Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Notes from the Edge

There is no place of comfort on the edge.

But then, who needs comfort. She’s been too comfortable her whole life. She sits before the web cam. She turns on the camera and slowly removes her clothes. She’s had three glasses of wine at dinner, but it’s way too early to go to bed.


She reaches her hand forward, her fingers pressing the mouse to freeze the image, her eyes gazing directly into the shining eye of light at the top of the screen.


She tilts her head and rotates her shoulder slightly, hoping to make her body look younger.

Click. And click again.

She puts her glasses on and leans forward, squinting at the pictures of herself on the screen. She is surprised by how pink and soft and vulnerable her body looks.

She removes the glasses.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Later, weeks later, she is once again in front of her computer and she wants to delete something else. She clicks on her recycle bin and is jolted by those images she’d forgotten she had taken.

She clicks on Permanently Delete, shuts down her computer and decides to go outside.

It is snowing. Not that lovely peaceful beautiful snow from the first big snow storm last week, but an a nasty, angry, cold wet snow that burdens the electric wires - she knows that this snow will soon bring darkness, the lack of heat, the cold.

She is not dressed for the cold, but at least she is dressed, she chuckles to herself. Her feet are wet and frozen but she walks on. The cul de sac is long and she makes herself walk so far that it would be equally distant to turn back as it is to move keep moving forward.

She stops. She steps outside herself and sees what others, looking out their windows might see - a ridiculous old woman with no boots, an inadequate coat, and a bare head, trudging through the snow, now, frozen in her tracks.

This is post mid-life, she says to no one, her hands extended towards the sky, her head tilted back, inviting the snow to alight on her nose, her cheek, her eye.

I would rather be walking along the edge than frozen to the ground on a cul de sac.

Let me move to the 30th floor of a city apartment with a view of the river on one side and the expanse of neighborhoods on the other.

My favorite place is on the edge of the city, atop Belmont Plateau. There, the buildings of downtown Philadelphia stretch from bridge to bridge, from river to river. When I worked, I would detour past this spot on my way home everyday and no matter the time or the season, I would always brake - sometimes for several minutes, sometimes only for a few seconds, taking note of the color, the light and the texture of the familiar buildings. There was an energy pulsing through the cement and stone and glass, infusing the skyline with life. And even though the outline and tableaux of the buildings always appeared the same, the mood and the hues and the shadows were infinitely and astonishly different each time I stopped.

Back in the cul de sac, this tree in winter is what has has stopped her in her tracks. Before her eyes, its stark brown bark and grey branches begin to fade, then disappear completely before turning into pure energy shimmering with light and humming with sound. She stands transfixed until she is embraced by the sympathetic vibrations rising up in her, meshing with the beat of her heart and letting her know without a doubt, that she too is alive.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Early Writing Memory - The Stories We Tell

The summer before I entered 7th grade I wrote a book. I wrote it in one of those ubiquitous marble copy books that all American adults of a certain age will forever associate with school. But instead of writing my name, grade and subject on the appropriate box on the front cover in the spaces provided, I wrote “The Blind Love of Kirk and Ellen: A Love Story of Courage and Hope” by Marsha Rosenzweig.
If you opened the first page you would have seen a Table of Contents, the chapter titles written in ink in several different styles of handwriting. At twelve, I was shaping my identity as much as I was crafting my script, experimenting with flourishes and loops on the empty lined paper just as I would play with the thickness of black eyeliner and shades of lipstick on my blank face. Through all of the shape-shifting, there was one part of my identity that was a constant. I was a writer. Even before I had learned to write my letters, my mother told me that I would take a pencil and scrawl inscrutable symbols on whatever paper I could find, then “read” her the “stories” I had written. “The Blind Love of Kirk and Ellen” was just one of many books I wrote during my childhood and early adolescence.
Kirk and Ellen were both seventeen years old when they fell in love. They had known each other all their lives, living across the street from one another in almost identical split level semi-suburban shingle roofed homes, not a whole lot different from the one I lived in. Ellen’s bedroom, where she would talk to Kirk for hours on the telephone, hiding under the covers so her mother wouldn’t hear, was painted the same lavender color as mine and her bed spread resembled the flowered comforter I had wanted my mother to buy for me instead of the white chenille cover that didn’t provide nearly enough privacy when I would call my girlfriend Jackie on the phone and read to her by flashlight the latest chapter of my burgeoning oeuvre.
I don’t remember whether it was my idea or Jackie’s to send my manuscript to Berkeley-Highland. All of the books we owned at that time were published by Berkeley Highland Books. With authors like Rosamond du Jardin and Betty Cavannah and titles like Trish, A Date for Diane, Showboat Summer and Class Ring, these books with their signature scotch paid symbol in the upper left hand corner offered their twelve year old readers glimpses into the romance-filled world of their popular boy-crazy older sisters. What I do remember is that with Jackie’s encouragement, I bought a large envelope and lots of stamps, looked up the publisher’s address inside my copy of “A Girl Like Me” and placed my entire marble copy book inside. Along with the marble manuscript, I wrote a letter that said something like the following:

Dear Publishers:
I have been reading Berkeley Highland books for many years and I think it is about time for you to publish books for teenage girls written by teenage girls. We are better able to write about what our lives are REALLY like…. Enclosed is my book….etc.etc.
Marsha Rosenzweig, a REAL teenage girl.

Never mind that this realistic teenage novel was a love story between young adults whose love is tested when the young woman Ellen is blinded after being hit by a car and the young man Kirk tracks down the man driving the car who just so happened to have been Ellen’s estranged father who is then brought to justice, serves jail time, escapes, tries to run down Kirk who ends up paralyzed. The book ends on their wedding day as a brave Ellen pledges to be Kirk’s legs, while a courageous Kirk promises to be Ellen’s eyes forever.

Seventh grade began several weeks after I sent my novel off to be considered for publication (the first and last time I ever sent an unsolicited manuscript to anyone) and I soon forgot about my authorial aspirations, instead caught up in the exigencies of the junior high school social scene. So it came as quite a surprise when several months later, a package arrived for me from Berkeley Highland Publishing Company. I opened it hopefully until I saw the tell-tale black and white markings of my copy book attached by a paper clip to my very first rejection letter.