Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Nice Stuff People Write About Stuff I Write: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Review of “The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious” (They Like It!)

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thank you to the Post-Gazette and Books Editor Tony Norman for this wonderful review of “The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious: A Memoir”  —  

“Let’s face it. Not every book written by a  Pittsburgher is brilliant. But Lori Jakiela’s painfully funny memoir “The Bridge  to Take When Things Get Serious” is so good you’ll wonder why the Trafford  resident and Chatham University professor isn’t the literary toast of the entire  country by now. This is a book about taking care of a dying mother, a writing  teacher’s lament about the next generation and a sideways love story.

“Part of the unabashed fun of reading this book is seeing familiar landmarks  through the eyes of an exceptionally talented local writer who is only one New  York Times book review away from a national reputation. While this memoir may  not be the last word on the volatile subject of mother/daughter relationships,  it is fair to assume it is already among the most honest and best written this  decade. Reading Lori Jakiela’s memoir should be on every Pittsburgher’s bucket  list. > Available everywhere.

Stuff I Write: On Writing, 40-Somethingness, Mortality and Red Cake

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Here’s an excerpt from my essay, “It’s Over Before You Know It.” The nice folks at Hobart published it in their May issue. It’s about writing, mortality, and of course red cake. Get a bigger piece over at Hobart.

***

Last week, my birthday passed without time to celebrate. No cake, no party. I’ve been working a lot.  My daughter refuses to believe I’m a year older because I didn’t blow out any candles.

“If you don’t blow out your candles, you’ll never be 49,” she says, a good thought.

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I don’t worry about age, though I spend money on a moisturizer by a company called Bliss. The moisturizer’s called “The Youth as We Know It.”  I like companies with a sense of humor about laugh lines. I like companies named for happiness.

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Still in this, my last forties-year, I do wonder about time–the way it passes without me realizing it, how much I’ve wasted by focusing on the wrong things or the wrong people or the wrong landscapes.

“It’s over before you know it,” my father used to say about living.

“Patience, jackass.” My father used to say that, too.

Every year for my birthday, my mother would make my favorite cake–red devil’s food with maple frosting. It’s a difficult recipe, at least that’s what she always said.

“Can’t you pick something else?” she’d say, and sigh.

“For Christ’s sake, do not stomp in the kitchen,” she’d say when the cake was in the oven. “This one’s sensitive.”

“We’ll see if it comes out this year,” she’d say every year, though every year it would come out just fine.

I’m not sure what the fuss was about, except that the recipe came from my grandmother, who was notorious for leaving out ingredients so no one could duplicate her recipes, which meant no one could ever replace her.

“It’s about immortality,” I said the other night to my friend, Ed. We weren’t talking about recipes. We were talking about writers, why some people wrote so many books.

“People shouldn’t write so much,” he said, but I disagree. I think writers  should write as much as they can. Not because it makes them immortal, not because, as Ed would say, they’d be trying “to write for the ages,” but because writing is work and it’s what we’re made to do. It gives us purpose. It’s useful.

It says, “I was here. Maybe this life mattered a little.”    Read more and get the red cake recipe at Hobart.

Stuff I Like: A Goodreads Book Giveaway and Free Stuff

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Goodreads is giving away five copies of my new book, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious.

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For serious.

Here’s the Goodreads promo:

Be one of the first to read the new memoir from Lori Jakiela, THE BRIDGE TO TAKE WHEN THINGS GET SERIOUS. A follow-up to MISS NEW YORK HAS EVERYTHING, Jakiela’s critically-acclaimed first memoir,  THE BRIDGE TO TAKE WHEN THINGS GET SERIOUS is the funny and heartbreaking story of a woman who returns to her small hometown to care for her dying mother and finds herself healing instead. For fans of books like Anna Quindlen’s ONE TRUE THING and writers like David Sedaris, THE BRIDGE TO TAKE WHEN THINGS GET SERIOUS will “knock you out with its high energy, unstoppable humor and stirring tenderness,” says Deb Olin Unferth, author of REVOLUTION. Bestselling novelist Stewart O’Nan says “Lori Jakiela is the queen of the wise one-liner. Fiercely sad and heartbreakingly funny.”

Hope you’ll head over to Goodreads and enter. Free stuff is good.

Stuff I Write: On Mother’s Day, Saturday Night Fever, Frankie Yankovic, Polkas, Writing, Ray Bradbury, and the Fine Art of Blurting

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2013 at 6:54 pm

This Mother’s Day is more bittersweet than usual for me. As you probably know — because I’ve been yakking nonstop about it — I have a new book out. The book’s about my mother, who was one tough broad, and it’s about me, who has never been as tough a broad as I pretend to be no matter how many leather jackets I own.

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This book’s about coming to terms with being my mother’s daughter and caregiver while becoming a mother myself. Also, it’s about cheesy puffs, one peed-on chair, New York, Pittsburgh, and that old literary stand-by, love.

First, I’d like to apologize for my ramblings about all this. I’ll have another post soon about the neuroses that comes with a new book, and the way fear and heartbreak and dreams can make you go on dancing like a lunatic even after the music stops.

I do a great Chicken Dance, by the way, and a respectable Hokey Pokey, unless I’m on roller skates.

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I polka, too, but it looks more like a seizure when I really get going. At least that’s what my father, Polish by birth and an excellent master of all things two-step, used to tell me.

“It’s not like you’re being electrocuted,” he’d say. “Relax.”

But I never could.

My mother, like my father, was a beautiful dancer. I remember her at family weddings, all high heels and swirl, backwards, forwards, never a missed step. I remember them both together, a pinwheel, more one person than two.

“Don’t overthink it,” my mother would say as she’d try to show me what she knew.

But my brain like my feet would never cooperate.

“Monkey mind,” the Buddhists call it when thoughts won’t hold still.

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I think I will go to my mother’s grave today. I should probably talk with her about this book. If she were alive, she wouldn’t like me giving up her secrets. I’ll probably have to explain things.

We had a difficult relationship, my mother and I. Many daughters of fierce mothers will say the same thing. I loved my mother desperately. She loved me desperately, too. What you should know:  we didn’t destroy each other. We came to some kind of peace before she died. That is its own kind of miracle.

But the loss I feel, her absence, is still as palpable as her fingers on my pulse. She was a nurse, so she did that a lot. She’d check my pulse, my breathing, every vital sign. I never had a cold when I was young. I had upper respiratory infections. I did not have a belly button. I had an umbilicus. My mother’s notes for school absences read like entries in the Physician Desk Reference.

This is, of course, creepy, especially to a child.

Most kids think of the heart as love, something with a smiley face, not something physical, something mortal that can fail.

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My daughter brought a smiley heart home from school the other day, a gift for me for Mother’s Day. The heart had paper accordion arms and legs. On the back, there was a message:  “Mom you make my heart dance.”

My daughter’s in second grade. She’s just now learning about the heart as an organ, as something fleshy and beating inside her.

“Gross,” she says, and holds her hand to her chest and presses hard, as if she wants to make it stop.

“Don’t overthink it,” my mother would say.

Ray Bradbury used to have a sign over his typewriter that said “Don’t Think.”

Ray-Bradbury-by-Lou-Romano

His idea:  the best writing is a surprise. It’s more like life. There’s no controlling it. It comes blurting out.

I’m still a terrible dancer. My daughter, who loves Justin Bieber, has tried to teach me the Dougie. We dance together in the kitchen, which was my mother’s kitchen because we live in the house I grew up in.

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“No like this,” my daughter says, and giggles and can’t stop giggling when I can’t get it right.

Sometimes my mother would dance alone in the kitchen, a little polka from the sink to the table on Sundays, when the Pittsburgh radio stations would have Polka Hour and Frankie Yankovic would roll out a barrel of fun.

“Now isn’t that happy music?” my mother would say.

The only dance I ever tried to teach my mother was The Hustle. I’m not sure I ever had that right, either, but because I was very young in the 70s, she assumed I knew what I was doing and would follow along.

We’d dance to the Bee Gees. I had albums and posters and “Saturday Night Fever” was my first R movie. My father took me and a friend. He dropped us off and went to see “The Gauntlet” instead.

saturday night fever

“Don’t tell your mother,” he said.

I was very young then. I think I missed a lot of what that movie was about. What I knew:  I loved my father very much and when I moved to New York, the first thing I did was walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and once, when I answered the phone at my friend Jennifer’s apartment, it was a guy who said he was the real Tony Manero and maybe he was because some days, like today, life feels very connected like that.

“I don’t take things for granted, because everything feels more fragile,” Robin Gibb said after the death of his brother Andy. “It’s made me wonder about mortality and how long you’ve got somebody in the world. I’m more fearful than I used to be.”

Andy Gibb was the most beautiful Gibb brother, my favorite. His death didn’t seem possible.

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What I remember about my mother today:  she was beautiful. I miss her.

“Shut up and dance,” she’d say. “Before the song’s over already.”

Stuff I Write: You Say Pittsburgh, The Lights Say Pitetsbkrrh,

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2013 at 3:40 am

Pittsburgh is, like I said, hard to describe. Still it’s important to try. Here’s another short excerpt from my new book, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious. I hope it gives you a glimpse of my Pittsburgh, my Pitetsbkrrh, this one beautiful homebound heart-filled real and gritty thing.

***

From one window of my South Side apartment I can see the Grant Building. Thirty-three stories. The lights on top of the building are a flashing beacon. They’re supposed to spell out Pittsburgh in Morse Code, but as a girl I thought they spelled “I love you.” The lights are red, like a lit cigarette. They look like a beating heart.

grant building

A while back, a retired pilot translated the lights and found that they really spelled out Pitetsbkrrh. Maybe this way, the wrong way, is prettier.

Along Carson Street there are coffee shops where sad tattooed teenagers sit and play Scrabble all day. There’s Dee’s Bar, where the bartenders are all older women who pull their gray hair back in ponytails or wear wife-beater shirts to show off their muscular arms. They’re good at what they do, don’t tolerate rowdy drunks, barely tolerate the hipsters that come in on weekends.

Dees Cafe

Once when I was at the bar a young guy came in. The kid was pierced everywhere, his lips, his eyebrow. He had a big silver stud in his chin where a dimple should be.

“What will you have?” the bartender asked. “My usual,” the kid said. His smile was a smirk, a swoosh. “Honey,” the bartender said, “I don’t know your usual.”

When she poured, the veins along her arms popped like the mountains all around this place.

There’s a rickety deck off the back of the apartment where I could sit and see all the houses wedged into those mountains. Pittsburghers call that part of the city The Slopes. Like many things here, it’s an understatement. The streets going up to those houses are so vertical it feels as if a car would tumble off backwards. During bad snows, people get trapped on The Slopes and can’t come down. Snow plows can’t get up. At night, no matter the season, The Slopes are so dark it looks like the houses are suspended mid-air, constellations of porch lights.

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“The Paris of Appalachia,” the great writer Chuck Kinder calls Pittsburgh.

Chuck Kinder Photo

Stuff I Like: Pittsburgh the Movie, Homing Pigeons, Braddock PA, Something Gritty,Something Real

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2013 at 3:39 am

On a recent visit, I drove my friend Frank through Pittsburgh’s Electric Valley and into Braddock. Frank’s from New York City. He teaches in the Bronx. Frank knows rough.

In Pittsburgh, we drove beneath the George Westinghouse Bridge and past the Edgar Thompson Steel Works. Off in the distance, we could see the tracks of Kennywood’s roller coasters rising up like lost sea monsters. We drove down Braddock Avenue, past an urban garden, past a playground that Levis Jeans built in exchange for putting the town in commercials. We drove past Bell’s Market where there was a sale on salami and headcheese and wingdings.

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“I love it here,” Frank, who hadn’t been talking much, finally said. “It’s gritty. It’s real.”

It’s also beautiful. And tough. Even Hollywood knows.

Pittsburgh, for me, is a hard place to describe. Maybe it’s like that for all writers who try to describe the place they were born into, the place that is so entwined with their own DNA it’s impossible to separate.

“What’s Pittsburgh about your writing?” an interviewer asked me once.

I couldn’t answer. There isn’t a single thing I can think of that’s not Pittsburgh about my writing, about me. I’m not sure how to explain that.

When I was living away from Pittsburgh, in New York where I met Frank, I was talking to a guy in a bar. He asked where I was from, and I told him.

“You Pittsburgh people,” he said. “You’re homing pigeons. You go away and you go right back. You’ll see.”

Thirteen years ago, I did see. I came right back. Now I have rooted myself and my family so deeply here I doubt any of us will ever be away for long. I’m grateful for that.

Stuff I Like and Stuff I Write: Numerology, Talking to Strangers, Adding to Eleven, and a New-Book Excerpt

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Ever wonder why strangers corner you on the bus to talk about their bowels? Ever wonder why you’re sometimes the one doing the cornering?

It’s in the numbers, of course.

Numerology and the number 11, to be precise. Here’s an excerpt from my new book, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious, that breaks it down.

***

Number 11

The orderly’s name is Rich. He’s come to fill the water pitcher. Rich has eyebrows like steel wool and eyes that seem to focus anywhere but here.

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“My dad used to scrunch his face up all the time, just like you,” I say. “You shouldn’t frown so much.”

“My wife tells me that too,” Rich says and goes on frowning.

“When my dad died, the lines went away,” I say. “His face relaxed.”

“That so?” Rich says.

“My dad worried about everything,” I say.

“Lots of people do,” Rich says. He jiggles the ice pitcher. He’s careful to look in my direction, just not at me. He aims for a spot above my head. I recognize this technique. I’ve used it myself, many times.

Once, a woman on the street in New York stopped me. “Can I ask you a question?” she said.

“Sure,” I said.

“Shave or wax?” she said.

shaving

“What?” I said.

“Your legs, your parts,” she said. “Shave or wax?”

The question seemed important.

“Shave,” I said.

“I thought so,” she said. “I sure as hell thought so.”

The woman didn’t look crazy. She wore a ponytail and a suit. She carried a briefcase and an expensive-looking umbrella. The umbrella had a wooden duck’s head for a handle.

duck head umbrella

Everything about this woman was prim and pulled together, except her mind.

“Another Number 11,” my friend June said when I told her the story. June is into numerology. There’s a theory, she says – if the number of letters in your name adds up to 11, you attract negative personalities. Crazy people on the bus feel inclined to talk to you. They will seek you out and tell you their panty size. They will give you details about their sex lives and bowel habits. They will tell you where they keep the remains of their childhood pets.

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I’m an 11. June is an 11. Many of my closest friends are 11s. I’m not sure what this means. Maybe 11s seek each other out so we always have someone who understands why the guy in the kilt with the imaginary bagpipes finds us irresistible.

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“There’s one of us,” June says when she sees someone cornered.

“They see us coming,” she says when it’s us.

For years I was on the receiving end of crazy talk. Then something happened. I blame it on age and grief and loss, but who knows. Whatever it was, things reversed. Now I catch myself trying to make eye contact with strangers. I catch myself saying things.

“My father worried his life away,” I tell Rich. “I’m trying not to be like him.”

“Good for you,” Rich says and plops down a few cups and straws.

Stuff I Write: The New (Phone) Book’s Here! The New (Phone) Book’s Here!

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm

My new book, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious, is here!

These days around our house, it’s a lot like that scene in the movie “The Jerk” where Steve Martin runs from room to room yelling “The new phone book’s here, the new phone book’s here!” and keeps pointing to his name.

 

I love that movie even though Steve Martin was on a flight I worked once and he wore very serious glasses and refused to stow his carry-on bag. It was his playwright phase, so maybe that explains things.

As for my book, here’s the cover copy:

Her 70-year-old, cancer-stricken mother kills snakes with a broom. Her best friend believes in psychics and the Virgin Mary. Her new neighbor steals her CDs and her aunt sneaks cheese curls into the house. After seven years in New York, Lori Jakiela gives up her job as an international flight attendant and her dreams of becoming a writer, and returns home to Pittsburgh to take care of her dying mother. A loving but befuddled daughter, Jakiela stumbles to find her new life while sleeping in her childhood bed and teaching writing to students who hate to read. Unexpected love, expected loss, the struggle to find our own families, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious is the story of mothers and daughters, the debts we pay, and the new lives we build for ourselves when we least expect them.

If you’d like to get a copy, and I really hope you will, it’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, from my swell publisher C&R Press, and (very soon!) bookstores near you.

If you’re in Pittsburgh, copies are available right now from the wonderful Lesley Rains at East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield. Support your local bookseller. It’s good for your heart.

Stuff I Write About Stuff I Write: New Book, Paris, Sharks, Literary Critics and Jolly Ranchers

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2013 at 5:30 am

My new memoir, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious, will be out any day now, and I’m happy and terrified all at once. I just wanted to tell you that.

The days before the release of a new book is that kind of time for most writers, I think. It’s kind of like boarding a plane to Paris when you’re terrified to fly.

paris

In Paris, there are coconut crepes. There’s a lot of cheese. It’s good cheese. There’s the Louvre. There’s Picasso. There are carousels and Ferris wheels and fat pigeons that molt  in the Medici Fountain. In Paris, everyone is beautiful and even the cheapest wine is delicious and everyone smells like pastry cream and sweat and yeast and orchids.

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I once saw a gorgeous belly dancer in a seedy basement bar in Paris. She moved like mercury. She glistened like she had sequins for pores. She called me “belle amie” in a voice that was all milk and smoke and cinnamon.

Paris is a dream.

Publishing a book is a dream, too. I’m grateful for that.

But falling from the sky and crashing in the ocean where sharks wait to snap your legs off like sticks of beef jerky — that’s a little less dreamy.

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Publishing a book is like that, too.

So it’s belly dancers and cheese, plane crashes and sharks.

And beef jerky.

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By the way, there’s no such thing as shark repellent. On airplanes, the life rafts have little packages filled with Jolly Rancher candies, flares, water purifying tablets and first aid kits. There are also packets labeled “Shark Repellent.” These packets are filled with powdered and scented yellow dye.

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Airline personnel sprinkle this in the water in an emergency. It’s meant to keep people in life rafts calm. It’s good to feel protected and bite-proof. But sharks don’t really hate the color yellow. There’s no smell that could keep them from blood.

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There’s no repellent for literary critics, either, though they’re rumored to hate Jolly Rancher candies. Postmodern clichés, that sort of thing.

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Before my last memoir, Miss New York Has Everything, was published, I went fetal for a day thinking about everything I said and didn’t say, and worrying over how vulnerable I’d made myself by telling true stories about my life.

I don’t think I realized in the writing of that book – writing, of course, being a solitary and hidden act – that there was a chance people, real people, people in my life and beyond, might actually read what I’d written.

What if I’d gotten things wrong? What if people didn’t like what they read? Worse, what if everyone misunderstood me?

“When you write memoir, people will misunderstand you. Expect a shit-storm.” That’s a quote from a panel on memoir writing at this year’s Associated Writing Program’s annual conference.

Jeannette Winterson, a writer I love, was on that panel. She knows a lot about being misunderstood. If you haven’t read it yet, you should check out her last memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. It’s brilliant.

Another writer I love, Alison Bechdel, has a moment in her latest memoir, Are You My Mother, where she falls on the floor in panic and fear over what she’s done.

It’s very much like that.

This second-book experience for me is not much different from my first, although right now I can’t go fetal or lie flat on the floor and make like a bath mat. My life — full as it is with children and work and bills and yard work and old salami that will stink up the fridge if I don’t get to it before garbage day — won’t let me.

That fullness is, I know, a great gift. It keeps me in motion. It keeps me vertical.

Still.

So I’m pondering all of this, and remembering my first book, the fear and hope of all that, and I’m thinking about the time when I showed up at Sam’s Club for a book signing and they expected Miss America.

Kirsten Haglund

That’s right. Miss America.

It’s a story I explain in this essay in the Spring issue of The New Yinzer magazine.

Life is going to change. I feel it.

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