Friday, February 15, 2013

Some Very Exciting Writing-Induced News

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Yes, it's true. I've totally neglected this blog. All sorts of things got in the way, kids, a messy house (it's still there--so are the kids, come to think of it,) other writing, time-wasting, that sort of thing. And then I ended up starting an additional blog--sort of an ongoing project of mine, in which I write about, dissect, and expose Jewish outreach efforts. Okay, that sounds harsher than it is. I'm trying to educate people on the deceptive tactics that are used by outreach professionals in order to draw people in. If you're interested, you can read it on Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn't Telling You. But I'm really here because so many great things happened recently and I really just want to share.
On February 8, 2013, By The Overpass published "Unconventional Love Story,"  a story I wrote a while back that, in some ways, celebrates the conformity in the refusal to conform.
This past week, I received a copy of By the Millpond, the Monroe Free Library's quarterly journal-styled newsletter, in which my essay "Journeying Outward with John Steinbeck" was printed. It's local and I love that I finally have something academic in print that didn't come from my own printer. Not only do I hope that people read it, but I hope that people will then be inspired to read some Steinbeck. (Yeah, I love him.)
Okay, now, here's the reallyreallyreallyreallyreally exciting news.
I wrote "Total Immersion" several years ago. The idea for it came probably in 1999 but I put it on hold while I neglected my MA thesis to take care of my kids, then moved upstate, then moved to Israel, then moved back, then resumed work on and finished my MA thesis (about John Steinbeck!) and started writing a lot more fiction. I wrote, rewrote, and revised "Total Immersion." In fit of complete egocentric arrogance, I submitted it to The New Yorker. Maybe I just enjoy rejection. Anyway, it was rejected six times from six publications (which means that lots of editors got to read it and reject it, but they got to read it! and reject it!) over a period of 822 days in total. This number doesn't figure in the edits and rewrites that this piece suffered (or maybe I suffered) over the years, but like, here's the thing. IT WAS FINALLY ACCEPTED!!!!!!!!!!!
And here's the even more incredible thing: Not only was it accepted, it was accepted by Jewish Fiction.net, a site with some big names sitting on the editorial and advisory boards. Based on the writers who have been published on their site (Elie Wiesel!!!!!) they seem to be highly selective. So, well, I'm sort of really very excited. (Okay, I was shrieking for about an hour and dancing around like a lunatic when I received the acceptance letter and contract.) I celebrated by not clearing the kitchen counters (like I had planned for yesterday evening) in order to post multiple exclamation-marked responses on Facebook to my friends who congratulated me. So, I'm soooooooooooooooo excited.
I just had to share.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

in which bec plans for a puppy

i'm not biting my nails waiting for anything this month. nope. not me. no anxiety. nothing. well...
after emily died, i figured we'd wait a bit before jumping into another dog. yes, i realize that the visual there is a bit messy. and so, a few days later when we saw a video of a husky pup i figured that it was no big deal. and then everyone ooh'ed and ahhh'ed and now a husky pup will be moving in on saturday.
i've never had a puppy. a one year-old dog who ate sweaters that we later had to pull out of her ass, string by string? yes. a puppy? no. so now i'm cramming every last bit of puppy knowledge that i can find into my head. it looks something like this:
a view of the inner workings of bec's brain on dogs
a husky puppy.
hmm.... a husky puppy.  
woof. woof. nope. howl. howl. there. that's better.
"huskies sometimes eat small animals: mice, other rodents, sometimes small sheep or deer." uh oh. watch out, backyard deer. my last dog just barked at you. this one wants fresh venison.
husky puppy.
oh! a puppy! i love puppies!
wait!!!!!
puppies bite faces. they eat, sleep, play, poop--is there anything else?--sort of like an adult dog without knowing the rules. the rules? okay, refresher on the rules. refresher on teaching the rules. refresher on remembering the rules. (note to bec: this is not the time to let the inner-anarchist free.)
back to the rules.
hit the library.
why can't i remember where the library was in junior high? did we have a library? did i ever go there? why can't i remember that? and where was the music wing? i can see it but i can't figure out how to get there. is this early onset senility? does that happen in one's thirties?
oh, sorry.
refocus.
library.
puppies for dummies....
"mommy, why are puppies only for dummies?" (he'll be five in three days.)
"they're not only for dummies. they're for everyone!" (me, oversimplifying.)
"and us, too." (well, yes. we're dummies. we fit the first category.)
things puppies need:
clothing they'll outgrow in a few short months.
puppy food.
puppy biscuits.
puppy treats.
puppy toys.
patience.
peace, love, and understanding.  
sandwiches.
a soft place to sleep. \
socialization.
playing....

WHAT?!!? they sometimes eat WHAT?!!!?
okay, so they like to eat poop sometimes. sometimes it's their own. sometimes it's not.
sounds grrrrrreat.
a little coprophagia with your coffee, perhaps?

at which point, i fall asleep and wake up five minutes later after having dreamed that i was being chased through the meat packing district by a polar bear who had escaped from someone's yard.

Friday, December 30, 2011

high school volleyball, friends, and dogs

emily, on her way to tsfat. winter 2007.

i picked emily because she was the only dog at the shelter in harlem who was not barking and jumping up and down when we walked through the room of cages. she was the only dog who looked pathetic, as if nobody would ever pick her, as if she didn't expect anyone would even want her. it was almost like she'd given up hope of being chosen. that was what made me decide i had to have her--even after adam offered to go to another shelter or to come back another day.
"no--this is the one," i said. the shelter worker took her out of the cage on a leash and we brought her to the yard out back. adam walked her around but i was a bit nervous. i'd never had a dog before.
now, i knew what it was like to be picked last for teams in gym class. i knew what it was like to have the other kids not think that you were a loser per se, but to be aware that just because you might make the literature gymnastics team because you could balance shakespeare and milton, while bouncing chaucer around, didn't mean that you could do the same with a dodge ball. and the truth is, i couldn't.
at some point in high school, probably in eleventh or twelfth grade when i had finally realized that i was part of a really great group of friends and i could settle in to being me, i chose volleyball for my gym class instead of modern dance (which was probably a relief to anyone who had to bear witness to my eternally ungraceful self attempting to do plies and back attitudes and random leaps across the floor in time to mr. goring's tribal drumbeats.) it was possibly in my second or third cycle of volleyball that i was chosen as a team captain. finally, i felt, i had the power to make some sort of a difference. i didn't choose the jocks for my team. i chose the people i trusted, the people i knew would make good teammates, the people i knew i could count on. i chose my friends, all of whom were pubbies (we spent our free time in the publications' office, putting together the various newspapers and magazines that circulated within our school,) and all whom i could depend on. the jocks just sort of stood on the sidelines, waiting to be picked, loudly sucking their teeth when they finally knew what it felt like to be picked last.
i wore the bruises and welts on my arms with pride. i spent our class tournaments smiling as we lost game after game. the sense of pride in our sportsmanship, the sense of joy in our lack of accomplishment, the sense of overwhelming love i felt for my teammates--my friends--was just unreal. my lack of competitiveness was probably just as unreal. playing well was important, but having fun was more important. and even more important than that, was knowing that the people on my team were picked first because to me, they should have been first all along.
when i picked emily, i knew she had to be mine. she was the real underdog. she wasn't the floppy-eared cocker spaniel who some doe-eyed family would adopt based on the cute factor. she was the dog i was meant to have, the dog who gave me the chance once again to not leave her standing alone at the side of the gym while the popular kids got picked first.
for twelve years, emily gave me that gift of remembering what is important in choosing friends. i look back fondly over my sweet puppy's full life, and i thank her for all of the memories, the love, and for allowing me to choose her for my team.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

it's that time again....

bells jingling, snow falling, faces smiling.... eight nights of pyrotechnics, decorated trees, and of course all of the drinking and pill-popping you're doing to get through this time of year--how could you not love it? and if you thought it was great before you started turning tricks in order to pay for that new video game system/american girl doll/iphone/random appliance, well, there are now some interesting new alternatives to those waaaay too typical gifts! and what are they? you ask. well, i'll tell you....

bec's short list of  interesting gift basket ideas 

having trouble finding a gift for that one friend who is terribly anal? how about a bathroom basket? each bathroom basket comes tightly packed with your choice of toilet paper: cheap and scratchy, soft and shreddy, or expensive and tufted. but that's not all you get! no fewer than five specially selected enemas will be included (in their original packaging, of course!), as well as a lovely array of tucks medicated pads and hemorrhoidal cream. but wait, there's more! because we understand that some people are just extremely uptight, we have included, for their sitting comfort, disposable sanitary toilet seat covers. these would have been great during the plague!


know someone who is tightly strung? or maybe he/she is stringing you along, perhaps? how about the string basket? all baskets include a variety of string products, including: silly string in fun colors! (colors may vary), dental floss, tampons (yes, they can be used to decorate your tree!), antique red and white or blue and white bakery string from the metal canister that used to hang in allenby's bakery in brooklyn, some nice thick ropes (great for role play and/or for reenacting the exodus), string beans, and guitar strings!

everyone has an ocd neat-freak in their lives, right? you know, the uncle who can't stop cleaning? the mother who has bags under her eyes from scrubbing til dawn, but at least the tile grout behind her toilet is clean? the friend you hate because she follows you around with a sponge and a coaster? welcome to the clean panic basket. because every ocd neat-freak should have a clean panic every now and then. it makes the rest of us feel better. all baskets come packed with: an over-filled container of baby powder, a dozen cartonless eggs, an uncapped bottle of purple grape juice, blueberry jam, a plastic bag of red sauce, an uncovered hooker-red lipstick, and thousands of tiny sparkles that fly out all over when the recipient opens the basket--what fun!!

these are just a few items that will make your holiday season a memorable one. so relax, enjoy, and get your specialty baskets before they all sell out!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

of mac & cheese and chocolate pudding

i made cheater pudding last night.
sounds intriguing, until you realize that i just opened a box of my T fine and added the soy milk. but to me, it's cheating. because it's not from scratch. not that i ever make chocolate pudding that's not from scratch. not that i ever make pudding more than a few times a year, when i remember that i can.
i remember going to the supermarket with my mom when i was a kid. we'd walk through the jello aisle and occasionally we'd pick out a box of jello, usually of the red or orange family. but the puddings? nope. never. no way. we just weren't a pudding family. for some reason, jello, made from pig bone-derived gelatin, artificial colorings and sugar, was bound to be a better choice than pudding, made from cocoa, sugar and milk. and that's okay, because we weren't a mac and cheese family, either. in fact, i'd only tasted a box of kraft cheese & mac once, while sleeping over some kid's apartment in the projects. of course, i then figured that if you lived in the projects, you were probably eating kraft dinner. however, i was also fed roast at her house and smurfberry crunch over there, so my worldview was pretty skewed for a seven-year old. let me add that my husband, who did not grow up in the projects, was quite experienced with kraft macaroni and cheese and chocolate pudding, which his mom used to make all of the time.
the next time i had mac and cheese was at my house, when i was in high school and wanted to cook something. i convinced my mom to let me make a baked mac & cheese casserole for supper, from a recipe i'd found in the joy of cooking. (in retrospect, i do believe that the title of that book is a definite misnomer, as the more recipes i tried from there, the less joy i found in cooking, and it wasn't until i branched out to other books did i realize that i could find much happiness in cooking, as long as i stayed away from the joy.) so i grated the cheddar, poured the milk, boiled the pasta, melted the butter, added the mustard. i baked the thing at required temperature for the required time. i made a salad. i served the meal. i realized that i couldn't stand macaroni and cheese.
i attempted mac and cheese again when i was in college. this time with two friends (one whom i later married), a brick of velveeta, and some pasta. or maybe we were just eating it on crackers. at any rate, my stomach was not having it. easy come, easy go.
marriage brought wacky mac at our house and pudding at my mother-in-law's house. chocolate pudding. poured into individual bowls. awaiting eager mouths after whatever meal she served (take out/turkey/pizza/steaks) and awaiting the cream that was balanced on the skin--THE SKIN!!!!!--of the pudding.
my mother-in-law's cheater chocolate pudding brought back a vague memory of me looking longingly at the refrigerated cases at various diners, in which plates of sliced cakes, pies and oh! stemmed glass bowls of chocolate pudding topped with a spray of whipped cream were housed. the one time i ordered one, i was surprised at its texture. it was somewhat gelatinous and smooth, but not as delicate as new jello. it was more like the tougher bottom skin--skin!!!!--that forms when the jello isn't mixed well enough. except that this pudding was thick. at least the top was thick. the rest was somewhat creamy, and not as sweet as i'd have liked. but i had to eat it since i'd requested this as my one desire. i wasn't impressed.
my mother-in-law's chocolate pudding was sweeter and, what i realized later, much fresher. it was made with love and mixed with manipulation, bitchiness and criticism. sure, there was that skin on top. my husband says it's the best part.
last night, i served this pudding. my T fine. it took me until i had kids to realize that there was no such thing as a "T fine" and that the "my T" was supposed to be "mighty." i can't believe they paid advertising execs to come up with that. but, as usual, i digress. i put the bowls on the table in front of the kids.
"it has a skin," A, my almost seven year old said.
"i think that's supposed to be the best part," i replied.
my oldest ate it. my youngest poked at it. my four year old refused to eat it."the stuff in the cups from the store is better," he said. my almost seven year old demanded a different dessert. "it has a skin," he repeated. "it's like butt pudding. i can't eat this." he proceeded to play a song on his armpit.
i tasted it but the word "epidermis" kept popping up in my head, bringing back memories of junior high science classes and the seemingly inevitable reality that maybe i'm just not a chocolate pudding person. i can live with that.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

ramble on bec

i swear, i need to warn my characters. yep. things are about to get worse. much, much worse. like, mega-hyper-uber worse. worse than tossing trash all over the yard. worse than graffiti on the front door proclaiming horrible things about the main character. worse than arson and things blowing up and a herd of elephants being dropped on the car while dressed in drag (okay, that probably won't happen in this novel) and worse than random drownings and uninvited in-laws popping over during the yearly coke binge. do people still do coke anymore? i can't see the point when coffee has been decriminalized.... speaking of which, i sometimes wonder if my columbian coffee is laced with something a little bit more potent than caffeine. you know, like maybe more caffeine. mega-hyper-uber caffeine. the stuff they were drinking during the cuban missile crisis. speaking of which, that bay of pigs paper i wrote in high school? i think i knew less about the bay of pigs when i finished than i did when i started.
oh, so i was going to warn my characters.
that's ridiculous. of course i'm not going to warn my characters. i may have to warn myself. i hate when i get too attached and then something bad happens and i have to fight the urge to bawl like a baby while melodramatically screaming out "why, oh why must it be so hard to torture people who don't exist in real life????"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

death, disembowelment and writing

i often wonder about the level of cruelty that drives a person to write me to write.
a long time ago, in a different life that i once had, i was told that people who become shochets (jewish ritual slaughterers) and butchers are often driven to do so because they have, somewhere within, perhaps a drive towards violence, or murder, or lust for blood, or any of these bizarre things, and so this field is almost like a safe way of having those desires manifest themselves in something positive, like the killing and cutting up of animals for food. (disclaimer: i have no idea who told me this/where i read this, but i'm tempted to say that it was during a telephone discussion with someone having more jewish knowledge than i did at the time.) it seemed to make sense on some level: a person picks a profession based on their interests. of course, one could just as easily become a surgeon: blood, gore and good deed. whether or not i believe that there is any divine force that enters into this (i do not) isn't the issue. the issue is in cruelty.
i once had a student say to me "wow, this writer is really twisted to come up with such stuff." he was referring to the very last bit of steinbeck's grapes of wrath. (i'm not going to give the end away, sorry.) i've heard the same phrase used to describe stephen king's work. and that of charlotte perkins gilman. i've received comments from people saying the same thing about my own work. one of the best writing professors i've ever had, made the point that one must torture his/her characters. "whatever happens, make it worse. keep making it worse."
so i torture my characters. and sometimes, i make it worse and worse, but i don't make it better. so i torture my readers as well. sometimes i show such cruelty to my characters that i have to stop writing for a bit, just to regroup and remind myself that they're not real.
is it more cruel to be in a profession in which one regularly causes death and dismemberment and butchering and disemboweling? is that a healthy manifestation of whatever cruelty is inherent in the human psyche? is that an acceptable and normal way of acting on it? does one's profession has anything to do with one's personality? how many people in this day and age would gladly take a job clopping cattle on the head before sending them to their death? or, in jewish slaughterhouses, slash a cow's jugular (or whichever vein is being sliced open) with a specific ritually prepared knife in order to kill them?  or is it crueler to be a writer, where one routinely creates characters to torture? and where one may or may not hide bits of reality in fiction, as a way of torturing those who have wronged that writer?
do writers of psychological terror possess a higher level of cruelty than writers of ABC books for kids?
and when i torture my characters, am i more cruel than a butcher/baker/candlestick maker?
are killers of cows more cruel than killers of chickens?
if i still lived in the world of ritual slaughter, would i have been a knife wielding maniac, wearing blood-spattered hip boots and rubber coveralls, waiting anxiously for the next animal on my line?
would meatballs and spaghetti still taste as good?