Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to get to Handsome

Greetings from Creative Writing class...

Today's assignment: Write a scene conveying the notion that Bill is handsome -- without actually saying that Bill is handsome.

I only had five minutes to work on this, so it's not quite polished. But, I'm setting it free into the blogosphere anyway and giving you free reign to critique. Be ruthless.

His new cubicle was just like the old. Grey pre-fab walls and an HP desktop. This job might not be the fresh start he'd hoped for.
"You should put up pictures of your wife and kids," Kim, the receptionist piped in as she showed him to his workspace.
"Oh, I'm not married," Bill said.
"I'm sorry. That was presumptuous of me. . . . I'll be at my desk if you need anything."
Just then, Margaret from Accounting passed by.
"You know, Bill, a bunch of us grab drinks on Thursday nights after the department meeting. You should come -- and bring your girlfriend."
"Thanks, Margaret. I'll be there. But just me. No girlfriend these days."
And that's when Claire and Sandra made their way down the hall...

(Did I get there?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Girl, Interrupted.

[Insert apology for not having written in ages and ages here.]

Today, I started a creative writing class called "Brief Encounters." The class is taught by a very nice Columbia MFA student and focuses on short pieces known as Flash Fiction. As an introduction, the instructor told us about a challenge that was once posed to Ernest Hemingway. An adversary bet that Hemingway couldn't tell a story in six words. The toreador's response: For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. Her point in sharing this anecdote was simple -- stories come alive in the reader's imagination. A writer's job is to open the door.
We read three stories: "The School" by Donald Barthelme, "The Cage" by Heinrich Böll, and "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid. Barthelme led a trip into the absurd, Boll to hell, and Kincaid explored the unfathomable depths of a mother's love for her daughter.

As an exercise, my classmates and I were asked to rewrite Kincaid's piece from the maternal perspective. The text of "Girl" can be found here. Please see my response below. I'd appreciate any comments that you have. (Oh, and many thanks for all the support and love in response to my Metropolitan Diary submission. It really was a dream come true!)

Response to Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl"

I'm scared that if I tell her, I'll scare her. So I won't.
I'll teach her how to do the laundry. How to wash her hair. Bake a bundt cake. I'll yell when she stays out past her curfew with that boy who won't ever be good enough. Who won't ever love her like I love her. I'll walk into her room without knocking and criticize her outfits and how she bites her nails. I'll make sure she knows that red just isn't her color and that Floyd from the football team only wants one thing. I'll take away the car keys and make her clean the bathroom and call Cindy's mom because Cindy's being mean. I'll cheer at graduation while others clap politely and stay too long at Parents' Day. I'll chaperone her field trip and not let her go to parties -- even when she tells me "Everyone's gonna be there." I'll ruin her life a thousand times over and take her to buy lip gloss.
And hope that one day she figures it out.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Grandfather's Granddaughter: A Jewish-American Tale

This coming month marks the one year anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, George Steiner, of blessed memory. I have been thinking about my grandfather a lot lately -- with the upcoming unveiling of his gravestone, the end of my father's aveilut (year of mourning), and Passover Yizkor all recent familial topics of conversation. But, tonight, with the historic news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, thoughts of my Poopa (the silly name I coined as an infant unable to pronounce "Grandpa") cannot escape my mind.

When I think about my grandfather, and his passing in particular, a number of questions arise with my memories. I think about what it means for me to no longer have any living grandparents. Has my childhood lapsed? Have I lost a vital connection to my past? (As many of you know, I am a genealogy nerd -- having spent several summers working at the Center for Jewish History's Genealogy Institute. My capstone project as a CJH Fellow was a documentary timeline of my grandfather's life.) But these questions, vital as they are, are not what dominate my thinking about my grandfather tonight. Rather, it is America, the nation and its actions, that led me to think of him tonight -- and that is a critical part of my thinking about him always.

Before he was my grandfather, George was a son, a husband, a father, a soldier, and a friend. And he excelled at each role in which he was cast. To digress for a moment, I'll add a word about him as a husband -- of the most devoted order, for nearly 52 years.

In addition to being wonderfully kind and caring, my grandmother, Gloria Steiner, z"l, was an amputee, having lost her leg to bone cancer while a young mother in her 30s. Even now, eleven years after her death, it is strange for me to write that -- as I never once thought of my grandmother as disabled. The reasons for that stem mainly from her grace, courage, and, in the days before modern prostheses, unfailing determination to do everything that an able-bodied person could. They also stem from my grandfather. More than her supporter, he was her champion -- both allowing and encouraging her to do all the things she wanted to do. I could try and list his daily devotions to her, but there is no way to fully paint a picture for you of the kind of dedicated husband he really was.

The trait of dedication -- of devotion, of doing what is right -- is one that my grandfather honed in the United States Armed Forces. Born in Nitra, Czechoslovkia, George immigrated to the United States with his parents, Joseph and Matilda, in 1923 -- when he was barely 2 years old. Raised in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, he was a Boy Scout par excellence and grew into a tried and true American boy. Upon graduation from high school in 1939, George voluntarily enlisted in the US Army and was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. Just as his active duty was scheduled to end, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and George embarked on an additional 4 years of service. Together with the Army Corps of Engineers, my grandfather built bridges and saw combat throughout France and Germany. Though he never shared this fact with his children or grandchildren, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor after running into mortar fire to retrieve a wounded member of his company and, with another soldier, carry him several miles to the nearest army hospital. (We only learned of this story, and the medal, upon finding the well hidden paperwork while sorting through my grandparents' apartment after my grandmother's death.) These days, when we often rush to share our accomplishments with the world through text messages, Facebook, or, sometimes, a blog, it is all the more astonishing to learn that others have kept their most meaningful accomplishments secret.

While my grandfather did share some stories of the antisemitism he experienced in the military, I don't know if, during his six years of service -- especially those spent fighting in Europe, he knew that his grandparents, numerous aunts and uncles, and 27 of his 28 first cousins were being led to their deaths by the Nazis. There is certainly no way he could have known that, after the war, there would be no record of Jewish survivors from the town of Nitra.

It is this interplay between his patriotism and his Jewishness that has rooted my grandfather in my thoughts tonight. Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I grew up in a home, and in a community, that is steadfast in its dedication to Holocaust education. As a grandchild of survivors (my mother's parents met as refugees in Siberia), I am proud to carry the banner of Zachor -- Remember, Never Forget. Today, as thousands crowd the streets of Lower Manhattan waving flags to the choruses of U-S-A, U-S-A, I remember the victims of Bin Laden's terror along with the six million who perished merely because they were Jews. As I remember, I am saddened by the fact that, 66 years after the liberation of the concentration camps, baseless hatred still exists in this world and I am heartened by the tremendous step the United States has taken today to eradicate that hatred. And, while I am filled with pride and patriotism, I still face the same questions that confront me each Yom HaShoah, each time I think about my grandfather. How can I be better? More grateful? More active? For as long as I can remember, I've grappled for answers. And, for as long as I can remember, I've fallen short. Today, as my American and Jewish identities merge in a way that they have not before, in a way that my grandfather might have found familiar, I redouble my efforts to honor the past and impact the future -- to fulfill my potential as my grandfather's granddaughter, to merit the privilege, American Jew.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Late Addition to The Short List

Finally, a judge who actually makes me want to clerk.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Short List

New year. New format. New nonsense.

1. Let's discuss President Obama's truly awful airplane-without-an-engine analogy during the State of the Union address. Did anyone else love the irony of that whole section going over like a lead balloon? (What's that? I'm a dork? I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the hordes of people clamoring to win the future.)

2. As many of you know, I have been re-watching my all-time favorite TV show - The West Wing. It is amazing the things that are different the second time around. Namely, while still madly in love with Josh Lyman (I'm still torn as to whether or not I want to be him or marry him), I find myself becoming increasingly smitten with Sam Seaborn. Obviously, Rob Lowe is unfailingly gorgeous. But, it's more than that. Sam is smart, idealistic, sensitive, and ... he writes like a dream. Swoon.

[For those of you who do watch WW, I have a question. In Posse Comitatus, how, on his journey between 45th Street and the FBI field office - which by my best estimation is either in the Federal Office Building on Varick Street or the one on 125th, does Simon Donovan end up in a bodega on 98th and Broadway? Considering the events that transpire in said bodega, it's a legitimate question. I'm not opposed to the UWS getting a shoutout, I'm just curious.]

3. I'm well aware that the above question demonstrates my freakish over-thinking of inconsequential issues. You needn't point it out.

4. The Super Bowl media frenzy is in full swing. This year's hot topics: Ben Roethlisberger's behavior, Ben Roethlisberger's suspension, and Ben Roethlisberger's new found appreciation for success. Apparently, in the NFL, being suspected of rape is the gift that keeps on giving...

5. Paul Bettany regrets his giving up the lead role in "The King's Speech". Is it okay that I don't?