Thursday, December 31, 2009

Guest Post: Welcome Author Lori Newman

Didn’t See That Coming

It was just her and I, and about 90 degrees outside. I didn't want to cook and heaven knows she can't reach the stove. So, the two of us decided a nice cold sandwich made by someone else would just hit the spot; soda and chips on the side, Yummy. I promised her we would even accept a cookie for dessert.

So, off we went to the sandwich shop where they had a working AC and that was the draw for me. Well and someone else would be personally handcrafting our meal that evening.

The ride to subway was pretty uneventful, we made small talk. I asked her how daycare was. What did she have for lunch? What was the one new thing she learned that day?

Her replies, very cute and so thought out. "Good." "That dog on a stick with the red dip." And nothing, I already know everything, mom."

"That's right I forgot." I said.

"Why do I even put you in school if you know everything?" I had asked.

"I don't even know." She replied.

We got to the sandwich place; I helped her out of the car, and we walked into the store, side by side; mother and daughter. I was so proud of her and the way she tried to be so grown up.

I lifted her into the booth, there was a very long line beginning to develop. Apparently I was not the only parent with the brilliant idea of having someone else make our dinner.

I asked her what she wanted on her sandwich. She was stalling. Looking around the store, smiling at people she didn't even know. I brought her back to task.

"Baby, what do you want on your sandwich?"

She just stared at me.

The line was getting very long behind us, so much so the guy in the back was holding the door open and allowing all my precious cool air out.

I looked her straight in the eyes and said, "Let's order, what do you want?"

She looked me straight in the eyes, looked at the line behind me, and before I could react, move, flinch, duck…her little hands grabbed me by the boobs and her sound effect, very loud, very deep, boomed a H..O..N..K noise throughout the restaurant.

Oh, WOW. I pulled away. The guy behind me tried so hard not to laugh; snot flew out of his nose from the pressure of not releasing his laughter.

I actually felt bad for him? He looked like he was injured so I gave him permission to laugh in hopes to ease his pain.

I ordered the turkey meal for her and told the maitre d' to hold the cookie.

About the Author: Lori Newman is the author of Here All Along and Contributing Editor of the forthcoming collection Its All Relative~Mothers & Daughters.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

While I'm Away, I'm Crossing Genres

If you want to see my attempt at Fiction, check out THE SUPERSTITION REVIEW
Poetry .... Forthcoming work in The Houston Literary Review
Then, of course, if you really miss me, you can always check out my memoir Musical Chairs
I welcome any comments (but, it might take me a while to respond...)

... On the road again

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Until Then

This is my last post for a few weeks as I will be traveling the month of January (picking up an MFA along the way). Who but a writer (or perhaps a professional skier) would venture to Vermont in January to pursue her passion?

That's right, folks, with Texas-thin blood and a dream, I'm headed North--wish me luck, I'll likely need it.

So, what did it take to make the journey from fifteen year-old runaway with ghetto dreams of owning the newest pair of sneakers and getting a bottle of Boones Farm to get me through the day to thirty year-old MFA graduate? I'm not going to lie to you: it took ten years of incredibly hard work, numerous false-starts and $66,000 in school loans (you should know by now, I hold nothing back). But, my dreams are bigger than Texas now, and I'm here to tell you, if I can do it, ANYONE can.

My next post will be mid-January, so in the meantime, I wish all of you a beautiful holiday season. Don't neglect those resolutions--make them realistic, and they do come true.

Love, Jen

***Don't forget to check out Musical Chairs---According to my resolutions, it'll be big in 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Getting Yelled At By Neighbors ... Again

My dog, a Blue Heeler named Buddy, watches every move I make with detached interest. I sometimes feel as though I am his personal reality TV star. After all, he follows me from room to room, even sitting outside the bathroom when I go. This never bothered me; in fact, I found my short spunky shadow a reassuring, accepting presence in my life.

Because I'm off work, I am beginning to notice that his clingy behavior is getting worse. He's expecting too much from me: walks five times a day and pets 24/7, even as I sit in my cushy office chair, attempting something literary. When I leave the house to meet with friends or run errands, he pouts--this is the one time that he refuses to look my way. With the jingle of keys and the turn of a knob, Buddy sighs loudly and curls up on the couch, facing anywhere but the front door I will selfishly exit.

Buddy is the first dog I've owned since I was a kid. He's a lapdog, rarely hyper, and he never barks unless threatened by another dog. And even then his bark is low, a hybrid growl-bark that seems to say "Back up," or more likely "Get the fuck away from me."

When out with friends, I speak of Buddy as they do their children. "Guess what Buddy did today?" I'll ask eagerly to hesitant gazes. "I'm kind of worried," I'll go on; "he seems less social than other dogs." Friends will listen and nod, and fellow childless, dog-owning friends will match my stories and sometimes raise the bar, including the far more dramatic tale of say, a Lab jumping out of a second story window or a Chow biting the UPS guy.

OK, so here's the problem: I baby my dog. This wasn't an actual problem, really, until it was pointed out to me--rudely--by a neighbor. I was walking Buddy in the courtyard of my apartment complex (where dogs are allowed) when he stopped, as dogs do, to smell a bush. I stopped too, only to hear a shrill voice scold me: "Get that dog," it said.

I looked around to find a short elderly woman with close-cut curls and schoolmarm glasses, frowning. "What?" I said, confused by her demanding tone.

"I said ... Get that dog!! You need the dog whisperer, that's what you need. You better get him." She gestured to Buddy, who was now peeking out from under the bush, not exactly afraid, but understandably wary of the hollering woman.

Being a writer, my initial reaction to this expression of insanity was to tell the woman to speak slower as I grabbed for my Moleskine and pen. Instead, I asked calmly why she felt the need to yell at me, a person she doesn't know, when my dog was merely sniffing a bush.

"What did you say to me?" she screamed. Yes, screamed.

Not quick to repeat myself, I simply yanked lightly on Buddy's chain and continued on my way. Buddy followed, reluctantly, and then he stopped again, this time to smell the cement sidewalk. I stopped, too.

"Get that dog! Get that dog!"

"I think YOU can walk another way, walk around us, or wait," I said firmly. Then, I did repeat myself, "And what makes you think you can talk to a person you don't know like that?"

She just stared. I shrugged, fighting the tingle of exhilaration one gets during the start of an argument or fight. I yanked Buddy onward, resolving not to turn back around. As we walked away (of course) she began again: "I said that because I don't trust dogs, and you're obviously not the pack leader here."

"I no longer care what your crazy-ass reason is," I yelled back, not turning around. But, as I consciously kept Buddy close, I realized that he resisted as I yanked him along. He stared up at me as if to say, what are you doing? And, I realized that the woman might be right. Perhaps I should work a little harder to train Buddy, stop treating him like a child, and maybe think about my reasoning for spoiling him. But, if I do need to work on my dog owner skills, I can only hope my neighbor works on her people skills.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Joy of Reading: Let's Not Forget

I feel renewed, as though I just got back from the most relaxing meditative vacation: a cruise or an island getaway, those unique breaks that allow quiet personal reflection, healthy indulgences and overdue relaxation. In fact, I'm just temporarily unemployed.

The furlough in my work schedule is not the reason for my current sense of contentment, however. What is? Books. Stories.

You see, I've spent the last two weeks reading almost non-stop, and although I am constantly reading, this was intense. I feel as though I have rekindled my love affair (obsession?) with books, and in the process remembered their irreplaceable role in my life.

Allow me to explain... Since publishing my memoir, I have been an Internet whore, so to speak. I've clocked many non-working hours online: joining social network sites, making e-friendships and trading resources with other struggling writers, whom I believe have great promise and, like me, are still developing their platforms. I have ventured territories that I said I never would: Twitter, Ning sites, Gather, MySpace, and in the midst of it all, I lost my ability to read.

Sounds dramatic, I know, but it's true. I found myself sending hundreds of emails and brief sentiments, exchanging bite-sized news clips and inspirational quotes, using shorthand type to get across my point, and often being misinterpreted because I'm not so good at this new, abridged e-language yet. And eventually, perhaps consequently, I found myself unable to concentrate on my nightly reading, no matter how talented the writer or engaging the prose.

This inability to pay attention is not unique to me. I've noticed that at the college writing center, where I work, students' papers are often riddled with abridged language ("U" instead of "you") and half-developed thoughts. And I can't help but to think that this is a direct result of our fragmented attention spans, our adjustment to quick responses, quick news, quick contact... Who has time to read?

But here's the thing: After the past few days, I feel renewed. I feel mentally stimulated and able to write. I feel free from my short attention span, and even confident to return to social media on a restricted schedule. You see, good books might just be more valuable to our society than ever. They have a unique ability to release us, if only temporarily, from the fleeting satisfaction of instant gratification. Books slow us down.

Perhaps books--instead of becoming extinct at the hands of electronic media--will actually be treasured all the more, seen as even more of an escape from stress and a time to reflect. After my reading Oasis, I feel as though I admire books--their transcendent power--more than ever. Good books that is...

[My reading over this past week? "Lit" (see below) "Sky Below" "Beyond My Control" and "Without A Map" all very good books!]

MUSICAL CHAIRS is available to ship by the holiday. Check it out!

Friday, December 4, 2009

HOW TO BE PERFECT ...and live forever

(the EXTENDED version)

Purchase the following:
grape seed extract, acai extract, omega 3-6-9 and a multi-vitamin. Eat only whole foods, foods that are preferably locally grown and in-season. Don't drink, don't smoke, do not eat anything with refined sugars or artificial sweeteners. Consume exactly 64 ounces of liquids each day for every 120lbs you weigh (do the math yourself).

Exercise four times a week, varying the routine. Incorporate at least twenty minutes of cardio during each workout. Do not attempt the same repetitive exercise in excess, it will cause joint strain and end up backfiring in later years. Use weights in repetitions of at least four. The last set should cause your arms or legs to shake, otherwise, you are wasting your time.

Stretch. Do yoga. Knit.

Purchase only natural deodorant, shampoo, soap and cleaning supplies, and when you purchase them, please use your recyclable bags so as not to harm the enviornment.

Live in Wyoming, but travel at least once a year. Drink only distilled water and try to restrict direct sun exposure to >30 minutes in any one day [it is also advised that a person avoid sunscreens and sunblocks - they are not safe].

Sleep when you are tired. Get a pet, meditate, befriend only positive people, love yourself. Shut off your cellphone and spend more time with your family and/or spouse. Try to have (safe) sex at least twice a week.

Restrict Twitter use

Get sick at least once a year, to keep immunity up. Wash your hands after you use a public restroom, but restrict hand-washing to less than a dozen times each day. Do not use chapstick.

Oh, and buy my book: MUSICAL CHAIRS

If the above is not reasonable, please see Religion and Philosophy; Rows 13-51.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Mom always told me that consistency was necessary for sanity. A long time ago, I gave up on sanity. But, I know what she means. Consistency offers comfort, it allows expectations to be filled.

As a reader, the idea of consistency makes me think about favorite authors. I am one of the many readers out there who finds a book she loves and wants to read everything the author has created, expecting more of the same genius. Rarely do I find this is the case, but I continue to try (the definition of insanity?).

I'm sure many factors contribute to a writer's inconsistency. Writing is something that takes time, patience, perspective, and it can't be rushed. If it is ...
This might account for the fact that I have absolutely fallen in love with, say, The Liar's Club. In turn, I fell for Karr. Then I read Cherry ...

I was in love with Cather in the Rye, so I fell for Salinger, but then I read Nine Stories ...

I found myself consumed by Kafka, who I continued to read until I became utterly confused, worried that maybe I wasn't "getting it."

This scenario holds true for many writers on my "sometimes favorites" list. Yet, I continue to read their work. It might not be such a coincidence that many of my all time favorite writers are the most consistent--Jeffrey Eugenides, for instance. It can't go unmentioned, however, that Eugenides spent nine years writing his second book, Middlesex, and it shows. He didn't have a successful book only to then ride the wave of publication and begin publishing just to publish. He spent the same care, time, and effort with his second book as he did The Virgin Suicides.

I think that many times the business of writing overshadows the art of writing. But then, sometimes it doesn't. Mary Karr's new memoir Lit, for example, is far more representative of Karr's potential than Cherry (in my humble opinion).

It seems as though time feeds an author's consistency (though I am aware that my examples are limited here) and I wonder if this is true in life as well. When we take our time, structure our lives, and find routines, are we more efficient? Perhaps. Can I implement this, in writing or otherwise, in order to create and put forth my best work, my best self? Who knows. I can try. I wonder ...

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...