Friday, March 20, 2009

What's Down Under

A few weeks ago my husband and I went to a big party. Big as in over a hundred people, DJ and passed hors d’oeuvres. During the short drive there, he asked me whether I thought a TV show could be “literary.”

First, I have to say that this is exactly the reason I married him. He likes to think it’s because he has a cute behind, but in truth it’s because he asks these kinds of questions and always at just the right moment. In this case, the right moment being my needing something to talk about at a big party, because I’m especially poor at small talk. I imagined us being introduced to a few people, the conversation might wane, and then I could jump in with this question and we could talk about whether “Lost” is literary. Or whether “E.R.” is. Or even “Star Trek.”

(I’m sure this is precisely why we don’t get invited to parties very often.)

Of course during the long walk from the car, we both realized that neither of us possessed a firm understanding of what exactly makes a story “literary.” Our assessments were merely gut reactions, nothing we could substantiate. Luckily, the party was too loud to talk about anything with anybody, so we just made a beeline for the DJ and danced all night.

When I got home, I tried to find a useful definition of “literary” online. It was harder than I thought. I did come across a blog from a literary agent in which he writes an entire post about trying to define literary fiction. Mostly, about how difficult it is to find a definition that’s, well, definitive.

That made me feel a bit less dense.

He wrote: “In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.” And then a commenter wrote, “…literary fiction uses plot to reveal its themes, whereas for the most part, genre fiction is the plot.”

If you’re a writer, (or a reader, or even just someone who has whole lotta time to kill), you might find this guy’s blog interesting. It’s called Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent, which, ironically, sounds to me like a novel Dashiell Hammett might have written. It’s not going to change the way I watch Judge Judy, but I feel like I have somewhere to turn if I ever get invited to another party.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Favorite Haiku

In honor of St. Patrick's Day...

There once was a man
from Nantucket who kicked the
bucket in Japan.
--David Burd

Monday, March 16, 2009

Good Advice At Any Time

The first time I played across the net from Sloane she said to me, “You have to look meaner.” I don’t have a naturally mean-looking face and it’s hard enough for me to hit a backhand without having also to maintain a scowl. Besides, I don’t want to appear mean. I want everyone to like me.

Sloane is not on the court to make friends. She’s an aggressive player and she’s out for blood. This knowledge alone used to be enough to take me down.

We’ve played doubles together since September and my sole mission on those days is not to be undone by her. She says she likes to get into my head, and she does, but not exactly in the way she expects.

She thinks I’m intimidated by her hard hitting, take-no-prisoners game. That I’ll wince if she rips a ball straight at my face when I’m playing the net. She’s cocky and outspoken and frequently shouts orders at her partner. None of that rattles me.

But when she’s across the net, waiting for a serve, she does not assume “ready position” like the rest of us do. Her racquet hangs from one limp hand while the other is planted on her cocked hip. It’s a stance I might assume if were waiting for my dawdling child to hurry up and tie his shoes. Bored and barely tolerant, I imagine she is waiting for me to dazzle her.

That’s the Sloane I’m shaken by.

Even when we play on the same side, it’s not much better. I’m not a natural athlete – what I lack in strength, I need to make up with wit. But with Sloane, I try to play more aggressively, because I know she really likes to win. In my zeal to please her, my game falls apart. I attempt tricky shots and fail. I try to poach, even though I’m not a good poacher. Or hit down the line, even though I know it’s a tough shot to pull off. I’m trying so hard to do what I think she wants me to do that eventually even my reliable shots careen into the net. “Sorry.” “Sorry.” “Sorry,” I say.

(Sloane never says sorry. When the ball pulls her off to the side and she can’t make it back in time for the next shot she says to her partner, “Where were you?” She’s smiling, but the question stands.)

One day we were down 5-2 and I said to her, “I’m sorry. I know I should be hitting harder, but I’m just not good at that.” I expected her to start counseling me on my stroke, coaching me to play more like she plays: lean and mean.

But instead she said something to me that not only changed our losing streak, she got into my head in a whole different way.

“Play the game you know,” she said.

How long will it be before no one needs to remind me to just be myself? I think about Sloane’s advice every day, and not just when I’m faltering. I breathe it in like a little transitional mantra, and it fills me. When we stop trying to be who we think we should be, we can start to harness practically all the power we’ll ever really need.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ode To Judy

We have a room on our second floor that didn’t really have a name, until yesterday.

Our house is old – over a hundred – and as such, it was built before King-sized beds were the norm for masters. Our “master” bedroom can fit our King bed, but little else. So we have all the rest of our stuff – dressers, closet, TV – in the room next door.

When my kids scream up from downstairs, “MOM! MOM!” and I say, “WHAT?” they say, “WHERE ARE YOU?” and then I falter. Even after nine years here, I still fumpher. “I’m in the room next to my bedroom.” “I’m in the room on the second floor with the TV in it.” It’s clumsy and awkward, but we’ve made do.

Our house is big, with lots of little rooms all over the place. But somehow over the years, each one has managed to acquire its own name. Any one of us can always name where we are.

We have the TV Room, the Playroom. We even have the Wrestling Room (which I call the The Yoga Room, but only to myself). The names define the rooms more than describe them. Sometimes I think of yelling back, “I’M IN THE ROOM-WITH-ALL-THE –CLOTHING-STREWN-ABOUT.” But with that, I could be anywhere.

Yesterday I asked my nine-year-old if he happened to notice where I’d left my slippers and he said, “Yeah, they’re in the Judge Judy Room.”

A name had been bestowed. Simple, direct, unambiguous. That room houses a Tivo, and on the Tivo is recorded one program only. It is where we gather in the evening, me to fold laundry, my husband to unwind. And the kids eventually wander in, drawn (as are most children) to the possibility of securing a more thorough understanding of right and wrong.

I resisted Judge Judy at first. “She’s no Judge Wapner,” I would say. But it didn’t take long for her to win my heart.

Click here for:
Judy's Greatest Hits

(I especially love the doily-collar on her robe.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Art of Dentistree

I just spent a half hour researching St. Patrick’s Day to try and find some justification for why it strikes me as so bizarre that a local dentist would festoon his tree with beer bottles to commemorate the Patron Saint of Ireland. But it’s actually no more random than plying one’s lawn with leprechauns – maybe even less.

I could probably cobble together a tirade if I put my mind to it, but in truth I can’t really get up a head of steam about it. In the process of posting this, I’ve learned how to upload photos from the camera, and that in itself is a big accomplishment.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Those Who Can’t, Write

I wanted so desperately to be a dancer when I was in college. I took my first dance class first semester, sophomore year. It was a Beginning Modern class and I found out very quickly that I could neither turn, leap nor spin to anyone’s satisfaction. As soon as I lifted one foot off the floor, I invariably toppled over. None of that stopped me, however, from summoning my inner-Jennifer Beals and wearing leg warmers pretentiously around campus, filling half my schedule with Modern and Jazz classes and nonchalantly affecting Fourth Position whenever someone engaged me in hallway conversation.

I never worried about appearing foolish, but I did worry about my grades. I was such an incompetent dancer, it was impossible to grant me an A or a B solely for my in-class routines. But, lucky for me, part of each class grade (a surprisingly big part) was based on reviewing professional dance performances.

We had to do a two-page paper on two shows for each class. I’d go into the city and see Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Pilobolus. And somehow – by some small miracle – my dance ineptitude was mitigated by my (often tenuous) ability to string some sentences together, and I managed to make Dean’s List every semester, dance classes notwithstanding.

I don’t remember who first sent me this video. The quality is poor and doesn’t do the performance justice. But watching it gives me a lift like little else can.


My New Year’s Resolution was to learn this dance before the year was up. But I’m not making very good progress. I guess I’m just destined to write about it instead.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating. If this is not raw, unadulterated talent, I don't know what is.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Thong Plays Alone

Toward the end of each lesson, Laura The Tennis Pro splits the four of us into two teams. This is a highly scientific process based on purely objective factors: V-Necks vs. Scoop-Necks, Skirts vs. Pants; Colors vs. Monochromes. We’ve been divided by Glasses, Earrings, brand of Racquet, brand of Tennis Shoe, Hair Style, Hair Color and the initial phonetic sounds of our given names.

The only criterion that seems not to work is Style of Underwear. Because only one of us will wear a thong.

It’s unclear how we got on this topic in the first place. We can be a bawdy bunch, so it’s no surprise. But the subject of thongs emerged and one of us declared, “That’s the only way I roll!” The rest of us watched her bound around the court, an unrestrained, Lycra-clad fireball, as we winced and shook our heads.

I have tried to wear a thong. I even tried again this morning before I wrote this, just to make sure I still felt the same way (and I do) which is: I prefer not to have anything lodged within the derriere.

A few years ago I asked a friend to take me clothing shopping, inept as I am at that particular chore. We made some progress with outerwear – skirts and dresses and things – but she sent me off on my own after lecturing me about proper undergarments. Thongs. Spanx. ”There are just some outfits that call for a very specific base coat,” she said.

I went to my local lingerie store and explained my mission to the shopkeeper. I told her how I felt about thongs and she showed me something she described as “non-invasive.” A Starter Thong, if you will.

“Women who are ambivalent about thongs love this style,” she said. I bought it in two colors. I wore one of them once, the week I got it, and then again this morning. The other still has the tags on it. They’re too pretty to throw away but they have no business in my house. Except perhaps to remind me that I will never roll that way.

It occurs to me that women under a certain age may never even understand my preference. The security one feels with that oh-so-necessary layer of material between one’s cellulite and one’s slim cut slacks. I don’t care about panty lines. I don’t care if the whole world knows I wear French-Cut Combed Cotton Jockeys For Her. I like old-fashioned cover-your-tush underwear. So sue me.

Fortunately, Laura never seems to run out of dividing possibilities. On Monday we split a new way. I ended up on the Those Who Have Finally Seen Zoolander side.