Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't be Scared of Amaro ...

It's nearly Thanksgiving. Grab some amaro. Your stomach will thank you.

(I finally tried the Dell 'Erborista that Jeff Faile is so crazy about. It's delicious, and not nearly as toxically bitter as I'd been expecting. Nice and minty on the end.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seeing Through Red

I come from a tribe (redheads) notorious for our tempers. Supposedly, we're born with them. They come to us naturally, unasked for as freckles.

I'm on the fence about whether this notoriety is justified or just one of those weird color associations -- heat, fire, anger, red hair. Myself, I tend to take a good while to heat up, but at a certain point, I do, in fact, go nuclear.

Much like the feeling of being in the writing "zone," there is a kind of physical elation to being angry. When something happens that really makes me livid (this happens only a few times a year, thank God), I could tear up a phone book. I could run miles. Rage sharpens my wit, hardens my logic to a burning point, energizes my core. I feel great. My hands itch for a pen or a keyboard to respond. I'm Superfly TNT. I'm an atom bomb laying mothereffer, mothereffer. And if you are the one who has hurt or wronged me or my colleagues or my friends or my loved ones, I am going to lay into you with all my spleen and intelligence to make sure you know you have done wrong and that it's your fault and that you should stew in a boiling cauldron of leprous lemur dung. I will put in writing a vast glossary of your failings and hypocrisies and moral lapses, such that you will -- on hearing them -- have no course but to wither in shame and move to Siberia to cope with the anguish of the realization of your complete worthlessness.

Given my approach to handling anger, I suspect you may have a question. I will answer it.

The ONLY reason I still have friends, a job, and am close to my family is simple: Once I have written this bilious Ode to Another's Horribleness, satisfying the most primal and hurt part of me, salved my ego and my need to roar, I do not SEND it to them. I do not post it on social media and tag them in it.

I sit with it.

And I think: What makes me believe this other person's action was even about/related to me in any way? Could there be another scenario? Is there a possibility I have misunderstood the events, the intention? Is it possible this person had a bad day and is not, in fact, Hitler? Is my declaration of their loathsomeness, perhaps, a tad overstated?

Even if isn't, is my ego truly such a fragile, crumbling fortress that it warrants such verbal boiling oil to be poured on another human being who, after all, is dealing with pressures and anxieties and invisible parental/internal/supervisory judgments I have no way of knowing?

Then I write Draft #2.

Seriously, people. Draft #2 is your best friend.

Draft #2 keeps you employed, friended, espoused. Draft #2 keeps you from making a complete ass of yourself by posting insane rants on your website, or calling your ex when you shouldn't, or biting that patronizing VP on the hand when he goes to give you that chummy pat on the back.

Draft #2 keeps you from the kind of megalomania that insists you are absolutely right about what you perceive -- and that since you are right, others who perceive it differently must be utterly wrong.

Draft #2 keeps you human by forcing you to remember that others are also.

As a writer and a redhead both, I have to write Draft #1. But as a writer and a redhead both, Draft #2 is the one I feel better about. It's the one that doesn't come naturally.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An Epic Bourbon Comeback

A rediscovered family history, a glimpse at booze marketing, and the fascinating back-story behind many American whiskeys.

The Nelson boys are working their butts off. I hope they make it work.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Summer, Suburbs, Syria

A golden afternoon, late summer;
the neighbor children wander home,
their hair is damp, their skin is dewy
from the bleach-clean depths of the local pool.
Only a few short blocks home;
wrapped in towels, their feet are bare,
Mom last, bringing up the line,
already glancing at her phone
to see the shots she’s taken there:

her sons and daughter learning how
to swim across those shallow depths,
to pant to get that deeper breath
before they push off from the side
and press their bodies through the blue—
the way they gasp at the far end,
then turn to be sure that she’s seen:
it’s not real without her witnessing.

The pride they smirk, to feel less fear,
when launching their brown bodies high
above the deep below the dives
shimmers in their reddened eyes
walking home now, happy, tired,
their small lithe bodies glistening
in this golden afternoon of summer.

They’ll fall asleep right after dinner,
be carried limply up to bed,
their mother, almost accidentally,
smelling their still-chlorined hair:
the bleach-clean depths of the summer pool,
the child-smell underneath like bread,

that same smell that makes a dad lean down—
even though he knows, he knows the signs,
he’s seen them in his neighbors, friends,
and yet he cannot stop himself—
to smell the still and much-loved head.
The shakes hit then, first from weeping,
then as the nerve remnants take hold,
the smell of shit and human meat.

A golden afternoon, late summer.
We have our children, have our homes.
We cannot make the dead not dead.
We can't seem to save, deter, protect.
We scroll through updates on our phones,
and wait to see which path of death
our choked elected will elect.

Children, learn to hold your breath.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Latest drinks column for the Washington Post: Summer Produce in Cocktails

This was a fun one to write, even if recipe testing did result in a red pepper blender incident that made our kitchen look like an abattoir.
Tippling in the Garden
As a longtime renter, I have yet to invest in a garden. Honestly, my history with plants isn’t great. I often apologize to leafy gifts: “Look, amaryllis, let’s be honest. This is not going to end well for you.” We remember to care for our dog primarily because she is a beagle, a breed that — if left unfed for an hour — releases a sound with all the restraint and politesse of Internet commenters discussing Obamacare.
Still, in summer I start entertaining gardening fantasies, a rich dirt-rotica worthy of “50 Shades of Green.” They reached a fever pitch as I read Amy Stewart’s “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks,” most of which focuses on the botanical origins of ready-to-drink alcohols: the grapes, the hops, the wheat. The last segment, though, gets DIY. “Gardeners are the ultimate mixologists,” Stewart writes. “Even the most ordinary vegetable patch yields the mixers and garnishes that make remarkable drinks: It is nothing for a gardener to produce lemon verbena, rose geranium blossoms, sweet yellow tomatoes, and deep red stalks of heirloom celery.”
Read the rest here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wait Till He Sees a Cell Phone

I was waiting in line this morning as a gas station cashier explained the customer discount program.

Cashier: You see, you swipe this card, and it keeps track of your purchases. When you reach $50, you get a discount.
Man: I understand THAT part. But how does this card work?
Cashier: You swipe it, like a credit card.
Man: But how does it know what I'm buying?
Cashier: It tracks your purchase. When you swipe the magnetic stripe.
Man: What is it? What tracks my purchase?
Cashier: The system that the cards are connected to.
Man: But how? HOW does it know? How can it possibly KNOW that?

At this time, I decided a) to purchase coffee elsewhere, and b) to first check the parking lot for the pile of discarded colonial garb this man shed when he was transported from the mists of the past. I really need a new tricorn hat.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Method is Madness

Days of peace and quiet at home often leave me barely able to write a word. But after an hour in a loud, crowded coffee shop, I'm more than 1,500 words farther into this short story I've been struggling to finish. 

For some reason, I seem to be more able to tune out the distractions in my brain when I have to focus on tuning out other distractions as well. 

Can some expert on brain function explain this one, please? 

I have a hard time writing with loved ones nearby. If someone looks over my shoulder, it cripples me for hours. But give me a room full of boisterous strangers, and all of a sudden the flow starts. It is as though the noise actually drowns out my internal distractions.

Do other writers experience this? Where do you write? Do you have to have particular conditions, objects, temperatures? Are you picky about needing your favorite chair or music or brand of whiskey (and if so, does this need make you feel guilty?) 

Or can you do this thing wherever you are, whenever you need to? If so, please send instructions. Because my inspirations and capacity for focus seem to hit in large, loud crowds, while I'm driving (I've occasionally voicemailed myself with poem and story ideas; I suppose it's better than texting), and at around 3 in the morning when I should be asleep.

Send in the clowns. They seem to help me think.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Walking the dog
through the cool bluish dark
you may be fortunate enough
to enter the cul-de-sac
in time to overhear, from one
of the yellow windows
of the nearby apartment complex, someone --
a child? --
practicing the violin.

It's not important that they be good at it -- in fact,
it may be best if they aren't. How rare,
to be near to one who, concentrating,
neither senses your nearness nor fears it.
You stand a long time,
listening, as one sequence
is played over and over,
plaintive swathes of bow
creaking, pleading,
seeking something,

as the dog strains toward home,
and you try to follow the flight
of a little bat overhead,
a nick of black against blue
beyond the flicker of the streetlight.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Drinking Habit Finally Pays Off

Or should I call it a drinking hobby? Yeah, drinking hobby sounds better.

My near-miss with the Green Fairy in the Washington Post, here.

And a recipe for a pretty good cocktail, here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Piñata" is out, ¡Olé!

Several copies of the latest issue of the Alabama Literary Review arrived in my mailbox yesterday. While I always prefer to receive cold, hard, roll-in-it-nekkid cash, contributor's copies are always appreciated -- especially when they look so nice.

My story in the issue, "Piñata," is about a woman who has recently immigrated to San Francisco from India, and what she finds in her newly adopted country--and within the strange environs of her arranged marriage, which comes complete with an obnoxious teenage stepson, an aggressively perky  sexpot who may have designs on her husband, and confusing jellybeans. Here's a brief excerpt:

In San Francisco it rained most of the time, and the streets filled up with fog. The sunlight that came through was pale and damp, like something that lived in a cave. Divyesh was more silent than he had seemed in Delhi, his son was a terrible, cruel boy, and the English lessons she had daydreamed through had not prepared her for how it was spoken here, quickly and with mysterious inflections. The house they lived in was small and modern, so close to the next house that Jimi could climb out onto the roof and pee on the tiny herb garden that belonged to their lady neighbor. Divyesh did not know he did this, but Sahana had seen the streams arcing past the kitchen window. The lady next door, a stout Latina who worked on the city council, thought that the urine smell was due to homeless people passing through the alley. She had left a note recently, asking them to report strangers they saw. 

A few weeks after Sahana arrived, Divyesh taught her to drive his little Toyota, guiding her slowly around the streets. He showed where to catch the streetcar, and the grocery store where she could buy Jimi’s terrible foods—noodles with orange powder, cereal shaped like letters, trays holding frozen rafts of brown meat and potatoes. Once he had provided instructions on the care and feeding of his son, Divyesh withdrew. He worked long hours at a software company and was usually not home until after nine. He seemed pleased to find a clean house when he arrived, but his expression when he saw Sahana was always mildly puzzled, as though he’d arrived to find the furniture had been moved just slightly.

I am happy with this story, though I feared as soon as it printed that everyone would immediately read it and find it obvious that I have never lived in San Francisco, never been to India, and never seen the parrots of Telegraph Hill. However, thus far it's gotten good reactions from a few people who've spent a lot of time in India, and if the parrots find their minor role in the story offensive, I haven't gotten any nasty emails from them yet.

Thanks to the ALR for taking this story. I'm happy to find Sahana some space.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Image, The Power, The Distance Between Them

I've been following the story of the New Delhi gang rape with reluctance and horror. It's truly one of the most repugnant cases I can remember, a terrifying example of mob mentality and misogyny at its most base and sickening. I don't want to get too much into the details here; if you haven't read about the case and want to lose a little sleep, you can read the basics here. If you want to lose a lot of sleep, you can read about the "women's empowerment" session that happened in the wake of the attack, at which a female professor told the audience that the girl was responsible: "Had the girl simply surrendered when surrounded by six men, she would not have lost her intestine," Dr. Shukla said. "Why was she out with her boyfriend at 10 p.m.?"

(That's right, ladies: If confronted by six men who want to rape you, go along with it. If you decide to fight, don't get all PMS-y when they decide to pull out your intestines. GIRL POWER!)

But I digress.

I thought about the case more last week after Ram Singh, one of the accused perpetrators, was found dead in his cell, an apparent suicide that's still being investigated as a possible murder. How his face was known to me only in the context of this case, and how in that context, it was virtually impossible to look at it and not see signs of extraordinary cruelty, knowing the act he was involved in.

And then I saw this photo taken by AP photographer Manish Swarup, and found it almost unbearable. This is Ram Singh's mother after finding out that her son had died violently in prison. 

I felt angry on seeing it. It felt invasive and cruel to take pictures of this woman at this time. It felt private, like something we shouldn't get to see. Hasn't she been through enough? I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to find out your child had done what her son did, and then, in the midst of dealing with that -- the horror mixed with the almost unavoidable desire to protect one's child -- find that he had then died. The mind reels.

And yet after that first reaction, I found myself grateful for this photograph. It made me angry, sad, and uncomfortable. It reminded me that this man was a human being, and that other human beings loved him and grieved his death. Also -- and I mention this not in some love-thy-enemy, "rapists and murderers are people, too" sort of way; I can't even pretend to be that big -- but I do think of it more seriously: Rapists are, at the end of it, people. They have mothers and fathers and friends. They are not invincible formless monsters. I don't know if that's more or less frightening, but it certainly bears consideration. What blend of influences -- genetic, cultural, parental, psychological, social -- turn a person into someone capable of what was done to this girl?

So I'm grateful for the picture, as hard as I found it to look at. It reminded me of how powerful -- and how difficult -- journalistic work (be it in the form of the written word or the image) can be. How much do we carry around of what we witness and report?

It put me in mind of the story of photojournalist Kevin Carter and the photo that won him the Pulitzer -- the same year that he killed himself. While this was his best-known shot, he'd been working in conflict zones, risking his life to record horrors, for years. After this photo was published, Carter was frequently vilified for getting the shot rather than helping the girl. The question: At what point do one's responsibilities as a human being (assuming one thinks we have any, and aren't just chomping snorting raping bits of fleshgoop held together by laws and clothes and the fear of being caught) trump the responsibilities of a job?

I've thought about Kevin Carter's photograph a lot and about the heat he took for waiting for the right shot and snapping it, rather than helping the girl. At my most optimistic moments, I like to think he thought that the right shot -- taken and published somewhere prominent -- might do more to stop the suffering he was seeing every day than he could possibly do on his own. Perhaps he believed that seeing was stronger when collective. That in the face of such an image, no one could fail to act.


Vulture Stalking a Child
(Kevin Carter, Sudan, 1993)

There is such distance
between him and the girl,
toppled onto herself in the dust,
between him and the bird,
watching quietly behind.

Through the tunnel of his lens,
continents stretch between them.

Buses rattle through mountain roads.

The fleet messenger sent on foot
stops to rest beside a quiet stream,
entranced by the bright fish
drifting against the current.

The wires bearing the dots and dashes
unspool; the telephone poles are laid flat
by strong winds.

He waits, remembering
how the moths come back to the streetlights
at night after the gunfire stops,
how they pay
no attention to blood on the tar,
seeking only the light, the light,
beating their wings against it.

There is a moment when death
is at its most beautiful,
when that beauty may cause motion.
Otherwise, it is just death.

He waits and waits
for the bird to open its wings.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Stopping By the Blog on a Less-Than-Snowy Evening

Whose blog this is, I think I know
She's overwhelmed with living, though
She's barely even stopping here
To note this blog's becoming slow.

It isn't stopping, though it's sere.
The blogger is just shifting gears,
and has more wordy things to make,
including trifles over here.

Hope you'll stop by. I'm working on several writing projects and haven't been updating Ecstatic Doggerel as much as I'd like to, but I'm not abandoning this blog.

Will be adding more here when I have serious writing/poetry/fiction/reading pieces to post, but you can catch lighter stuff (politics, pop culture, drinks, snark, etc.) at the more succinct (and hopefully more frequent) Ginger on the Half Shell tumblr.