Fantastic Mr. Fox

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One week ago, my gentleman hero Fantastic Mr. Fox went to sleep after a night of dancing, treats, and movie watching, and did not wake up. His passing was sudden, peaceful.

Almost six years ago I walked into Sean Casey Animal Rescue to buy cat food. I was supposed to be out of town for a conference which for the first time in many years I decided to skip. In a small cage under a stack of boxes, a tiny orange and white dog with important ears sat with his paws crossed. Just brought in. He was a four-and-a-half year old papillon, the French word for butterfly, and had my French grandmother’s liquid brown eyes. I knew him immediately.

You don’t get to choose when you meet your soulmate. You either upend your life to make room for them or you don’t. Yes, I said, and ran around Brooklyn buying the softest things I could find to make a space for him in my life, to make a bed.

I took Fox to snowy mountains, hiking in the woods to gorgeous vistas, to winter and summer beaches. He hated all of it. I secretly admired that his unofficial motto regarding outdoorsy activities and other dogs was, “I would prefer not to.” I loved his furry dome, his happy dance. Everything about him seemed engineered to bring joy. He liked promenading down 4th Street in Brooklyn being adored by the members of our wonderful neighborhood, his stuffed bunnies, bacon, his Carl, his Virginia family, his grandmother, saying hi to the ducks in Prospect Park, and (if you can believe it) me, most of all.

As a little writer girl who hated dolls and girly things, it felt like one of my beloved stuffed animals had come to life after I made a wish. He was for me. I never got over that, and I never stopped telling him.

Mr. Fox owned countless sweaters, a pair of reindeer antlers, a Bastille Day beret, one tuxedo, and three bowties. Once he full out Bambi-ed on a frozen ice puddle which was so cute I confess I made him do it again.

It’s true I preferred a night with him to any party, have been happiest around animals. Human rules have always baffled me, how it’s always been a hard go for the smallest, softest things.

The day after we lost Fox, we found out that we also lost our beautiful friend Adina. She always referred to him as “that dapper gentleman,” and I can only hope he left because he wanted to help her through that terrible time.

Mr. Fox, you will never leave my thoughts. I will name everything possible after you. I’ll be on the lookout for the important ears that might signify a potential new soulmate. I’ll try to stay soft and lovely and adjusted and well-fed, but you know me you know me you know.

If I could return to any time in history and visit anyone, living or dead, I’d take any dullsville afternoon during the six short years you were with us, hearing then seeing you come around the corner to make sure of me. It filled me with an almost unbearable amount of joy. Cheek to furry cheek. How lucky I was.

I’d say, Don’t you worry about a thing, buddy. I’m here.

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Adina Talve-Goodman

Adina

Last week, the world lost the gentle-and-giant-hearted Adina Talve-Goodman; whimsical razor, peerlessly funny, super hot and soft and magic writer girl and genius. Talented laugher, artist of being alive. In her hometown of St Louis, her family and friends gathered to share some of the most important words I’ll ever hear or read or know about love. Her father spoke of the act of being filled by someone so much you can at once be expanded and diminished by their living.

Adina, your own wild, brilliant, and unexpected voice brings me the closest I can get to comfort. Your singular, otherworldly voice. I’ve culled the below from years of our emails. I will love and miss and talk to you forever.

SUBJECT HEADING:

Girl, I’ve Been Watching You Like A Hawk
I Hope You Are Being So Happy
Iowa is a Strange Place With No Subways
Pie Club
Hadestown!
Walk Across The Brooklyn Bridge With Me?
I Won Something
One Step Closer to Circus
Would You Like To Go To Prom With Me?

Hello Wonderful Workshop Leaders!
Dear Pie Club,
Hi Friendlies!
Hello! Happy Monday! Is it ever?
HELLO, BEAUTIFUL NEW YORK FRIENDS!
Hi Lady,
Marie,
My dearest Mariesy,
Dearest mariesy love girl,
Tinydancer,

Thank you for calling my nose a tulip.

I never mix metaphors with dancing. There will be dancing.

Please RSVP and let me know what kind of liquor you’re bringing so we don’t just have 30 bottles of Old Grand-Dad.

A boy once called me a squid and the texts that followed were the most insightful comments on my being that I have ever received.

This week’s pie is inspired by Prince. That’s all I know.

We can wear our heart earrings and say things like, “Oh I just love art, don’t you?”

Enjoy Santa Fe. I expect you to be able to do the angry cowboy dance from Newsies by the time you get back.

Can we day-time cozy bar with fireplace this shit?

Yip yip! Those are happy yips.

Nothing would make my little Midwestern heart happier than a ho-down.

Let’s walk your dog in a park and laugh at the things he laughs at like we get it.

The world is a very nice place.

I have found that if you wear the right dress, everything can be understood.*

I have considered that maybe I am a non-fiction writer but I’m not yet ready to say it aloud. Non-fiction writers are such dicks, right?

I love you so much.

Nothing makes me happier than closing down restaurants with you, lady, anytime.

I also wrote you a poem. It’s about your hair. I’ll show it to you if you go to prom with me.

Apart from missing you, things are pretty good. My house is the sweetest house there ever was and I have a pink couch because I am a goddamn lady.

The plastic island trees at Coney Island depress me.

I had my second chemo treatment yesterday. Chemo is really something–they fill you with poison and then send you home.

I can very clearly see you as a fox.

I have nothing much to say except I exist in solidarity with those protesting and I would be there with my feet if my feet could hold me and march right now.

As with all things, your mother is right.

It’s so lovely to be loved by all of you. It’s just the best when wonderful people love you. Thank you. The point is you’re all unique and wonderful and dear to me and I thank you from the bottom of my “gorgeous, perfect ovaries.”

Who invented the bagel? What brave soul said, “I would like to take 8 slices of my bread and make it into one with a hole in the middle for twirling?” Whomever it was, I love them.

 
Constantly Mistaken for an Elf,
I Can’t Stop Listening to Nelly,
Your Cruise Director,
This Is What Happens When Your Parents Never Ask About Your Future,
I Can Also Wiggle My Ears,
Met Santa in Jamaica Once,
“Adina, I’m allergic to nuts,” I DON’T CARE–EVOLVE.,
I really like all of you. Really, really,
Love and basketball,
Love and donuts,

(gif of Cher kicking can down street in Moonstruck, gif of whale, gif of hearts beating, gif of Cher half-smiling, gif of Rihanna waving her long nails, gif of Gonzo with caption “in case you forgot what I looked like,” gif of Mary Berry winking, gif of Cher drinking a soda, gif of hamster eating a carrot slice)

atg
Adina Banina Badoo
The squid
Tim Riggins
Adina Talve-Goodman, PhD, (Phunk Doctor)
Adina “cracked egg” Talve-Goodman
Adina “yes, that’s glitter” Talve-Goodman
Adina “nah I think I’ll go home and make tea” Talve-Goodman

P.S. I apologize that this email got progressively more aggressive but ain’t it the truth.
P.S. I’m serious about that poem
P.S. Bonus pie kisses (this is when you get to kiss the pie before we all eat it) for whoever can guess which Jon Travolta movie that sign-off is from
P.S. Please let me know if you would like off of this mailing list. I’ll tell management. Management wears fabulous dresses and is not hurt by people’s disinterest in the more ridiculous parts of her nature.
P.S. Everyone in Iowa is 23.
P.S. Please feel free to wear socks that you feel comfortable showing. Eunice (downstairs neighbor) is very sensitive and also hostile with her broom handles.
P.S. Despite the voracity of this email, I will be quiet as a mouse.

*Please note: this is a lie.

One Story Deb Ball

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Reading List for International Womens Day

BertinoTakeYourHatOff

Hi.

Here is a list of some of my favorite short story and poetry collections. They are all written by women. Like me, this list is subject to change and imperfect. Teachers of fiction, this list can fix your non-diverse syllabuses if you let it.

Happy International Women’s Day, which is every day.

Yours truly,

Marie-Helene

MY RICE TASTES LIKE THE LAKE, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

REVENGE, Yoko Ogawa

BLACKGIRL MANSION, Angel Nafis

CIRCLING THE DRAIN, Amanda Davis

GUIDE TO BEING BORN, Ramona Ausubel

THE GREEN RAY, Corina Copp

FROM THE HILLTOP, Toni Jensen

NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU, Miranda July

A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN, Lucia Berlin

WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS, Helen Oyemi

THERE ARE MORE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAN BEYONCE, Morgan Parker

BATTLEBORN, Claire Vaye Watkins

WHEREAS, Layli Longsoldier

AND YET THEY WERE HAPPY, Helen Phillips

REASONS TO LIVE, Amy Hempel

MILK BLACK CARBON, Joan Naviyuk Kane

MAGIC FOR BEGINNERS, Kelly Link

THE RED CONVERTIBLE, Louise Erdrich

THE UNFINISHED WORLD, Amber Sparks

NOT ME, Eileen Myles

WHEN MY BROTHER WAS AN AZTEC, Natalie Diaz

THE GIRL IN THE FLAMMABLE SKIRT, Aimee Bender

WHAT THE WORLD WILL LOOK LIKE WHEN ALL THE WATER LEAVES US, Laura van den Berg

THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichi

OF BEING DISPERSED, Simone White

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Stuck & Intimidated

A friend posted a question on my Facebook wall and, thinking other people might be experiencing the same problem, I decided to answer it in a public post. 

Dear Marie-Helene Bertino (pretend this is a hand written letter on dancing dog stationery penned to you at your advice column for writers), 

I have written 2 versions of a novel. I realized the novel needed an overhaul and I wrote a detailed and I think – pretty tight – outline for the next revision. Now I’m stuck. I don’t know how to attempt to integrate the text I have with the future text I have in mind, with the new outline. Do you have any recommended next steps? How do I cull the usable from the useless? How do I move forward.

Yours truly,

Stuck & Intimidated

Dear Stuck & Intimidated,

Thank you for your “letter.” I especially liked the dancing dog stationery (#adoptdontshop).

I appreciate the precarious position you are in, teetering between revisions in that liminal space called OHMYGODWRITINGANOVELISBONKERS. I spent a good deal of last night telling a friend that only insane people attempt to write novels.

One of the millions of reasons writing a novel is ill-advised is because it is impossible to “hold” an entire novel in one’s head. Unlike a short story, which can sometimes emerge as simply and beautifully as an orchid blooms, a novel has many false starts, crash landings, days of euphoria followed by days of panicked regret. Is there an animal that eats half of itself, I just wondered aloud? (No, my husband says. What the hell are you writing?) If there was an animal that did, and then regurgitated itself in a better form, it would be a good metaphor for the process of writing a novel.

Writing a novel is like picnicking in a windstorm. Every time you batten one corner of your blanket down, another flies up. Battening that one down, another comes loose. Eventually you must give up and eat macaroni salad off your lap in the car. The novel is what you see out the windshield.

All musing aside, I fear the outline may have paralyzed you. That can happen with outlines. We think they are helping, but really they are tricking us into thinking the work is already done. It’s one of those strange magic tricks of writing fiction. We must always be careful of where we put our minds. You must resist the urge to run around battening corners down. My practical advice to you is surrender: take a long look at the outline, internalize it, and then throw it away. If you are feeling dramatic, eat it. Or witchy, burn it.

Then, find a passage that you’re really excited about. It doesn’t matter if it’s one that is narratively important or not. Open it up and take a look at it. Add to it, or write the scene that would directly follow it. Don’t worry about whether you’ll use it or not, don’t worry if it’s good, don’t even worry if everything is correctly spelled. Just write the scene. Write it in good faith, having as much fun as you can.

Did anything surprise you in doing that? Follow it.

Then, move to another scene that feels fun to you. Noodle around in it. Is there a moment or character or line that feels creatively fertile? Follow it.

The front door of your practice is locked, and you’ve forgotten your key. What you are doing is circling around the back of your practice, trying to find an open window or forgotten door you can shimmy through.

Once you’ve found one, go to the chronological beginning of the novel and take it scene by scene. Stop every time you’re bored, and fix the language until you’re not bored–even if (and perhaps especially if) it means detouring from the outline you’ve eaten. There’s no way around it—the day you do this is going to be a hard day. But at the end of that day the feeling will be better than sex, better than steady money, better than a smile on a dog, better than…

Revising can be just as discovery-producing as writing if you know how to trick yourself into being more creative and intelligent than you are, when to abandon the rules you’ve set up for yourself, and when to go easy on yourself.

This is as much as I can say without having knowledge of your specific project. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Rome is still being built. And it’s been sacked and rebuilt several times. So, you know, at least you’re not trying to do that. All you’re trying to do is create characters who behave as effortlessly and as counterintuitively as real people do. And write an ending that is inevitable and surprising. See what I mean about insanity? Yet, if we think about the end goal every time we sit down (actors call this “playing the obstacle”), we paralyze ourselves. So just go to the scene or the character that feels most fun and follow it/ them.

If all else fails, put it down. Go outside. Play with your boy. Catch a glass of wine with a friend. Tell that friend only an insane person would ever try to write a novel. Do all the things that make you a participatory human in the world. They are also what make you a good writer. Wait for new eyes to grow and don’t fret if it takes months.

Go easy on yourself. You’re on the right wrong track and the company is unparalleled. Hope this helps.

Signed,

MHB

(your amie)

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Writing Prompts

1. Dress

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2.

Writing Prompt (Plant)

 

3. The jelly fish came to this lake in Palau through a tunnel which connected the sea and the lake a long time ago.

 

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Portrait of the Writer as a Young Girl

I post this (oddly eerie) photo not only to emphasize the importance of hair products or the silliness of 90s sweaters, but because it’s proof of how one librarian can change someone’s life. In 1990, Nancy Hensler arrived as the children’s librarian at a small library outside Philadelphia and began the “Write and Illustrate Your Own Book Contest.” Stoked out of my mind, I entered “The Dream Crystal,” the fantastical opus I had written over summer vacation about a fairy world I named after our local mall. I remember when Nancy called that day to tell me I won. It was my first acceptance.

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Tonight, I’m stoked out of my mind to return to The Huntingdon Valley Library to help congratulate this year’s crop of winners, from K to 6th graders. I wonder which of them will move to New York someday to live the starving writer’s life? I can’t wait to see.

More information about the “Write and Illustrate Your Own Book Contest”

The story of “The Dream Crystal”

 

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Time Out New York

After debating for ten minutes I leaned over to the girl sitting next to me on the subway and said, “Do you see this story? I wrote that.” “I’m so happy for you,” she said. She told me her name is Maria and she’s finishing her PHD in Spirituality and Leadership. We chatted through downtown and into Brooklyn. I told her having a story in a New York magazine is a surprisingly big deal to me and she told me about a book she’s reading on healers and angels. She suggested I talk about how I made my dreams come true when I do readings so other people know they can do it, too. When my stop neared, I asked if she would take a selfie with me and the magazine and she said no. “But let me take a picture of you.” She stood to get a better angle and I apologized for bothering her.

“You’re not bothering me,” she said. “I’m celebrating with you.”

TONYMHB

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People Magazine Style Watch, September 2014

This might be my favorite issue of People Magazine ever. Not only did I learn how to do a “smoky cat eye,” but that 2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas is IN STYLE for the fall.

 

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Oprah!

Oprah Magazine listed 2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS as one of the “10 Titles to Pick up Now” in their September issue.

Oprah

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Cat’s PJs excerpt in Guernica

This morning, Guernica published an excerpt of 2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMASThis is what I like to call “the dinner party scene,” presented in its entirety, where our heroes Sarina Greene and Ben Allen see one another for the first time in years.

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