Friday Lunch! Weekly Blog

Bridge to Nowhere

  I thought a lot about my daughter Reiley during a recent hike with my sons to the Bridge to Nowhere. Constructed in 1936, the 120-foot arch bridge over the San Gabriel River was part of the East Fork Road meant to connect the San Gabriel Valley to Wrightwood. It was washed out by a […]

Thoughts on The Wire, Writing, and Perspective

When I was nineteen, I began working on my first book. My goal was to have it published before I turned twenty-one; I would be one of the youngest published writers in history. After my undergrad English classes at the Metro campus of CU Denver ended for the day, I’d spend an hour or two in the […]

A Poet Laureate, Jell-O, and Me

“The shift from a manufacturing to a knowledge economy has lasted two decades. Now the next shift is coming: from knowledge to creativity. We no longer need to hire knowledge. It’s nearly all at our digital fingertips.” – Kaihan Krippendorf, Fast Company *     *     * I didn’t set out to wear a […]

Acts of Creation

On March first, the American astronaut Scott Kelly returned from a year aboard the International Space Station. In the pictures he took from space, sunset cast a rosy blush over the Earth’s broad face. The aurora borealis skittered, green over the planet’s arc, and the Milky Way was a great starry sheet, torn up the middle. […]

Unearthed Earth, Wind & Fire

Writing creative nonfiction presents a challenge: the task of bringing clarity to unearthed memory—snapshots of long forgotten folk, environs, longings, often triggered suddenly, unexpectedly rushing to the surface. These snapshots call the writer to fill in dark spaces, the faded shadows in imperfect memory. In February, Maurice White, the founder of the seventies jazz-soul-fusion band Earth, […]

On Writing Life’s Wounds: Elena Ferrante and Feminine Writing

“Life’s wounds are incurable and you write them and rewrite them in the hope of being able, sooner or later, to construct a narrative that will account for them once and for all,” explains Elena Ferrante, the Italian author of My Brilliant Friend and the other Neapolitan novels, in one of her rare interviews. After […]

Catechism, Truth, and Creative Writing

I learned that truth may not depend on facts in a classroom at the St. Irenaeus Parish School. As a high school junior, I was among the church’s youngest Catechumens, or unbaptized probationers preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation into the Catholic Church: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Although my siblings and I attended mass regularly […]

On Patience, Grief

  Last Wednesday, a whitish-grey mixture of clouds and smog covered the Salt Lake Valley, obfuscating the downtown skyscrapers and the mountains in the distance. Visibility was limited to a few stoplights. Welcome to Beijing. Inversion is the technical term for what was happening outside. In meteorology, an inversion is a deviation from the normal […]

The Mutability of Self

“We rest. — A dream has power to poison sleep; We rise. — One wandering thought pollutes the day; We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep; Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away: It is the same! For, be it joy or sorrow, The path of its departure still is free: Man’s yesterday […]

Lower East Side Library: A Love Affair

On November 18, 1966, I got my first library card. I had just turned six. We lived on New York’s Lower East Side and our branch was Seward Park. Built in 1909, the red and grey four-story brick building stood near the intersection of East Broadway, Essex Street, and Canal. Unless it was raining or […]

Mere Mortals

I had lots of crushes on boys growing up. I might even have loved some. But Señora served me my first real heartbreak. She was my Spanish teacher when I was a senior in high school. She was in her mid-forties, with short blonde hair and smooth, tan skin. She spoke softly, and her bearing […]

Honey West and the Truth

I’m a Boomer. Born in the mid-fifties, I’m a child of the sixties who came of age in the seventies. I share a cultural heritage with every member of my generation, a cultural heritage defined, in large part, by the television programing we watched. Before cable balkanized our choices, ABC, CBS, and NBC reigned supreme, […]

The Problem With Remembering

Recently I wrote an essay about the summer of my fourteenth year, which I spent discovering the Grateful Dead and testing boundaries, musical and otherwise. Somewhere in those pages, I tried to capture the freedom, madness, and jealousies of adolescence, but the story morphed into something else, an elegy to the unbridled narrative of my […]

Barstow: A Love Story

I spent the first day of the new year in Barstow, a small city in the high desert just over a hundred miles east of Los Angeles. I was there with my spouse and children to lay flowers on the graves of family members buried at Mountain View Memorial Park. From a distance, irregularly planted […]

Writing and Mindfulness

I pulled into my snow covered driveway after a long day of work. I locked my black Subaru, fidgeted with my keys ‘til I found the kiwi green colored one marking home, and unlocked the front door. I was greeted by my dog Amelie—shaking her whole black-lab-pit body in a tremor of excitement. I put […]

Navigating Intersections in Panama City

I have always been struck by the fluid lane-changes and cultural mash-ups that are part of day-to-day life in Panama, but never more so than on this year’s trip—one of at least twenty that I have taken since meeting my Panamanian husband in New York over thirty years ago. Over time, Panama City has become […]

A Message to Myself on January 1, When I’m So Hungover

Hungover Mary Birnbaum of the future, I’m writing to you with an urgent message. You’ve crossed into 2016, while here I sit, planted forever in last year. Once I send this blog to my editor, it will travel away from me like a lover on a train, waving a scarf from an open window as it […]

The Voices in Our Heads: Polyvocality, Power & Nnedi’s Lagoon

When we speak or write, our voice is not the only one being (re)produced. It is a mutant composite of your mom blasting Rocio Durcal at 7 a.m. to announce it’s cleaning day, all day; of your pops saying Boiya, you think you smart when you finally gathered the courage to challenge his authority; of your crew […]

Seeing Myself in Jane

There was no possibility of picking up Jane Eyre from my nightstand. Instead I rolled and writhed, wiping my tears with the sheets after the used, crumpled tissues disappeared under pillows from the restless tossing. Each page of the story found a new way to open me up raw, to twist the knife. Continuing was […]

On Fear, and the Location of My Ass

I am the oldest of three sisters. My youngest sister, Lizzy, calls me a “joy hoarder.” What she means is that if something (a book, a song, a piece of sky) gets my pulse up, I take pains to make sure no one knows. Think of Scrooge McDuck. He has a vault full of gold […]

Slowing Down #5 – Digging Deep

I’m on the six-o-five Palmetto train from Penn Station to Union Station, Washington, DC, all set up with coffee in the dining car, tip-tapping on my laptop. I’m on my way to DC to participate in a couple of panel discussions after back-to-back performances of a new play about Rwanda, where a million people lost their lives […]

A Case for Emotional Truth

This much I know to be true: Hurricane Andrew made landfall near Homestead, FL, in the early morning of August 24, 1992. Winds reached 165 miles per hour at their height, aside from the resulting tornados, and the rainfall averaged eight inches in Miami-Dade County. Twenty-six people died nationwide as a direct result of the […]

Writing: The Toolbox IX

“Desperation is better than inspiration” I cannot write this blog. I have too many deadlines. Yet I will. I always do. I deliver. That’s my professional obligation. There is no can’t in this profession, there’s only must. As long as I’m still alive at the end of it all, the deadline is exactly what I […]

What Do You Do?

I sit at a dinner table on the back patio of a French restaurant. It is a warm October night. The waiter has brought wine, a California Zinfandel, and subjected us to a short spiel—the soup of the day is a ginger carrot puree. It seems that everyone, six of us, loosely connected through friends […]

Things I Accomplish on My Day Off in Order to Avoid Writing an Essay on Marriage

I lay in my daughter’s bed, where I’ve slept, for a long time awake with my eyes closed, thinking of all the essays I would rather write. I have drafts I want to work on, about birds and sharks and theme parks. I would rather write about foot fungus than write earnestly about marriage. I […]

Slowing Down #4 – Getting Rid of Clutter

I try to write about rage, and old muck gets in the way. I’m obsessed with injuries past, dormant for a while, that are suddenly screaming for attention. I can’t get a damn thing done. I assume there’s a reason why they’re clamoring, so I may as well start digging. Our oven blew up about a […]

On Learning to Fail

In fourth grade, my best friend Kimberly walked me—or rather, dragged me, my hunched body straggling two steps behind her—to Chamber Singer auditions. I’d started singing at six years old, and I idolized the girls and boys who traveled to Nashville and Atlanta and performed outside the Publix grocery store on Old Cutler. Our elementary […]

Writing: The Toolbox VIII

We write in order to be read. We compose our thoughts, create our scenarios, spin our tales to reach and touch our audience and to be understood. And when we do, we hope our writing has what Hollywood calls “legs.” Something that endures over time, that will keep on going, keep on running. In order […]

Poetry For Prose

“Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.” – Sigmund Freud I find myself drawn to the writing of poets-turned-novelists, or poets-turned-memoirists. Michael Ondaatje, long before he wrote The English Patient or any of his other novels, was a poet, as one might glean from his prose. Who but a poet […]

Get Hot

I stopped going to the dentist around the time I started needing gynecological exams. It was on the waning end of adolescence that first I felt an OB crank me open with a speculum for a look-see. I have a general aversion to exposure; I was, and still am, wary of being peered into. Tender […]