Monday, October 3, 2011

Nip & Tuck

A friend of mine, who will go unnamed but she knows who she is, recently mentioned she was thinking of having some work done. 

"But what would you have done?" I asked.  "Because you already look great."  This wasn't said to reassure her.  She really does look great.

"Oh, you know.  A nip here, a tuck there.  I could go to a spa and come out looking refreshed and rejuvenated."

"I don't think you'll like spa food," I told her.  I mean, I know about these things because at the Garth household we are assiduous readers of Paddington Bear and there's that one chapter where he goes to the spa.  Long story short, Paddington finds spa food is tasteless and served in insufficient amounts.  He smuggles in jars of marmalade, distributes it to the spa patrons and mayhem ensues.  Which, come to think of it, sort of describes every Paddington Bear story.  Anyway, point is, I am practically a leading expert on spa food!

"Johanna," she said raising her eyebrows.  "Spa food is amazing."

I didn't think she would buy my Paddington Bear theory so instead I tried another tack.  "It's surgery.  You know that, right?  I mean, every time you have surgery there's a chance something could go wrong."  I would have added the possibility of syringes being sewn back inside her skin or googled horrible botched facelifts but she already gives me a hard time about my obsession with avian flu.

"Maybe you're right," she said and our conversation moved on, but because I'm me, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Why would my fit, attractive friend consider, even for a moment, going under the knife?  And on a broader spectrum, what does our cultural obsession with plastic surgery and youth say about us as individuals and as a society?  Putting aside the feminist, medical and self-esteem issues, let's focus on the practical.  From a purely practical standpoint, most plastic surgery I've seen looks plastic, as in fake.  Even the best work results in a face that doesn't match the rest of the body.  When we lived in Manhattan my Park Avenue dermatologist encouraged me to start early with a little botox so any lines I might be developing wouldn't be noticeable.  "It's the gift you give yourself," she promised.  "And your husband will thank you later."  Clearly, she didn't understand that my husband is the kind of guy who does a happy dance whenever I manage to use a coupon. 

There was one thing my dermatologist was right about though.  I am getting lines around my eyes.  It's true, I'm not as young as I was ten years ago.  The things is, I'm quite certain there's still no surgical process to magically turn back the clock and restore my youth.  Even if there was, would I want it?  The last ten years have produced two children and hundreds of thousands of words.  That would be a lot to give up just to get rid of a few wrinkles.  In the end, why not just accept that we're getting older and do it in style, a style that doesn't resemble Malibu Barbie.  That being said, if you (or my very good friend) decide to go through with it, I'll bring over some Matzoh Ball soup and tell you you look ten years younger, because cooking and being a supportive friend are two other things that I've gotten better at in the last ten years.   

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Drama Dilemma

Last night Child # 1 was sassy.  She was rude to her father, insulted her brother and slammed her bedroom door.  When I went to talk to her she was curled up on the bed, glowering.  She is a skilled glowerer, just like Edward the vampire.
Child #1 totally out-glowers this guy.

Now, some of you may think this is headed towards a 'pity me I have a tweenage daughter post' but it's actually a 'pity my daughter she has a writer mother' post. 

I ignored the glowering and sat down on the bed.  "Sometimes it feels like there's something dark inside of you, doesn't it?" I said.  "I know you are a good, kind person but I also know we all have a dark side.  The dark side wants us to say mean things.  It wants you to hurt the people you love and push everyone away.  When it does that, it wins.  Child # 1," I implored.  "You have to fight!  You have to fight against the darkness within.  You can't let it win." 

Ten minutes after I left her room she tiptoed down the stairs with tears in her eyes.  "Mommy," she said.  "I've thought about it and that's exactly how it feels.  I'm not going to let the darkness win." 

We hugged.  We kissed.  I put her to bed and was in the process of congratulating myself on a successful parenting moment when I realized that the language about darkness, fighting and everything else was ripped straight from my book.  Persephone, the main character of Losing Beauty, is in a constant battle with the dark presence in her soul.  Here's a brief snippet from the book so you can compare and contrast writer language vs mother language:

"She felt the dark thing hidden inside of her convulse, as though it was angry too.  She gave into it, letting her eyes sear into his, calling to all of his inner darkness."
and in case you still don't believe me, here's another one,
"All her life, she’d known it was there—calling to the worst parts of other people.  She had controlled it.  She had refused to acknowledge it.  Now, she realized she’d spent a lifetime pretending the horror contained within her didn’t exist." 
Poor Child #1!  She has the bad luck to hit her tweenie years at the same moment I'm writing a series of books about a woman tortured by her inner darkness.  I sense a lot of dramatic inner darkness conversations in her future.  Although, I guess she could have hit it worse.  I could be writing a book about monkeys or space aliens.  Come to think of it, maybe she hit it perfectly, because what tween doesn't love a healthy dose of drama right before bedtime.   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Author's Studio Interview

This morning I'm over at Gary Hoover's blog, The Author's Studio doing a little Q and A about Losing Beauty.  If you're a writer and haven't heard of this blog before, take a minute to stop by.  Gary is a fellow writer who has a blog dedicated solely to other writers.  He also asks fun questions like whether I would streak naked (does streaking imply nudity??) if doing so would guarantee that my book was a bestseller. 

Here's the link. 

http://landofnodtrilogy.blogspot.com/

Enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Transatlantic Telephone Conversation

I’m back, fat but tan, from Italy. 
It’s funny how you can be gone for a short time and have it feel like a lifetime.  This is the first time I’ve left my children behind for more than a week.  If you’re a mother, you can imagine all the anxiety that produced.  If you’re not, feel free to insert large eye rolls at the next few sentences.  Here is the short list of things I worried about before leaving and while away.
1.        Our plane would crash and my children would be orphaned;
2.       The children would die a violent death while out of my sight (drowning, fire, being hit by a car, and earthquake were all worrisome);
3.       Notes would come home from school requiring a parent signature and, in my absence, my children would be left out of a field trip, the book fair or something equally lifechanging.  Their omission from said activity would scar them for life;
4.       Child #2 would have temper tantrums over the fit and feel of his shoes and socks that would leave my mother exhausted and befuddled; and
5.       Bones would be broken and I wouldn’t be there to hold Child #1 or #2’s hand at the hospital
It’s, admittedly, the list of a crazy person.  Only one item on this list came true.  Regular readers of my blog, familiar with the peculiarities of Child #2, will have no problem guessing which item it was.
By miracle of international cell phone service I was able to talk to the children while sitting outside looking over the waters of beautiful Lake Garda and in a sunny outdoor cafĂ© in Venice.  Our conversations went a little like this.
Child #2:  Mommy, I miss you.  Did you get me anything yet?
Me:  I miss you too, and of course we did.
Child #2:  What is it?
Me:  You’ll have to wait until we get home. 
After that the conversation devolved into a description of what his Star Wars lego minifigures were doing which resulted in me asking to talk to his sister.  Those conversations, like everything about Child #1 were a bit more complicated.
Child #1:  Are you and daddy just looking at things or are you talking to each other?
Me:  We’re looking at things and talking.
Child #1:  Do you like talking better when it’s just the two of you?  What kinds of things do you talk about?  Do you think I would be interested in your conversations?
Me:  Umm,
Child #1, not waiting for an answer:  Are you talking about Italy or are you talking about us?
Me with Giulletta
Me (switching gears in a time-tested parenting tactic):  I saw Juliet’s house today, from Romeo and Juliet.
Child #1:  Is that like Gnomeo and Juliet?
Me:  Sort of, except Romeo and Juliet was written by a man named William Shakespeare (I pause to note my husband tapping his watch and rubbing his fingers together in the universal gesture of husbands everywhere meaning ‘get off the phone this is costing me $1.40 a minute’).  Sweetie, could you put Grandma on the phone?
Child #1:  Do you like to talk to Grandma more than you like to talk to me?
Me:  No but your father just reminded me this phone call is expensive.
Child #1: What?
Me:  Expensive!!
Child #1:  Oh, how much does it cost?
Me: Child #1!  Seriously!!  Put Grandma on the phone!!! 
There you have it fellow bloggers and readers.  A summary of my anxieties and worries about leaving my kids behind for a week and an (unintentional) summary of my relationship with the two little people in my life.
See you soon…oh, and it’s good to be back!

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Blogger Break

For my fortieth birthday, my darling husband surprised me with a week in Venice...romantic, non?  One romantic gesture deserves another, so while we're gone I'm turning off the computer, putting down my iphone and ignoring social media so that I can focus on the man I love. 

Big thanks to all of you who read, comment, follow or E-Load my blog.  Losing Sanity will be back on September 26th.  Until then...Ciao!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Missoni (for Target) Moment

Despite everything I needed to be doing yesterday, there was a seven letter word calling my name.  MISSONI.  For those of you who don’t know about Missoni, I won’t accuse you of living under a rock.  I’ll just tell you it’s one of the most iconic Italian designers to have ever crossed the pond.  In my mind, the words chevron pattern and Missoni are almost interchangeable.  Other words that come to mind when I think Missoni are elegant, well-made and classic. 
Given the previous sentence, it won’t surprise you that when I found out Missoni was doing a line for Target, I couldn't wait to get to the store.  Oh yeah, there’s one more word that comes to mind when I think of Missoni—expensive!  Which is why I was so excited about the Target line.  A $2000 dress is a wee bit out of my budget.  A $50 dress, now that's more like it.
I live in Oregon, which is better known for flannels than Italian fashion so I didn’t think I needed to make an effort to get to Target the moment it opened.  My mistake!  I headed to my local Target and this is what I found.
Nothing left but a couple of skirts!

This rack was picked clean.
The shelves were bare, Mother Hubbard bare.  Fortunately, I had another Target up my sleeve, a lesser-known, not overly-frequented Target.  I headed there and hit pay dirt.  See!

I came home and compared goods with my friend Jules who had foraged at the airport Target.  We assessed our purchases and the fact that the Missoni craze crashed Target’s website.
“Who are all these people filling up their shopping carts with Missoni at 8:00 a.m.?” asked Jules.
 “Ebay,” I said.  “I bet they’re going to resell it on Ebay.”
We pulled up Ebay,  put in the search term ‘Missoni for Target’ and were rewarded with no less than 12,000 items.  The cute little dress with the brown stripe down the middle pictured above was selling for $300.  I bought it for $50.  Which brings me to an interesting question. 

Is this the ultimate outcome of a retail economy?  I’m certain Target was happy to sell out of its Missoni wares within five hours but I wonder how Missoni feels about the 7000+ items being hawked for quadruple the price on Ebay?
Maybe they’re happy to raise awareness about their brand.  Or maybe they’re annoyed at the idea of scavengers emptying the shelves and reselling for their own profit.  I tried to imagine how I’d feel if the same thing happened with Losing Beauty.  I’d be thrilled, of course, to have people lining up at 5:00 a.m. to buy autographed copies of my book but I’m not sure how I’d feel if, at the end of the day, I found all those same books on Ebay for quadruple the price.
What do you guys think?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oops

Do you ever schedule your blog post for the next day and then discover Blogger has mysteriously posted Tuesday's material on a Monday? 

When that happens do you ever spend minutes thinking "but I thought tomorrow was the 13th??"  Do you then get up and check the calendar and then go back and check your blog again only to realize that tomorrow is, in fact, the 13th but it's the 13th of September NOT August?

No?? Just me, huh.

Stay tuned.  I've already written tomorrow's post.  You never know, it might end up posting today if the whole August vs September thing slips my head again. 

I guess this is what happens when you turn forty.

Love or Money

My mother once told me that people either have lots of time or lots of money, but usually not both.  It's something I used to think about when I worked at a law firm where vacations had to be squeezed in between deal closings. 

In fact, it was the time factor, not disciplinary measures published in the local bar journal, that played the biggest role in my retreat from the practice of law.  Quick aside here, disciplinary measures make up my husband's favorite bedtime reading material.  If he finds someone who acted in a particularly irresponsible way he'll even read it out loud.  I know.  I can tell you're wildly jealous of our romantic evenings but sorry to say, he's all mine!  The rest of you will have to find your own man to whisper sweet nothings, aka, disciplinary hearings into your ears. 

Okay, that wasn't such a quick aside.  Getting back to my mother's sage advice and my transition from corporate lawyer to writer.  From the outside looking in, being a writer sounds dreamy.  Work from home, be creative, wear flowy dresses while reading long passages out loud to an empty living room.  Like most things, the reality is a little different from the dream.  While I do work at home and get to make up stories, I'm discovering it can still be stressful.  There are the days when no words come to my head.  There are also the days when lots of words come to my head but they're for another book.  With the publication and impending print copy of Losing Beauty looming, there are publicity requirements.  My publisher wants to know how far I've gotten on Losing Hope and will there be a third book in the series and, if so, what's it called. 

I guess what I'm saying is nothing is perfect.  I love what I do and the flexibility of my schedule but there are trade offs.  I have to be disciplined and work hard, sometimes even on the weekends.  My salary as a writer is a fraction of a decimal point of what I made as a lawyer, but I get to make up stories, talk on-line and pick my kids up from school in the afternoon.  In a perfect world there would be enough hours to play, cook, entertain like Martha Stewart, exercise, write, and connect with the billions of people on the internet and I would be well compensated for all of this.  Except, I'm beginning to realize that no one has it all, which, come to think of it, was another one of my mother's favorite sayings.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Are you an E-Loader?


I'm not talking about the beer

My wonderful friend Georgie sent me a text recently that said, "I've thought about it and realized I'm an E-loader.  It's like being a freeloader except it's all virtual."  Over the course of the day she sent me a series of texts with confessions such as, "I read your blog and never comment."  "I watch So You Think You Can Dance and never vote." "I frequent cooking websites and never leave recipe reviews."

"You should write a piece for my blog," I told her.  "Nope," she said (via text).  "I've said all I have to say about it."

I thought about this, which is probably why I'm a writer, I tend to think about everything.  After I was done thinking, I decided that while Georgie might have said everything she had to say, I hadn't.

The concept of an E-loader is better than a lurker.  Lurker sounds like you're afraid to comment but E-loader gets at the essence of why most people don't comment or talk on-line...they just can't be bothered.  I think it all comes down to what you're looking for from your relationship with the internet (and, I must admit I'm a little disturbed by the words relationship and internet in the previous sentence).  Still, there it is.  Our society has changed so we now have relationships with people we will, in all liklihood, never meet.  Or not.  My friend Georgie works full time, has two kids and a social schedule that makes me shudder.  She doesn't go on-line with the thought of making friends.  She goes on-line to get things done.

Me, I go on-line with a different purpose.  Even though I downplay it in my blog, one of the main reasons I spend time blogging, twittering and G+ing is to sell books.  There you have it!  I've given you a sneak peek inside the core of my mercenary soul.  Of course, the by-product of all the time spent on-line is I've discovered an amazing, wonderful,supportive, fabulous, superb group of friends.  Even though it's unlikely I'll meet more than a handful of them, I still think of them that way.  Friends!

In the end, like anything in life, you get what you give.  Which brings me to my question for you.  What do you give on-line what have you received in return?  And, why do I have a sneaking suspicion that the E-loaders will read this column, smile and then swiftly move on to the next point of business.  That's okay E-loaders!  I'm happy to have commanded your attention even for the few minutes it took you to read this blog post.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week One: We Survived!

Today's Friday!  End of the first week of school AKA the longest week of the year.  Who knew that being a mom would mean I would get to suffer the pangs and indignities of childhood doublefold.

Here are the low points and high notes of week one.

Child #2 walks home sobbing because he's already incurred three time outs.  I experience a pang of resentment for his teacher, even as I remind him of the importance of listening, instead of talking, (he's my chatty one) and keeping your hands to yourself (also my grabby one).  A short chat with the object of my resentment the next morning reassures me they weren't so much time outs as reminders to listen.  Hmm, that explains why he described them as short time outs.

Child #1 realizes that all her best friends are in the other fourth grades.  "Mom, every one is friends with each other and no one is friends with me."  My heart breaks.  Honestly and truly, it just breaks but I hold it together and point out how lucky she is to have the opportunity to make a whole bunch of new friends this year.  "You'll have all your old friends AND all the new ones you make this year."  She looks skeptical.  I don't blame her, but she does agree to ask to try to sit with a couple of the nicer girls at lunchtime.

Child #2 describes his teacher as "hot".  "She's hot?" I ask.  "Yeah, especially in the afternoon 'cause there's no air-conditioning in our class." 

Child #1 comes home excited about maps.  "Did you know they made the first maps out of clay in Egypt?  We get to make a bumpy map [topographical] that shows mountains and volcanoes out of packaged frosting."  Child #1 has a deep fondness for packaged frosting ever since I banned it from our home.

It's ups, it's downs.  One minute they're happy.  The next, life is terrible, miserable, awful, end of the world.  I mirror whatever they're feeling with an intensity they would find laughable.  In the end Child #2 says it best, "This week's been kinda good, kinda bad.  Mostly, I'm looking forward to the ice cream social on Friday." 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Writer Love

There I was, catching up on all my favorite blogs, balancing the check book and thinking about just how I want to go about tackling Losing Hope when I saw it.

A post on Facebook from a good writer friend who said he was jealous of all of us who get to stay home and write full time. 

What followed that post was a detailed description of other writer friend's daily schedules.  I read them in awe.  These are all talented writers who work forty to sixty hours a week at something besides writing.  Afterwards, they come home, take care of their families and THEN sit down and write amazing novels.  It's awe-inspiring.  And a little embarassing, since I've spent a large portion of the last twelve weeks whining to my husband about how I don't have enough time to write with the kids home for the summer. 

It's kind of like the pep talks I give to Child #1 when she asks for something in a way that strikes me as self-centered or overly-privileged.  "Look around you and take note of all the wonderful things in your life.  Don't think so much about yourself.  Think about other people and what you can do to make the world around you a better place.  Be kind, be empathatic and for heaven's sake stop complaining and be grateful you have food on the table and place to rest your head at night missy because there are plenty of children..." Okay you get the picture!

It's good advice.  I'm going to take it for myself.  As for making the world a better place, I'm a firm believer in stories.  I think I'll start by reading more books written by my writer friends and spend less time complaining about how I don't have enough time to write.

The first writer friend book coming my way is Dean Lappi's, Black Numbers.  Seriously, I can't wait to read it and one of the Sista' Wives has already laid claim to it as soon as I'm done.  You've got a book you want me to read?  Leave the title here, keeping in mind that I'm print biased but otherwise a reading omnivore.  Can't wait to do my little part to make the world a better place by supporting the creation of stories.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Truth and Beauty

A quick thanks for all the great comments you left about the Yellowstone blog.  Even if I didn't have a chance to respond, I read your comments and loved them.  My blogger friends were especially generous about stopping by, especially since there was no reciprocation while I was off running from bears and bison!

Now we're back and today is the first day of school.  Can you hear the choir of angels singing joyously?  No?  Maybe, that's just me.  Truth be told, I kind of miss my entourage of two when they go back to school.  Today is all about easing them back into the routine with Back-to-School Breakfast (blueberry crumb cake) and figuring out where their lockers are (we missed the orientation last week).  Today I will kiss them good bye and then come home to an uninterrupted six hour block of time.

This is good news for fans of Losing Beauty because it means I now have time to get my tushy in gear and finish Losing Hope.  There's also more good news coming later this week for would-be fans of Losing Beauty, i.e. those who have been waiting for a print version, but you'll have to wait just a little bit longer I'm afraid (and not just because my publisher might blow a gasket if he discovered I'd buried a big announcement in the last sentence of the second paragraph of my blog). 

And now, finally, this is where I come around to the title of this blog post.

Truth and Beauty.

It's a book by Ann Patchett.  It also happens to be what I'm reading for book club this month.  It's a story of the friendship that develops between two writers, Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy.  I love it, but I'm a writer and so this kind of story is right up my alley.  I can't wait to hear what the rest of my book club thinks.  More importantly, and the reason I wanted to talk about the book is because, in the space of a couple sentences Ms. Patchett has set me free.  She discusses the dread most writers feel before they begin to write.  The way they will do almost anything (dishes, laundry, organize their desk, talk on the phone) before they finally drag themselves down to the dirty business of writing. 

I read her words and they were like a mini-epiphany.  Everywhere I look, writers are talking about their love of writing.  It's the first thing they do in the morning, their treasured time when they are their happiest.  The best thing they do all day.    

Whenever I read these kinds of sweeping statements all I can think is what the hell is wrong with me?  Writing isn't my treasured time, unless you substitute the word tortured for treasured.  It's work, and it's the kind of work that I often postpone until I can't postpone it any longer.  True, there are days when I'm compelled to write, but the days when I have to drag myself to the computer and write five hundred words that I know will be thrown out in the editing process are much more common.

So, thank you Ms. Patchett!  For writing a great book and for letting me know that, at the very least, I'm in good company as I alphabetize my cookbooks or send out another Tweet, just one more Tweet, in a last ditch attempt to avoid writing.