Monday, March 31, 2008

Starry, Starry Night

I couldn't sleep so I've gotten up, come downstairs in my nightgown, wrapped the fleece blanket around my shoulders, and turned on the computer. I don't normally suffer from insomnia but I've had enough sleepless nights to know that eyes wide open at 4 a.m. means I probably shouldn't fight it by thrashing in bed. It's too close to our 6 a.m. wake-up call anyway.

I had strange dreams all night and the last one that woke me felt eerily real: I was at a party full of people I didn't know, except I knew ABOUT them. They were the significant others of all the bloggers I read. As I walked through the party I heard familiar tales and names: "so when Heather got depressed the last time, I started seeing a shrink, too"; or "She calls me Non-birding Bill but I actually know a lot more about birds than people think." And every time I wanted to sit down, those people made me say silly phrases like, "Can I sit, for a bit, with my friend, Brad Pitt?"

Last night I had stopped by W. A. Frost for a drink and ordered what my friend ordered: one of those Frost specialties, a Caipirinha, with Cachaca, sugar, and lime. And then I had two of them, on an empty stomach. By the time I got home, I was feeling queazy, and all that sugar and alcohol made my head buzz.

So my body revolted in the middle of the night. It's not terrible waking up in the dark, while everyone else is asleep. The stars are out.

I did salvage the evening for myself by watching ONCE again. I love watching those two sing together: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Now there's star power.

Did you watch the Academy Awards this year? I loved it when they won the Oscar for Best Song. I loved when Jon Stewart called them back out so Marketa could finish her acceptance speech. But I loved most of all Hansard's closing line at the podium, heavily accented with that thick Irish, "Make Art. Make Art."

Make Art.

Apparently, the title of the movie--ONCE--refers to the many talented artists that writer and director John Carney knew who put off their career by saying "once" they get this and that sorted out, but never succeed because they've put it off too long.

And watching that movie made me think of Jon Hassler. He died last week. There was a line in one of the obituaries that read,

"I finished teaching my 9 o'clock freshman English class and went to the library. I badly needed to write, but I never took a writing course, so I had a lot to learn. I did that by developing boyhood memories into stories."

He was thirty-seven at the time and in his forties before he published his first book.

I keep a few other quotes from Hassler in my computer, under the folder labeled "writing." I have to say he's one of my role models. I met him about ten years after he started writing, just a few years after he took the writer-in-residence position at St. John's University and just after he had published the critically acclaimed LOVE HUNTER. It was summer and I was lucky to have him, Trish Hampl, Judy Delton, and others for a summer of writing, my first serious efforts at creative writing. Jon inspired us all. He was approachable, engaging, encouraging, funny, humble--all those things you want in a teacher. We'd write anything for him. I wrote my first short story with his guidance. He wrote and he spoke and he had us write and then speak and then he sent us away and I walked over to the lakeside cafeteria at Bemidji State and wrote for hours, completely lost in my own words. I don't think I even looked up much and I remember having a backache from bending over my pages for so long. Make art. Make art. My god, it feels so good to make art.

After we all read our work at a public event at the end of the term, he pulled me aside and asked me to come up to his office for a chat. And we had one of those memorable conversations: about art, about work, about life. He encouraged me, gave me his card, and told me to call him if I ever needed help. I didn't have enough money not to work and a few months later I got my first job in publishing.

I finally called him twenty years later. The call was about him, however, not me. I asked him to write a small set of essays for a book we were publishing, and despite his many other demands, his illness, and the little amount of money I was offering him, he said yes. He typed his own letters and always addressed them to me with grace and kindness. He was easy to work with and honest. When I asked him for an essay on a particular theme, he sent one in with the comment: "I don't know if this is what you want. I don't know what else to write." During our work together I heard a few stories about his career, his uneasiness working with the New York scene, his brushes with Hollywood. One story intrigued me: Robert Redford optioned the movie rights to Love Hunter and then called Hassler to talk about the movie. He told Hassler he loved the book but could Hassler change the main character (who has MS) so that he is not sick, could he make the guy healthy. Hassler said no, no he didn't think he could do that. Redford didn't make the movie--and has never made the movie. Some time after that call Hassler got another call, this one from Paul Newman's agent. He could hear Newman in the background. "Mr. Newman would like to make the picture. Is there any way you could get the rights back so Newman can make the picture?" In the background Hassler could hear Newman saying, "Tell him I'LL play the sick guy. Tell him I WANT to play the sick guy."

This week I prepare for a chance at a new venture that might take me further away from my time to make art. I can't burn the candle at both ends for long, the way that many starving artists do, working by day, creating by night. I just burn out too easily. But if I can pull it off a few days a week, writing while the stars are still out, I could make it work. And, when I stop to really think about it, I badly need it to work.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Star Power

There are only a handful of Hollywood stars I'd like to meet. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, together. Philip Seymour Hoffman, all day if I could. Frances McDormand. Sam Shepard. And George Clooney. There are more, of course. Sofia Coppola. Benicio Del Toro. Vanessa Redgrave. And face it, wouldn't Joan Cusack be a scream?

I was supposed to accompany an author this Tuesday to an interview with KARE-11's Showcase Minnesota. I saw that Aaron Eckhart was scheduled for the same hour. I love Aaron Eckhart! And then the author wrote to say that KARE-11 had posted George Clooney and Rene Zellweger as guests that same morning as well. Seriously, George Clooney! I imagined practicing my lines for the green room. But then I got the message that because George and Renee had been added last minute, our author was bumped--for the next day.

So close. Isn't that funny how when things don't work out you suddenly remember the most inane things from your adolescence? Like, "Close only counts in jarts, darts, and farts." Or how you could spend hours making funny faces in front of the camera? Back before Facebook. Even back when you had to pay for film.

*I took the top picture on the set of the movie Sweet Land. Shot in Montevideo, MN, these star trailers were set up in the farm fields. And the bottom pic is of my daughter and her beau, taken at one of our backyard parties.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring is for . . . yeah, well, you know the gig

If you're looking for a spot to enjoy this weekend, come on over to my neighborhood. See the review of Ran-Ham at Twin City Sidewalks. For a little more sunshine, take a walk south along Hamline, past Highland Parkway, and mozie on over the old stone bridge on the left (at the intersection of Hamline and Edgcumbe Road) to the redone Highland Park/Disc Golf Course. Or if you're in the mood to shop, pop up to Gypsy Moon near the corner of Randolph and Fairview in the old kosher market building across from St. Kate's. I love both her vintage and new items, the feel of the place (a cat or two wander in and out), and her reasonable prices (gifts often under $20).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring is for thinking of Summertime

Excuse me, but screw American Idol. Go here, sit back in your chair, close your eyes, and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring is for Streaking

Be careful. It's still a little chilly out there!

See today's story in the University of Minnesota's Minnesota Daily.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring is for Taking Inventory

. . . of your fair-weather clothes

. . . of your fishing gear

. . . of your garden seeds and needs

. . . of your Easter basket loot.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring is for waiting

photo untitled from [via]

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeting lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Excerpt from poem "I Am Waiting" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring is for poetry

God's Ode to Creation

Now there shall be tum-tiddly-um, and tum-tiddly-um,
hey—presto! scarlet geranium!

—D.H. Lawrence

Today's the kind of day when I feel good
about that dazzling stuff I've made down there,
everything so mixed up that even lies
turn out to be the truth. The legendary
amaranth, for example, somebody insists
they saw it growing down in Hell, and presto!
not only does it have a genus, and seeds,
but a real chemical formula so everyone
can dye their underwear dark purplish red.
You give me credit for the natural,
flame trees, tansy, sleek dangerous leopards,
and even tiny mites like the golden neotode
worming down into the rich potato plant,
the jerboa, the noon, and the stargazer perch,
but I'm the author of the artificial, too,
those bolts of homespun Khaddar cloth, and guns,
concertos by Mozart, and tiny micro chips.
I've always loved the way the invisible
gets to be visible, my big winds measured
by the Beaufort Scale, so that a sailor
blown off course by Force 11 knows
the velocity of the storm that downed his ship
and understands, as he slowly starves to death
on a rocky desert island without coconut palms,
that the time between new moons, lunation,
is divided into 29 days, 12 hours,
44 minutes and 2.8 seconds.

What glorious precision!
It's too bad, I know you're thinking, that my rules
don't allow me to help that sunburned sailor
and I do regret that a Java sparrow didn't drop
some seeds from the mainland two centuries ago
so that a bunch of fruit trees could take root.
No need to impute malevolence to me,
or even indifference, for I feel bad
about what happens most days, looking down
at another execution in Huntsville,
sighing over another quake in Turkey.
But today the blue planet, wreathed in clouds,
looks extra lovely as it spins through space,
and I want a little praise for my handiwork,
my fleecy altocumulus, my silvery mists,
even that fancy stuff you built for me,
pagodas, skyscrapers, the Eiffel Tower.
Prayers are rare these days—instead I get
millions of poems constructed out of words
that sizzle in three thousand languages,
a few of them paeans, but most ironic jabs.
But do I zap the ones who mock? I don't.
At night I see them sweat and yearn, dreaming
of that one thing I never made, and won't.

Copyright © 2006 Maura Stanton All rights reserved.
from River Styx . For more on the poet, see also here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Maria (muh-rye-ah), Maria, now that I can handle

I just finished watching Frida and everything is now back in perspective. Yes, yes, I will learn more about this woman. And Selma Hayek, too. She is on a mission to highlight the women of Mexico in American popular culture, yes?

Our short stay in Lake Maria State Park helped, too. We needed to get out of the city. Friday night I woke in a fright. Seriously. I remembered something I had written in a very important letter. I've been writing so many important letters lately. Letters of recommendation, letters of application. In this one, I don't know even know exactly why I used this particular place name--I really should have used the town name Pazardjik but I was in a rush and couldn't remember it right, so I used Sofia. (Juliloquy, you'll wonder what all this is about. It was a reference to our writing exchange with your Bulgarian and my American students.) So I used Sofia but instead I typed Sophia. And apparently, so did the Washington Post on December 20. I know that because Friday night I leapt out of bed, charged down to the Webster's 3rd International we have open on our credenza, and verified my mistake. It had come up in a dream I was having and in that dream there I saw my spelling error so clearly. Oh Sofia, Sofia! I Wikipedia'd my mistake and saw that the place name is often misspelled--saw even the online Washington Post errata column noting their error, too. Dammit. When I write these important letters I get carried away with my own enthusiasm and then I read the message over and over, forgetting to look over every single letter. It's the message I aim for, not the spellings. I think it's something I've been doing since third grade. One of my elementary teachers wrote on my report card that I was a good student and had a smart way of looking at things but that "Pamela makes careless errors in her work." I am doomed. I trudged back upstairs that midnight eve, not comforted by the fact that I'm not alone in my mistakes. The minute my husband woke the next morning I told him my woes. I hadn't slept well and look, look what I did! He said, "What will they think? Hey, it just shows you're human."

But luckily I was able to move on from Sophia to Maria. We were late pulling in to the park but there was still plenty of daylight when we checked in with the ranger. We forgot that access to the park trails and roads are different in the winter and instead of the quarter-mile hike into our cabin it was a full mile. They quit plowing the access road in winter and instead open it to cross-country skiers. My husband, with his new titanium knee and all, grabbed the plastic sled with our water jug and stove and a few other supplies. I put on the Duluth pack. We ran into a couple who had just stayed two nights in the same cabin and they assured us they had left it very clean and that the hike wasn't too bad, really.

You know how when you go out on an adventure and your traveling companion has something going on--they're afraid of flying or they hate not to be in charge or they suffer from low blood sugar--and you're so aware of this that all you can think of is their handicap or their discomfort and you forget entirely about yourself? It was all I could do to keep my focus on the snowy hill. I was so worried this would be too hard on my husband. Last time we had hiked was in Colorado and he was so cobbled and hitched-up it was a terrible sight to watch. But Sunday he pulled the sled up through the woods and around the bends and we only stopped a few times to catch our breath. I started to see the color come back in his cheeks. We both have been in the house too much lately. We came around the slough and saw the beaver dam and beyond that the simple roofline of the log cabin. When we got there, the wood was stacked neatly against the front landing and inside the cabin the wood floors were gleaming and the cast-iron stove was ready to be lit. We both agreed it hadn't been that long a hike. His knee felt great, he said. I took a deep breath and looked out over the hills. There is something I remember right about Bulgaria. Julie and her students had sent us a care package filled with cassette tapes of themselves and their favorite singers singing Bulgarian folk songs. And postcards of their homeland. And the red-and-white martenitsi: small, decorative pins, made of white and red yarn and worn from March (Marta) 1st until the 22nd of March (or the first time one sees a stork or swallow). The giving of the martenitsi is a Bulgarian tradition for welcoming the upcoming spring. The red and white woven threads are not just decoration, but symbolize the wish for good health, too.

We could have been wearing the martenitsi I kept from that care package. There is nothing like getting away together with an old friend, in the spring. Forget Sophia. Welcome Marta. And Maria, Maria. Now that I can handle.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

words, words, enough already with the words

This is just a fraction of the words I've taken in this Friday. Words, words, enough already with the words. Hubby and I have the weekend to ourselves so we're sneaking away for a cabin stay in one of the state parks. I'm aiming for that Zen state. In fact, I plan to give him the shush symbol every time he tries to strike up a conversation, so sick of words am I. I wonder how long it will be before he throws the aluminum coffeepot at my head?

Word on the street

"Those look like Penitentiary Potatoes," said the woman in line at the Dorothy Day Center.

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" asked my husband, who was volunteering on the food line, scooping scalloped potatoes and ham.

"Oh that's a good thing, let me tell you, that IS a good thing" she said.

Mucky math
"Just when I thought my head would explode from trying to figure out delegate math, I’m hit with call-girl math.

The arithmetic of procuring a prostitute who is both experienced and inspirational is even more complicated than the arithmetic of procuring a president who is both experienced and inspirational."--Maureen Dowd, NY Times column, 3/12/08

Two very different claims to fame
When it comes to Guitar Hero, a Minnesota teenager is on top of the world. Chris Chike, 16, is the Guinness World Record holder for the highest score for a song on "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock."--from the Mpls./St. Paul Star Tribune

Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and a cofounder of string field theory. . . .--From Papercuts blog

Good God, is it time yet?
17. Is sex possible after knee replacement?
Provided it does not involve chasing your partner around the room (or other obstacle-laden course) at high speeds.--from that notebook they sent home with us

And more sex
"To me, the most sensual food is scrambled eggs with caviar and creme fraiche. You have it on a Sunday morning when you lay in bed. You get up and make it with toast and a little champagne to start the day, and then you can go back to bed and enjoy life again."--quote from chef Daniel Boulud

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pop Not!

Last week I was anxious and neurotic and sat in front of the tube watching American Idol and munching mindlessly on those Pop Nots! (those half-popped corn kernels I buy in bulk at the co-op). I should have thought of my mom's warning (see other passalong wisdom here) instead of tossing back these insanely addicting but hard-on-the-teeth snacks. She would say, "You be careful. (Her favorite line.) Your body can't do the same things it could at twenty." In her book, that warning counts for skiing, pick-up basketball, late-night partying, working weekends, and, if she knew about it, eating Pop Nots! with abandon.

Sure enough, after many fistfuls of the Pop Nots! I felt a ragged edge at the back of my right molar. And a gap. With a little overhang of old filling jutting over the edge. I must have clamped down on one of those hard kernels and broken off a chunk of my molar at the point of a hidden break or deep crack. Didn't even hurt. Except now it does, but I just don't want to face the pain of a dentist visit. And this terrific post here doesn't help. Oh, here comes another one of my family's sayings, this one from my Grandma Teubert: "Gawd, woman, you are falling apart."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Yeah, have fun with that one

I got my first Netflix movie Saturday. My daughter gave me the three-month, unlimited subscription for Christmas. I let the boys fill up the queue first: they ordered The Pursuit of Happyness, Transformers, Flags of Our Fathers, etc. My film finally arrived. At breakfast my husband read the CD-sleeve description: "Also known for her controversial politcal and sexual reputation (she was a communist and a bisexual), Frida struggled with a life of wracking pain following an accident, the amputation of a leg, and finally, drug and alcohol abuse that killed her at age 47."

He looked at me and said, "Yeah, have fun with that one."

Monday Morning Report

How was your weekend? Do your colleagues ask you that on Mondays? A friend of mine works at a place where they never ask her. Another used to have a bunch of colleagues who spent all Monday morning talking over their weekends, one-upping each other with their tales.

I had to work yesterday at a day-long photo shoot, so I took off Friday in exchange, which was perfect since it was the younger kid's 14th birthday. How do I know he's 14? He is now, officially, one inch taller than I. We measured. He got 23 text messages between 11 pm and 1 am; I checked the AT&T phone bill. He quotes lines from The Office at the dinner table. (When I mentioned to both kids that it's amazing how much their generation loves The Office, even when they hadn't worked in a real-live office themselves yet, my son said, "Are there really people like those characters?")

He wanted a "light early breakfast at 8 a.m.," presents, and then all day to play with his presents. He's very exacting about his birthdays. When he was younger he never declared his new birthday age--such as, "Now I'm seven!"--until we had had cake and candles and the birthday song. If someone came over to the house earlier than the cake celebration and said to him, "How do you feel being seven, T?" he'd cry out, "I'm NOT seven YET."

So we had his favorite breakfast and then we gave him his presents, which included one of those new deluxe gaming systems, the one he'd been requesting for months. And then the kid expected to play it immediately. Except:

1. We didn't have the ethernet cable so he could play with his friends online.
2. We wanted to take him shopping to buy a game for it.
3. After shopping at Target, we discover the 7-foot ethernet cable is too short.
4. After a second trip to Target and threading the replacement 14-foot ethernet cable down through the back of our computer station, we find the internet won't connect.
5. Sony's Help Desk line doesn't pick up.
6. Best Buy's Geek Squad line doesn't pick up.
7. Comcast's help line DOES pick up.
8. Internet connection works but online game doesn't.
9. Finally, after reading the 9-point type in the 54-page user's manual, we discover that we need to set up an online account. And because by now the kid is so impatient, he doesn't want me to set up my full adult account with a sub-account for him. "Just set it up once," he implored. It was now noon and his precise birthday plan was fading painfully away. So the Sony research folks can now see that a 46-year-old female in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is all set-up to play Call of Duty 4 with the online name of Timbo.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

"It's a fool who plays it cool" and the advice we carry with us

Why is it still cold and snowy? I know, people don't use the Farmer's Almanac here to forecast the weather. They measure it by the state high school hockey tournament --"Always snows during the tournament"--and that becomes the local wisdom.

And you feel like you'll never make it to spring. Then a little voice in your head calls out something like:

"Keep your chin up. It's not the end of the world."

Maybe your grandmother said it. Maybe your favorite aunt. My grandmother would probably say, "Never liked this place anyway." She was not keen on passing along memorable nuggets of wisdom. You had to learn the moral of the story only after you actually sat through one of her stories.

I've been soliciting a lot of advice from people recently. My friend Klecko quoted me the line above from the Beatles' "Hey Jude." It totally convinced me. It went with the other one from a local dean,

"Be patient and persistent."

Klecko's also the one who said he goes by the un-PC wisdom gleaned from an earlier boss:

"Think like a fat man."

He explained: if one is going to think about how to go about one's job it doesn't hurt to think "how can I get this done well with the least amount of physical effort?" Ha!

But that conflicts with the advice I got back as a teenager, "Work like a banshee," as in,

"Hard work pays off."

There are all kinds of books of quotations and one, The (Girl) Power of Quotations, lists this:

"A lady only chews gum in the privacy of her boudoir." We learned this as kids and at 45 and 46 years old, my sister and I still do not chew gum in public.

My mom wouldn't have told me that one but she would say, "You gotta have a comeback." When my brother and I started to knock up against the mean people of the world, she'd always say, "You need to have some comebacks." One of the things that drew me to my husband, which I didn't realize until some years after we married, is that he is the King of Comebacks. He's got the perfect ones for parenting or for when he's sympathizing with someone having a tough time. Once our daughter came running into the house after a day care teacher had revealed the facts on Santa, and my husband responded, "Good. That's over. I never liked that guy getting all the credit anyway." It stopped her right in her tracks, no tears, just a quizzical look in her eyes and a cocked head. Sort of like, "Well, that was a pretty cool trick you guys just pulled off for the last five years. Huh." I have never really mastered the art of that but I always think about it when someone tears at me pretty hard. (Bud Light designed a whole ad campaign on the art of the comeback: dude! Dude! DUDE!)

Seems I must have put stock in some of those nuggets of wisdom by the looks of my daughter's writing. See her "Advice to a daughter" here.

See that picture above? That's me at 21, about to launch out into the world. My parents and I had spent the summer at Big Wolf Lake while my dad and I took classes at Bemidji State. This is one of those typical weekend mornings spent drinking coffee and waking up to the sights on the lake. My aunt loves this picture because we're all so relaxed.

It never went like this: "Mom, Dad, can I talk to you about something?" Nope. Dad would sense something was wrong and then he'd talk to mom and during this summer at the lake I slept in the front room of this tiny cabin with only a floral chintz curtain for a door and I could hear them talking about me. And then in the morning as we sat around drinking coffee, thinking about starting our day, mom would say something like, "Let me tell you a story . . ." and then she'd pair up her own coming-of-age story with whatever she thought I was feeling and when she was done Dad might say, "Nothing we can do about it now, let's go make breakfast." Funny thing is, they often never got around to asking me what the matter was.

Once, I had this powerful dream. I had just learned of my great great-grandmother, a Native American woman of the Wisconsin Winnebago tribe, a single mother, an independent landowner. In my own life, I had been struggling through a lot for months and I felt alone in the world, kind of drowning. I was torn at work and torn among my many other roles in life. I'm not normally a dream-watcher and I tend to run on the Margaret Thatcher-side of mystical. But in my dream this great great-grandmother with the dark long hair spoke to me and said, simply, only these words: "You belong here."

Wisdom can be passed along and it doesn't have to rhyme and it doesn't have to be witty. Sometimes all it has to be is spoken at the right time, with love, plain and simple.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tenuous Connections

Yesterday I read a piece in the Paper Cuts blog about Philip B. Heymann, an author and former deputy attorney general under Clinton, who wrote a book on civil liberties and national security called Terrorism, Freedom, and Security: Winning without War. The blog guest columnist Barry Gewen calls the book a standout. I’ve been paying closer attention to the issues of national security and freedom these days and have just subscribed to the outstanding Virginia Quarterly Review, in part due to their new issue on human rights. Check it out here. I’m very interested in learning about the details of our role in the world and those questions that Gewen poses so well: “The really interesting issues dwell in that difficult gray area where one is left wondering whether a particular curb on our freedom increases our security against terrorism, and if the sacrifice is worth it. This is not a realm for absolutists.” When I’m on my own, especially, I like to hang around in the gray areas, see where I really come up.

And that link to Heymann reminded me that he was the first author I published almost twenty-five years ago. He co-authored a book that was one of the first to analyze another first: the use of the insanity defense in a murder trial. The book, The Murder Trial of Wilbur Jackson, used gruesome photos of the crime scene (and this way before CSI and Cold Case and Law & Order SVU) and I remember weighing how many of them to put in, how far to go with the display of murder evidence in what was planned to be a classroom text. It was the days of keylining and Penta typesetting and I had to hand-crop all those 8 x 10-inch glossies of dead bodies and such.

I also had to design the interior text and the cover. I was trained-in by someone who lived by the constraints of the Penta system and her own limited design skills. “Never use more than two typefaces in a book, inside and out,” she told me. No gray area there. And then she gave me a list of typeface pairs and told me never to deviate. Palatino and Optima. Times Roman and Helvetica.

Here’s the amateur cover, still intact after all these years. You can see I followed her advice. Of course, now I know that rules and rulemakers are made to be questioned. There is tradition, yes, and that can act as a framework, yes. But in book publishing, as in life, there is plenty of room in the gray areas. Learning to navigate comes from sound advice, skill, training, and most of all, careful practice.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Season End

These boys they grow up fast. This is a shot I snuck of the locker room action a few years back. I wouldn't even be allowed past the back hallway now that they're fourteen and up.

Ah, god, hockey is finally over. The Bantam team lost a tight game and the chance to advance to the regionals; final score 2-1, with the winning goal coming on a power play in the last two minutes of the third period.

Later that night, after the kid had showered and eaten, I asked him how he felt. He said, "Why do you parents always ask questions like that? How do you think I feel? We lost the game in the last two minutes on a stupid penalty."


The secular rite of passage in these parts is the Bantam A tradition, when the coaches take all the boys out for a steak dinner at Manny's. Manny's. (I'm not even going to comment on the well-hung steer they have fronting their home page.) We chip in $30 and the good-looking young coaches, who all have good day jobs and get an additional salary to coach the kids, cover the rest. My son asked if he could order the double Porterhouse but they all said no. The kid is rarely seen without a pair of sweats and a tee-shirt so I took him out for a little shopping. We ended up with some nice black slacks and a Perry Ellis button-down. He was sharp. I forgot to take a picture.

So they all get together last Friday night at the local arena and pile into their coaches' cars, subwoofers and stereos blasting. The staff at Manny's is ready for all 17 of them. The kid said they had one waiter assigned just to them and he "worked them." The owner came out, apparently, and discreetly asked a regular if he wanted to take a different table in another room. The kids were on their good behavior but I don't blame the guy for saying yes. He moved. The waiter took them all into the back and showed them the cuts of beef and the live lobsters. They ordered appetizers to share and most of them had big steaks. They passed around large plates of fried onions and mashed potatoes and hash browns. Across the way, Brad Childress was cinching the deal with the wide receiver from Chicago, Bernard Berrian, and a few of the teens got up and asked them both for their autographs.

T. said the bill came to a thousand dollars after dessert and the tip was $225. Tim said it was the most amazing meal he had ever had and then said to me, "I had a taste of the good life tonight."


Lie, lady, lie

Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist, recently wrote a column that began:

"Which of the following sentences is correct?

I am going to lay down under my desk and weep.

I am going to lie down under my desk and weep."

If you're a writer or an editor, it's good reading. She talks about her newsroom copy editor, who despite his "intellectual finesse," couldn't remember the right usage of lie v. lay. She says,

When someone with his intellectual finesse confuses "lie" and "lay," it's obvious that the distinction has been lost to all but the crotchety few.

And she explains further:

I blame the defeat of "lie" on the rise of yoga. Or maybe yoga class is simply where I've accepted recently that it's time for purists like me (purists such as me? such as I?) to surrender.

"Lay down on your backs for bridge pose."

"Lay down on your bellies for cobra pose."

I've heard yoga teachers say those things thousands of times. And thousands of times I've wanted to shout, "No!"

I've wanted to leap up and explain that "to lie" is to recline, "to lay" is to place.

You lay your yoga mat on the floor. Then you lie down.

It's true. Our language changes all the time. When my kids used to ask for grammar advice I'd look up a rule or two. But now I ask them to read a sentence aloud or break it apart. And then I say, "Keep it if it sounds right."

What my own Mrs. Gray--my aged seventh-grade grammar teacher, the one who wore wool, two-piece skirt suits and weighed about a hundred pounds, twelve of which were devoted to the stacked and teased hair bun on top of her head--would say about the new slackening of rules. She would say, "It will sound right if it is right. You will will learn to recognize right with practice."

There are days I wish she worked in the office next to mine. I could fritter away the rest of a long Monday afternoon picking her brain with all kinds of persnickety questions.