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a novel approach

Okay, I’m going to share something with you here. Something that I’ll mention this one time but will not mention again (at least not until I’ve accomplished it). It is a daunting but necessary task, something that has been gnawing at me for some time, and something that I now feel compelled to do.

I am writing a novel.

For someone who has spent her career writing advertising copy (and having a passion for print ads), a novel is a whole different animal. With the parameters for advertising copywriters having changed (where’s Don Draper when you need him?), now seems like the perfect time to jump on the challenge that has been following me for all of my professional life.

For years, family members would nag, usually at the Passover seder, “When are you going to write the Great American Novel?” “Oh, I don’t know,” I’d always felt like saying, “There seem to be some guys named Hemingway and Fitzgerald who’ve already clinched that deal. Matzoh, anyone?”

Or then there are those well-meaning folks who are sure they know what it is I should write about. “You should write about the way you and B. met and got together,” they say gleefully, sure they’ve hit pay dirt. It’s a great story, I’ll admit. It’s also been written before — ever hear of When Harry Met Sally? Thought so.

In that vein, there are those who think that writing a novel that mimics another is a way to go. “Why not write something like Gone with the Wind? People loved that book!” (You think?) “You know, John Grisham is really successful — why don’t you write a law novel like one of his?” (Oh, sure, no problem.)  “Have you read The Da Vinci Code? Something like that would be good, don’t you think?” (I do. As did author Dan Brown when he wrote a number of sequels featuring everyone’s favorite brilliant guy, Robert Langdon.)

Or then there are those who either a) have more confidence in me than I do, or b) are somewhat unaware of how things work. “How hard can it be?” they ask. (Right. Because coming up with an original plot, compelling characters, a voice that pulls readers in and leaves them wanting more — how long can that take?)

So. There you go. And here I am — with a very good start. I’ve got my characters (I think), my storyline (I’m pretty sure), and my bunny slippers (dress for success, after all). I’ve got my research materials, my trusty laptop, and my imagination (you can’t build a novel without the right tools). This novel has become my new shadow, my alter ego, my creative offering to the publishing gods.

It could take a year to finish. Or more. Or less. In its beginning stages alone, the experience is proving to be an exciting one; I love the power of controlling my little world and the people in it. But it has also been somewhat scary (like when the characters take over and lead me in directions I hadn’t planned).

Go ahead, ask. You know you want to. “So what’s it about?” I’d love to tell you … but then I’d have to … well, you know.

The plot thickens.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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bowled over

One of the joys of living in LA is the Hollywood Bowl. The acoustics are exemplary; sitting under the stars listening to great music is one of life’s pleasures; and sharing it all with 20,000 others is, while sometimes a bit overwhelming, always a thrill. Just think — 19,999 other people who know all the words, too.

Tuesday night was no exception.

Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound Farewell Tour marked a huge milestone — for him, of course, but also for those of us who grew up with his music. So much has been written about his extraordinary talent, storytelling genius, and poetic sense — by me, among others — that I thought I would take a lighter turn here. (I think the Paul Simon of “Feeling Groovy” and “At the Zoo” might appreciate the whimsy.) To wit:

So there we were at the Bowl, waiting for the concert to begin and chatting with the people seated near us. Next to me was a woman named Mrs. Robinson, who was wearing a fabulous pair of heels; this being LA, she had Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. The man with her (Mr. Robinson, I presume), insisted that You Can Call Me Al. As the evening sky turned from a Dazzling Blue to darkness, Simon took the stage. With all the negativity swirling through America right now, his music turned out to be a magical and positively joyful escape.

The audience was comprised of those probably not yet born when Paul and Artie were together; those who are Still Crazy After All These Years for Simon’s music (like B. and me), and a few people old enough to be our parents. (At one point I said to B., “See that woman over there? I thought for a minute that That Was Your Mother!”)  There was also a Mother and Child Reunion — parents with young children — sitting right behind us. And while I actually prefer to experience a concert in person versus through my phone’s camera, those who were taking photos or videos captured lots of Kodachrome moments.

Even when it became Late in the Evening, Simon was filled with the energy of a much younger man, dancing like a Boxer at the center of a ring; when the multiple encores ended and he had received the lifetime of ovations he so deserved, he bid us thanks and farewell. Although the show was over, the notes still hung in the air. The Sound of Silence? More like Spirit Voices echoing the strains of Simon’s glorious, global music.

Time to head Homeward Bound. Simon says.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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riding shotgun with nancy drew

Having just finished reading The Female Persuasion, the bestselling novel by Meg Wolitzer, I’ve got feminism on my mind. The story is about a young, impressionable college student who meets a Gloria-Steinem-level feminist icon, and how their relationship — and their work for women’s empowerment — affects both of their lives. The novel tells of connections between women and women, between men and women, and between power and compassion. It’s a wonderful read.

Being about Wolitzer’s age, I was a teenager in the 1970s, when the feminist / Equal Rights Amendment / burn-the-bra movement was changing the way society saw women and the way women saw themselves; when Carole King’s Tapestry and Joni Mitchell’s Blue became the words that moved us as a group; when the idea of equal pay for equal work was (and still is) a not-as-yet-carved-in-stone Eleventh Commandment. Unlike our mothers’ generation, we were told that it was our destiny to  “have it all,” resulting in our working twice as hard to prove that we were equal to men.

Times change, tactics change, toughness endures. And while my generation may not have reaped all the rewards we had hoped for in terms of leveling the playing field, we did make an imprint on culture and on history in the 1970s and 1980s. We worked, wrote, protested, and argued truth to power. And we saw a lot of “first” females rise — the first American female in space, the first female Supreme Court Justice, the first female Fortune 500 CEO, among others.

Being a feminist no longer became limited to being a woman. Evolved, educated, and erudite men — men who supported us and were blind to the professional differences between themselves and women — proudly added “feminist” to their own resumes.

When I was a girl, my favorite fictional feminist (although I didn’t know what a feminist was at the time) was  Ms. Nancy Drew, amateur sleuth. While the Nancy Drew series grew and transformed to accommodate changing times, the books I read were those from the original classic series, where teen-aged Nancy and her gal pals Bess and George tore around in Nancy’s little blue roadster, gathering clues and solving mysteries. I wanted to hit the road with Nancy because of her intelligence, her determination, and her spirit — all qualities embodied in my current concept of feminism. (By the way, note that there were two Hardy Boys and only one Nancy Drew — see what I mean about working twice as hard?)

Today, my real life feminist heroes are far more complex and impressive (sorry, Nancy) in a world that is far more complex and oppressive (sorry, everyone else). These are women who champion not only women’s rights but also human rights, and have inspired so many of us to aspire to live lives that matter, to make a difference, and to teach what we have learned about having — and giving — it all.

You know, girl stuff.

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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ketchup if you can

Food is a lot like relationships; sometimes the most unexpected, unexplainable combinations work together incredibly well — even if the rest of the world just can’t see it. I, myself, have been known to rock some food combos that would make others turn up their noses. But, you know, their loss. To wit:

Ketchup and almost anything. I love ketchup (not catsup, Heinz Ketchup). I love it on eggs, on steak, on rye bread (with or without the corned beef), on pasta, on cold Thanksgiving stuffing. I love it on hot dogs. B., who had always been a mustard guy as far as hot dogs go, looked at me quizzically the first time he saw me indulge in the combo. Intrigued, he tasted it — and he has never looked back. Ketchup on Dodger dogs for everyone.

Chocolate and potato chips. Any woman worth her PMS past or present can probably relate to this one. The combo of sweet and salty is unbelievably satisfying. But I prefer the purest form of this treat — plain potato chips nibbled alternately with pieces of Cadbury chocolate. Chocolate bars with potato chips mixed in or chocolate-covered potato chips are for amateurs.

Watermelon and balsamic vinegar. The vinegar brings out the sweetness of the watermelon; the melon brings out the rich tartness of the vinegar. Each component complements the other perfectly — who can ask for more in a relationship?

Romaine lettuce and Bolognese sauce. There’s something about those cold, crisp lettuce leaves topped with warm, hearty Bolognese that speaks to all kinds of cravings — crunchy, smooth, savory, sweet. Extra credit if you top it with a bit of homemade Thousand Island dressing. I know — it sounds odd (to be polite) to most people. But it works for me.

Hot chocolate and chili powder. This sophisticated twosome may not be for everyone. But if you’ve got even one adventurous taste bud, give it a try. Warning: this is not a kids’ cocoa-and-marshmallow concoction; this is an adults-only experience that will arouse your palate. Goodbye, sweet Swiss Miss. I’ll take Mayan spicy.

Some say that food is love. I think that in food, as in life, the best relationships are those with minimum heartbreak.

And minimum heartburn.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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nonsense of direction

Once the mainstay of every American family setting out for a cross-country vacation, the map has become virtually obsolete. Now, instead of pulling out the TripTik so carefully prepared by AAA with the route highlighted in yellow or orange and little foldout side notes for side trips, the GPS (Ms. GPS?) has become the voice that leads vacationers, to say nothing of everyday drivers, on their merry way.

Sure, GPS systems are convenient and faster to use. But they have none of the magic, the on-the-road promise of adventure, or the colorful patterns and curious names you’ll find on a map. B. is a huge fan of maps — he can spend hours plotting out a trip, poring over the details, and finding at least three ways of getting from here to there. He has an almost instinctual knowledge of which way we’re heading at any given time.

Me, not so much. I do love the possibilities a map offers. And I am always in awe of the fact that someone actually created the map — without using a map. But my title of chief navigator (guess who the pilot is) is one I’d like to abdicate. To wit:

Full-size, foldout maps are the bane of my existence. I never seem to be able to control them. Just when I think I’ve folded one down to the exact piece of road we’re traveling on, it turns out that we passed that spot about 20 minutes earlier (like the time I was trying to find our location in California and we were already in Arizona). Unfolding and refolding only leads to a paper cut or two (sometimes resulting in a tiny spot of blood that I mistake for a town), accented by some choice language that eats up another few miles.

Once I finally manage to locate our location (usually pointed out to me by B. when we stop for gas), continuing to read and follow the map is like going the wrong way on a one-way street — I need reading glasses to see the map clearly, but I also need sunglasses because of the glare. So yes, I have actually had to don my sunglasses over my readers (the ultimate in road-trip geek chic). Not only do I look like a deer caught in the headlights, but wearing both pairs of glasses at the same time puts undue pressure on my allergy-ridden sinuses and creates undue snickers from B.

If that isn’t enough to take me off map patrol, how about this? While I can now follow the map’s details thanks to wearing both pairs of glasses, I can’t focus. Because reading while riding in a car makes me queasy. Between the sinus headache and the motion sickness, I feel so awful that figuring out which way we’re headed is no longer of any interest to me. I’m sure that I am headed straight to hell.

What usually happens next is that a) we stop to buy me some ginger ale, b) B. pores over the map and memorizes what he needs to know, and c) I get “promoted” to exit patrol, i.e., “Let me know when you see signs for exit 29.” (I can do that.)

My last confrontation with the map is trying to fold it back to its original state when the trip is over. All I can say is that it’s not pretty. (Picture Taz, that animated Tasmanian Devil character, in a whirl of mishap. That would be me.) I end up rumpled; the map, crumpled.

The alternative? Don’t even get me started on Ms. GPS and her know-it-all tone of voice.

Time for a latitude adjustment.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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blonde spot

In the realm of classic film noir there are certain factors — and actors — you can always count on in any combination: a private eye in a sharp suit; a cop with a New York accent; a good man gone bad; a murder needing to be solved; a sordid affair; a femme fatale, frequently blonde.

The blonde (alias the dame or the skirt) — is the one who either a) commits the murder; b) is covering up the murder; or c) distracts the authorities off the trail of the murderer. Also — and this is vital — her looks are killer (even if she is not).

Cases in point:

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.  One of my favorite movies, certainly my favorite film noir. Fred MacMurray plays the life-insurance salesman who lusts after the wife (Stanwyck) of a new client. She leads him far, far astray, as the two plot and carry out the murder of her husband. But watch out for double crossing, lovers crossing, and train crossings. Stanwyck’s character is so bad she absolutely shimmers. When this blonde bombshell explodes, watch out. (See also: Kathleen Turner in Body Heat for a modern update on this classic.)

Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. Worth watching, if just for the scene where Bacall’s character (“Slim”) seduces both Bogart (“Steve”) and the audience with her feminine wiles and wit. After a kiss that sizzles off the screen, Slim leaves Steve with this legendary lure:

“You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle.You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together … and blow.”

Definitely to have.

Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. The ultimate man-marries-blonde, man-blackmails-someone-to-murder-blonde, man-underestimates-strength-of-blonde film. Ray Milland is absolutely chilling, but it is Grace Kelly, delicate in looks only, who steals the spotlight. (See also: Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas in the remake, A Perfect Murder, which varies a bit from the original but is also a nail biter.)

Of course, not all films in the noir genre include a fair-haired femme fatale. But the impact on the subconscious — of a cool, smart, beautiful blonde in a drama simmering with dark heat — is undeniably brilliant and endlessly unpredictable.

Watch your back.

 

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

 

 

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for better or verse

I say “poetry” and you say: a) roses are red, violets are blue, b) there once was a girl from Nantucket, c) oh, no, don’t make me read poetry — please! But how about songwriters as poets? Got your attention now, don’t I? To wit:

If you have ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert, really been to one, you know that it’s a religious experience — the religion of passion, of rock and roll, of having your soul saved by a four-hour evening of standing on your feet, ready and willing to be converted. From the achingly poignant Ghost of Tom Joad (with that amazing guitar riff by Tom Morello); to the joyful, off-the-scale, gospel-according-to-Bruce testimony that Springsteen often drops into the midst of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out; to the glorious declaration of Independence Day; to the haunting strains of The Rising, echoing the unspeakable heartbreak of 9/11 — these are more than just amazing pieces of music (that, they certainly are). The lyrics tell stories — of fear and survival, of doubt and hope, of anger and love — of what it means to be human and vulnerable. Stories told with words picked for their ability to pierce through the armor of our self-defenses and land, without fail, in our hearts. Stories told by a legend who evokes his Everyman roots with every note played, every word sung.

Paul Simon paints vistas with his songs. Who can listen to Bridge Over Troubled Water and not envision laying down one’s heart and soul to comfort a friend or lover?  Who doesn’t see the fate of The Boxer — the man beaten down by life but rising up like a phoenix once again? Rarely has there been a more hopeless view of the world than the one Simon has painted in Sounds of Silence — or a more hope-shattering sense of loss than that of the American-dream-ebbing American Tune. But then there are the joyful works — Late in the Evening, the irresistibly upbeat, salsa-charged snapshot of playing music in a city neighborhood; or Feeling Groovy, a purely lighthearted look at the city as playground. Finally, there is the irony of Old Friends, a song written when Simon was still in his 20s, imagining it “terribly strange to be seventy.” No more common chord can be struck for anyone of a certain age who has looked in the mirror and seen an aged parent’s face in his or her own reflection.

Whatever your rhyme or reason, there is a poet who speaks to your heart.

Go ahead. Take a stanza.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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