Laura Found a Baby on the Street

Since no magazine will publish this story of mine, I thought I’d just publish it myself here, in little bits.

            Laura found a baby on the street and her mom’s letting her keep it. It’s not fair because Laura gets everything she wants and I’ve wanted a baby for a lot longer than she has. That’s why I told her she should let me keep it, but she said, no. Finder’s keepers, or some such. I told her fine, she could keep the baby, but I get to name her. Laura said I could name my own baby. I don’t have my own baby, which is the exact problem I’m discussing right now.

Laura’s mom said, here’s how it works. She said, babies have mothers and fathers.  That’s why her mother made the condition. The condition was that Laura could keep the baby, but only if she chose a boy to be the father. A father Laura’s mother approved. Laura doesn’t even like boys and that’s why I said to pick me, but her mom said, no. Her mom said I’m not a boy and fathers are boys. Laura told her, she said, but I don’t like boys, I like Sarah. Her mom said no. Her mom said Laura wasn’t old enough to know whether she liked boys or if she liked girls and if, when she grew up and decided she liked girls, then that would be a conversation they could have then, but for now, Laura’s mom told her, she liked boys and she needed to pick one and that was the end of the discussion. Because she’s the mom, that’s why.

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On fear.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacres, a majority of people have taken to their bully pulpits to speak authoritatively, quick to smack down any and all opinions that belie or challenge their own. We’re arguing together and against one another online and possibly off.  This makes perfect sense, but the way we’re doing it is also part, if not entirely, the fundamental problem with our society and why we are stuck in a pre-conversation that never advances. We all argue from our fixed beliefs, where else would we argue from? But the way we’re arguing, the name-calling and indignant verbal foot stomping, is an action that invalidates the points we’re trying to make. It is nearly impossible, at a time like this, to reason from a place of logic and not passion, but our inability to do just that is, I believe, the problem.  People are going round and round one another, combative and questioning anyone who challenges their position. They are not too afraid to ask difficult questions of others, but they are afraid to stop and ask the same questions of themselves. It’s time for the people unaccustomed to critical thinking to begin to question what it is they believe, and why.  It’s not enough to argue for your beliefs if you cannot back up that these beliefs are your own, and not your legacy.

So many of us accept what we’ve been told and taught without ever asking if we believe the stories, the religions, the politics and the ideologies we’ve been raised on. It’s remarkable how many adults in this world live with childhood beliefs. Such adults are quick to dispel the myths of Santa and the tooth fairy, two magical spirits who tend and serve every child on earth, yet they cling still to their childhood conviction that there’s a magical spirit in the sky who tends and serves every human on earth. Why don’t people ask themselves why they still believe what they were taught to believe as children? Conviction is not genetically inherited. We are born without beliefs and raised under the narrative umbrella of our parents or guardians. But there comes a time in every life, when critical thinking must begin and powerful questions have to be asked. If people stopped to question their own faith, they might come to realize that theirs is historical, passed down generationally, accepted without issue. Or maybe they would be able to confirm that yes, yes, this is true for them, this IS what they believe. But people don’t stop and question or evaluate, or even confirm what they believe to be true, because they are too afraid, as though they were incapable of standing on the feet of their own set of ideas and ideals, but this fear begets more fear and this collective cowardice to face our own conscious and unconscious selves, is literally killing people. People must learn to reason dispassionately, to look at evidence that might disconfirm their beliefs. We must be able to look at both sides of an issue. When we can do that, when we can actually weigh without passion, without rage, without narcissistic attachment to what we feel we deserve, to how we interpret the constitution or the amendments, when we can look logically at any given situation at hand, and not be gripped by fear or loss of control, we might actually be able to all agree that the execution of twenty kindergartners and six adults comes before our own ego-centric ideologies. We might all start to think critically about why this has happened and less about what we fear will be taken from us if we begin to ask ourselves the hard questions. We might realize that arguing in service of our own rights instead of the rights of our children, our siblings, parents and loved ones, is precisely why these people were murdered in the first place.

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Giving Tuesday


#GivingTuesday™ began its life as a simple idea….

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals….Wouldn’t it be great to have a day for giving back?

A lot of people then got behind the idea…

New York’s 92nd Street Y has been the catalyst and incubator for #GivingTuesday, bringing the expertise of 139 years of community-management to the project, and providing #GivingTuesday a home.

The United Nations Foundation joined as partners, bringing their strategic and communications clout to the project. An amazing team of influencers then offered their ideas, contacts and wisdom to help shape and improve the concept. A powerful list of corporations and non-profits agreed to be founding partners, helping spread the word and committing to their own #GivingTuesday initiatives. And, since then, countless organizations, friends and leaders have all added their support and talents to make #GivingTuesday a reality. But what really matters is YOU. #GivingTuesday relies on people everywhere playing their part to make it a real success.

participate and…put

 

Team of Influencers

• Charles Best (CEO, DonorsChoose)
• Matthew Bishop (the Economist)
• Kathy Calvin (CEO, UN Foundation)
• Tory Carter (Founder, Chairman and CEO, The Atom Factory)
• Sharon Feder (COO, Mashable)
• Colleen Giles Timms (Co-creator, GivingTuesday)
• Hank Goldstein (Principal, The Oram Group Inc.)
• Adam Hirsch (SVP, Edelman)
• Patty Huber (Head of Groupon Grassroots)
• Libby Leffler (Strategic Partner Manager, Facebook)
• Rob Reich (Professor, Stanford)
• Selig D. Sacks (Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP)
• Thomas Tierney (Chairman, Bridgespan Group
• Henry Timms (Deputy Executive Director, 92nd Street Y)
• Andrew Watt (President and CEO, Association of Fundraising Professionals)

Endorsers

• Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy
• Dorothy A. Johnson Center on Philanthropy
• Giving Institute
• Giving USA Foundation
• InterAction
• Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

Foley & Lardner LLP is Legal Counsel to #GivingTuesday

Mission Statement

#GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.

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KATIE MERZ and JOHN D’AGATA

Katie Merz is one of my bestesses, and also one of my favorite artists (how lucky am I?)

Come and see her solo show in Bushwick. Opens tomorrow night.

FERRO STROUSE GALLERY

presents

a solo show by Katie Merz:

THE UNPLEASABLE ONE / THE BEGINNING OF LANGUAGE

 

Language is THE UNPLEASABLE ONE, by whom the artist is caged: she presents her work,trying to communicate, but she can’t get out—until she makes… the perfect language. This is THE BEGINNING OF LANGUAGE, with works by Katie Merz (katiemerz.com) in collaboration with renowned author John D’Agata (About a Mountain, The Lifespan of a Fact). Recipients of an Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant, Merz and D’Agata worked together over a six-week period in the summer of 2012, living in residency in Iowa City. Collaborating, they riffed off of the works of Plutarch, the ancient Greek oracle and philosopher. D’Agata translated into English Plutarch’s more obscure texts—including a tantalizing dialogue on same-sex love, and a poignant conversation with his wife about how to mourn their dead daughter.

Merz meanwhile developed visual translations of D’Agata’s writing. Wild and witty, her work explores Plutarch’s tales of infanticide, of bloody stumps, of love lost and commemorated—she uses all kinds of media, including board games, videos, written texts, cartoons, pictograms and hieroglyphs, scrolls and sketches, and transferences of hand-drawings into the digital. This exhibition presents Merz’s engagement with D’Agata, featuring, along with the art works,many artifacts of the collaborative process, as well as recordings of conversations between the
artists, as well as D’Agata’s texts. Ferro Strouse Gallery, operated by the artist Maximiliano Ferro and the poet A.W. Strouse, restages the Merz/D’Agata collaboration, re-translating Plutarch and creating an intimate and collaborative experience with you, the viewer: Please come to the Opening Reception, November 8th from 7pm to 9pm. Your participation is needed for the language to begin talking.

Ferro Strouse Gallery
77 Pilling Street, #2
Brooklyn, NY 11207
(L) train to Bushwick Av.-Aberdeen St. Station
(J/Z) trains to Chauncey St. Station
(A/C) trains to Broadway Junction Station
ferro.strouse@gmail.com
(347) 666 • 3438
https://www.ferrostrouse.com

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DEBRA SPARK GUEST POST

DEBRA SPARK is the author of four books of fiction, including most recently The Pretty Girl, a collection of stories about art and deception, and the novel Good for the Jews.  She is also the author of Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing and editor of the anthology Twenty Under Thirty.
Spark’s work has appeared in Esquire, Ploughshares, The New York Times, Food and Wine, Yankee, Down East, Narrative, Five Points, the Washington Post, Maine Home + Design and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other places.  She has been the recipient of several awards including a NEA fellowship, a Bunting Institute fellowship from Radcliffe College, and the John Zacharis/Ploughshares award for best first book.  She is a professor at Colby College and teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.  She lives with her husband and son in North Yarmouth, Maine.

 

Once, when I was in my twenties, a particularly evocative description in a novel sent to me the grocers to buy oranges.  Suddenly, they were all I wanted to eat, though back in those pre-Clementine days, I was really too much of a lazy neatnik for a regular orange.  In literature, descriptions of food can have numerous functions.  Probably making the reader hungry is low down on most novelist’s list.  Revealing character and setting scene being a nobler affair.  Below, my top ten list for best food (and drink) in recent literary fiction (that I happen to have read).  To make it on the list, the food had to have literary merit, or make we want to laugh, or make me want to eat.

Top 10 Foods (or Drinks) in Recent Literary Fiction (That I Happen to Have Read)

Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The heroine of Margot Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy rarely gets much—or much good—to eat.  She’s an orphan at a nasty boarding school.  Early in her stay, a monstrous headmistress restricts her to a bread and water diet for a fortnight.  When the school’s cook sneaks Gemma some stew, it consists of “turnips and grayish meat.”  So imagine Gemma (and this reader’s) delight when Gemma sneaks away from school to a hospital where a nun feeds her “two fried eggs, two sausages, bacon, grilled tomato, and white toast.”

Lisa Zeidner, Love Bomb

Personally, I hate champagne.  It does something weird to my esophagus, making it painful to swallow.  And even if it didn’t, the sweetness doesn’t appeal.  (Am I ever going to get a chance to sit in a bar and say, “Well, honey, I like my alcohol like my humor: dry.”  I guess not.)  But anything enjoyed after privation is particularly delicious.

In Zeidner’s novel, a wedding party is taken hostage by a jilted lover.  The guests suffer through a day without food, water or toilet facilities, before the terrorist allows a surprising bit of sustenance into the room: three bottles of champagne.  Some hostages decline to partake, “preferring to keep their wits about them.”  But among those who drink are two young woman who “took off their high-heeled sandals, amazed that they hadn’t done so before now.  They flexed their feet, admired their wedding pedicures, and let their toes breathe.  The cava was perfectly chilled, the bottle dripping as if it had just been pulled from ice.”

Dan Zevin, Dan Gets a Mini-Van

Technically this book is not fiction.  But then it isn’t nonfiction.  (If Jonah Lehrer’s misattribution sins were enough to get him fired from The New Yorker, one suspects that Zevin’s misattribution sins are enough to get him fired from his family.)  Dan Gets a Mini-Van is “humor,” which means it’s nonfiction altered to get a laugh.  Which is close enough to fiction for me.

After mulling over the separate virtues of life in the city and suburbs, Dan Zevin temporarily returns to his Brooklyn townhouse.  He has rented his place to a family that is much like his own in reverse.  They long for the city life that he is increasingly eager to escape.  Dan enters his own kitchen and sees his renter:  “He’s standing over my kitchen island.  He’s serving his two little kids bite-size pieces of the falafel platter he just had delivered from my favorite Middle Eastern place on Atlantic Avenue.  His kids are crying.  They’re saying they didn’t want falafel, they wanted waffles.”

Maggie Shipstead, Seating Arrangements

Speaking of liquor I don’t like and Jonah Lehrer, I’d like to self-plagiarize myself, and lift a few lines from a review/essay I just wrote on humor:  Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements takes place over the course of a wedding weekend on a New England island.  It’s winning in a number of ways, not least its humor and the way in which it makes morally reprehensible characters rather appealing.  Witness Celeste, the bride’s aunt, an alcoholic who has three former husbands and a tendency to frankness that unsettles everyone.  We can’t help but like her.  She speaks of the first sip of an afternoon glass of gin as “bitter and fizzy … unspeakably delicious,” and in the moment, we don’t want to ship her off to AA.  We just want to enjoy the glass with her.

Denis Johnson, Train Dreams

Having lost his wife and child to a fire, laborer Robert Granier—whose life has been harsh and deprived of all but natural beauty and a brief experience of love—thinks of a box of chocolates that his wife once owned.  Granier remembers the chocolates cupped on white paper:  “Once every week, she and the tyke had sucked one chocolate apiece.”  Out of context that might not seem like literature’s most moving sentence, I know.  In context, though, it is a heartbreaker.

Alix Ohlin, Inside

The characters in Olin’s novel have such an awfully hard time connecting that it’s a relief when they finally manage it, even if the circumstances seem niggardly.  Anne, a young New York actress, takes in a homeless stranger with less a sense of compassion than resignation.  What else to do with the apparent runaway who has been camping out in her building’s foyer?  Though Ann doesn’t ask the enormous girl even the most basic of questions about her life, she does, on occasion, share a takeout dinner of noodles (on the couch and in front of the TV) with her.  This generosity—as well as Anne’s later efforts to help the girl slim down by stocking the frig with fruits and vegetables—reads as what Anne otherwise seems incapable of:  Love.

Joan Wickersham’s The News From Spain

Wickersham’s collection consists of seven stories, all titled “The News from Spain,” and all dealing, on some level, with love, betrayal and identity.  In the third story, the variants of sexual desire seem to play themselves out on cookies.  The narrator is one of two girls attending a boys’ school.  She experiences herself as a big galumphing girl, unlike Lily, the school’s other girl, who appears first in the story as “small, sullen girl, dressed in a short skirt and white vinyl boots, wearing lip gloss.”  When together, they cram cookies–“hunky chocolate things”—into their mouths.  But when with the school’s friendly, but slightly embarrassing, Spanish teacher, they enjoy cookies that are “small elusive feminine mysteries.  What did they taste of?  Lemon?  Vanilla?  Something pale and delicate.”

Bill Roorbach, Life Among Giants

Life Among Giants tells the story of David “Lizard” Hochmeyer whose life has been shaped by his parents’ murder, his troubled sister’s emotions, his athletic prowess and  his life-long obsession with a prima ballerina, who lives near his childhood home.  His is a world of tremendous passions, successes and excesses.  Even what initially seems like a sideline—partnership in a soul food restaurant—brings big rewards.  The chef, Etienne, is covered by tattoos: “even his scalp, even his face, the Virgin Mary benevolent on his forehead, her soulful eyes gazing out over his own.”  Before one meal, Etienne works alone in his kitchen,“sending out little leek tarts and strange squid sticks and samples of sweet teas, kale-pesto corn fritters, knuckle-jelly ‘caviar.’”  Later he offers Vietnamese stuffed baby cabbages, seven fresh salsas, and “a flight of miniature knishes and blinis with three Polish noodle soups.”

A guest wonders if this is soul food and a dismissive Etienne says, “It’s all soul food when I make it, baby.”

Natalie Serber, Shout Her Lovely Name

All mentions of food cannot be welcome.  In the title story of Natalie Serber’s Shout Her Lovely Name, the frantic mother of an anorexic daughter tries to relax with a bath:  “Play world music and pretend you are somewhere else,” she instructs herself.  “Except of course you aren’t.  You know you aren’t somewhere else because as you were filling the tub you noticed raggedy bits of food in the drain.  Wouldn’t she vomit in the toilet?  Your daughter must be terrified for herself to leave behind these Technicolor clues.”

Debra Spark, The Pretty Girl

Bad Taste Time (pun intended), or Advertisements for Myself.  I’ve got some food in my most recent collection, The Pretty Girl.  The book is a novella and stories, most of which circle around the theme of art and deception.  In one story, a young woman bites into a chocolate egg and finds a little rabbi inside.  Who doesn’t like food with a Cracker-Jack surprise?  Well, many people, I know.  In general, it is disconcerting to find something alive in one’s food.  My husband considers bugs in the lettuce just an unexpected bit of protein, though I have different ideas about the matter.  But a pocket-sized rabbi?  Isn’t that always welcome?

 

 

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Napkins from Space.

Sorry for my silence these past months, but I’ve been trying to finish a draft of my novel (or I’m creating the world’s most literary booster seat ever).  I’ve asked the wonderful Rupinder Gill to entertain you today.

And she agreed!

Rupinder Gill has written for The Rumpus, McSweeneys, CBC Radio, The National Post, and the comedy program This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Her first book, On the Outside Looking Indian, was shortlisted for Canada’s Stephen Leacock Humor Medal and is now available in the United States from the good people at Riverhead.

A NAPKIN FROM SPACE.

Every writer has at least one period of self-doubt and panic, when they worry that they’ve made a mistake pursuing their dream. This occurs for me fairly often, around late afternoon when I realize I’m still in my sweatpants, laughing at my own joke that I inevitably erase before the day is done. It hits again at night when I see my ‘To Do’ list and note that the only item I’ve crossed off is “Buy milk.” Writing as a career choice is wonderful but unreliable, which is a lot of why it took me so long to pursue it. It always felt like the antithesis of a real job and I was raised to be a practical. This I took seriously, always aiming not for the stars but for a steady, reliable gig somewhere in the world of business, a decision I made after abandoning my first grand dream.

When I was nine years old, we studied the Milky Way in school and I was hooked. My teacher flipped through slides of stars and planets showcasing the beautiful rings of Saturn and red majesty of Mars, ignoring our giggles when she introduced us to Uranus. I put my hand up for every question shouting out “The Big Dipper!” and “Calisto! Europa!” until the teacher asked me to let someone else have a turn. I couldn’t help it; I wanted to be an astronaut with a fervor kids today only seem to hold for being famous. I took out scores of astronomy books from the library and read up on the uncharted territory that I dreamt of one day reaching. I begged my parents for a glow in the dark mobile of stars to hang over my bed, glancing at it before I went to sleep every night and hoping they had powdered chocolate milk on the space shuttles. Our teacher Mrs. Costigan further encouraged my interstellar dreams by giving us long posters featuring photos and facts about the planets. To keep sharp, I hung mine in my bedroom and consulted it each night. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was going to be an astronaut. I was in the sweet spot of childhood where you had dreams about adult life and nothing could dissuade you from them. Aspirations like blasting off from the Earth seemed less like a ludicrous fantasy and more like a plan that could be enacted with some hard work, sacrifice and an understanding of centrifugal force. I didn’t realize how much I talked about being an astronaut until one Wednesday, when we were sitting in a circle around Mrs. Costigan.

She said “I have something special for someone here.” This was our cue to start a guessing game.

“Is it alive?” one kid asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Is it for a boy?” asked another.

“No,” she replied, narrowing the field. After a few more guesses we ascertained that it was for me and I can’t speak for the rest of the kids but I believe this was the point when the game really got exciting.

“Is it a book?” I asked, hopeful.

“Is it a toy?” asked another kid.

Finally after our Sherlocking proved valiant but still at a nine-year-old’s level, Mrs. Costigan pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to me. It was an every day ordinary serviette, but with an extraordinary touch: on it was a message from Marc Garneau, the first Canadian astronaut and first Canadian in space. On it he had written, “Keep reaching for the stars, Rupinder!”  Mrs. Costigan, upon hearing that Garneau was having dinner at a friend’s house, ran over there and asked him to sign an autograph for a student who had a grand dream. A real life astronaut wrote something to me, likely from one of those fancy space pens while a moon rock held the napkin down. It was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. All the kids gathered around to admire it and in that moment I felt that not only could I do anything in the world, but anything in the Milky Way. I’d love to tell you I’m writing this from outer space, while staying at the country-planet home of Spock, but this dream never became a reality, due partially to a check I bounced to Virgin Galactic. I held on to that dream for a number of years but it started slowly drifting away once my head came out of the atmosphere and I looked at the requirements to hold that particular job. For some reason, NASA felt fairly strongly that you had to be great at math and science to be rewarded with a place on their rocket ships. There were no points for prowess in literature and TV trivia. I cursed NASA for making me so sure of something that everything else now paled in comparison. And I lost that treasured napkin.

I remained dreamless for the better part of two decades, when I couldn’t shake the desire to give writing a shot. I had a steady job in television publicity, which I enjoyed, but something in me was reverting back to that nine-year-old who wanted something so badly it consumed her. After my day at work, I would go home and write until late at night, and all throughout the weekend.

“That must be exhausting,” friends would say, but I assured them, it was intensely energizing. It’s exciting to believe in possibilities. What’s exhausting is living a life where you tell yourself who you can or cannot be, and what you do and don’t deserve. How rich I would be if I could bottle the unbridled enthusiasm and belief in the future that children have and sell it to life-weary adults. When I decided to take the leap into writing, I felt like I was that little girl again, who would read up on planets all night and quiz herself. I had let go of my dreams once and it took me so long to find myself again.  I remind myself of this when writing feels hard. It should be hard. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s a very long stretch to reach for the stars.

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GUEST POST: LOUISE KRUG

I’m so pleased that Louise Krug has agreed to a guest post for the blog. Her wonderful book, Louise: Amended is out in May by Black Balloon, a wonderful Brooklyn based press. I offer author posts to those who, for whatever reason, I cannot accommodate on the Happy Ending stage, but whose work and voice I believe in and want to help promote. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. –Amanda Stern

First, the book trailer….

 Now, the guest post…

LOUISE KRUG

At age twenty-two, Louise Krug suffered a massive brain bleed and underwent an emergency craniotomy that disrupted her ability to walk, see, and move half her face. She currently lives with her husband Nick and daughter Olive in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is pursuing a PhD in creative writing at the University of Kansas. Louise is the author of Louise: Amended, which will be published by Black Balloon Publishing in May 2012.

I wrote Weezy’s Brain Adventure comic in 2007 for a graduate graphic novel class at the University of Kansas. The class was full of fine arts kids who really knew their stuff, and then a few of us writers who knew nothing. We read work by comic artists Chris Ware and Julie Doucet, and I learned about Lynda Barry’s work on my own. I drew a lot growing up, and I rediscovered drawing when I took the class where I drew this comic, which was my first one.

I have a sketchbook now and draw comics when I can. Drawing Weezy’s Brain Adventure helped me remember that I had a sense of humor, which tends to go away in a medical setting. That humor gave me a sort of control over my feelings and reactions.

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My New Apartment Is the Best New Apartment Since the Last Best New Apartment I had.

My new apartment is the best apartment I could ever imagine. Especially considering that I did, actually, imagine it. I present to you, my new, imaginary apartment, cobbled together from images I found online. Not a bad looking place, huh? If only I could pull the images in just one…step…closer and download and open them in the space that already exists.   I’m sure someone’s working on an app just like that, so I’ll just sit here an wait, and stare at my new apartment.

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