Friday, February 18, 2011

Getting Published!

One of the things I find so difficult about having a blog is actually trying to keep up with it in the spare 4-5 hours when I'm not comatose. One of the downsides of middle age is that you find whenever you have extra time, all you want to do is sleep.

But....reason to write and cheer. One of my previous posts, "Red Sauce," was selected out of 600 entries in a recent competition by Creative Nonfiction.org which publishes an actual hard copy magazine. This competition is kind of a regular, and it's always themed...this last one happened to be on food. It cost me $20 to submit and I thought this could well be one of the best pieces I've written to date, so what the hell. That was back in November. So when I received the notification that my piece had won yesterday, I screamed. Literally. And I was at work, so of course everyone thought somebody had died. I apologize for that.

So anyway.....for all those bloggers who dream of someday being published for real (and paid!), keep at it. And if you haven't read Red Sauce yet, scroll down a little on the page and you can read it before the rest of the world. I also owe a special debt of thanks to writer Ann Hood who motivated me to really polish this essay during a summer workshop at Chautauqua. Ann--you're the best!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pool Police


I live in what I like to fondly refer to as the "Little Condo in The Suburbs." The Little Condo complex has a pool which I used to visit as often as possible back when I didn't have a kangaroo-size belly pooch that I relied on my trustworthy tankini to hide. These days, not so much. Last weekend, though, we up yonder were sweltering in yet another 90 degree day--an anomaly in these parts--so I decided the hell with it and squeezed myself into my floral spandex two-piece with the intention of a leisurely afternoon dangling my feet in the water with a good book.

That was until I spottted the "Beluga pod" had the same idea. The Beluga pod is a group of elderly ladies--and by elderly I mean obviously old enough to be collecting Social Security and spending half the year in Florida--that comes out on especially hot days to stand neck deep in the water with their little bathing caps and simply bob around. I call them the Beluga pod because they seem to all know each other and have some kind of code for these meet ups that involve kvetching and bobbing.

None of this really bothers me because (1) I enjoy a little kvetching--you find out what's really going on at the Little Condo by eavesdropping on the Beluga pod and (2) I will one day be a Beluga and I decide I should learn their ways.

So despite being momentarily disappointed that the Belugas were in residence, I found myself a plastic chair and settled in with my Banana Joe's 45 SPF and Anne Lammot book. And then it happened--I got hit on.

My worst nightmare shows up in the form of a wrinkled old codger named Joel. I'm no stranger to Joel. In fact, anyone who's ever visited the pool at our Little Condo in the Burbs knows Joel. He and his wife, who are both of some immigrant stock that uses a lot of vowel sounds in their language--Russian, Yugoslavian, Polish, I'm not sure--used to be pool dwellers. From Memorial Day when the pool opened until Labor Day when it closed, Joel and the missus would be there in their aluminum chairs, noon to 5:00 p.m.

What I knew about Joel was that he was the self-appointed pool police. I found this out during one of my rare visits to the pool a few years after I'd become a resident at the Little Condo, and Joel shuffled over to me and in his clipped Ruski/Slavic/Polish accent asked, "You live here?" (Which sounded more like You leeve hir.") "I do," I told him nicely.

This wasn't convincing enough for Joel. "Where you live?"

Dutiful me, I pointed to the building just on the other side of the chainlink enclosed tennis court (the no one uses, by the way). "Right over there,"I said.

He eyed me suspiciously. I was obviously lying just so I could crash the pool of a condo complex because it looked so cool and inviting. "How long?" he asked.

"How long what?" I answered, starting to feel like I was being frisked. As far as I knew, Joel's next move could be a pat down.

"How long you live here?"

"Three years," I told him, glancing over the rim of my sunglasses. Joel was tiny, but scrappy. I decided he had probably spent his career at the Chevy plant or in the steel mills. For all I knew, he could have been Russian mafia and was simply living undercover at the Little Condo. In any case, he looked like he could take me and besides, my parents taught me to be respectful of belligerent old people.

"People try to come in who don't live here," Joel enlightened me in his broken English. "They come from that place across the street." (The "Not Little Condo.")

Satisified, he shuffled back to his poolside throne next to Mrs. Pool Police where they engaged in some unintelligble argument with a lot of hand waving.

Apparently, Mrs. Pool Police is no longer with us. A part of me wonders if Joel might have offed her one night during a heated round of Jeopardy and hauled her out to the condo dumpster one cold, dark night. In any case, Joel was alone. I didn't notice this at first when I settled myself in for a little uninterrupted reading time. But suddenly, there was Joel shuffling up to my chair.

"You leeve hir?"

I knew the drill. "Yes, right over there," I said pointing to my corner building that overlooked the pool.

"You a very pretty lady," Joel crooned sweetly.

Oh, for the love of God. This exchange got the attention of the Belugas who, I sensed, were all too familiar with Joel's attempts at replacing Mrs. Pool Police. "You like to go to dinner? I take you to dinner. Saturday night."

I politely declined by telling him I didn't do dinner. Ever. I wanted to ask him want happened to his wife. I wanted to say, "I know you stuffed her in the dumpster," just to derail the conversation, but I held my tongue. Who knows where I might end up.

"You know Florida? I have a house in Sarasota. I take you." Joel said. Smooth talker, I thought. Trying to intice the ladies with dinner and a side trip to his palatial estate in a senior complex on the Gulf Coast. Where's Betty White when you need her?

"Sorry, I can get to Florida all by myself," I said, doing my very best impression of a cordial but bitchy airline attendant.

He finally gave up and shuffled back to his chair. The Belugas were paddling around shaking their heads. Then a darkly toasted blond with tatoos on her arm marched over to Joel and gave him the business. "Leave her alone," she ordered. "She just wants to read her book." Stillness hung over the pool. I could feel the sweat dripping down the back of my tankini top.

"Who are you, the pool police?" Joel asked.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Red Sauce


Note: This essay was written for a workshop I took at Chautauqua with writer Ann Hood and read before a live audience at the Friday Brown Bag Lunch presentation that Ann gave on August 20. It's not my usual light and whimsical writing, but the point of art is that it pushes you to expose parts of yourself you don't normally want to expose--especially in front of strangers. My hope is that by pushing I become a better writer. --Elaine

For an Italian, my father exhibited uncharacteristic restraint except for two occasions: any time he was watching football and when he cooked. Then, my father’s full emotional range would burst open like roasted garlic smashed under a knife to extract its pungent pulp. Nothing unleashed his vocal chords more than a referee making a bad call against our local team, the Buffalo Bills, and nothing expressed love like a perfectly developed pot of red sauce, slowly simmered all afternoon until it reached a consistency where you could nearly stand a spoon upright. The way other fathers opened their arms to relieve the shame incurred by playground bullies or the rejection of dismissive boyfriends, my father encircled the people he cared for with lasagna and meatballs. Where words failed him, food never did.

For most of my life, my father’s cooking served as our means of communication: when he cooked, he loved. When I ate, I loved him back. Our symbolic system of tortellini for heartbreak and eggplant parmesan for encouragement meant that we could avoid the messier use of language or, messier still, physical demonstrations of feelings. For me, it had become a habit; for my father, I think it was simply familiar.

My father inherited his vocabulary of food from a family that included nine brothers and sisters and 41 cousins. They shared not only blood, but soil, having their roots is the same impoverished Italian village carved out of the rocky Calabrian hillside, and the common language of food—as sustenance, tradition, family glue.

Home was a crowded three bedroom rowhouse nestled beneath a coal hill in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. My grandmother reigned over three stoves--one electric, one gas, one coal burning--and a garden that would make Mario Batali weep with joy, where she grew peppers, oregano, tomatoes, and zucchini. A chicken coop sat in the middle of the garden, and it was on the concrete patio, shaded by a leafy grape arbor, that I learned my grandmother’s skill at slaughtering her own poultry.

Whenever my father talked about his childhood, he said times were hard, but they always ate well. On Sundays, tables were laid end to end on the patio to accommodate caldrons of thick Italian wedding soup dotted with tiny meatballs and bread dumplings; platters overflowing with pasta and roasted chicken or spicy sausage; and the whole Verano clan sitting shoulder to shoulder, arguing over who made the best homemade wine.

My father revered the meaningfulness of sharing food so much that after he retired, he assumed the role of coordinator of family reunions where the central—and primal—purpose was to eat from early in the morning until sunset.

At the end of May, my father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, seemingly drifting off as he took an afternoon nap in his loungechair. My youngest brother and I stood vigil outside his house waiting for the undertaker to arrive. Sitting on the front porch steps, I caught the delicate, familiar scent of red sauce laced with fresh basil, garlic and romano cheese. I said to my brother, “I smell dad’s sauce.” My brother believed it was the neighbor who, in an act of sympathy and shared grief, put a pot of sauce on the stove that my father most likely had given to her. I realized as I breathed in the rich fragrance, so filled with memories and unformed words, that the language my father had spoken all along was as direct and comforting as a longed for embrace. Maybe, in my father’s vocabulary, you could even say goodbye.        

Monday, August 23, 2010

I'm Back!

To all the wonderful readers who have been following my posts, both here and on MORE.com, I'm still alive and well! The early part of this year started out with a family health crisis and then my father unexpectedly passed away. I'm working my way back to writing and just finished a week in a personal essay writing workshop with the wonderful Ann Hood (The Red Thread, The Knitting Circle) at the Chautauqua Institution, just an hour and a half from where I live in western New York.  I was additionally blessed by being given the honor of reading one of my essays prior to her Friday brown bag lunch presentation (see photo). Life is beginning to bloom again! I hope to be adding more wit and wisdom to MORE.com soon!

PS--I apologize if your comments go unpublished. Sometimes when I receive them, there is nothing but a series of numbers. I have no idea what this means. If someone can explain it to me, I'd be thrilled!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Revising Happily Ever After - MORE Magazine - For Women 40 Plus

Revising Happily Ever After - MORE Magazine - For Women 40 Plus

Fun new tool on Google Toolbar lets you share any website -- like on your blog! Here is the whole version of my essay, "Revising Happily Ever After," on MORE.com. Would love to hear your own versions of happily ever after or just what you thought of the post. ~EH

MidLife Reality: The One Body Part You Can’t Get “Fixed.” | MidLifeBloggers

MidLife Reality: The One Body Part You Can’t Get “Fixed.” | MidLifeBloggers

Happy to share my post: Older. Grayer. Wiser. on MidLifeBloggers. Great comments! ~EH

Sunday, April 4, 2010


 All these stories of women and their straying husbands made me start wondering: What ever happened to "happily ever after?" I wrote about it for MORE.COM....read the whole essay, "Revising Happily Ever After."

Here's a teaser:
We all know how the story goes: The beautiful princess, who is suffering mercilessly at the hands of some witch of a stepmother, a pissed off fairy or spinsterly step-sisters, meets Handsome Prince who immediately falls head over heels in love, and they live happily ever after. Every little girl of my generation grew up knowing these damsels and their perfect outcomes, then we dutifully introduced the same scenario to our daughters through Belle, Ariel and Jasmine. Stronger, more independent women, sure, but the story always ended the same way. And they lived happily ever after.

Then—oops!—we come to find out that our handsome princes missed a few chapters, or added some variations of their own, turning happily ever after into media frenzies as their infidelities reached greater and greater levels of unprincely behavior. Continue reading....