Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Middle Place's Courage

This weekend, I finished reading Kelly Corrigan's memoir The Middle Place.  I typically do not read memoirs--occasionally, I'll pick up one by an old movie star or a well-known author, really enjoy it and remind myself to get another one soon.  I first heard of Corrigan's book from the e-mail alerts I receive from Barnes and Noble and Borders.  Every time I walked into a bookstore, her book was on a table in the front.  I would read the back time after time, and then put it down.  After looking it up on Amazon, I saw that the reviews were pretty good, but I still didn't relate so much to the premise.  I wasn't a mother going through cancer treatment and dealing becoming an adult, ie, running to parents like you are an adolescent when you are really middle-aged to tell them about your achievements, per Corrigan's definition.  I checked it out at the library despite my initial reservations--I may be in the same situation someday and it would be interesting to see how Corrigan handles the shock of such a serious diagnosis.  Also, my grandmother was diagnosed four years ago with Stage 4 ovarian cancer and although she has been extremely responsive to treatment, I thought it would really help me to better understand what is going on in a cancer patient's mind.

I'm glad that I picked up this book.  It was a fast read and Corrigan was direct from the start.  In fact, that is what I liked best about The Middle Place.  It is so brave.  Corrigan is not only brave by telling her story as a cancer survivor, vividly recalling the treatment, her sickness from it and her inability to pick up her young daughters after surgery, among other things.  She is so honest about her feelings, her reactions and her interactions with family.  The parallel story of this book is that Corrigan's father, Greenie, is also diagnosed with cancer.  He is a bigger-than-life kind of guy--everyone loves George Corrigian, especially Kelly.  He has been her cheerleader and now, even when he needs a cheerleader himself, he stays upbeat and positive, turning to his family, friends and his life-long commitment to the Catholic Church.  It's hard for Corrigan to handle her own mortality but it seems more difficult for her to handle her father's mortality.

There are several parts of this book that made me cringe, in a good way.  Kelly talks about her father constantly, and although I know that is the storyline of the book, I couldn't help but think of her mother.  It must be hard for Mary Corrigan to read a book that makes it seem like her daughter loves her father more. By the end, Kelly seems to become much closer with her mother.  Maybe it was becoming a mother herself but she seems to identify with her more than she did when she was a teenager.  She wasn't one of those girls who thought her mother was her best friend.  She was a daddy's girl, but as she moves out of 'the middle place,' she understands her mother much better.

In addition to stories from growing up, Kelly also talks about being jealous of her husband's parents and his connection with them (something I think that many women feel but are afraid to admit to their spouses, nonetheless put it out there for everyone to read), her tendencies to be self-absorbed and wishing she lived closer to her parents as they age.  After reading The Middle Place, I feel like I know Kelly Corrigan and her family.  I'm reminded of a comment I read on Amazon that said something like, "the book was all about her.  She talked so much about herself."  The Middle Place is a memoir so that is to be expected, and after reading it, I'm not sure if there is anyone else I'd rather hear talk about herself.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Crossing Another One Off the List

In my bag, I always carry a small notebook with me and whenever I hear or read something that I want to remember to look into, I write it down in small print with a mechanical pencil.  I've been doing this for years and very rarely do I forget to search for more info about a writer, a festival, a food blog, etc. that piqued my interest for some reason.  When I was defending my master's thesis (almost a year ago now!), my advisor told me about a few different collections of short stories that she had just finished.  I wrote down the names and kind of forgot about them a couple of weeks ago.

On a visit to the library (one of my favorite places ever, by the way), I tried to limit myself to five books but left with seven. I was impressed by my self-control.  One of the books from my list that I picked up is Floodmarkers by Nic Brown.  In his collection, all of the stories are connected by two things: one, they all take place in the same town of Lystra, North Carolina, and two, they all happen during Hurricane Hugo, albeit during different phases of the huge storm that hit the United States in 1989.  I really loved this book.  The characters were well-rounded and realistic, with flaws and genuine reactions to unexpected events.  Some of the main characters from earlier stories reappear as background characters in other stories, which really helped me develop a sense for what this town is like.  Everyone knows everything about everyone.

 (Image from Nic Brown's website)

My favorite part of each story was the ending.  The endings were subtle and ambiguous.  I don't know if marriages survived, I'm not sure if that lady was attacked by a dog, but since Mr. Brown does such a great job of describing his characters in such a short amount of time, I feel like I know them well enough to guess what will happen next.  I strive to end my own stories like that--I like to think that I can trust the reader enough to let them take on my characters and think about their fates. They've invested their valuable time so they have earned the right to think about what may happen to the characters once the story ends.  With thoughts like this, it's clear why I didn't become a scientist or a mathematician--in my mind, life isn't easy or cut-and-dry and the 'what-ifs' are what interest me. 

Floodmarkers left me thinking and I love that.  It was a fast read that wasn't a lightweight and I'd highly recommend it.  I want to know more about Nic Brown and I will definitely look out for his next book.  And with that, another book to cross off of my list!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Starbucks Society

When I was a senior in college, a Starbucks opened in town and my roommates and I would go every few days for a fancy drink.  Sometimes, my friends' boyfriends would even bring us back drinks.  Starbucks weren't new but they were new in this town.  Everyone acted like they had been deprived by not having one nearby.  I had grown up in a town where the nearest Starbucks was fifteen minutes away and never felt like I was missing anything.  Even now, my town only has a Starbucks in the Stop and Shop, and I've never gone there for a beverage.  It just seems wrong to have a cafe in a store where people get charged $5 for a hot chocolate when some shoppers are really having trouble buying food for their families.

 (Image courtesy of Scott's Coffee House)

Anyway, I remember stopping at a Starbucks with my mother after I graduated from college, about 5 years ago.  She stood with me in front of the menu, confused and not knowing what to order.  I eventually got her a vanilla latte, which she said she liked.  For me, I was a mocha or caramel mocchiato kind of girl. These frothy drinks were a treat for me--and even though my mother told me a few weeks later that she hated Starbucks, I was happy at the time to introduce her to the land of designer coffee.

That was a long time ago.  She goes to Starbucks all the time now and loves it.  I'm not sure what changed for her--the drinks still taste the same.  I myself only go when I am with my roommate from college.  She visits one of the 4(!) Starbucks in her town daily and when we get together (we see each other about every other week since she lives 40 minutes away) it's a treat to go with her--I get a lovely drink and we sit and talk, and I almost feel like we are in college again.

This weekend, we spent Saturday evening hanging out and when we went to Starbucks after dinner, I tried their new drink, a dark cherry mocha.  It was delicious, even with the skim milk that I substituted in for the whole milk, and I recommend it if you are looking for a little change or a liquid dessert of the non-alcoholic persuasion. 

All this said, I still prefer an independent coffee shop.  I love coffee from different regions of the world.  I love the way that the high school or college kids that work at small cafes get to pick the music that is playing instead of putting on a CD that has been approved by management.  The baked goods are usually better and there is real art on the walls.  And no one will make you feel dumb if you mispronounce 'frappuccino.'

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Most Irish Day of the Year

  St. Patrick's Day means something different to everyone.  When I was in college, it was drinking and getting wasted for a full 24 hours.  Now, in my office, it means wearing green and bringing donuts in with shamrock sprinkles.  To me, St. Patrick's Day always means green bagels.

  When I was in elementary school, there was a Lender's Bagels factory three blocks away.  As a treat, they would brings hundreds of free, green bagels to our school on St. Patrick's Day.  Everyone loved these bagels and I remember kids who would wait the entire year for this delivery.  I hated these bagels.  They grossed me out with their flourescent green hue and their rubbery consistency.  They were brought over in large plastic bags and in them, they looked like circles made of play-doh, and they kind of smelled like it too.  Every teacher would bring in butter and peanut butter and we would line up to smear the doughy treat with the topping of our choice.  Adding to my disgust of the bagels themselves was my dismay at the exclusion of cream cheese, the only thing my parents ever put on bagels (today, cream cheese is typically unappealing to me and I use butter on my once-a-year bagel.).  And even though this was only fifteen years ago or so, it seems like it was even longer.  I mean, today a teacher can't even talk about bring peanut butter into a classroom without a student breaking out in hives from a peanut allergy.

  Now that I'm an adult and I work across the street from a Bruegger's Bagels, I stopped in this morning and watched the green bagels being snatched up for office celebrations.  It made me a bit nostalgic for the simpler days when I lived for classroom parties and when my biggest decision was whether to have butter or peanut butter on a rubbery bagel.

  Happy St. Patrick's Day to all--may your beer run green and plentiful tonight!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Paper Bakery

I'm loving this faux wedding cake from the Paper Source blog.  I cannot wait to choose the perfect colors and fabrics and put everything together for my future sister-in-law's bridal shower in a few months.

I'm thinking fewer pom-poms and maybe some handmade crepe paper flowers on the top. And the more I look at this, the more I realize that it can double as an envelope holder at the actual wedding if a slot is cut into the top.  What colors and fabrics would you use?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Giant Sock Monkeys Party Too...

I've never been a fan of sock monkeys, those stuffed monkeys made out of socks.  They kind of creep me out--maybe it's the long, thin limbs that remind of me of spider monkeys.  Anyway, there is this commercial for KIA cars (I had seen the commercial probably 5 times before I realized what it was advertising) with giant stuffed animals having a night out on the town.  The giant sock monkey drives the KIA, rides a mechanical bull and even get a tattoo stitched on with a needle and yarn.  I love this commercial so much that it got me thinking: maybe there should be a series of commercials on these characters.  I know I'd be more than willing to watch these giant toys skydive or make cupcakes in a technicolored kitchen!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Accept My Story!

There was an article in Poets & Writers a few months ago by Benjamin Percy, I believe.  He talked about submitting his work over and over to first top tier publications, then second tier, then tird tier, etc., etc. (I think he created the tier classifications himself).  The important thing is that after sending a story out about a hundred times, he finally got a call from a top tier journal.  He accomplished what he had set out to do--they accepted his story due to his perseverance (and obviously, the quality of his work).

For those of you who don't know, I'm an aspiring writer.  In recent years, it seems like everyone I talk to is also trying to become a published writer.  I mean, who doesn't feel compelled to pick up a pen (or boot up their computer) to write the next great novel after finishing a book that completely satisfies? I write short stories and am trying to work up the nerve to start a novel, or at least to create a storyline for one.  I wrote a creative thesis for my Master's degree, which consisted of ten short stories.  I'm working on polishing them a bit and have started to send a few out to literary magazines and reviews around the country.  Someone once told me that if no one knows that you write then you aren't truly a writer.  Writers have to put themselves out there, share their most intimate thoughts with strangers, who may or may not like the product of months and sometimes years of hard work and revision.  More often than not, this courage will be met with criticism.  But at least someone is reading the work; someone somewhere has read that story that took 18 months to perfect.  I have received a few rejections already and I'm okay with that.  I'm glad that someone is reading my fiction.  I even received a nice e-mail back from Redivider, which is out of Emerson College, and that encouraged me even more.  Last week, I submitted a different story to Redivider, hoping that they will give me a second chance to impress.

I subscribe to a few lit journals, and read a few other ones online every week or month.  I think it's so important to not only read work from established writers but also stuff from people that are just breaking out.  Mainly, I want to support them, but also, as a submitter to these same magazines, I want to check out my competition!  Besides the Kenyon Review, Narrative and Southeast Review, does anyone have any recommendations?

Monday, March 1, 2010

March has arrived!

It's the first day of March!  Did you remember to say RABBIT?

Moving forward?

(Picture from From Me to You: Central Park, February 26, 2010)

  Last Friday, I was putting together a file for one of my bosses.  I hole-punched the documents, slid the fastener into the folder and then realized that this is exactly what I used to do at work when I was in high school.  When I was fifteen years old, I fell into a job at a local law firm in my town.  The two attorneys were brothers and the rest of the staff was mostly family.  I started working 2:00pm to 5:00pm every day after school.  Soon, I was working full days on my vacations and during summers.  I stayed there through college and then, since I couldn't find a job immediately after I graduated from college, I stayed an extra year as a paralegal.   I remember those first days well though--sorting through huge piles of legal notes, insurance forms and documents, putting them all into alphabetical order by last name of client and hole-punching them on top.  I would slide the paper onto the metal prongs and more than once a day, I would slice my skin on the cheap metal.  I'd have to file all of that paper away and as soon as it was gone, there would be a new stack a foot high.  It's hard to look up and suddenly realize that very little has changed in more than 10 years.

  Now, I work in another legal office.  It's a very different kind of office (it's at a large university and I finally have health insurance) but it's still the same thing, essentially.  I have added responsbilities and do more research but I have degrees in English and Psychology.  I'm not exactly working in the right field.

  As time goes on, I'm hoping for a shift in the economy, for more publishing and editing jobs to appear and to put my knowledge and experience to good use.  It must be everyone's dream to actually love their job or profession but I'm hoping that within the next few years, I actually make that happen for myself.  A lofty goal, I know, but I'm hoping to make it happen!