Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Recommended Read: The Story of a New Name

Last night I finished reading the second novel in the Neapolitan Trilogy by Italian author, Elena Ferrante. I barely even want to write this post because I know I won't be able to do this book justice!

It's an exceptional novel and rare in its style, subject, and depiction. The scope of the novel, a Neapolitan city and its inhabitants throughout the years, is so broad that it seems like a large undertaking to write about but Ferrante does it with ease! It feels as if this is the story of her life because she writes with such simplicity. Even though its a deep, at times disturbing and unnerving, depiction of a girl's life, it reads easily. It's natural and organic, I've never read another novel that is written so perfectly. 

Some readers might initially be turned off by the subject matter of this book. It's vague, does not include crazy plot twists, mysteries, or extreme scandals. This places the novel in its own category and excellently portrays the author's skill as a writer. She makes this depiction of daily life engrossing and impossible to escape. As you read, you are placed in Naples in a time that is so unlike our own. The characters are tangible and complex. You want to get under their skin to know what makes them behave as they do. 

I'm not going to go into plot because that would take a long time (I'd have to talk about the first book in the series, too) but I can't praise this book enough! This is a book everyone should have and should read cover to cover, again and again. It's not just a novel, it's a life and one that should be known and recalled. 

The first book in the series, "My Brilliant Friend," is just as good as this one and, unlike the typical issue of sequels being huge let downs, that's not the case here! And the third and final book, "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay," will be published September 2nd. "My Brilliant Friend" and "The Story of a New Name" are perfect reads for this summer and will leave you ready for the last book by September. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cultivating Writing Habits

All writers have different habits and different ways of ensuring a good day's work. Some wake up at 5 am and work straight through the day. Others can't write until later at night, when the sun goes down and most everyone else is asleep and inspiration strikes. Some writers have a routine: wake up, work out, eat, write, eat, read, write, sleep. Some writers can write any where at anytime of the day with noise and distractions milling about, or with absolute silence and few sensory stimulants. For some writers, their regimen needs to be extremely strict and rigid in order to write well while other writers are more flexible. 

I recently read an article, which I of course can't find now, about a writer who can literally write in any sort of an environment. She's adaptable and finds writing in her car on a road trip just as easy as writing at a peaceful place on her front porch. She can write in a notebook or on a compute, in the middle of the night or late morning.

 I wish I was that adaptable!

My ideal writing situation is with my laptop, WiFi turned off for as long as I can resist it, at a table or a desk either in my house or at a coffee shop. The earlier I start writing the better. For some reason, by about 1 o' clock or 2 o' clock the writer part of me shuts off and I can't get back into the groove of writing. And that's the thing, I need to get into that grove of writing as soon as possible after I get up to be able to write well and with focus for a long period of time. 

However, I want to train myself to be able to write in any situation. I think that's really important because, honestly, how often can you really secure the ultimate writing environment? And writers should be writers regardless of time and place. I want to continue to write in the mornings and at the time that works best for me, but I want to keep writing in the afternoon and early evening. Maybe in the late evening once in a while just so that I know I can. I want to write long hang more, too. With a pencil and a lined notebook and see how that affects the way I write. I want to be able to write on the couch, on the floor, and sitting up in bed at night. 

The above photo is of Roald Dahl's writing space. I saw the photo online and recognized it before I even read the caption. When I was in elementary school, we watched a video on Dahl and that was, I believe, the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer. He made this room to revolve around his writing. The room was only for writing and it helped him achieve his ideal writing situation. He sat in that chair and wrote on that small shelf placed across it. He even crafted that shelf, a kind of personal desk, to himself to fit his lap and the angle of his arms when he wrote. How perfect is that? I love Roald Dahl and I think his books have been essential in the development of children's interest in reading. And he obviously had his writing habits cultivated to perfection. 

How do you write best? Are you flexible and work well in any situation or do you have a ritual and place that you need to write?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Last week, we lost an amazing and irreplaceable author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was two years ago that my obsession for his work began—I was a little late to the party, I admit. 100 Years of Solitude is one of my favorite novels and everyone should strive to read it in its entirety...and then learn Spanish so we can all read it in the original.

I wrote an article about Gabo and his passing for Collective Lifestyle, you can find it here!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Boston Rain

I remember when I was beginning the process of applying to colleges over five years ago now. When I went on school tours, one piece of advice a lot of people have me was to make sure that I would still like the campus even in the rain. It seemed like a petty thought, I was looking for a school not scenery. But those Fall and Spring days that are the best for campus visits are deceptive. Rainy, dreary days are abundant and they are made even worse when you're homesick, tired, and stuck in a dorm room piled with assignments. 

I'm not sure if the school I ended up choosing was picturesque in the rain, but I know that where I am now is just as beautiful on these dreary days as it is in the middle of June. The rain drops hitting the flat black roof tops, the shiny slick on the brick sidewalks, and the colorful umbrellas passing below the window are beautiful and are distracting me from my book. I'd rather lean over the chair and stare down onto Charles Street at the children jumping over puddles and the small rivers running into the sewer grates. 

So it certainly seems that liking your location even on the rainiest of days really is important. Maybe it's not essential, but it could change your mood for that day. And when I look out the window at this city drenched in rain, it makes me feel happy and so cozy. And so at home. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Year Later, A Year Stronger

Photo via NPR
It’s no surprise that I wake up early and today I took advantage of the early hour to return to the Thinking Cup Coffee Bar to get some much neglected writing work done. The sun came out before six o’ clock this morning and it seemed fitting, as all of Boston is preparing for an important day. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the marathon bombing and there’s no escaping that. Specials have been airing on the news, people are out in their marathon jackets, and everyone is discussing where they were that day, what they were doing, and how they felt.

As I walked through the Boston Common around 7 this morning, I couldn’t help but notice each person I passed. Every person who is on their morning run, I wonder if they were also running that day. I wonder if they are preparing for the run that will occur a week from today. I passed a man walking on crutches and it was clear that his injury was recent, but it still made me think of those who were injured on that day. Many of them are still on crutches and their walking will be impaired for the rest of their lives.

On April 15th, 2013 I was at home in Norwalk. To be exact, I was driving past the country club on Duck Pond Road, with AJ in my passenger seat when I got a phone call from my oldest sister. The call came over the speakerphone in my car and she said, “I just wanted to tell you we’re ok. There was a bombing in Boston but Dad and I are ok.” It didn’t process right away. They had been at the marathon, at the finish line, but had decided to leave and walk back up the hill to their house. By the time they got home, the bombings were already on the news. She said they were ok and I believed her because I heard her voice but I still didn’t believe her or really understand. How could there have been a bombing? Why would somebody ever want to do that to the city and people of Boston? On Patriot’s Day and at the marathon, no less. There was no reason for it and because I couldn’t comprehend that action, I couldn’t understand that it was real. Once we got off the phone with my sister, I turned on the radio. It didn't matter which station I tuned into because they were all playing the same audio. It was the booming of the explosions and the screams that followed. It started to feel real. 

There’s a man sitting in the café near me, wearing the iconic and recognizable, yellow and blue marathon jacket, telling the woman he's with about that day. He’s telling the story of a woman he met running that day. He’s planning on running in this marathon and he is saying that he will be careful. Everyone will be but I know that even if people are scared of something happening this year, no one will let that deter them. Boston is strong, as the rest of the world has come to know over the past year. And Bostonians, every single person who considers themselves a Bostonian regardless of address, is brave. The whole city, the state of Massachusetts, and the rest of the United States have been so supportive are coming together tomorrow to remember what happened. And they will come together a week from today, to protect the runners and the spectators and to prove to anyone who doubts their strength and resolve that Boston is stronger, braver, and better than any small person who wants to hurt others. That day changed the city but like any devastating event that has happened in the U.S. it has only made Boston a stronger and prouder city. It brought people together and that is the greatest blessing that has come from a terrible day. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Today's Work Station: Flat Black Coffee Company

Today I hoped to get some blog writing, fiction writing, and article writing (high hopes) done at the Flat Black Coffee Company in Boston's financial district. I had never been there before but it had good reviews on Yelp and I thought I'd give it a try and get a good walk in since it's about a mile from our apartment. I was a little confused by it because the company's website does not include a café menu or list the locations (of which there are a few) and I found that odd.

There are, apparently, two locations in the financial district and I was aiming to go to the one on Broad Street. I ended up at the one on Franklin Street, at least I think. That's partly due to the fact that I hate following directions on my phone while I walk and partly because Google Maps does not seem to acknowledge the other location. Needless to say, I got lost like crazy. I walked all over the place in roundabout ways and covered far more ground than necessary. And I even found and passed another coffee shop that's on my list to discover. I was tempted to go in but I figured I might as well stick to the original plan, even if it was the wrong location.

So here I am and by the time I got here I was sweaty and a little rain soaked. I could feel half of my sock coming off my foot in my boot. My straightened hair got a weird crimp from the moisture. And I think I smelled, shortly after I sat down, the guy sitting next to me packed up and left. Now the guy sitting on the same bench as me is as far down the bench as he can be he's almost falling off.

The location was fine but not like a cozy coffee shop; one entire wall of big windows so you can see all the buildings and pedestrians milling by. There is not an abundance of seating but it's pretty empty and I had no trouble getting a table at 8 am. They seem to have a lot of coffee and tea options but their baked goods don't look to be fresh.

I ordered a dark roast black coffee, my go-to tester to see the quality of the coffee. I also put cinnamon in it because why not? I didn't find it to be that great of a cup of coffee but the place has a really good reputation and if I go back, I'll spring for an almond milk latte. I definitely want to find the other location still!

I ended up leaving after about an hour or so because I have a hard time writing when I feel like people are staring at my screen and that feeling kept coming up. It was too distracting to get any work done so now I am comfortably back in my apartment, writing from the kitchen table looking out over the Common as we April showers pour down.

Happy Tuesday, all! I have a feeling this is going to continue to be a great week.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Perfect Sunday

Yesterday was the first day since we've been in Boston that it really felt like Spring. We took advantage of it and spent most of the day outside. We had a nice, relaxing breakfast before heading down Charles Street to Cambridge Street to go to Mass at a church called St. Joseph's. We had never been there before but they asked us to carry the gifts down to the altar. It's a beautiful church and AJ and I decided that it was one of the best homilies we had heard in a while.

Last week, AJ ordered some clothes but they needed to be returned and the closest place to do that was at a mall in Cambridge. Since it was a gorgeous day out, we decided we'd walk across the Longfellow Bridge, which takes you over the Charles River, and drops you on the other side. The wall was beautiful and it took less than 30 minutes. The bridge is undergoing construction right now but the walking path is still open. The bridge is named after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his famous poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, is painted onto the sidewalk.

Once we got back to our apartment, I made a quick stir fry with some of the veggies we picked up at Haymarket on Saturday. After AJ watched a few soccer games, I started to get restless to we put a load of laundry in the wash and went for a walk through the Common and part way up Charles Street until the wash was ready. It was around 7 o' clock but it was still pretty warm and bright outside. Everyone was out with their dogs and kids, throwing a frisbee, playing baseball, or sitting in groups along the hill.  Once we came back inside, we finished watching the second half of American Hustle, because it's taken us this long to actually see the movie.

Tonight, AJ and I will be heading to Fenway to watch the Red Sox! And hopefully they'll win!
Happy Monday, everyone! Have a great week!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shakespeare Saturday: Walk Like Will

We know Shakespeare the writer, the actor, and the father but the long distance walker? That part of his persona is probably not as well-known. But in Shakespeare's day, walking was the most common and most affordable mode of transportation, even if that walk spans 146 miles.

From Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the path that he most likely took to South London winds through towns and past rivers to lead to the Globe Theater. While we'll never know how often Shakespeare took this walk or what words he conjured up on his journey, anyone now has the opportunity to walk in his footsteps. To celebrate the Bard's 450th birthday coming up later this month, this path, called Shakespeare's Way, is being opened to the public for Shakespeare lovers to explore.

The walk is long but you can walk parts of it at your leisure. Start at Shakespeare's childhood home so you can experience that piece of history as well. Walk a few miles or as long as you like to get a feel for the beginning of Shakespeare's long journeys into the city. I would also suggest making sure you do the final leg of the walk so that you can enter London as he would have and head to the new Globe Theater, as the original is no longer standing—at least that's what I would do! And that's what I hope to do someday.

You can learn more about Shakespeare's Way here and here!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Today's Work Station: Thinking Cup Coffee Bar on Tremont St.

Every so often, I need a change of scenery to reboot and stimulate my mind. I heard about this coffee shop a few weeks ago and decided to give it a try. There are two locations in Boston; one is in the North End on Hanover Street and the other one, pictured above, is on Tremont Street across from the Common. A third location will be opening on Newbury Street soon. 

I was concerned about having a place to sit and do work because the Thinking Cup is located near Emerson College and Suffolk University so I imagined a lot of students would be in and it. It was pretty crowded but I ended up getting a stool at the window bar and it was nice being able to people watch and look into the Common. 

The baristas and cashier were very nice, friendly, and helpful. They seemed happy to be working and liked being around the customers. The pastries in the displays looked delicious and so tempting, I saw several people chowing down on almond croissants and chocolate pastries. My stomach is grumbling thinking about it. They also have bagels, sandwiches, and everything else you could want to eat. They have a variety of coffee drinks and they do great coffee art! I resisted all the sweet treats, which is not easy! I only ordered a cup of coffee, black, but I think that is usually the best test of a coffee shop's quality. A black coffee has to taste good, there are no flavors or syrups or add ins that can mask poor flavor and their coffee was delicious! Next time I go back I may splurge on a flavored latté and scone or muffin. Or bagel. Or sandwich. So many options! 

It was a nice place to work but as it got more crowded it became a little too busy. I tried to wait it out but it seriously never died down or got quieter, which is a great sign for the Thinking Cup! It's clear they have regulars and that people love this shop. Now I'm one of them. The location is convenient and I'll check out the North End locations soon, too, because that is my favorite part of Boston. It was a great way to get me writing without any distractions and I got quite a lot of work done on a piece of fiction I've been working on. I will definitely be going back! 

Currently Reading: The Story of a New Name

I finally finished the last book I was reading—I wrote about it here—and now I am moving onto a book that I have been eager to read since I got it for Christmas this year. It is the second in a trilogy by the reclusive and incredibly private author, Elena Ferrante. The first book of the series, My Brilliant Friend, was published in 2012 and the third and concluding book of the Neapolitan Trilogy, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, is slated to come out in September of this year! Can't wait! 

I first became interested in Elena Ferrante when I read an article about her in The New Yorker. The article compared her to Salinger because of her reclusive character; she does not promote her books nor does she do phone or television interviews. She will only, and rarely, respond to press questions in hand written letters. No one has ever seen Elena Ferrante, fueling theories that she is a famous author using a pen name or that she is really a he. 

She writes in Italian and her books are translated into English by Ann Goldstein. Her translated titles include Trouble Love, The Lost Daughter, and The Days of Abandonment. Once I read the last in the trilogy, I hope to move onto her other novels. 

I read My Brilliant Friend over the summer and loved it. It's heavy and follows a whole neighborhood of characters so I'm afraid I might need to refresh my memory as I start reading the next installment. I would really recommend these novels to everyone; Ferrante has a very unique style. She writes about the everyday but with far more insight and attention; things that seem banal to most become exceptional fragments of life. The characters are realistic and toe the line of likable and awful on every page. I'm really looking forward to reading this and I will keep you updated along the way! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Sex and the City Inspires Me to Write

I'm not really into the Sex and the City TV show, in fact I think I saw the movies before I even watched the show. But then it came to E! and I've started to watch it more when I'm on the treadmill or when I just want to veg out. It's not my favorite show but it is inspiring in a weird way.

Sex and the City started out as a little column, that was then turned into an anthology of essays, then a TV show, and then two movies. And it all started with Candace Bushnell, the writer who now has many other titles added to her list of publications, 7 works of fiction in total.

The reason I find this show inspiring is because it allows you to see where a career can take you. Bushnell's book, something that only existed in her mind at one point, has expanded into multiple forms of media. Her creative product has reached millions of people which, I think, is the goal of many writers.

The TV show is a manifestation of the possibilities, of what you can achieve if you work hard, even if you work in a craft that is often fruitless as far as recognition and income is concerned. I won't get into the specifics of Bushnell's monetary success—which is undoubtedly enviable—although, the production of the TV show and movies gave her the financial freedom to write other novels, which is another dream of many writers.

Every time I see Sex and the City, I think of Bushnell and I think of the articles I've read about her. She lives in Connecticut and continues to write. She's living my dream, people. And she's given me an excuse to watch SATC marathons on E! I'm searching for inspiration...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sun Through The Shades

It's a beautiful morning in Boston. And after days of rain and wind, the early morning sun pouring into the apartment is the most welcome sight. Three days a week, I get up before the sun with AJ so we can have breakfast together. The coffee is prepped the night before so all I have to do is push a button when I'm still groggy at 5:30 am and I usually put out bowls of cereal because it's faster than sunny side up eggs. But I love getting up early. I love having that little time with AJ before he leaves for a long day of work. We'll watch the news and talk quite a bit for it being so early—we had a lot to talk about this morning regarding the finale of HIMYM. 

One of the things that I love the most about this apartment, despite the view of the Common and the location, is the eastern exposure. On days like this one, the sun fills the entire place. You can't hide from it, every window is facing the morning light. It's such a treat and such a wonderful way to start the day.   
I love mornings. I'm the most productive in the morning and I'm the most inspired to write in the hours before 11 and the light that illuminates around me only makes it better. 

So, after 3 or 4 days of dreary weather, cheers to a beautiful day, the first day of April and hopefully the start to it actually feeling like Spring. Get outside, soak in this sun, and drink an iced coffee just to celebrate.