Thankfully…

Dear readers,

Maybe it’s the improved levels of Omega 3’s in my body due to the new eating regimen, or maybe it’s me feeling good just because, but I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

This year I have had a lot to be thankful for: good health, good friends, and amazing opportunities to travel and enjoy life.

2013 has been a blockbuster year for me to see art, both locally in NYC and abroad: the Tate Modern, Prado, Sophia Reina, SMAK Contemporary in Gent, the Armory Show retrospective at the NY Historical Society, Chelsea galleries, and many more events and museums than I can mention now. (Check out the “Art” tag in the tag cloud for posts.)

It’s been a blockbuster year for music too: seeing BB King live was a high point, along with visiting tons of jazz clubs from Amsterdam to Madrid to Barcelona, along with local jazz in Jersey City too, and “discovering” jazz pianist Bill Evans for myself has really made my year. (Check out the “Music” or “Jazz” tags in the tag cloud for posts.)

The amount of artistic talent I’ve been exposed to in 2013 in incalculable – but it has had a tremendous effect on me. I’m inspired to keep putting my energy into seeking out musical, artistic and writing talent.

Amazingly (to me, at least) I’ve also continued to have editors accept my work for publication. While 2013 was not a highly productive year for me when it comes to producing finished fiction, I was able to regularly maintain this blog (thank you readers!) and recently, I joined a Jersey City writers group so I can invest more energy into this creative part of my life, which is essential to me. (Yes, I’m doing it, damn it!)

Finally, although it’s a challenge, I continue with my mostly-vegan eating patterns, plus I’ve given up caffeine. This change has been significant, and has already produced tremendous benefits, like more energy, regulated sleep and digestion, losing weight, and a feeling of well being. I look forward to more of the same!

I hope you, dear reader, have much to be thankful for too. I hope you are living up to your creative potential. I hope that this year gave you many reasons to be inspired, and that you seek out ways to continue to be inspired.

If I’ve played any part of that at any point this year for some of you, I’m grateful.

Thankfully,

Carol

 

Advertisements

The Giant Ear

This morning, I continued working on a story I’ve been working on for several weeks. Eventually, I will submit it to Court Merrigan for consideration in his guest-edited Noir issue of PANK. I’ve got no clue if he’ll like the story, or if it will measure up to the other stories being written by deft noir-hands, but I’m giving it my best shot.

One of the things I’m finding really difficult with this story is how to depict a crack addict. I’ve been doing all kinds of research (Google must be confused by my searches these past few weeks… Mr. Google, “what does a vial of crack look like?” “what are the effects of crack on the body?”) And although I know there are alcoholics and drug addicts of a variety of kinds in my neighborhood, it’s so hard to make an addict come to life in a particular way.

But…

Sometimes, I feel like a giant ear.

File:1871 Descent F937.1 fig03.jpg

I’m a huge antenna and there are so many things coming into my brain at once, it’s painful to sort out all the ideas. I was in my car yesterday driving down the road, and a song came on the radio. I don’t even remember what song it was, but it implanted an idea – something about alchemy – and now I can’t get it out of my head.
.
NO, I tell my brain, I have to finish the story about the crack addict, stop thinking about alchemy… but my brain (and my ear, who are clearly in collusion,) just laugh at me and keep on sending me ideas to distract me from the addict.
.
What about that other story you haven’t finished yet, my brain whispers seductively into my ear, who’s more than happy to participate in these antics. Yes, I’ll get to that later, I tell my brain, but it doesn’t believe me. It wants me to do everything at once.
.
Maybe this is one of the reasons I don’t write very long stories. By the time I have 500 words (or less) on a page, and I’ve told what I think is a completely assembled story, my brain and my giant ear are dragging me on to the next thing.
.
This crack addict story is already over 2000 words. Yes, it may not sound like a long story to most of you, but to me, it’s like I’ve signed on to write a Dickens novel. This story has to end soon, and my goal is to bring it home in about 2500-3000 words.
.
But my ear keeps offering up helpful suggestions about new stories. I’m not sure how much longer I can fend it off…

Au Revoir New Orleans: a love letter to my NoLa friends

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this last blog entry from New Orleans. The three weeks I’ve spent in the city have been amazing and inspiring.

Blue Dog - NOMA Sculpture Garden

I’m proud to say that I’ve been mistaken for a native New Orleanian by the locals. This is, for me, the highest compliment someone could pay me here. It happened again just this morning by my waitress at the Trolley Stop Cafe on St. Charles, and she is a local. I feel adopted by this city and its people. After I paid my bill today we hugged, and all the other waitresses wished me a happy new year. Such happy sadness walking out that door.

After all the stories I’ve told in the 14 NoLa Diary entries and other posts I’ve written, there are many more experiences that feel like they were uniquely New Orleans adventures.

There’s Brandon, my host with the most, a fun companion, room mate and wonderful guy. I couldn’t have chosen a better person to be a temporary roomie with, and the fact that we’re both addicted to Top Chef helps. I’m incredibly glad to have been a “temporary resident” of the Lower Garden District too, and being part of this neighborhood enhanced my NoLa experience tremendously.

I met Aria while waiting for the bus on Canal to go down Magazine Street towards ‘home’. Within 10 minutes I felt like I bumped into an old friend, within 20 minutes she invited me to a Christmas Eve celebration. She and Jason are lovely, and I had fun meeting Jay, Justin, Shannon, Lindsay, Keith, Aaron, Ann and everyone else at that party. Shannon had me laughing my butt off (you who know me, know I’m an easy target for a jokester.) I felt like I met someone I used to know and got reunited with, strange to say maybe, but true.

There’s Brian and his wife AND Bob (their mascot!) at the Lucky Ladle, dishing out delicious breakfasts on Magazine Street with plenty of friendship and laughs. (The Bob Special and blueberry pancakes don’t hurt either…)

I can’t forget Otis, the proprietor of the FAB bookstore on Frenchman Street who helped me find Rob Walker’s Letters From New Orleans, a book I didn’t know I needed until I found it in Otis’s shop. Later I got the David Sedaris book When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which led me to chat with Aria at the bus stop, and then I later gave to her for Christmas. One happy, tightly-knit NoLa circle.

I should thank the proprietress at Faulkner Bookstore in Pirate Alley who turned me onto Louisiana short story writer Tim Gatreaux. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

I enjoyed meeting Stephen, the National Park Ranger at the NoLa National Jazz Park that told me about the free concerts at the U.S. Mint building, but then spent another half an hour telling me about the amazing history of New Orleans. He was so sweet, he commented to me “talking to you is easy.” (Thanks Stephen.) And I loved listening to the ragtime/jazz performances by Steve Pistorius and Jim Hessions.

Then there is George at the Tout-Suite on Algiers Point who gave me his personal card after we chatted for a half an hour and told me to “call him if I need anything, anytime.” I know he meant it, his kindness toward others was obvious. And the industrious young lady behind the counter, who left San Francisco to come back home to Algiers Point and run the Tout-Suite, who said “Bye Carol!” when I left at the end of my visit.

I met tourists Jeffrey and Jeremy on the streetcar, brothers separated by the continent of North America – one in L.A and the other in Brooklyn. We chatted about skateboarding, living all over the United States (and “meeting in the middle” to get together for the holidays) until they hopped off the St. Charles streetcar and I proceeded on.

There was Joyce who let me into her decorating shop for a chat about her 60 amazing years running a business, and the Creole painter gentleman who met me at the bus stop and who couldn’t have been more charming. He said, as we got off the bus together, “give my best to the family for the holidays” although we had met no more than 20 minutes earlier.

And yes, even (harmless and well-meaning) “hobo Willy” at Down the Hatch. I’ll miss him too. Him and that other drunk guy on the corner of Frenchman who sells his paintings on the street who yelled out “Hey, you’re pretty!” (Thanks fellas.)

Yesterday I met a yoga instructor in Audobon Park, originally from Ohio but now in NoLa full time. We walked around the park together and chatted, keeping each other company for a bit. He quit his cafe job because he wants to dedicate himself to the service of others by teaching Yoga – in a circle of reciprocal energy, he says. Yes, that’s what New Orleans is about on its best days.

In three short weeks, all this happened and more. It’s my last day here and I think about these wonderful people and consider how these stories never would have manifested within a three week span anywhere else. There’s just something about New Orleans, something intangible, indescribable, and inspiring.

These people invited me to feel part of me is home in New Orleans. That, more than anything else about my NoLa travel adventure, means the world to me.

The Big Easy, Crescent City – NoLa here I come

I’ve been thinking about taking a writing break for a while, and I considered a few locations for my trip. I ultimately decided on New Orleans, LA (NoLa) as my destination. I’ll stay there for nearly three weeks – the longest writing break I’ve ever taken, which is very exciting.

New Orleans has been on my mind since 2005 and Hurricane Katrina. I’ve been looking for the chance to go back to the city (I’ve been there once before) and spend tourist dollars to support the local economy. This extended trip will allow me to do that.

I’ve been able to rent space in a furnished apartment – something I’ve never done before – which will put me in a nice neighborhood within walking distance of public transportation, all without killing my lodging budget. In fact, based on the number of days I’ll be away, my daily lodging costs will be less than $40 bucks a day. Add in big bonuses of having access to a kitchen to do cooking some of the time, a refrigerator to store food and drink, and wireless internet access so I can post here and check email, and it makes the acc0modations that much more enticing.

It was important to me for this trip to not have to worry about renting a car and New Orleans has plenty of public transport, including a streetcar line rolling through the Garden District. I’m sure I’ll be using it heavily. My ‘host’ mentioned the trip to the French Quarter is less than 15 minutes away which gives me tons of opportunities to explore all the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood.

New Orleans is such a melting pot of cultures, cuisines, music and art, it can’t help but be an inspiring place to soak up impressions for interesting stories. So much of a writer’s life is spent observing others, and smelling, tasting and experiencing the environment around us. I know from my past travels a change in scenery can start the creative fires burning so I’m hopeful NoLa will lend me her gracious southern hospitality to achieve my writing goals.

I won’t be leaving for a few more weeks, but my mind is more than halfway there…

Photos: Memories of the Grand Canyon

After the storm clears – Grand Canyon

The trip I took to the Grand Canyon in December 2010 was beautiful but the weather didn’t cooperate as much as I would have liked. On the very last day I spent there, the clouds finally broke and showed a bit of sunshine.

 

Formations in light and shadow

Photos: Memories of Grand Tetons National Park

The majestic Grand Tetons

If you’re ever in Jackson Hole Wyoming, I highly recommend a visit to Grand Tetons National Park.

So what I’m actually saying is, if you are planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, you should plan to take a full day out of your schedule and see the Grand Tetons. The Tetons abutt Yellowstone, and their jagged cliffs tower over the valley floor. Also, wildlife viewing in the Tetons is as good as Yellowstone too. There are plenty of elk, wolves, bear, moose, deer and other large game.

Miss Moose has a snack

For example, I caught a picture of this moose who wandered up to the edge of a field right next to Jackson Lake Lodge, where I was staying when I visited the area. She calmly walked around to find the tastiest green shoots to eat as a group of us gleefully snapped tons of pictures of her.

Herd of Elk

 
 

The Artist’s Tuning Fork

Today was a gorgeous day in New York City, and I spent a few hours this afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art to see the William De Kooning exhibition. Now don’t get the wrong idea, I’m actually not a big fan of the artist, but I am very interested in Abstract Expressionism and I wanted the opportunity to re-think some of my ideas about this painter.

As per the MoMA website:

The exhibition, which will only be seen at MoMA, presents an unparalleled opportunity to study the artist’s development over nearly seven decades, beginning with his early academic works, made in Holland before he moved to the United States in 1926, and concluding with his final, sparely abstract paintings of the late 1980s. Bringing together nearly 200 works from public and private collections, the exhibition will occupy the Museum’s entire sixth-floor gallery space, totaling approximately 17,000 square feet.

Despite my internal resistance to the way De Kooning merges traditional body forms with abstraction in his most famous paintings like Woman I,

De Kooning's Woman I - part of the permanent MoMA collection

I really did like his later works in the last two decades of his life, none of which I’ve seen before. These works were much more graphic in nature, brightly colored, with lots of white background to provide space to the drawn forms and lines that marked these canvases.

Regardless, the De Kooning work I have the strongest resistance made me think about my favorite Frank O’Hara poem Why I am Not a Painter. It goes like this:

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

This led me to think about De Kooning’s “positive” and “negative” series including paintings like Zurich, which are all black and white and have words or letters embedded in the paintings. Or his piece called Attic, which De Kooning said had “everything in it.”

I’m not sure why, but all of this led me back around to thinking about the end of De Kooning’s life again, and the last two decades that he painted even though he was in ill health. I thought about how he was unable to paint for at least the last seven years of his life, as his health continued to decline in his late eighty’s and early nineties. It made me wonder if he felt trapped inside his body, with ideas still coming about how he wanted to paint, but his body would have been unable to comply with the demands of the work.

There’s a story in that idea somewhere. I feel that instinctively. And if you’re wondering where all this rambling is leading, I do have a point so bear with me just a bit more.

Yesterday I went to an open air art show where painters, sculptors, potters, and photographers gathered to show the best of what they had to offer. I met a sculptor there, named Brianna Martray of Denver, Colorado. She was displaying a piece called Lighthouse Keeping which really intrigued me. I sensed a feminine energy to her work, and this piece in particular strongly reminded me – not in form but in feeling – of a Dale Chihuly’s installation at the New York Botanical Garden which I saw in 2006.

             Image above courtesy of Brianna Martray

 

MIRRORED SUNSET HERONS, 2006

                   Chihuly installation of small glass works at the New York Botanical Garden

This weekend was, for me, an opportunity to become inundated – even over-stimulated if you like – with the ideas of other artists. All of these things keep me “in tune” as a writer, with other aspects of art that lead towards a highly diverse set of expressions.

In my short story, Lancaster, the main character comes into close contact with an artist and that experience changes him in some way; it makes him want to strive to be the self the artist has depicted of him, a self that he sees as “other” and yet some possible alternate self to his current way of living.

So, as you sit down to do some reading, whether it be a collection of short stories or a novel, you should also consider using the artist’s tuning fork and get out to see an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, installation art, arthouse films or anything else that intrigues you. While writers are notorious observers of other people, sitting next to them in restaurants, in trains, or elsewhere, we shouldn’t overlook the opportunity to tap directly into the veins of artistic expression and mainline directly from other masters of expression – words are optional.

There are so many possibilities to be inspired by other artists… who do you find yourself most in tune with, and why?

Trolling the Web – A Few Finds

Sometimes the best way to get inspiration for writing a story is to read a story. Great stories leap up in front of you and insinuate themselves into your brain; especially when the ending satisfies.

In my random trolling of small press journals, here are a few worth sharing:

Black Stones a story about an angel and a dying woman. Short and beautifully written by Amy Bonnaffons. Found at the Kenyon Review Online.

The Cloud Factory a gritty story about a drug dealer and his friend, who take a ride into the Wyoming countryside. Gut wrenching text by Court Merrigan. Found at the PANK Magazine site.

The Food of Love a charming short-short about love and loss by Liz Haigh. Found at Boston Literary Magazine.

What online stories have you enjoyed? Post the links in the comments section, even if it is your own story.

Humans of New York – I salute you

Brandon Stanton is roaming the streets of New York looking to shoot people.

And at present count, he’s shot over 1800 people. 

I’m personally rooting for him to shoot more and reach his goal – of taking 10,000 photographs and represent people from all over New York City on Humans of New York.

And while Brandon does say that his goal is to take all these photographs, what he lets you find out for yourself is that he is an amazing storyteller or photo-journalist documentarian, or a bit of both.  Some of the photographs come with a back story about how he got the shots and the story behind the person (or people) whose photograph he took.

In The Protector we learn about a homeless man who sees himself as protecting street-newbies – an image that is juxtaposed with this person’s drug and alcohol abuse and unpredictable behavior.

In The Chess Hustler we get an inside view on how one homeless chess player from Washington Square Park gets a read on his marks by observing which chess pieces they decide to discard.

Brandon is honest enough to insert his own thoughts and feelings about his subjects to his readers, even when he does not express these thoughts to the object of his interest.  For example, in the Chess Hustler, Brendon thinks about the guy he is trying to interview, who is high on crack:

This is going nowhere, I thought. I’m wasting my time.

Like I don’t have eight million other people to choose from. Fuck this guy.  I’m going to pay him $5 dollars, he’s going to talk nonsense for a few minutes, then ask for more money. I almost didn’t go back.  But I knew Harry had very interesting things to say.

In the end, he does go back and he does capture the observations and he is rewarded for his effort.  There are several such dicey situations Brandon puts himself in to get his stories, and I admire that. 

Even though he comes across people who are trying to hustle him or are extremely suspicious of his motives, he has respect for his fellow humans that help him get his story and his shots. It’s this essential respect for the subject that makes his work all the more compelling.

Brandon just has a nose for people who are hiding something that will make for an amazing story.  He’s patient enough to cultivate his journalistic leads, and he doesn’t turn away from some of the most difficult people and situations that the streets of New York has to offer – and the rest of us are so much the better for it.

Where writers find inspiration for stories

As a short story writer, I know that anything can be the source of inspiration for a short story. I especially like scanning the news, paying attention to people’s conversations, and watching how others behave. Writers are giant sponges when it comes to observing others, their world and themselves and then storing it all up until it can come out in a story.

For example, a few years ago there was a severe outbreak of red tide in Maine. Right around that same time, there was a news story from Europe about a conductor and his wife who committed legal suicide. Now, for most people, these two things would never be related. But for reasons even I don’t understand, a clanging bell went off inside me around this time and demanded a write a story about a man who euthanizes his wife, and the way he does it is with toxic shellfish during a red tide outbreak. (My story is titled: RED TIDE.)

The great thing about a short story is that the form is flexible enough to accomodate a large or small subject and condense it into a few hundred, or a few thousand words. People have responded very well to that story, some have even said it made them cry, and to achieve that in under 1000 words makes me happy.

But back to the topic at hand – inspiration. I’m sure you do things everyday that can fuel your story-telling. Did you get a snarky barista at the coffee shop this morning? Put him in a story and torment the character.  Did you read a wierd news item and think, that’s just about the strangest thing I’ve ever heard? Jot it down in an idea notebook, let it bounce around in your head for a while.

Then, when your clanging bell goes off-and it will-start writing.