New on the WEbook Blog: Esther Cohen and “My Writing Life”



Starting this week, Esther Cohen, author of five books, including Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree, will be contributing a new column entitled “My Writing Life.” In it, Esther will discuss any and everything that goes with a writing life … which pretty much means any and everything, period. Most importantly, Esther will take questions, so please, don't be shy.

I am glad to be here with you on WEbook. Because we are all in the virtual sphere, I am free to describe myself any way I like: taller or shorter, younger or wiser. My hair can be long and straight, even black (it is actually short and wildly curly, usually yellowish red, depending on the month and the year.) I am a writer and a teacher, a poet, a novelist, a humorist. My words come in many forms. I’ve published five books, and hope to write many more. I’m here on this site to describe my writing life, and to help you with yours.

I have always loved putting words right onto a page, watching them the way some people watch movies. My words are often parts of pictures: deep orange-yellow cantaloupes, a midget in a pin striped suit. I collect words the way some people collect stamps. For instance, here are some names of hair-cutting places from my beauty parlor notebook: Hair We Are, Hair-Em Salon, Shear Creations, Hairy Situations, Split Enz, A Cut Above. I’ve always loved words and what they can do.

Even so, I’ve wondered (although I have been writing as long as I can remember) if I am a real writer. It took me years (and years) to understand that real writers just write. That’s more or less what being a writer means. Whether the story or poem or memoir she writes is worthy or clever or interesting or good is another matter entirely. We learn to be some of those things, through practice. The way athletes practice, and musicians. We practice writing often, in any way that we can. I write words down when I hear them, fragments, overheard conversations, knowing maybe I’ll use a line or a phrase one day. Maybe I won’t. But it doesn’t matter. What counts is writing it down. (At Viand Coffee shop yesterday the woman sitting next to me, a stranger in a bright red dress, said to the patient Dominican waitress, “I’d like a fried egg without any yolk.” Both the waitress and I wondered why. Cholesterol? Religion? Maybe the red dressed woman didn’t like yellow. The fragment seemed worth recording.)

Writing is always about stories, and stories need interesting details. Good Stories is the subject of a class I’m teaching this fall, at Manhattanville College. We will, together, try to uncover the elements of a good story and what we need to tell them.

Here’s my good story of the week, in a poem.
Ken lives across the street
Old style pre hip hop
You’re in the navy now tattoo
Chain smoker one cigarette
In back of his right ear
At all times Ken
I never liked him much
Until this summer. Hilda,
His gentle gardening nurse wife
died in May. He held her hand
and said goodbye.

Now something of Hilda
is inside Ken and when he
comes over every single afternoon
around four
even though he didn’t come
across the road for 22 years,
he walks over as though
he always has and it’s ok with me
because I see Hilda inside Ken
and when he tells his long
long story about his baking truck
and Brooklyn I can see Hilda
and she’s smiling.

I never liked him much
Until this summer. Hilda,
His gentle gardening nurse wife
died in May. He held her hand
and said goodbye.

That’s my good story for today. Can you send me yours?
Or tell us what you think a good story might mean?
Can’t wait to hear from you.

* * *

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  1. Hi Ester, thank you so much for contributing to the site. I have a question for you (my 'good' story can wait a while): Did you deliberately repeat the 2nd and 3rd units or was that a transcriptional error?
    I liked your story, very sweet and touching, but the repeated units made it a somewhat awkward read.

  2. I sat and talked of college and university. A muse mixed with others. Azure colours.
    Angles are funny things. Who has seen 420 degrees? Not I. But today I experimented with them.
    Showed a frustrated person. Showed the bare bones of tha troubled mind. Azure colours.
    Why is it so hard? Who actually rehearses conversations? Tis I.
    I am the incarnation of a wistful sadness. I am the human version of that breeze, which remids you,
    Of those summers of laughter, the happiness which faded brings tears provoking
    A strange mix of love and loss, piano and guitar, hapiness and sadness. A half-smile. Tis I.

  3. Hello Esther and Welcome.
    Great to have you on We Book.
    The writer in me has erased the walls of I wish. I now say my first love is writing.
    Words I hid from myself. Dare not place my hand on a pen filled with ink.
    Now the books I hold no more at bay, my thesaurus has come out of it's holy untouched shroud. Words that's where my dreams lay. Pictures in my mind come alive, soft my eyes have grown for me.
    Day and night words come out to play. The voice of can't and wish are put away.
    A writer, I say is my chosen toil.

  4. Estherpeter@mac.com24 September 2009 at 15:28

    Hello to my fellow Webook writers.:
    Thank you for these posts.
    Rich you are right. The poetry stanzas repeating that way are a mistake I made. I'm new to blogging and I'm sure I'll make mistakes (I still write with a pen!)
    Thank you to The Mouth and HSOEHM for sharing their thoughts with us about words, and writing, love and loss.
    I look forward to hearing from all of you.
    Yours, esther

  5. Welcome Esther,
    I love to see articles like this on the blog. I enjoyed and related to much of what you say here about discovering the writer in you. I too have always seen words as movies and try to remember to take notes of conversations overheard for use in my characters. Inspiration for me ... literally ... is everywhere.
    In that vein:
    HSBoehm's very touching; 'Reclaimed' here inspired these words to come out. Like her refusing to hide away her talent; her words, this is about my own disoovery that I have something unique to offer as an author and how, for too long, it too lay dormant but for other reasons.
    Thank you and I look forward to hearing more from you.
    He was strange; very very strange
    Or at least that’s what people always thought
    One of five, second of the litter certainly not like any other
    His astute observation mistaken for oddness
    He got his own way, ‘put’ out of the way probably
    Provided with a precious haven where there should have been none.
    He didn’t want to run around wild; it was unintelligent
    It disgusted him to share bottles of pop on the beach
    He liked to watch; look at the other children. They were children and not like him
    They played in a paddling pool, on the streets in his home; everywhere
    And despite wishing he could be like them; join them, he never could be uncomplicated
    Because he was strange, very very strange
    He created a world, inspired by a great; one who knew where he should be
    He saw it in his mind; he was there; he belonged, there was a famous six and not five
    For he was strange, very very strange
    But his teachers saw the potential; shared the boy’s world to their school
    A chapter a day; truant escape for the children, from their dreaded teachers; from each other
    And they were attentive, very very attentive.
    He was given a task, a very strange task, that only later would he understand
    He succeeded and his parents were called in to discuss a very rare capacity
    It was to be nurtured. He was designed for prominence; it didn’t get done; greatness was not revealed
    But his life was to be strange, very very strange
    The real world wiped out; obliterated; everything he knew; gone as he grasped a new reality
    Misfit in normalcy; now a desirable dream; both worlds collided; destroyed, as too was interest
    Decades gone by; and he was always strange, very very strange
    People didn’t know why and chose to judge; to not see what was there; it was easier
    Time healed not only grief, it offered veils; nurtured; strengthened burden; evolved it to skill
    Two worlds collide again; but a new being emerged; and begat many worlds; new creation
    Chosen family nurture now; encourage growth as does he for himself and he is found; belongs now in a strange, very very strange place … in worlds old and new and yet to exist.
    © SPMount - September 2009

  6. Writing as an art: a patrarchan sonnet
    I dance because I have to now
    This tango of the pin and soul
    It’s trying to record it’s goal
    So that pure ink could allow
    Worlds, ideals, and souls to wow
    And all these things I can’t control
    The things these letters try to show
    When they’re transcribed I take a bow
    I let them put on there own act
    I stand backstage and watch the crowd
    And let the actors go impact
    I see what my lines have allowed
    The curtains rise and through the crack
    I saw my story told aloud
    No matter how the crowds react
    I watch the actors stand so proud
    And swipe my pencil on the page
    The graphite turns to greens and reds
    The color mixes up and spreads
    From the dance floor to the stage
    Onto a canvas in my head
    To black and white words on a page
    That all these types of artist read
    Words every soul could all engage

  7. I loved your story and the way you tell it is amazing. You dance with words and the applause is great. I want to write well and tell my stories so that they can be heard like a movie. My first book is in and would be honored if you can check it out. Thanks so much.

  8. As a webook writer I would like for you to read my book, "Inheritance". I will be eternally grateful.

  9. esther-your name is not misspelled neither are your good intentions. thanks for including me with others who get to see your blog. you are one of ther most interesting stories i know! i love reading you chapter by chapter.-doug e.

  10. Although I like to write, I am not a professional writer by any means. The closest I ever came to being published happened one October afternoon in 1968 on the lawn of SUNY Albany behind the Student Union. It was a beautiful Autumn day, and I was writing a poem. A black limo stopped a few feet from me and out stepped Governor Rockefeller, who at the time was campaigning for President. He had a bullhorn in one hand. The crowd gathered, I stood up, the cameras clicked, and to this day, 2 things remain: my picture in Life Magazine (Oct. something, 1968, Charles deGaulle on the cover, that's me behind the bullhorn), and that damned poem, which my 90+ year old parents still show the neighbors at the Independent Living home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
    I only bring this up because of the sadness of the image of that woman who ordered that yolkless egg. Eggwhite omelettes I get. A "fried egg without any yolk" is just plain sad. She may have well just ordered a hole.
    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your column. Maybe one day we can have lunch at Viand (or beyond).

  11. I love all the beauty parlour names. You'd fill lots of notebooks in India!

  12. Hi again Esther! I have the honor of being included in WeBooks' first poetry anthology (incase you didn't get my last comment here) I am "warriorwitch" and here is my "Story in a Poem" for you! LOL I HOPE that did not come across pretentious! I don't mean to be. Anyway, Here you go, hope you like it:
    True Love
    Author: Raven Wilkie
    (c)copyright circa 2009
    All rights reserved
    I'm sitting here,
    with love on my lap ...
    in the shape, and form
    of a small furry cat.
    given so free ...
    yet it's people who,
    find it so hard to be.
    Petty and selfish,
    it seems their way ...
    cruelty, indifference,
    really rule their day.
    If only a lesson
    could be learned ...
    then our hearts
    might not be burned.
    How to teach the lion,
    when he's in his den?
    I fear I know not,
    it's the way of men.
    I watch as True Love
    gets up from my lap ...
    amazed it all comes,
    from a small furry cat!

  13. Signing in signing out
    always wonder what's that about
    the more i do in a day
    to get done and out of the way
    this always backfires on me
    the rule of attraction
    brings on me
    more stuff to do..but no money
    so i end up
    trying again
    do you think it will ever end?
    only when i am gone
    no one will quote my poem
    sing my song
    the end


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