Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Caroline Bock: Before My Eyes

When author comrade Caroline Bock asked me if I would consider blurbing her latest manuscript, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I had more than merely enjoyed her debut novel LIE; reading her words I felt a kindred writing spirit. She uses multiple characters in search of a broader truth as they try to make sense out of horrific events.

That's what reading and writing are for: making sense of the world and helping us to understand.

This is what Before My Eyes does.

Bock boldly opens with a character who is obviously dangerously mentally ill, and he has a gun.

Violence is both a noun and a physical construct. I embody the noun - and the construct - and if I am violence and I am good, (which  must be), then violence must be good or in the purpose of the greater good since my only purpose is to do good. I am wrapped in goodness, an invincible light. My cape. My shield. No one can hurt me. This is my day.

Bock's story begins with a mass shooting on a Monday morning, and then she takes us back to Friday, weaving the narrative between three points of view: Max, a state senator's son who is having a hard time doing the right thing, Claire, a poet who has too many responsibilities, and Barkley, who hears voices, and unravels before our eyes. Max and Claire are more worried about themselves, and although we know what is going to happen, we quickly turn the pages.

Bock isn't preaching to us about the way things should be, she's giving us a glimpse into the way things are, without sentimentality and without an agenda. Her characters are multi-dimensional, filled with both darkness and light, as we, her readers all are. She reminds us of the struggle to be human, and has us searching for our own redemption, our own path to forgiving the world for its sins.

This book should be required reading in high schools as it has multiple topics to explore: mental illness,  bullying, to family relationships, friendships, loyalty and of course, violence.

Before My Eyes will be published by St. Martin's Press in the winter of 2014. I'll let you know when it's available!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Time for Dinner

The bell, the chime, the ring, the dinner bell. A golden little woman with a hoop and a tiny piece under her skirt, her pitch high but soft as we shake her.

Time for dinner.

It’s time.

A cap on her head and a wide smile.

Who is she and why is she a bell? I wonder if she is Aunt Jemima - time for pancakes. Her face has a tarnish and I imagine she has a past filled with racism and stereotypes.

Time for dinner, it’s time.

Who else could be calling us to dinner?

She lived in the dining room in my grandmother’s grand apartment, sitting on the antique high boy where the silver was housed and the wedgewood lived, where the silver platters adorned the gleaming mahogany foundation. She was probably my great grandmother’s, or even my great great before her - the great great greats from the deep South, from St. Augustine Florida, where family mythology tells that my great great once had an African princess for a playmate as sure as she had a woman with dark, dark skin play mama.

Not my world, yet it’s time for dinner, it’s time.

My small chubby hands grow into slender, adolescent fingers and they clutch the bell, eager to announce that dinner is ready, my grandmother has cooked the feast herself.

Time for dinner, it’s time.

My world spins faster and faster from East Coast to West and back again, back to my grandmother, to take care of her when her own chime stops ringing, when she can no longer cook dinner, or tell me stories of the past, until she can no longer take a breath.

It’s time . . .

To clear out the apartment, to split her things between the sisters, or put into storage until the fates can decide how to sort, how to qualify a life when all that’s left is “stuff”.

I don’t want anything, and yet I can’t help put scoop the golden lady into my handbag. She needs a home, she needs refuge. She doesn’t deserve to suffocate in a box, to live in the dark, to serve no purpose. She was made to be a dinner bell, and should be allowed to sing.

What is my purpose, and am I doing everything I can do to live up to that? I can get too comfortable in boxes, sleepwalking my way through life.
It’s time.
It’s time.
It’s time.

Now she lives in my kitchen, and is rung every night around 7pm. Sometimes I wish I knew more of her story, but then I realize that she is still living it, just as I am living mine.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Don't Let a Little V.D. Get You Down

 V.D. and I haven't always been such good friends.

Six years old - Valentine from my parents. Love.

Eleven years old - school chums exchange Valentines and candy. I give but don't get.

Fourteen years old - red, white and pink roses are being sold at school to give out anonymously. I buy pink for my friends and red for Leo, my crush. I get one pink in return, but no red. CRUSHED.

The pathetic life of teenagers. I didn't want to want, but I was left WANTING.

Seventeen years old - not to be a drama queen, but Valentine's Day was ruined for me. FOREVER.

I succumbed to the sin of cynicism.

At least for the next few years, until I fell in-love with a good man. (A man who knows that Valentine's Day makes me anxious and buys me flowers on the 13th, or somehow manages to decorate our bedroom with hearts while I'm sleeping.)

Romantic gestures are awesome, but . . . for the past few days I have felt angsty. Feelin' my own teenage daydream. Why are we forced to express love in such a false way?

Once again, my own kids get me out of my funk.

Forty-four years old - my daughter wakes up early and puts on her red party dress, bursting into our bedroom to wish us a Happy Valentine's Day with a painting for each of her beloved parents. The boys are cheerful too, and sheepish that they haven't made any Valentine-inspired art. They are all excited to exchange candy and cards with their school chums - they are so sweet.

My kids don't EXPECT anything, but I went out to  Pier 1 and bought goblets to fill with candy and fake hearts. I bought them each a rope bracelet. ("You'd better call that a 'band' and not a bracelet, otherwise Cooper won't wear it," my husband said.) (Cooper just came home and immediately put it on.) I decorated the table.

Making an effort - it feels good. They appreciate it.

And here I am Polly Positive again - we need even MORE opportunities to celebrate and emphasize the GOOD things in life, to focus on the things that we have instead of the things we don't.



Friday, February 8, 2013

Throwing the Muse: Meeting Kristin Hersh

Like every other teenager in the mid 80's, I had a plethora of tapes and "mix tapes" to slide into my walkman so that I could travel with my music. One of my favorites was by an indie band of kids a couple of years older than me from Rhode Island, called Throwing Muses.

I loved the fact that the band was mostly girls with a boy drummer, (unusual back then in a male-dominated industry) and that the singer was at once both ethereal and screechy, and that their lyrics were free association poetic rambles. It was full of raw emotion, and all of their music was full of the chaos of life. It reflected my own life perfectly.

I was introduced to their music via the Cocteau Twins and the British record label: 4AD the summer I turned nineteen, the summer of 1987. I was in San Francisco, and had gotten a job canvassing neighborhoods, asking for money to support saving the environment. All of my friends were a few years older and way cooler than I was. They loved my innocence and  I in turn worshiped them.  When one friend played all of 4AD's list for me, my mind had officially been blown. I had thought I was an indie aficionado, but it turned out I knew nothing. These bands were not just making music, they were making art, and they were succeeding.

All I was trying to do was finish college. After that summer, I went back to Barnard for a few months but then had to drop out because of depression. What was I doing with my life? What was my purpose and how would I make an impact? I had dreams of being an actress, but I was having a hard time reconciling my own narcissistic needs with a lack of real ambition, or at least a lack of interest in anything that was commercial - I wanted to make art.

And I wanted to make a impact. So I went to school to become a Drama Therapist. I was a therapist, I was making an impact on people in a creative way. And then when I had kids and I seriously had to reevaluate and push myself into growing my concept of art as service, because stories kept banging on my psyche.

Now everybody knows that I get cranky and depressed if I am not working on a project, that I know it takes discipline to listen to the muse, and when it doesn't seem to be there, I still try to look for art and kindness everywhere.

Looking for art - a year and a half ago I found the old tape. I hadn't listened to Throwing Muses in years, but my mom had generously bequeathed me her old car with a tape player, and I was able to unearth it, along with a few others.

Then a month ago, my friend Erika suggested that we read Kristin Hersh's memoir, Rat Girl for our book group.

"Who is that?" I asked.

"The lead singer from Throwing Muses - you love them, don't you?" Erika and I were in the same year at Barnard, but didn't know each other. She was a cool music maven and I was a theater geek - we ran in different circles, but she had booked Throwing Muses and they had played at Columbia.

Yes, but I never knew anyone's name. Of course I wanted to read it! Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. It was about the year Kristin was 19 and getting Throwing Muses out there. It spanned the year from the summer of '85 to the summer of '86, and it chronicles her descent into a prolonged manic-depressive episode with an eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder, her being signed by 4AD and trying to reconcile making art in a contrived studio situation, to being ultimately saved by getting pregnant and finding a new voice in that process.

There is no drinking, drugs or sex. There is nothing but kind depictions of other people, and no glorifying of mental illness. It reads like a novel, and you fall in-love with the characters. It forced me to look at myself at that age and how lost I was, but it also gave me another layer of forgiveness.

Life is messy.

"I like that girl," Kristin later said to us.

Erika and I both wrote her fan gurl emails and were astounded by her kindness and generosity in responding. That generosity continued in her skyping with us last night for over an hour and a half, talking about the Rat Girl, art, music, and the craziness of the industry. It was thrilling. She is adorable and so, so kind. What is so impressive, is her continuing to make her own kind of music in the face of the psychosis-inducing recording industry. She has divorced herself from that and is completely listener supported through her non-profit, CASH music, an organization that builds open source tools for musicians. (If you are so inclined, click on the link and donate.)

Making art is about making connections, not only between concepts, but ultimately between people. Reaching out to be understood. It's not for narcissistic adoration, it's for finding meaning in this crazy world. Kristin, thank you so much for the music, your words and your time. You made a profound connection and impact on me.

And if you have to throw a few muses around, then so be it!