Category: Holiday

Memories of Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day, readers! This is one of those holidays that can mean vastly different things depending on who is celebrating it. For those involved with the military or those who have lost loved ones, it’s no doubt a somber day, one of observance and of ritual, of sadness but perhaps also of pride. For all those Americans who don’t have a direct connection to the military, without any disrespect, I think the day has a more festive feeling. It’s a day that usually marks the start of summer, a day of celebration, of cookouts, parades, of facepainting and balloons tied to children’s wrists, of sparklers in the summer twilight. For either group, though, I think the day is still very much tied up with memory.

For the military families out there, the day is of course about remembering what has been lost, the prices paid, the people who aren’t there today. But for the other group, the day is about memory as well; it’s a day in which we remember when we were kids, and the summer traditions we had that the kids of today are upholding; it’s a day of doing what Americans have been doing for generations. Any major holiday has that element of memory to it, but whereas a religious holiday is only for some, Memorial Day is pretty much open to anyone who wants to tap into American traditions and share in them.

Memory, to me, is always a fundamental aspect of the stories I write, and both the unreliability and constancy of memory features prominently as a theme in those stories. I often write stories from the perspective of people looking back at important times in their lives, or marveling at how naive, how fresh, how unsullied they once were before other major life events came crowding in. I think memory is one of those things that simply can’t be avoided in fiction. To assume that memory is fixed and perfect, for example, ends up seeming naive, and denying the fluctuating nature of the worlds we store in our heads. To deny its powerful influence on us at all, on the other hand, is equally naive.

Today is an occasion to mark time, and to think about memorial days past. I remember having hot dogs on the grill with my family, and running barefoot in the cool grass of the shady backyard; I remember the elation that the school year was almost at its end; I remember the little shorts and t-shirts that I wore every day of the summer until they fell apart; I remember summer as a kid. I remember the radio playing through the open door of the kitchen and running to get the cushions off the chairs in the backyard when rain inevitably came. I remember the sound of that rain pinging on the metal air conditioner bolted into the window frame as I lay in bed at night.

What do you remember as part of your summer? What about childhood, or memory, or the person you were, does this day evoke?

Ode to Sydney

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Haven’t heard from your New York editor in a while? Yes, I apologize. I have been cheating on New York with another fabulous city: Sydney, Australia.

Following in our Boston editors footsteps, I was able to take a trip Down Under and loved my first visit to Australia. I visited Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra (for only a few hours). Since Blair already wrote about Melbourne and I barely got to know Canberra, let me tell you about Sydney.

While I wouldn’t equate Sydney with New York as much as Blair equated Melbourne with Boston, I definitely shared her sense of familiarity with Australian culture. England feels distinctly European, with its narrow, cramped streets and buildings hundreds of years old, it feels steeped in history and secrets. Australia, however, like the United States, is a relatively new country and is much more organized and cleanly built. The streets are wide and Sydney especially has a skyline with many modern skyscrapers. Like New York with its Empire State Building, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House (pictured above in the rain) give it a skyline that is distinct and recognizable anywhere.

I also had the opportunity to travel (again in the rain) to the Blue Mountains, about an hour and a half drive from the center of Sydney. There a got to experience a “bush walk,” and I was shocked to find myself in what looked like a rainforest. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only ignorant American out there who thinks of Australia as a land of dry, red dust with kangaroos hopping around. In the Blue Mountains, however, I was transported to a world filled with mist and eucalyptus trees shedding layers of bark onto the damp ground and spider webs on nearly every branch. Through the mist, we were barely able to glimpse the Wentworth Falls. Shockingly white against the green canopy, a sulfur-crested cockatoo gave a raucous call. It was incredibly captivating.

Back in Sydney, we had some great food. Like Melbourne, Sydney has some amazing Asian food. We sampled Malaysian cuisine, Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho. All of these are available in New York, but the food in Sydney had just a bit more of something we couldn’t quite put our fingers on. Authenticity, perhaps. We also took a long bus ride out to Watsons Bay and splurged on a fancy dinner at the famous Doyles seafood restaurant. Set on the water, looking back across the bay, diners can gaze at the distant roofs of the Sydney skyline, while sipping fine wine from the Barossa Valley and eating prawns and John Dory caught just a few miles away.

I cannot close without mentioning the beaches near Sydney as well. From New York, getting to the beach seems like a journey to the end of the Earth. The beaches in the city are littered with glass and needles, while the shores of Long Island and New Jersey take forever to reach with all the traffic. Sydney was different. I had the chance to visit 3 local beaches, each with its own character and all spectacular. I drove (yes, on the opposite side of the road) to Whale Beach, about an hour north of Sydney’s CBD, and found a quite spot where I could have a whole section of the beach to myself, watch the surfers get pounded by the waves and walk along the shore to the headland, where I picked up some great fossilized plants. Manly Beach was technically closed when we visited due to a strong riptide, but you never would have known with the number of surfers in the water, kids running around the beach and couples holding hands in the surf. I swam at Manly and was terrified by the giant waves. The restaurants there were too expensive and the service left something to be desired, but it was a fun beach day nonetheless. Finally, Bondi Beach is an iconic Sydney beach and we spent the day there doing what Australians do best – chilling at a beach bar with old and new friends for hours, commenting on outrageous sunburns (and getting some of our own).

Next time I visit Australia, I plan to leave the cities behind and hit the lesser known wonders in the far reaches of Queensland and Western Australia, but I’m glad that my first experience was with the cities. The comfort and ease of these places made the trip wonderful and has left me craving more ever since I have returned. I’ll definitely be back.

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P.S. There are still wallabies (shown above) and kangaroos in Australia too!

Top 5 Last Minute Gifts for Writers

It’s that time of year when many of us are frantically looking for the perfect gift for our friends and loved ones. Sometimes writers can be a difficult group to shop for, so hopefully this list will help you out.

#5. Notebooks and nice pens are always thoughtful gifts for writers who like to “get out in the field” so to speak. Those of us who enjoy people-watching in the park and subway note-taking are always happy with a fresh Moleskine or a spiral-bound journal decorated with a personal place or artist. While it doesn’t always seem like the most creative gift, a writer will add the creativity to the blank pages!

#4. Although notebooks are still useful, most of us writers spend at least some time typing and composing on a computer. This list from Daily Writing Tips suggests both free and subscription software to help writers compose, design and edit their work. They also suggest programs for minimizing distractions, a key in today’s super-connected world.

#3. Every writer I know is also an avid reader. Whether he/she is a poet, a novelist or a reporter, the savvy writer knows how to enjoy a good book and discern a not-so-good one. Check out the New York Times list of and pick one (or two or three) you think they will enjoy. You can also take a look at our ongoing posts on favorite reads from 2013.

#2. The latest edition of Writer’s Market is always a welcome gift for writers who are serious about getting their work out. While last year’s edition is probably still valid for the most part, having the latest edition saves all the footwork of checking to be sure the newer magazines are still afloat this year. Plus the new edition will include new literary magazines that have cropped up in the last year or two! While Two Cities Review hasn’t made it in yet, we hope to be there soon.

#1. Of course, for both the writers of this site and the writers who will benefit from the success of Two Cities Review, the number one gift you can get for your favorite writer this year is a donation to the Two Cities Review kickstarter campaign! Give the world the gift of a new literary magazine and yourself the satisfaction of knowing we couldn’t have done it without you! You can pledge here: http://kck.st/1fcvKZH. We thank you in advance for your support!

Thankful for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I had a peaceful, intimate dinner with close family and friends, and got to come home bearing tupperware filled with leftovers. I’ve got enough to live off probably for the next week, and they’re good, gourmet leftovers too. I grew up with Francophiles for parents, so instead of sweet potatoes and marshmallows, or mashed potatoes, we have gratin dauphinois and red pepper gratin, with sauteed mushrooms. It’s quite a feast.

Every family can be proud of the dinner traditions that they manage to put on the table, and every family has their own special flair. Our family might have a French-style Thanksgiving, but other families are doing just fine with their own choices as well. There’s something truly charming about this odd, idiosyncratic holiday; on one level, we can be a little sickened by the commercialization of it (Black Friday started even earlier this year), but on another level, we can enjoy the simple ideal at its heart. A meal with friends and family, and being humbled by all the things we can be grateful for, is plenty to celebrate. It might even have more religious meaning these days than other holidays; sitting down and breaking bread with friends is one of the world’s earliest demonstrations of religious feeling.

Now the craziness of the Christmas shopping season is upon us. I tried driving by a Target near my house and couldn’t find a single parking space. Not one, in a vast sea of parking. It’s a little horrifying, but Black Friday does pass us safely by, and then we can get back to living our lives. Soon the first snows will start to dot the sidewalks of our cities, and it’ll be beautiful, at least until it lands.

What Two Cities is Thankful For

Two Cities has a lot to be thankful for this year and as Turkey Day approaches, we have to stop and count our blessings. Here are just a few of the things our fledgling magazine has to be thankful for:

1. We have received many wonderful submissions for our first issue – more than we expected or hoped for in this short time. So we are thankful for all you hungry writers out there trying to get published! We look forward to reading more of your work in the future!

2. We have a functioning and vibrant site that people are using! Now that we have regular content, we are excited to see that you are reading and exploring. We welcome your comments and suggestions as we continue to grow the website.

3. We are only 4 months away from the launch of our inaugural issue! We are so thankful that the magazine is coming together and we look forward to sharing it with all of you in March!

So, besides Two Cities Review, what are you thankful for this year?