Archive for September, 2011

The Salem Lit Festival was this past weekend and yours truly got to go.  It was a fabulous event that managed to be both high-powered and intimate.  The panels were smart and informative and well run, and down the street there was a brand new candy shop.  I listened to Julia Glass and Brunonia Barry and my new favorite author Katherine Howe talk about writing strong female characters, and then I meandered a few buildings down and bought a mango chili fruit slice.  (I should have bought more.)

On my way back, I saw Joshilyn Jackson, who was blinking in the late afternoon sun like a baby owl, so of course I immediately accosted her, because of the enormous fangirl crush I have on her.  She looked a little panicked for a second, then graciously invited me to have coffee with her.  Since my hands were already shaking just a teensy bit, I decided to forgo the caffeine and in true New Englander style have a raspberry lime rickey.  Brunonia Barry joined us with her husband and friend, and they sat around discussing dialects and the fact that I apparently swallow my consonants when I speak.  If you are a writer or a reader in any way shape or form, you totally get based on those last two sentences that for a moment I was completely convinced I was dreaming.

Joshilyn spoke at the author’s dinner that night, and the entire crowd was completely mesmerized.  (Joshilyn does not swallow her consonants.  She lives in Georgia, and they go on for a country mile.) The table I was at was madly in love with her, when they weren’t crushing on Erin Morgenstern, who I have been crushing on for years because of her Flax Golden tales, which I have repeatedly advised you to read.  If you’ve ignored my advice, you are still in luck, because she’s written a little book called The Night Circus which debuted at something like number two on the NYT best-seller list. (That would be writerly irony right there.) Hop it and get a copy.

So there I was, surrounded by all these best-selling authors, and it occurred to me — damn, they’re all tall.  Erin is a petite little thing, and even in heels I barely made it to her ears.  So, I checked under the table, and sure enough, she was wearing a pair of ginormous boots.  Joshilyn Jackson at the podium? The same. (In the interest of full disclosure, I  did not check Brunonia Barry’s feet.)

It may have been that I was under Salem’s spell, but truly, I’ve decided I need a pair of these.  For the sake of my writing.  Really. 


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What We’re Missing

Every summer, my family rents a beach house in Connecticut. The cottages have changed over the years, but they are always within the same three block radius.  The past two years we’ve rented the same place, and in my eyes, it’s a keeper.  It has old, faded furniture neither the kids nor the dog can do much damage to.  It  has an adequate supply of wine glasses and a wide front porch.  And it has books in every single room.

It’s the first house we’ve ever rented — in over twenty years — with such a big supply of reading materials.  The owner’s taste seems to run toward mysteries, but every year we find a new treasure — a wonderful children’s book, a magazine we haven’t heard of, a small collection of poetry — and I get a small surge of pleasure from just holding it.

I’ve met the owners, but even if I hadn’t, I could guess quite a bit about them based on their book stash.  They’re well-read, intelligent people. (Economic magazines and the New Yorker.) Someone enjoys tinkering.  (Back issues of Popular Mechanics.)  They’re less into popular culture than most. (Not a single fashion or celebrity magazine to be found.)  Their books definitely aren’t decor statements, as they’ve been in some cottages we’ve rented.  (None of the book bindings match, and all of the books are well-thumbed.)

Browsing through the mysteries stacked by my bed, it occurred to me one night how much less personal my experience in this house would be if the owners had an electronic reader.  Books tell so much about those who read them, and I’ve really enjoyed ‘getting to know’ these people, discovering that they are of my tribe. (That would be the  tribe of people who read too much and don’t dust enough.)

But on the beach itself, my experience was the opposite. I noticed more and more people with electronic readers.  There was no way to tell what they were reading, no way to strike up a conversation over a copy of The Help or The Affair or a sense of kinship over a quiet, less well-known book.  No way to be surprised that the distinguished looking older gentleman is absorbed in Twilight, and the young, bleached blonde preteen is devouring The Sun Also Rises.  No way for the lifeguard to approach the babe in the bikini with a pickup line about the novel she’s holding. If reading is a solitary experience, the anonymity of the E-reader’s cover makes it even more so.  Depending on your point of view, that can be a good or a bad thing.

What’s your feeling on E-readers? Do you relish the privacy they provide, or see it as a loss?

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I used to be fierce.

Not as fierce as Linda Hamilton in T2, although I coveted her biceps.  Just fierce enough.

It took me a long time to get there, and didn’t really happen until I was in my twenties.  I’d been shy as a kid and a teen, but a combination of factors pushed me over the edge:

I landed an exciting job, with a boss who was tough and expected me to be too.  The first time I came back with a story that didn’t have the hard questions answered, he made it very clear that what I had wasn’t good enough.  If I wanted my story to run (and wanted to get paid) I need to call back my source.  And call again.  And again, until I got the answers I needed.  It was difficult and terrifying and somewhat exhilarating, and I had more than one person hang up on me.  I don’t think it ever got any easier, but it changed me in a good way.

I also fell in with fierce friends, women who thought nothing of hopping on the back of a thousand pound beast and sailing it over a four-foot fence, of galloping DOWN a hill with a broken arm, of marching into the boss’s office and demanding a promotion.  If you wanted to hang with them, you needed some backbone.  And while I can’t honestly say I cleared too many four-foot fences, I managed to hold my own.

And then I had kids.  With my first pregnancy,  not much changed.  I still made the tough calls, rode until I was about eight months pregnant, power-walked two miles a few days after the emergency c-section (Can I tell you what a bad idea that was?).  I took my baby on interviews, hired someone to watch her a few mornings a week so I could write, took care of the horses with her strapped to my back.

With the second child, I rode for about five months — much more cautiously.  I’d fallen in love with baby breath and fat baby knees by then, and since I couldn’t bring two kids on interviews, and hated to leave them, I found other writing jobs I could do around their schedules.  The horse died, and I didn’t get another.  I traded hanging out at the barn for hanging out at preschool. I stopped asking the tough questions.

The other day, I was at school for pickup and another mom and I were kvetching about the parents who always cut the pickup line.  “I’m waiting there patiently for my turn for like 15 minutes,” she said, “And then they just zoom in front.  It makes me so mad.”

I agreed, and we talked about how we’d like to say something.  How we’d like to honk the horn, even, but we won’t, because it wouldn’t set a good example.  It wouldn’t be polite. It would be too fierce.

It’s a dumb small thing, but it got me thinking.  Those friends of mine, the ones I made in my twenties and love dearly, are still fierce. They (mostly) have chosen not to have children, and are doing well in their careers. They are lovely women, all of them, but you cross them at your peril. You might cut them off in line once, and they’d let it go.  Twice, they’d say something.  The third time, you wouldn’t have to worry about driving, because you wouldn’t have any knees.

It’s not that my mom friends aren’t fierce in their own ways. They’re fabulous women and I’m lucky to have found them. Hurt their kids, and they’d kill you without thinking.  But on a day-to-day basis, they’re like me — busy making sure everyone is getting along, everyone is happy, everyone has friends.  Too busy being civilized to be ferocious.

Last year, I reconnected with my old boss.  He threw me a few softball assignments, and I loved it — a part of my brain that had been unused for too long kicked into gear.  But after those articles were completed, I decided to hold off on doing more for a while.  The deadlines were a big part of it , for sure, but there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  And then it came to me — I was getting a big old adrenaline rush from chasing down sources and asking a few tough questions.  I was feeling fierce, which isn’t always compatible with raising well-behaved children.

I’m speaking for myself only here — I’m sure there are plenty of moms who are still just as fierce as they ever were.  For some reason, the few I know have only one child, and manage to keep a balance between the challenging careers they have and the quality family time they need.  More than one child, and something seems to have to give.

It’s a luxury to have time to think about something like this, but it’s come up a lot recently in stuff I’ve been reading.  Justine Musk has done a few posts that made me think, like this one, and this one here.  And John Scalzi recently wrote about the different ways male and female bloggers are treated — in part because there is the perception that women are too gentle or nice or not fierce enough to fight back.

I’ve passed a few barns recently and thought hmm.  I could take a quick lesson, and nobody at home would be the wiser.  I’ve held off on getting back into riding for a bunch of reasons, (the money!  the time!) but one is that I’m not sure I want to watch my daughter take the chances I did, both stupid and smart.  I don’t want to put her at risk.  I want to keep her safe, and if I start riding again, she’ll want to too.

But what message does it send to always play it safe, to (almost) always be polite, to avoid asking the hard questions?   Is being fierce a good thing, or a bad?  Does it change as you get older?  What do you think?

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A Plan

So it appears that I need some structure.  Without the kids here, demanding to be fed on a regular basis, I’m just wandering around the house, getting distracted by dirty socks and trying to keep them out of Harley’s mouth.  Order is called for. My new schedule — just so you know — is to blog every Tuesday.  I can’t tell you how many times last week I sat down to write a post, clicked on some random link, and two hours later was all whoops!  Where’d the time go?  I have all kinds of plans to become the next Martha Stewart, or at least clean out the hall closet, but I’m not even going to get to my list of potentially procrastinating activities that keep me from writing my next novel UNLESS I step away from the internet periodically. (And how’s that for a run on sentence?)

So.  The plan.  Blog entry every Tuesday, unless something so exciting I can’t help sharing it occurs.  (My mom’s still e-mailing Oprah, so ya never know.)

In the meantime, if you’ve liked me on Facebook (and you have, haven’t you?  And made all your friends and relatives do the same?) you’ll have heard about the gaping loss several libraries are facing due to the recent flooding.  I can’t imagine not being able to take my kids to check out books — the library is the first place we visit in any new town, and we’ve met  life-long friends doing so.  If you’d like to help, author Kate Messner has pulled together the information on her web site.  My kids chose to donate toward a purchase of Where the Wild Things Are, which seems particularly fitting since my house is Wild Thing free most days lately.  Except for Harley.  And even he’s depressed.

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