Monday, February 26, 2007


It took me several weeks to finish Al Sim's most recent collection--Stories in the Old Style--but before you conclude that I didn't enjoy it, let me explain.

I, too, wondered why I had taken so long to finish reading these stories that--if asked casually, "Did you like them?"--I would have unequivocally said were wonderful. And so I sat down, post-read, to critically examine both the individual stories and the collection as a whole, both of which I concluded "worked" in the mysterious and illogical way of good fiction. In revisiting them, though, I realized how deliciously self-contained each story is--so complete within itself, that I needed to sit with the just-finished story a while, before moving on to another. I wanted to enjoy the resonance of the last word, and so had trouble immediately opening my reader's heart to the next story in line. "Better to set the book down and think on those perfect final words for a bit"--or so my reader's heart might have said.

But, now...if the brain could just make a logical interjection...

I think that this need-to-stop-reading is actually a testament to the strength of Sim's collection. In fact, during a class on ordering and assembling a story collection, Peter Ho Davies said that a collection should be read in just such a way. He suggested that each story be savored and granted a full stop at the end so that the reader might fully enjoy the final enduring image and keep thinking about the story long after the last words are read.

And now, another country heard from: the stomach.

For some (entirely strange and personal) reason, I often equate a good read to good food. I consume them both, relish them both, and leave both feeling satisfied when the chef or author has done his job well. And in the case of Al Sim's collection, his 18 stories were like a box of fine chocolates. (Yes, I'm aware that Forrest Gump has forever ruined that analogy...) But consider for a moment the fact that one really well made chocolate can be enough to satisfy even the most stubborn sweet tooth. Two-at-a-time can be eaten, yes--with somewhat diminished enjoyment--but three? Well, that definitely feels like overindulgence.

And since you are too polite to ask but nonetheless curious, my very favorite bon-bons were: Two Head Gone, a story of human helplessness in the face of ordinary but devastating loss; The Freedom Pig, in which a runaway slave and his master's pig conspire to reach the promised land; Get the Can, a lovely, lyrical short-short that uses a childhood game of one-up to show that all things are possible; and especially Fetch, an emotionally packed short-short that ripped my heart out and left it bleeding in the snow at the edge of the frozen lake.

No stranger to publication, Sim's stories have previously appeared in such vaunted journals as Glimmer Train, Antietam Review, Crab Creek Review, North Atlantic Review, Fourteen Hills, The Literary Review, Red Cedar Review, and New Millennium Writings. And his choice of title? Well, Sim titled his collection spot-on, in my view, because his stories truly are written in the "old style." They hearken back to such various influences as the surprise endings of O. Henry, the grit and realism of John Steinbeck and the barely contained wildness of Jack London.

As a group, or stand alone, Sim's stories are spare and brutally beautiful.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sisyphus and the Snow

I've just spent an hour-and-a-half shoveling snow. Now, in general, I like to shovel snow. But today, a few things conspired to make the experience slightly less than wonderful. For starters, I miss my Old Faithful shovel. Its replacement is a mere shadow of the shovel that Old Faithful was before his demise. Also, my neighbor's dog was let out halfway through the job and forgotten by his owner. Said dog quickly determined that I was not a natural part of the snowy landscape and in order to alert everyone in a five-mile radius of that fact, he proceeded to serenade anyone listening (read: me) with a repeating refrain of sonorous Beagle (read: bugle) songs (Arrrr-rooo!!! Arrrr-rooo!!!).

But the snow was lovely and light and as I shoveled--as I am wont to do--I considered the many blessings and curses associated with such a morning's work:

Blessing: I've been wanting to lose some weight, and I figure I burned about a thousand calories today.
Curse: The residual lactic acid buildup from the previous day's 100 crunches and free-weight training.

Blessing: The westerly wind when shoveling to the left.
Curse: The westerly wind when shoveling to the right.

Blessing: My new, short haircut tucked out of the way, safely under my hat.
Curse: My new short haircut after returning inside and removing the hat.

Blessing: The edges of the driveway.
Curse: The middle of the driveway.

Blessing: The snowplow drivers who keep the street cleared of snow.
Curse: The snowplow drivers who deposit a waist-high pile of sludge at the end of the driveway just as I am completing my task.

Blessing: Light, powdery snow when lifting shovelful after shovelful of the stuff.
Curse: Light, powdery snow when throwing it into a prevailing wind.

Blessing: The neighbor who approaches with his snow-thrower chugging away--headed right for my driveway.
Curse: The neighbor who cheerily waves as he chugs past on his way to some other neighbor's driveway.

Curse: Light, blowing snow down the back of my coat.
Blessing: Light, blowing snow down the back of my coat after I've been shoveling for 45 minutes.

Curse: That I will need to see my chiropractor after this.
Blessing: That my chiropractor always throws in a lovely bit of massage with the adjustment.

Curse: The 1,000 pounds of snow that I moved today.
Blessing: That my husband is coming home and the next 1,000 pounds will be his responsibility.

Blessing: We're going on vacation in three days.
Curse: Our main planned activity: snowshoeing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


"It seems in every interaction there is something to learn if we can only see ourselves as students. If we can humble ourselves, and allow ourselves to see the world without our own beliefs and dogmas, then we could see so much beauty awaiting us in each moment."

--Sukh Chugh

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bad Haircut

Okay, so I'm not Sampson or anything, nor am I especially vain (most days), but I have a new and hideous haircut and it's killing me.

It was on a whim, yesterday, that I pulled into the grocery store parking lot with my almost 17-year-old daughter who has been having a rough couple of weeks. Ahead of us we saw a sign for SuperCuts and she said, "I've been thinking of getting my hair cut."

"Me, too," I said, "Let's go in."

My hair has been long and boring for a while now, and I thought, what-the-hey, let's shake things up. And I found a great style--short but sexy--and I took it over to the stylist.

"Have you ever had short hair before?" she asked, with a quiver in her voice. That should have been my first sign of dangerous waters ahead, but once I commit to something, I commit all the way (even if the current has picked up to "ripping" and there's a mist hanging over the water ahead).

Gad, she took so long. More than an hour. You would think that taking your time would be a good thing for a haircut. But each section she picked up and measured so carefully, apologizing if one small piece eluded her scissors and then starting the whole laborious process over again. Finally I just wanted her to be done. Once we hit an hour, I didn't even care what it looked like, I just wanted out of the damned chair!

She was nice, but she was tentative, and my hair is all wrong. Nothing at all like the picture. I even kind of know what needs to be done (I'm a pretty good hair cutter myself) but I can't do it to my own hair. It's really a sad, sad sight though. And since my house used to belong to Kim Alexis ('80s supermodel) there's no shortage of mirros around to remind me of my folly.

Ah, at least there's time. Time heals all bad haircuts. In the meantime, it's winter, so hats are in.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


It is sooo cold in western New York. We are freezing our noonies off. (For those, that is--unlike my cats--who haven't already had them surgically removed.) We are fortunate to have a warm house, reliable vehicles, well-insulated pipes, and plenty of food.

When the wind whistles at my windows, and the edges of the door gather frost, and icicles hang from my eaves so long that they begin to evaporate into weird shapes like ice cubes left too long in the freezer, I think of the homeless with no safe haven to call home. I think of the poor who--even with plastic over their windows and lots of layers and dangerous space heaters--aren't warm enough because their homes are old and leaky and uninsulated, and they are paying through the nose to send a good portion of their heating dollars into the attic and out through the roof.

This morning I am compelled to put a fraction of my good fortune toward those less fortunate. There are many worthy organizations that need assistance, but today I choose The Buffalo City Mission.

Sunday, February 04, 2007