Commuting Woes, Charlie on the MTA, and the Glory of Unintentional Irony

In the name of making life easier, the MBTA (Boston’s subway system for the non-locals) has made life much, much harder for folks in my area for the next fourteen months. You see, they’re building a parking garage at my commuter rail station so that more of us can park and use the train. But for the next fourteen months, many fewer of us will have that option because there’s just no place to park.

mbta Charlie cardAs I was going through my bag today I came across my now-unused Charlie card, and I smiled once again to think that the MBTA named its fare card after Charlie on the MTA, a nod to the classic Boston song of course, that tells the tale of “poor Charlie”:


Charlie handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
“One more nickel.”
Charlie could not get off that train.

What happens to Charlie because the fare is too high?

Did he ever return?
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

And this is the song after which my fair city named named its increasing more expensive fare card. As a writer and an editor, the unintentional irony here is a thing of glory.

Now you citizens of Boston,
Don’t you think it’s a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay
Vote for Walter A. O’Brien
And fight the fare increase
Get poor Charlie off the MTA.

And, being Boston, it all comes back to politics in the end (the song is supposedly tied to the 1949 mayoral race).

Now if only I, like Charlie, could take a ride beneath the streets of Boston once again. But for now, alas, I’m all about a long ride through endless traffic on the streets of Boston—only now with this song stuck in my head.

Hot Knowledge…or How Bill Nye Ruled DWTS

I never thought I’d ever watch Dancing with the Stars again in my life. The premise was tired. The “stars” were less actual star than one would hope. And the behind-the-scenes shenanigans were too staged and expected.

Then I saw this picture.

Image Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC

And so, being the nerd that I am, I watched DWTS last night. I was not disappointed.

Sure, he’s not a great dancer, but he’s got a certain flair. He danced to “Weird Science” in a be-dazzled lab coat. He already worked evolution into the conversation, and it was only week one. And he calls their pairing “Hot Knowledge.” While Bill Nye doesn’t exactly exude sex appeal (sorry, Bill—I love you, man), being smart is actually pretty hot in my book.

Suffice to say, there was no writing for me last night. I put any and all work aside. Instead, I watched Bill Nye tear up the dance floor. And next Monday, I’ll be watching again. Will he destroy the idea of intelligent design while preparing to dance the quick step? A gal can dream.


I Promised Myself I Wouldn’t Cry….

Alas, some promises are easily broken. Just ask poor Dawson.

This isn’t a matter of Joey Potter breaking my heart. (She was better off with Pacey, anyway.) It’s a matter of me breaking my own. Way back when, I wrote about how hard it is for me to write bad things into the lives of characters to whom I happen to be very attached.

It was hard then. There’s been a bumpy ride between then and now. Which means It’s even harder now. In finishing a first draft of a YA story I’ve been writing for seeming ages, it was time to face the truth of the matter. This was never going to end a blaze of hearts and flowers. I’ve known this from the beginning. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a blaze of hearts and flowers—truth be told, I kind of love them. But this just isn’t that kind of story.

So I sat down and wrote the hardest stuff that needed to be written, and I wiped away many tears as I did. Is it weird to be this caught up in your own story and characters? I hope not. Because if it is, something’s clearly gone awry with me. I’m awfully fond of these folks—I created them, after all. And like any good parent, I wanted to protect them from these ugly parts of the story, but there was just no way to avoid it.

But the deed is done.

I’m feeling good about it now that this part of the journey is over—and ready to start all over again (hopefully I’ll take a page from Melissa Manchester, though, this time around).


The Trick is Not Minding


The first time I saw Lawrence of Arabia, I was at the now-defunct Charles Theatre, watching the re-release in all its glory on a giant screen. It was, quite literally, dazzling—a larger-than-life film on a larger-than-life screen, the desert stretching out endlessly in front of us, while Peter O’Toole almost glowed in his white robes.

It was, in many ways, the ultimate movie-going experience.

I was remembering this particular scene this morning as I thought about the work in front of me in the next two months. Time is going to be shorter than it’s ever been, and the amount that needs to be done in the small hours I’ll have is a little overwhelming to ponder.

A worker-bee by nature, normally having a lot to do is merely par for the course. But this small stretch—and I do realize that two months is not an eternity—is, in fact, going to be really hard.

So I will attempt to take a page from Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, and I will jauntily attempt to not mind it.

We’ll see how I do!


Finding Your Voice…”In a World” That Doesn’t Always Value It

The official movie poster for In a World.

I don’t get to the movies as often as I’d like these days. There are good reasons for this. Money, time, and—you know—the whole working mother in grad school thing. So when we do get to the theater, we’re selective about what we go to see. I do realize that my “selective” might not be yours (my husband and I did go see Pacific Rim on our anniversary this summer). But this weekend we saw a movie that has tremendous appeal across types of film-selectivity—as well as relevance for female writer.

That movie was Lake Bell’s brilliant In a World. If you listened to a recent NPR interview with Lake Bell and the actor who plays her father in the movie, Fred Melamed, you’d think that the takeaway of the movie was sort of along these lines: Hollywood voice work—so crazy!

But it’s really about finding your voice. For starters, Bell writes, directs, and stars in what is an incredibly funny movie—what better way to have your voice heard in an industry that often shuts out female voices? But on top of that, the story itself is about having the confidence to make yourself heard—to stand up and say that your voice (literally and figuratively) truly does count. It also draws on the idea that having women raise their voices and be heard is particularly relevant and important.

Now, clearly, the world of children’s books is not the same as the world of Hollywood. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the only areas of literature where female voices are not only welcome, but thriving. This is for a lot of complicated reasons, but it is the fact. But it’s also fact that women, in general, have a harder time breaking into both the world of writing and the world of Hollywood. The deck is stacked in favor of male voices, and it’s just not right (as even the little second-grade feminist in my family will tell you).

Finding your voice as a writer can mean a lot of different things—giving voice to your characters, discovering just the right tone, or (something I’m struggling with right now) figuring out what kind of writer you want to be. But it also means having the guts to sit down and believe that what you’re writing is worth the time and effort—that your voice has something to say, and that putting it down on the page is vital in some way.

So, to watch In a World and to see Lake Bell making it happen for herself was—not to be too gooey (even though I will)—sort of inspiring. It leaves me waiting to see her next movie with great eagerness—and wanting to sit back down and write as well.