Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Staycation stories

Early this morning I sent my Teresa off to Texas for a family visit, and thus ended a swell first half of vacation. Because money's tight and because we were both in a lazy-ass mode, these were a low-key two weeks. Lots of reading, lots of lovely languid lopes around our Queens neighborhood, lots of cooking and iced-tea brewing, fresh summer fruit and leafy salads, a few outings to other boroughs to hang with friends or inhale some culture, a couple of restaurant meals including one delightful hours-long lunch/drinks/dessert/deep-talk loll in the outdoor cafe overlooking Bryant Park. The weather, weird as it's been, cooperated. It's as if July never came to New York this year. July=heat and humidity, muggy misery from which there is no escape unless we lock ourselves in the bedroom, our apartment's only spot with air conditioning, which we avoid if we can both because it jacks up the Con Ed bill and because, well, who wants to be locked in the bedroom? But the heat and humidity forgot to arrive this year. After an atrociously cold and soggy three months of spring, with rainy days taking up about three-quarters of April, May and June, July has been masquerading as May. Day after day of the mildest, sunniest, breeziest, just splendid weather. Not only have we not once had to retreat to the bedroom and turn on the air conditioner -- we have only even turned on a fan once in the entire month of July. Weather forecasts are for higher humidity in the coming days, but highs still only in the high 70s to low 80s. WTF? Friend, I am not complaining.

I am in fact looking to get off my butt and accomplish one or two things in the solitary days ahead. Things in the writing category. (A purposely clunky phrasing that I'll parse, perhaps, in coming posts.)

I do also plan to write, as promised last week, about my days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon.

After all, though, I am still on vacation. So I can't be held to any more exacting standard than I think I will I will when I get to it I'll get to it if I do. So sue me.

Till next time, then, I'll leave you with a few links, stuff I came across this morning in my first look around the Web in a while.

There's the disgusting story of the Cambridge, Mass., police arresting Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in a classic racist outrage.

There's Amazon's removal of George Orwell's books from all the Kindles whose users had bought and paid for them. Here's one of the more interesting comments on this latest dustup. (Thanks to Tayari Jones for the link.) For me, this story drips with irony. Orwell of course was the great anti-communist. The brilliant popularizer of the lie that communism is anti-democratic, that free speech and civil liberties are innate to societies based on the market economy and anathema to the overthrow of class division. Uh huh. Hey Georgie boy, too bad you're not around to see the profit quest drive Amazon to toss your work onto the kindling.

Speaking of Tayari Jones, I've been following her blog postings about her work on finishing up her third novel and have found them most interesting and thought-provoking. She's now at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where she's grappling with the "high-class problem" of
"being so far along on the manuscript that the work isn't dragging me out of bed in the morning and keeping me locked in my studio."

Another writerly blog post that's got me thinking is this from Ellen Meeropol, about the fiction writer's responsibility, if any, to the "real people, or their family, behind the 'public figures' she appropriates for her stories." The question hits home hard for her because her husband's parents were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and they along with their two sons have been fictionalized in various ways many times. It's one that concerns me too, as I move forward with the work on my second novel. This story I'm trying to write is based on -- or was suggested by -- or is a meditation triggered by -- or is a reimagining of -- or a fictive reconsideration of the last 40 years of U.S. history beginning with -- or who the hell knows what relation it will end up having to but is one way or another closely related to a very famous crime. A crime that still resonates with many people, that is still remembered by many people, but, more important, a crime the victim of which has never in my opinion received her due consideration as a full, complex human being. More to the point, at least the point that Ellen makes in her blog post, many of the victim's loved ones are still alive, as are the perpetrator's. I think about all of them all the time as I'm writing, about how to tell the story I want to tell without causing them more pain than they've already endured. (Which, ha!, assumes the book will ever be published and read, a ridiculously cheeky assumption given my book-publication history to date.) I'm sure I'll write about this again in the coming months and years. It may be that other writers, maybe most writers, don't worry about any of this, don't let it affect their work, and from a purely artistic angle I suppose that's the right approach. But I can't manage it. It matters to me that I not compound anyone's suffering.