Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summertime Madness

To quote The Chainsmokers, #SELFIE song, "It's not even summer. Why does the DJ keep playing, "Summertime Sadness?"

Oh wait, pause, it is summer! Just not here. Not yet. Not until Wednesday. Tomorrow!

Tomorrow afternoon we're headed out on a world adventure. Just the three of us...which is a first for me. Usually my husband comes along on our international explorations, but this summer he's going to pop in and out like our family is a sit-com and he has a repeat guest spot.

We're the Love Boat and he's Carol Channing.

In my usual way, methodical and levelheaded, on Saturday it occurred to me I hadn't done any research on our trip aside from making sure we have roofs over our head and seats on an airplane. It also occurred to me there might be *gasp* lines and Parisians might not take kindly to my joie de vivre when presented in the form of no reservations and impatient children. This realization set off a marathon round of internet research and booking, the kind I suspect others might do more than four days in advance of their departure.

That evening I overheard my son discussing our upcoming trip with a friend. "Dude," he said. "I'm going to France next week and there's going to be..."

He paused and in that pause my mind inserted Picasso, Eiffel Tour, Monet, pain au chocolat.

"Bunkbeds!" he finished. "I've got dibs on the top."

So yeah, everyone's priorities are a bit different.

We will definitely go to the Louvre and afterwards there will be a visit to the in-ground trampolines in the park outside. Castles will be visited, as will swimming pools. I made Viking ponies plans in Iceland and located an archery pitch in case we're all in the mood to channel our inner Katniss. My plan is to balance culture with healthy servings of pastries.

As for blogging, that's going to have to wait until we return.  Meanwhile, you can always follow me on Twitter @JohannaGarth, Google+ or Facebook, where I'm sure I won't be able to resist uploading the occasional photo accessorized with commentary.

Have a wonderful summer and I'll be back here with fresh perspective sometime in mid-August.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Mouse Tale

Yesterday morning started like lots of other mornings. Breakfast prepared, school lunches underway. Me, trying to respond to my son's nonstop stream of morning chatter.

Everything took a sudden right turn when...no wait, scratch that, we drove off the bridge and crashed fifty feet into the water when I happened to leave the kitchen and glance behind me.


Under the baseboard of my kitchen was an extremely large mouse. Dead!! Tail, limp. Fur, brown.

I responded like any other reasonable woman of my age, which is to say I started gasping for air and making odd little moaning noises.

"You okay, Mom?" asked my son, who still hadn't spotted it?

"I'm okay, I'm okay." This was said more to convince myself than him.

My daughter appeared on the scene. The mouse situation was revealed.

"I'll pay you guys two dollars each to sweep it into a dust pan and take it outside," I told them.

My daughter, sensing opportunity for negotiation, raised an eyebrow. "Two dollars, mom? Really?"

"Ten," I said, because by this time it was clear I was unable to walk back into the kitchen.


"Yes, each. Just get rid of it."

They went at it with the broom and dustpan. This is where things took a turn for the worse. The mouse, it turns out, was only pretending to be dead. I know this because I heard cries of "It's moving," from the kitchen, while I was curled up in a fetal position on my bed.

My friend, who was staying as a houseguest, came downstairs. "I'll take care of it," she said. She walked into the kitchen with a swagger. Then turned around a moment later, retreated to the dining room and put her head between her knees.

"I thought I could do it," she said.

"Don't feel bad," I said from my new spot on top of the dining room table.

"It was just so brown and big," she said. "I was picturing it as one of those little white lab mice."

"You're mousist?" I asked.

I think she might have glared at me, but it was hard to tell because her head was back between her knees.

My husband, shockingly, informed me he would not leave his meetings to come home and deal with the mouse. By that point it had returned to its semi-dead state so we convinced my son to cover it with newspaper and vacated the kitchen.

By seven o'clock in the evening the mouse had pulled itself together enough to disappear underneath the refrigerator and possibly into the walls.

We're not quite sure where it went. Out of sight, out of mind. Here's hoping it made it back to the great outdoors so that this summer won't unfold to the olfactory strains of Eau de Mouse emanating from the kitchen.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


As in I just sent this year's book off to my agent.

The Family Warr

I'm alternating between being insanely proud of it and terrified she'll hate it. Or it's internally flawed in ways I missed. Maybe it's a good piece of writing that somehow misses the mark. Or maybe editors will like it, but not want to take a chance on it. Or maybe it's a bad piece of writing that hits the mark, but is nowhere close to being where it needs to be. Or maybe the market isn't ready for the subject matter. Lots of varieties on the theme of generalized angst.

When I tell people I've finished a book they congratulate me. And I try to be graceful about accepting their congratulations because it IS a big deal, however easy it is to lose sight of that given all the angsty thoughts above.

Maybe this book makes me feel particularly insecure because it's so different than anything else I've written. It's bigger and broader, which leaves me feeling exposed almost like wearing a particularly skimpy bikini to the mall.

In case you're wondering, here's my working version of the book's blurb. I'm sure it'll go through many, many revisions, but it's enough to give you an initial glimpse of my newest book baby.

The Family Warr

In a decaying Portland mansion, Henry Warr, marginalized heir to the Warr Pharmaceutical fortune, writes his groundbreaking series on Environmental Philosophy while his wife Willow, raises their four children on a diet of survivalist instinct and her own underappreciated art.
When Henry announces he’s dying and the funds in the Warr Family Trust have dwindled to almost nothing, his third daughter, the neglected and unlovely Desdemona Warr, attempts to unravel certain inconsistencies against the clock of her father’s disease.
Why would the great Henry Warr, known for unapologetically living life on his terms and a long time champion of Oregon’s assisted suicide provisions choose to die in accordance with the strictly drafted provisions of  the, now empty, Warr Family Trust?
Her questions lead her on a whirlwind tour of the seamy underbelly of Portland’s hipster culture, finally delivering her at The Farm, the first off the grid, completely sustainable marijuana farm built as a testament to the power of her father’s writings. The answers she finds challenge her nascent ideas about family, love and the sacrifices inherent in both.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them. -Margaret Atwood

This was the quote that ran through my head all last weekend, assisted by Twitter, reinforced by The Atlantic and my Facebook feed.

Another news story of misogynistic violence followed by responses like the one below. I wish I could say this tweet shocked me, but even in all its callousness, it was predictable. As was the clench in my jaw and wave of nausea in my stomach when I read it. 

Every time another news story breaks, outlining the myriad ways men abuse women (shooting sprees, prisoners, abduction, rape, slaves, chained to the wall) my first protectionist instinct is to hide my daughter.
I want to school her in fear and wrap her up in things that will keep her invisible. Marry her off young, to be protected by a man, of course and teach her to be a silent little thing who doesn't ever draw attention to herself.
But if you knew my daughter, you'd laugh at me. None of that will happen. And you probably already know I would never really want that.
During and after September 11, 2001, I was living in New York City. After those towers fell and our world changed forever, we were constantly reminded to go on with our lives. Not to let the terrorists win. I think about that now because the acts of the gunman (no, I won't say his name and give him yet another link on any kind of media) are another form of terrorism. Terrorism against womankind. And terrorism against the people who love womankind.
Instead of hiding my daughter and teaching her the language of fear, I'll continue to expect her to be outspoken, opinionated and reject people who believe she should be anything else. Because, clearly, it's a battlefield out there and we all have to do our part to destroy the environment in which this kind of terrorism breeds and grows strong.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Dark and Rainy Night

Where do you get your ideas?

Last week brought flash flood warnings, but I have a twelve year old. The flash flood of emotion indoors felt more lightning sharp and dangerous than the watery version, so I decided to go for a walk.

The Woods of McLean are close to our house. I'm sure it has another name, but that's my name for it, despite being teased that it sounds like I'm going to a shopping mall.

The Woods of McLean is a twisty well-maintained path through a wooded area. It has little bridges, lots of dog-walkers and moms' with strollers. It's much like, I suppose, any other park in suburbia. It's where I run, where inspiration strikes and where sometimes I pause to marvel at the 80s era fitness test equipment scattered at regular intervals throughout the woods.

On that evening, it wasn't really my intention to visit the Woods of McLean. It's just sort of where I ended up. Because it had stopped raining, I hedged my bets and followed the path. Underneath the canopy of trees it was deserted. And dark. Not really, really dark, but dramatically lit; wooded mood lighting for Bad Things.

In those dark woods lit for bad things, I imagined a murder. Mine! A crime of opportunity committed while everyone was warm and dry in their houses, safe from the high water. Which led to imagining that high water. What if a flash flood occurred and swept me underneath one of those bridges?

I pictured a four year old boy in one of the houses on the edge of the woods, looking out from the picture window of his living room.

"Mommy," he would say. "I think a saw a person floating in the water."

"We've talked about you making up stories," she would respond.

"No, I saw someone. I promise!" But she would already be leading him away, to dinner, bath time and bedtime. The comfort of routine. My corpse would be found the next day. The boy would spend his life trying to understand the little moments upon which fate hinges.

A piece of fabric was hanging from a branch underneath a bridge and I wondered if it had once belonged to the murderer stalking me through the Woods of McLean. Maybe he'd been lying in wait and been swept away, suffered an ironic death dealt by the high waters of a flash flood.

I turned around quickly like something being hunted, expecting to see him crawling out of the water and screamed (yes, out loud) at the sight of a shadowy human-shaped tree trunk.

And then I came to the edge of the Woods of McLean. The canopy parted and there was a crack in the clouds that made everything look sunny and bright. I skipped home feeling lucky to have avoided my million dark fates and as I did, I realized the answer to that question so often asked of writers.

The question is not where I get my ideas. It's how will I ever do justice to them all. And maybe, also, a keen curiosity about what other people are thinking. If their minds aren't engaged in making up stories, what is it that makes them look so far away?

And of course, the more I try to answer that question, the more ideas I'll have clamoring to be written down.