Best of 2013: Fiction Edition

31 Dec

1) The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I braced myself for Signature. Elizabeth Gilbert is basically the Gwyneth Paltrow of the literary set, and people love to hate her. It’s understandable: Her real-life happy ending in Eat Pray Love makes getting over a divorce/life crisis seem as easy as stuffing your face full of Italian food, then sitting in the lotus position, then having sex with hot strangers. Julia Roberts played her onscreen, plus she’s blond, ebullient, and outdoorsy. See? Loathsome. But Gilbert isn’t her image, and Alma, her protagonist, is far from a shiny-happy-serenity-now stereotype. In fact, there’s nothing facile or reductive about —  it’s a messy, complicated patchwork of a book, and this story of longing and unrealized ambition is absolutely searing in its honesty. Thank you, Elizabeth, for writing a novel about what happens when life turns out nothing — nothing! — like we ever imagined it would, and how we cope. Alma is a woman who yearns for a man who doesn’t want her back — a subject, as Gilbert herself said,  that needs to be written about far more often. She goes there on the page, as she must have in real life too — those dark, dismal places that reflect back an unflattering, yet utterly true, version of ourselves.

Also, she writes about mosses with extraordinary detail.


Gratitude edition

28 Nov

We made the traditional kale salad and Trader Joe’s ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner. Oddly, I haven’t celebrated  Thanksgiving or Hanukkah the way I should, the way I’m used to. Things change. Every year. It’s okay to have Thanksgiving on Saturday due to scheduling, and it’s okay to not light the menorah because I’m moving tomorrow and I saw no sense in digging through a heap of stuff in storage to find the item I’ll likely unpack soon anyway. I don’t understand the noses turned at Thanksgivingikah. What do yo do when two worlds collide? Sometimes the only way to hold onto the old is to create something new.

Well, sometimes.


The digital lookingglass

26 Nov

Whenever I have a long article published, I obsessively check the comments and social media response. It’s like seeing whether or not people find your new baby cute. Let’s be honest: it’s not like anything I’ve written has ever achieved super buzzy status or gone viral. It’s validating whenever someone acknowledges work, but it doesn’t mean you’ve impacted the culture at large. It’s either a total stranger liked what I wrote? Or, A total stranger liked what I wrote! Yet for some reason I allow these responses from strangers to be the metric by which I just my work.

My latest  - on the dating woes of women in science - didn’t really register on the social media richter scale or my barometer of importance. It’s partially because I’m now working a day job that requires not just a long commute but consistent focus (read: limited social media distractions).   A story, an idea, a voice is separate from it’s online presense and yet the two are inextricably linked. I get jealous of people who can put themselves out there without thinking about what it means. For me it’s easier to refrain from putting something out there than to put something out there and wait anxiously for some kind fo validation.


The moving picture show

18 Nov

We watched Fellini’s 8 1/2 this weekend. Hours before, I went to a radiology clinic to get x-rays done of my spine, neck and chest. I thought they’d snap a shot and I’d be done. Instead the technician took over a dozen shots from multiple angles. Me with my chest pressed against the screen, me at an angle with my shoulder to the left, to the right, me shivering in the robe with that heavy lead smock pressing icily against my legs. My x-ray point of references comes from age six, when I broke  my arm. Fellini, and all his angles and strange juxtapositions and incredible ways of seeing, would’ve done something interesting with the scene I was living. I felt frigid and one-dimension. But I could’ve looked through a different lens and made it interesting.


A humble retreat

17 Nov

Fact: Brooklyn has more car accidents than anywhere else in the United States. Florida is a close second.

Occasionally I’ll start these posts in the notes app on my phone while riding the subway or bus. The act of typing my thoughts or personal experiences in public makes me feel transparent. I know that the person sitting across from me can’t intuit what I’m writing, but I worry that the cadence of my sentences, the rhythm of my fingers, reveals something the intensity or angst of the words I write.

The chiropractor took one look at me and said, “You look pretty stiff.” It felt like a character indictment. You are stiff, brittle, high strung. Of course, for me to even think he was implying something beyond the physical is a reflection of a certain self-consiciousness and intractability. But who knows? He spends his days twisting bodies and sticking needles into people.


Minor inconveniences

14 Nov

There was a panel on using these cool frames to make posts more interesting.

There was a panel on using these cool frames.

Invent this: a system of classification for the interwebs. I’m talking the species and genus breakdown of SEO, click through ratea, page views, tags, alt text, pingbacks, unique users, etc. Take my advice, create some cool infographic, get some sultan of tech to back it, and patent that stat.

I feel constant pressure to care about things I don’t give a shit about. The inner workings of the interwebs being one of those things. I was listening to a podcast about Pynchon’s latest, and it made reference to a part where the characters go to Ikea. They’re led toward the exit but they can never. Get. Out. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Just one more lampshade. Another set of knives because, well, just because. Another pretty jar that I have absolutely nothing to fill with. A particular context will make it seem like ideas or things are so useful, so essential, that you’ve been deprived living without them. I felt that way at this indie media bootcamp I went to yesterday. Here I am, putting all this energy into my posts without creating clickable titles that will show up in Google search or increase my authority (the internet kind).

It was in a cool space in Gowanus, catered by the Whole Foods that’s opening next month on 3rd and 3rd. I noticed lots of interesting blazers, beanies and boots laced up halfway with the tongues sticking out. You get the idea. Please refer to the picture to the left. You get the idea. I’m trying.


Buzz(feed) kill

13 Nov

What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Writing.

I’m reading Great Expectations. Donna Tartt is on deck.  They say you need 5 different references – online, in your social media feeds, from face to face interactions — before you’ll see a play, buy a book, invest in a creative experience, etc. I think it’s probably true.

Wait, that Dickens reference sounded smug. I’m not picking up classics for my own edification. One of my students is reading it for class, and it helps to refresh my memory. I find I’m a more effective tutor even if I’ve only reread the first few chapters. I’ve internalized the tone, I understand the acoustics of the voice. So I picked up a $4.50 Bantam Classics edition from Barnes & Noble. I remembered the smell of those think grey pages. It’s also the smell of MacBeth and The Scarlett Letter and oh shit, is this going to be on the test? I’ve always wanted to return to those books when they weren’t forced upon me. You know how it is. You never like what you’re told you should.


Battle for Brooklyn

10 Nov

Is there a venn diagram of people who attend boxing matches and people who attend literary events? I wonder. I just might be the only one to fall in the sliver of overlapping space between the two circles. The Moth Story Slam, the Franklin Park Reading Series, and Battle for Brooklyn all in one week. That’s got to be a first.

It was supposed to be Salita’s comeback. Dimitry Salita, a skinny Jewish kid born in the former Soviet Union who immigrated to New York around the same time as my boyfriend. There’s your connection. That’s why we went. Because a stranger’s narrative trembled with something like honesty. All day we pretended that it was not Salita, but said boyfriend who was gearing up to go 10 rounds.


Note to self

9 Nov

Apropos of nothing, the man next to me on the bus starts talking. “What happened to global warming?” he asked. I was about to say um, nothing, I’m pretty sure the globe is still warming. I glanced at the ice cream sandwiches in my bag; I was coming from Trader Joe’s. Then I realized he was referring to the cold weather. What he was really saying was how is it that I wore a tee shirt last week and now I’m bundled up in a winter coat? He was right. Something shifted. The door to warm weather had remained open a crack, but it slammed shut this week. It was time. Fall needed to stop equivocating and own the November stage. I hate the cold; it makes me listless and depressed. Yet there’s a certain barometric rhythm to the weeks and months that makes winter’s arrival almost a relief. Now I can officially buy more chai lattes and not feel guilty about all the pumpkin muffins and wear multiple sweaters and make big pots of lentils on the weekends. Now I know what what’s expected of me.

I think it’s why I’m tormented about not going into a regular job. There’s not that same release on Fridays or when vacation rolls around if the rhythm of each week is different. And if rhythm is off, or you don’t know what’s expected of you, then tone and pitch don’t matter. Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to rhythm. At least when it comes to words. Sometimes I pay more attention to their sound than their sense.


Tiny Madmen

8 Nov

I’ve been working on the same personal essay for three days straight. This always happens when I’m writing something I really care about. It’s probably why I’m afraid to start revising my novel. I get obsessive, tense, and then inevitably angry at myself for not being more relaxed and natural. For getting in my own damn way.

Nabokov is so good you forget he’s a pervert. I was reading Lolita on the train this morning when the conductor’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “I need a police officer in car five.” Everyone momentarily emerged from their own worlds and I made eye contact with a few people. We obviously weren’t in car five. So did it matter? It takes a lot to puncture the personal space bubble.