Last comments on Frankfurt

I found a good Italian restaurant where they were super nice to me and since I couldn’t read the menu, I just told them foods I like and they made me pasta and sea food and then gave me angel food cake. The Germans are pretty nice. So weird to scarf down carbs. That’s going to stop when I land on American soil.

On Lufhansa they treat you like you are important. They check your passport eleven times at the airport, okay, I’m exaggerating, only about seven times. But still. The Germans are careful.

Also, German men like me. I’m not kidding, I’m going to bet that in China or Japan, I wouldn’t be the flavor of the month as I would tower over most males, but here in Germany I look like a healthy German woman of substance and I’m always showing off my legs. Sad to say I’m not attracting the same attention on the coasts of my own country. I think that’s my problem. It isn’t that I’m not skinny enough, I’m just living in the wrong part of the country, wrong part of the world or the wrong era. Let’s face it, in the days of Renoir, I’d be modeling for the great painters. Wait, weren’t the models mostly prostitutes? Right, okay, the painters would be longing to have me as a model but I’d be too classy to take off my clothes for them. Stop laughing Mark, I am classy sometimes.

Back to Germany. It is grey and wet here in October, but I think that Germany would be a lot more fun if I were with someone else. By yourself, it feels too much like the East Coast, walking in the rain, kicking up the leaves munching the fall apples which smell great, but still, Frankfurt is a lonely business.

And now I’m going home. For those of you who have not done enough international flights, you get on the plane and you have eleven or twelve hours and for some reason, it’s hard to sleep and it’s hard to work, and it’s hard to think so you go into this bizarre zone. Like you just lost those hours, like they were zoomed out of your life, like you’re in a strange luminous nether world, you are this numinous being hanging in space thinking deep thoughts that you won’t remember afterward. I think of that zone as the Oceanic fugue state since I am always flying over large oceans. In Frankfurt, people are always inviting me to visit. Come to Zurich, come to Finland, come to Tokyo. And I think I could get in another plane and float off into space.

In other countries, they like to check your suitcase if you don’t take your fluids out. I’ve gotten used to not taking them out because security in the U.S. doesn’t require it, so I have a policy, throw your panties on top so that when they open the suitcase, there they are. Panties give them pause. I’ll stop there. I think that’s a good note.

Published in: on October 10, 2014 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

What makes a person interesting?

We find people interesting who we have something in common with or are curious about.

People I usually find interesting if they aren’t weird, obnoxious or crazy:

  1. Smart people with big ideas, but not so many ideas that they never stop talking.
  2. If you don’t go anywhere, there’s less to think about.
  3. People who create things—art, music, books, plays, songs.
  4. People with lively curious minds. Quick wits. But it’s nice if their mind can rest once in a while. There is a crazy stage where your mind is like a flash pan.  Stuff always flashing in and out of it that’s pretty annoying.  At some point, I might want an omelet, which means the eggs need some time in the pan.
  5. People who are always changing and trying to find ways to be better human beings, but not changing all the time. There has to be a core self there.
  6. People who read widely. Intelligent books.
  7. People who know what is going on in the world and are interesting in finding more.
  8. People who are just fun to be around because they aren’t thinking of themselves all the time and they aren’t always working.
  9. People who can be in the moment and don’t have to post everything. Please tell me you don’t actually think Facebook is a real part of your life?  It’s like shaving your legs.  Don’t tell me about it.
  10. People who can relax once in a while. I learned that from my friend Jim, who had a writer we mutually knew stay at his house. She never relaxed, he told me.  She was always intense.  I got that.  Just breathe.

People I am not very interested in:

  1. That whole thing when older people only talk about their doctor visits and their health. Okay, if you are sick, I do care! But as you get older, talk about something else.  Knit for godsakes.
  2. People talking about television shows they watch, ditto sports.
  3. People who talk constantly about their remodel, kids, or new acquisitions.
  4. People who like to talk down to you and give you ideas for your life. As my daughter likes to say,  Excuse me, I didn’t realize you were going to advise me on my life.  Would you give me a minute so I can take notes?
  5. You’d think a certain amount of crazy would make someone more interesting but the fact is that you can be too weird/crazy. Or the wrong kind of crazy.  The kind where you think you’re the center of the known universe.
  6. Too much for me—people who constantly choose to make their life as chaotic as possible. I need a nap.
  7. People who give you way too much information. Whoa, info overload.  I do not need to know all that stuff you just told me.  We just met. Actually, even if we have known each other for years, slow down.
  8. It goes without saying that if you “tolerate” anybody, that means you have to think about it. We are way past tolerance my friend.  We’re embracing and celebrating. We’re all one people.  We are all Black. We are all poor.  We are all transgendered.  We believe in one God and many.  We are all Egyptians seeing everything and nothing.
  9. People who want to be indoors all the time. I need light.  Alaska may not work for me.
  10. People who never want to go anywhere. I want to go. My default is action.
Published in: on October 10, 2014 at 12:08 am  Comments (2)  

Enjoy Where You Live

Don’t you wish you lived somewhere more exciting?  What about Paris! Or anywhere you live in a white house and look out on the Aegean Sea.  London would be nice.  Pulling yourself out of bed, rolling into a pub around 11 for black and tan.  Or what about Marseilles.  You don’t even know where that is, but it has a nice ring.  Of course, there’s Casablanca, Istanbul, Goa, Sydney and we haven’t even discussed North Africa, Lisbon and then there’s Lima, the Andes! But the fact is that wherever you live, there you are.  You have to get up in the morning, have your breakfast or not.  Mostly you have to wash your laundry, figure out how to get to the market.  I’ve decided that a great deal of what makes a city liveable is how easy it is to find a market and buy food, and make it and then get your wash down and get around.   San Francisco seems a lot easier to get around that LA because they have BART, but we have better markets and we have houses with washing machines and dryers.  In San Francisco, my daughter and her friends all have to run to the Laundromat which would annoy me since I like to do the wash daily.  However, like Portland and Minneapolis, they have an abundance of great restaurants.  Los Angeles does not.  We have a few places that are good, but you have to research to find them and then you have to drive an hour.  It’s just not worth it.  I want to live in a neighborhood with good food.  In NY, there is good food everywhere.  I stay in Chelsea and I can just walk out my front door and there is good food here, there and everywhere.

Frankfurt isn’t so impressive food wise.  Maybe I’d like it better if I ate German food.  I know that if I were here with my friend Petra, I would be going to cool places because she knows how to find them.  I just walk from the book fair to my hotel and eat what I encounter. Petra’s a Geiger counter for cool.  The book fair itself has lots of food, my favorite is these little pretzel sandwiches with turkey and I am pretty crazy for the lattes as well.  You can also buy small bottles of whiskey and Jager and if you drink one before you go for your one hour walk back to your hotel it makes the walk go more warmly and smoothly.  Or so I hear.  I’ve been in Germany three days with no wifi, and I am starting to go into wifi withdrawal.  Obviously I don’t care that much.  But it’s weird.  The whole book fair is a trip.  All of these people in the business of books.  Our German subrights agent has been to Frankfurt forty times.  Forty years of book fairs.  With books, the delivery system matters.  In my hotel in the morning I listen to jazz from my shuffle.  It would be cool to put on a record, but I don’t need to.  But books matter as objects.  The paper, the cover, the type, from cave painting to scroll to print.  It matters.

Published in: on October 9, 2014 at 1:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Frankfurt and food

When my friend Jen travels, she walks right into bars and restaurants, bellies up to the bar or unfolds her napkin and begins to order herself a soup, a soufflé, champignons, tuna tartare, sliced baguette, a glass of Jameson, I’ll bet she even has dessert.  She’ll do this anywhere.  Dress up for the night, go out on the town, have a nice dinner, chat up the bartender, she’s a walking party.

When I travel alone, I am not a walking party.  In NY, I like to buy street food and go back to my hotel room and work, but here in Frankfurt, it’s not as easy. In Berlin, I bought street food in the Arab section of town, but here, there is no food on the street.  The Italian restaurant where I went every day last year to pick up take out pasta and vegetables is closed.  Probably for the best.  That leaves nice restaurants, German restaurants, and the market.  The market has cheese, wine and sandwiches.  I’ve had takeout Thai twice and I’m not doing that again.  I plan to find some takeout food closer to the book fair.  I’ve heard there is an Indian restaurant so I want to locate that.

Let’s say this about the Frankfurt Thai food.  It’s not like real Thai food.  It’s like German food with some Thai spices.  Once when Mark and I were in Guatemala, I said I had to have Chinese food, so off we went.  The Chinese food was not good.  It was chicken and gravy.  Once we were in Spain and I had to have Mexican food.  Off we went.  We ordered chips and guacamole.  They gave us hummus which is excellent but is not guacamole.  Now when I have cravings for sushi in Greece or Vietnamese food in Hawaii or good Italian food in the San Fernando Valley, he stops me.  He says we will have something else.  I’m like a pregnant woman with my little food cravings.

My hotel room in Frankfurt has a glass ceiling so I can hear the rain pounding at night.  It’s hard to work because I am in a fugue state.  I feel like I am made out of blue stuff.  The whole world tilted and blue as I am nine hours off my time zone and hard at work.

When you travel, much as you might like local food, you miss your own food.  In Greece, I like Greek food and in Hawaii I like sea food, but you can see why when groups of people move into an area, they bring their food.  The Chinese food in Chinatown is great, the Indian food in London, and with the largest Somali population outside of Somalia in the world, Minneapolis has some amazing Somali food.  I always wonder what the Somalis and the Hmong people think of Minneapolis.  You picture their letters home to the refugee camps:

Dear Amal,

You should come here to Minneapolis.  It’s cold most of the time, but we could learn to ice fish.

Here women are allowed to eat in the same restaurants as men and wear whatever they want.  When they are not freezing cold, which is most of the time, they can wear shorts and tank tops in public.  It will be fun. We could learn to ice skate and we could have our own cell phones.  Some Somalis are in movies, maybe we could be movie stars.  Think ice fishing. Come to Minneapolis,

Your friend Ifrax.

Published in: on October 8, 2014 at 3:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Frankfurt is cold and wet.

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I am staying at a small hotel which is a one hour walk or a half hour train ride from the book fair. The first two days the meetings are at the Grand hotel– the Hessicher Hof which is directly across from the book fair. Anybody who is anybody stays there so all the meetings are in the lobby. Needless to stay it costs 15 times more than my hotel, but it has a sauna, hot baths a wonderful bar and a restaurant and is a completely civilized way to attend the book fair. My hotel lacks all of these amenities, but it has a bed and coffee in the morning. Even a hard boiled egg which I ate in the morning room while the maids watched a show about makeovers and the receptionist came in and apologized and told me that I could ask them to change the channel, but I didn’t. I was interested in the idea of a makeover. I want one.

My first day of meetings went easily enough because I knew who I was meeting but the second day, I didn’t. I kept walking up to bother people until someone said, I’m not her but I know her and took me over to make an introduction. The German publisher I was meeting was talking with another American publisher who I know, the editor of The Other Press, Judith. It’s odd that now I’ve been coming here enough that I run into people I know. I’ve seen agents and editors who I know although it isn’t quite like AWP where I feel like I’m related to everyone.

It’s fall here and the October apples are very good. I love the German fall apples, so crisp and tasting like Beethoven’s Ninth. Last night I got takeout Thai food for dinner which was not as good as real Thai food but a great deal better than nothing. I very much wish that I were in Frankfurt with Mark. It’s weird not to be able to email, text or phone. It feels lonely.

Frankfurt Book Fair has always been in October but it used to overlap with the Jewish holidays. Since many of the people who work in publishing are Jewish, they protested this years ago, and the date of the book fair was changed. The book fair brings millions of dollars to the city in food and drink revenues alone. It’s weird how you can identify Americans immediately. American men have American haircuts. Germans have German haircuts and German clothing. Women from here and there have black boots as do I. They are exhausting to walk in all day but one does one’s best.

I’m already so tired but hopefully in a day or two I will recover, right now I am still upside down so that I still feel like the edges of sleep are trying to push at me every minute and last night I was up at 2 am wide awake watching Al Jazeera and reading manuscripts. The glow of the television told me about Ebola in Spain, cricket in South America, Syrian rebels, Sudanese refugees and problems in Kosovo while I lay sprawled in piles of German cotton reading a novel about sunken villages and exploding dams.

Published in: on October 7, 2014 at 8:22 am  Leave a Comment  

What is worth thinking about? a few things, worth worrying about? nothing

Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff. That’s a lie. I can’t even believe I just typed that because it is a blatant lie. If someone close to you is sick, that’s not small stuff. Death? Not small. Addiction issues? Not small. If your kids or parents or brothers or sisters aren’t speaking with you, that’s not small.

Small stuff:
1. Your books did not arrive in time for your reading. Bring books with you everyone in case this happens.
2. Somebody, somewhere is mad at you. You do realize that a year from now, they probably won’t still be mad, maybe even in a week they’ll forget. If someone is in a tizzy, think of it as a hot tub they got into. You do not have to get into the hot tub. They are over there in the swirl, the bubbles, the heat, the steam, you are over there swimming in the cool pool. If they yell over at you, it’s hot in here, you can yell back, it’s cool in here!
3. You are having a bad hair day. Not even worth mentioning.
4. You are out of money.
5. The meal didn’t turn out right.
6. You forgot to bring your coat, hat, shoes, etc.
7. You lost your keys, shoes, favorite flip flops, only bandanna, glasses, watch. In a year, it will not matter.
8. Something is wrong with your house/car/electronic device. Again, next week it won’t matter.
9. You’re not looking your best. You are fat/old etc. Just be glad you’re alive and change what you can.
10. It’s all getting very confusing for you. Get some sleep.

Big Stuff
1. There is an emotional, physical or psychological problem with a member of your family or inner friend circle who is dear to you.
2. You’ve lost your way of making a living. Until you solve that problem, you’re down there on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs working on food and shelter.
3. You need help. That’s where I am. I need help. There is too much on my plate, and it’s getting muddled. But when I get home from Frankfurt, most of it will have blown over and as for the rest, some of it Mark will figure out and the rest? Well the cavalry is coming to town and when she arrives, I will tell her how I am confused and she will un-confuse me. That’s what friends do.
I have good friends and when I talk with them, I settle down. Usually. There is too much on my plate right now. It’s a crazy big plate too.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 1:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

When push comes to shove, they say…but why all this pushing and shoving?

When someone pushes you and you push back, then you’re fighting. Buddhism would suggest that we step back and let the blow go by us but most humans aren’t built that way. We didn’t stake our place on the planet by stepping back but by fighting of saber tooth tigers, bears, lions to say nothing of hitting other apes with a femur bone. We respect others who are willing to fight for what they believe in. Oddly, with all of our respect for fighting, it’s surprisingly ineffective.

I’ve had cause to think about this a great deal lately. People use the phrase, “when push comes to shove,” but what they really mean is that when someone pushes you, your response should be to shove. Why are we doing all this pushing and shoving in the first place? It’s unhealthy.

Red Hen Press, the non profit I founded twenty years ago with my husband exists because we’ve sacrificed enormously and because we continue to work around the clock to sustain it. But we are lucky enough to have staff, volunteers, an executive board, a board of advisors and a council made up of significant supporters of the press who are helping us to create a vision for the next twenty years for the press. We’ve spent a great deal of time talking with other presses and getting a sense of what we could do differently, and learning about best practices has improved our methods.

All of this work requires complicated relationships with other human beings. Right now, I’m sitting at LAX getting ready for fly to Frankfurt for a week of meetings. All of these meetings are about relationships. Some are easier than others because you are working with people who think as you do, see the world as you do, even have your dreams, are interested in your life and respect what you do. Sometimes none of that is true. But still, you need to make it all work.

The wise people in my life always remind me that when things get wonky in a business relationship, it is nothing to get worked up about. It’s all ephemeral. Mark and I will still be working in the field of literature five years from now and ten years from now. I hope we will have some of the same staff and some of the same core authors, but we will certainly have a number of new authors by then, and mostly a new board, and at that time, we will have a different set of issues to deal with. Very little that’s on your plate now will still be there tomorrow, let alone next week.

This morning I got the packing done and got ready for this trip. I had three slices of turkey bacon. Then Mark dropped me at Tom Bradley and I went into the basement which is where you go through security. Sometimes before boarding planes I buy fries and Bloody Marys if I am with Mark and I feel celebratory. Even alone sometimes to cheer up, but not today. I’m listening to Lisa Gerrard and Lisa Germano. Calm yourself, I’m saying to myself. Let’s keep it all quiet on the Western front.

Published in: on October 4, 2014 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Too far down the rabbit hole

Lewis Carroll had it right.  There is a rabbit hole and when you get in there, everything looks very different.  And I’m not talking about smoking weed, you rascals.  I’m talking about some part of your life where everything seems crazy and different like you’re in a fun house or one of those dance parties where there are black lights and you become convinced that everyone has large very white teeth like shark teeth and they’re staring at you from different parts of the room and all you can see is those shark teeth.  Also because of the lights and the dancing, you don’t know where to go.  The room is very full of people and they are moving and you can’t see the exits and you aren’t sure if you want to come or go.

Someone told me this week that she had tried to kill herself eleven times.  She is twenty-one.  That’s far down into the rabbit hole, the dark parts I haven’t been to.

I’m still swimming around in the light parts.  I want to say that it doesn’t rain in these parts but it does. Rain comes in through the ceiling when you don’t want to and you’re afraid of electric shocks, but when you need rain, the sky is like iron.  This isn’t the dance party I planned to attend.

And still, rattled and confused, I can see that girl’s eyes when she told me about wanting to die and I think I’m in the crazy bits but I like life and this will all become clear. Stay away from mushrooms I say to myself, you don’t want the room to change, you just want to figure out what you’re doing here.  What is my place in the world? Is there any way I can do better?

And then there is the question I never have to ask, who are my true friends?  Because I know that and I remember it and then even under the strobe lights, I look down at my feet and see that like Bjork, often out of time, I am dancing.

Published in: on October 3, 2014 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Were you a man or a woman in your last lifetime? Here’s how to tell.

In my last lifetime, I think I was a man.  That would explain a lot.  In case you are wondering

If you were a man in your last lifetime, here are some of the signs.

You might be a man if:

  1. You have never worried about whether you were going to get married.
  2. You were in no hurry to get married.
  3. You are not a fan of romantic movies or books.
  4. You think about sex a lot.
  5. You see naked people.
  6. You don’t like shopping for clothes.
  7. You don’t like shopping for anything except books.
  8. You like both dogs and cats.
  9. You don’t know how to dress.
  10. Fashion doesn’t interest you.
  11. You don’t like beauty magazines.
  12. You like figuring things out for yourself.

Signs you are a woman in this lifetime.

  1. You can’t parallel park.
  2. Driving isn’t easy.
  3. You have no sense of direction.
  4. You don’t enjoy math, chemistry or physics.
  5. You like the house and car to be clean.
  6. Horses are exciting.
  7. You like to do the laundry yourself.
  8. You like to dance.
  9. You don’t love beer.
  10. You don’t like watching sports.
  11. You don’t like watching car chases, they bore you.
  12. You like babies.

However, I like to think big thoughts I like to think about big stories, big ideas and that’s something

we all do.

Published in: on October 2, 2014 at 8:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

OPM, the favorite currency of the Millenniums, Other People’s Money? No, it’s older people’s money.

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The best thing about Older People’s money is that you didn’t have to earn it so it’s much more fun to spend. The next best thing is that there is more of it. Your own little money pile is small and seems to be vaporized by fast food, electronics, video games and the right shoes. That’s where OPM comes in. You can buy things with it that you could hardly bear to spend your own money on, and it feels relatively painless as it wishes away. Why suffer? You didn’t have to work for it.

The odd thing about the Millennials and money is that they often feel that they deserve their parents’ money. I have friends who are resentful of their parents’ holidays, cars, bank accounts and home improvements. It used to be that as in Grand Budapest Hotel and Gianni Schicchi, the kids didn’t start wanting their inheritance until you had actually died or were imminently about to die. As Eliza so eloquently put it, “Them she lived with would have killed her for a hatpin, let alone a whole hat.” I’ve had students who covet their parents’ cars, houses and television sets.

It used to be a thing that you kind of expected yourself to be living a pretty tight lifestyle in your twenties, dependent on Happy Hour for eating out, and maybe by 35 or 40, things started to even out. I was 35 when we bought our house and I was 40 when I had my first real car, at 50 I got my first car that was automatic! My kids show up for holidays praising the whole meal situation to the skies. I know at their own pad they are sometimes eating rice or potatoes, Ramen or tuna, but that’s what kids do in their twenties.

What kids are supposed to be able to do in their twenties is sacrifice and hard work. You have fun because just being in your twenties is fun. You can get laid pretty easily, you don’t have to work that hard until you have offspring, just supporting one person isn’t that much to do, and you have time to party. What’s not to love? Even when kids start to come as long as you live simply and don’t need a fancy house, clothes or shoes you can have a lot of fun. Let’s face it, the best times are doing nearly free stuff. I say nearly free because even going to the beach requires gas.

If anyone else shakes their head and tells me their parents went on a cruise and they don’t even have dishwasher fluid, I’m going to look them straight in the eyes and say, Your parents’ money is their money. Your money is your money.

Everyone wastes money on something. Food that goes to waste. Going out to eat. More shoes, purses, clothes or jewelry than you need. Let’s face it, you need only a couple pairs of shoes and a couple of outfits.

Leave your parents alone. Let them eat cake. Let them go on cruises. Let them be world travelers. If you want a castle, build one, if you want a horse, buy one.


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