Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tangled Up

I'm tangled up with two mothers and daughters in my novel. It's sitting high up in my chest, trying to get out.

With such a range of possibilities, you can see why this is difficult.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I was away last week, which is why I didn't post on my usual Wednesday. I was floating. On a cruise ship. Up the West Coast, from LA to Vancouver. This was in part to celebrate my father-in-law's 85th birthday, so he was there, of course, along with his significant other, his daughter, his son (who is also my husband), and a band of about 15 of his friends. For those of you who haven't cruised before, it is a world unto itself. Better writers than I have dissected its diversity of pleasures and peculiarities (see David Foster Wallace, "Shipping Out").
     Here's an interior view.
All that, to explain why I wasn't here last week. Possibly related, depending on your view of cruise ships, is my next topic.
Angstschwiess, German for the "cold sweat of fear." When I was a college senior, I needed a few more credit hours to graduate, so I chose to take a German class. I'd always been good at languages, and I figured, why not try another? It was summer school, so the class was not very full, and on the first day, a young woman walked in who was dressed in a very stylish and appealing way. Over the next few days, she wore a succession of similarly classy outfits, so I confuse them in my mind. There was a yellow sundress. A navy blue and white striped pants suit, among others, and always wonderful shoes. This person was/is named Jody, and we became very good friends, and she is still my friend, and it was her daughter's wedding I attended in North Carolina a few weeks ago.
     But back to Angstschweiss. In this German class, the approach was to memorize dialogues that were presented in the textbook and then perform them for the class with a partner, the idea being that one would get a feel for the language in this way. The dialogues in this book were very peculiar. One was about a train or a car or maybe it was a milk wagon (Jody will remember) crashing at an intersection. And this was the dialogue in which we were presented with the word Angstschweiss, which I assume was a response to the crashing milk wagon. I still contend that this is a peculiar vocabulary word for an introductory language class, but at the same time it did fit with some of my feelings about Germany (ancestral memories and Jewish heritage being what they are).
    The point of all this, and I know you knew there would be a point, is that the day before I left on the cruise, I received an email from the editor of Glimmer Train Stories, an excellent literary magazine, that the story I had submitted to one of their competitions had won second place, which equals a cash prize plus publication.
The story is called "Angstschweiss" and is based on a chapter from my novel that had landed on the cutting room floor when my editor suggested that was where it belonged. To be fair, he had also suggested that it might be the basis for a short story, as had several others when I described it to them at readings. I'd always nodded patiently at these suggestions when they arose, but a few months ago, I decided to try it. I felt like a sculptor working with a big block of stone or marble, shaving away, getting at the core. So satisfying to have the work appreciated . . .

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Farmers and the Townspeople

I've written before about the way we're all tied together, that it's barely possible to give to one group without taking from another, or for one population to gain without another losing. This week I've been thinking about the story that has unfolded or exploded along the Mississippi River in Missouri--a long stretch of levee blown out, causing acres and acres of farmland (130,000) to flood, perhaps making them unfarmable for years, perhaps forever. And this was done in order to save the town of Cairo, Illinois, from flooding. How do people--in this case, the Army Corps of Engineers--make such decisions? How was it that they chose the townspeople

over the farmers?

How was it that they didn't choose the farmers

over the townspeople?
Did it take the wisdom of Solomon?