Sunday, September 15, 2019

Radical Deconstruction of a Koi Pond

When we bought this house, we inherited a koi pond and we didn't want a koi pond.

First, let me say, I have nothing against koi ponds. Our next door neighbors at our previous house have a koi pond and when we sat outside on their patio, I liked to look at the fish.

They have a big one that I called the Dr. Seuss Fish because it was enormous and could stick half of its body out of the water and it looked like any second it was going to crawl right out and walk across the patio. I told my neighbor, one of these days, there's going to be a knock on your door and you're going to look down, and it's going to be the fish.

Dr. Seuss Fish

Anyway, we inherited a koi pond and we didn't want a koi pond. We didn't know how to take care of it and we didn't really want to learn. The previous owner didn't leave behind instructions. She did leave a bag of food, but when were we supposed to feed the fish? And how much? I called our previous next door neighbor. Can you help us with the koi pond? I asked.

What I meant was, Can you take the fish out of the koi pond and put them in your koi pond?

He said, How many fish do you have?

I said, I don't know. Maybe five?


A few weeks later, he came over with a bucket and a net. He stepped into the pond and started swinging the net around. You've got more than five, he said. Also, he told us the pump was broken and something about the filter. We were all surprised when he pulled more than 25 fish out of the water.

After he left, my husband and I yanked out the overgrown vegetation and promptly found four or five more fish. The plan was we'd catch them, carry them over to our old neighbors' and begin dismantling the koi pond. The plan quickly went awry. For one thing, it was 95 degrees every day and who wanted to be outside. My husband had a hard time catching the fish. He got some and put them into a bucket, but we kept finding more. It was amazing how fast they were and how they could find hiding places in what was left of the vegetation.

I was getting nervous about the ones in the bucket. Every morning I'd go out with the dog and expect to find them floating on the surface, dead. 

One morning I went out and did my usual peek into the bucket and there was nothing there. No dead fish. No live fish. Just water. I called my husband in a panic, thinking maybe he'd dumped them all back into the pond? But no. Something must've gotten them, he said.

A raccoon? A cat? But wouldn't that have knocked over the bucket?

A friend suggested that it was a hawk. It looked like whatever fish had been left in the pond had been snatched away by the hawk too. Not to mix metaphors, but when I'd yanked out all of the vegetation, I'd basically left the poor fish out there like sitting ducks.

That night, before we'd hardly had time to process the deaths we'd inadvertently caused, we realized the empty pond had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. My husband punctured the lining to drain it and added some vegetable oil to the water, something we'd read online would keep mosquito larva from hatching.

By then the koi pond looked like a toxic waste dump. Dead plant stalks, a few oily puddles, and a mosquito graveyard.

A week later and the weather broke. This weekend it looked like we could really take some time out there to dismantle the thing once and for all. Clean up the muck. Pull out the punctured lining. Fill in the big hole.

But first, we found a fish! I have no idea how it made it through the destruction but there it was, an orange flicker in a mucky puddle. My husband caught it and took it across town to be reunited with its old friends.

The End


Tune in next time for the story of the newly discovered raccoon family living in our broken down shed.









Sunday, September 8, 2019

We dropped our daughter off at the airport

and did the whole goodbye thing. Hugs and pictures. Multiple wavings as she stood in line to go through security. And more waves as she turned to head toward her gate. We watched her walk down the hall until we couldn't see her anymore, and then there was nothing to do but go home. But we didn't want to go home yet.

There was too much traffic and we turned into the first restaurant we found off the highway.

I was thinking about the day we dropped our son off, his freshmen year. The college was close-ish to where I'd grown up and I remembered there being a clam shack on the beach, but we couldn't find it. I told my husband to keep driving while I craned my neck looking down the side streets. Everything was unfamiliar, the streets all dead-ending at the ocean, but no clam shack. Not far away our son was settling into his dorm room.

I knew he was excited and I knew he was where he was supposed to be and I knew it was all going to be okay, but still, I felt like crying. Finally, we found the clam shack. We got a table with an ocean view and stuffed ourselves with fried clams and shared a pitcher of sangria and told each other we were fine.

I relayed to my husband what my wise friend Margaret had told me about your kids going away to college. She said, When they go away to college, they're not really gone. Your home is still their home base. They'll keep coming back for holidays and over the summer. When they graduate from college, that's when they're really gone.

Whew, because we had tons of time. The night of sangrias at the clam shack we had a college freshman. We had a daughter who was only a sophomore in high school for crying out loud.

The restaurant off the highway does not serve fried clams. The view from the outdoor patio is of the shopping center parking lot. Our son has lived in San Francisco for three years. Our daughter is at the gate waiting for her flight. Soon, she'll be jetting across the ocean. She's going to graduate school in London. She'll be gone for a year.

I know they're both where they're supposed to be and I know it's all going to be okay, but still.

My husband orders us a pitcher of sangria and we tell each other we'll be fine.







Saturday, August 31, 2019

How to Paint a Room in Ten Easy Steps

1. Prep-work prep-work prep-work! It's been said that 90 percent of painting is prep-work. Okay, I don't know if that's actually been said except for me saying it, but the percentage feels right. There's so much to do before you even start painting-- decluttering the area, dusting, vacuuming... Because the last thing you want is to find a cat hair painted forever against your baseboard.

2, This week is Paint the Kitchen Week and I am ready. Painting clothes on. Hair tied back.

3. Shoot. I forgot to take all of the light plates off the walls. Side note: PLEASE DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Case in point: at the our last house, when I was removing the light plates, I realized that the previous owners had left the plates on and painted right over them. Total amateurs.

4. Primer everything. Wait. First, you've got to wash the surfaces you'll be primering. I got this tip from the guy who was standing behind me in line at the paint counter at Lowes. I was asking about primer, explaining to the Paint Clerk that the people who lived in the house before us smoked and now everything smelled smoky and what kind of primer was best for this problem, and the guy behind me piped up that he knew all about that, being a contractor and just having painted an entire house where six people had smoked up the place for twenty years.

The secret: a solution of water mixed with bleach and Dawn Dishwashing Liquid.

For the record: this is a messy yucky job and it takes a good part of a day.

5. Primer everything. Two coats. (This takes two days.)

6. Paint the ceiling. I have never painted a ceiling before but how hard can it be? I watch a bunch of Youtube videos. And I'm ready. Side note: It's not hard, exactly, but I do get a nice crick in my neck that reminds me of that summer I painted all of the McDonalds in Central Connecticut. 

7. Paint the walls! No, wait. First, you've got to tape everything off. I used to do this step religiously, but after painting what feels like a thousand rooms, I am more confident in my ability to paint a straight line. Still, it's a good idea to tape what you absolutely do not want to ruin. The kitchen cabinets, for example. This step takes a good two hours.

8. Paint the walls!! The color we've chosen is called Familiar Beige and I think it's lovely. Warm and brown. A few weeks ago I painted swatches of it on every wall to make sure we all really like it. We all really do.

But now that I've painted a wall,

I'm not so sure. Maybe it's clashing a little with the cabinets? No. It's fine. I keep going. I paint the entire kitchen and the back entryway. When my husband gets home from work, I ask him what he thinks and he hesitates. It looks a little red? he says. I argue with him that it does not look a little red. And anyway, what's wrong with a little red.

Nothing, he says. Forget I said anything.

I send him off to buy another gallon of Familiar Beige so I can paint the second coat, but as he's walking out the door, I say, Maybe we can change the cabinets?

He hesitates again.

Whatever. I AM NOT PAINTING THIS KITCHEN A DIFFERENT COLOR!!

We have a nice long bickery argument with our daughter looking on and shaking her head.

My husband flips through our collection of approximately 200 thousand Lowes paint samples and picks out another color, something called Salt Crystal that looks a lot like the color of the cabinets. He is so wrong about this color selection and I tell him 50 times and then I send him out to buy it.

8. I paint the entire kitchen again in Salt Crystal. Twice. It's creamy and delicious and makes me think of buttercream frosting and damn it all to hell, my husband is right. I do something I rarely do. I tell him he is right.

9. Paint the trim. Twice. (Two days)

10. Peel off the painter's tape. (Two hours)

Wah lah!

Now it is time to paint the dining room.





Saturday, August 24, 2019

Please let me pay my fine

The library where I work has gone fine-free.

This is a not-new idea (but new to our little community) that libraries should be about making patrons feel welcome and wanting to check out materials without worrying about being penalized for returning items a few days late. There's been research that shows that some people stop going to the library when they owe a fine, and of course, this hits poorer patrons hardest.

Also, our library didn't really make that much money on fines anyway, and it took a lot of employee time to keep up with them, time that could be better spent on programming and community outreach.

We've been explaining the new policy for the past few weeks, and some people are having a more difficult time with it than others.

Example:

Man (eyeing the new DVD display): So, am I really not going to get fined if I don't return a movie on time?

Me: That's right. We're fine free.

Man (smirking): I used to bring these back on time because there was a fine. Now, why should I?

Me: Well, if you don't return the item at all, you'll get charged for it.

Man: Ha! I knew it! You're going to fine me!

Me: No. As soon as you bring the item back, we'll remove the charge from your account.

Man (shaking his head): And you think this is going to work?

Me: Most patrons bring items back regardless of the fine. They get it that if they want to see a movie or check out a book, they have to return it so other people can have a chance too.

Man (taking a movie and still smirking at me): Ooookay.

Example Two:

Woman: I have a fine on my account. I know you're fine free now, but this is an old fine and I want to pay it.

Me (looking up her account and assuming there's some massive fine): Hmm. It looks like you owe 20 cents.

Woman (fumbling around in her purse): That's right. Here's my money.

Me: You don't really have to pay that. It'll just sit on your account and won't keep you from checking materials out.

Woman (looking distressed and thrusting two dimes at me): I don't like owing money. Please let me pay what I owe.

Me: Ooookay.

So this is how it's been going for the last few weeks with people seeming to fall into two camps. The ones who are immediately thinking about how they can game the system and the ones who are freaked out about owing ten cents from ten years ago.

Maybe the smirky guy's right and the whole library system will collapse if we don't punish people.

But then, this happened:

A woman came in to use a computer. For the record, anyone can walk into a public library and use the computers, print something, copy or fax something. There's a small charge for copies but otherwise computer use is free. It's one of the most-used services at the library.

I asked the woman if she had a library card and she hesitated and then said no. I gave her a guest pass and off she went, but later, she came back to the desk.

Not quite looking at me, she whispered, I think I do have a library card, but I owe some fines and I haven't used my card in a while.

Well, let's look, I said. I entered her information into the computer and nothing came up. Nope, I told her. You're not in our system anymore. Sometimes the library will purge accounts that aren't used for a while. So you're good. No fines.

She didn't say anything. She still wasn't looking at me.

Do you want to get a new library card today?  I asked.

I can get a card today? she said.

Sure!

I walked her through the application and in three minutes I handed her a card. I did my spiel about how many items she could borrow and all of the programs we offered and gave her our little brochure, which still shows the list of fines.

Ignore all that, I said. We're printing up a new brochure soon. We're fine free now.

She looked at me and I realized she was crying. I pretended I didn't notice.

Welcome to the library, I said.




Monday, August 12, 2019

The other day I scraped the backside of my car against a concrete post


I was backing out of my spot in a parking garage. A friend and I had driven to Dayton to give talk to our writers' group there. It had all gone well and I was telling my friend I thought it had gone well. The talk was about motivation and how it is important to have writing goals.

I had a cold all last week and I was kind of out of it, so I'd been worried about the talk. Add to that, we were in Dayton, two days after a mass shooting. I said to the writers in the group, We need to write now, more than ever!

Police and security guards were on every floor of the library. The place closed promptly at 8:30 and a security guard escorted us to the parking garage. Another stood behind my car, watching us as we got in. At the end of the writing talk I had told the group to write down their goals for the rest of the year.

Don't set a goal that's not in your control, I told them. Don't say, Be published by the end of the year. Say: Write a first draft. I did the exercise too and immediately ignored my own advice: Finish my revision and go on submission in the fall. 

I went through a bag of cough drops during the talk and had to keep stopping to blow my nose, but everyone acted like I was doing a good job. I hadn't given a talk like this one in a while. To be honest, I felt like a fraud. I haven't been writing since we moved. But even before that I was struggling.

I say we need to write now more than ever, but how do we do that exactly, when the world is falling apart around us? I wrote three books since my last book was published. Each one came close but ultimately did not break through.

Follow your dream, I told my writing group. Be persistent. Roll with the rejections. Keep writing. 

In May I finished a draft of a fourth book. I'd overhauled it completely and reworked it over a two year period. Why wouldn't an editor snap it up in the fall? 

Somehow I forgot there was a concrete post next to my car. I was looking at the security guard when I was backing out of the parking space. Drive slow, was what I was thinking. Be careful. The fourth book is not ready to go on submission in the fall. When I heard the deep grinding scrape noise, I was stunned. The concrete post was so big, and so suddenly and glaringly obvious.

The damage was bad, but luckily, only cosmetic. I tried to laugh it off with my friend, explained that I was usually a responsible driver. I'd had this car for over ten years and had never even gotten a scratch on it. But how did I overlook the concrete post? Was I distracted by the security guard? Had I eaten too many cough drops? 

Why do I keep writing books that come close but don't break through? 

Maybe it's time to try writing something different, my friend told me. The answer is so suddenly and glaringly obvious.

I will. 



Tuesday, August 6, 2019

One of my friends taught the young woman who died in the mass shooting in Dayton

She wrote a tribute on Facebook. The young woman was in her class at the Antioch Writers' Workshop. Her name was Megan Betts. She was twenty two years old, the same age as my daughter. Last week my son texted something about driving through Gilroy every time he visits Yosemite. I said, What's in Gilroy? I had already forgotten that there was a shooting there, the one at the garlic festival. A week ago.

I had to look it up. Three people shot and killed. Fifteen injured.

Maybe this will be the tipping point, I told my husband.
I don't think so, he whispered back. Newtown should have been the tipping point. We were holding candles on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse Sunday night. A candlelight vigil organized by Moms Demand Action. Three hundred people gathering just as it began to rain. We huddled together under the statehouse eaves. One of the speakers said:

It's hypocritical to pray for a problem you are unwilling to fix.

In Dayton there was a candlelight vigil too. The governor spoke about coming together. The crowd yelled back at him DO SOMETHING!

The governor seemed flustered. Maybe he forgot that before the shooting happened, he was eager to sign a new law in Ohio to allow Conceal Carry with no permit or training.

In El Paso a mom, on her way to pick up her daughter from the airport, stopped at Walmart to run a quick errand. A woman buying school supplies for her five year old was shot holding her infant child. Her husband died too, trying to shield both of them. The six year old boy who was shot in the back at the garlic festival loved Legoes and Batman.

The young woman who died in Dayton was a good writer. My friend kept one of the pieces she wrote and shared a fragment of it on Facebook:

She was a creature of space. Created in the heart of a supernova, her soul had formed from the dust of celestial bodies and the light of the stars that threw life to the edges of the galaxies. Her eyes had seen the eclipses of worlds, watched the formation of the solar systems and the placement of the planets . . . she painted supernovas across the event horizons . . . she knew the maps of the stars . . .

At the vigil one of the organizers asked us to please return the candles before we left. Sadly, she said, we will most likely need to use them again.




Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On outhouse treasures and stolen ashes, aka: Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

In no particular order:

1. That antique store in Selma, North Carolina where they only sell old glass bottles and you ask the owner, Hey, where did you find all of these old glass bottles? And he goes into a very detailed explanation about examining old maps where there used to be neighborhoods with outhouses and how he sneaks into those areas at night and digs (because did you know that people dropped all kinds of things when they were going to the bathroom?) and you

very carefully sidle away from the shelves to keep from touching any of the bottles as he continues to describe his digging methods. Side note: he has a YouTube channel, Southern Searcher, in case you don't believe me.

2. At the Edgar Allan Poem museum in Richmond, Virginia there are two black cats, Pluto and you can't remember the name of the other one.

Pluto? Or the other one
3. There are 18,000 confederate soldiers buried in Richmond's Hollywood cemetery, including the traitor Jefferson Davis who may or may not have donned women's clothes to escape capture. Also, there may or may not be a vampire buried nearby.

4. Rules for falling out of a raft when whitewater rafting:

--Hold onto your paddle!
--Keep your head and feet up!
--Believe the guides when they joke about how your raft will never make it over a particular rapid without someone falling out.



5. In Wilson, North Carolina if you get to chatting with the artist at a downtown gallery about -- I don't know what led to this conversation!!-- you will learn that recently her house was broken into and the only thing stolen was a baggie filled with the ashes of her dead father and obviously the thief was a drug fiend and he snorted the ashes and now he's in jail.

6. Drinks are more fun with giant ice cubes.


Also, umbrellas


The end.






Friday, July 26, 2019

The River Wild

I didn't sign up for this

but my more adventurous friend, who is acting as the cruise director for our vacation, found the Level Three Whitewater Rafting Trip through an Urban Setting online, and cut to:

I am sweating it out on the shore of the James River in Richmond Virginia on a 100 degree day, listening to the river guide explain rowing directions as if my life depends on it. My life does, apparently, depend on it, because there's so much How-to-stay-in-the-boat and What-to-do-if-you-fly-out-of-the-boat directions, coupled with "Let's sign a waiver in case of Permanent Paralysis and/or Death" that even my adventurous friend is starting to get nervous.

But we all climb into the raft-- my husband (who has been whitewater rafting before and has fallen out of the boat and survived) my friend and her husband-- and our guide, twenty year old Kate, who I am skeptical about at first, but by the time this ride is over I will be singing her praises.

Kate is all business, shouting out when we should row forward and back, pointing out points of interest along the way. An old bridge that collapsed in a hurricane, the Hollywood cemetery on the hill where 18,000 confederate soldiers are buried, the Richmond skyline, the various rapids that we'll be rafting through.

The river is low and we immediately get stuck on a rock. Bounce up and down, Kate tells us, and we do, but it doesn't help in the slightest. Kate hops into the water, heaves us off the rock and then hops back in. She does that several times while the four of us bounce middle-aged-ly.

Do you ever feel like you're a sherpa? I ask her. You know, like one of those guides on Mount Everest who's paid to get people who should not be climbing Mount Everest up to the peak?

Kate just laughs, but I notice that she does not answer the question.

We slide and turn and bounce through rapids. We stop and eat trail mix on an island and talk about our bucket lists. Side note: whitewater rafting was not on my bucket list.

But I have to admit that I am enjoying this excursion until we get to the end and Kate asks us if we want to go back to the last section of churning water we'd just successfully made it through and do it again. There's this thing called surfing, which I still don't quite understand, where you row directly into the churning water until the front of your raft gets sucked down and then it's supposed to pop back up. My adventurous friend says no

and climbs out of the raft. Weirdly, I stay in. My husband and my friend's husband, with Kate's direction, row toward the churning water. The front of the boat gets sucked in. The two guys immediately flop out and the raft tilts straight up. It's a strange long moment watching them disappear into the foam, waiting for my turn to tumble out,

but I don't. As soon as the guys hit the water, the raft snaps back up and there's a few tense moments of looking for their heads in the spray and then a few more tense moments as my friend's husband swims to shore, but my husband loses his paddle and has to ride the next bit of rapids on his back. He makes it to the raft and Kate tells him that she's going to pull him in and I think, there's no way in hell this one hundred pound, twenty year old girl is going to be able to pull my husband onto the raft, but Boom,

she hauls him up.

We eat popsicles on the bus on the way back to our car. The next day we hike around the Hollywood cemetery and watch the white water from the shore. Would I do it again?

Nope. Am I glad I did it?

Absolutely.








Sunday, July 21, 2019

I can't find my sneakers

Or the Q-tips. The house is a maze of still-unpacked boxes. Books, mostly, because we have no built-in bookcases in this house. But also, bins of cooking supplies because we have a quarter of the kitchen cabinet space we used to have. The rolling pin. Muffin pans. The Insta-pot. Where do I store these?

For now, the dining room floor. The landing upstairs. The third bedroom--eventually, (hopefully!) my office-- is now a closet for extra furniture, pictures and Christmas ornaments, musical instruments, (why do we have three violas?) crates of my old manuscripts. I have more of these than I realized. I have more of everything than I realized. And here I thought we'd done such a good job purging.

Spoiler alert: we didn't. Apparently, when you lose 800 square feet of living space, you're going to end up with some clutter.

It's driving me nuts. For months, readying our house to sell, we lived in a pristine, monastery-like space. Now, at the snap of a finger, we've become candidates for the TV show Hoarders. 

And still figuring out the idiosyncrasies of a circa 1926 house. The dryer works! The air-conditioning vent in one of the bedrooms does not! There are no overhead lights in any of the bedrooms. Outside, a koi pond with we're not sure how many koi. An overgrown garden choked with weeds and... ugh is that bamboo?

But there's lovely glass on the front door. Rounded archways leading into the rooms. A front porch with a swing.

I sit here in the mornings to write, my dog at my feet. This is her first move, but already, she's settling in.






Thursday, July 11, 2019

Move Moving Moved

One day to Moving Day and I am writing for the last time on my back porch. The house is mostly boxed up, except for the kitchen. That's my job for the day. I know the drill. How to pack. How to say goodbye to a house. 

But for now I am delaying it. Listening to the cicadas. Watching the tree branches bob in the breeze, the hammock we set out for the summer. We're leaving it behind.

The last house we lived in I walked the empty rooms one final time, snapped a picture of the kids' heights we'd marked on the kitchen wall. Another house, I said goodbye to a nursery never used. We moved before the baby came and we had to scramble to fix up a room in the new house. That house we left behind the curtains my mother made. A rose bush in the backyard.

This house we're leaving an herb garden. An asparagus patch. Silver knobs on the cabinets. A bookcase. The metal bar our son used to do chin ups. Iris bulbs. Blackberry bushes.

Yesterday I cleaned the bathrooms for the last time. The new owners were coming for a final walk through and I ran around the house cleaning and straightening. Why? my husband asked me. They've already bought the place.

For the same reason he was mowing the lawn. For the same reason I was out there with him, weeding the front flower beds. Because for one more day it's still our home. Because we love this place,

even when it's time to let it go.



Sunday, June 30, 2019

Top Secret Notes from a Movie Set

Two years ago I traveled to Prague with my friend Lisa Klein. Her book Ophelia was being made into a movie and they were filming at a studio in Prague and on location in the area. It was a last minute trip, to put it mildly, that came about mostly because I don't snore.  

Lisa's copy of her book, which the director, producers, and actors signed.

Day one, arriving on the set, and I was feeling like a reporter, all geared up to record my impressions of the studio and the filming, maybe snap a few photos of the actors (Daisy Ridley! Clive Owens! Naomi Watts!) but a publicist swooped over to say, No Pictures unless you absolutely promise not to share them on social media. 

And no writing about any of this until after the movie comes out.

I tried to explain that the things I wanted to write about (the props piled up on the set, the conversation I had with a Czech seamstress, a funny interaction with the cinematographer) were probably not going to mess up the publicity of the film. Also, I'm not writing gossip columns for Variety, just a humble little blog for my friends. 

Didn't matter. The answer was still no. 

I took notes anyway, with the thought that I would reveal all after the movie came out. Well, the movie came out. And now dear readers I am about to REVEAL ALL.

Or sorta all. 

Fun fact: the notes I wrote are packed away in a box who knows where because my husband and I are moving next week. So, bear with me as I piece together my two year old memories (with lots of help from the pictures I took). 

Castle in Krivoklat where they filmed many of the exterior shots of the movie

Barrandov studio where they filmed the interior scenes.
(This is the same studio where they filmed Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity.
Also, the Nazis made propaganda movies here.) 

Open a mild-mannered looking door in the studio, and Boom! You're inside the great hall of a castle. So castle-like, except there is no ceiling. I ask if I can take a picture of Lisa sitting in an Ophelia chair and I'm given permission. While I set up the shot--at a jaunty angle because I'm trying to be artsy-- a man leans over my shoulder and says, That's nice. 


Turns out, he's the cinematographer. He takes a picture of Lisa too and, no big shocker, it's nicer than mine.

Lisa and I wander onto the queen's bedroom set and get into a somewhat tense conversation with the set designer after I ask her where all the stuff goes after the movie's over. I get the feeling that she thinks I'm trying to steal her set-designer secrets, so I reassure her that I'm just nosy.

They made this bed for the movie. Super secret info I wheedled out of the set designer:
After the movie's over, it may end up in a prop warehouse
to possibly be used on a future movie set. 

The set designer's assistants hand-painted this lovely tapestry while we watched.
Fun factoid: the paint has gold glitter in it to attract the light. 

Oh look, this food on the banquet table looks so real! Because it is real, the prop guy tells me. And speaking of props, I can't get over how many candles they've been burning on this set. 

Boxes of candles in various stages of burning

Lisa and I stand in line to eat lunch. There's a huge crowd in the dining area. Actors in costume-- palace guards, ladies in waiting. Stagehands. A seamstress from the area who was called up for a few days to sew beads on dresses. The boy who plays young Hamlet and his mom. 

Clive Owens strides by with a make-up artist in tow trying to fix a chunk of bad wig-hair that keeps falling into his eyes. He's tall and he's CLIVE OWEN, but all I can think is: this guy doesn't look like a movie star... he looks like a middle-aged man playing dress-up.  

We meet Daisy Ridley! And she is radiant and lovely. We meet Tom Felton, who's sporting a very non-Malfoy-ish beard. We meet George MacKay, who plays Hamlet, and he's just eaten M&Ms, and I know this because after he gives me the British two-cheek kiss, my two cheeks smell like M&Ms. 

We sit in the producers' chairs and watch the same scene-- Clive Owen and a bunch of guards running down a hall and yelling at Daisy Ridley-- over and over again for the entire afternoon. (In the movie the sequence takes approximately 45 seconds.)

I drift over to a table covered with helmets.

table covered with helmets

Lisa and I eat ice cream with a palace guard. We watch the stand-ins for Hamlet and Ophelia stand in various places around the great hall so the camera people can get the lighting right. You can't see it in the picture but they're both wearing sneakers.


People are running around all over the place, make-up people and lighting people. Actors and their mothers. Lisa's sitting in the producer's chair watching, and it hits me suddenly that she wrote this book! And the actors are saying her words! And all of these hundreds of people are HERE, in service to something SHE created. (Well, William Shakespeare created it, Lisa keeps reminding me.) But whatever, Lisa. I mean, how awesome is this?

The next day we hop on a bus and head away from the touristy places. We find a park and walk along a windy trail, ending up in a garden where kids are playing and people are walking their dogs. We sit on a bench and take out the books we're reading. The book I'm reading is Ophelia, because I am embarrassed to say, I didn't start reading it until the plane ride over here and I still have a few chapters left.

I am finding this whole experience surreal. Sitting on a park bench next to the author at the same time I am reading her book. Being in the Czech Republic. On a movie set. Where actors greet me with M&M-flavored, two-cheek kisses.

But then, in no time at all, I disappear into the story.
















Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Sleepless in Columbus


I've been watching a lot of Rom-Coms lately, spurred on by my daughter who's home for what will likely be her final summer with us. This fact is something I'd rather not explore too deeply, and nightly-watchings of Rom-Coms are the perfect solution. So far we're exploring the classics-- mostly Norah Ephron-style and/or Meg Ryan-ish, with a dash of Hugh Grant sprinkled in here and there.

On Mondays we put that on hold to watch the Bachelorette, which is not rom or com-- unless you count hard-to-tell-apart bearded guys bickering with each other and one narcissistic psychopath trying to manipulate the clueless bachelorette-- to be rom-mish and com-mish.

And then it's back to true Rom-Coms, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Notting Hill... 

A few weeks ago I went to the book launch of a Rom-Com, my friend Kerry Winfrey's new book Waiting for Tom Hanks. The story is the very best of the genre, fun and sweet and smart. Added bonus: it's set in Columbus and there's a scene in a bookstore, the very bookstore where Kerry held her launch party. When I was getting my book signed, I asked Kerry why she thought Rom-Coms are back IN lately, and she said, They're an escape from what's going on in the news.

She is right about that. When I read her book, I immediately found myself immersed in a different world. It's a funny darling place where the heroine's writing a Rom-Com in a coffee shop and playfully bickering with a handsome movie star, in town to film, what else? A Rom-Com.

I don't usually read Rom-Coms. And by not usually, I mean I stopped reading them when I was 15. Okay, this is a total lie. I did go through a more recent young adult romance binge. (ahem. Twilight.) But Twilight (and all of its many two-boys-fighting-over-one-girl angsty variations) was all rom and no com.

What I loved about Kerry's book was how she played around with the genre, calling attention to all of the romantic tropes, from the spilling-coffee-on-each-other meeting to the dash-to-the-airport-with-the-zany-friends conclusion, in a funny, but never mocking way,

because if you mock a Rom-Com, you lose what makes it both rom and com

the Hope part.

That is, after all, what is at the core of these stories. Hope, that we can find our one true love somewhere out there (or maybe they've always been there and we just never noticed). But even more important, Hope, that we live in a world where we can still believe in something hopeful.

I don't know if I believe in that world anymore.

Or more truthfully, I don't know if it's fair to Go There when other people are suffering so much in reality.

But here's the real question: Is it possible to live in our present dark reality without a place to escape to every once in a while?




Wednesday, June 19, 2019

First Pride

What I like most is the clapping. Also, the dancing and cheering. All of the rainbows and balloons. Especially the rainbows made out of balloons. Oh, and the boas. And the music. The group after group of people marching. The motorcycles. The people blowing bubbles. The moms giving out free hugs.

My daughter buys a rainbow flag and we take turns waving it. The parade started at 10:30. It keeps going for three more hours. Turns our there are thirteen thousand people marching this year in Columbus. A news article online says that only 200 people marched in the first parade.

Some of them wore bags over their heads. Flash forward 38 years to today and no one is wearing a bag over their head. It's all families. People pushing baby strollers or carrying toddlers on their shoulders. Corporate sponsorship. The Chipotle group and Target. Workers at the gas company and hospitals. All of the different churches. Methodist. Mennonite. They walk with signs. All Are Welcome Here. God Loves Everyone. It makes me tear up.

I just finished reading The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. It's set during the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s. I lived through that time period and didn't really know what was going on. I didn't know any gay people. Actually, it turns out, I knew a lot of gay people. They are family members and friends but they just hadn't told me. I cried reading the first chapter.

The main character is at a funeral gathering. One of his good friends has just died from AIDs. The man, overwhelmed by the loss of his friend, slips upstairs to be alone for a few minutes and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he's disoriented. The house is weirdly quiet. He's been asleep longer than he realized and when he slips back downstairs, everyone from the party is gone.

As the book goes on we meet all of the people from the party. The main character, who is in a monogamous relationship and has tested negative for HIV and therefore feels safe from ever contracting the disease. Various friends, their relationships and careers, their growing alarm and activism as the AIDS crisis gets worse and the government doesn't respond or is often outright hostile toward the people suffering and dying from the disease. The survivors and their guilt at having made it through to the other side when so many of their friends have died.

There's also a lot in this book about art and lost potential, close friendships and betrayals, a snap shot in time of a community that basically lost nearly an entire generation of young people.

You can see why the people who lived through it or grew up in the generations after and all of their family members and friends would want to gather together and march through the streets.

There are only a handful of protesters. They look like the same people who protested at the Planned Parenthood rally I went to. The ones holding the signs about how all the rest of us are going to hell. It occurs to me that if the pride parade people are going to hell, I want to go with them.

It's more colorful down here, Also, all of the people are dancing, smiling, singing, and offering each other free hugs.



Friday, June 7, 2019

House Hunt

The first house I lived in had orange countertops in the kitchen, a green refrigerator and green stove, multi colored paneling in the bedrooms, a lime green shag rug in the den. So who am I to judge the odd decorating choices of the houses we've been tromping through lately?

Weird paint colors and icky carpets, we can easily change. Harder to imagine is the fix for a teeny bathroom, so teeny you have to straddle the toilet before you sit on it. Or the house with the train track running the edge of the back yard. Or the house with the 30 degree slanted kitchen floor.

A shame, because we want to like that house. It's in the neighborhood we love, but are quickly realizing might be out of our reach. Old homes with character, as our realtor calls them, with big front porches, on winding, tree-lined streets. I stand in the kitchen for a long time analyzing the slanted floor, trying to imagine how we can make it work.

But no. Turns out slanted floors are a deal-breaker for me. That's a phrase we'd been hearing a lot from potential buyers of our home. What are their dealbreakers? Our small bedrooms (which I always thought were perfectly adequate). The split-level layout. The 1995-style master bathroom.

Picky people. I just want a floor that's level. A house that doesn't smell like death.

I wanted to like that house too! The huge tree in the front yard! With a swing! When we pulled up, I squealed like the little girl in the Miracle on 34th Street, my mind already spinning out future potential grandchildren taking turns swinging while I waved to them from the awesome screened in porch.

That death smell though was truly a dealbreaker. One step inside and I could hear the Amityville Horror warning blaring GET OUT reverberating in my head.

My husband's annoyed with me. We can get the smell out, he says. It's just old cigarette smoke.

I think it might be something more than that, I tell him through my shirt. Which I have pulled up to protect my nose.

Our daughter is on my side for that one, but in the next house, she accuses me of having unrealistically high standards when I point out that the living room is too small to fit a couch. This is a house that ticks off all of the items on our list. Pleasant and/or neutral odor. Level kitchen floors. A toilet you can sit on without straddling.

Added bonus: it looks like an HGTV-style flip with fresh paint and all new appliances.

Yeah. But where do we, um, put the couch?

We leave the place dejected. At this point we've put a bid on four different houses and gotten out-bid on all of them. The fourth we went over the asking price, but another buyer jumped in ahead of us by waiving the house inspection. I'm sorry. I get that it is a seller's market, but that's... crazy.

A friend told me that in her neighborhood potential buyers are writing letters to sellers explaining why they love the house and why the seller should sell it to them.

This seems crazy to me too, and yet...

Dear House Number Five's Seller in the Neighborhood We Love,

As soon as I stepped onto your screened in porch, took a swing for a while on your swing, I was in love with your house. The hardwood floors! The fireplace! The darling breakfast nook in the kitchen! It's clear you've spent time working on this place. You hung that porch swing and buffed those floors. You hand-painted those stencils of eyeballs? on the walls. You replaced all of the doorknobs with... faucets?

Okay, so we may not make the same decorative choices, but it's pretty obvious that you are creative and have a good sense of humor. Fun coincidence: some of my friends say the exact same thing about me!

In all seriousness though, I know you've loved living here. You made your house warm and inviting and comfortable. In a word, home.

Take a chance with us, and I promise, we'll do the same.










Friday, May 31, 2019

Home Less

Six years old and I had already lived in six places, one of them a tent in a campground. But that was only for the summer.

What happened was the duplex where my family was living was sold and the new owners booted us out in June. And then the apartment my mother found for us wouldn't be ready to move into until September. I'm unclear on the details of how we ended up at a campground.

My father took the car and moved in with his mother. My mom's sister gave us her tent and drove my mom and me and my two younger brothers out to the campground. It was the 1970's. Camping was In. I had a Barbie camper. I used to set it up on the grass or drive it down to the pond where my brother and I swam every day.

It wasn't really swimming. We lay on our stomachs and kicked in the shallow water and pretended we were floating. Our baby brother sat in his gated play area, drooling. He learned to stand up that summer by grabbing onto the bars. Mostly we ignored him. Ate our hotdogs at the picnic table under a tarp. Drank our Joy juice, the orangey drink my mother mixed up for us, which we called Bug juice because if you left a dixie cup of it out for more than a minute, you'd find insects dying on the surface. 

We only went into the tent at night. Rolled out sleeping bags on plastic swimming rafts. By morning the sleeping bags had always drifted off the rafts and we woke up on hard ground. It was musty in the tent. Don't touch the canvas when it rains, my mother warned us. It'll make the water drip on your face. 

Rainy nights I fought the urge, but in the end, always touched the canvas. My mother was right. Rainy days were the worst. Nothing to do but sit at the picnic table under the sagging tarp, rain spattering our backs while we colored in coloring books. The best days were spent rolling down the hill above the pond, tromping through the woods, playing on the playground. 

My goal that summer was to see-saw on the seesaw, but I didn't have anyone to balance out the other side. Both of my brothers were too young and the others kids were weekend kids at the campground, coming and going too fast for me to work up the nerve to introduce myself. 

My sixth birthday my mother hung balloons over the picnic table. My aunt gave me another barbie for my camper, the Sunshine Barbie who came with her own beach towel. A Mod Ken who had a collection of sideburns and beards that I promptly lost.

By the end of the summer my brother learned to swim for real. Our baby brother took his first steps. I made a friend and we see-sawed until dark. 




Sunday, May 26, 2019

Noon Protest

I should've brought my NO! sign, but at the last minute, I chicken out and leave it in the car.

What? my daughter says, when she notices I'm not carrying it. This is her first protest with me. I think she expects me to be more militant.

Mostly, I'm annoyed and tired. I can't find a parking space. And then we can't figure out how to use the Pay-for-the-Parking app. We walk fast toward what looks like, at first, to be a small crowd across the street from the Ohio Statehouse. The governor just signed a bill that will outlaw abortion after 6 weeks.

I am not pro-abortion, by the way.

I am pro-believer-that-humans-should-be-able-to-decide-what's-best-for-themselves-when-it-comes-to-their-bodies-families-lives. I don't know how to explain this any better than that.

On the way to the protest I tell my daughter the story of the girl I knew when I was in tenth grade who almost died from pre-eclampsia giving birth to her baby boy. I tell her about how I went to Planned Parenthood for birth control pills, in high school, in college, in grad school. I tell her about how a couple of years ago I told my story to a legislator in the statehouse, a Republican, who in all likelihood, voted for this new bill, but who, when I spoke to him, listened and seemed to agree with me that it was a good idea for girls to be able to make their own reproductive decisions.

The crowd grows bigger. It's the usual group-- mostly women, mostly older, but some young women, a few men. Someone starts a chant We Won't Go Back. 

I hold up my phone to record it and my daughter elbows me and whispers that my phone's not on. We both laugh. Cars driving by honk and the crowd claps. Off the top of my head I could tell you the names of dozens of girls I know who were raped. Several so battered they ended up hospitalized. Only two of these girls brought charges against the rapist. In one of the cases, the guy got off. The other is still making its way slowly through the system.

A man with a megaphone tries to drown out the speaker, a woman from Planned Parenthood who is explaining what actions they are taking to fight these new restrictive laws. I can't hear what the man is yelling. Something to do with killing babies.

Another chant starts. My body! My choice! My daughter holds my hand and shouts too. When I was pregnant with her, I started bleeding at 20 weeks. Freaked out, I called my doctor. She said, if you keep bleeding, head to hospital. We'll try to stop the labor but if we can't, we'll have to deliver. And I'm so sorry but babies can't survive at 20 weeks. Do I need to explain to you that the doctor was talking about performing an abortion? There are new bills making their way through state legislatures now that will penalize women (and/or doctors) faced with this heartbreaking situation.

A woman in the crowd wears a red robe straight out of The Handmaid's Tale, a book I once thought was science fiction. The speaker thanks us for being here, but next time, she says, Bring a man with you. The few men in the crowd say Hey! And everyone laughs. But the speaker is right. We need more men standing with us. We start another chant. Women's rights are human rights. 

A friend of mine nearly died from an ectopic pregnancy. If she wasn't at the hospital when the fallopian tube burst, she could've bled to death. There'a state rep in our legislature who believes that what happened to my friend should be criminalized. Apparently, he doesn't understand that ectopic pregnancies don't lead to babies. Ever.

The man with the megaphone will not shut up. He stands with a handful of counter-protesters. They carry huge signs with photos of what look like chopped up limbs. I suspect these are the same people who stand outside Planned Parenthood clinics and scream at girls and women who have appointments to get breast screenings and birth control, and, some, yes, abortions.

I know a mom who's 19 year old daughter got pregnant and did not want to have the child. The mom dropped everything and took her daughter to get an abortion without hesitation. She did not tell her husband. I know a woman who got pregnant when she was 16 by a much older man. She did not tell her dad she got an abortion.

Our group, numbering in the hundreds now, marches across the street toward the statehouse, the man on the megaphone still bellowing.

My daughter is teary-eyed and I squeeze her hand. Next time, I tell her, I'm bringing my damn sign.

Next time, she says, Let's bring a megaphone.


Saturday, May 18, 2019

House Showing with a Dog and Cat

I thought it was hard with two little kids. The call from the realtor that potential buyers are on the way, leading to the tear through the house with a laundry basket, scooping up clutter--toys, the day's mail, a dusty dropped pacifier-- dumping all of that in the car, plus the kids, then a final run through the house, switching on lights, hitting every surface with a dust cloth, hiding the laundry.

We'd hang out in the park those days.

Or if it was raining, a trip to a McDonalds playland. Something fun to de-stress after what I'd just put everyone through. My son still had psychological scars from earlier house-showings. Back when I was pregnant with his sister and wasn't supposed to pick up heavy things (him) or bend over too much, I sent him scurrying around with the laundry basket. Basically lied to his darling three-year-old face that if he didn't clean them up, his toys would be taken by the Strangers Who Wanted to Buy Our House.

Today I'm on my own with the laundry basket, the cat moaning in her carrier, the dog anxiously panting a step behind me as I hide the kitty litter in the garage, scoop up her chew toys, Windex smudges off the floor.

The dog doesn't need me to tell her that Strangers are coming. She can smell them.

Speaking of smells, according to our realtor, you want your house to smell good. Baked cookies or bread? Great idea. A cutting from the lilac bush in the front yard? Also, great. But not both! We don't want competing smells. Otherwise the buyers will think you are trying to cover something up.

There's a delicate balance in the showing of a house. Shed all clutter and evidence that humans actually live here (shampoo in the shower, family pictures), but you don't want the place to be completely empty or people will have a hard time envisioning themselves in it.

It's all about the first impression. Apparently, buyers make up their minds in the first few seconds of stepping into a house. I believe this. Over the past few weeks I have been walking into strangers' houses and making up my mind fast.

It's driving my husband crazy.

Example:

Husband (stepping inside): This is nice--

Me (stepping back outside): NO!

In one case I wouldn't even let him stop the car. A million years ago our first realtor told us that before you make an offer on a house, you should always stand at the front door and take a look at the house across the street. That's the view you're going to see every day.

And what was across the street that made me want to keep driving? Let's just say that whoever lives there thinks it's a cool idea to hang a picture-window-sized-poster with one name on it. (hint: it starts with a T and ends with a p)

Have I mentioned that we have lovely neighbors across the street from our present house?

We also have really nice neighbors next door. So nice, in fact, that they have invited me to hang out at their house with the dog and cat while strangers sniff our home and make split second decisions about its value.

The cat moans. The dog groans.


After the strangers leave, I gather everyone up and we head home.




Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Grass in the Garden

For ten years I yanked it out by the roots. Now, I am letting it grow.

The raised beds are gone, the paths lining them grassed over too. The place where the magical green beans rose up, the tendrils twirling around my wrist whenever I walked past. The purple cabbages blooming in the corners. The neat rows of lettuce. The patch of borage the bees loved.

But that will come back. Already I spy the telltale leaves poking up here and there. We can't erase all trace of ourselves. 

The previous owners left behind a cluster of seashells by the front porch, lines of dried sage leaves on the door ledges of the bedrooms. I wrote the sage into a book it was so strange. 

We found an empty suitcase in the attic. Flower bulbs hidden in the back flower beds choked by weeds. The house where I grew up had writing on the wall. Maureen was here. I left behind a bolted lock on my bedroom door. 

House-hunting over the weekend we walked through a backyard where someone had buried a pet, a flat rock on the mulch the only reminder. And the ancient house downtown with the grapevines growing out back. The original vine came from Hungary, the realtor told us. The old woman who lived here made communion wine for her church out of the grapes.

Don't worry, he said, those vines will be easy to yank out, grow some nice grass. 

That house needed a good hundred thousand dollars worth of repairs. New electrical wiring. Probably loaded with asbestos, lead and who knows what else, but here I am thinking, Could we make it work,

tend to the grapevines, keep out the grass?




Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Top Ten Reasons I Love Working at the Library

10. Books! -- to shelve and take off shelves, to check in and check out, to organize and arrange, never mind sneaking a peek at the front flap or scanning the back, and all of those chats with patrons, did you like this one? What's your favorite by this author? Ooh! I have been meaning to read this, do you recommend it?

9. We also have dvds and cds and magazines and newspapers, and then there's the array of digital resources. Did you know that with your library card, from the comfort of your own home, you can stream a movie, flip through a magazine, download a song or a book?

Yeah, me neither, until I started working at the library. (For reference purposes, see: Kanopy, Flipster, Hoopla, and Libby.)

8. But wait, how much does a library card cost? (This is an actual question I got the other day when I was working at the desk.)

The answer: It's free!

7. And speaking of library cards, this is one of my favorite things to do at the library. Give someone a library card. To the woman above who had apparently never been inside a library in her life. To the man from Brazil who had just moved here and proudly showed me his passport and utility bill with his address. To the four year old who wanted to check out her own books. To the two boys who were helping their non-English-speaking mom apply for her own card. I love that moment when I hand them their new card and the little brochure that goes with it and say, Welcome to the library!

6. This cool packing-up of books we have to do. (The library where I work is part of a consortium with a bunch of other libraries and all of the libraries work together to ship books out to each other, so every day we are fitting and stacking and organizing bins in this way that I totally get a charge out of.) I think because it reminds me of playing Tetris.

5. Questions. These are like puzzles and even the patrons asking the questions sometimes know that it might be hard to find the answer. For example: What's that book that was mentioned on NPR a few weeks ago or a few months ago and had something to do with a dog and a hurricane?

Or

Did I read this book? (Fun fact: we can't actually answer that question because there's no way to see a patron's book-checking-out history. Which is a good thing, actually, because, the Bill of Rights.

4. Book Recs. I LOVE THESE! Usually it's a parent looking for a read-alike to a child's favorite book or a person waiting on a sequel and needing something else to read in the meantime. Sometimes it's just a lonely person who you can tell just

3. wants to talk, and guess what? They have come to the right person at the right place for that!

2. Because we are Open to All. See:



Those are the words etched in stone over the entrance to the main library downtown since 1907.

1. That day I was working in the Youth Services section and noticed the quiet little girl sitting by herself while her father was on his phone and I asked her if she wanted to do our famous Very Hungry Caterpillar Scavenger Hunt and she nodded, and I gave her the clipboard and she marched off quietly searching, and then I forgot about her for a while, and then she came back after finding all of the hidden items and had an extremely difficult time choosing a prize from our prize box, needing to touch every single item at least twice before making her final decision,

and that was only after I told her that if she came back another time, she could do the scavenger hunt again and pick out another prize.

A few days later when I was working upstairs, the same little girl marched over to the desk and held up her prize and spoke to me for the first time, smiling when she said:

"I came back."


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing

my book.

This one's been a tough one to finish and I don't know why I am surprised. It was a tough one to start. A tough one to keep writing. Tough to finish the first draft. And the second draft. And now this third draft...

The letter from my agent, the one where she wrote me six single-spaced pages of notes that I might want to consider, that was tough to read. And tougher to digest. I started working part-time at a bookstore during the writing of this book. And it was tough to adapt to a new writing schedule. I found a library job in the morning and taught myself to work in the afternoons. I found a library job in the afternoon and now I am teaching myself to write in the mornings.

There are a million reasons every day for me to not sit down to work. The dog wants to be walked. The house wants to be painted. My daughter wants to graduate from college. Meanwhile the book spins around inside my head wanting to be written.

I started this draft last summer. Now it's almost May. Outside my garden's been bulldozed in preparation for our move. It was too big, too overwhelming, I thought, for a potential buyer to want to mess with.

Once, when the kids were younger and I hadn't yet been published and was suffering from an almost insane level of desperation and desire, writing feverishly book after book after book, submitting and collecting rejections, pinballing between absurd confidence that one of these damn stories would eventually sell and despair. That was when I came the closest I'd ever come to quitting.

It lasted a week and then I was back at it.

I have one chapter left to write.

(And okay, a few earlier scenes to fiddle with.) Then I'll send it off to my critique partner to get her thoughts. Another revision before sending it off to my agent. In all likelihood there will be a new single-spaced letter of notes I'll want to consider.

I will consider them.

New grass is coming up in the place where I once had lettuce. Along the edge a defiant asparagus stalk pokes out to tease me.


When I'm finally finished, I already know the story I'll work on next.




Monday, April 22, 2019

Painting over cracks

this weekend, after a week of workmen tromping through the house, repairing drywall and measuring for new carpet, freaking out the dog.

She's not too thrilled about the painting either. So much disruption, moving around the furniture, the loud vacuum. Also, she's wary of the stepladder. I climb it with my paint brush, painting the same walls I painted twelve years ago when we first moved into this house. You really get to know a house, make it your own, when you paint it,

that close examination of the baseboards, the crawling around on the floors and reaching toward the ceilings. The kids were in school back then, jumping into the middle of a school year in a town where there aren't many new kids.

I'm listening to podcasts while I paint. Fresh Air interviews. A man who wrote a book about climate change and how our window to save the planet is closing. The emotional lives of primates, how chimpanzees have masculine societies and bonobos are led by females. We don't know what to make of that, says the interviewee, so scientists tend to focus more on chimpanzees.

There's a heap of dust behind our bed when my husband and I move it away from the wall. And ha! Now I know where all of my missing bookmarks have fallen, night after night, reading in bed. Our daughter's room has three layers of paint. The purple color I originally painted it--it was the first room I worked on-- trying to make her feel at home in our new home. A sunny day in October, her first day of school, I walked to pick her up (Walked!!! I had been so tired of the forty-minute car drives) She refused to talk to me about her day. Crawled into her bed and sobbed and what do you do to fix a pain like that, except to say,

You made it through. 

A few years later she asked me to paint her room a cheery blue. And when she went off to college, I turned it into my office, painted the walls what is called Sand 3, the same color I used in the house we lived in before this one. Like the iris bulbs from the previous garden replanted here, the lovely sand paint will move with us again.

This time I need my reading glasses to do the painstaking work around the trim. I listen to an interview about the Spanish American War. Paint the walls marred by the built-in bookcase, and did you know our government tricked the Philippines into thinking we would help them defeat the Spanish? More Filipinos died in that war than in the American Civil War.

The most tedious part of painting is the prep-work, the removal of light switch plates, the patching of nail holes left behind after taking down all of the pictures.

Only we know what hung on these walls, the graduation photos and family trips, a visit to the college my husband and I both graduated from, that time we took the kids to visit the place, the four of us smiling against a backdrop of ivy covered bricks, the children so young then. It was right before we uprooted them to move here, I think.

A podcast about the Russian hacking of our election. A discussion about what makes kids resilient. We'll be back at the same college in a few week to see our daughter graduate, the four of us together again.

A quick trip before moving on to the next house with new walls to paint.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Book boxing

Assignment:

Box up the books in my office.

The thought being that my husband can take down the built-in bookcase and I can freshen up the paint on the walls, making the room "pop" as our realtor likes to say.

I figured it would take me like, an hour to box up the books, and then I could tote the three or four boxes downstairs and stack them in the garage, a nice surprise for my husband, who's away on a weekend trip.

Flash forward three hours later and the boxes are stacked where I packed them (WAY too heavy for me to tote), on the floor in the office, which isn't exactly popping at the moment.

Also, it took seven big boxes to fit the books and I'm still not finished emptying the shelves. (note to self: Don't get side-tracked by the Marie-Kondo Does this bring me joy? question. Or I don't know. Maybe it is a good idea to ask that question. Already I'm thinking about how I am going to have to unpack these same boxes at some point in the near future. Do I really want and/or need all of these books?

And this is only one room. We have a built-in bookcase in the living room, bookcases in both of the kids' old bedrooms, a bookcase in the kitchen to hold all of my cookbooks and gardening books. Fun fact:

When I was growing up, I had only two small shelves of books.

The complete set of the original Trixie Belden series, 1 through 16, a handful of paperbacks I'd bought at Scholastic book fairs over the years back when you could buy a book for less than a dollar, one leather-bound volume (not sure where I got this) of America's Best Loved Poems, and

Linda Goodman's Love Signs.

When I was twelve years old it was my favorite book. I have no idea why, but for most of my middle school years I was obsessed with astrology, memorizing all of the signs and symbols, their respective characteristics, and the most suitable match-ups of the signs in both friendship and in love.

I mean, I'm a Cancer. It makes sense that I would want to know, what with Cancers being so sensitive and self-reflective.

Anyway, I remember reading and re-reading Linda Goodman's Love Signs, taking copious notes, building lists in a notebook of all of the people I knew and their signs, and analyzing how best to interact with them. For example, the boy I liked in middle school was a Sagittarius, a fire sign and clearly not a good match for Cancerian me (water).

Which turned out to be prophetically true (although I had to date that bozo for nine years to be completely and totally sure.)

Weirdly, Linda Goodman's Love Signs is the only book I took with me from home when I went 1250 miles away to college. I kept it on a small shelf in my dorm room, not believing in astrology anymore, but every once in a while, paging through it to look up a person's sign and see if he might be a good match, more out of habit than anything else. (Example, the boy I met senior year, a Capricorn (earth), was a much better choice for watery me, according to Linda Goodman, and I quote:

"you can see there are powerful magnetic forces pulling these two together from the start."

which also turned out to be prophetically true because reader, I married him, and now he's on his way home and I'm hefting boxes of books around in my office, thinking about how the only book I own from the first eighteen years of my life is this one,


before I slip it carefully into a box.






Sunday, March 31, 2019

What to write about when you don't know what to write about

well, there's always what's been going on during the week.

The job you quit, for example, the one where you shelved 500 books every day, a dream job for a writer and reader, the meditative routine of sorting books and finding books, the never ending circulation loop, the quiet,

and the job you started, 

at another library where you won't have to shelve much at all, but instead, do the kinds of things you thought you'd be doing in the first place. Helping patrons pick out books and doing searches through the catalog, checking in books, a conversation with a little girl about what she is reading that spirals you back for a moment to your own childhood,

and the rush back and forth between both jobs, which overlapped for a few days, the writing conference you helped plan, late nights of sorting folders and counting lunch selections and tallying up money, fielding the last minute registration questions, and then the day itself, one moment of quiet in the back of the auditorium when you remembered why

you do this. Write,

except first, you have to clean the entire house because you're putting it on the market and there might be a buyer stopping by to walk through it IN TWO DAYS, which means deep deep cleaning, digging through closets and under beds, trying not to get sidetracked by a folded note in an old sixth grade backpack, a stuffed bunny once loved, tossed on a shelf, gathering dust, 

and finally finally finally

the book you've been working on for nearly two years, the seemingly endless picking your way through scene by scene, sometimes sentence by sentence, getting stuck and somehow getting unstuck, the ever-present fear that maybe this one won't sell either, but suddenly a flash of excitement: 

You understand what it is now. 

And for today, anyway, that's all you need to keep going.