Thursday, May 24, 2012


Here on the porch we are readers and writers and when the newspaper world twitches we jump.

In the news this morning: the Denver Post and its disappearing copy desk. Those are the people who catch errors of fact and style. Will anyone notice (besides us)? Most online news sites clearly did it long ago.

Besides, copy is shrinking. In the Twitter café, thoughts come in 140-character burps. The medium has replaced the message. And the webbing between American writers trembles, rearranges itself, its individual nodes take note.

Jennifer Egan is one such node. Her new story, “Black Box”, will be serialized on Twitter. When it hits print in the New Yorker’s summer Sci-Fi issue (yes, really), it will be a story told in 140-character increments.

It may be a wonderful story--hers usually are--but think of the distraction. (Not yours, sweetie.)

Now a fiction writer has to think about the platform, obsess over something entirely unrelated to the story itself. Writers are always longing for something fascinating to do or think about to avoid actually writing, so this is actually perfect. The potential effect on the work, the "product", the "content", may be something else, however.

In the long run, if there is a long run, it may not matter. But what will truly suffer is the long, elegant sentence that sets the heart to race and lifts the spirit. Oh, and the two of us on this porch, looking for something really good and transporting to read.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Insufferable Mother-in-law

Just reading a parenthood debate in the New York Times where one of the bloggers used the term "insufferable mother-in-law" with reference to unwanted advice.

But why do those terms go together so often? Why is a MIL automatically insufferable?

I remember mine, a formidable woman whom I found interesting and admirable, but who definitely wasn't much given to dispensing warmth. And it did annoy me when my husband at the time spent time alone with her without me. I decided immediately when my son got engaged that I would be different. I would be warm, giving, kind, supportive. I would offer no unsolicited advice.

Of course, it’s done no good at all. The operative issues, whatever they are, seem far too strong.

I have, however, passed through to the other side of the mirror. Granny’s desire for alone time with her son, had nothing to do with a desire to “shut me out,” even if that’s what it accomplished. She just wanted to re-establish her emotional connection with him, the kind of emotional connection that society rewards when it’s between mothers and daughters and snickers over when sons are involved. Mothers are not seen as potentially damaging to daughters, for some weird reason. Only sons.

So it’s the MIL who gets the rap, when the DIL’s are blogging, and I have a question for them: When unwanted advice is handed out in your family, who’s the source? How often is the voice suggesting improvement coming from between your mother’s lips?
Now, really, compared to that waterfall, how often has your MIL suggested something? Anything?

And yet, she’s a person, too. I know that may seem an odd thing to feel compelled to add, but my own experience to date indicates that the existence of an MIL appears as a distortion in the field of reality for many DIL’s. For them, the MIL is mainly a bundle of the DIL’s responses, whatever they may be, with the MIL herself invisible behind them.

The truth is that your MIL has feelings, interests, even passions of her own. She’s been around a while on the planet and has accumulated a variety of experience with responses to it that are sometimes humorous, sometimes stupid, sometimes verging suspiciously close to wise. But mainly she is here and real. Erasing her because of a personal insecurity, or even from a sense of superiority, is cruel. She will be gone soon enough.

Besides, the two of you should be on the same side, really. She loves her son and so do you. You will love your children and she will, too. A stronger possible bond than these two things, I cannot imagine.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Blog

I'm starting a new blog and hope if any of you followers are still checking out this blog that you'll come see the new one: The Book in the Drawer,

I've migrated the posts from my old Bookcrackers blog to this one, as well.

The Book in the Drawer will be focusing on the tensions between my day job and the need to keep writing fiction. And especially I'll be chronicling the effort to have my novel, ABSENT, published.

So come see how it goes! I've missed everyone and hope to keep up better from now on.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fish on Friday

I am reminded of my Catholic upbringing by a charming blog entry from Mary of Egypt (, writing yesterday about Fish Fridays. Mary is a poet who has left her husband (very temporarily and with his approval, apparently and amazingly) to spend a year at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

Inspired by her husband's solo dinners back in the states, she goes out to find something delectable to cook for herself. And here is the good part: she lives, not in a college town, or dorm room, or grubby student digs with hotplates--but rather in a fishing village on a peninsula of an island. Appropriately, she searches for of her grandfather's favorite foods, I happen to know. She finds it not.

MOE is a Catholic convert, lively and celebratory soul, High Romantic and when she sweeps into a room, you know that Someone Special has arrived. Her relationship to the church is infused with all the intensity and yearning associated with it throughoug English literature. I see her as entering a room trailing colored silks that bear with them the music of the great Catholic poets of the long ago past. (It does not hurt that she is beautiful.)

Hers is a wonderful way of embracing religion and I find myself applauding her, even though my own relationship with the Church is considerably more problematic. (So much so that I no longer have a relationship with it. As with politics, the labels that carried the convictions of my forebears have drifted away from me.)

My Catholicism, in contrast, was dishearteningly plebian--fish on Friday meant I couldn't spend the night with a friend without either sinning or skipping dinner. At home, of course, it was a different matter: shrimp creole, crab mornay--both favorites--and only occasionally trout almondine (imperfectly boned, sad to say). I always got the bone that was missed while my parents were scarfing down the delicate morsels. But choking on a bone was OK, because the Church has a celebration for that. A celebration rife with anecdotes of dead children, a specialty of our church at the time, it seems.

So with images of little kids who choked in my mind, we at St. Anne's School trooped into the church for St. Blaise's Day, where the priests blessed our throats. I remember two candles, tied into the shape of an X, hovering at my neck--very briefly, I might add. Did I mention that this terrified me? That this was only one of the many Catholic Mysteries that still make my skin crawl?

Take the Revelation of Bernadette--the third mystery about which in those apocalyptic times much speculation clustered. If mankind did not mend its ways, disaster would come--within my lifetime! We were still being required to huddle periodically under our desks in class to practice for the day when the Bomb would Drop. It did not take genius to associate the third mystery with the dropping bomb.

We were required to attend Mass every morning, which I found boring past the point of pain. This was the plain, everyday mass in Latin (its sole glory); not the wonderful High Mass with the music that I loved--ancient music, not some kid on the altar with a guitar.

I had a solution for the boredom, though. I would read the stories of the martyrs in the back of the Missal. There is no atrocity of today's Middle East that exceeds the litany of tortures to be found in these exceedingly morbid stories. But they were stories and stories are not boring.

In class we were given a little magazine that featured stories about children--Saintly Children of our Time--who died. To this day I can't lie in a bed with my arms on each side of me so that they pin down the sheet because that is how the little boy was lying in the picture of his mute suffering prior to death.

Thus, the glorious mysteries of Catholicism that seem to inspire so many great writers have been swamped for me by the procession of relics (body parts of long dead Saints), the grisly stories of flayed and dismembered martyrs, the constant promise of lurking disaster for the living world and the superiority, really, of just getting it all over with so we could go on to eternal life with God.

But while still trapped in the misery of worldly life, we were not to date a member of another religion--a sin. We were not to so much as think "unclean" thoughts while in the presence of the opposite sex. If you had thought something unclean (unspecified, too, so it could be interpreted broadly) and be killed, you would go straight to hell.

Every one of these concepts that rail against life and celebrate death and sterility fell like hot embers upon my sensitive psyche, leaving many scars.

When I attained the exalted age of 22 and discovered that my mother's long and happy marriage to my father, a divorced man, had prevented her from taking the sacraments for all that time--a significant penalty for her--I decided that the Catholic Church as it functions in America was not for me.

I am hoping that the Church embraced by Mary of Egypt and her Thomas More has changed--or that its effect upon sensitive children has become less devastating.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October heat

Ah, yes. October. The month I met my husband. The month I got married. (Not the same year.) Once October was beautiful in Texas, our best month: cool air, blue sky, warm sunshine, lots of lovely grasses.

Today we're told the heat index will reach 109 in Houston. Now I ask you: where do I lodge my protest?

In September, we had all the rain we didn't have in the summer. Now we have gardens! Blooms like spring. And weeds...oh, my, do we have weeds! Our poor confused pear tree is even blooming.

Actually, that's kind of interesting. She has bloomed before in the wrong season, misinterpreting drought as winter (obviously not registering the temperature). But now, it's just one limb, the limb that has sat throughout the summer leafless, looking for all the world as though it had died. Nope. Just waiting, I suppose.

Well, I'm waiting, too. For Autumn. Fall. For 78 degree days instead of 78 degree nights.

For October light. Last year we got it in mid-November. What's on the docket for this year? December? Autumn for Christmas?

Here's a contest: Pick a temperature for Christmas Day, and go on record for it. (I will say that 75 degrees fahrenheit is not unusual for us, even "normally.") I'll pick 81. I'll send the person closest to the right temp a cactus.

If I'm right, I'll hide somewhere and weep.

Friday, September 25, 2009

One Golden Raintree

Waking up slowly this morning...zzzz...gray sky, little streaks of color variation but they're all gray...a nubbly carpet of treetops, deep green, dense again a year after Ike...I can barely see the flicker of car headlights heading east on San Felipe, broken by the dark green canopy.

And in the middle, there is one Golden Raintree in full bloom, like a dappled sun pushing its way upward between the shadowy foliage around it.

I am hypnotized by its light...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Smoky Josephine

Actually there's no Josephine. At least that's not her name. But there is smoke. Where? In our Houston condo unit. Coming through the air vents in the living room.

No, folks. We do not smoke. Hale did thirty or forty years ago, but I didn't ever take up the habit. I was a very obediant girl back in my basketball playing days. The coach said she'd bench any girl who smoked and I darned well didn't intend to be benched. So I resisted the languourous long-fingered sophistication of smoking friends. (My fingers are short, anyway.)

But now we reside in a condo when we're in Houston, a high-rise condo, and the smoke from the rental unit down the hall infiltrates our living room, where I often perch to work when I don't need to be in the office below. (That is a separate matter.)

Is this fair? The law apparently allows a condo unit owner to do whatever he/she likes inside his unit. But if he decided to have a nice bonfire in the middle of the living room floor, would that be OK?

Isn't there any legal precedent for saying, fine, smoke in your unit but you cannot allow any smoke to leave your unit to mix with the common air, and you cannot allow your smoke to seep into the units of other residences.

Don't the non-smoking people who breathe have rights that supersede those of the addicted smokers whose exhalations have been proven to increase the incidence of heart attacks and other health disasters?

For that matter, what about protecting smokers against themselves? The common highways have speed limits, restrict cell phone use, etc.

Any ideas, folks?