Monthly Archives: April 2011

Land’s End Great Gatsby Mansion: Last Moments

A Sands Point Gold Coast mansion known as Land’s End is being demolished this week. The house is also known as the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s mansion in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Fitzgerald lived for a time in Great Neck, across the water from Sands Point. I imagine he sat, with pen in hand, seeking inspiration and staring across the Long Island Sound, at the houses along the water with their carefree parties…just as Jay Gatsby stared across the Sound from the same vantage point and reached out his arms to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.

Long Island Sound

I once spent an afternoon with a photographer who told me he went up to the Sierras to photograph Autumn foliage, but he got there too late after a storm–the leaves had fallen. So he photographed the forest floor, which was lit up with the confetti of golden Aspen leaves.

Today, I woke up in pain with a locked neck, but knowing the mansion was going down any minute, the demolition having started a few days ago on Saturday, we raced out to Sands Point, meandering the roads, passing numerous residents walking dogs in the mid-day fog, until we found the estate. My husband is a genius at locating obscure destinations.

We told ourselves that even if razed to the ground, it would mean something to stand on the site. What remained were two very large chimneys, and a small vertical section of the house, also containing two chimneys, still standing.

To see this, the last remaining day of a grand house of privilege that inspired an even grander idea, was privilege.

It was awe inspiring. Ghastly. A ghost.

It was not gone yet.

Land's End: gate unlocked

The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel of all time, and has been for 20+ years, for myriad reasons. For language. For structure. For its innovation. For its portrayal of the American Dream. For Gatsby. Because I am a child of immigrants who believe in the Dream. For my love of the 20s. For my childhood in the 80s, paralleling the 20s. For desire.

The object of Jay Gatsby’s desire was Daisy Buchanan, who resided in the house with the green light at its dock. This place with the pool at the edge of the land, and a lawn that runs all the way to the pewter water. It was Fitzgerald’s desire, too.

Land's End: gate

I like to follow rules. I am such a rule follower that when someone tells me to “chill out,” I tell myself, “The rules are there are no rules.”

My husband has been convincing me to break a few rules here and there. For the last two weeks, he has been regaling me with tales of trespassing.

We didn’t know I’d trespass today.

I broke a rule for these pictures–the gate was unlocked, and I walked past the no trespassing signs. I walked no farther than halfway to the house, way short of the detritus and the one or two lonely and steadfast workers dismantling the structure.

I once held a cat, a victim of a car accident, and watched it die in my arms. Its amber eyes lost a depth to them when the cat died, the color turning into straw.

The ghost of the house remains–I can still see the outline of its great shadow, and its footprint underneath the rubble, void of valuables and brick, long auctioned off before destruction. It was huge and looming.

Inspiration cannot be dismantled.

More links on the Great Gatsby mansion:


Filed under Life, New York City, The Personal, The World, Travel, Writing

RIP Jeanne Leiby

Better: from The Southern Review

Jeanne Leiby, editor of The Southern Review, died in a car accident yesterday.

I never met Jeanne Leiby irl, nor have I had the privilege to call her a friend or even an acquaintance. But I know she was big-hearted and compassionate from the ways she crossed my life path.

She was known for treating writers well. She sent me handwritten rejection notes that might have been short, but that were kind and meaningful in a manner that I tried to emulate while I was Fiction Editor of Kartika Review.

And Leiby once commented on this blog, on a post about VIDA and gender representation in litmags. She didn’t have to leave a comment–she could have just glanced at what I had to say and moved on. But she didn’t–she put her two cents in (again, kind words), choosing participation over disregard.

That she could so briefly appear in my world and leave it a little more charmed, speaks to the kind of person she must be. I am sad she is no longer with us, and sad for the things still left uncharmed. RIP, Jeanne Leiby.


Filed under literary magazines


Spring in Central Park!

There was a dark time in my life when very little delight seeped into my psyche.

I finally watched “Black Swan” last night, and aside from the fact that I thought it was a classier version of “Showgirls,” I could empathize with that very strain of trying to be perfect, of trying to be something that was impossible, of being told that I had to “let it go,” but being scared to let it go, because my insides were full of aged fermented sadness and rage and unfulfilled desire.

And then one day, I had to let it go, because my insides overflowed, and what came out was terrifying and liberating and broken and I had to put myself together, and I remember the Hemingway quote where he said that everyone will be broken, but the broken parts will be stronger, and how I have felt a healed bone in the body of the love of my life, and how that part was knobby but thicker and how it will never be broken in the same spot, and how beautiful that knobby healed spot was to me. He doesn’t know exactly why I keep feeling the knot in his collarbone, but that is why–I am so in awe of that strength.

And now years and years later I realize that perfection lies in the imperfections, like a vinyl record’s pop and crackle. But I didn’t realize it then, I gripped onto expectations, and derided myself for falling short, and I broke.

The thing is, I had to go to the underground to come back. To be happy. To be filled with joy. I used to say that morose people were deeper, because they saw something that the rest of the world did not…but in hindsight, it’s the happy people who are more complex and wise. It is hard to be happy in this world, and happiness requires deep strength, and sometimes lots of strategy.

As a writer, I am responsible for a group of characters. A story has to be about unfulfilled desire, and so I must inflict a great deal of challenge and unhappiness upon them…but in the end, they must still engage in delight, for their benefit and for the benefit of the reader. (Seriously, do you want to read 400 pages of grim torture? I think all readers need a little bit of relief).

So every once in awhile, I make a list of things that delight me. And these are delights that I vow to share with my characters…and thus, with my readers. Here goes my list. What are yours?

watching snow fall * hearing a city go quiet under snow * a full moon * akamaru modern ramen w braised pork belly + a boiled egg at Ippudo * birthday cake truffles from Momofuku Milk Bar * dachshunds sleeping with their tongues hanging out * cool foggy air on my face * crocuses after a long cold winter * urban hawks * forsythia under grey skies * foggy san francisco sunsets * cotton candy pink clouds * fall foliage * sweater weather without a sweater * a small child remembering my name * walking in manhattan * riding the 7 * when life choreographs to music * growing my own food * farmers markets * when old friends visit me in a new town * good practical jokes * practical jokes gone slightly awry * hugs * blue walls * creative sidewalk graffiti * jia jiang myun * when words pour out of my head onto paper in pitch perfect succession * when while i am writing my own characters surprise me * makeup * funny signs that don’t intend to be funny * open houses * the sounds of a city * open markets * urban wild turkeys * mariage freres tea * good sheets * finding a good sale * people watching * sleeping until i wake up on my own * lavender * lillet blanc * long car drives * long walks * the whimsy of my husband * a glass of water on a hot day * ice storms from inside a warm home * hot apple cider on a cold day * snow laced tree branches * tulips * tuberoses * Dominican food * Korean food * doughnuts * watermelon * Central Park * snowmen * Waffle House * New York City * carbs * wind on my face * AC on a hot day * feeling like someone is really listening to me * the company of true friends * trying something new and discovering i like it * kind gestures * random, well-timed compliments * loyalty * Olympics award ceremonies * acceptance letters * sudden understanding of something misunderstood in my past * voluntary hugs from small children * a book i cannot put down * the sea, a lake, a river, an ocean * the moment the plane touches down *

I’ll stop there for now. What are yours?


Filed under Life, The Personal, Writing

Meditation on Perfect Days

"You Would"

Needless to say, I haven’t even looked at my novel since arriving in Berkeley. For various reasons. Responsibilities and obligations that overpower writing. It makes me sad. Frustrated. Angry. Guilty. Resentful. It makes me want to eat. Punish myself. It makes me feel small.

But I did have a perfect day out here this weekend. I met up with friends at yoga (lots of chanting, alas–it’s Berkeley after all). We went to the Bakesale for Japan, surrounded by a lot of love and baked goods.

My friend and I nibbled on our treats as I felt the cool and dewy foggy air on my face, the kind of air that makes my skin gurgle with delight. She and I hadn’t seen each other in months and we made easy talk, the kind that comes with long familiar periods of silence, a combination of good friendship and post-yoga calm. It was good to see her. It felt good to be with her.

I felt so balanced. No anger. No worries. No anxiety. Just peace.

When I got home I said to myself, “If I can fit writing in, this will be a perfect day.” And so I cracked open my journal and wrote. No pressure. No plot or character development or perfect language. Just thoughts. And feelings. A wonderful mess of writing, like listening to a vinyl record with its pop and crackle.

It was a perfect day.

When I had my stroke, I had, among many things, a lot of issues around short term memory. Mostly, I didn’t have a short term memory. Whatever had happened 15 minutes prior, I forgot. And forget about planning. I couldn’t plan anything at all. So I lived in the present tense.

My damaged brain was totally quiet. There was no  background “static” containing worries, anxieties, fretting, and grudges. Think about it–you probably have an ongoing radio in your head–try to silence it–it’s nearly impossible to turn it off. Stressing out requires memory. Worrying requires memory.

My brain was just quiet for the first 2 months of recovery. Just a blank. I couldn’t even figure out what to eat. I’d open the fridge, dizzy with hunger, and become overwhelmed with all the labels and ingredients inside. Too much. I’d shut the door and walk away from the noise that I could not process. Sit down. Forget I was hungry. Be dizzy. Be quiet. Stare at the wall for hours. Or maybe minutes. I didn’t know how much time had passed. Pet my dog, her soft fur. Stare at my fingers. Then stare at the wall. Turn the television on. Not understand a thing, forget the plot. Shut it off. Sit again. Quiet.

I now think, wow, that’s peace. That’s being in the present tense. In the midst of something awful, I was experiencing something magical, something people pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time to pursue: total silence.

It was a strange kind of peace–just blankness. There was nothing to negotiate–just a sense of being in the world, without awareness of boundaries or limits. I’ll never have that kind of peace again–because my life is not a blank page as it was in my brain damaged state.

My life is full–of emotions and experiences and geography and people and responsibilities and indulgence. It’s messy. My writing slays me. But I’d also never not write. But that sense of peace, that incredible feeling of being everything and nothing, all at once I felt when sick? The closest I get to it is by writing. And the different peace I get from writing, a day of good writing, far exceeds the blank slate.

So when I don’t write, or when my writing goes poorly, I struggle hard. I lose my center. I lose my peace. It’s difficult. But there’s no solution to it, other than to keep writing. And then comes the peace, that perfect day, once in a blue moon.


Filed under Life, Stroke, Writing