours on end while watching the ocean from my ocean-view apartment).
6. They are destined for success.
7. They can tell me anything.
8. I will always love them.
9. I will not always be right, but that won’t always stop me from offering my opinion.
10. Never stop learning.
11. Make new mistakes, there’s no sense remaking the ones I have already made (and, made quite well thank you).
12. …

Things I Don't Want My Children to Know

1. Each night I check to make sure they are breathing. 2. I am capable of doing unspeakable things to people who hurt my children.
3. I am not as nice as they think I am.
4. Dating wise, I’m far more shallow than they give me credit for. So, while my daughter worries that I don’t take an interest in the men we encounter at the market, the mall, the local McDonald’s—I have seen them (often before she has) and dismissed them.
5. The rest of the things that I don’t want them to learn by reading this, smiles.

Points of Interest: Eden's Lounge

I will admit that more than a decade has passed since my days of sneaking into clubs using ID of questionable validity.  So, I was surprised when I discovered this past weekend that the days of sensuous, flirtatious moves on the dance floor have been replaced with the need for condoms.
Good Points 1.      Harem-esque décor gives the lounge an aura of the exotic (though the moves on the  floor are closer to erotica) 2.      Two for one Happy Hour and no cover until 9. 3.      Parking lot across the street. 4.      Diverse crowd ranging in age, income, and dateability. 5.      Dark enough to just have a good time without worrying how fine (or not) the guy you just passed was. 6.      Clean, available, and easy to locate bathrooms. 7.      While encouraging a certain type of intimacy the crowded dance floor does not encourage lingering conversations.
Not-So-Good Points 1.      After two drinks those steps become treacherous. 2.      While there are many places to sit, under the air conditioner is…

When Apples go Bad, Part 3

1. The FedEx box arrives within a few days of talking to David. 2. My daughter packs the iPOD Touch in the box and sends it off while she frets over how long she can survive iPOD-Less
3. I receive an email that the iPOD has been received and is undergoing diagnostics
4. A few hours later, I receive an email that her iPOD is dead, Apple is sending her replacement.
5. A day or two later, the package arrives, daughter and iPOD are reunited (well, sort of) and all is well with the world, until
6. My daughter receives an odd phone call from Aaron claiming to be from Apple regarding a mix up at the post office and the need for her to return the iPOD.
7. I get on the phone.
8. The misunderstanding is understood as soon as an adult gets on the phone; “Aaron” was probably not from Apple or was he a disgruntled Apple store employee a bit miffed that we went around procedure?
9. Contacted David to let him know all was well and mentioned the odd phone call.
10. While he didn’t address the phone c…

What I've Learned from EBay

1. I am far too competitive for my own good. 2. It’s not about the merchandise, it’s about the game.
3. It doesn’t matter who wins, as long as it’s me.
4. Always read the item description.
5. Read the seller feedback: if no one else had a good experience with the seller, you won’t either.
6. Calculate the shipping.
7. Ask for clarification before you bid.
8. Never bid on impulse.
9. Never bid more than you can afford to pay.
10. Propose the unexpected bid: $4.56, $7.97, $11.26—I have won things I wanted (and didn’t want) by bidding the unexpected.

Chatty With Beattie (An Overly Long Overview)

The first word that comes to mind when considering Beattie is chatty. I have encountered few characters who consider themselves and their surroundings, circumstances and pasts so completely and as often as those entombed in a Beattie short story.
In The Women of This World, a short story in Beattie’s “Perfect Recall” collection, we learn about Dale, her thoughts about her medical condition, her talent for cooking food she can not consume and for selecting drink for others that she can not indulge in. She considers everyone: her neighbor who ends up dying, her would-have-been father in law, her mother in law, her would-have-been-father-in-law’s soon-to-be-ex wife and her own soon-to-be-ex-husband. What she does not consider is her marriage, which is ironic because her husband (who seems to have very little going for himself) is considering leaving her.
I find some of the short stories of Beattie’s collections difficult, narratively, to follow. Beattie has a talent for, or an addiction t…

Wish I Could be Anywhere but There: A Review of “Wish I Could Be There”

My intention was to write about Shawn’s choice of structure. But, I can’t. To discuss the structure, I would have to discuss my aversion to it, my inability to concentrate on anything more than a superficial level on topics of medical intimacy. It is a response that overcomes me often in conversation and to my surprise when breached in text. I tend to “tune out” during conversations pertaining to medical ailments, recovery, accidents, and treatments. I find it impossible to focus; impossible to choose to engage in these conversations. Only for my children will I actively experience the discomfort of such discussions. For all others, I listen, or appear to, while concentrating on something, anything, else. I do not endure the enclosure: their despair confines me. It is not a phobia. I do not require, like Shawn’s father, a shroud of protection from all things yucky. I acknowledge broken bones, reset noses, cancer. But something about these brushes with medical imperfection or mortality…

On A Gathering of Old Men

If I had to sum up A Gathering of Old Men in 65 words or less, I’d say: Charming, seemingly simple, straight forward, unflinching, direct language used to describe, relate, show, tell, lead and allow readers to glimpse racism through the eyes, hearts and souls of fifteen narrators struggling to escape a point in time that so happens to be in Louisiana in the 70’s but is so widespread as to have been almost any where decades, years, months or weeks before.
Several things strike me as being notable about Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men, mainly the narration, the dialogue, and the subject. A few weeks ago, a classmate mentioned they felt writers cheated by writing about emotionally charged issues like racism, but I have to disagree. Topics like racism have been written about from almost every imaginable angle in both fiction and nonfiction so the idea is not necessarily to right a wrong or write a wrong; but to make people care, to touch them so that they can learn something from it, feel …

Humor on the Rocks: A Review of The Tender Bar

Despite what I know as a reader and a writer, when I think of memoir I think of revealing journals, reflective diaries, intimate letters and scandalizing intimacy: no more, no less. I think of memoir as a label as necessary as “scrapbooking”: both are terms used to define something as simple and as complex as our primal need to understand and to be understood. But as far as labels go, when I hear them I tend to dismiss them reflexively. Like other memoirs introduced this semester, The Tender Bar refuses to be dismissed. On the surface, in The Tender Bar, Moehringer blends the story of his attempts to replace his absent, alcoholic father with his attempts to plant himself among the ever-present alcoholics of Publicans (formerly Dickens) bar. But it doesn't stop there. Within the pages of Moehringer’s cocktail, the search for identity mixes with thick layers of responsibility, love, success and defeat. The combination is intoxicating. With a distinctive voice, Moehringer introduces t…

Double Talk: A Review of Double Down

Somewhere someone, maybe not even a writer, has figured out the precise point where all memoir should begin. And somewhere someone else has figured out no such point exists. It should be easier to begin a memoir. If a memoir is about an experience, it would seem logical to begin at the beginning of the experience. But because experience exists within context, such beginnings aren’t really beginnings, are they? I was pleasantly surprised when the brothers Barthelme began Double Down not in the crib, but in their days of maturity, a few slender pages before they discovered their addiction. I enjoyed the brief introduction and the plunge to the present. Throughout most of the memoir, the narrative is conversational, the tone unhurried. While the pace is steady (not rhythmic) the chorus of “we” unhinges me every time. Still, from the beginning, something about the language has me interested as a reader and as a writer. By entering Double Down on the edge of the authors’ experience, I am i…

On Black Like Me

I can not count how many times I finish reading a passage, only to realize I have been holding my breath. I can no longer recall how often my eyes well with tears as a conflict unfolds. I can not remember how often a smile creeps across my face at the vision of a carefully crafted scene. But, I will not soon forget the feelings inspired by John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me. Through details, setting, language and tension, Griffin has created a narrative that reaches beyond his experiences as a white man with black skin to the experiences of black and white American History. Griffin exposes the side of history that fades the otherwise crimson, virginal and bold colors of our country’s flag. He embarks on a racial research endeavor that teaches him more about himself and more about people in general, than he expects to learn. What unfolds for me is both historical and intimate. The pages breathe.
Seldom do we discuss race. Griffin takes us in and out of the homes of our black and white …

Indecent Disclosure (or Dis-Clothes-ure): A Review of Self Made Man

There is something slightly disconcerting about Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man. I am not unsettled by the lengths she goes to deceive people in to believing she is a man, but the lengths she goes to dispel them of this notion. The blurb on the book jacket claims Self-Made Man follows the traditions of Black Like Me. I beg to differ. Vincent alters her personality and identity to become Ned with the intention of building and studying his relationships. Griffin alters his skin color to study the actions and reactions of people based on their own perceptions. Vincent’s deceptions are for a book, she claims nothing less: While Griffins are for society. Perhaps the difference is one of degrees. How far will a writer go for a story?
As a writer, I have reservations about how far I am willing to go to create a story. I understand from Vincent’s qualifying first chapter that her intention to write the book is based on her curiosity and struggle with gender roles. Despite her summary conclusions…

For the Sake of Our Daughters: A review of How to Cook Your Daughter

Seldom do I wander the pages of someone’s life and so intimately witness what my presence has cost. The privilege of intimacy is paid for by the writer. The cost can be exacted in currencies of privacy, friends, family, self-esteem, confidence, courage. How much is the story of my life worth? Am I willing to pay that price? How to Cook Your Daughter costs Jessica Hendra her privacy, her relationship with her father, and hopefully, her guilt. Within the pages of her memoir, Hendra unravels her life: the motivations behind her bulimia, anorexia, and her often destructive relationships. Incest expertly knots threads of guilt and shame into a jumble of insecurity, silence and anger. Writing this book allows Hendra permission to be angry with her father; and permission to let him go. Finally, Hendra sheds the vows of secrecy to which she is bound. That’s not quite true. Hendra’s rape is not a secret. She tells friends, lovers, and therapists. She confronts her father on numerous occasions. …

On Matters of Necessity: A Review of Necessary Sins

There is a point where loved ones, once removed from the cumbersome stresses of life, appear in memory as innocent, guileless ghosts we were blessed to have known: as angels. Such is as they appear in Necessary Sins. Death is deceptive like that. Death is forgiving in a way memoir, or the reading of memoir, is not. Lynn Darling’s Necessary Sins introduces a not-so young woman and her pursuits of a not-so single man. Darling portrays young Lynn as a college girl curious about sex and life; and her position in both. Perhaps she is a late bloomer. Something—her breasts, her sense of self, her appetite—develops and gone are the vestiges of youth. Though Darling doesn’t seem to know that. An insecure Darling graduates from Harvard but not from the collegiate lifestyle as she tumbles from one bed to the other well in to her late twenties. Her exploits in to sexual and social identity seem to last well beyond the time self exploration is expected. Yet, Darling curiously chooses to dismiss he…

Sunday, July 6

I have just finished Rachel Sontag's memoir.  I would describe it as an "easy read" if only to be obnoxious.  I read it eagerly at times and at other times with trepidation, not because of what she said but because of what I thought she meant.  Devouring the pages there were lines that brought tears to my eyes, lines filled with meaning on the edge or underneath it, lines focused and clear and precise.  Then there were lines with innuendo or suggestion, where a hint of something terrible was not nearly enough.  
If I were talking to Rachel, and after 200 or so pages I know her fairly well enough to call her by her first name, so if Rachel and I were talking I would have to ask her to tell me exactly what was going on.  The implication is that her controlling, perhaps over protective father was drugging her mother and perhaps sexually attracted to his daughter, though instead of acting on these impulses (thankfully) he exerted control over her appearance, her actions and…