Thursday, May 6, 2021

What I don't know about candles

or driving a UHaul truck through the streets of Washington DC, or driving a small compact car for that matter, for one thing:

Where do you park? How in God's name will you unload the UHaul? 

There's an alleyway behind my daughter's new apartment. She's on the ground floor of a four story building and something I didn't know: the below-ground floor is fancily called an "English Basement." The stairs leading down toward the hobbit-sized front door that won't fit a chair are steep. We will have to use the back entrance for the couch, the mattress, the kitchen table. Essentially, we are re-assembling furniture from all of our past houses into this apartment, excuse me, into this English Basement. 

Our kitchen table with crayon marks scrawled inside a drawer. Our daughter's name, written when she was in pre-school. The mattress my husband and I splurged on and paid off in monthly installments for three years. A plant. Will it get enough light in this place? The alleyway is very narrow. Too narrow, to be honest, but my husband is a patient and brave man. 

He pulls through achingly slow, attempts a turn, so we can start to unload, all of us realizing too late that the angle is too sharp. The truck won't make it through. He will have to back up. Avoid brushing the sides of the other apartments, the drain pipes jutting out, the corner of someone's living room, with only millimeters to spare. Who has time to feel nostalgia or sadness about daughters leaving home to live in English basements in faraway cities at a dangerous moment like this?

More like 30 excruciating minutes of dangerous moments 

as my husband inches his way back out. Once, his brave mask slips from his face and my heart bangs crazily. In the end, he double parks in the street. The boyfriend and his helpful friend lug the couch around the block, the mattress, the tables, down the alley way, down the back steps, while my daughter and her lovely friend tote the smaller things through the hobbit door in the front. 

Later we all flop out on our old couch and our daughter lights a new candle. I am sweating so much under my mask, my heart still hammering wildly from watching the UHaul nightmare, from driving myself through the busy streets so my husband can drop off the damn truck. "I had to drive through a parade!" he says, half laughing, half looking like he might burst into tears. 

It wasn't a parade. Just a Saturday night in this hopping trendy neighborhood. To settle myself, I put my daughter's books away, arranging them alphabetically by author and then doing my version of Dewey with the non-fiction collection, an activity that immediately calms me. I move the candle, blow it out, and my daughter rushes over, upset. 

Didn't I know that when you first burn a candle, it has to burn long enough to melt the wax all the way to the rim? 

No, I did not know that. 

While she bustles around unpacking the kitchen, she asks me to fix the candle. There's a way, she says. You can find it online. Something to do with tinfoil. 

I think she's joking, but sure enough, I find a complicated-seeming process for fixing a "tunneled candle" on a Better Homes and Gardens site. There's even a helpful Youtube video included. 

But my brain feels too tired to learn new things. How to fix candle problems that I've never heard of before. How to watch a brave patient man back up a fifteen foot truck. How to smile and wave from the safety of our small car, drive away from the English basement and the fun busy streets, set our daughter back on the path she would always have been on, if not for a global pandemic,

and us, back to our quiet old house, filled with--I realize now--an assortment of tunneled candles, just waiting for me to fix them. 



Thursday, April 29, 2021

You can't go back of course

but sometimes you want to, which actually is funny when you think about it, because back then, a lot of the time, you didn't want to BE there. The sippy cups and strewn toys and how many little shoes can one little person own? More than you, which is another funny thing. 

The summer before she went to kindergarten, she trailed after you everywhere, sometimes even following you into the bathroom, sucking her thumb, clutching her dolly, that absurdly-loved thing that she literally sucked the face off. One night when she was sleeping, you slid it out from under her arm and did a face transplant

taking another lookalike doll and carefully scissoring the clean, unsucked face around the edges and attaching it over the gross, chewed on one. The end result, a horrifying frankenstein mish-mash, but she didn't seem to notice. Every night before she went to bed she spread out her next day clothes on the floor beside her bed, 

a little girl self. Dress, leggings, socks, whichever pair of her million little shoes, and then she crept into your bedroom and made one for you 

out of the rarely to never-worn-again items in your closet. An old bridesmaid dress, for example, and tottering high heels. A little mommy out of clothes, she said, but you were only taking her to pre-school or doing a grocery trip and so you never wore her carefully assembled outfits.

Who knows, you were probably still wearing your old maternity pants back then, counting the days down to kindergarten and she would leave, dolly tucked in her backpack, just in case, and you would have the house alone for a few precious hours

and weren't you surprised when the day finally came how very quiet the house was. 

Even then you knew you couldn't go back. And that was just the beginning of the goings-away. You're such a pro now, you. Summer camps, college, studies abroad, a year overseas, cut off abruptly and scarily by the pandemic, and now another going-away,

the final one, maybe, 

probably, 

rightly, and you are rooting for her to go, really, despite how quiet the house will be. A friend tells you it's okay to say "And." As in, "I'm glad she's leaving, restarting her adult life AND I wish she could stay." 

You can't go back, and you want so badly some days to do that, 

if only to whisper to a long ago self: in the morning when you find she's made for you a little mommy out of clothes--no matter how silly it is--  

Wear it. 

My dolly with her dolly


Thursday, April 22, 2021

I'm in that place again

where I am mad at the world. 

I want to go out to the garden but the garden is covered by a weird late April snow. A few miles from where I live a police officer shot a sixteen year old Black girl and killed her. It looked like he had to do it, the mayor said, calling the girl, a woman. She was fighting with another girl. She had a knife. 

The snow on the redbud trees is so thick it weighs down the branches. The tulips in my neighbor's yard are drooping cups of snow. I used to teach sixteen year old kids. And I assure you they were kids even though many of them were taller than I was. Sometimes they used to get into fights in the school hallways.

You could hear them yelling Fight! and that was the signal for the coaches to wade in and pull everyone apart. We only had one security officer and he didn't have a gun, thank God. Before I was pregnant with my first child, I confess that I did not always see my students as other people's children, as people themselves. But sometimes a girl or boy broke through and reminded me. Linda, for example, who could barely read.

I had no idea how she made it to eleventh grade and I had no idea how to help her. I was an English teacher, but that meant teaching The Scarlet Letter, not phonics. My first year teaching I had the students keep a journal. A half a page of a response to whatever we were reading. But some kids wrote much more. In scratchy scrawl and barely past a first grade level, Linda wrote about her mom, about her fears, about herself.

I honestly don't remember what I did beyond inviting her to stay after school and going over assignments with her, but after she graduated, she kept coming back to visit. When she learned I was pregnant, she sent me a gift, a baby blanket, that both of my kids used all throughout their babyhoods. She wrote me a letter, thanking me, and the words were perfectly formed and readable and lovely. 

But there were other girls and boys I didn't see at all. I won't write this girl's name, but if there was an opposite to Linda she was it. She was in my homeroom so I only saw her for ten minutes a day and the ten minutes were always charged with tension. She was tardy. She was out of her seat. She was talking. When I called her out, she cussed me. It was a daily battle and she was fourteen years old and I was going to win, damn it. 

She was pregnant. She dropped out of school. She died during childbirth. I don't know where my humanity was because I didn't care. All I could think about was how belligerent this girl had been to me, every second that I knew her. Because we had been in a battle, I could only see her as the enemy. Think about this:

You are a girl you are a boy you are a person and you are mad bullied scared and you are fighting, defending yourself or attacking but it is justified in your mind

the police show up and within ten seconds they shoot you in the chest four times
 

The bird feeder hanging outside the kitchen window has snow on its ledge. I watch an agitated bird hop around, darting back and forth, unable to land. I am so mad at the world that I can hardly think straight and even more mad because I am this world too. I slip on my robe and head outside to swipe the snow off the bird feeder. 

I am twenty seven years too late, but I am so sorry, Aleisha. 






Sunday, April 18, 2021

The black bird on the patio

is sleek and beautiful, the feathers iridescent and I love it immediately, spending a couple of days trying to catch it on our bird feeder, so I can sneak up quietly and take a picture. Ever since the weirdo Cardinal incident of March 2021, I've been obsessed with the birds in my backyard. 

The main character in the book I'm working on is a bird expert and I freely admit I know next to nothing about them, but I am eager to learn. Confession: I used to think bird-watching was a boring hobby. Who has time to sit around watching birds? Also, I have that poem Letters from a Father by Mona Van Duyn in my head, and while I love that poem, it has always made me associate bird-watching with old people. 

Maybe I am an old person now though because I am getting a kick out of watching these birds. This sleek lovely black one, for example. I have a bird identifying book on my kitchen counter, right by the window where the bird feeder hangs, so I can easily look up who is who. The black one is too small to be a Blackbird. It's not speckled enough to be a Starling. I find a match, the Cowbird, and I am so excited, 

for about two seconds.

Cowbirds are what they call brood parasites. The female follows other birds around, finds where they're nesting, and sneaks in and lays eggs in the other birds' nests. The unsuspecting bird nester bird sits on the Cowbird's eggs. And get this: the Cowbird eggs are bigger and when those birds hatch, they crowd out the others or even push the other baby birds out, which honestly, seems so shitty and selfish

and sad. And even worse, in our yard, because if you remember what happened with the freaky Cardinal, my husband taped a box up under the porch eaves in case it needed a safe warm place to burrow or whatever you call it. Well, the Cardinal didn't bother with the box, but a lovely Mourning Dove couple moved in,

and now I can see the Mourning Dove mother sitting on her eggs (IS ONE OF THEM A COWBIRD EGG??!!), the father coo-coo-cooing close by, the asshole Cowbirds hopping around our bird feeder and I feel totally complicit in the whole mess. 

But as a side note, my bird book did point out that while the Cowbird's nesting (or rather, not-nesting) style is detrimental to many songbirds, it's not a 100% sure thing for them either, evolutionarily-speaking. Many birds, when they notice the Cowbird egg, abandon the nest. Some Cowbirds do end up being raised by the unsuspecting foster birds, but they never imprint on their own kind and therefore never mate themselves. In the end something like only 3% of all Cowbirds survive past the nesting stage. 

Two of them are in my backyard. Damn it. 

Male Mourning Dove watching nearby


Female Mourning Dove possibly about to hatch a Cowbird




Thursday, April 8, 2021

Interview with Kristy Boyce, Author of Hot British Boyfriend

If there is such a thing as the perfect book as an antidote for the times (the times being a dark pandemic year of anxiety and fear and no travel) then I have found such a book. It's light, hopeful and all travel; specifically, it's about a teen girl on a semester abroad trip to England. Throw in two cute boys, visits to fun touristy sites, our heroine finding her way and learning to be true to herself and her passions, also, a sprinkle of pixie gardens, and honestly, what else can we ask for? 

What makes it even more lovely is that I know the writer-- Kristy Boyce is a long-time friend, the very first writer I met when I moved to Ohio and ventured out to my first writers group meeting. Her journey to publication was long and windy and littered with setbacks and rejections, but she kept plugging away. 

Now her first book is out and making a splash and I am absolutely thrilled to sit down with her (virtually, of course) to hear more about her behind-the-scenes journey. 

Jody: Kristy, I adored this book, and I am so happy for you, and when this is all over, I am going to hug you so hard! Gushing out of the way, where'd you get the idea for Hot British Boyfriend?

Kristy: My original idea came when I was writing a multiple choice question for a psychology class I teach. The question was testing when we are most likely to show our true self to others versus when we’re likely to show a more perfect version of ourselves. I wrote an application question about a girl who studies abroad and then I sat back and thought, “That would be a fun book to write!”

Jody: I love that this all distills down to a question on a psych test. When was this?

Kristy: I took my first notes on the idea in 2014, so it really has been a long road! After writing and revising it, I took the novel to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Retreat in 2017. My mentor there was Nancy Werlin, who gave me a ton of wonderful advice. I revised again based on that feedback and then queried the manuscript, but I didn’t receive any agent offers. 

Jody: Which is always a huge letdown after so much work.

Kristy: It was rough because I really believed in Hot British Boyfriend. I debated putting it away and starting on something else. Instead, I decided to give the book one more shot and applied for PitchWars, an online mentorship program. Thankfully, I was accepted and spent the next four months doing another two big rounds of revision with my mentors. That led to me signing with my agent after PitchWars and then doing two more rounds of revision with my editor before the manuscript went to copy edits. 

Jody: This sounds like lots of revision.

Kristy: Lots. I guess one thing that was surprising was how many times a person can rewrite a first page and a first sentence. My PitchWars mentors and I went over those first paragraphs again and again. I learned so much during all of the revisions and became a much stronger writer. 

Jody: I heard you talk about this at the time. The ups and downs and close calls. Was it hard to keep going with the project? 

Kristy: That was probably one of the most difficult parts-- to keep believing that the novel had promise even after getting all of the rejections. I sometimes wondering if all the work would be worth it, but it absolutely was. 

Jody: And you couldn't see it then, but maybe it just wasn't the right time for the book? A few years ago many readers were clamoring for darker, angstier stories. Now--maybe, not so much. This year, of course, has been something else.

Kristy: This is true. I was finishing up edits on Hot British Boyfriend throughout the beginning of the pandemic and I loved being able to fall back into this happier world full of travel, friends, and romance. I’m always mentally healthier when I’m writing and that was definitely the case during 2020! It was a wonderful escape. I think, if anything, the times we’re living in have prompted me to dig in deeper to the joyful stories that I’m already inclined to write.

Jody: Any writing tips or tricks to share with aspiring authors?

Kristy: Hmm, well I’ve recently been fast-drafting a new YA and I do have a few tricks I’ve come up with for that process. I really like to finish my first drafts quickly (in a month or so), but I’ve found that if I’m sitting at my laptop then the words are slow to come. I’m particularly liable to second-guess every choice, get caught up on small wording issues, and generally procrastinate. So, I trick my brain into writing in various crazy and chaotic ways! 

Jody: You gave a talk to our writing group about how you dictate to yourself when you take walks, using the microphone feature on your phone. This was a game changer for me!

Kristy: That is my absolute favorite trick. It's amazing how much more creative I feel when I'm moving instead of sitting. Here's another one: Sometimes I’ll cover my screen with a notebook so that I can type without seeing what I’m writing. I have also—prepare yourself—turned my font color white so that I can’t see the words as I’m typing them. 

Jody:  Ooh! I have to try this! Actually, I want to try this RIGHT NOW! But before I do and let you go, what's up next for you? 

Kristy: I’m thrilled that HarperTeen has bought a companion novel to HBB! It follows Ellie’s roommate, Sage, when she travels to Amsterdam the summer after high school graduation. The title is Hot Dutch Daydream and it’s scheduled to come out in April 2023. 

Jody:  This is so exciting, Kristy! And can I just tell you again how happy I am for you and how much I want to hug you?

Kristy:  :) 

Jody: Readers, would you like a signed copy of Hot British Boyfriend? To enter, leave a comment below, mentioning a place you'd love to travel. Contest open until April 17, 2021.

For more on Kristy and Hot British Boyfriend:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kristy Boyce lives in Columbus, OH and teaches psychology as a senior lecturer at The Ohio State University. When she’s not spending time with her husband and son, she’s usually writing, reading, putting together fairy gardens, or watching happy reality TV (The Great British Bake-Off and So You Think You Can Dance are perennial favorites). 




Where you can find her: 

Kristyboyceauthor.com

Twitter at @KristyLBoyce

Instagram @kristylboyce 

Where you can find Hot British Boyfriend:

Cover to Cover Bookstore

Barnes and Noble

Amazon




Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I Make Books

stories that I spin out in the mornings on my lap top before I head off to work at the library, 

there, where I check in books and pull books off the shelves for patron requests, bundles of books that I pass through our walk up window to children out walking their dogs through the park. Some days I weed books from the shelves, 

weeding--what librarians call culling the older books from the collection, the ones not checked out in a long while, the ones with the broken spines or loose pages. I'm always sad flipping through those books, wishing they could have more of a chance. And good news: some do end up in our Friends of the Library Book Sale, where they get another shot at being read and loved.  

And then it's home, to read books, 

the books of non-fiction essays I'm working my way through, the ones on the nightstand, stacked in the bathroom and piled on the end tables in the living room, the cookbooks and gardening books on the kitchen counter to flip through while I'm eating breakfast, whatever latest novel I'm reading. 

Lately, I am making tiny books for the miniature room I bought, a project to do with my daughter who likes puzzles. This was a total impulse buy. An ad on social media that kept popping up until I relented and bought it. (fun/sad fact: these ads work on me!) I bought two rooms, actually, a book room and a plant room. 

Oh, you should've seen my daughter and me spreading out the teeny tiny pieces, flipping through the thick instruction booklets, challenging each other to a competition-- Who could finish our micro room first? 

Cut to: it's three weeks later and my daughter has threatened to quit on more than one occasion. The itsy bitsy clipboard is what finally did her in. Meanwhile, I am plugging away on my book room. Building the bookshelves first, upholstering a chair (which took four hours and nearly killed me), a teeny vase of flowers, each bud needing to be glued and affixed to a stem the size of a pin. Until finally, 

I had to make the books! I followed the directions carefully to put together the first one, turned the instruction booklet page, and laughed out loud where it said: Make 140 more books. 

SO, I did that. 

Because that is what I do. 


teeny tiny pages


clipboard of doom


Almost finished room! 
(Note the chair that almost killed me)




Monday, March 22, 2021

Shots!

8:45 and I join the line of maybe 100 people shuffling along outside Ohio State's old basketball arena. No time at all, and I'm inside, flashing my driver's license, waved forward by one of the many National Guardspeople who are directing traffic, keeping things orderly and all of us socially distant. If not for them, this could be the line for a basketball game 

or a rock concert. There's music playing. "Life in the Fast Lane" of all things, blasting out of the loudspeakers. Shuffling along inside and I spy the weight room, college kids working out. The people in line appear to be the 50-somethings, (the vaccine's open to our age group now) and this music feels appropriate.

I'm taking notes on my phone so I don't forget this experience. Profound thought this moment: 

life in the fast lane/surely make you lose your mind

My appointment's at 9 am and I'm sitting at a registration table by 9:05. My registration person is a part-time pharmacist at Kroger, she tells me. She usually works 20 hours a week but this week she'll be working every day, 7 am - 8 pm. This is it, she says. How do you feel?

Good!

She types in my information on her laptop and I type notes on my phone: now they're playing "Thunder" by AC/DC. 

9:10 and I'm in line again, moving past the National Guard and the row after row of registration tables to line up once more behind the other 50-somethings. Everyone is quiet. Are we the lucky ones who never got sick? A few days ago I was teary-eyed making this appointment. An end in sight and I was overwhelmed-- elated and anxious. Now, I don't know what I feel. 

9:13 and a National Guardsperson waves me toward a nurse with an open seat. She fills out my vaccine record and gives me the shot. I don't feel anything. Not even a pinprick. Thank you, I tell her, and then I'm moved along again, this time to a waiting area in a hallway. We're supposed to sit here for fifteen minutes in case we have an allergic reaction to the shots, but nobody seems to be timing us. 

The music is still blasting. We've moved onto Guns and Roses, "Paradise City." Is this 1980's music a conscious choice? I ruminate over rock concerts I've been to, sneak looks at the people sitting around me, everyone scrolling on their phones. 

I text my husband, who went through this same process at the same place the day before. What was your nurse's name? he asks me.

I realize I don't know. Hannah, maybe? 

He says, Mine was Emily. And you should know. This person just saved your life. 

Hannah, definitely, I tell him, even though I'm not 100 percent sure. Next time, though, next time, I will make a note of it. 

9:28 and I'm walking out to my car. It's a sunny cold day and I live only minutes away. My arm doesn't hurt and I want it to.