What’s it all about? And why would anyone want to read it? Well, let me try to explain without losing your interest too quickly. Basically, it’s all about me. Shameless self-promotion: of my writing, of my novels:
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? and Reis's Pieces, of my amazing ability to come up with clever captions on photos of my travels . . . And also, a blatant representation of my stupidity when it comes to spelling, editing, and computer-type stuff.

My debut novel:
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar Disorder was released in September of 2010. My second novel: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, was released May, 2012!

Monday, November 30, 2009

On the Edge of Cliché

He was standing on the edge. The edge of desire. The edge of his future. Smoking his last cigarette, thinking deeply, inhaling deeply -- exhaling -- the smoke curling around him in the dark night air. In his mind’s eye, he looked over his shoulder and saw his past laid out on the ground like a gutted trout. Organs of his failure glistening in the hot sun . . . He’d gotten himself into this. Neatly, he’d boxed-up his world of solitude. And, if he was lonely, whose fault was that? If his head hurt, and his hands cramped, and he was floundering in his own despair -- it was all part of the game, wasn’t it? Part of what must be endured.

When she was there -- before she’d left him to his own devices -- she’d kept him from his true desire. Oh, she was something, alright.

“Come on, Shakespeare,” she’d chided, disrupting his thoughts; the perfect combination of words flying out of his head. “Take a break, will you?” He’d look up from his magic fingers, wishing he could hit delete, and she’d be gone.

Be careful what you wish for . . .

It was true -- you can’t always get what you want. Last month, only days before she’d slipped out the-door-of-his-life, he’d watched her -- positively breathtaking -- as she swirled her glass of wine. Then she’d rolled her eyes to the heavens, and said to the small gathering, “My husband.” She’d flicked her eyes his way. “The writer.” Yes, he’d watched her at the reception, and it was he who was the bleeding man in her glass.

He sighed, closing his eyes to his past. Turning away from the gloomy night, he took a step forward, into the future, throwing the cigarette onto the ground and crushing the smoldering end with the heel of his brushed suede shoe.

His fingers quivered with anticipation as he reached for the doorknob. The knob turned. The door squeaked its complaint. The light from the house -- his house -- sliced through the night. His eyes fell immediately to the desk, to the neatly stacked pile of rejection letters, to the coffee cup sitting cold, lonely, and deserted near the open laptop. A few quick steps and he was there, running the tips of his fingers lovingly over the keyboard. The monitor jumped back into life. The words -- his words -- harsh and dark against the white, danced before his eyes. He sank down into the chair, picking up the gnawed pencil, and placed the eraser between his teeth; as was his habit. Letting the pencil dangle from his mouth, he stared despondently at the clouds in his coffee.

His eyes shifted to the whiteness of the monitor. He reached toward the light with shaking hands, and blacked out the words of the entire document, blackened them until the screen was dark -- as dark as the night outside his walls. Nodding his head, he pursed his lips in satisfaction. His index finger hovered momentarily, like a tiny helicopter, over the delete button. Then, with an exact movement, his finger descended. The monitor stared back, bright and harsh and white in its nakedness.

He stared at the harshness a moment before removing the pencil from his mouth and throwing back his head with a hysterical hyena laugh. Reaching for the coffee, he slugged down the cold brew, cringing in pure disgust. Then, the pencil back between his lips, he hit the undo button, and laughed again when his words magically reappeared. As the pencil moved up and down in his mouth, “click, click, click,” against his teeth, he moved the cursor to the end of the document and began to write.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Gardener

“Why did you cut it all off?”

She stares out the window.

“Why?” he repeats.

She turns to him slightly, her eyes narrowing with disapproval. “Why, Stanley? Why does everything turn into a drama with you?”

Stanley turns from her, looks out the window. She studies, with a sliver of pleasure, the wretched lines upon his face, and knows he’s taking in the trauma of the open wound -- taking in the splattering of dying leaves remaining in the yard. She turns back to the window -- a small breeze blows across the grass; the leaves burst into life. His voice quivers slightly. “You knew, I loved it. Looked at it everyday . . .”

She rolls her eyes impatiently. “It was banging against the house. Threatening its very existence. Keeping me up at night.”

His eyes come back to her, a little danger in them. “And, I suppose, he did it.”

She laughs sharply. “Well, I certainly wasn’t going to climb up that tree with a chainsaw strapped to my back!” She sees Stanley shiver slightly at mention of the chainsaw. She laughs again. “Vrrrrrmm,” she says. He cringes.

The image of Pablo shimmying up the tree -- the chainsaw strapped to his glistening muscular back, his arms rippling with the effort -- makes her smile. It was a hot day, and she’d sat on the patio, two sweating glasses of lemonade nearby, and watched the gardener ease his body onto the limb. “Be careful, Pablo!” she’d called. His smile flashing down on her; then the excitement of the noise, the ripping away of the branch, the thrill as the limb hit the ground, the leaves fluttering up in despair. Then Pablo climbing back down -- watching him rip the branch apart -- coming over, every now and then, to smile at her, wiping gently at the sweat along his brow, reaching his hand out and sipping from her offering of cold lemonade . . .

Her beautiful memory is suddenly shattered by her husband’s words.

“You could’ve had him trim it just a bit,” he whines. “It surely wasn’t necessary to lop off the entire thing!”

She tilts her head Stanley’s way, looks away from his tragic face, slides her eyes over his slopping shoulders, runs her eyes down the soft swell of his belly, and wonders; what could she have Pablo lop off next?

Shameless self-promotion

If anyone is really bored today-- just sitting around attempting to digest Thursday's meal -- check out the following web site: http://www.goodmanbeck.com/ and hit the 2010 tab. Where are the Cocoa Puffs?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness
By Karen Winters Schwartz

Her hair was the brightest of reds. The sort of red that makes you wonder, “Who comes up with these colors?” And she was crying, for the third time in less than ten minutes. Which is the exact amount of time I’ve known this woman. Her name is Betty and she’s in her late fifties, American, and extremely unhappy. Seems her mother, who had Alzheimer’s, had died -- nine months ago . . . Sharon is nearby. I’ve known Sharon for about twelve minutes. Sharon is in her thirties, a Garifuna living in Chicago, who is back in Belize for a beluria. Sharon is a little drunk -- maybe a lot drunk and she is extremely happy.

We are all on the beach, dressed in bathing suits and sunshine. We are on the north beach of Hopkins, Belize, Central America. My husband and I discovered this wonderful country in the late nineties and built a house south of Hopkins two years ago. Hopkins is a village along the southern coast, in the Stann Creek district of Belize which consists of about one thousand souls, primarily the Garifuna. The Garifuna people are known for their warmth and welcoming attitude, so that there is also a rich blend of Maya and Guatemalan workers, Creoles, red-eyed Rastafarians, Chinese restaurant and grocery store owners, retired expats, fortune seeking and displaced foreigners, transient hikers and tourists -- all who roam the pot-holed streets and beaches of this small coastal village. Although it’s not yet possible for us to live there fulltime, we spend as much time there as we can. Sarah decided to spend two months of her summer break from college in Belize and I deemed it necessary to accompany her. We have long term renters living in our home who work at North Hopkins Bay, so we have a sweet little arrangement allowing us to stay at the resort on those visits where we don’t demand the use of our own home. We stayed at the resort for a week, before Sarah moved in with the friends that she was staying and I flew back to my home in Central New York State.

Sharon is telling us about her grandmother and the beluria. A beluria generally begins on the Friday after a love one has died and climaxes on the ninth night with a festive party of drumming, dancing, drinking and feasting. Sharon’s grandmother died a year ago. She explains that a beluria can be called for every year. It is an opportunity for the departed soul to reach out to the living, letting their worries or concerns be known by entering the body of a living loved one. Sharon doesn’t believe her grandmother is unhappy -- she doesn’t expect she’ll have a lot to say during the night’s celebration.

At the mention of the dead grandmother, Betty cries for the first time. It quickly becomes obvious that this woman’s sorrow is inconsolable. “Baby,” Sharon tells her, taking her in her dark arms. “Your mama wouldn’t want you to be so unhappy.” Betty wipes at her tears with her beach towel. “It takes a year,” Sharon assured her. “You have four more months and then you will be over your mama’s death.”

Well, I wasn’t so sure about this. Betty seemed the sort of sadness that time could not fix. Later, when Sharon had wondered away with her beers and Betty had stumbled off in her misery, I tell my daughter, Sarah, about this encounter. We’re sitting by the sea and Sarah is reading the first few pages of The Art of Happiness she’d ordered used and over the internet to bring with her to Belize. She was complaining that it was way too simple for her. She’s been studying Buddhism and working towards enlightenment for awhile now and she is way beyond the basic concepts of this book. “Maybe we should give this book to Betty,” she jokes.

“Hey!” I agree. “That’s not a bad idea.” “We could just leave it laying about where she might find it.” “Well, we’d want to make sure she found it . . .”

A few days pass. I’ve seen Betty coming out of one of the villas, so I know where she lives. We were on our way to dinner with a couple of friends and I say, “Right there. That’s Betty’s villa.”

“We should leave her the book,” Sarah says. But neither of us are brave enough to walk onto her porch and leave the thing.

“I’ll do it!” says one of our friends, Valerie. She steps onto the structure without hesitation, carefully sets the book open and upright, then we hightail it out of there.

The following day we’re on the beach, facing a prefect sea and Betty comes out of nowhere and asks me, “Did you lose a book?” I look at her with confusion. I’m lucky as I have my sunglasses on -- hiding the partial lie -- the partial truth -- and shake my head no. “Well, it’s so strange,” she says. “On my porch -- open to a page, was The Art of Happiness, a book my mother told me, before she died, that I should get. I thought, because I was crying the other day that it might be from you?”

I shake my head some more. “I didn’t put it there . . .”

“Well, its so strange. Maybe it’s divine intervention.”

“Yes,” I agree. “I think it’s from your mother.” Betty is smiling as she says, “She told me I should get it. I just never did.”

She left after awhile -- after we’d talked about books and living in Belize -- about a lot of different things and you know, she didn’t cry once. And I believe -- I truly believe, that the book wasn’t from me, or from Sarah, or from Valerie, but from all of us and from everyone --but mostly from Betty’s mother.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Masturbation & Mother-in-laws

My mother-in-law, Ruth, is the sort of person who must fill up a space with movement, or a silence with chatter -- who drives a calm person mad, and a mad person catatonic. She is the sort of person that goes up to my guests at our summer party and talks to them about the benefits of masturbation.

"Karen, your mother-in-law is talking to me about masturbation!"

"Yes. I know...." I say, flipping the chicken on the grill and wishing I wasn't too busy to get shit-faced. "What can I say?"

I am a person who likes the sea, winged creatures floating on updrafts, small frogs croaking unreasonably loudly in the night, and the silence of solitude. And the silence of companionship -- my husband’s thigh pressing gently into mine as we read side by side. A reasonable sort of person, if I don’t say so myself.

The time is the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, the place is my home, the cast is my mother-law-in and myself. My husband is at work. I don't remember where my girls are. My mother, who lives next door in an in-law's apartment, is asleep. And I am alone with Ruth; and she's talking nonstop. She's been talking for hours, pacing about with her head tilted to the floor. And I: moving about the house, cleaning an already clean counter, picking up a stray object, re-scrubbing the frying pan. I am afraid to sit -- lest she devour me with her prattle. Suddenly her talk turns to masturbation. I am fully aware of her feelings on the subject. I scrub the pan harder.

“Ruth,” I say, “I really don't need to talk about masturbation."

"Well." She stops her constant movement. "It's nothing to be uncomfortable about."

"I’m not uncomfortable with masturbation, Ruth,” dropping the sponge to prove my point. “I just don't feel the need to talk about it."

"Well, what do you want to talk about?"

I am panicking in my head, trying come up with something to talk to this woman about -- anything! But, I fail. She commences her movement. I pick up the sponge. The momentary silence is quickly filled with the continuation of her words.

“I knew these two women,” she prattles on. “Two sister’s who lived together. They had a very nice little house. Maryann liked to garden. Jean, she loved to cook. Neither one of them ever married. They were both, however, afraid to touch themselves.”

“It must have been a challenge,” I tell her, with tempered sarcasm, “for them to bathe.”

"No, Karen." She holds her temper with me. "They touched themselves to bathe, but did not masturbate."

I sigh, close my eyes in misery. She continues. "And they both went crazy."

I feel the need -- couldn't stop myself -- from reminding her that mental illness is a biological brain disease and not, in anyway, connected to a lack of masturbation.

And we continued this dance of mother-in-law and daughter-in law. Eventually she went home, and my mother woke up, and my daughters appeared, and my husband came home, and the frogs croaked and the birds were on wing.... But I have yet to fully recover; and continue to feel the need to masturbate, repeatedly, while screaming into a pillow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Problem with Maraschino Cherries

The four of us, Linda, the two Pauls, and I eat every night at the Italian restaurant even though we’re in Mexico. It’s the one restaurant in this all-inclusive resort that does not allow anyone under the age of twelve. Paul K. and Linda, the couple that we’re traveling with, are childless. They have little desire to watch children eat. This particular evening, I’m sitting across from Paul K. and I’m maturely eating a gross amount of food. As I shovel in the last bite of my risotto into my mouth, and anticipate a totally unnecessary dessert, I watch the waiter cleaning away the dishes from the booth that I’m facing. I notice that he’s failed to remove a small red object from on the seat of the booth. I study this small red glob. I consider of getting up and removing it myself; but I’m lazily glued to my seat.

The waiter comes and removes our plates. The four of us order decaf cappuccinos. I’m still not ready to make my way to the dessert bar, but my eyes linger, with mild concern, every once-in-awhile at this bright red object on the bench. Paul K. begins to tell us of his good deed of the day. Earlier, on the beach, he removed a broken cinder block from the surf, saving some poor soul a stubbed toe. My eyes, again return to the red object. I’ve pretty much decided that it’s one half of a maraschino cherry. I resolve to do my good deed of the day; but before I can get my lazy ass off my chair, the hostess suddenly appears, leading two women to the accursed booth. They are large American women. And wouldn’t you know, the larger of the two is dressed in a white terrycloth strapless pantsuit. She wiggles her way into the booth before I have a chance get up or utter a word.

I sigh in resignation. And I, not one to be shy regarding my own social shortcomings or lack of do-gooderness, tell my three tablemates about the demise of the maraschino cherry. They all glance at this woman who is ignorantly eating her bread and sipping her water, completely unawares. As we all wait, with patient morbid curiosity, for her to get up and make her way to the salad bar, I study this woman. As I said, she is large and the pantsuit is tight and it’s strapless and the restaurant is cold and there is nothing between her breasts and the thin white terrycloth. I ask my friend, Paul, if he might shift a little to his left, thus blocking my direct view of her anatomy. She eats her bread very slowly. We wait, while sipping our coffee.

“Here we go,” I announce as I see her shift to get up. We all watch surreptitiously. At first there is nothing to be seen but the vast whiteness of her derrière. Then we all see it, down low, almost to her thigh -- a perfectly red splash of color on all that white.

“There it is!” declares Linda. We all nod solemnly. “She won’t wear that a second time.”

“Well,” I say, refusing to totally accept my guilt, “she never should’ve worn it the first time!”