Book Review: Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso

May 9, 2015

Tags: Book Review: Ongoingness

Reading is not always easy. Sometimes a book is a challenge to read. You have to trust the writer or trust you will learn something by staying in the game. That was my experience with Ongoingness. Check out my review in River Teeth.…

Sleeping Beauty: Breaking the Spell of Women's Silences

March 31, 2015

Tags: Spring Journal, Women's Silences

Published in Spring Journal, Fall 2014
Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up: Breaking the Spell of Women's Silences

Light fills the hall of the old Key West Armory, streaming in from the high windows like fairy dust, soft and white and unusually strong for a winter’s day in January. The house buzzes with excitement until Margaret Atwood steps onto the stage and a hushed quiet fills the room. I crane my neck, hoping to get a glance of her from my seat in the very back row, but I’m too short and the woman in front of me too tall. Frustrated, I shove my purse under me to get some height and there she is – her unruly mane of wiry hair, her too-white complexion, her eyes – blue, steely. Steady.
Perched on my roost of leather and lumpy wallet, I’m not steady at all. I feel like a flighty bird unseated by an inexplicable feeling of anticipation mixed with dread. The blank pages of my journal rest in my lap, open and waiting.

Margaret takes her seat on the raised dais, like a Goddess or a Queen, which she has been to me ever since I read The Handmaid’s Tale, a science fiction fantasy that chilled me to the bone every time I held it in my hands. Don’t be silly, I’d tell myself. There was no reason to fear what kept creeping into the back of my mind while turning the pages, which was that this could happen, might happen – that our freedom, our gains as women in America were merely a rickety scaffold holding up a barely built cathedral.

In 1985, when the book came out, I had just left a bruising career as a punk rock singer and was diving into the “Dress for Success” eighties, throwing away my spandex and stilettos for the female version of male suits, complete with the floppy “feminine” bow ties women were encouraged to wear as they entered into the corporate class. We were post-liberation women, well past the messy fight for access to contraception and abortion fought by our older sisters, moving on to executive suites outfitted with soft carpeting and glass ceilings. Atwood’s story of fundamentalist Christians stripping women of their rights and dividing the female population into breeders and groomers and “Marthas” was just elaborate futurist fiction, right?

Twenty-seven years later, I have come to hear the woman whose words have haunted me ever since I read them. Among the sea of bodies near the front seats, someone raises her hand and asks Margaret how she came up with the idea for The Handmaid’s Tale. Did she think something like this could ever happen to women? Really? (more…)

Singing Like You Mean It

May 22, 2014

Tags: Readings, Pratt Library

It wasn't easy getting the invitation to read at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. First, my friend Connie emailed the events coordinator at the library (several times), then I followed up and talked my way into an “Authors Live” date. Then I got a date and had to cancel it when a family member had emergency surgery. Then the library graciously rescheduled it - for a Monday night in May. As a former events person, I knew that Monday was a tough night to get folks out of the house. Still, I was honored to have been asked.

But prior to the reading, my own life got in the way. There were finals to be read, another festival date in Ohio to travel to, an essay deadline. In other words, I didn’t do much more than a Facebook invite to get the word out, and I was nervous that no one would show up.

And this made me reluctant to show up. Maybe it’s because the promotional circuit was starting to wear on me or because most of my friends Baltimore already RSVP-ed that they would be out of town or at work or anywhere but in the library that night. But as I sat down to prepare that afternoon, I realized it didn’t matter who was there. If there was one person in the room, I needed to make it worth their while – and mine. (more…)

On Longing, Love and Literary Awards

May 15, 2014

Tags: Literary Awards, Nautilus Award, Eric Hoffer Award

Here's the thing: the longing never ends. At least not for me. First, I dreamed of writing a book. Then finishing a book. Then publishing it. Ah, publishing - the end all, be-all dream. The one thing that would prove to me that yes, I really am a writer!

What I didn't know is that publishing is another beginning, another higher-stakes tunnel that you enter into blind as a first-time author where you grope in the dark, sometimes terrified, sometimes horrified, often confused. Your book comes out and there you are, standing on the tracks blinking in light of day, a bit naked, excited and ready to go- where? (more…)


October 31, 2013

Tags: puppyhood

photo credit: Roberta Gale
This morning I stretched out in Triangle pose, steadying my arm against a purple foam yoga block with chunks bitten out of its once sturdy square. Then, I headed to the kitchen and pulled out a white microwave-safe bowl - the one with the missing corner delicately decorated with ragged tooth marks in the half-moon shape of a dog’s lower jaw.

My favorite comb has rough ridges on the handle, courtesy of a pup’s teething molars. My prescription sunglasses have creatively chewed arms which catch my hair whenever I take them on or off. The cushions on the sofa in my den have had to be patched with new fabric and re-stuffed with clouds of poly-fiber filling that , on one particular never-to-be forgotten day, covered the floor of my den like fresh snow at a ski resort.

These are the lucky ones. The things that have survived puppyhood of a dog who, as my vet put it, was one of those breeds with “significant oral fixations”. A chewer. A crazoid. A toothsome monster who I thought would send me over the edge.
But he didn’t. Because puppies stop being puppies eventually. They grow up. They mellow- at least get mellower.

Now Winston merely steals a shoe and prances around the house with it with a twinkle in his eye as if he’s got the most precious thing in the world. You can just read the mind cartoon above his head: Your shoe! I’ve got your shoe! Look whose top dog here? Oh. Okay. Here. Take it if it means so much to you. Now give me a treat.

And we do, silly humans, because we’re grateful to receive an intact, if slightly moist item returned in working shape.
Every time I take my sunglasses off and try to push those uneven frames back into their case, I tell myself I should buy a new pair. Aren’t I embarrassed by the tape holding together the edges? The way they sit on an angle on my nose?

Well, yes. Kind of.

But each time I take those glasses off, I hold history in my hands. Of the joyful, boisterous pup that emerged after spending most of his young life in cages. Of the patience and faith it took to stick with a young animal until he lost his taste for cell phones and sofa cushions.

I suppose some people think us dog people are crazy. There is a case to be made that dogs are shedding, slobbering creatures who can tear through a pair of Uggs in the time it takes to pull them out of the box. But they’re also loyal, loving companions who can make your saddest days lighter and your broken heart full again.

In light of that, a puppyhood of chewing seems a bargain.

Foxy Lady

October 18, 2013

Tags: Walking dogs, wildlife

So I'm walking my dog in the neighborhood last night when Winston sees a red fox and starts barking at it. But instead of slinking off into the bushes as they usually do, the fox starts following us. I'm trying to walk away from it while 65 pounds of insane dog is barking and yanking on his leash to get at the fox. I walked up toward a neighbor's door. The fox kept coming. The dog kept barking and pulling. I kept going, to the next neighbor's house. The fox followed. By this time, I was getting desperate, knowing there have been rabid raccoons sighted in the area. I screamed at him, GO AWAY. Didn't phase him. In the end, I flagged a neighbor was was pulling into his driveway who drove us home. Upon reflection, I don't think the fox was rabid. I think it was bold and curious and I was frightened by something I did not understand. Later, the DNR told me it's den building time. My dog and I may have been seen as an intruder that needed to be kept an eye on. I wish I knew how to live with the creatures around me better. And in some ways, I admire that fox.

Dogs of New York, Part One

October 7, 2013

Tags: New York dogs, Louise Bernikow, New York City

The lovely Lilith
When I was a girl, my father would drive me beyond the New Jersey meadowlands to “the city” on the weekends. I loved Manhattan then and I love it now - although it’s changed over the years - Times Square more sanitized, the East (and West) Village more expensive, but it’s still one of the most interesting, energetic and creative places on earth.

And definitely a dog town.

If you venture beyond Times Square to where people live and work, you can’t help but notice the dogs and their owners walking everywhere. On this last trip, I really got a sense of how dogs rule in this city.

The occasion was a visit to Louise Bernikow, author of Bark If You Love Me and , the first author to send in a blurb for the back cover of Short Leash (her lines were an amazing affirmation of what I had labored so hard to write). Since I was already going to be in town and Louise and I had never met, I wanted to thank her in person.

To get there, I had to venture to the Upper West Side, a part of town I’d never been to before, taking trains I’d never taken, (but I did it - one more subway notch on my belt), and was astonished to find a great little neighborhood.

When I was young, my father would take me into all the commercial districts and explain how they were like little cities of their own- the diamond district, the flower district, the garment district- but what I am starting to understand by visiting New Yorkers like Louise and neighborhoods like hers, is that New York City is basically a big city made up of small towns. Within a four block area, you enter a place where people who know each other by name (or at least by sight), shopkeepers who greet their regulars, and dog owners who know each other’s dogs.

Louise greeted me at the doorway to her lovely building with her sweet Boxer girl Lilith on the leash. We headed off to Riverside Park (only a block away), a verdantly green expanse of trees and paths following the shores of the Hudson River for a late afternoon walk.

It was wonderful to see the park she writes of in “Bark.” Like a movie, I saw unreeling before me the place where she found the abandoned pup Libro and where they jogged, bonded with other dogs and owners, and forged their own unbreakable bond. It was my Quiet Waters Park, right here in Manhattan.

We sat by the river and talked, one of those fantastic conversations where you realize you’ve met a kindred spirit and it’s like you’ve each other forever. Lilith stood staunchly by our side, watching the goings-on in the dog park, keeping an eye on people and dogs while Louise provided a running commentary on the various characters parading by. She knew almost every dog, and let me tell you, there were a lot of them.

On the way back to her studio, we came across a man walking a gorgeous white and tan Pit Bull. Louise made her acquaintance with the owner (who she hadn’t seen before) and Litilth with the Pittie (“Just her type,” Louise said. “Young and male”). We crossed Riverside Drive passing more leashed dogs, a middle school soccer team (Louise knew most of the girls) and a neighbor planting fall flowers in a corner container. It really drove home what a tight community this was, what a lucky woman Louise what to live here. And how lucky Lilith - who was rescued from a North Carolina kill shelter - was to Live in a place where she had everything a dog could want outside her door.

I left knowing I had made a new friend. (Friends, I should say. I think Lilith finally accepted me). I also added a new neighborhood to my personal map of Manhattan. This time, when I boarded the “1” Local, I almost felt like a native. But I had more to learn. My encounter with the world of New York City dogs wasn’t over yet.
(To come: Dogs Of New York Part 2: Lost and Found)

Reading memoir

September 20, 2013

Tags: Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance, Memoir, Memoir author

I felt so privileged to read from "Short Leash" at Quiet Waters Park Wednesday night to such a receptive audience. More than anything, the profound power of memoir radiated back to me. This was no longer "my" story, it was our story - all of us who are fed by nature, who have been broken and long to be healed, who share a special bond with their animals, who are human.

Someone asked me last night if I write fiction. I never say never, but this puzzling, amazing world never fails to provide enough material for me to write about for the rest of my life. And when the sharing of it resonates with others, I feel the profound truth of how much we are all connected.

This Makes It All Worthwhile

September 17, 2013

Tags: Short Leash Reviews, Online readers

The period right after you publish your first book is a wild ride. Nothing you have done in the years of building a story word after word can prepare you for the job of getting those words out into the world. Authors are now marketers. And it's a fierce market. So many books. So many things you have to do to get yours in someone's hands.

Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle.

And then, you google your name and discover something like this. The sun parts through the clouds and you say, it's all worth it. I did what I set out to do: to tell my story and hope it resonates with others. (more…)

Lost Souls on a Hot, Black Tarmac

August 18, 2013

Tags: Homeless Pets, Homeless Women, Protective Dogs, The role of an artist, Kurosawa

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Last Friday, I spent the day lounging on our boat at City Dock in Annapolis. It was a beautiful day, clear, in the seventies with almost no humidity- a rare thing in August in Maryland. Around 2:00 in the afternoon, a white Ford Taurus drove into the parking lot across from the boat slips and pulled into a space opposite our boat. The driver, an older woman, did not get out of her car. After about an hour, she let a dog out - a Black Lab mix with a graying muzzle. The dog remained on leash and sat in the shade of the open car door at her mistress' feet. And there they sat. And sat.

Worried that the dog might be thirsty, I left the boat and walked over to offer a bowl and some water. As I approached the car, the dog jumped to its feet and growled/barked ferociously. Honoring the dog's protectiveness, I got close enough to see that the car was loaded to the gills with stuff. It looked like she and the dog were living in the vehicle. I shouted from a distance "Do you need water?" not even sure she could hear over the barking. She held up a plastic gallon of water and shook her head. "Thanks," she mouthed.

The other boaters who had seen what happened commented on the close call, the bad dog, but I understood completely. The woman was vulnerable and this dog was doing its job.

Throughout the afternoon, I kept an eye on them, conscious that every time I looked, the woman was aware of my gaze, which seemed to make her nervous. I contemplated giving her some money, but couldn't figure out how to get close enough to make the exchange.

Around dinnertime, still thinking of a way to get her money, I looked out over the parking lot. The car and the dog were gone.

As night fell, people came and went with their ice cream cones and vacation t-shirts and laughing children. The boaters were relieved the woman was gone and the tourists no longer had to confront her inconvenient presence. But I could not get the image of the sagging, sad woman and her nervous dog out of my mind.

Kurosawa said, "The role of an artist is to not look away." That's a hard thing to do. Once home, I sat in meditation and sent peace to her and her dog and all beings like them. It didn't feel like enough. I thought of going back to see if she returned so I could do something - maybe paste that twenty under her windshield, anything to lessen the pain of seeing and knowing the immense suffering in the world.

This is why people look away. And this is why I write. It doesn't change that woman's life. It doesn't change her dog's. But it changes mine. In the end, it's the only thing we can really do.