Archive for May, 2010


Sunday, May 30th, 2010

My house was robbed last night. We were all out, when my son got back home he found the back door kicked in, and found some laptops, a game system, and an acoustic guitar missing. It was worth a lot, for the people whose stuff was stolen, it was probably worth much more for those who took it. It was an obviously amateur job – they took cables but not speakers, dropped the controller of the game system in the back yard, and left lots of fingerprints and a shoe print on the door for the forensics guy. We can’t be sure they were the perpetrators, but a group of young men were reported loitering near the house some time before the robbery.

There were different responses from friends, acquaintances, and neighbors when they heard about it. Many were angry on my behalf, which I appreciated, but I didn’t feel particularly angry myself. I felt sad, that there are people who must overcome their better nature and do these things, who are in circumstances that make it necessary to take the risk that is surely involved in what they did. I got a lot of advice – about self-defense, alarm systems, someone even said “we are in a war”. It was unexpected. I was not delighted that my house was robbed, but I am glad that it was not the house of my ninety year old neighbor. I am glad that neither I, nor any of my children were home at the time of the break-in. I am glad that the cat was unharmed.

It’s normal to be angry, and feel threatened, and take unreasonable precautions after such a thing happens. But I feel I shouldn’t forget to ask why. Not why these particular people did this, but why anyone does. I just don’t think there are “evil” people out there who enjoy stealing and being criminals. There might be a few, of course – like those on Wall street. But for the most part, I have a feeling that people have to be desperate to do desperate things.

Simple Life

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I turned on my porch lights at sundown as I usually do. I noticed that the light on one side didn’t come on. I assumed the bulb was fused, and went to take it out, when I saw that the light sconce was full of twigs and leaves. Over the next few days, a tiny brown bird was seen by everyone frantically flying back and forth with more twigs and leaves. I figured I could do without the porch light till she had moved out.

This week she is still frantically flying back and forth, now with insects as big and wide as herself – dragonflies, beetles, cockroaches – there is no dearth of these in Florida. She shoves these down the throats of her three little babies, who set up a great chirring and screeing every time she nears the nest. Earlier this week there was a tragedy in the family. Marley, one of the inmates of my house, also known as the land shark by the neighbors, caught and ate the daddy, so the poor female has to do double duty with the feeding. If Marley the cat is successful in making the mommy his post lunch snack, the baby birds will not live either.
It is a simple thing – the lives of birds. And cats.

And then there is the oil spill. Our lives are not simple. We need oil. A company that provides us with that oil is capable of decimating an ocean, laying our coastline to waste, and bringing to their knees thousands of people who want and need that oil. And also of ending those simple lives of all the pelicans and turtles and crawfish and oysters and millions of creatures and plants in the path of that awful red tide.

I drive an oil guzzler. If I am not personally responsible for this particular disaster, I am at least aware that I do not live a simple life. I take more than I can ever give to this planet. I don’t have answers, or solutions, only questions. And regrets.

I shoo the cat away from under the nest in my porch light.


Monday, May 17th, 2010

auraNearing the end of my five mile walk through the green humid woods of Tallahassee, I noticed something on my sunglasses slightly obscuring my vision. I took them off and wiped them on my sweat-soaked t-shirt. Joe and I kept walking, the gang of children including my son running ahead of us appeared and disappeared among the trees, like woodland creatures. I had swum an hour that morning with another friend, done a respectable amount of editing, had my four-month teeth cleaning, and couldn’t refuse a long walk with my friend in my barefoot shoes. My t-shirt must have left a streak of sweat on my sunglasses, I thought, and I took them off an wiped them again. We kept walking. Five miles is a long distance, and after a swim and a dental visit, it can seem endless. Just as I said despairingly to Joe, “is this ever going to end?” we saw the park entrance at the end of the final stretch. I wiped my glasses one more time, without success. The right side was a blur. We herded the kids into the car, and as I began to drive, I realized that I had not just a blur, but no sight at all in my right eye. All I could see was a spiky neon sign in purples and blues on the periphery of my vision, and when I turned to take a better look, I couldn’t catch it, like some memory you can’t quite grasp. It was bright and clear as long as I didn’t try to look at it directly. It was very beautiful. It always is. I always wish it would last longer.  It is my own private, tiny, exquisite hallucination.

I have experienced too few migraines to recognize the early signs, but too many to not fear the pain. I drove carefully home with my one good eye (and my hands on the wheel and my foot on the gas), and took two Excedrin  immediately. I was sweaty and tired and thought a long hot shower would help. There is a moment between the aura – the blindness and light displays – and the onset of the pain – that is one of the calmest feelings I have ever felt. It is a moment of hope, that the pain will not come, a moment of knowing the near future – that the pain will come, and the sense of  inevitability, and the beauty and simplicity of that is almost overwhelming. I stood in the shower until it passed, and until the pain started. After that, all you can do, as all migraine havers know, is to lie in a cold dark place and wait for it to leave you.

It does.

Some people experience real euphoria after the pain. I, unfortunately, don’t. I just feel relieved to be back in control, and greatly relieved that the fire burning the left side of my brain has died out completely, leaving nothing but a cool sigh, a complete retreat from the bottom of the abyss.

Until next time.

Modesty Blaise

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
Modesty Blaise

Modesty Blaise

If I was to be honest about who influenced my writing and my fantasies about life and love, I would have to say Modesty Blaise. It is ironic that she is a pulp fiction character created by a man, that she could be mistaken for a male fantasy. But she was far from that. And if she was, it was a man very secure in his maleness to unleash a woman like her on the world. Modesty is stronger than most men, more resourceful, more wily, more – just about anything. And she is everything I am not – fabulous, an ex-criminal, a crack shot…  and everything I have never actually wanted to be. I think. But she was an inspiration in a way that no one else, either real or imagined, ever was.

Her creator, Peter O’Donnell died this month. I never got the chance to say thank you to him, but if I had, I would say, thank you Mr.O’Donnell. For giving me such a role model. Not all role models are realistic, or even real. I need superheros. Modesty has always been with me, a woman with muscles and wit, principles and loyalty, honesty and wisdom, and spare change and Willie Garvin to boot!

Anytime anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never said it out loud, but in my head, every single time without fail I would say, “Modesty Blaise”.

Erratic Engineering

Friday, May 7th, 2010

As I work on editing and think about the shape and layout and progression of the IIT Hostel4 book, I am amazed at the audaciousness of these boys’ lives (they were all boys, H4 is a men’s hostel, and I say ‘boys’ and not ‘men’ because they were between 16 and 22, and my experience with a 19 year old son tell me ‘boys’ is appropriate). Some of those boys are now men, and some of them tell stories wonderfully, and a lot of them have stories to tell. This is, to me, a kind of collection of legends and folktales and myths and memories that together gives a picture of hostel life in the early eighties, of course, but also a glimpse into the psyche of that age group – a highly intelligent group of them. I have fathers (two) and a husband and many old and now many new friends who were IITians. I have always wondered – do they have to be a certain way to go into that institution, or did they come out that way after being there? I was hoping for answers while reading these stories, but there seem to be none so far.

While doing this book, I am painfully aware of another looming deadline – I made a commitment to my editor that I would write a collection of short stories by the end of August. Not just short stories, a collection of erotic short fiction. It started as a joke, and I took it as a challenge. But I was also curious about my writing. Could I write to spec and still be me as a writer? and could I break out and “go all the way” in my writing? I’m two stories down, about seven to go. To me these stories seem more bizarre than erotic… but, we’ll see. And I am certain that living day in and day out in a hostel full of seething teenage hormones (I’m sure no one will disagree with me here) – which is what I do when I read and edit the H4 stories – is hindering me badly in my quest for the perfect erotic story. There’s nothing erotic about engineering students… or is there?

Madhouse and marathon dreams

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Two things happened to me in the last two months that changed the course of my life. (I had a birthday, but that didn’t change the course of my life – we go relentlessly on, birthday after birthday until we run out of them, so birthdays don’t count as life changers in that sense. Even a 47th.)


So: First, I was co-opted to edit a book of memoirs of a bunch of guys from Hostel4 in IIT Bombay. I don’t really know if co-opted is the right word – this is something that happened so organically as to seem natural. I am surrounded by IITians, and have always been. Two fathers and husband, his friends who became mine over the years, and me thinking one day when he read out some his hostel stories from emails his mates wrote to each other, that they were universally hilarious or poignant, and would make a great book. As it turned out, they wanted it to be a book. And before long, and I really mean before long, we were headlong into a process that involved a publisher (Westland/Tranquebar), a contract, and a whole lot of work. I thought it impossible, but they wanted the book released by December 26th, which is their annual alumni day, and the publisher said, yes, if you give us a completed manuscript by July 5th. Yeow! Bring it on!

Why this looks like it will happen, and happen well, is that the writers of this book are amazing. The stories are pouring in, they are more often than not well written accounts of hostel life, of fellow students, professors, hikes, relationships, but most of all, and this is to me what really makes them worth reading, they are honest and straightforward.

My job is in a way hard, because there are all kinds of stories from all kinds of people and viewpoints and angles. I have to put them all together in a way that gives the book flow and form. But in a way, because of the content and the quality of the memoirs, if I do nothing more than clean up typos and put a title on it, this will be a book worth reading.

So for the last two months and the next two, I have put aside my next novel and a book of short stories which is due to my publisher in August to edit Madhouse – True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel4.

The second thing that happened to me is that my friend Jane, someone who I always thought a bit mad because she goes on very long runs at all times of day or night, gave me a book for my birthday. It’s called Born To Run. As strange coincidence would have it, or maybe it’s synchronicity, my walking partner Joanna had slowly started making our long walks together more run than walk. By the end of the book, I had this thought: I want to be a long distance runner. This is particularly odd for me – I have always hated running. Hated. And I know that at 47 I may never run more than five miles non-stop. But the idea sits in my brain like a little slow release endorphin capsule. My Vibrams (five finger shoes – they prohibit linking to their website)  make it possible to run without the dreaded “running” shoes – I was always afraid of them, thinking my foot would twist and then my leg would break off at the ankle if I ever ran. Nor are my lungs yet rid of all the nicotine I have enjoyed over the years (and boy, have I enjoyed every drag). But, who knows – the horizon is all the way there, and I haven’t run out of birthdays yet, and my legs work, and, till gravity has its way with me, I can keep trying. Better to try to run and not succeed than sit on a couch and fail for sure.

Happy Birthday all!