Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Quote File: Writing for Children and Young Adults

  • “The characters in a children’s book must reach into the heart of the reader on page one. Emotional content is the main reason a child and a parent will go back to a book again and again.” — Rosemary Wells
  • “The children’s writer not only makes a satisfactory connection between [the writer’s] present maturity and his past childhood, he also does the same for his child-characters in reverse — makes the connection between their present childhood and their future maturity. That their maturity is never visibly achieved makes no difference; the promise of it is there.” — Philippa Pearce
  • "[A young adult novel] ends not with happily ever after, but at a new beginning, with the sense of a lot of life yet to be lived." – Richard Peck
  • "I think all readers, young and old, in any place or time, want to be told a story, the thousand variations of 'Once upon a time' ... Styles change, slang changes, the music they love changes -- but the emotions of childhood and adolescence never change." – Robert Cormier
  • "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." – C. S. Lewis
  • “That adolescent me, the girl who was, as I remember her, insecure, unsure, dreaming, yearning, longing, that girl who was hard on herself, who was cowardly and brave, who was confused and determined—that girl who was me—still exists. I call on her when I write. I am the me of today—the person who has become a woman, a mother, a writer. Yet I am the me of all those other days as well. I believe in the reality of that past.” — Norma Fox Mazer
  • "Who are children anyway? A boy of three, a girl of six, a boy of ten, a girl of fourteen--are they all to like the same thing? And is a book 'suitable for a boy of twelve' any more likely to please a boy of twelve than a modern novel is likely to please a man of thirty-seven; even if the novel be described truly as 'suitable for a man of thirty-seven'? I confess that I cannot grapple with these difficult problems. But I am very sure of this; that no-one can write a book which children will like, unless he write it for himself first ... Read in it what you like; read it to whomever you like; be of what age you like; it can only fall into one of the two classes. Either you will enjoy it or you won't." – A. A. Milne
  • "Children read books, not reviews. They don't give a hoot about the critics.... They ... don't read to free themselves of guilt, to quench their thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.... They ... still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.... They don't expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions." – Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • "There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children." – W. H. Auden
  • "Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts--this whispering 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience." – Anne Bronte, preface to the second edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  • “Only as we give children the truth about life can we expect any improvement in it.” — Mabel Louise Robinson
  • "I believe that kids as well as adults are entitled to books of no socially redeeming value." – R. L. Stine
  • “Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

Monday, September 26, 2005

Not Exactly the Oscars

[thunk thunk thunk] Is this thing on? Oh goodness, yes. All right. I'd like to thank everyone for coming here today for the first-ever (and probably only) Brooklyn Arden Funky Words Awards. I know I said these awards would be held Thursday the 29th, but the judge has other commitments then (a book group meeting and the "Alias" season premiere) and saw no reason to wait. We appreciate the time and attention!

[If this were the actual blog equivalent of the Oscars, there would be a musical number here, so: Music! Dancing! Music! Dancing!]

The winner, and the recipient of my banana oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies (or another baked good of her choice), is Ms. Nadia Seiler, for her short story about a pirate named Bob. Beyond her clever inclusion of the Llama Song, the judge especially admired her brilliant use of pirate and Jane Austen references, perfectly encapsulated by the first line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a pirate not in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of some booty (the pirate kind, thank you)."

[Music! Dancing! Platitudes about the magic of funky words, followed by a clip reel!]

The first runner-up, and the winner of bound set pages for The Book of Everything (because she's already read and loved Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, as all people should), is Ms. Kathryne Beebe, for her story about Miss Dynamite. The judge particularly commends the repeated references to the funk and the line, "The only way for this guy to find his mojo was to bring some, and he didn’t look like he could carry all that much."

[Music! Dancing! Technical awards! Michael Moore makes a speech, and people boo! Clip reel of all the bloggers, punk rockers, and funkateers who have died in the last year! (And Pope John Paul II, of course.)]

The second runner-up, and the winner of ten Swedish Fish, is Mr. Chris Barton, for working all twelve words into one tight, amusing sentence. Mr. Barton did not mention Bootsy Collins, alas, but he did mention the Ramones, another object of the judge's musical affections, and this propelled him ahead of Ms. Lisa Yee in a tight, tight race.

So that's all we have tonight! The staff of Brooklyn Arden wishes to express its thanks to Ms. Yee and the "last-minute mystery man" for their participation in the contest as well. Mr. Barton and Mr. Mysterious, if you would like to e-mail your postal addresses to chavelaque at verizon dot net, I will gladly send your appointed prizes on their way. And I encourage every reader to visit this link to experience the genius of all the contestants and their entries. Many thanks to all!

[General applause, swelling orchestra, audience and winners disappear to glamorous parties, scandals, etc.]

Friday, September 23, 2005

"The Perfect Day," by Cheryl B. Klein

(with apologies to Alice B. Parsons)

You wake to the soft murmur of NPR
announcing a Bootsy Collins interview
on the legend of the funk
Your best friend calls to say happy birthday
and you chat for fifteen minutes
You get out of bed
put on your running clothes
slip two dollars in your pocket
and lope on a golden bright morning
to Grand Army Plaza and home again
stopping only for a
Krispy Kreme

You sing Marilyn Monroe songs in the shower
and wear your Thomas Pink shirt and blue-glitter shoes
(which hereafter shall be known as
"the magic shirt" and "magic shoes")
for the first time ever
Cream roses glow on your desk
and a fat little Maneki Neko
raises a cheery paw
E-mails and voice mails and text messages
wish you the happiest of days
You edit good books well
take Scrabble turns between manuscripts
and nobody stalks you with deadlines or guilt
Lunch is curry in the sun with a friend
and it warms you inside and out

At Times Square with Agent R
you sip something swanky and sweet
and when a Canadian offers you a drink
from across the room
you appreciate the compliment
(the magic shirt does its work)
In "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"
you are selected for your Broadway debut
and sit onstage with the actors
to spell "indigent" and "palaetra"
Though "vigintillion" is your downfall
the announcer likes your shoes
and everyone applauds as you go back to your seat
The musical is wonderful and true
and your mother is so proud!
Afterward, french fries, Riesling
and gossip gossip gossip
in the taxi home
you lean back
a grown-up
twenty-seven years, one day,
and happy.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"The Perfect Day," by Alice B. Parsons

You wake with
no aches
in the arms
of your beloved
to the smell of fresh coffee
you eat a giant breakfast
with no thought
of carbs
there is time to read
with a purring cat on your lap
later you walk by the ocean
with your dog
on this cut crystal day
your favorite music and the sun
fill the house
a short delicious nap
under a fleece throw
comes later
and the phone doesn't ring
at dusk you roast a chicken,
bake bread, make an exquisite
chocolate cake
for some friends
you've been missing
someone brings you an
unexpected present
and the wine is just right with the food
after a wonderful party
you sink into sleep
in a clean nightgown
in fresh sheets
your sweetheart doesn't snore
and in your dreams
an old piece of sadness
lifts away

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Words to Live By

One of the many wonderful things about the funk is the immortal reflections that it inspires. Katy once had an Onion horoscope that informed her:

"You fail to understand the primordial mystery of the funk: You have it the more you give it up."

More recently, AMNewYork interviewed Bootsy Collins, the legendary guitarist for George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. This was my favorite part of the Q&A:

Q. Are you going to do a few numbers?

A. I think so. It's part of the spontaneity. It's spontaneous combustion. It's like you got a chick in the back seat and she keeps talking this and that. And the next thing, you're in the back seat and that's how it happens. It's part of the experience at a show. You're going to be thinking "Wow, what's going to happen?" And then you wait and see what happens. We've taken the fun out of it these days. If a chick walks in the room with all of her clothes off already -- it's not as much fun. Half the fun is taking off the clothes.

Q. Are there any words that you live by?

A. You have to bring some funk to get some funk. You can't just walk in a place and expect to get some funk. If you ain't bringing no funk, then you can't get no funk. It's like some guys say, "Man. She didn't gimme some." But I say, "She didn't give you none because you weren't bringing any yourself." You have to bring some funk to get some. Another thing is, you can't fake the funk or your nose will grow.

I offer this as a reminder that there are two days left in the extremely goofy contest below, and Swedish fish and funny postcards still to be won. May you all bring the funk, and get some, in these last lovely days of September.

(And gacked from Nadia: Pirate Penguins!!! Comment is superfluous.)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

News 'n' Notes

  • There's still time to join the Carleton Race for the Cure team or contribute to my personal fundraising goal. Thank you very much to all who give or participate.
  • I will be speaking at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI fall conference October 8-9, and they interviewed me in conjunction with that here. My talk that Sunday is called "The Rules of Engagement: How to Get (and Keep!) a Reader Involved with Your Novel," and while I've been thinking about this vaguely for months, at the moment I'm feeling that inchoate panic that all writers feel facing the blank page, especially when there's a deadline ahead. Aya. Well, it'll get done.
  • While I'm in Colorado, I'll be missing Open House New York, an awesome event that opens various houses, monuments, museums, and other architecturally interesting structures to the general public for tours and education. Two years ago I climbed to the top of the Jefferson Market Library tower in the West Village and the top of the Highbridge water tower in Washington Heights as part of OHNY, and last year Rachel and I ventured to the top of the memorial at Grand Army Plaza, which offered a fantastic view over Prospect Park and Brooklyn. This year's site list will be announced Sept. 21. Go, people! It's completely cool.
  • Speaking of cool New York things to do, I went kayaking in the Hudson yesterday as part of my Resolutions. It was a gray, windy morning, hovering on the edge of rain, and when I arrived at the Downtown Boathouse, I was one of only two people there. The other woman showed me how to paddle and set me in an open-top kayak off the pier, and it was completely lovely: easy, swift, rhythmic and meditative, with the city behind me, the gray vistas of Jersey City across the river, the sun skimming sleepily through the clouds, and the swells and my own strength carrying me along. Forty minutes passed; it felt like ten, and I definitely want to go again. Free walk-up kayaking is available at Pier 26 every weekend through October 15.
  • Then today, also as part of my Resolutions, I went to Montauk Point. A slight planning snafu meant that I ended up walking about nine miles instead of six or seven (I, um, failed to look at a map, so I set off on the wrong road and had to get directions from a kindly biker, deli store clerk, and marina lady), but it was a beautiful day to be wandering through the countryside, and I felt a huge rush of satisfaction and accomplishment as I came over the last hill to the lighthouse. After I climbed to the top of the tower, I rested on the little beach you can see on the website picture for an hour or so, then caught a taxi back to the train station and came home. I think I am now one of the very few people in the world who can say they have been to both the southwesternmost and northeasternmost tips of Long Island. (I imagine I am also one of the very few people who care.)
  • Happy belated birthday to my sister Melissa, who turned 21 on September 15. Yay kid! You're legal at last!
  • Because a few people have asked: Chavelaque (pronounced shah-vey-la kay) is a construction that I made up in college, a sort of bilingual pun on "Cheryl K": "Chavela" was my name in high-school Spanish class, which a few friends adopted as a pet name, and "que" in Spanish means "What?", the randomness of which appealed to me. And this blog is called "Brooklyn Arden" because I live in Brooklyn and "As You Like It" is my favorite Shakespeare play.
  • Technical questions: Can someone tell me how to do cut tags, please? Particularly to pictures? (And then can the pictures just be on my hard drive, or do I have to upload them to Flickr or something? I have Picasa, will that do?) And also, do the labels in gmail actually do anything or are they just pretty little green words next to certain conversations?
  • I recently cooked this fantastic Curried Peach Pork for Katy. Right now is the time to get fresh peaches, and like Cranberry Chicken, this is excellent served over white rice with white wine.
  • In return for this fabulous dinner, what did Katy give me? A Bible Bar, which boasts on the label, "Nutrition God's Way!" I'm sorry to report that I found it a little too sickly sweet and sticky to be fully satisfying tastewise, but apparently it's quite healthful both physically and spiritually. ("All Things Considered" did a story on these once.) Check out the entire list of Foods of the Bible here.
  • Just finished Idoru by William Gibson and started an absolutely delicious bonkbuster called Riders. (Rachel lent me her British edition, which has the trashiest cover ever; there is no redeeming literary value to it whatsoever, but my lord, I'm enjoying this book.) I need to get back into Midnight's Children or The Brothers Karamazov for my Resolutions, and read Meg Cabot's Ready or Not for my YA book club. After that: V for Vendetta; 13 Little Blue Envelopes; and Diana Abu-Jaber's The Language of Baklava.
  • I think that's all for now. Hope all's well with all of you!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Chocolate Covered Key Lime Pie on a Stick, Part I. Taken in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Sunday, September 9. After a wonderful literary reading at this old-fashioned divey bar called Sunny's, Katy and Ben and I wandered out to the jetty pictured in the background. From there we saw a gigantic sign that said "STEVE'S AUTHENTIC KEY LIME PIE." This obviously was too random and promising not to investigate, so we worked our way over to the warehouse bearing the sign, and lo and behold, not only did they have key lime pies, they had something called a "Swingle" -- a chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick! Such felicity had to be preserved for posterity, so I took a picture. You can just see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background.  Posted by Picasa

Chocolate-Covered Key Lime Pie on a Stick, Part II. The Swingle turned out to be a miracle of the food-on-a-stick genre: so perfectly well balanced, baked, and frozen that it didn't fall apart even as I chomped my way down to the popsicle stick itself. I recommend one highly for a sunny afternoon by the seashore, or whenever you need a portable dessert. Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies of Brooklyn, 888-450-LIME. Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Happy List: Words, + Brooklyn Arden Contest!

There are a number of words in the English language that just make my heart do a happy dance whenever they are used. Here are some of them:

  • hoopty
  • funk
  • punk
  • booty (the pirate kind, thank you)
  • pants
  • Bob
  • mojo
  • yurt
  • kvetch
  • slather
  • popemobile
  • petrichor
  • portmanteau words ending in -licious

So, because my birthday is approaching shortly and I'd like to spread the joy, I am holding a special contest using these words. These are the rules:

  1. Construct a sentence (or even a very short story) using as many of these words as possible.
  2. Post it in the comments.
  3. The reader who comes up with the best entry will receive a batch of my fabulous banana oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. The first runner-up (assuming we have that many entries) will receive an excellent book. The second runner-up will get ten Swedish Fish, and all entrants will, in due course of time, receive postcards.
  4. This contest closes at midnight EST on September 22, 2005. Winners will be announced on September 29, 2005.

Happy writing!

The fine print: This contest is open to all citizens of planet Earth who have an Internet connection, even relatives, Republicans, and George W. Bush. I am the sole judge of this contest and all decisions are final. (Flattery might get you somewhere, but only if it's clever.) Extra points may be awarded for the inclusion of pirates, Jane Austen references, or llamas -- but I put emphasis on the "may," and entries lacking these elements will not be penalized. Lisa, you can participate, but only when you're not working on EMILY EBERS. Odds of winning will depend on the number of qualified entries. All contest entries remain the property of their creators. We at Brooklyn Arden thank you for your participation and wish you a pleasant stay here, or wherever your final destination may be.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

9/11, Symbols and Scars

Earlier this summer, during our Colorado vacation, Melissa and Ben and I decided to attend the rodeo. We were three greenhorn New Yorkers out West; we wanted to see what bronco bustin' and bull ridin' looked like, and, I imagine, we probably thought it would be funny. So we drove out to the hills above Fraser, Colorado, ate hamburgers and excellent chili with cornbread, and settled on the bleachers around the dirt arena. Eventually a large man in a Western shirt rode out on a horse -- the announcer -- with a rodeo clown in oversized overalls toddling along behind him. They made banter for awhile (I hesitate to call it witty); the sun descended; we shifted in our seats.

Then, as the starting time approached, two teenage girls carrying the Colorado and American flags rode into the arena. The announcer said, "And now I'd like to introduce you to Carrie and Ashley from the local Fraser Valley riding club. They're carrying those flags -- girls, carry them high: We live in a great country, and we honor it whenever we honor our flag. Do you know what those colors stand for? I'll tell you what I think they represent.

"The blue -- well, that's for the blue sky that covers us all.

"White -- you know, when you combine every color in the spectrum together, what color do you see? White. White stands for the unity of all the races in the United States, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

"And red -- red represents the blood that was shed in this country almost four years ago." Ben and Melissa and I became very still. "Yes, on September 11, 2001, terrorist from Al-Qaeda crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, and two thousand, nine hundred and sixty-six men and women sacrificed their lives for our freedom. We shouldn't ever forget that.

"And now I'd like us all to sing the national anthem."

We stood; Ben took off his Red Sox cap and held it over his heart; and we sang. We meant it, just as I know the announcer meant it. But I imagine the America I was singing for was very different from the America he was singing for, and I know his September 11 is not my September 11.

For this man, and for George W. Bush, and for much of the rest of America, 9/11 is a symbol. They call it "freedom," as this announcer did, but what that really means to them is America's ideological superiority and purity -- a superiority and purity that has made us the envy of many, and, in 2001, the target of hatred of a few. So therefore it also stands for America's martyrdom -- our "necessary" sacrifice for the cause of liberty and patriotism, a sacrifice that can be sentimentalized and fetishized endlessly.

And most of all, it is, or rather has become, a symbol of fear, a threat to be held over the heads of the United States public whenever the Bush administration wants something done. In the days immediately after the event, it was what would happen again if we didn't pass the Patriot Act. In the run-up to the Iraq war, it was what would happen again if we didn't oust Saddam. In the 2004 election, it was what would happen again if we didn't elect Bush. (I don't think they've invoked it in the service of Social Security reform and tax cuts, but it wouldn't surprise me.)

But for New York and for many New Yorkers, 9/11 is not a symbol. It is a scar -- the living memory of the time we personally came under attack, and we personally lost friends and family, and we personally were terrified and lost and confused and thought we might never see our loved ones again. And you don't sentimentalize a scar, or the wound that formed it; the memory, the experience stands for too much in itself. Rather you learn to live with it, its occasional twinges and nightmares; you wince when you see it and treat it tenderly. You do not fetishize it or speak about it with the unctuous self-righteousness of that idiotic announcer. You protect it, as you would protect yourself, for like all of the body, it is both sacred and mundane.

And you get angry when other people use your wound for their ends. Melissa said she saw "The Aristocrats" recently, and of all the outrages and obscenities in the movie, the only one she couldn't laugh at was the one that mentioned 9/11. The Republican National Committee actually dared to invoke it in fundraising letters last year; they stopped after New York firefighters in particular expressed their displeasure, but that alone would have convinced me to vote for Kerry. And beyond the enormity of the Iraq war itself, I have never been more ashamed to be an American than after Seymour Hersh exposed the Abu Ghraib prison abuses last year -- for that was Sept. 11 turned inside out, a single mass act of hatred that grew from the terrorists' powerlessness reversed to many individual acts of depravity because we could.

I suppose what this comes down to is that symbols are simple and scars are not. A symbol says "This equals that, and therefore *that*"; a scar says "This happened because this happened because this happened . . . ," with all the nuance that history and personality require. The terrorists saw their act as a symbol: They wanted to destroy the center of American financial power in place of destroying America altogether. We can best honor their victims -- those two thousand, nine hundred, and sixty-six men and women -- by acting with all the thoughtfulness and compassion and humanity the terrorists did not show, and for which our American flag should truly stand.


An organization called One Day's Pay is working to establish 9/11 as a national day of charity, service, and compassion. You can visit their website, and get involved.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Quote File: The Bush Administration and Responding to It

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." – Barbara Bush on the refugees in the Astrodome, Sept. 6, 2005

  • If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers. – Thomas Pynchon
  • Where it is a duty to worship the sun, it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. – John Morley
  • I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. – Susan B. Anthony
  • As I stood before the gates I realized that I never want to be as certain about anything as were the people who built this place. – Rabbi Sheila Peltz, on her visit to Auschwitz
  • The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. – Thomas Carlyle
  • The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity. – Andre Gide
  • Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don't allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas? – Joseph Stalin
  • It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties which make the defense of our nation worthwhile. – Earl Warren
  • Were we to choose our leaders on the basis of their reading experience and not their political programs, there would be much less grief on earth. I believe . . . that for someone who has read a lot of Dickens to shoot his like in the name of an idea is harder than for someone who has read no Dickens. – Joseph Brodsky
  • The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns ... instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. – George Orwell
  • The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity. – George Bernard Shaw
  • Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it. -- Marian Anderson
  • Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy and the handicapped. –Hubert Humphrey
  • Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. – Bertrand Russell
  • Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • In this age, the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. – John Stuart Mill
  • The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for. – Maureen Dowd
  • If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. – Noam Chomsky
  • Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway. – Robert Henri
  • There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book. – Saul Bellow
  • Action is the antidote to despair. – Joan Baez
  • You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty. – Jessica Mitford

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Happy List Addendum: In the Pink

Yesterday's Happy List contained one rather serious omission I wish to correct here. Two weeks ago, my best friend Katy came to visit me from Oxford, and as always, within five minutes of her dropping her bags on the floor of my apartment, we said that magic word: "Presents?" I pulled out all the things I'd been saving to give to her, she opened up her bags to get stuff for me, and ten minutes after that we were surrounded by pencils and books and torn-out magazine articles and goofy food wrappers and all the other things one shares with a friend because one knows s/he will love them, however silly or ephemeral they may be. And then Katy said she had more one thing for me.

A brief digression here: I love cotton button-down shirts; they're lightweight, they're comfortable, they dress up or down, and they're classy-looking in every circumstance. And while I am not a label whore by any means, for many years I have wanted, longed for, indeed positively lusted after a shirt from Thomas Pink. According to the company website, the original Thomas Pink in the 1700s manufactured hunting coats that were so finely tailored and elegant that a person wearing one was said to be "in the pink," whence the expression derives. The company is now a division of LVMH, which means it's inherently (and deliberately) a little overpriced and snotty, but which also means the quality of the goods is very, very high. And Thomas Pink shirts are beautifully tailored, from soft cotton as smooth and glossy as silk, with a choice of cuffs and the ideal length at the waist and collar points that are always just so. I know this because I've often gone into Pink stores, paged through the racks, and sighed because I would never ever treat myself to such a luxury; and how could I expect to get such a shirt otherwise?

So when Katy pulled a Thomas Pink box out of her suitcase, I think I burst into tears. Partly it was from getting something I wanted after so many years of wanting it, but mostly it was from her paying attention as a best friend always does: listening to the things that were unsaid as well as said, and giving me exactly what I most wanted at the moment I most needed it. And the shirt is beautiful: red and yellow and purple and green stripes on a background of blue, with French button cuffs and generous tailoring -- an absolutely perfect fit.

So this Happy List entry is overtly that I have a Thomas Pink shirt at last. But really it's that I have such a wonderful friend in my life -- one of many wonderful friends in my life -- and for the attention and generosity and good memories of friends everywhere.

Monday, September 05, 2005

How can a natural disaster be political? This is how.

Most of this information has already been widely reported elsewhere, but this is the most succinct summary I've seen of it, from The Washington Monthly (forwarded through child_lit):

January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh confirms that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program...." he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country."

December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.

March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting acts of terrorism.
2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA's preparation and planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.

Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You would think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."
June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay."

June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

August 2005: While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion catastrophe, Bush mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat, defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.

A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.

CK: David Brooks also had a great editorial on the political ramifications of Katrina in yesterday's Times, and you can donate to the Red Cross here.

The Happy List, End of Summer 2005 edition

A long one, so I can get all the summer things in. In no particular order.

  • Taking the Staten Island ferry at sunset
  • The first moment when you step out of air conditioning into the heat
  • Wireless DSL
  • Thai food, especially pineapple fried rice and Pad See Euw
  • High-thread-count bedsheets, fluffy towels, and down duvets
  • Bathrobes
  • Finding a movie you haven't watched in years on cable
  • Taking a unscheduled day off of work
  • The Cyclone at Coney Island
  • The quick surge of waves around your feet as you walk on the beach
  • The Brooklyn Bridge. Walking across it, looking at it, whatever. Its mere existence.
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park / Empire Fulton Ferry Park
  • Picnics -- or actually eating al fresco, period
  • Having hot dogs, french fries, and cold beer at a baseball game
  • The goofy between-innings activities stadiums sponsor at baseball games (especially small-time ones)
  • Lying under a tree on a sunny day, reading
  • Ski lifts
  • Miniature golf
  • Sirius satellite radio, particularly its all-Elvis channel
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Lingering over dinner, tea, coffee, or drinks with friends
  • Having a hotel room all to yourself
  • Camper shoes, even just to look at, and all sparkly shoes, especially when they're on sale
  • The ten minutes after you finish a really good book or movie, when you're still in a trance about What Happened and What It Means
  • My digital camera
  • Bar trivia
  • Fine stationery
  • Good pens
  • Taking tours of interesting/significant places
  • Commuter trains
  • The songs "Love Train" by the O'Jays, "Last Train to Clarksville" by Cassandra Wilson, and "The Book of Love" by the Magnetic Fields
  • Risotto and couscous
  • High teas, particularly the warm scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam
  • The mariachi singers on the uptown 6 train (I never see them coming downtown)
  • Bryant Park -- tied with Cherry Hill for my favorite place in Manhattan
  • Cooking for friends
  • Being cooked for by friends
  • My banana oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies
  • Those cool cello cases with wheels on the bottom, and seeing someone wheeling them down the street or on the subway
  • The flamboyantly dressed dancers in the West Indian Day parade
  • The music from the parade shaking the whole neighborhood, making even the whitest person there (that is, me) groove a little
  • Discovering new cuisines (Trinidadian, in this instance)
  • People playing cricket and kickball in Prospect Park (and practicing tap-dancing!)
  • Katy, Rachel, Melissa, and Ginny, who are all brilliant, kind, funny, beautiful women who I am lucky to know
  • My terrific family
  • Living in New York City
  • Alcoholic cupcakes

Saturday, September 03, 2005

And the fun never stops

It is 3:21 a.m. and I am still awake. Why, you ask? Because I now have a secure wireless network here at Brooklyn Arden's RL headquarters, and the fun of playing with it has not yet diminished. I can connect to the Internet from my wing chair by the window! From my table! The kitchen! The bathroom! (Not that I would.) A strong, steady, DSL connection that's not dependent on my neighbors! After five years of dial-up, it is wonderfully fast and freeing.

I also have a new e-mail address, which is the old e-mail address at, and I have made some improvements to my sidebar here, courtesy of Jane Austen's titles and other people's code. (If anyone can advise me how to shorten my Archives list on Blogger, it would be greatly appreciated.)

I am going to bed now. May you all have such felicities in your weekend.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Moral Responsibility, Art, and Hot Dogs

I suffered some qualms after I realized I posted the poem below the day the levees broke in New Orleans. It is a lovely poem, certainly, and one I've been planning to post for a long time -- excusing this blog's (and my life's) general frivolity in the face of world disaster. But as the world disaster was more immediately present than usual, my timing here felt unfortunate. Such moral qualms about joy are of course the very thing the poem addresses, saying "Never mind catastrophe, look how gorgeous these roses are." Other poems in the collection look more closely at catastrophe, though, and one of the reasons I like Szymborska's poetry is that she says the catastrophe and the roses coexist: The roses -- nature (usually), art, history, time -- are our aspirations, our teachers, and our escape. (Szymborska's Nobel Prize lecture linked above is wonderful, by the way, and far more instructive on this subject than I am.)


On a similar note, Katy was staying with me this past week, and on Sunday she and I went to Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate near Tarrytown, New York. It's a lovely day trip from the city and a lovely house too: a four-story mansion and grounds-cum-art gallery and sculpture park, with a Brancusi on the porch and Picassos in the basement, comfort and luxury everywhere and a breathtaking view over the Hudson to the Palisades. Then on Wednesday we visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Orchard Street -- truly how the other half lives: Three tiny rooms with low ceilings, rickety walls, and a heavy coating of coal dust sheltered a family of four or more, and at one time in the early 1900s, the neighborhood housed one thousand people per square acre -- the densest and most crowded place on earth. The contrast with Kykuit (which was built at roughly the same period) was exquisite. But the tour guide told us that the descendants of the LES tenement residents have moved out to suburban homes in New Jersey and Long Island, achieving something of the land and light and air of Kykuit . . . the American dream coming true, exactly as those LES residents must have hoped.

In the spirit of frivolity, Katy and I also:

  • enjoyed our traditional summer high tea, this time at the Peninsula Hotel
  • gossiped, drank lattes, and split a tub of Ben and Jerry's Mint Chocolate Chip at Whole Foods in Columbus Circle
  • got pedicures -- shocking pink for her, candy-apple red for me (or "the color of sin," as I preferred to call it)
  • participated in the Poetry Game Show at the Bowery Poetry Club (I won a book)
  • went out for swanky drinks with the ever-so-swanky and wise Rachel
  • ate at Two Boots, Shake Shack, Peep, the Horseman Pub in Tarrytown, Cafe Lafayette in Brooklyn, and Chez Cheryl, where I made a vanilla risotto with fresh caramelized peaches
  • shopped for cool shoes for her and cool clothes for me
  • rode the Cyclone at Coney Island, strolled in the surf, and attended a Brooklyn Cyclones game, where we got to eat Nathan's hot dogs and boo at umpires -- great, great fun.


Lastly on this subject: Tonight Ben and I saw "The Constant Gardener," starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. She's a beautiful firebrand out to save the world (or at least defenseless Africans) from a corporate conspiracy; he's a mild-mannered British diplomat trying to be the good man in Africa, and becoming, after his wife's murder, someone more brave, more crazed, and altogether less polite. The film is a mystery, a thriller, a romance, and a documentary (parts were filmed in real time on the streets in Kenya); the cinematography is stunning, the acting impeccable, the scenery gorgeous -- and Africa's pretty too. But what sets it apart from "The Bourne Supremacy," say, or the James Bond films (to invoke the most shallow example of the globetrotting-spy genre), is the deep moral outrage it feels at these true-life horrific events, and the implication of all of us privileged Western viewers in the slow genocide of a continent. The film is about something real, in short, that's happening now, that we could do something about now (for the movie says even one driven person can make a difference in the world); and how strange and refreshing that is to hear in a well-made action movie, where we're so used to the roses being sealed away from the catastrophe. Go see it. And then do something.