Browsing Tag

Liane Kupferberg Carter

Guest Posts, writing

Butterfly of the Moment

March 22, 2017
writer

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

After graduate school I drifted into a glamour job as a publicist for a well-known book publisher, where they paid me a pittance to write press releases and book jacket copy. It was fun for a while, until I went to my high school reunion and someone said, “I thought by now I’d be reading about you in the New York Times Book Review.”

“No,” I said, cringing. “I’m the publicist who makes sure other writers books get reviewed there.” I’d been editor in chief of our school yearbook; my poetry had been published in the school literary journal. My classmates remembered me as a writer; I was the one who’d forgotten.

So I signed up for a fiction writing class at the New School in Manhattan with an instructor who’d once written for the New Yorker. I’d never written short stories before. I turned one in; the next week, he returned it with a note: “I have several strong feelings concerning the story’s marketability. Rather than go into them here I ask that you telephone me so that we may discuss those possibilities.”

He wanted my permission to give the story to his agent, Candida Donadio, a name I knew from my work in book publishing. She was legendary, a hard drinking, potty-mouthed, tough old broad who’d been the agent of her generation, representing Thomas Pynchon, Mario Puzo and Phillip Roth. I felt like a fraud. I’d written exactly one short story. But I told the instructor yes.

A week later Candida sold the story to Cosmopolitan magazine for the dazzling sum of $1500. She invited me to a celebratory lunch at the Russian Tea Room. I’d pictured her as a cultured, elegantly dressed older woman; the maitre d’ showed me to a table where a short, heavy-set woman with hair coiled in an unfashionable bun atop her head sat chain smoking.

“Why you’re just a baby,” she rasped. We shook hands. I could barely breathe, let alone eat. I was kneeling at the altar of literature. All through lunch she fed me publishing tidbits. The first book she’d ever sold, she said, had been a novel by Joseph Heller called Catch-18. They changed it because Leon Uris was already publishing a book called Mila-18. “He switched it to ‘Catch-22 because Oct. 22nd is my birthday,” Candida said.

What was I doing there? I was an imposter. This was a fluke. Should I come clean? “You know,” I ventured, “I don’t have a body of work to show you yet. This is my first story.”

She cackled. “You’re full of shit,” she said. A month later she sold my second story to Cosmopolitan.

It’s not supposed to be this easy, I thought. And of course it wasn’t. Over the next few years I wrote several more stories, amassing a collection of encouraging rejection letters from the New Yorker and the Atlantic. Each Christmas I sent a gift box of fruit and cookies to Candida’s office. “You’re a honey for thinking of me, and I send you in return good wishes for the New Year in which I hope to see a novel by L.C.,” she wrote.

I produced that novel. Candida hated it. She returned the manuscript to me with a note so crushingly painful it still makes me shudder. It ended, “I regret so much. And after all the years of pears and cookies. Lordy!!”

Eventually I scraped myself off the floor.

Even if I wasn’t a novelist, even if the most high-powered literary agent on the planet told me I was full of shit, I was still a writer. Isn’t a painter still an artist even when no one buys his canvases?

“It is necessary to write,” Vita Sackville-West said, “if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.”

I still fill the days with words, because I cannot imagine doing anything else. Writing calls me home — to myself.
ketchup+is+my+favorite+vegetable-Front+Cover+090915+reduced
Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of the memoir, Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism (Jessica Kingsley Publishers.) Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Brain, Child, Brevity, Literary Mama, and The Manifest-Station. For more information, visit her website at http://www.lianekupferbergcarter.com/, follow her on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/LianeKupferbergCarter/ and Twitter at @Lianecarter.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Cherry Red

December 21, 2016
cherry

CW: This essay discusses assault.

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

John Gravely was our neighborhood house painter. He was never John, or Mr. Gravely. Just John-Gravely.  He was always cheerful, and whistled when he worked. Sometimes, while he scraped and painted, I’d climb the creaky wood stairs to the attic, where my parents kept an old office typewriter on an old metal stand that made a clackety racket whenever I struck the keys. Pecking happily, I would make up stories about my little brother and our 14 first cousins; report on close escapes from Lancer, the Doberman Pinscher who terrorized us neighborhood kids; or invent adventures for Nancy Drew and her pals.  I’d skip downstairs to read my stories aloud to anyone who’d listen. John-Gravely was always happy to put down his paint brush, wipe his hands on a stiff gray rag and watch me intently with his crossed blue eyes. Those eyes made me a little uncomfortable, so I tried not to look too closely. I’d had surgery on my eyes when I was six, so they didn’t cross like his, but they weren’t straight either.  Sometimes kids made fun of me; it made me shy.  But I didn’t feel shy with John-Gravely. He always paid attention to me.  When I read him my stories, he laughed in the right places.  Each time he’d say, “You’re going to be a famous writer one day.”

The year I was eleven, I asked my mother if we could redecorate my room.  “I want a grown up bedroom like Cherry Ames,” I said. Cherry Ames was the nurse-heroine of my favorite book series. Her bedroom was cherry red, and it had white curtains tied back with clusters of red cherries that matched her cherry red lips. She traveled everywhere and had thrilling romances.

Mom ordered red carpeting, and picked out red and white paisley patterned curtains with  matching bedspread and bolsters. I didn’t like the fabric, but Mom did. “It’s chic and sophisticated,” she said.  “One day you’ll love it.”  She always knew things like that about me.

My mother asked John-Gravely to come remove my pink butterfly wallpaper and paint my bedroom crisp white. One afternoon I came home from school and Mom announced,  “John-Gravely’s here! ”

I hadn’t seen him in two years. I flew upstairs. John-Gravely was standing in the center of my bedroom, holding a wooden  tape measure. The overhead light was off; the room was shadowed with late afternoon sunlight.

“Hey! You’ve grown!” he said, grinning. “How old are you now?”

“Almost twelve,” I told him.

“And you’re going to have a new room,” he said. “A real young lady’s room. And what a lovely young lady you’ve become.” He clicked the segments of the tape measure closed. “You’ve really grown.” His crossed blue eyes looked shiny wet.

I blushed. I knew I had gotten taller, even though I’d spent the last year hunching to hide the breasts I’d grown before any of the girls at school. I was mortified that I’d just gotten my period; none of the other girls had that either.

“I’m already over five feet tall,” I said.

“Yes, you’ve really grown,” John-Gravely said again.  He stepped next to the radiator I was slouching against. He was wearing his usual paint-splattered overalls, and a painter’s white cap on his yellow hair. I’d never been so near him before. Up close his hair looked unnatural, as if he’d glued it on. Did men wear wigs?  And it looked as if he didn’t have any eyebrows. Or any lashes either.  It made me feel queasy.

John-Gravely moved his hand up and down my arm. Then he leaned over and nuzzled my neck with his cheek.  My heart hammered.  But I was afraid to hurt his feelings, so I stood utterly still.  I felt his lips touch my neck.  Hot trailing kisses up the side of my face.

“Yes, really grown,” John-Gravely murmured. His voice was soft. Strange. Breathing hard.  His arm came firmly around my ribs. Then he pulled me tight against his side and cupped my small right breast in his grey spackled hand.

The bedroom tilted; the air cracked with danger.

I pulled away unsteadily.  “Mom’s calling me,” I said. Then I tore down the stairs.

“Did you have a nice chat with John-Gravely?” my mother asked absently, putting down a plate of my favorite Vienna Fingers cookies on the kitchen table.

I sat and lowered my blazing face. I could never tell her.

“Do you want some milk?”

Really grown.

It must be my fault. My fault.  I’d been too happy to see him.

“How was school today? Do you have much homework?” she said.

Heart still racing, I gulped down cookies I did not taste, answering questions

curtly, behaving as if my world hadn’t changed forever.

Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of the memoir, Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism (Jessica Kingsley Publishers.) Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Brain, Child, Brevity, Literary Mama, and The Manifest-Station. For more information, visit her website athttp://www.lianekupferbergcarter.com/, follow her on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/LianeKupferbergCarter/ and Twitter at @Lianecarter.

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

 

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Friendship, Guest Posts, Women

A Small Coin For Your Thinking

December 3, 2016
coin

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

“I’m kidnapping you to Italy and this time I’m not taking no for an answer,” my college roommate Pat announces.

Pat bought a vacation house in Umbria, Italy eight years ago, but my husband Marc and I have never visited. We aren’t able to travel together much because we have a developmentally disabled son. “You should go with Pat,” Marc says. “It’s the trip of a lifetime.”

Still, travel is a mixed bag. There’s the pleasure of it, of course. But there is always an undercurrent of longing and sadness too. I so wish Marc and I could travel together. And I feel guilty. Doesn’t he deserve some respite too? Why should I be the one who gets to go gallivanting?

“What can I bring you?” I ask him. “Gloves? A wallet? Wine?”

“An ancient Etruscan artifact,” he says.

“Right,” I say. “I’ll go digging up Pat’s back yard.”

Pat has invited three of her closest friends. None of us knows each other well.  “What if we don’t get along? What if the others don’t like me?” I ask Pat.

“Lynne and Eve said the same thing!” she says. “Do you think I would have put us together if I thought we wouldn’t click?”

So I pack, in my usual anxious way, for every contingency. A first aid kit. A four inch folding umbrella. An Italian phrase book. I’m the kind of girl who always remembers to bring the toothpaste. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts

To Be Beautiful You Have to Suffer

August 21, 2016
dance

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

I was dragged to Ruth Skaller’s Ballet Studio for Girls the year I was seven. I had never expressed any interest in dancing. But earlier that year, I’d had surgery on my eyes, and someone suggested that dancing might help my coordination.

Ruth Skaller was a tall, olive-skinned woman of indeterminate age, whose classes were filled with giggling girls she whipped into line with the snap of her voice. Through a series of barre exercises, we would sweep our Capezio slippers over the polished pale wood floors, plié, rond de jambe, relèvé, to the strains of haunting, melancholy piano music on the Victrola that only years later would I recognize as Chopin. Mrs. Skaller would stand before the mirror, lower face cupped thoughtfully in her hand, humming as she turned out muscled legs beneath her skirt drapery until she had choreographed our next steps. We would line up, and then, like drifting dandelion fluff — or lumbering elephants — cross the room on the diagonal, spinning and spotting, pirouetting our way dizzily across the studio.

Often the next class would arrive while we were in progress. Taller, lankier girls would perch on the painted radiators, or sweep into the dressing room behind the studio, a gray affair of cubbies and wrought iron bars over narrow dusty windows that faced an unpaved alley. Swinging rectangular black plastic ballet boxes with pink Barbie-faced ballerinas painted on the front, they would click open the vinyl snaps to remove leotard and tights, then open cunning spaces at the bottom which concealed the soft shoes, or, for the lucky ones, pale pink satin toe shoes with wooden toe blocks. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts

Letting Go

April 22, 2016
pet

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

I get the news moments before my 21 year old autistic son Mickey gets home. The biopsy is back: our fourteen year old cat Fudge has lymphoma.

I still manage to greet Mickey cheerfully when he walks through the door. But he knows me too well. “Do you have sad news for me? Is Fudge dead?”

So much for the myth that people with autism have no empathy.

We try a course of chemo. She responds better than we expect. But late one Sunday night, Fudge suddenly pees on the carpet. She has never done this. She staggers, and looks spacey. Something is very, very wrong. When I pick her up, she is limp.

“Is Fudge dying?” Mickey asks. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

A Room Of My Own

October 28, 2015

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

The summer after graduate school, I accepted a job as a copywriter at a well known publishing firm. I had been recruited and hired by a woman named Serena, a blonde, cooly professional woman, who praised my work lavishly. I loved my job. But two months later, Serena was inexplicably fired. They replaced her with a shrill, sarcastic woman named Crystal, who’d once worked for – and been fired by – Serena, and so she took an instant dislike to anyone Serena had hired. Especially me. I believed my work was good; I was dilligent, always met deadlines, and the editors consistently praised me. Yet each week Crystal would summon me to her office, and catalog what she labeled as my professional failings. Some nights, weary and ready to weep, I would finally pry myself from the vise-hold of that office, and Crystal would look pointedly at the clock. “Running out early again?” she would say.

I couldn’t wait to get home. My cat would meow plaintively as soon as she heard my key in the door. Some nights, when I was just too tired to cook dinner, I’d go to the freezer, shave off a slice of frozen Sarah Lee chocolate cake, sit by the window and listen to a scratchy recording of  Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I was dismal that winter. I had just lost my beloved Aunt Jeanette, and Dvorak’s sonorous second movement, a beautifully melancholy melody based on an old spiritual called “Going Home,” spoke to my sadness. Continue Reading…

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