Sunday, January 31, 2010


I was walkin' along
Mindin' my business
When out of an orange-colored sky
Crash! Bam! Alakazam . . . *

Those who know that song (and by now, is there anyone but me?) remember that it has to do with love at first sight. But it also pretty well describes what happens when the pieces of some play, novel, short story, whatever I've been writing suddenly rearrange themselves and whammo, the illusive key to a character, event or entire plot is slammed into my hand. If I'm writing an article or some other piece of nonfiction, then the way to approach it, or the order that the jumble of pieces should go in, suddenly becomes crystal clear.
I'm sure many of you in the same racket have experienced this. I wonder if you've also found that this almost always happens when you weren't even thinking about that piece of writing, or probably about any writing at all. It's exciting, feels magical.
What caused me to bring it up is that today, for the very first time, while I was walking home from a long, inspiring Shabbos lunch, not thinking about writing, it occurred to me that the sensation is not comfortable That had never crossed my mind before.
I'm not suggesting its comparable to childbirth,
which people often describe as worth the experience because of the result. Unlike childbirth, we're talking a nanosecond of discomfort. Maybe it's more like getting struck by lightening, and then, the next split second, there you are in full possession of your superb discovery, and with none of the ill effects associated with your brief accident.
I suppose that's why I thought of the lyrics to that song today for the first time in a whole lot of years. Crash, Bam, indeed. But not for long.
* "Orange Colored Sky" by Milton DeLugg and Willie Stein, has been recorded since the 50's by some of the most popular entertainers of each succeeding generation. Nat King Cole, Danny Kaye and Doris Day each recorded it. Then, so did Burt Ward (TV's Batman) -- the latter version produced by Frank Zappa. It was also sung by Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) with the help of several Muppets, on "The Muppet Show".

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


How long ago was it? It can scare you when you try to estimate how many years have gone by. Maybe 20. No. Maybe more. Toni Morrison was teaching a course at Bard College, traveling the two-and-a-half hours once or twice a week from NYC. I drove the 45 minutes from my town located on the other side of the Hudson, because Ms. Morrison was going to end the semester by reading from her work and talking a bit, and the public was invited.

Aha. It must have been more than 20 years ago, because they actually thought it reasonable to hold the event in a smallish classroom. Students and visitors filled that room so tightly that I found myself inches from her left cheek, watching her profile as she spoke.

I discovered as she read from her novels that I could recite whole passages with her, under my breath. I'd read each book only once, but I knew whole sections by heart. The phrasing was so lovely, how else could the wording go?

In between readings, she spoke. I have no memory of what she talked about that night, except for one thing. She said that the line between fiction and nonfiction was a false boundary. Both could be creative, which placed them in the same camp. Of course! Once you hear it, you know it's true.

It's a wonderful concept, because it gives permission in both directions. It allows writers to tackle anything, labeling and limiting themselves less. And to those who want to stick with just one of the two genres, say nonfiction, it gives permission to write poetically and uniquely nevertheless, instead of thinking they're not allowed to go there.

I don't remember my ride home, but I'd like to think I sang a Toni Morrison book all the way, and maybe I did.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Every year, I stop earlier than I want to. Yes, I surrender and join those who have turned their clocks back. I give in only because my absence from the bandwagon is driving family and friends nuts. Somehow, they don't appreciate living in my parallel universe. Even then, though, only the kitchen's time has to go. My bedroom and my wrist are my business.

Well, actually, my watch has now succumbed. Too many people were growing frantic if their eyes fell on my watch when I was out in the world. So a mere few weeks after the kitchen clock backflipped, so did my watch. But as I write this, we've passed the two-month mark, and I'm still saving daylight -- if only in my bedroom.

I already had that clock 20 minutes ahead. So now we're talking a hefty chunk of time between my bedroom hour and everybody else's. As a result, I'm not fooled much. With the exception of the occasional split second before my brain swerves into gear, I am always aware that my bedroom hour is a good distance from Everyone-Else-Around-Here Standard Time.

Most years, it gets old, and I join the throng. One year, I never reached that point. In that case, come April, when everyone else had to put their clocks ahead an hour, mine just stayed put.

At least for the time being, my private clock bestows upon me a unique outlook. Make that two outlooks -- because when I check the time in the bedroom, I have one of two reactions.

Some days I think: Wow. It could be after 10:00, but actually, it's not even 9:00. I am wealthy with time!

On other days, however, my thoughts go something like this:

Hmm. It may not be true, but my clock says a quarter after ten. And that reminds me that 10 o'clock and beyond await me not that far ahead.

To wit, is time half full, or is it heading toward empty?