Some Stories Are Different

Five titles:

1. Befriending Giants

2. Things to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say But Don’t Want to Stay Silent

3. The Summer of Finches

4. The Madcap Man on Wimpole Street

5. Building a Chair

Five first sentences:

1. Catherine didn’t know how she was going to do it, but she’d made up her mind and there was no turning back now.

2. In a small chest, half-buried in sand, deep down in the darkest corner of the ocean, lies a piece of my heart with a gold thread wrapped around it.

3. Sometimes you don’t feel like going to work; it’s a thing.

4. She looked at me and laughed the sweetest laugh I’d ever heard, and I realized finally that she reminded me of my mother.

5. The highway patrolman spat on the ground and looked at his watch; his shift was far from over.

Five fictional quotes:

1. “I wouldn’t touch the balloon if I were you. It’s unsafe, you know.”

2. “Me? Freak out? I so did not freak out. I may have gotten giddy. Just a little bit. But I seriously did not freak out, okay?”

3. “Dickens didn’t write an autobiography. He wrote David Copperfield instead. What does that tell us about the book? Should we treat it as an autobiography? As a novel? As a mix of the two? Come on, people, you’d think I was the only one in this room. Talk to me!”

4. “There are some things you just don’t say. If I ever had any respect for you, it would have dissipated right around now.”

5. “Ready… Set… FLY!”

Five emotions:

1. Anger

2. Confusion

3. Anguish

4. Elation

5. Tenderness

Five last sentences:

1. She died that day, and though I knew that it was a sticky, humid morning, I couldn’t help picturing it as a perfect autumn afternoon.

2. He freed his hair from its restraining cap and shook out his long curls for all the world to see them one last time.

3. An eagle let out a cry and the party below all looked up and shaded their eyes to watch the majestic creature swoop.

4. The coffee cup stayed in the sink for months before anyone dared wash it out again.

5. No one picked up the phone, so I left a message, but the machine cut me off before I finished speaking.

Big Apple, Small Room

It took me a while to convince my mother that our apartment wasn’t twenty-five square feet. I needed to remind her that if it was, that would mean it was the size of my aunts’ terrace.

Nevertheless, the space is small, the bed slopes, the internet is having issues, the shower-curtain smells suspiciously of new plastic (was there blood on the previous one? Is that why it was changed so recently) and the air-conditioning not so much hums as grunts and complains loudly that its back is hurting. We shut the poor thing off and slept with the windows open.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? Oh, dear me, no! Part of life in the big city is the itty-bitty one room apartments that make up those jigsaw puzzles of lights-in-windows that can be seen anywhere, always, because it never goes completely dark here. I heard something about some legendary blackout that happened sometime, but I can’t imagine it. How would people so addicted to their machines function?

Friends, good food, and fun awaits. Oh, yeah, and then school starts in a couple days. But until then, I’m going to make the most of this place.*

*By that, of course, I mean I’m going to go with my mom to read at the Highline park. But hey, that’s pretty dang adventurous for me!

Links [Overheard]

“So if your friends hadn’t taken a course with my friend-”

“And you hadn’t come to play board-games with us that one night-”

“Then you never would have talked to me at the party and-”

“You never would have asked me out-”

“And we wouldn’t have known each other at all.”

“Exactly.”

“Huh.”

“Indeed. Life and stuff.”

“Funny how that works out.”

“Yeah. Funny.”

Five Words

I’m currently reading Stephen Fry’s Moab is My Washpot, which is the first part of his autobiography. I have admired Mr. Fry for some years now as an actor and writer, and I fell more deeply in awe of him when I listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks that he narrates because of his incredible range of voices, accents and tones. His regular speaking voice is, in itself, impressive as well.

What strikes me most about him when reading his autobiography is his love of language. He loves words for the sheer look of them, the sound they make, the way the tongue feels as it moves to create a consonant in the mouth. Inspired by him, I spent an hour happily reading aloud the titles of books I was vacuuming dust off of – I especially enjoyed titles like The World According to Garp, Smiley’s People, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas because of “Garp,” “People,” and “Vegas,” all words that are fun to say. Go ahead, try them out.

The second thing that Mr. Fry has inspired me to do is read the dictionary. I know, aren’t I exciting? But seriously, I look up words online more often than not, and I never get to see an odd word or two that way. So, in order to kick-start myself, I’ve decided to find five new (to me, that is) words in my big copy of the OED, and use them in sentences:

1. Stephen Fry didn’t suffer from dyslalia when he was young, because there was nothing wrong with his speech organs – he eventually learned to articulate his speech properly so that others could understand him.

2. There was a point in time when I thought my eating disorder was insuperable, but I’m doing much better now.

3. Many politicians are perfidious.

4. The gems in animated films are always so exaggeratedly rutilant. I doubt that real precious stones are every quite so twinkly and red.

5. On the road to Jerusalem, there’s one clough that always reminds me of the valleys by my grandparents’ house in Los Angeles.

___

And that, boys and girls, was probably enough of that for now.

Fun (Recent) Facts

1. I officially finished the first draft of my very first novel, which is, as of yet, untitled. I’m extremely happy to have been able to do it, even though I think it sucks. For now, I’m taking a few days away from it, since I’ve been working on it almost every single day since the end of June. The distance will hopefully allow me to see it with fresh eyes when I go back to it and start working on the re-write.

2. I signed up for NaNoWriMo, a very fun project that I learned about this year even though it’s been around for quite a while. The confusing name, for those who haven’t heard of it, stands for National Novel Writing Month. During the month of December, there is a sort of challenge to write a novel (which, they stipulate, means 50,000 words or more.) Kit, at Goggle and Lace, is also participating (and, in fact, has a very cool job in her region and she’s a fabulous writer, so go check her out!) so I have one buddy so far! Anyone else participating? If so, my author name is “Ilana” so feel free to add me.

3. The last couple of days I didn’t write at all, almost, and I have to say that I’m extremely pleased by how much I missed it! My biggest fear is that writing will become too much of a chore for me, because I do try to have a schedule with it as much as I can. But no, writing is still a joy, even when it’s rough, and even when it pressures me. I’m always pleased with having written for a while, even if I’m not happy with the results.

4. I’ve had this blog for more than two years… I didn’t celebrate my anniversary or anything! Oh, well, I guess I’ll wait until next year and celebrate my three-year anniversary then.

5. I actually don’t have another significant fact that I can think of, so… I’m reading “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. It’s the first of the classic Russian novels I’ve ever read, and I’m enjoying it immensely – more than Charles Dickens, if I may say so (don’t string me up, please!)

Samantha and Frank

It was on a bright day in the middle of January that Samantha realized that her cat, Frank, had taken over her life. On that day, Samantha was driving her old Honda to her mindless office job. She was looking forward to work in a vague sort of way, mostly because she wanted to hear Roseann’s latest dramatic episode in her relationship with her ex-husband-current-sometimes-boyfriend. Samantha enjoyed those stories immensely, since Roseann was an intelligent woman who had the charming quality of being able to make fun of herself, and Samantha felt the need for a laugh.

The old car had no CD player, and of course no connection for her iPod – which was good, since it was on the fritz and was working only sporadically – so Samantha spent the drive to work listening to the radio. That morning, in January, she happened upon a talk-show, one of the many that featured uproariously funny hosts (at least, in their own minds) who spoke very fast. She realized soon that the host’s project that morning was dissing people with pets. He was talking to someone who rescued animals on the street and made various mean-spirited jokes about the subject until the guest thanked him sarcastically and finished the interview. Samantha had laughed – this particular show was one she enjoyed, because the host was funny sometimes – but she stopped abruptly when he started reading off a fax he’d gotten.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” he drawled, his voice fizzing in and out of the old speakers. “I have here a fax by Miss Mary K. P. and she’s written a very nice list here. So, get out your pens, all of you pet owners out there, and let’s see if your pet has taken over your life! Miss Mary K. P., as promised, you’ll be getting a free t-shirt from the network. Let’s go.”

Samantha smiled indulgently as she wondered how many of the items on the list would fit her profile, but soon she began to frown in concern. Soon after that she began to laugh uncomfortably, and, finally, she wore a fake expression of calm as she pulled into the office parking lot and decided that she had to get out more.

“First,” the talk show host had said. “If you feed your pet before you feed yourself – it’s taking over your life. Second, if you talk to it more than you talk on the phone – it’s taking over your life. Third, if you talk to it as if it’s a human being who understands your every word – it’s taking over your life. Fourth, if you hug it more than five times a day – it’s taking over your life. Fifth, if you live vicariously through other people’s stories, but interact with your pet more than with other people outside your home – it’s taking over your life.”

The list had gone on, and Samantha realized that yes, Frank had taken over her life. The problem was that even though she knew that she should do something about it… She really didn’t feel like it.

A Small and Rewarding Moment

I used to work at T.N.S. International, a survey company. It wasn’t fun. I got hung up on, I got yelled at, I had to deal with elderly men and women who didn’t understand the questions and hung up in the middle of conversations, I got to hear tirades about the questions I asked and their irrelevance. The single, and only, interesting survey I ever conducted was one that had to do with the elections for Prime Minister which had been counted and the results announced the night before.

Just now, I got a call from another survey company – Shiluv. I’ve heard of it before and I know that it was based pretty near where I used to work. The man on the line asked if I could please answer a few questions in regards to many different subjects, and he promised – lying through his teeth – that it would be interesting for me. It wasn’t, since it dealt with a TV show I don’t watch, cigarettes, and ice-cream. There was a little bit of interest when I got to diss the Israeli army by saying I believe it was 10 (“How corrupt is the Israeli army, from 1 to 10?). Other than that, the survey itself didn’t give me kicks.

At the end of every survey, there are questions that are “purely for statistical purposes,” as I remember saying so often – age, family status, income, health insurance etc. When I finished answering the questions quickly and succinctly, I asked again what survey firm my friendly caller was from. He told me, and I revealed the fact that I’d worked at another one.

And there, right there, was my small and rewarding moment. I could hear him smile through the phone as he said “Ah! That’s why you answered so well and quickly! You know how it is here!” and I told him that I hoped he’d have an easy day and that he wouldn’t get hung-up on too many times and he wished me a happy new year.

I remember being so happy when someone helped make my horrible job just a little bit easier, and it’s fun being able to return the favor by giving this guy another check-mark to add to his number-of-surveys-an-hour page as well as an easy and quick five minutes that I know are more fun than dialing number after number and getting angry responses in return.

It’s the little things that make a day, or an hour or a minute, just a little bit more special.

A-Trane

A-Trane, the famous and successful jazz club, has free jam sessions every Saturday night. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Sunday morning, though. The jam session starts officially at midnight-thirty, but the show before it doesn’t usually end until one o’clock or later.

The night in question was just another Saturday night or Sunday morning, and the bar was jam-packed. Every kind of human creature above the age of eighteen was there. There were university students dressed sensibly, and those that dressed more provocatively. There were couples in their late twenties, yuppies who drank red wine and tilted their heads toward each other intimately. There were groups of middle aged men and women, friends out for a night of good music, good beer, and good company. And then, of course, there were musicians, who closed their eyes to listen properly or tapped their feet as well as they could to the fast paced or gentle jazz beats.

If smoking were still allowed, the place would be full of the blue tendrils of softly curling cigarette smoke, the smell of illegal substances, and the pungent scent of cigars. In lieu of all that, there was chatter, a strong smell of wine, spirits and beer, and an atmosphere that was as thick as the smoke would have been.

The main shows were over for the night. Many left, but just as many piled in, until the blonde lady at the front told them that the room was full and they’d have to wait. The ones who stayed after the main shows were the real enthusiasts – either for the music or for the alcohol – and they kept their seats jealously as the others crowded behind and between the small wooden tables. When a chair was vacated, someone inevitably pounced to take it, even if it meant that they’d be looking at the saxophonists extremely large feet from quite up close.

So this night at the A-Trane was the same as any other, perhaps. But it felt unique, incredibly cultural and grown-up for the two shy teenagers sitting close together. An older couple had offered them the seats right in front of them as well as the table. The teenagers thanked them profusely, and sat down eagerly. They sipped their beer when the nice waitress brought it over, and waited with anticipation for the jam-session to begin. Both were under the age of twenty and had never gone to a proper, indoor jazz club, although they’d both been to the jazz-bar in their hometown that featured live music once in while. Neither of them were experts on the genre, but both enjoyed it very much.

The seats they’d been given were a table’s length away from each other, so their knees touched lightly, but they couldn’t hold hands or cuddle. They sent happy looks at each other and smiled, thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t too close to the stage, and could actually see the drummer’s face when he got up to introduce himself.

“We’re Naked Jazz,” he said, his voice low and sexy as he leaned into the microphone. He was short, bald and rail-thin, but his voice was charismatic, and his hands were energetic and powerful, clutching the drumsticks that he was going to use in mere moments. “We’re going to start off the jam-session with four or five original tunes, and then we’ll open up the stage to the many talented musicians here tonight.”

And so they started. Their music was fast and furious at the start, messy in the way that jazz can sound before you pick out the melody and the fluidity of the tune. The bassist was dancing with his big instrument, moving back and forth as if it were a woman he was caressing. He smiled widely every time they all hit a particularly fun part, and looked like he was having the time of his life. He was bald as well, but muscly and stocky, giving an aura of danger about him when he wasn’t grinning.

The pianist looked like a real grown-up despite his dreadlocks. They were tied neatly behind his head, which had a nice gray beret on it. His glasses looked very much like a science geek’s specs, and he head a wedding ring on one of his dark hands. He played like the devil, jumping a bit off his seat sometimes and nodding his head to the music.

The trumpet player looked like he was right out of college, uncomfortable in his skin and onstage until he played. He did this extremely well, his precision perfect, his technical skills flawless, but amazingly every note still had soul.

The drummer who introduced his band-members with respect before was playing just as hard and well as the rest. His lips puckered and receded as he made the beat sounds softly to himself. His right hand held the drumstick in that way that looks so awkward but is the staple of a jazz drummer. He moved fast, bouncing on his stool and closing his eyes often. He never missed a beat, and drummed without stop, loudly when needed and so quietly sometimes that the cymbals sounded far off and haunting.

Finally, the saxophonist joined them for a couple of tunes. He was extremely tall, big footed, and his saxophone looked too small in his big hands. He played like a madman, eyes shut tight when he soloed, but meeting the trumpet player’s gaze when they started to play together, one giving a question while the other gave the answer.

Over an hour after Naked Jazz started, the teenagers, starry-eyed and happy, left the bar before the real jam session began and other musicians came onstage as they chose and joined in. It was two-thirty in the morning, and they were nearing exhaustion as they walked home together.

For the A-Trane, it was just another successful Saturday night. For the teenagers, it had been magical.

Faced with an Empty Page

Opening a new, white and pristine page can be one of two things. It’s either exciting, pulse-raising and inviting, or terrifying, threatening and off-putting.

It doesn’t matter what sort of page this is – it can be a new page in a much used notebook, the first page of an unopened one, or the electronic, virtual one that comes up in a writing program.

No matter what emotion arises when faced with a blank page, the demand that it throws is undeniable. A blank page craves to be filled, to be written upon with ink or to be full of coded letters.

There’s nothing worse than opening a new page and feeling the terror bubbling in your throat, the pressure building up behind your eyes, in the crevices of your very mind. The emptiness seems to call to the very soul, demanding in loud and certain tones what it needs. Sometimes, fear can lead the way into the second, better emotion. Once a page starts to fill up, the demand lessens, the pressure recedes, and bit by bit, the terror evaporates.

There’s nothing better than opening a new page and feeling the excitement bubbling in your stomach, the itch in your fingers as they long to start writing and the images that jump around your mind, urging you onward, ever onward, so that you can’t resist putting down your pen to the paper or your fingers to the keyboard and beginning to write. When the page fills up, bit by bit, a sense of pride in your own words filling up such a space is added to the other emotions, and it too spurs you onward.

Sometimes, when a page is full, it demands another page to be opened. It’s not finished yet, the emptiness of the next page tells you, you must continue.

Sometimes, when the page is full, it’s enough. The urge, the need and the drive all quiet in you, and you can look at the full page and know that you’ve completed something, even if it’s not finished, you’ve put something down on the page, and there it will stay.

Being faced with an empty page is an adventure, whether dream or nightmare.

Those

There are those who browse, touching the books as they go.

There are those who straighten the books as they pass over them, as if, like me, it bothers them to see a messy booth.

There are those who look down resolutely, in denial that there’s someone on the other side.

There are those who look up if you greet them with cheer and a smile.

There are those who ignore even that.

There are those who watch other people, who pick up a book someone has just bought, or snatch it up if they didn’t want it.

There are those who listen in to my conversations with customers and try to glean information from them so that they won’t need to talk to me themselves.

There are those who think they’re witty and who continue to badger on with their friends and block the booth with sheer volume and an annoying aura.

There are those who are excited to buy books.

There are those who buy books only because they’re on sale or even for free with their frequent-flier cards.

There are those who tell the stranger next to them that the book he or she is holding is good.

There are those who tell the stranger next to them that the book he or she is holding is bad, even though they’ve only read the reviews.

There are those who are so passionate that they almost have tears in their eyes, and they do my job for me, convincing people to buy this or that book.

There are those who are mean, for no reason at all.

There are those who are nice, maybe because I’m cheerful, but maybe for no reason at all.

There are those who are old.

There are those who are young.

There are those with their lovers.

There are those with their children.

There are those who don’t care a whit about books.

There are those who love them as much as I do.