I wrote a column for Writer Unboxed last week. In it I remember a good friend and say good-bye. If you have a moment, please stop by.
It’s crazy how fast this year has gone. And even crazier how fast Christmas is coming up. If you, like me, are looking for a few last-minute gifts, here are some suggestions:
Beeswax candles from Three Sisters Farms. We buy a pair or two of tapers every year at the end of the summer. When we burn them on those long, cold winter nights, I feel a bit as if we are conjuring back the sun. They are beautiful and have a rich honey scent. (Also, a gift of honey to go along with the candles would not be remiss.)
Soap by Red Antler Apothecary. I’ve become obsessed with their root beer soap. It smells exactly like the drink, and puts me in a good mood whenever I use it. It’s cheerful and happy, and who couldn’t use something like that to start their day?
Books. Of course books make the best gifts! (You were thinking I’d say something else? Come on — this is a writer’s blog.) This year, for your dystopian-obsessed teen, check out The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. First in a trilogy, it’s the smart, fast-paced story of star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of a war. For your middle-schooler, I can’t say enough good things about David Barry’s The Worse Class Trip Ever and The Worst Night Ever. They are hysterically funny and at the same time absolutely gripping. Finally, for the adult thriller junkie, consider Go-Between by Lisa Brackmann. (Admission — this is the sequel to Getaway, which I have not read but have heard very good things about. You are probably better off starting there.) It’s an intelligent and all-too-realistic look at for-profit prisons, drug laws, and politics, with plenty of suspense to keep you turning pages and a tough talking female protagonist who may just have you believing in conspiracy theories by the end of the story.
So there — my gift to you. (That and the picture of the Slobbering Beast. Many, many cookies were involved in the taking of this photo.)
Happy almost Halloween! I have all kinds of treats here, and very few tricks, I promise.
First, I’m over today at Writer Unboxed, interviewing the talented Bryn Greenwood about her novel All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Bryn is the kind of writer who takes my mind, turns it inside out, stretches it, gives it a good beating, then puts it back together so it’s never quite the same. Her books aren’t what I would call easy reading, but they shake me up and make me think. I’d love it if you would stop by and check her out. (And there may or may not be a picture of her own Slobbering Beasts there too. Just sayin’.)
Next, I am sooooo happy to announce that Author in Progress, a book to which I contributed a chapter, is available for sale. It was spearheaded by the lovely and amazing author Therese Walsh, who is a cofounder of the Writer Unboxed site. Over the years she’s managed to pull together a tribe of writers who are supportive, kind, and just plain fun to be around. If you are a writer in any way shape or form, published or not, the group is one of the nicest and most drama-free I’ve ever known and well worth checking out. As is the book. (See my subtle plug there?) And if you aren’t a writer, but know someone who is, I promise the book makes a lovely gift.
Finally, Monday is Halloween. So I couldn’t let this post pass by without at least one trick. Which I played on the poor Slobbering Beast, who will be confined to his crate that evening so as not to lose his doggy mind during the constant ringing of the doorbell. (And also to avoid any surreptitious snacking on stray candy bars. Hey, a dog can dream.)
I did my annual hike and cry around the hill today. My oldest started high school last week (HIGH SCHOOL) but I was prepared, I was ready. I dropped her off at a friend’s house so they could carpool together, and I may have welled up a little as she walked away, but no real waterworks. Besides, I had the boy for another week — summer lite.
But the boy went off today. Bravely, considering he’s starting a new school without his close compadre of friends, the friends who have known him almost his entire life. So we dropped the girl off, and then jaunted down the highway to his new school, and in the rush of finding where he should be and seeing people I hadn’t seen all summer, the moment where he actually left slipped away. And I was fine.
Until I got in the car and nobody else was there.
There was nobody to argue about what radio station to listen to, to roll their eyes when I played our summer theme (the entire Hamilton album) again, to remind me to cue up the book on tape or pass the tissues or the hand sanitizer or the box of granola bars. And for about 15 seconds, it was wonderful.
And then I cried.
Because I can see the end, clearly now. We’re hurtling toward it like the drop-off of a roller coaster, we’re strapped in and prepped for go and there’s no turning back, no way to get off. Any lessons they haven’t learned (put your clothes away, make your bed, hug your brother, hug your sister, be kind, be true to you, look for the helpers in times of crisis, in times of crisis be a helper, love learning for learning’s sake), any wisdom I still have to impart, needs to be communicated now. Because tomorrow is coming up fast. And because my time with them, which once stretched ahead like the ocean, has become fleeting.
Friends took their kids to college this weekend. Some to colleges around the corner from them, some to colleges hours away. All of them are great kids, and the parents all texted me the same thing, more or less: “He/she is so happy. They’re ready for this.”
The parents were happy as well, but sad in a way that was deeper, that a hike around the lake on a rainy day couldn’t fix. Because parenthood is the only job where, if you do it well, if you put your entire heart and soul into it, at the end the best result you can hope for is to be let go, to become obsolete. To watch your kids smile hugely as they walk away from you, because they’re excited and able to take on what’s coming next. I realized today that all these past Septembers have been practice for the upcoming big one, the ones my friends are already facing. But I think my heart has known this for years.
Which is why I’ve cried.
Here’s something you might not know about me: There was a time when I could debate scripture with the best of them. I went to Catholic school for eight years, back when there were actual nuns, tough old biddies who would cut you off at the knees as soon as look at you if you gave them one ounce of lip. So it was religion class what seems now like every day, or at least every other day, alternated with science. It was mass every First Friday, as well as every holy day, every Sunday, and any time the nuns felt it was in our best interest. And even after I graduated, it was CCD for confirmation, mass on Sundays and holy days right through my first year of college.
So I get the whole prayer thing. I prayed hard and often. I prayed for my family, I prayed for the world, I prayed for whatever special petitions we had at church. I prayed I would pass my math test, I prayed that special boy would notice me, I prayed I would learn how to diagram a darn sentence before I had to lose another week of recess, staying in under the eagle eye of Sister Mary Rose, working on compound predicates at the black board.
I’m sure the nuns prayed too, prayed long and hard after a particularly challenging day with us. But here’s the thing — they didn’t just pray. They put their backs into it, each and every one, molding and shaping and very occasionally whacking our souls into shape. It must have been exhausting work, and I loved them for it.
But it was exhausting being molded, too. I would have loved, before one of those recess sessions, to have gone up to Sister Mary Rose and said “I prayed I would learn how to diagram this sentence, Lord! So we’re good now, right?” and then skipped outside to be with my friends. But I knew without even trying what would have happened. She would have pulled me back by my ponytail, sat my bony butt in the chair, and made me do the work. So I prayed to myself, and then stayed in for what seemed like a month until I finally got it right.
The nuns knew what we’ve forgotten: We’re not just supposed to pray. We’re supposed to get off our butts and do the work. I’m heartsick at seeing ‘prayers’ posted on social media yet again in the wake of a mass shooting. Prayers aren’t doing it, people. We can pray all we want, but prayers won’t bring back the fifty people who died yesterday, won’t do them one bit of good. Won’t help the 32 in Virginia, the 27 in Sandy Hook, the countless others who are shot every day. Won’t help the ones who will be shot tomorrow, or the day after that.
What WILL change things is doing the work. The work of electing candidates who believe in gun reform, who will stand up to powerful lobbyists and say no civilian needs a weapon that can slaughter 50 people in the space of a song. Period.
Prayer can be good. But not by itself. It’s past time. Let’s get to work.
Hi there! I’m over at Writer Unboxed, talking about a topic that is very dear to my heart — how to create readers and read more yourself. (Hint: It has nothing to do with balancing books on your head.) Please stop by and let me know what you think!
With a gratuitous Slobbering Beast shot (doesn’t he look embarrassed?) and a redirect to the Writer Unboxed site for my essay on how to find a great beta reader. Please stop by if you get the chance!