December 2016

Have you been to London recently? Did you try to see the famous residence of the United Kingdom’s Prime Mister at the famous London address of No. 10 Downing Street?

This (above) is as close to that famous doorway as you can get these days. That 20-foot tall black steel security fence was erected to block off the entire street of Downing in 1991, in response to IRA terrorist bombings in the capital, now protecting the area from about 20 other brands of terrorists from around the world. Sadly, No. 10 Downing Street is now one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Britain. The front door can no longer be opened from the outside because it has no handle, and no one can enter the building without passing through a scanner and a set of security gates manned by armed, bullet-proof vested, and very uncordial, guards.

Before this time, the public had free access to the entire street and any old geezer could stroll right up to the Prime minister’s doorstep and pose for a photo with the one, lone, shirt-sleeved police guard on duty.

Is it hard for you to believe that there was ever a time when life was so uncomplicated?

Yeah, me too.

But I have proof that there was, once, such a happy once-upon-a-time. Here’s me (below), in 1976, in my bell bottom jeans, back when I still had un-gray hair, standing at the very doorstep at No. 10 Downing Street, back when you could trust the stranger who grabbed your 110 Instamatic camera and urged you to go on, go over there so he could snap a souvenir pic of dorky, solo, 20-year old world traveler you, calling on the PM (who was at that time a forgettable fella named James Callahan):

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I tend to regret the 1970s and the bad hair, bad clothes, bad music, etc. . . . until I remember that it was the decade in which I was able to travel for $10 a day, and did.

1976 was also the year that I journeyed westward from London, out to Stonehenge (Stonehenge being the pile of standing stones that I hope needs no introduction):

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That (above) is a pic of the sandy walkway leading directly into the heavily trampled inner circle which, at the time, was, much like the doorstep of No. 10 Downing Street, surprisingly unguarded and open to one and all. In all, 815,000 people(including me) stomped through this ancient monument  in 1976.

So it’s no wonder that, in 1977, the stones were roped off so people couldn’t climb on them any longer. The crowds are kept at a respectful distance, as they should be.

The grass was allowed to grow back, up between the old stones, and the road way that passed just meters from the heel stone was shut down  to vehicular traffic. It’s now a paved footpath. The stones stand in splendid isolation, the better to contemplate their significance and wonder.

Every 40 yearsI like to get back to Stonehenge so that is where I found myself this past August, standing at almost the same spot as I did in 1976, to take this pic:

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In 1976, any old geezer could mosey up to a 5,000 year-old, 25-ton monolith and, along with the hordes, literally rub shoulders with it:

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These days, the only way to get close to the stones is to book a private tour with one of the three companies that are authorized to breach the outer fences :

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Let the record show that in 2016 I paid the equivalent of 15. 9 days of 1976 travel to take a one-hour sun set tour of Stonehenge and be one of the 25 people allowed to breathe the same air as these mysterious and beautiful sarsens:

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And no, a stranger did not take this pic; my own dear sweet Top Cat did.

My point is: As time goes on, sometimes things get worse, sometimes things get better. Sometimes things get sadder with age, sometimes they don’t.

Maybe 2017 won’t suck as much as 2016.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone.

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So, the other day I’m reading my agent’s blog, in which she is venting about the weird query letters she’s been getting lately.

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A query letter is the short cover letter you send to a literary agent to give that important gate-keeper of the literary world an idea of what you and your book are about. The purpose of a query letter is to entice that agent into reading the sample chapter you have enclosed, thereby captivating that agent with your skill and charm as a writer, which will lead to either a request for the full manuscript or, as happened in my case, skipping straight to the contract which authorizes your new agent to sell your book proposal to a publisher thereby making you an AUTHOR.

So, you can see that writing a good query letter is a very big deal. It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. But some people are either too naive, too egotistic, or too crazy to do it right.

It also helps if you send a query letter regarding your sic-fi thriller to an agent who does not, say, deal exclusively with cook books. DO YOUR RESEARCH, in other words. And never start your query letter with a statement about how your book is the next Eat, Pray, Love. Agents are really tired of that pitch.

So, any way, that’s what my agent, Betsy Lerner, was complaining about.

One of the Commenters to her post responded:

What about those who cannot write a query letter? . . .  what about all the little people/ big writers who can’t? How do we take care of them? How do we take care of our writers?

And that’s when I lost it. I wrote back:

“How do we take care of our writers?” 

WTF?

Who cares about WRITERS??? We — who ever “we” are — need to take care of our doctors, nurses, environmentalists, veterinarians, watchdogs and whistle-blowers, cops, firefighters, EMTs, teachers, physicists, soldiers, scientists, engineers, civil rights lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, farmers, sanitation workers — even the lowest-level topologist is worth more to society than a WRITER.

The only useful thing you can do for society, as a WRITER, is to compose a decent damn query letter so that your value as a relatively pointless luxury item in the culture can be appraised. is that too much to ask?

Yeah, I was so annoyed that I forgot to capitalize the “I” in that last sentence.

A third party who took offense to my Comment wrote back:

Your “relatively pointless luxury item in the culture” has made my life so much more interesting and worthwhile, beginning with those Raggedy Ann and Andy books I taught myself to read at age five. And all of those workers you list would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

Oh, where to begin listing all the things that are wrong with this? I did my best to keep it short:

Jesus. How much more patronizing can you get?

How much you want to bet that the majority of those sad workers with their sad lives don’t even bother to read? They are far too busy with their own stories, the ones they are living and telling each other when they get together for drinks after work. I’m sure they are as happy, or as minimally miserable as the rest of us, without knowing a single writer or giving a crap about The Girl on the Train.

I am not one of those writers who thinks that I possess a gift, or an acute humanity, or the delicate nerve endings of a seer and poet, or a certain specialness for which the world owes me readers and recognition. Or maybe I do, but my Capricorny sense of reality prevents me from ever whining about how the world, and persnickety literary agents, are too mean and snotty to appreciate my self-evident genius.

And, after investing a few hours reading half of Gone Girl before I figured out that I did not want to squander any more time of my one and only life with make-believe people who I really detested, I knew I could live a happy life without ever cracking The Girl on the Train. Fiction sucks.

But you don’t have to be me to see how incredibly pompous it is to claim that all the physicists and firefighters in the world would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

I for one would not want to read anything written by a writer who had that kind of attitude towards her readers. Would you?  Please discuss.

In other news, we here on Long Island got our first snowfall last night (Sunday, Dec. 11) and I have not caught you up on the Fall leaves in my backyard. Here’s a pic of the difference between Taffy (on the left) and our newest backyard boy, Dennis (on the right):

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Top Cat has put away all the patio furniture except for one chair, for obvious reasons:

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Dennis also has full use of the old rabbit hutch that we converted into a kitty condo (down sleeping bags on the walls and floor, straw for extra insulation):
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And our prodigal Candy, who came back after disappearing on a six-week walk-about on Nov. 18, still has not ventured beyond the kitchen but she has let me give her a nice soft baby blanket to make her nap times more cozy:

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P.S. I have not washed the kitchen floor since Candy’s come home because she’s still a bit anxious and flighty and any kind of bustle makes her freak out, and also because I really don’t want to wash to kitchen floor any way.

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If wishes were sailboats I’d be on the Seine River, moored on the Quai de Conti, as seen in this illustration I did for page 12 of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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Do you see that black house boat, the middle one docked alongside the quai that faces the Pont Neuf, and the fabulous garden in the Square du Vert-Galant(above)? Well, that’s a real boat, really floating on the Seine, and it’s really for sale, having just come on the market, available for immediate move-in:

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This is the Marie Jeanne, built in 1913 — she’s 16 meters long (that’s 53 feet, for those of us who think in the picturesque).

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The interior is mahogany — the living area is open concept, with sky lights and a working fireplace.

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The boat has 2 bedrooms, so its $1.6 million asking price is a bargain, considering that a comparable 2-bedroom apartments in the 6th arrondissement is going for $3 million these days.

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It’s got a full sized tub, too . . . but I’d have to get used to having a skylight right above me when I am soaking away the stresses of the day.

WHAT AM I SAYING???? If I had $1.6 million to buy me a houseboat on the Seine I’m pretty sure I’d have nothing in the world to feel stressed about.

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Ahhhhhhhh, to spend the next four years in my own little world, bobbing cozy and happy on the gentle river of memory and wonder, painting little moments of joy and thankfulness . . .

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Oh, if only wishes were sailboats, I’d christen my bateau The Madame President and sail off into the sunset.

Thank you, my Dear Readers, for all your kind and commiserating Comments these past few weeks. I have been distraught, disbelieving, disgusted, and despondent — and still am — but I’m working on a survival plan that includes not going crazy with fury and loathing which I hope will put me on an even keel for the next four years. I need to paint, and write, and stay here in this space with all you Wonderful Yous, in order to marvel at the small mercies that redeem us, day to day.

And on days when it seems that there is just too much ugliness in the world, there’s always Taffy, doing something appallingly cute:

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