Tuesday, April 15, 2014

a really good sentence.

"In each of us there is a little of all of us." -Georg Lichtenberg (found inside The Globe bookstore in Seattle, 07/31/11)
I used to keep this notebook full of sentences that don't go together. I would carry it everywhere, and any time I read a really good sentence--whether it was from a book or article or blog or sometimes even a sign in a store--I would write it down. It didn't need to be explicitly inspirational or have any sort of theme: if I liked it, I wrote it down. Just having them all there in my pocket was inspiring enough, no matter the subject.

There's something about reading a really good sentence that makes a previously-stuck gear turn in my head. Whenever I have writer's block, I flip through this book of sentences and it always seems to free up the massive traffic jam that somehow formed in my brain.
"She didn't look like Halloween, but you could go as her on Halloween, and there's the difference." -John Waters (written about Amy Winehouse), "A Bad Girl With a Touch of Genius" from the New York Times, 07/28/11
It's not an end-all cure, but it's a start. I haven't documented sentences for quite some time now, but perhaps I should start again. There's something about a really good sentence, after all, that keeps a paragraph, a chapter, a story flowing. It at least makes me want to keep going.

And if that fails, I always go back to this:
"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important. So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music." 
-100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost

Thursday, April 10, 2014

'can you repeat that?'

A couple of weeks ago during a not-so-crowded morning commute, a woman got on the train and sat down in the seat to my right. She had on a puffy faux fur coat (I assume it was fake), a jeweled ring on each of her fingers, and a permanent frown that sat easily among the wrinkles on her face.

The man on the other side of her was taking up a seat and a half, so she couldn't lean back. At 72nd, the person sitting to my left got up and exited, and the woman elbowed me and started talking in my direction. I had my headphones in and my Spotify app playing, so I removed an ear bud and said, "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"

She sighed loudly and then raised her voice.


She drew out the last word. Enggggggg-glish.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


On the downtown C, a couple boards with their two young children and a Hello Kitty coloring book. The daughters could be twins, with their round faces and frizzy hair. One wears yellow overalls that contrasts her dark skin; the other, a white dress. Their parents are the opposite, with dark clothes and white skin. One of the fathers sings a jazzed-up version of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" while the other keeps time by snapping along. The girls giggle and clap, and the whole train has turned their attention to watch this family of four as they head to the museum for the day.

On the bench next to them, a young man in a Yankees cap and Syracuse shirt that barely hid a sleeve of tattoos on his left shoulder smiles and asks how old the girls are. The fathers chat with him and the girls continue coloring as a few others on the train join in the conversation with this friendly group.

When the train arrives at 81st, the family leaves. The little girls wave goodbye to the smiling strangers, and the doors close. The train starts up again and the man in the Syracuse shirt pulls a book--Getting the Love You Want--out of his backpack. Self-consciously, he opens it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

#FITBF: I cry easily over...

...singing show competition auditions. Seriously.

You might watch some of these and think to yourself, "Is she serious? I didn't cry." Well, I warned you that I'm a sucker.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

being lonely vs. being alone.

I've wanted to live in Manhattan for as long as I could imagine the future. The skyscrapers and landmarks and Central Park, featured in every film and television show, stood for something big, something grand, something epic. New York City was one of those places where it didn't matter how many cliched stories were told in it, it was new and thrilling each time, and people's dreams came true and you would find others like you who grew up with the same loneliness you did. And with all of its millions of residents and visitors, you could never be lonely.

I won't lie and pretend like I'm an incredibly outgoing person. I was the kid who stayed in on weekends while others joined soccer teams or swimming classes. I kept my nose in a book at all times, even on the playground at recess because it was easier to be ignored than teased. If I wasn't escaping into a fictional world, I was creating my own in spiral notebooks or imagining a life portrayed on TV.

But even though I could have done without the bullies and the feeling of missing out on a childhood others had, I liked my world because I just knew that when I grew up, it wouldn't be like that. After I graduated from college, I would move to New York, have lots of friends, be married, and live in a house made of cheese.