Monday, March 17, 2014

I'll be over there ---->

Just a note to my faithful readers: for the next three months I'll be posting, ideally every day, at

If you've always wanted to be a blogger, you can post there too! All you have to do is try to read Ulysses by June 16. Drop me a line and I'll sign you onto the crew.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Late Thanksgiving Post

I've been thinking about my grandparents a lot, and on Facebook when that "x things people don't know about you" thing went around, I told things about my grandparents instead. Now I'm taking the show to the blog, because I was just reading Simcha Fisher's Thanksgiving post and it reminded me of my grandfather's pumpkin pie story.

One evening, my grandparents were at another couple's house playing cards. Incidentally, this seems like a type of socializing that is worth reviving--two couples play cards and afterward have dessert: no company dinner to worry about (don't get me wrong, I love making company dinner, but not everyone does); no money to spend on movie tickets or bar tabs.

Anyway, as they played some impulse prompted my grandfather to hold forth at some length about how much he hated pumpkin pie. He loved pie in general. The moment he got off the proverbial boat, he went into a diner and ordered a slice of apple pie and a glass of milk. Pumpkin pie, though, I guess they don't have in Ireland. He felt about it the way I feel about spaghetti squash or mizuna: just didn't understand why anyone had ever decided it was food. He went on, as I say, at some length about the disgusting soapy taste, mushy texture and general horribleness of pumpkin pie, and didn't notice the growing quietness and discomfort of his hosts. For when the card game was over and refreshments were served, that evening's dessert was--you guessed it--pumpkin pie!

But that's not the end of the story. Quite a bit later, my grandparents were at a card-playing evening at a different couple's house, and it occurred to my grandfather to tell the funny story of his pumpkin pie faux pas. In the telling, for dramatic effect, he probably managed to describe his repulsion even more elaborately. That evening's planned treat was also, of course, pumpkin pie.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Both me and the poem. It's the first one I've written in seven years, and the first one that came to me unbidden in something like 20. I'm only posting it because CoolDad asked. And because, well, later on I may wish I had.


A drift of fallen leaves, tire-stirred, wings toward the windshield.
I feel the swift conviction that really, there is no glass:
This time, protection will not protect.
I duck, just slightly.

Of course the brown flock flutters crisply around the car
And I’m left somewhat sorry after all,
Wishing I could have tried to catch one in my hand.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

My Playlist for the Union Beach 5K

My history with running started late--around age 35--and it's been rocky. After my father's triple bypass in 2007 I got serious about running and losing weight. By the spring of 2008 my race pace was down to 9:27 and I could run 10K without minding very much. In November of 2008 I had T and I've never really gotten back to that good place. It's a chicken-and-egg thing, running--you get a little out of shape and you get scared and you're scared so you don't run the way you should and you get a little more out of shape and...soon you're in a spot where you hang up your shoes.

Then a few things happened. Sandy beat up Union Beach, badly. Union Beach isn't my town, but it's a town I care about quite a bit. I have friends who grew up there and they love their small town the way I love mine. When the Union Beach 5K was announced I took it as an opportunity to hold my feet to the fire and get running again. I bought new shoes. I ran to albums--Tapestry, Cold Roses, The King Is Dead, Heart Food--that draw me in and help me forget about my lungs and my legs.

Oh, and I have a tangible prize waiting. If I make my goal, I get a ridiculously expensive celery-thyme-scented candle I smelled at the Visiting Nurses' Association designer show house.

Here's my playlist:

June Hymn, The Decemberists--As I mentioned above, I like to run to this whole album, and June Hymn is one of the jewels in the crown. Perfect for a June 22 race. "You were waking/Day was breaking/A panoply of song."

Bend & Break, Keane--This one's kind of a dark horse. If I just put in all my surefire cuts, my brain gets bored and I'm back where I started. This song came out around the time I first started blogging and got my first actual iPod after a period with the now-defunct Dell DJ. Plus, the album it comes from is called "Hopes and Fears."

Rise, Public Image Ltd.--This, on the other hand, is one of my surefire cuts. It's about being on the road, it has an insistent beat that's not too fast, and I've loved the album since high school--although they made a huge mistake when it became available digitally and they kept calling it Compact Disc instead of Download. Also, it's 6 minutes long so once it's over you've burned a big chunk of time.

Karn Evil 9 1st Impression, Part 2, ELP--In April of my 16th year, I went on my first real date. When you strip it all down I have had four serious boyfriend types in my life, and three of them were Prog Rock fans. (Three were Eagle Scouts, not the same three; I married one of the two who was both.) After our Chinese dinner we got back into his vintage long white car (I wish I knew the make, model and year) with under-dash graphic equalizer and he said, "Have you ever been to Union Beach?" He had a theory that since we went to school with so many Union Beachers, we should see it. I hadn't, so we took a drive through. I wish I could remember what was on the stereo at the time, but this song is part of another memory of him, so I'm using it.

Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Bruce Springsteen--The first time I ran the Spring Lake 5, I rounded a corner past a house with stereo speakers set up on their front lawn. As I approached, "Rosalita" was playing, and my heart swelled with love and enthusiasm. They abruptly switched tracks to "Eye of the Tiger," and I almost committed mayhem. Tell your father this is his last chance to get his daughter in a fine romance! Because the record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance! Talk about a winner's song. Eye of the Tiger, pfft. This is funny, though.

Carry On, Fun.--Something current. All these songs by Fun. kill me with emotion. Do they have any non-inspiring ones?

Lean On Me, Club Nouveau--Another memory. In the spring of my 17th year, my friends and I had one day left to read a rather daunting portion of _Huckleberry Finn_. So, in the admirably insane way of all teenagers, we decided that we would all go to the beach with blankets and read it communally. I vaguely remember cracking the spine. I took a whole roll of attempted arty pictures with Kodak Black and White Color film, but I knew nothing about framing an image. Then I think we got ice cream? This song came on the radio in the girl-crammed station wagon headed home. We were all very happy and giggly.

Bury My Heart On The Jersey Shore, Shannon McNally--"Bury my heart on the Jersey Shore/Bury my heart/Bury my heart no matter where I run/Bury my heart."

Monday, June 03, 2013

Vocation and Divinity: A Dialogue

Not-so-little R. has a friend (M.) who is a very gifted pianist, and hopes to enter a conservatory after high school; but he is concerned that he has not been able to practice as much as he would like. As NSLR was telling me this, I thought of a conversation--many conversations, really--that I have had with my mother and others about work, art and single-mindedness. Specifically, we were recently talking about the fact that a person who is able to practice the piano four or five hours a day must actually like practicing the piano four or five hours a day.

MomVee: It seems really unfair that there is no such thing as professional reader, because that is really the only thing I have ever wanted to do for four or five hours straight every day of my life.
NSLR: Not even writing?
MV: Maybe. I mean, I guess if you were a literary agent, or an editor at a publishing house...but still. What I'm really looking for is a job where you read a novel, and at the end of the day someone asks you about it, and sometimes you talk, but other times you say you really don't feel like talking about it, and then they give you $800.
NSLR: A reviewer?
MV: Yes, but you have to be a journalist or an academic first, really. You know, one time when Grandpop was working at Big Corporation, they had a team-building exercise, and they went around the room and each man [they were all men] was supposed to say what his dream job was. Every single man there said he would like to work at Home Depot, except Grandpop. He said he'd either like to be God or a book reviewer for the New York Times.* Which Nana and I thought was so weird, because who wants to be God? That would be terrible.
NSLR: I was very surprised when M. told me he didn't want to be God. I thought everybody did.
MV: Two kinds of people in the world, I guess!
NSLR: Yes. In fact, I thought it was the defining characteristic of humanity. I spent about 20 minutes trying to convince M. he was wrong about how he felt.
MV: Attempting to exercise a Godlike power.
NSLR: Yes.
MV: Two kinds of people in the world: people who want to be God and people who don't realize they want to be God. Of course, that meeting was a spooky kind of déjà vu for Grandpop, because of the engineering thing.
NSLR: What's that?
MV: Oh, have you never heard that story? When Grandpop first went to Supersecret College, he was in the Engineering School, and they had a pre-orientation orientation just for engineers. You spent a week trying out all the different kinds--he did a little surveying, which he liked. Anyway, on the first day they went around the room and each man was supposed to say why he wanted to be an engineer. Grandpop said [this was less than two years after Sputnik] "Well, I like math, and my guidance counselor said I should be an engineer." And every single other person said something like, "Ever since I was a tiny tot, I have enjoyed taking apart radios and alarm clocks and putting them back together better than they were before!" And Grandpop thought, "Oh no." Turns out...
NSLR: He liked pure mathematics.
MV: Yes.

An interesting note: M. likes pure math, too. If the piano thing doesn't work out, his backup plan is to be a math teacher. So he's way ahead of many of us on several counts. I'm a little envious of M. and his self-knowledge, frankly.

*This is one of two stories that make me wincingly realize how much my father must have hated his job.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poetry Podcast Revival

So, Hostr has eaten all of my old poetry podcasts: or, as they put it, "The owner may have removed it or it may never have existed in the first place." Classy, Hostr. Way to take responsibility.

Most of them are still on my hard drive, so they're now on Dropbox for your delectation. A few are lost entirely, and I may try to recreate them at some point. Below each title/link below is the text that accompanied the original post. Inconsistency abounds.

Bright Blue Weather For a Snowy Day Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Cullen Bryant, Helen Hunt Jackson, Thomas Hood.

For May, Mary and love...and chalices, picnics, and cold water.
The May Magnificat, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Under The Waterfall, Thomas Hardy
Sunlight, Seamus Heaney

In Praise of Limestone
It is my fourteenth anniversary today. This poem is, as Johnny Rotten says, not a love song; but I already read "our poem" to my love on Valentine's Day (apparently if you enlarge the picture you can see granola on the tablecloth). This one is such a good poem, with so many brilliant lines, that it is a fitting tribute to such a good husband, with so many brilliant lines. Besides, although it's been absolute ages since he went fly-fishing, I know he still loves a limestone landscape.
In Praise of Limestone at Wikipedia
W.H. Auden at Wikipedia

Shorter Modern Poems II, The More Canonical Ones

"The Puritan's Ballad," Elinor Wylie
"Crossing The Bar," Alfred Lord Tennyson
"Requiem," Robert Louis Stevenson

Poets: Rilke, Akhmatova, Lowell

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thank A Writer Post: Rita Rudner

This is the fourth of five posts in a series of thank-you notes to writers. The project was started by Maggie Mason of Go Mighty and Nathan Bransford.

Dear Rita Rudner,

Thank you for writing the movie "Peter's Friends" with your husband, Martin Bergman (I know that you know who your husband is but my readers may not).

Because of your movie--which is one of my favorite movies of all time--I have held an annual house party (with formal dinner, parlor games, singing, sleepover and brunch) for a few of my college friends every January for the past 14 years. This year one of my friends told me that it is the steadfast holiday tradition she always longed for but her family never had.

I had three of my friends perform "The Way You Look Tonight" at my wedding, and tried to get the arrangement as close to the one in "Peter's Friends" as possible.

I have a daughter named Maggie.

When my father saw the movie--one of two times I saw it in the theater--afterward he said, hoarsely, "Vera [the housekeeper, for those readers who have--inexplicably--not seen the movie] was so much like my mother." He was referring, of course, to my grandmother. Vera.

I know that that wasn't within your control, Ms. Rudner: the way Phyllida Law comes across onscreen.  And you didn't purposely use my grandmother's name. I'll leave it in, though, because I have what I would describe as a mystical connection with this movie. I hope that doesn't scare you; it's meant to be a compliment. 

When I was a young newlywed we entertained a number of friends in our new apartment; I rented "Peter's Friends" at Blockbuster and forced them all to watch it and see how good it was. I really am beginning to sound like a lunatic but it wasn't like that. They enjoyed the movie very much (it was my third viewing). My husband and I were very young and not very good about returning videos, so ultimately we came to own it--for something like $89.95, remember when movies cost $89.95? That was fine with me. I have the DVD now, of course, and also the soundtrack CD.

I'm sure there are many other ways in which "Peter's Friends" affected me, but the most important is this: I loved it. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it really did become a part of me, and I think it helped me to anticipate the joy of holding onto college friendships. When I first saw it, I was ten years younger than the friends in the film, and now I am ten years older. Gulp.

P.S. There is also a line from one of your books that I quote all the time (forgive me for paraphrasing but I can't find it online): "My husband thinks we should spend our money on things we want, not things that other people have ruined." My husband feels the same way!