what new york is . . . and isn’t . . . for me

We’ve been home for more than a week already, and finally I’m sitting down to reflect on our week in New York. We booked the trip originally to help our daughter with her obligation as home and cat owner while she was in Paris on a combination academic conference/vacation. Now don’t laugh. I turned down many potentially inspiring trips with Hubby the years that one of my three cats at the time required medication and attention I didn’t want to burden my friends and neighbors with. I had the luxury of staying home; our daughter doesn’t. What we got in return was a whole week in the city without expensive hotel bills, living like New Yorkers do, taking advantage of all the cultural offerings, the parks, the food . . . !

And yes, that included the subways. Usually when we’re visiting, I’m about five feet behind Hubby and daughter every time we go out, working hard just to keep up with them. I never know exactly where we are, or how we got there, until we’re there, much like being a child again. This trip, I was right there alongside him so I could see for myself how he knew which train to take–which platform we needed to be on–and the wisdom of waiting for the Express rather than taking the local. By the end of the week I was beginning–but not quite there yet–to feel a little like a native New Yorker. That means I stopped gawking at the artistic tile work on some of the walls, taking pictures, staring at people. I even managed to scan my Metro card with one swipe (most of the time). Walking outside on the street, I practiced the art of focusing on the sidewalk (instead of everywhere else), looking neither right nor left, with a slight scowl on my face and plowing straight ahead. I acted as if I knew exactly where I was going and in a big hurry to get there. Even though I wasn’t–except when we had to be someplace at a certain time–(like the play we went to)–more on that later. When you ride the subway, it’s good to close your eyes and let your head hang to one side, stirring only when the train stops. If you can understand the accent of the subway announcer you can keep your eyes closed all the way. It’s even more effective if you let your head touch other people and then open your eyes quickly as if you’re startled. Then close them again and let your head dangle on your chest some more.

But every now and then, I did look up and let a smile creep onto my face. In spite of myself I even made eye contact now and then, occasionally making a small remark to someone nearby. That taught me something too. That New Yorkers are very often from someplace else too! That makes them a lot like me, and with one exception we got along very well indeed (that story will come in a later story). We got on so well that by the time we left I was feeling as though, like Hubby has always felt since he grew up in a crowded big city while I grew up with cows and hogs, that it might be fun to live in a high rise (no yard work) in a big city. Especially one with great public transportation and every ethnic food you can think of plus some you’ve never heard of, and not all that expensive either. Our daughter lives in Forest Hills. You can shop for just about anything you’d want or need within a few blocks. It took me less than five minutes to walk to the ice cream shop for a gelato after lunch one day.

Thinking back on some of my favorite travel memories, I’m always reminded of that billboard I read more than 40 years ago riding the Staten Island Ferry during my first visit to New York (1968), “Remember that YOU may be one of our visitors best memories on New York.” These are a couple of people encounters I’ll always remember fondly: the greeter at Tiffany on Fifth Avenue who told us what to see (the Ziegfeld Collection and the stunning jewelry worn in the The Great Gatsby movie) and the female sales clerk who taught me a little about purchasing a diamond, knowing (I’m sure) I had no means of buying any at that store (!) and made my day by insisting I try on one of the terribly impressive emerald cut diamond (about 5 carats) that only cost $36,850. And whoever said that New Yorkers aren’t friendly? At the Empire State Building there was the information clerk who was so friendly we chatted comfortably for at least 15-20 minutes (always stepping aside when other visitors needed her attention of course). By the time I left I’d not only gotten a recommend for a new and far cheaper version of skin care product than the one I was currently using, but I knew her age and how many years she had to work before retirement. And even though my friend ML, who had joined us from Pittsburgh and I failed to find the high end store Barney’s we wanted directions for, we found Bergdorf-Goodman instead, and had a wonderful time checking out the (excessively) expensive shoes. Readers, I had no idea there are people in the world who don’t blink an eye at spending thousands of dollars on a single pair of shoes. And here I was feeling all guilty that I’ve had to spend more than $100 for my shoes since chemotherapy and RA have left quite an impact on my feet!

There were “action comic” shoes, “jeweled little bits of nothing strap-wrapped shoes,” even “I wanna tower so tall over men that the heels have to be bowed for balance” shoes.

action comic shoes bg double high shoes bgexotic shoe bg

Like women everywhere, we were soon attracted to the 50% off shoe display in the corner. (Not a single pair did I see for $100.)The ones I singled out varied in price between $650 and $1800 (remember  that’s at 50% off). We found some spiked heels we called secret service shoes because they had not just super high-heels, but literally had black plastic spikes (like track shoe cleats) all over the heel as well as the inset strap. If you worked at secret service and a bad guy (read: terrorist) grabs you from the back or the front you have lethal weapons on both feet for that crotch or buttock kick!  (Sort of like the one of the left below.) And I’ll bet Wonder Woman would have killed for shoes like the one on the right.

   shoes from bergdorf goodman 1ouch shoes bg

The first pair of sandals look like the perfect shoe for the woman who really prefers going barefoot, but doesn’t because “what if there’s dog poo?” The others are very much like those I bought to wear with my saree for my wedding in Pittsburgh (1969).

i kinda feel like bare feet but don't want to step in dog poolike my wedding shoesI paid less than $10 for them at a shoe store near my apartment in Shadyside. Last, but not least, this pair sums up my dilemma every time I purchase shoes of any kind, the “I can’t decide which color I like best shoe.” Remember when the choices were limited to black, white, and sometimes red or black patent?

colorful shoes bgI have many more experiences and people to talk about from our trip, but I’ll hold those until next time. Meanwhile, my new feelings for New York (and big cities in general) are best summed up in these words I stole from a letter written by Anaïs Nin to her lover Henry Miller.

It is the suitable scene for my ever heightened life. I love the proportions, the amplitude, the brilliance, the polish, the solidity. I look up at Radio City insolently and love it. It is all great, and Babylonian. Broadway at night. Cellophane. The newness. The vitality. True, it is only physical. But it’s inspiring. Just bring your own contents, and you create a sparkle of the highest power. I’m not moved, not speechless. I stand straight, tough, and I meet the impact. I feel the glow and the dancing in everything. The radio music in the taxis, scientific magic, which can all be used lyrically.

 

We’re in NYC cat/condo sitting for our daughter

We’re in NYC cat/condo sitting for our daughter who is vacationing in Paris. Today we spent the day settling in, food shopping, and planning our week. So far we’ve maneuvered the subway system successfully, thanks to Hubby who’s good at such things. Our friend from Pittsburgh will be joining us Wednesday so we took the subway to find the hotel she’ll be staying in, a couple stops away from us. Also got our bearings around Times Square at Broadway where we’ll be seeing Book of Mormon later in the week. It’ll be my first play on broadway. I’m trying to post this on our iPad and it stinks. I don’t like touch screens! More later, maybe.

on folklore and ouija boards

fox fire with text Growing up as I did, witnessing people talking in tongues in church as a child, it’s no wonder I’ve been equally fascinated by all kinds of folklore and other ghoulish things. I remember family story swapping sitting around Grandpa‘s living room on Sundays after church. Those days if children were seen but not heard, the clever child could find a way to hover on the sidelines and be privy to some interesting grownup talk.

There was an oft touted tale of the coffin of a young woman being opened, for whatever earthly reason I no longer remember. She had been buried with her long hair arranged in the chignon style of the day, but when the coffin lid was raised, a gripping view was exposed–hair hanging disheveled around the face, ensnared by the very hair comb that had secured the bun. Some swore her fingernails were also longer AND broken, and the silky material lining the lid was hanging in tatters. What a ghastly scene! Other times Grandma recounted her tale about seeing eerie green lights deep in woods surrounding the house when she was a young girl. As I grew older, I learned that the green lights were called “foxfire,” defined as a rare phenomenon of eerie green lights glowing in the woods on starless nights. In 1823 scientists finally explained how fungal growth on decayed wood emitted these phosphorescent episodes, not spirits of people gone on to meet their maker. In time I imagine she knew that the mystery had been solved, but I’m still a little disappointed, I think. It’s actually a little bit fun to have a bit of a fright, followed quickly, of course by a reasonable explanation.

The last time I remember having a serious case of the heebie jeebies was during a slumber party my daughters had in the 1980s in Ohio one weekend, with 5 or 6 girls attending.  They were playing with the Ouija board in the basement, one of my more idiotic shopping mistakes, in retrospect. I heard lots of giggling, and occasional squeals. It was getting late by this time, Hubby was out of town on business, and as I struggled to stay alert upstairs, I hoped they would soon tire themselves into slumber. Rather, all of a sudden they burst through the door at the top of the stairs screeching. It seems a spirit or demon had suddenly “taken over the Ouija board’s planchette (the pointer gadget). He was furiously spelling out threatening, frightfyk things that were going to happen. I tried to tell them that inanimate objects and games couldn’t hurt them but they weren’t having it!

The story that then emerged–as best I can remember–was that the demon was once a teenage boy who died in an accident when he was young. Now he was very angry at pretty much everybody alive, especially giggling and adolescents and teenage girls! At that point I was quite amused at the humor of it, but still needed to calm them down a bit. I suggested  we freeze the hell and damnation out of him by throwing the whole board in the freezer to cool him down.Youthful impatience led to frequent openings and closings of the freezer door, and the girls couldn’t resist another quick trip to the basement (presumable spirits prefer dim basements). Moments later, they were back upstairs. He was still there. I was still comfortable in my assumption that one of the girls was conscientiously (or not) maneuvering the pointer, having a great time at all the reactions. No one would admit to it, though, so I decided to witness a session myself. I went downstairs to watch the pointer sail lightly from letter to letter, again spelling out an apt-sounding ancient name. Whichever girl was key to the ruse was goooooood, I decided. I was very impressed!

Whether imagination or not, doubt crept in. What if it wasn’t a hoax? Each girl insisted she was innocent! It was close to, or past by that time, midnight. Clearly this demon was NOT going away. No amount of begging girls to go away was working. We’d tried the freezer, now we tried nuking him in the microwave. That didn’t work either.

All the warnings about Ouija boards being the passageway of all things occult came flooding back. “Messages revealed by a Ouija should only be on God’s hands,” “a tool of Satan best left alone!” “Paranormal or supernatural beings are responsible for Ouija’s action, therefore you are colluding with Satan if you use them!” 

At last we decided the only thing left to do with that evil board was to take it and break it across my knee and throw it into the garbage or the fireplace, I don’t remember which, but the idea was good riddance to bad rubbish. Then everyone went to bed–I hope. They must have had quite a time the next day telling their parents about the evil spirit they’d conjured up with the Ouija board. I don’t remember how many were allowed at our house after that.

Many eminent people have succumbed to the lure of the supernatural: Although he didn’t use it himself, Poet William Butler Yeats‘s later poetry was inspired by the Ouija board and other facets of the occult; G. K. Chesterton used a Ouija board in his teenage years. Around 1893 writer G. K. Chesterton  went through crises of skepticism and depression, grew fascinated with the occult and experimented with the Ouija board. Remember Alice Cooper? Early press releases stated that Vincent Furnier‘s stage and band name was agreed on after a session with a Ouija board (his real name was Vincent Furnier) during which it was revealed he was the reincarnation of a 17th-century witch with that name.

In case I haven’t convinced you that a Ouija board is pure evil, or let’s just say yours in an inquiring mind, here’s an online Ouija http://www.brainjar.com/dhtml/ouija/ for free, so now you don’t even have to pay homage to its original maker, those rich Parker Brothers. Have fun! And now that I’ve finished this silly little story about things that go bump in the night, Hubby and I are off to New York for more earthly adventures I hope to share with you from there.

new words in my vocabulary

I’ve only thought every day the past two weeks that this will be the day I get around to blogging; well, you can see where that got me if you check the calendar in the sidebar. (Oops! Can it really be I haven’t been here at all in June?) I have no idea where the time went. Oh yes, I do: yard work planning and the hard work it involved (Sergio and his helper really worked up a sweat for sure!); finally choosing a color for the painters to paint the three outside entry doors (I’m pretty sure my previous final choice, that hot pink color?, could result in a pink slip of a different sort from our community council (Hubby’s a member), so yes, Meridith, Regatta Blue #6517–final choice–). Believe me, I know that everyone should be lucky to have such troubles, but it’s important to keep your sense of humor in these trying times.

Another and probably more accurate reason for long absences from blogging–reading. Books are like movies–none excite me for long periods of time, then all of a suddenly there’s a new one catching my eye all at one time–and the library wants all of them back by a certain time. But it’s easy to excuse that excuse because I tell myself I’m always learning something new when I’m reading so it isn’t wasting time.

A journalist in a Tennessee writing group I belonged to encouraged our group to write a list of our favorite words and practice playing with them. Use them in our own writing. This reading session I’ve added lots of new words to my vocabulary. Until then, words were just words to me, but I did manage to add a few favorites to my list: flotsam, for instance, but it’s pretty hard to surpass that one, and even harder to work flotsam into an ordinary conversation or blog, so I’ve neglected the list for many years. But I’ve come across quite a few new ones in my latest readathon.

For instance, glossolalia. Has a ring to it, no? I attended a Pentecostal church when I was a child and so enjoyed going to the prayer room Wednesday and Sunday evenings to see people I knew well, often two or three at once, rolling around on the floor doing it. In case you never came across it either, glossolalia comes from the Greek word “glossa” (meaning “tongue” or “language”) and it’s simply speaking in tongues. Linguists explain that the otherwise unintelligible prattling sounds are made up of syllables formed from consonants and vowels taken from the speaker’s native language. I’d known these people all my life–admittedly only around 10 years at the time–and I knew not one of them would ever in a million years have dreamed of drinking or dancing in public or “showing off” in any form–yet they could glossolate with abandon, and some of them repeatedly. (Okay, I made that word up because I can’t think of a verb that suits it, can you?) It’s the reason I wanted to see watch this curious phenomenon over and over. The preacher explained it as “the holy spirit taking over,” but I wasn’t convinced. Not once did I ever see anything resembling a spirit in the room. So I think that word, glossolalia, will stick with me awhile–even though technically I haven’t “learned” it because it would be very difficult for me to ever use it in a conversation, even as a noun, but I’ve managed to write with it. That journalist must have been right!

I planned to add a couple of other strange new words, but if I do the post will be far too long, so I’ll plan to sit down another day and tell you what I’ve learned about witchery and black magic and the new words those conjure up. They definitely deserve a post of their own. ‘Til next time then . . .

 

Intellectual Wallpaper: in defense of bookaholics

Hubby is always on the lookout for the perfect new television as replacement for the current one he expects will conk out within a year or so. We’ve already spent more than several-hundred on replacement parts in the nearly 10 years we’ve owned it, and you can now buy it new for around $400 (ten years ago it cost $4100). He would love in its place a 90-inch “intelligent design” which may or may not have been invented yet. One that will make it a center piece of the whole family room, for viewing, listening, and tapping into the Net for everything from movies to up-to-date stock prices (since we’ll certainly need to have sound investments to afford it.)

The problem I have with this new arrangement is that what to do with my book wall which has four shelves spanning over 12 feet? Some books I’ve read and collected over the years are next to impossible for me to part with. Over the 44 years we’ve been together I’ve collected quite a few as you can see. bookshelves

He says I should begin to get rid of them so he won’t have to worry about what to do with them if I kick the bucket first. I’ve tried over the years to defend my book habit by being mostly stubborn–after all it was better than tippling the proverbial bottle wasn’t it?–but I never had quite the words to defend myself until now. Then I found a quote in Facebook.

Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book resting unopened in its spot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper.

I’m sure I always knew it, intellectually anyway, but now I know it in my heart that I’m not the only one who feels that way. So I guess we’ll just have to find a way to arrange his giant TV screen, maybe a little more sensible size more in line with the size of the family room, somewhere in between the books. We’ll call the wall “intellectual wallpaper” connecting old and new technology.

learning more about “steering” the writing craft

In her book on writing, Steering The Craft, Ursula Le Guin says:

The chief duty of a narrative sentence is to lead to the next sentence. Beyond this basic, invisible job, the narrative sentence can do an infinite number of beautiful, surprising, powerful, audible, visible things. But the basic function of the narrative sentence is to keep the story going and keep the reader going with it.

If you aren’t interested in the craft of writing, then today’s post will definitely leave you disappointed. As for me, there’s no longer any pressure to publish after I decided I should only write for myself because I like doing it (most of the time). It’s become a fun but  sometimes challenging hobby and I’d like to think I’m in the driver’s seat and steering the best I can. I’ve just come from a meeting with my some of my writing friends who enjoy working together, though I must admit sometimes it feels more like an afternoon party since we have too much fun to call what we’re doing “work.” Once again I’m all revved up with new vigor to keep on trying sharpen my own writing skills.

The advantage of assigned writing exercises, which our group decided to do using Ms. Le Guin’s book, is that I’m constantly being challenged to try different writing techniques that I probably would never have tried on my own. I confess that for some of them, I groaned inwardly–at first. My thinking was that it would be too easy, or I’d already tried something like that. But each time I’d buckle down whether I thought I’d like it or not. Some of the work it produced turned out better than others. But I always learned something. Overall, I’m left feeling pretty psyched. Especially when/if I get a positive reaction from others in the group when I read. It’s also interesting to see the many different approaches there are within the group using with the same instructions.

Today’s exercise, in two parts, was coined the SHORT and LONG of it. It involved writing a paragraph or narrative of ~100-150 words in sentences limited to seven words–no sentence fragments–each with a subject and verb. Here’s a paragraph I constructed from a longer story I wrote long ago. To set it up, you should know the protagonist is J.J. McMahon, a 50-something grandmother who’s car-napped in her Honda (named Fenry) waiting at a traffic light. She’s just dropped her grandson off at nursery school and is sitting there contemplating how she really ought to have gone to the bathroom at the school, while there are valid reasons why she didn’t, and she’s praying she can make it in time to the bathroom in her office in.

I’m in the restroom at last! Relief is just a button and zipper away. Thank God for McDonald’s on Kingston Pike. But I am I shaking so. Not a single other person here today. I decide I’ll write on the mirror. Please help me! I’ve been kidnapped! My kidnapper’s that teenager with angel eyes. I poke around my purse for a lipstick. Nothing that marks is in my purse. I hear a voice through the door. “Are you all right, Mother?” It’s him! I can’t believe it. Disconcerted, my body stiffens and shifts. The toilet flushes. Damn those automatic flushers anyway! What nerve this kid has. Does he really have a gun? He’s invading the women’s room  after me! I hear him explaining. “She wasn’t feeling well. I was worried.” The woman behind him smiles. I know what she’s thinking. “What a wonderful son.” No, oh no, my mind screams. He’s NOT my son, he’s my kidnapper!” Too soon we’re back on Kingston Pike. I grip Fenry’s steering wheel tightly. I-40 is so close. “So where are we going,” I ask. “Do I keep driving?” “East,” he says. Take I-40, then north on 75.

In Part two, we were to presented a half-page to a page of narrative, up to ~350 words, all written in one sentence. I hoped this narrative serves sufficiently–as Flash Fiction perhaps–so as not to need no set-up for the reader to interpret or understand the plot.

They tricked her into going to the funeral so it’s no wonder the first thing she notices is the tiny rip in the netting draped over Meemaw’s face in the coffin and I am reminded how we always planned to go back fishing for minnows one day, and all of a sudden I feel my stomach pitch; my heart swells up like it will bust out of my body when the McFadden sisters who sing at all the funerals around here stand around the pulpit in their hats and high heels to sing sadly about gathering at the river where angels’ feet have trod, all while Reverend Martin’s weepy voice rises to a deafening pitch in order to be heard over the singing and the drone of the electric fan and the muffled sounds of sobbing, and I’m trying so hard not to cry myself that I’m not sure if I actually saw but I’m pretty sure I did see a soft fluttering of Meemaw’s pale eyelids and then her blinking like she has just spent a long night in somebody else’s bed and can’t at first recognize where she is, that I almost miss the miracle him–the preacher–and all the brethren have talked about so many times before at so many other funerals: verily I say unto you, the hour is coming…and now is…when he that heareth my word and believeth in Him that sent me…have everlasting life…and shall not come into condemnation…but is passed from death into life,” and just like that, and that quick, Meemaw rises, turns to look right at me and it’s like nobody else can see or hear her but me, but I hear as plain as day, “come on baby Junebug, while these people sit here crying and blubbering, let’s you and me go fishing for minnows, and in a flash she’s gone and quick as lightning I run and grab the white netting that separated her from me and then I follow her out of the side door of the dark church as quick as I can into the waiting sunshine.

For critiquing, and I’m inviting any reader to do so if so inclined, it is important–to me–that the short or long sentences fit the story being told. That’s the criteria of assignments like these. In spite of breaking all the rules of grammar, does it still work? Do the short sentences in Part one read naturally? Would it hold a reader’s attention? Is the language of the longer piece (Part two) clear enough so the reader doesn’t get lost or have to go back and start over for clarification.

If you like to write, either seriously or as a hobby like me, and you also author a blog, I hope you’ll let me know, or better yet, give me a link and I’ll try to come ’round to see what you’ve done.

springing back to wintersong musings

We had our final class Thursday, and now that our brains are all wrinkled with new knowledge on the economy, the latest in scientific research, and the uppity women in ancient Egypt who deigned to be “kings” instead of queens, we go forward to see what the rest of the season will bring before it all starts over again in the fall. Spring has finally sprung here in a “maybe, sorta, hopefully but “don’t bank the family fortune on it” kind of way. The local weatherman told us last week that we should go ahead and get our gardens going–which Hubby and I have been doing this week between classes.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and my birthday, and if you dropped by our house to chat, this is what you’d see as you climb to ring the doorbell. It’s my birthday present–also Mother’s Day, wedding anniversary, and Christmas and all other occasions this year according to Hubby. They don’t look like much right now unless you have a good imagination, but as summer approaches they should thicken and bloom abundantly.

my birthday presentI’ve never had much of a green thumb, but like Molly Brown from Hanni- bal Mis- souri said as she was going down on the Titanic, “I ain’t down yet.” What does all this have to do with Molly Brown? I have no earthly idea, the image just popped into my mind and I went with it. I just read a book (Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by blogger Jenny Lawson), who seems to have hit the publishing jackpot writing in that style (it’s terrific by the way), so, my recent writing efforts have been an attempt to let myself go more in writing, give up some control and write whatever pops into mind. I did that here, and there she was–Molly Brown! Maybe her spirit was trying to merge with my “muse” and get me back into blogging mode.

Speaking of the supernatural, I have a couple of links for those of you who–like me–may be skeptical (controlled) but nonetheless interested in ghost stories. Who can resist a really good one?! Last week a new blogger friend posted a story on a not so camera-shy Rebel soldier from a major civil war battle, including images he captured on his camera. Stop by and take a look and tell us what you think. I don’t think Mr. Davids would pull our legs about this.Then–should your appetite for ghost stories remain unsatisfied–I refer you to 10 more ghost photographs and stories here. Finally, now that summer’s almost here and the livin’ (supposedly) easier, I hope to be back on a more regular basis to attend to Wintersong musing.