Good Samaritan

September 30, 2014

Tags: Princess Di, JFK Jr., George Magazine

It seems a long time since Princess Diana’s and JFK Jr.’s death, but for some reason I was thinking about them both this week when a friend of mine told me a New York Good Samaritan story. You will recall, dear reader, that when the paparazzi arrived at the scene of the accident in Paris, they took pictures of the grisly scene—what a scoop—but did not help. In France, as it happens, there is a Good Samaritan Law, Non-Assistance à Personne en Danger, and if citizens do not stop to help, they can be indicted. I was later asked to reflect on the lack of such a law in the United States by an editor at George magazine for an anthology JFK Jr. was publishing called “250 Ways to Make America Better," which is why this particular Good Samaritan memory chip called up both Princess Di and JFK Jr., both gone too soon in awful ways. But their legacies remain, and for this we must be grateful. In the case of Princess Di: landmines. She sought their elimination from former war-torn regions and went to visit fields and fields of landmines in former war-torn regions. And in the case of JFK Jr., he started a very good magazine and was involved in many political causes. So when my Good Samaritan friend told me her story, I took notice, and decided to write a little something about it while, at the same time, encouraging her to write about it; I always question the ways in which I appropriate other people’s stories in the guise of reporting them. And this is, sometimes, an ethical conundrum.

Nonetheless, I will return to my friend’s story, if only briefly. She was on the West 4th Street A-train platform late last Saturday when she spotted two men, covered in gold jewelry, carrying suitcases and a baby rabbit. My friend loves animals, rescues animals, and donates mightily to animal conservation—elephants, for example—and she was horrified when one of these unsavory looking men took the rabbit and held it over the track threatening to drop it. And, immediately, she had an idea: “I am going to buy this rabbit.” And that is what she did, handing over her last $40. There is more to the story—there always is—but I will let her tell it.

Telenovellas

September 16, 2014

Agi and Elena are watching an award winning Mexican telenovella, "La Fuerza del Destino " (The Power of Destiny) when I arrive at the Laundromat. It doesn't take long for me to figure out what is going on: bad guy, good guy, bad girls, good girls. In my minimal Spanish, and Agi and Elena's pidgin English enhanced by the translation app on my phone, they manage to convey most of the plot. I load up the machine and do a down-dog to stretch my back. Agi and Elena are mesmerized. Not surprisingly, on their feet all day folding laundry, they both have back problems. So, how about a bit of yoga, I suggest.

They cannot believe I am spending time with them again. Most of the customers drop off their laundry, but I don't. I make time in my day and my week to do household chores; it keeps me grounded. And I talk to everyone. Not only is this good for my sedentary writer's body and my spirit, but I get ideas for stories. When I sit at my desk, lost in a cyber world, I feel disconnected, the very opposite of what social media is supposed to do for us. Sure, I chit and chat, send out IM's and texts and emails galore, but how rare it is to talk on the telephone these days and to hear a live human voice. In fact, it's a shock. When a private client wrote me a query yesterday about a revision of her manuscript, I called her. She seemed a bit flustered. Was it a good time to talk? "Sure, for a minute." A minute!! Not only is letter writing now a lost art, so is conversation. This is not good for writers, one reason among many I enjoy the dynamics of the classroom. We talk!!

I remember hearing about a course Margaret Atwood once gave at Columbia University to the MFA students, so immersed in their projects they didn't know what day it was, or what hour of the day. The course was called something like "what writers do when they are not writing," and it was a sell-out, probably because it was Margaret Atwood on the podium. I am sure she surprised the earnest, ambitious, goal-oriented students. Did she tell them to get out into the city and talk to real people? Suggest they take a day or two off and volunteer somewhere? It seems so. The writer friend who had taken the course said it was life changing. Here was a writer she greatly admired who was not cloistered in her writing room; she was connected-- a mother, a wife, a concerned citizen with a life in balance. How can we separate these primal human needs from our writing life; we cannot.

Fiat Lux

September 2, 2014

Let there be light. That’s what fiat lux means. I don’t know where I read it but the Latin expression inspired me to curate my new collection of odd stories—“Nomads”—using Latin words and aphorisms as headings, though I haven’t decided what they should be as yet, or how the stories will fall into each section. I am having fun figuring this out before the tedious copy-editing work begins.

Walking on the High Line, admiring the plantings and the view of the Mighty Hudson the other day before the end-of-summer turned into SUMMER here in New York, a writer friend suggested that I divide the collection into sections if only as a courtesy to the reader, and though there will be some who disregard these divisions, no matter, it is still a courtesy. So I set to work.

Fiat Lux. I love those two words, the sound of them, and the implications. Doesn’t every writer suffer from the delusion that we are illuminating life in some way and that others will agree that we have done so? And we persevere in this delusion with every new work—always our best, is it not?—until we begin the next project. Suddenly we realize there is more to say and we must try to say it better. And it’s odd that when we return to old work—which is what I have been doing all summer (small s)—there is always the sensation that either it is not good enough, or it is brilliant, that I have let in the light. Who can say? Not I.

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