31 October 2009

Scary monsters from the past

Ooooh. I don't know why, this has nothing to do with Hallowe'en, but this morning, standing in my kitchen, minding my own business, I remembered one of the all-time biggest boogeymen from my (admittedly short) legal career. This one, at least, I did not work for -- more about that one another time perhaps. No, this one I had an interview with, one of those 10-minute mini-view jobbies that law schools set up every year for their students with, usually, top name firms. Indeed, this guy was from one of the so-called big Detroit law firms, although I cannot remember which one except it might have been one to do with tax or accounting. So why were they interviewing me, Ms Warm&FuzzyKitten? I'd like to say I have no idea except that I do have an idea. I think they chose me purely for self-entertaining purposes.

The interviewer had short dark hair, a short dark moustache, and a short dark manner. There was something vaguely rattish about his face. Here's the Voice of Hindsight talking to me, the young Jeannette: Leave. He has kept you waiting. Just blow him off. Do not look back. You don't even want to work for a law firm anyway. You hate those places. Leave as soon as you see his twitchy face. Leave as soon as you shake his swarthy hand. Definitely leave as soon as he delivers (rudely) this sentence of greeting: "So, Ms Cook. Do you think this is a game?"

A game. A game. But he was the one who was playing. He had kept me waiting, and now was winding me up. How in the world was I meant to respond? "Yes, and we are merely players" ? "No; do you think you are an asshole" ?

If I'd left I could have saved myself 10 painful minutes and a permanent dislike of swarthy men in conservative suits.

Instead I stayed, didn't quit law school like I should have, and continue to recall his ratty words too many years later.

Perhaps writing this will prove to be the equivalent of burning his effigy.

30 October 2009

True or false?

when it comes to books, "boys compete with boys and girls compete with girls, like the Olympics." Much as I'd like it to be otherwise, this is demonstrably at least somewhat true. And no matter how many times some writer–female, always–writes a piquant, well-reasoned op-ed about this phenomenon, it will remain true that carefully observed, quietly funny, romantic stories about friends, love, work and families will be marketed and reviewed as "chick lit" or "literary chick lit" if they are by women and as "coming of age stories" or "astute psychological realism" if they are by men.

-- Emily Gould in What Are Women Fighting About?

Or let's put it this way: Why doesn't the NY Library Association sell a book bag with Philip Roth, Jay McInerney, David Foster Wallace, etc on it?

Trick 'r Treat

Well, that's how we used to say it. Maybe I should spell it like Flickr... As in, Trickr Treat.

Anyway, just in time for Hallowe'en I bring you a goodie bag of recent finds on the Net:

First off, Guernica, a blog and magazine of art and politics -- a mixed bag of photographs, poetry, fiction, features, interviews. Maybe you already know it, but I just found it. Worth a look.

Then there's a real gem: Walk While Reading, a beautiful "tumblr," which in case you don't know (as I did not know) is a type of microblog, falling somewhere between a traditional weblog (like this one) and Twitter, on the blog spectrum. WWR features photos and quotes from and about writers and writing, but this description in no way does it justice. Go and see for yourself.

Next, some excellent advice on keeping a writing project alive (from David Hewson, via @jeremyduns)

And another gem of a writer: John S O'Connor's posts on Harriet, the blog of the Poetry Foundation (in the US). According to his bio page, John S O'Connor is an English teacher at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Illinois and the author of Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing and Performing Poetry, and Room Full of Chairs, a book of haiku. My favourite post of his so far: The Tree Inside My Head. The other posters on the blog are a bit hit and miss but John's I want to read every time he posts.

And finally, my friend Vincent has started blogging, his first post went up the other day. Will he go the way of some other friend bloggers (Tonnie? Leila?) Or will he go the distance? Dip into the goodie bag and find out....

Trick or treat, everyone!

(P.S., these kids are not mine, but I like that black lippy. Also, I miss those plastic pumpkins. And the little black plastic strap that bit into your palm by the end of the night.)

image credit

29 October 2009

Swim, delicate sisters!

"All those stars both silvery and golden": The Pleiades star cluster, from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), 14 October 2009.

Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter,
Longer than the sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.

Quotes are portions of On the Beach At Night by Walt Whitman (1819-1892).

28 October 2009

An act of courage in which we expose ourselves

The only thing worth saying in a book review, Raymond Carver once said, is Good job, keep writing! Some people hearing that line assumed he was soft-hearted if not soft-minded – but Carver was neither. He knew that writing, especially personal writing, is an act of courage in which we expose ourselves — what we stand for, what we believe, what we feel — to public scrutiny.

- John S O'Connor in Harriet, a blog of the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine in the US.

image credit: Walk While Reading

27 October 2009

More about novelling

And NaNoWriMo, here, on Writing Neuroses, a blog I've started to follow. Still tempted? Still undecided? I won't be doing it (1666 words a day? Sorry, Charlie), but I wish someone I know would do it so I could live vicariously through them. Any takers?

Oh dear how I do Twitter on

I have finally caved in, and am now on Twitter.

Here, if you are as insatiably curious as I suspect you are.

Yes, I spent far too long fiddling with the colour scheme of that profile page. But I couldn't help myself. Nobody can.

Frankly I am amazed that I held out this long.

26 October 2009

Infrequently Asked Question #3: So, how's the writing going?

Wow. So glad you asked! As a matter of fact it feels like I've hit a plateau, only not a flat one, but a stretch of path that is so bloody steep I have to wonder if this mountain thing isn't just a metaphor. I'm out of breath. I'm literally climbing. I've got hiking boots on and thick ugly socks and a stick in one hand, to help me. I'm thinking that I've got to change those socks. I'm thinking that my thighs must look fat in these shorts. Any minute now I expect to see something scenic, but that minute keeps coming and the next one and the next one and still no glorious feeling. Where is Maria singing "Climb Every Mountain" when I need her? Maria, please come and find me. Maria, please come and remind me why I think writing is my favourite thing.

Image credit.

23 October 2009

Guest Post Poem by Martin Westlake

Some years ago, Sterling Books here in Brussels had a Poetry Day and my friend Martin and I went down and recited poems to the staff in exchange for €10 vouchers. I did Button. Martin did Crushed Salamander.

Martin's poem has since been, recently, published, but as it is not available online he has graciously given me permission to post it here.

It just goes to show, one's poems do eventually find a home....


Crushed Salamander

by Martin Westlake

The beet hills massed expectantly

As we left the field and headed

Down the track towards the stream.

Colour flashed in the rutted lane;

A crushed salamander, vividly dead,

Spread gut-strewn in a puddle.

The straggling blackthorns shrugged, as if to say:

‘You may have been able to walk through fire, my friend,

But you were no match for a tractor.’

From United In Words, Poetry Now, Peterborough, 2009, (www.forwardpress.co.uk) ISBN: 978-184418-490-3

22 October 2009

OK, I know may sound crazy, but

I've been getting up in the morning and baking. Yes. Baking.

Not every day. A morning here, a morning there.

It's quiet in the kitchen, and the sky still dark, and the oven whirs as it starts to heat up and the act of making something nice takes the edge off having to be up to make boring sandwiches.

And if I pop something in the oven when I leave to walk Clover to the bus stop, by the time I leave for the office I can take a warm, fresh piece of it with me.

I've made zucchini bread, and oatmeal cookies. It's 6.3o in the morning, and I'm whisking egg whites. Yep. And I enjoy it.

I think there comes a time when you have to accept things about yourself: I will never be cool. I like things to be calm. I like patterns. I don't like other people's baked goods.

Tip: something like zucchini bread can be thrown together fairly quickly. But for cookies it's best to make the dough the night before, and in the morning just scoop and bake them.

Closet morning bakers, I'd love to hear I'm not alone....

Rolling pin image credit.

21 October 2009

Reading in English -- bilingual kids and mother tongue pride

Clover, my daughter, unexpectedly turned a most delightful corner this weekend: she's started to read in English.

Now this may not seem earth-shattering news. She's nearly 10 and has been reading in French, the language in which she is schooled, since the first grade.

But I have to say that with raising kids bilingually, especially when they are schooled in a language that is not yours, the pride you feel in their ability is tempered by a bittersweet feeling that they are missing out on something you enjoyed, and hoped they would one day share. I'm talking, I suppose, mainly about books, and reading in English. And specifically, reading children's books in English (and please, no sassy comments about American English, thanks).

I get a pang in my heart when I see Clover's older sister reading French translations of childhood classics. But of course she reads faster and better in French, and I'm glad she likes reading, so I won't force the originals on her. And sometimes she wants to read the VO (=version originale, as they refer here to films that have not been dubbed in the local language(s)). But I wonder, did she not love Laura Ingalls Wilder's books because she tried them in translation? I want her to love (eventually) the great wealth that is Anglo literature -- Dickens and Austen and 'Catcher in the Rye'; I want her to go through a Hemingway phase, and an e e cummings one, and even (should they still be in print) a Judy Blume one.

Helsinki started to read in English of her own accord, sometime around the age of 9 or 10 -- just like Clover has now done, only I'd forgotten about it in that way you forget about things with children that are not your firstborn. I don't know exactly what happened, either, this weekend, to set Clover off. Maybe it was because I'd cleaned out the bookshelves (Hels and I sold bunch of books to Pêle-Mêle for €35!), and we found a couple of Doctor Seuss books, which I said to keep. But I don't recall that I gave them, especially, to her, or told her to read them. Well, whatever happened, she picked one up, gave it a try, and now thanks to The Foot Book we are literarily off and running. I overheard the strains of Hop on Pop from her bedroom. And last night we branched out into The Color Kittens, which I remember reading with my grandmother, and I am so pleased that she, too, loves to chant the last lines of the book:

Sing Ho for the color of Brush
Sing Ho for the color of Hush
Sing Ho for the color of Brush and Hush
Sing Ho for the color of color
Now hush!

Classic. I was full of mother tongue pride.

20 October 2009

Evel Me

It's that time of year again. Writing-bloggers are blogging about NaNoWriMo (here, for example), National Novel Writing Month, which I guess applies outside the US as well (I just checked -- yes, it does), in which you and a thousand other wanna-be novelists write 50,000 words from 1-30 November. That's 1666.66666... (etc) words a day for 30 days, or 2000 words a day from 1-26 November, at which point you could have a well-deserved Thanksgiving. Appealing? I'm not sure.

For some reason I can't figure out, I'm sorely tempted to try it. I think it's because it has a "quick-fix" feel -- like "30 days to better abs". It is completely unrealistic of me to think I could squeeze this in. So there's that, too -- the challenge effect. How hard can it be? Well, hard, I'm guessing. Have you ever tried to write 1666.6666 etc coherent words a day for 30 days in a row? More to the point would be how many days it would take for utter gibberish to take over.

On the other hand, it seems obvious that these days, one needs a stunt. It isn't enough to keep up the daily grind, word in and word out; oh no. It has to be special. There has to be pizzazz, a gimmick, a "wow" factor. It needs a crash helmet and Evel Knievel. I quite like being Jeannette, mild mannered meal maker and time-challenged dreanmer. But this Jeannette, in all honesty, is really dull. A person these days must be Super Jeannette, Evel Jeannette, word-wielding daredevilless who jumps over 2000 words a day for 30 days with her Intel-powered, Atom N280 processor with 1.66GHz Seashell... Whoosh! Can you feel it? Whoosh! Can you feel it? Can anybody out there feel it? Will somebody let me know?


image credit.

19 October 2009

At the desk

I am ignoring the bags of excess that are the result of last weekend's bookshelf-shifting. Instead I am sitting at my desk, at last, not cooking, not fretting. But there are so many unfinished poems! My path does not seem clear. Nothing is ready to submit to the NPC, with their tempting 3 big prizes and 10 covetable "commendeds". Not that I would expect one of my pieces to make that top 13 but none of them will, most certainly, if none are entered. I have one unfinished poem that is actually original enough that, if I pull it off, it might be able to hold its own in a competition. Two others are tied up somewhere else, and I am loathe to tempt fate by submitting them simultaneously. I work on this poem, and by 'work' I mean this: sometimes tweaking a word here and there, but mostly staring at the screen as though if I do that for long enough the solution will leap out at me. It was Paul Valery

who said it: A poem is never finished, only abandoned....

18 October 2009

World where I live

The entrance to one of the secret parks in my neighborhood.

No, I'm not going to tell you where it is -- but you are welcome to guess!

16 October 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie

Has anybody heard of Tuesdays with Dorie? It's a group of people who, every Tuesday, bake one recipe from Dorie Greenspan's book From My Home to Yours. Well, okay, they don't have to actually bake it on Tuesday. Participants can bake the selected recipe at any time during the week, but they have to post about the results on a Tuesday. Also you don't have to do it every single week, just at least 2 out of 4. It sounds like fun, doesn't it? But taking photos of the result -- ! Just this morning I attempted several photos of fresh zucchini bread, having promised to make an effort after the fish pie, and let me tell you, food photography is hard. On the other hand, how bad can it be? Because I'm baking all the darn time anyway.

15 October 2009

Sex, love and paperclips

Being social has its benefits. While out and about this weekend, someone actually asked me what I write about. I started blathering on about "life, the universe, etc.," -- as you do -- when the guy sitting next to me, the husband of a friend, burst out "Men! She writes about men!" Then he turned to me: "Don't you?"

It was a moment reminiscent of Tonnie's "Do you write about your culture?" In a lightning strike of clarity, I realized: Yes, I do. I do write about men*. And sex. And buttons. And gloves. And runaway brides. And, now, like Tonnie, I know it.

*Hm, will have to post one of the ones about men.

14 October 2009

Fish pie

This is for Patti, my sister-in-law, who seems to be in a food rut. I made it last night on a whim and I'm glad I did. I have wanted to make fish pie for ages but have always been put off by complicated recipes -- sorry, Nigel Slater but yours from Appetite was way too complex and Nigella, yours was no better. This is adapted and roughly halved from Jo Pratt's In the Mood for Food, a book I have recommended before. Anyway. This is good and easy and I'm eating the leftovers for lunch today.

Special note to Patti: this has absolutely egg-free.

Also special note for everyone: it isn't really a pie, it's more like a thick, positively unctuous chowder, baked with potato on top.

What you need: milk, 200ml or about 1 cup; butter; onions or leeks or spring onions, whatever you have, finely chopped; bit of flour; parsley, chopped; salt and pepper; lemon; about 200g (a good sized piece) of fresh white fish like cod or haddock; a cup of cooked prawns/shrimp (i.e., they should be peeled and ready to eat); one good slice of smoked salmon; about one cup of grated cheddar cheese (I spiked mine with Parmesan); one sweet potato, peeled. (Note: these portions make enough for about 2 people, with a bit leftover, unless you are ravenous.)

How to do it: Pre-heat oven to 180C or 350F. In saucepan, melt 50g/a good tablespoon's worth of butter and sauté the onion until soft, then add the flour, and let it cook for a minute, and then add the milk, stirring until you have a smoothish sauce. It won't be completely smooth because of the onion. Let it sit on the heat while you cut the fish into chunks, then add the white fish, the prawns, and the smoked salmon (cut into squares). Stir a bit and let it bubble till the white fish starts to be cooked. Add the parsley and salt and pepper and a couple good squeezes of lemon. While the fish gently bubbling, grate the sweet potato -- coarsely; then melt some more butter into a sauté pan and sauté the grated sweet potato for a few minutes. At this point, pour the fish part into a small casserole dish (a deepish one, the one I used was about 15 cm in diameter, which is what, 6 inches?), topping first with the sweet potato, and then with the grated cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes....

I would have eaten this with peas, I suppose, or asparagus, if I could have been bothered. But I wasn't.

image credit - next time I will take a photo of my own

13 October 2009

Not writing

The other day I asked a friend how her writing was going. She said, "It isn't." This is, I think, one of the most crap (crappestm crappiest?) feelings possible. It does come back, was my first response -- I've been writing for long enough to be able to say that. But the deep dark secret truth that I didn't say is, that at the moment I haven't been writing much either. It looks like I am because a couple of poems were published and I submitted a couple of others and intend to submit some more by the end of the month. But that's not writing. There are notebooks full of half-drafts that I'd like to get to, so why have I not been at the desk every morning by 8.15? (8.15 is when I get back from taking Clover to the bus stop.) I'm doing yoga, I'm cooking lunches, I'm vacuuming the furniture, I'm clearing out bookshelves... I'm doing just about anything but sit down at my desk. The Seashell is up and running, connected to everything, so what's wrong with me? I make a few notes in my journal and all too soon voila, time is up, it's off to the day job and the contrôle technique and the everything else that seems so important, but isn't. There's a lesson in here about priorities perhaps. Well. If so, I'm ready to learn it.

image credit

12 October 2009

Scary... and more scary

This weekend was very social, unusually for me, because whenever I think I might have free time I automatically think that I will write in it. That's because I am more ambitious than people think. I used to be ambitious and I'm pretty sure people could see it, but once I had children a cloak of invisibility descended, and now they have no idea. It probably doesn't help that I am pathologically unable to feed my children crap food and let them watch too much tv, both of which are vital for a woman who wants to get anywhere after motherhood. I'm working on it. The socializing was good, however, because naturally, I should get out more. I may even be inspired to have people over. I know... Scary. Even more scary, Lichfield and I decided to rearrange the bookshelves Sunday evening. No, let me rephrase that. I fancied moving the bookshelves and Lichfield gallantly helped me. Result: by 10 pm the entire living room was rearranged, and 1 Ikea bag and 3 Delhaize bags full of "excess" are now in the hallway, waiting for me to weed through them. And now I covet this:

only in red, and either this:

or this:

I really don't know what is the matter with me.

10 October 2009

Head, or part of a head

It's the sort of temporary art installation one sees so often around here.... This was in front of La Monnaie, the opera house. I think the expression is rather peaceful, don't you? Or would be if the rest of his body wasn't balanced on top of him:

09 October 2009

Perfect Boiled Egg

By complete chance this morning I made the perfect boiled egg. The white was firm and the yolk was perfectly balanced between hard and soft -- not at all runny, I don't like that, but not dry either. Sort of moelleux if that word can apply to eggs. Anyway. Here's what to do, and none of that "make sure your eggs are room temperature" crap.

1.Take egg from fridge and put it directly into pan with a bit of water -- say, about 1/4 of the way up the side of the egg.

2. Place pan on stove, turn on heat to about medium.

3. Boil kettle.

4. When kettle is boiled, pour boiling water over egg until it is completely submerged. Then, keeping the water at a rolling boil, cook for 5 minutes.

That's it! Pop it in an egg cup and eat it!

08 October 2009

The flute teacher's cat (Le chat de ma prof de la flûte)

Elle regarde tout:

tout ce qu'elle voit

tout ce qu'elle veut

tout ce qu'elle vœux.

Et celle qu'elle ne peut pas regarder,

elle rêve.

* * *
Please, feel free to correct my French.

IAQ No. 23: Can you make poems happen?

Can you make poems happen? Or any writing, for that matter? I think you can, to some extent -- you can bring yourself to the table; you can bring yourself to the page for 5, 10, 15, etc minutes; you can take a deep breath and see what happens. You can, as with the theatre, suspend your disbelief. You can stop telling yourself that you're no good, that you have no time, that you're going nowhere, that what is the point. Those old sand traps. You can decide to enjoy yourself, you can listen to your own advice, the advice you give your children: who cares what those other kids think? Those people in your life who are so full of 'shoulds' for everyone else.... Well, so what. As if. So there.

That's all for the moment.

Image: my own, the sidewalk on rue Rouge outside Park Wolvendael, the morning of 7 October.

07 October 2009

Mother Bear

I am in the kitchen again,
cooking again.

By the time I am done I think I will have cooked

– Except duck à l'orange. No one likes duck à l'orange.

– And Peking duck. No one cooks that.

Okay, so nothing with duck,
but some things I have cooked so much,

I could cook them asleep standing up.
In fact part of me is sleeping

even as I speak. It may not be
immediately obvious,

but here is the part you see,
stirring, seasoning, chopping,

and there is the part that is sleeping
oh so far down

in my mother bear bed,

as the mother bear sleeps:




dreaming of the red berries
that grow in the deep dark woods.

06 October 2009


Found an interesting new site called

run by HarperCollins. It describes itself as a
community site for writers, readers and publishers, conceived and developed by book editors at HarperCollins.
In a nutshell, what happens on the site is that writers can upload their unpublished books, and other people can read them and rank them:

Visitors to authonomy can comment on these submissions – and can personally recommend their favourites to the community. authonomy counts the number of recommendations each book receives, and uses it to rank the books on the site. It also spots which visitors consistently recommend the best books – and uses that info to rank the most influential trend spotters.

We hope the authonomy community will guide publishers straight to the freshest writing talent – and will give passionate and thoughtful readers a real chance to influence what’s on our shelves.

Hm. I registered, because a friend of mine has recently uploaded a book there. (Murray Gunn: Dragon Bones.) It's free, and you don't have to register to read the books although you do have to register, I think, in order to comment on them. You also have to read online, at the moment you cannot download to a reader, although that would really be perfect, wouldn't it? Lichfield and I were talking about "micro payments" yesterday and how these could impact the e-book world; I'd probably be willing to pay a cent or half a cent (ooh, bring back the half-penny!) to download some one's WIP into my reader... It does strike me that the site is possibly a substitute for the HarperCollins slush pile, but why not? Don't only underpaid interns read the slush piles in the first place? If anyone?

What puzzles me though is why I haven't heard about Authonomy before. Is anyone out there involved with the site? Love it? Hate it? What's the skinny?

05 October 2009

We are live and on-line

here, unexpectedly, or at least sooner than I was expecting, but that is all right, I am very very pleased, and will be walking around all day wearing an imaginary tiara, because that's what getting your poems published feels like.

Image credits here.

03 October 2009

Another example of how things sound better in French

I recently bought a sweater made by Point Virgule (I think this is them, though I can't find my sweater there). It's my new favourite sweater. But do you know what "point virgule" means? Semi-colon. Not quite the same thing, is it? It makes me wonder if any type of punctuation in English would make a good clothing label. Parentheses? Ampersand? What do you think?

01 October 2009

Money for poems.... and your chicks for free

I'm getting paid for 2 poems which will very shortly be published -- received an email this morning regarding the payment arrangements. I didn't expect this to feel so good but let me tell you, it feels FANTASTIC. It's like a ride on a merry-go-round -- once you're off, you want to go around again. And again. And again. And in addition, it's total and complete validation of the sort that you need in the big bad world, where even people who like you don't give you a lot of respect for being a poet. When are you going to get a real job, eh? What does poetry do, anyway?

Now that aint workin thats the way you do it....