Thursday, December 29, 2005

Feeding the baby-New York style

I met my collaboration partner for a work session yesterday in NYC. Times Square and the Theater district was awash with pedestrians as many people who work in the city had taken vacation and then decided to return post-strike in order to shop or visit the theater, etc. with friends and family.

Phil and I started off in Starbucks on 42nd where he was able to plug his laptop into the electricity (he was also able to get internet service, even though it's not a 'hotspot' for that) and we worked for five solid hours in between sipping coffees. Thereafter, we scarpered to a Chinese deli for lunch and worked for another two hours before calling it quits. All in all, we felt really pleased with the amount of work achieved.

Now that the first draft is written, we were able to prepare a comprehensive 'cast of characters' and decide who was in and who was out of the play. (For those of you who've read the book, Fergal, Uncle Tommy and Auntie Bernie are eliminated.) Through a process of rigid cutting and deciding which characters can double and triple up (actors love that as it keeps them busy), we've been able to prune the character list to 13 actors who will play 37 roles. Some of you might wonder why we had to reduce the cast list. The answer is that many theaters state the maximum number of cast members and, in going through the book which lists theaters seeking submissions, we've found that a lot have eight or ten as the magic number. Larger theaters often do not stipulate, but it's wise to keep the list smaller rather than larger. So with a cast list of 13 and a tightly written play, we should be able to get the script read by some important theaters.

In order to remain faithful to the novel's content, message and resolution, we found that the absolute minimum of characters required was 13. We've also decided to write a second version of the play some time in the future with a cast of eight, but that will require us to take great liberties and diverge quite a bit from the published novel.

As I was on my way back to the Port Authority to catch my bus, I saw a sight that made me laugh. I guess you could say it was the oddest case of multi-tasking I've ever seen, and the expression 'only in New York' is probably apt. While waiting for a pedestrian light to change, a sleek, white Land Rover drove slowly by driven by a forty-something man. In the front passenger seat was a pretty blonde woman dressed in a caramel sheepskin coat who was reading a book while simultaneously feeding her baby (lying in a portable crib on the back seat). I wouldn't have thought it possible unless I'd seen it for myself. There she sat totally absorbed in her reading with her left arm bent backwards as she held the bottle of milk in the baby's mouth. And the baby was sucking away contently, its eyes gazing up at the ceiling of the vehicle, which told me this wasn't the first time the method had been utilized. Instantly, I thought this is an attorney, investment banker or something, with an elegant Fifth Ave apartment, and a nanny who'd had the temerity to ask for some vacation over Christmas.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Argyll in the sky

Nine million people will travel by air throughout the US today. It's the busiest travel day in the continental United States throughout the holidays. This afternoon, the Pennsylvania sun was bursting from the cerulean sky and it wasn't hard to verify that Americans are on the move. Everywhere the eye alighted above were pristine trails of vapor. It was amazing, actually. Being within the flight paths of planes leaving and arriving from Newark, JFK, LaGuardia and Philly, at one point the sky was so awash with crisscrossing jet trails that the it resembled the front panel of a giant Argyll sweater.


Zooming off now to do a quick bit of shopping because I'm a procrastinator when it comes to shopping at any time. I hate shopping, period. It's all my Mum's fault really, because she dragged all her kids into endless boutiques in bomb-blasted Belfast (it was the seventies and quite 'iffy' then) and made us endure interminable waits while she tried on, what seemed to us, every dress, blouse and skirt in the goddamned shop in hopes of finding something that would transform her plump body to sleekness.


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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Debating Christmas

This is the time of the year when tempers in America seem to rise at the same rate as outside temperatures on the East coast fall. And the reason for these rising tempers is the old Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays debate.

I should preface my opinion on the issue by saying first that Christmas is a cultural not religious holiday to me, that I dislike the swirling, cacophonous commercialism associated with it, and I spend it in the US, not Ireland; I enjoy eating good food, drinking good wine, and chewing the fat with friends. Secondly, I was oblivious about the debate when I lived in Ireland and England. Over there, we say 'Merry Christmas', period. It wasn't until my first Christmas in America when I was invited to Christmas Day dinner at the home of some of Larry's friends that I learned about the whole 'Happy Holidays' thing. As I entered the house, I said "Merry Christmas" to everyone I encountered and one woman said, "It's more proper to say "Happy Holidays." Needless to say, I bristled, wished her "Merry Christmas" again, and passed into the room with its enormous Christmas tree and wreath on the wall. (In an adjoining room, I might add was a navitity set because the host had converted to being an Episcopilian from Catholicism.) As one does in such situations, I inquired later about this woman and was informed she was Jewish, had graduated in law from a Catholic university, had a powerful position at a law firm in Philadelphia, but was also a closeted lesbian who would not acknowledge her longterm girlfriend because she lived in terror of being 'outed' at work. The last nugget of informatiion gave me the measure of the woman who had confronted me. For the entire day, she behaved as if she and I were the North and North poles of two magnets. When I joined a group of people where she was present, she immediately jettisoned herself to another room; if she remained because she'd just joined the group herself, she would not look at me, not even when I was talking or when I addressed her directly (made a point of doing that, actually. And she did respond, but it was apparant by its brevity that she'd have preferred to munch on the rim of her crystal wine goblet.

This year, the debate seems to have stirred the national consciousness because many people are making a point of saying "Merry Christmas" to those whom it seems logical would celebrate Christmas. People appear to be genuinely angry about this piece of political correctness that's gone awry. I've seen the attitudes and emphatic greetings at the malls. Maybe its because my name is Celtic, they know they can say "Merry Christmas." I also watched with horrified amazement as Macy's struggled about what to call their Christmas tree during the televised lighting ceremony at their principal store in the state of Georgia. After much wrangling, they decided to call it the Great tree I mean, give me a break. It's a Christmas tree. It's not a 'Holiday tree,' and it's not a'Great tree.'

Whatever happened to common sense. If a person is African-American and they celebrate Kwaanza instead of Christmas, then one simply says 'Happy Kwanzaa' if it falls in the same time period as Christmas and you know they celebrate it. If they don't celebrate Christmas and it's Christmas Day, then just wish them "Merry Christmas." Good manners dictate that they either wish it back or, if they desire to make a point, they can say 'Thanks, but I don't celebrate Christmas.' This applies also to Hanukkah. If the person is Jewish and you know it, say "Happy Hanukkah" if it falls contemporaneously with Christmas (as it does this year), or you can resort to the generic "Happy Holidays". If you don't know they're Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or whatever religion and it is 'Christmas Day, then say "Merry Christmas" and let good manners prevail. Simple as that. I have many Jewish friends and they do not twist into gargoyles of political correctness because I wish them "Merry Christmas" on December 25th.

My point is, there is no need to subvert wishing someone Merry Christmas because of a fear or reticence about traversing political correctness. It is Christmas and the fact that it is so should be acknowledged by intelligent people of any creed or culture. Not to do so demeans, stupifies and holds us hostage to one hell of an asinine aspect of the gospel of political correctness. Let's just all acknowledge our different cultures and associated holidays and maybe, just maybe, learning someone we meet comes from another culture might prompt us to ask about their holiday and learn something about it. We certainly won't learn anything by saying 'Season's Greetings' or 'Happy Holidays' and pretending the different traditions don't exist.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

The hornet

This morning I had an epiphany of sorts at the Y while on my favorite elliptical and watching my favorite anchor CNN's American Morning Soledad O'Brien (whom one of the L's of L&L tried to convince me unsuccessfully over dinner the other night was reputed to be an absolute and insufferable bitch, or so she'd heard from someone 'in the know.' I told Lynne that I could not form any opinion on someone based on hearsay (that's the lawyer in me, I guess), that I would have to experience the alleged imperious and demanding personality firsthand before I could agree. My 'Y' epiphany concerned a fellow member who was peddling with determination on another elliptical machine. I was peddling pretty vigorously too because I'd keyed in the 'fat-burner' program as opposed to the more sedate 'calorie-burner' one and, disinterested in the interview Soledad was conducting with yet another author of the "How To' genre, I happened to look around at my fellow elliptical-cum-stairmaster junkies.

The member, a late middle-aged woman trenchantly frosty of demeanor with short, blunt, professionally dyed honey-blonde hair, always reminds me of a NY Supreme Court justice I'd once argued a case before when she strides into the gym. You may be familiar with the archetype from LA Law, Law and Order, and Ally McBeal and such, one of those powerful female presences that exude an intimidating 'Don't pull any fancy attorney crap such as another request for a continuance,' and/or 'You screw with me in any manner no matter how trivial while you're in my courtroom and your ass will be jumping through hoops and up for contempt' aura. This morning however, she was already astride the machine and sported a glow above her thick layer of make-up. Given the position of my machine and hers, I had a body profile view of her and it was not very flattering because all human dignity while on these machines is cheerfully traded in the pursuit of the 'nirvana of sveltness.'

My frosty 'judge' worked more and more feverishly, her painfully thin legs sheathed in a black lycra leotard, her very thin arms tugging at the handles, her hunched (on account of the machine) barrel-like torso draped in a baggy mustard and black striped T-shirt that resembled a carapace, and I immediately thought,'insect'. This woman resembles an insect. I watched riveted. I could not take my eyes off her and, boy, did my twenty two minutes pass quickly for the first time ever. (She always stays on the machine for forty-five minutes, despite there being a time limit of 30 minutes per member per machine in the interests of consideration for fellow members, but not even the staff will approach to remind the 'judge' of the Y's rules. As her time on the machine approached an end, I expected a pair of wings to slowly rise from out of her back and to see her body lift off and set course for the free weight section, her legs drifting wispily like a hornet.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Brokeback Mountain: Thoughts

It's wonderful when a quality movie starts to receive the recognition it deserves and I'm pleased Brokeback Mountain is receiving lots of buzz and critical acclaim, the latest being the slew of nominations it received for the Golden Globes. I'm not just saying this because I'm gay and thus may be seen by some--most particularly the Christian Right--as being biased or of having a vested interest in seeing it succeed.

No, that's not the reason for the joy I'm taking at the glorious buzz. I'm joyful because, as someone of an artistic sensibility, I want as many people as possible to read uplifting books, hear uplifting music and see uplifting films of marvelous quality. For far too long, Hollywood has produced far too much dross and Brokeback Mountain, from the highly talented director Ang Lee, is just one of a number of top quality offerings to emerge this year. Others include George Clooney's, Good Night and Good Luck and Memoirs of a Geisha. I am hopeful the trend will continue and that we will see more fresh and novel (no pun intended) storylines for the consumption of the intelligent mainstream, rather than a continued flow of old movie rehashes, tired plot lines and mindnumbing mediocrity suitable only for...well, the numb of mind.

For those of you who haven't heard anything about Brokeback Mountain, the movie is based on a short story by Annie Proulx and involves a secret and tortured love affair and hauntingly sad relationship between two cowboys. (Interestingly, there were/are a lot of gay cowboys.) Here's a link to CNN's review of the movie:
Brokeback Mountain

Predictably, the Christian Right is angry and you will hear lots of anguish and predictions about the continued decline of public morality and our flight from God--read Christianity, for that. There will be much fire and brimstone warnings. I will post another essay about this in the near future.

At the moment, I merely want to rejoice that something good, something vital, something that shows another aspect of our shared humanity is seeing the light of day.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Book-Blog.com

And I'm informed that A Son Called Gabriel was a best reads of 2005 at Debra Hamel's Book-Blog.com.

Check out her reviews of some other terrific books.


Ms. Hamel also started the ingenious Buy A Friend A Book Week which runs four times a year and I was fortunate to be invited by her to choose my three favorite books some time ago. What better idea than to buy a friend a book for no good reason other than that they're a friend and you want to give a gift, right?

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Blogcritics pick A Son Called Gabriel

I am very pleased this morning because I just received news that A Son Called Gabriel was chosen as one of the top 10 best books of 2005 by Blogcritics.com. Selected critics were asked to submit their favorite book of 2005 and a critic called Joan Hunt who'd erad my novel selected it.

This is especially wonderful news to receive as Phil Hilden, my collaborator in the play of A Son Called Gabriel, is coming to Pennsylvania today so that we can go though the first draft of the play.

Here's the link to Blogcritics:
Blogcritics

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A deer in the gloaming

It all began as an uncertain shadow that appeared suddenly in the corner of my left eye, and then came a sickening thud followed by darkness as a feverish tangle of limbs filled my window. The time of evening was what the Scots call 'the gloaming'. (I guess 'the gloaming' is an ancient Celtic word and Irish and Welsh Gaelic probably have similar words, but I don't know the Irish one because I was always hopeless at retaining my Irish vocabulary. The gloaming is actually a more precise word than teh word 'dusk' and, growing up in Ireland, we called it the 'between the lights' in English.)

In any event, I was returning home from a book signing and the deer bounded out from a wood near my home, struck the front of the car and was catapulted over the bonnet and against the windshield. Of course I braked quickly, and the animal slid off the bonnet to the road beneath, picked itself up, and dashed into an open field on the other side of the road. A bolt of electricity surged through my body as I drove to a lay-by--in my backview mirror, I could see the equally shocked deer pick itself up off the grass and dash across the field to disappear into a copse of trees--where I got out and inspected the damage, which amounted to a broken headlight and a badly dented bonnet.

The encounter resurrected a couple of memories stored deep within the recesses of my memory banks. One accident occurred shortly after my seventeenth birthday, and I had just got my driver's licence and was on my way to a 'sixth form social' (the equivalent of the senior prom in the states) at a neighboring school when a fox crossed my path. The fox did not survive. Another accident occurred while I was driving my sister Deirdre and cousins Helena and Rosemary to a new disco that had opened in a nearby town. When we arrived, the bouncers would not allow me in because I was wearing jeans, so we had a pow-wow on the pavement and decided to drive to another disco in Portstewart, some thirty miles away. We were so keen to get to the disco, I drove far too fast and next thing I rounded a corner that never seemed to stop turning and...well, I planted the car deep in the bosom of a row of rhododendron bushes flanking the ditch. All I remember as I stepped out of the car was my sister, dressed in a wide flared lemon skirt that gleamed in the darkness, pacing up and down the road in a panic because we could not extricate the car, accompanied by Rosemary and Helena who was wearing extremely tall high-heels that kept clicking loudly as she walked. In the end, it was decided that I would stay and continue my efforts to free the car while they walked down a farmer's lane to seek help. Off the heavily lip-glossed envoys clicked into the night.

Twenty minutes later, there was an enormous roar and a farmer's tractor loomed in the dusk. As it drew closer, I saw the girls perched in a most undignified way on the towing hitch. They climbed off when it came to a stop. Helena approached me, stilettoes in hand and pencil skirt drawn above her knees, and gave me a look that suggested I would have much groveling to do to make up for the affront. As the farmer was towing the car out, two British landrovers rounded the corner and came to a stop. To their credit, they stopped and asked if they could help, but I quickly declined. After it had been removed from the bushes, we inspected the car and I saw there were no dents--loads of scratches but no major damage. We thanked the old farmer profusely, decided to go home, and drove off, but as we advenced, we could not deny to one another that the car was making discomfitingly strange sounds. It was as if it were spitting out gravel or tree limbs from underneath the chassis. The sound lessened as I continued, but it was still noticeable, and I knew my father would know something was wrong as soon as he drove the thing. I decided to pull into a lay-by just outside the town where my cousins lived and had they and my sister rehearse a lie I'd concocted in the event my father smelled a rat and began an investigation. Next morning, I arose very early and went outside and quickly used "T-cut" (a Brasso like substance for removing scratches and tar) on the scratches and successfully removed all evidence of the accident. Satisfied, I went back to bed. Later, as soon as my father returned from Sunday mass, he called me to him and asked what was wrong with the car because it was making funny sounds. With scarcely a pause, I told him I'd swerved to avoid a fox and landed in a ditch and it must still be be shaking off earth and small stones. Only years later, did I tell him, and it's since became a family joke, which he still invokes to this day.


With regards to the current encounter, both the deer and I were lucky, though I'm sure the bruised deer will be feeling some pain for a few days. Certainly, I feel lucky because I've heard of instances where the windshield had broken and the deer has fallen into the cabin and crushed the occupant. And a few neighbors in the area have had their cars 'totalled' as a result of such accidents. The irony of the thing is I'm always so careful about deer when I'm driving. I'm constantly watching out for them as soon as I turn off the main road and start along the back roads winding through the township where I live. I'm sure I'm not alone in my vigilence because Pennsylvania has the highest rate of car accidents involving deer in the entire United States, though that's a record I'm sure the Commonwealth will not be keen to hold on to for very long.

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