Author's Posts

Sometimes you get something in your snail mail that isn’t junky:

Last week my American publisher sent me the brand new Korean edition of my last book, Gardens of Awe and Folly!

I did something in that book that I didn’t do in the two previous books, which was design it so that text was dropped onto and incorporated into full-page illustrations, so I was curious to see how the Korean edition would handle that:

Yes, the English text that appears over the top corner of this watercolor illustration of Karen Kersting’s rose garden in New Orleans was miraculously changed into Korean. Well done, 내 친구들.

Seeing this new version of my book reminds me how much work it takes to put a book together. And it reminds me how I better get cracking on that invention that I dream about, the Book That Writes Itself.  That would make like so much easier for yours truly.

I am half way there …  in that I have an app that promises to take care of the part of book-making that I call illustration. Yes! There’s an app that lets a book illustrate itself!

It’s called Waterlogue and here’s how it works:

Take a photograph of a scene that you want to paint itself (saving you, of course, the bother of getting all that watercolor equipment in line, the paints; the paper; the brushes; the jar of water that needs constant changing; the sense of dread and doom that you are going to have to paint this thing over and over again until you get it right; etc.

You run this photograph through the app and voila:

For comparison, here’s how this scene looks in Gardens of Awe and Folly:

I painted my scene (above) from a reference photograph that I took on a foggy Fall morning. I can’t find the exact reference photo in my files, but here’s what the place looked like last October:

That huge gnarly Copper Beech was cut down, having become too fall-aparty to be safe anymore. *Sigh* The guys with the choppers will come for us all, eventually.

Here’s a nice view in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France (taken on my last visit, in May 2015):

Here is the illustration that I painted over the course of three of four painful afternoons:

I don’t like this pic. It is not included in my Monet book. If I had guts, I’d re-paint it but yeesh…that’s a lot of work. I’d really prefer it if the photo would paint itself.

And presto — here’s the Waterlogue app doing its thing:

Oh, crud. Looks like I’ll be hammering this picture out with my own two hammy fists.

Speaking of using my split writer/illustrator personality in the real world, I will be a hard-working Writer this September and October, leading four workshops at the Bryant Library in Roslyn, NY. The workshops are free, and open to all interested parties on the second and fourth Thursday evening in each month, from 7 – 9.

In my workshops I will learn you on identifying your voice; on understanding what your story is (is it a short story?…is it an episodic memoir?…is a confessional?…is it an 80,000 word novel?); on how to best communicate that story to your readers — in fact, on acknowledging that you are in fact writing for readers who you must visualize and take into account with every word you write. I will make you self-conscious as an observer of life so that you understand that life is what gives you copy.

I will urge you go to your local Walmart, your local grocery store, your nearest bus stop; I will make you report back to the workshop at least three overheard conversations that you gathered on your new role as a writer, a snoop, an observer of the human condition.

I will introduce you to the realities of the writing life: Are you ready for what it takes to prepare your writing for publication? (Because in my experience, something’s got to give for you to achieve your writing goals. For instance, I had to give up watching Dr. Phil every afternoon in order to meet my daily goal…sad, but true.)

Me, being all author-ish and talky, in front of people sitting in chairs in a room with a lot of books.

And if I can’t build me a Robot-Vivian between now and September,  this will indeed be me, in the flesh, talking about how to write for publication.

I know you are, like me, in awe of the successful rescue operation in Thailand that got all those kids and their soccer coach out of that dastardly cave. The rescue was nothing short of miraculous. The rescuers are heroes, straight up. It was a marvelous story.

But can I tell you a story of my own, please?

One day, when my brother was three years old, my parents had to rush him to the hospital. Why?

Because, prior to the fun rush to the hospital, my parents had thought that my brother was sitting happily in the driveway, amusing himself by playing with his Matchbox cars. But no, my brother had grown bored with his Matchbox cars  so what he was actually doing while sitting in the driveway was playing with all the little pebbles that had accumulated on the edge of the blacktop. Specifically, he was taking those little pebbles and, one by one, he was stuffing them up his nose. That is, until he had reached maximum stuffage, nose-wise, and began to cry because, I can only assume, having a nose packed full of little pebbles is somewhat uncomfortable.

The pebbles could only be extracted by a professional with a very long, slender, needle-nosed tool in the emergency room of Abington Hospital in Ambler, PA. Hence, the frantic car ride to our local hospital.

Now, you might wonder, Why would your brother pack his nose full of little pebbles from the driveway?

Good question. And, as best as I can figure, he did it because boys are stupid and they do stupid things, like pack their noses full of little pebbles, for no good damn reason.

The same way they go hiking in caves that are preposterously narrow, horrifyingly twisting, pitch-black dark, atmospherically foul, and fill with water when it rains (and it rains a lot in Thailand this time of year).

(In the above scenario, the soccer coach is my brother, and the kids on his team are the willing little pebbles that the soccer coach stuffed up the nose of the cave.)

That’s all I’m saying.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Here’s some photos Dennis staying cool on the north shore of Long Island last week,  to get you off to a good start:

Dear Readers, may all your noses remain pebble-free, may all your explorations be to clean, well-lighted places.

XXOO

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It’s hot here on the north shore of Long Island. Hot hot hot hot.

All the smart kitties are conserving energy any way they can.

This is Steve, of course, cooling it on the front stoop.

Here are more of my kitties showing their genius at not getting their dander up when it’s 95 degrees and 78% humidity outside:

They are snoozing in the pretend shade of the coilus bush.

And this is our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, keeping it chill as seen from my kitchen window:

Denis is smart enough to snooze in the real shade of a real tree.

And this is what Top Cat and I are doing during this atrocious heat wave:

We are not as smart as the cats. Nope: We are expending a lot of energy getting all het up. What has got our blood boiling is, about once a year, my husband and I have a really big scorching fight, and this year’s blow-out coincides with actual, real-world sizzling temperatures.

Would it surprise you to know that I am not the kind of person who “lets things slide”? I am not the person you want around when you want to take out your frustrations with, say– as a totally random example — your bumpkin relatives who made you drive to New Jersey and back, on a week night, in rush hour traffic. Nope, the girl who is going to let that slide is not me. When it comes to debating the merits of you complaining about my keeping you waiting 5-minutes on a Sunday afternoon against you speaking nary a word against those who forced you to take a mid-week trek to Outer Bug Fuck, NJ, I will fiercely demand, “What’s up with that shit?”

In fact, I’m so fierce, I play tag with airplanes:

This picture is not Photoshopped. This is actually how close you can get to planes as they come in for a landing at National Airport in Washington, DC. This is easily the most fun thing I’ve ever done in DC,  our nation’s capital, and I have a lot to compare it to: I’ve been to Union Market and had the world’s most outstanding grilled cheese sandwich (caramelized opinions, gruyere, extra-toasty sourdough bread), and I’ve played the How Many Toys Can We Throw Over The Baby Fence with an extra-cute one-year old. So:

To play Tag the Airliner game, all you have to do is [have someone who has the app] check to see if the air traffic to National Airport is being routed from the north (the planes follow the curve of the Potomac River); if yes, then find a way to get to Gravelly Point (spoiler: It’s not easy), and then stand there. Every 90 seconds a plane will roar down on you, so close you can smell the diesel. It’s awesome.

OK, I admit that for the first few — or 20 — planes, I might have lost my nerve a bit:

Because planes are big, and loud, and shouldn’t be in the air in the first place.

This trip to DC, our nation’s capital, was so I could visit my sister and her family, which includes the afore-mentioned Extra Cute One-Year Old. My sister is 18 years younger than I, so it’s natural that when we are together with the Extra Cute One-Year Old that strangers would assume that I was the grandmother. We were sitting in a cafe at the excellent new Southwest Waterfront (DC’s hottest new development). . .

. . .  and a young/middle aged stopped by to admire the Extra Cute One-Year Old in his super-cool hi-teck  backpack/carrier. “That’s some special contraption,” he says.

 

Then he says to me, “Remember when we did it?”  [No, do I look like a grandmother??? but because I’m a wonderful human being I’ll play along and not take offense.]

I chuckled and said, “Right, all we had was a canvas sling.” Ha ha. That “we” cracks me up. As. If.

The next day I headed to the National Archives on my own to have a look around, and was going through the security check point when a young/middle aged officer said to me, “You can put your bag right here, young lady.”

Whoa. Do I look old enough that oldish guys are calling me that”young lady” thing that old and young-ish guys do to old ladies because they think it is charming for us old bats to be patronized that way?? And I was wearing skinny jeans!!

I’m seriously thinking of getting my hair dyed some flattering shade of honey blonde, like they do in France. Also, I should learn how to accessorize.

Next, we all met at the United States Botanic Garden not far from theArchives, and me, my sister, and the Extra Cute One-Year Old wandered into a greenhouse that featured small fake dinosaurs. “Hey!” I said to my sister, “If this is all about multi-million-year-old plants from the time of the dinosaurs (I know how to take a clue), maybe we could find a Wollemi Pine here!” Then I glanced at the ugly green thing that was growing in the exhibit right in front of me.

“It kind of looks like this,” I said.

Then I bent to read the label that was sticking up out of the ground in the display right in front of me.

For those of you reading along, I first got excited about the Wollemi Pine in the Key West chapter of my book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

No, those aren’t illustrations of Wollemi Pines (above), but they are illustrations of another Australian pine that I love, called the Australian Pine. The Wollemi Pine under discussion is a 40-million year old plant that was presumed extinct until 1994 when a small clutch of 100 trees were discovered in a remote forest in New South Wales. The discovery sent shock waves of euphoria through the botanical community (such as it is) and propagations of the tree, which are most highly prized, have been sent around the world. (In Florida, the other Australian pine, the Australian Pine, is considered a pest, and outlawed from private and public gardens, except in Key West. Long story, full of injustice. It’s in the book. I do mention the Wollemi Pine in the Key West chapter, too, because Florida is a very good and legal place to grow Wollemi Pines. Go figure.)

I’ve only seen one other Wollemi Pine, a scraggly specimen in a corner of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London.

So I was really excited to see this Wollemi Pine here in DC, our nation’s capital!

Then we moseyed through the rest of the greenhouses, and I saw several more Wollemi Pines. By your fifth or sixth Wollemi Pine, you’ve pretty much seen enough of the Wollemi Pine. It’s not a particularly attractive plant.

Fun Fact: The Latin name for the Wollemi Pine is Wollemia noblis because it was discovered in the Wollemi National Park, and because the last name of the guy who discovered it was Nobel (David Nobel). How lucky is that!?

Other Fun Fact: Neither the Wollemi Pine nor the Australian Pine are”pines”.

One last FunFact: Traveling to DC, our nation’s capital, from New York City is tons of fun except when the train engineers can’t find an engine for train and it takes three hours to find one. I left DC, our nation’s capital, on such a train and by the time I was allowed to board I was in a tizzy. Luckily, I got a place in the Cafe Car, and I got myself a nice cold snack:

 And I wasn’t sharing.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Yes, it’s hot, and there’s a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and we are very near the collapse of our democracy, but to cheer you up I’m going to show you the front page of the New York Daily News from July 4:

Keep Calm and Fight On.

 

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Me, somewhere in Tel Aviv, in 1988.

In the late 1980s I was a part-time gemology student (diamond grading, colored stone ID, appraising, etc.) and a full-time salesperson in a jewelry store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The job, like every other job in retail, sucked, because people suck, especially people who have nothing better to do than shop for jewelry.

Every morning, we sales “associates” had to come in early to pull all the gems from the vault to set them up in showcases. One morning I was setting up a showcase full of diamond jewelry when a security guard strolled by.

“Ah,” he said; “Diamonds, one of the gems from the Bible.”

Right: this security guard was an evangelical Christian, who walked around with a smile on his face because he was certain that the Rapture was coming any day now and all us non-believers were going to have to watch him be seated on the right hand of the Lord while we were thrown into pits of hell fire. He was inclined to drop Biblical musings into his conversation so this observation of his did not surprise me much. He also wore crappy three-piece suits with cowboy boots in Manhattan. He was supremely annoying in almost every way. I usually ignored him, but not this time.

You see, I was a totally obsessive gemology student, and diamonds were (and still are) a favorite stone, and I was also making frequent trips to Israel, so I didn’t even look up from my work  when I said, “You mean יהלום, Yahalom, as described in breast plate of the high priest in Exodus? Actually it wasn’t a diamond in the breastplate, I think you must have read a bad translation, because there were no diamonds in the Holy Land, so the word most likely refers a clear quartz rather than an actual diamond. Some scholars also think it might have been a jasper.”

Breastplates, and high priests, have long gone out of style in Judaism; since about 2500 years ago.

Truthfully, I was just being a know-it-all. I wasn’t trying to shame the guy for his naïveté. So, having finished showing off, I faced the jewelry store cowboy, and I will never forget the look on his face. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen someone look stunned.

I think this was the first time he’d ever considered that the Bible was not originally written in English. And, thus, several other sneaking suspicions might have crept into his brain-pan: That the Bible that he conspicuously read in the break room every day could not be quoted randomly as the word-for-word  capital “T” Truth; that this book of his required a lot of critical thinking, as opposed to blind faith; and maybe he’s not as superior as he thought he was.

After a moment of silence, he nodded and backed away.

I think about this guy in the jewelry store every time I hear radical Christians hauling out the Bible for a good thumping in order support their opinion about Right and Wrong.

It’s been another wearying couple of weeks in America. Melanoma Drumpf has proved to be every bit the shit heel as every other Drumpf; the conservative-packed Supreme Court upholds gerrymandering to sideline minority and Democratic voters; Jeff Sessions is still AG, little kids might never be returned to their parents, and der Drumpf is still picking on Canada.

At a campaign ally in South Carolina on Monday, June 25, der Drumpf was speaking in support of the GOP nominee for governor, and as the Toronto Star reported:

“Trump’s speech was rambling even by his own rally standards: it involved extended criticism of three late-night television hosts, musings on his hair, an unprompted denial that his wife recently had a facelift, an accusation that the news media is “the enemy of the people,” numerous boasts and false claims, and another recounting of his triumphant performance in the 2016 campaign.

When Trump eventually got around to Canada, he began by saying “Canada” in a loud, exaggerated voice.

Canada. You know, Canada: nice guy, nice guy,” he said, extending his arms in a kind of conciliatory gesture. “Prime minister. Justin. I said, ‘Justin, what’s your problem, Justin?’ So: Canada. O Canada. I love their national anthem. O Canada. I like ours better, however. So. No, Canada’s great, I love Canada.”

There could still be a happy ending to the tale of the miserable pile of Drumpfs and their idiot Drumpf-dom. After all, once I got my gemology degree I moved on to Christie’s auction house heading up the Faberge department, and then I started to freelance as a feature writer, and then books. See? Happy Ending.

So let’s bring this blog post to a happy ending by checking in with the cat herd here in Vivian World. I took this photo at 9:30 last Sunday morning, after Top Cat and I had finished reading our New York Times and had given over the new couches to Candy, Bibs, and Taffy:

Bibs was the very picture of Happy Dreaming:

And this was the gang four hours later:

Have a great weekend, everyone. May America’s tolerance for vile stupidity reach its tipping point very soon, and may hordes of decent citizens rid us of the plague called Drumpf.

 

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About once a day, someone will step into the little charity book store that I co-manage here, on the north shore of Long Island, and stand, as if in shock, in the narrow aisle that is the main thoroughfare of our cubby hole, and bleat, “Is this the whole store?”

Yes, yes it is. Our used book store is really small. Into this charming space we cram (my educated guess) a little over 2,000 books.

That number includes a few duplicates. The most-duplicated book in our stock is this:

We have four different copies of this book: original hardback, paperback, hard-bound paperback, and a special abridged version for younger readers. This book came out in 2010 when the author, Wes Moore, went on Oprah when she was still on TV, whereupon it sold what we in the publishing business call “a shit load”*** and now, seven years after its pub date, it is STILL #250 on Amazon.com. So I bought one of the copies and read it.

In brief, this book is about two kids named Wes Moore who were born blocks apart within a year of each other in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and both had difficult childhoods; one grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence.

The ex-Rhodes scholar is the author of the book. The “other” Wes Moore became a grandfather at age 36 while he was in prison. Is it crappy of me to say that I grew weary of the other Wes Moore’s story? His tale is a dreary accumulation of the predictable poor choices that have become cliche in urban culture which, as the other Wes Moore shows, are not the inevitable price you have to pay for being poor in America.

As soon as I bought one of the four copies that we had in the store, another copy came in. So if you are looking for The Other Wes Moore, we have one that is right for you. (Price: $1.)

***The Other Wes Moore sold 140,000 in paperback in 2012. That’s all I could find. I hope you find this interesting because I, as an author, find sales figures fascinating.

We also have three copies of this:

Original pub date, 2003. 80 million copies sold.

Price: 50 cents. I haven’t read it, and probably never will.  One of our volunteer book sellers was helping me shelve a batch of new donations, which included a copy of this book, and she asked me if this was Fiction or Not. (Please note that it says, right on the cover, A Novel.) The scary thing is, this volunteer used to be a high school teacher.

We used to have three copies of this delightful number:

Original pub date, 2008. 10 million copies sold world-wide.

We are currently sold out of this title because I kept recommending it to customers who liked fiction and/or books set in Paris. I read this book and liked it far more than I thought I would, and I like this cover immensely for reasons I can’t really explain. Maybe because it does not give anything away, or maybe because it reminds me of Vermeer’s paintings. Feel free to discuss.

We currently have three copies of this:

Original pub date, 2005. As of 2014, it has sold 7 million copies in 35 languages.

I like the Freakonomics podcast but I’ve never read the book, so I brought a paperback copy home with me. I must have looked at this cover 20 times (I admire its jazzy colors, and lime green is a particular favorite of mine) before I realized that the apple is photoshopped to have an orange inside it. I love it!! This is a very sophisticated image, and is a clever way to illustrate that Levitt and Dubner are masters at comparing apples to oranges.

P.S. I was wondering if that “apples and oranges” idiom was translatable to other languages, so I tried to find the foreign editions of this book’s cover. I could only find the Hindi version:

Some color scheme, but weirder.

So I guess that the answer to my wondering is, “No.”

I’m reading the chapter about selling crack cocaine in the 1990s. According to Levitt and Dubner, it was a lot like selling nylon stockings in the 1940s. More contemporarily, Levitt and Dubner explain the allure of selling crack cocaine on the street by situating the whole illegal drugs enterprise within the context of other American businesses. That’s how I came upon this on page 104:

In the glamour professions — movies, sports, music, fashion — there is a different dynamic at play. Even in second-tier glamour industries like publishing, advertising, and media, swarms of bright young people throw themselves at grunt jobs that pay poorly and demand unstinting devotion. 

Say what, now?

As I have had three books published, I consider myself to be part of the publishing business which, I have always smugly assured myself and others, gives me one of the most deliriously glamorous jobs in the whole world. Now I find out that it’s a second-tier glamour industry??

I also want to know, Is there a third tier?

I definitely want to know what jobs are on that list.

Oh, Dear Readers, it’s been a tough few weeks here in the der Drmpfian demise of democracy. The obscenity of government officials quoting the Bible to defend taking children away from their immigrant parents got me so depressed that I could see no other way of lifting my misery than to go to the local shelter and adopt a DoG.

No, I didn’t get a DoG, but only because I need one that is OK with cats (8 of ’em, at last count) and the shelter didn’t have any they could vouch for. I spent some time with a cute 10-year old Puggle named Barry, who, sadly, did not pass muster when I asked the crucial question, “Is he house broken?” (Been there, done that.)

A Puggle, but not Barry. A Puggle is the cross of a Pug and a Beagle.

There were two chihuahuas up for adoption at the shelter, but I don’t think I’m a chihuahua person. In theory I’m fine with pit bulls, but a lot of the pits on hand need to be the only animal in the house.

And yeah, sure, der Drumpf signed the executive order, but that makes our country only slightly less shit hole-isa, so I still need a DoG. This weekend I am visiting another animal shelter.

Yes, I know that getting a DoG is setting myself up for heartache. I remember very clearly how I went a little crazy when my sweet cocker spaniel, Boogie Girl, died, which was the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life. But what is it about DoGs that even this born-and-bred Cat Lady can’t resist?

 

*Sigh*

DoGs.

Have another great weekend, everyone. We’ll get through this. We will.

 

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On March 31 of this year, Helen Mirren told reporter Sebastian Shakespeare of  The Daily Mail : “I’ll tell you what I had done recently, which I love — I got my eyebrows tattooed.”

“I was fed up of my brows barely being there and when one of my girlfriends got it done, I thought that they looked great.

“They’re very lightly and delicately done — but it means that when I get up in the morning and I have no make-up on, at least I have eyebrows.

“It’s made a huge difference.”

For the record, this (see below) is what La Grande Dame, Her Highness Helen was talking about when she said her eyebrows were “barely there“:

Photo credit: Russell Clisby

Me and Helen, we have the same problem, eyebrow-wise:

Well, we all know how much everyone here in VivianWorld loves, adores, and aspires to be like Helen Mirren, She Who Can Do No Wrong.

So I did it. After two months of dithering, I got my eyebrows tattooed.

It hurt.

I clutched/dig my fingernails into a stress ball and gritted my teeth during the worst of it (about 14 minutes in all, before the topical anesthesia is applied) and I made it through the entire procedure without screaming, which took 2 1/2 hours, which includes the lengthy paperwork (for New York state) and consultation during which I showed my esthetician, Christine, my Helen Mirren photo (same as above) and said, “I want her eyebrows.” Which I can’t have because my brow line is different, so I had to settle for Vivian Swift eyebrows.

Fun fact: Christine told me that human faces are asymmetrical, which is why you really do have a “good” side, and keeping that in mind she tries to make eyebrows that are also slightly asymmetrical to look more natural. She informed me that I, however, have an unusually non-asymmetrical face. So this is what I want on my tombstone:

Here lies Vivian. She was very symmetrical.

Barbra Streisand’s famous GOOD side. She is NEVER photographed from the other side.

You are warned that when you finish your first microblading (that’s eyebrow tattoo-talk) session to to be alarmed. Your brows will look unnaturally dark. Rest assured, the ink will settle and fade into a more natural hue after a few weeks, at which time you will go back for a touch-up to perfect get your final semi-permanent brows. After that, you’ll only need to stop by every year or two to keep the brows looking spiffy.But when I saw my new eyebrows I was horrified. I felt as if I was ready for a starring role in kabuki theater. Like I was wearing Halloween make up. My eyebrows looked ridiculous! I was aghast, but Christine swore to me that the brows looked great and that I would get used to them. I wondered, What on earth have I done to myself???

Later that day I had to drive to the train station to pick up Top Cat and I was still extremely self-conscious about these weird things on my forehead. I put on extra eye make up in order to off-set my jarring appearance in the hopes that when Top Cat saw the New Me, he would not tell me what I already knew: that I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.

So Top Cat gets in the car and he looks at me carefully, searchingly, and at last he says: “I don’t see any difference.”

That is why I love this man. OK, sure, he has stopped looking at me since we first met 15 years ago — that is, has not updated his mental image of me since 2003 — but at this point in life, I am grateful for that.

Of course I am going to show you the new eyebrows:

My hair is not having a good day.

It’s been two weeks now and I have come to love my new eyebrows. And perhaps not coincidentally, a few days ago a new acquaintance guessed that I was in my 40s and we were in a room with fluorescent lighting. It’s the eyebrows. They take 20 years off your face. Also, my hair was having a very good day. And maybe she was extremely bad at guessing people’s age. Still, I love having eyebrows. Thank you, Helen Mirren.

OK, now that the exciting part of this week’s blog is over, let me catch you all up on the used book store news: Remember my rainbow display from last week? (Hint — that’s it, below.)

As I was flummoxed about what books to put on either side of this display, I asked for your help last week and I appreciated your feedback, Dear Readers. The sum of your advise was for me to think more outside of cliche, so I looked all over our shelves for something word-associative to Gay Pride to use but, as Steve said, you have to work with what you have on hand, and we don’t have a lot of poetry or art books:

It’s a small used book store with limited shelf space. Sometimes we have no idea where a book should go to be with its own kind, so I have to get creative with the labels.

Well, it beats “Miscellaneous”.

And then the obvious hit me, and this is now what is on either side of our rainbow stacks of books:

The second-most interesting book donation that came in last week was this:

This book was published in 1988, which would disqualify it even if it wasn’t full of “quizzes” you can take to know whether or not you really love your boyfriend, or how much he respects you, or if you should just be friends with your crush, etc., all of which had already been filled in and scored (you see now that this is the kind of junk we get all the time) but good lord, I just looked it up on Amazon.com and the book is out-of-print and there are only 2 old copies of this book for sale, one for $1,009.00 and the other for $5,930. Can those prices be for real??

Anyhoo, I did not throw it out because I love the ’80s clothing on the cover. It made me hum Bananrama all afternoon. . .

I say it all the time. I miss the ’80s.

. . . and I also did not throw this book away because the cover (and spine) are a shade of green that I desperately needed for one of my rainbow stack of books. So a vintage copy of Girltalk About Guys is sitting on the mantel in the used book store of the William Cullen Bryant Library of Roslyn, NY, if anyone wants to buy it. I’ll sell it for cheap. $200. All proceeds benefit the library.

And before I go, I must say something about Anthony Bourdain.

I say it all the time. I miss Obama.

After he got famous with his book about the underbelly of the restaurant business, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain could have settled for a TV show on the Food network, to coast on his 15 minutes of fame for the rest of his life. But no, he went in a totally unexpected direction, hitting the road with a camera crew, traveling for 250 days a year to experience life way, way, way off the beaten track, or in some overlooked corner of America that made our own backyard seem like a foreign country. And although I am not all that interested in food, and most of the stuff he ate disgusted me (I don’t think we should eat animals), I always enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s smart and snide and funny and sincere interpretations of the taste, sounds, smells, and feelings of food and drink.

He was also a role model in that he showed me how to stay curious, how to engage with new experiences, and how to stay cool in your 60s. He was always willing to experiment with his own comfort level, and seemed committed to discovering something authentic in every encounter, which is such a high level of engagement with life that constantly inspired me.   I will miss him.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. May you do something completely out of the ordinary, and come back and tell us all about it.

 

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As I announced a while ago, I now have the unbearably glamorous volunteer job of co-managing a used book store here on the north shore of Long Island.

The wall clock stopped telling time about a decade ago, and the fireplace underneath it is used only for its mantel.

100% of our inventory of used books comes from donations…which means that we often get bag-loads of crap dumped on us, from people who think that “donations” is another word for “here, this stuff is now your problem.”

So I wrote up new guidelines:

Please, no college text books, water-damaged Philip Roth novels, spinning wheel repair manuals, baby raccoons, left-over lasagna, or out-of-state library books. Everything else between two covers is gladly and gratefully accepted.

The book store is in the front parlor (I like to think it used to be old Mrs. Valentine’s sitting room where she had tea parties during the Monroe administration) in the historic c. 1820 Valentine House in Roslyn, NY and all the money we make from selling used books goes to the local library.

As the enviously philanthropic volunteer co-manager of the Roslyn library used book store, I wield absolute power when it comes to deciding what to display on the fireplace mantel. Here’s the display I made in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month:

The vertical rainbows are paperback, and the horizontal rainbows are hard-backs. I had the most trouble finding book covers in the color green. Judging by my inventory, green is the least-used color in book-binding.

We were also lacking inventory in green book covers because I had previously plundered our stock for my  own bookshelves:

The idea came to me on a slow day in the used-book selling world. It was also raining (which doesn’t bring in the punters) and I was hungry.

As you can see, my decor à live combines low and high culture…if indeed such a distinction can be made:

I confess that I am not tempted to read any of the books on display chez moi. I think that reading them would totally ruin them for me, as objets d’art, don’t you think?

I rather like the image of Light on Snow, and it makes me happy to imagine all the possibilities that might be contained in Anita Shreve’s novel. And look! Stacked as they are, they make a poem:

Light on Snow, Winter Study

Jem (and Sam)…

heart of the matter

This relates: The great novelist Vladimir Nabokov (so I’ve heard; I’ve never read any of his books) was teaching literature to undergraduates in Ithaca, New York when he wrote about a meeting he’d had with a student who was failing his class. In his diary, dated March 21, 1951, Nabokov wrote:

“the student explained to me me that when reading a novel (Ulysses, in this case) he likes to skip passages and pages so as to get his own idea, you know, about the book and not be influenced by the author.”

Nobaokov did  not record whether this kid made him laugh, or cry, or both.

There was plenty of space left on our book store mantel on either side of my rainbow display, and I searched for good LGBTQ titles but, this being a used book store, I had to go with what I had on hand.

I went with the most glamorous titles we had, because the New York Gay Pride Parade on June 24 will be amazingly glittery…but I’m still a teeny bit concerned that my intentions will be misinterpreted. Are there better topics other than Hollywood and royalty that I should have considered? Discuss.

And, as long as we are all sitting in a circle and having a chat, let us all congratulate Dear Reader Kirra from The Land of Oz, who is taking up residence in Salzburg, Austria next year. When she dropped that news on us last month, the first thing I thought was, Girl, you need a theme song.

Kirra, I’m talking to you from experience; you need to take a mixed tape with you to Salzburg so that you will play it over and over in your garrett, to become ingrained in your daily life, so that for ever more, when those songs come on the radio, you will be shot back to that special time and place with an intensity and recall that only music can trigger. Which I don’t have to tell you — you’re a music teacher.

You don’t have to decide right now what your theme song is, but you do have to have a play list that you will sing along with and remember home by and console and inspire yourself with, on all those nights and days in that foreign land.

Whenever I hear  Haven’t Got Time For The Pain by Carly Simon, or  The Last Time I Saw Richard by Joni Mitchell, or The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett, I am instantly 22 again, living through one of the coldest Winters on record in Paris. Add a glass or two of wine to the soundtrack and I can re-play the entire year, all the sights and sounds and tastes and feelings. Oh, the misery and oh, the giddiness. Nothing will ever feel so bad and so good at the same time as being 22 years old in Paris, and nothing brings it back more vividly than this bunch of accidental theme songs. I want that for you, Kirra.

Speaking of Paris, the capital of France, I want to take this opportunity to whine about something that has always annoyed me about the book cover that Bloomsbury did for my book about France, called Le Road Trip:

THIS (above) is not what makes me unhappy about the cover. THIS (below) is what I can’t stand:

I pitched a fit when I saw this and I tried to get them to change it, but I was told that it was too late, the covers had already been printed. I absolutely and undyingly loathe the green lettering of the title because it’s an unattractive shade of green and because green makes no fucking sense. What makes it so maddening is that I was in on the editorial meetings when we discussed cover art and I specifiedthat the coloring on the spine should be blue, white, and red for obvious reasons:

Did the art director hand off this assignment to a beginner graphic artist who called in sick the day we sat around a big table in the conference room and discussed what I wanted? Or is the person who chose to go with this stupid green lettering just a terribledesigner? When you are designing something — anything — you have to consider every single itty bitty detail; you have to question every aspect, you have to know the reason for, and be able to justify, each of the countless small and large choice that you make.

Do you think that the great designer Marc Jacobs designs his lace overlay silk jacket and then lets an assistant choose the buttons?

The answer is, “No.”

I never, in a million years, would have chosen puke olive green for the spine lettering on a book about France. Every time I look at those stupid three words in shades of  scum I want to punch somebody. I have very little tolerance for shoddy thinking.

The Chinese and Korean editions of Le Road Trip didn’t go along with the blue, white, and red color palette either …

… but I wasn’t in on the editorial meetings so I’m OK with that.

Next post about my fabulous incarnation as a volunteer co-manager at the used book store will be all about the staff, all retirees, one of which who asked me, “Do we alphabetize our books by author, or by title?”

Or maybe we will discuss How I Never Want To Get Old And Stupid.

My Darling Readers, have a glittery, glitzy, stupidity-free weekend. May all your theme songs make you want to get up and dance, dance, dance!

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Darling Readers, before we get to our usual Friday examination of the fascinating details of our extraordinary life on Earth as we know it  (immediately following), I ask you to take a minute to read this. Because attention must be paid.

The world lost one of its greats this past week:

This is El Nino (in mid-yawn). El Nino was dropped off at a shelter in New Jersey about 15 years ago. He was already an adult male, and he had such a big personality, and demanded so much attention, that the staff there named him after a very troublesome weather system. He was funny, smart, happy, and supremely self-confident. He was greatly loved by all, but he didn’t “show well”, so  he remained unadopted week after week.

My sister Buffy was a volunteer at that shelter. She saved the lives of hundreds of homeless kitties and, long story short, she rescued the hard-to-place Nino, and sent him to me, and I cared for him for two or three (four?) years until our other sister Amy, who was living abroad but long last came “home” and met the inimitable El Nino, and she did her magic and miraculously matched this boy with his perfect, soul-to-soul, new-to-cats forever family because of a fabulous person she met in Ukraine (I know!). She insisted that this family adopt Nino; they met him; it was love at first sight.  They kept his name, El Nino, which I always thought was a hoot, as they are Indian-American.

Nobody ever loved a cat more than this family adored El Nino. They were devoted to him. My sisters and I, all cat ladies to the max, have never seen a family more spiritually and emotionally bonded with a cat than Nino’s people. They even published an annual calendar, 12 months of Nino.

Then Nino got old and his health became fragile, and in the past years, they did whatever it took to ensure his comfort — eventually they had to wake up every few hours in the middle of the night to give him his food and meds.

But last week, in the heart of his dear family and surrounded by their undying love, the mighty spirit that was El Nino was gently gathered to the ancestors. The news, from hundreds of miles away, has hit me and my sisters very hard. I am typing this through tears.  I know the loss of Nino devastates his family.

The message that we got from Nino’s people, which was full of their love and reverence,  ended: Please join us in praying for him, may his soul Rest In Peace.

Amen.

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And now you know why I love him:

Today this is not a boring watercolor blog. Today this is a fascinating philosophical blog in which we ponder new furniture, cats, and the randomness of life.

What got me thinking about new furniture and cats (it’s a twofer) is because, as you read last week, we got two new couches delivered to our house here on the north shore of Long Island, and the cats immediately made themselves comfortable:

Right. The upholstery of these couches (a fashionable tweed in shades of gray with contrasting piping)  will never see the light of day as long as this herd is in residence. We will remove the sheets when we entertain ..wait…I’m laughing too hard … because we “entertain” about three times a year … right: When we entertain, the sheets and the cats will be banished and it will appear, to all who enter, that Top Cat and I live a normal life with furniture fit for grown ups and a not-crazy number of pets. Keeping up appearances, and all that.

So far, the couches are just couches, and not the catalysts for a great change in life like my previous couch experience. That’s OK, I can be patient and let life unspool itself on its own terms but this I know: my choice of couch has put something in motion.

So, with notions of unforeseen consequences swirling in my head, that’s why this old review in the New York Times (I’m catching up on my reading) from May 7, 2017, resonated with me. The cover story is about Penelope Lively:

The British novelist Penelope Lively is fascinated by contingency — the idea that an entire life is shaped by small decisions that seem inconsequential at the time. In 2005, she published a sort of anti-memoir, “Making It Up,” in which she imagined all the different directions her life might have taken. What if she’d become an archaeologist? What if she’d married an American? What if she’d had an illegitimate child? Sitting in an upstairs room at her London house at the end of March, she said she still thought this way. “I have six grandchildren, in their early 20s,” she said, “and I look at them now and think they’re making the sort of decisions that are going to determine the rest of their lives. It’s quite alarming. But mercifully you don’t know that at the time.”

Does this strike a chord with you? Does this make you look back, and review your 20s, and speculate on the small choices that you made back then that had lasting, monumental repercussions? Because it did me. And I already knew the exact point when my life took off on a trajectory that, at the time, I was completely unaware of.

It was in 9th grade, when I decided that I was going to learn French in high school. I was pretty good at it, and then I went to Paris, and traveled in France, and picked up a lot more language, so that by the time I was 30 I was fluent. And my being able to speak French has totally changed my life, not least because back then, when people knew you spoke French, they assumed that you were far better educated, and not the hick that you actually were. I have leveraged my French language skills into life experiences that were far, far beyond my imagination back when I was a 13-year-old picking courses at Upper Moreland Junior High in Willow Grove, PA. All the way to West Africa, Buenos Aries, and Giverny.

I wonder if you, too, Dear Readers, looking back, can pinpoint a moment when you stepped down the road less travelled, chose the prize behind Door # 3, listened to your heart and not your head, or listened to your head and not your heart, and that — as the poet said — has made all the difference.

Today’s musings are dedicated to our Dear Reader Alex, who is at a crossroads. Which is a pretty cool place to be when you are at a time of life when you thought that crossroads were something that only happened when you were too dumb to know that you were at a crossroads.

What’s your story? If it wasn’t taking French I in 1969, what was it?

In the meantime, I was at the gym and this song came up on the huge video/speaker system and I loved it…although I was doing bicep curls at at the time and hating it, and this song gave me the oooopmph to pull through. These guys are new to me — are they new to you?

It also struck me as pertinent to this conversation (except for the contortionists in the video what is up with that?) that, When You Are Looking for A Way, Everything Becomes a Path (Alex, You Are Thunder):

Have a great weekend, everyone. Next week, we will have to discuss Kirra’s sabbatical to study music in Salzburg !!! and Elizabeth decamping to Morocco !!!…all you Dear Readers have such  interesting lives!!!

XXOO

 

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While I am sitting here waiting for our new couches to be delivered today I am thinking about the last time I got new furniture, and how it changed my life. It was back in the days when I was a reformed wanderer, having settled down into a quiet life in a small village on the Long Island Sound, collecting tea cups and making the diaries that would be the fodder for my first book.

Self Portrait of the Doodler-Diarist.

My cat, Woody Robinson, used to sit on the kitchen table with his head under the lamp shade.

As a reformed wanderer, I had come into my new life in a small village on the Long Island Sound pretty much empty-handed. I gradually acquired stuff, but I still lacked a couch after a year, so when my upstairs neighbor, Sid, moved out, he gave me his couch. It was a nice couch, covered in a nubby beige material.

The couch was already 10 years old, and Sid had a dog who used to sleep on the couch, and his cat, Malcolm, had died on that couch, but Sid had cleaned it up so as far as I was concerned, it was up to snuff. Yay! I had a couch!

A few years on, and the couch had become a little grimy, a bit worn, but I still liked the couch a lot. So I sewed a new cover for the couch. I didn’t have a pattern. I made it up as I went along.It took me 12 hours. I was very proud of myself when it was done.

Maybe you remember page 178 of the book I wrote about living a quiet life in a small village on the Long Island Sound, when I introduce Honey and Candy:

page 178 from When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

Here are the same Honey and Candy, on my couch, fitted with the cover I sewed for it:

(I still have the garden that I am embroidering in that last pic, with the help of Honey and Candy. Are they the cutest or what?)

But, skipping ahead a few more years, the couch had become ratty once again. And it smelled, from all the cats that had come and gone (I was in my cat-rescue days, and some cats were very stinky). And now, the couch that I had once loved so much that I spent 12 hours sewing a custom-made cover for it, that couch was not doing it for me anymore.

At the same time, I had also become stuck in quite a rut, life-wise. I felt that I was ready to move on from this incarnation of me, move on from my quiet life in a small village on the Long Island Sound, but I really had no idea how to do it without buying a one-way ticket to, oh, let’s say Argentina. Or Scotland. Or New Zealand tho that was a long shot.

The point is, I didn’t know how to move forward so I was stuck in an increasingly drab, small, and scuzzy life, and all my dithering and dead-end-ish-ness was made evident by my worst piece of furniture, my couch.

I wanted to get rid of the couch, but I was too stuck in my rut to have the where-with-all to do anything about it, so I just put a sheet over it and put off thinking about my crappy the couch and my life:

We pause here so I can tell the story of The List, which will become relevant to the couch in just a bit.

About the same time I was living with this couch that I was becoming more and more sick of, I wrote a short list of everything I wanted to in my life, on a Post-It, and I titled it: Things To Do Before I Die. I still have that Post-It.

It was a short list, just 4 things, all of which seemed impossible at the time:

  1. Write a book.
  2. Get it published.
  3. Get married.
  4. Kiss a tiger.

I have written about The List before, to tell you Dear Readers how  important it is to write things down if you want to realize your dreams. It was the writing of this list that made achieving everything on the list possible.

Everything except for kissing the tiger. I have learned that there is no ethical way to kiss a tiger  so I have banished that from The List. But the point is that I had made The List and The List had made it so that I have written a book, I have got it published, and I have married the prince charming of my dreams.

But what I never told you was that for two years after I wrote The List I was still in a slump, a funk, a rut, and I still had that awful couch. I had The List, but I didn’t know where to start.

And then on one ordinary day, in a blinding moment of clarity, I got up off my couch, went to the store, and I bought a new couch.

It was just that easy. And all this time, I had been dithering because I didn’t want to invest in a new couch, that I didn’t have the extra money, that it would be one more thing I would have to deal with, that it would present me with too many choices (none of which I wanted to make), that it would require complicated logistics that were beyond me, etc etc etc.

It was getting that new couch that kick-started my fate, that set in motion all the good things that happened to me that made it possible for me to complete The List  in five short years after I got the new couch.

All it took was something — anything — to start the chain reaction, and it turned out to be me getting a new couch.

See? The universe will reward you for getting up off your lazy ass, and making that one, lone, first, step towards your dreams. Any first step will do. You only have to lift one foot and put it in front of the other. You just have set things in motion.

I don’t have a picture of the new couch because very shortly after I got the new couch, I met Top Cat, my prince, and less than a year after that I gave my new couch away when I moved into Top Cat’s house to marry him, and he already had four couches. Plus, he had a room that I could call my own, where I wrote my first book, and my second, and my third. The fourth book is pending.

I had lived in that small village on the Long Island Sound for a total of ten years.

I’ve lived with Top Cat for 14 years now, and we finally replaced two of those couches of his, after dithering about it for a few years.

And it wasn’t until I was sitting here, waiting for the delivery of our new couches, that I remembered that I have been here before.

I don’t know about you, but at this stage in my life, I seem to want life to stay exactly the same (no more adding on of the birthdays, no scary diagnoses, no thinning of the cat herd), while at the same time I also want it to be as full of possibilities as it used to be, when it was possible to marry a prince and possible to beat the odds and accomplish a dream. I want stasis, but I want change too. Is that so hard?

Top Cat and I are ready  to move on, somewhere, somehow, even though we’ve got a house and four couches and a ton of cats to consider. Maybe it’s time to make a new List.

And then I’m giving these new couches a year to do their magic.

Have a great weekend, everyone. May you put something ridiculously fantastic in motion.

XXOO

 

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This is how I read the Sunday paper (New York Times, of course):

That’s a lot of cat on my lap. Cindy is the black kitty near my heart and that’s Lickety on my knees. It’s been chilly here on the north shore of Long Island so I was happy to have these feline warmers in the vicinity.

Last week Dear Reader Jeanie asked about the “dummy” books I make up to show publishers when I submit a book proposal.

Normally I only do the first three chapters for a dummy but since this book is so short, I am doing the entire book (which ends up being about the same size as three chapters from one of my usual illustrated travelogues).

First, I go to Staples and spend about an hour and a half/two hours making the color copies of all the illustrations I’ll need for the dummy. I must warn you, before we go too far, that making a dummy is incredibly, maximally, and moronically boring.

After I have all the necessary color copies (at 69 cents per scan, the cost adds up fast) I go home and get the paper cutter out.

I must cut down a pile of bond paper into the appropriate dimensions of my book, known in the book biz as the “trim size”. For this book, I’m doing an 8-inch x 8-inch square trim. (Cutting paper is really boring.)

I assemble omymaterials: the color copies and the print-out the text of the book, which will also be scissored into bits:

I work at my dining room table because it’s the biggest surface in the house:

I am gluing bits of text and bits of illustration onto each page, so I have to let them dry out before I go onto the next step.

About two hours later, when I have gone thru my original manuscript page by page, and replicated each page, page by page (which is very boring to do), I will have bits of illustration and text left over. This is because I will have forgotten to make a color copy of something, or I have changed my mind about an illustration and I will re-do it, or there is an error in the text that I only discovered at this late stage of the operation:

So, I will paint something new, and I’ll sit at the computer and fix the text, and I’ll print it out, and I’ll go back to Staples to get new color copies, and then I’m ready to finish this dummy.

Thank the lord for clear plastic sheet protectors. I buy them by the 100s, and they are what makes my “dummy” books possible. For this dummy, I have cut off the top three inches of each sheet protector so so that my 8-inch x 8-inch pages fit into them like they were custom-made.

Next, I load my pages into the sheet protectors:

That’s the original manuscript above, and my “dummy” replica below.

You have to remember to load each sheet protector with two pages, back-to-back, so that they can assemble into a verso and a recto when it all comes together. This part of the operation is both fiddly and boring, but at least it means that I am near the end!!

When I cut down the sheet protectors, cutting off the top three inches, I was left with only two binder holes in each sheet protector. So now I have to punch a new upper hole into each sheet:

This dummy takes 41 plastic sheet protectors, and punching through that heavy plastic on the margin 41 times hurts. But I have to do this because I’m using a two-prong Duo-tang thingy to bind my dummy:

I have to fiddle with the prongs because they don’t exactly match the holes in my truncated sheet protectors, but that’s  not a big deal:

In the end, I have a neatly-bound dummy:

This is what the dummy looks like from a side view:

All in, each dummy costs approx. $30.00 and takes four hours to copy, print, and assemble. If I knew how to do this electronically, I would — but I’ve never figured out how to use my scanner. And, since making these dummy books is how I’ve gotten all my book contracts,  I’m not going to fix what ain’t broke.

And now let’s talk about The Wedding.

Harry and Meghan are a beautiful couple and everyone wishes them a lifetime of love and happiness, except, it seems, the bride’s siblings. Their lovely half-sister is about to “marry up” — way, way, WAY up — and they can’t stand it.

I know it’s crass to talk about class but that is the crux of this story. For the half-siblings (none of whom seem to have a job) the resentments must be long-standing, probably starting from the time when Meghan began to get some fame and money in her acting career. But now that she’s marrying the most famous prince in the world and leaving them far, far behind, the difference in their fates must be driving them crazy. Last I heard, one of them has even staged a car accident in order to get some publicity and sympathy.

I guess we all have embarrassing relatives — even the British royals have a Nazi or two in the family and the divine Kate Middleton has that nutty Uncle Gary.

Meghan and Harry seem to be gracefully handling the fall-out from Ms. Markle “getting above her raising” , as they say in Appalachia, and which I did the day I left Pennsylvania for Paris, so me and her we have that in common.

I think Meghan and Harry will be good to and for each other and I wish them a beautiful wedding day.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and I hope it’s filled with pomp and circumstance and kitties on the lap and good cups of tea.

 

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