• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I’ve Loved You For A Million Years

On the front page of the New York Times Book Review on Sunday was a review for Leah Cohen’s new novel, The Grief of Others. It was a rave. And for the first time in my life I felt pure joy, not a shade, not a hair, not a whiff of jealousy anywhere to be had. And she’s not even my client. She was something else. She was my first.

I was a young editor at Houghton Mifflin where I received a proposal about a school for the deaf that would eventually, and somewhat controversially due to its enigmatic nature, be titled: Train Go Sorry. Its author was this impossibly kind young woman who was able to bring Lexington School for the Deaf to vibrant life.

I didn’t give birth to Leah Cohen, but you’d think I had given how proud am I of her. She has worked quietly and diligently over the years producing a beautiful body of work, fiction and non-fiction. And in both realms she does what the best work accomplishes: she makes the non-fiction read like fiction and vice versa.

How do you feel when good things happen to people you went to school with?

28 Responses

  1. I loved TRAIN GO SORRY. It was the first book I read after I learned that my daughter was deaf. So thank you, Betsy Lerner, for bringing it into the world! And I’m so looking forward to reading Leah’s new novel.

  2. Mixed. I hate to be honest about this. It hurts. I’m glad to see them doing well. It’s nice to see their work and tell my wife, “Hey, I studied with this person.” But it hurts. I’m not there. They wouldn’t remember me anyway. I’m nobody. It’s rejection after rejection after rejection. I shouldn’t say all this. Write all this. It hurts. I know I said that. Pity party’s never pretty.

    Sometimes, Betsy, I just don’t know. I’ve staked my life on this creative writing gig. On being some sort of outsider who could gather the tales others couldn’t. But sometimes my heart is so heavy.

    Now there are things I just wrote here that I was going to delete, but I won’t. Sometimes I think I’ve blown it. I’ve had great opportunities and lucky breaks any one of which any writer would have given a lot for and almost certainly would have managed better than I have.

    Enough of this. This is shit. My shit and I’m wallowing in it. Oh, pity me, poor me, everybody feel sorry for me, I’m covered in shit.

    All I know how to do is clean myself off and keep at it. This is the life I chose to be chosen by.

    Now I’m completely embarrassed and if I had any sense I’d–

    well, I don’t know what I would do, I don’t have enough sense. So I’ll take a deep breath and get back to work. I don’t know what else to do. Probably wouldn’t do it if I did.

    Some of the people I’ve had the good fortune to know in this business have set very good examples of what it takes to spend the years crafting work worth reading.

    • Hey–we have a date at the Oscars for tuna sandwhiches so blow your nose and get to it!

      • Thank you. I hit a slippery patch there. Just needed to steer into it, stay on the road. Today is the day that yesterday was tomorrow’s ‘nother day.

    • Tetman,
      I doubt you’d be happy doing anything other than writing and your work is good. Keep on keeping on! Peace

    • Tetman – read your comment last night and thought of little else. I believe that sometimes we measure in miles what should be judged in heartbeats and must be aware of this distraction to stay true to what inspires us. Your thoughtful concerns speak for so many of us in this creative world, at those difficult junctions – I hope today brings a better perspective!

  3. “Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as the strawberries knows nothing about grapes.”

    Proud of friends published and friends in museums and friends still to ripen and that includes me.

  4. Depends on the person.

    But if they were anything like Ms. Cohen, I’d be doing the happy dance.

  5. My response would depend on which school chum: I have less benevolence for the snarky liar now married to a millionaire and living the oh-so-lovely-life in her many houses as I do for someone I’ve known since first grade who uncovered a corruption ring that sent a bunch of people to prison and brought him national recognition.

  6. I love “Train Go Sorry.” I’m so glad it’s not a forgotten book.

  7. I once translated a book for a guy from Italian, thinking his style stiff and inward, then he wrote a book which I still have not read, which won a big prize and has established him, late in life, as a writer, while I’m still hankering and on a very different tangent.

    So it was tricky, at first, but now it is lovely to see him blessed and at peace, rewarded.

    (I just read ‘The Sojourn’ and it was beautiful, we are heading up to the Asiago highland today)

  8. I love it when anyone does well especially if I ‘knew’ them way back when. There’s room enough for everyone I say and I’m rooting for us all.

    Thanks for the book recommendation.

  9. When I was a bit down on my luck some months after graduating, working late in a deli, an old teacher of mine came in. She carried around her an invisible sneer like a fox stole when she asked what I was doing other than shopwork. I said, I was trying to write. She said, oh, that boy in your class wrote a book and published in his second year at university. Implications did not need to be spelled out. I wrapped her bread, her little jars. She left. The shop was warm and bright and empty.

    It took quite a bit of work not to waste the energy on her. I didn’t mind the boy’s success, but that poison that the teacher had dripped was so damn hard to get off.

    • A small, small woman. And of course she knew exactly what she was doing. When she left, “the shop was warm and bright and empty.” How perfect.

  10. I like it when writers have good fortune in the world.

  11. Nearly everyone I knew in school has done better than me in terms of financial and critical sucess, yet many are envious of me, my travels and my unconventional (for the most part — I’m mellowing as I get older) lifestyle. Weird. I feel good when they do well and the talented ones have no idea how good they are. The big break is just around the next bend…

  12. I just read the review and it sounds like a riveting read. Job well done!

    I’m always happy to hear of an old chum succeed. It’s hard when it’s a past love, of course. That’s when delusion and fantasy set in. I’m kept up at night wondering what could have been.

  13. If they have succeeded in an area I am not involved in, good for them. If the success bumps up against what I do, not so much. Probably small of me but that jealousy thing does creep in. The ol’ Green-eyed monster taps my shoulder and winks at me. Never did like green.

  14. I’ve been out of touch with former classmates for forty-something years. (I typed that sentence and thought, “That can’t be right! That would put me graduating from high school when I was ten! But my first-born just turned 38. Oh, that’s right. I’m not 50 anymore. I’m almost 60. This should be an interesting adjustment.)

    I have a sort of pipe-dream about a coffee shop, soup-of-the-day, free-flower-with-dinner, fresh herbs, comfy chairs for reading kind of place that I figured I would start by opening a small fresh market. And, of course, I need to start a garden and learn how to make soup that doesn’t come from a can. A few months ago, a neighbor five houses down began to build something that looks suspiciously like a future fresh market. I was not happy for their success, but aggravated with my own foot-dragging, although it felt a lot like jealously.

    On a side note, while I don’t suspect that there will be any awards for either of us in this, it is because of your words that I have begun to relax with my journal. “There is no combination of words more eloquent than those exchanged between lovers or friends or along the pale blue lines of private diaries, where people take communion with themselves.”

    Although I keep two journals, they were each for recording specific events/items. The idea of there being value in my just relaxing and taking communion with myself …. very freeing. Thank you!

  15. I was lucky enough to work under Leah’s gaze while getting my MFA at Lesley U. She is as kind as she is talented. And that’s the truth. I’m thrilled for her.

  16. With me, it was acting school, and Kate Mulgrew was in my class for two years. I was mortified when years later, working as a chauffeur, I had to pick her up at the airport. But she was so gracious and kind. The first thing she said to me was, “Jim! (my name in those days) Everyone I know in LA drives a limo!” to put me at my ease. Wonderful gal and I was always happy for her.

  17. It’s funny, this life. I just heard an old schoolmate on NPR. She came on right after Supreme Court Justice Breyer, who stressed the importance of organizing your thoughts so you can debate from a non-emotional place. At 14, this friend was always so good at doing that, and always with a smile. It’s wonderful to see how well she’s doing. Of course, I couldn’t help but feel a little trepidation. I mean, there she was, live, on air. I had butterflies in my tummy. You’d think she was my daughter.

  18. Happy as long as I liked them as people and think they deserve their success.

  19. “Heart, You Bully You Punk” is one of my very favorite books. Thank you (indirectly at the very least)!

  20. I am never jealous of other writers’ successes. They had to put their butts in the seat and write and write and write, just like all of us do. When someone’s talent is rewarded, it gives me hope.

  21. I’ve had a lot of success all around me and not a heck of a lot for myself, so I’ve had to come up with a survival tactic. Here it is:

    Realize that their successes would exist whether or not you came into their lives. In other words: that girl from college whose book everyone loves? She’d be famous whether I knew her or not. If we weren’t in the same workshop, she’d just be this random famous person. But hey — I knew her when. Cool!

    With my ex, it’s harder, but I’m working on it.

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