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The Messy Desk

November 7th, 2012


09:36 am - Transportation Crisis


We are only a slightly abnormal NYC city family in that I work in coffee shops in Brooklyn, Scott works in midtown Manhattan, one child goes to school in Brooklyn, and the other goes to school on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. It’s a tiresome but ritualized set of commutes, involving subways, buses, a car, and once in a great while for fun ferries and bikes. We do it every day.

And then Sandy destroyed North Brooklyn’s public transportation and gas shortages cut out the car and car services. We have bikes, and we have feet. And winter is coming.

There is a story that works as a perfect metaphor for transportation disruptions, one I have thought about often as fears of peak and post oil have grown in my mind: “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov. In the not so distant future, everyone gets around by teleporting Doors. Vacations to China can be done in a weekend,; everyone is literally a doorway away. But when they stop working, our hero is stranded and forced to think about what a Door really is, and where people really are.

There’s also the subplot in Hyperion, in which the gates everyone relies on for precisely the same thing get shut down, and people find themselves suddenly halfway across the universe with absolutely no way to reach their loved ones.

Currently there is no easy way for me in North Brooklyn to get to and from Manhattan, or Bedstuy or other points south or west, not with two kids. The hospitals we rely on in case of emergencies are either across the river or south of us. Besides the possibility of danger or emergency, there are work and life disruptions: the hour it takes me to bike my son in to school and back is an hour less that I have to write.

(and today, with winds gusting over the Williamsburg Bridge, it was particularly miserable for the poor kid)

I’m not going to make this a big anti-gas monograph about how our towns, working lives, and society are built around the assumption that everyone can commute between two and fifty miles whenever they want easily every day. That is, unfortunately, just the way things are now and changing that will take some radical philosophical changes and time.

But just stop and think: would you have the job you have, live where you live, keep the rest of your family where they are, if you were reduced to horse-and-wagon speeds?

Our Doors and Gates are temporarily closed, and it makes me think…

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September 4th, 2012


10:25 am - Fall
It’s not really, not yet. New Yorkers always forget that despite the return of plaids, closed-toe shoes and an annual attempt at hats that September is really one more summer month. They only re-remember this fact sometime around September 20th when it’s eighty-seven degrees and all of their fancier t-shirts have been put in storage.

And yet.

Just two months ago: every night after putting the kids to sleep, Scott and I would sit on our Brooklyn balcony, enjoying the natural smells of all the plants crammed into the small space, put our bare feet on the tiles still warm from absorbing the sun’s rays for the day, and read until it finally became too dark—about nine o’clock.

Now it’s too dark at eight.

The shadows come up creepily, elegantly, from the corners, not all at once in a scrim as they do in summer. The leaves of the trees and bushes answer back, darkening to a dry, deep green. They make more noise as the wind ruffles them. Cloudy afternoons are less depressing and more invigorating; the temperature has dropped. Suddenly thoughts of a last marathon trip to the Rockaways or sunning in the park have disappeared, replaced with the fetching idea of a long afternoon in a coffeebar, watching people come and go.

The wild grass I stop weeding out of my pots at the beginning of August for precisely the purpose of going to seed has done so, and we watch sparrows and finches acting like natural birds, posing delicately on the sturdier stalks and nibbling the heads—not cramming their gullets with French fries, their usual fare.

And even in Brooklyn, the scream of a bluejay pierces, taking me instantly back to fall growing up in New England.

Yes, yes, winter is coming. But not yet.

In my world of halvsies, half writer, half mom, half young, half old, half Yankee, half Brooklynite, fall is not a half, inbetween term: it has always been its own season, a decisive beginning of the year. The school calendar and Rosh Hoshanah only confirm it.

So keep your t-shirts out, but plan what you’re going to be for Halloween. It’s time for the serious work to begin.

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May 31st, 2012


10:26 am - Chernobyl Diaries
In my previous life as a video game producer, I worked with a company that was located in Kyiv, Ukraine. I have many funny anecdotes about my times there. This isn’t one of them.

Upon arrival my very first time there I was confronted with the loss of a team member. One of the programmers had finally succumbed to the blood cancer he had contracted in the days since the disaster. I was staggered; the rest of the programmers were sad but unsurprised. He was not the first, nor would he be the last.

The head writer on the Ukrainian side of the project turned out to also be an accomplished short-story writer with several published works. He spoke English fluently and the two of us quickly bonded over writing and the fact that he knew enough about western culture to put a brave girl traveling solo at ease.

On one of my visits I brought him a small bottle of whiskey.

“Enough with your vodka,” I said. “This is what American writers drink.”

He was so touched by the gesture he immediately gave me his key chain, a little carved wooden head at the end of a golden chain.

“It’s my good luck charm,” he told me. “And now it’s yours.”

This good luck charm, he believed, is what kept him safe over the years. Safe when he and other Ukrainians in the Russian army were sent in to clean up Chernobyl two days after the disaster. With no special protection. No armor, no helmet, no radiation-proof gear at all—-not even a second set of clothes.

Moved by his gift and horrified by his story, I asked if he was really all right.

He shrugged. “I eat very healthy. Who knows?”

This is what I think of every time I have to take the subway stairs past posters for the Chernobyl Diaries.

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May 11th, 2012


09:53 am - My Maurice Sendak Story
A long time ago when I was a child, Maurice Sendak came to sign books at the University of Connecticut's bookstore, the Co-op. Desperately gripping my copy of Where the Wild Things Are, I didn't notice that I was the only kid in a very long line of college students. Maurice Sendak noriced, however, and when it was my turn he said this to me:

"Because you're the youngest person here, I'm going to tell you a secret. I'm going to sign your book with the word BOO! to remind you that the next book I'm writing is a *scary* book, one about a girl whose baby brother is stolen away by goblins. And I'm only telling *you* that today, so you remember that."

The book was Outside Over There, of course.

Years later when I saw what was soon to become my young adulthood favorite movie, Labyrinth, I was once again happily reminded of my encounter with Mr. Sendak.

(for those of you who--foolishly--have never seen this movie, it is about a girl whose baby brother is stolen away by goblins. Jim Henson credits Maurice Sendak at the end of the movie, and the book Outside Over There appears in the main character's room).

That copy of Where the Wild Things Are has traveled with me to every place I have ever moved to. I bought a new copy for my children--mine is falling apart--but take down the old one and show it to them, and tell them the story of how I met the man who made the Wild Things, and what a wonderful man he was.

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January 26th, 2012


10:46 am - Getting Back to Work
Scarlet fever. My kids had scarlet fever over the holidays, which I sort of thought went the way of ague and nervous fits and gout and chilblains and all those other 19th century diseases. Apparently it’s just another manifestation of the strep bacteria, and I got it in my eyeball, which I also didn’t know was possible.

Between all of that, my own sickness, my, uh, 30th birthday, the holidays and all the usual end-of-the-old-year-beginning-of-the-new-one stuff, I lost about three weeks of writing.

And after three weeks away from my latest book, I had no desire to go back. None. It just seemed like a whole lot of work.

(And writing, if you’ve missed any of my previous posts about it, really is just tons and tons of work. It is not sitting around eating bonbons and waiting to get inspired and then dashing off a few pages and heading to the spa)

Nothing was getting me inspired. Nothing could induce me to sit down and type. Not even a muffin.* The roadblocks and negativity built up to the point where I began to wonder if maybe it was a terrible book, or the muse had left me, or maybe I needed to take a break for a couple of years.

Finally I gave myself a drop-dead date to begin again and opened the computer and stared at what I had previously written.

Oh, yeah.

I remember it now.


As I read over what I had written it all came back. The world—every detail— seamlessly engulfed me. I slipped into the skin of the main character with no problem. The dialogue between her and one of the more comic characters made me smile.

As mentioned in a previous post (http://lizbraswell.livejournal.com/104044.html), if I’m writing well, I am completely transported that other world.

And this world I was rediscovering was a nice one. One very much like our own with a bit more action and supernatural happenings. And tentacles.

So I’m writing again, warp speed. Glad to be back.

I just needed to be reminded how much I enjoyed it.



*My absolute favorite quote about writing, from the movie Adaptation:
“To begin... To begin... How to start? I'm hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That's a good muffin.”

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December 20th, 2011


10:17 pm - The Days That Aren't
So the Ancient Egyptians had a lunar calendar, meaning they divided the year up by obviously observable lunar months. Which as any modern, western, stuck-up, solar, scientific civilization will tell you just don’t work, ‘cause our year is solar, and an actual year is five days longer than a ‘lunar one.’

Unlike modern, western, stuck-up or other uptight civilizations, the Egyptians didn’t worry about it too much. They slapped five or six days on to the end of the year and made it into a holiday. The days which aren’t, or the days upon the year-—a big party week both civil and religious.

So I am taking the end of this year as the days that aren’t. I aren’t worrying about writing. I aren’t worrying about long term goals or what sort of writer I really am or aren’t. I am just living, and enjoying myself, and shopping and wrapping and crafting and making cookies and watching the winter afternoon sun set in a cloud white sky without getting too depressed about it.

(And there has been partying—my sister and husband surprised me with one of the best, er, thirtieth birthday parties ever. My curmudgeonly self was stunned by the number of friends from all eras of my life that had kindly taken time out of this the busiest season to celebrate my birthday with me. My mom even came down on the train to watch the kids! And then there was the Bowie Ball afterparty… but I’m getting off track)

So I’ll let my usual tidings of Christmakwanzakah drop this year and wish you all time to spend some days that aren’t, and enjoy the time that you have with the people you love.

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December 13th, 2011


05:37 pm - Let Me Tell You a Story About George Takei...
...only one of a bunch I have, actually. I wound up marrying the man I did because of him, but that's a tale for another time.

Back when I produced video games, I did a thing called Captain's Chair, for which we shot video of five major Star Trek captains. Interviews with the actors were hidden as Easter Eggs here and there throughout the product.

So I show up at George's home at *SIX A.M.* with a nice but rowdy video crew...

...and he shows up at the door with tea and cookies for us, in case we didn't have time for breakfast.

No joke.

The tea and cookies came out again later, when it was definitely time for second breakfast.

Just a really, really nice man with a fascinating life story.

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October 14th, 2011


10:18 am - Yelled at for Not Blogging! (and rightly so)
Ok, I've been bad about this. Some of this I would like to blame on Comic Con. Some of it has to do with the hacking of certain social posting sites. I will try to be better.

In the meantime, read my tweets and face, uh, books:

Follow LizBraswell on Twitter

Liz Braswell


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September 14th, 2011


09:42 am - A Game of Life(time)
Refusing to shell out silly money on a stand, I am writing at a coffeeshop with my ipad2 supported by an apple.  

No, like, a real apple.  Macoun.  Bought at the farmer's market.  It is the perfect height.  Since I am in union square and not north brooklyn, I doubt anyone with a lomo is going to stop and snap a photo of the delicious irony.

Let me tell you about my life lately.  

My son got into a free gifted and talented school--one of the best in the country.  It is Across the River. 

Because I couldn't bear to see another child cry upon separation, I am putting my daughter through a pre-pre-pre-k Gradual Separation program, which is also Across the River.

If you add in gymnastics, one after school, and some music classes, you can easily imagine the Lifetime movie my life has become.  Pickups, drop offs, playmates, scheduling, menus, lunches...all which would be completely impossible without our awesome babysitter.  All of which also costs a bizzatload of money.

I want you to picture the freeze-frame that comes to your mind first and hold it there: frazzled b-rated actress with highlighted honey blond hair digging frantically through a giant purse, coffee nearby, keys dangling precariously out of her other hand, while one or more small children do adorably horrible things in the background.

That's me.

Unlike the Lifetime character, I am of course swearing like a sailor and have several pieces of expensive electronic equipment in my backpack that are supposed to help me write.  Like this ipad2.  And a bag for the farmer's market, for holding produce.  Like the apple currently supporting my Ipad2.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" my son asked me on this morning's commute.

"A writer," I answered honestly.  "Someday, I'd like to be a writer."

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September 7th, 2011


03:59 pm - Goodbye to Summer
I am not usually one to mark time in materialistic ways, but Winter was so awful and cold that I actually bought a bag, a fancy-ish, colorful bag (for me), in anticipation of Spring.

But school starts tomorrow, and it's rainy, and Scott went back to work after two weeks of fun and canning (jam, tomato sauce, etc. It's what he does). So I am cleaning out my pretty bag and getting ready to pack it away...

What a crazy fast summer it was!

*From the premiere of Chloe King to the season finale...

*The Nine Lives of Chloe King spends a happy eleven weeks on the NYTimes bestseller list!

*Vacation in Cape Cod, no writing allowed. I didn't even use metaphors--too much like writing.

*Ok, I kept a journal in Cape Cod. I'm a writer, remember?

*Earthquake.

*Hyper-preparations for the hurricane in New York that wasn't.

*Complete devastation in Vermont for the hurricane that was.

--as I've urged before, if you've ever enjoyed leaf-peeping, skiing or riding in Southern Vermont, please go to www.vtrecovery.com and donate. Wilmington and the areas around it were almost destroyed, and need your help recovering from the disaster.

*Charlie Sheen mostly quiet

*Fun, breezy days at Coney Island, Ocean Beach, the Aquarium, sailing aboard the East River Ferry, eating our fill at the Smorgasburg, fishing, getting ice cream from everyone--Mr. Softee to van leeuwen to Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory [made in Greenpoint, not DUMBO, byb]--and generally enjoying everything New York has to offer. Cheaply.

*With a second to last day at the American Museum of Natural History and last day on a playdate with a friend, we start to hunker down into fall routines.

Thank Chthulhu. 'Cause seriously, I know I owe lots of your fan mail a response, and I got to get back to some serious writing.

With metaphors and all.

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