Category Archives: Shakespeare

A World-Without-End Bargain

I don’t know what you did this year, but you must have been naughty, because you’re getting my Christmas song (listen below!). Though I tend to be a very private person, I granted a rare interview with myself—to myself—so that you might learn more about this seasonal ode.

Q: Okay, that stops right there.
A: What?
Q: Flowery language like “seasonal ode.”
A: What if I’m talking about a poinsettia? Wouldn’t flowery language be appropriate then? Even necessary?
Q: This is going to be a long interview.

On celebrity cameos…
Q: What are a few of your favorite things about “The Christmas After This”?
A: Hey, I like what you did there!
Q: I’m not a total grinch.
A: One of my favorite things about this song is that it contains celebrity voices.
Q: Such as?
A: Such as Betty White quoting Robert Browning.
Q: How did you manage that?
A: I have my ways.
Q: Don’t pretend I don’t know your ways! I’m aware of everything you think, say, or do.
A: There are fifteen celebrity voices in all.
Q: Any more answers to questions I never asked?

On fanfare…
A: Another of my favorite things about this song is that it opens with literal fanfare.
Q: A short and lively sounding of trumpets?
A: Yes. Not to toot my own horn.
Q: Are you saying that you didn’t play trumpet on the recording?
A: No.
Q: So, you did play trumpet on the recording?
A: No. I’m saying yes, I didn’t play trumpet on the recording.
Q: I’m glad we cleared that up.
A: I’m not good with wind instruments. I don’t have enough hot air, if you can believe that.
Q: I really can’t.
A: I tried to learn the flute, when I was a kid, but I was awful. I kept going to the lessons, though, because I liked the orange soda in the vending machine.
Q: I’m pretending not to know you.

On Christmas love songs…
Q: What is “The Christmas After This” about?
A: It’s about getting engaged at Christmas, to be married the following Christmas.
Q: So, it’s a love song.
A: I think all Christmas songs are love songs.
Q: How so?
A: They woo the perfect Christmas—which remains sweetly out of reach.
Q: What did I say about flowery language?
A: Sorry.
Q: Do you think getting married on Christmas would be romantic?
A: I do. Just family and close friends. Big red bows everywhere, and pinecones. Candles burning. It’s perfect because everyone’s already in a festive mood.
Q: What’s your favorite part of Christmas?
A: Eggnog!
Q: Do you make it yourself?
A: I buy it at the store—apologies to the purists out there.
Q: Brandy, rum, or whiskey?
A: Neither, nor, nor. I find that alcohol impairs the nogginess of the flavor. Though I’m not opposed to an eggnog martini, as history has shown.

On three kinds of choruses…
Q: As you were recording this song—
A: And thanks for not lifting a finger to help—
Q: I noticed you included three different kinds of choruses.
A: I didn’t know you could count that high.
Q: Can you elaborate?
A: I thought your feeble intellect would prevent you—
Q: About the kinds of choruses!
A: Well, the first is a spoken chorus that introduces the song and provides a running commentary.
Q: How about the second kind?
A: That’s a regular old pop chorus that repeats the song’s main message.
Q: You mean, something like, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah”?
A: Yes, but not that erudite.
Q: And the third kind?
A: It’s a choir-type chorus that offers an angelic counterpoint to my own terrible sound.
Q: Tell me more about the spoken chorus, which is something you don’t really see outside Greek or Elizabethan drama—perhaps with good reason.
A: It took me a while to figure out what the spoken chorus was doing. The song itself covers the marriage proposal, which takes place this Christmas. The spoken chorus spans from this Christmas to next Christmas, narrating from the engagement through the wedding ceremony.
Q: That’s almost interesting.
A: The spoken chorus is written in iambic tetrameter, if you must know—my God, you’re persistent!

On the Bard…
Where’s the Shakespeare?
A: Here, there, and everywhere.
Q: As usual.
A: The whole idea of waiting exactly a year to get married was lifted from Love’s Labour’s Lost. There are two direct quotes from that play in the song.
Q: Is it the line about snogging under the mistletoe?
A: Do you even know what “snogging” means?
Q: Hey, I ask the questions around here.
A: To me, the song’s spoken chorus is reminiscent, in purpose and tone, of the prologue in the play-within-the-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Q: Congratulations. Maybe one person in the world knows what the heck you’re talking about.
A: Then at least I’ve reached another person.
Q: I was talking about you.
A: I picked up the word “glistering” from The Merchant of Venice.
Q: Sure, just keep going.
A: There’s the famous line, “All that glisters is not gold.” I love how “glister” seems to be a combination of “glitter” and “glisten.”
Q: I applaud your use archaic language that hasn’t been heard since the late sixteenth century and, even then, was outdated.
A: I’ll take your sarcasm as a compliment.
Q: It’s the closest you’re going to get.

On other influences…
Did you steal from anyone besides Shakespeare?
A: I once saw the comedian Gallagher smash a watermelon with a sledgehammer as part of his act.
Q: And that somehow inspired this song?
A: Not at all. What a strange question. But Christmas was a big influence. And music.
Q: Christmas and music. Can you be more specific?
A: Johnny Mathis is one of my favorite Christmas crooners. For the very last line of the song, I asked myself, “How would Johnny Mathis sing this?” I tried to channel his style.
Q: Were you successful?
A: I have no idea, but my dad once did Johnny Mathis’s taxes! That’s almost a tongue twister: “Mathis’s taxes.”
Q: Your father was an accountant?
A: No, a plumber.

“The Christmas After This” contains two sound effects, from

The Christmas After This


“The Christmas After This”



Christmas, “The First Noël,” “Deck the Halls,” Johnny Mathis, Greek and Elizabethan choruses, Love’s Labour’s Lost and other Shakespeare

F major

What I imagine Santa might say:

  • “This song is the musical equivalent of a lump of coal.”
  • “Frankly, I would have preferred an unspoken chorus.”
  • “I can’t believe I didn’t even get a mention.”
  • “Believe me, I’ve heard all the songs about Christmas, and let me tell you, this is one of them.”
  • “I’m a sucker for sleigh bells.”


All hark ye, park thee round the tree
To mark this merry comedy

Since we met
I’m in your debt
Now lend me your ear

Take my word
Let it be heard
How I need you here

Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this
As both
Our troth
Do swear

The Christmas after this one
The Christmas after this, hon
The Christmas after this

A halo round a moonless stone
A glistering to gild your own

Take this ring
We’ll do our thing
For just one more year

Take a chance
On our romance
Forge a new frontier

Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this
As both
Our troth
Do swear

The Christmas after this one
The Christmas after this, hon
The Christmas after this

An old guitar, romantic jargon
To seal a world-without-end bargain

[Hummed verse]

Take this song
And dream along
With your balladeer

[Instrumental pre-chorus and chorus]

A dress of wool, a suit of lace (“That’s backwards!”)
An oath beside the fireplace (“Egad, that’s hot!”)
Some nog for toasting, “Cheerio!”
A snog beneath the mistletoe

Take my hand
And it is planned
Yea, our day is near

Take my heart
We’ll never part
Nay, nor never fear

Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this
As both (as both)
Our troth (our troth)
Do swear

I will be thine
Take all that’s mine

The Christmas after this one
The Christmas after this, hon
The Christmas after this

The Christmas after this kiss
The Christmas after this bliss
The Christmas after this

The Perfume of a Rose

“The Factory” (listen below!) is a strange song. There, I said it, so you don’t have to. Perhaps its strangeness comes from the fact that it was inspired, in equal parts, by (1) an abandoned brick factory, (2) the song “Sixteen Tons,” (3) the Romantic poet Lord Byron, and (4) the musical Hadestown.

brick factory

Why an abandoned brick factory?

Ruins are hauntingly cool.

Last November, I saw a photo of an old brick factory located in the Hudson River Valley of New York. At the end of the 19th century, this region was the largest brick manufacturer in the world. In the photo, the factory’s front wall (made of brick, naturally) was overgrown by trees, plants, and vines. It had no idea it was about to become a metaphor in a strange song.

Merle Travis

Why the song “Sixteen Tons”?

It’s gritty and refers to arduous manual labor.

When I thought about the back-breaking business of brickmaking, Merle Travis’s 1947 folk classic about a coal miner came to mind. I was familiar with a modern cover of the song, which appears in the opening credits of one of my favorite movies, Joe Versus the Volcano. I wrote my song to the melody of “Sixteen Tons,” interjecting my own melody later.

Lord Byron

Why the Romantic poet Lord Byron?

I was an English major.

In the song’s third verse, “Way back in eighty-eight” refers to 1788, the year in which Lord Byron was born—not to the ’88 in which padded-shoulder power suits were popular.


Why the musical Hadestown?

It depicts the underworld as a machine shop.

As the mood for “The Factory” developed, I thought, “Why does this feel familiar?” I realized my supremely unique creation was reminiscent of Hadestown, the Tony-winning musical that retells two Greek myths related to the underworld. The orchestra in the Broadway production I saw several years ago had included seven musicians, playing piano, violin, cello, guitar, trombone, glockenspiel, double bass, and percussion. So, that’s exactly the instrumentation you will find in “The Factory”—with the addition of regular old bass guitar.

What? No Shakespeare?

“The Factory” contains references to The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, and Julius Caesar.

What? No sound effects?

“The Factory” contains four sound effects, from

The Factory


“The Factory”



An abandoned brick factory, “Sixteen Tons,” Lord Byron, Hadestown

A minor

What I imagine a brick might say:

  • “I can guarantee you not one brick was consulted in the making of this song.”
  • “The ‘bricky’ sound effects in the bridge are just insulting.”
  • “I resent the use of bricks as a metaphor. Much prefer a nice brick fireplace. Or even mailbox stand.”
  • “‘Pile of bricks’? Pile of s#*t.”


The way you double-cross me got me tied up in knots
Your mama was a leopard, get a look at those spots
You never did a thing—but to bring me pain
Your mercy don’t come like a summer rain

There’s a pile of bricks (oh) this side of your heart
Pump them out just to keep us apart
Ain’t glad to report from what I can see
It’s business as usual at the factory

You squeezed my little fingers as you planted your horns
The perfume of a rose though you were only the thorns
You judge me guilty of—keeping love from you
And, oh, did your maker forsake you, too?

There’s a pile of bricks (oh) this side of your heart
Pump them out just to keep us apart
Ain’t glad to report from what I can see
It’s business as usual at the factory

It’s like talking to a wall
Will it take a ton of bricks to fall?
Are you hearing me at all?

Way back in eighty-eight the Fates made merry your birth
A wanderlust would carry you all over God’s earth
Before you wore a beard you got yourself some fame
But mine’s the rhyme that got you to a household name
A Hero and a Brutus—got to look the same
Cuz, Lord, I’m Judas in your book of blame

There’s a pile of bricks (oh) this side of your heart
Pump them out just to keep us apart
Ain’t glad to report from what I can see
It’s business as usual—

There’s a pile of dust (oh) that used to be bricks
Wonder how you’re gonna get your kicks
I’m sad to report from where I can see
Ain’t nothing no more of your factory

Christmas in July

I don’t have a new song to share (just a snippet), but I thought I would report on some compositions that have a chance of being recorded on my living room couch sometime soon.

I get ideas for songs all the time. Most of them offer a moment of amusement as they float in and out of my mind. The ones that stick get a working title and a file on my computer. A few of these continue to claim my attention as I go about trying to be a productive citizen. Typically, there’s an initial burst of inspiration, resulting in some rough lyrics—followed by the hard work (and pure joy) of fleshing out the “story,” hammering out the meter and rhyme scheme, and puzzling out the words. Sometimes, a tune that naturally undergirded the lyrics as they formed becomes the final melody. Otherwise, I listen. And wait.

Here are some song ideas that have stuck, in various stages of being realized. (All titles are working titles.)

“The Factory”

Current form:
Partial recording

An abandoned brick factory in the Hudson River Valley, the song “Sixteen Tons,” the Romantic poet Lord Byron, the musical Hadestown

Sample lyric:
Your mama was a leopard, get a look at those spots

Intrigued by a photo of the ruins of an old brick factory, I began writing the lyrics for “The Factory” in New Orleans last November—to the melody of “Sixteen Tons.” Merle Travis’s 1947 folk classic about a coal miner evoked a vibe that felt apropos for a song about a brick factory. My lyrics were largely intact within three weeks. Then came the excruciating task of extracting the iconic “Sixteen Tons” melody and replacing it with my far, far, far lesser one. I am in the midst of recording “The Factory,” but you can listen to the preliminary bridge here.

Preliminary Bridge for “The Factory”

“Ma Belle”

Current form:
Preliminary lyrics

The sights and sounds of Paris

Sample lyric:
When you were learning how to spell
Did you ride this carousel?

I penned the lyrics for “Ma Belle” (French for “my beautiful”) about six weeks ago, in Paris and on the flight home. So far, every line either repeats or rhymes with belle. The song contains a complete sentence in French, and I don’t speak French at all, so I’m preparing myself for total humiliation. (I might have done better with a song inspired by Madrid. Or London.) “Ma Belle” is presently sans mélodie.

“The Christmas After This”

Current form:
Partial lyrics

Christmas, the play Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sample lyric:
Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this

About two weeks ago, I started writing a Christmas song! I have hardly kept my fondness for Christmas music a secret from this blog. (See Christmix Tape and Please Have Snow and Mistletoe.) I am thrilled by the idea of contributing to this timeless canon, even if only a few people will ever hear “The Christmas After This”—which is based on a monologue from one of Shakespeare’s early comedies. The best part is that I have almost half a year to finish it!

Isaiah’s Bucket List

Current form:
A few notes jotted down

An Uber driver in Dallas

Isaiah gave me a ride from a hotel in downtown Dallas to DFW. He told me that before retiring, he had driven a bus for thirty years—winning a trip to Jamaica as bus driver of the year (twice). Isaiah wants to visit three places before his time on earth is up: Alaska (because he’s amazed that people can live where it’s so cold), New York City (because you can get a pizza there at three in the morning), and Hawaii (because the air smells like flowers). Isaiah has a wife and two grown children. He thinks the big houses on the highway are too close together. His voice is like molasses.

Finally, a few songs that are just working titles at this point:

“The Day We Never Met”

“Turn Your Back”

“R Kid”

Stay tuned!

A Familiar Ring

I wrote my latest song (listen below!) while vacationing in France last month. I worked out the lyrics for the chorus during a drive through the French countryside, between Champagne and Paris; the melody for the chorus came to me that evening, while wandering the Musée d’Orsay. (I realize the construction of that sentence makes it sound like the melody was wandering the Musée d’Orsay. “Funny running into you! I was looking for a melody.” Actually, that’s pretty much how it happened.)

The verses for “Do You Know Me? (Getting By)” came together the following day, after a visit to the Picasso Museum. (To be clear, it was I, not the verses, who visited the Picasso Museum and later had a cucumber martini.) Below, you can read the famed artist’s imagined comments regarding the song he partially inspired. Spoiler alert: they’re scathing!

What should I tell you about this song? I would like to think the opening idea, of being unfamiliar with one’s own face, was entirely original. But I believe it was informed, at least subconsciously, by the lyrics of three of my favorite musicians, in songs I have listened to many dozens of times:

Freedy Johnston, “Radio for Heartache”
He was so alone
He wouldn’t have recognized his face

Neil Finn, “Try Whistling This”
If I can’t be with you, I would rather have a different face

Elvis Costello, “Stranger in the House”
There’s a stranger in the house
Nobody’s seen his face
But everybody says he’s taken my place
There’s a stranger in the house
No one will ever see
But everybody says he looks like me

Perhaps these lines have stuck with me because they are so startlingly surreal, like Picasso’s surrealist portraits. The face is so intimately connected to identity that if you were not to recognize your own, or to feel detached or dissociated from it, that could be cause for an existential crisis, indeed! In a dream, have you ever looked in a mirror and seen someone else looking back? For me, that discovery is typically accompanied by a scream. Or imagine the unease of sitting for Picasso, only to discover, upon viewing the finished work, that your eyes are arranged diagonally, your nose is in your hair, and your lips are blue!

You would probably not be surprised to learn that the second line of the song’s third verse (“The salad days weren’t meant to last”) contains a reference to Shakespeare. In Act I, Scene 5, of Antony and Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen refers to her “salad days,” when she was “green in judgment.” The phrase has come to mean a time of youthful inexperience, or the peak or heyday of something.

CREDITS: The featured image for this post is Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter (1937, polka dots mine), photo taken by me at the Picasso Museum in Paris. Neil Finn wrote “Try Whistling This” with Australian musician Jim Moginie. “Do You Know Me? (Getting By)” contains two sound effects, from

Do You Know Me? (Getting By)


“Do You Know Me? (Getting By)”



Freedy Johnston, Neil Finn, Elvis Costello, Pablo Picasso

G major

What I imagine Picasso might have said:

  • Surreal is a polite word for these lyrics.”
  • “This is not pop art. See what I did there?”
  • “I apologize for being a muse on this one.”
  • “This song has sent me right back to my Blue Period.”


Woke up—I didn’t know my face
I left it in another place
I disappeared without a trace
But I’ve been getting by

Went out—I didn’t know my name
I couldn’t play or sing the same
I’ll never climb the heights of fame
But I’ve been getting by (bye, bye)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do my words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh)
Do you know?

Got back—I didn’t know my past
The salad days weren’t meant to last
And yet the end came on so fast
But I’m still getting by (bye, bye) (bye, bye)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do my words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do these words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh) (oh-oh)
Do you know?

Woke up—I didn’t know my face
I left it in another place
I kept it in a crystal vase
But I’ve been getting by (bye, bye) (bye, bye) (bye, bye)

Fall Me Out of Love

Today is Mother’s Day, and I hope my mother will like my latest song (listen below!). No one has heard this ditty yet, but I have anticipated the feedback (conjectured below), and it isn’t great.

You might think of “Silver Bracelet” as an imagining of the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia. If you look (not that) hard, Hamlet does not appear to be a very good boyfriend. “I did love you once,” he says, but in the next breath: “I never loved thee.” Then: “Get thee to a nunnery.” Also: “Thou shalt not escape calumny.” (Calumny just sounds bad, doesn’t it? It means slander.)

Apologies for the song’s somber-sounding final line (“I’ll wear this silver bracelet when I’m dead”), but Ophelia drowns in the end, after all. When she attempts to hang floral wreaths on a willow tree growing over a brook, the branch she is grasping breaks, and she falls into the water. As she sinks, she chants “snatches of old tunes,” perhaps one like this, about her rotten (in the state of Denmark) boyfriend.

Speaking of Shakespeare, in the last line of the third verse, I lifted the phrase “winged Cupid” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A modern-day song probably shouldn’t require footnotes, but I want to explain another reference in that line. It is said, perhaps in classical mythology or perhaps by a random individual with a fertile imagination and Internet access, that Cupid has two arrows: a barbed, gold-tipped one to make people fall in love, and a blunted, silver-tipped one to make people fall out of love. This information will serve you as you listen to “Silver Bracelet” but probably never again.

I was attracted to the idea of writing a song about a silver bracelet for the perverse reason that nothing rhymes with silver. Or with bracelet, for that matter, but that didn’t stop me from providing off rhymes for it. (An off rhyme, or near rhyme, is a rhyme in which the words sound the same but do not rhyme perfectly. Example: “bracelet”/“chase it.”) Because I couldn’t rhyme anything with silver, I decided to repeat the word until it lost all meaning. In fact, it appears in every line of every verse, in the same position (beats 6 and 7), as well as in the chorus. (Let’s just say you won’t be wondering what this song is about!)

A sound effect appears in the recording of “Silver Bracelet,” and I am honor-bound to credit the source. Thank you,

Silver Bracelet


“Silver Bracelet”



Dolly Parton

C major

What I imagine people might say:

  • “What’s with all the references to Shakespeare? Is it 1622?”
  • “This is her eighth song? Maybe she should have stopped at seven.”
  • “Cupid makes people fall in love, not out. Dumb.”
  • “Good Lord! If I never hear the word silver again, it will be too soon.”
  • “I have a silver bracelet, and this song has ruined it.”

NEW! What people have actually said, now that people have actually heard it:

  • “Very clever, fun.”
  • “Cool!”
  • “I love it!”
  • “Never been a fan of breakup songs, but this is a good one.”
  • “I loved it! I definitely heard the Dolly influence and think she would love it.”
  • “I played it in the car and it’s so catchy, I found myself happily singing along.”
  • “I LOVE THIS! (And there’s no such thing as too many Shakespeare references, IMHO.)”
  • “Bravo!! Brilliant all around.”
  • “This could be a Dolly Parton song for sure! I’m always so impressed by your clever lyrics!”
  • “I love the double-dubbing of your voice. Very effective. And I love the song.”
  • “OMG, OMG. Dolly, Shakespeare, fun, tristesse, all at once. More, more!” [I had to look up tristesse, and it’s the perfect word; it means “a state of melancholy sadness.”]
  • “Another great song!“
  • “You have a good country sound to your voice!”
  • “Got a lil Dolly happening here!”


I used to think this silver bracelet meant that you were mine
The day you placed that silver chain on me I felt so fine
We kissed beneath a silver moon, away from all the crowd
I missed that every silver lining has to have a cloud

Silver bracelet
Why’d I chase it
Right into your hands?
Silver bracelet—
Try to face it—
Won’t become two bands
This silver bracelet won’t become two bands

I guess I thought this silver bracelet meant you’d be around
You’ve got me on a silver platter, but you can’t be found
I sit and fret each silver letter etching out my name
Unstrung by when your silver tongue is whispering the same (Ophelia)

Silver bracelet
Why’d I chase it
Right into your arms?
Silver bracelet—
Count the ways it
Hooks me with your charms
This silver bracelet hooks me with your charms

[Instrumental verse]

Silver bracelet
Why’d I chase it
Right into your hands?
Silver bracelet—
Try to face it—
Won’t become two bands
This silver bracelet won’t become two bands

And now I know this silver bracelet means that I am yours
You’ve thrown away the silver key that opens up the doors
Alone behind your silver bars, I call to one above:
Winged Cupid, with your silver arrow, fall me out of love! 

Silver bracelet
Why’d I chase it
Right into your bed?
Silver bracelet—
Can’t erase it—
Wear it ’til I’m dead
This silver bracelet, wear it ’til I’m dead (oh-oh)
I’ll wear this silver bracelet when I’m dead

Still Pretty as a Flower

You might wonder how I went from talking about writing a novel to actually writing and recording songs. I suppose it all began on November 12, 2019, when I paid $20 for a classical guitar in a marketplace in Mexico City. I felt very cool bringing my guitarrita home on the plane, slung over my shoulder in its soft case. I later determined the instrument was more diminutive than a half-size version of a standard guitar—essentially making it a toy.

I had purchased a small-body, steel-string acoustic a year earlier, taken three or four lessons, and quit. My hands were just too tiny. Or my pinkies too petite. Or my arms too long. But the nylon strings of my souvenir from south of the border were forgiving. The scale length was short. The frets were narrower, increasing my reach. I was on my way.

Cut to two months ago, when I enrolled in an online class for writing and producing songs: three of them, in thirty days. Today I am sharing my second submission, which was the second song I had ever written and the second I had ever produced. “Your Sister Rose and You” is a retro-sounding ditty about reincarnation, with a chorus referencing Shakespeare. (I know, so cliché.) The “reviews” below came from my peers in the class.

Your Sister Rose and You


“Your Sister Rose and You”



The Monkees

B-flat major

What people are saying:

  • “I really like the way you’ve made such an interesting recording. Has kind of vaudeville roots to it.”
  • “Dig it! Brass always gets me.”
  • “So clever! Well done. It’s really a pleasure to listen to this.”
  • “Your lyrics are great. I can see why you’re a writer! I love the vocal treatment. Very interesting. Fun to hear. And original as a whole approach.”
  • “Very cool vibe. Reminds me of songs from the end of the 20th century—that’s a compliment, as I love that genre!”


I ran into your sister Rose
Still pretty as a flower
I’m well, and you? and so it goes
We spoke for half an hour

I told her I was wondering
If she remembered anything

She locked you in her memory
(Feeding penguins at the zoo)
And you yourself would keep the key
(Pointing at a caribou)
It’s such a lovely place to be
Your sister Rose and you, ooh, too

I mentioned you were up the coast
And not too hard to find
She looked as if she’d seen a ghost
She almost lost her mind

I told her I was wondering
If she remembered anything

She locked you in her memory
(Flying kites into the blue)
And you yourself would keep the key
(Playing Battleship and Clue)
It’s such a lovely place to be
Your sister Rose and you, ooh, too

We never lose the ones we love, and here’s the reason why:
They keep on coming round until there is no more goodbye

[Instrumental interlude]

He’s changed a lot since he’s been dead—
You’d take him for another
I’d know him in my heart, she said
I love him—he’s my brother

I told her I was wondering
If she remembered anything

She locked you in her memory
(On a train to Waterloo)
And you yourself would keep the key
(To the north of Katmandu)
It’s such a lovely place to be
Your sister Rose and you, ooh

Your sister Rose and you, ooh, too

I See Us in the End, Dear

It’s alive! My blog is back, and it’s bigger and better than ever! Or smaller and worse; that’s the other possibility. In this reboot of the little-known blog that spawned a lesser-known book, I will be sharing songs I have written! Gone are the dreary musings on metaphors, semicolons, and New Yorker cartoons. Banished are the pretentious quotes from Shakespeare. (Oh, who are we kidding? I pilfer most of my lyrics from the Bard.) I never expected to be making music at this point in my life—and by golly, you’re going to hear about it!

For this first post of Novel-Gazing 2.0, I thought I would start slowly and dive right in. Directly below this paragraph, if my calculations are correct, you will find a link to a recording of the fifth song I have ever written. “See Us in the End” (for that is its name) is my attempt at an early 1960s album filler. Directly below the link, you will find a brief profile of the song. Spoiler alert: the profile includes some (completely unbiased) early reviews. Enough said. Enjoy! Or not. No pressure.

See Us in the End


“See Us in the End”



The Supremes

E-flat major

What people are saying:

  • “Love it! It’s the perfect song for the summer.”
  • “Big smile! Very catchy hook.”
  • “Fun! I bopped around in my chair.”
  • “Such a happy song. It will cheer up my day! LOVE, Mommy”
  • “Super cute!”
  • “Superlative pop ear candy!”


And if I kiss you
I can’t miss you
I’m holding you the whole night through
But when you question
My intention
It makes me want to say to you
(About us two)

I see us in the end, dear
(See us in the end)
I see us in the end, dear
(See us in the end, ooh)
Our love will never end, dear

And as I wander
I grow fonder
I’m thrilled by everything you do
But when you query
Will we marry?
It makes me want to say to you
(About us two)

I see us in the end, dear
(See us in the end)
I see us in the end, dear
(See us in the end, ooh)
Our love will never end, dear

I will pray to have the end near
If you say this is the end here
I see us in the end, dear

And when I waken
Not forsaken
I have no cause for feeling blue
You want to know now
Where we go now
It makes me want to say to you
(About us two)

I see us in the end, dear
(See us in the end)
I see us in the end, dear
(See us in the end, ooh)
Our love will never end, dear

Oh, I’m not cavalier
No, I’m not insincere
I see us in the end, dear

Oh, we won’t disappear
No, we will persevere
I see us in the end, dear

The road ahead is clear

Shall I Compare Thee to a Winter’s Day?

It was too cold to take out my phone, so I lifted this photo from the Internet.

The sun sank as I walked along the south bank of the River Thames. All I could think of was the cold. The biting wind felt bone-chilling to this California girl. Then the hulking, timber-framed structure came into view: a polygonal building, approaching circular, with whitewashed walls and a thatched roof. My eyes misted over. As I toured Shakespeare’s Globe, reconstructed close to the site of the original, I enjoyed no respite from the frigid conditions—it’s an open-air arena, after all.

The day before (chilly, rainy), I had seen Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. Ralph Fiennes (stirring, mellifluous) played one of the titular roles. (I’ll let you guess which one.) The production spanned three-and-a-half hours, with one “interval,” and featured a live snake. Between this performance and my trip to the Globe, I reasoned I’d had enough Shakespeare for one week. I’m not sure I was right.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, illustrated

The (heated, indoor) exhibition at the Globe included artwork illustrating some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Even before I knew I would be visiting London, I had decided to write a Shakespearean sonnet. That’s in the realm of things people decide to do, right? In a conversation with my husband, I discovered that maybe people, in general, are not as excited by archaic poetic forms as I am. The conversation ended with one of us calling the other a nerd.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are in the public domain, so I considered including one in this post. But my own effort appears below, so that would be like hanging the Mona Lisa next to a stick figure. (You can determine which is meant to be which.) Did you know the Shakespearean sonnet was developed by the Earl of Surrey in the 1500s, prior to the Bard’s birth? Shakespeare made the form famous, however, in his great sonnet sequence, printed in 1609.

I liked at least five things about writing a Shakespearean sonnet:

  1. Its formal structure. I do well with limits.
  2. Its meter. Sticking to the required iambic pentameter guarantees a nice rhythm.
  3. Its rhyme scheme. ABAB CDCD EFEF GG is more forgiving than the Petrarchan pattern, which requires that two sets of four lines rhyme with each other.
  4. Its length. As poems go, sonnets are relatively short. When you get to line 14, you’re done!
  5. Its closing couplet. This pair of rhyming lines at the end provides an opportunity for great pith.

In an example of much ado about nothing, here is my attempt at a Shakespearean sonnet:

Perception and Vision

My mind was sick, and so my body. Blight
Surrounded me and bound me in a dim
And frightful prison. Blisses flickered bright
But did not stay to mitigate the grim.
Reality had I reversed and flipped,
Projecting war and vain imaginings—
A camera obscura in a crypt.
There is another way to look at things!
Beyond the body, seated in the mind,
Is endless light. It sheds the truth on all,
Unveiling sinlessness ever enshrined—
Shining away my fathomless cell wall.
With no more steps to take, a tick I wait,
Among the lilies thick outside your gate.

By the way, the Globe’s gift shop is the mother lode for anyone looking for a present for me.

Long Story Short

Gazebo in the main square, Canary Falls

I’ve asked around, and it seems normal not to want to look at something you’ve created after it’s finished—though I’d hate to think Shakespeare read Hamlet just the once. The subtext here is that I finally completed a writing project! My creative coach, Ziva, had tasked me with entering the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. I was still drafting, editing, and proofreading thirty minutes before the deadline.

After I submitted the piece, I never wanted to see it again—which didn’t stop me from tossing and turning that night as I reflected on its flaws. These gyrations were purely mental, as there was a 45-pound dog lying across my legs. While my feet fell asleep, I lamented numerous aspects of the work I had delivered with my entry fee:

  • Length. The composition was based on a synopsis I had written for a story intended to be 3,000 to 5,000 words. Contest entries, however, were limited to 1,500 words (hence, “short short”). Telling the tale was like trying to squeeze a size-ten foot into a size-six shoe.
  • Word choice. Every time I proofed the story, I would change certain words—and then change them back in the next pass. I should have changed them one more time.
  • Perfectness. I had only two weeks to write the story, so I wasn’t able to craft it to the level I desired. Ziva had advised me to take my perfectionism down to 70 percent, even speculating that 70 percent could turn out to be 100 percent. I still don’t get the math.

The result of the exercise described above appears below. Should you decide to read it, please forget the negative things I just said about it. To pique your interest (or save you seven minutes), the story is about a combat journalist who experiences a close call in the field and returns to her hometown.

Canary Falls

Thirty-seven-year-old Leigh Forrester had been scared before: When she started prep school mid-semester. When her first boyfriend asked her to have sex. When a 1974 Ford Cortina collided with a black bear, making her an orphan. But as a cable news reporter from the globe’s conflict zones, she possessed a preternatural composure. Untrained to deal with dangerous situations, and protected only by a helmet and bulletproof vest, she never considered she could die. Her determination to capture major world events, sustained by adrenaline, insulated her mind from such thoughts. Nor did she worry when her lover, Michel, a war photographer, hadn’t made contact since Christmas; he always resurfaced.

Embedded with U.S. Marines in the volatile Helmand province of Afghanistan, Leigh confronted her vulnerability. On a bright, brisk morning, as she recorded footage outside a reopened clinic in a district liberated from the Taliban, rocket fire from the city limits spread mortar bombs over the area. One landed on the hunter-green Afghan police truck in which she had traveled, sending shards of metal and glass in all directions. Shaken, Leigh realized she needed a respite from peril. She didn’t even wait for the network’s approval. Rather than return to the Notting Hill flat she shared with other combat journalists, however, she wanted to feel the comforts of home.

Leigh walked into town carrying her duffel bag as the sun, still below the horizon, started to color the sky. She barely remembered arriving in Canary Falls, though she knew she must have taken planes, trains, and a bus to get there. She feared she had a concussion from the blast and made a mental note to visit the physician—for as much as a mental note was worth to a person with a brain injury. She had heard Dr. Starr passed a while back and was replaced by a young woman.

The local diner, Logan’s, hadn’t opened yet, but Leigh noticed activity inside. Approaching, she marveled that the business looked just as it had in her youth: mint-green walls, mismatched tables and chairs, tchotchke-stuffed shelves. The eponymous proprietor, who already seemed old when she was a girl, unlocked the door and led her to a hickory stool at the counter, next to an antique cash register. He gave her a big breakfast free of charge.

Leigh set off toward the Dandelion Inn, where she planned to spend a week under a floral quilted bedspread. The breeze carried spring’s freshness, with a hint of summer’s warmth. “I used to love a day like this,” she thought. “In this picturesque New England burg,” the correspondent in her added. After a few minutes, she stopped in front of a two-story, sky-blue house with a wraparound porch. Fifteen years earlier, she had sold the dwelling, furnished, to a young family. She wondered if the Kims still lived there and, if so, why “FORRESTER” still appeared in faded black letters on the white mailbox. Aware she might be committing a felony, Leigh eased the metal door toward her; it creaked a tune she recalled from childhood. Inside was an envelope bearing a single word in a graceful hand: “Leigh.” She slid her thumb beneath the barn-red wax seal, impressed with a calligraphic C. A shiny key fell into her palm. She must have sent word ahead and forgotten.

The walls were still buttercup yellow with white molding. Vintage rugs still dotted the maple floors. Leigh recognized her grandfather’s cushioned rocking chair, beside the brick fireplace with a built-in niche for logs. Her gaze lingered on a framed photograph of a radiant couple on a beach, holding hands as they ran in the surf; she always thought of her parents this way. Leigh crossed the living room to a lampshade painted with violets, which she recalled “improving” with a purple crayon; she fingered the fabric, which was unmarked.

Upstairs, Leigh filled the claw-foot cast-iron tub from a faucet mounted on the rim. She stripped, lowered herself into the steaming water, and closed the pink pinstriped curtain around her. Settling back, she sought to understand how her home from ages eight to eighteen had remained intact and immaculate since she exchanged it, following her grandmother’s death, for enough cash to leave her comfortable. Did the Kims never move in? Do they rent the place out to vacationers? She would go into town and question the selectman or the gossip, whichever she encountered first. Back downstairs, in her old bedroom off the kitchen, she dressed in khakis and a white button-down shirt; in the field, she would add a scarf or jacket as necessary.

Through the textured glass of the double front door, Leigh thought she saw a carriage, drawn by two white horses, waiting at the curb. Indeed, roses, tulips, irises, and dahlias filled the spokes of the wheels. A plume of white feathers adorned each steed’s head. “Welcome home, Leigh!” the townsfolk shouted upon seeing her. When the team reached Main Street, Leigh found herself in a parade. The thoroughfare was lined with people displaying congratulatory signs and shaking ribbons on sticks; they smiled, waved, and yelled her name as she passed. Leigh viewed a truck-drawn float decked with streamers up ahead, and heard a marching band behind. She never expected such a reception, despite being a television personality. She laughed, her eyes filling with tears, and blew kisses to the crowd.

The procession ended in the main square, where lemonade was served, and a three-piece band played Dixieland. Leigh joined former friends and acquaintances, though none could provide insight into the old Forrester cottage. A message spread that a community barbecue would take place at five o’clock. Exhausted, Leigh excused herself; she was hoping to see the new doctor. On the walk over, she mused at the demographic shift in Canary Falls. The inhabitants seemed generally older, with a smattering of middle-aged folks and hardly any children. Perhaps others of her generation had also moved away.

The name on the shingle confused her: “Dr. Richard Starr.” She should have checked her sources; the doc’s wavy hair was still carrot-colored, without a trace of gray. “You’re the picture of health,” he announced, after examining her, “and will probably live forever.” He attributed her mental lapses to the trauma she suffered. Strolling home, Leigh noticed a familiar-looking dog with a curly brown coat. “Babette!” she called out. The mutt trotted over for an ear scratching and went on her way.

Burgers, ribs, chicken, trout, and vegetable kebabs cooked on innumerable grills. Side dishes—corn on the cob, zucchini, asparagus, sweet potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, biscuits, ambrosia—were ubiquitous. Assorted pies, cakes, and cookies blanketed a long table. Donning the sleeveless plaid-print red dress she wore under her gown at her high school graduation, Leigh wondered if this cookout was being held in her honor. Her answer came after sundown, when Zack St. James, the town selectman, invited her up to the central gazebo, its columns wrapped in garlands of white stargazer lilies. Zack directed everyone’s attention to a theatrical screen hung on a building bordering the square. “Leigh Emily Forrester, this is your life!” his voice boomed over the mic.

The highlight reel mesmerized her: Running around the house in Dad’s gigantic shoes. Getting a shot, slurping a milkshake. Swinging on the veranda with Gramp while it rained. Riding in a car, blindfolded, with members of a secret society. Crossing into Darfur on a moonless night. Making love with Michel in his Paris apartment. Lying on the dusty ground in Bost, bloody, unmoving.

The final image faded, but Leigh remained transfixed. “Could I be dead?” she murmured, staring at the blankness.

Zack held the microphone to her lips.

“Am I dead?” she demanded.

“As a doornail, dodo, or mutton,” he replied, garnering laughs from the audience.

Someone squeezed Leigh’s right hand. She turned to see her mother’s sparkling eyes. When her knees gave way, her father caught her on the left. Behind each parent stood a set of grandparents. A sweeter reunion could not be imagined.

“While you get reacquainted,” Zack interjected, “I’d like to thank the former residents of Canary Falls for making this homecoming possible. You all got together and, through collective concentration, created this remarkable replica of the hamlet we cherished on earth. Sudden transitions can be difficult, but as you can see, Leigh is doing wonderfully.” The assembled souls applauded. “Soon you will be returning to your usual forms and roles, but for now, enjoy the party!” They cheered. To Leigh, he added perfunctorily, “Your guides will be in touch.”

Assuming she had eternity to catch up, Leigh took her leave after a while. In her mind, she still needed sleep. As she neared the house, she was startled by a shadowy figure on the steps.

“The village is adorable.” He used the French pronunciation. “Just as you described.”

“I am a journalist,” she responded. “Or was. You know you’re dead, right?”

Michel grinned. “C’est la vie.”

Hand in hand, they went inside.

You Could Be a Shakespeare Expert and Not Know It


Earlier this month, I saw a production of Macbeth. While 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death, Shakespeare felt very current that night. The tragedy, about the destructive consequences of political greed, seemed well-timed in the midst of what may go down as one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history. In addition, the play’s witches—the three “weird sisters”—served as a fitting prelude to Halloween.

Ultimately, however, the vitality of “The Scottish Play” came from its language—the beauty of it, but also its lasting impact. Sitting in row E, seat 1, I was awash in nonstop famous lines, along with everyday expressions we may not be aware were popularized by the Bard. I have seen multiple performances of Macbeth, however, and studied all the female characters’ lines for an audition—so I can’t be completely objective about how well-known the words are.

Still, I am prepared to pose a bold thesis: Macbeth has had such a great impact on society and language that an English speaker who hasn’t read it since high school (or ever!) will be able to recognize many quotations from it. To test this theory, I have created a fill-in quiz that should make even sufferers of metrophobia (the fear of poetry) feel pretty smart. (The answers appear at the end of this post.) The numbers after each quote refer to the corresponding act and scene from the play.

  1. lady-m“Double, double toil and _____.” (4.1)
  2. “Out, damned _____!” (5.1)
  3. “By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something _____ this way comes.” (4.1)
  4. “Things without all remedy / Should be without regard; what’s done is _____.” (3.2)
  5. “What, all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell _____?” (4.3)
  6. “Eye of _____ and toe of frog.” (4.1)
  7. “That but this blow / Might be the be-all and the _____ here.” (1.7)
  8. “It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and _____, / Signifying nothing.” (5.5)
  9. “Yet do I fear thy nature; / It is too full o’ the _____ of human kindness.” (1.5)
  10. “Is this a _____ which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand?” (2.1)

Who but an expert in Shakespeare’s works could know 10 (not-so-random) quotes from Macbeth? Based on your number of correct responses, here is your ranking:

10 Shakespeare scholar
9 English teacher
8 Lit major
7 Theater aficionado
6 Honors student
5 CliffsNotes browser
4 Non-nerd
3 Not a fan
2 Hermit
1 Clodpole
0 Extraterrestrial

How didst thou fare? Please shareth thy results!

Answers: 1. trouble, 2. spot, 3. wicked, 4. done, 5. swoop, 6. newt, 7. end-all, 8. fury, 9. milk, 10. dagger.