Saturday, March 14, 2009

Birth Day: When...but Where?

Hi Friends,

I recently needed to obtain an "official" copy of my birth certificate. I called each of my parents, neither of whom possesses one of these useful documents anymore, so I resorted to contacting the Vital Stats Bureau...but where?

I asked my 81-year-old Mom, down in Florida, and my eighty-five year-old Dad, down in South Carolina's Uplands.

"New Rochelle," my Mom stated unequivocally.

"New York," my Dad declared, definitively. "Mount Sinai Hospital."

Well, I figured Mom must be right, right? After all, she was the one who carried me above her heart for nine months and went through labor and delivery. So New Rochelle it was.

The website was not helpful, so I placed a call. I needed to send in a written request by post with my name, birth-date, have it notarized, to ensure I was me, and mail it along with a self-addressed-stamped envelope, oh, and the fee for each official copy to a specific address. Done. A tad expensive, what with the notary's fee and the fee for the document, but well worth the price.

A week or two later, I recognized my own stamped, self-addressed envelope. My birth could not be New Rochelle. Perhaps I had the wrong name! Or the incorrect date.

I called Mom back, peeved. She was fretful.

Very late that night, she phoned me.

"Ami! You were born in New York City at Mount Sinai Hospital. I remember the evening better than some things which happened to me yesterday. I left your Dad and Andy who was just 18 months old home in Larchmont and visited my doctor in New York City. Later that evening, I attended a performance of the opera Othello with my parents at the Met. You were sitting on my sciatic nerve, I was in agony. Then I went into labor.

"At four a.m., my parents took me to Mount Sinai Hospital. You were born at 8 a.m. the next morning!"

So, I have now made my request for my birth certificate for Amy Susan Brodoff (my real name, as opposed to my pen name) on March 18th to New York City's well-organized Bureau of Vital Statistics.

I am waiting. (Hmmm, maybe this is why Othello is one of my favorite plays and the Met one of my special places.)

This little splice-of-life burrowed into my mind. Why? I am fasccinated with the theme of identity. All of my stories and novels wrestle with this timeless journey. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Many of my characters don't have clear answers to these basic questions. Funny how I don't either. Despite the fact that I have living birth parents.

Hopefully, I can report back that I not only know who I am and when I was born, but where as well. (Because if it 'aint New York, there is no there, there.)

A New York City babe. I like that!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On My Stack: Nighttable That Is

Books are stacked up on my nighttable as always, and in mini-skyscrapers around the house, not to mention stored on our wall-to-wall bookshelves around and about.

The ones I am reading are usually by my bedside, where I can reach for them after the day's work is done or on those luxurious mornings when I can lounge in bed with a giant mug of fresh coffee and read my way into the day.

I just finished The Outlander, by Canadian author Gil Adamson, a debut novel by an extraordinary writer who also has a volume of stories and book of poetry out as well. The prose is gorgeous, rife with evocative images, yet always just right, fitting to the story. And what a story it is, an adventure. The book is about a young widow at the turn of the century who is on the run after murdering her husband. She is half-mad, wild, and poignant. We are entranced and worried about her as she is relentlessly pursued by her dead husband's two vengeful brothers and a pack of bloodhounds. I don't want to give anything away, but this novel has some of the most erotic, indelible, and powerful sex scenes I have ever read. And writers out there, you know, writing sex is a gift, a challenge. Adamson knows that we bring whomever we are into the bedroom, or in this case, the woods and forest. I am waiting and watching for Adamson's next.

I confess: I read junky mags to relax, a holdover from when my children were small and still watched The Lion King over and over or God help me, Barney,The Wiggles, or the late and beloved Mr. Rodgers. I could snuggle and cuddle with them and have my junky mags to flip through when the sight and sound of Barney sharing and caring was nearly emetic.

My husband Michael's escapist reading is thrillers, but they have to be well-written. This is how I happened to borrow the intriguingly titled Death of a Writer by Michael Collins from his stack.

Anyone who is amused or involved in the constant literary brawl that is going on out there, anyone who has been the victim or the object of writer's envy, will get a kick and a hoot out of this book. It is about author Robert Pendleton, who after his brilliant debut has not published anything "dazzling," and his smarmy nemesis fellow-novelist Allen Horowitz, whose latest autobiographical work has occupied the New York Times bestseller list for a year and has made a fortune. When their paths collide, death seems Pendelton's only option...but he botches his suicide attempt. While convalescing, one of his own early novels which he has hidden in the basement is discovered, and causes a storm of publicity. Pendleton may have his moment yet, unless he is accused of an unsolved murder. Fun stuff written in a muscular, cinematic style.

On my stack, you will also find Aussie Joan London's novel The Good Parents, Elizabeth Strout's linked story collection Olive Kitteridge, and Margot Livesey's latest novel The House on Fortunte Street. I love reading women writers, the best of them, and crave a woman's voice in fiction, which makes me feel I have a dear friend by my side whispering in my ear.

I am just into London's work and am enjoying the story and her limpid, lyrical prose, and will report back on the others in time, but I am well set for my end-of-winter reading.

Friends and fellow booklovers, please comment on what you are reading, I am always eager to hear about wonderful books.