Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

Stuff I Like: Beer, Books, Snack Cakes, Pudding Pies, Small Acts of Survival, and Coming and Staying Home

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Full Pint Brewing is sponsoring the dual-book launch for Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems and my The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious Saturday, June 29. How awesome is that?


Full Pint is in North Versailles, Pa., where I lived until I was in third grade. North Versailles wasn’t much about craft beers back then. My family lived on Bevin Road, a really steep hill not far from the Dolly Madison Outlet. Dolly Madison had cheap day-old bread and egg buns and chocolate pudding pies my dad would buy in bulk.

dolly madison chocolate pie

By the time I was old enough to notice, my mother had made my father quit drinking beer. He replaced it with pudding pies. He loved chocolate-pudding lunch pies so much it embarrassed him. He would hide in the dark in the kitchen to eat his pies and think about everything else in life that didn’t give him that kind of pleasure.

All this has me thinking about ways to map a life. I can map my own life, for instance, by snack cakes and beer. I remember my first Zinger more vividly than I remember my high school graduation. And I remember my first taste of beer.

Firsts are always important, but some are more memorable than others.

When he was very young, my dad drove an Iron City Beer truck.

beer truck

My uncles all drank Iron and they’d sneak me sips. Sometimes I think they ashed in the beer first to be sure I didn’t like it too much. They didn’t mean anything serious by it. They were just rough like that. These were steelworkers and cops and numbers runners and men who didn’t seem to like their wives.


They didn’t need to worry about me liking Iron City back then. If you haven’t had Iron City, suck on your car keys. It’s pretty much like that.

As a kid, I thought it tasted like pavement and feet. I would know because one of my older cousins took after my uncles and would sometimes push me face down on the sidewalk and make me lick his feet.


It helped to remember I was adopted.

Sometimes my uncles would pretend to pick me up by my hair.

“It’ll make your hair strong,” they said, and flicked their cigarette butts off my grandmother’s porch.

“Iron,” they called their beer.

“You have to be strong to survive,” they’d say about the world.

It would be many years of keggers and frat parties — where I never gave much thought to the kind of beer I was flicking quarters into — before I’d come to appreciate great beers like the ones at Full Pint.


Some personal evolutions are easier to map than others, too.

Still, if I’m far from home and end up in a bar where they serve Iron City, I’ll probably order one. I’ll drink it for sentimental reasons. I’ll tell everyone around me I’m from Pittsburgh, that this beer is home. Then I’ll look for something wonderful from Full Pint.

full pint lineup

It’s important to remember where you come from, you see.


The book launch for Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems and Lori Jakiela’s The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious will be Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 p.m. at East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield, Pa. Free and open to everybody. Also featuring readings from New Yinzer columnist Adam Matcho and other special guests, as well as paintings on exhibit by Lou Ickes, cover artist for both books. Beer provided by – you bet! – Full Pint Brewing. Book signings and reception follows the readings. For more information, contact East End Book Exchange or e-mail

Stuff I Write: On Frog Hats, Puke Jokes, Green Day, Lotus Blossoms, Cotton Candy, F. Scott Fitzgerald,and the Importance of Being Earnest (Even in the Suburbs)

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm

If it’s hard to be a saint in the city, it might be even harder to be your own true self in the suburbs. Here’s an excerpt from a piece the nice folks over at Superstition Review ran recently. (Thanks, Superstition Review!)

I worry a lot, you see. 


A Portrait of A Young Artist in Suburbia

My daughter Phelan wears a frog hat to drum lessons. The hat has felt eyes that google on top of her head. It has legs for ear flaps, a tongue for a visor, and chin straps that look like a lilypad and lotus.

frog hat

“Stylin’,” her teacher Mike says, “a real drummer,” and pats Phelan right between her amphibian eyes.

Mike looks like Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day — black spiked hair, smudged eyeliner, mellow rock swagger. He’s kind and patient and says cool with two syllables a lot.


Phelan is 8. She is blonde haired and green eyed and the nicest person I know. She also questions a lot of things.

Last year at the school talent show, she did a tough-guy drum solo, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” She wore a pink skirt and sequined top. Her glittered shoes lit up like an emergency whenever she took a step.

light up sneakers

My daughter confuses people, which confuses her, which worries me.

“I like girl things and boy things,” she tells me, like she’s confessing something, like she wants me to give her some penance to do.

“You’re perfect,” I say. “Always be yourself.”

“Always be yourself,” she repeats to her older brother when he’s embarrassed by her abundant joy and questionable fashion sense.

My son is 12. It’s a tough age made worse because he worries too much about what other people think. When he was very young, around four, he’d do stand-up routines in our basement. He had a catchphrase – “And I threw up… two times” – that could make adults howl.


Then something happened. I don’t know what. A year passed, maybe two. He stopped telling jokes. He stayed away from microphones. At the playground, he’d stand like an accountant, hands in pockets, and watch the other kids play before he’d join in.

“Don’t smile too much. Stand back. Be cool,” he tells his sister now, his advice on being popular.

“I’m my own person,” she says, and whacks him with a drum stick.

It’s not good for my daughter to whack her brother with a drum stick. She gets in trouble for this. Still, I hope she’ll find some way to go on holding the world off. I hope my son will find his way back.

In my kids’ school, there are anti-bullying signs everywhere. The signs have inspirational messages. “Everyone is Special.” “You’re Perfect the Way You Are.” “Difference is Beautiful.” “Nothing is Better Than Being Yourself.”

dr. seuss

But being yourself costs, especially when you’re 8 like my daughter, especially when mean girls are rising up, all preen and snicker, hips jutted out.

People say kids are naturally mean, but I think meanness is a learned thing.

Those anti-bullying signs are earnest. My kids’ school is wonderful. We live in the suburbs and our school district is one of the best around. But in our district there are subdivisions with regal names, pre-fab houses with coordinated siding and matching mailboxes.  All the homes look the same, eggs in a carton. There’s a push, I think, for all the people to be the same, too – paperweights in their own little boxes, scissors with blunted tips.


“We’re very particular about who we let move in here,” one woman from a nearby subdivision said recently.

I don’t know who she meant by “we” or who exactly fit her criteria.  Or maybe I do know and it’s too awful to think about.

Difference is scary. If it can be gated off, if it can be shrunken down into something manageable, a petri dish, life can seem easier to navigate.

This doesn’t excuse anything.

“Do you know your enemy?” Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong wants to know.


My family lives in the house I grew up in, close to the cluster of subdivisions this woman was talking about. Our house has been here for 40 years, but still some days I feel like an outsider, even though most of our neighbors are wonderful, the kind of people who help in an emergency. They’re the kind of people who bring casseroles and who, if they see your trash can rolling down the street, will stop, pick it up, and deliver it back where it belongs.

But my husband and I are writers, which makes us seem a little odd. We don’t have expensive furniture. We do have a lot of books.


We have a lot of paintings and music, too. We’re what my mother would have called “arty.” She would not have meant this as a compliment. My son constantly reminds us we live in a house and not an art gallery.

“Can’t we please be normal?” he says.

“Do you collect books?” a neighbor asks.

“I know why you have so many books,” one of my daughter’s friends says. “So people will think you don’t watch TV.”

“Books, huh?” one of my son’s friends says.

Yes, I say. That’s right.

“Be yourself,” I tell my daughter, even though most days I’m a hypocrite, terrified of being found out.

About writing, the great Harry Crews once said, “World don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”


I want my children to be their own beautiful selves. I also want the world to go easy on them. I’m not sure it’s possible to have both.

If meanness is learned, other things are learned, too. Contradiction, for instance.

When I was growing up, subdivision wasn’t a word people used. We had our street, neighborhood, block.

I think about that word now, subdivision, the root of it. The division of a larger division. The act of dividing again and again.

“Maybe I should try cheering,” my daughter says when she worries about fitting in. “Maybe I should get an American Girl doll.”


But I’m thankful she hasn’t followed up on any of that.  She sings and plays softball and every Thursday, she straps on her frog hat and does her drum lessons with Mike. Right now they’re working from a book called The Rock and Roll Bible.

“It’s a foundation,” Mike tells Phelan. “Once you learn your system, you’re solid. You can do anything.”

They count together, one-e-and-a-two-e-and-a, and my pretty blonde daughter bangs out a beat like Charlie Watts. On her head, the frog eyes bob. When she plays, she’s happy, but serious, too. She wants to get this right.

The thing about frogs is they’re as comfortable on land as in water. Lotuses are rooted and floating all at once.


“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time.” F. Scott Fitzgerald said that.

“Mom, you worry too much. We’re fine,” my son says.

I watch my daughter drum, her whole body moving, connected, one undivided beautiful self, and for this moment believe it.

Stuff I Think About Stuff I Write: What Not to Say to Writers With A New Book Out (A Gentle Guide)

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I liked your first book better.

book critic

This would be great if you added some wizards.


I should write a book, let me tell you.


How much did you get for that?


What did The New York Times say?


So how’s Oprah?


Where can I get a copy of that?


You know that girl who had sex with a famous writer and wrote about it and sold like three zillion copies? You should do that.

sexy writer

What will you do when your children/mother/father/rabbi/priest read this?


What would possess you to write something like this?


I like Nicholas Sparks.


You look better in your cover photo than you do in person.


Want to read my novel manuscript?


Snookie’s memoir was pretty good.

Snooki" Promotes Her New Line Of Designer Sunglasses

Wow a book. That’s something. Good for you.


Seriously. Wizards. Can’t go wrong with wizards.


Stuff I Like: Parties! New-Book Smell! Parties with New-Book Smell!

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Pittsburgh folks — Hope you can make it out to a dual book launch celebrating the release of my new memoir, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious, and Dave Newman’s first full-length poetry collection, The Slaughterhouse Poems. It’s on Saturday, June 29 from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield.

Here’s a press release with all the details:

Pittsburgh Authors Lori Jakiela and Dave Newman

Celebrate Release of New Books

newman piccropped-lori-jakiela-author-pic2.jpg

Pittsburgh authors Lori Jakiela and Dave Newman will celebrate the release of their latest books at a party Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 p.m. at East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield.

The event is free and open to the public, and will feature readings by Newman and Jakiela, as well as a few special guests including New Yinzer columnist Adam Matcho. Paintings by Pittsburgh artist Lou Ickes, who did the cover art for both Jakiela’s and Newman’s new books, will be on display. Booksignings and a reception follow the readings.

Jakiela’s new book, “The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious” (C&R Press), is a follow-up to her 2006 memoir, “Miss New York Has Everything” (Hatchette).

bridge cover

Best-selling author Stewart O’Nan calls “The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious” “fiercely sad and heartbreakingly funny.” Jane McCafferty, bestselling author of “First You Try Everything” and more, calls Jakiela “a highly original writer who commemorates life with great humor and a radical, poetic simplicity that allows you to see your own life anew.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said “The Bridge to Take” is “so good you’ll wonder why (Jakiela) isn’t the literary toast of the entire country by now. This is a book about taking care of a dying mother, a writing teacher’s lament about the next generation and a sideways love story. …and while this memoir may not be the last word on the volatile subject of mother/daughter relationships, it is fair to assume it is already among the most honest and best written this decade.”

Newman’s latest book, “The Slaughterhouse Poems” (White Gorilla Press), is his first full-length poetry collection.

SlaughterHouse Cover front only

Bestselling author Don Ray Pollock (“The Devil All the Time” and more) calls Newman “an immense talent.” Legendary poet Gerald Locklin says Newman is “the best writer of his generation.”

Poet Michael Casey, author of “Check Points,” calls “The Slaugterhouse Poems “a great read. It is funny and grim. It is also meaningful, having a historical setting where even Volkswagen America is letting workers go and where an underemployed teenager is the richest man in the barroom. I have to call it dramatic too and truly memorable; I trust the movie option is now in the mail to the poet.”

Dave Newman is the author of the novels “Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children” (Writers Tribe Books, 2012) and “Please Don’t Shoot Anyone Tonight” (World Parade Books, 2010). He’s worked as a truck driver, a book store manager, an air filter salesman, a house painter, and a college teacher. More than 100 of his poems and stories have appeared in magazines throughout the world and his work has been widely anthologized, most recently in “Beside the City of Angels” (World Parade Books) and “The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry” (Autumn House Press).

In addition to her two memoirs, Lori Jakiela is the author of a full-length poetry collection, “Spot The Terrorist!” (Turning Point, 2012), and several poetry chapbooks. Her essays and poems have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Quarterly, The New Yinzer and elsewhere. She teaches in the writing programs at Pitt-Greensburg and Chatham University.

Jakiela and Newman, who are married, live in Trafford, Pa. with their two children. They have a lot of books in their house.

For more information about the book-release party, contact Lesley Rains at East End Book Exchange, 412-224-2847 or To contact the authors directly, e-mail


Stuff I Think About Stuff I Write: Harry Crews, Cotton Candy, Guilt, Joan Didion, Kids, Words and A Plague of Basement Locusts

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2013 at 5:13 am

Harry Crews used to say this about writing:  “You wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read – if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”

Trying to be a writer or any kind of artistic type while balancing groceries and bills and dishes and trash day and raising kids and showering every once in a while – plus making time for cotton candy, which is, of course, delicious– can feel impossible.

Especially the raising kids part. There’s so much guilt there.

“Shh, mommy’s working,” I’ve heard myself say for too many years now.

I worry what this does to my kids, how they take that in and in.

My son, in an end-of-year report, wrote this about my work life:  “Sometimes it seems like my mom never gets time off. She’s always working.”

By which he means I stare into my computer. By which he means he hears me say “not now.” He hears me say, “seriously, I’m trying to think here,” and, simply, “no.”

No to whatever it is he’s asking, to whatever it is he needs at the moment, to whatever it is I think can wait.

It hurts my lungs to write that.

Most true things hurt to write about.

How can I be sure about what can and cannot wait? How can I know what really matters?

Joan Didion, in her wonderful book Blue Nights, talks about this, too. After the loss of her daughter Quintana, Didion runs back through time, worrying over the moments when she paid attention to her work, the page, and shut her daughter, her heart-work, out.

“Shh, mommy’s working,” she said.

Having a child is like letting your heart walk around outside your body. The writer Elizabeth Stone said that and it’s true.

I love my children.

I need to write because writing is what I do, another kind of out-of-body heart.

There’s no way to balance this.

One of my writer friends who doesn’t have kids sent me an e-mail the other day. “For when you get away from your writer’s desk,” it said.

I read the e-mail on my phone when I took a break from mopping up a puddle of apple juice I’d just spilled on our not-so-mop-able old kitchen floor.

My writer’s desk is covered with bill baskets and Highlights magazines. I write when I can, where I can, which is rarely at that desk these days. There is no photogenic, iconic writers’ nook in our house. My husband, a writer too, and I – we write where we can, in the bathroom if necessary.


“How do you balance your life/writing/work/kids/etc.?” someone asked me in an interview recently.

It seems like such an easy question. My husband and I understand each other. We do our best to give each other time. We read for each other, too, which saves an incredible amount of bumbling-around. We’re very honest with each other and will tell each other whether something is working or not. It helps a lot.

As parents, we know how important it is to love and still corral our kids. But sometimes it’s easier than others.

One day when it was my turn to write, my husband said, simply, “go.” I went down and locked myself in my office. I swooped everything off that writing desk and settled in, determined to knock out 10 pages, just like that.

A short while later, I heard footsteps. My son and daughter snuck down and stood outside my office door. They kept knocking. They kept shoving notes under the door.

“We’re hungry,” my daughter said.

“No, starving,” my son, who’s older and more sophisticated when it comes to manipulation, said. I knew they’d just had lunch.

“We’re scared,” my daughter said.

“Terrified,” my son said, even though I knew my husband was right upstairs doing dishes and had probably glanced away from them for just a minute.

Finally, when I still didn’t open the door, my daughter said, “You know, there are bugs out here,” and my son said, “Locusts.”


There are no locusts in our basement.

I love my children.

I love my children.

But sometimes it’s important to not open the door.

Tell me how  to live with that.


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