Friday, September 23, 2016

So Glad They Told Me -- My essay's in it!

I'm really excited to have a piece included in a new collection of essays published by the HerStories Project Press. It's called "So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real about Motherhood."

The book, which you can order here, contains 60 essays by writers who are also mothers and who have all written about a very useful piece of advice another mother shared -- often at a moment of crisis. At a moment where motherhood seemed overwhelming or, in my case, where impending motherhood was such an unknowable landscape that I was tempted to make all kinds of decisions I would have later regretted.

In my case the "they" is my sister, Trish, who wisely counseled that I may not want to make any decisions about working while raising my son until my son actually arrived. I think she must have intuited something I learned later: I like working. The work that I do is so intrinsically part of my personality and contributes so decisively to my well-being that it's not a negotiable. It's a necessity.

My thanks to the editors of the HerStories Project Press for publishing my essay. Here's a quick excerpt:

I was humbled and amazed by the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. I was also overwhelmed by the demands of being a first-time mom.

My maternity leave days, in the full heat of an Atlanta summer, were often just a series of failed, desperate attempts to coax a nap out of my infant son, Leo. I’d embark on long walks in the stroller in the hopes of inducing sleep. Or I’d walk him around his room for what felt like forever.

I even consulted a sleep specialist. I knew establishing solid sleep routines would be key for his development. But I also needed time alone to think, to be me, to use my brain in different ways. I quickly found most days I longed for any kind of a break. When my partner came home from work some nights, I would go swim laps in our neighborhood pool, and then drive around the park, practically in a trance, as I blasted a Bruce Springsteen song about desperate love.

In other words, I was beginning to realize I could bear being away from my child.

When I returned to my job months later, I remembered I liked work, and I liked interviewing people, and considering proposal ideas, and synthesizing large amounts of information into digestible stories for my audience. I liked having a specialty. I liked living in the world of ideas.

In short, after three months of doing no work, of barely looking at my work email, and avoiding news updates about anything I might have covered, I realized I’m not someone who could stay at home. I’m not someone who can be fulfilled without working for pay. And a big part of being me consists of writing, ruminating, and reflecting—on something other than diaper rash.

It was as if my personality was suddenly, instantly crystallized—for me. One of those moments where all you can do is slap yourself on the forehead, and go, “Duh.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

Leo flipping through an Italian dictionary

A moment that had to be captured! Leo looking at an Italian dictionary I had left out in our kitchen
to help me with a translation I am working on.

(Next time maybe I'll let him flip through my Ragazzini-Zanichelli dictionary -- the special one).

He doesn't need to learn Italian or love foreign languages the way I do but I hope he loves words. Or I should say, I hope he'll always love words. Because he definitely loves them now.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tonight in Atlanta! "MIA MADRE" - A film by Nanni Moretti

I don't go to the movies often -- I certainly don't go see Italian films often -- peccato! But tonight I'm going to see Nanni Moretti's latest film -- grande! The babysitter is booked and stasera, ladies and gentlemen, si va al cinema.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pianos for Peace -- Atlanta edition

Pianos for Peace -- I don't know who you are, I don't know where you're based and I don't need to know. I only know Leo and I were wandering around Piedmont Park one warm summer afternoon recently and we stumbled upon this lovely red piano. We had no agenda that day and were looking for an adventure. For 15 minutes or so, Little Red Piano, you provided it.

Because not only did we sit down and try to play ourselves, we managed to entice others to try their hand at tinkling the ivories, as they say. People were intrigued, like us (can we really just sit down and play this piano? Um, yep, it would appear to be the case!). And taking chance, I prevailed upon a few good sports to see if they could remember their childhood piano lessons.

The man in the picture remembered something -- I think if he'd had more time, he would have remembered all kinds of songs. He was a bit shy, perhaps the way we all are when we remember a past love or a past hobby or some activity we gave up, which now seems lost to time, seemingly with no way to ever recover it.

I think there IS a way to recover it, in this case. Perhaps Pianos for Peace can help. I've since seen another piano that is part of the initiative, stationed under the Freedom Parkway overpass on the Beltline.

Hey Atlanta, if you're not already bothering fellow citizens with your recollection of "Chopsticks," get to it. This one is near the pool in Piedmont Park!

P.S. -- According to the link, the pianos will be around Atlanta until Sept. 18.

Reading poetry on the porch

Diary entry for Aug 7, 2016
Forgotten moments of pure joy: We arrive home one afternoon, Leo and I, to find a plastic bag twisted around the handle of the front door. 

It’s a slew of Poetry magazine issues from our 84-year-old neighbor, Art, the former chemist. Something Leo has become accustomed to seeing (Old issues of The New Yorker make up my part of the exchange with Art). 

So many issues (bound, as they are, like little books) that it appears to be a bounty we must explore immediately. And perhaps one member of the team is particularly snoozy and so we sit on the porch, he and I doubled up in one chair, reading poems from Poetry magazine, as we wait for Daddy to come home from work. 

And he sits so happily, so quietly, absorbing words of modern poetry, while I sit so happily, absorbing a scene of uncommon purity and joy, in my favorite spot in the house, feeling the press of his warm skin against mine, hearing the string of verse spooling out of my mouth and into his ears, and please God, into his conscience, into the part of his brain that forms his being.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

It feels a bit like grief (poem - “Summer’s Wake”)

It feels a bit like grief
The first warnings of fall
The sudden chill in the morning air when until yesterday,
There was nothing but heavy, humid, hot air mugging my every breath

I open the door to the front porch and something like a breeze comes toward me
I may even need a sweater, I think distractedly
The crickets are humming
Where have they been?
Hiding until this moment, this moment where the world signals
It will soon be coming to an end
(A fact forgotten while the days were frittered away)
Something else will begin, something equally wonderful
But what of it?
What we have, what we’ve failed to properly exploit
Is dissolving, vanishing, slipping away

What we’ve failed to properly exploit
That’s the source of the nagging feeling as
I follow the breeze's path across the porch, and across my body
The easy way I settle into the wicker chair
With the front door flung open, then left open
And the sudden desire to live my whole life on the porch
(My refuge, but one that goes on an uncanny hiatus during the summer months)
It’s a thought unfathomable just a few short days ago
It’s been so long
So long since that heavy, humid, hot air’s been molesting me

Not that I truly minded
I’ve learned to love the heat, the few moments ventured each day out of our precious AC
Like some last vital untamed element, savage and unapologetic
I’ve come to consider the heat summer’s blanket, 
Its birth mark
Its guarantee that every submersion in water will be a divine communion
A sign, perhaps, that I’ve assimilated
Into that other country, the South
Atlanta, my adult home

But that’s no consolation now that the chill is there every morning when I open the front door
To search for morning glories and the morning paper
Also of no help: Full knowledge of fall's thrilling rhythms
Not yet anyway
Childhood’s delineation of summer as fun and fall as funeral
Has me weeping silently into the breeze

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Omran Daqueesh -- my little reminder

I’ve saved the front page of The New York Times from yesterday where there’s a photo of a Syrian boy whose silent, dust-covered face has captivated the world (the photo that accompanies this video above in the online version of the story). He captivated the world -- including me. But for how long? He was recovered from the rubble of his apartment building, which was struck by missiles during the endless civil war in his country. And I guess he was in shock so his quiet patience might be quite understandable, but the photo and the short video the entire world has seen are capable of stopping your heart. Quite literally – no hyperbole. 

I’ve saved it – just as I saved the photo of the poor Syrian boy who drowned during a crossing with other refugees and washed up on a Turkish beach, lifeless – in the hopes it can inspire me on at least two different levels. First: this is happening, people are suffering and what are you doing about it, Jeanne? You’re not even reporting on it – the very least you could do, that is your skill, if so much can be said of what you know of journalism. That's the first level. 

Second level: I don’t know how to put it, it seems to jar me awake from my daily parenting slumber – something along the lines of thinking that no matter what Leo does, he is an absolute GIFT from GOD that I must cherish every day every day every day. Because to imagine that he could ever have to experience something like this – and to know we are lucky enough that he probably won’t – well, it’s a reminder that we never have hard times. He never does anything that we can’t fix. A day in which he refuses to eat spinach and won’t touch regular milk and doesn’t want to have “quiet time,” well, a day like that, to use the cliché again, is a gift from God. 

The mother of this little Syrian boy would quite literally give her right arm to have a day like that.

Funny thing, I’ve taped the front page of the Times up on the bedroom wall to the right of this bookshelf I use as a desk/computer stand. I think it’s fairly hidden, you wouldn’t really see the folded paper taped up unless you were standing at the computer – something Mike never does. And that’s an important detail because I'd taped up the photo of the lifeless boy’s body lying on the beach in Turkey and he asked me to take it down. I taped it up for the same reason – WAKE UP JEANNE this is happening, you are so lucky, so lucky to have this boy, your little Leo – all very noble, I suppose, but the image was too much for Mike. 

I don’t blame him; I cherish his reaction in some ways. He cannot countenance all the bad that’s sewn into everyday life on Earth. We humans. For shame. And yet my God I, *I*, need a reminder. Because we will all go on, we will all go about our business and this little boy will be forgotten. But his little face (he looks to be about 4 years old – you-know-who’s-age) – and the unspoken sadness written upon it, his little plaintive stare, are so stunningly sad, the tragedy so stunningly unnecessary, that I need to remember. Give me the strength and the resolve, someone, to remember and to do something about it.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

"My other question is: do polar bears fly?"

I've been publishing excerpts here on the blog of my "Bits" journal, to appropriate the expression, again, from poet and FSU writing professor David Kirby. Here's another excerpt below. It's just a collection of notebooks and computer files where I record everyday thoughts, inspirations, ideas for stories, etc. This one draws heavily from a 'sub-journal' -- the Leo Diary.
April 30, 2016
6:33 a.m.
I have to think Atlanta is some kind of bird sanctuary. I’ve never heard so much birdsong or such loud tweets anywhere else. My God! Lots of red-feathered cardinals – the only bird I know to recognize.
It gets light so early these days. Which means SOMEONE wakes up early. Cutting severely into Mommy’s writing time. I put these words down to give a sense of my life, not really to complain. It’s the change of the seasons wrought into a specific detail: Here’s what early spring means to me…abbreviated writing sessions, and also one of the few times of the year when the morning darkness dissipates quickly here. 

Atlanta, city of darkness. Lately I’ve been tweeting that it’s a city of murals. And it really is. It’s one of the few distinguishing characteristics. I guess thanks in part to Living Walls. And maybe also the specific geography of Atlanta: lots of train tunnels. The Living Walls in Cabbagetown, after all, are along the train wall that leads to Krog Street Tunnel.
I hear a voice outside – which turns out to be cat – and I look over my shoulder to see the pinkening sky through the transom window. This image = my life in Atlanta. My early morning writing life in Atlanta. The pinkening sky, glimpsed briefly through the transom window.

April 27, 2016
The lyrics and the music to the song “Graceland” replay in my mind. ‘My traveling companion is 9 years old. She’s the child of my first marriage…. I have reason to believe we’ll both be received in Graceland….Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee…we’re going to Graceland.”

Songs of redemption.

April 26, 2016
Leo: “My head is so full of questions.”

He asks a fairly mundane question, and then says, “My other question is: do polar bears fly?”

No, but nice try (click on 'continua a leggere' below to read the rest of this post).

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A review of Mingarelli's "A Meal in Winter"

I've begun reviewing books and of course I have a special desire to review fiction in translation. In this case, the book in question was originally written in French, not Italian, but no matter. It 's stunning.

Here's an excerpt of the review for Cleaver magazine. To read the rest, click the link below.

by Hubert Mingarelli
translated by Sam Taylor
The New Press, 138 pages
reviewed by Jeanne Bonner
A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a subtle book that quietly but methodically stalks the reader’s sympathies. It does so through a beautiful, spare prose style that begins with the first line: “They had rung the iron gong outside, and it was still echoing, at first for real in the courtyard, and then, for a longer time, inside our heads.” This is lovely writing (deftly rendered from the French by translator Sam Taylor, himself a novelist)—yet a bit ominous, like something that can’t be escaped. Later, setting the scene for the winter’s walk that takes up much of the first part of the narrative, he writes: “A pale sun hung in the sky, as distant and useless, it seemed to us, as a coin trapped under thick ice.” Trapped. What is trapped? Or who?
Read the rest of the review here. Then please read the book!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Women in Translation? Here's your book list!

August is Women in Translation Month; a month when, if you felt so inclined, you could curl up with a wonderful book by a foreign authoress translated into English by a wonderful translator and have yourself a time.

And in honor of the designation, some translation-loving folks, including Katy Derbyshire and Susan Bernofsky, have compiled a list of books written by women from around the world (the non-native English-speaking world) and translated into English. For my part, I contributed the absolutely unneeded suggestion of adding Elena Ferrante to the pile (as if).

The list only goes so far as works published since 2010 but whoa! Look at this smorgasbord! You could curl up for two or three years with this list.

Books written by women and translated into English, published since 2010

In alphabetical order by author

HIGH TIDE, Inga Ābele (Open Letter Books)
THE NUN, Simonella Agnello Hornby (Europa Editions)
FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON, Milena Agus (Europa Editions)
SECOND-HAND TIME, Svetlana Alexievich (Fitzcarraldo)
ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, Naja Marie Aidt (Open Letter Books)
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, Miral al-Tahawy (American University in Cairo Press)
CHERNOBYL PRAYER, Svetlana Alexievich (Penguin Modern Classics)
WILLFUL DISREGARD, Lena Andersson (Other Press)
WOMAN OF TANTOURA, Radwa Ashour (American University in Cairo Press)
SPECTRES, Radwa Ashour (Arabia Books)
ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE DAYS, Michèle Audin (Deep Vellum)
THE QUEUE, Basma Abdel Aziz (Melville House)
PANTY, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (Tilted Axis Press)
OH, SALAAM! Najwa Barakat (Interlink Books)
THE LIFE OF ELVES, Muriel Barbery (Gallic Books)
THE COUNTRY UNDER MY SKIN, Gioconda Belli (Bloomsbury)
SWALLOW SUMMER, Larissa Boehning (Comma Press)
THE OTHER WOMAN, Therese Bohman (Other Press)
BEFORE, Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum)
TEXAS: THE GREAT THEFT, Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum)
BABA DUNJA’S LAST LOVE, Alina Bronsky (Europa Editions)
THE SECRET WAYS OF PERFUME, Cristina Caboni (Transworld)
THE LAST LOVER, Can Xue (Yale University Press)
MR DARWIN’S GARDENER, Kristina Carlson (Peirene Press)
THE FIRST WIFE, Paulina Chiziane (out August 9, Archipelago Press)
ALWAYS COCO-COLA, Alexandra Chrietieh (Interlink Books)
HOME, Leila S. Chudori (Deep Vellum)
THE ISLAND OF LOST TRUTH, Flavia Company (Europa Editions)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review -- "Only in Naples"

I don't think I have ever reviewed a book on my blog. But I've done quite a few things in the last four years that I have never done before so let's get right to it!

There are lots of books written about Italy. Lots of books. You could even say tanti.

But this book by Katherine Wilson, which was published by Random House earlier this year, stands out for several reasons.

First of all, it's about Naples. Not over-exposed Tuscany or well-documented Rome (though Rome does appear in the book) or even Milan, which Americans have begun to visit more frequently in recent years.

Nope. It's about Naples.

(And she began doing her research long before Elena Ferrante's books spawned literary tours of the Southern Italian city.)

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this woman, Katherine (or 'Ketrin', as her Neapolitan in-laws call her) knows Italy.

She knows a very specific part of Italy but that doesn't change the fact that she's one of the few American authors of memoirs to truly penetrate Italian society and learn its every molecule.

She also has a unique story on her hands: she loves her mother-in-law. Her Italian mother-in-law.

And what's not to love?

Click 'continua a leggere' to read the rest....