Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricanes and Writing in the Dark

                So Irene blew through the Northeast this past weekend leaving destruction in varying degrees in her wake.  We were fortunate and suffered very little property damage.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those less fortunate.  We did lose power for approximately thirty-six hours but we were prepared with a generator to hook up the refrigerator, one television to entertain others and an oxygen concentrator for my father.  My father normally lives on his own in a 55-and-up community about two miles from our house.  He has emphysema (50 years of smoking will do that to you) and requires oxygen supplementation. Prior to Irene’s arrival, we picked him up and brought him to our house in anticipation of the power outage. His development is still without power.

                On top of that, my daughter is preparing to move to the New York apartment that was the result of the hunt covered in a previous blog. There are boxes, furniture and goddess only knows what piled everywhere.

                Did I mention my father is hard of hearing and likes to turn up the volume so that the neighbors can listen along?

                Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and am grateful for the minimal impact Irene has had on us. But hurricanes, fathers and moving daughters can throw a routine into chaos.

                On the full night of the black-out, I sought out the solitude of my writing cave in the spare room we have on the second floor.  It was dark and there was no electricity so I lit three candles and surrounded my paper with them. For someone who writes about vampires and ancient Druids, it was the perfect ambience for working on the sequel to Dark Dealings.  The soft flicker of the candle flame was soothing and chased the stress into the shadows.

                The pieces are starting to fall into place for Book 2 (as yet untitled) and I have Christopher Vogler’s: The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers to thank. It is one of my touchstone works when I feel like my story arc is floundering. In his work, Vogler takes the Hero’s Journey, as well-described and analyzed by Joseph Campbell, and applies it to modern storytelling first in movies and then in the written word. It is not a formula approach to novel writing but a study of the common elements found in great and memorable stories since we first sat around the cave fire. It helps me focus on why my plot may feel dull and listless.
                Like my ancestors the bards of Ireland, I spent the night in a darkness broken only by the flickering tongues of flame. I thought about how to make my story better. I want a novel that will transport someone from their normal world, to take them on an adventure and give them a gift to bring back with them. And so I struggle and study and learn from other storytellers, from readers and from the flame.

                Come back this weekend to meet one of those storytellers, Steve Umstead, a fellow PubWriteGroup member. We learn from each other every day on our journey to be the best writers we can be.
                So the storm moves on and so do I until the next hurricane, earthquake or, dare I hope, flash of inspiration.  It is only the beginning of the season you know.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricanes and Change

Thursday Thoughts: Hurricanes and Change

If you haven’t realized yet, I am a writer.  For meager evidence, check out the excerpts to your right. During the day I work in the financial industry, a place I have worked for most of my career.  I have also been a teacher and owned a gourmet shop. I am married and have two almost grown children. Most of this while living in New Jersey. Hey watch it, no Jersey jokes.  What does any of this have to do with hurricanes?

Hurricanes are forces of nature and are highly unpredictable.  Here on the East coast of the United States we are watching the progress of Hurricane Irene. This after much of the Northeast felt the effects of the strongest earthquake in 67 years. I know southern California readers, it would be a yawner for you, but what would you do if three feet of snow fell on LA? The path a hurricane takes can mean all the difference between a disaster, a hard rain of a shower. When you are in the path of a hurricane, you need to prepare and be ready to adapt.  Windows need to be boarded up; evacuation may be necessary. If evacuation is advised, go! Not following great advice from experts under any circumstances is an invitation to disaster.

There are lessons to be learned from the forces of nature.  Life is about change, sometimes it is gentle, like a soft spring rain and sometimes it is a hurricane. Either way, it is about preparation and adaptation.

My change is everywhere. If you’ve read my last two posts, my daughter is moving to New York City, a place I lived when I was the same age.  This is gentle change, by and large, as long as we ignore the moments of twenty-something angst.

I work in the banking industry. I won’t say for whom because. while I want blogger followers, I am not the complaint department.  Banking has undergone drastic change in the last few years and continues to change.

I am also a writer. It is no understatement to say that the publishing and bookselling industry is in flux.  Change is happening so fast that it is hard to discern clear trends and directions.  I know that there are many people who are certain of the future and are more than happy to tell you their position ---sometimes endlessly. I am not as certain.  I suspect, and I am ready to admit that I could be wrong, that the final industry model will be a hybrid.  Maybe it is the biology major with a fascination of evolutionary biology and anthropology speaking. Nature abhors vacuums and extremes. 

But what does one do in a period of change and uncertainty---prepare, adapt and persist.  My Irish grandmother always said “You do what you have to do.”  Read, talk to others, share ideas, find a support network (for writers I recommend the folks at #pubwrite on twitter or the PubWrite group page on facebook) but most of all plan a course of action and do not be afraid to alter your course if facts and circumstances change. Do not be caught by surprise whether it is a gentle spring rain or a hurricane. Take charge of change and take charge of your future.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Living in New York: The Next Generation

Flash forward MANY years from Living in New York: The First Generation.

                Last week my daughter and I went apartment hunting in Manhattan. She begins her PhD program at the end of the month.  While she could commute, at least for a few weeks. the demands of her program make a shorter commute from the Midtown East campus desirable.  Why Manhattan and not one of the other boroughs, you ask. Well beyond the late nights indentured to her PhD advisor (all worth it in the end), the commute from some of the better areas of the other boroughs would approach the travel time from home, and, most importantly, she is a twenty-something.

                Apartment hunting like everything else has gone on-line.  Back in the dark ages, where on-line meant hanging your laundry or a phone, you found an apartment by buying the right day or days local newspaper and scour the classifieds for the right place.

                Today, you go to various websites for brokers (fees involved of anywhere from 1-2 month rent) or you go to Craigslist.  Apparently you can find things other than “massage therapists” and serial killers on Craigslist.  You gather your prospective addresses, send emails to the listing contact, and hope for a reply.  Repeat hourly. This is not an obsessive-compulsive action, just real apartment hunting in the early 21st century.

                My daughter and I felt that if we had 4 appointments lined up it promised to be a productive day.  So armed with appointments and smartphones set for Craigslist, we boarded the train for New York.

                Some things don’t change. Of our contacted listings, ¼ responded and set an appointment, ½ never responded at all (that’s a NO), and ¼ responded to say that the apartment listed less than 12 hours ago was already rented.
                Of the appointments we did set: 3 were already rented by the time we went to see them. Included was one where we took the subway to Chinatown, walked in the pouring rain to Hester and Mulberry in Little Italy to meet an agent who did not show. We took that as a "sorry already rented".  By the time we found a place where we could buy a $5 umbrella for $20, the purchase was moot; we were wringing out our shirts. We did have a delicious early dinner in Little Italy where we ran into a rental broker from early in the day.  He was moonlighting as a waiter in the restaurant.
                Let’s talk about the ones we did see: One 375 sq. ft. studio apartment was in a prime location in the low 70’s on Second Avenue. It was a third floor walk-up with an under-the-counter refrigerator (think dorm room) and a magnificent view of the Second Avenue Subway blast zone.  All for a mere $1450 per month.
                Another had a better kitchen that had a full size fridge and could accommodate a drop-leaf table.  The kitchen and the bathroom had windows that looked out on an air shaft.
                Then there was the one in the mid-90’s on the Eastside, The building had an elevator with patched walls (I thought I saw duct tape). We felt brave so we took the ride. The apartment was vacant and the landlord said to just go up and let ourselves in. I opened the door. The two of us stood in the doorway long enough to observe the mold and mildew on the walls with holes and the rust stains on all the kitchen appliances and the sink.  We closed the door and beat a hasty retreat.
                Our last apartment on the third day was an open house that started at 7pm. The apartment was on a great block in a great section of the Upper East Side. The Laundromat was a block away, a nearby church had a Farmers’ Market every Saturday and a Starbucks and D’Agostino’s supermarket were within two blocks.  No mafia clubs or smelly clam stands (see prior post to get the joke).  We arrived shortly before 7 and there was a couple waiting. The agent took us up an elevator that was well maintained. There were no funky smells; we were off to a good start.  He opened the door.
                We had found IT-the brass ring. A junior one-bedroom (about 400 sq. ft.), all new appliances, hardwood floors, two large closets. My daughter gave me the eyebrows, I returned the look as an agreement. We eyed the couple.  The woman pulled out a tape measure, he took the other end and they started taking dimensions.  I offered up a silent plea—“please don’t let their sofa fit.”
                The four of us, the representative of the landlord, and one of the tenants (the current occupants consisted of a husband, wife and two large dogs) stood around have a civil conversation. Then we moved out into the hall, without the tenant. The couple kept going while we stayed behind. A choir of angels burst into song. 
                We asked about the application process.  The rep gave us the paperwork and said he had to go downstairs to get the next group. Next group! My daughter and I parked ourselves on a stair and started writing. By the time he came back with the third group, we had completed the application and had a check written for the application fee.
                He accepted it and told us it was a first-come, first-serve basis for completed applications.  Completion required that we submit tax returns, bank information and paystubs. It’s like applying for a mortgage.
                We raced home and faxed the required information to him at 11:30 that night.

                She moves in Labor Day weekend.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Living in New York: The First Generation

                More years ago than I will confess to, I lived in Manhattan. My first apartment was a one and a half bedroom apartment over a greasy spoon “restaurant” in what is now even trendier SoHo.  Yes, I said one and a half bedrooms.  The “second” bedroom was the equivalent of a miniscule closet with a window. Realtors tell me that a closet and a window are the criteria for a bedroom. The room was about eight feet long and four feet wide.  It could fit a twin bed (cozy romance) and a three-quarter size dresser.  The half bedroom window opened onto the street that hosted the Saint Anthony’s Feast every summer.  The clam concession was right under the window.  I will never forget the smell of day-old clam trash on a hot summer morning. The sound of the restaurant owner with his hose spraying down the sidewalk and the grinding of the crusher at the back of the trash truck was a summer symphony.  It’s a wonder I can still eat linguini with clam sauce.
                Three of us shared the apartment with the plan of rotating the privilege of occupying the half bedroom.  The apartment did have some amazing features beyond its location.  There were hardwood floors throughout, an exposed brick wall with a WORKING fireplace and easy access to tar beach.  For those who don’t know what that is: it is the flat tar-covered roof of a building and is suitable for sun-bathing and cooking raw eggs without a fire.  I don’t remember how we found this apartment.  I was fortunate to have a pit-bull of a roommate who basically did all the legwork and called me to tell me where to be and when.  She was a full-time graduate student and I worked full-time so I appreciated her availability and tenacity.  Our first third roommate was a fashion design student and wannabe model, but that’s another story.
                There were also our weekly visitors. The owner of the greasy spoon was a conscientious restaurateur.  As he was closed every Monday, he would dutifully set off the roach bombs on Sunday night.  So each Sunday evening as the first of the roommates would arrive home and open the door, the legal tenant would be greeted by an undulating floor and skittering sink as all roaches from downstairs fled to our apartment to evade being gassed.  I suspect Steven Spielberg may have lived there once and used this vision in Indiana Jones with snakes as a fill-in.
                It did get better.  I later moved to a rent stabilized apartment around the corner.  It was very safe.  The Italian superintendent sat in the front ground floor window day after day watching.  I don’t think she  could do anything else as The Biggest Loser wasn’t even a gleam in Jillian Michael’s eye--she might still have been in Pampers, in fact.  Also across the street was a very “profitable” candy store that hadn’t sold a candy bar since the Eisenhower Administration and an Italian-American Social Club, with Honorary President and frequent visitor, John Gotti.
                So with this as my personal experience, I spent several days this week with my oldest daughter beginning her twenty-something adventure in NYC apartment hunting. This is a whole new adventure.
                To be continued…..

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Day at Cabela's to Support a Great Cause

Every once in a while, I take a step back from my own personal stuff, to ask you to support others. These are difficult times and I know funds are tight.  But many small donations can add up to make a difference in one persons life.  So if you are in the area and can attend, or can send a small contribution, CFR and the people who benefit from their programs would appreciate it.

Casting for Recovery Skytop Retreat Program
 is pleased to announce the

Benefit BBQ
Sponsored by and held at
Cabela’s of Hamburg, Pennsylvania
100 Cabela Drive
Hamburg, PA 19526

Saturday, August 20th & Sunday, August 21st
Starting at 10:00am
(Cabela’s opens on Saturday at 8:00am and on Sunday at 9:00am)

We invite you to join us, have a bite and show your support for the
CFR Skytop PA Retreat Program
and shop at Cabela’s. There will also be a raffle.
For directions visit the website for Cabela's and their store locations.

Proceeds from the Benefit BBQ and the raffle will go to support the
CFR Skytop PA Retreat Program.
Casting for Recovery is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

If you have any questions or would like to participate in the weekend’s event please feel free to contact Marsha Benovengo, Program Coordinator for the CFR Skytop Retreat Program,
at (732) 780-7185 or via email at casabeno@msn.com

For more information about CFR and their programs, please visit their website