Home   |   LCS Prints Store   |   About Me   |   FAQ   

Friday, July 30, 2010


First the DVD player was broken, but then it wasn't. Then the (good) camera was broken, and then it wasn't. I took the laptop to the library and lost the piece to the universal adapter that lets you plug it in. Two return trips, several hours and many hairs pulled out later, a man found it on a window sill.

For the first time in my volunteering experience, one of our regular seniors has left us forever. His wife put a bag on the chair he used to sit in to occupy his empty seat.

Yesterday, I applied for an hourly job...but think they will feel I am too old, too experienced, too inexperienced, too something. Last night I dreamed I was offered a a position in my former profession, 60 miles and an appalling commute away. This was fine because in the dream we lived closer. I woke up remembering we don’t.

Giving thanks for all that is good; I’m taking a big breath here and calling it a week.

Happy Weekend.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

2009 Revisited

One of the benefits of anniversary-ing yourself over the course of authoring a blog, is you can read back over time to assess if your writing has improved. I’ve been doing that periodically, which helps this week because a goal lurks in front of me and I need to focus on it rather than Middle Passage today. Therefore please understand as I link to a post from a year ago, which happens to be one I enjoyed writing then, and like reading now. Since it was written back in the days when I wrote to myself, oops, um, I mean in my days of limited readership, I’m hoping to you all, this will read like new.

With no further ado, please enjoy: Eat These Words.

If you find things you’d change in this old post, I’d love to hear your suggestions. How about you? Do you re-read your blog posts?

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Second Chance

On Tuesday, I discovered our good, two-year-old Nikon D-40 is broken. A four-hour visit to the camera shop the next day suggested it may require a costly repair. “Costly” these days means, “Wait until the funds are in the bank account,” so I’m off for a second opinion today. For the moment we are down to one camera. Our daughter’s Cannon PowerShot takes a decent photo, if you know how to select the settings. I don’t.

Last night, before the sun went down, the wind shifted and the warm Jello air we slogged through all weekend disappeared. Earlier in the day my husband and I were sure we’d have to christen the second-hand air-conditioner we appropriated for our bedroom, but by nighttime, the breeze wafting through the open windows led to a cool change and an easy sleep.

The upshot of that meant I was up walking early this morning, having jumped out of bed to clear skies and a gut conviction that a perfect photo could be had on a day like today. Bolting out the door at 6:45, I grabbed the Cannon. My instinct was correct. Under a sun that still felt the brush of the treetops, a flock of white egrets stood knobby-kneed in the low-tide marsh across the road from where my favorite two boats are anchored. Hiding behind a bush and holding my breath, I waited until one elegant bird stood long enough to form his reflection on still water, then released the shutter. I caught another bird hunching its shoulders prior to cracking the surface with a needle-beak. He emerged shaking his head, with a silver minnow flapping.

Already delighted by the morning’s digital offerings, I rounded a corner where another stunning water view pans out. More egrets assembled there, long necks reaching and plucking at the mud flats in front of the sleek lines of a sixteen-foot wooden dory, a boat that wasn’t there last week. This time I crept through the long grass by the water, edging closer, taking picture after picture of the birds feeding in the foreground with the graceful boat bobbing behind; thrilled by this new subject—and the award-winning shots I was convinced would be the result. Ah, photography. It is almost as humbling as writing.

When I grabbed the camera earlier, I assumed the function button was set to “Auto.” Since I’m unfamiliar with how to change things, I left it that way. In spite of a growing compulsion to record my surroundings over the last few years, I’ve never taken a photography class. After today, my guess is that the first lesson would be to “check your equipment." I didn’t, and as I downloaded 27 pictures later this morning, all those beautiful birds appeared over-exposed, cut off, blurry or missing completely. The sloped necks and Ed Sullivan walks, the jerk-kneed tiptoes as they picked through the shallows, that clean new boat swinging behind them on a light breeze—none of it came out—a disappointment that brought me close to tears before offering up today’s Middle Passages exercise—

Take a seat at the computer Liza. Using the software located inside your brain, build language to describe the scenes in those failed pictures for your blog readers. Attempt to Photoshop these images from your real life into words.

Then idiot, locate the instruction book and learn how to use the damn camera.

Friday, July 23, 2010

This Week in Review

I haven’t written a week in review in a looong time, and I’ll be honest. Today I do so because a few bits and pieces on which I feel the need to report continue to pinball across my brain, but I lack the energy to start a full-blown blog post at 3:19 on a Friday afternoon. So as they say, you get what you get.

For those of you who have been wondering about Gladys and the Call of the Wild, the mystery is no closer to being solved. Every day, at one minute and twenty second intervals, from 5:15 a.m. to 8:15 p.m., recorded bird sounds emanate from our mysterious neighbor’s open window. The man who lives there has not turned up at all. It's been going on for close to a month now and we are trying to ignore the repetitive noise, meeting with fair success other than that first predawn blurt through our open windows. Demonstrating keen restraint, I continue to bite down on the, err, vocabulary, that is wont to crop up upon being awakened with such cruel disregard, but tomorrow is Saturday. All bets are off.

When you finally devise a little plan that might make good use of your photography/boat obsession, you can guarantee that something computer-related inside the camera will malfunction. Badly.

Further, if you acquiesce to an offer of a second-hand air conditioner for the bedroom…the first you’ve deigned to own in your entire life, you can be sure that about the time you go to bed, a cool wind will blow in.

If you go to the post office to mail the books to the winners of Wednesday's “not contest” and the clerk asks: “Did you write a book?” and you answer “Not yet” without giving it a thought, the word “yet” is lush and full and drips with promise and optimism.

There is nothing, I repeat nothing, more heartwarming than lolling back to sleep after that first annoying wake up, to be surprised at 6:20 by breakfast in bed, an idea conceived and executed the teenager who usually doesn’t rise until noon, and served to you 10 seconds before you remember it is your birthday.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And the Winners Are...

What? You didn’t know? You haven’t seen it tweeted, FaceBooked, haven't read a blog about it, or or caught it flashing in multiple sidebars? Where have you been? Just kidding. The information I’m about to unveil doesn’t exist out there. The great “not contest” of 2010 resides right here on Middle Passages Lane.

Call the following a demonstration of gratitude, though the term “not contest” has more pizzazz than a boring old “thank you”--and seeing by the time most of you read this, it will be my birthday, na, na, na, na, na, na, I get to name this particular celebration in blog-land whatever I want. So there.

Hmmm. Confused? Don’t blame you. Need me to elucidate? Sure, I can do that.

Look at my sidebar. Believe it or not, the feet-dragging tortoise that is the number of Middle Passages followers, finally managed to lumber over 100 before the author stiffened from arthritis and was forced to check into a nursing home. I know, as I write this, the number is actually 101, but one of those followers is me. Don’t bother asking how I managed to follow my own blog because I’m clueless and since I don’t know how I did it in the first place, I sure as heck don’t know how to undo it. If you do, please share. Anyway, I digress.

Apparently it’s de rigueur to hold a contest now that I’ve reached 100 followers, or have written my 368th post, or tapped three times on the window, and, in so doing, I should ask my current readers to blog, FaceBook and Tweet about said contest, so that by this time next week, Middle Passages will have 200 followers all eying "the prize.” Most times, I’m all about conformity, but here I demur, cuz folks, slow and steady and all that, ey wot? And besides, I like readers who aren’t in it for the give-aways. You know, the ones that actually stick around and, um, read?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for every Middle Passage follower and commenter, but the bulk of the credit for my forward momentum over the last year goes to several loyal, helpful and inspiring individuals through whose caring comments, I continue to grow as a writer.

Thus my “not contest”--structured to reward any three readers who meet simple guidelines, but statistically weighted toward those who have been commenting since the beginning, or, ahem, since last August, which was when I finally began to receive comments on a regular basis.

As such, behold the “not selection process” which, since I get to make the rules, has already occurred:

• I tallied up every Middle Passages comment since August 1, 2009 and July 21, 2010 (Here is where you are invited to say: “Get a life, Liza.”)

• and, entered anyone who commented over five times during that period.

• Every comment equaled one chance. For example, if you commented 27 times over the specified time period, imagine 27 raffle tickets with your name on them, added to a drawing.

Three “not winners” were selected in an unscientific process today--i.e., my daughter shook up a container filled with white slips of paper with names printed on them, closed her eyes and pulled out three.

Now, we get to the fun part.

What is a “not contest” if it doesn’t offer “not prizes?” Not much, right?

So here’s the deal. Each “not winner” will not receive...just kidding again, they will receive one of the following three books, all of which by the way, I have not read.

1) The Pocket Muse. Ideas & Inspirations for Writing, by Monica Wood
2) The Faith of a Writer. Life, Craft, Art, by Joyce Carol Oats
3) The Courage to Write (How Writers Transcend Fear), by Ralph Keyes

The first prize winner will select their choice of books. The second prize winner chooses next, and the third prize winner will receive the remaining book. Clear enough?

Now, a drum roll, please.

The winners are:

First Prize: Jody Hedlund of Author Jody Hedlund.

Second Prize: Glenn from Differences with the Same Likeness

Third Prize: Tabitha Bird from Through My Eyes.

Jody, may I ask you to please email me with your book selection and an address where you would like it sent? Tabitha and Glenn, please email me your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd preferences in books. Depending on which book Jody chooses, I’ll do my best to honor your choices and if you also, would send addresses to my email, I’ll mail your books off to you. Tab, I’m fine with the overseas deal.

I hope this “not contest” helps in some way to convey my appreciation to all of you who read Middle Passages. Aside from the three folks above, there are 32 other readers who have offered consistent feedback; some over long months and some more recently. I know too, there is a quiet group in the background cheering me on. You all know who you are. In my mind, every one of you is a first place winner.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday, 7:18 a.m.

As many of you know, I am obsessed with the view of these boats and suffer from a compulsion to take their pictures--which ratcheted up a few degrees once I discovered that a house near where they are moored has gone on the market. I have no idea who owns these pretty dinghies, so have visited them more lately, understanding that if someday I stroll down the hill and they've disappeared, my little world will be a less pretty place. In light of this, you get a sampling from today, taken with my daughter's Cannon PowerShot pocket camera during a 3.2 mile walk.

I promised myself that I'd focus (no pun intended) on a project other than Middle Passages this week, which come to think of it, hovers dangerously close to the obsession line too. So today, in place of a full MP post, you get these.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 15, 2010

As it were—As it is

On the train again, forward-facing this time, clad in flip-flops and Capri’s, though shadowed by a former self, blazers with mother-of-pearl buttons, sneakers to navigate the city—this one knew block-by-block shortcuts, charging through revolving doors and marble lobbies—long before security guards monitored every skyscraper, she could turn a ten-minute walk into five.

She accompanied me across the inlaid floors of a rehabbed rail station—pounding down cement steps, folding her arms in the hot subway while waiting to switch lines—then appeared again in the woman who stood with one hooked finger circling the railing, swaying as she read her library book, oblivious to the train’s bucks and squeals.

Above ground a few minutes later, she peered through the door of a pub (still in business!) grinning at the reminder of a late night spent mocking a fake accent—he claimed New Zealand—she maintained New Jersey and toasted victory at last call when he confessed: “Philadelphia.”

Exiting the memory, I slowed the pace, peering up to immaculate brownstones—at the flowering impatience, the trailing vinca tumbling from wrought iron window boxes—dogwoods and pink hydrangeas crowding tiny garden squares enclosed in ornate fences. Up ahead, she looked back at me—keep up, hurry, hurry, but I didn't.

Instead I climbed the stairs, buzzed at the entrance and watched her fade away—striding down the street with all the other young professionals, fingers fondling I-phones and Blackberries, ear buds planted, cutting across traffic—her glazed eyes seeing nothing but the destination—the place at the end of the journey.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gladys and the Call of the Wild, Part 1

“Working at home,” (this month I use the term “working” loosely) offers the benefit of spontaneity. So when a friend pulled into my driveway yesterday seeking the location of a house down the road where she needed to sign up to attend a future estate sale, I hopped in her car to show her, planning on walking back. I had an agenda for my return stroll.

My husband often calls me Gladys Kravitz, after the nosy neighbor in the old TV show Bewitched, and though I prefer the word curious, he’s right. This time however, it’s for good cause. For the past two weeks, a raucous cry from some unknown bird has woken me at dawn and continued bleating all day. We’ve never heard a sound like it, a blend between a laughing hyena, a creature out of an African jungle, and someone trying to start a stalled lawn mower. I suspected it could be a type of woodpecker because I’m not kidding, the first time I heard it, I thought of the old Woody the Woodpecker cartoon and his maniacal laugh, but we’ve heard no drumming on wood. We could tell the bird has nested somewhere in our neighbor’s yard…a property situated so that his house blocks our view. The owner is rarely home.

On my trip back from delivering my friend, I planned to walk up the long driveway next door and find the source of the sound. My friend had another idea. “There’s an antique store in town selling a book of bird calls. We can go there, listen to some woodpeckers and see if you can identify it.” I was game. I’m not a birdwatcher at all…never knew such a thing as a book of bird sounds existed, but this mystery is so vocal that I’m determined to uncover its source.

One mahogany dropped-leaf table, a World War I megaphone (my friend’s purchases, not mine) and a bemused shop owner later, I was convinced we had a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker next door. Then I came home, listened to more bird calls on YouTube and decided, no, it’s much louder than a Sapsucker; a Pileated Woodpecker, maybe, but still, the voice wasn’t quite right.

Gladys knows no boundaries. This morning my husband and I conducted a proper investigation, tiptoeing (AKA: trespassing) up the curved driveway of the empty house as we tracked the call of the bird, until we stood directly under the portico leading to the entrance to the home. Gazing toward an open third floor window, it became apparent that our absentee neighbor, a business man who travels extensively, has some kind of exotic bird living on his top floor. Huh?

So of course, Gladys hopped on to YouTube again in search of exotic bird calls, which ruled out Cockatoo, Cockatiel, Macaw and Toucan. Then I ran out of the tropical bird names I knew and threw up my hands, determined to put the mystery behind me for the day--until my husband announced that the noises emanating from that window are coming at exact intervals. Every 1 minute and 20 seconds, the same broadcast floats into our windows from his. Hmmm, a very regular bird? Or a recording? This does not bode well for Gladys, whose compulsion to see all and know all has her chewing her lip and pacing the floor.

Stay tuned for future developments, which will be reported as they occur.

What do you imagine is going on next door?

Monday, July 12, 2010

At Long Last

After a hot and tossing night, early this morning I slipped down a thick mudslide into a molasses sleep and dreamed I was taking an acting lesson.

In my dream, the cement walled classroom hosted a blue-and-white linoleum floor, with a plate glass window overlooking a sloping hill and a broad green lawn. Four or five students sat with me as the teacher challenged us to hold a microphone and describe an experience that shaped our lives. I listened as my peers spoke, until it was my turn.

The class of course, was imaginary. This story I told, true:

I walked onto my college campus in Vermont as a freshman desiring nothing more than to remove the stigmas of “shy,” “quiet,” and “reserved” that had labeled me through eighteen years in my home town. A transformation began via the young women with whom I lived in the second floor of the brick dorm on the quadrangle at the heart of our college—nestled on a valley floor with clear-aired views of the Green Mountains. One friend in particular, a native Vermonter, as opposed to we Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey transplants who decended on the school each year, engaged herself so totally in life that she taught me lessons that I employ to this day.

Through her genuine and honest greeting to everyone she encountered and the extra moments she paused to speak with each, she taught me that direct eye contact attached to a welcoming smile almost always sparks one in return; that speaking from your gut earns trust, that kindness is essential.

She was so present in every conversation, that she made whomever she was speaking with feel like they were the most important person in the world. She wasn't aware of this—it was as natural to her as breathing. So much so, that in the spring, when five young men asked her to the same semi-formal, as her friends we were not surprised. She however, quivered with open-mouthed amazement. When she won her event in the state-wide track meet though, we had no idea she was such an accomplished runner. She never boasted, stating that she ran because it was fun. Through these actions, she taught me to try my hardest but to take myself lightly, and that by living a life without artifice, it would be possible to exceed expectations.

Already an accomplished poet, she sculpted words like a knife through soft butter. One afternoon on a six-mile cross-country trail, she showed novice skier me how to look for the sunset through the backbones of trees; for the snow that dripped like melting ice cream down the tops of distant mountains, to listen for the quiet in the woods, to feel the cold hush and to inhale the whoosh of our narrow skis as they cut through an unmarked trail. Recording these pictures while trying to emulate her grace, I was aware to some degree, of the lessons I was absorbing although always in life, hindsight brings history into clearer focus.

As these things go; in our junior year there was…not a falling out…but a drifting away. We lived on separate campuses, our social lives expanded; when it was time to say goodbye for the summer before our senior year, we hugged briefly and promised to be in touch over the extra week I was staying in Vermont, but failed to do so.

That August, she flew to Colorado to see her boyfriend. One night they crossed a center line and hit a truck head-on. I received her last postcard in the mail two days after her death, wherein she imparted a final lesson—that grief blisters us inside like scalding suns.

I also learned that regrets can surface over a lifetime. You see, her untimely death robbed me of the chance to acknowlege to her how much she did for me—the way she opened me up—for the countless smiles I’ve received throughout life in return for my own; the way she demonstrated that words are soft and pliable and if you concentrate you can shape them to your will—and that if you pay close attention, every day will offer you solitary moments to breathe in and treasure.

In today's early morning dream, I told this story while standing in front of a microphone, and my classmates moved closer to listen to my words. Then I woke up, and ached with the long sadness of never being able to express my appreciation to that gentle person who soothed and formed parts of me with the same care in which she created her poems— and I stepped out of bed and decided to write this post—in hope that all these years later, Middle Passages may give flight to my thanks.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Alone at the Beach

Sounds wrapped in clean cotton,
an old man turning off his hearing aid,
mouths like deep sea fishes,
swallowed on currents of whisper.

Splashing children, those treble mutterings--
little radios keeping
company to an empty house.
Bubble music from
an ice cream truck
and bleating gulls--
their clamor
dampened by the glass wall
you’ve fashioned around yourself,
the only noise that matters--
a vacuum of throb and push,
the warp and weft of blood
as it pulses through your inner ear.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot Spell

We didn’t break a record for heat yesterday, but according to the Boston Globe, the city reached 100 degrees for the first time in eight years, only the 24th time in the last century that temperatures were recorded that high. At my non-air-conditioned house, fans blasted. The thermometer recorded 99 degrees in the shade outside the family room and it was over 90 in my kitchen before I high-tailed it out mid-afternoon. Driving across our sweltering town, I staked a newly acquired beach umbrella and planted myself in its shade as the tide rolled in over the smooth stones and seaweed rags decorating the sand.

In spite of the fact that I was up and writing at 7:00 yesterday and didn’t stop until 1:00, after so many years in which an employer called the shots, years in which my schedule wasn’t my own, I can’t get used to this freedom. I twisted and turned in my beach chair, cognizant of the fact that even though I spent the morning writing, it wasn’t paying work. Freelance jobs seem to have dried up in the summer heat and for the first time, I’m the only one in the house not earning a pay check. My husband commutes to RI each day, and the resident sixteen-year-old heads off to her cashier job at a pizza seafood joint located in the next town over, where the kitchen temps hit well over 100 degrees yesterday, and she is now being trained to cook.

I’m trying to overcome the notion that a sense of value must be stapled to a number with zeros following it, but after so many years of experience in that regard, I struggle. In light of the lack of paying work, I’ve given myself writing goals and am achieving them. This helps in bolstering the old confidence level, and offers a certain sense of accomplishment.

But, sorry to say, I have yet to get to the point where it makes me feel worthy of a day at the beach.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Long Weekend Shorts

Dangling legs over the bow of the Vesper II, head tucked under the Genoa sail to watch the sun throw shards of broken glass across the churning sea.

A distant boat lifting wing-on-wing; full sails blooming on either side of the vessel as it runs before the wind across a path of light.

The skin-prickling chill of 61-degree spray as we motor through the rolling wake of a larger boat in our twelve foot dinghy on a blistering Sunday.

Two full glasses of dry red wine, cushioned by cloth place mats on a glass patio table, in front of a granite rock garden bloated with yawning day lilies.

A breath of wind stroking with restful fingers as it carries us through an outdoor supper without mosquitoes.

Holiday-morning-road quiet in front of our house; coffee in open-window air and the occasional pong of a nautical wind chime at the back of the yard as it sings a tale of the sea.

Left-over blueberry bread pudding floating in a swirl of almond cream sauce for breakfast.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Good Start

How about the mornings that compel you to sit up and write? The hush at 6:30—soft air floating the leaves of the rangy scrub maple that straddles the stone wall at the property line—the congregation of birds muttering among themselves deep in the back woods.

An open window invites sound and the subdued swish of commuters navigating the two-lane highway a quarter-of-a-mile away travels. Orange light from an early sun glows on the trunks of thick pines, the top cigar leaves of the giant rhododendrons—below, the garden rests in green shade.

With crusted eyes, you vault from the bed to write about it, grabbing a pen, jotting some notes, stumbling to the computer—while the noise of a truck rumbling up the street rolls in like a wave, a hiss that grows to a crescendo, a thunder, before pummeling by, and you are grateful when the engine noise is swallowed by silence again, and for the puff-ball hydrangea blossoms that bow and rest in the sleep that still embraces the rear of the house.