Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Oh, it's not the end of the blog. But it's taken me this long to realize the very best thing about writing a memoir is that everything that happens afterwards, you can render in dramatic epilogue-speak. (As much as I'd like to, I can't, in good conscience, render this in the over-the-top Cheaters-style version of the epilogue, wherein they attempt a return to classiness, e.g., Sonya reports that although she was upset by Darryl's decision to start dating his step-sister, she's since moved on and is busy with a new career in the adult entertainment industry.)

So, if you're new to the blog and just finished the book, this one's for you:

--Brandon left his commute-intensive job in sumer of 2006. He nows works five minutes from home and reports that the quality of life is greatly improved, as are the family's dinners now that he can cook and save them all from the increasingly half-hearted attempts at nourishment once forged by his wife.

--Don't even ask about the co-sleeping thing.

--Those ten pounds? I picked back up on the very delicious book tour.

--I've been plagued with a nightmare that Dr. Phil's producers call me. They want me on the show to "set the record straight" or "see if this dog hunts" or "talk about flyswatters and flapjacks" or whatever. "No," I say indignantly. "Dr. Phil is a bully and I won't be part of it."

--I continued my work with the Virginia Organizing Project. The VOP's Joe Szakos and Kristin Layng Szakos came out with a book called We Make Change, which is an excellent read for those of us wanting to understand what a community organizer actually does, or for those of us who are both sociable and into social/economic justice and are looking for a new career.

--Life goes on in its complicated and messy way, but I can report that, for today at least, I am fine!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Let Me Entertain You

Or not me, exactly. Mama needs a new computer, and I got some work to do. But in the meanwhile:

--Ms. Tracy Mayor has started blogging. Do you know Tracy Mayor? She's on staff at Brain, Child and has brought you hilarious things like this, and smart and well-researched things like the feature we ran on birth control for mothers. Good golly, I love her work. And really, I love just gabbing with her on the phone. Go ahead and start reading--you can say you've been there since the git-go.

--I was at the bookstore last night, trying to prove something to myself: that you can find books that you've never heard of and that they will be good. Well. I wound up with Jincy Willett's Jenny & the Jaws of Life. (I know, other, more with-it, people have actually heard of her.) Two hours later, I'm on the couch and I think the right for it is "swooning." I'm trying to read slowly. Savor it, as the positive psychology experts would say. Just read the home page of her website. I told you so.

--For my birthday, Brandon and Caleb got me the latest TMBG. To be honest, when Brandon and I went to the concert in May, I was a little annoyed that the band played so much off its new CD. I need time to learn the lyrics, so as to better shout them at the top of my lungs. But I'm loving the new album. This clip has the extra bonus of watching a man take the world's longest swallow of water.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Can I Get a What What?

So, I'm reading a little New Yorker yesterday afternoon, this great long piece about bonobos, a type of ape that used to be mistaken for chimpanzees and who are sort of mythologized as a groovy bunch of peace-loving, matriarchal, bisexual, anti-chimp creatures. Then the writer slips this in:

"Female spotted hyenas dominate male hyenas, but they have the muscle to go with the life style (and, for good measure, penises)."

I got all distracted. I'd meant to write a lovely feminist, armchair-evolutionary-biologist post on the mythologizing of women and how, I believe, women can be assholes just as men can, but with for good measure, penises comes up and...Jesus.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's My Birthday, Too

When I turned fifteen, my friends threw a surprise birthday party for me. Fifteen is a strange age--it was for me, at least. (Although, really, I've been known to claim that nearly any age is awkward. How does a 23-year-old dress professional but not frumpy? Is 34 too old to still have yourself a good giggle at names like Richard Stiff?). I was the kind of fifteen-year-old who still had parties with streamers and cake at my mom's house, and no thoughts of trying to score alcohol or the drugs. I had a mad crush on a guy two years older named Johnny.

Johnny had taken my best friend and me to the movies to see RoboCop that summer, sort of by accident, the thing kids do in suburban Virginia. He was driving around our subdivision; we were walking around. We knew him from marching band. He had a long-term girlfriend and was well-liked by everyone. He played the bass drum. After the romance of RoboCop, well, my heart leapt just to see his car.

I got home on this fifteenth birthday, and all the guests shouted their surprises. Johnny was there, with his smile and his strawberry blond mullet. (Oh come ON, everyone had a mullet then.) He'd graduated long ago, I'm pretty sure, from parties like mine to things having sex and drinking, but he was there IN MY HOUSE, and he'd brought a present: a fishbowl with a fish for me. (It will say nothing good about my maturity when I tell you that when the fish died, I kept it in the bowl for longer than is considered "not creepy" because it had come from Johnny.)

I still have pictures from that party, including one that he and my friend Jeff had taken of themselves. Johnny's mouth is open and he's laughing. I spent the rest of the summer looking at that picture, wanting to grow up already.

That was the first birthday where I'd had an age-related epiphany. I realized, with Johnny's sudden appearance in my mom's kitchen, that he was not, alas, a realistic romantic prospect for me. He was older and popular and looked very strange among the same sort of streamers that we'd put up just a few months ago when my little sister Jill turned four. It was only later that I realized how kind Johnny was to come, to put himself in the awkward situation of being The Crush Who Totally Made The Girl's Birthday, the person she has in mind when she blows the candles out.

It's been twenty years. I'm blowing out candles tonight, and to be honest, I'm a little amazed that I can still conjure up the girl I was then. My small epiphany this year is that I have grown up, that at thirty-five, I'm more or less the person that I will ever be, that unless I'm willing to break people's hearts, this is the trajectory of my life. I'm not a heartbreaker, and more than that, I'm not especially interested in changing the trajectory. I like being a grownup and what's going down around here.

At the same time, though, I've been a little sad to acknowledge the dimming of that feeling that anything was possible, the sky wide open with the potential of anything, from my becoming a doctor, the president, a lawyer, right on down to being able to parlay a platonic viewing of RoboCop into a splashy love affair.

This morning, though, my grandparents called me to sing Happy Birthday, which is the absolute highlight of every birthday. "Thirty five," my grandma said. "I wish I were thirty-five."

"Thirty-five is the best time in your life," my grandpap said. "After that, things could get better...or not. But thirty-five, you have everything you need."

I'd planned on wishing for something that rhymes with schmestseller. But now, I'm thinking that maybe it's time to switch gears, to stop yearning for The Next Big Thing. Basically, to celebrate.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rising Third Graders Tackle Philosophy

I swear to God, I did not set this up. I was reading a room away from Caleb and his best friend yesterday when I overheard this. (It was following a discussion about a classmate whom Caleb's best friend claimed was 96% perfect.)

Best Friend: If practice makes perfect, and nobody's perfect, then why practice?
Caleb [in cranky old man voice]: What?
Best Friend: I said, if practice makes perfect, and nobody's perfect, then why practice?
Caleb: Practice also makes better.
[Silence for a moment.]
Best Friend: Let's ask the Magic Eight Ball if [name redacted] picks his nose.
Caleb: Okay!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Better Now

As it turns out, reading did the trick. I'm not quite done with it yet, but if you like yourself a literary mystery, may I recommend Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand? The jacket flap: "Patricia Highsmith meets Patti Smith when a down-and-out photographer and relic of the '70s NYC punk scene travels to an island off Maine in search of a reclusive and iconic artist." It's gritty and it is good.

Speaking of gritty--or kind of raspy and adenoidal, as the case may be--yours truly has been on the radio for Practically Perfect. Both Debbie Mandel and Deborah Harper have these fascinating shows. Have a listen, if you're so inclined, here, and here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Note to Self

This morning, I was on the back porch when I heard a woman calling, kind of frantically, "Jenny! Jenny!" Hardly anyone calls me Jenny anymore (just my family and old friends), but my heart sped up and my face got hot and I leaned over the porch.

"YES?!" I yelled out. I am here! Please identify yourself and your emergency! And also why you're being so familiar with me!

Turns out, our neighbor was calling for her German Shepard, named Jenny. It's been a full day like that, what I call the twisted-glove feeling in the book. I'm twitchy, ready to ignite with adrenaline at a moment's notice. No good reason.

I've tried to do a little meditation. I've tried to live in the moment, enjoying my lunch with Brandon and Caleb. I'm going to dig into one of my books that I bought on the trip down South. Mostly, though, I'm trying to just be okay with it. Inexplicably crappy days happen. They also end. Preferably, in this case, with a nice, cold drink.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Carolina on My Mind

I went to Charlotte because my sister Krissy, whom you might know from Chapter 3, lives there. I love Krissy for many reasons, but one is that I know that I will have a good time around her just because she's Krissy. Here is a picture of her looking sassy:

We stayed at Krissy's and her husband John's house; Caleb and I were in the room that had the Wii (which was exciting for Caleb) and the bed with the pink pillow on it (which Caleb requested be removed, and sooner rather than later).

I think, maybe, that Charlotte must be some kind of mecca for excellent people. I read at Joseph-Beth Booksellers and Jamie, the event coordinator? Excellent. The discussion at the bookstore? Excellent. Krissy's posse of ladies? Excellent.

And Jody Mace? Who's a frequent contributor to Brain, Child and who I always thought ran a damn fun house? Excellent. I got to meet Jody and her family. I've been reading about her kids since they were little, and it was strange (in a good way) to meet them in person. The whole family's charming--and Kyla has this thick, gorgeous hair I'd kill for.

Thanks to everyone who made this book tour all that I'd hoped it would be. As a wise duo of men once said, you make-a my dreams come true.

And Krissy? For now, we'll go on living ... separate lives.

Monday, July 16, 2007


To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about going to Atlanta. I once dated a guy from Georgia who done me wrong. Part of me was wigged out at the prospect of suffering Georgia-accent-induced flashbacks. Can I take your drink order? No! No, you may not infiltrate my circle of friends and then break up with me! Your room number is 627. Thanks! Thanks for stealing my car and then driving it to the beach! That'll be $10.27. Oh? Is that what they call it now--$10.27? I thought it was called encouraging your friend to abandon his crappy car at my house for almost a year!


Atlanta was much fun, for my mother and me, anyway. Charis Books is in Little Five Points, a super-funky part of town. Mom, Caleb, and I took a cab to the bookstore and we arrived with a little time to spare for dinner. I saw a pizza place across the street, and we headed over.

Did I mention that, by this point, Caleb had almost nothing to entertain him for, like, 36 hours? That at one point he had resorted to playing with his own flip-flop? So, it was maybe not the best place to steer a little old man who was getting increasingly cranky. The cashier, while pleasant, had more metal on his face than skin. Only one table was wiped clean. The music was loud, and by the time our pizza got to the table, someone had popped on a death metal CD.

I looked at Mom and Caleb. Mom was gamely nodding her head to the music. Caleb was vibrating with rage. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT'S UNDER THE TABLE?" he asked me. "CHEWED. GUM. ALL UNDER THE TABLE. IT'S DISGUSTING."

Mom popped out some hand sanitizer and soon we had the joint smelling like Bath & Body Works. Caleb grabbed my arm. "PROMISE ME," he hissed, "THAT WE NEVER HAVE TO COME BACK HERE AGAIN."

Luckily, the evening shaped up very quickly. The women at Charis--Kerrie, Stephanie, Amanda, and Angela--sure know how to throw an event. I met so many great people--including the excellent writer Katherine Hester--and the discussion was lively and just fun. Many, many thanks to everyone who came. I could have stayed much, much longer.

Jessica Handler drove us back to the hotel. Jessica has written several things for Brain, Child, but we'd never met in person. I had absolutely no idea how much fun she is! Even Caleb brightened up.We had drinks; Mom and Caleb had carrot cake; and I decided that I'd like to pack Jessica up and install her in Charlottesville.
Confidential to Aunt Kathy: Happy Birthday, lady!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Southern Culture

Please come out and see me if you'll be around Atlanta on July 12, or Charlotte on July 14!

The reading/discussion/signing in Atlanta is at Charis Books & More, the largest feminist bookstore in the South, at 1189 Euclid Avenue, NE. I hear--from the great Ruth Candler, former Atlanta resident--great things about Charis and also the neighborhood it's in, Little 5 Points.

In Charlotte, I'll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on July 14 at 2 p.m. My sister Krissy lives in Charlotte--she tells me Joseph-Beth is quite snazzy. It's at 4345 Barclay Downs Drive.

My very first meme! The fabulous Barbara Card Atkinson (go ahead--read her blog. I'll wait.) tagged me for this. Here are the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.

2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Surprisingly, there is still enough fodder for me, Ms. Spill-Yer-Guts, to do this!

1. I once made up a hobby. In elementary school, my teacher decided to display all the hobbies of her students. My actual hobbies were reading and writing (not much visual pizazz, I thought), so I decided I'd become "interested" in copying comics out of the paper. I did a passable Ziggy.

2. The only sort of dance I can do can be best described as a "walking hug."

3. I didn't realize that I was mildly claustrophobic until we took an overnight train to Florida. Once they opened the beds in the sleeping compartment, it was too tight and I spent the night awake-ish in the bar car, playing solitaire.

4. I say things like "The grass needs cut," and, until recently, had no idea that these sorts of phrases are Pittsburghisms.

5. Stephanie and I named the LLC that publishes Brain, Child "March Press" because our first issue came out in March, and also because we're both one of four sisters (like the Marches in Little Women.) Sadly, neither one of us is in the coveted Jo slot.

6. There is such a thing as too spicy.

7. My child didn't know what an iron was until he saw a picture at school.

8. I love Bob Saget, especially in the later years of America's Funniest Home Videos, when he's clearly bitter.

I'm tagging Lauren, Beth, The Mater, Suzanne Kamata, Libby, Kelli, Lilian, and MemeGrl.
All right. Off to launder The Flattering Dress!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Strike One

I'd had a plan for the blog: to interview people who appear in the book about happiness, self-help, character, luck, all the stuff that make up PPIEW. That might be interesting for people who read and liked the book, I thought. Or for me, at least.

Yesterday afternoon was one of those muggy, mosquito-y, stay-side kind of afternoons, and I thought I'd get the ball rolling. When you start leaving posts from the perspective of your dog, it's time, no?

So I sat down with the principal player in Chapter Four, and guess what? I conducted the whole interview, but no dice on posting it. He says he doesn't want to be "too famous." Oh, those poor Jolie-Pitt sons-a-bitches, you could almost hear him thinking.

Hopefully, everyone else will succumb to my evil fame-making master plan. Because I am that powerful.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

It's Up!

The lovely lunch with Katy Read that became this interview on Salon!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Turn-ons: Peanut butter, belly rubs, varmints

Turn-offs: Carrots, thunder, fireworks

Dominant Independence Day memory: "It's okay, baby. Shh. It's okay. Oooh. Did you see that one, Caleb? Really Simon--it's okay. Ooh! A shower--shhh. Simon. Shh. No, you're staying in here. Ooh! Yeah, I liked that one, too. SIMON! Hush! Aah...that's--Good GOD, Simon! It's OKAY! HUSH! It's OKAY! Simon! ... Oh, for Christ's sake, let's just go outside."

My Very Chicago Evening

Our first night in Chicago, Brandon and I were at the hotel bar, enjoying some beer and a spread of bar food when one of the SNL Da Bears guys suddenly made himself heard. Oh, I tease. It wasn't one of those guys, but the prototype. "That Oprah," he kept saying. "She's an institution."

As it turns out, out hotel was right next to the theater running Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple. At that moment, the theater was letting out, and the sidewalks were suddenly filled with well-dressed black women. I thought of the episodes of Oprah when she pops up at viewers' homes and places of work to surprise them. I dipped a Buffalo drummie into the blue cheese. I don't like to get my hopes up, but I decided that would like to play it gracious, should Oprah suddenly appear on the bar stool next to me. I decided that I wanted to be the one viewer who didn't freak out.

I didn't have much time to ponder this, though. The crowd of theater-goers cleared out, and suddenly, from the window, I could see a large white bus. In large block letters: JESUS SAVES TOUR BUS. It struck me a mite apocalyptic.

And, lo, at the end of the world, The Lord will gather his followers in a tour bus and take them to see a theatrical production.

Monday, July 2, 2007


I'm a sucker for many things: foods with the word truffle in them, ghost stories, anything featuring the comedic stylings of Kathy Griffin. But I've been fascinated for a very long time with What If Things Had Turned Out Differently. You can bet your bippy I've seen Sliding Doors more than once. I loved some Choose Your Own Adventure books as a lass. In a way, I based my book on this idea.

One time, when Caleb was three or so, we went out for bagels. I must have been staring off into the distance. "Mama," he said, touching my hand, "are you thinking about dinosaurs?" I was not thinking about dinosaurs, but probably some alternate reality. If things had turned out differently--different choice of mate, different choice of region, different choice of lifestyle--could I still be happy? Could this other Jennifer be happy living on a farm? Could she be happy as a single advertising executive? Could she be happy hugging some other mate hello each evening?

No good answer, right? Sometimes I'd wonder, though, what it would be like if I weren't a mother. Motherhood's dripped into every facet of my life, but I look at some of my friends without kids and their lives are perfectly fulfilling. I wonder sometimes if that could have been me, if things had turned out differently.

I knew that I'd be travelling away from Caleb for a long time--two and a half weeks--a long time for us, anyway. The morning on the day we left, he leaned in to hug me. He hugged me for a long time. He's almost nine now, and he has that almost-nine-year-old heft, his father's broad shoulders, a certain kind of sturdiness. I had to lean back into him to keep us from tipping right over.

About a week into the trip, I got my answer: I cannot be away from the boy that long. On the Metro in D.C., I tried really hard not to stare at a little kid, maybe eight, in his baseball hat, joking with what looked like his grandma. By the time I got to Philadelphia, I'd been away for over two weeks, and I was jonesing bad. Can I just say halleujah for Lauren, John, and their boys? I hadn't seen Jack and Will since they were tiny, and hanging out with them is just what I needed. We played Speed; we played Crazy Eights, then Crazy Tens (Will's idea), but ran out of time before Crazy Queens. (Isn't that a float at Mardi Gras?)

Because of bad weather, Caleb's homecoming was delayed, and delayed again. I got phone calls throughout the day from him. "Hi," he'd sigh. "We're in the airport." WELL DAMN IT! I wanted to roar.

Finally, he got home and I realized that there is no alternate reality. Maybe I could have skipped motherhood, but I already know my Caleb, and there aren't any do-overs. "How'd I get so lucky to be your mama?" I asked him.

"I don't know," he said. "You just did."