Sunday, November 10, 2019

Enter Colton. Or How a made-up renegade scientist dropped into my manuscript and broke through my writer's block

Last summer I was suffering from an acute case of writer's block.

It was a combination of being preoccupied by things Not Related to Writing (selling and buying a house, working a new job, having our college graduate daughter home for a few months) and things Writing-related. The writing-related part was that I'd finished revising a book after working on it for two years and realized that it still hadn't come together.

But just the thought of going back into the revision--  or starting something new felt paralyzing. 

My writing partner Natalie suggested that I try something completely different. A lot of my problem, she said, had to do with over-thinking and worrying about the stuff that was beyond my control (ie Publishing, or rather, in my case, Not publishing) and the end result was that writing was no longer bringing me joy.

Oh, she was right about that. Joy? haha. All I felt when I tried to sit down to write was dread. 

But Natalie, God love her, was not going to give up on me. She gave me an assignment. 

Each day for two weeks she wanted me to send her a pitch for a potential book. These could be any kind of book. Romances, thrillers, mysteries, whatever. The common denominator, however, was that these would be books I would never write. The point was to fool around, with no pressure. The more ridiculous the idea, the better.

I dutifully followed this advice, getting a little perfectionist-y about the first few pitches, but then relaxing and having a little fun with the assignment, despite myself, as the days went by. I was never going to write these books, I reasoned, so who cares. 

Example, Day Four, when I threw together this doozy:

The Seed Vault

When Maura snags an internship in London the summer before her senior year in college, she’s overjoyed. It’s a part-time position at a non-profit environmental agency that manages a seed vault, nothing too demanding or stressful, which should leave her plenty of time to explore and soak in European culture. 

But the moment she arrives in London, Maura finds herself caught up in an ever-growing climate-change-triggered nightmare. A record-breaking heatwave with temperatures soaring past an unheard of 115 degrees has turned Europe into a hell-scape. 

And then the rains start, at first welcomed as a relief from the heat, but then, feared as the entire continent begins to flood. 

It’s all hands on deck at the environmental agency, the staff frantic to protect the vault, one of the few places on earth that contains a sample of every seed, but with excessive flooding around the containment zone, the task seems impossible.

Enter Colton... 

He’s a renegade young scientist who’s been ostracized from the scientific community for his unorthodox views of climate and food production. Colton knows there is a way to save the seed bank, but it will involve blowing it up first. The others are skeptical, of course, but Maura finds Colton’s solution strangely compelling. That, and his piercing blue eyes. 

Together, Colton and Maura race against time to save the seeds… and the planet from destruction. 


Yeah. So the idea is ridiculous, of course, but it made me laugh. Suddenly, I really was having fun with writing-- even if I was only writing ideas for books I would never write. For a lot of these, I'd set up some crazy premise and then shake things up by Entering Colton, putting him into more absurd situations each day. 

But something interesting happened as I kept going with these pitches. A few of them didn't need Colton. A few of them were not completely silly.

And two were ideas that I could see myself actually developing. I wrote a potential first page for each one. 

And then I wrote a potential second page. 

Now, two months later I have written over 98 pages in each book, and no sign of slowing down yet. Thanks Colton! (And thank you, Natalie, for getting me back into my groove.)





Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Model Librarian

The best part about working at the library, (besides being around books/touching books/smelling books/helping patrons find books) is hanging around with the other people who work at the library-- the research librarian and the youth librarian who helped me with my writing projects are now my coworkers!--but I've also made some new friends.

LaNesha and I share front desk duty most days, and in between checking in books and checking out books and helping patrons get their library cards or work the fax machine, we've gotten to be good friends. LaNesha's a librarian, who also happens to be a model, a fascinating combo of careers that I am immediately curious about.

So of course I have to ask her:

Me: What came first, librarian or model?

LaNesha: I have always wanted to model ever since I was a little girl, but I never had the confidence. And I was very shy. My first modeling experience was during my Junior year of college. There was a modeling troupe putting on a fashion show and I decided to try out. I got such a good response from everyone and that encouraged me to keep going.

Me: And you were pursuing your library degree at the same time?

LaNesha: Not exactly. I initially majored in Chemistry. I wanted to be a pharmacist. But when I began my studies, I was so discouraged. It wasn’t interesting to me in the least and I was drastically failing chemistry! So I called my mom and I cried. I told her that I didn’t think this was the right fit for me and that I wanted to change my major. She told me, “If you find a job you like, you’ll never work a day in your life."

Me: I love that advice.

LaNesha: I know, right? It's stuck with me, and at the time, I realized that the one thing I loved since I was a child was reading. So I changed my major to English Literature and fell in love with books all over again. This was also around the time I started working in the library of my university. It changed my life and I couldn’t have been happier.

Me: What were your favorite books as a child?


LaNesha: Dr. Seuss books. My mom read them to me every night. Green Eggs and Ham was my most fav! And now my daughter loves this book so much too.

MeWhat do you like best about being a librarian?

LaNesha: Getting to see all the new books before everyone else does! But honestly, I love the impact libraries have on the community. This place inspires and creates a new generation of thinkers and I’m glad to be a part of that… to help shape the community into what we dream it to be.

Me: What about modeling? Because I have to say that the first time I met you, I was struck by how beautiful you are, but also, how very soft-spoken and reserved... and modeling seems like a career where you'd really have to put yourself out there.

LaNesha: That's what I enjoy about it. With my modeling I get a chance to be myself, freely, and in the spotlight. It’s kind of the direct opposite to who I am on a daily basis: an introverted bookworm who hates crowds.

Me: An introverted bookworm who loves clothes...

LaNesha: I do. I love mixing things up. Old things with new. Vintage shirts with skinny jeans. Bell bottoms with lace bodysuits. Not that I would wear that outfit to the library! But what's fun is expressing myself through fashion.

Me: This is all very fascinating to me because I could not be more opposite when it comes to fashion. Also, I hate shopping.

LaNesha: I love shopping. But I rarely shop in the mall. I mostly online shop. (This is where my introverted personality kicks in). My favorite online stores are Fashion Nova.com, BooHoo.com, and Misslola.com. If I do happen to go into the mall, I’ll maybe shop at Express or H & M. As for jewelry. I love anything gold and elegant.

Me: And make-up. Your make up is always gorgeous.

LaNesha: Thank you! I love playing around with it, mixing a bunch of colors together and coming up with a great new look. My favorite is cat eyes. I love cat eyes! It’s my signature look, I guess. Like Ariana Grande and her ponytail.

Me: I am proud to say that I understand this reference. Okay, now I have to ask you how you balance all of this-- librarian by day, photo shoots by night and on weekends? Plus, you have your little daughter. What's your typical day look like?

LaNesha: Whoa! – Do we have that much time? But seriously, here's a basic outline of how my day would go if I had a photo shoot and also had a shift at the library:

5:45-6:00 am : Me trying to wake up after I’ve pressed the snooze button four times already.
6:00-6:30 am: Start my makeup.
6:30-7:00 am: Chase my daughter out from under the table so that I can do her hair.
7:00-8:15 am: Finish makeup and hair, get dressed, head out for work.
8:30 am-5:30 pm: WORK …. (w/Jody! Yay!!! 😊 )
5:30-6:15 pm: Drive home, change clothes for shoot, refresh makeup
6:45-9:00 pm – Shooting for modeling
9:00-9:20 pm: Driving home from shoot
9:20-10:30 pm: Playtime with my daughter and then bath, stories, and bed.
10:30-12:30 am: Quality time with Clarence (my boyfriend).
5:45 am: Wake up with Sam’s Club size bags under my eyes and repeat!

Me: This is making me exhausted just reading it.

LaNesha: It's a good thing it's not every day.

Me: You forgot to include all of the time when you're reading. I know you've always got a book going.

LaNesha: I normally read three at once. Right now that's The Chain by Adrian McKinty, The Escape Room by Megan Goldin and Animal 3 by K’wan. Pretty dark stuff, I know...  And while I'm reading, just so you know, I'm wearing a cozy sweater and leggings. I love to dress up, but when I’m home, nothing feels better than a cozy sweater, no makeup, leggings, fuzzy socks, and a good book.

Me: We have this in common! One last question: What is the Instagram modeling contest you're competing in right now?

LaNesha: It's through Vogue. They're putting together a special Winter Issue with photographer Youss Foto and recruiting models via an Instagram contest. I sent in a few headshots, not thinking I would even be close to getting selected. To my surprise, I learned that I’d been shortlisted. How it works is the photographer is posting photos and people can vote for their favorite. There are lots of beautiful models on the shortlist, but I’m keeping my hopes high and my fingers crossed!

Me: I am going to check that out right now. And side note to my readers, if you're on Instagram and want to vote for this model librarian, see: @youssfoto. LaNesha's photo should be posted soon. In the meantime you can also follow her here: @unmistakablebeauty712

Thanks, LaNesha, so much for chatting with me today. And see you tomorrow at the library!



Saturday, October 26, 2019

Writing out loud

It's not often that I am surprised by a new writing technique. I thought I had heard them all, tips and tricks for writing through a first draft, breaking through writer's block, tackling a revision, you name it. I love hearing how other writers Do This.

A few years ago I was on an author panel with the lovely Edie Pattou, author of East, West, Ghosting, and Mrs. Spitzer's Garden. Edie hand-writes all of her novels, drafting in notebooks in the mornings and typing out her work in the afternoons. This idea was fascinating to me because I'd never hand-written a book. Even when I was in middle school I banged out my stories on a typewriter. 

But something I've learned over the years is that if you're stuck, it never hurts to try another way In. Hand-writing in pencil in a plain composition notebook, inspired by Edie, was just the trick I needed to break through a particularly painful revision. 

Unfortunately, this method didn't work for me on my next project. Another thing I've learned over the years: each book may want to be written in a different way. I know writers who figure out their process and they stick with it forever and God loves those people, but many writers I know have to try a new strategy every once in a while. 

So, if this is You, and you're stuck, I may have just the ticket:

Dictate the story to yourself. 

This gem comes straight from my friend Kristy Boyce, a YA author AND psychology professor AND mom. At our last meeting with the local SCBWI group (where Kristy is the Social Media Coordinator) she mentioned that because she is very short on time, how she writes her books is "Walking while talking into her phone." 

In one hour, she says, she can "write" 1000 words. 

How it works is you go to your Notes feature on your phone, start a new draft of a note, click the microphone icon and talk away. What you say is transcribed (sometimes not quite accurately, so be careful with that) and then you can email the transcribed file to yourself, a file that can then be copied and pasted into your Word doc. 

When Kristy explained this to our group, I was immediately excited about trying it. 

Cut to: Me, the next day, walking the dog. I looked around to make sure no one was in earshot, and off I went, "telling" myself the scene I was working on. Dialog, description, even pointing out where to add punctuation. A twenty minute walk gave me 300 mostly usable words to work with later. 

I admit I did feel a little strange doing this. And very self-conscious. But there was also something weirdly natural about it too...

And then it hit me why this idea did feel so natural. I used to write this way! Way way back when I was eight, nine, ten years old and kind of a weird little mess of a dreamy kid, I used to tell myself stories. I did this when I was walking to school and home, alone, whispering or maybe not whispering to myself. I have a vivid image of talking in third person, describing what my made up people were doing and saying. I think I waved my hands around while I was talking too, so I am sure if anyone happened to be driving by, they would wonder what the heck that strange little girl was doing. 

I wrote some of these stories down, but mostly, they were for me. 

And after all, what IS writing, anyway, but telling ourselves a story? 


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

In my younger and more vulnerable years

my father gave me some advice I have been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the same advantages that you've had."

I didn't write these lines.

But if you're an American literature geek like I am, or someone who was mildly awake during a high school English class at some point in your life, you might recognize where the lines come from. It's the opening of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know these lines (and the last lines of the novel, as well as several other passages) by heart because I have read the book at least fifty times.

The first time was my junior year in Mr. Fay's English class at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.


Look! That's my copy from that class and the same copy that I read the 50+ additional times.When I was a high school English teacher, I taught the book to my classes of 11th graders. I just now thumbed through it and saw both of my children's names written on the inside cover below my name, their notes from their time reading the book in school, scrawled next to my own notes as a sixteen year old and later as a teacher.

When I was sixteen, I think it was the romance that drew me in, the obsessive love Gatsby had for Daisy, but more, it was his yearning, his dreams, his desire to make himself over into someone who would be worthy. And the tragedy of it all when we find out that it none of it was enough.

Still, all of that striving was worth something regardless, right?

That's how Mr. Fay taught Gatsby anyway. We also had discussions about the class system in America, corruption, wealth, the American Dream, and the Jazz Age. And then we watched the kinda dumb movie with Robert Redford, who was too pretty and polished to be Gatsby and Mia Farrow, who was too drippy and blah to be Daisy. Or maybe not. Daisy was at the core fairly drippy and blah.

Gatsby's a good book to teach to high school students, for a variety of reasons, I later learned, when I taught it to roughly 800 students over the years. It's only 182 pages-- with nine chapters, something you can easily cover over a two week period in an average classroom. Also, to snag the attention of your students you can play up the mystery, the romance, the bling, the murders. Trust me when I tell you that in the classroom, in terms of keeping teenagers awake, Gatsby easily beats out The Scarlet Letter, another book I've read 50+ times.

And then there's the fun symbolism that all English teachers love: the green light at the end of the dock, the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg, and what's the deal with Daisy crying over Gatsby's beautiful shirts? So many fun essay questions...

Oh, and the book holds up under multiple readings-- which is good for the teacher having to read it 50 times-- because there are always interesting details to puzzle out. The cuff links made out of molars, Myrtle's pathetic dog, the weird interlude with Nick and another man at a party, the shitty book that Tom's reading about white supremacy.

I can go on and on. And recently, if you've talked to me, I have been going on and on about it. There's a book out about Gatsby that I've been listening to on audio written by Maureen Corrigan. It's titled appropriately So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures.

Maureen Corrigan is a book reviewer on NPR's Fresh Air and for the record, she is my favorite book reviewer, mainly because I love her voice. It's not "full of money" (Gatsby fans will recognize the reference) but I would venture to say that it is "full of books."



Before I started listening to Maureen (can I call her Maureen?) talk about Gatsby, I wondered what she could possibly say to me that I didn't already know about the book.

Well.

I don't know who's left reading this blog post at this point, if there are any other people like me who are in the exact center of the Venn diagram of People Who Have Read Gatsby 50+ Times and People Who Love the Sound of Maureen Corrigan's Voice, but if You are one of those people, I beg you to please check out the audio of this book, so we can chat.

I will end this post with-- what else?-- the iconic last line of Gatsby:


So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 


The End



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Twenty six years ago today I was cleaning my kitchen

I don't remember if it was particularly dirty. All I remember is I had the uncontrollable urge to clean it. I am talking clean clean, the kind where you fill a bucket with sudsy, hard-core cleaning detergent and get down on your hands and knees and scour the corners. We had a big kitchen back then, bigger than any kitchen we've had since, come to think of it, so there was a lot to scour.

I was channeling my cleaning-obsessed Italian grandmother, scrubbing out the oven and emptying the cabinets so I could rid the dark edges of any dropped crumbs. And then I moved on to the bathrooms. It was a Saturday.

Every once in a while my husband would poke his head into whatever room I was presently scouring and say, hesitantly, So, um, are you finished yet?

At some point he dragged me outside to take a walk. We had a loop we used to do around our neighborhood. It started in our humble subdivision and reached up into a much fancier section that seemed like would be forever out of reach for us. Our habit after we both got home from work was to take this same walk. My husband was big into goal-setting and planning. He would say stuff like, What's our five year plan? What's the ten year? Twenty? Thirty?

I used to laugh at him. As much of an imagination as I had, I couldn't project out that far. We were twenty-six and twenty-five years old and had been married for three years and had just bought a house, things I couldn't have foreseen five years before. Five years before, I was, to put it plainly, a mess. The fall of my senior year in college I was in a dark place.

The truth is, I was suicidal. I mean, I was seriously thinking about how I would do it. The only thing that was saving me was that I was too tired. I remember going to bed one night and feeling like it was the end. I wanted only to stop the pain I was feeling. I wasn't afraid of death anymore and I couldn't imagine anyone would miss me if I were gone. Some part of me knew that this was an all-hands-on-deck situation because I started to pray. I am not a praying person, but that night I did. The prayer was a simple one:

Help. Help me understand why I should want to stay in this world.

The next morning I was exhausted and wrung out. I walked to class, stopping on the way to get the mail, how I always did, even though most days there was no mail. That morning there was a letter from my favorite professor. He was on sabbatical for the year and had never written to me before.

It was a strange out -of-the-blue letter. Basically, he said he'd been thinking about me and wondering if I was doing okay. He said, I hope you realize you have a lot in you that's wonderful.

After I read the letter it was like a veil lifted, and suddenly, I wasn't in a dark place anymore. I was outside looking in on myself, thinking very logically about my future, a future that the night before I could not envision.

I still couldn't envision it--at least not the particulars--but I knew with a weird degree of clarity that I could keep going. I could grow up. I could meet someone, get married, have a job, buy a house, have children...

Instead of dread and sadness and anxiety and fear, I felt curious. I wanted to hang around for the things that were potentially going to happen.

A few weeks later I met the man who would become my husband. Flash forward five years, and we are walking around our neighborhood where we've bought our first house. I've just finished scouring the entire place. "Oh, I understand now," my husband told me, "All of this cleaning. It's like the What to Expect When You're Expecting book says. You're nesting."

It turned out he and the book were right. That night we rushed to the hospital. In the morning we welcomed our first child into the world.

Tomorrow, he will be twenty-six years old.





Monday, September 30, 2019

The door in the garden

came from a prison. The old Ohio Penitentiary in downtown Columbus, or so the neighbors tell us. I don't know why someone would put it in a garden. People do strange things. I can see the door right now through my kitchen window.


When I first saw it, when we were thinking about buying this house, I didn't look carefully. I thought it was an old gate. Another one of those shabby chic things cluttering up this house. Broken mirrors and peeling-painted windows hung on the walls like artwork. We got rid of all of that. The prison door, though, it's stuck pretty good in the garden. 

It's a conversation piece, a friend told me. But all I can think about is a man sitting on the inside of a cell holding onto the bars. A murderer. Or some sad pathetic innocent person. I looked up the Ohio Penitentiary on Wikipedia and it’s an awful story actually. The prison opened in 1834 and operated until 1984. There was a fire in the 1930’s where 322 inmates died, some burned in their cells. 

Over the years a confederate general did time there. And the mobster Bugs Moran. The writer O Henry spent three years in the prison for embezzlement, and is said to have written 14 of his stories in the place. A sociopathic doctor in the 1950s did research on prisoners, injecting them against their will with cancer cells. 

The former prison was an abandoned building for a while in the 1980's. The city demolished it finally, in the 1990's. Today the area's the site of a shopping district and a parking garage. 

And now a piece of it is in our garden. 

But not for long.

FOR SALE: One prison door. Best offer. All proceeds will go to the Athens Books for Prisoners.








Sunday, September 22, 2019

In my old neighborhood I took the same walk with my dog every day

Well, actually, I took the same walk with her three times a day. One 15-20 minute loop around our block, past the same houses, the same trees, the same cracks in the sidewalks.

Three times a day the dog stopped to smell the same sewer cover. She sat down at the same corner to take her treat. We went in the same direction: turn right coming out of the house. Once in a while, if I was in an adventurous mood, we'd go to the left. I don't know why I fell into this pattern. I told myself it was for the dog. She gets anxious when we break our routine. But who am I kidding. I'm the one who liked following the same path.

Set me in motion, and I can go, hardly paying attention to my own feet slapping down. No need to look at the houses, the trees, the cracks.

And I was all ready to settle into a similar pattern in our new neighborhood. My daughter helpfully worked out the route for me. She was the one who took the dog for walks those first few days after moving in. She figured out a nice fifteen minute loop and pointed out the landmarks so I could follow it myself. The blocks in this neighborhood aren't perfectly rectangular. They loop and wind and double back on themselves. There are side streets and alleyways, forks in the road that split off in multiple directions.

The first few weeks I followed the route dutifully, but I kept tripping over the unfamiliar cracks, and I couldn't stop paying attention to the houses and the trees. There is too much to look at. This is a fairly old neighborhood-- the majority of the houses were built in the 1920's. Some of them are Sears kit homes and I am fascinated by this fact. And equally fascinated by all of the additions and personal touches the owners have done over the years.

Front porches and side porches. A bridge built over a dry creek bed. Glorious gardens. Around here they have vegetables growing in the front yards. Grass-less lawns filled with perennial plants and multi-tiered rock gardens. Those adorable little free libraries.

I can't stick to a pattern. I have to take the dog down every street, through every alleyway. One day we stumble upon a pollinator garden smack in the center of a street. Another day we find giant silver bulbs as large as beach balls hanging from a tree. A sculpture of a meditating toad.

meditating toad

silver bulbs

little free library


In front of one house is a bed of ridiculously large flowers, brightly colored and top heavy. They don't make sense. The blooms are too big for the stalks. They should be falling over, snapping themselves in half instead of bobbing in the breeze. I can't get over it. One morning I spy the owner and tell her how much I love those flowers.

absurdly large flowers


They're Cleome, she says. I tell her we've just moved into the neighborhood and how much I love it. She asks me where I live and we chat for a bit more and then the dog and I continue on our walk.

The next day I find a baggie of seeds hanging on our front doorknob. (Or rather, our front door faucet. Yes. All of the doorknobs in this house are faucets, no idea why.) There's a card. Enjoy!

I will.



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.