Saturday, August 22, 2009


That's the silly way of saying the word "coincidence" that my older daughter Hannah and I used to have fun with. I've written about coincidences in this blog thrice before: here, here and here. And, as I discussed in the latter post, I tend not to view coincidences as being random moments of oddly connected or relevant happenstance. They are certainly inexplicable but part of their magic comes in not needing an explanation. I like to think they're a clue to some as yet unrealized eventuality. That something in the future will transpire, not necessarily beyond my own will and motivation, that will justify and bring meaning to the "coincidence."

So here I am, a writer who is trying to get an agent to represent his first novel. My progress on this front is being built on the foundation of several form letter rejection notes (and one very nice one). And there I was, last week, with my wife and two daughters away for a week, and I was missing them very much and feeling profoundly sad about my life in general. And there I was, during the time of their absence, on Martha's Vineyard for an organizational retreat, which provided much-needed collegiality, belonging, acceptance, and alcohol. And there I was, after a delicious dinner with my fellow Boardmates, with several drinks in me, walking the streets of Edgartown, and finding an interesting shop open, and entering said shop and looking around, that I found a book.

The book is called To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession, by Dan Koeppel. The cover features a collage of images of dozens of different birds. The design of the book cover is what caught my attention (indeed, that is its purpose). The title didn't particularly stir me, nor did the description on the back cover. The only thing that seemed at all relevant to me is that the bird-watcher in question was a father at a certain crossroads in his life who had two children. OK, that's sorta like me. But again, after a few drinks, it was just the cover that got me curious. And then I opened the book.

I didn't open the book very far into it. Page viii, in fact. Because it was lowercase Roman numerals, I knew it was an intro or prologue of some sort; in fact, it was the Acknowledgments, the section of a book when an author is so extraordinarily grateful at being published that he or she spills his or her guts in a thank-you fest designed to appease the Literary Gods so that this good fortune may continue and lead to the next-best thing to getting a book published: getting a second book published.

And so I open the book and you know how certain words that are familiar to you are so well known in their shape and construct that regardless of the font in which they are set, these words literally leap off the page and stab you right in the eyes? No? Well, trust me, it happens. And it happened this night in the store in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard while my children were away and I was profoundly sad yet also pretty buzzed. And here's what I saw: my older daughter's name. I saw the words Hanna Rubin (though my daughter's first name has the palindromic spelling). And I was so shocked, I had to read the paragraph in which it appeared, which I reproduce below:

I wish I was the kind of writer who was supremely confident in his talents and instincts. But even when I haven't had faith in myself, Hanna Rubin has. There is nobody I've met who has been more supportive, more generous, and more decent to me than Hanna. ... I don't know if I've ever told her how much she means to me.

In the next paragraph, the author notes that Hanna introduced him to his agent, who also eventually served as his editor and, after she founded a small press, his publisher as well. So let's recap:

1. Hanna Rubin, almost exactly my older daughter's name
2. A writer who is not so much supremely confident in his talents and instincts
3. Hanna's supportive, generous, and decent to the writer (OK, maybe this one doesn't always fit so well)
4. Hanna brings agent and publisher into the picture

So even though this book is nonfiction and mine is a novel; even though it's about bird-watching, which to me is a major snooze; even though it's Hanna and not Hannah, I was really knocked out by this coincidence. I was missing my children so much and then suddenly one's name is staring at me. I was doubting my dream of becoming a published author, and here is one who made it. I showed the paragraph around to several of my Boardmates, and their sharing of my amazement suggested to me that I needed to buy this book. And so I did.

I haven't begun reading it yet, and I'm still not convinced I will enjoy or be much interested in it, but I'm willing to hold out the hope that this book might someday prove to be a clue into a future time when my dream comes true and my daughter, when asked what her father does for a living, can answer not as she does now ("a writer of some sort") but with that wonderful one-word description, a title as noble as any that I could ever aspire to: "author."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Plays on the Potty

Why do men read on the toilet? I think part of the reason has to do with the fundamental difference between men and women. In the bathroom, women sit all the time; men only sit half the time. We're very accustomed to peeing and fleeing. Unlike women, men don't consider the bathroom to be a venue for socializing. For the most part, we do our business and get out. Unless it's time for number two. Then we're impelled to slow down, sit down, and get down to more serious business. Sitting and shitting, unlike standing and pissing, leaves our hands empty and our eyes with nothing to focus on. Thus, a book or a magazine, a newspaper or a catalog, gives us to something with which to pass the time while we're waiting to pass our lunch.

Another reason why I, at least, like to read on the potty is that it actually gives me time and space in which to read. I spend much of my non-working time not otherwise devoted to eating and sleeping either by parenting or writing. But I like to read and so last year I decided I would keep a book in the bathroom at all times, and read a chapter or two each time I was in there sitting down. Because I can't read large amounts in any one sitting, I chose slim volumes.

Recently, I realized that over the last few years I've been collecting plays. It wasn't particularly intentional, but anytime I'd go to a yard sale or a used book store, I'd look at books and be able to find a good play for very little money. They're generally short, as far as books go, and given that I've written one one-act play already and probably have more in me, it's instructive and inspiring to read great plays. And they seem to work particularly well when read in chunks (if you'll pardon the expression).

Over the last few months, I've read the following plays on the potty (the first two I'd read before; I considered them proof-of-concept bathroom reading):

Our Town - Thornton Wilder
Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller
After the Fall - Arthur Miller
Angels in America: Part One: Millennium Approaches - Tony Kushner
End Game - Samuel Beckett
Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
Talley's Folley - Lanford Wilson
Da - Hugh Leonard

Currently, I've just started a collection of plays by Günter Grass that includes Flood, Mister Mister, Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo, and The Wicked Cooks. I'd like to get some works by Eugene O'Neill, Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, and August Wilson as well, but as I'm a relative neophyte in the playwright world, I'm pretty open to anything that looks interesting. I'd like to avoid ancient and Elizabethan texts since I'd rather keep it light and readable given the context.

Now, while it's quite conceivable that no one will ever want to borrow these books from me, or loan me any of theirs, I think I've actually created a nice, sustainable, and wonderfully entertaining tradition for myself. All the bathroom's a stage....