Monday, August 31, 2009

Ouch!: HR Takes a Hit on the Evening News

I just watched a segment on the news about unemployment. It caught my ear. Then it depressed me enough to retreat to my new uninformed self. Here's why.

An older distinguished-looking fellow, who has been out of work for a year, told the reporter two job-hunting anecdotes while standing in line at a job fair. He said that at another job fair, he took the required "IQ test" of an employer and scored 99 out of 100. The recruiter told him he was too smart for the position and hired the fellow behind him—who scored around a 75 out of 100. Then he recounted an interview with another recruiter who told him her company had "enough colored people" there now. He told her that what she was saying was illegal and he could report her comments to someone of higher authority. She said he'd have to prove she said it.

And don't you start thinking this little episode took place in the land that time forgot. No sirree. New York City was the setting.

It's hard enough to fight the competition for a job. But when you're fighting stupidity and discrimination and cruelty as well—from the very people who hold the key to your future—you begin to wonder whether staying in the fight is worthwhile.

Weebling through Tough Times

There are a few industries that have been hit harder than most during the recession. I say "during" because though the recession exacerbated the problems faced by these industries, it was not the original cause of their downward spiral. My industry, for example—publishing—has been riding the eye of the hurricane for some time now. And there have been enough mainstream headlines about it that even my hometown knows how dismal prospects are.

However, there are lots of industries we don't readily consider during downturns like this, and one such industry is documentary filmmaking.

Unlike blockbuster films filled with mayhem and celebrities, documentaries serve a different purpose in our world: to reveal truth and encourage understanding. Which I suppose for some viewers and investors is akin to having vile-tasting cough syrup forced down their throats. So even in the best of economic times, documentary filmmakers confront challenges to solvency and distribution.

I bring this up because The Lull has given me time to think about the kind of work that would be meaningful for me, and nature documentaries are on the list. I'm interested both in writing them and narrating them. But then, when  I review my list, most of the work that has meaning for me is lean in the $$$ department. And to try, during a recession, to get into a new line of work that is already inherently lean in the $$$ department seems a tad foolhardy when your household depends on you to feed them.

So I have great admiration for folks who continue against the odds to create documentaries. Especially those with high-minded ideals like the people behind Mind-Made Media. The underlying motive in their projects is to "inspire others to live heartily and successfully." And isn't that what all of us caught in The Lull want?

The producer behind Mind-Made Media, Alexandra Austin, recently paid a visit to Lull and, to my astonishment, enjoyed her visit. (She said so—I'm not making this up!) She writes a blog, The Mind-Made Muse, on which you can view some of the inspiring documentaries from her company and donate to if possible. (Note: Ms. Austin did NOT ask for a plug or a donation link. I'm simply incorporating her into my recent ruminations about getting into her field.)

We "Lullers" are a diverse and widespread lot. And we shall overcome, come what may.

How to Handle Writer's Block Turned Inside Out

At the top of the screen of most Blogger blogs, there is a selection called "Next Blog." Choose it and it takes you to another Blogger blog. It is by this vehicle that I've been traveling around the blogosphere and visiting other bloggers. I've noticed a trend of apologies made for not blogging daily. Some folks say that Life has simply prevented them from time on the blog, while others write that they've nothing to write about. Not writer's block really, but writer's emptiness.

I have an entirely different problem that I haven't seen addressed yet. 

Sometimes I don't write because I have SO MUCH to say. Every time I want to share some little gem I've observed or overheard, it starts connecting to a million other topics and ideas and curiosities roaming through my mind and I worry that I won't be able to stop writing. Or that I won't be able to shape my thoughts into a coherent serving for readers. 

I also feel guilty because during a Lull, I feel that my computer time should be spent on either searching for a job or writing a cover letter for one. Intellectually I know this isn't true, but you know how guilt works. (If you don't, I envy you.)

Anyway, I wanted you to know one of the reasons I don't post every day. At some point I might catch up to the folks who believe they have nothing to write about; after all, I've only just begun blogging. But that will be far into the future. For now, I have lots to share and lots to learn about getting this blog to display the aesthetics I envision to accompany my writing. Lots of experimenting ahead.

Oh. The headline for this post is misleading and pure laziness on my part. I don't know how to handle "Writer's Block Turned Inside Out." But I'm working on it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Unique Character Stands Out in My Reading

You know how some person or idea or subject you rarely think of or have never before heard of turns up in your life and then, within 24 or 48 hours, turns up again? There's a name for that but I don't know what it is.

Anyway, it happened just the other day while I was reading.

I had just opened an old issue of the Cider Press Review. [Here I have a confession to make. I opened it as I do magazines: at the back. I browse mags and newsletters from back to front and then read from front to back. Don't know why. I never read the ends of books first. It's a tactile thing, I think.] It's a poetry journal I picked up at the Printers' Ball and contains reviews of poetry books as well as contemporary poems. A snippet from Catherine Carter's first collection of poetry, The Memory of Gills, caught my eye. The narrator's "poisoned children gone in the swipe of cloth" continues:

We do not know
why it happened. . . .
Now when we think
of our new colony, on a tender island of potato
fallen between the wall and the toaster,
we are afraid. No one
is safe. The world is a desperate place.

Every mother can relate to those last two lines. This particular mother happens to be mold.

I was struck by the weirdness and randomness of a poem about pensive and pained mold.

Then, on the same day, mold figured into an essay in Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder. In "God's Wife's Measuring Spoons," Kingsolver frets about an upcoming interview with a reporter who wants to know what makes her tick:

How would you show a person how you tick? I considered giving her a tour of my office, but my writing desk looked the way it usually does: as if a valiant struggle involving lots and lots of papers had recently been fought and lost in there. This theme tends to repeat itself throughout our house—hmm, next the valiant struggle appears to have torn across all the beds, leaving the sheets tangled, then it must have passed through the playroom, touching off forceful eruptions of doll clothing and Legos, before finally exiting out the front door. One end of our dining table looks as if someone's running a mail-order business from it, but I swear it isn't me. Our house reveals about us the same thing my friends' homes do about them: here lives a busy family, most of whom have better things to do than put every single teensy thing exactly back where it belongs the minute they're done with it. I've heard that the amazing Martha Stewart has created a line of paints based on the tints of the eggs laid by her Araucana hens. I wonder, would she be interested in a line of less muted hues based on the molds I found growing on the end of the loaf of bread this morning?

I love Barbara Kingsolver for that passage alone. She makes me feel a little less like a failure. (Maybe I shouldn't have written that. After all, I did apply for a position at Marvelous Martha's company and now she'll know how un-Marthalike I am.) All those papers, the mail-order business,  the colored bread—the same valiant struggle gets fought in my house every day, too. Of course, I'm not a world-renowned activist and author with two children and a garden to tend to. But I take great pleasure in those short cables of connection writers unknowingly provide to me.

I don't know what else transpired that day I read Small Wonder and the Cider Press Review. But I will always remember it as my Day of Mold.

Fleeing the Flock

He seemed young, eager, curious—and quite alone. His brethren covered the sands of the beach in front of him while all around him were picnickers, joggers, dog-walkers, cyclists, children, seniors. Yet no one noticed the lone gull walking through the grass of the park.

Gulls are common in my neighborhood and we have at least three different varieties. They fly to park benches where immigrants feed them, they stand guard atop light poles at busy intersections, they soar above treetops and dive deep into the lake. But they never—I mean NEVER—light upon the grassy spread used by sunbathers and ballplayers.

Now here was an explorer. He watched people as he walked. Sometimes he'd come in contact with something on the ground that would unsettle him and he'd stretch his wings out, fluttering them a bit to regain his balance. He made me smile.

I watched him for a while. Had I encouraged him, I think he might have come close to me. But that would be a bad dynamic for his future. He couldn't depend on people for his survival.

I admired his spunk—his boldness in going where no gull had gone before. How can people not notice such a brazen act of nonconformity? How can people go to a park shared by dozens of species of birds and plants but focus only on their tan lines or cellphone conversation or workout time?

I'm grateful to have seen the gull. I'm concerned about how much I don't notice in the world. I want to absorb it all. 

Are you seeing everything around you? 

A Cry in the Alley

"All I've had is Misery—for years and years and years and years and years and years and years."

She wailed this into the cellphone that may or may not be in the hand cupped to her ear. She's dressed well enough from what I can tell from my third-floor window, yet her shopping cart holds the telltale signs of a homeless life.

Just a moment ago she had shouted a few expletives that drove me from my much-needed sleep to my back porch. Country folk have roosters; in my neighborhood, we have the cries of the distressed or the demented or the drunk reverberating off the walls of buildings. I always have to decide which it is so I know whether the police should get involved. (Not sure why I think like that. The police rarely answer a call on my street.)

You know what people sound like when they sob or scream from someplace deep in the fibers of their souls? When they use every scrap of air and energy to expel whatever demons and sorrows are barnacled there? I don't know how to spell that particular sound, but this middle-aged woman uttered every syllable of every word that way—explosively, plaintively, desperately.

I sounded like that last week in my car. But I was by myself. In a closed container. This woman was on a very public stage expressing her grief.

"I don't like it here," she continued.

None of us would. None of us would want to be in her shoes in that alley in that moment of time. I wish I could hand her a salve for her spirit or relief from her life.

Instead, I'm writing to you—passing on her woes. How should one respond to a cry in the alley? 

Friday, August 28, 2009

Apple Reunites Pets with People

Ha! That didn't take long. 

In my 6 August post, "O That I Were A Superhero," I pined for an iPhone app that would become the patron saint of lost dogs. 

Now, lo and behold, I read on The Bark site this morning that there is just such an animal. It's called Community Leash.

My next upgrade may very well be an iPhone . . .

(Photo and costume are from

Friday, August 21, 2009

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

That oft-quoted (and misquoted) Shakespeare line has been rattling through my brain lately. But here in Chicago, a better strategy might be to kill all the landlords first.

I'm beginning to believe that Chicagoans could begin to make a dent in the deep-rooted corruption of this city if they held landlords liable for their behavior and decisions. We have laws that are supposed to protect tenants from unscrupulous building owners, yet the courts typically look the other way whenever a landlord slips up. If home is where our children learn their values, and home is rented by more than half of Chicagoans, then creating a civil and law-abiding citizenry begins here.

Let me explain my absence from Lull and why I've chosen this topic to discuss today.

I'm being evicted. Not because I was late with the rent or didn't pay the rent or violated any provision of my lease or broke the law or made my neighbors mad about something. 

I am being evicted because I have a long-term lease that the new owner of my building knew he was supposed to honor when he bought the building yet has decided he can't wait any longer to raise my rent. (OK. I can't be certain it's the owner. It could be the building manager who orchestrated the eviction, but the owner is certainly expediting the process.)

A nonprofit agency is providing legal help to me and my husband. They're excited because they'll probably be able to get the landlord to acquiesce to giving us 30 maybe 60 days to vacate the premises rather than the 5 days it would have been if we didn't have legal counsel.


How is that a victory for us? Our lease is supposed to run until 30 April 2011. But here in Chicago, all our landlord had to do was say we never tried to pay our rent (though our rent check was in the rent box along with everyone else's on 1 August) and then he conveniently didn't respond to any of our e-mails, letters, or phone calls once we discovered what he was up to.

We ran into an acquaintance yesterday who also happens to be a real estate lawyer. We know him from our neighborhood because he also has a dog. We explained our situation and he just laughed. He said it's "just business." 

Again: WTF?

I get that it's not personally motivated. I get that it has nothing to do with us.

But there are plenty of companies out there doing business legally; some of them are even ethical and then a handful are actually socially responsible. So how is it that Chicago landlords can act lawlessly and without retribution? How is it that as the renter—as the VICTIM—I'm the one who will have to pay for the landlord's whims?

Our long-term lease has been the one blessing I have recounted every time misfortune has come knocking. "At least we're not homeless," I would say to my husband. "Thank goodness we have a long-term lease and don't have to worry about where to live while we're worrying about so many other things," I would remind him. How wrong I was. How very, very wrong.

So we've been cleaning and sorting and preparing to sell 27 years of a life together. I started selling books yesterday. I'm doing one room at a time. I'm going to learn how to use a camera today and start taking pics of household goods to sell. I'll post items on Lull, but they're pickup only—I can't mail or deliver to anyone. I know you understand.

I'm not sure the meek will inherit the Earth so much as they will shoulder its burdens. I'm ready to return to my planet now. I've had quite enough of this one.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Blazing Ahead Toward a New Image

As I continue to search for my "place" (i.e., my job, my address, my identity, my calling) in the Universe—to discover the new, improved me—I realize I first have to accept whoever it is that I am. And with acceptance will come a boldness that says I'm not ashamed of who I am and I make no apologies for it. Writer Rhiannon Gammill imagines a woman who embodies that spirit:

" ‘This is who I am, you don’t have to like me and you don’t have [to] approve of me, but I’ve been to this pony show before and this time I’m getting what I want. I’ve got one voice, two chins, and more style than should be allowed by law and I’m not apologizing for any of it’ and then, I don’t know, puts her cigarette out on her arm.” 

My great-great-grandmother on the Earp side (yeah, you read right—the outlaw outsized Earps of film fame) was a rodeo performer, so I tend to think somewhere in my DNA is exactly what I need to get through The Lull.

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

As I continue to reduce my library, one question will likely come to mind over and over again: Will you want or need to reread any part of this book? I believe this passage from Nick Hornby's Shakespeare Wrote for Money will prove helpful (and supportive):

“Maybe the best thing to do with favorite films and books is to leave them be: to achieve such an exalted position means that they entered your life at exactly the right time, in precisely the right place, and those conditions can never be re-created. Sometimes we want to revisit them in order to check whether they were really as good as we remember them being, but this has to be a suspect impulse, because what it presupposes is that we have more reason to trust our critical judgments as we get older, whereas I am beginning to believe that the reverse is true. . . . Favorites should be left where they belong, buried somewhere deep in a past self.”

This spoke to me especially after recently rereading the first page of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead: A Novel. I was about to recommend it to my husband to read and was profoundly disappointed to find that I didn't LOVE/RELISH/ADORE it the same way I did upon my very first reading. It didn't hook me and I couldn't guarantee that it would hook my husband. Yet I know Gilead still stands as a triumph of writing. It's just where my head is at right now. And Hornby's take on the matter not only makes sense, but gives me permission to let go of some of my favorite reads when the time comes.

Thank you, Nick.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Passing Time While Job-Hunting

I don't keep a journal. I've started lots of them, but never kept one going for more than a year. When I come across one of my partially filled diaries, it's a little unsettling to look back at a person I may or may not remember.

But as I get older, time really does seem to pass quickly. I feel that by recording it in some way, I may be able to impede its velocity. The unemployment office demands that I keep track of time with a log of job applications. But that's not terribly personal.

So I started keeping a record of what I'm reading and I've listed most of the books in the right margin of Lull. I'm a little embarrassed that the list isn't longer at this point, but there were a couple of months when I couldn't read. (Long story, personal crisis.)

“Time marks us while we are marking time.”
—Theodore Roethke, in Straw for the Fire

Anyway, I am not recommending these books to everyone who reads Lull. I don't like to recommend a book unless I know your reading preferences. I don't want to feel responsible for wasting your time if you don't like it. I take it as seriously as recommending someone for a job.

As I said in an earlier post, I'm just reading everything in my library before I decide what to sell or donate. The list includes horror and crime thrillers—two genres that are new to me. Two of the books were written by people I know (and I can report that I genuinely enjoyed both—doubly so because I knew the authors) and two books were given to me by family members. Most of the books are breezy reads. Only one has anything to do with job-hunting; none are about sports or Star Trek or Harry Potter or Middle Earth or political figures or serial killers. And I'm pretty sure none will be in the future. (If that disappoints you, I'm truly sorry and hope that there's something else on Lull that holds your attention.)

“The real secret of how to use time is to pack it as you would a portmanteau,
filling up the small spaces with small things.”
—Henry Haddow
I don't know what this book list will tell me in the future about this period of my life—except that I managed to reap some pleasure from a year of stress and  uncertainty.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One Bestseller Down, Another One to Go

I finally finished Life of Pi.

I did not find God or faith, as some told me I would. I wanted to be as overwhelmed by this book as hundreds of other readers were, but I fell short. Granted, my inability to read animal slaughter scenes and the timeouts I imposed on the book likely hobbled Mr. Martel's storytelling. All the same, I was underwhelmed.

Now I'm on to another bestseller: Eat Play Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was one of the used books I purchased last weekend to help save my indie bookstore. If you're familiar with either of these books, you might conclude that I'm searching for God or deepened spirituality, but you'd be wrong.

Yet there is a connection between the books for me (besides their bestseller status)—a connection that I think many displaced and marginalized workers can relate to. The protagonists (one fictionalized, the other real) of each book are on a quest and fighting for their survival. Both characters struggle with these questions: Where do I fit in? Where do I belong? Will I make it through this crisis?

These same questions haunt countless job-seekers. If we no longer fit in with the companies that pink-slipped us, and we don't fit so well into our former economic strata, and no organizations have indicated we belong with them . . . then who are we? What's wrong with us? What makes us different? What can we do to prove we can fit in?

Finding your place in the universe can be challenging—more so when you're unemployed. Feeling untethered, unwanted, unable, unlucky, uneverything is tough to hide and tough to bear. I haven't much advice on the matter except to pick up a book. It may not give you any answers, but it will provide some pleasure. And we all deserve a bit of pleasure from time to time, regardless of where we fit in.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rags & Riches

These are indeed strange times. 

Yesterday I received a promotional call from the Salvation Army. It wanted to let me know about the BIG going-back-to-school sale it was having.

This evening I received a similar call from C. D. Peacock, a purveyor of fine jewelry in Chicago which opened its doors in 1837, marking Chicago's transition "from semi-savage conditions to civilization and refinement" (according to one historian). 

This photograph shows the famous brass peacock doors of the State Street location, no longer inhabited by C. D. Peacock. The long list of celebrity clientele wasn't enough to rescue the jeweler from downsizing.
You may be inclined to think that someone is scrolling through the white pages to make these sales calls, but I've been a customer at both establishments. Of course, CDP hasn't seen me for quite awhile, so they want me back. The SA, on the other hand, was rewarding me for being a repeat customer.

It's contradictions like this that plague the unemployed. Where do we fit in? Who are we now? Will we ever again be given the opportunity to walk through extraordinary doors like these to experience all they represent?

Time, and hope, will tell.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Dog Has A ♥

One of my Web browsers opens to Yahoo! and the first thing it impressed upon me this morning was a pup with a heart on its side. It's the second such pup for the pet shop owner and she believes the hearts bring good fortune. 

Well, not to be outdone by some wee dogs on the other side of the world, I present my own pooch:

Her heart patch frequently draws the attention and affection of small children (who sometimes ask how we put the heart on her: "Is it a tattoo?") and sensitive souls—even those packaged in gang-banger attire. It changes people's perception of a "big dog." She's become an ambassador for large breeds in our 'hood (though technically, she's only a medium size). But getting her picture taken still makes her queasy.

That her heart is positioned sideways fits perfectly into my life. When I've peeked at my future through Tarot cards or Runes, there are always a few cards or stones turned sideways. Things aren't quite one way or another; neither this nor that. (Is there a word for that? Limbo. Neutrality. Oblivion.) Anyway, I guess the heart brings good luck to the pooch in the form of doting strangers, from whom she can't get enough love to satiate her.

Upright, sideways, upside down, or not at all: The heart patch, regardless of how it's arranged, is just one more element that makes this pooch one-in-a-million. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

O That I Were A Superhero

Took a bike ride this afternoon along the lakefront. Enjoyed the scenic route until I spotted a bewildered dog in the road. 

A roller-blader ahead of me called to it, but it didn't hear her. It was frantically looking every direction, trying to figure out which way to go. My husband and I dropped our bikes and while I locked them up, he went after the dog. 

Then a fellow approached me. He seemed to be looking for something, so I asked him if he was looking for his dog. He said yes but the dog wasn't his; he'd just happened to notice it back at a hardware store (this guy must have been following the dog for some distance because the nearest hardware store was blocks away). I told him the dog was headed west and the young man took off running.

By the time I'd bumbled with the bikes and got across the first two intersections, both the young man and my husband were coming back my way. The dog was nowhere in sight. It had run west into the city grid and miles of traffic, alleys, and roadways.  

My husband and I have rescued a number of animals over the years—dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, one bat, and one rat. But in each case we were able to corner the animals in a relatively confined area. Today we were outmatched.

I only hope that, like so many other dogs have been known to do, this one followed a scent to a dog boutique or groomer in the neighborhood where it would get help. I don't have an iPhone, but I wondered if perhaps there was an app that allowed you to take a photo of a pet on the lam, cite the cross streets where you saw it, and the direction it was headed plus any descriptive information that might prove helpful. Then the app would send that info to local shelters, police stations, and national pet-finding organizations. It would start a trail on the animal that could be added to as various iPhone users came across the creature. (If there is such an app, then I can finally justify purchasing an iPhone.)

I can't stop thinking about that poor golden-hued canine and how terrified it looked. Big dogs have a harder time getting sympathy from city-dwellers. Let's hope this big dog approaches that one unusual individual who cares enough to be kind to it.

Rare Sighting in Job Ad

While searching job boards yesterday, I happened upon a position I was both interested in and equipped with the skills to do. Then I noticed this: "Salary: Under $30,000."

Well, Glory Be and Hallelujah! At last an employer bold enough to state upfront that it has determined the value of the position. I may write just to say "Thank you."

Why? Because I didn't have to play that dreadful game of naming a desired salary that I could live with and that the employer might agree to. I didn't waste time sweating over the perfect cover letter for a job that wasn't going to pay me enough, and HR folks didn't waste their time reading it.

Don't get me wrong: $30,000 can go a long way in some parts of the world. But not in New York City. And that salary can be fine for someone who's just beginning a career, or for someone who doesn't really need the money—neither of which describes me.

So I'm grateful to cut to the chase. Sure, I can hear some HR consultants warn that by publishing a salary range, employers may be missing out on some stellar candidates with whom they could have negotiated. And in a different economy, I would agree. But right now, HR departments are barraged with résumés. Anything that can narrow the choices is probably appreciated by HR staffers.

I know I'm grateful for the honesty.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Endangered Indie Stores Need Your Help

On Saturday I did what I could to support retail consultant Cinda Baxter's "3/50 Project" and one of my favorite bookstores.

The 3/50 Project encourages consumers to imagine a world in which three of their favorite independent brick-and-mortar stores no longer exist. Those are the very three that consumers should spend their money at each month—at least $50 in total. Baxter emphasizes her idea with a breakdown of how much of that $50 stays in the neighborhood when it's spent at indie stores rather than at national or multinational chains.

The wisdom behind supporting indie stores is not new to me. My family owned and operated indie businesses for years. I had a front-row seat to their struggles to survive through malls, recessions, and box stores—not to mention arson, theft, and personnel problems. Indie bookstores, of course, have an added nemesis: And my local bookseller has been hanging on by a thread. Donations and a used-book sale helped Women & Children First make it through 2008; now the 30-year-old establishment is hoping to make it through to 2010.

Baxter doesn't address the difficulty for the unemployed to rush to the rescue, but obviously a sale at a local indie store would be the sensible time to act on the 3/50 ideal. Which is exactly what drove me to Women & Children First on Saturday—a used-book sale. 

The books were donated by customers to the store for its sale. Hardcovers were $4 and softcovers were $2. The price was right for me to indulge and feel good about it knowing that I was helping a store survive.

Try your hand at the 3/50 Project. You're going to spend your money somewhere, so it might as well be at an indie establishment. Find out how good spending can feel.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rereading Everyone Else's Favorite Book

I know plenty of people who loved Yann Martel's Life of Pi. So I bought it. That was back when everyone was talking about it and you couldn't get on the bus without seeing someone reading it.

Now I'm reading it for about the 5th time. But not because I love it.

I aborted my first few attempts because I wasn't in the right frame of mind. Midway through The Lull, though—when my mind was no longer plagued with work—I was relaxed enough to enjoy the story. However, when an animal got killed, I put the book on hold.

After some time passed, I continued reading—until another animal was killed. Again, I put the book aside. 

When I told a friend why I hadn't finished Life of Pi, she exclaimed, "But there's so much more TO it than that!"

Shamed into persevering, I started reading again—this time skipping the gruesome passages but all the same imagining what I was missing. The book is again on hold (thanks to the demise of a turtle) and though I'm determined to finish the bloody (literally) thing, I can't say that I've enjoyed much of it. But I'll muddle through to the end. I need to at least reach the point that made it a fave for so many folks.

Thank goodness I have other books to turn to when I'm trying to forget about Pi and his ocean journey. I have a book in every room of my home and a lightweight one in my bag for when I'm away from home. Here's the current docket:

The Big Book of Favorite Dog Stories
This is an anthology of short stories and book excerpts written between 1915 and 1963 by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, James Thurber, and Marguerite Henry. I don't think any of my friends will be reading this one, so I plan to skip all the unsettling portions.

Everything that Rises
A Book of Convergences
by Lawrence Weschler
This is about "seeing." I'm grateful to Weschler for putting his ideas (and things I noodle on but can't articulate) into words and to McSweeney's for publishing it.

Unaccustomed Earth
by Jhumpa Lahiri
More short fiction from a graceful writer.

Mother Tongue
An American Life in Italy
by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi
This memoir's going to take some time. It's filled with references to historical and political events of which I'm ignorant.

Small Wonder
by Barbara Kingsolver
Essays about life and life after 9/11. She's already inspired me to reduce my carbon footprint, stimulate the economy, and eat better by purchasing goods at my local farmers' market.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money
by Nick Hornby
A collection of Hornby's semimonthly columns from The Believer on books he's bought and books he's read. If you've never read any fiction by Hornby, I bet you've seen a film based on one of his books (e.g., Fever Pitch, About A Boy, High Fidelity). 

More on these later. I'll let you know which ones get to stay in my library and which ones are headed for new homes.

Need A Layoff Chuckle?

Recently communications consultant Steve Crescenzo offered some tongue-in-cheek advice to a job-seeker (and mutual friend) on his blog, Corporate Hallucinations. Look for the July 23rd article: "Some job interview advice for a friend."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Sampling from the Printers' Ball

Here are a few of the publications I picked up last night, none of which I'm familiar with and in no particular order:

Exploring the Experience of Disability through Literature and the Fine Arts

The Same

The Literature of Food

Packington Review

Literature, Opinion, and the Arts

A Chicago Literary Magazine


A Journal of Art and Literature by Women

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Print and Poverty Ride the Rails

Last night I went to the Ball but came home in tears.

The Fifth Annual Printers' Ball, to be exact. It's a fest sponsored by the Poetry Foundation to celebrate the printed word, especially words printed in verse. There were studio demonstrations of book-making, paper-making, and printing; spoken-word performances, film crews, and radio crews bubbled up through the crowds; handmade paper and the tools to create it were on sale in one gallery; and displays of handmade books lined the hallways and other galleries. The real attraction for disciples of the word were the publishers' giveaways: stacks upon stacks of literary reviews, journals, poetry, and zines—some looked like they were hot off a vintage mimeograph machine while others had weighty four-color covers and established reputations. Music played, paper chandeliers and decor festooned the "ballroom," and two women clothed in 18th-century paper gowns and wigs stood as a centerpiece. An elevator ride made you the captive audience of a writer or poet performing someone's work. I got a chuckle from the imagery of the little robot who donned a metal garbage can for armor, then wondered if it made him look fat.

My aim in attending the Ball was to network. Didn't happen. But I did get a load of free reading material that I intend to peruse immediately (before it gets comfortable in my library) and then pass it along to a friend. Let me know if you need something to read.

The better result of the evening was that my husband accompanied me to the Ball. His chronic health problems usually keep him tethered to our apartment. But last night he ventured out and we enjoyed walking around a neighborhood that has radically changed in the last few years. We had a date! The evening was a success until we were on the train headed for home.

After the first or second stop of the train, an odor tendriled through the car, quickly permeating everything with something akin to over-aged sheep's milk cheese gone bad.

"Excuse me, excuse me," a voice said. "Ma'am? Excuse me."

Was he talking to me? I wasn't interested in conversing with anyone. I wanted to savor the evening I'd just had, watch people, view the city as it passed by our windows. I asked my husband to talk to me so it looked like I didn't hear the pungent fellow, just in case he was addressing me. But I don't think my husband heard me.

So I pretended to fall asleep on my husband's shoulder. And I proceeded to feel wretched about doing so. I never know how to handle such situations. The man hadn't asked me for money, but I was afraid he would. I didn't want to feel guilty about turning him down, even though I had some money. How selfish is that? (I used to give money to strangers until I counted how many times each day I got panhandled. Then I started donating to the food depository, where a dollar went a lot farther.)

The man sat across from me, hardly two feet away—my seat faced forward, his faced backward. How could I ignore him? What must he be feeling? What if I were in his position? He hadn't asked for anything. He'd only said "Excuse me" and then was silent. 

For a few stops, people avoided sitting anywhere near the odor. But as more passengers boarded, there was no escaping it. When we were some distance from downtown and residents of the tonier neighborhoods had exited the train, the man stood and addressed everyone.

"Excuse me, excuse me." He wiped the sweat and grime from his forehead. "Could anyone give me some food, maybe? Or some water? Just water would be good. Could anyone help me?"

The college student near me offered half his sandwich, and as the man took it, I gave him my bottled water. Someone else gave him some money and another offered her bag of Garrett's popcorn. The man was gracious. Then he stood near the exit door, eating and drinking. A few stops later, he left.

My tears started when he asked if anyone could help. I looked around at my fellow passengers, wondering what their stories were, who they were, where they fit into the current economy. Surely more than a few of us could help. Surely 50+ people could save one needy individual? But how?

I thought earlier of offering him one of my prizes from the Ball. A single anthology was light to carry and might provide some solace or affirmation or entertainment for his soul. But in the end, all I gave him was water.

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