Friday, August 21, 2009

Fictional Ladies

Do you think it is harder to write a good fictional female character than a male character? I do.

I can think of about a gazillion male characters that I love and respect, and far fewer women. A few do come to mind--Olivia from "The Weather in the Streets," Elizabeth in "Pride and Prejudice," Molly Bloom in "Ulysses." Tolkien's Arwen Evenstar, Galadriel, and Eowyn. I dig Hermione Granger too, and Ginny Weasley (Rowling did a good job, although disappointingly her most fully-fleshed characters are boys and men). I can think of others, but it is far easier for me to come up with the simpering, the foils, the falsely plucky-can-do girls, the girls who are pretty with not much else to recommend them, the girls who are attractive because they are beautiful and disturbed (case in point, Caddy from "The Sound and the Fury), the ones with not a drop of humor in them (all Virginia Woolf's characters, I mean I love Woolf, but c'mon, never has there been a more overly self-serious set of characters)...I could go on. Both male and female authors are guilty of the poorly-drawn, stereotypical female, just as some of my favorite women in literature were created by male authors.

Anyway, I've been asking myself, what makes a strong, real, viable woman character in a novel? Who are your favorite female characters from fiction, and why do you like them?

I would love to hear what you have to say on this topic if you get a chance.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our Friend Shecky

This is Shecky--a very handsome duck who has adopted us. He visits our dock every day, hops up and sits with us for several hours at a time. When Sarge brought his guitar down to the lake to serenade us, Shecky stood in front of him and stared, mesmerized.

I won't be around for a bit, am working on several projects. But I'll be back soon.

Hope everyone's enjoying the last bit of summer!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Although the summer days are long and hot, my thoughts have turned to the Jewish holiday cycle that will soon be upon us.  Beginning with Rosh ha-Shanah, we spend a week and a half turning inward to sometimes difficult self-reflection,  chanting our ancient, quiet prayers, and finally, fasting in somber repentance on Yom Kippur.   The Days of Awe are radically unlike any other part of my year.  Jews during this time exist in a sacred space that is part of the world, but also apart from it; it is always a challenging time for me, a Reform Jew in the modern world, a communal and personal moment of reckoning.  

Immediately after Yom Kippur, though, we begin to reenter the regular world with an eye toward the practical, as we celebrate the Jewish harvest holiday in the festival of Sukkot.  Preparation for Sukkot (which means "booths" or tabernacles in Hebrew, representing the little huts set up alongside the fields during harvest in ancient times) involves the quite literally grounding act of building a sukkah, whether in our own backyard or with our synagogue.  During the Days of Awe we engaged in quiet reflection; at Sukkot, we are busy giving thanks to God with hammer and nails!

Once built, the sukkot are decorated with photos of the ancestors, and all manner of colorful paper chains, tissue paper flowers, and magic marker drawings hanging from yarn--the provenance of the children of the family, who are thrilled to be included in the creation of what is, after all, really just a wonderful playhouse.

Sometimes prayer is an intangible, words that roar or whisper symbolically; but during Sukkot, our prayer is a solid little structure, a very real shelter built with our own hands. 

ופרוש עלינו  סכת שלומך

spread over us the shelter of Your peace

The permanent structure for the temporary sukkah we build upstate; the upper beams will be covered with pine branches, creating a roof that will allow us to see the stars, to feel the rain.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ink and Paper

Today I have a favor to ask you.  If you don't do it already (and perhaps, like me, you have your coffee-buttered roll-and-a-paper ritual down pat), will you buy a newspaper? A real newsprint version, that feels crumbly in your hands and gets your fingers all inky? I don't care if it's a rag or the paper of record, if it has a liberal or conservative bias.  Just buy a newspaper.

This post is in response to a post on another one of my group blogs, where there was an incipient discussion, although it got somewhat nipped in the bud because of mutual politeness, of a particular news station on American television.  Some folks don't like this particular news station; being the radical that I am, I maintain that all the 24-hour news stations are equally dreadful.  I do not use these words, equally dreadful, lightly.  These stations, whether liberally or conservatively oriented, do not really report the news that matters.  Or they'll latch onto a story for a few nights, and then, whether or not it's still relevant reporting, will drop it for something a little sexier and sparklier.  I won't go into specifics, but suffice it to say, there's a lot of stuff going on in the world and we should be kept apprised.

As a result, I have long boycotted the t.v. news.  I mean, and this is the truth, I simply do not watch the news on television.  Ever, ever.  Not anymore.  This is not a difficult achievement, as I don't really watch much t.v. at all.  However, poor Sarge still tunes in occasionally, and I will stumble upon him tearing his hair out, metaphorically.

Rather, I buy three of our local NYC papers every day.  The paper of record (The NY Times), the liberal rag (the Daily News), and the conservative rag (The NY Post).   The NYTimes has let me down more than once because of its decidedly liberal bent, which makes me, a serious professional iconoclast, arguer, free-thinker and non-line-tower, a bit uncomfortable.  But I'll give them a free pass because they also have a commitment to covering actual issues of import, and there are some kickass staff writers.

I worry about the fate of the ink-and-paper news.  I have no evidence for this, only anecdotal knowledge of the path we seem to be taking toward digital media.  My favorite NYC paper shut its doors only this past year, and the Times has increased prices to an insane degree.  So I have taken this up as my cause--I promise to more mindfully, rather than just testily, boycott the television news, to continue making my daily purchase of the papers...and even to read them!

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Here in the North Country, the woods and lakeshore are full of voices, if you know how to listen. The chipmunks, crows, frogs, and even the owls and coyotes all have their say.  Their voices tell their lives in a preordained way, the product of an inexorable pull toward evolutionary fate.

We're not so lucky that our very essence is foretold in this way since birth.  Or are we luckier?  That we are allowed to find our voice or maybe to invent it, and when we lose it to find it again and reinvent it, in as many incarnations, as many times and in as many ways as we please.

Perhaps "invention" is the wrong choice, though, at least for me, for it suggests duplicity, and I am guilty of everything under the sun save untruth.

Since I started writing here, two years ago, here and in the corporeal world I and my voice have been a work-in-progress, and it hasn't always been pretty.  I've been maudlin and quarrelsome, arch and egotistical.  I laugh at my own jokes, too often.  But my voice has always held some form of a truth about myself. 

My sister can't even look at this journal, for her horror at my utter lack of propriety; a dear friend who does read this says that I conceal more than I reveal; and Sarge said the other day, fondly or so I imagine, "Leah, you really are just a little bit of an exhibitionist, aren't you."  I suppose he's not wrong, in a way.  Then again, neither is my friend.  But somewhere in that vast and comprehensive region between exhibition and concealment may be found all the ever-changing bits and pieces that make up my voice, and there I am.

"Yukon Raven," by Gavatron, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kiss on the Corner

I had kissed other boys before him, but I will always remember this as my first real kiss.

I was invited by my slightly older, slightly wilder friend Hannah to a party on the Upper East Side. Hannah went to another school, and was, during my restless eighth grade year, a personal portkey to a fresh crop of boys. So that Saturday, I negotiated a 1 a.m. curfew and saddled up in my black cocktail dress and fishnet stockings.

As I write this, I suddenly recall the sweet feeling of walking into a crowded party, young and dressed up, self-conscious and self-confident at the same time. I hung onto Hannah's hand and scanned the room, and I noticed him right away--surrounded by an impenetrable phalanx of girls, he was intent on breathing nitrous oxide from a huge blue balloon. Hannah looked in the direction of my gaze, and rolled her eyes. "Christopher," she said succinctly. I couldn't stop staring at him; he seemed to be enclosed in a soft bubble of blond Catholic radiance.

All evening we passed looks and he winked at me, once. I lost myself in ostentatious conversation with another boy, all the while telegraphing, so I hoped, my diffident invitation.

It was Hannah who finally, impatient with the pretense, interceded on my behalf.

"Christopher!" she called to him.  "Leah's ready to leave, and you live right around the corner from her. Take her home." and to me, sotto voce, "he's yours!"  Hannah was just like that.

Christopher shrugged and put his suede jacket ("buttery olive green," I noted specifically in my diary that night) around my shoulders, and his arm over that, and we left together, and as easy as that, I made my first tiny conquest...

We kissed in the taxi--a real kiss, a soul kiss!--and his mouth held the sharp thrilling taste of whiskey. We kissed all the way home, and then he paid the cabbie and we kissed on my corner one last time, under the street lamp, and parted ways and I never saw him again, although for a week after that, my dress held his scent of soap and liquor and cigarettes, and, very very faintly, his boyish lust...

I quietly entered the house, so pleased with myself, with my victory, as innocent as any killing ever was.

photo by my grandfather, Maxwell Pollack

Monday, August 3, 2009


I am, alas, disgustingly adept at procrastination;  I have elevated the formerly humble pursuit of the minor distraction to a high art.  Avoiding my work has become something of an obsession.

Today I was in rare form.  By noon I had accomplished the following:

I stared at my freckles in amazement, for quite awhile.  I have a lot of freckles that I never noticed.  It seemed suddenly important to catalogue them.

I called that long-suffering Sarge long-distance to discuss Victorian costume with him.  He obliged me for a few minutes, and then finally cut me off with a terse "What next, celluloid collars?"

I thought about Sarge in a celluloid collar.

I thought about Snape in a celluloid collar.

I thought that they could both pull it off, but only one would and that one wouldn't be Sarge.

I thought about whether Victorian boots would be too '80s.  And I don't mean 1880s.

I thought about how my fantasies are becoming repetitive and I would need to come up with something new if I wanted to keep my self-respect.

I drank a whole pot of coffee and then had to walk off the jangles.

I argued with my step-dad about the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution.

And then, when I thought I had exhausted all other options and had no choice but to begin my work again, I had a crafty brainstorm and crocheted a little stuffed turnip with a face, for my friend's baby.

So, what do you think?  Is he turnip-like?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Shut Up I'm the Driver, You're the Passenger*

Okay, no, that was rude and I didn't mean it.  You know by now how much I like you and how I don't want to offend.  It's just that I've come to think of that song as my song, the one I always listen to when I'm joyriding around on the back roads of upstate NY.

I was tagged for a meme by two lovely ladies, Marianna and Candie, and asked to list 7 things that make me awesome.  Well, I'm not feeling exactly awesome lately--more like odd and floaty, and overly preoccupied with my writing project, and maybe a little bit insecure, but not really so awesome.  No way could I come up with seven things.  So let me offer just one--

I got my driver's license only six years ago.  And now I am a totally freaking awesome driver.

I'm still proud of myself.  17 years passed between my first road test and my last.  At 16, I took driver's education with a boy I adored.  I couldn't concentrate during class, not even when they screened the grimly enthralling "Highway of Agony," too busy was I, gazing at Jonathan's silly curly golden mop of hair and daydreaming the 45 minutes away.  In the student car together it was even worse, so near was he to me in a closed contained space.  The heady smell of patchouli and weed overwhelmed my senses...but I digress.

I failed that first road test when I nearly drove into a Mack truck as I tried to turn left across an intersection.  The tester actually shrieked a little.  And I blame Jonathan for that one.  He didn't have to be so alluring, did he?

But I couldn't keep blaming the boy for the next 17 years, now could I? Every time someone asked about my lack of license, I replied with the old standard that I was from Brooklyn, what did I need with a car.  Oh please.

So when Hedgehog was three, I finally learned to drive.  My stepdad and Sarge took turns teaching me.  The two men had very different teaching techniques: Sarge was a harsh taskmaster (hm, at least he obliged me on that one), with a cruel look in his eye that prevented me from making mistakes, while my stepdad would get in the passenger seat and just close his eyes and pretend to nap while I drove.  Between the two of them, they managed to make me a driver.

Or, let me take some credit that I honestly deserve, I made myself into one.

I'm now just as comfortable driving in midtown Manhattan traffic on a rainy Monday evening as I am gliding along a quiet country road on a sunny afternoon.  I've just got that sang froid, behind the wheel.

Driving is something that most people take for granted; they've done it for ages, since they were very young.  For me it was enormous; it made me a grown-up, finally independent, long after that milestone usually takes place.

Since I'm tweaking this meme until it's unrecognizable, let me pose a question.  Do you have an accomplishment, near to your own heart, that's significant to you but possibly taken for granted by everyone else? Don't worry, it won't be on the test.  I'm just curious.

*"Sharp Darts" if you didn't know.

A Quick Knitting Post

Switching gears rapidly from my deviant sexuality to knitting dish cloths...

For any reader who happens to be living in the United States and is also a knitter...

and that leaves out, oh, pretty much everyone...well, there are a few of you, aren't there?...

I just wanted to direct you to the most fun you'll have with your knitting needles:

Go to the link if you like and see what it's all about; sign-ups just opened, and will close when it reaches 220 people.  Hurry hurry!