Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy, Merry

For my grandpap’s November birthday, I got him a pen, as seen on TV, in which you can record messages. From the commercial, I thought the gift was a little bittersweet, a good present for someone who’s experiencing “senior moments” or has had trouble with absent-mindedness. The gift giver is led to believe that, if you care, you can prevent a loved one from forgetting why he went to the grocery store. You can make it so your friend or family member doesn’t wander around a parking lot for hours, looking for the car. You can give the joy of memory, prevent the embarrassment of forgetfulness, become a human ribbon tied around a finger.

In reality, Grandpap and Gram took it to the bowling alley and used it to punk members of their bowling league.

Here’s to good surprises and joy and peace of mind for everybody this season. See you in 2009!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pick Up Your Pencils, Boys and Girls

This morning, I went to Caleb’s school for a Writers’ Hot-Chocolate House (a coffee house for the under-eleven set.) A group of the kids had gone to the museum to participate in a writing contest where they penned a poem or story inspired by one of the pieces of art. The teacher ran the readings beatnik-style: The lighting was low, the writers sat on a stool, and we snapped our appeciation.

With a few exceptions, the boys in the class seemed to focus on plot (a robot’s head was punched off, a sumo wrestler ate some art, a stone that could blow up the world was revealed). The girls? All up in character and motivation. (But WHY were you murdered?)

Which is pretty much the gender stereotype of adult writers, too. Even setting aside the obvious spy thriller/ chick lit divide, there’s this idea out there that women writers create memorable characters and men writers create ground-breaking changes to the form. Me, I’ve mostly been of the opinion that book publishing is a weird enough creature that gender is a minor factor in whether a book is successful or not.

And yet. I’ve been thinking about character a lot. I’m better at it than plot (I say, as I’m plotting this thing I’m writing within an inch of its life). Maybe it’s the hot chocolate talking, but after this morning, I’m just a teensy bit more open to the idea that if women are better at character (a big generalization, granted) and character is less valued than form (another big generalization), then women writers might have a harder row to hoe than men writers.

Last night I was reading Bitch magazine, and there was a discussion of an article they ran on ambition. “[I]t’s harder for women to have a strong, colorful persona without appearing like a hobo,” one commenter wrote. “The range of acceptable personalities is still wider for men.” Not everyone agreed, but still.

There is a class of literature, no matter how widely acclaimed, I won’t read. It’s the tale of the older guy who, fearing his mortality, has an affair with a younger woman. I know this story. It’s called About Half the Dads of People I Know, and there are no surprises in it. But other than that, I’m pretty much open to characters of all sorts. No matter who’s writing a book, I do like a strong character. It can compensate, in my mind, for a weaker plot in a way that a strong plot can’t compensate for a squishy character.

Am I being such a girl for thinking this way? Or is my own bias—that I’m better at character than I am plot, that I’m a lady writer and reader, that I don’t think I have many biases against strong female personalities—showing through?

I don’t know the answer. But this whole strong personality thing might explain some of the reviews of Practically Perfect. There are definitely positive ones (for which I’m very grateful), but I’m always taken off guard by the negative ones that aren’t criticisms of the book but of me. One called me an “irritating personality.” Another claimed that if she knew me in real life, she wouldn’t want to spend much time with me. (Aw, please?) And the local daily may or may not have equated me with Paris Hilton (the book review writing was unclear).

Or maybe it doesn’t explain anything at all. I haven’t set up a Google alert for, say, A.J. Jacobs so I don’t know if his personality gets enmeshed in his reviews.

Thoughts, questions, concerns? What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Music for Your Ears

God, I love this woman's stuff:



You can get the version with the f-bombs. Work your YouTube. It's the one with the rainsdrops.



That's right. It's a cover of Nelly's "Hot in Herre."

Her name is Jenny Owen Youngs, her CD is "Batten the Hatches," and the appropriate person has already been strongly advised to get it for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I Could Give a Shit How Much Oprah Weighs

If you’ve read Practically Perfect, you know that I like Oprah, despite some of our deeper philosophical differences.

But I really hate that her weight is in the news again. (And she put it there.) She could have framed the issue like so: I’ve been sick with thyroid problems, and here’s how I started to feel healthier. But, noooo. It’s all about 40 pounds more, 200 hundred total, two years, embarrassment, can’t stand seeing myself in pictures. If there’s anything I’m not interested in, it’s math-shame milkshake.

I know. Even Oprah admits that she’s a food addict, and I believe I’ve watched enough Celebrity Rehab to know that sometimes it’s not her but her addiction talking. But I do feel compelled to put out some karmic balance here:

Weight is not a moral issue.

Barbara said it really well here.

Dodai on Jezebel said it well here.

Rubens said it well here.

Weight is influenced by many things, including genes, metabolism, diet, exercise, how one deals with stress, shifting priorities in one’s life, age, and the ratio of satin monstrosities to regular clothes Lane Bryant is peddling. With apologies to Dr. King, it’s the content of your character, and not the junk in your trunk that I’m judging. Well, that, and if you're willing to play Scrabble with me on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The New Kid

I was the first grandchild on both sides of my family, and for years, I had a whole slew of childless aunts and uncles. This can cut both ways—you can either be the annoying kid who won’t shut up, or you could be showered with attention from people who have not yet experienced the 24/7 of, say, playing with dolls or listening to your litany of facts gleaned from the World Book Encyclopedia.

My Aunt Kathy was (and is) an awesome aunt. Tall and blonde and leggy, she’d turn heads when we walked down to the store a few blocks away. She lived in Florida, which seemed incredibly glamorous to me. She was the perfect mix of fun and silly and cool. I’m saying as if all this stopped at one point. It didn’t, but it felt like it did.

She had a baby.

By then, I had two sisters. On some level, I must have known what was to come. In those days, in my family at least, mothers alone bore much of the responsibility of the raising of the kids. I must have sensed that Kelli’s arrival didn’t mean anything good for me. While it’s true that love is endless, time is not. However cute my first cousin was, with the little ringlets and all, she was cutting into some good Aunt Kathy time. I was six or seven when Aunt Kathy and I were sitting on the porch swing sometime post-baby, and I suggested that my mom watch Kelli so that she could “take a break from the kid.” (And presumably hang out with the mature lower-elementary school crowd: me.) “Why would I want to take a break from her?” my aunt said, smiling, love-drunk with her baby. “I love her!” God knows what World Book fact I said in response.

I’d almost forgotten this whole episode, but this past weekend, Krissy came to visit with her three-month-old son. And I have to say, Caleb was acting a little, um, off.

“Why is Nick crying?” Caleb asked. “Is he hungry again?” And in anticipation of our driving together to Richmond, an hour away, he said more than once: “I really HOPE Nick doesn’t CRY in the car the WHOLE WAY THERE.” Caleb brought ear plugs.

I mean, Caleb was nice to Nick for the most part, but however I diced it, I could still see that this was a loss for him. Last time Krissy was here, she cuddled with him on their side of a booth at a restaurant and taught him how to extract the meat from crab legs. This time, she was functioning one-handed and went to bed early.

There really isn’t anything to say to Caleb at this point. He has his feelings and I have to respect that. But it gets better, I want him to know: These days, I love Kelli, too. We spent the Friday after Thanksgiving this year at her house where she hosted the whole extended family, and I got to know her sons. She’s a terrific woman. These aunt-stealers, they turn into allies, into extra repositories for your memories, into pals.

*

Confidential to H., C., and J.: Get well soon! Sending mad love!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Under Pressure

Yesterday afternoon, I picked Caleb up from chorus practice and the school book fair and took him to run an errand with me. We went to a local kids’ clothing store to get a Christmas present for Nicholas, my nephew who will be here with his mama today.

Caleb stuck with me, his nose in a book. I’ve been to this store a million times before, and I generally like the women who work there. This time, the woman who owns it was working, and she did something to cause me to generally dislike her.

Not once, not twice, but three times, she asked Caleb if he’d seen certain merchandise. He was clearly reading and not interested in shopping, so he didn’t start begging for it, but still: Girlfriend was trying to upsell to my child.

We are unapologetic TV watchers, so from the time he could talk, we’ve taught him that THE COMMERCIALS don’t make decisions about what you buy, YOU do. We talk about the quality of products, if they’re worth the cash, yadda yadda.

Yesterday, I didn’t quite know what to say. I probably should have pointed out that I’m the one with the credit card, not the ten-year-old boy, or something. I at least should have said something to Caleb so he could recognize what she was trying to do. I guess it just took me too long to put a name to what was happening, and by then we were in the car on the way home.

What would you have done? Me, I’m just going to not go back. That, and post this on my blog.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mature

Every time I think about sitting down and writing about Thanksgiving, I get a little overwhelmed. It was really great, and I worry that I’ll leave some detail out. So let’s just say that it was super groovy—I got to hang with both the Niesslein ladies and our extended family—and dinner was delish. And now, as is my way: on to more unpleasant things.

The first night we were there, Brandon ran up to Giant and bought some beer. The fridge was full of Thanksgiving things so we put the beer on the front porch to keep cold. We all were in and out of the house, having cigarettes, grabbing another beer, taking Mom’s dog out. We were singing some karaoke and having a good old time.

Until someone stole the beer right off the porch.

I try to be generous of spirit. I try to be forgiving. I try to turn the other cheek, take the high road, wonder what Jesus would do. A lot of time I succeed, but there is a deep vein in me that is decidedly un-Jesuslike. This streak is more like the ancient gods, getting their undies in a bundle over petty things, smiting indiscriminately, flinging lightning.

I threw on my coat and shoes and ran out into the street to look for the perpetrators. My head was thrumming with adrenaline. I stomped around in the darkness, peering down the bike paths for a figure that had a Stella Artois-shaped box on his person. My hands were shaking. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I caught the thief, but he would be sorry. (Because there’s nothing more intimidating than a chubby thirtysomething in a puffy jacket.)

Brandon had followed me out, not to assist in my quest but to make sure I was safe. When I finally realized that the beer was gone for good, I came back in. I hatched a plan that I would put something really gross in the empty beer bottles and I’d then leave those on the porch. Ha ha! Ha ha! Ha ha! Ha ha! Ha ha! Sweet vengeance!

These sorts of plans are not new to me. When I was fifteen, I dated a man who was twenty. I figured he was immature for his age, I was mature, it was okey doke. He’d take me to Friendly’s for ice cream, or to the movies. One night, though, I sat in the living room for far too long, ready to go, dressed up, make-up on, waiting for him to show up at the door. He never came. That weekend, I bought a few containers of chicken livers; they come in a small vat of blood. I asked my friend to drive me to where he lived and I poured the blood over one of his belongings, and I never spoke to him again.

This weekend, I didn’t even collect the empty bottles for the plan for vengeance. After my adrenaline ebbed away, I realized that it just wasn’t worth the effort. I guess you could make the case that all that has happened from when I was fifteen to now is that I just got lazier. I like to think, though, that I’ve matured.

Also, I couldn’t figure out how to get the bottle caps back on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Summaries

I am not buying Christmas presents yet. I’m still very much in the mode of buying presents for myself, like the bundle of eight karaoke CDs I got two weekends ago.

I was happy to see how many songs I knew on them, but once we popped those babies in the machine, I was surprised to see the lyrics and the strange sort of plotlines for songs I thought I knew. For example:

--“Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls: A song dedicated to a relative or childhood friend who’s, frankly, a little obsessed with anonymity and is in need of a vacation.

--“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: A couple has absolutely nothing in common except they both have fond feelings for one movie.

--“Getting’ Jiggy Wit It”: Will Smith dips into his generous well of self-esteem.

--“Where Have All the Cowboys Gone”: An old-timey woman is disillusioned when the terms of the relationship she insisted upon set her up for an unsatisfying life some years down the road.

--“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”: Man watches woman sleeping, foregoes own sleep. In my opinion, creepy.

*

Happy Thanksgiving! Would it be cheesy for me to say that I’m grateful that I got to meet you peeps, whether through your blogs or comments or in real life? And that meeting you really does enrich my life? Well, too late. I already said it. Ha!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Oh, the Humanity

Brandon and I try to go out by ourselves every Saturday. To be honest, I get a little pissy if we can’t. Lately, we haven’t been able to (a combination of our normal sitter’s ramped-up social life and our own laziness at finding a back-up) and I have been increasingly pissy about it. I literally don’t get out much. I work at home. It’s only the need for groceries and beer that keeps me from being a shut-in.

We had a sitter this Saturday, and humanity did not disappoint. At one bar, we got to witness a reunion of two men who both had that stoner laugh (heh heh heh heh heh). Damn, they must have missed each other. They hugged and hugged and hugged. One of them was named Stewey. I know this because whenever Stewey would leave the room (and we had our suspicions about where he was, heh heh heh heh heh) and then return, the other guy would yell, “Stewey!!!” and the mutual manhandling would begin anew.

It was a joyous thing to witness and I’m not even kidding.

On the down side, there was also an older woman, missing some teeth, nursing PBRs that she drank with a straw and paid for with change. She was waiting for her son. I know this because she pulled out a Christmas ornament with his picture on it and showed it to people. She kept asking the time. She borrowed a cell phone to call him. When we left, he still hadn’t shown. It broke my heart, a little.

I don’t know if it’s some voyeuristic thing that makes me like going out in public places like this, or just some Bowling Alone drive. As for us, we were the couple who started off discussing how restaurants shouldn’t seat people if they don’t have enough wait staff to handle it. Which had just happened to us, and we wound up leaving before getting a drink.

“We got the silverware dirty, and now they have to swap that out,” Brandon said.

“Yeah, I licked all of mine,” I said.

“I put mine down my pants,” Brandon said.

It devolved from there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That Podcast

Remember when I said I'd put up the link to the podcast of the evening Stephanie and I were at Writer House? Well, here you go.

I'm the one who, apparently, talks reeaaal sloooow.

Many thanks to Elizabeth McCullough and the Charlottesville Postcasting Network!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Some Things

Dionne Ford and Margaret Gunther, contributors to the Fall 2008 issue of Brain, Child, are going to be on WBUR today; they're both mothers of biracial kids. (You read and loved the essays, no?) You can listen here from 12:10 to 12:30.

I'm also putting up the talk I gave at the ARM conference. I was going to make a video reenactment but my voice is pretty much somewhere between Kim Carnes and Macy Gray these days, so I'm sticking with the written word. It went pretty much like so:

Moral Support
by Jennifer Niesslein

When I first started writing this, I was at my sister’s house in North Carolina. Her son Nick was seventeen days old. It was not yet nine at night, and they were already in bed, nursing. To fill the down time, I sat at her kitchen counter with my notebook. In theory, I was there to help in a physical, tangible way, but my kid’s ten years old and my skills were a little rusty. Sure, I could get Krissy glasses of water and whip up some dinner. But when I burped Nick, he’d puke all over the both of us. When he fell asleep on my chest, I’d startle him as I laid his warm little body down on a cool sheet. My personal well of breastmilk had gone dry years ago.

Really, what I was doing was providing moral support for my sister. Do you remember the run-up to that first time you were going to be in charge of a helpless human being all by yourself? The day my husband went back to work, I had a panic attack. For me in those early days, motherhood didn’t go with apple pie. It went with scary love and sleep deprivation and the great big fear that I would screw up royally.

Krissy was using her time with me wisely. We went to Target. The idea was to show her that, yeah, she could no longer just sashay into the store, just her and her purse, but a life with a baby was do-able. I didn’t help her at all, which made me feel like kind of an asshole, but the point was that she could do it. So she stuck Nick’s bucket seat in the cart and we wandered through the aisles. People peeked into the cart to see Nick. He fussed a little in the store. By the time we drove through somewhere for lunch, though, he was screaming. But the world didn’t end.

It’s just that, for a time, it feels like it might.

I’m the co-founder of Brain, Child magazine, and sitting in Krissy’s kitchen, it occurred to me that it’s not just new mothers who like to hear that the world doesn’t end. I needed that message a lot in the beginning when I was afraid that motherhood would swallow me whole, but ten years in, I still need it. The funnier essays we run might point out that the world doesn’t end when you daughter points out in a crowded restaurant that you just made a poop in the ladies room, or that you get through the witching hour by having a drink or three with your girlfiend. The world doesn’t end when you try some left-field parenting advice (elimination communication) and it makes you crazy for a time, or when the drugstore really screws up your kid’s medicine. More amazingly, the world doesn’t end when it seems like it really, really should: when a child dies, for example, or when a mother slips into a serious depression.

This is from one of my favorite essays that we’ve published, “Holding On,” by Johanna Rossi:

“These girls need large amounts of time. They need me, in my imperfection. They need aimlessness, patience, repetition. How can I provide all this and out be achieving too?

“I am not trying to be everything to my children; I am trying to be what they need. My children are passionate about me: all their childish emotion is wrapped around my unworthy, reluctant self.

“One morning I go with Evelina to kindergarten and she introduces me to her classmates as if I’m the greatest celebrity in the world. I sit on the floor and these kids are crawling all over me, leaning against me. Evelina cries when I leave, and I drive home through the endless woods with my chest collapsing because I don’t know how I can support this kind of love. I don’t know how I can pour it out for her when no one’s giving it to me.”

We originally published Johanna’s essay in December 2000, and when we reprinted it in our Greatest Hits anthology, I checked in with her for updates. She wrote back, “This motherhood desperation is hard to capture because when mothers are going through it, they’re too exhausted to write about it, but once out of it, it’s too hard to remember. I couldn’t write this piece now. Three years ago is another world.”

Johanna’s right. And as a reader, there’s something extremely valuable, I think, in finding that connection that you can’t really get from other mothers at the playground, or sometimes even your close friends. The subtext for in a lot of these essays is that you aren’t alone. They reinforce what we all know: that the world—as glorious and messy and frustrating as it is—didn’t end with a given moment.

But the truth is, some moments do end. Three years ago IS another world. People try to tell new mothers that—enjoy it! it doesn’t last forever! motherhood changes you!—but we don’t listen. I didn’t anyway.

After another week at Krissy’s house, I came back to Virginia. In her little coccoon, I was news deprived. Turns out, Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter was pregnant, and conservative talking heads were tripping all over themselves to seem to approve. The stock market was in trouble, and people were finally questioning the role government has in our lives. Health care was an issue on the front page. These were all things Brain, Child had been covering for years.

It occurred to me that, crap, I forgot! I forgot to tell Krissy the other important part!

It’s the part that comes after you find out that your world isn’t going to end and that you are doing it by yourself: You start to see connections between your experience as a mother and the stuff that either is, or should be, news. This isn’t the stuff we do all by ourselves. And this is the other part of what Brain, Child does: exploring that connection between motherhood and the bigger world.

It’s something that I think about a lot these days. Because while part of what Brain, Child does is connect mothers’ experiences, the other part of what it does is offer what the writer Jennifer Mattern calls a lens to to see the world through. When my son was Nick’s age, I have to confess: My eyes would glaze over when someone would talk about the economy, but it’s a different story when your readers are trying to find a job that will accommodate their need to have money and their need pick the kid up on time from pre-school. I might have let myself be scared by statistics about, say, teenage pregnancy or online predators, if it hadn’t become my job to know the truth. Motherhood in general and Brain, Child in particular brought the world’s issues home for me, but I think many mothers go through the same transformation, where they go from wondering how they will do it all by themselves to acknowledging that there are issues that they can’t tackle all by themselves.

I’m making it sounds as if Brain, Child is an activist magazine. It’s not. I have my own opinions, of course, but we report in a balanced way. This lens that we offer doesn’t lead to any definite conclusions. It’s not our job. Our job at Brain, Child is to bring readers feelings and ideas, comraderie and debate. We don’t have an agenda, other than to put stuff out there and see who grows it.

Stephanie and I have an essay in the book The Maternal Is Political, edited by Shari MacDonald Strong, in which we start off by talking about why the bumper sticker—you know the one, “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History”—irritates us. And I think part of what we wrote about why we’re not activists fits well here:

“When you get down to it, some would argue, every time a mother’s voice is heard—this is what my life is like, this is what I struggle with, this is what makes life worth living—it is a poltical statement because we’ve been invisible, dismissed, for so long. The two of us believe that—and have to believe it really—to a certain degree. But we also recognize that what we do is limited. We provide a stage and hope that players—the ones who can take it to the next level, the lobbyists and activists and policymakers and voters—will jump on it.

“Months ago, the New York Times ran a piece on the mothers’ movement. The big color photo accompanying it featured Kiki Peppard, the Pennsylvania activist who has worked for years to get a maternal discrimination law passed in the state. Peppard ws holding a magazine in her hands. It was at an angle. We’re sure that most New York Times readers couldn’t tell what magazine it was, but we knew—it was Brain, Child.

“We can recognize a metaphor when we see one. Well-behaved women might not make history. But we’re hoping with all our journalistic hearts that we can make a difference.”

So, you might ask, why am I at this conference devoted to the mothers’ movement? Well, like I was in North Carolina, I’m here as moral support. I know a lot of you do research and work as activists in the movement. And I know it’s in an intense period. I want to say thanks for making my job even more interesting. I’ll tell you the same thing I told Krissy when we were hugging goodbye in the airport drop-off lane:

1. You’re doing a great job.
2. Call me if you need me.
3. Except at night.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes!

I’ve had a killer cold for the past few days, so last night when the election results were coming in, I was curled up in an armchair while Brandon and Caleb were watching the results trickle in. My heart couldn’t take the maybe yes/ maybe no, not after these eight years. I sat there and read Dreams from My Father. Maybe you’ve heard of it, by a Mr. Barack Obama?

It was a very soothing evening, the sort of hopeful one that I haven’t had in many years. I thought about the small throng of people at the polling place in front of the “First Time Voters” table I saw earlier that day. I thought about the fact that issues I care about (and have written about in Brain, Child and in my book)—like what place government has in our lives, health care, the stock market’s weaknesses—were actually part of a national conversation now. I thought especially about my friends at the Virginia Organizing Project and how thrilled they must be that one of their own would be in the executive branch.

I woke up this morning like it was Christmas. Ooh, what did the American electorate bring me last night? A President-Elect Obama?

Yes, you did.

Hey, if you’re excited about the momentum (and I know, not all of you are) and live in Virginia and want to keep up on local and state-wide issues, check out VOP. It's like in the Chicago part of Dreams from My Father, except, you know, both here and now.

Earnest and out.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloweenie

Last night Stephanie and I gave a talk at Writer House, the fabulous center for writers here in Charlottesville. (It was lovely—Elizabeth McCullough had us all kitted out with podcasting equipment and I’ll link to it when that’s up.) Before the talk, we went downtown for dinner. Apparently there was to be some doggie trick-or-treating on the mall: tons of dogs in little doggie costumes were out. I predicted that on the front page of today’s local daily, there would be a headline along the lines of “Downtown Goes to the Dogs!” I was wrong. On the front page of today’s local daily, the headline was “Happy Howl-o-ween!”

I love Halloween. You order the kid a costume, buy some candy, and that’s it. No fuss, no muss. Usually in our neighborhood, we get some pizzas and socialize before dark, then hang out on our porches.

And usually, there will come some religious folk who will try to convince us that Halloween is the devil’s work. I have to say, I can’t make myself act interested even particularly respectful to these people who are harshing my mellow. One year, though, I was standing with a group of neighbors and I noticed that Kathleen was nodding and listening and generally giving this stranger a few moments of her time out of politeness. The rest of us found it a good moment to corral the kids or refresh the beer or check the candy situation. I looked over at Kathleen and realized that she was wearing a headband that made it look as if she had a knife stuck through her head.

Happy Halloween! Here’s a song by They Might Be Giants about the tallest, widest, and most famous haunted mansion in New Jersey.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

ARM: The Gossipy, Name-Dropping Piece

It was dark and chilly and before six in morning. There was a cab waiting for me in front of the house because I was flying to Toronto for the Association for Research in Mothering conference, and I didn’t trust myself to drive that early. I spent the car ride listening to the driver, an amiable enough guy, tell me how, at 50, he doesn’t know why 20-year-old women find him so attractive. With that living example of The Patriarchy at work, I was off.

Damn, it was fun. I’m going to write about the ideas in the conference (“You Say You Want a Revolution?” it was titled) in the winter issue of Brain, Child, but I have to say: Half of the stimulation was the social stuff.

I had lunch with Amy Anderson from Mamazine and Amy Hudock from Literary Mama shortly after I got there on Saturday, and I had already missed a few days of the conference (argh, but the work, the family, etc.). I got to meet the organizers of the whole shebang, Andrea O’Reilly and Renée Knapp. They’d been running full steam keeping everything going, and at some point on Saturday, a university patrol officer came in and informed Andrea that her car—which she left at seven that morning in the lot in the middle of a downpour—had been running all day long, at least six hours. There was a metaphor for the mothers’ movement there, she told the group.

During the conference, Joy Rose, Lynn Kuechle,and Rebekah Spicuglia were interviewing and filming the people there to make a movie. And because I cannot interact socially without saying something regrettable at one point, this time I did it on film. I was trying to explain how, when I was a new mother, how much I resented being invisible and condescended to. Suddenly, back then, everyone was calling me Mom. “I’m sorry, but unless you came out of my vagina …” I said to the camera. Oh, no. It’s never a comfortable idea to make reference to one’s own vagina, unless you’re in a much different line of work than I am. So there you have it: I was the Eve Ensler of the 2008 ARM conference.

The panel I was on—with Joy and Lynn, Amy and Amy, and Juliana Forbes and Beth Osnes of Mothers Acting Up—was a lot of fun. We—me and the Amys—worried about it a little, talking about creativity and art, after hearing the other discussions about women in prison, say, or the future of child-making. But if I can say so myself, we did just fine.

Afterwards, ARM held a reception. I got to meet a whole lot of people that I’d heard of, and probably that you’ve heard of, through the magazine, and also some people whose work I didn’t know but I want to. I spoke with Lisa Chiu (whose panel I really regret missing), and Lori Slepian (one of the founders of the National Association of Mothers’ Centres), and a ton of other women whose email addresses I imagine I’ll be looking up for months into the future.

Later, Amy, Amy, Lynn, Jocelyn, and I went out for beers. We drank our Stella, and you know what? It was one of those very rare occasions that we could just segue right into real talk, like a discussion of mothers and abortion (and the essay by Elana Sigall in the current issue of Brain, Child). I’m trying to find words to describe what it was like to experience this in person, but suffice it to say that maybe for me, it was just the perfect storm: Good conversation, fun people, beer, more beer.

The next morning I would have breakfast with Joy and Amy Richards (writer and co-founder of the Third-Wave Foundation) and Mary Olivella (VP of MomsRising), and it would be another stimulating interaction, my last one before I had to catch my plane. Joy would send a clip she’d made of the conference, although I’m not in it, because by that time, I was standing in the customs line, worrying that I’d miss my flight.

But that night, we walked back to the hotel and went to our respective rooms. I’d bought a new travel-sized thing of contact solution, and the plastic seal wouldn’t budge. I looked around the bathroom, around the suite. I flew, so I didn’t have any sharp objects on me and the room didn’t seem to hold any either. So I stood there for what seemed like twenty minutes and gnawed at the plastic, my contacts blurry, my eyes sleepy. I thought about the conference and all these mothers, like me, trying to care of business the best way they know how.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Calling All Drama Queens

Hey! This weekend, I went up to the Association for Research in Mothering conference—and boy howdy, that was fun. I’m going to write about it soon.

But until then, I’m hoping you can help a magazine out? We’re running a little low on Backtalk stories for the next issue. (It’s that section in the front where people send in anecdotes in response to a certain topic—they’re usually about 200 words or so.) If you have something in response to this:

“We know an man who likes to say, “The older I get, the further I could swim as a boy.” We can relate to that kind of inflated memory. (We swear one of our pregnancies lasted for seven years, for instance.) Tell us the tales from your childhood or parenting life that you’ve somehow managed to blow waaaaay out of proportion.”

Mind sending it to editor at brainchildmag dot com?

(I’m posting this on Brain, Child’s Facebook page, so sorry for the double whammy.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Exquisite Corpse

I was reading an article in Poets & Writers last night about a writing professor who does prompts with his students and also does them for himself to get pumped up for writing. I’m pretty sure I’m too easily distracted to do that, but I was thinking, hey, mebbe I’ll do a little Exquisite Corpse thing on the old blog!

I actually had to look it up, and this apparently isn’t a real Exquisite Corpse thing (with rules about the structure of sentences, or secrecy, or whatever), but the idea is, we write a story together. I’ll start, then in the comments, write a paragraph that picks up the story where the last person left off. At comment #20, we’ll stop.

The fun!

Okay, here’s the first graf:

We had driven a ridiculously long way and spend a ridiculously large amount of money only to end up here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What I’ve Been Meaning to Say

Long time, no blog posts, huh?

Here are some subjects I meant to blog about:

--I noticed a wasps’ nest out back the other day and was horrified that my first throught was that I needed to mention it to Brandon because I somehow believe that it’s his job to deal when the wildlife start infringing on our homestead. WTF, I believe the kids say. Be gentle when you break it to me that women got the vote, okay?

--We went to dinner at the Red Hen in Lexington, co-owned by my Brain, Child pardner Stephanie Wilkinson. Review: Y to the UM. Seriously, that red-wine/chocolate sauce is something they must serve in heaven.

--Squirrel frolicking season. Review: Thumbs down.

--A treatise on why I’ve been quiet about politics and the election, the gist of which is that I can’t bear to lose faith in my fellow Americans again should somehow McCain win.

Be back after I dig myself out from under some work!

Monday, October 13, 2008

More Time Suck

Okay. I promise I won't become one of those people in your life that keeps forwarding things that are "funny" or "cute" or "something every woman should read." That said:

I'm posting this because if there's anything funnier than babies swearing, it can only be puppies knocking over a liquor store:



On Brené's recommendation, we watched the movie Once this weekend, and, boy howdy, I loved it. Have you seen it? Have you watched this song on YouTube three million times, like I did?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Various

--Brain, Child is doing another caption contest for a cartoon by Beth Hannon Fuller. Get your buns over there and submit something, would you?

--The hardcover of my book Practically Perfect is going to be remaindered soon, so if you like hardcovers and dislike paperbacks, it’s now or never, peeps. Buy from Amazon here, or Brain, Child here.

--Every once in a while, I’ll drive down Jefferson Park Avenue and see the apartment that Brandon and I used to live in. It was cheap ($200 a month for each of us). All the walls were a dark wood panelling; the downstairs carpet was a red shag, and the upstairs carpet was Rice-a-Roni–inspired. It was the last place where we ever had a roommate.

The last roommate we had there subletted the place over the summer when our fabulous roommate Emily left. He was horrible. (Here I was going to go on and describe the many ways in which he was horrible, but I’m on a less-mean-is-more kick. Let’s just take this one fact to stand in for the sum of his annoyingness: He gave himself the nickname Foucault, but told us his real name was Miguel. It’s wasn’t. It was Michael.)

There were hushed, and then increasingly less hushed, conversations about him. This brought me back:

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Time Won't Give Me Time

Last week, I was wondering why I wasn’t getting very much done, work-wise. On further reflection, I began to suspect it had to do with whiling away a half hour taking pictures of myself for a new profile picture on Facebook. Even worse, I just wound up with some smirky black and white dealio.

I need to stop with the Facebook. I need to stop telling people what I’m doing (because guess what? it’s the exact same thing that you’re doing!). I need to stop checking in on what other people are doing. I need to stop obsessively checking to see who played a move on Wordscraper. (Caroline Grant, yes, I’m looking at you, but I understand you’re busy promoting your new book!) I need to ignore friend suggestions from my former high school classmates, particularly ones regarding people that I was not actual friends with while in high school.

Caleb’s home sick or “sick” today, with either a real or fake cough, and I have a resolution: I’m going to take my notebook downstairs and be offline ALL DAY LONG. You may now start placing bets on how long that’ll last.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Look Away

I got nothing to say. I'm writing marketing copy for Brain, Child, which is harder than it seems. Some days, words not work so good for me.

So, I'm directing your attention to the following:

--Jenn Mattern's post on Wall Street. It's the first engaging piece of writing about the economy that I've read in many moons.

--Jody Mace's post on kind of tricking the goyim.

--This thing that I found via Jincy Willet's blog. It's a Photoshopped take on a Mormon ad, although the style will be familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance with Sunday school. I laughed and laughed and if you don't hear from me in a few days it's only because the Lord has smote me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Good to Know

When I get all full of the writing angst, Brandon reminds me that, if all else fails, he has the inside scoop with a certain publisher.

When he was nine years old or so, Brandon had a Commodore computer, a dot-matrix printer, and a concept for a novel. He saw an ad somewhere: an offer to Get Your Book Published! He got on the Commodore and wrote a letter to the company. He wanted to make sure he got the format right. He gave them an example of what they could expect from him:

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz.

He also typed out the numbers and punctuation marks, and printed this out on his dot-matrix printer.

(He wasn’t going to put all the work of writing a novel if the the publisher didn’t even accept the dot-matrix print-out.)

Eventually, someone at the press wrote him back, someone who figured that he was a kid. The person wrote that they did accept that sort of print-out, but reminded him that, at this publisher (a vanity one), it was very expensive to publish a book, yadda yadda.

I love this story for so many reasons—for one, we laughed and laughed and laughed—but part of the reason it sticks with me is that it pretty much nails the writing angst at whatever stage of the game you're at: The combination of being earnest and afraid of messing up.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Young Man!

Guess what I learned? How to use the video do-hickey on my camera.

[Now, a good forty-five minutes later] But apparently, I don't know how to get the motherfucker up on Blogger. I need some soothing sort of tea.

Or maybe a picture of some cute cousins. Why, look! Here's one!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh, Canada!

Next month, I’ll be taking my first international flight. That’s right. I’m running for vice president. Oh, I kid, in an already-lame way.

No, I’m going to Toronto for the Association for Research in Mothering conference. I’m on a panel with some fine company, talking about “Creativity, Expression, and Agency.” In case you couldn’t tell from the title, it’s an academic conference, and I really have no idea what to expect, here with my aging B.A. Many of my friends are in academics, so I’m not fearing that people will suddenly start questioning me, using words like "hegemony." (I imagine they do that to each other when I'm not around. Kinky!) It’s just sort of the great unknown, both the conference setting and Toronto. True, my friend Trisha is from Canada (and thus gets first dibs on all Canadian karaoke, meaning the Barenaked Ladies and Alanis), but other than knowing the Canadian way of pronouncing “sorry,” I’m a blank slate.

Are you going? Will you? If you can’t, will you at least leave some tips on Canada and/or academic conferences?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Things You Should Know About Pit Bulls [with Lipstick]

A common misconception is that Pit Bulls [with lipstick] don't feel pain. Pit Bulls [with lipstick] have the same nervous system as any other breed, and they can and do feel pain.

Allstate (depending on the state) may not insure homes with Pit Bulls [with lipstick] ... The Automobile Club of Southern California will refuse to provide homeowner's insurance if a dog living in the home "looks like a Pit Bull [with lipstick]".

Pit Bulls [with lipstick] have been reported in the news media as "adopting" other species of animals, such as kittens. This is one possible origin of the breed nickname "nanny dog". However, it is more widely accepted that the "nanny dog" nickname comes from the Pit Bull [with lipstick's] innate love and tolerance of children.

The Canadian province of Ontario, on August 29, 2005 enacted a ban on Pit Bulls [with lipstick].

Pit Bulls [with lipstick] are said to be popular with irresponsible owners, who see these dogs as a symbol of status or machismo.

Pit Bulls [with lipstick] are often used for dog fights, due to their strength, courage and widespread availability. Fight training often means using other dogs of the same sex, as most dogs will not show aggression towards the opposite sex.

Most people who own [Pit Bulls with lipstick] direct their dogs' plentiful energy toward nonviolent athletic tasks.

[Thanks, Wikipedia!]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hitting the Road

Whew! I'm back. The nephew? Gorgeous. His parents? Fabulous.

Guess what else happened this week. Stephanie Wilkinson, my pal and partner at Brain, Child, opened a gastro pub with our friend John Blackburn in Lexington, VA. They both have been busting some major ass getting it ready, and the pictures of it look gorgeous. Their chef is Tucker Yoder--he used to work at Oxo, which, if you're from C'ville, is known to have been super-delicious. The restaurant is called The Red Hen, and Steph just astounds me. I can't wait to go and chow down.

Speaking of traveling, do you know Travel Savvy Mom? It's a website run by the writer Jamie Pearson, and if you're looking for a family-friendly hotel, she has reviews of them, all over the world. (I wrote a little piece on The Anchorage in Ocracoke, if'n you're interested.)

So, I'm still catching up with stuff, which is what happens when you lounge around reading during the day and do karaoke two nights in a row. (I still don't know what I'm going to do with all that ass inside these jeans.) Be back soon.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dear Nicholas,

First of all, welcome to the family. We’re all thrilled to have you.

I know you’re busy being a newborn, but when you get a spare moment, I’d like for you to consider my case for becoming your favorite aunt:

1. I have the experience. I’m the oldest of your aunts, and while Erin and Jill are admittedly more fun than I am, I do bring a certain dedication to the job. For example, a few months ago, you cousin dropped her new mood ring in the public trashcan of a ice-cream/ coffee shop. You know what I did? I fished the ring out of the milky coffee mess at the bottom of the barrel. For real? Yes, sir.

2. I come with a good entourage. I have never known Brandon to turn down a good game of sword-fighting or pretending to be a plastic dinosaur. Caleb has proven himself to be very good with the little ones. Keep in mind: They are both part of the Aunt Jenny package.

3. I have ingredients to make Shirley Temples at my house.

4. You may have heard that I take Caleb to the bus stop in my pajamas, braless, but this should not influence your decision. That’s Caleb’s cross to bear.

5. If you don’t find anything you like on the restaurant menu, I will permit you to order dessert. I will offer you the garnish on my cocktail. I will taste the salsa first to make sure it’s not too spicy for you. When you leave my house, I will make you a small bag of goodies for your trip back home. I’m pretty good at birthday gifts (although I concede that Erin and Jill are my equals in that department). I’m good at tickling, and at the same time sensitive that some people dislike being tickled. I know the names of almost all the dinosaurs and am currently being schooled in Pokemon.

Lots to think about, I know. No rush. Good luck with the sleeping and the eating and the developing!

Love,
Your Favorite Aunt

P.S. I know that was a little pre-emptive!
P.P.S. I cannot wait to meet you tomorrow. I adore you already.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Waiting

Maybe you're waiting. For what? Oh, I don't know. For an important email, maybe. Or for election season to be over. Or for your nephew to be born.

In any of these cases, I'm pretty sure this will help you pass three minutes and thirteen seconds of the time. Andy Borowitz on The Facts of Life:



(It's from Annabelle Gurwitch's documentary Fired! Have any of you seen it?)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Columnist Michael Graham, Now Out of Both Sides of His Mouth

Last month, I wrote up a little news analysis piece for Brain, Child about the media coverage of the seventeen expecting teenagers in Gloucester, Massachusetts. They’re the ones who supposedly had a “pact” to get pregnant and raise their babies together, except that, whoops! There wasn’t any evidence a pact existed.

Anyhoo, I watched a youtube clip of conservative columnist and talk radio host Michael Graham skewering the school system that supports teenage mothers by providing services like day care. He also called the mothers-to-be “stupid” and got his undies all in a bundle on his blog:

“What [Dr. Brian Orr, who advocates for birth control without parental consent] and the Gloucester schools have done is to encourage the idiotic notions in their girls' heads that they are mature and responsible enough to be making these decisions. They are "choosing" (pause for a moment of sacred chanting from feminists) to go get pregnant and become moms at the age of 16. That is their "right" (pause again for cheers from opponents of abstinence-based education). Parents? They don't need no stinkin' parents. … And as a result, these girls will soon have a taxpayer-subsidized bundle of joy.”

Well. That was so two months ago. Now teenage pregnancy isn’t idiotic. It’s … “normal.”

Graham in the Boston Herald today:

“[VP hopeful Sarah Palin’s] daughter’s pregnancy highlights another part of Palin’s appeal. Her normalcy. Here’s a woman who has run a business, raised a family, who is sending a son off to Iraq, who has another son with a disability, and now has to help her teenage daughter face motherhood. These are experiences that millions of American moms have shared, can relate to and understand.”

Dude. Let’s now pause for the enormous whooshing noise your backpedalling makes.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Salsa Stylings of My Boo

If you need a little boogie up in your business, have a listen.



That's Brandon on the trumpet. The group is Conjunto Sason, and this was its practice before playing for the Charlottesville Salsa Club.

I wish I could salsa. But this is how I actually dance:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Um

Caleb started school and I got a little questionnaire back. Question #3: What are your child’s weaknesses?

Well, he’s terrible at bridge.

Changes the radio station if Led Zeppelin comes on. Although that's more of a character flaw than a weakness.


Caleb has a serious weakness for Swedish fish, puppies, and Star Wars Legos.

I’m stymied.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Recommendation

Hey! Jincy Willett has a new book out! I blew off everything yesterday and read the whole shebang. The book is called The Writing Group, and it’s a mystery, about a writing workshop in which one of the participants is a murderer.

Oh my stars, as they say in the old country. I think this might be my favorite book. It’s funny and smart and suspenseful and moving. I was pissed at myself when I finished it, such a greedy guts, reading it all at once. I couldn’t resist, though. Look:

“All the Halloweens in Amy’s memory had been thrilling events, where you ran masked and free through magically unfamiliar streets. Amy couldn’t remember this part she was watching now, the first and probably most important part, when you had no idea why they were wrapping you up in a sheet with jagged eyeholes and leading you into the dark void. Outside Amy’s car window normally overprotective adults giggled at their sobbing, spooked children. The crying ghost had probably glimpsed himself in a mirror, and his mother had said, “It’s just you, silly. You’re scared of your own self!” and couldn’t help laughing when this made him cry even harder. Here was the beginning of a story idea: Why is the kid crying? No. Why is his mother laughing?

It’s been ages since I’ve been in any kind of workshop, unless you count my foisting manuscripts on Stephanie and begging for help, but the group dynamic felt spot-on, and the mystery element is really well done. I’m gushing, I know.

Just read the thing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Know What I Did This Summer

Oh, Ocracoke, if only you were not so far away. If only the drive home from your lovely village didn’t eventually result in tussles over which cousin was touching the other and the inevitable traffic backup. If only I had a larger car or shorter legs. If only. Because I would come down all the time.

Why was I there? The fabulous Sundae Horn hooked me up with a speaking engagement at the Ocracoke Friends of the Library annual meeting and a book signing at Books To Be Red, and a cooler bunch of people cannot be found anywhere on the Outer Banks.

For a long time, I didn’t know how to vacation properly. Oh, I sight-saw the shit out of places. I visited every museum/ historic marker/ biggest ball of twine. I dragged my loved ones to every lighthouse we encountered. I did research on what lunch venue was most satisfying. But I never got the knack of relaxing on vacation. I’d been to paradise, but I’d never been to me.

This vacation, I think I finally got the hang of balancing the activity with the relaxation. You can bet your bippy that there was activity—dining out, walking around the island, a kick-ass time at karaoke, the library and bookstore events—but I think what I’ll most remember is the relaxing moments.

Sundae’s husband Rob captains The Windfall, and they kindly offered to take us out on it for a sunset cruise. I’d never been on a sailboat before, but can I channel a little Drew Barrymore here? It was just beautiful and peaceful and, damn, I loved it.

The other moment of relaxation was at the hotel pool. This was the vacation during which Caleb and my niece discovered that adults can be lifted quite easily in the water. Caleb hoisted me up like a tiny groom and my niece administered a surprisingly good scalp massage. They called it my “treatment.” As in, Mama’s got the nerves and she needs her treatment. They gave me my treatment for quite some time before they got bored and moved on to underwater tea parties and cannonballs and handstands. But I have to say: It was divine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Correspondence

To the letter writer,

I know who you are. Back off, Cowardly Asshole.

*
To everyone else,

Be back as soon as I dig myself out of the mountain of vacation laundry!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Come Out, Come Out...

Not exactly wherever you are, but if you happen to be in Ocracoke, North Carolina this coming week! I’ll be giving a talk at the Ocracoke Library on Thursday, August 7 at 7 p.m. for the Ocracoke Friends of the Library. (It’s free, and everyone’s welcome.)

Then on Friday, August 8, from 2:30 to 4:30, I’ll be at Books to Be Red, with my special pen.

I would posted all this sooner, but Blogger froze the blog yesterday because their software suspected I was a spambot. Which I suppose is better than a thousand monkeys with typewriters?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Readerly Stuff

Hey, remember when I asked you if you could recommend some books? Damn. You ladies are good. I just finished Marianne Wiggins’s The Shadow Catcher, and, Jessica, I will kiss you full on the mouth for introducing this to me. It’s a novel, but reads like a history within a memoir. It’s just about everything I’ve been wanting in a book lately, and I’m all giddy that I haven’t read any other Marianne Wiggins so I can just gorge myself.

I’ve been reading a lot lately. To provoke thoughts. Because otherwise my brain has just been emitting garbage like, “I could really go for some watermelon right now” and “I wonder when the new season of Love of Rock is going to start.” I’d like to think that maybe the subconscious is busting its ass getting the structure of my new project together, but I may be deluding myself.

In addition to The Shadow Catcher,, I also found some good thought provocation in The Best American Crime Reporting. Almost every single piece in it is top-notch—yes, there is a crime, but also some great insights.

Take this passage from Ariel Levy’s “Dirty Old Women,” about women who sleep with teenage boys:

“We (still) like to keep our understanding of masculinity connected to our understanding of maturity. We’d never had a female anchorwoman deliver our news until recently, we don’t often let female columnists explain the news, and we’ve never had a female president to make the news. For many Americans, being a real grown-up requires a penis. And if you’ve got that, even if you’re only 15, you must have the maturity and the manliness to know what you want to do with it—even if that involves intercourse with a 42-year-old. Who among us would say the same thing about a 15-year-old girl?”

There’s a goodly amount of this sort of brain work in the book.

And here’s something for the journalists among us:

“Did you see Bertucci’s testimony?” he’s saying as he’s driving. “Was it good for my case? Fuuuuuuck. It was awesome for my case.”

That’s from Tom Junod’s “The Loved Ones” and I wouldn’t be able to contain myself if a quote like that fell in my lap.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fun with Recycling

I got all inspired from Rebecca Walker’s essay in The Maternal Is Political to reduce my dependency on paper towels, so I cleaned out my overstuffed drawers and set aside some old tee-shirts to cut up.

As is our way, said tee-shirts sat in a bag for a few weeks before we got around to cutting them, and finally one night, Brandon and Caleb sat down to make us some rags. I happened to glance over just as one tee-shirt—Brandon’s tee-shirt—had been scissored to the perfect crop top length. “Try it on,” I demanded.

Brandon stood up and held it up. It hit mid-ribcage. “You like?” he asked.

“Seriously,” I said. “Go try it on.” [I’m trying here very hard to write this so it sounds as if I’m not a bossy harpy, but no luck.]

So he goes into the bathroom and comes out wearing his crop top. Oh, we laughed!! And then I laughed some more! And then I had an extra side of laughing!

I recently did an interview where one of the questions was along the lines of, “Is Brandon really so awesome?” When a man will put on a piece of clothing at his wife’s request, for simple entertainment purposes, I believe the answer is: Yes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I Forgot to Tell You

I cannot believe I didn’t write on my blog that it was my birthday on Thursday because I am a big baby about everyone knowing when it’s my birthday because IT’S MY SPECIAL DAY AND I AM A SPECIAL GIRL!! Even the people who I incidentally run into know because I find some way of letting it slip. Would you like cash back? Well, probably not because when it’s your birthday, like it is for me, TODAY, other people are supposed to be showering you with dinners and gifts. So, no thanks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Between QI and ZA Lies Obsession

My mother and I are out of control with the online Scrabbble. We send messages like “where are you?” and “you better not leave your computer.”

Ah, well. At least all this vocab-building will really help me with my college boards!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The One, The Only

I’m almost positive we don’t stink anymore. Except Simon. He totally does.

It’s not often that the ideas alone in a book stick in my craw and get me all bothered, but Jenny Block’s Open had that effect on me. To sum up from the last post: Open is about Block’s experience of, and her case for, open marriage.

I should say first off, that Block is a terrific speaker and she’s very good at capturing things like that heady feeling of first attraction. At her talk, she emphasized how an open marriage allows her and her partners to live honestly, instead of cheating—the deception and betrayal is the hurtful part of infidelity, in her experience, not the act of sleeping with someone else.

It’s interesting, I think, that only sexual stuff that leads people to an open marriage. Plenty of us who can’t get what we need from our spouses get it from other people—an appreciation of jazz, say, or a discussion of the kind of books we like. All in all, I have to believe that open marriage is definitely a workable situation for some people.

That said, it ain’t going to be me, babe. The most surprising thing about this book to me was how strong my own reaction was to it.

I should point out here that I believe that each marriage is a black box, knowable only to the people inside of it. I haven’t even had adult relationships. Brandon and I met when we were nineteen. I know our marriage well, but that’s it.

So I think part of my big issue with this book is when Block branches out from her own experience and makes assumptions about how widespread the problems that led her to open marriage are. One of her main arguments is that monogamy is unnatural and that men and women are biologically driven to multiple partners. “And if that’s how we’re wired, so be it,” she writes. It’s a frustrating argument. As Barbara pointed out in the comments, the whole “natural” v. “unnatural” is a losing game. I mean, one could make the case that we’re “wired” to hasten the deaths of our weakest newborns, say, but we don’t.

Worse, the us v. them thread put me on the defensive. Block writes: “Open marriage is not for the insecure. It is not for people concerned about what the Joneses think, or whose self-worth is inextricably tied to their partners’ faithfulness and attention … It is not for the dishonest, the close-minded, the naïve, the ignorant, or the incommunicative. It is not for people ruled by ego. It is not for the unimaginative or the unadventurous.”

I know. I know Block is tired of being thought of as some sort of promiscuous sexual deviant, but jeez. Do we really have to break it down into the polyamorists—brave, honest, and true to themselves—and the monogamists? The Snoozy McDimwits?

There aren’t any good statistics on how many of us marrieds cheat, so Block and anyone else who writes about monogamy or infidelity becomes instantly susceptable to what journalist E.J. Graff calls the my-friends-and-me method of journalism. Block suggests that it’s possible that upwards of 80% of marriages involve some infidelity. If that were true, I do believe I’d need my smelling salts.

For most of my friends and me, monogamy works fine. For me and Brandon, I know it does. And it does for a lot of the reasons that Block scoffs at. Yes, part of my self-identity is wrapped up in Brandon because a lot of my history is wrapped up in Brandon; we’re inter-dependent and introducing anyone else to this dynamic, for us, would be dangerous and stupid. I don’t get a charge out of seeing anyone flirt with Brandon, much less have sex with him. And if I want something else while making the whoopee, I ask. (Granted, this is not difficult since I’m hetero; if I wanted a pair of lady breasts to nuzzle, it’d be another ball game.)

What do you think?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Stank

On Friday night, I went to see Jenny Block speak at Writer House, our brand spanking new organization here for writers. Block wrote Open, a memoir/polemic about marriage. She and her husband decided years into their own marriage that they wanted it to be an open one. Right now, Block is married and she also has a committed relationship with a girlfriend.

Which, basically, is not for me to have an opinion on. But I was kind of unsettled by her insistence that monogamy goes against our biological imperatives. This post was going to be an examination of that.

Until some biological imperatives of a different sort came up.

I came home, poured myself a beer, and went out back to have a cigarette. Because Simon is my short and fuzzy shadow, he came with me. He trotted out into the yard. There was a kerfuffle, and the next thing I know, I see a fluffy animal scuttling off near the a/c unit. And there is Simon, stumbling up onto the porch, foaming at the mouth. A skunk sprayed him.

You know, I always thought I sort of liked a skunk smell. I don’t mind a mildly skunky beer, for example. But that was before I knew what skunk really smelled like, which is: What you think of as skunk, but mixed with an overpowering stench of rancid garlic and rotten onion. I called to Brandon, who got on the phone with the emergency vet. Caleb started bawling, and Luna got frantic to come outside. I hung out with my poor stinky pup who continued to foam at the mouth. I didn’t know where the hell the skunk was. I was scared that it would amble up the ramp onto the porch and spray us both (not likely, I realize in hindsight), but every minute or so, I said loudly, “Go away, you motherfucking skunk.”

We treated Simon with a baking soda/ peroxide/ dish soap solution, and then made a mistake: We put him in the basement until we could figure out what to do.

It’s a long boring story. Let’s just say there were several baths in the back of Brandon’s truck, there were tomatoes to be pureed, there was a basement to be mopped vigorously with a bleach solution. There were windows open in the dead heat of mid-July, and there was boiled vinegar. But most of all, there was paranoia that the three of us humans would become so used to the smell that we wouldn’t be able to tell that we were rank, too. That we would forever be The Family Stank, trailing fumes like Pepé Le Pew.

Later, I think, I’ll write about Open because it really is an interesting book. But right now I’m thinking that so-called biological imperatives—whether it’s an urge to have sex with OPP or to spray my dog with skunk stank—for me, can only create a mess and leave me paranoid about the aftermath.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Old Things

I got back a couple days ago from Vero Beach, Florida. Brandon’s folks live down there, and they have—at least on vacation—for generations. His great-great grandfather drove down from Indiana, in pre-interstate days and built a house there in 1917; apparently, no one wanted a house right on the ocean then. It’s still standing, close to downtown, with additions and updates.

Given my own little genealogical project, this strikes me as indescribably cool, to have this place that your family can claim as its own. If you want to know a little bit of the town’s history? Dude, you just ask your mom! Apparently in the ‘50s, there were two columns with a big wooden sign that read “Welcome to Vero Beach.” Today, just one of the columns is standing with no apparent purpose. Brandon’s mom knows this, first-hand.

I love this shit. Me, I went up to Pennsylvania earlier this summer and drove around looking for where my great-great grandparents lived. I took my grandma with me and drove down a windy road to a tiny coal town. It was completely unfamiliar, except in the way that all of western Pennsylvania is familiar to me, with the dark dirt and leafy trees and the roads that dip up and down. Gram and I searched for a good twenty minutes before we actually found what we were looking for: a small collection of houses that made up the town where my great-great grandparents lived and died. It was the physical location, but where they lived—with men fighting outside the Hungarian Club, a movie theater where these immigrants got a taste of Hollywood, mine shafts that children feel into—doesn’t exist anymore.

On one hand, it saddens me. But on the other hand, it’s some serious progress that I didn’t grow up in a company house; that, in fact, our house was “California style,” with a great room and brand-new furniture. In my family, we’re always rushing to whatever’s newest. Our family recipes always call for a brand-name something, and “antique” means “used” and not something we want.

Ladies, it’s hard out there for an amateur genealogist.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Free Advice

So the flu/virus turned into bronchitis, and now I sound like Brenda Vaccaro gargling with gravel, but I believe I’m on the mend.

Sadly, I have nothing to blog about since I’ve been watching TV for the past nine days. Unless you need me to fact-check something from Dirty Dancing. I watched that twice. Also, the Christopher Guests movies. Why, I wonder who knows I’m staying at the Oasis? That cracks me up every time.

It’s probably time for another round of free advice, based on the search engine keywords that get people to this blog. Okay. Here we go:

--“Boyfriends ugly furniture.” True story: Once Brandon and I were helping some friends move, and it was determined that some ugly furniture was too heavy to get out of the apartment. That was a good move.

--“There’s no fear in this dojo.” In case you’re wondering, it’s okay to refuse when asked to “sweep the leg.”

--“Song lyrics ‘all the light in the house were on.’ “ Is this the song you’re looking for?
All the lights in the house were on.
Someone let the faucet drip.
Beer bottles were in the trash,
And we ignored all enviro-tips.
Hello. We’re enemies of Mother Earth.

I’m kidding. That’s not really a song.

--“And another thing jenny.” Why would you search for this? Are you hoping the other thing will show up on my blog? Well, as a “Jenny,” here are some suggestions for you:
And another thing, Jenny—I’m going to get you a fresh beer from the refrigerator!
And another thing, Jenny—you’d better not try to clean the house!
And another thing, Jenny—you look breath-taking with unwashed hair!


--“brandon dust.” Sprinkle a little of this for fantastic results!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sick

I have some kind of horrible summer virus that I keep calling "the flu" because that's the sort of alarmist I am.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Suggestions, Please

I finished The Devil in White City not too long ago, and I really loved it. The new project I’m working on is kind of a historical mystery (we’ll see—history seems to take a while to move in the mail). In the meanwhile, I’m reading. If you know of any historical non-fiction mysteries you found enjoyable, I’d love the suggestion.

Today I bought some notecards to file the many facts I plan to amass. “If you’re not 100% happy with this Staples brand product, just return it anytime. It’s that easy,” the label reads. I’m trying to think of how someone could be disappointed in their notecards.

Dear Staples: My notecards smell “funny.”

Dear Staples: My notecards are too white.

Dear Staples: My notecards emit a high-pitched whining noise.

Dear Staples: My notecards are tempting me with their suggestive sexual behavior.


I’d best get back to work.

Monday, June 23, 2008

West Virginia, You Concern Me

Today, we got back from our trip. We set out to see my grandparents, who live in southwestern Pennsylvania. I live in central Virginia. On the map, it doesn’t look very far, but there is a problem, and that problem is West Virginia.

I sent us on the route that took us for hours up the mountain and down the mountain, up the mountain and down the mountain. The scenery was trees. And mountains. And trees. Every once in a while, we’d see a house.

In one yard, there was a man on a riding mower, riding slowly. “Yes, I’m going to mow the lawn,” I said to Brandon. “But, you see, I’m going to do it reeeeeeal slow-like.”

Fifteen minutes later, Brandon asked, “How do these people get groceries?”

Later, we noticed a landscaping trend: partly buried wagon wheels flanking either side of the driveway. “Can you imagine giving directions?” I said. “Drive to the middle of nowhere. Turn left and drive another twelve miles.”

“It’s the one with the wagon wheels,” Brandon said. “No. The other one.”

Hey, I grew up in a little patch in the middle of nowhere that I loved too, but what I’m saying is, unless it’s your own patch, it’s not good driving.

Finally, we hit PA. If you’re around up there, do yourself a favor and get this fish sandwich from the Italian Club. They only have them on Fridays. Caleb recommends the shrimp.

I’ll back back, once I dig myself out of the mountain of vacation laundry.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Ethicist Goes to the Pool

Despite the fact my skin only varies in shades of pink, from pale pink to hot pink (Blush and Bashful?), Caleb and I have been spending serious time at the pool.

The other day, there were a group of younger teenagers there. Thirteen, fourteen, maybe. It’s hard for me to tell now. But some of them looked prematurely grown and others still had that goofiness of middle school to them.

Anyway, they were screwing around, throwing each other in the air and dunking each other, and the lifeguard blew his whistle at them a few times. The last time he did it, one of the kids asked, in a smart-ass kind of way, why they had to listen to him. The lifeguard sort of lost his shit and yelled back, “Because I’m the LIFEGUARD!”

I was done with my water-treading by then, and I picked up my book and sat under the shade area, next to the teenagers. I noticed that it sure looked like the boys—especially one boy, who looked more mature and wasn’t even wearing a swimsuit—were sexually harrassing one of the girls. Disrespectful touch and all that. But it also sort of looked like she liked it.

I like to think I’m the sort of person who would step in if I saw something bad going down. And I thought this was kind of bad, not in a criminal way, but in a sad gender-relations kind of way. I wanted to pull her aside and tell her that, yeah, maybe you have a crush on him, this alpha male, but when this is the kind of attention he’s giving you, nothing good will come of it. Initially, you want an arm around your waist, not a hand rubbing your booty. You want someone who calls and tells you he can’t wait to see you, not some asshole who dunks you and you come up sputtering.

But even if I weren’t some increasingly salmon-colored stranger, would she listen?

In the end, the ringleader boy stalked around and said, “Motherfucker,” re: the pool staff. Caleb was next to me, and I have a strict policy of his parents being the only one to introduce him to swear words, so I took my big action: I glared mightily. That’s the sort of involved citizen I am.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Water

When I’m doing my treading water thing at the pool, this is what I’m thinking of:



Peaceful, no?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Boy

Caleb had some money and needed to spend it today. So we went up to the toy store, and I carried his wallet in my purse. (Contents of wallet: Money, library card, and several pictures of himself.) When we got the checkout line, I handed him the wallet.

He immediately handed the clerk the money, and she joked with him. “You don’t want to give me the money now! Unless you’re trying to give me a tip! Do you want to tip me?”

He didn’t say anything because, I realized, we never taught him to make inane chatter. Is it hot enough for him? Is he working hard or hardly working? Is it the heat or the humidity? He very likely never even considered it.

The clerk offered him a bag of his own instructed him to hold onto his receipt. As soon as we left, he turned to me and said, “That woman talked weird to me. She treated me like I was five.”

We got in the car and headed to another store to get a Father’s Day gift. I parked. He wasn’t over it. “If I was five,” he said, “do you think I could have put together two of these toys so fast?” The tone was very Ha-HA, bitches!

God, I love that kid.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Things to Check Out

Who’s a hot tamale? It’s me! And everyone else in central Virginia. Seriously, it’s almost a hundred degrees and so humid if you made a wringing motion in the air, you could squeeze out some drops. This is how I came to discover my dogs are, sadly, kind of stupid. They want to be outside, even though they could easily incur brain damage in this sort of heat. It’s okay, though. Smart dogs might know to come in, but then they get bored and start tearing up furniture and fucking up all your Word settings.

Anyhoo. My online pal Brené Brown is starting a blog series about her research on parenting and shame. What I love about Brené is that she’s a serious qualitative researcher and knows all this stuff about shame (the difference between it and guilt, how it has an impact on people’s lives, how uncomfortable it is for people to talk about)—and at the same time doesn’t act as if she’s immune to shame, or being imperfect. (This is my pet peeve with many experts: They always have some big conversion story when they finally realized that what they were doing—read, what you are doing—is wrong and now they don’t do it anymore. The subtext is: Looky here—now you can be perfect like me!)

Brené’s blog series is a companion to her CD on parenting and shame, which is both interesting and funny. For example, she recounts the events in this blog entry of hers that I love so much. Because who hasn’t ever hoped to be a bigger deal than you actually are? I’m looking forward to the series.

Also, if you’re a reader, you will want to know about Sundae Horn’s zine Ex Libris, in which she writes about books in an engaging and personal way. I met Sundae years ago through Brain, Child, and when I got the two latest issues of Ex Libris, I plopped my ass down on the couch and read straight through. You can order it by sending $8 (payable to Sundae Horn) to P.O. Box 544, Ocracoke NC 27960. That gets you four issues.

Oh. One more thing. You might have seen this youtube video by Dennis Cass already, but seeing Jody’s post about MySpace reminded me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Legacy

So, I’m officially on leave from Brain, Child. On one hand, I hate walking away, even for a little bit. But on the other hand, I have this genealogical obsession right now that I can’t quite satisfy while working on the magazine.

I’m keeping the project kind of vague on purpose (read: no idea what the shape of it is yet), but I’ve been talking to relatives about it. And, in my tiny, tiny infant stage of the project, this is the conclusion that I’ve come to: My great uncle Bill Crawford was a good, good man. When I was a kid, he’d call me and my sisters (and probably my cousins and distant cousins) on Christmas Eve. Santa had a definite Pittsburgh accent.

Everyone I’ve talked to so far mentions Uncle Bill—in a and you know who was the nicest guy you’ll ever meet? kind of way—although he doesn’t really have anything to do with my specific project. And I know this sounds schmaltzy, but the big takeaway for me, listening to Uncle Bill’s reputation, is that being kind and friendly and helpful really does matter. I bet he knew this when he was alive.

Here he is, having a good time with brother, sister-in-law, and my grandpap. Grandpap’s on the right, and Uncle Bill is next to him.



(For the record, I would be crazy if I had to live with that wallpaper.)

Speaking of relatives, if you’re a descendent of Adam Fisher and Clara Fisher, I’d love to talk to you. My email address is jennifer dot niesslein AT comcast dot net. Adam was born on Valentine’s Day, 1914 and served in the Army.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Kickin' It

Last night, I was on the phone with my sister Krissy, and I was relating a story about Caleb. (Who is spelling-bee-tastic, by the way.) “So, he comes up to me and wants to ride in the car,” I tell Krissy. “ And I was like, ‘What’s the matter, shorty?’ “

“Did you just say ‘shorty’?” Krissy asks.

Oh, but I did. I meant to say “sweetie.” I laughed so hard I almost knocked the wind out of myself.

“It’s cold in the motherfucking car,” Krissy says, all gangsta-style.

“Stop it,” I wheezed. “I’m going to pee myself.”

I almost did, yo.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reader Girl

So, after the long weekend, I was all revved up to get down with some work today (an embarrassingly large amount of unanswered email), but I started Never Let Me Go last night and finished it this morning. And I cannot stop thinking about it. It’s one of those books where I definitely never ever want to meet the author (Kazuo Ishiguro) because if he turned out to be an asshole—or even just a regular flawed human being—a small part of my inner life would crumble. (This is meant to be a compliment.)

You know what? I’m not even going to describe it, mainly because it unfolds so beautifully but also because it came out in 2005 so you might know everything about it anyway. Just, my socks are officially blown off.

And now, Brandon just brought in the mail, and I got my copies of The Maternal Is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change. It’s an anthology edited by Shari MacDonald Strong, and just looking at the TOC, I’m getting the feeling that today might be one of those Lost Days, all nose in a book. Stephanie and I have an essay in there, but guess who else does. Go ahead. Anne Lamott. Susie Bright. BARBARA KINGSOLVER. That’s right. Not to mention what I think of my Brain, Child people (which must be annoying for them), like Jane Hammons, Carolyn Alessio, and Valerie Weaver Zercher.

Ten emails and I’m calling it a day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

TMI Time

Today, we will be talking about my cycle.

You could set your watch by my cycle, if you had a watch that could somehow be hooked up to the contents of my uterus and if you could convince me to give you my consent. What I’m saying is, thirty days, and Aunt Flo is in the hizzouse.

Except this month. Yesterday, I was in the weird predicament of having no period, yet having a (okay, three) negative pregnancy tests. This hasn’t ever happened to me before. It’s always been one or the other. But two days after beyond the normal cycle, and I figured out what hell would be for me: Not knowing.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence. (I know because I Googled “missed period” and “negative pregnancy test” and got to a 400+ post discussion board where women reported that the same thing happened to them.) And it turns out, it doesn’t really mean one thing or the other—you could be pregnant or you could be not pregnant. Either way.

“You know your body better than anyone else,” some of the women on the discussion board counselled. When I talked to my sister last night, we had a good laugh at that one. Sure, I know my body better than anyone else, but I also know my brain better than anyone else. This brain can easily convince itself that the body has had (variously): meningitis, breast cancer, pancreatitus, a brain tumor. Hey, why not an embryo?

So I just sort of let my imagination run, but on a short leash. If it were a girl, I was thinking maybe Calliope. For a boy, the baby Jesus. Wouldn’t that be horrible for Caleb? Yeah, this is my brother, the baby Jesus. He gets all the attention.

I couldn’t get too carried away, of course. I’ve read far too much about infertility to sink my heart into wanting it. In this body and with this brain, I can’t emotionally afford that kind of yearning. I’ll probably not speak of the maybe baby on the blog again. Aunt Flo finally came this morning, and I mostly felt relief at finally knowing. Thank you, baby Jesus.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Quiet. Maybe a Little Too Quiet.

Sometimes, I think, it’s better not to write anything on the blog when you’re at a period in your life when some calls and asks, “What’s new?” and you say, “Not much” and then fall silent. It’s mostly been a month of story starters with no dramatic endings.

For instance, last weekend, Caleb was outside playing and it was time for us to head out to dinner. I went out on the porch and called his name. Nothing. I called louder. Still no response. On the next block, the ice cream truck made its way down the street. The Doppler effect distorted its tinny music, changing the key and making it creepy and sad. “Caleb!” I called. Then another little boy came out from between the houses and told me where Caleb was. I found him. He washed his hands and we went out to dinner.

Or, earlier this month, it was storming. Brandon had the day off and we had plans to drive to another city forty-five minutes away. As soon as we slammed the car doors, the rain came out in earnest. Seriously, cats and dogs. My stomach twisted a little as we took the on-ramp to the interstate. People still were flying at 70 miles per hour. Semi trucks passed us, leaving our windshield drowned in their wakes. We turned down the music so Brandon could better concentrate. Then the rain let up. The fog wasn't as bad as we'd expected. We got haircuts. I was very pleased with mine.

Today, I was in line at the post office. A woman walked up next to me, and I smiled and let her pass. Instead of passing, though, she cut in line in front of me. Just me. She didn’t try to cut in front of anyone else. Normally, I’d say something, but some bit of intuition told me there was something off about her, something I didn’t want to entangle myself in. Just before it was her turn to walk up to the counter, she offered her spot to a college guy. He declined. She insisted. He declined again. She left. I took my spot at the counter and mailed my package. The end.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Exciting and New

I love a new project. I’m working on one right now and am trying to wrap my head around how to structure it. Someday, I keep telling myself, I’ll know this one so well, I’ll be able to describe it in my sleep. As one wise Mr. Michael once put it, “You got to have faith, faith, faith.”

Also? I downloaded a form today titled, “Death_by_mail.” No CODs, huh?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Big Fat Liar

The neighborhood I live in really, really dense with kids. There’s a chicken in every pot and at least one child in every house.

Not long ago, I was outside and one of the kids—a little girl who just turned three, whom I adore—made good on her promises to come over for “a little visit.” We went inside under the idea that we’d see what kind of toys we have at my house. Once in the dining room, though, she noticed right away that the fish we had (whose name was Blue or Gold or Puce or some color that inexplicably was not on its body) was missing. We didn’t have the fish for long, and I sort of forgot that she even knew we had it.

“Where’s the fish?” she asked.

“Uh, we don’t have it anymore,” I said. “Hey, do you like puzzles?”

“Where’s the fish go?”

I took a breath. “Well, you know, sweetie, fish don’t live very long. Ooh, I think you’ll like this puzzle.”

She looked at the puzzle and asked for a tissue, which I got for her. “I know what happened,” she said. “You took the fish back to the store so it could live with someone else!”

I paused. “Yes,” I said slowly. “That’s what happened.”

Friday, May 9, 2008

Oh, The Places We Went

I’m not going to be able to see my mom on Mother’s Day, which bums me out. We have fun together, even in less than perfect conditions.

For example, one time she and my sister Erin came to visit me. Brandon and I had just moved to a place called Mt. Crawford, and I was not yet fully aware of the culture. I found a music festival and we all hopped in Erin’s little convertible. The festival was called “Home Grown.” A more discerning person might have gotten a clue what the festival was really all about from the title, but it was only after we parked the car amid a field of Jeeps and jacked-up pick-ups, and as we picked our way through the patchoulli-scented crowd—Mom carrying her white purse, Erin in a kicky floral print, me in dressy sandals—did I realize that I had taken my mom and sister to a big, rednecky pot party.

Or: When we went on vacation to the Outer Banks and attended a performance of the Lost Colony play. (Every vacation with me somehow turns into a social studies field trip.) We sat in the audience, rapt, as the players reenacted what might have happened to the lost colonists. At one point, a main character accuses the group of being willing to desert the colony. We had good seats. So good, in fact, that we could hear the murmurs of the bit actors. “I’D NEVER DESERT!” one piped up. Mom and I promptly lost our shit and started laughing loudly and inappropriately. The actors dispersed towards the outer edge of the stage. I had visions of them coming to scold me and stifled it. Mom did not get it back together, however.

Or last summer, when we went up to North Adams, Massachusetts. I was scheduled to give a reading with the awesome writers, Jenn Mattern and Catherine Newman. I did. But then I booked us in the hotel for an extra day for some mother-daughter hijinx. Guess what happens on Sunday in North Adams, Massachusetts? Nothing. NOTHING AT ALL. The big modern art museum was open, so we went and gawked at things like a video by a woman who claims she has two people living inside of her (not twins, but two separate and mentally healthy people inhabiting the same body) and some paintings of what an Italian hotel room wall looked like at various times of the day. For dinner, we had items from the hotel vending machine. We went back to the room and analyzed our own walls. We read the museum’s program notes. We were pretty happy not have noticed the installation made from used tampons.

I can’t wait until this summer. We’ll be taking on New York City.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

An Open Letter

Hey! The paperback of Practically Perfect in Every Way comes out today!

When I turned in the manuscript two years ago, I was very, very sick of thinking about myself. In my work with Brain, Child, I’m either on the phone with Steph, emailing writers/artists/photographers, checking in with other editors, writing a newsletter for readers, blahdee blah. In other words, interacting with people. Whatever I did next, I thought, it best be collaborative. This life of being sent off to work alone in the attic for months at a time? Who am I—Emily Dickinson?

I didn’t realize then that the really collaborative part comes after, and it’s between the reader and the writer. Because, hey, you can write all you want and even get a publisher to snazz it up between two covers, but if no one reads it and no one talks about it, it might as well not exist.

This is all to say thank you for making PPIEW exist. I’m offering up all the gratitude in my moderately hopeless little heart to everyone who bought the book, read the book, posted a review on Amazon or Good Reads or Library Thing, wrote about it online or in print, recommended it to a friend, invited me to a book club, come out on my travels last year, had me at their bookstore, had me on their show, sent me a kind email, or somehow felt a connection to the book.

Mad love to you. And now let the Amazon ranking obsession begin anew.