Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ich spreche Deutsche

This week is week three of my German class, which runs through mid-December and is just another attempt at my lifelong dream of being multilingual.

Learning languages has never come easily to me. It's not like I haven't tried. Over the years I've put in a year of American Sign Language, half a year of ancient Greek, half a year of modern Greek, and five years of Spanish. But despite all the classes I wouldn't say that I really "know" anything besides English. I've never, for example, had a dream in another language, unless you count dreams where everyone is yelling at me in a language I don't understand. But in my heart I've always wanted to be the sophisticated person who steps in to help a lost tourist in their native tongue, or who knows how to call a foreign hotel and ask the rate without being transferred to the English-speaking staff member, or who -- why not -- can decode the inscription on that mysterious gold-platted goblet I find buried in a field. Instead, I'm the one translating for my husband that the poorly-sketched ex-con in Castle just said "something about a lawyer and ... eggs? It was either eggs or beefsteak. He was talking really fast."

And it's even worse because Greg is some kind of language savant. The other day when I showed him my German flashcards he got more right than I did. And he'd never seen the words before. It's just not fair. And of course he studied French, so when he tells me what the white collar scamp in the Woody Allen film just said it sounds really sexy and suggestive.

Still we use the tools we're given, so the best I can do is struggle to learn at my own pace. For the next three months I'll be the crazy woman on the T counting down from 10 to 1 like an over-enunciating Bond villain, or practicing my au's, ew's, and oo's in a way that makes the guy next to me get up and check his seat for gum. There's only one way to get to whatever's the German equivalent of Lincoln Center; Trainieren.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Here comes Fall!

Even though it's nearly 80 degrees today in Boston, the signs of Fall are everywhere. Pumpkin and apple foods are reappearing in restaurants, women on the T are swapping out summer handbags for black or brown leather versions, and coffee shops are full of students with their laptops and cell phones.

Fall is my favorite season. It's the best possible environment when the air is cool and comfortable, all the best fruits and veggies are at the farmers' markets, everyone's excited about their new projects, and every weekend there's a Fair or apple orchard to hit.

Here are a few projects I'm excited about this Fall:

1. Learning German. This week I started beginners' German at the Goethe Institut. I'm excited to explore a new language with all the fun that brings.

2. Cooking/eating healthily. During the months leading up to our wedding and over the honeymoon, we were so overwhelmed with work that we ended having either something frozen or takeout for every meal. Now, I'm looking forward to eating some delicious in-season vegetables and apples every which way.

3. Getting rid of junk. I've never been much of a Spring cleaner, but in the Fall I love to do a thorough purge. This year, with all our new booty, it's definitely time to trim down our stock of excess small appliances. We have 3 blenders, 4 irons, a hand-mixer that's missing pieces, etc. etc. I'm also happy to dump all the clothes that are too small or threadbare ever to be worn outside the house again.

4. Writing. I feel like I lost a year of my writing life just when things were starting to get interesting. The one benefit of having taken a break is I can now look back on the stories I was writing then with fresh eyes for editing. And then it's time to start submitting!

5. Reconnecting with my blog. Although, as always after an extended absence, I'm tempted to scrap it and start a new one.

What new projects are you excited about starting this Fall?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Post-Wedding Wrap Up

It’s been two weeks now since our wedding, and for the first time in many months Greg and I are getting a “chill out and write day.” Our wedding was wonderful and exactly what we wanted it to be, but now that it’s over we’re both relieved to have time and energy to devote to our separate creative projects. Soon, I hope to get back to blogging semi-regularly about my writing life. But before I do, I want to put up a few reviews of the vendors who went above and beyond for our wedding, in case any of my engaged (or just event-planning) friends want to check them out for their own parties.

In no particular order:

Gayle Smalley, Justice of the Peace

Oh man, did we ever luck out when we found Gayle. Before we met Gayle, we struggled to find the right person to officiate at our wedding. We didn’t want a religious ceremony, but we did want a meaningful ceremony that would reflect our values. We met with several Justices of the Peace who were willing to “say whatever we wanted them to”, but none brought the energy we were looking for. From our first meeting with Gayle (when she served us freshly baked cookies!) it was love at first sight. Throughout the process of writing our ceremony, she was a patient, knowledgeable collaborator who helped us create a wedding that was exactly right for us. On our wedding day, she was a calming, happy presence we were so happy to have standing with us.

Za Restaurant (350 Third Street, Cambridge)

We were absolutely blown away by the service we received from Steve Kurland and his team. It felt like there were 100 waiters attending to our every need, including guests’ requests for special pizzas to accommodate food allergies. They really seemed to enjoy having us there and didn’t mind our last minute addition of a photo booth to the party. They even sliced and boxed our leftover cake for guests to take home as favors.

On top of the excellent service, our guests were raving about the delicious pizza and salads. Before our wedding, I was dreaming about our cake, but the day after it was the pizza we remembered as the star of the show. In fact, the night we got back from our honeymoon we had Za for dinner. Even if you aren’t planning a party, you owe it to yourself to go to Za for a pizza.

J & B Photobooth (www.jandbphotobooth.com)

One week before our wedding, Greg and I decided our reception still needed a little extra entertainment. We hired J & B Photobooth and it absolutely made the party. Hiring them could not have been easier. We called them a week before the wedding and they gave us a great price. They set up and tore down everything on their own, created a cute logo with our initials to go on the photo strips (I believe if you want to create your own, you can do that too), and were super affordable considering that the photobooth added entertainment, a guestbook, and favors to our party.

Everyone from kids to grandparents had a great time using our photobooth, due partly to the fun props, and partly to the staff who were happy to come into the booth and help arrange people to make sure they all fit in the picture, and provide friendly direction for those who needed it. The photobooth was a great place for our family and friends from different circles to meet each other and play together. One of my favorite things to come out of the wedding has been all the new friendships showing up on my facebook feed. A large number of those were due to the photobooth.

Katie Jane Photography, LLC http://blog.katiejanephoto.com/

Choosing a photographer was one of the most difficult choices Greg and I made in our wedding planning process. Whereas we had agreed on most of the other decisions (invitations, flowers, etc) with photography, we found ourselves wanting different things. Greg wanted a photographer with top of the line cameras and the expertise to use them. I wanted someone who cared about making people look good – catching them from the right angles at the right moments. We couldn’t seem to find anyone remotely good enough within our budget. Until we found Katie Jane.

Even including the travel expense fee (which I’m convinced could not have come close to covering her actual travel expenses) for her to come to our wedding from New York, Katie Jane was a bargain compared to Boston photographers. And, I’m sure there’s not a professional photographer in the world as generous and personable as she is. When we met with her for our engagement photo session (included in our package), it felt like we were spending the day hanging out with a friend. And on the day of our wedding, when I was so stressed I couldn’t have added 1 + 1 together, she was a a genius of organization, running through our posed photos quickly to make it as fun and easy as possible for our family and wedding party. If you are engaged and need a photographer, contact Katie Jane quick because her schedule fills up quick (for good reason!).

Victoria (event coordinator)

We were sorely in need of someone to help us set up and coordinate our reception, when Greg’s aunt (our own Malcolm Gladwell-esque people connector) suggested the sister of her daughter’s friend who is in school for event planning. If the job she did for us is any indication, this woman is going to be running the world someday. Victoria stepped up the day of our wedding and took care of everything so all we had to do was enjoy ourselves. Whenever there was a question (time to stop serving pizzas? Cut the top tier of cake or save it?) she found us and made sure we were comfortable before letting Za’s staff know what to do. It was great to have one point person who knew what was happening at any given moment, and made sure everything got done on time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Big Fat Practical Wedding

Over the past few weeks I’ve been pondering the best way to introduce wedding topics into my blog. I’ve even gotten a few posts partially written, before deciding not to post them. None of them seemed quite right.

Then, this weekend, I attended the Boston session of the APW book club. I met all these smart women whose posts I’ve been reading since I discovered the Practical Wedding website last fall, and I felt such a sense of community with them that it made me think about the ways I’ve changed since September, and how APW has been a part of that.

I never spent any time dreaming about my wedding when I was younger. Really not much at all until I got engaged. I used to think that meant I wasn’t the “kind of girl” who cared about weddings, and I secretly also thought that made me tougher and cooler than the girls who did. But now I’m forced to admit that I never was or wasn’t any particular kind of girl, because I truly am excited about my wedding and I love the fuss of being engaged. It’s taken me a while to get to this good place.

I think below my indifference there was a deep-seated fear of stirring up all the things that weddings involve. What do we talk about when we talk about weddings? Love and companionship of course, but also women’s rights, feelings about our parents, fears about money, and the realities of growing old. To plan a wedding is to assess a life; past, present and future. All the rituals, costs, and people involved means if there’s a sore spot anywhere in your life, the wedding is going to hit on it. Making a guest list forced me to take a hard look at some friendships that had drifted. And it was hard, though ultimately freeing, to admit that my Dad and I don’t have a walk-me-down-the-aisle, father/daughter dance relationship. Sometimes wedding planning is about making choices I don’t want to make, and facing truths I don’t want to look at.

It was wonderful on Saturday to talk to other women who’ve been through, or are currently going through, the same things as I am. I hope to be more involved in that community as time goes by.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Today on Facebook I noticed a friend had listed one of my favorite books, The Fortress of Solitude, as one of his favorite books, so I clicked the link to read the page for the book. Reading the synopsis made me think, again, about my obsessive love for Jonathan Lethem, and then I noticed the link to his name at the bottom of the page and it occurred to me that he’s a real person, who probably has a real Facebook page and it’s deeply creepy that I think I have a connection with him just because I read his book.

But literature is like that. The experience of reading a novel is so intimate. I bring books to bed and to the breakfast table, use them to escape a crowded train or dreary break room. When I’m in the middle of a good book I spend more time with it than I do with any real person in my life. Even when I’m with someone else, I’m often thinking of the book. What is that, if not obsession? The best books are like one night stands that leave your head spinning. It all feels so personal and real, it seems bizarre that the author never knows about your connection. The real embarrassment is knowing that all the other people you see on the train later reading the book are having the same intimate encounter you had, and there’s not a trace of you left in the book. Spooky.

It was easier to keep the romance of the book alive before all the authors started showing up on the internet. Several decades ago we didn’t have the opportunity to tweet an author kudos on a great plot twist and get a response before we’d reached the book’s third act. There was no chance to read an author’s blog and discover that a novel’s dashing hero was named after the author’s childhood pet. Disappointing! When I first fell in love with reading, every book was proof that somewhere out there was someone who understood me much more deeply than the real people I knew. Authors were soulful, hyper intelligent beings who would swoop me up into their milieu as soon as they read the books I would write. Writing my own book was the only route I had in the days before the internet. Now – the horror – if you want to talk to an author you just email/instant message/tweet/facebook them.

Granted, I benefit from that accessibility. It’s wonderful to know the mundane details of writers’ habits; how many hours each day are spent at the computer, what candies make the best fuel, the prime hours for rewrites. But, I can’t get over that creepy feeling of intimacy. I hand an author a book to sign at a bookstore reading and want to ask “don’t you remember me? That weekend in February when I was snowed in with your book and ate nothing but saltines so I wouldn’t have to put it down?” How couldn’t she remember being there? Or I turn the last page on a book and turn immediately to the author’s twitter looking for some mention of myself. Could he already have forgotten me?

It’s a funny contradiction, but for some authors I’m just too close to ever risk speaking with them. I couldn’t handle the rejection of knowing the greatest loves of my life don’t remember me.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Libraries I Love

Today I’m camped out at the Concord Free Public Library’s Reference Room to get a little writing done. When the weather is nasty, or even sometimes when it’s nice, the library is a wonderful destination for getting out of the house to enjoy a day of introvert fun without having to spend any money.

The Boston area is blessed with some of the best libraries for hanging out. What makes a library great for spending time in is a mix of feng shui and practicality. The most important factor is at least one open room filled with plenty of tables and chairs. Great lighting, including a mixture of natural and indoor, is essential, as is free wifi or at least a strong cell phone signal. I like a variety of seating options, though I almost always opt to sit in a straight back chair at a long wood table with lamps, if that’s available. The next important factor is the quality of the distraction space. I like to get up and take a walk every half hour or 45 minutes to find inspiration for whatever I’m working on. I like a library that’s always putting interesting books in my path. I’ll never understand why, but there are some libraries I can walk into with no particular book in mind and walk out of with a whole stack of exciting discoveries, while at other libraries I can’t find anything unless I come in with a list.

So here are a few of the libraries I’ve spent time in, and what makes them special:

Concord Free Library: This library has a great range of study spaces, form the quiet Reference Room with its high windows, chandeliers and bankers’ office furniture, to inviting sitting chairs in hidden nooks. The heart-stoppingly lovely room that houses the fiction section is a mahogany room with a fireplace and a second story wrap-around walkway protected by filigree iron handrails. In architecture, it is the platonic ideal of a library; each room is tailored to the contents of that room. The children’s room is full of inviting furniture for kids to play on and the lighting is bright and inviting, the reference room has big tables to spread out your work and crucial electric outlets for laptops, the fiction section has all the romance you hope to find between the covers of the books. My only complaints would be that beyond these rooms it gets a little dull, and the library isn’t easily accessible by public transit from where I live.

Cary Memorial Library (Lexington): The Cary Memorial Library’s writing space beats out Concord by doing everything just a little bit better. The room I like to write in has more tables, more windows, and the walls are lined with periodicals rather than encyclopedias and dictionaries. Magazines are reference materials for fiction writing, as much as dictionaries are for nonfiction, so when I take a break at the Cary library I can usually find fresh inspiration without even needing to leave the room. This is a big benefit because I would never leave my laptop unattended, and at most libraries taking a break means I have to pack everything up and carry it with me (and risk losing my seat!). The downside of the Cary Memorial Library is that they’ve stuffed the fiction section in a bleak little room in the basement. Why, why, why, why, why? It’s the equivalent of storing food in the chicken wire box on the floor. Nothing’s going to look appetizing that way. I find it impossible to check out fiction books there.

Cambridge Public Library (Main Branch): I once heard that the goal of the redesign of the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch was to emulate a bookstore, and they absolutely accomplished it. The airy, open layout and prominently displayed new release books mean if I go in looking for one book, I will walk out with ten. The library’s old section (as opposed to the new addition built on a few years ago) has a gorgeous Richardsonian study room so beautiful I could live there. Unfortunately, the study room is not very well lit, and like in Lexington, the regular fiction section is in the basement.

Robbins Library (Arlington): I think highly enough of this library that we’re getting married there next August. It has a beautiful reading room, and a well-lit fiction section. The only problem with this library is a problem that much of Arlington’s businesses suffer; there are simply too many people in town looking for somewhere to sit for 5 hours without having to buy anything. Every coffee shop in town is perpetually full. Walk into Starbucks, Jam’n Java, Quebrada or the library and you will see knitting groups, book clubs, parenting groups, nanowrimo-ers, and online daters. There are just too darn many of us! And don't even get me started on the subject of restaurants on Saturday night.

Brookline Public Library (Coolidge Corner Branch): I have a book of essays by Brookline authors titled “The Fruitful Branch” and that’s just what this library is. The layout is similar to the library I used to go to in Michigan; it’s not large and doesn’t have a lot of seating or study space, but for some reason it’s really easy to find a good book to read by browsing here. It occurs to me at this point that I haven’t been giving proper credit to the librarians of these libraries for their part in the collections, but a lot of times it really is about the architecture. If I’m looking through a fiction collection under fluorescent lights in an underground lair, I’m not going to find anything no matter how good the selection. However, the Coolidge Corner library’s architecture doesn’t get in the way of the collection, and the library has a great collection. Be forewarned, there really isn’t that much space at this library for setting up your workspace, and Coolidge Corner, like Arlington is full of coffee shop squatters, so you can’t count on finding space at a nearby Starbucks or Peets either.

Boston Public Library (Main Branch): What can I say? It’s the Boston Public library! Great place to find books, great place to write books. It even has a secret garden with a restaurant in the middle. I will say it can be a little drab in the winter, though.

So that’s my list of great local libraries. Now I think I’ve earned a break to take another look at the fiction room…

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm Back!

Obviously, it’s been a while since I updated this blog, and a lot has changed in that time.

In September I made some big decisions that altered the course of the rest of my 2010. The first change, maybe the biggest, was that I became engaged to my long-term boyfriend. We’re in the midst of planning the wedding now, and I’ll definitely blog a bit about that process, and link to some of my favorite new blogs I’ve discovered.

The second big change was that I decided not to apply for any mfa programs for Fall 2011. Even though I made some great strides in my writing in 2010, I knew by September that I didn’t have enough finished stories to put together a strong writing sample, and I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to pull together the money to apply again next year if I didn’t get in this year. (I’ve blogged before about the prohibitively expensive application process.) So, now I’m looking to apply at the end of 2011, for Fall 2012.

In my first post on this blog I said that my goal was to create a writing life for myself, and that continues. For the first few months after the engagement I gave into the temptation to plan, plan, plan ... and I didn’t get much writing done. But, it’s a new year and I’m back on track now with my daily morning pages, blogging (I swear!), and maybe even a story or two. Stay tuned.