Monday, March 31, 2008

"In The Heights" Musical

We had a fabulous weekend in New York City. We stayed in the theater district, ate at a great Thai restaurant on 9th (Chanpen) and got cool "designer" jewelry and sunglasses for $5 on the street.

We wandered into the Richard Rodgers Theater to see what the deal was with tickets for matinees. The play was "In the Heights" and we knew zip about it; I had done research on shows with big name actors or the off-Broadway plays. We asked about the "Lottery" seats and they said they were going to call those in five minutes at noon. We dropped our names into a bucket and they had 22 tickets available. About 30-40 people were gathered around as she called names. She called us and we were ecstatic -- we got front row tickets for $26 each!

I've sat in the front row before and it's a bit rough to see dance performances since it's tough to see everything, especially in ensemble dances. However, it's still front row.

"In the Heights" is an amazing musical focusing on an urban Latino community in Washington Heights, Manhattan. It's young, energetic and current. The dancing was fabulous with mix of Latin (salsa to mambo) and hip hop. There were the basic elements Broadway musicals always seem to have -- soloists gazing into the balcony as they sing about their dreams, the battling duets where two singers belt out their own songs, yet synchronized, lots of conversations with big smiles and random dancers that are part of the set design. The orchestra was surpremely talented as the music was so diverse and they were on the spot. What the hell -- these are some of the most talented performers and artists in the city.

As a poet, the lyrics of the show got me. I'm sitting there counting rhymes and the rhythm of the words, breaking at the right spot and conveying a precise message. Lin-Manuel Miranda is actor/lyricist and playwright of the show. We were thrilled to meet him by the stage exit and tell him how amazing the writing was; he actually recognized us from the first row! (Oh yeah!)
What struck a chord with us was the immigrant struggle. This story could easily be translated from the Latino theme to Desi theme (set in Jackson Heights, Queens, of course!). Instead of having a "carnivale" in the street, desis would strike up a garba or a bhangra! (Anyone out there want to write this with me??).

Love In the Time of Cholera

I read this book when I graduated from college and I loved it. I raved about the beautiful language and remembered the opening scene referring to the smell of cyanide and death to bitter almonds. I remember not understanding the title so much and taking it at face value. A few years ago, I read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and became a true Gabriel Garcia Marquez fan. I was so relieved that Oprah had an interactive site for that book, explaining characters, symbolism and even a Q&A with a Marquez scholar. It was a difficult book and frustrating at times, but oh so worth it! Just beautiful.

When the LITC movie came out the end of last year, I decided to reread this book first. I'm thrilled I did because I got more out of this book today than I did 15 years ago. When I read the snapshot of Fermina and Juvenal's daily married life, I understood it so keenly. I looked at Florentino through his mother Transita's eyes and felt her heartbreak knowing his heart was broken. Also, I did find something annoying and alluring about Florentino himself. There are times you want to shake him and say "Wake up, man! Live your life!" But you know that's not how it is. This is his life.

I saw the movie on DVD and it moved exactly like the book. We are always the first to complain when the movie steers away from the book. However, when the movie is this close to a book, it becomes predictable and tiresome. My husband walked out the first 30 minutes, complaining Florentino was a schmuck for waiting 53 years for this man to die. I stayed with the movie until the end (albeit fast forwarding) and I did like the ending. I felt the relationship between Fermina and Florentino in the end was illustrated better in the book -- you could see it grow through the letters. Javier Bardem in this movie was.. well.. whew! I felt he brought the sadness and awkwardness of Florentino alive, and maintained it while the character aged. I wasn't impressed with Fermina as a character, even in the book because I felt she was complex, but never fully matured.

As for the title, the symptoms of love and cholera are similar, which leads to the confusion and the alliances. Yet, the beauty of is it is that to experience love in the time of cholera means that love will survive. Take the ending, when they feign cholera so they can be in love.

In short, read the book.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Building Grass Huts

I have a bit of writer's anxiety these days.

On one hand, I have one creative nonfiction and two poems that are due for publication in 2008 and early 2009. I've been through this before and until the book is in my hand, I won't believe it. So I will let everyone know.

On the other hand, I've received a few rejections last year. To make me feel better, the editors send me a complimentary copy of their journals. (Gee, thanks!). They send this to you so you can learn what they're looking for next time. When I see the work that's being written, it's not like mine at all. It's more structured. I feel like they're writing skyscrapers and I'm writing grass huts.

While grass huts have their charm, they lack durability. I'm not sure how much of my style I need to change. I send my work hoping editors will see me as a "fresh voice," free of the MFA commanded styles. One editor suggested I refine my endings a bit. I reworked a few points she had identified and I agree it's better; those points always bothered me, but I left them. I would love feedback on my work!

So, I'm willing to refine, but I can't change my voice. Poetry is so personal and I write as it comes to me. My confidence wobbles when I read the bios at the end of my complimentary journals and see the MFA and other academic credentials.

Poking around on poetry sites, I came across a letter from Ted Kooser, the poet laureate. He wrote the following correspondence:

Your statement: "So many writers I've talked to refer to office work as the enemy, as if it's impossible to be anything except poet and teacher at the same time" engages me.

Where, I wonder, or at what juncture in history, did we get the idea that work would be our friend? For many of us, it is essential that we be writing against something, rather than for it. The writers who are teaching and going to the AWP meeting, etc., are in this sense writing for, or writing in support of what they're doing. Their writing is an extension of their livelihood, teaching, and the writing supports the work. And if this follows, where among these writers is the writer who questions this way of life, who writes that we should not be teaching creative writing, that we should not be encouraging people to consider careers in support of the creative writing industry? Every year there are hundreds of jacket blurbs that suggest that this or that poet is "courageous," but where is the courage in working as a poet on a university campus? Where are the dangers in this? The fear of not getting tenure? OF getting assigned to teach a class in composition? (For that matter, I'll admit that a poet need not be courageous anywhere. It's far more courageous to work the night shift in a quick stop.)

I wrote about the poet laureate Ted Kooser and how he's inspired me as someone who kept a day job and sustained his poetry. From the same site, there is another great blurb from Kooser:

You asked what I'm working on . . . I never feel as if I'm working toward the next book. I just keep writing poems as I come upon them and eventually, after maybe sixty of them have been in magazines, I start looking to see if they'll make a book. My books are getting further and further between. The last one was nine years in the collecting. Things are hectic here at the office, so I'd better get back to work.

Thank you! I will hang in there and keep collecting the grass for my huts.

Airborne Lawsuit

Did I not call it in my Packing for India post?
"Airborne - some people swear by it, I'm not sure"

Cold Remedy Airborne Settles Lawsuit
Maker of Airborne Will Pay Refunds for Product That Was Marketed as a Cold Preventive

I read the label and the ingredients were all herbal. If you wanted to make sure you built your immunity, you should be taking this for weeks in advance. You can't just plop it into your drink on the plane and expect you'll be safe from a cold and other germs.

Linking In

I've been on Linked In for some time, and never really saw the benefits to it other than for job searches. I recently registered on Facebook and have been having fun connecting with people. Right off the bat, it searches your email address book so it pulled up classmate from graduate school to a former colleague and friend who moved away when she got married. I thought she still lived in Washington state, but she's in Hyderabad with a 3-year-old!

It's been exciting to reconnected with childhood friends and family members. I have a few cousins who are older than me in India and a slew of cousins here who were 10-18 years younger. I never paid too much attention to them growing up. They were just little kids, more annoying than anything. Well, now these "little" kids are in their 20's, in medical and law school and/or working professionally. Looking at their homepages, I get an inside peek into the really interesting adults they've become. And social! I don't know how my cousin at 22 has 400 "friends." Actually, he's the one with political aspirations, so he's on the right track.

I was thrilled to see that through the family network, my older cousins' daughters are also connected. I haven't seen them since they were 9-10 years old. Now, they're 18-19 years old, have their crazy pictures, honest statements and just about everything posted. It's fascinating because I see one niece is a spitting image of her mom! And, from her style sense I can see she's a fashionista like her mom and my sister!

Last November, another cousin and I connected through email. She lives in South Africa these days and we were trying to meet up in India, since our trips coincided. We did not meet due to other circumstances, but spoke on the phone after 22 years. She sent a photo of her 14 year-old son and he looks exactly like her, since my memories are of her at the same age.

Bringing people together is one of the strengths on an online community. However, it's one thing to meet another Jane Austen fan on a board to meeting your cousin or niece for the "first time." My family is close together in NJ, and the aunts and uncles meet regularly at each others' homes and social functions. However, the cousins are all spread apart, doing their own thing.

There's a book by Rona Jaffe, "The Cousins," which talks about the complicated relationship. They bond well in childhood because the parents are siblings. However, it's harder for the cousins to connect as they grow up because they choose different directions and lose the common bond. In one way, I feel like we missed the common bond in childhood, but we have the potential to establish it again.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

One Fish Two Fish

The leap from Kindergarten to First Grade is amazing. Annika is such a stronger reader and writes extremely well. She still has her reversals (backward 5, p, 6) every now and then.

One way I encourage her to read is to have her read her homework assignment. She perches on a stool and asks me to sit afar. She'll read and then show me the pictures. Then the power of being a teacher gets into her head and she asks me to raise my hand before speaking!

Last night she read Dr. Seuss to me and it was great as I sat there and listened. I've read this book to her so many times since she was little. In fact, my brother gave me Dr. Seuss books for my baby shower. I used to do the characters in voices or accents to make it interesting. Even now, she wants me to read in a voice at times. I'm definitely not an actor and my accents fluctuate regions. But, it's ok because she enjoys it.

The best advice I had received before Annika was born was from my friend Karen. She said she read to her sons since they were infants. People thought she was nuts reading to a 2 month old. However, she found it was a soothing mechanism. Whenever he got upset, she pulled out a book and he was focused on that.

I did this with Annika and have a video of her at 4 months old, kicking her feet in delight over a book my mother is showing her. Before she was a year old, she had her favorite "dog" book. It was picture books of animals, but she called everything "dog."

We've always read during dinner, which was a way for me to get this picky girl to eat. It was a better distraction than TV. Plus, she knows that storytime is our time to bond and talk. She loves going to the library and always borrows books from the teacher's book basket. Everyone knows she's a reader and always receives books.

So, last night when she read this particular book to me, I was so excited because we really are at a new stage.