Several months ago, I was asked by She Writes Press, my publisher, to contribute to their monthly blog, "Inspired By." This is modeled, I believe, on The New York Times Book Review's "By the Book," a weekly series the point of which is to coax authorial minutia -- of interest only to us book geeks -- from their featured authors. In that spirit, I offer my own. Disclosure: I had nothing to do with the questions.
What is on your nightstand?
On my nightstand are scattered the landmarks of my aging – thyroid medication, ear plugs, a flask of water, the night guard protecting me from grinding my teeth down to nubs, a lamp that always needs to be dusted, a tube of arthritis medication. Rarely does a book or an issue of “The New Yorker” make it to the stand. There’s simply no room. I may have to get a bigger nightstand, but that might only encourage the additional equipage of my aging to further colonize.
What is your favorite book?
That, or more accurately, those, I happen to be reading in the moment. I would love to write a small essay on the origin of this astonishly annoying question. Who cares? Today’s favorite becomes tomorrow’s ho hum.; today’s buzz, potentially tomorrow’s regret.
What is your favorite movie?
Oh, honestly. That which has generated a disproportionately avid interest in me, because of whatever preview seen before the movie I have come to watch which, in watching the preview, I will have forgotten. I am susceptible to buzz and well written reviews.
What is the one thing you’d take with you on Survivor?
What is Survivor?
Who are your favorite authors?
The question, again, triggers angst. My mind goes blank. P. L. Travers? Kenneth Graham? Childhood favorites spring to mind, because thebooks of childhood were few and salient. In the now, favorites jostle and vie. Today, I am engaged with Elizabeth George’s latest – my days need spicing up with the brace of murder. I’d count Rebecca Solnit among my favorites, just having read only two of her myriad titles. Does that, therefor, count? Marilyn Robinson, because we can use her moral and spiritual courage and luminous prose. And tomorrow; ask me tomorrow.
What are the five books that have inspired you as a writer and why?
Patricia Hampl’s Romantic Education. Why? I imagine hers to be a slow writing process; that she takes time to find the accurate adjective, the maximally pleasing phrase. She is a writer not afraid to be meticulous.
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Why? I shall always appreciate the connection she made and deepened between Buddhist practice and writing. Bones remains, to this day, an inspiring guide to personal exploration through writing.
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Why? Godot was a rite of passage. I was cast as Estragon in 1968! Yes, my breasts had to be taped and flattened, and my hair, cropped. Decades of athletic bras, short hair and a taste for the absurd followed, as would the conviction that careful attention to language and the perspicacious were joined.
Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows. Why? I wonder about the long reach of those books read, often out loud, in childhood. I absorbed this charming book, because of many and various readings out loud. My parents had gotten me four beautiful LP’s, which I listened to frequently and faithfully as if liturgy. To this day, I can channel Mr. Toad, Ratty and Mole. This lovely book sparked my hope that whimsy and tenderness, however heaven-forbid brutal the circumstances we find ourselves in, will offer balm, and awaken us to the world’s beauty.
T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, for the same reasons as those, above, Ithink – for the grief in loss and the balm of tenderness, and this then leads me to Helen McDonald’s astonishing H is for Hawk, and now someone stop me, please!
What is my greatest flaw?
Seriously, choosing one flaw – my “greatest” – inspires me toward myriad others. I would say, delusion – such a solid stepping stone from which one can then arrive at grandiosity and narcissism. Fun.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A cowboy, of course. I loved the accouterments – horse, chaps, gun. Once in my thirty’s I fished a pair of leather chaps out of a dumpster placed outside a gay bar. This was thrilling, albeit lacking in the uncluttered innocence of the childhood aspiration.
Who is your favorite fictional hero?
Mary Poppins, and Emma Bovary – her nemesis.
What is your must-have beauty product?
A fan. I still have hot flashes; it’s been twenty years! Hot flashes make me unattractive – red-faced, drenched, flapping. The fan mitigates, and helps re-set the temp. so I can feel, if not beautiful, at least normal once againSecond would be Burt’s Bee’s Beeswax Lip Balm with VITAMIN E & PEPPERMINT. Third would be crack cream.
What is in your handbag?
My handbag is a Patagonia knapsack. Its contents are congruent with the requirements of urban schlepping.
What comment do you hear most often from your readers?
I don’t have enough readers yet to have solicited that particular one most often heard. I would hope it to be, “When will your book be made into a movie? Who will play you?“
What is your must-have tech gadget?
iPhone. Next would be my Felco hand pruners.
Where is your favorite place to get work done?
What work? Writing – on the sofa, early in the morning, long-hand, lap desk straddling knees. Everything is work and that is meant in the best way – effort spent in the mindful doing of tasks, herculean or miniscule. The best place for that is where you are with whatever is before you.
What is your dream vacation?
The last thing that Nello, my Italian hair stylist has done.