Literature Only

Southwest. Demanding the best of its passengers. Headed home from the Keys, I dropped in this classic.

It must be very strange in an airplane, he thought. I wonder what the sea looks like from that height? They should be able to see the fish well if they do not fly too high. I would like to fly very slowly at two hundred fathoms high and see the fish from above. In the turtle boats I was in the cross-trees of the mast-head and even at that height I saw much.

Tinfoiled Again

Flying out early tomorrow for Papa’s haunt, Key West.

A question he never considered on his many travels. My flight spans breakfast and lunch (DC-Buffalo-Ft. Lauderdale… don’t ask, it was cheapest). The airlines have decided they can hide value by disappearing a reasonable meal from the fare.

If it were me alone I’d tighten the belt and just go, swallow my spit to keep hydrated and reward myself with lime-soaked mojitos on arrival. But I can’t tell the six-year-old to do that. So I made him up a whole grain, cheese-mustard-apple sandwich.

Now—how to wrap it?

Will the goons at TSA object to tinfoil? Will they consider my son a threat with his foil wrapper? Will they eat his lunch?

I decided not to risk it. There I am with my tired end-of-week hands quartering sandwiches and wrestling with ClingWrap, which clings to everything it shouldn’t and fails where it’s needed most. I hope it’s worth it. I hope the sandwich holds up.

I hope TSA doesn’t torture us tomorrow. Will a tinfoil hat help?

this is what i do when… #3

Papa, Pirates, & Pork Booty

LesChen_Main
lakelandboating.com

In Episode 3 of “this is what i do when i should be…” we explore Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, not far from Hemingway’s boyhood haunt of Walloon Lake near Petoskey. Other side of Mackinac Bridge in Lake Huron lie Les Chenaux Islands, where we were graciously hosted by Nina Abnee, daughters Louise Keshaviah & Ellen Abnee, & son-in-law Mayank Keshaviah—who also happens to be a cousin and L.A.-based playwright.

We passed a week on the channel between U.P. & La Salle Island in a legendary family cabin called Big Cottage among the good company of LCI regulars (most notably Uncle Duker and his campfire pancakes, & Peter Allen & Susan Heuck who lodged above Captain Bing in the nearby boathouse to make room for our large gathering of cousins, nieces, nephews… & Bocci champs).

best 10 minute playsIn this episode Vikram speaks “Giddish”, recounts a treasure hunt, and narrates a fish tale, while Mohan tells us how pirate booty can be used to make pig booty. The literary discussion at minute 4 turns to a production of “The True Story of the Big Bad Wolf” as written, directed, & performed by the younger cousins, and at minute 10 Mayank K. tackles difficult questions on the life of a playwright. What is the process, how long does it take, and what role do actors play in the final version of a work? Mayank’s success so far includes bringing six of his plays to production, and seeing three published in The Best Ten Minute Plays series (2012, 2013, 2015, Smith and Kraus, Inc).

Hope you enjoy this week’s podcast, “this is what i do when i should be… leaving Cedarville” (complete with breakfast background noise). As always, we welcome your feedback and look forward to responding in the next episode.

Heroes In Literature

Among the acknowledgements listed back of my debut novel is Barry H. Leeds, Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor Emeritus at CCSU. Hemingway, Mailer, Kesey—these were the writers Dr. Leeds expounded to us, models who wrote tough, lean sentences and big, enduring books. I worked like hell to write the strong prose Dr. Leeds demanded in his 400-level composition course.

If we could make good use of 100 words error-free, he’d let us write 250. We got 250 right, he stretched it to 500. Leeds was telling us something: he wasn’t there to shine our turds—we were to roll up our sleeves and work that stuff ourselves. In this way, my mentor was tough.

Leeds Cover

He was also human. In his 2014 memoir, A Moveable Beast, he recounted the first days back teaching after the death of his daughter in 1996. “As the days wore on, I found myself again adrenalized by teaching. I could even crack jokes. But every day, leaving the University energized and upbeat, I got only a block or so away before I had to pull my Jeep over and break down in wracking sobs before pulling myself together and driving home.”

I put Barry’s name in the acknowledgements of Two Pumps for the Body Man out of respect, both for his role as a professor who shaped my writing, and as an archetype of a man who derived power from great books. Since childhood I knew I would write. But Barry armed me with the tools—the broad strokes of vision, the fine scalpels of craft—that turned conviction to quest. His name belongs beside my brother and sister, my parents, sons, wife, because he held that kind of unequalled significance on my path to specific accomplishment.

Barry passed away a year before the novel came out. I had no idea. I’d been in touch the year before to share a literary milestone, shortlisted for a book prize. He responded immediately and heartily. His own book was out, the aforementioned memoir. I put it on Kindle and read it right away, grateful to hear Barry’s voice one more time again. We wrote back and forth, then returned to the silence that defined our post- teacher-student relationship, he to work on further memoirs, I to the daily task of fiction. Same time, cancer went to work on Barry. When I reached out to let him know I’d finally got my novel out, the message bounced. I found out the hard way—the way that meant I hadn’t found out at all—that Barry had passed the year before, on April 15, 2015.

The book is there. The acknowledgement remains. Yet I concede a defeat, a palpable void in the achievement. Barry’s approval, his awareness and pride in this shared triumph, goes unassigned.

Only, there is this. A few weeks after publication, an anonymous review appeared.

More