Thursday, October 22, 2009

Poetic Justice

Yesterday I sat in a small circle of writers and listened as Tina Kelley spoke for an hour about her life as a journalist and a poet (not to mention a wife and mother.) Tina writes and blogs for The New York Times and is a published poet who is shopping her second collection.

As a lifelong writer who has often dreamed of having her work see the light of day, this struck me as interesting because it drove home the point that getting published once is no guarantee that the door is open to you forever. But by no means was this the only message that I carried out of the room. Or the most important one. It was the reminder that inspiration comes from paying attention every day. It comes from anywhere, anyone, at any time. And it doesn’t have to be showcased in a 2,000-word essay or a short story. It can shine in a poem or a blog entry.

Any writer worth their salt knows enough to jot these vision moments in a journal before they slip away. What Tina spoke about—and punctuated with several readings from both her published and yet-to-be so work—is the necessity of having a process that ensures that these kernels of creativity are easy to access. This may sound like a small thing, but for me it was huge. Because when I turn a page in my journal, all of the thoughts and ideas logged on the preceding pages simply vanish. When I highlight a passage in a book, dog-ear the page, and then put the book away, it’s rare that I remember what resonated or why.

Tina culls her notes every few weeks and stores the best of them in a file on her computer. And after what happened Monday, I’m going to start doing this, too. I was listening to the radio and heard a line in a song that went something like this: “Life is going along just fine and then one day someone leaves you—and nothing is ever the same.” I don’t know who sang it and I didn’t write it down. But I hope it will do more than inspire me to write. It could be the catalyst for this one small change in my writing process. And that’s a big deal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Crazy About Bruce Springsteen

So there’s this woman who has written a book called “How Not to Act Old”. Her name is Pamela Redmond Satran, and as I understand it the book evolved from her blog of the same name. The book consists of 185 tips on how to avoid the deplorable fate of being seen as “lame” by those younger than you.

The reason this caught my attention at all was that a newspaper blurb I happened to be scanning noted that #34 on her list was this: “Don’t Admit You’re Crazy About Bruce Springsteen.”

Now I’m sure Ms. Satran is a lovely woman and her insights are undeniably clever and often true. She professes to be a die-hard Springsteen fan who, sadly, is forced to keep her feelings to herself because to reveal them means she’ll be dating herself. But I respectfully beg to differ. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that one sure way to feel ageless is to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. And I’m sure that the tens of thousands of people—young and old—who recently took in his shows at Giants Stadium would back me up.

I know my friend Shelley would. We went to the third of his five performances in the Meadowlands and had more fun than we’ve had in a very long time. And that’s saying something: because although we’re both over 50 (which I’m guessing means we easily qualify as old), we know how to have a good time. We tailgated in the parking lot. We sang along. We danced. We were on our feet almost as long as the E Street Band was. We went home exhausted and exhilarated. And then? Holy crap—we told people about it.

One of the people I confessed to was my son. Jake is 26 years old and passionate about music. Despite being the progeny of two lifelong Springsteen fans, he has always maintained that he really doesn't “get” what Bruce’s popularity is all about. But lately he’s been doing some exploring, and a few weeks ago he told me that he’s developed an appreciation for some of the earlier albums. So much so, in fact, that he went to one of the Giants Stadium concerts himself—and called me afterwards to say he couldn’t wait until I went so we could compare notes.

Does this prove my point? Does it disprove hers? I don’t know. What I do know is that being considered cool, or relevant, or “phat” (as Satran says) are not ambitions that concern me. Jake doesn’t consider me old. I don’t think his friends do either—but frankly, I don’t waste time worrying about it. If I did, I’d probably just wish for them to see me as a woman who relishes life and refuses to worry about the opinions of others. And I hope they’ll do the same.

I could care less about being phat. And something tells me that Bruce—who just celebrated his 60th birthday—doesn’t care about it either.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Man in the Moon

Amazing: a perfect summer day just as I was beginning to think we'd seen the last of them. Clear blue skies, blazing sunshine, and a breeze just strong enough to blow away yesterday's humidity. A day as gorgeous as advertised. All I wanted was to spend it outdoors--and that's exactly what Jim and I did. We drove to the Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley for hand made sheep milk cheeses and fresh bread, crawling in traffic through Chester and passing several pick-your-own-apples farms teaming with noisy families. Then we headed to the park at Spruce Run, mercifully deserted by the summertime crowds. We picked a spot near the reservoir, spread a blanket on the grass, and unpacked our cheeses plus some apples and a Coppola Syrah-Shiraz. Need I say more? It was an idyllic way to spend the afternoon.

Later, heading east on Route 80 on my way home, a fat, full moon hung off to my left. It was one of those freakishly gigantic ones, the kind that my brain (which really has no clue what it's talking about) thinks of as a harvest moon. A deep, burnished gold, it stood in sharp contrast to the steely sky. And for the first time since who knows when, I saw in its random pattern of gray craters that storied "man in the moon". I told myself repeatedly that it was just an illusion, but each time I blinked, looked away, and looked back, the benevolent face with the hooded eyes and knowing grin was still there.

I've decided it must be symbolic of something. Maybe it's about the imagination trumping the cold, hard truth. In the face of what is generally regarded as real, we can chose to view things through the kaleidoscopic lense in our minds. On this day, Jim and I chose to celebrate the pure and simple joys of life, savoring the bread and cheese, the water and the breeze, the thick, damp grass and the thump of acorns dropping from majestic oak trees. A more sober reality--the one where his mother waits to find out if she's dying of cancer--was lurking in the shadows. But for a few hours our imaginations ruled, fueled by the warmth of the sun, a bottle of red--and the Man in the Moon.