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.
When we started, you and I, things were different. Back then, "You and I" was me and Scott, my mom and dad, a couple of my friends from church and grad school, and maybe a dozen peeps from various internet games I played. On March the 10th, 2004 my sweet friend Shawn Box posted the first ever legit, non-spam comment on Faster Than Kudzu. On March 28, 2004, a stranger found the blog---just surfed in somehow, via a random google search, and left a comment.
I sat boggling at it---it was like I'd thrown a message in a bottle out into an infinite sea, and a couple weeks later a seagull buzzed past and pooped a magic answer on my shoulder. I had yelled into a cybrous void, and someoneâ€”another voice--- yelled back. Not an echo. A response. I called Scott and my mom and my friends and made them go look. Since that weird moment, I have checked for comments an average of nine times a day. Maybe more, on the bad days.
My mental illness number has run the gamut from as-low-as-it-goes up to about 100 freakin' billion, and back down. And back up. And down. AND WAYWAYWAY BACK UP. Each time, you have gladly climbed aboard the crazy train and kept me company and some of you have even blown your very own crazy train steam whistles as we ran side by side along loop-de-looping parallel crazy-tracks.
Over the last five years, I have said MANY dumb things that I truly meant at the time. I said, for example, that I would never, never grow as a person. You agreed with me. It was a PACT. We pinky swore. We agreed that we do not do that here.
I think we have failed each other on that.
(On the most hateful, literal level, I was wearing a size 8. I have certainly grown as a person, all the way into a size 12. I cannot say I am pleased about this.)
But I think over the five years plusplus that we've been building this weird-ass little Kudzu community, we've all grown up. At least a little. We've all, God help me, grown on the inside. Where it counts. I see you on your own blogs, and in the comments of other blogs many of us frequent, and I have witnessed your HEARTS going up a dress size or two. I have certainly seen you guys reach out in beautiful ways, here.
We grew, and yet the world got smaller. When we started, you and I, My Space was The Hawt New Thang, and it was pretty much ONLY for 14 year boys trolling hopefully for training bra profile pics. Now it is part of a HUGE network of Social Media, and many of you are my facebook friends now. We have made the world become smaller and hopefully a little warmer. How much smaller? Okay.
Remember, back in high school? I told you there was a girl who wanted me dead, and she payed this frizzy haired future felon girl 5 bucks to bring her brass knuckles to school and punch me in the face. Luckily the plot was discovered, the both girls got suspended and the one who had hatched the plot got sent away to Catholic school.
Well. She and I are now friends on Facebook.
Back then, I always referred to my daughter as Beautiful Maisy Who Is Barely Two. Because she was beautiful and barely two. (And if you have not read the entry I just linked to, about SIEGRFRIED THE TIGER, you should. Really. Follow that link. That is all.)
My son, Sam, was seven. He didn't have a context for words like BOOK SIGNING. He did not quite get what his mom was doing. So he dragged all his books around and had everyone he LIKED sign them. I have his old Lemony Snicket books, completely innocent of a LEMONY signature, that have been lovingly autographed by both his parents, all three of his grandparents, his teacher, and his scrawly little friends from church.
At one of my first FOR REAL book signings, Sam sat beside me at the table and didn't understand why HE couldn't sign the copies of gods of Alabama, too. One of that bookstores righteous handsellers---a word I remain convinced is Olde English for "FREAKIN' SAINT"---gave him a pad of yellow post-its, and READERS (quite a few of them from this blog) WHO CAME TO BUY MY BOOK, ----Another Olde English Phrase, meaning, "Oh HELLSYA another buncha freakinâ€™ saints,"---- waited a little extra time, so my son could sign the post-its and carefully affix his signature to each book, under mine.
Back then when we took pics of Sam he made Calvin-face. We had to sneak up on him while he was reading â€“ here are both kids in 2004:
On the end, for his AMBER ALERT ID CARD, they did NOT sneak up on him while he was reading, and he made his usual photo face. Had, God forbid, he actually been kidnapped, and had they sent that photo OUT, the state of Georgia would have been trying to find a crack-monkey, not my gorgeous son. Remember? Well. Here he is NOW:
My beloved niece was Beautiful Erin Who Is Barely Ten, and now she is taking pictures like the one below. Here is Maisy NOW:
Unbelievable. My mom said, last time she saw them, â€œStop growing up so fast, I am going to put a book on your heads.â€ Maisy Jane laughed and Sam shrugged---easy, insouciant--- and said, â€œKnock yourself out. Iâ€™ll just pull it off my head and read it.â€
When we started, Kudzu was mostly me. Now we are all here together, and you make me laugh and ask me to adopt your wasps and make me get all misty, and half the comments are not about the original entry â€“ they are you guys, talking with me and to each other other. What began as a speech has become a more fluid, much more lovely thing: a conversation.
When we started, I never asked your opinion, because you did not exist to meâ€¦now I think out loud, here, and we talk about it. Like, should I get a dogâ€¦I had no dog when we started. Now I have the best and stupidest dog ever born.
When we started, I was more than a year away from seeing my first novel published. Now, I make a living doing what I love most in the world.
When we started, I had never been on a book tour, and I was terrified it would be like throwing a big party where no guests come. Now it's just a nice part of what I do.
These things are all connected to and because of you. You came, you built this community, you told me HELLSYA get a dog, and you bought my books and gave them to your friends and told other people about them. You have been my ongoing guerilla marketers, finding my books in the stores and turning them face out. You chose them for your book clubs. You showed up when I came to your cities. Some of you sidled up shyly and handed me a book to be signed and whispered that you read my blog but never commented, but you were THERE. Some of you came up, boldly announced the name you used on comments, and dragged me off post signing for fancy cocktails in Los Angeles and Shrimp-n-Grits in South Carolina. When I was back home, whining and tired and trying to start the next book, you said nice things to me. You patted my hair. You told me I was pretty when I had bad days and celebrated with me when I had good days, and now, look. Here we are.
Today is the littlest millennium.
This is the thousandth post. 1,000. 1K. Holy CRAP.
Faster Than Kudzu is a thousand posts long.
I want to use this 1000th post to thank you guys, all of you, you Best of all possible Best Beloveds, from the ones who have been here since 2004---you know who you are, and so do I --- to all the friends we picked up, year by year and chat by chat, all the way to a woman named Susan who surfed in only yesterday. This morning she was kind enough to make my day start out bright and hopeful by sending me an email saying she'd spent two hours tramping through Kudzuâ€™s archives and had only navigated away to go order one of my books from an online bookstore.
Thank you all so much.
SO you are considering adopting a stray novelist! Well! Novelists are challenging creatures, but if you take the time to learn a little about them, they CAN make satisfying companion animals.
Your novelist is a solitary creature, and thrives best when it has its own tank aquarium with a T1 internet connection and many, many filled bookshelves. It DOES like to be taken on walks, however, to meet other novelists for frolicksome gambols, generally in venues where alcoholic beverages are served.
The novelist CAN be somewhat sexually indiscriminate, especially if young or hugely successful: Consider having yours fixed before it goes and makes MORE novelists. It helps make them tractable, and as we all know, the unhappy novelist is a biter.
All novelists are attracted to shiny objects, like agents and royalty checks, and will scamper away toward these things if let off the leash in the wrong environment, such as New York City.
You can feed your novelists safely after midnight---in fact, most novelists are nocturnal and would prefer a midnight meal to a nutritive breakfast. Almost all of â€˜em like chicken wings, except the vegetarian ones, and those can safely be fed on soy-licious chickenesque wing-shaped objects.
When involved deeply in a book---or approaching deadline---your novelist may forget to do some of the things you are generally used to seeing them doing. For example, bathing. Donâ€™t be too intimidated to get a scrubby and a bucket of sudsy water and do the job yourself---a single overripe novelist can stink up an entire house.
With only exception, you should never ask your novelist this question:
HAVE YOU FINSIHED THE BOOK YET.
The exception, is of course, is if you know beforehand and for a fact that your novelist HAS finished the book. Asking prematurely can result in a blood bath and your novelist may be have to be put down.
But when that long awaited and glorious day comes----as it has for ME, Oh my Best Beloveds---the day when your novelist types the scintillating words THE END at the foot of a completed work--- then, then, then, oh MAGNIFICENT THEN is when you may---no SHOULD! ask that question, over and over, to give your novelist every possible chance to mine the rich pleasures of leaping about the yard at two in the afternoon, still encased in its food crusted pajamas, its limp and greasy hair flapping behind it , its mushroom-pallid skin going into shock from the unaccustomed exposure to the sunlight, as it screams
YES VIRGINIA, I HAVE FINISHED THE BOOK!
Remember the kitten? His name is Boggart but we also call him Little, and Yellow, and Lello, and Beelzebub, who, as it turns out DOES have many names. This kitten has grown up, mostly, and I am sad to report that he is NOT A GOOD CAT.
At least once on a normal day, and SEVERAL times on a bad day, I say to him â€œDEVIL FROM HELLâ€™S BOWELS, do you not KNOW that I went online and found you withering away in an underfunded shelter on the state line between Alabama and Georgia, and they had MORE THAN THIRTY kittens there slated for death in MERE HOURS and I drove a hundred miles and change to get your yellow, sorry buttocks and I took you home and fed you and loved you kindly and allowed you to nurse frenetically on my ears when you were wee and frightened, even though it got my neck all CAT SUCKY, do you not KNOW THIS? Well? Well?â€
Boggart will look at me as if he does know, so I will say, â€œTHEN WHY ARE YOU SUCH AN UNREPENTENT BUTTHOLE?â€ Then he will do this little squirmy move that would be a shrug if he had shoulders to speak of and saunter away, tail held high to blatantly show me the very part I have just accused him of being.
PS. He is not the worldâ€™s best WASHER. Iâ€™m just sayinâ€™.
I was STRONGLY considering drowning him yesterday, and I made a pro/con list where the pros were reasons to allow his continued existence.
1) Boggart is pleasant to look at. His orange and yellow stripes are very rich in color, and his white bits are creamy and fine. He has a pleasing, symmetrical face with very large, very round pumpkin colored eyes, tidy ears, and a Roman nose. I have always enjoyed looking at cats with Roman noses.
2) Heâ€¦ might be soft?
That was all I could come up with.
1) He is not THAT pretty. In fact, just now, he is downright SLINKY looking. Adolescence made his BACK legs grow out longer than his front ones. Fisher Price little people could SKI down his back if they were half as inclined as his SPINE is. His WHOLE back end grew ahead of the front one, in fact, rendering him slim-shouldered and pinheaded, and his big belly and butt dandle from his pointed front like a bloaty droplet.
EDIT: Holly in comments says she cannot imagine the bloaty-droplet-like aspects of his physique and asked for a picture. I tried to get a picture of him from the side, standing up, but every time I approached, he sat down and gave me this AFFRONTED expression:
After Scott got home, I decided to try to capture his odd shape on film again, this time by by hanging him. He bore it with phlagmatism. SEE how he is pear or droplet shaped? Also...long.
2) He might NOT be soft. How could anyone know? He slithers away from all human touches with that exact AFFRONTED look you see above on his face. His body language perfectly mimics Alicia Silverstone in CLUELESS when she says, â€œAs if!â€
3) He VULTURES. By this I mean, he clambers and scrapes his way up to the highest point in the room (awarding himself extra points for damaging furniture on the way up) so he can LOOK DOWN on people in this superior manner. It is hard to tell if he is being SNOBBY or simply pragmatic, waiting for us all to die so he can eat us. We call it vulturing because in expression and posture, it looks like when SNOOPY would pretend to be a vulture:
4) He attacks babies.
Granted my babies are 11 and 6, but they BOTH now sleep with their bedroom doors shut because if they do not, Boggart trots back and forth between their rooms attacking them in their sleep. He says that if they didnâ€™t want to be attacked, they wouldnâ€™t put parts of themselves under the covers and then MOVE those parts as if they might be deadly cobras, and furthermore, whence comes the day that the moving thing under the covers IS a deadly cobra and not a child-foot, wonâ€™t we be glad he killed it and saved us all, and in this light, he is JUST LIKE Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and a total hero and we should shut up and feed him on cream. When I point out deadly cobras are not native to Georgia, he stalks off muttering about zoo escapes and the elitism of those who had a luxury of a college education, and if we had only sent him to STANFORD he would KNOW where cobras live, now wouldnâ€™t he.
5) He attacks grown ups. All our feet are equal opportunity cobra-be-ers.
6) He wants to kill the Mice Ladies. Really. It is his dream in life.
7) He sneaks up onto the kitchen counter and kidnaps whole, raw chicken breasts and drags them away and noms them to death on the carpet.
I am a cat person. I truly am. And if you want me to LIKE YOU, and you happen to be a cat, your path is easy. SO EASY. You do not have to do much at ALL.
---You COULD purr, you could look soft, you could play with string in an engaging fashion, but this is all BONUS activity and is not required.
--You have absolute license to attack people feet, truly you do.
--You may also rip up the furniture and torment the dog. GO AHEAD, I will say, you are CAT you DESERVE to destroy my new chair and eat my raw dinner and put salmonella on my rug.
-- I have opposable thumbs and gray matter, and so far my Mice Lady protection policy has kept them safe from his thumbless, smaller-brained predations, and I can FORGIVE the trying because I know they are in a safe house.
--Itâ€™s NICE if you are pretty, but Schubert is greasy, and one-eyed, and so clinically obese in his old age I fear his skin will split, and I ADORE him, so clearly beauty is not mandatory.
In fact, in this long list of cat cons, only ONE matters a whit.
Boggart doesnâ€™t like to be petted. He reacts with equal parts DISDAIN and MUTE HORROR when faced with ANY physical contact. Sometimes, if he is DEAD ASLEEP, I can sneak up and gently scritch under his chin and he will purr faintly until he wakes up enough to realize that a HUMAN HAND is perpetrating these pleasure, and then he will leap angrily away and stomp off as best he can on his pointed little end parts.
I donâ€™t know what to do with a pet I canâ€™t pet. Is this part of being TEENAGER cat? Will he grow out of it? Will one day, when his shoulders develop and his pin head expands and he stops being all awkward and PIMPLY=SPIRITED, will he be a nice cat? He was RAISED well, certainly.
As of now, he is DEPRESSING ME with his constant rejection. I tell him, Iâ€™m going to be buying kibble and paying your vet bills and scraping YOUR POO OUT OF A BOX for 12 â€“ 17 years THERE, BUDDY, so you need to man up and come across with a little snuggle. He says, I thinkâ€¦not, and prisses away, tail up, as if to say, Kiss this.
Note: I decided to close comments on this entry. Please feel free to email.
1) My grandmother collected owls. Or rather, she once said she liked owls, and so people began collecting owls for her. Some of glass, some of brass, some of stone and some pewter, some were butt ugly but others were cuter. WOAH! I think I just accidentally channeled the Seuss. Anywayâ€¦she had owls. Big ones acted as book ends, little ones peered out of every nook and cranny in the shelf space. She had plush stuffed ones and one big poured plaster one that sat in a corner of the den.
One Christmas I gave her an owl. I canâ€™t picture it. No idea what kind. I bet it was small and cheap as I was small (maybe 8 or 9) and poor. She tucked it sourly on a shelf next to several other owls, and she turned and said to me, quietly, so no one else could here, â€œIâ€™ve come to hate owls. Never tell people you collect something. Theyâ€™ll flood you. It will be an easy way to get you a thing without them having to think about you. And youâ€™ll come to hate it.â€
2) My grandmother collected owls. Or rather, she once said she liked owls, and so people began collecting owls for her.
I never gave her one. If I had, I think I would remember what it looked like. Once I asked her why she had so dern many, and she said to me, quietly, as if we were co-conspirators, â€œI made the mistake of telling people I liked them, once. Never tell people you collect something. Theyâ€™ll flood you. It will be an easy way to get you a thing without them having to think about you. And youâ€™ll come to hate it.â€
I donâ€™t know which story is true; my grandmother and I had a complicated relationship, and both versions are very possible. I KNOW she came to hate owls and I know she told me not to tell anyone I collected things. I may have ADDED the PERSONAL owl to the memory to vilify her when I was angry with her. I may have retold it to myself WITHOUT the owl I gave her so it would not hurt.
I have no way to know which is correct---Memory is mutable and subjective. I can clearly remember it both ways. Years later, Iâ€™d remember her words when people started collecting pigs for me. I have SCADS of pigs, and some are displayed around my house and are special to meâ€¦
---My salt and Pepper Pigger shakers from Scott, back when we were â€œjust friends, Mom, GAWD, itâ€™s SO not like thatâ€¦â€
---The stone pig from my sister in law, the one with the hair bow and the smooth back that Baby Maisy loved to pet and pet.
---The buxom six breasted pig struggling into a bra, a remembrance from a lost friend I am still grieving.
---The wedding cake pigs my mother gave me when I got engaged, and the pig in the diaper by the same artist that came when I told her Scott and I were knocked up.
---The evil black wrought iron pig, also from my sister in law, that had to be kept in a drawer for YEARS because my two year old son would wake up crying, THE BACK PIG IS EAT ME LEG! THE BACK PIG IS CHASE!
FINALLY I figured out it he was dreaming about that wrought iron fireplace pig. I offered to throw it away, and that freaked Sam out â€“ like I would be LETTING IT LOOSE. SO. I had him watch me put it in drawer and pile things on so the pig could not get out. The nightmares eased up, but ALWAYS, on bad dream nights, that pig was a factor. He haunted Sam.
One day, when Sam was newly 7, I said, â€œLetâ€™s get that pig out of the drawer.â€
â€œNO!!!!!!!!!â€™ Sam said.
â€œYes,â€ I said.
I opened the drawer and unearthed the pig, and he sidled over, very cautious and slow. Finally he braced his spine and peered in.
There was a pause, and he said, â€œOhâ€¦ I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s the right pig.â€
I said, â€œThatâ€™s the black pig, Sam.â€
He shrugged and said, â€œReally? Thatâ€™s not how I remember that pig being.â€
He sauntered off, Mr. Big Man, and he never dreamed that BACK PIG IS EAT MY LEG again.
--My first pig, an ugly blown glass thing, old and faceless because all his paint had worn away. I stole him from my grandmotherâ€™s shed a few years after she told me not to collect things. I put him in my room and announced to everyone that I liked pigs, a lot, and that I would be collecting them, thank you.
Now most of my pigs are in a box in the basement, and I hate to get pigs. More than that, however, I hate that my grandmother was right.
To say that my grandmother and I had a complicated relationship is SUCH understatement---OH! Such understatement. She came out of a kind of poverty that still exists today, but that I have a hard time fathoming. Itâ€™s hard to look at and very ugly. I visited it while researching THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING, and it is not regular American Southern Wal-Mart/Trailer poverty which features indoor toilets and television. My grandmother grew up hungry, in one room, breaking her thin back to pick cotton all through the years my children have spent playing and learning to read. My grandmother slept outside in the summer because the shack they lived in would be stuffed floor to ceiling with cotton they had sharecropped.
By the time I knew her, she was still poor, but it was blue collar, southern small town regular life. She had lamps. She had chairs and indoor plumbing. As a child, I never saw or visited the visceral, battle-to-survive poverty she grew up in, though when my grandfather would reminisce about â€œthe good old days,â€ he did it alone. She had no tales to tell, and if we asked her for one, she would say, â€œThese are my good old days.â€
She was a difficult woman. Her childhood shaped her in ways I canâ€™t fathom, and manners and putting a good face forward to the world were more important to her than love, than kindness, than choosing what was right, thanâ€¦anything. You could be stabbing a person to DEATH under the table, and she would sit quiet and not mind as long as above the table, you kept a smile on and your white shirt was freshly pressed.
I wrote THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING to try to understand her. Not in a literal way. Itâ€™s a made up story. These are made up people. My grandmother does not appear. But I see several large pieces of her in it. I tried to learn her insides with it. I wrote it, I realized, so I could understand why someone might value the surface more than the substance of a thing, and to try to understand what could make a person so. I wrote the book, in short, to learn how to forgive her.
She died when I was halfway through.
I went to the funeral. We are Irish, and so we laid her out. Everyone came by to look down at her face and say she looked natural and pass slowly by and then stood around her body trading recipes and memories. I didnâ€™t think I would feel much. We had not been close in years. I was there for my mother, quite frankly, and all of what I felt, I felt for her. And yet, when my turn to pass by came, I found it beautiful and strange to look into my grandmotherâ€™s coffin and recognize my own hands on the ends of her wrists.
Like most American women, I am ambivalent about my looks. I will never be good-pretty-thin-valuable enough, and in some awful way, thin and valuable are the same words in my head when I try to apply those concepts to me. My worth goes up as my weight drops, and I hate that about myself. I hate that I hate my body most days, even as it runs and does my work. It is strong and mighty, a magnificent beast, my body, a miracle. The things I value most, my memories and my love for my family, are HOUSED in it. This body fastens me to my husband, and together we made children and this body grew them well and kept them safe so that they came out hale and lovely. I should ADORE this body, but of course, I am American and female, so I donâ€™t.
But Iâ€™ll tell you, I have always and without reservations loved my bodyâ€™s hands. They are long and very beautiful to me---my mother calls them piano playerâ€™s hands. They do not match the wide duck feet I got from my father. I trip over dust motes, but my hands are always graceful. They are slim and elegant and quick. I was shocked to learn they are a lovely thing I got from her, and I did not know that they were hers until I saw them folded inside a coffin, older, and with all their quickness gone.
In an uncrowded moment, I went back to measure my hand by folding it over hers. Her skin was cool and waxy. The funeral makeup did not come off ---it was dry and felt like a varnish. But our hands fit exactly, our palms the same width, long fingers ending in the same pretty tapers.
Later, after we had put her in the ground and gone back to eat deli platters and Lays BBQ chips and sweet pickles, everyone kept asking me â€œLook around her place, Do you want anything? Do you need anything?â€
â€œNo, thank you,â€ I said. Over and over. Did I want this chair? These dishes? That vase lamp little table quilt rug sofa? No. I didnâ€™t. Nothing.
My grandmother had moved from her house to a small apartment in assisted living. Many of the things I remembered her having in my childhood were gone. But when I went to her bathroom to exchange my black cashmere for faded denim, preparing to drive home, I saw that on a little knick-knack shelf over the sink, she still had a small tribe of her owls, watching me with their blank, round eyes.
I plucked a brass one from the back and stuffed him in my pocket. I thought I would put him down in the basement with my pigs, but I didnâ€™t. He is in my office, the room of my house where I am most myself, where I work and do most of my in home playing. I think he is going to stay there.
For the record, I am NOT collecting owls, so would-be gift-givers, get thee hence.
Iâ€™m glad I stole him. I donâ€™t know if he is the owl I gave her. I donâ€™t know if I ever gave her an owl. Never the less, Iâ€™ve decided to remember that he is. As a child, I wrapped him in red paper and curled thin ribbon with my blunted scissors and put him with the other gifts for Sara Lee. Memory is mutable and subjective, and I own all of mine. So. I gave him to her and she liked him, even though she was tired of owls. She secretly always liked him best.
1) My mother is Irish to her marrows.
2) She has the dark red hair and the green eyes to prove it.
3) And the temper.
4) I didnâ€™t get the thick, curly auburn tresses (dernit), but she gave me the green eyes, same size, same shape.
5) When I look in the mirror, her eyes look back at me.
6) She gave me the temper, too. Oh, yeah. Believe it.
7) She grew up in Leighton, Alabama which is just north of absolutely nowhereâ€¦
8) Leighton is the town I thought of when I was making Possett, the town where gods in Alabama, a host of short stories, another short, early unpublished novel of mine, and several of my plays are set.
9) When my mother was growing up in Leighton and when I was a girl, visiting it with her, it REALLY had those three tin gardening sheds sitting side by side, with a long board nailed over their doors, and on the board someone had hand-painted the words â€œFire Department, Police Department, Jail.â€
10) They had a general store with an ice cream and hamburger counter in the back. My mother used to get me chocolate malteds there.
11) My motherâ€™s life seeps into my fiction more than any other life.
12) Maybe even more than my own.
13) Genny and Stacia, the twins in Between, Georgia, for example, probably came out of my motherâ€™s stories of a pair of deaf ladies who lived in Leighton. They were twins, and they owned a candy shop.
14) My motherâ€™s daddy worked land that was owned by the kind of people who could afford candy like that.
15) The candy store sold fancy chocolates in ribboned boxes, but they also had a glass display counter full of what my mother called â€œfudges and confections.â€
16) When I was a little kid, I had no idea what a confection was. I thought it sounded like some sort of fancy hat, and thatâ€™s what I pictured: My mother as a small red haired girl, staring through glass at trays of fudges sitting between fancy hats with long plumes trailing into the chocolate.
17) She still uses that word for candies, but now I think now it means hand-dipped creams. I am not positive, though.
18) My mother and her family lived outside of town in a little white house that looks a LOT like the house Arlene Fleet grows up in with her Aunt Florence and Uncle Bruster in gods in Alabama.
19) There was a rich man in town named Uncle Doc. Thatâ€™s what everyone called him, anyway, and my Grandmother had sharecropped his land all through her girlhood. EVERY TIME they passed Uncle Docâ€™s fine house, my grandmother would say to my mother, â€œSee that fancy house? That should be ours. It was built on the bones of my back. See those pecan trees? Those are rightful mine. I bent down to grub the nuts up off that dirt, every year. See that cotton field? I picked ten thousand bags of cotton, four hundred pounds each, and dragged them my own self to store it safe in my house. It filled my house up to the roof, and I slept outside in the grass all summer. That field is rightful mine, too.â€
20) If she had a little extra money, my grandmother would take my mother into the fancy candy store with its fudges and confections.
21) My mother and her older sister could each choose one thing from the display case. One of the twins would pick the single piece of candy up with tongs and place it in a brown paper sack, like a lunch bag in miniature.
22) My mother had never seen little bags like that. She saved them long after the piece of candy was gone.
23) My mother was and is a raving beauty. Really.
24) She was homecoming queen.
25) There were two sororities in her high school. One was for the rich popular girls, and one was for good, sweet girls who made good grades, but who came from poor families.
26) My mother was in the SECOND sorority.
27) Girls from the FIRST sorority were always prom and homecoming queen.
28) My mother won anyway.
29) The being a raving beauty part helped.
30) It ALSO helped that the captain of the football team was her steady fella.
31) When she was 19, she married that same guy, and I know him as â€œDaddy.â€
32) They got married so young because her father wouldnâ€™t hardly let them out of his sight.
33) They would sit out on the porch swing talking with the lights blazing, and my grandfather would stand at the window and stare out them.
34) At nine oâ€™clock (or whenever he wanted my daddy to leave) he would lean out of the door and say â€œLetâ€™s all play mouse. Everyone go to their own little house.â€
35) When my brother Bobby and I were little, after church and lunch on Sundays, my mother would say, â€œLetâ€™s all play mouse. Everyone go to their own little house.â€
36) Then my brother and I would have to go be quiet and play and read or nap in our rooms at one end of the house while our parents, holding hands, would disappear down the hall to their own room.
37) At the time, Bobby and I didnâ€™t get why Daddy thought that mouse thing was so funny, but heâ€™d grin and grin every time Mom said it.
38) My mother and I spent my entire young womanhood locked in a huge battle of wills----matching Irish tempers, remember.
39) If ANYONE ELSE went to war with me, my mother would turn on a dime and stand beside me and be my best ally and defender and slaughter them and lay waste to all their cattle and slay their families lo unto the seventh generation.
40) Then she and I would fight some more.
41) We donâ€™t fight now.
42) I finally figured out it was dumb to fight with someone who is so constantly on my side.
43) Remember when I told you
100 things about my father ? And I said that it must have been hard growing up as his son, trying to live up to the kind of phenomenal human being my dad is, but that it was supremely easy to be his daughter? Well, it was hard being my motherâ€™s daughter.
44) Sheâ€™s intimidatingly beautiful and elegant and understands accessories.
45) She is naturally gifted at everything girls are supposed to be good atâ€”perfect wife, devoted mother, capable of organizing and running a busy household on a shoe string budget with grace and aplomb, while I was (and still am) a wild-eyed scabby disorganized spastic tomboy who, at 38, still doesnâ€™t know how to blow dry her own hair.
46) My brother says it was supremely easy to be her son.
47) My recipes may still be on crumpled scraps of paper scattered in fifteen different places all over the house, so THAT was a lost cause, but she did manage to teach me how to be a good mother.
48) It took me a long time to realize I didnâ€™t have to be like her for her to value the weird things I am good at, and for her to think I am the best daughter.
49) When I fought her, I was fighting myself, because I was trying to be her and mucking it all up.
50) One day, I quit trying to be her and started being me instead.
51) I was terribly afraid that she would see me as a failure.
52) Instead, she said to me, â€œJoshilyn! I think you are finally growing up!â€
53) Sheâ€™s proud of me.
54) Sheâ€™s proud of my work, although SECRETLY she wishes I hadnâ€™t used the F word QUITE so many times in gods in Alabama.
55) She is, no really, the best grandmother on the planet. Bar none.
56) She will play LUCKY DUCKS for AN HOUR after I would have dug out my eardrums with forks to escape the incessant mechanical quacking.
57) She is capable of ACTUALLY listening to Sam talk about Pokemon cards instead of just saying MMM-HMM and YOU DONâ€™T SAY whenever the child has to pause to breathe.
58) On one side of Motherâ€™s family tree are the Clardys.
59) Itâ€™s hard to find a living Clardy. The ones who didnâ€™t die because their livers leapt out of their throats and squirmed away to escape the constant barrage of homemade "licker" all shot each other.
60) My grandfather was a Baptist preacher and so my mother was not allowed to go dances because dancing was a sin.
61) Movies were also sins, and so she never saw them growing up.
62) She still prefers a book, and constantly read to me and my brother when we were growing up. She also let us go to movies.
63) When she got to high school my grandfather would forbid her from going to dances with my dad, and then my grandmother would make her a dress in secret and use hidden stores of the money she made sewing to buy my mother department store white gloves so she could go.
64) My mother has what she calls a â€œcritical eye.â€
65) She can SEE when things are wrong in any physical space.
66) Her home is called BJâ€™s Knob because it sits up on a hill.
67) And because she names things like homes and cars.
68) Sheâ€™ll put out little things on a table: An antique crystal candy dish, a small oil painting on a stand, a dried clay ash tray that was clearly made by either a 3 year old or a dyspeptic, blind weasel, and they will somehow all work together and be perfect, colors and shapes balanced and harmonious.
69) I suspect she is magical.
70) Her critical eye is her blessing and her curse.
71) Itâ€™s a curse because she is driven insane by imperfections no one else can see.
72) While BJâ€™s Knob was being built she looked at the skeletal frame and said, â€œThat wall is in the wrong place.â€
73) My dad poo pooâ€™d her and the architect poo pooâ€™d her and the builder poo pooâ€™d her and later, after it was built, she got a tape measure and the plans, and sure enough, the wall was six inches off.
74) She could see the six inches missing from the unbuilt room, when not even the builders could.
75) It is her blessing because she can take leftovers and scraps and hand me downs and make a place beautiful and welcoming. She can do this in the kitchen, too, just go into a wasteland of a fridge with nothing in it and find an old packet of frozen chicken and some olives and come out 40 minutes later with a beautiful meal.
76) Every place I have ever lived, any room that looks like a HOME and not a just room with crap in it, she has done for me.
77) She did my peaceful crocodile green office with its spots-n-stripes mod-pod window treatments where I am sitting to type this.
78) She based the room on one of my most valued possessions --- a signed, limited edition Rene Van Den Neste.
79) Itâ€™s a surreal wasteland with a melting cat and a fat unmelted cat sailing across the green sky on a space-slash-flying-pirate ship with breasts. She is not crazy about it.
80) She made the room be a beautiful place that sets off my paintingâ€™s colors and draws the eye to it because she knows I am crazy about it.
81) Mom was supposed to be a boy. The family already had a much adored girlchild they had named Ruby Jewel.
82) Mom was called Emmett Oâ€™Neil Grissom in the womb, and when she came out an obvious non-Emmett, no one had a name ready for her.
83) Eventually the county doctor had to send his paperwork in, so he wrote, â€œNo Name Baby Girl Grissom,â€ on the birth certificate.
84) My mother did not know she hadnâ€™t ever been named until she needed a passport to go overseas (Daddy was army) and had to order a copy of her birth certificate.
85) She asked her parents how she came to be called Betty Joyce, and her mother told her that one day, when she was several months old, Aunt Nadine passed through the room and said, â€œIf Iâ€™se you, Iâ€™d call that baby Betty.â€
86) It stuck.
87) I loved it when that movie Clueless came out and coined the phrase â€œBetttyâ€ to mean â€œbeautiful girl.â€
88) Ruby Jewel and Betty Joyce both thought they had country girl names, and so they where allowed to name their MUCH younger sister.
89) They named her Susan Regina because they thought it sounded sophisticated.
90) My mother named me Joshilyn Elizabeth.
91) To this day NO ONE but my mother knows the reason for the silent H in the middle of my name. When people ask me at signings why my name is SPELLED Josh-a-lyn but pronounced Joss-a-lyn, I have a host of answers.
92) Sometimes I say, â€œI donâ€™t know. You want my motherâ€™s phone number? Maybe she will tell you. She has never told me.â€
93) Sometimes I say, â€œMy mother is from rural Alabama. They spell stuff funny down that way.â€
94) Sometimes I say, â€œMy mother says she saw it written like that in an old family Bible diary or journal or something?â€ but I have never personally seen such a book.
95) She also used to tell me it was the Old English version of the French Name Jocelyn, but I studied Medieval theatre in grad school, and the old English version is actually Joslin, which was a boyâ€™s name.
96) Betty is short for Elizabeth.
97) Joshilyn sounds like a longer, more elegant version of Joyce.
98) As a child, I didnâ€™t see the way our names are connected or realize that Joshilyn Elizabeth grew out of Betty Joyce, but now I see they are so so close, they are practically the same thing.
99) Thatâ€™s a metaphor.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
1) My grandmother had a long, full life. She was 84 or possibly 86---no one is sure, as she, like many southern women, lied about her age. She did a lot of things in that time, good things and bad. She experienced horrible sorrows and had beautiful triumphant moments and lived a host of plain brown forgotten days where she did her work and slept and rose to do it again all the same. But of all the things she ever did, good, bad, or indifferent, the best thing, the very best thing, was to make and raise the extraordinary woman who became my mother.
Sara Lee Grissom 192? â€“ December 9, 2006.
The following entry is not a good bedtime story for children. I will be somehwat less horrifying tomorrow. Pinky Swear.
So as you may recall from yesterday's blog, I decided to skip being mentally ill and simply coast along not working and not worrying about the fact that I was not working until the internal knot I always wind myself into 1/3-1/2way through a book unwound itself and I felt like writing again. I decided I did not HAVE to be unendurable for one month out of every 2 years. I would write when I was ready, whenever that might be, without making everyone who had to interact with me SORRY about it just because I wasn't working. HEH.
My friend Karen Abbott has been on a long research trip to Chicago and NYC and Philly. She would call me on her way to the library and say, ARE YOU WORKING? And she would say it in the frenzied freaked out voice of a girl with a hard, contractual deadline, and I would say, "Nah. I am playing World of Warcraft." And there would be this BOGGLED silence for moment and then she would say, "So, are you going to work later then?" and I would say "Work on what?" and listen to the boggled silence some more. It was kinda fun, except I had little internal hiccups about how LONG it was taking me to ZEN my placid way back into the book. On the other hand, my family and I were certainly enjoying the part where I wasn't two clicks away from screaming batcrap. That part was good.
Talking to Karen and Lily and Mir, I would say "I certainly am not writing any books." And then I would muse, "I wonder if the TIME OFF isn't what makes the book go? What if the freak-out itself is an essential part of my process, and as long as I stand here cud chewing I will never write again." And they would assure me that probably this was not so, and I would amble on, completely not working. At all.
So, flash forward to Thursday. Picture me, not working. Also not freaking out.
Me: KIDS! We must go to Kroger and buy nutritious fruits and verdant greens!
Sam: Why do you talk like that?
Me: Run outside and staple youselves into your carseats while I find my keys!
Sam: Mom we don't literally STAPLE ourselves---
Me: And nine year olds don't say LITERALLY, but there you have it. GO GO GO!
Off they go, and just as I find my keys, I hear the shrieking of the damned coming from my front yard and then Sam bursts back in through the door, Maisy hard on his heels.
Sam: MOM! MOM! There's a dead snake in our driveway and I think he is alive!
Me: ... What?
Sam: There is a dead snake! Alive in our driveway!
I go outside with my distraught children following me, and there he is. A dead snake. Alive in our driveway. He is brown and small and charming, a garden snake, probably a foot long if you stretched him out. He is very unhappy. His mouth opens and closes. It opens too wide because he is unhinging it and yawping it open and then closing it again as if he is yawning or imagining that he must now swallow a whole possum and seeing if he can get his mouth to open enough. His eyes are bright and alien and perfectly round. Right at the second half of him, a cat has gotten to him and torn big pieces of him out and some stringy guts and small organs trail away and the meat of him has been somewhat eaten. This snake is beyond all hope of shoebox veterinary medicine and repair, but this snake is still alive. We look at it and my kids are trying to decide how much to panic so I panic a lot less externally than I am panicking internally.
Me (Calm voice): Oh, poor snake. Go on in the house. Don't touch him. It's fine. He is fine. Mommy will handle it.
I don't remember a lot of the next parts clearly. There was some confusion about where they would go because Sam wanted to go get in the car and I didn't want them in the car to see what I would do next and then a bee came and they had to scream and beat the air and run in circles about that and at least forty agonizing seconds that must have been very long in snake time passed before I got them hustled into the house. I told them to go down to watch TV in the basement recroom because it has no windows.
I called Scott on my cell and I think that's when I started screaming. I screamed: HOW CAN I KILL A BAD HURT SNAKE IN PIECES IN THE DRIVEWAY?
He was in a meeting, so he said, "I'm going to need to step out for a minute," to everyone there and then told me to open the garage. He said, "Do you need me to come and home and...fix the snake."
And I screamed back, NO THIS SNAKE IS VERY SAD HE CAN'T WAIT FOR YOU I HAVE TO FIX HIM.
I pushed the garage button in the car and he told me where the shovel was and then I went back out and then got very close and I personally hit the snake in the neck with the edge of the shovel a lot of times until his head came off. But still he was opening that mouth up wide at me and closing it, so I asked Scott about it, surprised to find that when I tried to talk I was still screaming. IS HE DEAD I HIT HIM UNTIL HIS HEAD CAME OFF HOW CAN HE STILL BE LOOKING AT ME AND HIS MOUTH IS OPENING UP AND THEN HE CLOSES IT.
He was looking at me too, and his eyes were blank and bland, as perfectly round as plastic beads.
Scott's voice was very gentle as said, "His head is off, so he is dead. Things with their heads off are dead. It is only nerves twitching."
I let him go back to his meeting.
I scooped all of the little snake up with the shovel and carried him back to the woods behind out house. I set him down in the leaves there so that something hungry could find him and eat him instead of eating a different still-alive little snake that probably had business elsewhere. Then I leaned the shovel against a tree and stood back there where my children couldn't see me and I cried until I threw up because I've never done anything like that before, and look, I'm a country girl. I'm not sentimental. I've watched my daddy take the head off a cottonmouth and never blinked, but I had never killed something nice, something I have fondness for, by myself with my two hands looking in its eyes. And I like those small brown charmers in my garden.
After I was finished throwing up, I stood looking at the snake and then I understood my book.
Look, I'm never going to win the Pulitzer---The books I write are driven by character, not some underlying brilliant theme, and they don't have any sort of international scope. They have a strong sense of place and are often funny and suspenseful because that's my favorite kind of book to read. I write to entertain myself, primarily, and I am more pleased than I can say when other people read my stories and find that they are entertained too. It's one of the greatest pleasures in my life. But under the keeping myself entertained, I also write to figure things out. Not how the world works, or the nature of man or God or evil -- that's Pulitzer stuff and I don't frankly know. It's smaller than that. I'm smaller than that. It's much more personal. I write to understand, if not how this world works, then how I can work in this world. I write about things that are important to me, and if you like levels in a book, they are there for you. You can take 'em and have a great book club discussion, or you can leave 'em where they lay quietly under plot and character and go read on a beach with a HUGE flaming pineapple cocktail, and I would very much like to join you.
Underneath the black comedy and the mystery, gods in Alabama was a book about my personal relationship with redemption. Between, Georgia, is my weird blend of humor and violence layered over a family drama, but I was writing about identity, nature v/s nurture, trying to define motherhood for myself and trying to understand the dual nature of my own extended family. This book I am writing now, one of the underneath threads is my tangled relationship with time. Time upsets me, the way it moves hideously, inexorably forward and, as my favorite redneck professor used to say, "Done's done done, baby." This snake....he was done. He couldn't be fixed or changed, and it was what it was. I was upset less because of the snake (I didn't know him very well) and more because I was powerless. The cat had come and gone, and the snake was over. All I could do was to try and choose what was best and kindest to do, and it was an ugly, ugly, awful thing, but it was also right.
When I was standing back in the woods and he was dead in the leaves, the way through the book I had been assiduously not working on began to make sense to me. I knew what would happen next, because I could finally see what my character would have to do. I went inside. I sat down at my keyboard and I let her do it. I spent all weekend letting her. I've written almost 10,000 new words in the last three days which is why I haven't blogged. And If I don't see my way clear to the end yet (and I don't), at least I have a righteous path that's lighting up through the middle.
Now that I seem to be on track, I'm wondering about process. Scott is accusing me of "growing as a person," which is one of those catch-phrasey mental health terms that drives me up the wall, and he says it with such a smarmy, hopeful look on his face that it makes me laugh every time.
"I am not," I say to him, I say to you, "not not not growing as a person."
He looks skeptical. At least one of you does, too. I think maybe that's Amy-go.
"We don't do that here," I tell him and Amy-go, and you, if you need telling. "It's trashy. All we do here is try to be kinder next time, every time."
There's always room in the world, I think, for being kinder, even if you have to do it with a shovel.
But I would like figure out what caused me to go back to work. Is puking in the woods a legitimate epiphany? Was it simply a matter of waiting until things finished stewpotting on my brain's back burner, and I would have seen the answer in any image or moment containing something that had moved in time past my ability to control its outcome? Or was it only that I stood in the yard and wailed until I was sick? DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO WAIL UNTIL I AM SICK? Have mercy, that's SO dumb, but maybe I can dress it up and call it cartharsis and be all "puking over dead snakes is SO classic Greek theatre." You'd buy that, right? If I said it with conviction? Bah. Me neither.
Snakes aside, it seems now barely possible that when I hit the wall again (and I will), that if I wait, if I am calm (for me) and patient (for me), the way over or through or around the wall will come, hopefully next time in a form that doesn't require violence. We'll see.
...WHICH IS YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS away, my doctor tells me (my doctor is PRETTY), but the calcium and plant estrogen supplement industries want me to think I better start chewing little chews IMMEDIATLY lest my bones snap and I sprout 3 black, floaty chin hairs, right now, here, in the middle of my thirties. Well, okay. They are chocolate flavored, those chews, so PASS 'EM ON OVER.
I am thinking about AGING... Or rather, people around me have put two big SCOOPS of aging-thoughts into the raisin bran of my brains.
My agent, who is well into his 60's, had a birthday on Saturday. Last time I was with him, I couldn't help but ask in a panicky voice if he had any plans to retire. This is my AGENT. MY Agent. The one who picked me out of the slush pile, dug me up from tens of thousands of queries, from thousands of partials, from hundreds of manuscripts. I had no sales record, no publication beyond a few short stories in lit mags, and he read my work and said, "Yes. You. Absolutely."
He has become my friend as well--I GENUINELY like him, and if he DID retire he'd still be my friend... but. I DO NOT WANT HIM TO RETIRE. He said he wouldn't. And I clutched at him and said, "EVER????" And he said, "Not ever." So. I am holding him to that. But I do not like him to have birthdays.
He has more than three decades on me, and assuming I continue to write good books and assuming readers continue to buy them and assuming I don't I go trit-trotting under a bus because I am deep, deep in my head having conversations with people who do not technically exist and not paying attention (and these are all pretty big assumptions), he's statistically likely to get out of the industry before I do. Even if he NEVER retires, one day he'll gracefully slump down dead onto the Manhattan pavement, probably just after a truly superlative lunch. (Which, you know, that's how I'd like to go too, come to think of it. If I get to pick, I want the lunch to be at Blue Hill (home of the milk fed hen)though that would actually be GREENWICH VILLAGE pavement I was gracefully slumping down dead on, but hey, let's get real. I mean, I have some pretty cute shoes, but I KNOW most of them aren't good enough to die in IN MANHATTAN...But I digress.)
My best friend in the whole world turnd 33 today. HAPPIEST BIRTHDAY LYDIA. It's a big year for her because 33 is the age at which her Ultimate Idol, Herman Melville, wrote Moby Dick. Which means this is the year she has to write HER Moby Dick, before the GOUT or THE CONSUMPTION or some other wierd, artistic disease leaps on her and kills her in the middle of Melville's prime. She called me this morning.
Lyd: Hi. I am thirty-three. TODAY. This is the year I have to become profound.
Me: Maybe you should start reading Stephen Jay Gould. Scott keeps leaving his essays all over the bathroom. I could send them to you.
Lyd: No, crack-smoker, I am not reading Stephen Jay Gould. I have to find another way to become profound. Maybe I should look deep, deep, deep into my heart.
Me: Lord help me, NO! Please do not. I will give you fifty dollars to NOT look deep, deep, deep into your heart.
Lyd: Well, but I have two small children. I've examined my schedule, and my options for becoming profound are limited. I pretty much have to find ways to become profound in the car. While driving.
Yeah, me too.
And then today I got an email from someone who was looking for inspiring quotes about growing older from women over 35...She was very circumspect. She said, and here I paraphrase, "I looked at the picture on your website, and I am not saying you look OVER 35 or anything, but if you HAPPEN to be 35 (or over), (NOT THAT YOU LOOK IT), I'd appreciate a quote."
At the bottom she had pasted a couple of quotes she had already gleaned, one from a novelist I TRULY admire, and of course her quote was pithy and brilliant and inspiring, and made me positively LONG to cross the finish line into my forties so I can STOP being such a WANKER and become all wise and powerful and womanly and stuff.
AND SO, I called another friend and we batted around ideas for pithy, inspiring things I could say in the WAKE of this brilliant quote. That degenerated rather quickly, and I WASN'T EVEN DRINKING. We came up with about 100 TERRIBLE, AWFUL THINGS to say about aging, and we were laughing SO HARD that I would love to share them with you, but ALAS, this is the ONLY ONE I am willing to put down in writing out where God or my mother might find it:
"I hit 35, and I realized I wouldn't want to be 17 again for a million dollars. There wasn't one thing good about being 17...oh except the boobs. Ohhhh, the boobs; fearless in their perk, relentless in their bounce, with nipples that could stare right into the sun and. not. go. blind. Of course at the TIME I had NO idea what to do with them." *bursts into noisy sobs for the squandered boobs of youth* "But turning 35 was good too." *sniffle* "Mostly."
Yeah. I am going to hell. Not very inspiring. I will try to be more inspiring tomorrow, though I suspect that I am not GOOD at it. Nor am I even remotely related to pithy. I don't even think I have pithy's phone number. And if I got it? Pithy probably wouldn't take my call.
I have been bouncing around the house for QUITE SOME TIME now, bouncing and warbling and getting all up ons over Spain buying gods in Alabama. Scott would like it if you would write your congressperson, and ask that the following sentences become illegal to say in English:
SPAIN IS THE NEW BLACK!
THAT SPAIN, SO THOUGHTFUL!
SPAIN SAID I HAD PRETTY HAIR, OMG! SPAIN TOTALLY LIKES ME!
Today I will be visiting gas station restrooms all over the South and leaving the following graffittis:
For a good time, call SPAIN!
Oh Spain, you're so fine! You're so fine you blow my mind, hey SPAIN!
Me + Spain, 2 people 2gether 4ever, except one of us is not a people, but more like a country. Even so, the point is, I dig Spain.
If you ever have to pee in rural Georgia, choose the second stall in and see if I haven't made good on the above. Also, in case the letter writing campaign goes well, how do you say "SPAIN IS THE NEW BLACK" in French?
Yes, I know I am being unendurable about Spain, butbutbut...and here, I would like to SHARE SOME WISDOM with you. Hehe. That's sort of an in-joke from me to me --- I knew this person once, a friend-or-relation that I shall describe here as "Friend-or-relation" or "IT" so that IT has NO DISTINGUISHING MARKS and it can never PROVE DEFINITIVELY that I meant IT when I was speaking about it right here. If you follow me.
Friend-or-relation has often, when I was in a bad patch, said to me, "I want to share with you some wisdom," and then it would begin talking straight out of its butt, offering me platitudes and truisms on the level of, "You should probably LOOK before you, you know, LEAP, hmmm?" AND! AND! NEVER ONCE! NEVER! ONCE! has it followed its own self-righteous, boring, straight-out-of-poor-richard's-almanac advice. Just between you, me, and the whole internet, Friend-or-relation's personal life is SUCH A HUGE TRAIN WRECK that the debris spans half a continent. I am cleverly not going to say WHICH continent because that would be a distinguishing mark, but I do not mean something like the NORTH POLE (which LOOKS like a continent but is really just a bunch of ICE), I mean a great big sprawly serious actual huge CONTINENT.
So whenever I offer to SHARE SOME WISDOM, there is probably a whole herd of visiting tongues in my cheek, although for the record, the herd of visiting tongues is PURELY METAPHORICAL. Although, if Friend-or-relation said it, the herd of visiting tongues would most assuredly be LITERAL, which is just one indication of how serious I am when I say you can still see the ACTUAL DEBRIS of its personal life from DEEPEST DARKEST SPACE.
SO for what it is worth, here comes my SHARING OF THE WISDOM, so brace yourself, Bridget:
Whatever it is, celebrate it until you pop. Celebrate it until your husband threatens to make talking about it ILLEGAL. Celebrate it like you are going to get your head kicked in by a bus tomorrow, because, well, you might. Screw half-full, I want my glass to have a meniscus, EVEN THOUGH I KNOW a toddler is about to march through my living room and knock said glass over, and the contents will be red wine which will no doubt spatter my very favorite faun-colored suede pumps.
I share this wisdom with you MOSTLY so that I can say --- SHAMELESSLY! AGAIN! WITH NO IRONY! AND NO PAUSE FOR BREATHING! ---
Spain hearts me I heart Spain yay Spain yay Spain yay.
I am better. I am less grumpy, anyway. Flu makes me MEAN and WHINY, even on paper. I apologize! I am back up and feeling perky and filled to the BRIM with the milky fluids of human kindness, which sounds pretty gross, but NOT as gross as mucus. HUZZAH! And I am all about Skating, even though I am, um, in my thirties and everyone else on the trail skating seems to be…14 and male and dressed in jean shreds and using SLANG I do not know. Fakey Ollie? Whatever. I am STILL all about Skating, even though I BOTTOMED OUT yesterday when an errant clump of pine straw wrapped itself around my wheels. I went hurtling off the bike path into the woods, tumbling down into the bracken and then skidding cheerfully on my face for about three feet.
I got up and said several words I oughtn’t even KNOW, much less say with my volume knob turned to eleven and the woods full of Impressionable Young Men on Wheels. It was VERY cold out and so there was no way to tell if the brown crumbly frozen substance streaked liberally down one leg of my pants was MUD or POO. A mile later, when the warmth of my skin through the lycra had permeated the smear-of-unknown-origin, the question was answered via fragrance, and I SKATED SO FAST that last mile, shrieking like the last little piggy if he got brained with a hammer and ended up with that disorder that makes you say everything backwards. “EW! EW! EW!” quoth I, all the way home.
I pretty much bathed in boiling water and bleach and STILL my leg tingles as if anthrax and hepatitis and all manner of worm larva were prancing up and down like the John Travoltas of contagion, strutting their stuff at the disease-disco.
IN OTHER NEWS! I got a letter from my UK editor. I have several responses to this. The main one is as follows:
WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I HAVE A UK EDITOR!!! Which means I now can say stuff like “Oh my US editor says…” and “When I talked to my UK editor…”
It’s the little things.
It was a good letter. Editors are FASCINATING creatures. My US editor (!!!) (PS she and I have agreed between us that she does NOT read this blog and if she does I do not wish to know of it) has this lovely controlled sweet-pitched voice that pours into my ears and coats my fevered brain like BALM. I talk to her and I begin to get this SENSE that she has everything under control and IT WILL ALL BE FINE. Which is WHOLLY foreign to me. I live my life predicated on the idea that it will NOT all be fine EVER. In the world according to me, it is ALWAYS poo, NEVER mud, and that way, the ONE TIME it DOES turn out to be mud, I can be all relieved and pleased for a moment. ANYWAY---My UK editor (!!!) has the SAME tone. She radiated the same unflustered, easy, on-top-of-it-ness … IN AN EMAIL.
It begs the question: Nature or nurture? Do you have to be able to DO that to become an editor, OR do you LEARN it because you get 150 authors on your desk and 149 of them are, to one degree or ‘nother, MENTALLY ILL.
(Digression) If you are a writer? And you are reading this and feeling offended and thinking, HEY! WE ARE NOT ALL MENTALLY ILL!!! Then EITHER you are the 150th OR ---far more likely--- you need to take a good hard look in the mirror. I submit to you that you are probably AS YOU READ THIS squatting naked on the carpet with your dead Aunt Gladys’s tattered wedding dress wrapped around your head like a turban and buttering the neighbor’s dog.
IN OTHER WORDS: It’s not that you aren’t mentally ill. It’s just that you are TOO FAR GONE TO BE AWARE OF IT. Please get help. (/digression)
ANYWAY the upshot is I found out I WILL have a different cover for the UK edition, and even though I am SO enamored of the US cover (Click the thumbnail! -- I already have it framed and hanging in my breakfast nook and although I will admit nothing concretely, the glass covering it is a little smeary and damp as if some un-named person had been unable to stop herself from kissing it) I have to admit I am excited that I will get a different one for the UK edition. Because, COME ON. That’s just cool. That’s like the VISUAL equivelent of being able to say “So my UK editor…” (!!!)
I am VIOLENTLY JEALOUS of my friend Fred Willard because one of his novels sold in JAPAN and he has a copies of it, this SMALL book, like a deck of cards almost, that opens BACKWARDS---righteous.
Okay dewds, must run and begin saying “Fakie Ollie” and hurtling into some poo before it is 2 L8 2 sk8!
I enjoy reading the stories in your magazine each month, but I never thought something like that could happen to me until a few nights ago, when...
This is how I have to begin.
I KNOW! Okay? I know. This opener will force-march me into an airplane lavatory where I will NO DOUBT have to make out with Joyce Carol Oates. (She's tall. I just decided. And so am I, and itâ€™s TINY in there, you know, so one of us has to stand on the toilet and OF COURSE Joyce Carol says, â€œHow many famously prolific geniuses are in this lavatory and do you think they want to be the one standing on the toilet??â€ playing that whole LITERARY ICON card, so I clamber obediently UP THERE and Iâ€™m such a KLUTZ that I probably slip off the lid and now I have one foot stuffed down the hole and it is turning inexorably and forever blue in that astringent cleaner. TEN BUCKS says I end up contracting hepatitis.)
But I canâ€™t LEAVE because MEANWHILE, squatting on the sink? Depending on me and Joyce Carol? Is a sleek, deep-chested, and beautiful man named Rocco (WOW! I just noticed! He looks SO MUCH like Michael Chabon!!!) and he has been UP UNTIL THIS MOMENT sadly impotent for his ENTIRE LIFE and he is snapping pictures like James Spader in Sex, Lies and Videotape, except heâ€™s EVEN CUTER, and heâ€™s suddenly just now for-the-very-first-time (sings Madonna, who is probably IN HERE WITH US) discovering his --- umâ€¦letâ€™s pause here.
I told you, that sentence? It is how I have to begin. So itâ€™s not like we can avoid the airplane lavatory and the hepatitis FOREVER. Iâ€™m just saying, letâ€™s take a break, maybe smoke a cigarette or some opium, and blame the entire writers-gone-wild orgy on a blog essay contest I decided to enter.
You have to start with one of three opening sentences. So the penthouse thing was not my ONLY option. I COULD have started by saying â€œJust when I thought my life couldn't get any crazier...? or I could have gone with, â€œBefore I had kids, I thought ...â€ BUT COME ON. You KNOW just about everyone is going to pick those, right? I mean, who is going to start a blog entry with the Penthouse Letter opener?
And a host of OTHER artsy-fartsy boogerheaded dorks who think we are MORALLY OBLIGATED to hit the road-less-traveled running to prove that we are just. that. cool.
When really? If were WERE that cool? We wouldnâ€™t try so hard to stinkin? PROVE it, now would we? Do you think for ONE second JOYCE CAROL OATES would feel obligated to use the Penthouse opener? NO. Sheâ€™d sit calmly in first class, laptop open on the fold out seat tray, and sheâ€™d order a GIMLET or some ABSINTHE from her delicious friend, Rocco-the-Chabonish-looking-steward. â€œJust when I thought my life couldnâ€™t get any crazier,â€ sheâ€™d type, and by the time the pilot turned on the fasten seat belt signs she would have, oh, I donâ€™t know, probably won Blogging for Books and PS finished up that pesky little novel she started last week.
Me? Iâ€™m still trying to ooze cool like James Dean as I make my fraught way through two paragraphs of quasi-porn just to prove I can START with the most limited of the opening lines and still get a decent essay out of it. Just to prove Iâ€™m special. Iâ€™m different. Iâ€™m amazing. Iâ€™m just like you.
Thatâ€™s it in a nutshell. Thatâ€™s the thing in me that drives me. And before I had kids? I thought it was part and parcel of the standard writerâ€™s mental illness packet. Nurture, you know. Something I grew myself along with my rabid fear of dentist chairs and my endless, unconsummated flirtation with eating disorders. But as it turns out, this is different. I did not grow this thing. This thing is in the genes. I know. Because I see it in my son. Seven years old and already he has this hungry thing in him. I've seen it in him since his birth. Look at me, it says, look at me. No, really.
When the Upwards Christian Soccer Awards were being given out, and the coach held up the white star, the award for being like Jesus, and asked the team, â€œWho do you guys think best exemplified Christ today?â€ It was this thing that sent my son roaring to his feet, raising both hands to the sky and shouting. â€œMe! That was me! I?m JUST like Christ!â€
And now that I have seen it in him so young? I can look back and find it in me through every step of my memory. My need from Pre-school on to be every teacherâ€™s pet. In high school, I had the lead in almost all the school plays. In college, before I went to my first sorority pledge party, I dyed my hair Morticia-Black. I slunk in and immediately found the one girl with bi-polar disorder and MULTIPLE tattoos. Soul sister. We spent the evening leaning together against the wall, relentlessly mocking the procedures and speaking in subtext.
Hi. Iâ€™m slumming. Because Iâ€™m different and special.
Yeah? Me too. Iâ€™m different and special, too!
Oh, you DONâ€™T say!
Same thing in graduate school. I picked for my friends the two best writers in the program, partially because they were good, and I respected their work. But. Also. They were the girls who came up with BIN RACING. Sitting in the mail bins and making the boys push us FAST FAST FAST through the hallowed halls of academia, shrieking as we exhorted and flogged our steeds. Before the FIRST MONTH of our tenure there, each of us had had a separate and unrelated spanking from the head of the department. Rebels with matching MAC lipsticks.
Do you see me now? Good.
And nothing has changed. I am THIRTY-FREAKING-SIX and I have spent the decade of my post-grad-school years of my life feeding this thing. Throwing myself at hundreds of agents, DO YOU SEE ME? Until I found the one who said yes. Then asking him to hurl me in front of the chariots of New York editors. SEE ME? DO YOU? SEE? SEE? And writing from the back alleys of my brain, from my liver and my spleen, spilling everything I have out of me and meeting all rejection with cries of â€œAH, YOU PHILISTINES!?â€ and redoubled determination, coming back even louder next time, to make you DAMN WELL LOOK AT ME. Because I am smart enough and good enough and pretty enough. Because Iâ€™m so damn special. Because Iâ€™m different, just like you.
And I wonder---whatâ€™s it going to take to feed this thing? Feed it full. To make it lie down. To make it be still and be quiet. To stop its ceaseless clamor, because I cannot, will not, wonâ€™t ever again, must not let what this hungry thing wants push me into words or actions that are in direct opposition to what *I* want.
And now I am going to tell you what I want. And I am going to try to tell you with no irony, and not hiding in my humor, but to tell you plainly my most beautiful, secret dream. I will pause here and make for you some great-big-dewy-sincere eyes and then I will say it, baldly, with no superlatives. No caps. I will say it with absolute integrity. Ready?
I want to be a good person. More than that. I want being a good person to be enough.
Because there is no end to feeding this thing.
Letâ€™s play pretend. Letâ€™s say, it all works out and EVERY dream of mine, no matter how far fetched, comes true. Let?s say Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a last ditch bid for Oscar, options gods in Alabama. He wants to play Burr. (Never mind that Burr is 28. And black. Arnold is the freakinâ€™ TERMINATOR. He can play Burr if he wants to.) And letâ€™s say Der Arnold wants me to write the script. And, um, play the lead opposite him. And letâ€™s say the book wins the Pulitzer AND the NBA and letâ€™s say I am the FIRST PERSON in history to get Oscars for Best Screenplay AND Best Actress in the same year and then I am declared PRINCESS OF GEORGIA and then they CHANGE THE NAME OF THE ENTIRE COUNTRY to Joshilyn-Ville.
Do you think thatâ€™s going to do it? Do you think this thing in me will release a mighty burp and settle down to sleep forever so I can go HELP SOME FRICKINâ€™ ORPHANS? Letâ€™s say it already happened. And I am in first class, flying high over Joshilyn-Ville just after the Oscars, tiddly on champagne. And I open my laptop up and I see this essay contest. And thereâ€™s that one sentence that I KNOW most people are not going to choose. I mean, COME ON. But I have everything I ever wanted, so I have nothing to prove. Right? Right?
But before I can pick --- and I SWEAR this part is TOTALLY TRUE, OKAY? I look up, and sliding into the cushy chair beside me is Joyce Carol Oates, saying , â€œHello,â€ to me, all big eyed and breathy, and Rocco the Steward is offering us Key Lime Pie-Tinis and saying, â€œAre you ladies in the mile high club?â€
Just when I thought my life couldnâ€™t get any crazierâ€¦
There’s this thing I do when I visit Warner, or do anything related to being in public in a REPRESENTING MY ADORED BOOK way. The most honest name for it is probably “pretending to be comfortable.” After I get through the building security and before I get on the elevator, I slip into an alternate persona. I love her. I love WEARING her, dipping myself into her until she covers me. She’s slick and faintly sticky like fresh varnish or a coat of frozen honey. Her name is Ramona.
I do this because – no I AM SERIOUS HERE – do NOT laugh. I am SECRETLY paralyzingly shy. No one ever believes me when I say this, but trust me. I am shy on the INSIDE. Where it counts. Thus, in order to do the things I wanted to do – audition for plays, initially, and not DIE of the endless and repetitive MILLION rejections you get for every yes, and then later do readings and talk to folks about my writing and get an agent and garner even MORE rejections and not die and, gee, I don’t know, have ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS and even MAKE FRIENDS with strange human beings who were not personally related to me by blood and thus MORALLY OBLIGATED to like me – I had to create Ramona.
Ramona doesn’t bite her nails, spill drinks down her front, or trip when she walks across the room in what can only be described as OH! THOU CRUEL AND BEAUTIFUL SHOES! These are three things I personally specialize in, BUT NOT RAMONA. And if she did? If she did trip and fall right off her shoes and land smack on her butt? She’d pull it off and be very funny about it. Ramona is a good sport.
Ramona doesn’t hunch or crunch herself into chairs or fold up into a corner with her arms crossed defensively. She has open body language that says I AM TOTALLY AT EASE IN THE WORLD, when God KNOWS I have never been at ease ONCE in my ENTIRE life in ANY SETTING. Ramona remembers people’s names. Ramona is a good listener. Ramona looks people dead straight in the eye. Ramona genuinely LIKES PEOPLE, meeting them, talking to them, because she thinks they will probably like her back. SHE likes her, so why shouldn’t they?
See how that works? No? Me neither.
But something weird happened this time. I was very busy hanging around the building like a derelict, “pretending to be comfortable,” and all of a sudden I realized, HEY, WAIT A SEC… I am not pretending! I had slipped into a chat with my editor (LOVE! HER!) and lost track of my limbs, and while I wasn’t paying attention they had NOT gathered themselves around me into a protective shell and my shoulders had not folded inwards as if they were trying to touch each other and my spine had not curled itself into a fetal hump. I was standing there, laughing and chatting, ACTUALLY at ease.
Or as at ease I get. I do, after all, have the rich inner life of a squirrel on crack. So.
Each of the three times I have made the pilgrimage to NYC, that Mecca of the writing set, my Best Friend in the Universe called me before I left, and said, “GOOD LUCK! HAVE FUN! RAMONA THE HELL OUT OF THEM.” (She has a Ramona too. Hers is named Jane. So see, she knows.) But with this trip, there was a paradigm shift, and I am beginning to suspect something. I am beginning to suspect that Ramona may actually be ME. Well, okay. A me with 30% less mental illness and a better wardrobe. But still.
I heard from Warner. gods in Alabama is going to be an audio book!!! They are going to produce the audio version to come out at the same time as the hardback. I. AM. SO. THRILLED. I am practically melting with thrill. I cannot wait to find out who will read it!!!
Now let’s play a fun game of WHY HAVE I SQUATTED ON THIS INFO FOR WEEKS. Yes, that’s right. I have known for weeks, and yet I took this info and rolled it up into a little packet and then I squatted on it. but before we talk about WHY, I jhave to tell you that the phrase "squatting on packets" reminds me of a conversation I had with Lily James about novel writing. I was telling her about the book I am writing now (The Refrigerator Border Wars) and the book I want to write next.
Lily: YOU ARE LIKE A HEN. You wander around and every now and again you lift up your trailing skirts and say, “Oops. A novel fell out.”
Me: It doesn’t feel that way from this side of it.
Lily: If Joyce Carol Oates and a HEN had a baby, that baby would be you.
Me: *wets self laughing*
Lily: What are the chances someone else on the planet said those exact same words I just said at the exact same time. I mean, under what circumstances could someone say them?
Me: Maybe if they had a PRIZE WINNING ROOSTER named Joyce Carol Oates, but he was sadly sterile, and then one day, long after his death, they got a chick that was VERY like him, and it was a dream come true, and maybe they lofted the chick to the skies and at the very moment you were speaking they were screaming ecstatically to the chick, “If Joyce Carol Oates and a HEN had a baby, that baby would be you.”
Lily: Okay, but other than that.
But back to the WHY of it. Remember, the squatting? The packets? We were going to analyze WHY I told no one but my mom about the audio book info for so long. Except the word “analyze” reminds me of a conversation I had with Mr. Husband last night, after he read my latest blog entry. (DIGRESSION: YES OKAY I should make “latest blog entry” a link but COME ON I have already linked TWICE and it is the entry RIGHT BEFORE THIS you can just SCROLL DOWN, and anyone who feels like I should pause here and HTML yet another LINK when the entry in question is RIGHT UNDER HERE on the SAME SCREEN is a lazy baby-eating dingo. SO THERE.)
Scott: I was analyzing your last blog entry. I think your mental illness number is lower than you claim. If it was truly over 70, you would have calculated how many pounds you could expect to lose if you DID let the fan shear off the top portion of your head, skull, and brain.
I have two responses to this.
1) This man knows me FAR TOO WELL. And the fact that he still loves me EVEN THOUGH he knows me this well…there’s no word in English for how amazing that is.
2) YES I KNOW I should have made Mental Illness Number a link to the entry that explains Mental Illness Numbers BUT if you DUTIFULLY SCROLLED DOWN like a NON-DINGO, you see there is a “mental illness number” link right there in the entry below this. Which I know you did. Because you would never eat a baby. NOW WOULD YOU. *beam*
I have avoided long enough. Here is why I think I squatted on the information packet. I think because it felt like it couldn’t possibly be true. My agent told me. I waited a week hoping it was true. I mean, my agent, he doesn’t just call me up and say things because he is feeling SPRIGHTLY. This is a conversation I have NEVER had with him:
Agent: YOUR BOOK SOLD!
Agent: NO! HAHAHAHHAHAHA *click*
If he says it, it means it has happened. It is set. It is GO. But I waited a week anyway and then I checked it with Emily, my editor’s assistant.
Emily: Yes, Mental Patient, and PS your agent said he told you last week that this was happening?
Me: *mumbles incoherently*
Okay that conversation is a lie. Emily is actually ADORABLE and VERY NICE TO ME. But I FELT like a mental patient for calling her to make her tell me what I already knew from a highly credible source. The only explanation is that I AM the Mutant Chicken Child of Joyce Carol Oates, and I always think the sky is falling, even when it is bright blue and cloudless.
I hereby resolve to become a better person. RIGHT NOW. For example? See my coffee cup? Sitting right here beside me on the desk? Well. I officially declare it to be half full.
1) I couldn't fall asleep until midnight because I was having anxiety about selling my baby house and buying my dream house. I felt like my whole body was full of bees. I could not relax until I had made Scott go through all the possible ways this could play out and delineate our plan of action 500 times.
2) Once I DID fall asleep, the cat came in. This is the cat who was too fat to groom his own butt, so the vet put him on a strict diet. He came to sit on my head and mention that no one had come by to pour a half gallon of creamed herring into his food dish, and BY THE WAY, could someone get up and turn on the bathroom faucet so he could loudly laplaplap a FRESH drink, his bowl of water seemed a little tired. We hurled pillows at him until he left.
3) An hour later I had a dream in which I ran into Lee Smith at the Kroger, in the produce section. She said to me, "Oh, hey, I read your book, It was....um...fine. I just wondered as I was reading, 'Why so many adjectives?' I mean, you used a million of them, adjectivesadjectivesadjectives, always with the describing. Whats wrong with verbs? Or try some proper nouns or even a good article." Then she walked away. Woke up in a cold lather of sweat.
4) Cat came back about three to notice an ENEMY CAT had come into our bedroom and secreted himself INSIDE OUR FLOOR LENGTH MIRROR. He rightfully defended us against the intruder, hurling his enormous bloated body at the Bad Cat again and again. It sounded like the mirror was getting slapped with the meaty side of a Walrus. We hurled pillows at him until he left.
5) About 3:30, uncomfortable and forming a serious crick in my neck, I got up to go retrieve all our pillows.
6) At five, the cat came back and began having a LONG LUXURIOUS BUTT GROOMING on the foot of our bed. He was so EARNEST and INTENT on his important project that the SOUNDS of it woke us both up.
Scott: Hand me the pillow.
Me: Honey! He can groom his butt! The Diet is WORKING!
Scott: Let's kill him while he is thin. Hand me a pillow.
Me: You can't throw pillows at him for grooming.
Scott: Do you HEAR that. Whatever he is doing to his butt, it shouldn't be legal.
Me: He is chewing his butt like gum. He must have really missed grooming his butt, and this is a tender heartfelt reunion. Now I think I will go back to having anxiety about selling our baby house and buying the dream house! Want to go through the whole scenario and formulate our plan of action again?
Scott: Okay, just let me go down to the kitchen and shoot myself. I mean, make coffee.
Beautiful Maisy is barely two, and she has a white tiger doll named Siegfried. He was named before the Eaten Magician Incident of 2003. I am sure a white tiger doll named Siegfried is already NOT pc. But there it is. We have one. He is Siegfried and any attempts to call him "Tiger" instead are met with a blank stare and a refusal to understand who that is.
That is not even the problem. The problem is, beautiful Maisy can not SAY Siegfried. She used to call him a word that sounded like Swfog. But today, in the Wal-Mart, she very loudly found a new way to incorrectly pronounce Siegfried. She says it so it sounds EXACTLY -- DEAD BANG EXACTLY --- like....faggot. Yes. You heard me. Faggot. Clear as a bell.
And this is the girl who has such a high, loud, carrying voice that she sets off the WHISTLE BEEPER my friend Jan uses to locate her keys every time she gets within a city block of the thing. In fact, Jan gave me a WHISTLE BEEPER because I am ALWAYS losing my keys, and it went off every time Maisy spoke, and Maisy NEVER stops speaking. EVEN when I shoved my keys UNDER THE SOFA CUSHIONS in the living room, Maisy could SET THEM OFF from upstairs. PS Did I mention the WHISTLE BEEPER has no off button???? I eventually took it into the backyard and beat it to death with a brick. 'Nother story. ANYWAY....
Sentences Maisy shrieked cheerfully at 500 decibels as she danced through the Wal-Mart:
---Where my Faggot?
---I love Faggot!
---Bye Bye, Faggot!
---I Broke it, Faggot
And then she held up her monkey in one hand and Siegfried in another and IRREPRESSIBLY chanted FAGGOT MONKEY FAGGOT MONKEY FAGGOT MONKEY for 2 aisles.
Right now she's running through the house yelling FAGGOT! FAGGOT! WHEE Ahhh YOU! as he has gone missing. He has gone missing because we have more errands to run, and Faggot is not coming with us, thanks. Monkey must go alone. We will not go barrelling through the Publix piping out cheerful little derogatives in a high-pitched peeping voice thgat carries for miles. NOT ON MY WATCH.
Caroline is about to bloom. Oh, you should see this girl. Long slim legs like a pony, fresh skin with a smattering of freckles, bright eyes. She's already a beauty, but she's still in bud. Lithe as a whippet, she smells a little like a blade of grass. That fresh green smell of something about to open and unfold with blossoms and color and all manner of mysterious perfumes. She is standing right on the very very edge of her young womanhood, teeter-teeter, and any second, she's going topple, right into it all, headfirst. But not yet. Not today.
And today, God help him, my son loves her. My son-- seven, knobby kneed, scabby, a constant blur of spastic motion, obsessed with weaponry and martial arts, believing equally in Jesus and Magic and The Infallibility of His Father---He's all boy. His manhood is this distant island on the far horizon, and yet he loves beautiful Caroline to distraction. With absolutely no self-awareness, with no angst or self-examination, with no understanding, with nothing. He just loves her. He just does.
In the car today on the way over for a playdate with Caroline's little brother, Spencer, my son asked if Caroline would be there.
Me: Yeah, I think Caroline will be home.
Sam: Oh Man! Oh Boy! Caroline! *happy silence* Mom, I know Caroline is older than me, but let me tell you something. She is really my friend.
Me: I know, sweetie.
Sam: No really. She talks to me. She's my friend. And I like her. I like her 100%. I mean, I like Spencer too, but, let's say I like him 99%. But I like Caroline 100%. She's like treasure. Like what some people would call silver or gold, that's what I call Caroline.
Me, I'm getting weepy in the front seat while my son waxes poetic about a girl. Not, I am sure, for the last time, but certainly for the first. And he's burbling over, so uncomplicated and honest in his adoration that there's hardly anything at all in it of the young man he will become. There is barely half an atom of his manhood there. But it's enough. It's enough to show me the future, to make me weep. It breaks my heart. And I think to beautiful Caroline---to all the beautiful Carolines to come---Oh sweetie, don't break his.
OKAY. If you read this blog semi-regularly, you may be coming to the conclusion that I am a bit of a HIGH STRESS individual. Not really a take-it-easy, go-with-the-flow, serenity-now kinda girl. In fact, you would not be surprised to learn my high school classmates voted me "Most Likely to Stroke Out Before 40."
Right now, several things are conspiring to make me crave medication, and at first they may not seem connected, BUT OH YES THEY ARE TOO. Here are the things:
1) My house is on the market.
2) MY BELOVED ONE-EYED WRETCHED PILE OF CRAP (aka Schubert the cat) went to the vet because he has Butt Dandruff. The vet said, "The reason the cat has butt dandruff is that you have allowed him to become SO VERY EXTREMELY AMAZINGLY FAT that he can not groom his HINDPARTS." (My vet, a curmudgeonly old country Georgia type that crashes around in boots yanking out baby cows and spitting brown juices, actually did not say "hindparts." He said "ass." But my 13 year old nephew sometimes reads this blog, so I am going to pretend he said "hindparts.")
WELL, my vet gave me a very stern talking to about CATS and WILLPOWER (they do not have any) and said if the cat is fat, he is NOT a bad cat. Rather, I am a bad person.
SO I put the cat on a diet. Now my vet is pleased with me, but the CAT thinks I SUCK.
The cat has decided to show his displeasure by running ahead of me every time I go into the kitchen, and as soon as he ascertains that I am not on a mission of kibble-bowl-filling, he stands up and RAKES HIS CLAWS DOWN MY KITCHEN CABINETS. LEAVING LONG HIDEOUS GAPING WOUNDS. Which (Remember number 1? Because here is where it all comes together.) I would just ignore except, MY HOUSE IS ON THE MARKET. (See! TOLD YA!) No house hunter puts "Gaping wounds in the kitchen cabinets" on the PRO side of a pro and con list. *sigh*
SO in order to DISCOURAGE the cat (without beating him), I have taken to throwing water at him every time he stands to rake his front claws down the kitchen cabinets. In fact, I try to remember to CARRY a little cup of water with me INTO THE KITCHEN every time I am going in there to NOT feed him, so I am all PREPARED.
WELL the other day I was having my 35TH Nervous Breakdown over these blurb letters--my editor's assistant e-mailed and I needed write several MORE after I thought I was done.
SO I call my friend Jill and weep copious stress tears, and am toting a little cup of water around bcause I know in a moment I am going to go in the kitchen and eat 14 pounds of dark chocolate. So I am talking to Jill, WEEP WEEP, and trying not to stroke out, and trying to pick up toys because someone is coming later to see the house, and I am having a hard time managing the weeping and the water cup and the phone and the toy-picking-up because I only have 2 hands and 4 working braincells to devote to each task.
So I am talking to Jill, WEEP WEEP, and I think, "I need to get rid of one thing so I can pick up toys, can't be phone, talking on phone, better get rid of this water cup, why am I carryingf a water cup? Oh, right, it is to dump on the cat!" So I am talking to Jill, WEEP WEEP, and not thinking very clearly and I clock the cat sleeping peacefully on the sofa and WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT dump the water cup on him, because THAT IS WHAT THE WATER CUP WAS FOR.
Needless to say, the cat was not best pleased. Also needless to say I felt like the MEANEST GRINCH LIVING because there he is BLAMELESSLY sleeping and I...oh my. It does not bear further examination. Or rather, I can't bear any. SO.