Saturday, June 18, 2011

More cool new phrases to drop casually into conversation

Here are a few more new phrases to insert furtively into conversation with your friends, colleagues and perfect strangers at the bus stop. If someone disputes their veracity, remember to look at them the way Jesus would look at Mary Magdalene and say, "Have you really never heard that expression before?" Don't forget the pity; it lends you authority. And that way these awesome new words - already used for years in my own family - will take over the English-speaking world. And possibly also other planets.

At the very least, by using them you will end up sounding worldly in company. And some of you single guys out there in a bar might even get lucky. Language: helping unattractive men have sex since 196,000 B.C. I wish you all the best.


the bite of shame(noun phrase) the last olive, the last serving of lasagna, the last slice of chocolate cake, etc. on a serving plate that no one can politely eat, despite the fact that everyone wants to and can't keep their eyes off it. The bite of shame is an unspoken compliment to the chef; the more delicious the dish, the more likely it is that a bite of shame will remain. Dinner guests in our culture are so insanely courteous. The best way to overcome this politeness in yourself is to have a kid. Then you'll find yourself using verbal tactics such as, "Are you going to eat that last bit of broccoli pasta? Because if you don't, I'm giving it to the dog." Or, "You'd better eat all that hummus or you won't get any raisins for dessert." Or even, "I've slaved away at the stove for hours to make your favorite dish and all you eat is a carrot stick? It's fish balls! What is wrong with you?" If - like me - you can't bear to see food wasted, soon you won't be eating any actual meals yourself but subsisting entirely on someone else's leftovers. And once you give in to the fact that you've become a human garbage disposal, then you'll have no problem at all - and even consider it your duty - to eat just about anybody's bite of shame.


food coma(noun) the soporific state experienced after eating too much. If only we lived in a siesta culture where food coma could actually be followed by a nap! If only food coma occurred in young children!


I know my chickens(phrase) stolen directly from the rural Italian saying "Conosco i miei polli", it's used when a person behaves exactly as you had predicted they would. For instance, on a cold winter's day you tell your cat to have a nap on your bed. The cat says no, that she wants to go outside to chase crickets. You insist she nap. The cat's about 93 in cat years and has only three good teeth. But she's adamant, so you let her out. Soon afterwards, you find her curled up on your pillow. "Ah, I know my chickens," you say with a sigh. That evening your husband says, "She'll probably sleep there all night." You reply, "I'll move her when we get into bed." You hear him say with a laugh, "No, you won't! She has you wrapped around her finger. I know my chickens!" And, in fact, he does know the behavior of every single chicken in his coop, because you wake up the next morning with what is known affectionately as a 'cat hat'.

But that's another blog post.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My real inner dialogue the night I heard back from the agent

This is it. I know it. This time when I open my hotmail account there will be an email from Ms. X. It's been nearly four months since she requested my manuscript. I've behaved myself by not nudging her; I understand how busy a London-based literary agent must be. I have waited so patiently. I am so incredibly Zen.

But tonight is the night she's going to give me her answer. I feel it in my gut! Not like the other times when I had this same feeling but it turned out to be that second burrito I shouldn't have had at dinner. Burritos are nice. I hope Ms. X turns out to be as nice as a burrito.

I hope she liked my memoir. And, really, what's not to like about it? It's a love story. It has an exotic setting. It's well-crafted. It's mostly true. OK, so who cares if I wrote that Leo baked the marijuana cake when I know very well that a certain Costantino did? I mean, who can pronounce Costantino anyway? Besides, most people wouldn't even remember such a detail from their university days.

What's my password again?

Let's see. What the...? Oh, my god, there is an email from Ms. X. Madonna santa, I'm not ready for this! I'm on vacation with a three-year-old and no husband. I hardly have time to brush my teeth at the end of the day. Now it's 9:43 p.m. and I'm in my pyjamas. What on earth possessed me to open my hotmail at this hour, right before bed? I must be insane, or a masochist, or both. Now I won't be able to get to sleep. Don't you dare get excited because obviously I'm not crazy enough to actually read the email right now. Whether good or bad news, reading it would be as suicidal as throwing away a perfectly good night's sleep. And I can't afford for my dark circles to get any darker. I need a tan.

The subject line is the title of my manuscript, "Lost in the Spanish Quarter". What does that mean? It's so sterile. There's not even a "Re:" for reply. If she wanted to represent my book, wouldn't she have indicated so in the subject line? Something like "Lost in the Spanish Quarter - Congratulations, it's a big fat YES!" Not very professional, though. I can see there's an attachment. What does that mean? Is it a contract to sign me on? Or is it a more personalized rejection letter with a list of helpful suggestions?

I'd better log off before I get too tempted to open the email. I'll check it calmly in the morning, after I've had my beauty sleep. In the meantime, I'll just lie down here on the bed in the dark and try to relax. Yoga breathing. See? I've already forgotten all about it. What's that sound, a mosquito? My son snoring? Geez, it's hot tonight. I bet it never gets this hot in London.

So let's think about it logically. What are my chances that this particular agent will take me on? Landing an agent is a long shot, but based on what I know about her, we're a perfect match. That gives me approximately a 75% chance of a rejection and a whopping 25% chance of a yes. The math is clear. So at this point, I'm only 75% mentally prepared for a rejection and cannot allow myself to open Ms. X's email until I'm 110% prepared for a rejection. That means I have 35% more work to do to get my head there. It's simple arithmetic.

This yoga breathing isn't working.

OK, let's look at it from a more spiritual perspective. There's always balance in the universe. My son and I got free flights to come here to Washington. If that was our windfall, then I can't possibly be given another one so soon. So it must be a no. But hang on, while flossing tonight I loosened my root canal filling and now it really does seem my whole tooth is finally about to fall out. The universe might have me sacrifice a tooth for a book deal. I would be OK with that. It's just a canine. How much would a dental implant cost anyway? The first few royalties might take care of that. In any case, I've already done my publicity shots with a full set of teeth. I just won't smile at the book launch.

Oh my god, am I still awake? This is ridiculous. I can't wait till morning. I might as well get it over with and read the darn thing. But I can't do it alone. What time is it in New Zealand? Will Husbando be back from work yet?

                                                        *

OK, so it's a no. But did I really need to break down like that on the phone? How embarrassing. But then again, Husbando has seen me at my worst. I gave birth in front of him, after all. No, wait. I had a epidural so I actually felt pretty OK. This is uglier. I'm in tears. My dark circles are decidedly worse. I'm turning forty in two weeks so it's impossible now that I'll get a book deal while I'm still in my thirties. I'll be one of those toothless old ladies writing about having an Italian lover when they were in their twenties. How depressing. I wonder if "dejection" is a word. If so, funny how it rhymes with "rejection". I wonder if I'll ever be able to sleep again.

I need a burrito.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Great first lines

"I baked a chicken the night I left my wife." These are the first lines of a book I was recently lent, purchased by a friend on the merit of this sentence alone. Needless to say, I too was reeled in and went on to devour the little morsel of a book, aptly named Fried Butter.

Let's face it: the first lines of a book are important, and may be perhaps a writer's only opportunity to capture a reader's attention in an era buzzing with choices. The first lines of my own manuscript are:

"I know you'd rather I was dead. I'm hardly alive. I don't expect an answer to this email. I don't expect anything."

They're not bad. In fact, in my totally unbiased opinion, they absolutely rock. From reading them just now, I am confident your socks have been knocked off. They are on the other side of the room, sliding down the window. Am I right or what? Nonetheless, there are several problems with these first lines.

Firstly, they're a teeny tiny bit on the dark side. You might think that instead of a memoir about a Neapolitan love story, you've just picked up a thriller about a death-row murderer who starts stalking his victim's daughter. Also, the sentences are short and all begin with "I". But the biggest problem with these lines is that I didn't write them.

Instead, they are the actual first words of an email from someone I hadn't heard from in years. And he wasn't at all a murderer but a bright and handsome geologist who also happened to be - despite this initial overuse of the first person singular - an extraordinary writer. To the point where sometimes I think that my own writing pales in comparison.

But, hey wait, I'm the aspiring writer here, not him, and I'd really like to get published before my publicity shots start to look like pictures of my daughter. To do that, I need some good positive energy. I need qi. I need good flow, feng shui. I need the entrance to my book, so to speak, to invite positive energy into my life. In this vein, I'm going to try to breathe deeply and rewrite the first lines of my book, taking inspiration - and only once actually stealing - from some of the classics of literature. Do any of these make your socks stick to the window?

"I have never begun a memoir with more misgiving."

"Signor Pasquali and Signora Ficuciello, on the sixth floor of number one hundred and twenty seven Via delle Fontanelle, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

"All this happened, more or less."

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, it was the best of times. Well, it was actually a bit of both."

"Elio, light of my life, fire of my wood-oven pizza."

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a Neapolitan lover."

"Happy couples are all alike; every unhappy couple is unhappy in its own way."

"The Saint Gennaro Festival won't be the Saint Gennaro Festival without any uncongealed blood," grumbled Rebecca, lying on the rug.