Monthly Archives: December 2011

Hidden Treasures in Your Very Own Home

It’s five days past Christmas, two days past Hanukkah, and my seven-year-old son is officially done playing with all of his new toys.  Sigh.

Of course it’s my fault for buying the kid so much stuff in the first place.  I’m the sucker who indulged every request in his letter to Santa, except for the hamster—the one who spent Christmas day watching her only child assemble seven brand new Lego sets, one for every year of his life.

And just as I’m silently cursing myself for falling into the New Crap Trap once again, therein reinforcing the very consumerism I despise, I overhear him say this to his friend:  “Want to walk around the house and try to find stuff in weird places?”

Excited by this plan, my son’s playmate said yes, and for the next ½ hour (which is a long time for two seven-year-old boys to do anything) they scour the house, searching behind couches, underneath the fridge, in the dryer, and in any little nook and cranny where tiny treasures might be found.

Here is their bounty, post dust-bunny removal.

And they are still playing with this stuff over an hour later, while my son’s brand new toys sit idle, awaiting their inevitable destiny of getting stuck between the couch cushions so that they too can someday be considered treasures.

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The Elements of Style (Rap Video remix)

Do not join independent clauses with a comma.

But I love it, it’s cool. 
I don’t care if you wanna.

made by students at the Columbia School of Journalism




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True Teen Stories: What happened to friends till the end?

Today, I am very excited to kick off a semi-regular event on my blog called “True Teen Stories,” featuring guest posts from aspiring young writers.

To start, I’ve asked teens to write non-fiction essays about their experiences with friendship break-ups, road trips, loving a rock band, and dealing with ex-best friends—all topics I explore in my forthcoming young adult novel, REUNITED.

Charlotte Nissan, age 13, has the honor of being the inaugural TTS guest poster, and I am so proud to present her candid and eloquent essay, “What happened to friends till the end?” 

In addition to being a writer, Charlotte enjoys running and playing guitar.  And did I mention she’s only 13!   Wowza.  I know this essay will speak to so many teenage girls out there.  Enjoy.

What happened to friends till the end?

By Charlotte Nissan, Age 13

Okay, so you might think I’m shallow or jerkish or mean in general, but I’d had enough. Seriously, for once I was completely utterly done. It was too much work, to console Katelyn on her dating life or to censor Dilly’s potty mouth and rants about her ADHD and depression (I almost think she made that up, she’s one of the most excited, happy people I know). The only reason I hung out with them because they were Mag’s friends… but even in the days before the breakup, it became awkward to hang out with her. They were obnoxious, dorky (like the lowest smudge on the food chain of middle school), and loud, very loud. And I was done with them. I just needed to get a chance to separate myself, so when one came I took it. Ashlee was that chance for me.

She was popular, friendly, outgoing, and I enjoyed hanging out with her. I did it more and more, until it became the norm to sit at her table. But my friendship with Katelyn, Dilly, and Mag was still hanging by a fraying thread. They weren’t about to let me go that easily.

So I did some stuff I’m ashamed of, nothing big, of course, but still shameful.

The Friday before Halloween, Dilly invited me over and when I explained my situation to Ashlee, she agreed to come to so I could finally finish what I had started.

We arrived at Dilly’s multi-million dollar house (I think three to be exact) and were sitting at the foot of Dilly’s bed when her phone buzzed. It was Katelyn on skype. Katelyn had asked the guy she’d been crushing on for the entire school year out and he said no. This was the second time it had happened, first she asked Kaleb, one of the tall, tan, blonde twins of our school out and now Mac. Then a wicked idea popped into my head.

“Dilly,” I said, “she really needs to stop asking guys who are way out of her league out before she gets hurt.”

She agreed, of course she did, Dilly has all the brains in the world, but when comes to other’s feelings, especially those of her friends, she doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together. She grabbed my phone out of my hand and started texting vigorously. Long story short, it started with Dilly telling her off, talking about how Katelyn never takes any of her advice and ended with Katelyn texting billions of apologies back, you could practically hear the tears through her phone. Then Dilly kicked her out of our group of friends.

On Monday, I was shocked to find out that Dilly, Katelyn, and Mag were closer than ever, like they had gone to camp or something and came back holding hands and singing Kumbaya or whatever. It was like Katelyn completely forgotten about what Dilly did to her. Then during gym, Dilly, Katelyn, and Mag came up to me and Ashlee, and asked Ashlee to leave.

“You’ve been acting different since you starting hanging with Ashlee,” Dilly said.

“Yeah,” chimed in Katelyn, “even I noticed it.”

Then Mag came right up to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “We’d love to hang out with you once you stop acting so jerkish, but until then, I never want to see you again.”

I recoiled with phrases like: real friends wouldn’t make me choose etc., but they had enough of me and I didn’t even do anything. So I choose Ashlee, obviously, because she never made me choose.

And it was the end of my friendship between Mag, Dilly, and Katelyn.

It’s pretty awkward now when I pass them in the halls, or the only seat in English is next to Dilly, but I’ll get over it… I hope.

But one thing I’ve learned from this experience is that if a friend is willing to ignore you because you hang out with someone else, they aren’t worth it at all.

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cool glasses

Johnny is definitely deserving.

You know what really bugs me these days is how everyone wears cool glasses.  I mean, when did everyone decide to jump onto that train?  It used to be that cool glasses were actually just for cool people, but now, it’s suddenly okay for your fat Uncle Dale from Ohio to walk around in these tiny, angular wire frames like he’s a frigging German art director. And it’s not that I don’t like cool glasses frames.  Obviously I do.

But my problem is, if everyone’s wearing hip glasses, it makes it impossible to tell who’s cool just by looking at them.  Now you actually have to go talk to people.  I mean, who has that kind of time?

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Come to the Dark Side: Ten (Moody) Must-See Films for Teenagers

Ever since Meghan Cox Gurdon accused young adult literature of being “too dark” in a Wall Street Journal editorial last June, authors, readers, and other people whose coming of age did not take place inside of a magical bubble of rainbows and unicorns, fired back, citing the innumerable reasons why teens enjoy dark fiction and why this is okay.  So I feel no need to add this dialogue.

But, I will admit that I often gravitated toward the dark side when it comes to my choice of entertainment, and never so much as during my teen years.  Back then I wore lots of black.  I listened to The Smiths and The Cure.  I read the Flowers in the Attic series in fifth and sixth grade and as a junior and senior I poured through Jerzy Kosinski’s novels.  So when it came to movies, for every viewing of Dirty Dancing and Breakfast Club—which, as you may remember, are not without their bleak moments—there was also a Heavenly Creatures or a Harold and Maude.

And so, my dear teens, if you dare to step outside your normal world (which, no doubt is problem-free and smells like daydreams and bubblegum) I offer this list.  Some of these films are old enough that I watched them back when I was a teenager.  Others are more recent.   And lest you think I’m forgetting about such dark and twisted cinematic greats as A Clockwork Orange or Brazil or Blue Velvet, keep in mind that this list is specific to teens and the teenage experience.  Enjoy!

Ten (Moody) Must-See Films for Teenagers

 (All synopses stolen from )

1. THE VIRGIN SUICIDES – A group of male friends become obsessed with a group of mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents after one of them commits suicide.

Here’s the trailer.  The soundtrack by Air says it all.

2. HEATHERS – A girl who half-heartedly tries to be part of the “in crowd” of her school meets a rebel who teaches her a more devious way to play social politics.

Six words:  I love my dead gay son.

3. HEAVENLY CREATURES – Two girls have an intense fantasy life; their parents, concerned the fantasy is too intense, separate them, and the girls take revenge.

My favorite Peter Jackson film (I don’t like Lord of the Rings, so shoot me) stars a young Kate Winslet and the always extraordinary Melanie Lynskey.

4. PARANOID PARK – A teenage skateboarder’s life begins to fray after he is involved in the accidental death of a security guard.

Directed by the brilliant Gus Van Sant, this film will haunt you for days.  Paranoid Park perfectly captures that horrible sinking feeling that comes from carrying the burden of a terrible secret.  Though thankfully, I’ve ever had a secret quite this terrible.

5. THE OUTSIDERS –When two poor greasers, Johnny, and Ponyboy are assaulted by a vicious gang, the socs, and Johnny kills one of the attackers, tension begins to mount between the two rival gangs, setting off a turbulent chain of events.

It’s unusual when a film is as good as the book that it’s based on, but I guess that’s when happens when you get Francis Ford Copolla to direct.  It’s also one of my favorite books from my teen years, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to do that first.  This trailer is kind of dated, but you may recognize some familiar faces in it.

6. BRICK – A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

Film noir meets high school.  Love it!

7. HAROLD AND MAUDE – Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.

One of my favorite films of all time.  My 10th grade English teacher showed it to us in class.  Go Mrs. Hallal!

8. KIDS by Larry Clarke – An amoral, HIV-positive skateboarder sets out to deflower as many virgins as possible while a local girl who contracted his disease tries to save his next target from her same fate.

This film is probably the bleakest portrayal of teen life I have ever seen.  Watch with caution and shower immediately afterwards.

9. THE GRADUATE – Recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock is trapped into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, who happens to be the wife of his father’s business partner and then finds himself falling in love with her teenage daughter, Elaine.

OK, so it’s not technically a teen film since Ben’s just graduated from college.  But it’s close enough.

10. THE SWEET HEREAFTER – This film documents the effects of a tragic bus accident on the population of a small town.

Boy, how I loves me some Atom Egoyan (director) and Sarah Polley.   This is quite possibly the saddest movie ever made.


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We are the Champions

In a few hours I’ll be heading off to a Junior Lego League event with my son.  And even though the email assured me this event is NOT a competition, it also mentioned that there WILL be prizes.  Because, as any modern parent knows, our kids are all winners, all the time.

I’m not trying to diss Lego League specifically.  It’s really no different from any of the other things my seven-year-old son does, like soccer or baseball, where we grown-ups mandate that “we don’t keep score” even as the children themselves tally up the points in their heads with a Rain Man-like precision.

Then, at the end of the season—which hasn’t been a competition, kids, it’s just about having fun—we hand out trophies.  But who doesn’t deserve a shiny reward after a long season of “having fun”?

The weird thing is, I don’t know a single parent who actually believes in this.  Not one.  We read the New York Times.  We’ve heard about the phenomenon of “tea-cup” children—kids whose parents overly rewarded them, protecting them from any unpleasantness or taste of failure, so that by the time they go to college, they shatter into pieces when the tiniest little thing goes wrong.

So why the heck do we keep on handing out trophies to five-year-olds?  Why don’t we have the guts to stand up to this silly trend and stop the madness?  Because if someone actually took away the golden statues at the end of a soccer season, I swear, I’d give them a prize.

ADDENDUM:  So yesterday’s Lego event was lovely.  And even though they handed out prizes to everyone, instead of trophies, they were cool, home-made lego statuettes (created by high school students) with very distinct awards given to the top three teams.  And despite the fact that my son’s team didn’t walk away with the biggest trophy or the #1 prize, he felt proud of his work and had a wonderful time.

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Want to discover your life’s passion? The clues (you left) are already there.

I believe I was meant to be a writer.  And by that, I don’t mean my career choice was mapped out by the stars (but who knows?), I mean that when I look back on my life and the choices I made, it seems laughable that it took me until the ripe old age of 37 to figure out writing was my calling, since the signs were there all along.

Sure, figuring out I was a writer felt like an epiphany at the time.  But once I started to look back on my past, it was as if I’d left a trail of ridiculously obvious breadcrumbs all leading to one inevitable conclusion.

So, in order to save you years of struggle, I offer this:

Hilary’s Four Simple Clues for Finding Your True Calling(Trademark pending)

Clue #1:  Whom do you most admire?

I’m not talking about your childhood heroes, or we’d all be working for NASA right now, or have spent our pre-teen years being verbally abused by some middle-aged Slavic man in hopes of winning a gold medal for our killer “floor routine.”  I’m talking about the people you truly admire, after you grew out of your “I want to be a millionaire” phase and got into your teens.  Maybe you’ve always looked up to surgeons, or maybe you really respect your friend who works for a non-profit, or your local policemen.  For me, the people I’ve most admired have always, unequivocally been writers.  Even the film directors I like best are almost always writer-directors.   Coincidence?  I don’t think so.   It makes total sense that the thing we (secretly or publicly) hope to achieve is the thing we most esteem.

Clue #2: What were your skills and interests as a child?  What were your favorite classes in school?

I spoke at nine months.  I memorized Madeline when I was two.  I learned to read before kindergarten.  I’ve always had a great vocabulary.  I loved to read as a child.  In high school, I always liked English class best.  I wrote poetry.  Lots of bad poetry.  I was the Editor in Chief of my high school literary magazine.  I spearheaded a political campaign and smooth-talked my way into the governor’s office when I was sixteen.  In college, with the exception of a few filmmaking classes (most of them theory classes, as opposed to production) my favorite classes (and the ones I excelled at) were:  “Creative Writing,” “Suicide in Literature,” Derek Walcott’s “Playwriting” (which was technically only for graduate students, but I audited it), “Screenwriting,” and “Dramaturgy.”  Hmmm.  Perhaps if my life was a work of literature I would have picked up on this subtle theme.

Clue #3:  When you were first deciding what to do with your life/ starting your career, what were your favorite things to do?  Your favorite places to go?

For me, my favorite way to spend a college afternoon was going to the Trident Booksellers & Café on Newbury Street (by myself) and perusing books and magazines while drinking herbal tea and eating a veggie roll-up.   Might I have been craving the solitary life of a writer, longing to be surrounded by the written word and a good selection of hot beverages?

Here is a photo of my current tea drawer.  You be the judge.

In addition to my love of the Trident, I also enjoyed:

  • Going to poetry readings
  • Going to book readings and hearing authors speak
  • Going to indie films
  • Living life with a devil-may-case attitude because even if my recklessness caused my life to go to hell on occasion, it usually made for a good story.
  • Writing poetry
  • Writing short stories
  • Going to the John F. Kennedy Library, not to see the JFK stuff, but to visit the collection of Hemingway’s letters
  • Participating in (and occasionally winning) poetry slams at the Cantab Lounge
  • Making a poetry film with poet Sharon Olds
  • Watching Saturday Night Live and complaining that I could write funnier sketches (but never actually doing it)
  • Writing and directing a feature film (which was much better written than it was directed)

Clue #4:  What’s your personality?

I am someone who likes to make people laugh.  I tell a good story.  I enjoy being the center of attention but I also like (and crave) my alone time.  I am kind, empathetic, overly analytical, silly, hard-working, neurotic, weird, fun, and free-spirited.

In conclusion:

If you are like me, you might look at my personal list of clues and wonder how I lived my life for so long completely blind to the writing (oh, I like puns, too) on the wall.  But alas, hindsight is 20/20 and all of the things I did prior to becoming a quote-unquote writer—many of which actually included writing—lead me to where I am today.

So if you are looking to find your true calling, take solace in the fact that there is no “timeline” to your journey, just as there is no “wrong turn” you can make. And just because I call myself a writer does not exclude all of the many other wonderful things I also am, such as:  mother, wife, friend, film director, editor, yogini, blogger, cook, hiker, reader, and so many more.


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You Have the Right to Remain Sexy

Since the time we became friends in high school, and all through our twenties, my friend Jane* and I had a running joke about stripper cops.  It’s hard to say exactly what we found so hilarious about the concept, but the subject often wriggled its way into our conversations with  a glib (and deeply ironic) lechery.

For me, the best moment of the fantasy was when the man assumed to be an officer of the law dropped his ruse (and his pants) and delivered his Miranda rights punch line:  “You have the right to remain sexy.”  Of course, the flashing blue lights would be the perfect accompaniment to Donna Summer’s “It’s Raining Men,” which, as all women and gay men know, happens to be the only song men ever strip to.

So when it came time to celebrate my friend Jane’s 30th birthday, it was with this deluded scenario in mind that my friend Kim* and I decided to order Jane a stripper cop.  After all, we wanted to make Jane’s 30th birthday special.  And what could be more special than a gyrating half-naked policeman?  Plus, there was already a big birthday bash planned at Kim’s house, so when the police barged in “to break up the party,” it would seem so believable, no one would ever suspect our ploy.

Kim and I booked the stripper cop, and for the next few weeks, whenever I imagined the look on Jane’s face as some handsome beefcake cuffed her against his squad car, I giggled to myself.

But by the time Jane’s birthday actually arrived, I’d started to have second thoughts.  And instead of enjoying myself at the party, all I could do was obsess about the fact that our sardonically amusing fantasy was about to become a very real reality.   Every ten minutes I’d pull Jane aside for a worried tete-a-tete.  This was going to be weird, wasn’t it? I whispered anxiously.  Maybe we didn’t really think this through.  Or maybe, Kim mused, we just need to drink more.

To make matters worse, the stripper cop was lost, and as the rest of our friends partied on, getting looser and more relaxed, Kim and I were now periodically fielding calls from this man, attempting to guide him through her labyrinthine neighborhood of one-way streets.  His gruff Boston accent was the first turn-off. But even more unpleasant was the realization that this man on the other end of the line was an actual human being.  And the only reason he was driving in circles through Allston Massachusetts at 11:00pm on a Saturday night, about to take off his clothes for a bunch of strangers, was the only reason anybody did–because he needed the money.  And the harder Kim and I tried to help this guy find us, the less we wanted him to come.  But now that we had set this plan in motion,  we felt powerless to stop it.  Plus, if he didn’t strip, there would be no birthday gift for Jane.

By this point, I was starting to feel sick, and it wasn’t from the six beers I’d chugged.

But it was too late to turn back now.  The stripper cop was already pulling into Kim’s driveway, and not behind the wheel of a shiny blue squad car, but in a rusted out 1991 Ford Fiesta.   Before he even got out of his car, all ambivalence about the issue vanished and we knew with a grim certainty that we’d made a mistake.  But Kim and I just stood there, paralyzed with dread as we handed our $150 cash to this short, unattractive stranger and told him how best to sneak attack our oldest, dearest friend.  “Use the back stairs and look for a pretty blonde about six inches taller than you.”

From the very first moment he threw open the kitchen door and announced there’d been a noise complaint, I knew we were done for.  Even if he’d attempted to hide the boom box in his hand, no one would have believed he was a real policeman for a second.  Even worse, nobody cared.  In the harsh light of the kitchen, Kim and I took a better look at this man we were now in collusion with—noting every detail of his acne-scarred face, the spiky crispiness of his thin, overly gelled hair, and his pained expression at having to go through with this.

We could have stopped it right then and there, but instead, Kim and I dutifully pointed him towards the living room, where Jane was on the dance floor, unaware that the fun she was having was about to come to a screeching halt.

She knew as soon as she saw him.  Even before he turned on his boom box, or told her, in his dull, mechanical Southie accent that she’d been “a wicked bahd girl.”  Most people opted to leave the room before the striptease began in full, but a few onlookers gathered around Jane, like witnesses to a car crash–the birthday girl, it’s only victim.

There was no Donna Summer song as the stripper cop peeled off his uniform, performed a few rusty breakdancing moves, then proceeded—with nary a hint of irony—to push Jane to the floor in order to repeatedly thrust his speedo-clad package in her face.  Because after all, what better way is there to say, “Happy birthday, friend?”

The lesson here being that things that are fun to talk about, are not always fun to actually do.

*names have been changed to protect the guilty.

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