Friday, February 25, 2011

Notes to Me

A small notebook rests in my bag, another in my bedside table. I've discovered that I may wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea that mustn't be forgotten. Sometimes in the bright light of morning, the idea isn't all that brilliant. Sometimes I can't read my own writing and can't remember what I wrote. Sometimes the note is worth thinking about and sometimes the note turns into an article, a short story and--with a lot of time spent sitting at the computer--a book.

When I'm in a restaurant--shamelessly eavesdropping--I pull out the notebook in my pocket. The book is very useful during rides on the subway or bus. I never know when something will spark a note, a line or a name and once-in-awhile, I tear out a sheet and jot down the few groceries I musn't forget or the title of a book that must be read.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch, New Zealand

Vacationing in Australia and New Zealand a number of years ago, my husband and I stopped in Christchurch, called "The Most English City Outside England." This morning we turned on the radio just as news of the earthquake that killed and hurt so many residents and visitors was broadcast. Our thoughts turned to the people we met during the time we spent there, the magnificent ever-changing scenery of the Central Otago of New Zealand's South Island. Spiny, thickset shrubs of yellow gorse, beautiful but hated by farmers, grows everywhere. Pink, purple and white lupines, randomly thrown from some nature lover's vehicle, dot the sides of the road. Sheep lounge on the hillsides and lull bus passengers into a state of tranquillity.

We listened to stories of gold bearing quartz veins that found active faults formed by earthquakes--I had never thought of earthquakes again in this lovely land until the broadcast this morning but the history of gold in the Otago goes back 150 million years, when it was as mountainous as the Alps. Our tour was headed for Queenstown and the rays of the sun bounced off the 7,550-foot peaks of the Remarkables Mountain Range and shimmered across Lake Wakatipu which means Born Of Gold. The lake is the third largest in New Zealand stretching for more than 50 miles.

Torrential rains had washed away parts of the road leading into Queenstown, along with shops, homes, streets and restaurants, but the town was busy reconstructing and wherever we went we could hear hammers, drills and saws playing a jaunty tune, a tune, I'm sure they will soon be playing again.

Jade, New Zealand's "Stone of Peace," carries spiritual and healing qualities--a belief held by the Maori. We will hold that belief in our hearts and wish New Zealanders well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Romance on Piazzale Michelangelo

Valentine’s Day and I remember a visit my husband and I made to the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, Italy where we stop to circle and admire a monument in Michelangelo’s honor. The monument, comprised of bronze copies of Michelangelo’s David and the allegorical figures commissioned by Pope Clement VII for the Medici tombs, is located in the square’s center. We wander past the souvenir stands scattered around the square crowded with film and postcards, water, sodas, snacks and calendars with photos of cats and cathedrals, finally we pause to admire artists who paint their impressions of the vast panorama that is Florence.
The Cradle of the Renaissance, opens before us–in the foreground the Arno River, on the left, the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge and the only one not destroyed during World War II, crosses the river. Jostling shoppers crowd the bridge as they stop to gaze at jewels displayed in the windows of the boutiques-glittering replacements for the butcher shops banished in the 1500s. On the highest section of the bridge is the Vasariano Corridor, a covered passageway that links the Pitti Palace and the Palazzo Vecchio. For three centuries a private passageway for the Medici’s, it was opened to the public by King Victorio Emmanuel II in 1866.
The gate of San Niccolo, built in 1324 along with a tower as a part of the city walls used for defense, still stands, the only example of the original gates of Florence.
The cypress trees covering the Florentine hills present a magnificent backdrop for the towers and bell towers of this memorable city. Santa Croce, the gothic church built by the Franciscans, in the 1200s, with its tombs of famous Italians and Florence Nightingale is described as Italy’s Westminster Abby. In the heart of the city, Brunelleschi’s red-tiled dome crowns the Duomo. To the right, the intimidating Bargello, a castle in 1225, police headquarters during the 16th century, a dungeon and the scene of public executions and, in 1859, a museum, renowned for 15th and 16th century Tuscan sculptures, the arms and armor of war and della Robbia ceramics.
But this afternoon, our attention strays to a young couple; they kiss, then he reaches into a shopping bag, removes a tee shirt and pulls it over his head. On the shirt are stenciled the words, WILL YOU MARRY ME? The girl says, “Yes,” blushes and throws her arms around the boy as everyone in the square focuses on the happy pair. The boy’s grin is almost as wide as the Arno as he places a ring on her finger. Congratulations are offered in many different tongues followed by hearty handshakes. Photos are snapped and everyone will remember a romantic afternoon on the Piazzale Michelangelo.



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Identity Theft

Writing has been my refuge this week. Haven't spent as much time as I would like at the keyboard because I've been battling Identity Theft. Takes time-with hours spent on the telephone trying to reach the fraud departments of credit card vendors, banks, consumer reports and the Postal authorities.

Answering a mechanical voice or entering numbers on the phone is one of the most frustrating things I've ever encountered. I find myself shouting at the phone.

I hope I have stopped the thief that has stolen things that should be private and wonder why with all the computer wizards we have around, the banks and credit card companies can't safeguard the information they request.

Wish me luck.



Friday, February 4, 2011

Blue Days

Writers--sometimes we wake in the middle of the night--we reach for a pad and pen and jot down the thoughts that came out of nowhere about our book, story or article. In the morning, the words may seem brilliant, other mornings we think why did I lose sleep over this? Sometimes we plant our rear ends in a chair, rev up our computers, and begin to type and the words seem to flow—dialogue, narrative, from fingers to keyboard to page. Sometimes we sit and stare and stare and stare at the screen. There are times we wonder if we can write at all—a blue day-- and times we shut the computer off and go for a walk but then we return, plant our rear ends in a chair, turn the computer on and begin again.

We write when we’re happy, angry, hurt, or sick and the words help when we’re distressed and need to escape into another world. Worlds we create, worlds with people we grow to love, tolerate or hate. We join forces with our characters, argue, fight and laugh together and the words grow into sentences, the sentences into paragraphs, then pages, chapters and books.

When the words don’t come and our characters retreat--a blue day--loneliness begins creeping in and sometimes we’re ready to throw everything away. But we tell ourselves-this has happened before and came out all right in the end-and we begin again and revise again and let it simmer until ‘til the magic day we know the piece is as ready as it will ever be and it’s time to let go and send our child to make its way in the world.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Beginning with the Drama Club at the Y and continuing with classes in acting, the teacher always set aside some time for improvisation. Approaching one member of the class, he or she would speak in a low voice and say something like this:

Example 1:
“You are a spy and you must make this man fall in love with you. You must find out what information he has.”

The instructor would then approach your acting partner.
“Find out why this woman is here. What she knows. Do anything you have to but get the information.”

Example 2: The assignment for the next class was becoming an animal. Most of the class chose the ones with four feet. I lived closer to the aquarium and spent an afternoon studying a fish.

Sleepless one night, I began to think about those days as an actress and realized improvising had a lot in common with writing. You begin with your idea of what the characters should do, why they’re doing it and what the story and the theme is about. Then, sometimes without any warning, your characters decide they want to go in another direction. Your villain isn’t your villain anymore, an unlikely heroine emerges, and a chapter or two or three needs to be cut. You try to keep to your original idea but your characters are stronger than you and you think-Oh, what the hell, I’ll try it their way.
Usually they’re right.

I’m into the first draft of a new book and so far-so far my characters have behaved but my instinct tells me they’re biding their time and we’ll be having a few discussions about the right direction for the novel. How much of a say, do you allow your characters?