Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wonderful Life


Friday evening I met Jo for BBQ in Greenwich Village. Jo has a heart that could melt a glacier, and every time she smiles at me I believe the world is good.

After dinner we walked the streets of Greenwich Village in the cold December air, past the sex shops and tattoo parlors and pizza-by-the-slice joints. An indie film theater was showing "It's a Wonderful Life." It started in ten minutes.

For the next two hours we sat next to each other in the darkness, holding hands, and watched a story about the importance of being grateful for all that we've been given.

When the lights finally came back up, Jo squeezed my hand and smiled, and at that moment I would've lassoed the moon for her.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Holiday window boxes

I'm not bragging, but the luxury condo at the end of the block has wilted flowers in its planters. Meanwhile, 139 is all dressed up for the holidays. (And, yes, we say "holidays" on the Upper West Side because we don't believe religion is a competition.)



Last night I strung the lights with the help of the little girls from upstairs.



They helped by unwinding the strands and testing them like jump ropes.



All strands passed the jump rope test.

I had one strand left, so I brought it inside and put it on our own little Christmas tree. (Yes, we do call it a Christmas tree, even on the Upper West Side.)


We are ready for some holiday love and cheer.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Edgar Allan Poe Farmhouse, West 84th Street


The other day when I was checking out Books of Wonder's new West 84th Street location, I remembered that this was the block where Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Raven" in the 1840s.

There's an excellent post at manhattanpast.com that lays out the evidence for where the farmhouse was located. Suffice it to say that when the city laid out West 84th Street, they sliced right through the hillside, creating the odd effect of the house on a bluff. (It was more of a rolling hillside when Poe lived there.)

My contribution is the photo of what it looks like now.

The farmhouse was eventually razed and the hillside flattened, almost certainly to make way for the turn-of-the-century buildings that currently occupy the spot. A movie theater now occupies the space to the right, where the stairs were.

It's a bit mind-blowing, isn't it?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Big in China


Or at least translated to Chinese, as of this week. 

I haven't been able to buy this book, figure out where it's sold, or determine what major international award it appears to have won.

But I think it's cool.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Can we all agree that no rational person would ever open a children's bookstore?


No one has ever crunched the numbers and concluded, "Yep, opening a children's bookstore is going to make me rich."

And yet...

Books of Wonder just opened a new store on West 84th...half a block from West Side Kids, two blocks from Barnes & Noble, five blocks from Book Culture, twenty from Bank Street Bookstore. The Upper West Side is nutty like that.

I stopped by today to check it out. (The first thing I did was see if they had any of my books. Duh.) I left with a new picture book, which I seem to do every time I go to a children's bookstore. It feels good to buy a picture book. It's like opioid addiction, but healthier.

It makes me smile to know that I live in a neighborhood with little pockets of magic and stardust that quietly coexist with the Duane Reades and Chases and Starbucks. Nothing against corporations. But you don't see toddlers crawling the floors of Duane Reade, and Chase doesn't make you feel like the world is inherently wonderful.

Thumbs up for Books of Wonder. Thumbs up for children's bookstores, and children's books, and children.

(And before anyone gets a lump in their throat, yes, I'm going to deduct the book purchase on my taxes.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Camping in November

As you may or may not recall, in the spirit of extending summer into late fall, we went rafting the weekend before Halloween. How to top that?

Camping the weekend before Thanksgiving.


We found a website called Tentrr.com, which lists about a dozen privately-owned single campsites, each outfitted with a standard-issue canvas tent with wood-burning stove and elevated air mattress.

I strongly suspect we were the last campers of 2017.

1. It was c-c-c-cold.

2. We brought Bailey, who loved it.

3. We ate BBQ takeout, then cooked marshmallows (Bailey ate three) and drank hot cocoa under a starry sky.

4. I woke up at 4am to take Bailey out and discovered that our entire campsite was covered in a thin layer of snow. And the stars were even more amazing.

5. It was toasty inside the tent as long as there was wood in the stove and a dog on the bed.

6. It was a perfect crazy November summer adventure. 



Sunday, November 19, 2017

And in lighter news...

Samuel came home unexpectedly last night. Everything is fine. We all stayed up late, slept late, and had bagels at Orwasher's. A wave of calmness sweeps over me whenever both boys are here.

This afternoon Samuel and Bailey helped me remove the dead flowers from our window boxes. (Full disclosure: Bailey was just there for the photo op.)


This planting lasted from July to mid-November. This is what our building looked like for the past five months...best building on the block.


The window boxes were my idea, and if I knew anything about gardening I'd save the co-op some money and do the plantings myself. But all I know is that buildings look better with flowers. So my participation is limited to pulling out the dead stuff.

BTW...is he a sweet boy or what?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Let's say it's not about me

I don't want to talk about me. Or my problems, or my possibilities. Let's just talk about love in the universal sense, the fact that we all want love, need love, feel devastated when we lose love, feel euphoric when we discover love or what could become love. Let's talk about it in the universal sense. 

Let's talk about two people who loved each other for many, many years, perhaps one more dearly than the other--who knows, who can say anymore, it's all a confusing jumble now. He called her Sweetheart for all those years, they shared intimacies and I love yous, and now she's sitting several feet away from him and she's a complete stranger, and it's a cold, unfathomable feeling of emptiness and confusion and he just wants to go somewhere and cry, let it out in the absence of anyone else looking at him and judging him.

Let's talk about what it feels like to meet someone, someone who makes him feel like he's not alone, not going to die alone, someone kind and funny and smart, with needs and wants and hopes and fears of her own--her own unfinished life story. How amazing it is to connect and gaze and smile and laugh. And wonder, what if?

Life is long, if we're lucky, and strange and wonderful and occasionally devastating. I don't know what the future holds. I don't have a clear plan anymore. I know that I will die someday, but what happens between now and then is much murkier than it once was. It's like the hours after a hurricane, when everything is lost, and suddenly someone reaches out a hand and grabs yours, and either you're both found or you're both lost, but either way you realize how important it is to be kind to each other, because everything will be different from here on out.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book update

Everyone says it's easy to write a picture book.

It is. It's extremely easy.

It's just hard to write a good picture book. And editors don't want good picture books. They want great picture books. They only publish a handful a year. They want a book that people are going to buy instead of all the other great picture books on the shelf.

And the competition isn't just Elephant and Piggie (which is tough enough). It's Cat in the Hat and Very Hungry Caterpillar and Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are.

If you're feeling confident, walk into any children's book store and see how many books there are. Why would anyone other than your mother choose your book over all the others?

You have to set out to write great picture books. Plural, because most aren't going to sell no matter what.

If you're lucky, and you've been published multiple times, and you send out what you know to be an absolutely phenomenal manuscript, you'll get feedback like this:

"Todd's verse is (as usual) basically flawless, and very sweet--but I'm afraid the story just isn't standing out quite enough in the end."

I say lucky, because getting a compliment from an editor gives you enough positive momentum to move on to the next one. And the next one. And eventually you may sell one, and...

Hey, it's easy to write a picture book.

Okay. That wasn't meant to be a downer, just a reality check. In order to be a children's author you have to have a soft heart and a thick skin.

I have publication dates for upcoming books:

  • November 30, 2017: Chinese-language version of Ten Tiny Toes. (Seriously.)
  • March 28, 2018: Board book version of Ten Tiny Toes. (Can't wait.)
  • August 2018: How to Become a Knight. (Looking great.)
  • September 2018: Three Grumpy Trucks. (Looking great.)
I'm not allowed to share artwork yet, but here's an early sample from Three Grumpy Trucks that I already shared at a public reading, so I don't think I'll be killed for it:


Finally, I have a new manuscript under consideration with a publisher. We're not going to jinx it by talking about it yet. But we're hopeful, right? We know how easy it is to write a picture book.

Back to work :)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

She's got those brown eyes

And that smile.

And that lilting chuckle, that tiny laugh, that hmmpph.

She's got that neck made of velvet.

Those Mona Lisa lips.

If you could write the story, you'd write it with brown eyes. Of course you would. Soulful and deep, like autumn, like earth, like a mystery waiting to unfold.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Kahlua

She was 14 and her health had been declining since the beginning of the year. But she lived a good life and was happy until the end. She had so much fun on Halloween that she was rolling on the living room rug like a puppy. 

On Thursday I took her and Bailey for a long walk to the Turtle Pond in Central Park. She walked all the way and enjoyed herself.

Of course it makes you second-guess yourself--should we have waited another week? Another two? But I felt she was starting to suffer, and I didn't want that. Having a few good days at the end was perfect. 

She was a very good dog.







Thursday, November 2, 2017

NYC Strong

"NYC Strong" balloons across Amsterdam Avenue at 80th Street, a couple of blocks from my apartment. 


All the neighborhood toddlers were gawking and pointing, not understanding the significance, just excited to see balloons. A little unexpected joy is good for the soul.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Halloween

Not sure how to juxtapose Halloween with a terrorist attack.

Ethan's school is four blocks away from where it started, but he was heading toward home in the other direction at the time. I was on 91st Street buying Halloween supplies.

I think most people in the city probably checked their phones a few times during the evening, but for the most part we were busy with our own families and weren't going to let it ruin the night.

Ethan came home to check in, then went out with friends.

There was a party in the building lobby. We had some trick-or-treaters.






Bailey apparently snuck out of the apartment during one candy exchange at the door and proceeded to poop on the lobby floor in the middle of the party. No shame.



We have a great building, great neighbors, a great neighborhood and a great city.



Bad shit happens. It sucks. All you can do is get on with your life and be grateful. I am and I am.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Things to do on an October weekend

1. Watch Ethan sing at his high school "coffee house" event. 


2. Rent a big-ass Chevy pick-up truck, the kind men in Iowa drive.


3. Pretend it's still summer by going rafting. Eat hot dogs and frozen candy bars. Be the only ones on the river except for a trio of hardy kayakers.


4. Get pumpkins on the way home. Put 'em in the back of your pick-up. Put your wet swim trunks back there too, and when you get back to the city, wonder what happened to them.

5. Eat Domino's with Ethan on Sunday night and be creative.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Things I appreciate on a long weekend

I'm thankful for Brother Jimmy's BBQ, and conversations about life and love and nothing in particular. I'm thankful that he confides in me, tells me his dreams, hangs on my shoulder now and then, asks my advice.



I'm thankful for the sound of the buzzer at 10pm and I know that Samuel is home. I'm thankful that he still falls asleep in my bed sometimes, that he still finds that comforting after all these years. He can crawl into my bed and fall asleep when he's 45 and I won't mind.

I'm thankful for warm weather, long hikes, tired muscles.


I'm thankful for cold mountain streams that you dip your shirt in and put it back on and it gives you a cold, refreshing shiver like it's still summertime. 

I'm thankful for new adventures, new friendships.


I'm thankful for cold beer, sleepy train rides, a soft smile. I'm thankful that my heart still beats.

I'm thankful for Central Park. I'm thankful to be able to run--in solitude, to ponder, to work through things. I don't even care how fast my legs go. Okay, I'm thankful that I can still blow past the slowpokes, even when my knees are sore from hiking the day before.

I'm thankful for corn dogs at midnight, the sensation of thwacking a ball with a metal stick, and for this wonderful city that never sleeps.





I'm thankful for these boys that I love more than anything in the world. 

I still hurt. Deeply. So deeply that I can't even describe it, just a pit of emptiness, like there has been a rift in the space-time continuum and I've suddenly been dropped into an alternate universe where everything is the same and yet completely different. And Biff is president.

But there is much to be thankful for, and I'm not gonna piss it away. I'm gonna embrace it and be thankful.