Notes From The Sofa

May 5, 2015

LifeInOurFastLane

When you’re laid up with a broken ankle, you spend a lot of time on the sofa reading.

Recently, I have spent some real quality time in horizontal mode reading the memoir H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. Sharply observed and deeply affecting, her elegant writing, unflinching honesty and depth of empathy captivated me throughout. She has a gift for metaphor that is astonishing.

Unknown

MacDonald, a falconer, naturalist and wordsmith, shape-shifts into the soul of the eponymous goshawk, the wild bird of prey she has endeavored to train, as a means of reconnecting with life after the sudden death of her beloved father.

The book is structured so that the story alternates, chapter by chapter, between MacDonald’s own memoir and that of author T.H. White. White’s memoir, The Goshawk (published in 1951), with its emotional complexity and tragic undertone, acts as both a ballast and guide for MacDonald as she teeters on the fulcrum of grief. This is an extraordinary book that left me spellbound.

It’s not often am I lucky enough to read 2 books back to back that I cannot put down.

allthelight

I have also finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Beautifully written and structured in an alternating style similar to MacDonald’s (chapter by short chapter), a style I’ve come to appreciate because I do most of my reading on the iPhone. I hate to pause in my reading before I’ve reached a good stopping point.

I found Doerr’s novel absolutely riveting. He is also a gifted, elegant writer and, in my opinion, very deserving of the Pulitzer Prize bestowed upon him in 2015. Set prior to and during WWII, the plotting is as intricate and dense as a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle on a rainy afternoon. I mean that in the best possible way.

The novel tells the story of a blind French girl paralleled with that of an orphaned German boy  drafted (unwillingly) into the Third Reich’s army as a radio engineer. Very well researched, Doerr weaves his details into the novel seamlessly, deepening the reader’s experience. His writing caused me to care deeply about the characters and their respective fates.

One small thing I have to mention, however. I have encountered the same thing in other novels (most recently, in We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas).

Doerr’s novel essentially has an “epilogue” — which disguises itself as the “final chapter.” After sailing through the novel, the last chapter left me with a nagging feeling of disappointment.

Epilogues work well in non-fiction and are often necessary (for example, to provide relevant information that comes to light after publication). In a novel, though, an epilogue never works. It’s merely a jump ahead in time that unfailingly reads like a cop out.

In my opinion, it’s always better to end the book. Your reader will appreciate it.

When you read Doerr’s novel (and I hope you do, because it is excellent), my suggestion is to stop reading after you finish penultimate Chapter 177, dated 1974, titled “Frederick.” I believe this is the perfect place to end this novel.

Try not to read: “Part Thirteen,” “Chapter 178,” which wraps up Doerr’s novel as the epilogue in disguise (the title is: “2014”).  At least, try not to read it right away. Allow yourself to bask for a while in the satisfied, wistful feeling bestowed on you by “Chapter 177.”

Epilogues are favorited by Hollywood filmmakers (rewatch Robert Altman’s brilliant satire on Hollywood, a film titled The Player, which drives this point home perfectly by making fun of Hollywood endings, specifically, the scene in the gas chamber with Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts).

ThePlayer

Until then…Happy Reading!

How To Break Your Ankle

April 13, 2015

FrozenPathCPGo for an early morning walk in Central Park on the first warmish morning of almost-Spring weather (low 40’s on February 21st).

Gingerly walking along a dirty frozen path (with just a hint of melt) will imbue you with the false sense of invincibility.

Life is beautiful (or soon will be).

GeesePoliceWave to the Geese Police in his van. He will wave back and hide his face (with shame). Not a good omen, crossing his path,  especially with respect to the warning on the back fender: Get the Flock Out.

LastSnow3.21.15

Rejoice on March 21st over what will be the final snowfall of winter in Jackson Heights. Extoll the wondrous snow covered trees, their enchanting beauty. Believe with cautious optimism you will not likely witness this snow globe for at least another 6 or 7 months (and that the use of a shovel in order to move your car will be banished for same).

Celebrate by taking a drive to the east end of Long Island with your very significant other. Specifically, to Watermill.

View the work of east end artists at the Parish Museum, specifically the work of Fairfield Porter, an artist with a deep understanding of color.

Ooh and aah. Love life.

FPorterParish

GreenApplesPorter

PorterTablejpg

Prolong the feeling of unfettered bliss that viewing art invokes. Enjoy the escape into nature so far from the city. Traverse the snow-covered grounds of the museum (where sirens;  honking horns and thumping car stereos are long out of earshot).

Regard a tree standing upright before  a deep blue sky of puffy clouds. Take a photo.

SoloTree

Notice the quartet of misshapen trees.

CrookedTrees(Take note of the red arrow on the left, above)

Heed the scrawny Charlie Brown tree beckoning to you (“culprit”).  Scale a low guard rail with your right foot to photograph sad little tree. Lose your footing. Skid down a 45-degree angle. Try to brake with your heel. Sharply descend toward the inverted point of a triangular trough, deceptively masked by snow cover.

Wrench your foot; twist your ankle. Succumb to immobilizing pain.

Break your ankle in not 1, but 2, places. Proceed to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead (ominously, where S.O. and I were transported by ambulance after a car accident in September 2012).

Welcome with gratitude the splint administered to foot and leg by caring staff; accept a gift of crutches and excellent pain killers. Elevate bad foot on the dashboard on the ride home.

Stop at Starbucks for chai latte and much needed sugar fix. Request to your S.O. for no sudden stops is duly noted.

Visit orthopedist in Manhattan on March 23. No plaster cast for you! Instead, foot is installed in heavy black foam and plastic boot (lint magnet), misnomered as “walking cast.” (Due to pain when boot touches ground; and heavy thick unstable rocker sole renders boot impossible to walk in).

Secure boot to leg with 5 strips of velcro threaded through respective rectangular hardware.

You must sleep in this boot. It weighs a ton. You must elevate your leg all day. You must remove boot for intermittent icing of the ankle and foot. You must continue this regimen daily until next doctor visit.

You must continue navigating the apartment on crutches.

Das Boot

BigBoot

Revisit orthopedist on April 6. Continue with daily regimen. Plan on 6-8 weeks to heal.

To stave off cabin fever:

You will read cover-to-cover January, February and March back issues of The New Yorker  (N.B., in March 9th issue – powerful story by Toni Morrison).

You will read Skeletons of the Zahara by Dean King (unputdownable, true story of survival that ends well for the main character).

You will continue with obsessively readable essay collection called Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio.

You will begin reading We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (set in your current environs of Woodside and Jackson Heights).

You will finish reading back issues of Poets & Writers magazine.

You will watch art films lasting over 3 hours (mostly Russian, Turkish and Scandinavian). You will watch Trip to Italy twice.

You will re-watch Swan Lake ballet DVD for the umpteenth time.

Plan to visit orthopedist on April 27 for a new x-ray.

Fingers crossed.

GOOD THINGS COME IN FOURS

February 15, 2015

This is a “meme” I found on the web. Adding my answers to a list of suggestions seemed like a painless way to re-enter the blog after a long hiatus. Nice to be back…

FOUR NAMES THAT PEOPLE HAVE CALLED ME OTHER THAN MY REAL NAME: 

1. Miss Mermaid

2. La Suzz

3. Lightning

redBolts

4. Soozie Doozie

FOUR JOBS I’VE HAD:

1. Newspaper columnist

2. Professional sales rep

3. Legal Secretary

4. Teacher

images         artteacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOUR MOVIES I’VE WATCHED MORE THAN ONCE:

1. Chinatown

2. The Birds

220px-The_Birds

3. All About Eve

 

4. Rosemary’s Baby

220px-Rosemarys_baby_poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOUR BOOKS I’D RECOMMEND:

1. Into the Wild

2. Any novel by Elizabeth Strout (Amy and Elizabeth; Abide With Me; Olive Kitteridge; The Burgess Boys)

3. Wild

4. Anna Karenina

FOUR PLACES I’VE LIVED:

1. Brooklyn, NY

2. Hicksville, NY

3. Sag Harbor, NY

4. Sierra Madre, CA

FOUR MEMORABLE PLACES I’VE VISITED:

1. Florence, Italy

2. Grand Canyon, AZ

4. Moscow and Leningrad, Soviet Union

5. Katmandu, Nepal

FOUR THINGS I PREFER NOT TO EAT:

1. Meat

2. Nutella

3. Tofu

4. Tomato sauce that comes in a jar

FOUR OF MY FAVORITE FOODS:

1. Pasta

2. Fish Lemongrass

Thai-style Steamed Fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Potato Rajas Tacos (ala Border Grill in Santa Monica, CA)

4. Homemade soups (best minestrone ever)

FOUR SHOWS I WATCH:

1. BBC TV

2. Downton Abbey

3. Portlandia

4. Wolf Hall

FOUR THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS YEAR:

1. Spring!!!!

 CherryblossomsTree

 2. David Vann’s new novel, Aquarium (March 2015).

3. To fully exploit the Merlin bird app on my iPhone

4. Updating my website with new art work

FOUR THINGS I’M ALWAYS SAYING:

1. Okay, whatever

2. There is nowhere affordable to live!

3. Are you kidding me?

4. Have you ever heard of a tissue??! Would you please cover your mouth when you cough??! (muttered to myself on the subway)

FOUR THINGS I DON’T REALLY WANT TO HEAR ABOUT ANYMORE: 

1. Cartoons depicting the prophet who shall remain nameless. Time to make fun of something else and call it art.

2. Snarky, clueless tweeters and their pathological lack of empathy and social conscience.

3. Shootings; guns; murdered people

4. Bruce Jenner

Zombie Commute

August 29, 2014

FTrainZombiesZOMBIE OBLIVION

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YankeeFanUNDEAD YANKEE FAN

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 ZombieLoveZOMBIE LOVE

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ZombieAndGhostHOW MUCH IS THAT ZOMBIE IN THE WINDOW?

A Cubicle Is A Cubicle Is A Cubicle

July 13, 2014

CubicleLife

My Work Space

“…the room where the walls come together…”

– E..A. Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum

No matter how management attempts to aggrandize their decision to relocate a hardworking, dedicated employee (moi) from 3 long years in a strangulating cubicle; to a 3-month tease in a vast open space; and back again to a strangulating cubicle, the end result is exactly as Bela Lugosi described it, above, in The Raven. 

Torture. Delicious torture.

In a Q&A appearing in the Business Section of the Times today, Paula Antonelli, Sr. Curator at MOMA, is asked about her office. Her response is the best description about life inside a cubicle I have encountered, outside of Poe’s and Lugosi’s.

This is what she says:

“I have my own office, and I am lucky to have it. It is better to have privacy, but if I were to choose between a cubicle and completely open space, I would choose open space.

The illusion of privacy is worse than no privacy. It bothers you; [whereas] a conversation between two people wouldn’t bother you at all.”

This is the 21st Century. You would never know it the majority of offices. Only in New York? Even in New York.

 

Where have all the employees gone?

Gone to cubicles, everyone.

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

MY OLD FRIEND, THE BRISTLE BRUSH

June 22, 2014

Bristle8

I hadn’t picked you up in such a long while, No. 8. Why? I don’t know. Too many days elapsed between quality time at the easel? Probably.

Today, you saved my sanity, Bristle Brush. How could I have overlooked you for so long? It won’t happen again.

Weeks of working on this painting; never finishing; never satisfied; always needing more. But what?

The number 8 Bristle Brush!

TooHardToFly

THANKS, MERCI, DANKE, GRACIAS, also, to:

Wolfgang, Ludwig and Franz; Thelonius; Sinead; JAY Z & Kanye; Led Zeppelin; Black Sheep; Benny Goodman; the Klezmatics; Beausoleil; Steve Earle; Sister C’s fabulous C&W mix; and JC — for the music that enriches my life and nourishes my work; and for giving me the best day — a true gift — I’ve had in a while.

I don’t even mind that tomorrow is Monday.

Cosmic Joke

June 13, 2014

HotDog

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WHAT DID THE BUDDHIST MONK SAY TO THE HOT DOG VENDOR?

monk“MAKE ME ONE WITH EVERYTHING.”

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THE VENDOR PREPARES THE HOTDOG AND HANDS IT TO THE MONK.  THE MONK GIVES HIM A TWENTY.

THE VENDOR POCKETS THE MONEY AND TURNS TO HELP THE NEXT CUSTOMER.

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monk “BUT WHERE IS MY CHANGE?” says the monk.

 

HotDogBank “CHANGE,” says the vendor, “MUST COME FROM WITHIN.”

A Shout Out To My Sister

June 3, 2014

 

ME&CON

My favorite picture of us, my sister and me, taken at the wedding of my oldest younger brother.

As you may notice on the sidebar of this blog page, I recently reactivated my twitter account.  Twitter is a good place to post great sentences discovered inside the many, many books I’ve read.

But not everything fits in 140 or fewer characters-limit of Twitter.

So here is a very funny, longer  passage I discovered a couple of years ago in Nathan Englander’s short story collection,”What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.” It is taken from a story titled, “Camp Sundown.” (Camp Sundown being an “elder hostel”)

“I don’t know why they call his book ‘Les Miserables’,” she says, leaning into the circle, as if sharing a secret. “As you will discover, this book is not less miserable. It is more miserable than you can imagine.”

This laugh is for you, Connie.

ganesha

Looking for a fantasy place to live?

May 26, 2014

BoicevilleYellow

BOICEVILLE, NEW YORK

Earlier this month, on an extended weekend away in Tompkins County, we drove by a cluster of brightly painted cottages nestled in this make believe setting. The brilliant hues seemed more at home in the Caribbean than upstate New York. Someone less jaded than I, at first glance, might think: how charming, how cute.

My initial reaction was CULT. Or extremist Mormons.

VioletHouses

I googled Boiceville, NY to find out what this settlement was all about. The results yielded the following information:

Inspired by the Barbara Cooney illustrations in “Miss Rumphius,” a children’s book he read to his daughters, Bruno Schickel designed and built Boiceville Cottages beginning in 1996. Bruno utilized his experience with Schickel Construction, a company he founded in 1985 and continues to run, to design an interior that was complementary to the charming illustrations of seaside cottages that inspired the exterior shape of the Boiceville Cottages.

Okay, it’s a little scary to re-imagine real life as a storybook…

I must confess, the amenities offered by this too-close-for-comfort housing set up are envy-inducing.

The cottages are furnished with a washer/dryer (what I wouldn’t give to have my own washing machine again); fridge; stove; even a dishwasher for goodness sake — not to mention a 5′ x 10′ garden box to plant your own organic vegetables.

And if you attend Cornell, the university is 15 minutes away. However, there is no partying in Boiceville, where even pets are well behaved. Boiceville is life in the Quiet Car.

By the way, rental rates are not listed on their website. So it may be a case of if you need to ask, you can’t afford it.

Yet the other amenities: no fire truck horns blaring at the traffic light (no traffic lights!), no ambulance sirens (no hospitals nearby!), no mega bus engines (no subway stations to commute to!), no thumping car stereos to disturb your sleep…are also very attractive.

My present state of mind could be described as one of longing. Longing for the peace and quiet of Rosebarb Farm, where we stayed in Caroline, NY, earlier this month, about a 10 minute drive from the mythical Boiceville.

Wouldn’t I love to be sitting in the gazebo at the farm right now…listening to bird songs and sonorous ringing of wind chimes…horses whinnying in the barn…drone of spring peepers (teeny little frogs) from the fields…

ViewGazebo

View from the gazebo

…and later on take a drive up to Trumansburg for NYC pizza…

Trumansburg

…and chill out.

Ahhh. Next October…

Sunday Fragments

March 2, 2014

TorsoAndLimbsWaiting for Dept. of Sanitation truck – 82nd St., Jackson Heights

Every Sunday in the Metropolitan section of The New York Times, a column appears called “Sunday Routine.”

In the column, the day-of-rest activities of a well-heeled artist or celebrity de jour – which are unfailingly steeped in joie de vivre, presented hipper than thou, and sounding suspiciously fabricated – appear as succinctly texted selfies (sort of type-set, look-at-me-I’m-special paragraphs) positioned beneath subheads and choreographed to the brand the subject wishes to convey.

I don’t know why I read these columns week after week. Wishful thinking? Morbid curiosity? Combing for clues on how I can convert my Sundays into days of leisure?

Probably all of the above.

So to have some fun, I borrowed the subheads and one-liners from today’s “Sunday Routine” column (bolded below); and added on responses of my own.

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BTW, the “Subject” of this week’s column is a TV actor.

  •  Hello Sunshine

“Sunday is the most domestic day of the week. Sunday is the day when I feel the least pressure to get anything done.”

Hello Clouds. Sunday is the day when I feel the most pressure to get everything done. On Sunday, the last thing I want to think about is housework.

  • Square Meal

“I make kind of a heavy, farmer’s protein breakfast…lately she’s making these green smoothies.”

At 6:30 am., very significant other makes a quick trip into the frigid outdoors to buy the paper. He returns with two sugary cinnamon rolls from Starbuck’s. Bless him.

  • Reading and Writing

“Then we take care of the paperwork, or I should say the electronic work….I’ll get my laptop out and try to get a handle on the week to come.”

Very significant other leaves for work. I read parts of the newspaper — or I should say The New York Times — then I’ll get out the tarot cards and try to get a handle on my future.

  • Shift Gears

“Around noon, we’re still in our jammies, and that seems wrong somehow.”

Around noon, I’m still wearing my “house clothes,” but I’m standing before the easel, and that seems totally RIGHT somehow.

  • Man About Town

“I dress more formally than the other boys do. I will generally wear a tie and a vest. Not necessarily a jacket.”

Around 5:00 P.M., I’m a Woman About Town, walking down the avenue, picking up fixings for dinner. I dress, shall we say, more warmly than the other girls do. I will generally avoid eye contact — which is not necessarily unfriendly. Just street smart.

  • Fans Approach

“I get recognized. It happens regularly.”

If I see someone I recognize, I dodge into a doorway. This happens regularly. Time is of the essence when hardly any of your time is free.

  • Possible Detour

“My default mode is to wander. I went recently to see a show of Czechoslovakian pop-up books.”

My default mode is to get the hell out of Foodtown as fast as possible and return home. However, I went recently to the Polish deli to see their selection of perogies.

  • Who’s on TV

“We’ll watch some TV event. It could be a show that either [my wife] or I have a role in that everyone hasn’t already seen.”

Now that we have binged out on every single episode of House of Cards,  we have come late to the party for Six Feet Under (and loving it).  Also, possibly my favorite show ever, Portlandia, is back for a new season.

  • Sunday Night Blues

“I still get the old, childhood Sunday night feeling. The end of playtime and the beginning of responsibility comes over you. The Sunday night blues. I’ll take a Benadryl maybe. A Benadryl and a dull book.”

Okay, I completely agree with him on the Sunday Blues — except for the Benadryl and dull book part. If I need something dull to help me fall asleep this Sunday night, I’ll turn on the Oscars. Guaranteed instant snooze.


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