Archive for the 'reading' Category

refueling on-the-go

August is almost here and I have yet to put my toes in the ocean or a pool or a river, but I’m hoping to change that early next week.

While bronchitis threw me off my running routine for the better part of July, my computer  stepped into the role of treadmill. What I mean to say is that the deadlines keep coming, I keep racing to meet them, but there’s no time for celebration because it’s on to the next. I know I’m not the only freelancer hustling to stay afloat these days so I wonder how others are refueling on-the-go. How to you recharge when there’s no time for anything but work?

Images of sandy bare feet come to mind: Ocean in the background, laptop in the foreground. Unfortunately, as sand destroyed every walkman I took to the beach in high school, I imagine it would not be kind to my laptop. Nor would the sun’s glare, salt air or drips from my fudgie wudgie.

A well made Mojito or Pina Colada is a temporary boost. As is comfort food: dahl, millet, potato beet curry and borscht. My favorite moment this month was during a visit to my sister’s in PA with my 2-yr old niece. We went to the drive-in, laid out a blanket, bought a funnel cake and built a fort with the pillows. I counted the stars and watched my niece experience the magic of confection sugar melting in her mouth for the first time.

Part of staying positive is setting goals and focusing on the bigger picture. The pace has slowed, but that doesn’t mean the direction can’t keep moving forward. One of my favorite things to do is read, and I can always find time for that. So to feed my craft and imagination, I’m going to read 100 children’s books over the next fuel months. A number of children’s writers say the best way to get better at writing for children is to read children’s books, and the New York Public Library has enough kids books to fill several reading lifetimes.

I’m beginning with Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.

replacing the lure of book covers

This article in The New York Times by Motoko Rich discusses another way digital readers will effect book buying habits. This article made me a little sad, in a shrug and quickly move on sort of way. But it’s true, soon one of my more amusing subway habits could be obsolete:

The scene

The only thing worse than my eyesight is my stubbornness to get go to an optometrist. (Holding out for health care?) Anyway, most faces on the subway are a blur to me. And in order to avoid flesh eating bacteria and the sensation of strangers pressing against me, I prefer to stand. Almost every time I’m on the train, someone reading catches my eye and I have to know what book they are reading, especially if they appear to fall within a 20-year perimeter of my age. So if anyone from 8-48 years old is reading something, I gravitate towards them until I am close enough to make out the title. This means I have to get extremely close and fixate on the book title for an extended period of time.

Imagine you’re reading on the subway, lost in a story and suddenly you have that creepy feeling that someone is staring at you. You glance up and see what looks like a stink eyed expression on a stranger hovering less than a foot away from your face. That’s me squinting to read the title, but I never play this moment off well.

How easy would it be to smile, excuse myself, and explain that I was just curious what you were reading? Not easy enough I suppose because this is when I poke my head forward like a turtle until the words are clear enough to decipher, don’t acknowledge the intrusion, then turn away to spot the next reader. It’s a poor habit and more often than not it’s all for nothing because I forget the title by the time I’m off the train.

My theory is first that there will always be people who resist that pressure to buy electronic readers. I’m one of them. I spend enough time staring at a screen. Second, perhaps those using ereaders will attract a new breed of curious strangers trying to tell what you’re reading by facial expression alone.This would be a world where only the funniest, most dramatic, evocative writers could flourish, me thinks. My expressions when reading are unanimated, I’d probably give the impresson of reading a technical manual.

Book legend for my facial expressions:

*If I’m laughing out loud I am most likely reading Beckett or David Sedaris.

*If I’m crying…I can’t think of any books that have drawn tears.

*If I’m bleeding…”                                       ”

*If I’m sneering I am most likely reading a right wing conservative manifesto.

*If I’m rolling my eyes I am most likely reading a left wing memoir.

*If I’m cringing someone is probably stepping on my foot.

Clearly this won’t work.

Aus dem fenster

Hello again. I’m getting back into the work routine after an extended & unplanned absence. It’s funny how you can spend significant amounts of time establishing a routine with work and exercise and diet only to throw it all out the window the minute an unplanned event occurs – Aus dem fenster, my favorite German phrase.

After three months of trying to be more disciplined, I feel free. This is temporary, soon the freedom will morph into feelings of guilt and remorse, but right now I’m good in that free-falling with no ground in sight sort of way. For instance, I’m not going to run at my regularly scheduled 11 a.m. break time. I may just go at noon or 1 p.m.

Breaking from my daily routine has even been good for my freelance writing: I was able to turn around a profile assignment for a new market without first staring at a blank screen for hours.

Breaking routine has not, however, been beneficial to creative writing. I think when you’re still working to dig your claws into a creative craft you really do need to work at it every single day. Ten minutes here and there does nothing. And though pictures of writers working on trains always looked inspiring to me, in reality Amtrak is no substitute for a small quiet room.

Reading is better suited for trains. In fact, I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon during my 36 hours on the rails. I started Dreaming in Hindi, which I was super excited about, but I couldn’t get through the first fifty pages so I put it down. I get most of my books from the library so I have no problem putting a book down if I don’t enjoy it.

For anyone who needs to travel on short notice, Amtrak lists a number of train discounts. If you can spare the extra time, it’s often cheaper, more comfortable, scenic and a nice break from airport hassles.

Who built the walls?

Warning:  under the bad influence of decaf coffee. Rambling ensues. Why do they make decaf coffee?

On Saturday, I started reading the collection, Best American Stories 2009. When I saw Annie Proulx‘s name in the table of contents, I flipped ahead and settled onto my don’t-interrupt-me chair in the corner of what we refer to as ‘the middle room’.

In the story, a young married couple builds a house on a plot of land in a world removed from electricity and running water. The location they choose is on top of a hill. Surrounded by forest, they have enough space for a garden, clothes line, and an area to chop wood.The husband builds the house one paycheck at a time, buying and using the materials as he can afford them. The home is complete when he rolls a large stone to the front door for a stoop. In one sentence, Proulx pauses on the simple satisfaction the couple feels watching the sunset in the home they built.

So I haven’t finished the short story yet because I’ve read these first few pages several times. It doesn’t take much effort to visualize this scene, and I imagine that I’m not alone in feeling envy for the couple. Yes, life would be harder without the luxuries of modern life: refrigerators, grocery stores, technology, and hot showers. But, wouldn’t it be nice to build your own house as best you could with the resources at hand? You can, of course, but for most people this process would be complicated by financing, regulations, etc.

Twenty-two years ago, my dad built the house he still lives in today in New Jersey. With the help of his brother, he built the skeleton, ran the pipes, ran the electricity, put up the sheet rock, and laid the brick for the porches and fireplace. He even delayed falling from the steeper-than-recommended slanted roof, breaking his arm, until after the piles of weeds were pulled and the ground was hard and bare. It’s safe to say the house was built with blood and sweat. The tears came courtesy of my sisters and I, tumbling down the mounds of dirt scooped out to form a basement. (we were training to be mountain climbers)

I remember carrying wood for the fire we made on our first night in the house, and listening to the story of every diverted and un-diverted disaster that occurred within the walls of our new home. The stories were then repeated to anyone who stepped foot into the home, beginning with, ‘you know, he built the house himself.’

In this interview between Proulx & Katie Bolick of The Atlantic, Proulx mentions making a living in the 1970s by writing nonfiction articles about the back-to-the-land movement, the 1960s-70s migration from cities to rural areas.

As the term ‘self sufficient’ is used a lot today, echoing a population’s concerns about the economy, environment, and deep distrust of big business, I’m adding a few books about this movement to my reading list. For one, I’m curious. Two, I wonder how this wisdom may be applied by someone living in Brooklyn in 2010. If nothing else, I can pass the books along to my dad who has seen his own rural community converted by sprawl, but still forages firewood and manages to get poison ivy amidst the outlet malls and pavers.