sunday salon: currently

The Sunday Salon

Another holiday weekend comes to an end. This has been a rather subdued one here, as we haven’t felt much like celebrating anything because of all that’s going on and which I still can’t talk much about publicly here on the blog.  At some point, when some things are more settled, I’ll be able to talk more.

Dear Whatever Is Trying to Kill Me

I will say – because it cannot be said enough – that I am so grateful for our family. They’ve always been there for us and they’ve surprised us with some incredible generosity. Things like this situation have a way of reminding us (again) how important the people we love really are.

So, things will eventually work themselves out, but our current state of minds called for a very low-key Fourth, which was fine. We’re not big on crowds and fireworks (the ones the neighbors started setting off from their arsenal at 9:22 a.m. and again 12 hours later were more than sufficient for us).

I expected to do a considerable amount of reading this weekend, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I got a much-needed haircut, caught up on some blog reading, and finally finished House of Cards (as of Friday, I still had 5 or 6 episodes left of Season 3).

Dear ThiefI did start two books, but both are going back to the library unfinished.Part of my (hopefully temporary) book inertia is because of just finishing an amazing novel, Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey. I wrote a little about this in last week’s Salon and I’m hoping to get to a longer review later. This novel is written as a letter to a former friend, and it is such a tremendous example of stellar character-building. It’s a very cerebral kind of novel, one that makes you think about the dynamics between spouses, children, and friends.

That’s about all for now … hope those of you in the States had a good 4th of July weekend!

 

 

 

the pursuit of happiness, in the midst of too much rain

fireworks display in the rain, pittsburgh, pa // photo credit: melissa firman

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. …

“Smile, when you’re spinning round and round
Sigh, as you think about tomorrow
Make a vow, that you’re gonna be happy again
It’s all right, in your life
No more rain
It’s too much for anyone, Too hard for anyone
Who wants a happy and peaceful life.” 

“Too Much Rain” ~ written and sung by Paul McCartney (from “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard”)

This is not entirely my story to tell just yet, so you’ll forgive the vagaries here. This life back in the yep, been there, got the t-shirt new normal will involve some time and processing and reassessing and soul-searching, and I need to be as respectful as possible while this unfolds and as the page turns to a new chapter or perhaps a revised paragraph of what we thought was or what could have been.

We strive for happiness in this life; we think we know what will make that come true. An opportunity. An expectation of how things were going to be. A dream. A quest toward being better. A desire to have the tangible items to show for hard work and the pursuit of it.

When that’s gone, when the shock and disappointment lands, when everything is erased … then what? Who and what are we? What do we have?

There has been rain in the forecast nearly every day here, thunder and lightning just over the state line waiting to strike.

There has been loss, uncertainty and fear.

And I am reminded that we have been here before. Exactly four years ago I wrote about it here, with these words:

“Instead of searching for answers that aren’t easily forthcoming, perhaps we need to take our cues from them.

Regardless of our individual, personal circumstances, we all have the fear. We are all sometimes paralyzed by the what-ifs.

We can declare our independence from all that.

Yes, there are problems and obstacles and challenges.

But there are still opportunities for the taking.”

Flower in weeds

this morning, in the midst of the too-much-rain filled weeds by the mailbox.

Dissolving our political bands. Assuming the powers of the earth. Pursuing our right to happiness.

This is our newest version of normal, now.

 

 

Podcast of the Week: Eps. 5 and 6

Maybe you’re doing some traveling this holiday weekend or stuff around the house and need a great podcast to listen to. For your Fourth of July enjoyment, here’s a full two weeks worth of what I’ve been listening to. 

I’m thinking of changing these posts up a bit. I’ve been including every podcast I’ve listened to, and as I spend more time with them, it’s getting a little cumbersome to keep track of every single episode. So, I’m just going to mention the ones that resonated with me most, whether because of the humor or the person being interviewed or the topic or whatever. And in case you only have time to listen to one podcast, I’ll still highlight one recommended show per week. 

Or, in this case, two.

Inside The New York Times Book Review: When I Grow Up (6/21/2015)
– New books about bringing up children and redefining adulthood; interview with Vendela Vida about her new novel The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty.

The Longest Shortest Time: Podcast 60: The Accidental Gay Parents (6/24/2015)
Loved this inspiring story about John and Trystan, two 20-something year old gay men who became parents of two young children overnight. When John received a call saying his sister’s children would be placed in foster care if he didn’t take them, he and Trystan knew what they needed to do.

Longform: Episode 141: Stephen J. Dubner (5/13/2015)
Interview with Stephen J. Dubner, who is the co-author, with Steven D. Levitt, of Freakonomics.

The New York Public Library: Podcast 66: Dan Savage on Monogamy (6/23/2015)
A great conversation between Andrew Sullivan and author/activist Dan Savage, who is also the founder of the It Gets Better Project.

Stuff You Missed in History Class: Henry Gerber and Chicago’s Society for Human Rights (6/22/2015)
This was recorded before the Supreme Court’s historic decision on June 26 legalizing gay marriage, so listening to this a few days later was very timely. From the episode summary: in the 1920s, the Society for Human Rights was founded in Chicago with the intent to decriminalize homosexuality. The society’s founder was inspired by Germany’s homosexual emancipation movement.

Favorite Podcasts of the (Last Two) Weeks:

The Longest Shortest Time: Podcast 60: The Accidental Gay Parents (6/24/2015)

The New York Public Library: Podcast 66: Dan Savage on Monogamy (6/23/2015) 

 

Project: Food Budget – Week 5

Project Food Budget 2015

Looks like I may be getting the hang of this meal-planning-taking-one’s-lunch-to-work-use-up-leftovers-in-creative-ways thing we have going here.

I guess that’s not much of a surprise because the elusive “they” say that one of the best ways to change a habit is by having a support system and being held accountable.

For this project, support system sounds too … confessional and clinical, I suppose … but if reading each other’s posts and seeing that others have the same struggles constitutes a support group (and it does!) then that works for me.

The majority of my grocery shopping for this week was done at Giant Eagle because we had two prescriptions to pick up. Alas, when I finished all my grocery shopping and pushed my overflowing cart up to the pharmacy, they informed me that their computers were down and no transactions could be done. No estimate on how long it would take to fix. So, here I had shopped at the Iggle for nothing.

Giant Eagle = $155.38
Olive Garden = $28.00 (dinner with friends)

Not bad for Giant Eagle, although this was somewhat supplemented by $18 spent at the farmer’s market on Friday, with eight of those dollars going for handmade chocolate truffles. (Don’t judge.) But, that’s last week’s problem. As I mentioned last week, I think the $150 budget has proven itself to be unrealistic. I’m going to bump this up to $175, hoping that as the summer goes on, I’ll be buying more produce at the farmers market.

Successes From Last Week
Taking lunch to work, again! Four days out of five, baby!  I’m pretty much just grabbing what we have in the fridge – cucumbers, cheese, hummus, guacamole, chips – and calling it lunch. It works.

I’m also quite pleased with my creative use of leftovers. On Saturday, I had several cups of leftover rice, a small container of corn, two portobello mushroom caps, and fresh Italian bread from the farmer’s market that was going stale.  What to make for the family that was gluten free?

The solution: pan-fried rice cakes, sauteed mushrooms, and garlic bread.

We still had some leftover rice, so on Sunday I turned that into Tortilla Soup (with three frozen veggie meatballs; two veggie burgers that nobody liked – they were the ALDI brand; the last remaining crumbs of tortillas in the bag, and the usual tomatoes, onions, etc.) Served that with guacamole AND the leftover garlic bread – and without a care that I was blending two different cuisines.

Menu for This Week
Monday 6/29: Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese (for the husband and kids; I was with some writing group friends paying our respects to one we’ve sadly lost)

Tuesday 6/30: Burgers (veggie burgers for husband and kids; salmon burger for me); rice; fresh strawberries

Wednesday 7/1: Taco Night

Thursday 7/2: Not sure … I’m thinking breakfast for dinner or pasta.

Friday 7/3: Pizza Night. Definitely planning on hitting the farmer’s market this afternoon.

Saturday 7/4: Vegetarian 4th of July! Veggie Burgers, Veggie Hot Dogs, potato salad, maybe some other sides.  I’ll probably go food shopping on Friday.

Time to check in and see what everyone else has been up to this week:

Emily Levenson // McGinnis and Bean // Red Pen Mama // Seeking White Space //facepalmmama // Gardening in High Heels // Copy & Post // Rachel Olive Miller // Shea Lennon // Erra Creations

sunday salon: currently / june recap / summer reading update

The Sunday Salon

Quite the week we’ve had ourselves here. I was, as you might imagine, thrilled to see the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States. (Not to mention the decision the day before for healthcare.)  Along with the joyful celebrations, I’m also thrilled to see that almost every one of my bookish newsfeeds today are filled with recommendations and lists of LGBTQIA books, which readers of this blog know is already one of my preferred literary genres.

In my opinion, YA (young adult) fiction is where the best LGBTQIA writing is happening. Not that there isn’t great stuff happening in other categories, but books for teens are making me so hopeful for this generation. My newest favorite book in this category is None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio, which I reviewed here.

And speaking of reviews, Cleaver Magazine published this review of mine. Have any of you read The Travels of Daniel Ascher? It’s a odd little book with a reflective message.  I liked this one better than some others translated from the French (still shuddering after The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I could not stand.)

Like the rollercoaster that life is, it has also been a sad week on the personal front. With the confirmation that my friend Ryan is truly gone, we’ll say goodbye to him tomorrow. What he gave to many people as a writer (both as an author and as a peer) will be remembered forever – and he’s brought at least two new friendships into my life. Thanks to all for your kind words on the posts about him.

Decluttering

Yesterday was a stormy, rainy day here in Pittsburgh, perfect for continuing the much-needed decluttering around the house. We focused on the basement family room because my girl has been asking for a bookshelf in her room and I made the difficult decision to give up one of mine. Of course, that meant relocating the books that were on that shelf. The reorganizing of them isn’t ideal (nor fully complete) but it will do for now. Our basement is finished (a requirement that we had when buying this house) and this particular area has a built-in bookshelf along with five additional shelves of varying sizes, as well as a couch, table, and fireplace. It’s also where I have my scrapbooking table/ desk.

All this sounds cozy, but it is a disaster. We don’t use this part of the house much because it tends to be really, really cold. It’s turned into a glorified storage space and I’m determined to get rid of all the crap. Yesterday was a good first step, but it proved that I still have too many books. I donated five to the library last week and there’s another pile ready to go tomorrow. But I really need to make a concerted effort to read what’s on my shelves. I’m going to try for at least one per month, which I realize won’t even make a dent. It’s crazy.

(I’d take some photos of all this, but my mother would be mortified.)

June Reading

This month is ending with my having read five (so far) excellent books:

Whatever ...Love Is LoveOne Thing StolenTampaWildNone of the Above

Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, by Maria Bello
One Thing Stolen, by Beth Kephart
Tampa, by Alissa Nutting (yep, I know what you’re thinking about that book cover; it’s a buttonhole, but it is meant to look exactly what it looks like)
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
None of the Above, by I.W. Gregorio

Dear ThiefI won’t finish it tonight (“House of Cards” on my headphones are in my very near future because a neighbor TWO SINGLE FAMILY HOMES down the street is “practicing” the drums and unfortunately not getting any better) but most likely there will be a sixth book in June. I haven’t seen Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey much on the book blogs (it was longlisted for the  2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, which was how I learned about it). This took a little while to get into, but damn, this is one fascinating novel. It’s a letter written by an unnamed narrator to a woman named Nina who has not been in the letter writer’s life for some time but who has resurfaced.

There’s definitely some heavy-duty history here between these two; at page 117 (of 256) we’re getting that background as Samantha Harvey gives it to us in small vignette type details. I think I have an idea of how they’re connected and their relationship to each other. Regardless, Samantha Harvey sure as hell knows how to develop a character; this Nina person is so mysterious and such an enigma that it is really hard to believe that she is not a real person. The writing is fantastic in this one. So compelling, so hard to put down.

 

OK, enough of this post. Time to get my politics on my second current favorite POTUS.

my debut in cleaver magazine, with a review of the travels of daniel ascher

Cleaver-book-chop-white-back

photo credit: Cleaver Magazine masthead

When the folks at Cleaver Magazine asked if I would be interested in reviewing for them, I eagerly accepted. Some of the smartest writing is happening on that gorgeously-produced site, and I’m thrilled that they think my reviews are worthy of the quality stuff they offer.

The Travels of Daniel AscherMy review of The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) can be found here, along with fantastic artwork, visual narratives, book reviews, creative nonfiction, short stories, flash fiction and poetry from Cleaver’s contributors.

Many thanks to Cleaver editor-in-chief Karen Rile and Melissa Sarno, children and young adult book review editor.  Thrilled to be in your company.

 

write the hell out of this life

Daffodil in rain

When it came to writing, Ryan Mooney was among the best.

I wrote about my friend Ryan here, a few days ago in the midst of the unknowing. There are some answers now with the finality that his death brings, but the big question of why will linger always in the chasm that remains with this loss.

Maybe if I had paid more attention to what I didn’t see. Maybe if I had somehow known to reach out at precisely the right moment.

I am not the only one haunted by the what-if’s. I am not the only one who will always wonder why.

Since getting the devastating news earlier this week, I’ve tried – to no avail – to find some Facebook conversations Ryan and I shared, probably a year or so ago. The fluidity of time is a bitch to the psyche; in an online world where everything remains for posterity, the messages we exchanged seem to be gone, vanished – yet I remember them and I will treasure the heartfelt connection they held. We’ve all been in that dark place of betrayal by people who we loved and who we thought loved us.  In our emails back then, I wanted Ryan to understand that I knew exactly where he had been at that low point.

I only wish that I knew where he was in this most recent emotional place.

Most of our all-too-few conversations, though, were about writing. Nearly four years ago, I decided to attend a meeting of the Pittsburgh South Writers Group. It was about 45 minutes from my home and I didn’t know anyone there. I could count on one hand the number of people I knew in Pittsburgh (and that included my husband and two kids). I didn’t have anyone here – besides The Husband – who I would characterize as a friend. All I knew was that, in this new town of mine, more than 325 miles away from Philadelphia and everyone and everything that was familiar to me, I needed to connect with people who appreciated good writing and were dedicated to creating it.

There were some very good writers in the Pittsburgh South Writers Group. Still are. But right away, Ryan stood out to me and several of our peers.  I can’t remember the first piece of his that I read, but I knew immediately he was tremendously talented and a unique voice with incredible potential.  I could see that out of some deep pain came some of the funniest, daring, and amazingly real writing I’d ever read. He was serious about his writing and it showed.

Since his passing, I’ve become friendly with one of Ryan’s friends from the online writing community, LitReactor. Holly captured Ryan’s writing so well with this words in her post, “Gone But Never Forgotten”:

Ryan guarded himself with the fortress of his stories. His narrative was gritty and raw—a badge of honor having survived years of addiction and depression. He protected the chasm of his heart with characters that were as complex as he was. Ryan’s unabashed personality and unflinching honesty about his life revealed itself in every story he crafted. But nestled within sentences was a vulnerability, a tenderness that lived in the marrow of the skeleton of his plots. Ryan’s need for acceptance lived within the viscera of immaculate mechanics and tendons of run-on sentences he loved to use, yet his yearning for self-acceptance was an ending that would never reach fruition. Like an eclipse, such self-doubt shadowed Ryan’s limitless potential as a writer and often obscured his ability to see the effect his writing had on those fortunate enough to read his work.

Ryan was among those who I trusted to provide feedback on my current work-in-progress, a story that I’ve described as being one that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. Currently a novel, it might become a memoir or a collection of linked stories. Ryan knew how deeply personal this story was to me, how potentially controversial, and he treated it with the utmost respect, providing such helpful critiques.

Like Holly, I’ve been thinking also about what words Ryan and I would have shared if we’d had the chance to have another conversation about writing. Out of nowhere, a phrase came to me the other day. An urgent whisper, perhaps.

Write the hell out of this life.

Maybe it’s original, maybe it’s not. Whatever it is, I’d like to think it is some sort of lesson that can be taken from Ryan’s life and his approach to the written word. Because that’s exactly what he did, in every sense. He wrote the hell out of life by writing hard. He put in the time and did the work. He was committed. And with his passing, I think he would expect – no, demand – that his writer friends do the same. To re-commit to our work. To be as good as we possibly can be. And most importantly, to be that friend that others may not always know they need. Perhaps that’s the takeaway I’m looking for. Perhaps it’s part of the solace I need.

Because like so many others,I am heartbroken that Ryan’s story ended the way it did. I’m angry and devastated that we’ll never learn what the next chapter held. He had so much more to give. Speaking for myself, I had so much more to learn from him and so much more feedback I would have loved to have had from him, one of the best critics I knew.

In the wake of his death, I give you “Hardboiled Hell,” one of Ryan’s short stories. It’s classic Ryan, full of edge and the sly wordplay those of us who were privileged to read his work loved and knew so well, and which delighted and surprised us, again and again and again. I hope you will take a minute to read it and think about it. (It’s not quite what it might seem.)

As I re-read his story again a few nights ago, I was struck by the reference to the song “Meet Me In Heaven” by Johnny Cash and written by Roseanne Cash.I don’t know the song, so of course I turned to Google and found this:

We saw houses falling from the sky
Where the mountains lean down to the sand
We saw blackbirds circling ’round an old castle keep
And I stood on the cliff and held your hand
We walked troubles brooding wind swept hills
And we loved and we laughed the pain away
At the end of the journey, when our last song is sung
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
[Chorus] Can’t be sure of how’s it’s going to be
When we walk into the light across the bar
But I’ll know you and you’ll know me
Out there beyond the stars
We’ve seen the secret things revealed by God
And we heard what the angels had to say
Should you go first, or if you follow me
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
Living in a mansion on the streets of gold
At the corner of Grace and Rapture Way
In sweet ecstasy while the ages roll
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
In sweet ecstasy while the ages roll
Will you meet me in Heaven someday

See you there, my friend.

With heartfelt thanks to Holly Bella Toschi for permission to share her words and to Ryan’s mom for allowing me to share her son with you.