Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No Right Turn on Red

One day this summer I went into Don's Mart, just down the street from my apartment. He has orange tables and plastic chairs set up there where people sit and drink convenience store coffee and play Keno. These locally owned stores are worn and grimy and friendly. As I got out of the car a man opened the back of his minivan and started screaming at his kids, who were climbing over the seats. "Get the F--- down. F---ING get the F--- down, NOW." All I could see were their little silhouettes tumbling around inside.

While he screamed the man who owns the laundromat next door leaned against the window and blithely clipped his fingernails, the ice cream truck pulled by playing "La Cucaracha," I stood very still beside my car holding my breath, a boy rode by on his bike with a toddler on the handlebars.

Across the street a cop had pulled someone over; they sit in the parking lot at the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on the corner -- the Brothers are rarely there -- and wait for people to turn right on red at the "no right on red" sign.

I shuffled inside, a bit dazed, still, from the scene in the parking lot. The man behind the counter -- Don, I imagine -- said to the young guys ahead of me in line, indicating the cop with his chin, "handcuff him, throw him in the river, heh heh heh." They ducked their heads and laughed, because that was what he was suggesting they do, then left swinging their respective two-liters of Mountain Dew. To me, in a different tone, he confided, "He probably doesn't have a license. He'll have him in cuffs in a minute." He said it reassuringly. He seemed to be looking forward to the spectacle, though he said it happens over and over, all day. They drive without licenses, get stopped for traffic violations, caught, cuffed, spirited away.

Turning right on red is irresistible. Transgression, and all that it sets in motion, is inevitable. Whatever you do, don't turn right on red, don't open that door, don't climb over the seats.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Forest Park in Springfield

I bring the dog there just about every morning before work. I park in an informal dirt parking area on the Longmeadow side, and we walk down a paved hill into the park, where we circle a series of ponds with trails around their peripheries. There's a short boardwalk below which dozens -- hundreds? -- of Mallard ducks eat their weight in stale Wonder bread, or so it seems. On the other side of the road from the boardwalk are the snow geese, who also demand a share of bread with an air of righteousness and entitlement. There's a resident Great Blue Heron, a kingfisher, a muskrat, snapping turtles, and -- I've heard -- coyotes. Also, of course, people -- power walking, biking, skateboarding, exercising their dogs, keeping the ducks and geese in complex carbohydrates. Each of us comes to the park with a trajectory in mind -- a loop, with the car as both Point A and Point B -- and we follow it as conscientiously as if laying fence, then spin off into other orbits.

Except for the tall, thin, haunted man I see in the mornings, now, who parks his Volvo and circles the lily ponds, delicately, tentatively, like a marionette, leaving small circles of bread crumbs at intervals on the pavement.

Monday, October 12, 2009


The morning of Father's Day I went into the Racing Mart down the street to pay for a tank of gas. Inside it was cramped and bustling and grimy and festive. The three men behind the counter were laughing and joking with each other and several customers shuffled idly around drinking coffee and filling out lottery tickets. As he was running my card through someone wished all three of them a happy father's day, and there was a moment of happy commotion as they returned his wish and thanked him. I thought I should say something, myself, and be a part of the Racing Mart Father's Day scene. What I managed, somewhat awkwardly, was, "So, are you all fathers?" They nodded together. "And are you a mother?" asked the one waiting on me as he handed me my receipt. "No," I said. "Why not?" he demanded.

The question itself didn't bother me, particularly. I didn't feel angry or judged or defensive. Just perplexed.

I didn't answer. I don't have an answer. It's like asking me why I wasn't born in February, or why I'm not Norwegian.

I haven't been back to the Racing Mart since.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Excerpt to be read on literary radio show

An excerpt from Are You a Survivor? was recorded for radio by Alan Vogel of WXOJ LP, 103.3 FM, for his show, "Fiction for the Ears" and is now available as a podcast at www.lit1033.com. If you're in the Northampton, Massachusetts area, you can listen to it at 103.3 on Tuesday the 4th and 11th at 1:00 p.m.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Two readings

I'll be reading from my novel on October 22nd at 6:00 at the Cancer House of Hope in Westfield, and on the 29th at 7:00 at the Springfield Cancer House of Hope. I'd love to see you there!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why I wrote it

I didn’t want to write this book. During my treatment I was, of course, too sick and tired from the chemo to summon the energy to craft the experience into fiction. More importantly, though, I didn’t want to label myself a cancer survivor. I wanted to shed that identity as soon as I’d finished my treatment.

I’d been writing steadily for years, four of them in an MFA program. I felt I’d evolved as a writer. I was beyond the stage of writing only what I knew, only writing about material that came directly from my life. Writing about cancer treatment seemed like a step backwards.

I'd grown used to striving, in my fiction, for inertia, for narrative arcs, for epiphanies, to craft the conflicts, climaxes, and denouements that don’t exist in life. They certainly didn't exist in chemo suites and hospital waiting rooms.

But so many things caught me off-guard -- some astonished me, really -- the coldness of some people, the kindness of others; the lack of privacy; odd things people said when they found out I had cancer; the pink ribbon culture around breast cancer. I reacted by not reacting. I felt blank. Then, when I started writing about the experience, I found myself inventing a character who reacted to these things openly, in often hilarious, brutally honest ways. It was exhilerating.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My novel

I'm excited to announce that my novel, Are You a Survivor, will be available for sale in December (Brown Street Press). Check out my bio up on their web site, www.brownstreetpress.com. Soon there will be a description of the book and other links, too. I'll have advance copies in mid to late October.

If you live in Massachusetts, I'll be doing some readings/signings around the Western Massachusetts area -- and maybe other parts of the state, too -- during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Check this blog for details!

The book follows a woman's progress through treatment for breast cancer over a period of about six months. You can read one of them by clicking on this link to http://www.antigonishreview.com/bi-135/135-fiction-karen-malley.html (published under Karen Malley).

Thanks for stopping by!