Luck of the Draw

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NO SOONER has the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie been served than we begin the exalted family ritual: the drawing of the names. There’s a certain historic economic sense to this in a family of six siblings. When we were all little girls, it was hard to make that $1.25 allowance stretch five ways, so we adopted the practice of choosing names. Instead of spending a quarter on each sister, we bestowed a generous five of them on one. Those of us old enough to augment our finances with baby-sitting money could afford to go to the store and buy a gift that a sister might actually desire. The younger, penniless ones had to make stuff. Strange stuff. Odd things, crafted out … Read More

Ovations from the Stage

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THERE IS A STORY told about Pablo Neruda. In a concert reading in his later years, the Chilean poet stumbled while reciting a poem and lost track of the words. He could be forgiven; the man produced so many hundreds of poems that by the time he was an old man in the 1970s, he would certainly have forgotten a line or two along the way. They are gorgeous things, Neruda’s poems. Oh, not all of them. Some are mediocre, some tossed off over coffee, some presaged Rod McKuen. Many are excellent but bloody (he was a political creature in times of revolution and exile), but most are paeans to his lovers’ bodies, to passion, to desire—poems on fire, lines … Read More

Burst Bubbles

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SITTING IN THE ORPHEUM watching Riverdance, the shuffle-shuffle-ball-change suddenly came back to me. A 30-year-old seed of regret, along with a couple of tricky tap combinations, bubbled to the surface of my consciousness. It could have been me up on that stage. I, too, could have tapped my way across the country with handsome Irishmen. I could have shuffled off to Buffalo. But I blew my Lawrence Welk audition. I am breaking a code of silence, here. It is a rare friend who knows I once practiced heel-toe-heel-toe-hop-slide-slide for hours on my mother’s kitchen floor, lined up with my five siblings in order of height. I was the oldest, but not the tallest, so I had to stand second. I … Read More

Asking God to Sign In

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AS SECOND GRADERS at St. Raphael’s Elementary School, we had to leave room on our chairs for guardian angels. Sister Emerita patrolled the aisles, prodding our 8-year-old bottoms with her yardstick, scootching us over another half inch. Apparently guardian angels had big tushes. While Sister paced the rows of desks, I peered into the air next to me, trying to see my angel. Was it a he or a she? Could it fit on the thin slice of wood I was offering it? Would its wings spill over onto Gordon Gulzinski’s desk behind me? I saw nothing. I reasoned this was because I was not yet worthy. Perhaps if I refrained from coveting Cecilia Bramwell’s excellent new knee-hi stockings, maybe … Read More

Write Better-er

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I teach writing, so it saddens me to report this, but a teacher can make you only a better writer, not a great one. For that, an ineffable something is required—an instinct for language, a voracious appetite for crafting sentences that force previously content humans to break down and weep, and a love for the cadence and the weight and the heft of words. That ineffable something is provided by, oh, I don’t know—DNA from your grandmother, your parents having read Henry James to you in utero, your habit as a toddler of watching Jetsons reruns. Or something. Everyone should write. It’s a marvelous exercise in forcing yourself to think logically. It clarifies reason and enhances empathy. Go right ahead … Read More