Tag Archive: Washington D.C.

The Clear Choice

The Clear Choice

Emily Hanlon’s Writing Retreat 1999

As promised in yesterday’s post, Not Set in Stone, here is the story told to me by artist Aleksandra Kasuba.

I met Aleksandra years ago at Emily Hanlon’s Writing Retreat, where we instantly liked one another’s writing and became fast friends. Years before this, as Aleksandra told the story, she had been one of five finalists to design the plaza for the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. Aleksandra was the only woman competing, at the time, for an honor typically given to a man. She knew this. She also knew what she could do.

She built a model of the Old Post Office, but she did not design a plaza. She designed three. And when it was her turn to present her design to the panel of judges, she began with the model, surrounded by her first design. She pointed out the features of the design. The panel was impressed. Then she pointed out the features of the Old Post Office and showed the judges why that first design didn’t work. Then she did the same with the second, first selling it and then picking it apart and in effect, teaching the judges to look through the eyes of a mosaic artist. Finally, she presented her third and best design, and this time, the judging panel led the discussion as to why this design was far superior, point by point, and why it was the clear choice.

Aleksandra was chosen to build her plaza, some 7,000 square feet along Pennsylvania Avenue.

I think of this story often, and especially when I need to figure out a way to do something. Getting back to yesterday and the whole reason for telling you this story, one can easily look at the layers of analysis that go into writing a story and the snowball effect of changing one detail early on and wonder, Why not just write it right the first time?

Well, quite frankly, because stories can be like puzzles, and you learn so much more from putting puzzles together different ways (and even from taking them apart and starting again) than you do by laying them out perfectly and moving on. When everything can be used as a learning experience, you can take chances, make bold moves, and be fearless in your work. Aleksandra taught me that.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.


Ready to Pounce

Ready to PounceAs I signed books in Pennsylvania today, a woman approached me and told me my book “will help people to be brave.”

“I thought people were brave,” I said, and then corrected myself. “Well, I don’t know if it’s brave, per se: We’re all scared. We do it anyway.”

“But we don’t,” she said. “Haven’t you noticed how people hesitate? Not everyone, of course, but quite a few people will wait to drive, put off going to college, wait to leave home, wait to get married… They sit on decisions rather than act.”

“Perhaps they’re better planners than I am,” I offered.

“They’re not planning. They’re hesitating.”

(1. I meet the greatest people, in all sincerity. 2. I liked this lady.)

Her words reminded me of a memory:

When I first moved to D.C., I had a terrible time getting to and from work everyday with all of the road construction amidst the nation’s third worst traffic problem. One particular day, I was witness to three accidents, all right in front of me. That was the good news; I was not a victim. When I finally did arrive home, my roommate’s mother was at the apartment. She encouraged me to get back out there on the road. I told her I’d think about it, and get a good night’s sleep first.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re that type, eh? Crawl off to the corner to lick your wounds before pouncing again?”

“Yes,” I said kindly, while thinking that the corner suited me just fine and I needn’t ever venture out again.

“Good,” she said, acknowledging my agreement. And then, speaking to my sulk, she said, “Just don’t sit in the corner too long.”

I didn’t. I emerged from the corner, sooner than I wanted to and entirely because of what she’d said. The challenge was offered. I accepted. It made the whole world of difference.

Lick your wounds, and get ready to pounce.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

Why is it that when the weather turns nice we think thoughts of winter? Today, I’m reminiscing about New Year’s Eve, specifically, NYE in Dupont Circle. Here’s what I’m talking about. This is an excerpt from my first novel, Upside Down Kingdom:

I had no idea what New Year’s Eve would be like, but I was sure I couldn’t handle it…

“Okay, quiet down,” Stuart said as he stepped out of the office and walked toward us. “Alright, this won’t take long. We’re well stocked on everything tonight, so sell like crazy. It’s gonna get tough, gonna get busy, gonna get rough, so be prepared, be flexible, keep moving, and ask for help if you need it. Drunks: cut ’em off, get ’em out of here, hail ’em a cab. We brought up all the extra tables and chairs from the basement which should help you guys, but we’re gonna be busy as shit tonight. And when we reach full capacity, hit the point of no return, make ’em wait. Alright. New guys Raul and Amy: you’ll be downstairs here with T.J. and Charlotte. Jessica, Katie, Carlos, you’re upstairs. Any questions? Ready to open the doors? Let’s do it.”

In Virginia, the most we ever got out of a manager before a shift were the occasional “we’re out of something” talks. This was different; nerve-wracking. It was the moment before the big show. And what a show it was. New Year’s Eve wasn’t just busy. Mobbed was more the term for it.

By five, every chair was filled, including the extras from the basement. It was hard to maneuver through the serving floor, and even harder to keep up with all the demands. I was moving as fast as I could, breaking a sweat, and still never less than three tables behind. And yet, I was having the time of my life.

Unlike in Virginia, we didn’t have a pastry chef for desserts or someone taking care of our soups or plain coffees and teas. We did all of that ourselves from a two-by-two countertop which was covered in mess within an hour. After that, we used any available space we could find, and by the end of the night we’d have things thrown and stuffed everywhere.

We were creative about it: using the shelves of the refrigerator as counter space for slicing pies, lids of the soup well as drink holders, the ice bin as a tray stand, and everywhere served well as a garbage can. There weren’t busboys to help us out, so our priority was cleaning up the tables to make room for more customers, not cleaning up after ourselves.

bookBy ten, most of our customers were in costume, from pixies to vampires to celebrity look-alikes, to Baby New Year—a grown man dressed in a diaper—to cats, strippers, and even a man in black with a lampshade on his head. The line waiting to get in was trailing out the door and along the sidewalk outside. “Standing Room Only” turned into “Stand Anywhere You Like.”

For more, check out Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon.

Word Propellers

book-from-dawn2.jpgOn this blustery Thursday, I’m going where the wind takes me with a fun little scene from Upside Down Kingdom. This novel moment is based on a tale from my own life at a D.C. cocktail party, during which I was told exactly what I needed to hear, at exactly the right moment. This scene served to propel me, as well as main character Amy, into an entirely new direction…

“I hear you have a degree in writing,” said a gruff voice behind me. It was Ted Harvey, Mr. Watters’ friend, who approached me. “Well, how do you find Washington?”

“Oh, I don’t know that this is the town for my kind of writing,” I said to the silver-haired cowboy-looking Ted Harvey. “I’m not a journalist. I prefer poetry and fiction.”

Mr. Harvey laughed. “No wonder you ended up in D.C. Look around you,” he said. “This is fiction.”

His honesty was so refreshing, that, for a moment I was allowed to drop the politeness and I found myself to be whole again. A smile came to me slowly.

“Fiction, you say?” I stepped back and surveyed the room with new eyes.

“Now you’re getting the picture. Have a good evening,” he said, and walked away.

Eventually we did get a new President and the construction finally stopped on Pennsylvania Avenue. And I had a revelation.

For more of the crazy story, check out Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon.

Bookstore Camping

photoOne of the things I miss most about living in Washington, D.C., besides my friends, is Barnes and Noble. Yes, the stores are just about everywhere. But in the D.C. stores, you’re welcome and even expected to camp.

It goes a lot like this: You walk in check out the line at the coffee counter. It’s huge, so you wander the aisles searching for a good book. You go straight to your favorites, and make sure you’ve read everything by your preferred authors. You hit fiction, history, Sci-Fi, geography, languages, religion, (not always in that order), and you pick up interesting-sounding books along the way. You meander to the New Releases, cards and magnets, children’s, and finally (if you’re me), take a stroll through movies. By now, you’ve amassed a good stack, and you’ve been keeping an eye on the coffee shop line–as well as scoping out any places to sit down. When the time is right, you hop in line for a grande latte or hot chocolate or cappuccino. (I never get the Venti size. Venti means “20” in Italian, for the 20-ounce cup. You don’t want to see me with that much caffeine. But the grande is plenty good.)

When I was there, the D.C. Barnes and Noble shops had about 40 seats available, mostly in the coffee shop, but a few were scattered throughout the store. At any given time, though, there were over 100 people in the store, all in various stages of meandering and stack-building.

Finally, with your coffee and your stack, you seek out a place to sit and read. Usually this means finding some nice floor space to set up camp. With all the people in the store, it’s tough to find even a single aisle that doesn’t already have someone in it. But by now, you’ve walked around all of them enough to figure out who has something in their stack that looks interesting to you. You do this to signify you’re a likeminded soul. You find your place to camp, set your things down in a way that others can get around you, sit down cross-legged, and get comfy.

I saw a good many people read the books and put them back. I liked to read snippets of my stack, choose the one I liked the best, and buy it on my way out of the store—usually 2 hours later than when I walked in. But I’ve also seen students camp out for hours longer than that, with multiple books, papers, and a laptop in their “camp.”

Wonderfully, it’s not social time. Even if you B&N with friends, you’re there to read.

I miss those days, the smell of new paper and ink and the camaraderie of not talking at all.

If you’re still doing this on Route 1, just south of the city, save me a spot in the aisle. I’m always there in spirit.

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

When describing my crazy life in D.C. to a friend of mine years ago, she remarked how she had no idea how I could live there. That’s pretty much how Upside Down Kingdom got started. book

Living in Washington, D.C., and specifically in Dupont Circle, taught me not to judge others but to accept everybody the way they are, good and bad, and love them for it. I learned to open up, and I learned to let go.

I knew then that I would carry a part of the Circle with me always, that I was forever changed. I wrote it all down, in the hopes that others would feel what I felt.

Upside Down Kingdom is my own love letter to Dupont Circle and the things that I learned there. Pick it up if you get the chance, and drop me a line and let me know what you think.


Indulge me on this windy Sunday… Grab a cup of tea and read on. This is an excerpt from [my life and] my first novel, Upside Down Kingdom, at the end of Chapter One:

book…I passed the Upscale, watching the manager try to deal with the angry people I left behind. “Alright sir, what did you order?” I heard through the open door, and then the commotion started as the entire section realized someone was being helped. Some of them called the manager to them; others rushed toward him to get is attention. This being the first time I ever walked out on a job, I stopped to watch. The manager hadn’t heard “Mr. Red Shirt’s” order and asked him to repeat it. At the same time two more malcontents approached from his left flank and stared yelling their version. Somebody dropped a tray of glasses in the back of the restaurant, an hourly event met with cheering at the Upscale, and the confusion was only getting started. Part of me, the responsible part, wanted to go back in there and finish the job I’d started. That part even felt bad for the people I left behind.

But then I spotted my tray, still on the coffee girls’ table where I’d left it. I was finally on the outside looking in again. I’d come full circle, and going back in there was the last thing on earth that I would do. I willed my feet to keep moving. I heard, “has anyone seen Amy?!?” just before walking out of earshot.

The drumbeats were getting louder as I approached the Circle, and I found the drum guy at the Metro entrance banging away on his buckets. He worked up a distinct rhythm using buckets of various sizes that he wheeled around from corner to corner in a liquor store cart. You could recognize his sound from blocks away, especially when he worked in his signature blasts from a lifeguard whistle tied around his neck. I stopped and watched for a little bit, bouncing to the beat with the rest of the crowd. A few drunken people stepped up to dance and the drum guy paced his beat to their movement. When they stared falling on each other I decided to move on.

I crossed into the park, which was easy this time of night because the circle traffic was nearly at a standstill with bar hoppers and cabs bumper-to-bumper. Dupont Circle boasted a park in the circle’s center, with a fountain and trees, benches and grassy spaces. It was a gathering place for all types of people, for good or ill, twenty-four hours a day while the traffic circled around. The neighborhood surrounding the park was also known as Dupont Circle, gay capital of Washington, D.C., and a sort of happenings hot spot. There were plenty of tourists by day, but the nightlife was full of people who went out to see and be seen.

When I first debated living in Washington, D.C., I was given specific and strange warnings about Dupont Circle. Specifically: “Stay out of the park, especially at night. You’ll probably get shot.” And strangely, rumors warned of cross-dressers wandering the Dupont streets, and of drag races on certain holidays. That was men dressed as women running toward a finish line, not car races. These things were in addition to the usual crime, corruption, and prostitution of typical cities. Dupont Circle was a crazy place, with its own set of rules that would defy logic if it were anywhere else. But here it worked. It was Washington, D.C. like no one outside this town had seen.book

I found an empty space on the west side of the fountain where I sat down to consider my options. It had been two years since I moved to the nation’s capital. It was in my first year that, thankfully, my life went to shit. That’s when things started getting good.

That’s just about the time I’d heard of the Upscale…


Read more of UDK on Amazon.

Feeling September 11

Excerpt from Upside Down Kingdom:

“…We had the radio, and its constant updates. Even though they were reporting rogue plane sightings overhead that we couldn’t see, at least there were voices giving us information. They were an outside link beyond the confused and surreal streets of Washington.

No one was in a hurry. We didn’t see any accidents. We complained that D.C. didn’t have a better evacuation plan. The government workers all came in at staggered times, and left at staggered times, so the streets were always full but never at full capacity at once. This was full capacity. And we kept looking to the skies.

The radio announced Virginia schools were evacuating, for parents to pick up their children.

“No!” I protested. That was the last thing we needed, for all the traffic-jammed parents to suddenly need to be somewhere.

We weren’t really scared. Concerned, maybe. Concerned for our safety as a whole, the safety of our city, country. No one’s needs were put above our own, as evidenced when no one wrecked or ran red lights (except the Metro busses), and no one drove in a panic. There was a feeling of community, of togetherness in this awful day. We were suddenly all a family, all hoping, rather than trying, to get somewhere to safety…I slowly passed car after car heading in the opposite direction. We stared at the skies together, offered directions when asked, even asked how each other was, as we inched along the streets of D.C.

There were no religious ramblers shouting from street corners, no elephants running through the streets, no women screaming and fainting, no glass breaking, in fact no sirens at this point…There was no panic, no real noise. Nothing. Just a traffic jam and a lot of very calm drivers. And a feeling of clarity in a surreal world…”

I wrote those words on September 13, 2001 when I was living in Washington, D.C. My office was given the 12th off from work and I and everyone else spent an emotional day in disbelief. I told myself I’d always remember where I was and how I felt on the 11th, and that there was no need to relive it by writing it down. On the 13th, I realized that future generations would come who would have no idea the feelings on that day. By then, they could read timelines, news articles, history books, but no reporting of facts would tell them how it felt. On the 13th, I wrote.

The loved ones that I knew were flying that day had been diverted safely, and those I knew working in destroyed buildings were found safe. Still, the great loss was felt. Every one of us sharing this planet together, lost. The apple’d been bitten. The innocence was gone.

And it occurs to me, that in that mire we also gained. We gained the discovery that people are willing to jump in and help each other without a second thought. Men and women were risking their lives to get one another to safety because that’s what naturally occurred to them. Something latent inside us all woke up.DSC00496 Our instincts had shone forth. On that day, and the days that followed, we and our friends and neighbors became brave. Not fearless, mind you, brave.

We gained heroes. Heroes that were in uniform–and many without. And these heroes showed us how to live.

Tomorrow and every September 11 since, I mourn, I reflect, and I remember. And time after time, I find myself again looking to the skies, this time with hope.

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