It’s Hard Not to Hate You: A Review

Dear Val,

I’m going to be straight with you. I bought your book because it was on sale at Half-Priced books (my inner indie book girl says with much shame) and because I liked the title. I’ve been traveling non-stop lately, and a snarky memoir seemed the perfect thing for when I was too tired to work any more, so I chucked you into my roller bag.

What I discovered, as you so aptly describe in your last chapter, was a validation of living in 3D emotions. It wasn’t so much a memoir about hate (although I will be saying “its hard not to hate you” for months), but a story about a woman both coming to terms with her own mortality while finding ways to balance self-empowerment and overt b!tchdom.

In many ways, your search for depth made me feel more secure in my often “too muchness,” too emotional, too self-critical and analytical, too needful to discuss and analyze feelings. So thanks.

Let me just say I think you are a wildly under-rated novelist. While I love the show Sex & the City, your treatment of “Smart vs. Pretty” is a stand-out for me. Keep writing. I suspect I will be ordering a second copy of your book (from my local indie bookstore Left Bank to properly atone) and placing it in many hands).

Perhaps your books are like your discussion of friends. Kinsella and Bushnell come and then make it into the “to sell pile” (how I ended up in the Half-Priced joint in the first place). Yours stay. They are lifers. And for a memoirist, who likes to think she is funny and loves to read, this was a particular treat. You finding your emotional intelligence and depth was a validation of my own.

Thank you for this hidden gem. And for making this fat jewish girl giggle and laugh and tear up.



PS: I’m kind of in love with Howie.


Work: An Adventure

Let us go then you and I, out into the star strewn sky like a patient etherized on a table. Oh do not stop to ask what is it, let us go and make our visit! — TS Eliot

My garden is overrun with weeds – both those known and those pernicious flowers and plants that will hijack a bed without constant vigilance – my horse is fat and lazy in the August heat, and my vigilance knows one direction.


It is my oldest and most preferred addiction. The reason I began this blog some five years ago, to find a voice and a self within the six minute increments. But that was then, and now, I have found myself a new purpose in this practice.

I write poems and travel, city to city, client to client, depo to depo, and somewhere in between the shadow and the soul, I find new meaning.

I dare not abandon my roses, the eldest approaching 120 years old, but the nice young men who cut my lawn are happy to make a little extra money taming some of the beasts.

Mr. Bojangles doesn’t mind the time off and still, despite my constant dash for this airport or that hotel, this drive, that meeting, we still jump and sing and have our moments.

I watch my work become a vocation, and all of my Catholic/Jewish roots tingle in the knowledge that I can do some good here.

And still, I find new parts of me, between the lines.

The trick, I must believe there is a trick, always there is a trick, is seeing the adventure. I’ve been practically everywhere, gypsy childhood on the road, but always there is a new restaurant, a new road, a new friend.

A new sketchbook filled with old buildings and new skyscrapers.

And there are poems, songs of Middle America, all of which exist between the lines, between the notes, I will say of a particularly skilled pianist.

Life is short and hard, but it is also sweet, sings la merchant.

I work.

I work and I discover that when they finally let you do the things you were meant to do, there is no measuring in six minutes. No measuring in sad Prufrockian coffee spoons.

There is adventure.

And for me, often terror, for I take what I do so seriously. The duty. The burden. But even on this long, hard days, I will pause, fingers groping for some charcoal to draw this life in suburbia (already apologizing to my dry cleaner as I beg her to make some black smudge disappear from my black and white skirt) and think …
Well now.

Let us go then.

And see what wonders we might find.

Perhaps not precisely life OUTSIDE of law these days.

Instead, a new adventure.

Life between the lines.

Which any poet will tell you, is where the best ideas reside.

This One Life

it is my life.

Perhaps not my one life,
my karmic slate tallying,
next time I want to be a cat,
do I endure?

Or will it be pergatorio for me because
I choose
at this point a
clean and simple place to cook
read work live
pergatorio, Ingvar Lindholm’s
tenors and contraltos
clear voices open to
indicate waiting

No amount of time on my knees will buy me a
seat in Peter’s Heaven, the one I rejected long ago
finding my knees had better uses

My DNA, those twisty double cords, have
little patience with waiting, no
tolerance for life now as a penance for life then
show me your mitzvahs, this your
*one* life, one chance to explore your person hood.

if I spend Saturday lolling in the sun
slow turning pages, slow sipping tea,
if I spend Saturday clapping for horses
who run because its their joy, after
trotting my own because its my passion,
if I spend Saturday working in his old shirt
ratty hair and smeary eye makeup, working and writing,
chanting, until I can chat with you…


It is my life, my one life, and I will look for joy, and
seeing it, seeing it shine in front of me

I will turn in my karmic slate, my bag of mitzvahs, my collected penance, and
trade any other potential future life for this
one life.

Hey, Jack Kerouac

you were a serious eyed literature junkie in 1995, you had to work to avoid the Beats. Every coffee house in every town had its own Neal Cassady. You would think he was the next William Carlos Williams. Sadly he he was not. You had to go to Ginsburg for that, but first it would help to learn how to read. Good luck finding someone who could do that.

So you sat and read alone

You learned who liked Junk or Queer and who could recite Kaddish or Howl from memory. Who just carried around On the Road and who could recite the Mad Ones with the right amount of irony and grief. The ones who knew that Karouac was a poet and a damn good one to boot.

One of the brightest stars in my constellation is my identity as a member of Generation X. I will grieve the passing of these days like a war bride grieved the parties of the USO. Back when we were too lazy and irresponsible to accomplish anything, before our younger siblings and cousins swallowed up the generation below us. Before we understood the normalcy of the twelve hour day and inherited the duty to go forth and colonize the workplace.

We wore Mary Janes and drank actual espresso and danced awkwardly in a-line mini dresses. We were mad to live, even if it meant slouching and worshipping Pulp Fiction, Daria, and the prose of the beats.

Ever the contrarian, I didn’t fall headlong into Alan, baby for another couple of years. I spent 1995 with the ex pats, escaping in Paris. With their parent’s generation, buying flowers, listening to Beethoven, and coming to and fro murmuring about Michelangelo, curled up in coffee house after coffee house after coffee house. I read the Beats early and would return to them at 20. When I wondered who expected me to fulfill this travesty of a plan spelled out in Woolf, Forster, and Elliot. Or the ruin of a life in Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Might as well live Parker would drawl.

In 1995, I stretched back and out, rooting myself firmly in my love of a clean well lighted place.

It would take me years to realize I needed to Howl. Another decade to learn how to do it properly.

Bonfire Heart

It blazes so hard it takes my breath away,
The smallest things
the smell
a touch

A thoughtful comment about how
something I wrote didn’t work
Or maybe that it did
But still, it sings at the
thoughts and action
behind the words

all my words fail me this cold morning,
When I want to lean so heavily on
Elliot or Neruda or
Those letters of Keats that enthrall me
Rather than
face the consequences of
my brain shutting down
Still it blazes

It should be broken
everything else is broken, but mending like
I have preternatural strength
Some vaccine
made in a lab
for me to hold it together

A reminder of oh my darling,

you have been through so much worse

Surely a little love and kindness
self care
dearest friends,
Perhaps a decadent
book shop and a long, hard ride over jumps,
Some Virginia Woolf and Bach in D Major and
you’ll be back,

It blazes like a bonfire
Warming everything that hurts
Soothing everything that feels bruised
Feeding me when I
just cannot manage to do it

I love you, my bonfire heart.

Retired Rockstar

We met one cool spring morning, both eyeing each other up. My life trainwrecked, I had all but moved to the barn, considering handing the keys of the house I mostly own to my wife or the bank, everything I truly wanted, actually needed, fitting in a rented truck, this house I once loved, so fucking haunted.

I’d seen him around, noticed him, how could you not?  Tall and dark brown (we call it bay), that glint of bad boy, retired rockstar in his walk, retired eventer, dressage star, jumper, notorious for generally being an asshole.

It was love at first sight, because when I looked in his eyes, I saw all those things that the people who couldn’t ride him or deal with his moodiness couldn’t see.  I saw his vulnerability, his need for attention, his need for love.

And he looked into mine and saw my scars, my flaws, my cracked, almost broken self, his long forelock that I never allow anyone but me to pull, flipped, he widened his eyes and opened his mouth to my fingers on his muzzle, which he held between his teeth, knowing he could bite me, I let him.  It’s the closest thing we have to holding hands.

I bought him that day, for not much, my move to the barn 6 days a week for lessons or hacking and my haunted eyes seen and acknowledged without comment, something I appreciated greatly, my failure at marriage a topic I was already tired of discussing.  And he saved me.  Over and over and over.

Riding him was never easy, but it was never hard either. At some point I was able to give up the three and a half inch dressage whip, and just hold a crop, sailing over jumps as I improvised a course on the fly, singing Fred Astaire and Jack White loudly to calm his nerves and even his pace as I asked him to go faster, turn quicker, change leads, trot, walk.  I rewarded him with excessive treats, long luxurious grooming sessions with only those brushes he liked, hikes in the woods that fascinated him, smelling things like a dog.  He rewarded me with his eyes, with his teeth holding my fingers lightly, with our kissing game, with affection that halted the barn owner, the head trainer, and his former rider, the three who knew him for the secret good guy he is.  He was not the only one who needed constant and consistent affection and after spending 36 years looking, I found someone other than my Nana willing to give it.

I retired him, at 17, so young for a horse, on the advice of the vet and the gentle, kind, understanding guidance of my head trainer who let me look away so I wouldn’t cry.   Retiring Motown caused me infinite pain. I drove those many miles to the barn on cold nights, nights I’m not even riding, to walk him around the farm, braid his mane, wash his tail and vacuum and groom his coat.  Give him treats, kiss his nose, and let him hold his fingers lightly between his teeth.

Some people still think he’s an asshole, but for me he will always be pony, Prince Charming, MoMo, keeper of my heart, and the one who saved me, continues to save me from breaking.  Most now understand him for what he is, a weird but scary talented, brave horse who just needed an equally weird girl to love him more than anything in the world.

Which is why when we walk in the woods, and no one is listening, I sing one day my prince will come softly in his ear, as he rubs his muzzle against my chest.