Monthly Archives: May 2012

My First Guest Blogger!

I feel like Johnny Carson!  (not dating myself at all,  am I?)

Joining me today is a terrific writer and friend, Laura Maylene Walter. Laura is the author of Living Arrangements, a short story collection that recently won a gold IPPY award.  She blogs (far more regularly than I) at  While I’m in California, Laura is filling in with a post about her childhood love of typewriters.  It’s almost like she channeled me: last week, when I spoke to a big group of fourth and fifth graders, I regaled them with how I wrote my very first stories on an ancient machine that weighed twelve million pounds.

Actually, my own fascination with typewriters began long before–I longed to be a secretary, like the ones I saw on TV, in a sweater set and pearls.  I especially looked forward to  buzzing the boss when a visitor came to the office.

Here’s Laura’s post–thanks, Laura!

 When I was a kid, I liked to write on our old manual typewriter. This thing was the real deal –inky ribbons that bled everywhere, sticky and jammed keys, slanty type, and that delicious tap-tap-tap sound. I typed stories and little books and even gossipy newsletters for my friends on that typewriter. It actually made a ding when you reached the end of a line and the shift key really meant something. I loved it. Loved it!

But the typewriter wasn’t without its frustrations. It couldn’t erase, which meant every word, every letter, was permanent. Even so, I wasn’t afraid to just sit down and type out whatever came to mind. But this created problems, too, like the time I asked my oldest brother how to spell a
long word. I typed out every letter as he said it – and it wasn’t until he threw an X in there that I realized he was just spouting off random letters so I’d mess up my entire page. Thanks a lot.

When I was eleven years old, I took my carefully saved money, stalked the aisles of the office supply store, and bought the most exciting thing ever: an electric typewriter.

That electric typewriter was a huge step up. First, it could erase. It did this weird backwards skip to magically rub out the last letter or word. Sure, sometimes you could still see a ghost of what had been there, but at least you didn’t have to pound the keys full force or actually touch the
ribbon and get ink everywhere. Plus, it felt professional, had automated settings and even served as an investment for the pen pal club I’d started.

Eventually, typing tools lost their spark – probably after the appearance of the word processor, that clunky pre-computer thing my mother bought. She kept it for years, even after we got a real computer. Once we were firmly in the computer era, I tried the word processor one last time but became incredibly frustrated that it couldn’t copy and paste. How could it have a screen and a blinking cursor and not cut and paste text? Ridiculous! I never used it again.

By now, I’ve gone through a stream of laptops. The last place I remember seeing the ancient manual typewriter was in the storage shed in the backyard when my brothers and I were cleaning out the house after it sold. We must have thrown the typewriter away. I wish now that I still had
it, even though it probably wouldn’t work and the ribbons would be hard to find and I would never actually use it to write. It would just be nice to have it again, to lift the heft of its case and remember the times I sat typing on the screened-in porch or alone in my room. That typewriter was, after all, what I used to type some of my earliest stories, way back when I first understood
what it felt like to be a writer with dreams.

Luck, Part 2

One of the surprises of my later years is how much I am traveling.  In fact, how much everyone is traveling.  When my girls were small, a walk to the P.O. was an outing, but before I could turn around, they were jetting about from continent to continent, and I was receiving postcards from Quito, Tokyo, St. Petersburgh and Machu Pichu.  As they shrank our world, my husband and I became armchair travelers, though he, more extreme than I in every area, continued to quote Emerson “Traveling is a fool’s paradise.”

Until, that is, he was more or less forced to get on a plane himself.  Like I said, never one to do things halfway, he took his first real trip in decades to Japan, on an exchange with a group of his Asian studies students.  On the way to the airport that morning, he told me that if the entire expedition was cancelled at the very last minute, he wouldn’t mind one bit. That was two years ago, and he has yet to stop talking about how wonderful the people, how transcendent the landscape. Last year he took students to India. I would not hesitate to say these trips changed his life.

And now, somehow, I am going back to Japan with him.  Not yet, though.  First there is another small book trip here in Ohio, and then a vacation with my BFFs to Lake Tahoe, where we plan to write and hike, drink wine and eat prodigious amounts of artichokes and avocadoes, and also (some of us hope) spot a bear, and then a small but momentous journey to NJ to see my darling middle daughter receive her masters degree in architecture.  Then…Kyoto.

So once more I’m reflecting on how a life changes, and why, considering I am not religious, I feel that all these things were somehow meant to happen, or that they are the best things that could be happening right now, to each of us.  It’s probably closer to the truth to call myself an accidental tourist, though one who, for now at least, finds herself in a window seat and very happy.


Writing quote of the week, from Thomas Mann: “A writer is a person for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.”

Rumpus in Peace

I was startled by how sad the news of Maurice Sendak’s death made me.  It  felt, in a way,  like the official death of my three children’s childhood.

Zoe–yes, she was a Zoe way ahead of her time–loved those wild things.  At three or so, she often “read” the book to herself in bed at night, but before she fell asleep made sure to set it safely out in the hall, just in case they decided to escape its pages.  I, in turn, always liked the story of how Sendak, who as a child was often sick and confined to bed, based the creatures with their bulging eyes, hairy faces and (we can assume) bad breath, on the relatives who constantly hovered over him.  The sweet “Little Bear” books were better loved by me than my kids, but “Pierre” , unphased even by a lion, rivaled Madeleine and her “pooh pooh”  for courage and savoir faire.

What is it with those children he drew?   They look both ancient and brand new at once, with their crooked smiles and fierce frowns, their attitudes so arrogant, so vulnerable.  A dark and tender glee infuses all he made.    

Not long ago a friend and I were talking about books we’d loved as children, and she remembered the novel “Twig”.   Like me, when she was small she never paid any attention to who wrote the books she loved–it was all about the story and pictures.  But remembering how she’d read the book again and again, and recalling how she once wished she were small enough to live inside that tomato can and cavort with fairies, she decided to look up the writer and send her a letter of appreciation.  A few days later she called to ruefully tell me that Elizabeth Orton Jones had been born in 1910 and was no longer with us. 

It was funny, but sad, too.  Like her, I  assumed that my beloved Maurice was immortal.  And, of course, he is.   


Yet another reason to revere the New York Times: they put Sendak’s obituary on the front page.  It begins, “Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday…Roundly praised, intermittently censored, and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960…” 

Luck, Part 1

May 1 was the anniversary of my husband and I (or is it me?) beginning to live together.  We rented a tenant house on the edge of a dairy farm deep in the Hudson River Valley.  The night we moved in, the peepers trilled like hundreds of advancing aliens, and it was dark, dark, bottom-of-a-well dark.  Paul was a little freaked.  I had never been happier.

While we lived there, the line between being inside and out was tenuous.  The walls were more or less porous, saving us the trouble of having to step outside to know the day’s temperature.   Once, during a wild, April thunderstorm, we stood–yes, thunderstruck–as lightning sparked all along the kitchen’s exposed pipes.  Our bathroom was so damp, it remains the only place I’ve ever been able to get a gardenia to bloom.   This was the early ’70’s, and the house was heated by fuel oil, which cost a mint, even if you were fortunate enough to have an efficient furnace.   I fondly remember the sounds ours made–a low whooshing, then a colossal bang, followed by what I always thought of as lift-off.  When Jimmy Carter asked Americans to put on sweaters and turn our thermostats down to 68, we laughed–we considered that tropical. 

We had so much time then.  I remember the day I lay on the couch  from morning till dark, lost in Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebooks”.  We went for long walks, up into the foothills of the Berkshires.  Deer were still wild animals then.  Once at dusk we surprised a small group of them in a field.  One gave a hoarse exhalation, an electrifying sound.  The white flags went up, they were gone.  Another time we got caught in a downpour on a back road.  The school bus stopped, picked us up, and brought us home, where   we took a long bath in the claw-foot tub.

Paul never got used to that dark.  To keep us safe, he took in a stray dog, an enormous German Shepherd who turned out to be not only afraid of her own shadow but also pregnant.  When her puppies were born, two inherited her mange and died, despite all Paul’s efforts.  The other three all got adopted, one by a Cub Scout.  His troop was marching purposely past our house one afternoon while I was on the grass with the pups.  He made me promise not to give the smallest one away–he said when he got home from camp he’d persuade his mother to come back.   A week later, they did.  

That was 39 years ago.  Even though we now own a fine furnace, we still keep our house crazy-cold in winter.  Why, I wonder, is that?