Sunday, March 30, 2008


So today was the last day of the Virginia Festival of the Book, but I officially finished last night at the fancy-schmancy authors’ reception at Carr’s Hill, where the president of UVA lives.

Like every year, I get all excited and start marking off my festival program as if I’ve mastered the human need to eat, not to mention take care of the boy, do my job, and all the rest. You could literally pack your schedule from ten in the morning until nine at night. Me, I went to four events, and I got sort of overwhelmed with brain overload and social contact as I do every year.

But I love the festival for the simple fact there there are an awful lot of fascinating books that I might have never discovered. I know writers, but mostly through Brain, Child. In my civilian life, most of my pals are teachers or professors or stay-at-home mothers. We, like most of America, get book recommendations from various media and whatever the bookstores decide should be facing out or placed on a table. If nobody decides that a certain book is The Next Big Thing (and it’s not motherhood-related), chances are excellent I won’t hear about it.

The festival provides this great serendipity. On the bus home from the reception last night, I got to talking with Carleen Brice, whose first novel is Orange Mint and Honey. We had a nice conversation (shared with another lady) and I looked her book up. Here’s a description from Publisher’s Weekly: “In Brice's accomplished debut, African-American Shay Dixon, a burnt-out grad student, has a visitation/fantasy/fever dream featuring Nina Simone, the high priestess of soul, who counsels Shay to go home. To do that, she must face Nona, the drunken failure of a mother she's not spoken to in seven years and blames for a harrowing childhood that left her emotionally scarred. Still, she takes Nina's advice, heads home to Denver and discovers that Nona's now an A.A. member with a good job, a lovely home and an adorable three-year-old girl, Sunny, Shay's half-sister. Their reconciliation is complicated by Shay's stubborn anger, Nona's A.A. sponsorship of a troubled young woman and Shay's sexual awakening. Brice's straightforward prose is dead-on in describing the challenges Shay and her mother face as they reconnect.”

I ordered that baby up toute de suite.

I went to the panel on which Logan Ward (who wrote See You in a Hundred Years) was speaking. I hadn’t heard of the other panelists, but I was totally charmed by historian Scott E. Caspar’s talk about his book Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon. Johnson was born a slave at Mount Vernon and, after the Civil War, returned to the historical home to work as an employee. Caspar pieced together Johnson’s life through a paper trail and the book is her story but also that of race and segregation in the nineteenth-century. It sounds super, and I ordered that one, too.

Okay, one more example: I’d planned on going to the panel on monsters at Friday at six, but Caleb’s school had its fundraiser and Steph and her family were in town. So I bought the books instead, and I’m about halfway through Paul Bibeau's Sundays with Vlad. It’s a nonfiction quest that looks at the historical and literary Draculas; the quest takes him all over the place, from the problem Romania has with promoting Dracula for tourist money to intellectual property law to the subculture of vampire-obsessed folk. His writing is funny and smart. This is so going to be a cult classic, at minimum.
And hey! I got to meet Elizabeth McCullough at Cville Words. My first reaction upon seeing her nametag at the reception was to make finger guns at her, as if I were Isaac the bartender from "The Love Boat." I can’t take myself anywhere.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bossa Nova With Me!

It's really beautiful here today, and it has been for the past few days. The grass is thickening up, and it's just starting to smell like a good time for reading on the porch swing. Last night, we drove to dinner with the windows open. The three of us had a really lovely time: a third-grader snuggled close to me, a silky oyster stew and thick bread, a tall glass of beer.

It seemed ridiculous that the night before, around midnight and just twenty minutes down the interstate, a sniper or snipers had set up on an overpass and fired into cars passing on the interstate. No one was seriously injured, from what I've heard. But it occurred to me what a mess everything is, that I can hold these two emotions: joy at the onset of spring and a lurking fear that the shooting wasn't an isolated occurence. (Update: police arrested two guys early this morning.) I don't know what it says, either, that the joy is winning out.

I wish I knew how to embed this, but I don't. Have a listen. It gives me chills in a good way.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Anniversary of Steel

On Saturday, Brandon and I will celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary. And by “celebrate,” I mean that we’ll probably make out in the kitchen while Caleb plays on his DS.

The traditional sort of gift one is supposed to give for the big eleven is steel. I’m just spitballing here, but one lucky guy just might get:

A. A Terrible Towel

B. Looking at him with this face.

C. Quoting, thoughout the day, lines such as “Shelby, drink your juice,” “Looks like two pigs fightin' under a blanket,” and “The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God.”

D. A mix CD, featuring the works of Steely Dan, as well as Billy Joel’s “Allentown.”

E. A swordfight.

F. The Empire State Building.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

If It’s Ugly and You Love It, Clap Your Hands

Many moons ago, Brandon and I went furniture shopping. We fell in love with a huge tangerine-colored leather couch, and somehow got caught up in the fantasy that this thing would last even an hour in our house. These are mean streets here, what with the dogs’ nails and the boy’s rivets on his jeans and the general hard livin’. (So hard we can’t even be bothered with the g’s.)

As nineties band Belly might say, sometimes there’s no poison like a dream. This weekend, my dream of living in a Pottery Barn catalogue officially died. We are the owners of some blue puffy furniture. It’s powerful ugly, and I love it.

In truth, it might not be so much ugly (unlike the camo armchair we saw at the same store) as tacky. Last night, I sat on the couch, the section that reclines. I pulled down the section with the drink holders. (You heard me right.) I saw down with my book and my beer and when Luna popped up next to me and started licking her paw, I nudged her, but didn’t freak out. This motherfucker is indestructible. However tacky the couch may be, indestructability brings its own sort of peace.

Thar she blows:

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Festival! Of Books!

Sorry about the light posting this week. I’ve been, as they say in the old country, busting my ass to get work done because next week is the Virginia Festival of the Book here in Charlottesville. Which means I will spend a goodly portion of next week being the book super-fan that I am. Last year, I saw Mary Roach speak. Mary Roach! And the year before that, I saw the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg. I’m afraid that I did the intellectual equivalent of throwing my panties. Worse, I’m afraid that I meant it.

This year, as always, there’s some great stuff. A.J. Jacobs, of The Year of Living Biblically, is speaking on the Nice Jewish Boys Gone Wild panel. Logan Ward, who wrote See You in a Hundred Years, is speaking on the Virginia Stories: Reconstructing the Past panel.

Jennifer Ackerman wrote Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body, a book I’m dying to read. Her panel is moderated by Susan Tyler Hitchcock, who’s also a fabulous writer. Her latest is Frankenstein: A Cultural History. Susan is also participating in a panel called Dracula vs. Frankenstein: A Monster Mash of Fact and Fiction. A thousand years ago, as an undergraduate, I took a fiction writing class with the other guy on the panel: Paul Bibeau. I really liked his writing then, and I’m looking forward to reading his first book, Sundays with Vlad.

And if you happen to be around, I am requesting your presence at the panel I’m on, called Self-Help, Twelve Steps, and You. I’ll be doing the thang that I do with Practically Perfect. My co-panelist is Martha Woodroof, whom you might know from NPR or her book How to Stop Screwing Up: Twelve Steps to a Good Life and a Pretty Good Time. We’ll be at the City Council Chambers on Wednesday at 6 p.m., and the parking garage is right there. My inner Judge Judy is hoping there is a gavel for me to use.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Which Is More Awkward?

The remote control was lying on the couch; someone must have sat on it and changed the channel to a non-kid one. Nine-year-old son is home sick. After lunch, mother and son retire to the living room to watch some cartoons together. A commercial is on. Before mother realizes the content of this commercial, it's over and son has a question for her: "What is herpie?"


Mother, daughter, and grandparents are relaxing after dinner. All agree they'd like to watch a movie from the on-demand feature on the satellite television. Daughter suggests "The Black Dahlia." It takes a while to get into. And then, maybe forty-five minutes into it, daughter watches in horror as the plot takes a turn. She is at that moment watching lesbian soft porn with her mother and grandparents.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I Think I'm a Groupie

I'm going to the They Might Be Giants concert tomorrow, and I just realized that this is at the very minimum, my seventh TMBG concert. If you are reading, They Might Be Giants, I'll be the drunk lady in the black tee-shirt with pet hair on it who shouts "WOOOOOO!" the loudest. Hello. Also, if I can put in a request?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Wanna Learn How to Fly—High!

The other night, Caleb started haranguing Brandon and me about why we’re not running for president. The implication was that we’re a couple of lazy asses. I started to explain to him very earnestly about the things we do to be good, involved citizens, how we are Americans! He didn’t want to hear it, and I realized why later.

Caleb is under the mistaken impression that I am famous and he is a little bit famous. (He’s young, and I can’t yet break it to him that writers or editors rarely achieve the level of fame of, say, local newscasters.) He makes no bones about how he’d like to be “more famous.” And the President’s kid? That’s auto-fame, baby.

Once, I put him on the cover of the magazine. We were running out of time, the thing was due at the printer, and I thought it’d be funny to have, instead of some perfectly groomed little angel on the cover, this wacked-out looking boy. When I got my box of issues, he took several out. He stared at the cover for a while. Then he decorated his play kitchen set with them, his own face on every surface.

He’s years away from being able to sign his own release form for a reality show, but I'm keeping an eye out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Old Timey Businessman Dictates Letter Addressed to Prospective Date, Makes Case for the Quality of His Loving


Here I am: a man on the scene. I can give you what you want—but you’ve got to come home with me. I can give some good, old loving (and I’ve got some more in store). When I’m done giving it to you, you’re going to come back for more.

Some things come dime by the dozen. Well, that’s nothing but a ten-cent loving. Hey, Little Thing: Let me light your candle because, Mama, I am,

Sure Hard to Handle

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jobby Job

The other morning, I woke up and while I was lying there, trying to make sense of the fact that it was dark outside (damn you, Spring Forward!), I thought, It should be an easy work week. Then I thought, Girlfriend. You’ve been doing this job for nine years now. None of it is hard.

But some parts are more fun than others. Like when the whole issue comes together, which is where I am now, with a box of new SP08.

Online, you can read and discuss (if you’re so inclined), a feature on vaccines by Sari Weston. Sari has a scientific background and she looks at the studies done on vaccinations—she’s neither pro-vax or anti-vax. It’s a great one.

Also online, Ann Whitfield Powers writes smartly about being an older mother and the weird prejudices that go with that, and Tracy Mayor has a lovely essay about the bus ride she takes with her son, who’s increasingly less and less of a little boy. There’s also an interesting debate on whether rewarding kids is a good parenting practice. I tend to agree with both sides, in this case, Kathy Gillen and RenĂ©e Hill.

In print, there are also fabulous reads. Jody Mace wrote an essay called “Inappropriate for Children” and the line about the boy touching a picture’s private parts makes me giggle every time. The inimitable Jenn Mattern wrote an open letter to surly teenage boys. And do you know Katherine L. Hester? She contributed a stellar short story that’s a play on the Rumplestiltskins tale. Oh, and there’s a lot more. Here. Look at the table of contents.

I’m reading submissions now. And let me just put this out there: I’m sorry it takes so long. I can’t do much about it because we editors all have to agree on things and we take the content and the balance of tones in the issue with the seriousness of, I don't know, brain surgery or shotgun cleaning, but I am sorry.

All right. Back to reading.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bargain Basement

The other weekend, Brandon bought a Hammond organ, which resulted in days’ worth of hilarity because if you think we can talk about Brandon’s “organ” in a mature manner, you’re sadly mistaken.

Brandon’s organ was so heavy that he had to have a friend come over and help him lift it. Brandon plans to spend a lot of time in the basement, playing with his organ. I am, of course, welcome to go down and play his organ as well. A few days ago, Brandon printed something off the internet on how to service his own organ. He concluded that servicing one’s own organ is too complicated. I told him that I’ve heard that one before.

But before all this, we had to make some room in the basement, so we rounded up a bunch of basement flotsam, including my high school yearbook from senior year. I put in a pile of other stuff and took it upstairs. (Where, incidentally, it still sits.)

Later I flipped through it. Here are Beth and I. I remembered that we’d worked on the high school literary art mag together. I did not remember however, this level of dedication to Cosby fashion.

Maybe my sweater's design is a Rorschach blot. I kind of see an organ.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Older Than I've Ever Been

I took Simon to the vet this morning because he’s been limping around and generally looking mopey. He turned eleven last month and he’s growing skin tags (bonus extra dogginess!) and generally slowing up. But I knew something was actually wrong when Luna, as she is wont to do, started humping his face and Simon protested.

It turns out, he’s just getting old and achey. We got him all hepped up on goofballs, and it seems to be working.

Once a week in the mail, I get a reminder of my mortality. Sometime in my twenties, I was placed on a mailing list for demographic a generation or more older than me. The AARP wanted me so bad. So bad. They had a lot to offer, they told me. I could be part of this exclusive club, they suggested. There is a magazine, they tempted.

Since then, I’ve aged, and now, according to the list, I’m past the 55 and older (or “better” as some of the literature says) demographic and well into what Simon’s experiencing. I’m getting a lot of postcards. One for Life Alert. One for a burial plot. Another for one of those snazzy looking wheelchair scooters and yet another for a chair that springs my ass up into a standing position. Ones for supplements, supplemental insurance, orthopedic items. I could go on.

I wonder what will happen first: If I’ll actually age into needing these services, or if I’ll be knocked off the list as an implausibly spry 120-year-old. Life is short, but direct mail lists last forever.