Monday, December 5, 2011

But! On the bright side...

So just a few days after we got home from the funeral-Thanksgiving combo Girlie got a fever. Took her in and the ped said she probably had a virus. Waited it out the full five days (no school, no leaving the house, five days of house arrest) and took her back in. One trip to the afterhours clinic and two x-rays later, we had a diagnosis of pneumonia.


But! On the bright side... waayy back in early November (because it feels like a year ago) I had gone to a wine sale and bought a case of wine to give as Christmas gifts to my neighbors. So now I am drinking the gift wine. See how good I'm doing? The world through wine colored glasses!

I know. Don't say it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Helms Deep

Yesterday a friend texted me to see if I needed anything. My father passed away several weeks ago and I've received many of these messages - emails, texts, phone calls. And really, it is hard to know what to say.

For the most part, we've got it covered. Hubs has been amazing with the kids and extra help on the homefront. Our neighbors have rallied around, even stocking the fridge when we returned from the funeral. Work has been lovely about giving me some time, even during the busiest time of year. Life is moving along and we're all settling in to this new reality without my Dad. But then what do I need?

I need everything to stop, even for a few minutes, the whole world still so that I can be quiet and think. I need to understand the incomprehensible. There must be a way to wrap my brain around this, but there just isn't time. Not in early December, just before the holidays. Not with a sick kid at home and preschooler to shuffle around. Not with piles of laundry and dinners to cook. Not with work to catch up on and more arrangements to be made for the burial in a few weeks. Not enough time in my lifetime, so the world spins on. Just as it should. And I need something impossible.

This week Hubs and I have been staying up late geeking out with the Lord of the Rings on dvd in several hour chunks. Last night was the second movie and my favorite part of the entire series - the epic battle of Helms Deep. Men, women, and children flee to a fortress in the mountain, sensing ambush, but moving forward anyway, going to the only place they can think of.

Like taking cover down in the basement in front of a movie when you've got a million other things to do. The illusion of safety, at least for the moment.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Recently, Little Guy walked in on me trimming my eyebrows with a tiny pair of scissors, or as I like to call it, getting the Italian out. He asked tons of questions and though I tried to explain about the scissors near the eyes and the need for a grown-up and that he should never ever do this himself and that he would probably never need to do it, I could see the wheels turning.

He ran off to play and I thought - well, that was a mistake. Add that to the list of mistakes I have made so often as a parent. Sometimes innocently enough, but still.

Then the other day I heard this report on NPR. The piece was not about parenting, it was about Syrian politics, though one could say that both are equally chaotic (or at least I might say it). This reference is not in the text, but during the broadcast when the reporter asked the interviewee about mistakes, he corrected him and called them lessons. This struck a chord with me.

So I'm not making mistakes, I am making lessons. I think, for now, I'll go with that. And hide those little scissors too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living the dream

Since the passing of Steve Jobs we've all been blasted with snippets of his wisdom, the most famous (or viral) of which is a commencement address during which he encourages us to live our dreams or some crap like that. No denying the guy was a visionary. No denying that he changed all of our lives. For that, I admire the guy. But do I actually want to follow his lead?

Would you be willing to make people cry at meetings? Steve Jobs did. Or to give up having children? Oprah. Or to lead a life that is a complete contradiction to the image you sell? Martha.

The question isn't whether we're willing to follow our dreams or to pursue what makes us happy because really, we all are. The question is - are we willing to do it at any cost?

For most of us the answer is no, not at any cost. So we end up with our ordinary lives. And that's really okay. Even admirable.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The mind is a terrible thing

I had no appreciation for the mysteries of the brain until a few years back when I wound up with chronic insomnia. Once I got it into my head that I couldn't sleep, I actually couldn't. For around a year and a half, I survived on three to four hours a night, sometimes in two to three small naps.

The worst part was, the more I tried to think it through, the worse it got. For the first time ever, the brain that I had always relied on was actually working against me. It blew my mind. And sort of changed my personal philosophy forever.

Anyway, I am hyper-aware of how the brain can convince us of things, even when we should believe otherwise, even when all evidence points to the truth, the opposite of what we've gotten into our heads. Or on our heads.

Which brings us to lice.

Ha! You didn't see that coming did you?

So one of Girlie's friends has lice, poor kid. Of course, both Girlie and I have been itching ever since the mother sent the message. I've checked Girlie over many many many times. Nada. But still, here we are. Itchy. Just got a lice update email from the friend. Itchy to a new level.

And then there is my other friend who recently commented, half seriously, that she had been wondering if she had some sort of auto-immune problem. She's been feeling run down, achey, cold symptoms, etc. Her brother died over the summer, so the illness is way more likely to be grief sickness, depression. But the terrible brain, such as it is, goes to the worst and most evil idea first.

It makes me wonder though - can I harness these crazy thoughts for good?

If only. For now I am googling homeopathic lice cures.

Just in case.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Date night

Nope not talking about date night with the Hubs, though my friend recently commented that the Mr. and I have been going out a good bit. I told her that we'd been weighing our options and recently decided that dinner and a babysitter is roughly equal to the cost of a marriage therapy session, including the wine. So, date night it is.

She thought I was kidding.

But this time date night refers to the fact that I am just home fresh from a "first date" with a new girlfriend. Met a great writer gal at a reading in July and just had a feeling we'd connect. This girl isn't in my everyday circle, so meeting up again was going to involve an actual invitation. After becoming facebook friends, I took the plunge and asked her out. Schedules kept colliding and months later we finally worked it out.

Tonight we met for dinner and drinks. I wore perfume and cute earrings. We had all that so where are you from kind of chit chat. All of which, I'm 99% sure (though it has been a while), qualifies it as an official date.

Anyway, it went well and we left with plans to exchange short stories.

Which is pretty much like second base for a fiction writer.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The other night the dishwasher was full and it made sense to do the remaining dishes by hand. I filled the sink with sudsy water and put my arms in, almost up to the elbows. I couldn't believe how good it felt to stick my hands in that water. I'd forgotten. I'll scrub a pot, rinse a wine glass, but rarely these days do I fill a sink. And there it was - the warm water, dishes thudding against metal, the scent of the dish soap.

These are ambitious times and today we're all the CEO's of our own little start-up. We take on each day with drive and intention. We know that things have shifted, that our minds will be the new industry, that the ability to connect and express ourselves have become a commodity. We don't understand it and still we're all scrambling to take part. We do it because we have to. We email, we blog, we post on facebook, we participate in groupspeak, groupthink, and we try to stand out in all of it. We do it for a living. We do it for leisure.

All this participating is exhausting, so we let the machines do the work. We load the dishwasher lickety split and let the warm water run over the dishes without us. We know we're missing something, we have the vague sense of the loss, but we can't get our arms around what it is. And we can't get our arms around what it is, because often enough, we're not even touching it.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to get rid of the kitchen appliances. I'm happy to turn a dial and let the oven bake my chicken without having to stoke a fire around it. And I'll blog and tweet and sell things online. But there is something about how I had forgotten that sink of warm water and the way it felt really good, not good because it accomplished anything, but because it actually felt good. It makes me wonder - what else am I missing?

Run a sink full to the brim. Add dish soap. Stick your hands in.

You'll see what I mean.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Shiny, happy. People.

Last week one of my favorite all time groups announced a break-up.

REM's music is the soundtrack to the movie montage of the teenage me, the early twenties me. I was part of a group of students that lobbied to have "The End of the World as We Know It" as our senior song. It didn't fly, but we did learn all of the lyrics.

Years back Michael Stipe said his only regret musically was the song "Shiny Happy People". It was a huge hit and he felt like it didn't reflect the real sound of the group. I have to agree, not so much shiny happy in their music. At the time, I wasn't crazy about the song either.

It is hard to imagine that the members of REM aren't a group anymore. Couldn't they have just gone on without the announcement? No pressure to produce, guys, just keep existing. Because the announcement changes things for me, as if somehow when the possibility of REM still existed, the possibility of a younger me did too.

And now.

Though I will say this for middle age (gah), I do find it easier to relate to the shiny happy. It used to be hard to be an optimist, and now I find that the more I've been through, the less I think any of it is really a big deal. There is always something to look forward to. I've been asking around and it turns out that I am not alone in this being happier as you get older thing.

I wonder how Stipe feels about the song now.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What? You noticed?

So, um, I haven't been here for awhile. Since starting the internship, a good bit of the creative energy has been sucked right up and I'm feeling a bit dry. My writing is, of course, in the ditch. The blog, the fiction, all of it. Trying not to stress too much about it.

My dear friend Esme Foong and I are writing a new Virgin piece for Grubdaily, about how to kick start the writing when life gets in the way. I am going to write it and then I'm going to take my own advice.

Meanwhile, there is fun to be had today. Hubs and I are heading in the drizzle to see the Avett Brothers at the Life is Good Festival. My hand it shakes my head it spins...

should be a good time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What I need...

is four extra hours in the day. Trying to juggle the new job/writing/back-to-school family thing, plus squeeze in a little time for myself.

I would totally be able to do it all, too - if I could put my little people in bed around 8ish and then have a nice 4 hour slot ahead for all of the extras, while still getting a decent nights sleep.

Or maybe I could have some kind of time-suspending superpower where I could stop new things from happening while I deal with the existing to-do's.

Or maybe I could clone myself and give the knock off girl all of the grunt work (because she'd never be quite as good as the original me anyway).

I could also lower my expectations.

But where's the fun in that?

Monday, September 5, 2011

You ain't from around here, are you?

Almost fifteen years ago, Hubs and I took a trip to New Orleans. We did it up Louisiana style with drinks at starting 10 AM and the like. We ate too much food, stayed up much too late, and after a few days the muchness was too much. We decided to drive two hours north to St. Francisville to take in the sights, and yes, to dry out a bit.

St. Francisville is a gorgeous little town filled with plantations and old south graciousness. We stayed at a B & B, got plenty of rest, and recharged.

One night, we stopped at a little local non-touristy meat and three for dinner. We were finally feeling like a beer with dinner. It might have been a dry county or something of the like, but when Hubs asked about drinks, the waitress actually said "You ain't from around here, are you?"

I thought about that question when I was back in Georgia visiting family last week.

I grew up in the country on a dirt road named Pine Needle, near a place called Pumpkin Center. My high school had something like a fifty percent graduation rate. After I left home, my parents moved to the suburbs. Usually when I go back to visit, I'm not really going back to the way things were then. I almost forget. But this time we stayed out near a lake where Hubs' family has a little place, just a few miles from my childhood house. The lake place is off of a dirt road, just like where I grew up. As you drive down the road, red dust billows up behind the car. There are potholes and deer to watch out for. And snakes. In that part of Georgia there are always snakes.

But my parents were never country. My dad didn't hunt or fish or farm. My mother never in her life made a scratch biscuit or fried a chicken. If you asked, my parents would say they just liked the peace and quiet of living away from town. We never fit in. Though I can't quite put my finger on why, it always felt like we were hiding.

So when I did get back there last week, it felt intimately familiar yet I couldn't really find myself anywhere, like one of those memories you might only be able to bring forward because you still have the pictures. I thought about that waitress in rural Louisiana.

Definitely ain't from backwoods Louisiana or rural Georgia or even suburban Boston. And though I can tell you where I grew up, I seem to be still trying to find the place where I'm from.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Just got back from ten days in Georgia. My father in law has a little place at the lake near where I grew up and we passed this country store on our way over there.

People never believe me when I tell them the best country dinners down south are always from the gas stations.

Friday, August 19, 2011

None chucks

Earlier this month Little Guy turned four. I've been waiting for four, since, well, since zero. Four is supposed to be the beginning of reasonableness. Four is the end of baby and the beginning of kid. I am so much better at kid.

Four, so far, has failed to show up and do it's job. But! Everyone swears by five. So on we go.

On his birthday this year we gave him a few Lego sets. He's been playing with Legos at the neighbors houses and has been pretty enamored with them, even going so far as to attempt to five finger a few Lego guys on the way out. So despite the fact that most of the sets he loves are for five year olds, we bought them anyway.

The neighbor boys came over to build the sets and Little Guy achieved some street cred. At least with the seven and under set, he's in.

His favorite item is a little ninja Lego man which he carries with him everywhere. The ninja comes with an assortment of itty bitty weapons. As Little Guy opened the box, he actually shook as he said "Noooooooone chucks." How does he know what they are? So he carries around the tiny little ninja with the teeny tiny numchucks and all is good.

Which brings us to yesterday. I had a sitter coming because I was planning to get a few hours in at the office for my internship. (I love this job by the way. Please send all your happy thoughts and wish on rainbows and all that these people get the funding together to make me a position, because, seriously, I am a perfect fit for that place.) I was almost ready to leave when I noticed that Little Guy had one of the oversized Lego tires in his mouth.

Now this boy never ever puts things in his mouth. Girlie did it all the time, but Little Guy really never has been that kind of child. Hubs and I discussed it when we bought the Legos and decided that he'd be really good about it. Except yesterday. So I explained that he shouldn't, took the tire away for a bit, and he assured me that he wouldn't do it again.

So there I am interning at my dream job when I get the call. Little Guy might have swallowed a Lego tire. He said it did, then he said he didn't. The sitter wasn't sure. He wasn't choking or in any kind of pain. I talked to him, he assured me that he hadn't actually swallowed it and all was well.

Then a few minutes later the sitter texted me that he was "burpy." I packed up and headed home.

It turned out fine. I don't think he actually did swallow the tire. I did take him over to my pediatrician neighbor for a consultation. He is also the father of two boys.

And of course he told me not to worry. This too shall pass.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Just another manic Monday

So we're heading to Georgia for ten days this Saturday.

Though I've been to visit, the kids haven't been back in a few years and in addition to the two enormous suitcases and the dog and the carseat and the stroller, I'll be dragging along all kinds of guilt, stashing it in the overhead with my backpack of busy snacks (if it fits).

Plus there is the nail-biting over where to stay and who to stay with and how to make the rounds to see everyone without short changing anyone or making ourselves crazy. There is the crazy early morning flight we booked on points (both ways), the long layovers (both ways), and the reality of traveling with the four year old boy who will either be an angel or something requiring an exorcist. And the logistics around visiting my Dad in the nursing home with the kids, and as of last week a potential surgery which I am hoping will be scheduled after our visit.

And Hubs is out of town this week. He gets back Friday. We leave on Saturday.

So how can I tell I might be losing it?

I packed on Sunday - all of the clothes for the entire family for a trip we're taking this upcoming weekend. I'm done packing, six days ahead. I'm cleaning, organizing, ordering groceries for when we get back, knocking out back to school stuff. It looks like productivity, but really it's crazytown.

Last night I had a dream that my Dad drove us to my parents' place (something he can't do) and he was able to stay at the house with us (something he can't do).

This morning I woke up thinking about my him. And then I thought - I really need to clean the kitchen ceiling fan. So I did.

And then I organized the freezer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The value of a value

Somehow, I found myself reading this opinion piece about the economy over the weekend. It must have been one of those rabbit hole situations, because I can't say I remember going over to CNN's website, but then there I was.

The essay sparked some horrendous comments from both sides of the political spectrum, enough so that I hesitated to link to it. I'm not at all interested in arguing about who is responsible for getting us here. I will say that though I fall way left of center, it seems to me that the situation has reached the point where we need to be willing cut precious social programs AND raise taxes on the highest income bracket. We may well be past the point of an either/or approach. And as for how we got here, why argue the philosophy behind the construction of the ship while the boat is sinking? Get as many people on the lifeboats as possible, we can figure that out later.

But on to the meaningful stuff. The part of the essay that struck me was the bit about the actual value of money.

Many years have passed since the dollar was backed by gold. Instead, the value we assign to our currency represents a measure of our faith, what we believe it to be worth. This has never been more true than now. Often the value only appears a number on a screen, up then down, in our hands and then out before we've even touched it. Almost a figment of our collective imagination, and yet we spend a large number of our waking hours working to get at it.

But I don't want to chase after something that doesn't exist. I want to pursue real things. Sure, you say, but we need money to get those things. Having money often clears the obstacles. Right. That is the paradox isn't?

Still, I am wondering if a little philosophy change might help, even if it just comes down to semantics. Like the travel experience I want to have is the focus instead of the trip itself, the end goal now twice removed from the money part. I want to live in my neighborhood because of the amazing people. What, besides buying a house here, can secure that? Maintaining these relationships if I have to move down the road a bit. Continuing to rent this house might do it too. So it could be about getting to the heart of whatever it is that I want and sticking to that. And the big part - being open to whatever else there is to get me there.

Moving to Boston on one income has been a stretch for us. On top of that we picked an expensive area. We chose it because of the schools and the 95 commute and the close access to the subway. We wanted those things because of our values - education, leisure time, and access to culture. Of course, all of that comes with a price. An actual dollar amount. So it isn't easy. It is something that stays on my mind. It has also caused me to think about money (and how to get a bigger chunk of it) more than I have in years.

But this money as a theory thing has me wanting to shift my focus. To stop zeroing in on the finances. To move on to thinking about things that have real value. Things that actually exist.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The intern

Starting a new position today working a few hours a week over at Daily Grommet. They call it an executive internship because I'm a little too crinkly around the eyes to call myself a straight up intern.

I'll be working with the product launch team. The job is a dream combination of storytelling and retail sales. It will be a great way to freshen my resume and has loads of potential as a future job opportunity. Last night, I had that first day of school feeling with the outfit all picked out and the lunch packed.

Can't wait to get to it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baby did a bad bad thing

So the other night I went to a lovely reading over at Brookline Booksmith and then I stole something.

The night started out innocently enough. A neighbor asked if I wanted to hear a few women read from the 2011 Best Women's Travel Writing and have dinner afterwards. Faced with the prospect of a full week alone with the kids? Yes, yes I did. I would have said yes to a trip to Walgreens to drink generic soda and browse the greeting cards.

The reading exceeded expectations. The women have had some amazing adventures (including one woman's experience judging a testicle eating contest and another returning to a hotel room in cold war Russia to find the maid wearing her leather skirt) and the writing was top notch. After, we browsed Brookline Booksmith, one of my favorite indie bookstores. Don't worry, I didn't steal anything from them.

It was one of those wonderful Boston summer nights where the rain was blowing sideways and the temp dropped to something close to freezing. Spicy food was in order, so we headed to dinner at an Indian restaurant nearby. After the meal, we split the checks three ways. The waiter brought my card back to sign and I picked up the pen.

The pen was weighty, nice to hold, and a beautiful blue color. Cerulean blue with gold trim. It said First National Bank of Arkansas. I started to sweat a little. I flipped it over and a name was inscribed on the other side. John Byron Huffman.

"I really want this pen," I said to my friend.

She examined it, encouraged me to take it. We checked out the other pens. Generic Massachusetts insurance company and something else, I forget. My pen had some history. My pen belonged a character in one of my stories. My pen was the precious.

My other friend had the idea to make a trade. I pulled a crappy plastic pen from my purse, stuck it in the check. Slipped the precious under a napkin. My mind raced along. The pen had obviously been given for a promotion or some recognition. Who was this guy? Did his friends call him J.B.? How had this pen ended up in Boston?

But, I felt guilt. Tremendous and horrible guilt. It was a nice pen. It didn't belong to the Indian waiter or even the restaurant itself, obviously, but still I felt - shady. Maybe I could tell them some story? About my father, my dead father, who worked for First National Bank of Arkansas. But then, no. My Dad is in a nursing home, not doing well. Can't go there. I could just ask for the pen. But then, how exactly?

I slipped it in my purse. More guilt. After the waiter gathered our checks, I noticed a flurry of activity near the register. Agitation. One waiter slapped the little book holding the checks on his palm. The three men hovered outside the kitchen. Arms folded. Clearly annoyed. They knew.

Or did they? Maybe someone else had stiffed a tip. My friend started showing us pictures of her New York trip. I wanted to leave. She showed us more pictures. The men glared at me over her shoulder. The pen seared a hole in my purse, or it didn't, but I felt like it would burst into flames. Or something.

Finally, time to leave. We get up. I pick up my bag. Nothing happens. Go to the small lobby. Nothing. Retrieve my umbrella from the holder. Nothing. Step outside.

I stole that pen. But then, it was the pen they hand you to sign the bill. It can't be a big deal. And it said First National Bank of Arkansas. Did I mention how blue it was? How J.B. is now a character in my linked series (the banker who forecloses on my main character)? I stole the pen because I write, I'm a writer. It tweaked my imagination. And I'm from the south. And Arkansas? Arkansas is always quirky.

I stole the pen because I'm a little crazy.

And yet it feels like a good luck charm, this stolen thing.

I'd post a picture of it, but I can't find the camera, and then, you know, J.B. might track me down. And the pen is mine. Really not a biggie.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Does this look good?

It started with a whiff of a sassy tude and the request to download Selena Gomez songs to her iPod. Next there was some squinting at the mirror, some swiveling to examine the outfit. Then she started asking - does this look good?

This morning she was taking forever in the bathroom and I went upstairs to find her meticulously applying lipgloss.

Does this look good?

No baby, it doesn't. I mean, you do, of course.

But this? This growing up thing?

Not good at all.

Monday, July 25, 2011


We just got back from a week on the Cape.

We were supposed to have wi-fi at the house we rented, but we didn't or I couldn't get it working. Either way, I took it as a sign that I should just give it up and unplug. No facebook, limited access to email, no blogging, no blog reading, no cable TV, not even the digital camera (the kids were fooling around with it before we left so I hid it and did such a great job that I still can't find it myself).

Remember when you just took a trip without the facebook updates? There aren't even any pictures to post after the fact. Like it's 1995 or something.

Felt pretty good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The right words

Last night, I went to a reading over in Jamaica Plain where Dawn Dorland Perry read an amazing essay called Why I Write. There is a section where she talks about why writers labor over words, the right words.

She says "As writers we may find ourselves always looking for a new way to communicate it, share it, and connect–always looking for a better way to tell the story, some new combination of words that guarantees we’ll be more closely, more surely this time, understood. "

The whole essay is beautiful, but this particular bit knocked me in the gut.

Check out the whole thing over here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer lovin'

It's official. White wine in the fridge. The window units cranking a humid chill.

Summer is screaming by. Spent Saturday at the Cape having a cookout with some friends who have a lovely little house on a cliff. Little Guy skipped his nap, exhibited some colossally outrageous three-year old behavior towards the end (the nerve). After a sleepover the night before and a full day at the beach, even Girlie got a little weepy. We had an early dinner, rolled out of there by 7 PM. Both kids asleep before we hit the highway. All in all a good day.

Sunday was catch up. Put together a big boy bike for Little Guy, cook out with the neighbors, errands. Today there were swimming lessons, gymnastics camp, a trip to the library, bike riding, the post office and now, Hubs working late.

So we're busy. Fun busy, but maybe looking a little badly sewn at the seams.

And to top it off, I have an interview on Wednesday. An interview. For a potential J-O-B.

It has been a little on again, off again, and now it's on. It looks like they might not be in a position to hire until the fall. Still.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Peeling Wallpaper

There is a house for sale behind us, but I won't even look at it because there is wallpaper in every room.

Just before Girlie was born, we had a kitchen full of fruity flowery 80's paper and in some insane hormone driven spurt of nesting I decided to remove it. I spent endless hours using every known method - renting a steamer, applying some questionable chemicals, finally ending up with a small squirt bottle of warm water, peeling it inch by inch.

The trick is to remain in a calm, zen-like state. Once you get a piece started, you have to slowly slowly peel down the paper. Peel. Spray. Peel. Spray.

Of course, I would begin this way only to end up impatiently going at it until I ripped only the top layer, leaving the papery underside still stuck on. Once you reach the papery underside, you're in for a tough peel. Once you reach the papery underside, you're screwed.

Some days the writing feels just like that kitchen. If I could just peel it inch by inch. Slowly. Patiently.

But no.

Papery underside.

Stuck hard.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


We packed a ton in this weekend. After going to bed late last night, Little Guy was up at 5:30 AM, a full fifteen minutes earlier then the last time I complained about it which means we are on target for 5:15 waking shortly. We've tried everything, but he is usually wide awake just after sunrise. Short of dropping an enormous black cloth over the exterior of the house (which I've fantasized about), we seem to be stuck with the early waking during the summer.

Ah, but for a rainy morning. He might sleep past six.

But then we're stuck inside.


This morning I looked up the sunrise schedule to see exactly how much longer this will continue. By September we should be back on track. The difference in the schedule is just seconds a day, but somehow over the course of a few months it does shift. Creeps along really, but it does change - a much needed reminder that almost every situation is temporary.

Anyway, the longest day of the year was some time in mid-June, though if you ask me, I'd swear that it might be today.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What am I trying to say?

One of my instructors from Grub offered to meet with each student individually after the last class to talk about our writing. He did it on his own time - which was amazingly generous. Most of the instructors teach multiple classes and juggle freelance work, barely piecing together time to get their own projects in and this was such a nice extra.

During our chat, he asked if I write without knowing what is happening in the story. The answer is yes and no. Usually, the basic concept comes to me before I write it, but I never know any of the details until I get to them. I like the surprise.

In every other part of my life, I tend to be a very linear thinker, so I am always hesitant to put too much of a plan together because it rubs against my creative mind. He said that he'd thought that to be the case, and that my work had a certain natural energy (!) which carried the reader along. He called one of my stories tight. Nice.

That said, at the end of the first or second draft he thought I might need to spend some time thinking more about what I want the reader to leave with. In other words, what am I trying to say?


Good question.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Good morning

At my computer by 4:45 this morning. Usually, I'm up around five, but I woke a little earlier and couldn't dim the brain chatter, so I decided to just get on with it. Not a ton of volume going on in the writing, but I feel like I am finally working out some small important things, so though I was a bit bleary, it felt delicious to grab some extra time.

As it is, I've put a good bit into the day already. Writing, email, banking online, breakfast for the kids, chopped up fruit and veggies for later, made a paper airplane, fixed a paper airplane.

As I type this, Little Guy is wandering by blowing air through a snorkel. It sounds like some kind whale call.

Not even 8:30 AM.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Check out our second Virgin Writers post at Grub daily! This one is all about surviving the workshop.


We always planned on having two kids, but then we had Girlie and were pretty sure we weren't doing it again. And by it, I mean it, on both accounts, the making and the birthing because having a child not only rocked our world - it pretty much took us to the back shed, whipped us both silly, and then dumped us off miles from home, leaving us both lost along the roadside for a few years (though, at least together, at least that).

Eventually, around age four things got a little easier or maybe we just got used to not knowing what we were doing. Either way, we started thinking about another child, about getting back to the original plan. We started having dates and it was back on the table. When Girlie was five, we had Little Guy.

For about six months after he was born, I thought I had accidentally made the most brilliant parenting move in the history of family planning. Having children with a large age split meant that Girlie was pretty independent by the time Little Guy was born. Watching my friends with kids close in age struggle with the baby-toddler thing, I figured we had done it right.

Except that there are few economies with two this far apart. No same interests, no playing together except when older is tolerating younger, lots of juggling big and little interests. Lots of juggling. Granted, a shorter age gap never guarantees these things, but there are some areas that would be easier if we'd gone ahead and had a second child before five years had passed. We could have two in school, a kindergartner right now. We could be well past the tantrum stage, saving the nine year old some humiliating trips through the Target parking lot. We could be nap free on weekends and able to let them both run the neighborhood unsupervised after dinner. They could watch the same movies.

Except, I always have to wonder, would my second child have been Little Guy three years earlier? Or is there a split second, a single moment, when a person comes to be?

Because there is that certain part of it - the thing that has nothing to do with timing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Boston: One year, ten pounds

So it isn't quite the freshman fifteen, but my first year in Boston hasn't been so good on the waistline.

Yes, I did just mention the summer-long quest to find the perfect fried clam strips yesterday. It's not like I have been in denial or anything, more like the Scarlett O'Hara approach, as in I'll think about it tomorrow. And that's been working out until this morning when I noticed that I have the chub face in every single photo. I gain weight in my face almost immediately. Great.

So what's the deal? Eating like the newly in love. My body insulating against the frigid weather. Stress eating. Abundance of craft beer. Too many trips to the North End.

Does it really matter?

Yes, it does.

So I came home from the clam shack and walked 3 miles. Walked 3 more this morning. Might hit it again later with Little Guy. Up the veggies and fruit. More water. Less Smuttynose Ale. Maybe even skip the onion rings at the clam shack. No dessert.

Which really stinks because they have some damn good homemade ice cream up here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lobsta rolls and fried clams and ice cream, oh my!

A New England summer is all about clam shacks and ice cream shops. And apparently, chilly drizzly weather, but I hear that all ends in July.

I hope it ends in July.

So we're on a quest to hit as many of these places as we can. Today we're headed to Woodmans over in Essex for fried clams and lobster rolls. We chose it as our first stop because it is one of the most famous clam shacks.

And also because we can already pronounce Essex without sounding like tourists.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fourth grade, time to get my crap together

Girlie's last day of third grade is today. By September I will be the mother of a fourth grader.

This is significant to me because fourth grade is around the age that I can start to recall the details of my childhood. Before that, I can bring to mind some of the big moments, birthdays, trips - the time in third grade when my mother forgot to pick me up and I walked home in a rainstorm.

In fourth grade, however, I remember some of the day to day stuff, smidges of the homelife as I came to understand it. Which means up until now as a mother I've been in the parental grace period.

Nine more years until she's out of the house. Probably twentyish before she starts therapy. Time to make it happen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mother's helper

A friend of mine has recently picked up a writing job for a local magazine. She'll do a short weekly column online about a subject she's become somewhat of an expert in. She has a decent following on her blog and will likely bring a good bit of traffic with her. She's working out the details, so I won't go into it just yet.

But here's the thing, she's doing it for free.

At the same time there is a discussion going on among the mothers group I belong to about how much to pay a mother's helper. A mother's helper is usually a younger child, 12 -13 who isn't quite ready to babysit, but will come by to play with the children and keep them busy while the mother is working at home. Apparently the going rate for such a thing is $5- 8 an hour. We've never hired a mother's helper, but our sitter usually takes in $10 - 15 an hour, depending on how long we're gone.

So a 13 year old can make $8 an hour, but my friend has to work for free.

Of course, she's doing it because of the other work it might lead to. I understand that we all have to do things purely as an investment in the future and that sometimes it isn't about the money, but it seems like writers get the worst of this. As a mother of small children, I have to weigh whether my words can eek out more than the hourly rate of a sitter. Often the answer to this is no.

And aren't these kids doing the work to get experience, as a step towards actual babysitting jobs? Maybe I should tell my friend about this mother's helper gig. $8 an hour might just be worth it.

Worth something.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Could we just have a slumber party?

I'm rarely the type to want to be young again. Of course, I still pine for my 22 year old ass, but I wouldn't actually want to be 22 again.

Overall, I am happier at 38, knowing what I know and with a pretty good understanding of what I don't know. Back then, I thought I knew everything.

What I do miss though, is the way we could have friendships back then. Now I meet all of these great people and there is never ever enough time to really get to know them. There will be the occasional dinner, a drink or two, but there are kids and jobs. The kids with these baseball games and music lessons, so we can only have one drink, have to be home by eleven, and the jobs we all actually care about. Jobs we all need.

All this life stuff getting in the way, so I only get a small sliver of the amazingness of a person.

What I want is a week in a dorm, all of my favorites friends new and old, lined up on the same hall. Late night talks, sharing a bathroom, staying up too late and then the early risers like me up too soon, drinking coffee, red-eyed and laughing about the same joke from the night before. I want to know people like that again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When life hands you lemons

So the lemon cake turned out terrific.

Several people had more than one piece, and this among a group of women who discuss regularly whether dessert is "worth it" (that kind of worth being a concept that I can not comprehend at all - stay up too late, extra glass of wine, second piece of cake, always worth it - though likely this speaks to a lack of self control more than a joie de vivre).

The reading itself was great too. Afterwards, I had a chance to speak with Aimee Bender. I did not hug her.

And just to prove that I'm not ready to learn anything about myself, as I was covering the cake after everyone left, I actually thought - that wasn't so bad, maybe I'll make one again. As if somehow I'm that girl who pulls off a scratch cake.

I don't know, maybe for a little while, I was.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The particular madness of lemon cake

Heading to a reading by Aimee Bender tonight. Her book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake recently came out in paperback so she'll be at Newtonville Books to read, answer questions, and sign books.

Hopefully she won't mind if I hug her.

I don't write magic realism, but while I was reading her books, I had a breakthrough in my writing, so I feel particularly excited to meet her. The book is about a girl who can taste her mother's feelings in the food she cooks, but the story is really about the things we all keep hidden and Bender just happens to use a little magic to frame it. While I was reading it, along with one of her short story collections, I began to get a feel for how to layer emotional complexity into a story, so there was a little magic for me too.

Anyway, I'm having a few friends over after the reading and I got the idea to make a scratch lemon cake (I know, right). The cover of the book has a picture of a beautiful a layer cake with chocolate frosting, but I'm no where near equipped to handle such a beast, so I am making a simple bundt cake. Except of course it isn't so simple.

I had to zest and squeeze six lemons. And squeeze the juice from two more. The thing I continue to hide from myself is that I actually despise baking. The measuring, the precision, the mysteries of room temperature butter - make me insane. As much as I wanted to embrace the zen of zesting lemons, really, I didn't like it all. It was stressful. I needed 1/3 cup of lemon zest for this recipe, which turns out to be a ton of freaking zesting. Like, at one point I got a hand cramp. And my butter sugar mix was not creamy. It was lumpy and the lumps made me a little angry. The truth is, I am so much more of a buy the cake from a lovely bakery kind of gal.

The cake is in the oven, so as I write this, the success of this attempt is still uncertain. I am nervous about the cake sticking to the pan. And I still have to make a sugar glaze. And, yes I am hoping for a little magic.

But just enough so that I get the cake finished and not enough that my friends can tell how much I hated baking it. Though maybe this lesson, for both my writing (as in this particular post) and for my life, is about not going for the obvious.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is it over yet?

It is the end of the school year and we're in full scale celebration mode where we parents gather and heap loads of adoration on our offspring for participating in the events that we made them go to, for completing the projects that we badgered them into, for practicing and presenting the activities that we paid a gazillion dollars to send them through. You did it! Whoo hoo.

Seriously? I did it.

And I don't even have it half as bad as some of my friends do.

I've had a little guilt over the fact that we didn't put Girlie through piano this year. The facts are that we don't have a piano, that it was going to be a hassle to keep Little Guy from interrupting the practice, and adding another thing to the calendar while Hubs is traveling so much wasn't my cup o'joe. Not to mention that the monthly lessons cost more than a family gym membership or two really nice dinners out, wine and babysitting included. Of course, we said it was because we didn't want to overwhelm her. New school, the move, catching up to the Massachusetts system. All true, but really I just wasn't ready to do it.

So this year, Girlie only had one after school activity - gymnastics, and we are the only ones. Everyone seems to be hell bent on exposing these kids to art, music, dance, sports, language, you name it, flattening out ourselves to raise well-rounded children.

I'm almost forty. I want to write. I have precious little time to do this and yet I'll be schlepping up to the school countless times over the next few weeks for the play, the concert, the end of year party.

As for the piano thing next year, I am still on the fence. She can start an instrument at school in fourth grade. And I'm thinking about the time and money we'll invest. I'm weighing what it will cost me.

I'm thinking about how well rounded I am, and that honestly, my life is half over.

I'm a little cranky.

Maybe I need to throw myself a party.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hot outside and I'm freezing

We love the place we're in. Amazing neighbors, great schools, cute village with coffee and groceries within walking distance, close to the subway, tons of storage in the attic, a dry basement, swing in the backyard.

But one not so nice thing is that we don't have central air. So that means hauling out the window units around this time of year. Not a huge problem and we are able to keep the house cool with a few small units, though it means rethinking use of the oven late in the day. I cook differently in the summer. More grilling, salads, things on the stovetop. Again, not a huge issue.

However, one of the units is in the dining room. It sits right behind where I usually have my laptop and where lately, I've been getting my best writing done. Now my favorite writing spot is within a few feet of icy window unit air set on turbo blast. I could, of course, solve this issue by moving my laptop. Yet I am hesitant to do it, because as I mentioned my best writing has been happening in that spot.

So here I sit, hottest day of the year so far.

In a sweater.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Not naked, but still

When I was in my mid-twenties an older friend of mine told me that had she realized how great her body looked at 25, she would have walked around naked. It stuck with me for years.

Summer is here and here I am in full combat mode. Pedicure, shaving the nethers, body slimming bathing suit, and when all else fails, the perfect cover-up. Let's face it, knocking on the door of forty and two kids in tow, and yeah, not feeling so hot.

But then today I walked into a store wearing a vintage H & M dress, nothing fancy, but a little on the short side. An older lady stopped me and said something about wearing short dresses while I still can. She lifted her pants leg and gave me a glimpse. Road map of spider veins, she said.

I looked down at my own legs which are still pale and smooth and realized immediately what a jerk I've been about this whole thing. I can't rock 25 again.

But I can absolutely rock 38.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yes, please.

So every morning I wake up with pretty much the same personal goals in mind: to write a little, to get some exercise, and to speak more nicely to my husband and kids.

Of these, I usually only manage to squeeze out the writing. I do walk Girlie to school, so we'll say that counts for the exercise, but in all fairness, it's a leisurely walk and sometimes there is coffee involved.

So that leaves the nice talk. Not sure if you are in the know, but word on the street is that yelling is the new spanking. Yelling causes irreparable damage to little psyches, underminds the foundation of self-esteem, blah, blah, blah. As for the marriage, yelling is like tossing a glass of wine at a candle. Boom, then pfft. There are more productive ways to communicate, I get it.

Problem is, when you have young kids in the house there are so many things worthy of a good old fashioned scream. Like who can't remember to flush? And the socks, the dirty socks, on the dining table. Why? Whhhhy? And you can't very well say the following words nicely: "Please for the love of God give me the scissors and go put your pants back on." As for the Hubs, it just bleeds over to him too. And I'm Italian, so there's that.

Which is why, in many ways as personal goals go, the writing is turning out to be the easiest. I have some control over it. It does what I say. It does not backtalk. I do on rare occasions cry over it, but I never ever yell. In fact, for the most part I am excessively polite to my stories. I say please and thank you.

So what to do about the rest of it? Deep breath, count to five before responding. Model the behavior I wish to receive from my family. Think before acting. Wear tennis shoes and walk to school a little faster.

It isn't rocket science, except when it is.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Wherever you go, there you are

Heading to New Hampshire for the weekend.

Hubs is participating in the the Mooseman Triathlon on Saturday morning. He's ready for it, but the water is going to be pretty cold and he'll come out of a frigid lake to hit the bike section with the temp at just over 50 degrees. And he does this for fun? Anyway, later that day we're planning to find some actual fun for the kids and stay an extra night after the race.

New Hampshire feels familiar. Discount liquor and fireworks at the state line, lots of Super-Walmart action, and people riding motorcycles in flip flops without helmets. Like South Carolina, with different accents.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Yesterday Hubs called to say his mother called him to mention the tornado warnings near Boston. I poo-pooed the idea. We're from the south, so we know all about tornados. But up here?

Just this weekend I was joking with my neighbor about his weird basement trap door. It opens up from the ground like an underground bomb shelter. I had never seen it open before and told him that it was definitely where we'd hide if there was a tornado because he also keeps a tapped keg in the basement. He said that he felt pretty safe about his beer because there were rarely tornados.

Anyway, turns out my mother-in-law was right, there were tornados in Massachusetts, though not near us. What's up with this crazy weather? Makes me want to get all apocalyptic and stockpile the wine too.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Virgin writers advocate heavy petting

Check out this fun piece that I submitted with fellow writer Esme Foong over at, the fantastic writing blog hosted by my beloved grub street!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The purple couch situation

One of the craziest things about writing, and life in general, is what I call the purple couch situation.

You've got this couch, dark velvety purple. Maybe it's tufted or just a big oversized purple couch, but you love it. It's not easy to work with a purple couch, but you congratulate yourself on being willing to take a risk. You buy orange pillows to go with it.

Then one day, something shifts. You turn on a light or your flip the blinds a certain way and it hits you -the couch is actually brown.

You are not a purple couch person. You are a brown couch person. The orange pillows are fine, but still, now everything is different. Had you known you had a brown couch, you might have taken other risks. You might have, for example, picked up some hot pink pillows to go with it.

With the writing, it happens when I look back on a completed draft. For a little while, purple, but then later brown. Brown-brown. And then butt ugly brown. This has been really freaking me out.

But I wonder if the trick in a revision is to keep trying to write the purple back in? To try to get back to the delusional state, but in a new way, until the couch stays purple or the draft feels complete.

I have this thing about honesty, yet with writing a certain level of self-deception must be cultivated. If this were just about life, I'd say face the brown! Embrace it!

But this isn't about life. This is about fiction.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Whoowee. I have been a little in the dumps this week. I'd like to blame the weather, but it has actually been nice for the last few days. Maybe some sort of post trauma thing? The longest winter ever followed by the little spring that could?

Anyhow, looking forward to a three day weekend with the Hubs (poor guy is heading home from NYC with a terrific head cold, and I swear I'll try to feel sorry for him). I've got a few things on my mind.

1. Picking up some freelance work. I need to just outright ask a friend for a favor which I hate to do, but I really don't think I've gotten something for almost nothing since 1999 when we sold our Atlanta condo in less than two years for a tidy little profit. So that was like, more than ten years ago. Time for another spot of undeserved luck, no?

2. Summer vacation plans. Or how to do this on a shoestring. Looks like lots of camping, day trips to the Cape, and my margarita machine to give the ol' New England backyard that whole South of the Border vibe. Wheee!

3. Winter weight. Turns out all that sitting by the fire with a pint does a little damage to the nearly forty year old tush. Love it here in Boston, but I was so much prettier in Phoenix.

So that's about it for me. Started a new short story this week centered around a convenience store in the deep south where the Mama is pissed and the weapon of choice is a flyswatter. Not autobiographical at all. I swear.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Visualizing world peace

My lovelies have been fighting, so I've been reading about how to manage anger when disciplining children. It seems, unjustly in my opinion, that you really can not effectively get the point across while totally losing it yourself. One of the techniques is to picture your older child as a baby. In the heat of the moment, this is supposed to have some calming effect.

Of course, I remember when my beasties were babies. Right after Girlie was born one of my friends said "there is nothing better than just sitting, rocking a baby." But Girlie was one of those crying babies. Exhausted and sleep deprived I thought, yes there is - putting that sleeping baby in the crib and leaving the room. Pronto.

Maybe there is some age window I should be targeting. Not a newborn, but some kind of sleeping through the night baby.

Or someone else's baby.

Monday, May 23, 2011

So slow it might be stopping

Do you hear that puh puh puh sound? It's the last bit of gas in my tank. Losing momentum by the minute and frankly, looking for any excuse NOT to revise a short story that is due in one week.

This morning I woke up and did not get out of bed at 5 AM. I figured what the heck, the little earlywakingsoandso will be up soon enough. Why bother?

So you know what he did?

Slept til 7.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Knowing what you already know

Little Guy is on a terrible jag of waking up before 6 AM. Today it was 5:26. Of course, this shreds into either my writing time or my sleeping time.

Either way, it sucks.

So what I know is that he should probably drop the nap. But getting through the entire day with him and no break? Good lord, I'm not ready. So I am hanging on to the daytime sleep, only to get bitch-slapped by a 5 something wake up call.

It is the same with a revision I am working on. The story is at the point where I should just rewrite the whole thing clean. I know there is something I am not getting to. I keep trying to squeeze in a line, a scene, rearrange paragraphs, but it isn't happening.

What I know is that I need to start over. But again. Not ready.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


We're preparing for the inevitable and while I was home, my mother asked me to go through pictures of my father so that we could make some sort of slide show of his life. Now I have a pile of pics to scan and there are so many that I may have to take them to some sort of place that does that type of thing.

It's funny to me how the pictures never tell the whole story. You need the dialog, the background, to go with them because with the camera in place we'll almost always put a face on to mark the occasion.

Here's my father looking serious while receiving an Army commendation medal.

The medals are given out for heroic acts, but I don't know the details, not from him anyway. His experience in Vietnam is something we aren't allowed to talk about. My mother knows some of it. I'll hold on to these pictures, but the memories are his to keep.

Here's the picture I like best.

It is a snapshot of the doll house that my father built from hand while waiting for my mother and I to join him in Germany. The roof is covered with hundreds of perfectly cut popsicle stick shingles and he made all of the furniture, including a little yellow terry covered easy chair and a fringed lamp fashioned from a plastic medicine cup. I played with it for years, but it wasn't sturdy enough to ship, so we had to leave it behind when we came back to the United States.

I'm glad someone thought to take a picture of it. My Dad, where I can fill in all the details.

Monday, May 16, 2011

When it rains, it rains

Raining here all week.

Raining back in Georgia where I was visiting my folks for the weekend. My father has been on hospice care for quite some time, and yet it rains and then it doesn't, like rest of the world doesn't know he is lingering so long.

Plus, I got pink eye within hours of returning home. Kind of want to cry about the whole thing, but then, there's the pink eye and it actually hurts to cry.


Sunshine in the forecast this weekend and the pink eye will be gone and I'll just have to cry then. Or maybe I won't feel like it anymore.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Third and final musing on The Muse: Yes, at one point , I cried.

First writing conference, not even an overnighter away from home and I shed some tears.

I won't go into the details but something amazing happened that gave me an incredible burst of confidence in my ability to continue. Something with an authority of sorts who read and approved of something I wrote.

I'm not telling the full story, publicly anyway, because I made a promise to myself a while back that I would go forward at this point with no need for external validation. In the past I've been a bit of an attention getter. Recognition has been a large part of my motivation. So often, if I was not the best at something, I would not continue. And even if I was, but no one else would see it, forget it.

You see how this could pose a problem with the writing. So, I've been working on it.

I've told the story about my first college english essay where the instructor put my paper on the overhead as an example of how to write. I used to need things like that.

In one of my current workshops the instructor regularly attributes my insights to the other participants. It isn't intentional, but in the past, this would have made me crazy. I would have felt like I had to make sure he knew it was me, my idea. Because of all of this internal work, I can let go of that. It doesn't really matter how everyone else in the workshop sees me. Ultimately, I am really the only one who has to know.

So when this thing at the conference happened, I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't looking for it at all.

And yes, I cried.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Muse & the Martketplace Part 2: Hi, I love you

So I might have embarrassed myself a bit, once or twice, while meeting all the amazing writers at Muse & the Marketplace.

Years back Hubs and I took a trip to Florence Italy and visited the famous Uffizi museum. At one point I remember coming into a room where Bottecelli's The Birth of Venus hung on the far end of the wall. It was such a familiar image and there it was, stunning and iconic. But what really struck me was that if I had wanted to, I could have reached up and touched it. Don't get me wrong, I would never ever touch it. But I could have.

That's how the writers and instructors were at M & M. I could have touched any of them without sounding some alarm. Of course I didn't touch them. But on a few occasions, I did introduce myself. "Um, hi. Suchafanofyourwork and thatthingyousaidattheplotsession."

And not just the national writers, the local gods and goddesses too. Like Jane Roper, who is a mother of young twins and has a book out this month. Steve Almond, who I only made eye contact with, but it was significant eye contact nonetheless. Grub instructors James Scott and Cam Terwilliger who got stuck eating with us two days in a row. And the almost famous, like my friend Robert, who seems to be getting some well deserved traction, and Cathy with that flash fiction piece I keep thinking about.

Though I worked with an amazing memoir group in Phoenix, I've been writing fiction almost entirely alone for a few years now. When I joined Grubstreet in Boston last summer, I did it because I wanted to be part of a fiction writing community. It took some time, but I have met some amazing writers in these classes. So I got my inner circle, but I was completely surprised to find that I also have my outer circle. And I have to say, these people, the ones I admire and aspire to be, are my people.

Even if some of them don't know it yet.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Insights from Muse & the Marketplace: Part 1 of 9

Ha! Had you going there.

No, this isn't the first installment in a nine part series on my escapades at the writing conference, though lord knows it could be (and I might at least get to Part 2 where I stalk a few local writers). However, I will give you this little nibble from the keynote on Sunday.

The speaker was Ron Carlson. He has been writing and teaching for ages and stated fairly early in the address that he feels entitled to be a bit cranky about it. To his new students he says (while knocking his hand on a whiteboard) "Put something in your stories." He went on a ten minute riff about all the things he begged his student not to write about, including death. "The body count is high," he said. "And unnecessary."

He was funny. Really funny.

The best part, though, was that I understood what he was getting to. What joy to figure out that I've been writing enough to see what the novice pitfalls are, when drama and tension become confused with explosions and suicides. Not saying I can write past those black holes yet, but I see as soon as they pop up in my writing and certainly in the works of others during my classes.
In other words, knowing when you start to suck is really big progress. Huge.

Most of the conference felt that way, like I was really ready to take in the wisdom that the instructor-writers were doling out. And here's the other thing. I felt proud of myself for working so hard to get there, and "getting there" was only about being practiced enough to learn. Getting there is getting nowhere at this point, and still, I felt damn proud.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Remembering The Town

Tonight I had drinks with a dear friend who is going through some tough times. We dug into some celebrity gossip, the Royal wedding, movies, light stuff to keep her mind off things.

I was trying to tell her about a movie - The Town - and how it somewhat hung in there despite some very wooden acting by Ben Affleck. Thing is, I couldn't remember the damn name of the movie - The Town - even though I could tell her everything else about it, including the fact that it was set in Charlestown. Oy.

I'll chalk it up to the fact that I am deep in revision on a story that is very important to me and that whilst engaged in this very stimulating barside conversation, my subconscious was also pondering exactly how someone might go about stealing copper pipes from beneath a Baltimore rowhouse.

The Town. The Town. The Towwwwn.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


What I am about to tell you might have some deeper meaning, but it could also be just about the laundry.

Laundry, of all of the household drudgery is the bane of my existence. Largely because it never ends. The same could be said of the cycle of meals and dishes, the bed making (yes, I do), and the assorted cleaning tasks, but somehow none of them feel as hard to wrangle and as mind-crushingly endless as the damn laundry.

So, despite my pledge to dedicate the entire day to my writing while Little Guy is at preschool, I found myself at various breaks in the action - cycling laundry. Sort, wash, dry, fold. Despite the fact that I just did laundry - what? yesterday? - the pile of darks was large enough that I could sort just the jeans for one load.

But later, when I was folding the jeans load, it felt suprisingly good. Why? Because everything in the load was the same. One category. Jeans, different sizes, different washes, but the same.

Fold them lengthwise at the legs. Fold them in half. Done.

I actually thought to myself - if only I could only fold jeans for the rest of my life - I would be so happy. I can't even begin to scratch at what this means about me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This weekend I attended a two-day writing conference hosted by my beloved Grubstreet and now, even at day two, I am still coming down from it.

In my writing group a few months back, a friend brought in this beautiful bit about a girl trying to step onto a subway car with a bouquet of balloons. She struggles to pull all of the balloons in as the doors are closing and one balloon becomes stranded outside the train.

I've been feeling like that girl. I am holding something bright and precious, but I can't quite subdue it enough to take it along with me.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Got dignity?

Girlie's artwork was chosen to be on display in our city's school offices and this week they had a small reception for the show.

Turns out Girlie's work was actually on display in the Superintendent's office. It was an amazing self-portrait done in pastels.

Before we even got there, Little Guy was on a tear, so I really should have known what was coming.

At the reception, he had the manic energy, what I call the rips. He ran away from me, grabbed things he wasn't supposed to touch, wouldn't listen to anything. At one point he plopped down in the Superintendent's chair and started riffling through the guy's desk. Under any other circumstance, I would have whisked him outside to the car, but this was supposed to be something nice for Girlie, about Girlie, so I picked him up, bribed him with a cookie, and left Girlie to chat with her art teacher.

A few minutes later we returned and Mr. Superintendent himself is in the office. As I am introducing myself, Little Guy spots a basketball on his shelf, likely some signed Celtics memorabilia. He starts squirming to get to it while I'm holding on to him for dear life.

Then Little Guy sort of whacks me in the head pretty hard. Mr. Superintendent is still commenting on the artwork, but clearly he sees me getting throttled by the three year old. In his office.

We do leave then, by the time we get to the car it only gets worse, but I'll spare you the details, and frankly I'd like to block them from my memory.

So, rationally, I can see what happened here. Little Guy had been at preschool all day (where his teacher reported that he'd had a great day, seriously?). I picked him up, ran a few short errands, and came home. As soon as Girlie got home we headed for the car.

Little Guy needed to burn off some energy before we went inside again. He'd been at preschool all day exhibiting model behavior and he'd had enough. I get it.

That night I couldn't recover. After dinner, I yelled at Little Guy, Girlie, Hubs. The dog.

At one point, Hubs pulls me into the living room and in his voice for crazy people he asks if I can think of a way I might approach things differently. I eyeball the fireplace tools and consider whacking him with them. Suddenly I'm the three year old.

It was that kind of day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Let's play a little game of pretend, shall we?

One of my neighbors is a former psychology professor who studied postpartum depression.

I told her that I had gotten whacked pretty hard with it after both of my children. It's funny, I said, I've never really been a depressive person. She looked at me for a second and said if that was the case, it would be pretty rare. The research has shown that most people with postpartum have usually previously suffered bouts of depression or anxiety.

In other words, she busted me.

I'm a closet depressive. Highly functional. I bathe, I make beds, I get everyone off to school. I cook, I clean, I work. But yeah, I often see the world through the bottom of a half-empty glass. Maybe it isn't just me, maybe we're all closet depressives.

It is interesting though, the difference between who we see ourselves as, and who we really are. In my mind, I'm a pretty positive person. But in my actual mind, maybe not so much. I think what bothers me the most about it, isn't the pressure to be happy, but the idea that I might not be able to see just how good things really are. Ever.

Last year, around this time I bottomed out pretty hard. We'd sold our house in Phoenix for a loss, we were in temp apartment in Phoenix waiting to move to another temp apartment in Boston. It had become pretty apparent that buying a house wasn't an option. We'd found a place to rent here, but it wouldn't be available until July. Our stuff was in storage and my husband, though he was visiting weekends, had technically moved without us.

I couldn't even really blog about it without sounding like such a jerk. I could have been relaxing, enjoying my last few months in Phoenix. The glass was more than half-full. Hubs got a promotion when we moved. We survived our underwater mortgage. I was actually excited to move to Boston, but I didn't feel any of that. I just felt sad.

In hindsight it was silly. We were and still are in a pretty good situation. But, damn, back then it looked pretty bleak. It's scary to think that your brain can scramble the view until you can't see it the right way.

So yes, I was predisposed to postpartum depression and yes I am likely to have rounds of depression during stressful situations, like moving which we seem to be doing every two years. But I'd like to keep that under wraps, thank you very much. Remind me not to make any more friends with a doctorate in psychology.

Of course I am assuming that everyone else didn't already know this about me.

Which I've now just realized is probably not the case.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What do you DO?

What do you do?

It's such a loaded question. Usually, the asker wants to know your occupation, your job? Sometimes I get this from adults. Cocktail conversation at the neighborhood party or someone in a writing class.

What do you do?

Ahem, well.

I'm in between, I say. Used to own a store, now home with the kids. You know, until Little Guy is in kindergarten or some such.

Yesterday, however, I got the what do you do from a nine year old girl. Her Momma is a big wig at Gillette.

Well, I said, I'm a writer. Little girl's eyes big as saucers. Wow.

Just trying it out for size.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Midnight in the garden of gray and wrinkled

The other night I met a friend of mine for a drink. We were supposed to talk about writing, and we did, but mostly we ended up goofing off, drinking beer at a dive-y bar. Hubs was home and the conversation with my gal pal was just what I needed after a long week at home with two sick kids. After what seemed like an hour, I looked at my phone, and somehow it was after midnight.

I caught the last train home to the 'burbs and made it to bed at 1:30. I was right back up at 6 to make breakfast, and my tongue felt like a metal spoon coated with cat hair. I was fine, but really tired and, yeah, I'm too old to hang out after midnight on a school night. Long day with the three year old on less than five hours of sleep.

Really, I should just stay home and read. Except that every time I pick up a book lately, I get this pavlovian response from my sleep training (read a book in bed to relax), so I'm out like a light.

Too old to stay out. Too old to stay in and read.

What else is there?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rough drafts and prop planes

A few weeks ago a friend and I went to a reading. One of the authors read an amazing short story that will be coming out in the Harvard Review later this year. Before the reading started, we got a chance to talk to him.

I'd read a few pieces of his online. He's from Texas, so something about his writing resonates with me. I find this quite often with southern writers, even when the subject matter isn't about the south. He mentioned that he's working on a novel and my friend asked if we - as in we the less experienced writers - are supposed to ask about his book. He said no, that the absolute worst question you can ask a writer about a work in progress is - what is your book about?

At first this took me by surprise. As writers, so much of what we create is done in bleak and desperate isolation. We know that this guy is a researcher in a tiny little tent at the north pole or sometimes in the desert. I thought we'd be like the pilots of the once a month prop plane flying in with supplies. That given the chance, the lonely writer would talk our ears off.

But then I remembered the thing about the rough draft. In writing, the rough draft is more about what we want the story to be than what it actually is. Maybe talking about it ruins the magic. Maybe the writer doesn't know until the work is published or even for years after. Maybe a better question to ask would be - what do you want your book to be about?

It would be, in a sense, like changing the question from - who are you - to - who do you want to be?

Who are you? Well, that's quite a question. Who the hell knows? Who do you want to be? Ah, yes. Park that plane over there, and let me tell you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring fever

Today marks day four of a mysterious illness for Little Guy, one of those weird kid things consisting of a low grade fever and some high grade whining.

Unfortunate timing, this is, because Girlie is on spring break this week and we'd planned a few tourist-in-your-hometown activities around Boston. Our staycation has been, quite literally, staying at home.

Fingers crossed that we're at the end of it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Right now

It turns out that a large majority of the people in my writing classes either don't have children or have much older children than mine. Out of fifteen people in a class, there might be one other person with young kids.

Once, a younger woman without children commented about how lucky I was to have all of the time that I have to write. You know, because I'm not working. I can't blame her really, she couldn't possibly understand what it is like to be at home with a three year old. And the writers without kids have jobs, spouses, responsibilities. We all have things that get in the way. But the fact that so few of the others have small children always leaves me wondering if I am supposed to be doing this. Or better yet, if I am supposed to be doing this right now.

Every time I come home late from class or a meeting, I make a point to peek in on my sleeping children. I do it on purpose. It's a little trick, like putting on music that you know will make you feel a certain way. The Cure for feeling young again. A certain U2 song for being newly married and on that trip to Italy. Sleeping children for making you feel the magic of motherhood.

Stretched out in their single beds, my kids take up so much less space than I expect them to. So much less space than they take up in my life. They complicate everything and yet I love them desperately. Fiercely.

So do I have bad timing? Maybe, but I can't go back, and I can't imagine waiting ten more years. So this is where we are. Right now.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stupid silly snake

Today I am staring at a really rough draft of my snake story and I'm feeling very silly.

Silly to think I can pull this off. Silly to even pursue it. Silly to focus on something so intently, and to what end?

Silly stupid snake story.

There are a million other things I could do with my limited spare time.

I could exercise.
I could meditate.
I could update my resume.
I could fold a bajillion loads of laundry.
I could even take a nap.

But what I am a doing instead? I am trying to plug the holes in a short story about a woman and a snake. Who else in the world cares about this?

I might be heading for some sort of crack up. I'm going to go eat a cookie now.

Stupid snake.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Lately I've been thinking about the way our brain fills in the details in order to help us recognize things. Usually, this process works quite well. The eyes catch a glimpse of something, the brain registers the outline of it, fills in the middle part, and instantly tells you what the thing is.

Scientists believe that this function exists to help us process what we are seeing. Without it, just slightly changing the angle of the object would cause our brain to believe that we were looking at something completely new. So recognition, orientation of objects around us, and the filling in the blanks part all go hand in hand.

Occasionally, this gets short circuited. The brain fills in an object or a face and on second glance, the thing is not what we thought it was. Scientists have been studying which parts of the brain are responsible for this process. If you've experienced a misfire, and look again, the brain can reorganize, recognize the thing, and let you know. And the object is or isn't a circle. Or the person is or isn't your college roommate.

This process must exist in other functions of our brain. I wonder what happens when the brain is responsible emotional for recognition, what we commonly call the heart. When the heart "fills in" something intangible? How do we know we've had a misfire? How does our brain reorganize this type of misunderstanding?

Wouldn't it be nice if the heartbrain worked the same way? We could "look again" and within seconds understand that the thing is not what we thought it was.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

Have I ever told you about my secret thing for Eminem?


He's angry and sometimes I'm angry too. What? You know, about the suburbs and the price of organic milk. I'm angry. Anyway, Em and I are close to the same age, he's just a few weeks older than I am. We'll be turning 39 this year.

So I was thinking about his latest album, the themes of recovery, redemption, and reinvention. He seems to be reaching a new level of maturity. And people are buying it. You can still get away with finding yourself at 39. But 45? Who is Eminem at 45? And 50? And who am I?

The thing about approaching 40 is that you aren't there yet. And turning 40? Sort of a milestone, not so horrible. But after, you're older than 40 and that, for me, is the scary part. Still, I'd like to think ol' Marshall Mathers and I have a few more comeback moments left in us. I'd like to think that he can go on making angry albums and that people will buy them. I'd like to think he'll still make sense at 50.

And that somehow, I will too.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Had a piece workshopped last night in my fiction class which means that, on top of working on a new story for the next round, I have some revising that needs to be tackled while the feedback is fresh.

This week's to-do list looks like this:

1. Finish first draft of the one about the lost snake.

2. Begin revising the workshopped story with pacing and backstory on the hooker wife as top priorities.

3. Try not to ruin the workshopped story while rewriting it.

4. Spend any spare time googling the literary references from the workshop, with special attention to the ones I nodded agreement with.

5. Try not to ruin the workshopped story while rewriting it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stage Mother

So not to be a stage Mother or anything, but my daughter is writing a book.

For the last few weeks I've been giving myself permission to be really serious about writing without feeling silly about it. I have rearranged my schedule and my thinking to really give the work a priority space in my life.

A huge step in this is how I handle the family priorities. I no longer run errands while Little Guy is in preschool, those are my work days. I make the kids wait until 7 AM for breakfast instead of abandoning my laptop as soon as they're up (I know, flagrant neglect, please don't report me). If I am working on something during the day, I tell them they'll have to wait a few minutes to have my attention because I need to finish my writing. I actively ignore the laundry (okay, maybe I did that before, but now I do it with purpose).

And though it will take some time to really kick this thing to the next level, I feel like I am on the right track. Writing is no longer, in my mind at least, a hobby.

So the kids are soaking it in, maybe more than I realized. A few days ago, Girlie spent her entire computer screen time writing a story. She says wants to be a writer. She even wrote an essay about it at school. She wrote, get this, that I am her inspiration.

I was thinking that over the weekend, I'd take her to a coffee shop where we could hang out and be writers together. I already gave her some feedback on the her story - focus on the conflict, get to it sooner, the story behind the story, etc. Chances are that she'll want to be a million other things before she lands on it, but right now I am going to enjoy this thing, hers and mine. She's nine, so next week she could want to be a chef or a lawyer or one of Katy Perry's backup singers.

But as for the writing thing, maybe she's got a shot at it. Her book seems to be coming along much faster than mine.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boston Summer forecast: More ice

This has not been a stellar week. I'm tired of being cold and can't stop thinking about summer. The trees are just now starting to bud and it feels like summer will never get here.

Each summer gets a theme. Two years ago, in Phoenix - The Inferno. Last year, moving to Boston - Little Boxes. There are tunes that go with the themes and shoes.

This year's theme doesn't have a name, but it's looking something like this:

I've been wanting this thing for years and I finally ordered it from Williams Sonoma. It was a little pricey, but lordy I needed it.

Now for the songs. And the shoes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Here we go...

In one week I will be taking a big step in my fiction journey. I am getting together with a writer pal with the goal of submitting a few flash fiction pieces.

Flash is 1000 words or less, punchy, fun to write, and somewhat manageable for a newish writer. According to some, flash as a category will continue to rise as it fits the whole 140 character way we seem to be consuming information. Flash is sort of a literature lite, non-fat, but with flax. Or an amuse bouche, if you watch Top Chef, a tasty bite. Anyway, among writers, flash is getting some notice. I think I've heard at least one person say this or maybe I said it.

I am nervous about getting started, but like every other first time, I realize that it isn't going to be a big deal once we've done it. My friend and I are doing it together because we plan to keep each other accountable for continuing and because it might be helpful at this stage to have a second pair of eyes when matching the work with the potential journal. And let's face it, who really wants to do it alone?

I've got three decent candidates - a shape shifter called Desert,and two darkish pieces called Six Black Hens, and Fire, Man. I have stumbled into a bit of a fire and chicken theme (sometimes together, sometimes not) and I don't think I am done with it yet.

To get myself warmed up, I submitted a non-fiction story a few weeks back. I've pitched non-fiction before and been published, so I thought it might help to get back in the rhythm. I sent an essay to Literary Mama. It was something I'd written ages about about my mother's secretarial career and I've never found a home for it. Several days ago, I got the rejection. The message started with the phrase "We found much to enjoy in your writing..."

A good rejection.

So my goal with this isn't necessarily to just get published, but to at least be thoughtfully rejected, the kind of rejection where the work was close enough to get beyond a form letter response.

Of course, getting published would be fine too.