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.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
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.
Yikes, it’s been a while. It’s July, and we’re looking at Christmas pictures here. It’s the blog equivalent of having a guest sit down on the dirty laundry you’ve stuffed under the couch. How did that happen?
I’ve been meaning to write this particular post for about six months, but life, writing, raising kids — the usual — got in the way. And I might have been feeling a tiny bit of blog burnout, too. But I’m back! (Although not on a regular schedule. It is July, after all. At least for a few more days.)
So, anyhow. One of the things I try and do when I’m not writing is read. And six months ago I read Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies, or Fat Envelopes, by Madeline Levine. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, or just someone who likes kids, I can’t recommend it enough.
Levine, a practicing psychologist, writes about the pressures we put on our teenagers to succeed and how harmful that can be, which shouldn’t be news to anyone. But she also talks about the definition of success — the best grades, acceptance to the most elite colleges, landing the most exclusive, highest-paying jobs — and how that may not be right for anyone.
The whole success conversation is such a complex, crazy one. My children go to two different schools — a charter in an inner city, and a private school — and the differences — not in teacher devotion or skill, but in parental expectations — is mind-blowing. The reasons are complex and include financial situations and cultural expectations — and are of course not true across the board — lots of parents at the charter school have very high expectations for their kids, and lots of parents at the private school are very good about letting their children find their own paths, but navigating between the two institutions sometimes leaves me with whiplash. I’ve heard about complaints from parents that the elite high school their child was accepted to wasn’t good enough, and I’ve listened to a grade schooler say that she wanted to be a doctor, but her parents think the education would cost too much money, so she’ll be a nurse instead.
I am as guilty of riding the success train as anyone. I have asked my children (one child in particular) why they have not done better on a test score. I have suggested that a child may not have put their best work into a project. I’ve been annoyed when a child has gotten a lower grade than I expected.
And yes, I get that kids need to learn to do their best work, to live up to their potential. But does everything have to be the best, all the time?
Levine’s book has an exercise that helps you bore down to what your core values are as a parent — what do you want your child to walk away with when they are grown? I almost never do these things, but the book was compelling. So I came up with three qualities I want my children to have as adults, that I want them to start cultivating now. I wrote them on a sticky note and put it on the front door, so they could read them every day before school. I figure if on any single day they have two of them, it’s a step in the right direction.
And of course, they had a response. (Well, one of them, anyhow.) You’ll be happy to know I resisted the urge to correct the spelling or comment on the penmanship. At least one of us is learning something.
PS. If you’ve missed me, I’m also over at Writer Unboxed today. Please stop by!
Greetings, peeps! With only THREE days till Halloween, I come bearing gifts!
First off, did you know that coincidentally, there are only THREE days left to register for the Unboxed Conference in Salem, Massachusetts? That’s right — the chance to register closes on Friday. So if you’ve been on the fence, hop over and sign up today. (For a description, visit this post at Writer Unboxed.)
Next, do you have trouble revising? Me too. Getting this manuscript down to a reasonable size has been a real struggle. But I had an epiphany while watching The Incredibles. Really. Read all about it over at today’s post on Writer Unboxed.
Finally, I would very much like to dress the Slobbering Beast in any and all of these costumes. But I think I need that vampire kitty.