Man on the Subway: A Transcript

On November 5th, I was on a packed subway and I found poetry in an old man’s mouth. The following are not my own words – they are his.

74 year old man need help.
Live to be 74 years old and come back to find another man in your bed.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself right now. I need help.
I need help.
Need a psychiatrist on this train.
There ain’t nothing wrong with reaching out.

It hurts.
It hurts real bad.
It hurts real bad.

Come home find another nigger in bed with your wife.

It hurts really really bad.

71 year old man there getting up for you you lady.
If I were you I’d read the sign up there. Priority for people with disabilities.
Give him space. 71 year old man coming through. He’s getting off. Give him room.
Thank you for talking to me. God bless. God bless…

Not crush, I’m crumble.
I got a new word for it.
I’m not crushed. I’m crumble.

Five Reasons I Love “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Before I start, I want to give a SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t yet read the book, then a) you should, and b) you shouldn’t read this post (yet) because it contains many details that are vital to the plot. Read the book, I urge you, and come back!

Okay, here we go, the five reasons why my love for Little Women endures, everlasting:

1. The complexity of the characters. Little Women is often assumed to be a simple book for little girls, a book you should read in middle school and then put aside with the other chapter books. It is so much more than that. I reread it once a year, and every year I discover more facets of and motives for the characters . Let’s take Jo March as a case study. Jo is a tomboy when she is young – not because she shuns her contemporaries’ femininity on the whole, but because she recognizes that men have freedom where women don’t, and it is that freedom that she yearns for. She escapes by reading, writing and playacting, finding in these activities the adventures and capacity for expression she needs. But when her favorite sister, Beth, becomes deathly ill, Jo begins to change, to mature. Though the reader rarely witnesses Jo struggling verbally with her emotions, her actions speak far louder than any words she could utter; Jo nurses Beth with obsessive dedication, but fails to bring her back to health. Some time after Beth’s death, Jo realizes that she cannot reconcile herself to fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer. She can’t make her castle in the air a reality with the guilt of Beth’s passing still weighing on her. Instead, Jo ends up devoting her life to the care of others, opening a school for boys that takes in poor and disadvantaged students as well as wealthy ones. Jo’s progression from teenager to woman is complex, and Louisa May Alcott brilliantly shows – rather than tells – Jo’s struggles.

2. The faith. Though a staunch atheist myself, the brand of religion that Alcott portrays in Little Women has always seemed particularly beautiful to me. The particular Christianity practiced by the March family is welcoming and socially-conscious, more about the doing of good deeds than the preaching of good news. There is a wonderful section in which Amy discusses her desire to have a chapel to pray in, similar to the one Esther, a Catholic servant, has. Mrs. March, though uncomfortable with the idea of a Catholic chapel in her home, is amenable to having her daughter set up a little room in which to pray, meditate and think. When religion is spoken of blatantly, it is to comfort and console one another. I’ve always been envious of the March family’s calm, matter-of-fact, approach to faith; as a reader, it is appealing, comforting, and never discomforting.

3. The realistic portrayal of marriage. Unlike many 19th-century novels Little Women doesn’t end with a marriage. Instead, the second part of the book deals with the sisters’ adult life, including the first years of a new marriage. Meg and John marry after a three-year long engagement. Even though John has spent that time earning money and Meg has tried saving the little wages she made as well, they run into financial difficulties quite soon after they marry – a reality of life that is familiar today as well. Meg and John learn to fight through and for their relationship, how to have disagreements, to argue and make up – they struggle with their pride, youth and different expectations from one another. They discover that maintaining a healthy relationship takes work.

4. The reality of parenting. Alcott  takes the reader into Meg and John’s life as new parents. Mrs. March has been, previously, a beautiful example of a loving and beloved mother, and Mr. March, though absent for the first third of the novel, is only so because he is working as a war chaplain and is clearly much loved by his family as well. However, once Meg and John grow distant from one another because of Meg’s devotion to her children, the reader gets to hear a little about the March’s difficult early years as well, a fact that humanizes their saintly dispositions. Meg and John struggle to make parenting a shared venture, and Meg, especially, learns to overcome certain instincts that are unhealthy, she realizes, for both her and her children. Once again, Alcott doesn’t pretend that parenting is an easy task, but handles the difficulties with empathy and humor simultaneously.

5. The sheer beauty of the writing. The style is simple throughout, but there is not a page that doesn’t give me that warm and comforting feeling of a truly human book. The way the characters talk to one another is always lively and lifelike – Jo and Laurie meeting behind the curtain at the party, Amy solemnly explaining why she wrote a will, Meg and John so awkwardly settling upon their engagement, and on and on and on; there are a thousand examples I’d like to give, but I fear I’d end up simply writing a synopsis of the entire story if I started.

So let me recommend again that if you haven’t read it, do so – and if you have read it, reread it. You might be surprised by what you’ll find in it now that you’ve graduated middle school.

Progress

It’s four days into NaNoWriMo. I’m ahead of the required daily word count. I’ve written some twenty-five pages since November 1. There also happens to be incredibly annoying music coming out of one of the windows in my building. But that’s entirely beside the point.

My nose keeps bleeding because it’s so dry in my room. That’s irrelevant as well.

Okay, so I guess what I’m trying to avoid writing about is this: I’m not really sure whether or not I like the novel I’m writing. I have this issue that spans across almost everything I write: I create characters that I like. Almost without fail, my characters have redeeming qualities and are people that I can relate to. But that can get incredibly boring, and most of the writers I know who take this approach invariably begin churning out repetitive books that have similar voices. One of my favorite writers does this, and I forgive him because I love the style of his writing and his characters as much as he seems to: but I also know that there are probably many readers who he’s alienated this way. This is one thing I’ve developed since taking writing classes – a heightened and more realistic sense of literary criticism.

So this year, for NaNoWriMo, I’m writing about characters who are incredibly different than me. They’re people who I probably wouldn’t like very much if I met them. I have a soft spot for them – of course I do, despite everything – but I don’t particularly like them. Sometimes I get mad at them as I’m writing, because they’re selfish or annoying or mean. It’s an interesting experience, but it’s harder for me to gauge whether what I’m writing is any good or not.

Oh, well. Here’s to another twenty-six days of writing and finding out!

Where No One Can See

The floor shook, and ornaments began to rattle on the shelves, the painted china ladies knocking elbows and skirts with the delicate porcelain men. There was no earthquake, no shifting of plates deep within the earth, no shifting of magma or stone so old that it remembered what it was like to have the weight of much larger creatures stand upon it. The house that the floor belonged to looked peaceful from the outside, every blade of grass intact and the little red bench on the porch perfectly clean and gleaming cheerfully.

The disturbance, as the reader may have deduced, was arising from one of the rooms. It was a small one, near the back of the house, far from the street as well as situated at equal distances from the neighbors on either side. It was the only room in the house from which sounds would not emerge for the entire neighborhood to hear and judge, as members of small, well-mowed neighborhoods will. A woman named Gina stood within this room, which was hardly a room at all, more like a linen closet that had been stripped of its shelves.

Gina wasn’t remarkable looking, for she had no one feature that stood out particularly, nor was the symmetry of her features pleasing enough to be remembered. There was an aura of the average about her, a sense of potential that may have shone for a while but was quickly snuffed out by its owner for no real reason except, perhaps, laziness or lack of motivation. This is not to say that she seemed defeated. At the moment of the shaking floors, she looked, in fact, full of restless, angry energy as she screamed and jumped up and down again and again until her voice became ragged and her throat raw.

No one who knew Gina would ever believe that she went into this middle room several times a day to perform this ritual, this cleansing of all the sour emotions that would build in her over the course of her day. Her husband, with whom she was in the process of getting a divorce, would have been surprised to learn that Gina had any such strong emotions at all. As far as he was concerned, she had taken the news that he wanted to marry one of his graduate students quite well. He even entertained the notion that they would be able to remain friends and support each other emotionally during their later lives. He thought he would rather like that, because the graduate student he was engaged to was quite vapid and, if he was truthful with himself, was mostly attractive to him because of her smooth skin, her bouncy hair and her insatiable sexual appetite.

The ornaments settled, the floor ceased its tremors and Gina emerged from the room; slightly breathless and only a little red, she resumed the duties of her everyday life.

An Honest Cover Letter

Dear Publisher or Literary Agency,

I love reading. I love writing. I bet you hear this all the time, but I just want you to know that I mean it. When I begin to talk about books, I feel my stomach leaping and the tips of my toes curl in excitement. When I sit down to write every day, I feel as if this is something I will gladly be doing for the rest of my life, even if it doesn’t result in a lot of money. I’m fully willing to become a waitress to support my writing habit.

However, it’s probably harder getting published as an unknown waitress who writes during her hours off than as a literary agent or editor at a publishing house. Working with you will give me an “in.” Am I being too blunt? Forgive me, but that’s the point. I’ve spent the last two and a half hours drafting (or attempting to draft) clever, concise and comprehensive cover letters in which I subtly explain why I will get down on my knees and beg to work for you. My mind is fairly wrung out, and so in order to refresh and cleanse it, I’m telling you the truth.

The truth is that while my biggest goal isn’t to become a publisher or literary agent, these are jobs that I would do a lot to get if they would help me support my writing habit while also letting me deal with books all day. I’ve been working in a bookstore during the last month, and I’ve found that the mere presence of hundreds of books is enough to keep me motivated and happy. Only think how well I’ll work for you at a job that would involve not only seeing books but reading manuscripts and writing letters!

I fear that my formulaic cover letters will get swallowed in the mass of other likely, qualified candidates that will contact you. If I had the guts, I’d send you this letter instead – although, to be fair, I’d probably work at it a lot longer and make it wittier and more touching than it is.

The bottom line (or, rather, lines) is that I love books, I’m passionate about the written word, and I would love to work anywhere that helps in the process of getting a book from the writer’s personal hard-drive and into the bookstore where I happily purchase it. Even though you’re businesses and your goal is to profit, you also save my life along the way by continuing to publish the books without which I wouldn’t know how to survive the emotional and mental turmoil that every human being goes through.

Hire me, hire me, hire me,

Help me keep writing and books in my life forever by letting me leap into the publishing world during my sophomore year at college,

(I promise you won’t regret it,)

Sincerely,

SlightlyIgnorant

Frowning in the Desert

Standing atop a dune, he truly comprehended the connection between sand and glass. Tumbling, slipping and sliding his way up the miniature hill, he’d cut his shins and forearms on the stinging sand. His hands were scraped raw. There were tiny grains of sand – grains of glass? – inside every fold of his body, cutting and scraping away uncomfortably. It was incredible to him that such small flecks of matter could sting so much.

The desert was not his home. He never intended to make it one. In fact, he hoped that he would, very soon, be miles away from the place. The broken-down plane that lay some yards away seemed to mock him, telling him he would never find his home again. He’d tinker with the engine tomorrow; today, tonight, he couldn’t stand the thought of being defeated by a machine he’d mastered through long years of study. And to think that he could have been a painter!

The desert around him was too vast to contemplate. He knew he would go mad if he tried very hard. So he decided to accept it in chunks; that night, all he needed to accept was the discomfort of the sand in his body. Thirst, hunger, loneliness and despair – these he’d leave for the following days.

Sliding down the dune, he returned to the shadow of his plane. He didn’t notice the beauty in the fact that there was a shadow at nighttime, nor did he notice the stars that lit up the sky like the brightest Christmas trees back home. He didn’t think, yet, of the secrets that the desert might hold or the treasure implied in those secrets.

He also didn’t think of the boy who would wake him up when dawn came; he didn’t know anything about him yet. Although he hated grown-ups and refused to admit he was one, he never thought that night of the sheep he’d be drawing in the morning or of the rose he’d be introduced to. So much was in store for him as he lay down to sleep, rather hopelessly trying to brush sand off his hands, but at that moment he could only frown and begin to weep.

Walk-Rage

I read while I walk. I think I’ve mentioned this before. It’s one of my quirks. I know that a lot of people find it extremely strange. I suppose I can understand that, but honestly, I don’t see how different it is from walking while listening to music. Lots of people, and I among them, walk from place to place with earphone wires dangling around their face, leading from their ears to a pocket or a bag. This is considered quite normal for this day and age. Now that we have the ability to have music in our pockets wherever we go, we do so.

Well, books have been around a lot longer than iPods. They’re also a form of entertainment, in addition to being a source of knowledge for the reader and a method of organizing it for the writer. So why is it so strange that I read while I walk?

I’m not unreasonable. I know why people look askance at me when I do so. They think I can’t see where I’m going; they think I’m going to knock into someone; they think I can’t possibly take in anything I read when I do it in that fashion. I can address each one of these concerns. First, I have terrific peripheral vision. Maybe it’s developed because of my little habit or maybe I had it before, but I can promise you that I very rarely stumble while reading, nor do I hit lampposts or trees. Second, because I have good peripheral vision, I also notice people, and rarely knock into anyone. I can honestly say that the times I’ve bumped into people while I was reading is exactly the same as when I was simply distracted, walking too fast or had misjudged the distance between me and someone else. It’ happens to everyone, right? Third, and finally, I read slower while I walk. I do sometimes need to read a line over. But why is it anyone else’s concern how much I take in while I’m reading?

Now, my detractors may think other things as well, but I’m not sure what. Do they think it’s simply too nerdy to read all the time? Do they think it’s just so very strange to see a young woman with black rings in her lips and a book in hand? I’m not sure. Frankly, I don’t care.

What I do care about, and I’ve discussed this here before as well, is the comments I need to receive. Even saying it’s the strangest, oddest, most bizarre thing in the world to be doing – why does that give people the right to comment on it to my face? They can talk behind my back about the strange girl all they want. But what gives them the right to ask me, mockingly of course, “What chapter are you on?” or demand, mockingly of course, “How about you read some of it aloud?”

Of course, there’s the whole issue of my pierced lips – those draw many inappropriate, and to my mind, unneeded comments as well, but that’s for a whole other post, some other day. The reason I chose to write, yet again, about my habit of reading while I walk is because I received the most offensive comment I’ve ever gotten today, one that made me so furious that it put tears of rage and hurt in my eyes and made me actually yell back a retort.

I was walking to the mall, bag slung over my back with my tiny laptop in it, on my way to Aroma, one of the major coffee-shop chains in Israel. I’ve recently discovered their delicious ice-espressos, to which I add some milk and turn into delicious ice-coffees that aren’t sweet or too milky. The apartment was getting oppressive, and I didn’t manage to write there, so Sir B. F. came up with the idea that I may want to come here – and indeed, here I am, writing a too-long blog post as part of my write-two-hours-a-day goal.

As I was walking, I had my book out. Funny enough, it was actually “The Mandolin Case” – a book by fellow blogger Dr. Tom Bibey. I was in the middle of a particularly exciting part, and I was waiting to see just what that “sumbitch” Olden was going to try now and how he was going to get out of his newest predicament, when I noticed, as I always do, someone walking from the opposite direction. I moved aside automatically and kept reading. As he passed, this fat, balding man who was wearing shorts and sunglasses said the following:

“Someone should give you a slap ’round the face and maybe then you’ll learn not to read when you walk.”

I literally stopped with shock, and I felt my stomach clench so hard it felt like a rock had taken up lodging in my abdomen. Someone should hit me so I won’t read while I walk?! If you can believe it, my throat is closing up right now and I feel tears prickling my eyes again, which is embarrassing as I’m in a public place with families, toddlers and businesspeople all around. How dare he?! How can someone say that? I was so furious that I yelled back, my voice breaking.

“Are you saying you want to slap me? Have you no shame?” This is a rough translation from the Hebrew – if any of you know the term chutzpa, then what I said was “Are you saying you want to hit me? What chutzpa!”

He yelled back something about it not being him who wanted to hit me, just that someone should, but I’d already turned away by then and had started walking, sticking my nose back in my book but seeing red rather than black on white.

Apologies and The Tale of the Book Fair

First of all, I want to apologize to you all – I haven’t had time to read any of your wonderful posts yesterday and today, and I feel awful about it. I always do, you know. I feel such a respect and appreciation for all of you who post so faithfully and who make me laugh, think, weep, and smile in turns – and I hate not having the time both to comment and to read your posts for my own pleasure. I do, however, have a good reason for not having had time yesterday and today to catch up.

I’ve had a rush of doctor’s appointments, ultrasounds [stomach and throat – I’m not pregnant or anything!] and errands in the past two days. On top of all that, starting yesterday, June 2, I’ve been working at the Hebrew Book Fair, which has been one of my goals since I was tiny tot.

Now, I don’t want to be too discriminatory, nor too prejudiced, but Israelis are often not the easiest crowd to deal with. This is common knowledge amongst Israelis, too, and as I am one, I’m allowed to say it. But Hebrew Book Week is ten full days in which fairs go up all over the country – fairs dedicated to BOOKS [yeah, I know, why call it a week when it’s ten days? It’s one of the grand mysteries of the world.] If you don’t know already, books are my life in more than one sense. They’ve been calming, comforting presences, friends when I needed them, entertainers when I needed a laugh and teachers when I wanted to learn. I love books. I love their smell, their feel, the crack in the spine when you first start reading a book… I love books.

So finally, this year, I’m working at the biggest of the fairs – the one that goes up right in the center of Tel Aviv – and I’m working for one of the major publishers. I never thought that I’d actually manage to work there, and I’m so glad that I have! I was tiny when I started going to the annual book fair, and I remember the excitement of leaving with bags laden with books [there’s 20% off all books during this time, of course, plus numerous other deals] and reading one of the books right that night. I remember going to the children’s corner to hear storytellers or writers reading their books.

And now I’m there, looking at it all from the other side. It’s an interesting experience, seeing famous Israeli writers or not so famous ones; seeing the way different writers deal with their own books [some, for instance, promote them shamelessly and aggressively. I can’t imagine ever being able to do that with anything I’d create…] ; seeing the different buyers, whether they’re families or couples or friends; meeting the people who work with me who are just as into books as I am… It’s an education, and the time flies.

The fair is in the evenings and into the night. I just managed to get out tonight by fifteen after midnight, and I’m exhausted. This may explain the non-existent eloquence of the post, as well as the not-so-pervading neatness and flow. Forgive me, for I’ve been on my feet for seven hours, and I think my brain might have dripped down meanwhile. Tomorrow, and Saturday, I will have freer days and will finally get back on track with y’all.

Studying, Studying, All-Nighter, Apology

I want to apologize in advance for having been absent from commenting. I have been writing a paper for my history course (Classic Greece) all day. And I mean all day. I woke up, ate, wrote, ate, took a brief break, wrote, ate, napped because of coming up all-nighter, ate, and now I’m writing this.

Funnily enough, my all-nighter has nothing to do with my course. No, it’s a voluntary night of studying that I’m spending with two friends. Today is Erev Shavu’ot, which is the eve of a Jewish holiday. I honestly don’t know very much about the holiday, except that it’s something to do with the harvest; that there’s a modern tradition of eating cheesecake during it; and that there’s an ancient custom of studying Jewish philosophy, lore and writings of several rabbis throughout the night.

My friends and I are taking the custom and making it OURS. We’re going to read each other poetry, study random Wikipedia articles, play instructive games, talk about philosophy, and generally make an intellectual pajama-party out of it.

Hope you all have a good Tuesday, and I’ll hopefully be back on schedule tomorrow!