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give me a sign

As probably every half of a close couple can attest, there is some kind of secret signal we use to communicate with our partner — in full view of others, when we want no one else to know what we’re saying. Whether it’s signaling that a) it’s time to leave the Horowitz-Solomon wedding reception; b) I can’t stand these eight strangers we’ve been seated with; or c) does that food look as inedible to you as it does to me? — all of these thoughts can be conveniently communicated and easily understood between partners with just a subtle gesture. Usually.

In my case, it’s one perfectly raised eyebrow, usually my left. Don’t ask me how I can do it at will — I just can. And once B. sees it, he knows it means a) the party’s over; b) if I spend one more minute trying to chat with these pre-assigned tablemates my head will begin to spin around 360 degrees; or c) better to fill up on bread and dessert. Most times.

As for B., he’s got his own signal that tells me all I need to know — it’s a quick wink of one of his amazing turquoise eyes (the very first thing I ever noticed about him). It is code for: a) let’s blow this popsicle stand; b) ten more seconds with these insufferable strangers with whom the Horowitz-Solomons have seated us and I’m going to spontaneously self-combust; or c) what is that on my plate and where can I hide it? Almost all the time.

Do our signals ever get crossed? Er, maybe. All right, yes. In fact, three times at that one proverbial wedding reception. First, when B. thought my raised eyebrow meant I wanted to leave — he tried to rush me out the door before the bride had even changed into her second “yes-to-the-dress” dress of the evening. In truth, I had something in my other eye, which was squinting. The raised eyebrow was just a reflex of my non-squinting eye being wide open.

Or when I misread his wink as “time to go — don’t even think about starting a new topic of conversation.” I got up to leave immediately, even before the Viennese table had been set out (see my post an affair to remember if you’ve never heard of a Viennese table). In fact, the wink was his way of encouraging me to tell my latest funny story to that table of the most boring people on earth, thinking it would make the evening at least a little bit interesting. (Thankfully, he pulled me back just in time so that we didn’t miss out on the chocolate parfaits.)

And when we both sent our “danger Will Robinson — do not eat!” signal to each other. Or so we thought. The truth was, I was raising my eyebrow in awe of the eyebrow-raising presentation of the catered dinner while he was winking at me because he was flirting. The result? Two very hungry people who passed on what looked like an absolutely delicious entrée (nary a crumb of stuffed derma to be seen!) because of a misread signal.

Okay, so maybe subtle, private signals between partners can sometimes go awry. But what about those signals that everyone knows — those most universal of signals that strangers share everyday? Why is it so hard for road signals to be received and perceived clearly? It’s really not difficult. To wit:

Hey, Ms. BMW — are you thinking of changing lanes? Give me a clue. You, Mr. SUV — want to make a right? Just push that lever on the left of your steering column — the one that goes tikka, tikka, tikka — up before you do so. And whoa, Sir Range Rover — see that traffic sign that says, “No left turn. Right turn only”? It’s not a suggestion, buddy.

When I’m sending my traffic signals, please take a second and think before blaring your horn at me. Like if I’m sitting in the right lane at a red light with my turn signal on but not moving, maybe its because the sign directly above the light says “no turn on red” and not because I’m an idiot. (You really want to go IQ to IQ with me, Ms. Gas Guzzler?) Or when I’m stopped behind a sanitation truck with my left signal on, perhaps consider slowing down and letting me cut in front of you, Mr. Maserati. That one is a suggestion — a suggestion that you be a mensch. Do the right thing and I’ll reward you with a wave — my signal for “thanks.”

You know what we could all use these days? A little bit of a signal switch. If you take that angry middle-finger salute and just add your index finger to it, bam! You’ve got a peace sign. And a peace sign could never, never be confused with that middle-finger dismissal (the same way “the Corvette could nevuh be confused with the Buick Skylark!” as per Marisa Tomei’s big-haired Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny).

The lesson here? Choose your signals wisely. Read others’ signals carefully. And always, always, go with the Corvette.

 

© 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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new kid on the block

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might remember a previous post about my starting the adventure of writing a novel (a novel approach). Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that the adventure continues and progress has been pretty good most days. I’d say we’re now halfway there (albeit definitely living on a prayer). The bad news? For the last few weeks, it feels like I’ve hit the proverbial wall. No, not the wall with the handwriting on it (that would be helpful), but the writer’s-block wall with the yellow tape on it that reads, “Detour — no thru traffic.”

So, like all writers before me who have encountered this mortal enemy — this Darth Vader threatening my creative force, this Satan burning my storytelling threads, this Freddy Krueger slashing my plot lines — I have had to really reach to find ways to a) stay strong, and b) practice my wall-climbing.

Here, then, are some tactics I’ve devised to do just that. To wit:

Target the problem. Literally. As in, take a stroll (or two, or three) around Target. I call it looking for inspiration (even if what I’m looking for is a new shampoo). You never know what will trigger an idea. (Besides, who can write while having a bad hair day?)

Feed your imagination — aka, nosh. Or cook. Or I know — bake cupcakes! Lots and lots of cupcakes.

Research. Step away from your laptop and go to the library. (Think of the wall-climbing muscles you’ll build by getting up from your chair and walking through the stacks. To say nothing of the calories and time you’ll burn.) Warm up — and conveniently forget why you’re there in the first place — by getting lost in New Fiction and reading a novel that someone actually did finish writing.

Scout locations to create Scout Finch. If you want everything in your novel to be as accurate as possible (of course you do), then mere library or online research is for suckers. Visit your location in person. It helps if you set the novel locally so that you can spend the day exploring (read “doing anything but sitting in front of an unfinished page”) while still getting home in time to bake another batch of said cupcakes.

Dream, dream, dream. Another way to say that: nap, nap, nap. For one thing, it’s restorative. For another, it’s relaxing. For a third, it’s fun to be in denial.

Pray to the writing gods. Whomever your chosen patron saint — Hemingway, Grisham, Brontë (I’m partial to Charlotte myself), Rowling — send up a wish for a light to help see your way through. Or, at the very least, for a movie version of one of their novels on afternoon TV while you’re waiting for that light.

And so, dear reader, do not fear. The novel is on its way — from my heart through my fingertips to my keyboard. I just need to get over that roadblock of a wall. And I will.

One cupcake at a time.

 

2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

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prints charming

Once upon a time there was a kingdom where print media reigned — newspapers, of course, but also magazines. And in this kingdom, one little girl grew up loving all the magazines that appeared magically at her house — the stories, the pictures, and the fact that there were always new pages to turn and get lost in.

And get lost in them she — that is, I — did. Whether it was the monthly deluge of my mom’s McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping, or my dad’s choice of LIFE and National Geographic, or their weekly subscription to Newsweek (in those days, yours was either a Newsweek or a TIME family; ours was the former), I grew up and in love with magazines in general. If it was there, I devoured it.

The passion continued. I have vivid memories of the August issue of Seventeen — the back-to-school issue — of poring over its pages with my friends, picking out the clothes we couldn’t live without. That was quickly followed by Glamour, a stalwart through my teens and 20s and beyond, and Mademoiselle, also known for its fiction-writing contests. And magazines that came later — like Self and More and others — filled with pages of beauty and fashion news, career and lifestyle writing. Each adding its color and freshness to my day, each influencing my style in some way, each a small piece of art on its own.

Sadly, most of these titles have disappeared from the classic newsstand (equally sad is that so many classic newsstands have also disappeared). And that, to me, is a huge loss. Because these print titles were a part of my history. Seeing them arrive each month (or week), turning the pages, rolling them up to fit in my bag, enjoying the tactile sensation of their glossy finishes — a ritual all but lost.

Given my love affair with magazines, it’s not a surprise that I’ve been lucky enough to incorporate magazines into my career — first as associate editor at True Confessions (no, not a risqué publication as its title might imply — what is wrong with you? ) and then as a contributor to other titles. Not a surprise that when B. and I first moved in together, he filled the front seat of his car with dozens of magazines when he picked me up at the airport to welcome me to my new home. And not a surprise that The New Yorker continues to grace my mailbox week after week.

With September here, I cannot close this post without mentioning the grande dame herself, Vogue, whose history extends back more than a century. Its legendary September issue has pages in the multiple hundreds and enough gloss and beauty to fill this magazine aficionada’s heart with joy. Brings me back to my younger self thumbing through the pages of the August issue of Seventeen.

Dreaming of happily ever after. And of a man who loves that I love the printed page.

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

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i’ve got you under my skein

In my ongoing reporting of my Lucy moments (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention lucy bakes a cake or exit dancing or   i see london, i see france among others), a few things are clear. Attempting to be always-graceful, trying to balance all the balls I’m juggling, and doing my best to avoid the self-made mischief that follows me — all these are pretty much lost causes.

In that spirit, a little anecdote about one of my latest scenarios — one which I believe would make La Redhead proud.

Earlier this summer, B. and I headed up to Hood River, Oregon, a wonderful small town on the Columbia River Gorge in the shadow of Mount Hood. (If you had told me years ago that I — a former New York City girl — would love being out in nature, hiking around, and enjoying the hell out of myself, I would have told you that you were nuts. But living out here can change a person. So there.)

We’d been to Hood River before, but this time I was intent on finding one of the area’s alpaca farms. I mean, llamas are hot right now, so why not alpacas? We found a farm where we took a tour and got an education about these sweet and adorable beasts.

The alpacas we saw had just been shorn and looked nothing like miniature versions of llamas, as I had been expecting. They looked like cartoon characters — fluffy heads, skinny arms and legs, total cuteness.

And of course, like every good tour, this one ended up at the farm’s gift shop. Being a dabbler in needle arts, I was eager to check out alpaca wool. (I should digress here to explain that when I say “dabble,” I mean “I can make a scarf.” Yes, I have drawers full of crocheted scarves. Not much use for someone who lives in LA. But I love being immersed in and creating with colors. What can I say?)

So, there I was, in front of a huge assortment of alpaca yarn, skeins twined in a rainbow of varying shades, one more beautiful than the next. I finally made my choice (B. deserves combat pay for his patience) and off we went.

Just recently, I sat down to start my millionth scarf project, this one à la alpaca. And here’s where this blonde became that redhead.

Because, unlike any other skein I’ve worked with, this one had no real beginning or end. I tried to wind the wool into a ball but with the opposite of success. The twisted skein could not be untwisted logically; it wound around itself impossibly and then it wound around me mercilessly. Strands were knotted together, ends were splitting, it was ugly. I ended up wearing the skein — and I swore it was mocking me.

At one point, B. looked up from the TV, glanced at me, and did a double-take.

He:  “Nice wool.”

Me:  “Funny.”

He:  “You don’t even have to crochet with it. It’s already a scarf.”

Me:  “Seriously!?”

He:  “You’re right. It’s not just a scarf. It looks like you’re wearing a scarf and gloves.”

Me:  “Don’t get me started.”

He:  “I hear they’re holding auditions for a new version of The Mummy. You could –”

Me:  “If I ever get out of this, I’ll hurt you.”

He:   “Got an ETA on that?”

Eventually I did get untangled but, alas, the skein suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune — it lost. Sort of like the fate of those chocolates in the chocolate factory, the grapes in the wine-making vat, or the overly yeasted bread in the oven. All not meant to be. But all props in a very funny experience — an amusing yarn, if you will.

No skein, no pain.

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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read ’em and weep

Looking in the mirror can be a risky proposition, depending on the day. Are those really a few more laugh lines on my face? How is it possible that several more strands have strayed from golden to silver? And, to quote Meryl Streep’s character, Jane Adler, in It’s Complicated — is that what I look like? (Jane was stoned at the time, but still, you get my import. )

But I’m not talking about the literal what-do-you-see-when-you-look-in-the-mirror kind of thing. I’m talking about being able to look at yourself in the mirror every day in a figurative sense; that is, being able to look yourself in the eye because you feel good about what you stand for as a person.

The issues can be huge — like just how much human suffering and injustice you can put up with before saying “enough.” One only needs to read a newspaper (does anyone else out there still do that?) or merge onto the fast lane of any 24/7 news outlet to find dozens of reasons to stand up and say “no” — along with plenty of other equally socially conscious people to join in making a change.

But there are smaller things, too. And that’s where I landed recently upon contemplating the next book on my reading list. As I’ve mentioned before, I read constantly. All. The. Time. It’s rare that you’ll find me between books for more than a day, and, frankly, that’s one of my favorite things about myself.

My recent summer reading has included three books with very strong feminist (or learning-to-be-feminist) characters — Where the Crawdads Sing; Summer of ’69; and Mrs. Everything. Not surprisingly, all three novels are written by women (Delia Owens, Elin Hilderbrand, and Jennifer Weiner, respectively) and all three are coming-of-age stories about the path from girlhood to womanhood in sometimes turbulent times under almost always personally turbulent circumstances.

In choosing my newest addition to the list today, I went with The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict, a novelization of the life of Hedy Lamarr — glamorous screen star and brilliant scientist (she invented a secret communications strategy to help fight the Nazis that became the basis of today’s form of wireless communications). Talk about more than just a pretty face.

Which is all to say that with so many incredible stories about extraordinary (and ordinary) women — women who live amazingly full lives or those who just manage to string together one day at a time in order to survive — with all these rich and rewarding female-driven stories out there, why would any author choose to make murdering women the focus of their work? And why would we choose to read those books?

I imagine you may have read some books like that. I know have. And one day it dawned on me that I’d had enough. Enough of thrillers that center on women being maimed, molested, murdered. Enough of stories that hit the bestseller list with a plot line that revolves around females as victims. Enough of women characters being bruised, bludgeoned, and bloodied as a way to keep pages turning.

And so, I’ve boycotted this particular kind of writing in my own reading. Do I think that my refusal to read these kinds of books will in any way deter from their bestseller status? Of course not. Do I think that by not reading these books that these authors’ sales will falter? Not in the least.

It’s not about that for me. It’s about being able to look at myself in the mirror each morning and feel good about the fact that I’ve taken a stand against something ugly.

Pretty good. For a girl.

 

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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for better or for verse

I love my husband. Maybe because we waited to marry until we were a little older (just on the cusp of 40), we both kind of knew what was important to us in a partner. And maybe because we haven’t had kids ourselves (although goodness knows we sometimes act as if we were five), we’ve been able to pour all of our energy (and all of our champagne toasts) into us as a couple. We feel really lucky and as if we’ve hit it out of the proverbial ballpark.

With our 22nd wedding anniversary peeking around the corner next week, I thought it a good time to give a shout-out to my partner in crime (so to speak), partner in mime (who needs words when an eye roll or a raised eyebrow will do), and, most important, partner in time (the best of our lives).

This man is the Bogart to my Bacall (one look at him and I’m smitten), the Astaire to my Rogers (okay, maybe not quite as much of a twinkletoes), the George to my Gracie (although none of our friends believes that, between the two of us, I’m the chatterbox).

B. is also the Nichols to my May (any of our aforementioned friends can attest to how B. and I launch into comedy shtick spontaneously, much to our own amusement). He’s the Paul Buchman to my Jamie Buchman (yes, I know that you all think that Mad About You is about you, but it’s not — it’s about us). And he’s the Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) to my Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail (“Don’t cry, shopgirl, don’t cry,” and “What is it with men and The Godfather?”).

He’s also the Atticus to my anything, the Harry to my Sally, and, without a doubt, the Ricky to my Lucy.

And never has he proven his love more than just last week when I saw an ad announcing a concert. While we both like a lot of the same music — Bruce Springsteen, in particular — this concert was not that. This concert was a bit more, shall we say, one-sided. My side.

I jokingly put it out there anyway, knowing that B. would never agree to go because he is in no way, shape or form a fan (or anything even close to it) of the artist. I must confess (somewhat guiltily) that I am. A fan, that is. Okay, a Fanilow.

Love can do funny things to you. In this case, it led B. to make that ultimate sacrifice. This September, Hollywood Bowl. Haha.

After kissing him all over his adorable face when he surprised me with the tickets; after telling him that when I had listened to Barry Manilow’s songs as a teenager (I was such a hopeful romantic), it was someone like B. whom I conjured up in my head; after jumping around the room with joy and tripping over my feet in true Lucy fashion — I looked at my husband and realized, for the gazillionth time ever, just how lucky I am.

So to B. — in the words of Barry Manilow, “You came and you gave without taking.” In the words of me — I promise never to sing Mandy in front of you again. Ever. And I promise that we can leave before the encore so that we can get the hell out of the Bowl before the rest of those 20,000 or so other kooky Fanilows.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart. Hang in there. I hear that Springsteen will be touring next year.

You’re the rock to my roll.

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

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girl meets joy

Pop quiz — finish this sentence: Life without ___________ would be less joyful.

Okay, we’re not talking family or friends here. We’re talking about the other things that, well, make your world go round. Things that rock your world. Things that, whenever you encounter them, bring a world of joy to your heart and make the blood in your veins sing.

Pencils down. What did you come up? Me, I’m going with the Beatles.

If you agree (or even if the lads from Liverpool weren’t on your list), the movie Yesterday will certainly up the joy factor in your life. Way, way up.

The movie’s premise is extraordinary — a world in which the Beatles never existed except within the memory of one person. A young singer / songwriter is the only person on earth who remembers them, and, upon coming to that realization, performs their music for the entire world to hear, passing it off as his own. (Any more detail would require a spoiler alert, and I’d rather have you keep on reading than have to issue one of those pesky things.)

The bottom line here is the amazing joy that wells up at the sound of the Beatles. In B.’s mind, hearing their music is like reuniting with an old friend. Indeed. And it’s so much more. It’s difficult to describe just how utterly blissful it was to be immersed in those songs — even when performed by someone other than John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The music is just that good.

And whether you heard the songs while they were on the charts, or if you’re hearing them for the first time now (as is the entire world within this movie), you can’t help but love at least some of them. It’s as if the music of the Beatles is part of our collective unconscious for what is beautiful and moving and joyful.

If your past does include the memory of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show; if the group has been a part of your life from their beginning; if their body of music has followed you from childhood (or older) onward —  I swear it’s like feeling your history wash over you again. It’s a wave of emotion that lifts you up. It’s a shimmering sensation of love. It’s gorgeous, fun, revolutionary music that makes you feel like your heart might burst with gratitude.

And, if you’re a baby like me, it leaves you in tears of joy.

If you let the movie work its magic and allow yourself to believe that you and the main character are the only two people who are in on the secret, the only two who remember the significance of all this joy, the feeling is, to quote Roseanne Arquette’s character in Pulp Fiction, “f*****g trippy.”

In this world where happiness is far, far too elusive; at this time that truly tries all of our souls; at this moment when kindness has become much too rare — now is when we need to “get by with a little help from [our] friends.”

Yesterday reminds us that the Beatles were more than a breakthrough musical group. They — and their music — were a gift that embodied a feeling of hope, of love, of possibility. And hearing that music again evokes a feeling of joy that lives on. In all of us.

Let it be.

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

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