Jersey City Writers at Art House Productions

imgjcwsuperTonight I will be reading short fiction written by Sarah T. Jewell as part of the Jersey City Writers and Art House Productions genre event series. The event Zap! Pow! Bam! Superheroes & Supervillains: A night of dynamic dare-do-well & dastardly deeds features work by local writers read by actors.

The evening will feature author, Keith R.A. DeCandido, American science fiction and fantasy writer, and local writers: David Boyle, Rachel Poy, Jonathan Huang, Jim DeAngelis, Beth Bentley, Stephen Weber, Mike Purfield, Sarah T. Jewell, and E.M. Kobrin/Mercedes Perez Kobrin.

Readings begin at 7pm at the Art House Productions space on Magnolia in Jersey City.

Before and after the thunderstorm

IMG_25July16RainBlue walls, red curtains, and gold-framed mirrors that reflect who is up on stage behind the microphone. Clothes damp, shoes soaked, a number of us had gathered to hear the Bennington Writers fiction reading at Cornelia Street Cafe while a thunderstorm raged over New York City.

IMG_25July16Reading

When the storm hit earlier in the day, I watched the sky cast charcoal gray from my perch on the eighth floor at the Center for Fiction. I headed out onto the Midtown streets joining the herd of commuters rushing to get underground before the clouds broke open again. I passed a man selling umbrella’s for five dollars and didn’t listen to the voice that said, “buy an umbrella, you may need it.”

At a West 4th street subway exit, slowed down by a line of people reluctant to go out into the torrential rain, I looked for another way out but this was it. As I made my way to the front of the line, a man played a lively guitar that matched the mood.

With ten minutes left to the reading, I surfaced risking a good soak but I found my way to scaffolding and eventually an umbrella as my partner showed up just in time.

During the event, I went first and read an excerpt from my short story, “Exposed.” At a transition in the story, as if on cue, thunder boomed, lightning crackled—I paused to let the storm have its space. Then I continued on reading a flashback about crossed wires and mixed messages.

IMG_25July16Sun

After the reading, the sun broke through the clouds. Buildings lit up in a warm, orange glow. We walked a stretch along Bleeker street on to the next destination for the evening.

What did the storm signify? Was it meant to be foreboding and fearsome? In my experiences, rain has often been a blessing. Rain has arrived on days filled with happiness like the day I got married.

The storm last night provided a measure of contrast, a way to be present in the experience of the evening rather than getting caught up in the flow of traffic, pre-event tensions, or tangential thinking. It was a much needed cooling down. It took nervous energy and turned it into awe and a bit of glee.

Contrast

Books that fill the sky with color

IMG_MayaAngelouSky (1)Some books fill the sky with color. Some authors leave a distinct hue, their indelible mark in the space beyond the clouds. When Maya Angelou passed on May 28 in 2014, I watched a gorgeous sky(pictured above) take shape at sunset in Salinas, Ecuador. The clouds stretched across the sky and shades of pink lingered before giving way to gold then yellow then orange.

It was her sky that evening, a majestic tribute in her honor. That evening I began a Maya Angelou reading marathon of sorts. While familiar with her poetry, I hadn’t read her autobiographies. I started with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which opens with a vivid scene of a young Maya in church. She evokes feelings of displacement and not being enough through a description of an ill-fitting, faded lavender dress.

“It was old-lady-long too, but it didn’t hide my skinny legs, which had been greased with Blue Seal Vaseline and powdered with the Arkansas red clay.”

She goes on to compare her skin to the color of mud, the minister’s wife has a long yellow face, and then a green persimmon or a lemon catches her between the legs after she trips on her way to the bathroom. Angelou manages to work every color of the rainbow into her story.

By the time I finished reading all of her autobiographies, she had taken residence in our home on the beach. I felt her presence in the hammock, in the bedroom with the green decor, and at the kitchen table. We had many visitors come and go during that extended stay but the one person I felt most connected to was Angelou.

Her stories were like the clouds in the sky floating in and around me, coming and going. Now each time I think about Salinas, I can’t help but remember her life experiences. For me Salinas belongs to the ocean, the sea lions, the sunsets, and Maya Angelou.
South

On love, days later

Love days later

Love days later

What happens when you peel back the layers of long-lasting love? What do you find when you step outside of the experience of love and examine it from a distance? What does it look like from the sky?

When I read Pablo Neruda’s “100 Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor,” I get the feeling that he traveled to the depths of his soul and to the ends of space as he explored his feelings on love writing to his muse, his wife, Matilde Urrutia.

He tells her at the beginning as translated by Stephen Tapscott, “My beloved wife, I suffered while I was writing these misnamed “sonnets;” they hurt me and caused me grief, but the happiness I feel in offering them to you is vast as a savanna.”

Neruda manages to capture the expansiveness of love, its infinite nature, as he embraces universal elements to give it shape when it truly has no shape.

Here is an excerpt from one of my favorites, “XLVIII.”

Two happy lovers make one bread,

a single moon drop in the grass.

Walking, they cast two shadows that flow together;

Waking, they leave one sun empty in their bed.

 In Spanish:

Dos amantes dichosos hacen un solo pan,

una sola gota de luna de hierba,

dejan andando dos sombras que se reúnen,

dejan un solo sol vacío en una cama.

Resolve to read more fiction

2013 was the first year without my cat Puddy. He left us in 2012 after sixteen years.

2013 was the first year without my cat Puddy. He left us in 2012 after sixteen years.

Reading fiction is good for you. At least according to research conducted by psychologists at the New School of Social Research. While you aren’t likely to lose 10 pounds or eat fewer sweets by reading fiction, apparently you will become a better person and be more empathetic towards others.

According to an article published in the Guardian, psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.” Their findings were published in the journal, Science, last October.

Note the emphasis on literary fiction, however. You won’t deepen your ability to understand others by reading any old book – that romance novel just won’t do. The participants in the study were given Anton Chekov and Téa Obreht.

While I need little convincing on the benefits of reading literature, I do resolve to read more fiction this year. I read many essays, articles, and news stories in 2013 that cluttered my brain with headlines and rather exhausted the mind. Letting go of digesting news isn’t easy, however, especially as someone who worked as a beat reporter.

I do intend to find more time to read fiction by spending less time on Facebook, something that New York Times op ed columnist Frank Bruni recently suggested.

In his column, he said, “It feels at times as if contemplation has given way to expectoration, with speed overtaking sense and nuance exiting the equation.”

In 2014, I’d like to allow my mind to meander, to explore, to rest in the space created by untold details in a story rather than be confined to scanning a newsfeed hunting for the next image or post to comment on or like.

I’m going to log off and delve into “Love,” by Toni Morrison.