Friday, April 30, 2010

Almost Friday night

It’s Friday, the easiest day of the week for me to let go. My body pulls one way and duty pulls another. By Friday around 6, duty loses. As it should.

It’s 2:30 and, already, I feel the pull. Sooner or later, I know I’m going to give it up. It’s late April. The sun is now west of me and my keyboard and laptop screen are caught in hot-white light. I reposition my workspace tools to keep on task.

On my lunch hour, I cleaned up the apartment a bit. I gave some thought to what I’ll prepare for this evening’s “picnic” as we call our Friday night feeding ritual. We pull together little portions of many tasty treats: some Basque and French cheese from Chelsea Market or Murray’s, a head of roasted garlic, a few rosemary crackers, five or six endive leaves to fill with a seafood salad I made, hummus, delicious meaty olives in a light brine. Oh yes.

Wait! Here’s a letting go I’ve orchestrated. Can this make sense?

Think of it as letting go with a safety net. Ritual is activity with expectations pre-set. The Friday night ritual — food, drink, talking and laughing, sex (fun of all kinds) — is pushed up to 10 on the pleasure scale. Behavior and expectations are prescribed by habit, desire, intent.

Do not let this part of our love affair go.

Our love affair is still new but we’ve already made a few rituals that serve our desire to honor what we found. We want to honor each other. We want to refresh the chemistry between us.

There’s a martini. There’s Jim. There’s that delicious feeling of stopping, of taking a sip of the icy drink, of tasting delicious bites of food, of putting my feet up. Sooner or later all this promise draws me off task.

Friday is also our antidote to the hard stuff we’ve confronted all week. It’s our reward for muscling through. I sense a kind of cerebral lactic acid mounting. It threatens to burst, more or less gently but to burst all the same. Our psychological structures, built for order and smooth function, are not necessarily made of steel. Sometimes on Fridays Jim will say, at 4 o’clock, “Time to make the martinis?” To further delay, to further tantalize, I’ll say, “Wait an hour. I’m not quite ready.”

OK. Now. It’s cash-in time — my reward for a week well-lived.

Monday, April 26, 2010

10 things I learned at this weekend’s American Society of Journalists and Authors NYC conference (April 23-25, 2010)

1. If you are at a loss for what to blog today, remember that people love to read lists.

2. People (readers, interviewers, the world in general) want salient quotes and relevant anecdotes.

3. At a conference, I have determined that you must make it your business to come away with gold you have mined from at least one workshop, connection or experience. At the end, you will have spent hours on hard chairs (unless there are no chairs left) in stuffy rooms listening to some you will not enjoy. And you will have spent a lot of money and time on this experience. You must make it your mission to leave with at least one significant thing that you feel will change the way you do things. For me it was social media expert and Columbia Journalism School dean and professor Sree Sreenivasan: @sreenet. A bounty of riches can be found at where there are links to his class notes, articles, videos, and more.

4. It’s probably time to buy and use a Flip camcorder. Video is now being submitted in conjunction with queries to editors to pump up the pitch.

5. Set Google alerts for all your fields of expertise so you are on top of all the breaking news. Scan Google news just before interviews to be sure you’re current, whether as interviewer or interviewee.

6. On Twitter: follow your editors and the people who represent your interests. And follow the people they follow.

7. On Facebook: Protect your privacy. You must revisit your privacy settings often to update because Facebook makes changes.

8. From @sreenet: Tweets, postings and comments of all kinds should be: helpful, useful, informative, relevant, practical, actionable, entertaining, fun, occasionally funny. Details of your personal life probably don’t fall into any of these categories.

9. Some well-known authors with popular blogs have cut back frequency of their blogs and they tweet (microblog) more with improved connectivity.

10. Tweet no more than 120 characters so there’s room for people to retweet your tweet and keep your tweets to about four or five a day, well spaced.

Bonus: Go to #ASJA2010 to read what gems others took away from the conference.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Part I: Men I’ve Run Into With Exceptional Bodies

It seems I’m always running into startling-looking men with exceptional bodies. Some of these incidents I will share here today; others, like the naked man in the ladies bathroom in Oak Park, I’ll save for Part II — Crazy Men Who Use Their Exceptional Bodies to Ruin Women’s Appetites Including Peeping Toms and Roadside Pee-ers, Drive-By Exhibitionists and Nudists Who Shouldn’t. Keep in mind: There are lots of ways to define ‘exceptional.’

I encounter men with exceptional bodies in the karmic sense, like maybe I was Michelangelo in a past life and infatuation with the male physique isn’t entirely out of my system yet. It’s something I do, like being the first one in a carful of leaf-peepers to spot a ceramic gnome in the woods or being the only Padilla in my Mexican family to understand that cilantro tastes like soap.

Once, I ran smack into Mr. America in a Sears and Roebuck in Santa Barbara. He was talking to some men fans about weightlifting but it wasn’t easy for him. First, he could not gesticulate. Balls of muscle mounded at elbow and shoulder joints. Tendons were taut as towlines. And since stretching exercises probably hadn’t been invented yet, the trunk of a live oak was probably more bendable than Mr. America’s knees.

Mr. America traumatized me. I was an innocent 7 prone to panic. When he opened his mouth to speak, all that came out was a raspy squeak. You must strategize placement of muscle. You cannot pile it on, willy-nilly. Bulging neck muscles can strangle as surely as a noose. Mr. America was a freak. I bolted with a shriek when he slowly shifted his bulges toward me, the only one shorter than he was, and squeaked, “Would you like to see my biceps?”

Another time, again in California and again while quite young, I strolled a back street toward home when lo and behold, there was Jack LaLanne (or his doppelganger) lifting weights in a carport. This, a post-Mr. America sighting, was quite intriguing. I didn’t know who Jack LaLanne was at the time, but I liked standing there, watching him change the weights on the bar, then lift, squat, lift. Stretch. He was working hard in an industrious and upbeat way. He caught sight of me and asked if I’d like to give weightlifting a try. “This is enough weight for you,” he said, placing the bar in my hands, sans weight. “Now, lift.” I did and he seemed very satisfied. “Good job. Good job.” Maybe weightlifting wasn’t’ so bad.

Another amazing muscle man is Mountain Bike Steve. I read his book about mountain biking on the hilly Pittsburg NH logging roads — no man’s land — using a specially made one-speed mountain bike. Enthused by his passion, I wrote him. I love Pittsburg NH and the logging roads, though even with my 12-speed, I can’t begin to approach the feats he performs in the wilderness. We maintained a correspondence for several years. I still recite his important mantra: “Weight-training is the fountain of youth.”
Today it happened again, the sighting of a startling-looking man with an exceptional body.

Jim and I were leaving Border’s bookstore on 7th Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan. At the bottom of the stairs I noticed a small, swarming hive of paparazzi encircling its prey. I’ve seen lots of movie stars — gorgeous, famous, and otherwise — on NYC sidewalks, walking alone, unnoticed, but never this kind of frenzy. I expected Angelina Jolie adopting street urchins or the Pope apologizing.

But, all I saw were 10 or 15 male photographers positioning and repositioning themselves, snapping, flashing, eddying, squatting. Whatever they had square in their viewfinders was down close to the sidewalk. Lassie? We were at Madison Square Garden. Maybe it was copulating clowns. Arty from Glee?

None of the above.

When I worked my way into the fray, I was startled by a man with an exceptional body. He was about 5 feet tall and weighed around 110 pounds. He was poised, tough, perfect, mostly muscle. He’d raised his knuckles and radiated ferocity. He moved like a caged tiger. Wary. Slow. Eyes wide. Head rotating imperceptibly. He held out a thick belt with a dish-sized gold emblem in the middle. This thing was proof of his world championship. Welterweight? Bantamweight? Lightweight? There are many boxing championships and many weight categories. I embraced my near-6-foot Amazon, stretched tall to get a better look (and perhaps to flaunt my advantages a bit), and he accessed his inner fisher cat and narrowed his eyes.

We inhabit our human selves some of the time, our mythical selves at other times. Having witnessed this silent dance between accomplishment and adulation, I walk over to my towering Zeus, another of the startling men with exceptional bodies I’ve run across (and latched onto). We leave the champ to the eddying photogs. He reigns — silent, serene, unabashed. Maybe he’s silent for a reason.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The visit to Barnes & Noble

‘Give this writer a break’

There are lots of ways to drink in spring in NYC. I like Union Square. It’s a gathering place that wears the moment the way Lady Gaga does. Warm and sunny? Masses in dark glasses, the farmers’ market, free M&Ms, break-dancers, a thin wheezing beggar who rasps, “Help me. I’m homeless. Have osteoporosis.” Almost in counter-balance, a man with a guitar strums and screams: “America the Great.”

My book is out. My friend Jackie sent an email that she found it in a Barnes & Noble bookstore on the upper west side and bought one of the three copies they had.

Oh. This is good and bad. The big moment has arrived. Will it sell? Will the Web site and the tweets and the blogs and the coming-to-terms-with-Facebook, the video and the press releases, the readings, the book group study guide, the radio interview, the postcards and emails and friends’ word of mouth help get a buzz going? Will all this money and work even sell one book to someone who isn’t a friend?

This isn’t my usual carefree romp through Union Square. We step out of the springtime sunshine and into the flagship B&N in Union Square. It’s not dark but it’s a sobering moment.


As if in denial, I look for a book to buy and review for this week, since none of the publishers sent books I’d requested. I pick up nonfiction writer John McPhee’s new one, “Silk Parachute,” because I’m a longtime fan. I once heard him talk and the take-away for me was: When researching and interviewing, once you hear something three times, it can be counted as true.

On impulse, I grab “I Am Not a Serial Killer” by Dan Wells because I admire the idea and the cover. But the big moment belongs to Jim. He goes over to the service desk and asks if they have my book. Yes, he’s told, but it’s at a higher elevation, so to speak, in the sexuality section a few escalator rides up. He goes up for a look. Take a picture, I say. It’s not an overstatement to say that I’ve lived for this moment.

Sexuality? Why there? And why not down here, on floor one, where a book has a chance?

Together we go back to the service desk and I say to a man who seems to be in charge, “Please, help to give this writer a shot. Display “Free Fall” here, on the ground floor. My book belongs right here, next to “Eat, Pray, Love” and these other books that are fun and profess erotic overtones. My book has a beautiful cover, I say, and will sell on the aesthetic merits alone. I am quiet but persistent. This whole thing takes no more than 90 seconds, tops. “I’ve got readings coming up here in the city.” And I take a deep breath for the next part, which is absurd but I can’t stop myself: “I hear, time and again, that once you start, you can’t put it down.” He bows his head and smiles, bearing my shame at having to go this far with gentle compassion. He makes notes in the computer and says he’ll recommend ordering a few more copies and bringing it downstairs but he isn’t the decision-maker here.

With Jim there with me, the sales pitch wasn’t so hard. We’ll have to come back. See what happens, we say. And then we go outside for more sunshine. The sweat evaporates soon enough.

Toughening up

I need to gear up more. Do this everywhere. Selling your book is nothing like writing your book. Writing is easy. You sit — winter, spring, summer, fall — in a decent chair, facing a window, something liquid for hydration within easy reach, cats crowded around with inspirational purrs, and you tell stories that amuse you. You work these stories over till they are little Madonnas, all tight and muscular and adorned with just the right amount of flourishes. When everything is just so, you release the stories, pulled together as manuscript, and hope for miracles.

Next? You switch personas, step into the blinding sun, and make your presentation. I don’t have osteoporosis but my pitch is every bit as critical to my livelihood.