Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I was so excited when I head that Leonard Marcus would be making an appearance at Book Court to talk about his new book Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices.  Earlier this year, I attended the 50th anniversary celebration of Madeleine's beloved children's chapter book A Wrinkle in Time. At the celebration,  Leonard got up and read from a chapter in Listening.  It was such a treat to hear from someone who had spend countless hours talking to people who had been part of Madeleine's life.

At his recent Book Court appearance, Leonard shared more details about what he had learned about Madeleine while putting together the book.

At one point, I asked Leonard what he thought made A Wrinkle in Time such a compelling read.  He responded by speaking to one of the relatable themes of the book - the quest for a distant parent.  He also mentioned that readers could identify with the highly idiosyncratic family of Meg, the main character.

Here are some other "take-aways" from his talk:
  • Madeleine (who would have been 94 tomorrow) passed away in 2007.
  • She had traveled through many countries and met many of her readers.  As Leonard said "She was an author who made house calls" who "changed the lives of millions of readers."
  • Listening is a compilation of Marcus's efforts to engage a number of people who knew Madeleine best and who were aware of the contradictions of her life.  His wish is to present a kaleidoscope view of her so that readers may draw their own conclusions.
  • Madeleine was born in New York City in the 1920s, and was born into a wealthy family.
  • Her parents weren't around a lot to raise her; she had a nanny and was sent to boarding schools. Madeleine filled the emotional void by journaling and reading. 
  • Her parents, hence Madeleine, were part of a world where "culture was of paramount importance." 
  • Madeleine, a tall woman, performed for a time on the Broadway stage.
  • She started publishing novels in her early 20s.
  • A Wrinkle in Time, rejected by many publishers,  was a hot potato because of its references to Christianity.
  • A Wrinkle was her 7th book (she wrote 60!), and won a Newbery Award. She was unwilling to acknowledge that it was a book for children.
  • The book was a combination of fantasy, realism, religion, and science fiction.
  • For 10 years, Madeleine lived in exhile with her husband.
  • For more than 30 years, she was the librarian at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.  People would come to her there to get advice on manuscripts.  When not giving advice, she would work on her next book.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


At the crack of dawn, I found my husband catching up on emails in our home office.  He inspired me to clean out my side of the office, and to wrap up all kinds of loose ends.   I love the satisfaction that comes from doing this.  Also love how I always get fresh ideas during the process, and often come across office and art supplies that motivate me to take some kind of creative action.

This time around, I came across a bunch of thank you notecards.  It made me think about the fact that it's Thanksgiving time.  So there's this holiday with a kind of built-in reminder to be thankful for all that we have in our lives.

I do definitely like giving thanks out loud , verbally, in front of others.  And I also think that it's very powerful to put pen to paper when it comes to giving thanks.

So, this morning, I started to think about who I'd like to express thanks to with my note cards.

One person is my podiatrist, who referred me to a fantastic physical therapy venue that is filled with thoughtful people, a beautiful fish tank, and an adorable dog named Norman.  So I wrote a brief thank you to that podiatrist and will pop it in the mail today.

Now, I'm thinking of a few other people to whom I'd like to send a note. 

Here's a practical tip when it comes to writing thank-yous:  Make it easy and simple by having your supplies on hand.  Buy a box or two of thank you notes - ones that match your personality.  Invest in some return address labels (inexpensive to get on the Internet) and buy a sheet of your favorite postage stamps so you have plenty of those around as well.  Keep all this stuff handy, in one box, tray or folder.  That way, when you get the urge to thank, everything is right at your fingertips.

Trust me: In the age of electronic communication, your note will stand out.  People are more likely to keep a hand-written thank you longer than an email thank you.  And it's important to actually let people know how we feel, not just keep it a private thought in our heads.

So who in your life would you like to thank with a note?  Who has thanked you in this manner, and what impression did it leave with you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I've always had conflicted feelings about getting friends together for my birthday.  I do love seeing people and being reminded of all the good folks in my life.  But I also tend to stress about the details of planning and then feel hyper-responsible for the guests once they arrive.

Creatives need room to breathe, and let things be a little loose sometimes so that the creative juices can flow.  I realized I was falling into a trap of over-planning and over-controlling the outcome.  So this year, I took a cue from my husband, who had an informal gathering of friends, and did the same. 

With not a ton of advance notice, I invited some Brooklyn-based friends to come meet up in a local bar/community space called 61 Local.  If you've never been there before, do go!  It's a bar, but also a community space, and all food and drink is locally sourced.  There's always a ton of community-based activities, one being that folks come there to pick up their share of locally-grown produce.

The day before the party, I walked down to the Columbia Waterfront neighborhood to select some brightly-colored, whimsical hand-decorated cookies - mostly animals - from Margaret Palca Bakes.

When Mike and I got to 61 Local, we quickly moved in on a table that was being vacated by a group.It had always been my dream to have my own table to inhabit with friends at 61!  I sprinkled some shiny birthday-themed confetti over the surface and set out the fun animal cookies.  Someone walked by the set-up and remarked to her companion "It looks like a child is going to have a birthday party!"

One by one,  my buddies started to arrive.  Being at a community table in a large space allowed folks to move around easily from the eating area to the bar area and to talk to different people without being trapped in one seat.  Just what I had hoped for!  We ended up hanging out there for about four and a half hours.  Mike and I were so wiped out (in a good way!) when we got home that we fell asleep while watching the Charlie Brown Halloween special.

Several days after the party, on the day of my actual birthday, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do.  I hadn't planned anything in advance.  I decided to let go of the need to plan something specific, and just let something come to me.  I decided that I wanted a pastrami sandwich from a local meat shop.  While I was ordering the sammy, I noticed that the shop carried Steve's Key Lime pies.  I had an image of inviting my neighbors over that night to share the pie.

After lunch, I mozeyed over to the new location of my friend's very whimsical store called Grumpy Bert.  And then walked in and out of a few shops, including Paper Source and Jonathan Adler,  that were brightly decorated and stocked for the holiday season.  It was fun gathering that much visual inspiration.

That night, I did go back for the key lime pie and loved having my neighbors respond to a pretty last minute invitation to come over to share the deliciousness.   After their departure, I returned happy birthday phone calls from far-away family members, and continued to enjoy all the sweet Facebook messages coming in from folks, even people that I barely ever see.

I'm really glad I did not over-plan and over-control this time.  It left room for serendipity, and for things to happen in a more organic way that honored creativity, imagination.  It made it more possible to notice and be thankful for all the wonderful people in my life.

I'm going to remember all this for birthdays to come.

Friday, November 09, 2012


Back in 2011, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens hosted a nine-month-long exhibit about the body of work produced by film and television pioneer and Muppets creator Jim Henson.  The exhibit was such a huge success that the museum has since hosted a variety other Henson- and Muppet-related screenings and talks.  I had the honor of attending one of those gatherings, a tribute to recently-deceased and beloved Muppeteer Jerry Nelson.

Jerry (1934-2012) played umpteen different Muppet characters, including that of Count von Count on Sesame Street.
The MOMI tribute was hosted by Jim Henson Legacy President Craig Shemin, who immediately introduced the members of Jerry's family who were present in the audience.

Craig's wife and Sesame Street performer Steffanie D'Abruzzo then showed a compilation of 150 clips of Jerry's years as a Muppeteer which she personally  had put together.  Through the collection, Stephanie wanted to the "breadth, depth, and versatility" of Jerry's work.

Fran Brill, another long time Sesame muppeteer, also introduced her own selection of clips.  She talked about Jerry being the backbone of the Muppets and a key character actor with a flexible voice and vocal chords who gave the Muppets voice and soul.  Fran, who described Jerry as being "crusty on the outside, and like butter on the inside,"  also mentioned that Mr. Nelson was  an avid environmentalist and talented musician.

Muppeteer Matt Vogel talked fondly about Jerry's performances as Sergeant Floyd Pepper from the Muppet rock group The Electric Mayhem.  Dave Goelz, who performs Gonzo, talked about Nelson's work on Fraggle Rock, the devastating loss of his (Nelson's) daughter to cystic fibrosis, and the joy of the Muppet gang when Jerry married his wife Jan.

Bonnie Erickson, creator of some of the original Muppets and the Executive Director of the Jim Henson Legacy, shared excerpts of the emails, letters, and calls that poured into the Legacy's office in the wake of Jerry's passing.  She told of how Joe Bailey, a writer for the Muppets, had described Jerry as "mellow, discreet, gentle, and charming."

It was deeply moving to see such an amazing collection of clips and hear key Muppet performers and creators speak about their experiences with and feelings about Jerry Nelson. To bear witness to a performer, environmental activist, and musician being honored with such generosity of spirit simply reflected back the essence of who Jerry was.

PS - Enjoy the video of Dave's highlights of the tribute.