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 eated 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. 





Tuesday, March 26, 2019

To All the Cars I've Loved Before

(**inspired by being lost, again, at the Car Show in downtown Columbus)

Dear Brown, Tank-sized Station Wagon from the 1970s,

thank you for being there when I first learned to drive, and for teaching me to master parallel parking and the K turn, and for that day

when I was taking my driver's test and the guy yelled at me for driving down the center of the abandoned street and I started crying because I thought I had failed my test, but then the guy said, FINE, Go take your picture for your license, and I was crying and didn't want to take my picture but I did, and then my mom said Yay! You got your license, wanna drive home?

And I said NO! I hate driving! I never want to drive again!

And thank you, Small car, although I don't remember what color you were and never knew your make and model,

it was You who taught me to always wear shoes when I drove,

and to never ever ever drive in a nightgown to go pick up my boyfriend at one o'clock in the morning, where I would be sitting at a red light when a speeding car, --those headlights forever in the rear view mirror growing bigger and brighter (he's not going to stop HE'S NOT GOING TO STOP) hit me so hard I smashed my face on the steering wheel and totaled you-- so when the ambulance came to load me up, I had the great horror and shame of stumbling out of your accordion-wrecked body barefoot and nightgown clad.

And thank you, Chevy Spectrum (is that what you were called?)

a gift from my generous doting New England aunt when I graduated from college in Memphis, O how i loved you

until my aunt told me you had no air conditioning, --but Jody, do you really need air conditioning? Just turn on the fan. -- how (not) fondly I recall sitting in you, those 100-degree sweltering days, the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the only car with the windows open, the fan on full-blast blowing

hot air on my sweaty face.

Dear dear Bright Aquamarine Mini Van,

thank you for helping me schlep the kids all over town, the car seats and booster seats, the tossed toy cars and chewed on doll heads, the forever yellow and crispy McDonalds french fries tucked in your cushions,

the seemingly endless loop of carpools to preschool, elementary school, middle school, soccer practice, piano lessons, viola lessons, concerts, games, the friends multiplying in the back seats, the chatter/giggles/tantrums that sometimes gave me a headache but now in their absence make my heart ache.

All of you, Cars,

I forgive you your breakdowns, your heat, your flat tires, your cracked windshields, your dropped fan belts in the pouring rain.

In the end you did what you promised. You took me where I needed to go, and when the trip was over, you brought me home.



Sunday, March 17, 2019

When I met W.S. Merwin, all I could think about was

how he once knew Sylvia Plath. At twenty-two I was still wildly enamored with her brute black-booted daddy poems and the story of how she'd lost her mind in a cold flat in London and gassed herself while her toddlers slept in the next room. Part horror, part fascination, only a small part understanding. I knew next to nothing at age twenty-two,

but I knew enough to be excited that W.S. Merwin was visiting my MFA program to do a reading and later mingle with us at the wine-and-cheese.

I expected to meet the dark-haired Heathcliff-looking Sylvia Plath friend from the 1950's, but this man was white-haired and ancient,

still,

he had piercing blue eyes, and when I mingled with him while drinking my wine and eating my cheese, I want to think that I didn't mention Sylvia Plath,

that instead, asked him about his poems or at least sounded halfway interested and serious,

What I probably talked with him about was his poem "Air" because I'd used it in a poetry workshop when the assignment was to write a poem using another poem as a model, writing yours with the same number of syllables per line,




or I might've talked to him about his poem  "For the Anniversary of My Death" Every year without knowing it I have passed the day 

because I was blown away by how obvious the idea was and yet I'd never thought about it before,

but who knows what we talked about. That was almost thirty years ago. I think he signed his latest book for me...

Yes!

I just now checked, and the small volume of poetry is there on my bookshelf, proving I do have half a brain.

Today, the "Poem a Day" in my poetry.org email said: "Remembering W.S. Merwin." Apparently, he died two days ago, March 15th.

And so we both passed the day without knowing it.





Saturday, March 9, 2019

While Not in Rome

Last week my husband met up with our daughter and her roommate in Rome for the girls' spring break. Every day I would wake up to glorious pictures of linguini and gelato, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.


Then I would let the dog out, dart off to work, shelve 400 books, come home and settle in to write.

It was kind of a reverse retreat. The house was quiet, with no reason for me to stop working. I made a vat of potato soup and ate it all week. I read two books, one that was so crappy I wanted to fling it across the room and the other that restored my faith in the power of literature. When I needed to hear another human voice, I listened to a podcast.

(and lest you think I am too highbrow in my entertainment choices, I also binge-watched the raunchy Netflix cartoon Big Mouth and then, of course, took a bubble bath.)

It's strange living alone for a week.

I have never done it for much longer than that in my entire life. My husband and I have been married for 29 years. Before we married, I had roommates, and before that, I was a child living in a loud house with a lock on my door.

At one time I was afraid to be alone at night. My husband's traveled a lot over the years for business and I was fine when the kids were home, but once they moved out, the first time he left for a trip, I was worried that my old childhood fear of the dark would creep back.

It didn't.

Maybe it's the dog. I talk to her when I am alone and I swear she listens to me. When I'm parked too long in one position, she noses me until I get up and take her for a walk. At night when the house is settling and creaking and shadowy, she curls up at my feet on the bed. I know that she would bark away a ghost.


Not that I believe in ghosts, but you never know. I make up stories for a living. And by "a living" I mean, it is what I do. Night Number Eight alone, I mix it up a little. Eat leftover spaghetti. Scroll through the latest Roman holiday pictures. Settle in to write.

Later, I'll reward myself with a bubble bath.




Thursday, February 28, 2019

An Interview with Marcia Thornton Jones on Writing for Kids

What seems like a million years ago I was working in Lexington, Kentucky at the county board of education's gifted and talented department, filling in for a teacher friend, Marcia, who was home-bound after foot surgery. For six weeks I sat at Marcia's desk, working, but sometimes stealing a few minutes during lunch to write. Back then I had dreams of being a writer, although I didn't talk about it with many people.

Something funny, one day at work I opened the newspaper and found Marcia's photo on the front page under the headline: Marcia Thornton Jones: Kentucky's Best Selling Author. 

Turns out my teacher-friend was the co-author of the best selling Bailey School Kid series. To say I was stunned is putting it mildly. My daughter was a huge fan, and suddenly, sitting at this woman's desk felt like serendipity. Could Marcia point me in the right direction on my own writing path?

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: Marcia's been a good friend and mentor ever since.

If you want to learn how to get started writing for kids, but you don't happen to be working for a best-selling author immediately after she's had foot surgery, I've got the next best thing:



A new book on writing for kids, called appropriately enough Writing for Kids: the Ultimate Guide, by Marcia and her long-time writing partner Debbie Dadey.

The book is available now and because Marcia is darling, she's agreed to let me interview her today!

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

Jody: What inspired you and Debbie to write this book?

Marcia: When Debbie and I started writing, we were clueless. We knew we wanted to write, and we knew we had stories to tell, but we had no idea how to successfully put those ideas on the page and get them published. We really wished we had someone who could help us; someone to guide us. Mentors who could show us the way.

We didn’t, so Debbie and I took classes, we researched, we wrote, and we learned from trial and error. I think one of the biggest benefits of having a writing partner is that we challenged each other to learn and to develop our writing skills—and we kept each other from giving up because, let’s face it, writing can be frustrating--

Jody: Especially all of the rejections. Twenty years-- yikes!-- since my first rejection and it never gets easier.

Marcia: So true. And this is another benefit of having a writing partner, you figure out how to get past those rejections together, which Debbie and I did, and we kept going, learning how to navigate the writing and publishing world, meeting others along the way who were as clueless as we were.

When Writers Digest Books approached us about writing the first book in a planned series for children’s book writers, we realized it was an opportunity to give back to the writing community. That book, Story Sparkers, was intended to be the first book in a series, and our mission was to write about generating ideas for kids’ books.

Since drafting Story Sparkers, I’ve been teaching writing as well and coordinating the Carnegie Center Author Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. I start the first session of my classes asking students what they want to know…what they need to learn in order to realize their goals as writers. Then I develop lessons with focused writing prompts based on their needs.

When the Writer’s Digest series didn’t pan out thanks to a change in editorial staffing, Debbie and I decided it was our opportunity to build off Story Sparkers, by writing a book that included all facets of the writing process, from generating ideas to marketing your finished book.

Jody: Which is what led to Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide... 

Marcia: Exactly. It's the book we wished we had when we were starting out together.

Jody: I love that you and Debbie worked on this book together-- and that you've written over one hundred!? books together. I'd love to hear more about how that partnership came about. 

Marcia: Debbie and I started writing together when we both worked at an elementary school in Lexington. We wanted to write the kinds of books that resonated with students. When we first started working together, we sat side-by-side at the computer and typed the stories as we spoke them. After Debbie moved from Lexington, we developed a system where we took turns writing chapters based on a rough outline.

Jody: Did you have a similar process working on Writing for Kids:The Ultimate Guide? 

Marcia: Not quite. We knew we had a beginning, thanks to the work we did for Story Sparkers. From that, we developed an outline based on the elements of the writing process. Within that framework, we wrote with the intention of providing information and concrete tools that help writers develop ideas, draft their stories, hone their craft, and navigate the publishing world. 

All those years of developing lessons and writing prompts focused on the specific needs of students in my classes at the Carnegie Center became an integral part of Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide!

Since we wanted to make this affordable, we decided to self-publish it. Debbie took on the task of formatting it, but we did seek help from an agent as well.

Jody: Give me a teaser...  Say I am a beginning writer or someone further along in the process who's not quite sure how to break into the publishing world. Why should I want to read your guide? 

Marcia: I have a personal motto:  Give people TIME. 

TIME stands for Teach, Inspire, Motivate, and Empower. That’s exactly what Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide does. It teaches information and skills writers need to know about writing kids’ books. It inspires and motivates writers to write—and keep writing. And it empowers writers to achieve their goals of writing for kids.

Jody: Okay, you've got me. I am not a beginner but one thing I've learned over the years about writing is I always have more to learn. I downloaded the book last night and am eagerly dipping in!

Readers, if you want to take a peek Marcia's and Debby's latest guide for children (or at any of their other joint or solo ventures) See below:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide to buy on Amazon. 


Marcia Thornton Jones has traditionally published more than 130 books for children with sales totaling more than 43 million copies world-wide. Her works include Woodford Brave, Champ, Ratfink, Godzilla Ate My Homework, The Tale of Jack Frost, and Leprechaun on the Loose. She is the co-author of seven popular series: The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, Keyholders, Ghostville Elementary, The Bailey School Kids Jr. Chapter Books, Triplet Trouble, Bailey City Monsters, and The Barkley School for Dogs.

Marcia and her books have received many awards and honors including the Elementary Library Book Award (ELBA), Minnesota Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, Milner Award, the Humane Society of the United States KIND Children's Honor Book, and International Reading Associations Children’s Choice Award. She was also honored as a nominee for the Surrey Schools' Book of the Year and Kentucky Bluegrass Awards. She was listed as a top 100 author by the Educational Paperback Association, selected for the Children’s Top 100 Books list by the National Education Association, and the Publisher's Weekly Bestsellers list.

Marcia, lives in Lexington, Kentucky where she is the Coordinator of the Carnegie Center Author Academy, an intensive nine-month writing certificate program. She also teaches Carnegie Center writing classes, seminars, and is a writing mentor. She enjoys presenting at schools and conferences.  As a veteran teacher with more than 20 years of experience, she easily relates the importance of writing to students of all ages.

For information about Marcia’s classes, mentoring, and the Carnegie Center Author Academy, please visit The Carnegie Center or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Debbie Dadey has traditionally published 166 books for children with sales totaling more than 43 million copies world-wide. She is the co-author of seven popular series: The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, Keyholders, Ghostville Elementary, The Bailey School Kids Jr. Chapter Books, Triplet Trouble, Bailey City Monsters, and The Barkley School for Dogs. Some of her individual series include the Mermaid Tales and the Swamp Monster in Third Grade

She also co-authored the Slime Wars series with her son Nathan.  Her works also include Cherokee Sister, Whistler's Hollow, King of the Kooties, The Worst Name in the Third Grade, Shooting Star, and Will Rogers, Larger Than Life. 

Debbie and her books have received awards and honors, including the Colorado Author’s League Children’s Fiction Award, Golden Reader Author Award, Elementary Library Book Award (ELBA), Milner Award, Kentucky Bluegrass Award nominee, and several International Reading Association’s Children’s Choice Awards. She was listed as a top 100 author by the Educational Paperback Association, selected for the Children’s Top 100 Books list by the National Education Association, and ranked in the Publisher's Weekly Bestsellers list. She is an Author for Earth Day.

Debbie is a former teacher and librarian who enjoys visiting schools and speaking at conferences. With three children, two dogs, and one husband she has plenty of fodder for new stories, but loves doing research for even more inspiration. She lives in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. 

Please visit her at www.debbiedadey.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.  


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Stories of Joy and Murder

They're eager to get started, game for anything I suggest. Make up a character? They're in. Chart out story arcs with marker on poster-board? No problem. Write the first scene? Let's do it.

I don't know why I am surprised. Kids are like this when it comes to writing. And these fourth and fifth graders in the writing program I've been teaching for the past few weeks, are particularly smart and creative.

Open to trying new methods, happy to use pen or pencil on paper or whatever I give them. Although, one girl has brought her laptop and another tells me she writes all of her novels on her phone. Only a couple of the kids are stuck, asking me to clarify the directions, stumped for a moment about how to start, but with just a little push, off they go.

Most are eager to share what they've written, read aloud their scenes and display their plot plans.

One surprise: the majority of their stories are dark. Evil government conspiracies and dead parents. Kidnappings. Murder. It's all presented matter-of-factly, though, and I try not to bat an eye. Hmm, okay, so in Act Two the main character finds the dead body? All-righty-then. Let's write that scene.

Who am I to judge the mind of a nine year old? They're the ones finding joy in this exercise.

Contrast this with adult writers. Contrast this with, um, me, daily on the phone with my critique partner whining about how hard it is to sit down and get to work.

Maybe the word "work" is the issue here. The fourth and fifth graders write because they want to. They signed up for this class. Two hours every Saturday for five weeks. I'm not sure what I can teach them. The most important lesson is one they already know:

If you want to be a writer, you write.

Now.

This moment.

Take out a piece of paper or open a file on your computer (or phone?) and go.




Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ruin and Love

Friday I drove with my writing friend Natalie down to Marietta, Ohio to watch her cousin Andi get surprise-proposed to. 

I had never watched anyone get surprise-proposed to before, and I was curious. The proposal was going to take place in a bar during a live band performance. The cousin's long time girlfriend is a bass player in the band, and the plan was that at some point during the show, she'd step down from the stage and ask Andi to marry her. 

I like Andi. She's a photographer and the last time I saw her, she let me play dress up in her Hot Tomato studio. Her specialty is boudoir photography and she's known for making all women feel welcome and beautiful. I don't think she advertises much, but word has gotten around, and she has a huge group of loyal clients and friends who flock to Marietta just to hang out with her. 

It was a long drive down there. Natalie and I did what we do a lot lately when we get together. Lamented about the horrifying state of the world. 

When that got too depressing I told her about the plot of the book I'd just finished reading. Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. It's about the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his third wife Martha Gellhorn. She was a novelist and war correspondent who covered basically every foreign war from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's to the US invasion of Panama in 1979. 

But annoyingly for Martha Gellhorn, she's mainly just known for being Ernest Hemingway's third wife. For a few years they had an intense bond, writing side by side and traveling to war zones together, hanging out in Cuba and throwing back drinks with friends.  

They talked and argued a lot about writing and what the point of it all was. How could you spend time playing around with a story while the world outside was going to ruin? Was it fair to hole up in your house in Cuba when so many other people were suffering? 

That's another thing Natalie and I do a lot. Talk and argue about writing and wonder what the point of it all is. Is it okay to care so much about our made-up worlds when the real world is such a mess?

The bar in Marietta was crowded with fans of the band and friends and family of Andi. She was happily clueless about what was going to happen, walking around taking photos, not noticing how many people were grinning and taking photos of her. I was getting excited and nervous for her. Also, I was tired, sipping my drink and trying not to think about the fact that it was close to 11 o'clock and Natalie and I still had a two hour drive home and I'm the frumpy old lady who usually goes to bed by ten. 

But the band was great, kind of Mumford & Sons-y and obviously a huge favorite in Marietta. The crowd was singing and clapping along. Girls were dancing with each other. Some of them were dressed up as if they'd just stepped out of the Hot Tomatoes studio. 

I had a momentary thought about the world outside. Stories I'd read in the newspaper about children held in for-profit detention centers who are forbidden from hugging their siblings, another mass shooting, the latest dire report on global climate change, the president's scary rambling speech and the cheers of his followers. 

But I let that go for the moment when the bass player stepped down from the stage and surprise-proposed to Andi. Martha told Ernest that the point of it all was to go where stories are happening, to talk to people, to bear witness to their experience, to tell the truth. 

Andi, of course, said yes. 









Friday, February 8, 2019

Things you can't write about

The arguments you have with your mother or the raw inner workings of your marriage.

Conversations with your kids, unless it’s a funny anecdote and you know they won’t mind. The secrets of your best friend. The crazy thoughts that wake you up in the middle of the night.

Weddings are fair game. But not funerals. Births. But not deaths. Unless the death was a really long time ago. Your father’s, for example, when you were seven years old.

That was your first introduction to death, by the way. The randomness of it. The confusion and seemingly bottomless grief. The rage. Also, the unfairness. For example, how he was thirty-four years old. But mostly the finality. How one moment you had this person in your life and the next moment, you did not.

No one wants to hear about it. Not really. A few words of sympathy for the bereaved and then let's all move on. The alternative is remembering that the dead are gone from us forever. That we too will die. That everything we do or don't do ultimately ends, and only for a little while will we have someone left behind to remember.

Something I have forgotten about funeral processions in small Southern towns is how all of the cars pull over on the side of the road. Strangers taking a moment to watch the procession pass. The police officers at the intersections holding their hands on their hearts.

It's a windy day at the cemetery. The soldiers stand grimly before they fire their weapons. One of them announces that we should prepare ourselves for the shots. But how do you prepare yourself for something like that? The noise, each time, is a shock.

So loud our ears sting during the playing of Taps.

I could tell you more about the person we lost. The memories shared. The tears. The confusion and seemingly bottomless grief. The rage. The talk of unfairness.

But this story is not my story to tell. And so I will not write anymore about it today.







Thursday, January 31, 2019

If writing is your practice

the only way you can fail is to not write.

I have been thinking a lot lately about motivation. Last week at the monthly Ohio SCBWI Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators meeting we set writing goals and talked about self- discipline. I had invited a guest speaker to the meeting, the lovely young adult and adult fiction writer Kerry Winfrey. She spoke about the importance of setting small, achievable goals.

(Kerry, for the record, is the mom of a toddler, so she can't always count on a long stretch of time to write. Some days, she admits, 250 words is all she can manage, and she feels good about that!)

We had a lot of new faces at our meeting. Brand new, just-dipping-their-toes-into-living-a-creative-life writers and illustrators. You can see the stars in their eyes. The dreams of bestsellers and awards and movies being made out of their books.

I didn't want to burst their bubbles by telling them that while it's great to dream big, the reality will likely fall far short. If they want to be writers, they're going to have work hard at it-- work hard at it, in all likelihood, without any acknowledgement for a very long time.

If ever.

Which isn't to say that you still can't have a fulfilling creative life. For me that means writing most days. Scrawling out a few pages in my journal in the morning or during my fifteen minute break at my day job. Writing a few pages on the novel I've been working on. Writing a post for this blog.

These are all things I can control, examples of my writing practice. Most of my words are not read by others and may never be. I've had to make peace with that over the years. Honestly, I continue to make peace with it every day. The trick, I've found, is to go All In with the work--throw myself wholeheartedly into writing and revising-- while at the same time acknowledging that the final product (ie: a published book on a shelf) is out of my control.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic explains it better:

"My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely)."

Yeah. So, that's not easy. But today at least, as I write the words I am writing to you now, as I prepare to open up my work in progress,

it's all I've got.