The Soul of Twitter

To celebrate the first anniversary of my book’s release, I joined Twitter yesterday. I’m @Consonantbooks. And I just learnt that my first follower is someone whose writing advice I began following four years ago: Joe Stretch. Yes, I follow my tutor on Twitter.

Since brevity is the soul of Twitter, my first Tweet was 140 characters and my second 139. But I’m not trying to make my way down to zero. As any author knows, the more characters the better. Just ask the creator of Polonius and Co.

Shakespeare Tweet

After signing up, I signed out of my Twitter account and searched for “sharon edwards consonantbooks twitter,” to make sure it was up and running before I made any announcements on Facebook. But not one of the results generated by the search engine was my Twitter page. The top few were related to a blog you love called Collected Thoughts, and as I scrolled down the list, I discovered that Pioneer Boulevard is now in India!

I don’t know when or how this happened, and I don’t know if anyone will pay 703 rupees for my book, but there it is. Listed as the International Edition, no less. Wonders will never cease.

Pioneer Boulevard in India

Brevity may be the soul of Twitter, but it isn’t the soul of WordPress (aka WordyPress). While I may someday master the art of communicating in 140 characters, I’ll never master the art of communicating in only 140 characters. You, dear reader, will always find more than the soul of Twitter. Even though WordPress has stopped sending me the friendly reminder at 3:58 AM on Thursdays (which is rather unfriendly of them), I’ll blog on and on and on.

Brevity reminds me of brief, which in turn evokes two memories. Since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness only flourishes outwardly, I will be brief.

Twitter

The first memory dates back to school, when my seventh grade English teacher told us that the only time that the word brief is pluralized is when it refers to men’s underwear. St. Mary’s was an all-girls school in my day. Most of us had never referred to men’s underwear, let alone heard a teacher refer to it, so of course we tittered. Schoolgirls today would have twittered.

When I was older I came across another term for men’s underwear: boxers, a word that to this day reminds me of Rocky Marciano, my father’s favorite boxer. And I just learnt that there’s a version of men’s underwear called boxerbriefs. Which shows that one is never too old to learn.

Marciano

My second brief memory dates back to when I worked as a proofreader at Warner Bros. One morning I received an email concerning the creative brief for a documentary called You Must Remember This. Narrated by Lauren Bacall, the documentary was going to be included in the Casablanca Ultimate Collector’s Edition, and the email had been titled “You Must Remember This Creative Brief.”

Since it was Bacall on Bogart, and since it was too early in the day to say no, I said okay. And I kept my word. As you can see, all these years later I still remember it.

Casablanca UCE

My Art in San Francisco, part 2

This is the concluding part of “My Art in San Francisco,” but it’s not the end of the story. My art will go on. (I’m only punning. I’m not trying to evoke the image of Celine Dion singing the Titanic theme in a French accent.)

Like the unnamed protagonist of “Some Sunny Day,” the story I read at Milpitas Library on June 17, my former classmates and I lost track of time while catching up when we met for a girls’ night out last Friday. In fact, we didn’t even go out of Geeta’s house until it was (well past) time to drop Neeraja back. Next morning, grateful that I didn’t have an early flight to New York or Vegas like my friends, I drove to Oakland, where I was spending the weekend. En route I visited the main branch of San Francisco Public Library, which has two copies of my book.

I call myself a writer, but words cannot describe my disappointment to find both copies sitting on the shelf. I thank SFPL for ordering my book, of course, but the copies don’t belong on the shelf. They belong in the hands of readers! I removed duplicate copies of Pioneer Boulevard and every book near it (to make it fair), and took a photo.

Pioneer Boulevard SFPL

To get my books from where they were to where they belong, I considered making an announcement over the PA offering an autographed business card to anyone who’d be willing to borrow my book, but I quickly decided against it. With my luck, everyone would step forward, only to tell me to be quiet.

I returned the duplicate copies to the shelf and began strolling through the E–F aisle in search of a better idea. I tried to make it appear as though I was searching for a book, not a book promo idea. The aisle was deserted so it’s not like anyone was watching me, but I sometimes get this feeling when I’m in a deserted aisle (which would never happen on a deserted isle) that I’m being watched by a hidden camera. I have no kleptomanic tendencies, and the feeling only comes upon me in a library or bookstore, so I must have a subliminal desire to acquire books. Actually, anyone who has helped me move will tell you it’s not subliminal. And now that I’ve given my psychoanalytical reader something to think about (which I try to do in every post), let me finish my story (which, believe it or not, I also try to do in every post).

Before I could reach the G–H aisle, this inspired thought reached me: Why not ask someone to read my book? It would be more personal (and less humiliating) than a PA announcement. I’d attempt to tempt them with a smile and if that didn’t work, I’d use the business card trick.

Sharon Edwards business card

I had only three or four minutes to do the deed because the parking meter was dangerously close to running out, and much as I wanted a reader, I didn’t want a ticket. The parking was steep enough on its own. But everyone in the neighborhood of the fiction aisles was hunched over a newspaper or staring at a computer or snoozing in a comfy chair. No potential reader there. I was about to give up when I saw him standing there. He had headphones on and was browsing through a thick book. The headphones were a bad sign, but the thick book was a very good sign. It meant he was a reader. And it seemed that Dame Luck was smiling at me, because he looked like the kind of guy who’d be tempted by a smile.

Maybe it was the smile. Maybe I convinced him that his life was incomplete without my book. Maybe he felt sorry for me. Either way, when I asked if he’d be willing to check out my book (no pun intended), he said yes, so I led him to the deserted E–F aisleHe was kind enough to pose for a photo while taking a copy off the shelf and also give me permission to post it. And he graciously accepted the autographed business card.

SFPL Patron

His name is Matt. Thanks to him, the shelf had only one copy of my book when I deserted the E–F aisle. And hopefully that’s in another reader’s hands by now.

As I was leaving the library, it occurred to me that my GPS might to not know how to get me out of the downtown maze (it gets lost even in DTLA), so I asked someone for directions. He walked me to my car as he explained the lefts and rights (three times), and since I didn’t have a parking ticket, I asked him to take a photo on my phone. He got down on his knees (because he was as tall as an SF Giant, not because he wanted to give me a ring), and said “Smile big.”

I smiled big. My art was in a San Francisco reader’s hands, and I was on the verge of leaving my heart behind.

Sharon Edwards outside SFPL

My Art in San Francisco, part 1

During my first visit to the US a well-traveled American told me that the two prettiest cities in this country are Washington and San Francisco. I saw the capital that summer and I saw the City by the Bay last week, and the capital doesn’t even come close. I’m sure the capital won’t mind my saying this. It’s where freedom of speech is upheld, after all.

I’d like to say I left my heart in San Francisco, but in one of my favorite posts to date, “Morley, Morley, and More” (February 25), I had said that as a writer I must remain above clichés so let me not stoop now. And anyway, this post is not about my heart. There being no he, I must stick to my art.

Pioneer Boulevard Golden Gate

After months of trying to make the Bay Area trip happen, it worked out suddenly, as these things sometimes happen. On the morning of June 2 I received a message from my friend Neeraja (to whom the post of April 16 is addressed), giving me her Bay Area itinerary. She lives in New Delhi and she’d told me about the trip some months ago, but we didn’t know if our dates would match. Happily they did, so as soon as the clock struck ten (that auspicious hour when libraries open), I began making calls in an attempt to land a reading between June 17 and 21. Being a true friend, Neeraja has often expressed the desire to attend a library reading, and I felt it would make a good gift.

Since becoming an author I have discovered that landing a library reading is, cliché or no cliché, a Herculean feat. It was only love for a childhood friend that compelled me to dial another number whenever a librarian hung up saying “Sorry, we don’t have anything available. Good luck.”

As Dame Luck (that lame duck) would have it, Milpitas was the only library that had something available that week. Naturally I took it. A bird in hand is better than no bird. The same holds true of a nerd, but given the number of Indian techies in the Bay Area, it was disappointing that not one of them showed up at the reading on the 17th. Perhaps this has to do with how the event had been publicized. Or perhaps Indian nerds in the Bay Area don’t want to read about the Indian community of So Cal.

A nerd in hand

Absent nerds notwithstanding, the Milpitas Library reading was special for these reasons:
(i) It was the first reading at which all members of the audience were, like my protagonists, Indian women.
(ii) It was the first time an Indian publisher was present: Neeta Gupta of Yatra Books, New Delhi, who has given me some invaluable help with publishing matters this past year. I had come up with an inscription for her copy in LA, but blanked out while signing it. In the end, I had to ask Neeta for help – and of course she gave it.
(iii) It was the first time I had two former classmates from St. Mary’s, Pune, in the audience. In honor of Neeraja and Geeta, I read an excerpt from “Some Sunny Day,” in which two former classmates from Poona meet again after many years.

Milpitas Library

Some Sunny Day p1

Some Sunny Day p2

A Good Murder

A light rain was falling when I stepped off the number 25 at Newcastle-under-Lyme, but it was surprisingly warm for a mid-February afternoon. As I crossed the street that separates the bus stand from the town center, I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head and decided to leave my umbrella in my satchel. It wasn’t far to the library, and a little rain never did any harm. It might even do me some good, I thought, as I remembered last night’s skipped shower.

Apart from the desire to get away from the Keele campus, I also wanted to find out if the Newcastle library had a better copy of Of Human Bondage than the one I’d found on the university’s bookshelves. A lifetime of reading and half a decade as a professional copyeditor and proofreader have damaged my eyes, and I can no longer read books typeset in what is known in publishing as tight leading. The line spacing of Keele library’s only copy of Of Human Bondage was too close for comfort, so I didn’t borrow it.

Of Human Bondage

For some reason this book had been on my mind for the past two weeks, and I wanted to give it a second chance. The last time, several years ago, something had interrupted me before I could finish the first chapter, and my interest in the story vanished. I never picked it up again. And now here I was, making my way through the cobbled lanes of a quaint English market town more than five thousand miles from LA, with Somerset Maugham’s famous title reverberating in my head.

The guy at the downstairs counter, who was yawning when I stepped through the library’s automatic door, blinked when I asked him where I would find the book. After I had repeated myself (in response to his blank stare), he pointed to the ceiling and said, “Upstairs.”

It isn’t right, I thought, as I went to the second floor. This is a famous book, written by one of the best known English writers of the twentieth century, and one would think it would be among the classics downstairs. Then it struck me that I hadn’t seen any classics on the shelves downstairs.

The upstairs counter was manned by two women who were carrying on a conversation with a balding man in a faded blue jacket. The older woman was slim and stylishly dressed, every bronze-tinted hair in place, jewelry coordinated perfectly with her fuchsia blouse. The younger woman was tall and thickset, her greying hair hanging limply about her broad shoulders. She had a large, placid face, and she was wearing a light grey blouse that gave her complexion a washed-out look. Unlike her colleague, she didn’t have on a spot of makeup.

“What was the title again, duck?” asked the fuchsia woman.

I repeated myself (again).

“A classic,” remarked the man in the blue jacket, looking into the distance with a dreamy expression. “Also a film with Leslie Howard and Bette Davis.”

Of Human Bondage Film

“Oh dear, let me see, where would we find it?” The fuchsia woman became red with fluster, wringing her hands and fiddling with her pink necklace. She peeped under the counter and lifted a stack of papers, as if the book might be hiding there.

In the meantime, the other assistant turned calmly to the computer and typed something. She then looked up and announced, “We have one copy in Staffordshire.”

One copy in all of Staffordshire?

“Crying shame, isn’t it?” She shook her head, as if to acknowledge that I had a reason to be shocked. “But the library has limited shelf-space, and we can only keep books that are in demand. People don’t seem to be reading literature anymore.”

“It’s the same story everywhere,” I replied, and I wasn’t trying to pun.

“I’ll take a look inside,” said the fuchsia woman, scurrying away in her purple heels. I turned back to the woman in grey, whose pale face had suddenly become magnetic. Our conversation moved to current reading trends, which favor action-based potboilers filled with sex and violence. The man in the blue jacket wandered off to a free computer terminal.

“I read the book many years ago,” said the woman in grey. “I enjoyed it.”

“I haven’t read it,” I confessed, “but I want to give it a shot. I’m picky about what I read.”

“Me too,” she said. “I definitely prefer the classics. But mind you, every now and then I will read something light. Nothing like a spy novel or a good murder.” She clicked her tongue with relish, as though she was thinking of a glazed Danish pastry.

The fuchsia woman returned to the counter. “I’m sorry, duck, but our only copy is at the Stafford branch, and it’s checked out. It’s due in two weeks. You can put a hold on it for fifty p.”

I decided to wait until I saw what the copy was like before parting with my fifty pence. Perhaps I would even find a readable copy at one of the Newcastle thrift stores between now and then. I thanked the women and made my way downstairs.

The rain was falling harder now, so I pulled out my umbrella when I stepped outside the library. As I began walking in the direction of the Oxfam store, still smiling at the library assistant’s turn of phrase, a line from my favorite work of literature came to mind: “Murder most foul, as in the best it is.”

Could it be that the Ghost of Hamlet’s father was telling me that there’s no such thing as a good murder?

Ghost of Hamlet

Hot Rockin’ Bikini Shape

I finally made the free personal training session at my gym on May 29. The trainer had first called with this offer on April 29, which I took as an anniversary gift. No, we’re not married and it was not our wedding anniversary. It would have been my parents’ had my father been with us, but even when he was I didn’t get gifts for my parents’ anniversary. And I stopped wanting anything on April 29 after my niece Alita Sharon was born on that day.

While I am on the date (which is not to say I am on date), to date the only year I have not been in LA on April 29 since 2005 was when I was at Keele, six stories into Pioneer Boulevard, in 2011. It was the hottest, most bikini-friendly April in England in over 350 years, and perhaps the most royal-wedding crazy in its entire history. The revenue generated from merchandise and memorabilia commemorating Kate Middleton’s change of status from commoner to royal is said to have exceeded £0.5 billion, but many small businesses incurred huge losses that week because employees had been calling in sick.

Royal Wedding Sick Bag

In “Pledging Allegiance” (April 29) I tell the story of how I changed status from resident alien to citizen on that day in 2005. I do something special to celebrate every year but I never expect an anniversary gift, not even from Uncle Sam. (On the contrary, Uncle Sam always expects a gift from me, and two weeks before April 29.) So I was delighted that the gym would offer me a freebie on the ninth anniversary of my becoming a US citizen.

The gym could care less whether I am a US citizen or not. The gym only cares about whether I use the facility (for which I must pay up a month in advance). The gym does care about my health (because I am of more use alive), but it really only cares that I keep coming back (because I mustn’t wake up one day and realize I am paying for nothing and cancel my membership). The gym may not be able to speak, but it isn’t dumb. Still, the personal training session was free and it was offered to me on April 29, so I took it as an anniversary gift.

Hot rock

The trainer wanted to see me that same day. It’s been a while since someone has been that desperate to see me so I said yes right away, but “Pledging Allegiance” (which had to be published that day) fated otherwise. When I called to reschedule, he wanted to see me the next day, but this time I had to say no right away because I had an author talk on April 30. I consulted my planner and asked him for an appointment on Monday, May 5, the day I have thought of as Cinco de Mayo since the year after I moved to LA.

Early that year (Y2K for short) I met a woman named Sheri, who told me her official name was Sharon and that she was born on Cinco de Mayo. When I asked what’s that, she said her birthday commemorates Mexico’s independence from Spain. When Cinco de Mayo rolled around, I found out that it actually marks the Battle of Puebla, when Mexico defeated the French.

Cinco de Mayo Battle

The trainer said he’d see me on Cinco de Mayo, but for a reason I now forget I couldn’t make it that day. I called to reschedule, and even though the receptionist forgot to pass on my message, the trainer called back to offer me an appointment the next day. I didn’t like the idea of a workout on a Tuesday, so I asked if Monday the 12th would work out, and he said yes.

Reader, if you have read the first sentence of this post you will know that I met the trainer for the first time on May 29 and not May 12. That’s a whole month after I first heard his voice. Based on his first name (which is all he gave me over the phone), I thought he might be from Egypt. I imagined asking him that, and him telling me that he loves Bollywood, but when we met on May 29 we spoke about only one of those things.

No_Bollywood

I wish I could say I forget why didn’t I see him on the 12th, but that would be a lie. I could say I’d prefer not to tell, but why else would you want to read about my workout? I had to cancel my appointment on May 12 because on May 8 I did one of the dumbest things I have ever done.

I was on the treadmill, running at a good clip, when my ponytail came undone and my scrunchie fell on the track. I didn’t want to stop so I merely slowed down. Maybe to 2.5 mph, maybe a little less. Either way, it wasn’t slow enough to pick up my scrunchie and not fall. My workout capris couldn’t save my knees, but I wasn’t thinking of my knees as I slid off the track. I was thinking of my poor bruised ego.

The Treadmill

When I finally showed up to receive my anniversary gift a month after my anniversary, I discovered that the trainer isn’t Egyptian, he’s Asian. The Arabic name is because his parents are Muslim. Since he didn’t ask why my name isn’t Sapna or Kalpana, I said nothing about my own name. I took the seat he offered, expecting him to get right into facts and figures (and facts about figures), but he wanted to know about the exciting things that are happening in my life. One of the first things I mentioned was this blog (which should give you an idea of how exciting my life is).

“So you sit at your computer for long periods,” he remarked.

I couldn’t deny it.

“And probably with a bad posture.”

He glanced at my posture and I straightened up.

“But you want to be healthy and fit so you can keep bringing joy to your readers.”

He smiled and I smiled back, but I was crying on the inside (wondering whether joy was the right word). After that he took my weight and handed me an instrument to measure body fat, which he took back without a change of expression.

“Your body fat needs to be lowered by 9.6%,” he said eventually.

“Only 9.6? That’s still single digits!”

If looks could kill body fat, the look he gave me would have reduced my body fat to 0 in an instant. He opened a folder and turned to a page that had figures with various amounts of body fat. He first tapped the figure that represented me and then the one with 10% less body fat.

“It’s going to take effort to get from this to this,” he said. “But don’t worry. We can get you in hot rockin’ bikini shape in six months.”

Summer will be over in less than six months, I thought, but I said nothing as I followed him to the training area. And when he had shown me what it would take to get me in hot rockin’ bikini shape, I was in no shape to get off the floor. My body was so sore, I didn’t return to the gym for four days. But at least I know what I’ll be wearing to the beach this summer. And what I won’t be wearing.

Bathing suit 1864

Surreal Estate

The incident I am about to blog about took place just before an incident I have already blogged about. But please don’t stop reading just yet. Even with your sleuthing skills you won’t be able to discover which previous post is related to one titled “Surreal Estate” because the two incidents are not related. Well, perhaps sequentially (in that that incident followed this) and consequentially (my blogging about that made me not blog about this that day). Maybe there’s a thematic connection too, but I haven’t made it yet because I haven’t yet had my chai.

Between you and me, reader, even though I am not violent by nature and I really like our feathered friends, I am trying to kill two birds with one stone. I haven’t yet had my chai because I am trying to: (i) cut down my intake; and (ii) finish this post in one sitting. Chai can be interrupted in a heartbeat, as I said in my last post, but duty calls.

Duty Calls
Moments before the incident I have already blogged about I was at the library, ready to check out my book. (Well, it was not technically my book, just the one I’d decided to spend a couple days with.) Even though there wasn’t a line I still had to wait because the three men manning the checkout desk were engaged in a debate. I shuffled my feet for eleven or twelve seconds, and when you’re waiting every second feels like a hour. (In the Balcony Scene Juliet said it would be twenty years till she saw Romeo again next morning, but that may be star-cross’d lovers’ hyperbole.) After what felt like thirteen hours I walked up to the counter with a cold smile (which, I admit, was probably not a smile).

“Which of you . . .?” I asked, hoping my unfinished question would serve as a call to duty.

Unfinished questions generally don’t serve as a call to duty for people engaged in debates when they should be working. You must make the effort of finishing your sentence before they will consider getting back to work. But happily (for me), my unfinished question did the job. The two men on the outside bowed out, leaving the man in the middle to answer duty’s call.

Duty Calls

The Real State of Real Estate
I wasn’t interested in what the debate had been about so didn’t give it another thought. I passed the book and my keys across the desk, and the librarian scanned my library card and returned my keys. I was subconsciously expecting the question I am always asked at this point of the book borrowing experience: “Would you like a due date slip?” Instead he said, “We were talking about how many feet there are in an acre.”

“Depends on how many people are in it,” I replied at once. I was repeating a joke I’d read years ago. The original version was about feet in a yard, but I figured it would work for an acre.

The librarian responded with a blank stare. Perhaps he hadn’t got it, so I said “Ha ha” to cue him to the fact that it was meant to be a joke. He didn’t laugh even then. Now that I attribute to the perversity of human nature, which is infinitely worse than not getting a joke. Even more perversely, he added in a serious tone, “Forty-three thousand five hundred sixty. At least, that’s what I told them.”

I had to address the perversity of human nature. In a mildly condescending tone – as an author I can’t afford to be too condescending to librarians – I asked, “Did you check that on the internet while you guys were talking?”

He looked down with a blush of humility (but it may have been a flush of pride). “No, it was actually something I’d studied.”

Why would someone need to study how many feet there are in an acre, I wondered, and I was struck by my own stupidity (a phenomenon that occurs once in a blue moon) when he said it was one of the first things he’d learnt while training to get his real estate license. He’d got licensed in 2005 but had had to take up this job after the housing market crashed.

Housing Market Crash

Funny by Half
I was touched that he had shared his story with me and wanted to hear more. “So how do you like the change?” I asked. “Or do you?”

“I used to work here before I got licensed,” he replied. “I like being back. And I still sell houses on the side, so it’s not like I’ve left real estate.”

We chatted for a few minutes about the housing market. He said something that sounded like it might be inside information but it was Greek to me and I cannot recall it (not having studied Greek). When he handed me my book – which, as I said, was not technically my book – I noticed that he’d included a due date slip, and it was the kind I like best: the one that lists all the items you’ve borrowed, not only what you just checked out. My conscience doesn’t always permit me to ask for that because I like trees (in part because they’re real estate for our feathered friends), but this time my conscience was clear. I hadn’t asked.

As I was leaving the library, I realized that my joke didn’t work half as well as the original because unlike yardacre does not have two meanings. There can be feet (units of length) in a yard (unit of length) as well as feet (parts of the body) in a yard (part of a building), but in “feet in an acre” the wordplay is only on feet. And that’s half a joke. I hate doing things by halves, so I’ll put my joke out to pasture until someone asks me how many feet there are in a yard.

Feet

Two Postscripts
1. The incident took place moments before the one I’ve related in my first blog proper, “The Fire Thieves” (January 23). Notwithstanding what Romeo says about the moon in the Balcony Scene, that evening the moon really was surreal estate.
2. I wrote this post without chai, but not in one sitting. I was two-thirds (or maybe three-fourths) of the way through when I got a call from an area code that rarely calls me. I didn’t recognize the number, but in a split second I made the call to take the call. I’m glad I did, but this post is long enough and I really need my chai now, so maybe I’ll tell you about it another time. Ay me, dear reader! Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Balcony Scene