Friday, August 07, 2015

Shit English Teachers Think About During the Summer

Thoughts on Harper Lee

GSaW is about Scout developing her individual moral consciousness, separate from her Father. The moment happens but then we are not given evidence of how she has really changed. I think Lee used that as the central storyline, the racial tensions are context. Yet by the time she finished TKM she seems to set aside this feminist awakening and instead focuses entirely on the race issue. Partly this is the case because she goes back to tell the story from Scout’s childhood.  But I also see that she as an author in TKM actually embodies Scout’s awakening in GSaW and writes the story that demonstrates her feminism without having to explicitly use it as a plot device.  I know this collapses Lee into Scout, which may be unfair. Yet in her case, as these are her only two extant works, it is certainly tempting.  

In any case, she had to write GSaW first. She had to write her way through Scout's (and her own?) awakening. And thus Lee found her power and her voice, which became the younger Scout and her ability to tell Lee's story about racism and the South.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

June Eighteenths

Brought to you by yet another external memory device, Facebook notifications. We are cyborgs.


June 18, 2014 
I had my first shot of espresso at the newly opened Mantra in Budapest.

June 18, 2012
It was Move-in Day at our new apartment in Budapest. It was a Tuesday. The forecast called for 90 degrees and 0% chance of rain. I wore red shoes, a yellow shirt, a white top, and a summer straw hat.

June 18, 2011
I brought my daughter to the emergency room at St. Janos Children’s hospital in Budapest. She had gashed her chin by falling off her bed on to a hard wooden floor, chin first.  She wore sliver strappy shoes, a blue and yellow printed skirt, and a yellow shirt. She smiled for the camera. Her had two large styes on her left eye and a bandage on her chin.

June 18, 2009
My midwife told that I was positive for strep B and would require an IV at my birth.  This was bad news. Then my husband walked into my consultation room with two freshly broken arms. He had been in a bicycle accident and rode himself to the doctor’s office.  This was really bad news.  Iza was seventeen months old and not yet walking. Leo was born on June 30.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

This poem

Splitting an Order

I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,
and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife
while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife and her fork in their proper places,
then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him. 
"Splitting an Order" by Ted Kooser, from Valentines.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

I recently finished this highly acclaimed novel. The first passage I underlined in the text was on page 32.  It took that long for my brain to learn the book's language.  It also took me that many pages to remember I could underline.  This is the first "real" book I've read in a long time.  I switched to reading on my iPhone when my kids were small. But after reading reviews of McBride's book, I knew I would never be able to digest it's modernist style in digital format.

Memorable quotes 
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2014)

"Going foot to foot to foot to foot. Spinning wheels round digging. Crunch as glass on the axel rod." pg. 32

"Later it ran up me. Legs stomach knees chest up head. Like smoke in my lungs to be coughed out. I'd throw up excitement. What is it? Like a nosebleed. Like a freezing pain. I felt me not me. Turning to the sun. Feel the roast of it. Like sunburn. Like a hot sunstroke. Like globs dropping in. Through my hair. Spat skin with it. Blank my eyes the dazzle. Huge shatter. Me who is just new. Fallen out of the sky. What. Is lust it? That's it. The first splinter. I. Give in scared. If I would. Stop. Him. Oh God. Is a mortal mortal sin." pg. 55

"I don't think I will be clean now. Think instead I'll have revenge for lots of all kinds of things. The start is. That is love." pg. 61

"How would they ever understand my life is more than cider? Complex than that." pg. 74

"Saying yes is the best of powers. It's no big thing the things they do." pg. 77

"So so we are just the one of us now. Me." pg. 90

"My heart go bang at no go back now no go back. Some new education begins." pg. 91

"Will hear him tell me he's how old a lot oh God lotter than me. I am addling but good to be seen. It's very good to be seen." pg. 95

"Wash my body on or off and think I'll be some new a disgrace. Slap in the alley with no doubt rats I am leaving. Epiphany. I am leaving home. I've picked up and left. Fresh. I'm already gone." pg. 96

"I love the. Something of it all. Feeling ruined. Fucking. Off. I'm ready. Ready ready. To be this other one. To fill out the corners of this person who doesn't sit in photos on the mantel next to you." pg. 98

"The answer to every single question is Fuck." pg. 146

"Trains passing like teeth through my head." pg. 151

"I walk the street. City. Running through my mouth. Running in my teeth the. Me eyes are. All the things. The said the done what there what's all this? That stuff. I could do. My. I walk the street. Who's him? That man. Who's him there having a looking at me he. Look at my. Tits. Ssss. Fuck word. No don't. Fuck that. No. Will. Not that. Not. That. But. If I want to then I can do. And it would fill me up fine. And I. I do. Do it. Take him back with me. Give him. The word. I want that. Hurt me. Until I am outside the pain." pg. 163

"Me the thing but I. Think I know. Is that the reason for what's happened? Me? The thing. Wrong." pg. 179

"Think. There's a there's a world's not this." pg. 185

Useful links:

The White Review interview with Eimear McBride:

The New Yorker Review

Friday, April 17, 2015

Top Ten Books

I compiled this list in September, 2014 in response to a Facebook meme.  The idea was to list the first ten books and/or authors that came to mind and describe why they are important.  The books that came to mind (without the aid of my bookshelves) are those that are connected to a shared reading experience. 

I dug this out of my writing notes today because I just finished reading Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen, his memoir.  It prompted me to consider what episodes and texts in my life I might include in a memoir.  

Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter.  
This book was given to me by my Grandma Anna Mae Kelley as a Christmas present when I was around ten. 

John Grisham
Reading his thrillers in high school was one of the first times I got drawn into the excitement of waiting with a friend for the next book by an author. 

Stephen King
Reading anything by him when I was in high school was intense.  Again he created a little society of readers who dared to read him.  The experience of reading Gerald's Game in one night through the dawn was terrifying.  I didn't read him again until The Cell. 

The Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss
This was a key book at my high school graduation and at my wedding. I loved rereading it recently and noticing how the difficulties of life are so vividly portrayed. 

Blindness by Jose Saramago
This is a hard book.  I like hard books.  And that scene on the balcony is worth the entire book. And I'm afraid of going blind.

The Red Tent By Anita Diamant
This book is on the list because of the foundational role it played in my book club.  The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd also makes the list for the same reason.

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich
It is an epic tale of living in America as an immigrant.  It is a book I've found myself giving to people.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
It is a short book, yet it captured life in contemporary Japan and caught the imaginations of my classmates at Saint Mary's. 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
I am not even sure why/when I first read this.  Not even sure why it is on the list other than perhaps it was one of my first tastes of the modernist style.  And I once quoted it at length in a love letter.

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
This play became the heart of many relationships for me.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hungarian Love (New York Times Modern Love Reject)

Hungarian Love

My husband bought a house in Brookline, MA. I live in Budapest with our two kids. The day he signed the deal, he ran into a new neighbor, who happens to be Hungarian. My husband explained that his wife and kids live in Budapest. The new neighbor concluded that I must want to live in Budapest because I have a lover.

When my husband recounted the exchange via Skype, I told him my lovers are pint-sized. Right on cue the partially clad kids streaked behind me, climbed on my shoulders, and his image froze.

To clarify, he is the Hungarian from Transylvania. I am the American from Kansas.  We came to Budapest three years ago on vacation with our young children. It was supposed to be a three-month stay. We had invested in an apartment, our first piece of real estate in Hungary. Many people in Brookline have vacation homes on Cape Cod. It turned out that we are not Cape Cod people. Instead we put roots down in Budapest.

True, the commute is too far for weekend trips. But we envisioned summers in Europe and our Hungarian-American kids growing up with the neighborhood pack. We want them to be bilingual and bicontinental.  I had always enjoyed my visits to Hungary and Transylvania. Then something happened. An internal switch flipped. Probably it was my mother-in-law who came to live with us. Suddenly we had a live-in Grandma. She doesn’t speak English. I speak only enough Hungarian to be exceedingly polite. It was magic. And here I am, still in Budapest, planning trips home for vacation.

Brookline, where we now have (our first or second?) home is a foreign land to me as well. We moved there for my husband’s work, leaving behind my teaching job and friends in South Bend, Indiana, where we met and lived for ten years. Then we had two babies, seventeen months apart. I had made a few new friends, but felt adrift and lonely and yet never, ever alone with my little ones. Yet I was still surprised when I realized I wanted to be in the heart of this energetic city rather than ensconced in a suburb. I stayed. He agreed to commute. Since then he has spent one month with us, and returned to Boston for one month to work. You do the math. 

Our new neighbor in Brookline suggested to my husband I must want to stay in Budapest because I have taken a lover.  Can I just say that it is very Hungarian to 1) conclude that I have a lover, and 2) more so, to say it out loud on the corner in front of the new house he has just purchased for his family. Perhaps it is not fair to categorize this as Hungarian, but it is certainly not the way I was raised.

If I thought my new neighbor’s wife had taken a lover several time zones away from him, I sure as heck wouldn’t say it to his face. I might, however, discuss it with my friends and shake my head. That poor man. His wife is playing him and eating her cake too. Budapest, as you may know, being famous for its elegant and rich cakes.

My husband bought the house in Brookline because we decided our first suburban home was too far from the city. Brookline juts up against the city, but the schools are decent. My husband can ride his bike to work. The kids can walk to school. There are excellent cafes. After we decided to try splitting our homes, he rented from a friend, a tenuous arrangement that was genial when it started as a short-term solution.   Years had passed. It was time for him to move on. The new house in Brookline has everything we need, even the price was right. The kids can walk to a great local public school. I have no excuse to not move back. 

Except that I do have an excuse to stay in Budapest. Our new Hungarian neighbor in Brookline was right. I do have a boyfriend.

At first I admitted it to myself, and then to my husband.  Budapest is my boyfriend. That sounds cute, right? I am in love with the yellow 47 tram, the covered market, the superb coffee, and the chicken paprikas. Did I mention the thermal baths? How about that we don’t need a car? I take my kids to school each day by mounting a roller and zooming the four minutes to the first school, and the five minutes to the nursery school.  We could walk to school. Most Hungarians do. But we ride our rollers because it is fun. I like being the oddball American in the staid Hungarian crowd. It gives me freedom to not fit in. Of course, it means I don’t fit in, which has a price too. But the pleasures of the expat life are many and sweet. Did I mention the thermal baths? 

Anyway, I was effectively a foreigner in Boston too. We moved there and had two babies very closely spaced. I didn’t know anyone or have family close by to aid with infant mayhem. We were new to that city too.  But it wasn’t the expat life. It was flat. Much like people claim about Kansas, which is where I started.

Life would be more comfortable in Brookline. I wouldn’t have to struggle to communicate with my kids’ teachers in my broken Hungarian. Life would be more comfortable in Brookline, but it is more exciting here. 

I walked around for weeks in love with my new boyfriend, Budapest. I had finally found a way to express my choice to live here and not there.  I was quite pleased with myself as I indulged in a slice of dobos torte on a fall afternoon while the kids were otherwise engaged. A slice of cake, a cup of coffee, time to myself. It was glorious.

It was not lonely. 

Budapest is a very good boyfriend. You have to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, of course. You have to grit your teeth when the old ladies stop your five-year-old son on the street to chastise him for wearing “girl” shoes. My daughter did not want to sign up for soccer as the only girl. They don’t offer a girl’s team. But these are part of the deal when you are the outsider trying to live inside the local boxes.

I fooled myself for quite a while that it was Budapest who was my new lover. It sounds blithe, right? Oh, you know I just LOVE Budapest. 

The truth, however, is more scandalous. It is certainly more strange.  But then again, I am a foreigner in this land. I don’t speak the language.  Sometimes I think I never will. My parents spoke the same language. I suppose love is both more and less than what it at first seems. It seems to hinge on real estate, I’ve learned. And cake.

I haven’t told my husband yet. I do have a boyfriend. He lives in another country and comes to me six times a year. He comes with bleary eyes and cravings for thick slabs of vanilla cream cake. He changes burned-out light bulbs when he is in town. I leave the exploded, blackened bulbs in place until he arrives. Sometimes the apartment is half in shadow for weeks. And then when he returns the kids gleefully scale the ladder with him. My daughter hands him the new bulbs with utter seriousness for the task. Then the apartment blazes with wattage, the light casting us in full relief.

Our arrangement is what it is, for now. When I describe it people, they often say, Oh that must be so hard! And I sometimes say, How long have you been married? Together? We have been together since 1997. You do the math. My parents were married for 52 years. They lived under one roof for all those years. Astounding. For me, life and love, not to mention real estate and the question of where to school the children, have produced a new algorithm. 

Should I tell him? It might destroy the romance.  

If I tell him, will he stay or go? Will we stay or go? 

I want to keep my boyfriend. I want to stay in Budapest.


Friday, April 10, 2015


I seek representation for Doomed to Succeed, a contemporary young adult novel.

Mary Sullivan, award-winning author of Stay, Ship Sooner, and Dear Blue Sky, says about my manuscript:  “This is such a powerful novel.  I love the language—strong, provocative, meticulous.  It demands attention.  It’s poetic at the same time that it’s pop: a good combination for YA fiction, and this novel would have a crossover audience, I imagine.  The story is so good.”

Rebecca White, a senior at the top of her class at Plains High School in 2001, is a Kansas girl going places, until the rape.  She wants the rapist to pay for his crime and go to jail.  Only nothing is that simple and she wasn’t the one raped.  Doomed to Succeed is the story of how Rebecca seeks revenge for her best friend, Luke Warren.  While the senior class chooses corsages and boutonnieres for the prom, Rebecca plots revenge against the son of the principal, Weston.  He raped Luke.   Shortly after the rape, Luke confides in Rebecca and makes her promise to keep his secret.  She must find a way to make Weston pay without revealing Luke’s secret.  Her solution will shock you.

I am a high school teacher with an advanced degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame. I maintain a blog, Write Now at  Find me on Twitter @hutchkelley5 and on Facebook at

Doomed to Succeed is my debut novel.  I currently write and live in Budapest and Boston.  The 68,000-word manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration,

Janet Kelley

Friday, March 27, 2015

Magyar Irodalomóra

The following is both my first attempt to write fiction in Hungarian and my first attempt to teach in Hungarian.  My language class asked us to prepare a presentation on the topic of our choice.  Other students presented on wine-tasting, Japan, marriage, and tourism in Hungary.  I choose to create the beginning of a story and develop a lesson plan around it.

It was fascinating to write fiction in another language.  My vocabulary is very restricted which shaped the story I created.  But it also forced me to infuse every sentence with action.

I post it here mostly for my own sake as a way to preserve my little language learning efforts.


Magyar Irodalomóra

Olvassátok el a szöveget. Amikor találsz egy új szót, írd a táblára.



A munka után a barátok bementek a kávéházba. Leültek és rendeltek. Nyugodtan beszéltek a napjukról.
Szilvia csak nézte a telefonját. Hirtelen felállt és szó nélkül kiment az utcára. A többiek halkan és gyorsan beszéltek róla.
--Kepzeljétek el, a férje komolyan beteg lett. Azt hallottam, életveselyes.
--Ne mondd már! Kitől hallottad ezt? Nem beteg! Elvesztette a munkáját két héttel ezelőtt.
--Na, ne mondd már!  Nem igaz! Azt hallottam, hogy új munkát kapott, de az új cég arra kötelezte, hogy költözzön el valahova Dél-Koreába.

Szilvia odalépett az asztalhoz. A barátai kíváncsian felnéztek. Meg akartak tudni az igazságot. Nem kérdeztek semmit mert megijedtek az arcától. Az arca holt sápadt volt. Az egyik keze remegett. Majdnem elejtette a telefonját.  Nem ült le.

Ott termett a pincér. Letett az asztalra egy drága üveg pezsgőt és négy magas poharat.

Szilva kezébe vette az üveget és kezdte kihúzni a dugót. A barátok féltek a dugótól. Ki is jött belőle halkan és finoman, mint egy kielégitett nőből a sóhaj.

A többiek csak bámultak egymásra.

Szilvia az asztal körül sétált. A pezsgőből töltögetett a barátainak, végül magának is.

A barátok nem tudtak mit mondani. Ilyenkor sütit és kávét szoktak fogyasztani. Most nem tudták, mi történik.

Szilvia felemelte a poharát. Lassan a többiek is.
--Igaz, ugye, barátaim, hogy süt a nap? Én rendeltem a különleges buborékost mert...

Nem tudta folytatni. A barátok már tűkön ültek.

--Igyátok meg --súgta Szilvia.

A barátok kiitták a poharakból a pezsgőt.

A pincér odament és letette a számlát, mert már egy ideje a terem másik végéből figyelte a jelenetet. Úgy döntött, hogy jobb ha fizetnek és távoznak.

Csengett egy telefon. Szilvia ránézett a telefonjára és kikapcsolta.
--Barátaim, nincs sok időnk. Hallgassatok meg és csináljátok, amit mondok. A kabátotokat a táskátokat, mindent hagyjatok itt. Fussatok el!


Kepzeljétek el a végét! Válaszoljatok a kérdésekre. Önálló munka.

Hány évesek?

Hol dolgoznak? Együtt?

Kivel beszélt Szilvia telefonon?

Miért szól sok pletyka a ferjéról?

Miért nem ivott Szilvia a pezsgőből?

Mi a te véleményed, milyen baj van?

Szilvia jó ember vagy rossz? Beteg?

Mit fognak csinálni a barátok? Mit fognak mondani? Tényleg birkák lennének?


Mit történik ez utàn? Rövid legyen! Nem kell a mese végét tudni.
Mondjátok el!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Humor Project: How Scientists Make People Laugh

I have neglected The Humor Project on my blog.  I have been more aware of my humor and lack-of-humor since I vowed to do something about it way back in June, 2014.

For example, my kids begged to watch Sponge Bob. I relented when they offered the following justification, "But, Mom, it's funny!"  I thought, huh.  They need to learn humor somehow. And then months later I found myself on a Saturday morning at the theater watching Sponge Bob in 3D. And it was funny!

At some point I will write more about this self-improvement endeavor.  However, the best I can do right now is offer this:

My recent humor fail:  I frequently, but not always, remark that something my kids do is "Hillari-ASS."  This was funny, to me.  But guess who thinks everything and everyone is Hillari-ASS now? Yep, my 5-year-old son.  Moments like this make living in Hungary super hillari-ASS.  Another loud, crude American laughing at his own jokes.  (I still think it is funny.)

And for your daily does of laughter:

Monday, March 09, 2015

Gender Tales: At the Toy Store

Leo, with great pleasure and excitement, trying to make small talk, says to the (male) attendant at the toy store:  "Look, we have this same toy in the nursery school!" (Lifts up a plastic hair dryer.)

Attendant:  "Oh, that's cool!  But you don't play with it, right?"

Leo: Returns the toy to the shelf.

Leo:  "No."

Me: "I'm sure you do.  It's a cool toy."

Leo:  No comment

Whom do he think he listens to?

previous posts on gender, kids, and Budapest: