Ten Reasons I love Hollis Gillespie and think you should too:
1) She is a fantastic writer.
2) She can put her hair up in an effortless chignon.
3) She can successfully pronounce the word chignon.
4) Her house is orange. Even oranger than my car. EVen oranger than my pumpkin guest room. It is the orangiest!
5) She shops at thrift stores and comes out looking like FASHION. (I try. I really do. But when I do that vintage thing I come out looking like SCARECROW. Or possible HEAP OF CLOTH IN THE GARAGE.)
6) She is kind.
7) Her books make me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh – the out loud snorty kind.
8) She is more than funny. For example, a story she wrote about an intervention has stayed with me, years after I read it, years, because it STILL makes me see the world and all the lovely, broken people in it with a little more empathy, a little less judgment.
9) We were recently on a panel with a couple of other writers, including a Pulitzer winner. (Hank Klibanoff) After, the organizer thanked us all in a gracious group e-mail, and we all thanked her back and said how nice it was to see our old colleagues again and how lovely to meet the new people, oh thanks, oh lalala, oh we mustdothisagain, and then Hollis wrote back and said: “I'm going to put "Co-Pulitzer Prize Panel Person" on my business cards! Great to meet/see everybody. Joshilyn, I am plotting your overthrow. Hollis.” Hee!
10) She agreed to do a 3Q interview and offer a signed copy of her latest book, Trailer Trashed: My Dubious Efforts Toward Upward Mobilityas a prize.
How do you not love her? You cannot not. Unless you hate you some cussin'. *cough*
The contest rules are the same as usual. We steal them from Want Not, my bargain genius friend Mir’s shoptastic site. Basically, you leave a comment, and then the Radom Number Generator uses cruel math to break EVERYONE’S HEART save the heart of the single lucky winner. Doesn’t that sound fun! On the bright side, you could BE that one, and on the OTHER bright side, Hollis gives good interview, so that’s a win for all of us.
JJ: What is the relationship between writing and motherhood? I mean this in a personal way -- for you. Does one feed the other, are they similar for you, does doing one make doing the other harder, do these things compete or come from the same place or? What?
HG: When I first started writing my humor column (for a very large alternative publication), I thought of myself as this hip, single-girl columnist who wrote these searingly acerbic accounts of my crazy life and that's what constituted my "appeal." So when I got knocked up the first thing I worried about (other than, you know, like, spawning) was that I'd turn into this boring, lactating Mom columnist no one would want to read. Today I laugh -- LAUGH -- at my non-Mom self! Ha. Ha. And ha. The complete opposite happened. So much so that I wonder why society promulgates this impression that having kids and settling down immediately puts you into the category of dream-sapped sellout.
First, becoming a mother instantly made me realize that if I didn't follow my dreams I'd be teaching my child that personal compromise is tolerable. I was a flight attendant at the time, as well as a freelance writer, and I was okay with this. I'd reached no real pinnacle in either profession. I would have been happy muddling along this way for, like, ever if not for motherhood. Then all of a sudden my girl came like a comet out of nowhere, which caused me to have a real come-to-Jesus regarding my true aspirations. In short, I had to admit I really had them, and unless I followed them I'd risk devolving into a bitter old waxball wallowing in a bog of broken dreams blaming everyone else. I just did not want to be that example to my daughter. Seriously, what is worse? A dream that never comes true or never admitting you dream at all?
So I made a promise -- not to myself, Lord God no. Because if it had been to myself I would have broken it immediately. I made the promise for my girl's sake that I would at least try to follow my true path. Seriously, that is all. But you would be surprised at how effective simply trying can be. Within months I had a gig on NPR's All Things Considered, which led to the book deal, which led to my appearance on The Tonight Show, which led to the film options, which led to the next two books, etc. Today there is a picture in my living room of me and Jay Leno. I'm holding my 3-year-old daughter and Leno is holding her best friend. It was taken on the set of The Tonight Show after our segment. I remember talking to Leno in the Green Room before we went on camera, and I made sure to thank him, because he very, very rarely ever had authors on his show. But he chose me and now I'd be able to leave my blue-collar job and be the mother my daughter deserved. I used those exact words. Ever since, it has not been a smooth road by any means -- the Hollywood writer's strike, the proliferation of new-media and subsequent redefining of literature in general, the odious re-conceptualizing of writer into "content provider" -- but even the rockiest of true paths is not nearly as rough as the smoothest of false ones.
JJ: A lot of writers read this blog----how did you ... a) Find an agent
HG: I did not have an agent for my first book. It sold without one. But let me tell you, I SHOULD have had an agent. Even if you land a publisher's attention without one, it's best to track down and agent to negotiate the contract before you sign it. Regarding my first book deal, I worked it as best I could given my resources at the time, but in the end there were a few gotchas that HarperCollins was able to slip into the contract that an agent would have spotted immediately and never allowed. Now, not only do I have an agent, but I am an expert at soliciting them. In fact, I teach a workshop called "Turn Your Idea into a Book Deal," and one of the best things I do is teach writers how to get an agent's attention, and I even give out all the agent-contact info they need.
JJ: ...b) sell that first book...
HG: A publisher contacted me after hearing one of my commentaries on NPR -- it was the one called "Changing Values," in which I recount my father's funeral and how my mother accused the mortician of stealing his designer shoes and replacing them with a non-designer brand -- and the publisher asked me if I perchance had a manuscript he could peruse. I immediately kicked myself in the butt for not having a "manuscript." Instead I told him, "I only have all these pages with words on them." He insisted I send them on.
It took me four months of ineffectual tinkering with these pages before I finally covered my eyes and simply pressed "send." The pages had no semblance of order, chronology or even plot development -- in fact, I'd named the file "Big-Ass File-o-Stuff" -- but I knew I'd never be done trying to play-dough it into something I thought was presentable. If I didn't just fire it off as-is I would never do it at all. So I pressed send. Within a day, I got an email requesting my presence on Madison Ave. in New York. So I flew my nonrev-airline-worker ass up there and they offered me a two-book deal. TWO BOOKS! I panicked. Then I got a load of my printed-out "manuscript," a copy of which sat before each executive at the meeting, and it was 750 pages long!
Here I'd been kicking myself in the butt for not having started my book, and I had two books already written. Ever since its been apparent to me that half the trick of selling your book is recognizing your own process. So many writers I've taught thought they hadn't even started their book when the book was already sitting there practically finished, they were just looking in the wrong place.
JJ:...c) come to realize you wanted to pursue writing as a career instead of a personal passion or a hobby.
HG: I don't think there has ever been a time in my life when I wasn't a writer. I tried to do other things -- like real-estate investing, office receptionist, coat-check girl, coffeehouse barista -- but failed miserably. I was even an awful flight attendant, but thankfully flight attendants as a whole are wonderful people, and they knew I sucked at my job but they kept me around because I entertained them. Anyway, I remember a specific moment when I was 29 years old. My mother had died 6 months prior and I all-of-a-sudden realized I wasn't doing her any favors wallowing in loss like I was. At that point it occurred to me that I was happy. I had a good job with the airlines. I was young and healthy. Regarding the game of life, I'd pretty much touched base and was safe. I did not have to do another thing with my life and I'd still come out ahead.
It was at that exact moment that I decided happiness was not enough. I needed meaning as well. I went home and immediately started writing with the pursuit of publication for the first time in years. Soon after that I landed my newspaper column. It has been a frackin' broken roller coaster ever since -- up and down, then WAY up and WAY down and then back again -- but I'll never forget that exact moment when I made the choice. It was a conscious choice and the right one.
JJ: I know you have a blog called Inappropriate Conversation at www.atlantamagazine.com. Why do you blog and does it feed you or take energy from you?
HG: Atlanta magazine pays me to blog Inappropriate Conversation for them as an extension of the back-page column I write for them in every issue. I think I have the best writing gig in this city, because my editors trust me to write about any damn thing I want. Especially regarding the blog, because Rebecca Burns, the online editor, encourages me to use it in any way I want. So I have done some serious experimenting and research regarding everything from marketing to content regarding blogging, and here's what I learned; Blogging is now essential for writers. It makes for a perfect platform, you can instantly authenticate yourself by establishing a blog, it's a great means of presenting your work to agents (who receive most of their solicitations online and hate to click on attachments), and now you can bypass conventional publishing altogether and make a living blogging.
There are grass-roots blogs that have only been in existence since September that are already making $1000/day in affiliate advertising (www.peopleofwalmart.com). So, taking what I learned, just days ago I started a labor-of-love blog called Jet Hag, and it's had 30,000 hits its first week, and I haven't even implemented all the search-engine-optimization plugins yet -- and that was before a Huffington Post columnist gave it a shout out.
Seriously, for writers who want to harness the transformation of media and publishing, blogging is a necessity. Publishers now peruse the internet looking for blogs to turn into books. Blogs are now going from computer to book to film faster than any conventional process (Julie & Julia), and now blogging is considered the most viable news source.
That's why I added a workshop to my schedule called "Blogging Your Way Out of the Recession,” because blogging has become a basic necessity for writers. I have guest instructors provide the basic knowledge you need to get started and immediately direct traffic to your site and garner income right out of the chute.
Blogging has made publishing very diplomatic -- now, instead of you trying to get the attention of a publisher, you just get the attention of the public, and the publisher takes notice when the numbers get big enough. Seriously, why else would a blog called www.HotChickswithDouchebags.com become a bestselling book and then a popular TV series? And deservedly so. It's really funny.
Personally, blogging has focused my work ethic. When you have a blog, you have to update it at the minimum 2--3 times a week, and every day for the first 30 days if you just started one. It makes you write, regardless of what you think of the quality of product. And writing is like love, the more you do it the greater your capacity for it.
JJ: Thanks, Hollis, you brilliant, potty mouthed object. I am gunning for YOU.
I like to call people liars and tell them that they sit upon a throne of lies. I say this a lot. I have been known to say it to my scale, for example, when I am displeased by the lying lie of an untrue LIE number it says to me. I have been known to say it to librarians at pot-luck literary luncheons when they ASSURE me that their rum-pecan-cake has NO calories. Sadly, I seem to secretly BELIEVE the librarians, and it has been suggested by Richard Simmons (albeit indirectly) that believing the NO CALORIE cake lie may have some mysterious and unquantifiable and yet DIRECT connection to the later lies of that lying LIAR of a scale-jerk whom I suffer to live in my bathroom.
But back to liars who sit upon thrones of lies...these are words I say to my children when they make round eyes at me and say that their rooms are “clean enough.” I say them to my mother when she tells me these same children have not had “too much candy” on days when I find them SO clearly jacked up on sugar that they are running straight up the walls and across the ceiling, cackling. I say them to my friends and to my husband and to strangers in the Target. I say these words a LOT, and they seem to ring familiar in a lot of ears.
“What is that line from?” people ask when I call them liars on their thrones of lies.
My answer has always been to shrug and say, “It is either Shakespeare or the Bible.”
Because it always is, isn’t it? Even little everyday phrases so banal they hardly seem to warrant the impressive title of LITERARY REFERENCE are actually hijacked right from Shakespeare. Or the Bible.
Ever said, “a drop in the bucket?” You were quoting the Bible.
Ever had a teenage boy? Then NO DOUBT you have been eaten out of house and home, and you were able to say so in that way because of Shakespeare.
The Bible has put you “at your wit’s end,” and allowed you to “rise and shine.” That last one generally requires a coffee assist at my house.
Ever been “in a pickle?” “Knitted your brow?” Told a knock knock joke? Ever sent someone packing, tried to “lie low,” or put your “best foot forward?” So has my friend Bill.
So, the other day Scott and I are gaming with our friends Neal and Wanda, and Neal rolls some sort of AMAZING winning dice roll, BEATING ME which is clearly....unpossible!. So I immediately accuse him of being a big lucked out cheater pants.
And he says, in his mellow, California guy way, “Nah, that’s just good Karma. Clearly the result of clean living.”
I scoff and say, “Clean living! You sir, are a liar, and you sit upon a throne of lies.”
Wanda says, “I have heard that before---- where is that line from?”
I say, “Not sure. Shakespeare or the Bible, no doubt.”
There is a pause, and then Neal says, “Um no, I think that’s Elf.”
There is this long silence and then I say, “What do you mean, Elf?”
And he says, “You are quoting Elf. You know, that Christmas movie, Elf? Will Ferrell says that line to a mall Santa.”
I am affronted. SURELY NOT! Surely it is Shakespeare. OR THE BIBLE. Surely I have not spent the last few years REFERENCING ELF and saying it was either SHAKESPEARE, or worse, THE POET KING DAVID OR, GEE, maybe, THE PROPHET ISAIAH, TWICE A WEEK.
Except, yes, I have.
It’s chilly today.
If you need me, I will be in the den, lighting a cozy fire. Using my MA in English as kindling.
It is time, once again, for my husband to forget that the animal going CHUP CHUP CHUP CHUP in the yard is a chipmunk. Twice a year, every fall and spring, that chipmunk pops out of his burrow by the front porch to make endless chuppy chup sounds. How long do they live, chipmunks? I would think, based on the early expiration dates God has stamped onto gerbils and mice, that a chipmunk would not STILL be present and living and chupping up the earth more than five years after we bought the house. Perhaps this is son of son of chuppy chipmunk, and we should have nipped his LOUD father in the bud on move-in day before he could spawn his equally LOUD progenies who apparently won’t LEAVE THE HOME BURROW and go GET JOBS chupping elsewhere.
These noises---gahhhhh. He makes them with a maddening regularity and ear-drum piercing pitch and timbre. For several weeks. After the first few days, as he stands just under the office window for hours and hours, chuppitty chup chupping, Scott says, MAY I PLEASE GO SHOOT THAT AWFUL BIRD IN THE FACE? Actually he says the Scottly equivalent of such, which means he cocks one eyebrow to a mildly displeased angle and says, ”That bird is loud.” (But he MEANS he wants to shoot it in the face. Or maybe it is only that I mean he does.)
Then I say, “That is not a bird, that is that SAME CHIPMUNK,”
and he says, “What same chipmunk?”
and I say, “The one you wanted to shoot in the face last spring when he stood there chupping endlessly,”
and Scott says, “I wanted to shoot who in the what? The bird???”
and I say, “IT IS NOT A BIRD IT IS A CHIPMUNK. NOW GO SHOOT IT.”
Then instead of going and shooting it like a sensible person, he argues that the ungodly noise must be from a bird, and I say he always thinks it is a bird and it never is, and finally he goes and looks and there under the office window is the same Chipmunk (or its horrid progeny), standing stiff legged with a rigid spine and a fixed stare, chup chup chupping for all he is worth. Then Scott says, “Hm. It IS a chipmunk,” and nothing gets shot and the chipmunk finishes his chup-cycle and shuts up until the next spring-or-fall, when we will repeat this seasonal passion play, I am certain.
I think I need a change. Hopefully one that does involve firearms and the obliteration of what is actually a rather cute little fellow when he keeps his squeaky pie-hole shut. But yeah – I definitely need a change.
I’m trying to make SRS progress on the new book while at the same time doing final page proofs for Rose. Which I keep calling Rose, even though the title is BACKSEAT SAINTS and I love that title. But I think of the book as Rose because she owns it so completely. It’s a different kind of book for me --- I usually have a Broadway cast of thousands mucking around and making problems. Rose mucks around enough to carry what is, in a lot of ways, a one-woman show. There’s a supporting cast, of course, but it’s not a true ensemble piece like Between or TGWSS. (WOW, how was THAT for an immediate digression?)
To continue to digress with fluffy abandon, gamboling like a feckless rabbit through the mind meadows when REALLY, Beloveds, I should be working on one of these two books...it’s interesting doing these proofs with my head SO deep into THE OTHER MOSEY SLOCUMB. Usually when proofs come I ABANDON the new book and try to get my head all the way back into the old book. But Rose was VERY close to me---maybe too close some days--- so it seemed smarter to stay in MOSEY. I like having the distance here as I try to make absolutely sure of every line. A lot hinges on VOICE in Rose’s book, and I want every word to be right.
I think I am calling it Rose’s book because it feels less mine and more hers now, even though, yes, FINE, I suppose technically, she doesn’t exist---hey, THANKS for pointing that out, mentally well person in the back row, and please do not let the door hit you in the butt as you exit.
I always try to personally release a book before the pub date comes and publicly releases it for me, but this is an early break-up. I mean that figuratively; I DO try to think of books as boyfriends. I always worry about novelists who call their book their “babies.” Novels are not offspring. You do not SELL your offspring.
I want to say to them, My friend, that is not your baby. I would lie down on a railroad track for either of my babies, but heck, if the only paper copy of a fresh book of mine was tied down to the rails with Casey Jones steamrolling toward it, and I was offered the opportunity to take its place, I think I would wipe away an errant tear and wave a fond goodbye. I can’t open a bottle of shiraz, hook up with my best fella, and re-grow the magic animals that are Exactly-Sam and Exactly-Maisy. But I can, after all, always write another novel. If you truly think of a novel is your baby, I suggest you learn to love it less.
To write a novel, then, for me, is less like pro-creating and more like engaging in a moderately self-destructive yet extremely passionate relationship. Me and my Book-in-progress, we fight and weep and make up and forge onward. When it is good between us, oh, when it is good, it is so very very good. And when it is bad? Horridhorridhorrid.
I have been known to foam and scream and disappear so thoroughly chasing the pretend people that I can wreck my actual interpersonal relationships. Mir once told me she spent the first half of our friendship being absolutely positive I was on-and-off secretly furious with her, as a month would go by without me calling, and when she called me, I would sound distant and pre-occupied. It wasn’t madatherness. (Totally a word.) It was just that thing high school girls do when they have their first boyfriend----they kinda ditch their friends. I realized I never LIKED those girls in high school, so I try not to be that girl anymore, and I make sure I am keeping in touch even in the throes of deepest over-involvement with imaginary people.
But those imaginary relationships are SO absorbing, more delicious and yet less physically destructive than the most delicious drug. While in the deeps of it, I have been known to obnoxiously crow one hour and flail and bite the earth in a violent rage the next. To weep and stamp on myself for pitifully failing to capture an image one day and be unendurably smug as I exult in my obvious genius at capturing it so perfectly the next. I have also been known, on the bad days, to eat whole crowds of comforting Cheetos and bitterly repent of them when the Salt Bloat comes and I see how long my fingers retain that unnatural orange taint.
And then I finish. Completely. Then it is time to have an amicable break-up, and let the book go. And I mean TRULY amicable. If you are proud of the book, if you like it, this is easier. I am VIOLENTLY proud of Rose’s book, so this may be why I have let go slightly early. It’s like an ex-boyfriend that you will always feel love and admiration for, but it was just TIME, you know? You hope that boyfriend will go on to have a long and successful relationship with someone else, say, the New York Times bestseller list. But you will never be with him in that same way again.
Part of letting go is being open to fresh love. I have to get deeply involved with my new book, accepting that the published ones are never going to be “mine” again in quite the same way --- no longer mutable, no longer under my control, out in the world talking back to readers instead of talking back to me.
Mosey and Raymond Knotwood and Big and Liza are becoming VERY real to me – especially Mosey and Raymond. Reading Rose with this amount of distance and release-of-ownership already at work, it/she feels separate from me. At the same time, we are not quite done with each other, Rose and I. She is still real enough in my head to be allowed to own the book.
Doing both these things at once (drafting TOMS and page proofing BACKSEAT SAINTS) also means I have been in my fantasy pants---huge balloon shaped Indian print draw-string monstrosities, most with holes in the seams---for days and days and days. When I MUST leave the house, I do it quickly, in carefully planned and sharply executed sprints. And HERE at last I stop digressing and we come to pajamas----what I THOUGHT the blog was going to be about before I decided to do an interior landscape painting instead that clearly shows my mental illness number hovering highhighhigh above the flatlands of my brain like a full moon.
SO! PAJAMAS! And not leaving the house except in sprints. Some of these sprints don’t require me to change into actual pants. Yesterday I did bank/pick-up-kids/drive-through-liquor-store-window-for-Shiraz-and-Diet-Coke without anyone but a few seen-much-worse, high-perched professional truckers ever seeing anything below my shoulders through the Vue’s window. If my little uber-mammal children didn’t require another gallon of milk every other minute I might not put on pants again this month.
For the record? The drive-through window liquor store only has Milk Chugs. No actual gallons or even quarts. REALLY, Liquor store? REALLY? Okay then, why bother carrying chocolate infused Vodka if you do not have MILK so people can make grown up rabbit-free Quik? Silly people.
Beautiful Maisy who is barely seven has long claimed that the best food comes on a stick. She cites corn dogs. She cites popsicles. She cites blow-pops, and ice cream bars, and those butter-dunked ears of roasted corn you can get at the fair. She cites Chicken on a Stick, a frightening LOG of meaty, fried-y protein that you can only buy at an all-night gas station in Oxford, Mississippi. It is served with a plastic tub-let of dipping sauce, and you can choose BBQ, honey mustard, Sweet-N-Sour, etc. Come two AM on a Friday, there is a LINE of tipsy Mississippians outside that place so long it comes close to circling the parking lot.
Maisy has never HAD Chicken on A Stick, of course, but she has heard me speak of it with reverence. And she believes my hype, because, after all...it comes on a stick. How bad can it be?
Yesterday, however, was our FALL FESTIVAL at church. The youth group ran it. The Youth Group ALWAYS runs it, and it always has the same games, dug out of the basement and propped in a previously determined order around the front parking lot.
This year, the youth rebelled. They decided to make up their OWN games and leave that tired (and possibly carnivorous) giant clown face game (and all the others) in storage. You know the standard Church fall fest clown face game? It is a big wooden board painted with the HUGE sad clown face with the gaping horror holes in the eyes and mouth, and you try to throw the floppy, ten year old bean bags through? And you kinda suspect the mouth is a portal to hell because, after all, THIS IS A HUGE PAINT-PEELY PORTRAIT OF A SAD SAD EYELESS CLOWN. Gah.
So this year they had DECORATE A COOKIE booth---Maisy bee-lined to that one right out of the car and got immediately liquored up on sprinkles. They had Hay Ride and Cake Walk and Halloween Hair-Do with glitter and color sprays. They had face painting. They had an ALL YOUTH BAND that could play Wild Thing. And Louie-Louie. And that do-do-do-do song where the guy yells WIPE-OUT! They had grand a costume parade. They did a great job---it was definitely different from last year.
But...I could have done without Donut Limbo. They strung a clothesline, and then they threaded TWINE through the holes of powder sugar donuts and HUNG then donuts at varying heights from the line. The idea was, a youth would put a blindfold on a kid, and the kid would have to FIND and EAT the whole donut off the string. No handsies.
Maisy thought this was BRIL, if a little too complicated. She looked very seriously at the girl running the booth and said, “You’d better not blindfold me. I am just little. And that string needs to be longer. I can’t reach that donut!” SO the girl obligingly lowered a donut and left off the blindfold. For Maisy the game consisted of sidling up to a donut hung at exactly mouth level and taking delicate nips at it until it was all gone.
Later, I was inside restocking our welcome table, and I saw through the glass doors that Maisy had decided to up the challenge-level. She had allowed herself to be blindfolded and was standing once again at a conveniently mouth-level donut, chomping vigorously away at it. I waved at Scott through the glass and mouthed, NO MORE DONUTS ON STRINGS! NO MORE! NO MORE!
He nodded sagely, but a little later he came in to help me, and Maisy went off with my friend Jill. Scott did not warn Jill that Maisy had reached full donut capacity. When we came out of the church, there was our girl, blindfolded and leaping up to snap chunks out of a high-hung donut like a teeny, vicious piranha fish. She had apparently been out there honing her skills for quite some time, as her entire face and shoulders were dusted with a light patina of powdery white sugar.
“Maiy Jane!” I said, “How many donuts have you HAD?”
“Dunno,” she said, stopping long enough to peek over her blindfold at me and see if I was buying the DUNNO HOW MANY DONUTS defense.
I was not. “More than three?” I asked, stern-voiced, and then I saw her face light up with an IDEA.
“I dunno HOW many I ate,” she said, crafty-like. “I was BLINDFOLDED!”
Riiiiight. Judging by the way she ran in hysterical circles for two hours, hooting and shrieking, and then got a little weepy, and then collapsed into heap of sleeping child that had the consistency of a damp bit of overused rag, I am going to guess she had SEVERAL.
The Donut Limbo line has made a lasting impression. She now isn’t sure WHAT is very best. Food on a stick? Or food on a string? I suspect the answer changes depending on which food has the highest sugar content.
Yesterday I went all Domesticated. I put frozen chicken breasts and pre-soaked beans and beautiful olives and sautéed onions and peppers and tomatoes and all manner of lovely enchilada sauce in the crock pot. I had a book event, but, thought I, my family can STILL be nourished by a lovely homemade meal fashioned with my own two hands. The secret ingredient of MOM-LOVENESS would flavor it, because that’s just how I roll. PREEEEN!
Momtastic, right? I can bring home the bacon, slow cook it up in a crockpot, and at the SAME TIME I can pop out of my car’s imaginary tank-hatch style sunroof with a submachine gun and pepper I-85 with a hail of hot lead so that traffic clears and allows me to get to Lawrenceville on time. Or wait, no I can’t.
I can sit in traffic for two hours and be almost on time, though. THIS IS ME, HAVING IT ALL, I thought smugly, mentally spritzing 70’s perfume into the air and walking through it while I sat breathing the exhaust farts of a muffler free Volkswagon for close to two solid hours.
But I was not at all dismayed as I inched forward, because I knew at home my children and Scott were enjoying a nice, hot meal flavored with MMMM SALTY LOVENESS. Or wait, not that either. I did not notice that I had turned the crock pot dial to a spot exactly between LOW and HIGH which, surprisingly, does not equal medium. It equals nothing. Scott and the kids came home to raw chicken that had been sitting in enchilada juice and slowly thawing itself while making bored whistling noises and hoping it would be left unmolested long enough to drum up some good, deadly bacteria.
Luckily Scott got home EARLY and realized what had happened before it sat for too long. SO at around five-thirty, he put the cooker on. When I called from the now vacant I-85 on my way home, he told me about the dial and that the cooker was on making the chicken that we could have as lunches all week or Thursday dinner.
So I had not provided dinner, but on the UPSIDE I hadn’t ruined 30 bucks worth of groceries! Scott was exhausted – he was out of town all weekend, so I was in charge of the chicken. “NUT UP, SELF!” I thought to myself in a perky think-voice. “TIME TO REDEEM YOURSELF, OH SELFY! You will go home and watch The Office marathon on TBS until 11:30, then go down and shred the cooked chicken and put it in the fridge,” Said I to me, and then nodded in cheery accord.
OR NOT. I could have done that, but instead I fell asleep on my face, drooling, only 10 minutes into the 5K race episode where Pam walks in and sees Michael’s, um, think tank. I have never seen the end of that ep, which Scott says involves pukign up alfredo and some of the best Office one-liners in the history of the show. I MISSED all that, and this morning I got up to 15 hour carbon-flavored chicken husks that had mummified into a concrete-hard coating in my slowcooker. EPIC MOMFAIL. It will take a chisel and REALLY a lot of swear words to chip and blister that crap out. I feel up to the task. At least the swearwords part.
On the upside, I am really really grumpy. I mean, no. On the UPSIDE, I slept funny and my neck is borked. Wait wait, no, now I have it. On the upside, I have COOKIES. Oh wait, no, because I denuded my house of all junkfood. But hey, at least I can work up some good endorphins on my elliptical, OH WAIT, except it BROKE.…Epic optimism fail. If you need me I will be in the corner, making grumble-flump sounds and glaring.
HI! I am being undone by hideous fate! Today was the day of the great reclamation of fitness, yes? Yes. Remember YESTERDAY, less than 24 hours ago? I sure do. Nature and technology, who used to be such archenemies, such deadly foes, such despising opposites, have decided to make their new motto, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
I am apparently the enemy they chose to bond over.
NATURE, that vicious harpy, rained out my boot camp. POURED out my boot camp, actually. She cut loose every raindrop in her arsenal upon The Few, The Proud, The Dumb Enough To Show Up to Boot Camp in The Middle of a Raging Rainstorm. We took shelter in a party pavilion, where we put our yoga mats on top of wooden picnic tables and did an hour of lifting interspersed with moist sit-ups, plank, and mountain climbers. Upside? I burned an extra 15 calories flapping my lips in an endless stream of curse-filled invective against Nature. That shrew.
I slogged home feeling thwarted...calisthenics are nice and all, but boot camp is circuit style training where cardio meets resistance and then they team up to leave you a quivering pile of deliciously sore muscles. I felt cheated. And damp.
I came into my house and hied IMMEDIATELY to my million dollar computer chip run, so-sophisticated-it-is-practically-sentient elliptical. I got on it, chose a long routine, put on a movie about fish-belly white blind cannibal humanoids who eat up pretty, British cave explorers. (Name that film!) The film made me nervous enough to paddle REALLY fast, and I was just starting to lather up into a pounding gallopy sweat when --- a terrible CLUNK noise emanated from the bowels of my wildly expensive and therefore not currently replaceable machine. Some sort of hinge thing cracked and fell out of the leg part, and now it won’t go.
I weigh less than HALF of the maximum weight this machine can support, so let’s not blame my butt for this, mmkay? Perhaps the manufacturers assumed that like my long forgotten and free cycled boring treadmill, this elliptical would swiftly become a very expensive sweater hanger? Well, I made the mistake of actually USING exercise equipment this time. But I cannot have worn it OUT already? It is not a new machine, but neither is it old and creakful. It is, in fact, exactly middle-aged enough to have JUST passed out of the stage where everything is covered under warranty.
Well played, Technology, you jerk. Well played.
On the upside, my emotional response to this was not food. It was napping.
Though UNDONE , I am still DOING. Alas, I am irresponsible and I do not update my appearances page as I should. But I have much ado this week.
If you live in the Atlanta area, come and see me! And after, we can do JUMPING JACKS in the freakin’ parking lot since my next scheduled boot camp is WEDNESDAY which – NOT coincidentally—is when Nature has planned her next RAINSTORM. (Not kidding. The radio said so as I drove home.)
Tomorrow, Tuesday October 13th at 7 PM, I am going to be talking about my books and the writing life and maybe some Q and A in the Cisco Auditorium at Georgia Gwinnett College. If that is your neck of the woods, please come on out. Look, The info is up on the college’s home page in the revolving banner at the top: Make clicketty here.
On Thursday, October 15th at 6 PM at the Commerce Club I am on a panel talking about my sudden-co-arch-nemesis, Technology. Also on the panel, the raucous and ‘scrutiating talented Hollis Gillespie, Pulitzer Prize Winner and total mensch Hank Klibanoff and New York Times Bestselling memoirist Janine Latus.
The topic is Topic: Using Social Media to Connect with Your Audience and Sell Your Book and you can find more info here.
I need something. (And here my voracious id pipes up to say, “OH YEAH I DO HAVE A NEED! I should place a classified ad to find someone to fill it! Please note that the successful applicant will probably be made out of candy.”) No, id. Bad, id. I mean I need something to re-motivate me.
I finished the American Heart Association’s fitness lifestyle change heart healthy program. Remember? Better U? And I was better. I WORKED hard and I changed my basic habits and was eating better and working out harder and I looked and felt better. Right?
Here is the problem. I am LESS better now than I was a month ago when I finished. I have been too busy to do 5 or 6 boot camps this week, and though I am on the elliptical every day that I miss boot camp, these things are not of equal value. At the same time, I have been constantly putting beautiful things with butter on them into my horrid gobhole. IN A SINGLE IRRITATED WEEK I have gained back two and a half pounds. It took only one week of bitter nomming to undo a full 25% of all that work. I have the metabolism of an expired sea urchin...if I have a perfect PERFECT week of exercise and no candy, I can expect to drop MAYBE half a pound. SO WHY DID I CREATE FIVE WEEKS OF CRAPULANT EFFORT FOR MYSELF???
I knew. I knew what I was doing. YET I did it anyway, making bad choices I knew were bad each time because it MATTERED little to me all of a sudden. I discovered that MAINTAINING my new level of betterness devalued it. As the transformed me became what I was used to being, every day, the NEW became STATUS QUO, and I discovered that I was not nearly BETTER ENOUGH to please myself. So I ate some comforting bacon. I hovered a dress size smaller for LESS THAN A MONTH, my cholesterol 40+ points down, with moderately better eating habits and a good fitness regimen, and I began to think, “Meh. You still are kind of a failure. I mean, I don’t see you doing RUNWAY.”
The longer I remain at the smaller dress size, the less desirable and interesting it is becoming to me. Better is not good enough. Better is actually kinda Loathesome, even. The logic goes like this: “I need to be SUPER MORE EVEN BETTER, and it seems tiresome to try, so I might as well eat everything.” If you followed that, you have a twisty mind. If you not only followed it but can empathize, congratulations, you are very, very mentally ill indeed.
The thing that worked about Better U, for me, was the accountability and sense of competition. Something about doing it so PUBLICLY, posting all those BEFORE numbers, knowing I had to post the AFTER numbers in 10 short weeks...GARGLE. And, even more important than the hstrong possibility of total failure in a public venue, it fostered a desire to WIN. The before numbers were like a SCORE. I was in direct competition with myself, which is the only kind of competition I try to indulge in these days.
I am SO HIDEOUSLY competitive with others that I will destroy whole nations if I think “Winning” is at stake. I am not pleasant during team sports, so I do not play them. In Boot Camp the other day, we divided into four teams and then the leader hurled 4 tennis balls as far and hard as she could, each with a number (1 through 4) on it. One member of each team had to run and snatch up a ball. The tennis ball’s number was a number of points for your team, so everyone was after the ball that said “4.”
I almost killed two people getting to it one round, leaping between them like a crack addled gazelle, and then the next round I did a modified soccer check and peeled off a fine sheet of my own leg-skin, sliding in front of a girl to snatch the 4 from her reaching fingers. I felt cruel words rising in me, things like IN YER FACE and SUCK IT, and I stopped then. Just dropped the ball and quit the game and crept off to bleed quietly on my yoga mat, holding myself in a penitent plank until they were done, so ASHAMED was I. Honestly, if I had continued I suspect it would have ended in hair pulling and profane language.
I try not to even GET in those situations. I do not like the me who is so willing to salt the earth and smite lambs and rend the sky in twain to WIN.
Oh, but OH, how I DO love to win. I can’t give it up. It is delicious. I can’t imagine life without the salty tang of WIN in it, so I compete against myself. BETTER U put me in direct competition with myself, and that is a place where I thrive.
EXAMPLE: I looked at breaking into publishing as a competition with myself, actually. It is VERY HARD to break into publishing, and many people fall into the trap of looking at it as a competition with other writers, as if the publishing world is made of SLOTS and if some lesser book TAKES yours, then that book and its writer have ROBBED you. This attitude makes for some simply beasty-level ugly prima donna unforgiveable and INCREDIBLY boring and self-indulgent whiny behavior. I have MET that girl, I do not LIKE that girl, and I fought like HELL avoid becoming That Girl as I struggled to begin a career as a novelist.
I decided at the front that no one could take MY slot. No one else can write MY books, just as I can’t channel the ghost of Robert Penn Warren and write HIS next book. My books are mine, and (as the great Miss Snark used to say) books are not fungible. There is no slot that MY book was competing to get with other exactly-like books. I only have my voice, and no one else has it. And other writers only have THEIR voices, and if they got a book deal, it was because their voice caught an editor’s ear.
I decided I had to MAKE a slot for me, and if a book of mine got rejected, FINE, it simply was not the right book, not the right editor, and not the right day, and I would go write another book. I would not blame anyone who did get a book contract, because their book was not MY book, and that slot was for THEIR book. The truth is, list or no list, restrictions or no restrictions, when an editor falls for a book, all the way falls, they go to war to get it on their list. I didn’t need to beat another author, or a million other authors. I only needed to write a book that an editor with some power would go to war over. When I got rejected, I girded up my loins, looked at the rejected book as a bar, and tried to leap over it.
I still am this way. I love to set my own bar. I love leaping over it.
So. I need something. I need some sort of public accountability BAR that I set for myself, and then I want to take a run at it. I am trying to have an idea. I am trying to get a posse of my bloggy-style friends have it with me. It is going to happen. IT SHALL, she said willfully with eyebrows lowered and her mouth set to “Mutinous.”
For NOW, starting tomorrow, FIRST THING, I am setting down the butter and backing veryveryvery quickly away, backing away SO quickly that my heart rate rises and stays elevated for a good hour, and then I will drop and give you fifty. I am not going to UNDO any more of my good betterings while I plan out this new competitio---um PLAN. Not competition. This new PLAN to be even more better-er than better me.
TOMORROW. I very vigorously MEAN it. I will be Better again tomorrow.
But er, maybe not today. Today I am taking the kids to Cold Stone Creamery. Heh.
There are days when I think I am weird. Then I look at my friends and I think, Oh but wait, I am not any weirder than THEM, so if that is the standard level of weird then by definition this level of weirdness is normal. Then I realize that to try and quantify how much weirdness must be included in the Normal Person package to make a normal person correctly weird enough to BE normal is NOT NORMAL. And that realization is usually followed up by a piece of behavior SO VERY ODD on the part of one of my friends that I come to understand that, yes, indeed, I must be a complete freak if these people want to hang out with me.
Today, for example, out of a clear blue cloudless conversation about her edits, Karen said to me...
Karen: I’m concerned. I feel like you are not getting your money’s worth out of this friendship.
Me: You are concerned I am not getting my... what-y’s what?
Karen: Like, you aren’t getting your full friendship value.
Me: *laughing* My FULL FRIENDSHIP VALUE? Like, I could have SUPERSIZED it but instead I just got a small cup o’greasy-friend-fries? What do you get out of my friendship that is your “money’s worth.”
Karen: Are you kidding? I get tangible sprongs of pleasure when I talk to you.
Me: Tangible what of whats???
Karen: Pleasure sprongs. I talk to you and they come out of my head, all around. I picture it as looking like the crown on the Statue of Liberty. SPRONG! SPRONG!
Me: *DYING LAUGHING* And you think I don’t get tangible pleasure sprongs when I talk to you?
Karen: I worry that you do not. I think I come along with my carnivorous little teeth and gnaw at you as if you were an ear of corn. I gnaw away at you in rows until you are all exhausted COB. Just COB.
Me: No, no, I am NOT a cob. I have MASSIVE pleasure sprongs.
Her: Are you POSITIVE?
Me: Quite. I think mine might be PINK.
It is true. My pleasure sprongs are a good thirty feet long. Alas, I suspect my WEIRDNESS sprongs may be EVEN LONGER.
Hi. I am back from walking to Emmaus. It was so beautiful to disappear into the things that actually matter for 3 days. At the same time, it is NICE TO BE BACK IN THE WORLD. PS: I really love electronics. Over-love. I am sure it is not healthy. My monitor has lip prints and slobber all down the front.
My agent, Jacques, called to check in while I was off. I love to listen to Jacques TALK. He has a rich, deep voice and a unique way with words. I returned his call maybe two hours after I left the gorgeous mind-silence and returned to my regular, rowdy, child-infested, beloved life at home. I got a follow up email from him this morning that began, “Joshilyn, how nice to catch you yesterday in your state of considerable purity . . . “
Hee. I am not sure how considerably pure my state is, but I did get my head taken off, crap poured out, and then my head was screwed back on straight. Ye Olde Mental Illness Number has endured a Total Reset. I am starting today at my personal Craziness Ground Zero, which may not be a universal Ground Zero, but is pretty dern good for me.
(Calculating my MIN is sort of like figuring out Bagel’s age in dog years, in that a unit of my crazy is probably larger than the average loon-unit, so Ground Zero for me is probably what most people would think of, as, say 47. EVEN SO! Forty-seven is very very very good. VERY good. At Ground Zero/47, I tend to SLEEP for 3 or even 4 hours at a stretch and I while I can’t say I obsess less because my main dial seems to be perma-stuck on CONSTANTLY-OBSESS, I will say I obsess less about stupid crap and more about non-stupid uncrap that actually matters.)
The weekend was wonderful. Not going to say very much about it. No one who has been to Emmaus really talks about it much in detail... indeed the secretiveness of HOW IT WORKED was kinda a big turn off for a control freak like me. I was invited several times and went, UM NAHH, K THANKS DRIVE THROUGH. But then a couple of people I TRULY respect at my church invited me within a couple of days of each other, and so I went, and I learned the quiet on the subject of what you do over the course of the 72 hours has nothing to do with secretiveness.
It’s like...Christmas. If I told you all about it, it would ruin it in some ways. It would be like if I said to you, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE AN AWESOME CHRISTMAS! BECAUSE YOUR DAD GOT YOU A PUPPY! AND THAT PRESENT THERE? THAT’S FROM YOUR MOM AND IT IS THAT EXACT BUTTERFLY NET YOU HAVE BEEN WANTING IN THE HOT PINK COLOR YOU THOUGHT WAS DISCONTINUED SHE FOUND IT ON THE INTERNET AND DROVE ALL THE WAY TO MINNESOTA TO PICK IT UP.
If you are a Christian flavored person and peeps at your church have been talking to you about taking the walk to Emmaus, go ahead and go. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, world-view-changing thing, and when you arrive and they put the mind-controlling brain worms in, it only pinches for a second...HA! No, no. I KID! In reality, it hurts like HECK...NO, NO, I KID, I kid! You should go.
I talked with my beloved and extremely lapsed Catholic Whoodie, Miss Karen, about it for about four hours yesterday, and then, out of NOWHERE, she viciously accused me of growing as a person in the last year. My response was to hit her in the face until her nose came off, which was hard to do from all the way in Georgia when she was in NYC, but I managed. Some things require doing, time and space be damned, and recalcitrant geography can suck it.
I do NOT grow as a person. It’s trashy. We don’t do that here, remember? We only try to be kinder-gentler-lessparanoid-morejoyful-and-atpeace. We try to be kinder, every time. That we can do. AND OKAY YES, There are times and places to do all things, everything has a season, blah blah, but I maintain that the time for Growing as a Person is when you are a tofu-eating communist dwelling on a farm with no toilets, you just poo directly into the soil to help the corn grow, and you probably HEAR the corn say thank you in a peeping corn-like muppet voice, and you use the barter system because money is psychologically frightening and physically full of microscopic carnivorous weevils and you are not reading this because you gave up electricity because the aliens were using the current to put ideas about the virtues of cannibalism into your brain.
I refuse to come to that season, no matter HOW high the MIN grows. I am not judging you if you do though (she said in pious tones, looking down her long and supercilious nose). You want to grow as a person? FINE. Pass the healing crystals and Shut Up about it. Try to grow as a person QUIETLY. Over there.
It’s a vocabulary thing. GROW AS A PERSON sounds so ... GROWIER THAN THOU to me. Makes my skin try to shudder its way right off my growthsome bones and creep away, skeeved and ashamed of itself.
But Karen says I am. (I’m not. SHUT. UP.) I guess a way I can accept it being said is this: I am changing. I used to be on the fence about how much change was or is actually possible...Arlene and Burr’s essential argument on the nature of change in gods In Alabama is in many ways my own internal argument. Burr BELIEVES in change, in transformation, in being remade and renewed. Arlene? Not so much. I love the section in the car where they fuss about this for the first time in the book. Arlene says:
“You can’t stick a quarter in someone and push their nose and get any candy bar you like. People don’t work that way. I mean, sure, there is cause and effect, but it isn’t predictable.”
“So you don’t think a traumatic or even joyful event can make a difference in a person’s life? You don’t believe in revelation or epiphany?”
“Well, I think people have epiphanies, all the time. Usually they are worthless. Maybe two percent of the time, someone may decide to change some aspect of their behavior. It’s like Paul on the road to Damascus. Here’s this anal-retentive control freak who likes to run around and persecute Christians. So God knocks him down and blinds him and reams him out. So he stopped persecuting Christians. But---go read him. He was still an anal-retentive control freak. He changed his behavior, but I don’t believe people can change their essential natures. The things that happen to me just make me more me.”
And in many ways she is right. I always am me, alive in my skin, year after year. But then, I think about the girl I was 20 years ago, and that girl is pretty much dead. That’s a good thing. A wonderful thing. It must be happening too slow for me to notice? But Karen is noticing. And that feels good, too, so perhaps I will help her tape her nose back on and send her an FTD bouquet, and then going on trying-failing-trying to be kinder, to be kinder, every time.
I am getting ready to zoom away for the weekend. Scott says not to worry, because he will hold down the fort, and keep my children mostly fed and dry, and make a Backseat Saints page for the site, and also, while I am gone, fairies will be cleaning my house:
I am going on a retreat and will have no phone or internet, which is kinda horrifying for a plug-junky like me. OH! CRACKBERRY! WE HAD ONLY JUST DISCOVERED EACH OTHER! But it will be good for me.
Either that or they will find me in the woods trying to plug a moldy piece of licorice into a knothole while screaming HELLO? HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW, VERIZON GUY? into a pinecone. Either way, I will be home Monday, or at least back, because I am sure they have wireless in the Special Hospital.
Before I flit, I wanted to show you The Most Beautiful Thing I Have Ever Seen (excepting of course, the woodland critter pictured about and her gorgeous brother). The image is by Cig Harvey, a photographer whose work blows me away. If you go to her site, be sure to check out the gallery called “eyes like disappointed lemons.”
This cover, it makes me shake when I look at it.
She read the book. And she caught both a moment in the text as well as the mood of the story, so, so perfectly and in such rich, wild colors. That model has the prettiest skin I have ever seen and Cig Harvey trapped several suns worth of light inside it... I look at that cover and I immediately want to know why Rose cut her hair off. It makes me ask that question even though of course I know why, of course, because I wrote it.
Anyway, I love it. I love it SO much it is illegal in five states. I hope you do too! The jacket copy is below, if you want to know what the book is about.
Joshilyn Jackson’s novels are beloved by fans and critics alike—Bookpage calls her “a remarkable writer (who has) come along to re-energize American fiction.” In this, her fourth novel, Jackson has upped the ante, and the result is a book that will move and delight both current fans and new readers…prepare to fall in love with BACKSEAT SAINTS
Rose Mae Lolley’s past is littered with bad men. From her earliest intimate relationship with her father’s fists to the string of bad news boyfriends she dated and ditched after leaving home, she has always courted trouble. As “Mrs. Ro Grandee,” she’s managed to tamp down the fierce and dirty girl Rose Mae once was under flowery skirts and bow-trimmed ballet flats and lunches cooked for the church bazaar.
Trapped in a marriage thick with love and sick with abuse, Ro performs her role of dutiful wife perfectly in her new home in rural Texas, gracefully working in her husband’s daddy’s gun store in between making eggs, ironing shirts, and taking her punches. She seems doomed to spend the rest of her life battered on the outside by her husband and on the inside by her former self, until fate throws her in the path of an airport gypsy—one who shares her past and knows her future. The tarot cards foretell that Rose’s beautiful, abusive husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first.
Hot-blooded Rose Mae escapes from under Ro’s perky compliance and emerges with a gun and a plan to beat the hand she’s been dealt. Following messages that her long-missing mother has left hidden for her in graffiti and behind paintings, Rose and her dog Gretel set out from Amarillo, Texas back to her hometown of Fruiton, Alabama, and then on to California, unearthing a host of family secrets as she goes. Running for her life, she realizes that she must face her past in order to overcome her fate—death by marriage—and become a woman who is strong enough to save herself from the one who loves her best.