Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Interview With A Coconut

I can't believe it. I've succumbed to the seductive charms of a meme--and I don't actually know for certain what the definition of a meme is. Still, I figure if anything is a meme, this is. Next thing you know, I'll be doing the Friday Five and participating in Holidailies. Naaaaaah....

Anyway, I couldn't resist asking my beloved Natalie, ruler of all she surveys over there in Natalieville, to ask me some questions. The rules of the game are below, after my answers. Play along, if you too want to be one of The Cool Kids.

Here's what Natalie wanted to know:

1. I know you're officially a "California Girl" now, but what are the things you miss the most about Long
Island and wish that you could have in California? (Family is a given.)

Before I answer, I'm going to go off on a tangent. (What? Me? A tangent? How usual!)

I've never really known where I'm from. I don't mean that in some existential, struggling-with-my-identity, many-hours-in-psychoanalysis sort of way. I mean, I grew up in Queens, New York. Officially, it's a borough of New York, just like Manhattan. Geographically, it's on Long Island. And culturally, well, it's got an identity crisis. Because I lived very near to the easternmost tip of Queens, though, that crisis was definitely skewed
toward the Long Island end of things. So in some ways I grew up as a city girl, but moreso as a "Guylander," with all the Jewish Geography implications thereof.

That said, I'm going to answer your question about the things I miss most about Queens.

I miss real pizza. Greasy, by-the-slice real pizza. Found on almost every corner in Queens, coming out of a pizza parlor that is not part of any chain any where. The kind you have to use six napkins on to sop up the grease or it'll run down your chin and onto your shirt. The kind that's so hot you can't help but burn your tongue--and like it. The kind that's making me want to cry for want of it as I type this.

And I miss bagels. Ooooooh, I miss bagels. When I was in high school, I used to have to take two buses to get there. Oftentimes, on the way home, we'd take the first bus to Union Turnpike, then walk the rest of the way home. On the way, we'd pass a real bagel shop. Again, the kind that's not a link in any kind of chain. Usually, one of our friends would be behind the counter, working an after-school job. Hot, huuuuuge, fresh-out-of-the-oven bagels cost 16 cents apiece. And no sundried tomatoes or blueberry swirls or what-have-you. Just bagels. Plain, sometimes salted, occasionally with poppy seeds. There are days I literally dream of those bagels.

What else? Frankly, not a whole heck of a lot. There are things I appreciate about where I grew up, and about New York in general, but they're things that I had in the past but wouldn't want to have now. Like the hustle and bustle, the fast-talking, quick-witted folks all around, the way nothing ever closes. I miss Manhattan, being able to walk to a museum or a Korean market or a Chinese restaurant--all in less than five minutes. But what I'd have to give up to have that sort of stuff here, well, I'm not willing to give that up.

Really, when I occasionally daydream about moving Back East, there's only one motivation behind it: my family. Well, my family and a few good friends who I miss with all my heart. But mostly, it's family. And not for me, but for the kids. I really do think not being around their aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents is a huge loss. Not huge enough for me to give up the plusses of our life here in Los Angeles, but huge. It's definitely something I grapple with all the time.

Oh, and if you were waiting for me to say I miss having seasons or snow or something, it's going to be a long wait. I hate cold with a passion. I'm still, ten-plus years into my California Adventure, giddy over my luck in
landing in a place where I can go running, outside, in January, in a tank top.

2. You have written (and are currently writing) a non-fiction book. Do you have a burning desire to
publish a fictional book? (For the sake of the question, let's assume you have lots and lots of free

Oh, absolutely. I got into writing because of my "burning desire" to write fiction. Two problems, though. One: There's no money in it, and I like money. Two: I'm not all that good at it. I mean, I'm a good writer. But I
have major flaws when it comes to fiction. I don't have an ear for dialogue, to start with. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. I have an ear for it, but I can't seem to commit dialogue to paper without "cleaning it up,"
making it more grammatical and whatnot. And all the voices in my writing tend to sound the same. I have a hard time becoming someone else and putting words into their mouth, unless I've actually interviewed them, and then it's nonfiction.

Which leads me to my other main fiction flaw: I'm a little bit imagination-challenged. OK, a lot bit. All my story ideas are based on my own life. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw; many writers admit to drawing
on their experiences. But with me, the problem becomes that as I try to spin the tale, the only logical sequence of events is the one that actually occurred. And that's not fiction, either--that's autobiography with peoples' names changed.

That said, I do intend to get back to the NaNoWriMo novel I started last year. Which, so far, is almost completely autobiographical, but maybe I'll surprise myself as I go along.

3. You and Baroy are building a dream house and you each get one room to do with as you wish (no matter
what the other person thinks). Tell us about your dream room.

Pshaw. This is easy. This is what I spend many idle hours doing. Well, if I had idle hours, it's what I'd spend doing. So instead, I guess, it's what I spend many procrastinating hours doing. Whatever. In any case...do you want the actual dimensions of the closets and shelving units?

It would be a craft room. I'd have my sewing machine, all set up and ready to roll, with an area nearby with all my supplies, as well as the fabrics and a bin for the clothes that need mending. I'd have an overstuffed easy chair, a recliner, actually, with a MagLight (one of those natural-light lamps with a magnifying glass attached). In that chair, I would do my tatting, my cross stitching, my hardanger embroider, my huck weaving...all the old-lady crafts that I love so much. I'd have huge amounts of storage space for threads and fabrics and scissors and needles, all organized according to craft--preferably by someone other than me.

I'd also have reams of bookshelves so that I could store all my hundreds of books. (I like owning books more than borrowing them, though I've cut back in recent years. I just love the feel of books, and being able to run my hands over them, and idly pick them up and flip through them at will.)

Oh, and I'd have a big, old, flat worktable on another side of the room, where I could do piece-cutting for quilting--which I don't do, but someday want to learn. It's my mom's domain right now, though, and I simply can't conceive of trying to compete.

And I'd have a TV--preferably with TiVo--so that I could watch as I stitch.

I'm going to have that room, too, or at least most of it...but not until E moves out in about 12 years! I've already called dibs on her room.

4. I just told you my deepest darkest secret. It's a juicy one. Do you tell Baroy (or anyone else for that matter) or keep it to yourself?

Does Baroy know you in this scenario? Is he likely to ever spend time with you? If he knows you/will spend time with you, no, I probably don't. Or at least not right away. I do tell someone, though, but I find someone to tell who doesn't know you at all and never will.

If he doesn't know you, or is unlikely to ever spend time with you, yeah, I tell him. Because I have to talk about it with someone, right? A juicy secret unshared is a waste of juice.

I know. Nobody is ever going to tell me a secret again. But hey, I didn't say I'd write about it in a book, did I?

5. What is your favorite book and who is your favorite author? (I gave this one to practically everyone.)

Ahhhh, you want this to go on for decades, don't you. I'll limit myself. I have three all-time favorite books. Two of them I read in basically a single sitting, while sick in bed on two separate occasions. One was Toni Morrison's Beloved. It was such a profoundly moving book, so beautiful and scary and sad and bizarre and lyrical and sad. Did I say sad?

The other was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. This is not my normal 'type' of fiction, and yet. And yet. Unbelievable. Transporting. Positively the most fantastic piece I've writing I've ever had in my hands. If you haven't, do. Read it. Now.

Finally, there's Dickens. Great Expectations, to be specific. Though I was also quite enraptured by A Tale of Two Cities.

You have to understand, I had this weird adult experience of reading--for the first time--many of the "classics" that you all read in high school well after I graduated college. That's because I was rolling along in junior high, reading whatever was assigned, and then when I hit high school, I was put into this 'extra honors' class, where we read lots of amazing material and did really high-level thinking and writing and discussion...but never covered the stuff everyone else was covering. So while I was reading Kafka and Dostoevsky and Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener (a favorite as well), everyone else was reading Dickens and Shakespeare. So I had to catch up when I was an adult. And what I found was, I love Dickens. Just love reading him. Who knew?

So that brings me to my favorite authors. Yeah, Dickens. And Marquez. Everything he's written is simply golden, charged with life and possibility and wonder. (I once saw a series of short films he did, and they, too, were amazing.)

Another favorite is Wallace Stegner. He wasn't someone whose works I thought I'd like, but my friend Roseann turned me on to him back before he'd died, and I was totally hooked. Crossing to Safety is really good. Angle of Repose is excellent. So is Big Rock Candy Mountain, for that measure, though it's different--a different era, a different sensibility. Oh, and All the Little Live Things. Wonderful. Read him.

For what I believe are some of the best short stories ever written, read Grace Paley. The Little Disturbances of Men is a fabulous collection. There are others, too. And anthologies. She is the person who made me want to write fiction--and the person who made me aware I'm not cut out for it. And the fact that she wrote about Queens often didn't hurt, either.

And if you've never read the poetry of Hayden Carruth, you owe it to yourself to do so.

God, I could go on and on and on. Virginia Woolf. Barbara Kingsolver. I loved Joan Didion's essays from the old days, though her persona takes over once you get out of the 1970s. I listened to and now devour all the books of essays by Sandra Tsing Loh. (Just laughed my butt off through A Year In Van Nuys.) David Sedaris rocks. And I love Anna Quindlen's essays, though not so much most of her fiction. And love the nonfiction works of Annie Dillard, too.

Did I say I could go on and on and on? I'll stop now. But I could. Go on and on and on, that is.

Anyway, per Natalie's request (read: stern order coupled with threats of physical violence), here are the rules if you, too want to be interviewed:


1 - Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2 - I will respond; I'll ask you five questions.
3 - You'll update your journal with my five questions, and your five answers.
4 - You'll include this explanation.
5 - You'll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed.

And that's all she wrote, folks!

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