On Visiting the Past

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On Visiting the Past – This weekend we are in Baltimore – a reunion for him, a nostalgic return for me, as are all visits here. So much is gone, disappeared. And I’m not too enamored of the ersatz glitz that has replaced it. Potemkin’s Village, it seems, with $100 plates of spaghetti ordered by those who forget Baltimore’s past as a real city, one with watermelon rinds floating in the harbor, and Norwegian seamen staggering along Pratt Street. Okay, seen through a sepia lens, but it’s my sepia lens.

I drove up Charles Street, a few blocks from Mt. Vernon Place and my memories of Peabody Conservatory, though I only attended the Preparatory Section. And there is was, or rather, it wasn’t. The Peabody Bookshop. Gone. Ah, well.

And I thought of an earlier time – much earlier, when in high school, when I thought that it really was a bookshop, and ventured in. And it was, though one the likes of which I had never encountered before. Dark, smoky, and books, all right. I tried to make myself at home. But the back of the shop, the stube, well, was this a bar, or what? The few patrons there ignored me, as well they should have, I attired in my grey wool uniform skirt and required black-and-white saddle shoes. I had considered myself quite sophisticated – until that visit. Then I realized that I had much to learn, to experience. So I crept out, and breathed a sigh of relief when I was once again heading south to be met by my father who was patiently waiting outside the music school doors.

I returned several times over the years, each time with more experience, or so I thought. But no matter how often I went there, no matter how sophisticated I thought my order, my black turtleneck and tights, I always felt, deep down, that I was a fraud. Somehow everyone else there belonged; somehow everyone else there really had read Dostoevsky and Proust and Marx, and they knew, really knew, the difference between stout and lager.

And now I wonder.

By now I’ve read Crime and Punishment, and Remembrance of Things Past, and The Communist Manifesto, but I still don’t know my beers.

Another Sunday, www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

On Procrastination

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On Procrastination —

Once again I failed to heed my own advice: “Just sit down and write it. A shitty-first-draft, that’s all you need to knock out. It will take much less time and effort than you are using to put it off.”

I know that. I mean I really know that. But, once again, I stewed, I cleaned the sunporch, even tackled ironing that has sat for so many months that the design of the basket that holds it had become part of the cloth’s design. I’d written in my head, at night before I fell asleep, always promising to get up at 4:50 a.m. the next morning and get to it as soon as the coffee kicks in. What I wrote, in my head, was lyrical. I made it even better, again, in my head, as I sat for my morning meditation. But to actually put words to paper? Not a chance. I obviously hadn’t suffered enough.

Well, this morning, waiting in the doctor’s office, that sweet spot arrived. I pulled out pen, found a few scraps of paper, and wrote away. Now it’s not as good as my midnight musings, it falls far short of my meditational rewrite, but it’s a start.

I feel relieved, happy, brighter. Now if only I can manage to take my own advice the next time. And maybe rent a small space in the doctor’s waiting room….

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Bookmarks in Winston-Salem

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bookmarks

On Bookmarks in Winston-Salem —

Bookmarks – that’s where I was yesterday. It was a head-exploding experience. What is Bookmarks? It’s a festival of books, of writers, of writing.

I’ve seen it morph from a semi-bohemian frolic on Trade and 6th, where attendees could duck in and out of tents and galleries at will, with chairs set up with just enough wobble to call for constant attention to balancing butt and psyche. In one session, a hot and humid day, I ducked into a venue simply because it was air conditioned. In one session, saw a delightful young woman, in sun dress and sandals, come to the podium. I assumed that she was there to introduce the speaker – Gone Girl’s author, Gillian Flynn. So I was surprised to see that this sweet, unassuming gamin was, in fact, the author of that deep, disturbing, Machiavellian, torturously-mapped-out mystery…

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On Bookmarks in Winston-Salem

bookmarks

 

On Bookmarks in Winston-Salem —

Bookmarks – that’s where I was yesterday. It was a head-exploding experience. What is Bookmarks? It’s a festival of books, of writers, of writing.

I’ve seen it morph from a semi-bohemian frolic on Trade and 6th, where attendees could duck in and out of tents and galleries at will, with chairs set up with just enough wobble to call for constant attention to balancing butt and psyche. In one session, a hot and humid day, I ducked into a venue simply because it was air conditioned. In one session, saw a delightful young woman, in sun dress and sandals, come to the podium. I assumed that she was there to introduce the speaker – Gone Girl’s author, Gillian Flynn. So I was surprised to see that this sweet, unassuming gamin was, in fact, the author of that deep, disturbing, Machiavellian, torturously-mapped-out mystery. Her appearance surely belied her writing style, and I’ll never forgot it.

But with success and crowds, come more officialdom, structure. So the once, seat-of-the-pants informality has disappeared. It’s still wonderful – the planners never fail to impress – with their organization, with the atmosphere they manage to project, with the wholesome friendliness that is engendered when a bunch of readers, of book lovers, get together to experience, in real life, some of their favorite, as well as new-to-us  writers.

Over the years I’ve heard lots of writers speak – some have so endeared me to them that I treasure even the books that I’m not so crazy about reading. Others, whose books I fell in love with andrecommend,  have come across as arrogant and bored. While I hope that they were just having a bad day, and while it didn’t change the way I felt about their writing, it surely did make me think twice before purchasing, or reading, any of their new work.

This year, my morning began with John Hart, who delivered a delightful, seemingly off-the-cuff presentation, though since he was finishing up a 40-day promotion tour, I would think that his cuffs have seen a lot of action.

I also got to see a newly discovered (for me, at least), favorite. When I picked up Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn, I had no idea that she would to be a Bookmarks participant. I made sure to get my seat early to see and hear her, and I wasn’t disappointed. Her depiction of the life of a writer, albeit a successful one, warmed the hearts of her audience.

Colson Whitehead, whose The Underground Railroad is now number one on the NY Times Best Seller list, spoke to a packed room. He read, he talked, answered questions from the audience, and was wonderfully gracious in fielding comments from one gentleman who had obviously not read the book and wanted to take him to task for  not being “historically accurate.”

My day ended with two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor whose presentation on Colonial American showed us a view of the colonies that few realized.

I stayed all the way to the end to see Jonathan Saffron Foer – his first two books absolutely took my breath away, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to see him and hear what he had to say about his latest book. But the 93-degree heat and torpid humidity, coupled with an outdoor line over two blocks long, was just too much for me at the end of a word-filled day. I walked to my car disappointed about that, but filled with inspiration from writers who opened my mind, my eyes, my life.

A wonderful way to spend a Saturday, so many ideas, so much inspiration.

And this week I passed my novel-in-progress on to my beta-readers. Waiting with “beta-ed “breath to hear their comments. Ah, the life of a writer – to hear from and about others who share the craft, and who do it so well.

Thanks, Winston-Salem.

On the Miseries of Shopping

On the Misery of Shopping

Only those of us who loathe shopping can understand the miseries that accompany stepping into a store. The dreading, the delaying until there is no alternative, the staring at the closet hoping that, really, the Chico’s outfit purchased ten years ago can make it to just one more function.

So, triple that feeling when you must shop with someone else, someone who says that he really needs you there – to help him choose a navy blue blazer, which he has just decided is necessary for his existence as a functioning human being. This, despite my pointing out that he has a perfectly serviceable one upstairs, ensconced in a not-looked-upon-in-five-years garment bag.  No, that would not do. A new navy jacket it had to be, with requisite brass buttons.

Can you feel my pain?

When we arrived at the haberdashery (I know when a battle is lost before it begins), he was shocked to find that “sizes are not the same anymore.” This he determined because the jacket in his chosen size would not button.

“I know,” I commiserated. “I find that all the time.”

When the salesperson brought out a jacket that did button, I noted the term “portly” on the label, and wisely did not point this out to the person trying it on. “That looks good,” I said. “Let’s buy it and go.”

Quelle blague. While I would have been in my car well on my way home, thankful that it would be a long, long time before I darkened the door of a store again, when I looked around, there he was – looking at shirts – he bought two; looking at socks – he bought six pairs; and, can it get any worse? –  heading to riffle through the stacks of jeans. And these he tried on, and while I waited it came to me that my experience possibly would make a good blog.

He bought two pairs of jeans, and I wrote this.

www.cynthiastrauff.com, Another Sunday