Lisa K. Friedman, Author

LKF's essays appear in the New York Times and The Huffington Post, among other publications. She is the author of the books Cruise to Retribution, and Nothing to Lose.

Lisa keeps her diplomas over her washing machine, Hershey's chocolate in her nightstand and eats ice cream out of the container with a fork. She is never without a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style because "you never know when you’re going to need to conjugate."

A Mid-April Night’s Dream.

Last night I woke with a shock: an overly tall man in a fur cape stood at the side of the bed, shaking an empty manuscript box with my name scrawled across every flat facet. His skeletal fingers undulated just above my face.

Flash drives, the kind I use to save my daily manuscript pages, capped each of his fingers. They clicked, like the alien’s sounds in Signs. If I could have suspended my own heart beat, I would have.

I forget what happened next. Fear induced amnesia, most likely. This morning I told my husband about the threatening invader but was wasn’t terribly supportive. He was, he reported, on the beach the whole time with our dog Elvis, playing Frisbee.

                 

Keeping the Osprey at Bay.

Well it’s happened again. The osprey have come back from South America and are readying the roof of our boat for the summer season.

Why can’t they be satisfied with the tall platform built expressly for them by the fish and wildlife service? We have a system of defense: we drape a plastic painting tarp over the roof so it’s peaked like a tent.

I thread a line through the grommets along the edge and secure it down. When the wind blows it snaps and billows and swells like a kite; also it makes a crunchy scary sound that should be enough to scare them off. Much as we love to cohabitate with raptors, I believe everyone should stay on their own side.

I mean, it would be just plain rude if I took my roast beef sandwich and diet coke and sat in their nest, right?

                   

The Gallery.

My mother’s artwork was stacked in a corner of the basement, filed away on rickety shelves. 
They are beautiful: paintings, pastels, pen and ink, portraits and beach landscapes.
Late at night I moved all her artwork into the empty living room. I washed them down (mold, again) and lined the walls with framed and unframed piece, like an art gallery. It’s an impressive body of work and I think she was tickled to see it all on display.
Now, when friends come, she offers a painting.
That’s a good thing.

Small Town Girl.

Here’s the thing about small towns: everyone knows about your business. That’s weird if you’re not used to it. I was back in my home town, an isolated village community on Long Island. It was the perfect place to grow up - but I hadn’t lived there since I was seventeen. I was dragging a rolled carpet remnant to the curb when someone called my first name. It was an old boyfriend I hadn’t seen since leaving home.

He’d read that the housing inspector had been to my parents’ house the previous month. He knew the house was being sold. He knew my father was sick because his best friend from high school lived across the street from my old next door neighbor who bought a house just one development over, and his mother had seen my mother in the A&P six years back…

He’d married the sister of one of our high school friends. She was related to the family who’d made the offer on my mother’s house. Oh my god. Is everyone here related? The best thing about a small town is that everyone cares about you.

People read about the sale of my mother’s house and they arrived in little groups. Some brought flowers to cheer up a sad family. Some sat with my mother over tea and listened to her remember the great times.

Many came in the evenings just to keep us company. It was such a relief to see friendly faces after a painful day of packing up the lives of five people. “Are you the middle one?” They asked me. If they didn’t know my placement in the family, they certainly knew my present history.

"You’re the writer?" many knew. It seemed my parents had been doing some bragging about me. The woman who cleaned my mother’s house when we were children came over to say goodbye on her bicycle. She’s 85 now.

My second and fourth grade teacher came to say goodbye. My father, an obstetrician, had delivered all her children. My father’s barber came. My sister’s music teacher came and we gave her a left behind clarinet that she can give to a new budding musician.

My mother is a painter. Ever person who came to visit walked away with a gift of a painting. “Take one,” my mother insisted. “It will be something to remember me by.” She’s a small town girl, after all.

My Wall of Fame.

Dave Barry was the keynote speaker at the Erma Bombeck Writing Conference the night I received my award for best humorist, and I felt as if I’d reached nirvana. I seriously considered retiring after that. How much better could life get?
I display all my publishing credits - magazine covers, full articles, book covers  - on my writing room wall. They are framed, just as you’d frame an art piece. I am thoroughly surrounded by my work. This helps me deflect vicious bouts of self pity and wallowing. I can wander the hall with my hands twisting in angst muttering “I have no talent. I can’t do this.” Once I am in the room, though, I cannot help but see this ersatz Wall O’ Fame. It forces me to acknowledge that I’m a working writer. A successful writer. Sometimes that helps.

A Writer - That’s Me. Always.

I never considered “becoming” a writer. I was a writer always. I wrote my first story when I was in first or second grade, and I never stopped. I am always writing, always thinking about writing. Nothing is quite as exciting to me as discovering exactly the right word, the right phrase. I make lists of words, and lists of fabulous first sentences written by others. I copy phrases from books that move me in the same way an artist copies the paintings of the masters. I am in awe of Jhumpa Lahiri, Ha Jin, Alice Hoffman, Susanna Moore, Lauren Groff - and so many others! 

On Funny.

The problem with humor is - to steal a slogan - if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. What is funny to one person is hurtful to another. I am so careful with word choice, tone and sentence structure, and studiously strive to avoid offenses while respecting the purity of the subject matter, but there is always one person who objects.

You never know how people are going to react.

I told the story of “Why Men Like Boats” at a dinner party soon after the boating adventure had happened. Everyone was screaming laughing, except one woman who was completely deadpan. I heard her daughter remark to her: “not your type of humor.” 

My Times In the New York Times.

My first piece in the NY Times was in Modern Love, Sunday July 1, 2007 and, although it read funny, it was written in abject rage. Years earlier, I had written a diatribe while in a similar mindset. A weekend trip to Florida with a family of cousins found me wedged in between a whining toddler who used my leg as a trampoline, stamping his hard shoes on my thigh for the first ‘leg’ of our journey from Maryland to South Carolina, and a fifth grade prima donna who threw up obediently every time her mother she do so: “Let us know if you need to throw up.”  We were waylaid by an ice storm near Atlanta where we spent the night in a terrible motel room that had no heat. I shared a canoe-sloped bed with the vomiter. In a letter to my parents, I expressed my distinct unhappiness: the whining, the vomiting, the arguing. All of it poured out in a torrent of anger. And to my shock, my parents bellowed with laughter. They told me later, they took the letter to dinner and entertained their friends with my hilarious descriptions. That was when I realized I was on to something. Humor came from extremes of emotion. 
My first essay written about my father’s illness was in the NY Times Magazine, LIVES, August 9, 2009. That essay generated hundreds of responses, and I continue writing these essays into the future.
Emotional extremes are easily unleashed from within when you have a sick parent.
To my surprise, the LIVES page of the Sunday NYTimes magazine printed another of my essays on January 23, 2011.
That one generated a good amount of hate mail.
From David Jones, editor of Modern Love, I learned that hate mail is still a sign of connecting with readers.

But it is still painful to read!