Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Big BIG Book

Have you ever heard writers or book reviewers say a book is big? I don't think I ever understood, exactly, what that meant.

Which isn't to say I thought it was a reference to page length or weight. I also knew the terms vast and sweeping weren't meant to describe books that span multiple time periods and continents like the Danielle Steele novels I devoured as a teenager.

Maybe (just so you don't think I spend all my time reading Danielle Steele novels) I imagined the mythical big book as something written by Tolstoy, dense with characters and themes.

Something like Anna Karenina, that uses up thousands of words and hundreds of pages to detail agrarian society, religion, the destructive force of adulterous love and the blessings of a close-knit family. In fact, I'm pretty sure all of Tolstoy's books are, almost by definition, big books.

Okay, so what's up with my current obsession over big books.

Although, I'm not anything close to Tolstoy, not even remotely in the same category that touches the same category, I'm realizing that the work in progress might be my version of a big book.

The deeper I get into that mire I affectionately call a first draft love affair, the more themes unfold and mix together in a complicated interconnected pattern.

Lately, I've been spending time at the end of each day staring out my living room window with a glass of wine, trying to piece together all the disparate issues and coax them into something where, like with any good dish, the flavors will compliment and surprise.

Honestly, the whole process is a little scary.

I'm breaking out of my writing comfort zone where themes are cozy and easily defined. It's a big jump, like the difference between having a cat and having a child. That's not a slam on cat owners, by the way, just a reference to my own twenty-something discovery that having a kitty-baby didn't fully prepare me for having an infant.

So what's happening in this new book of mine?

It deals with pharmaceutical culture, my beloved Portlandia, failed artists, mother/daughter relationships, organic and sustainable marijuana farms, drug legislation, porn culture, death, first love, poverty, big families, class separation, and quite possibly, as of my staring at falling leaves thoughts of last night, prostitution.

I LOVE this book.

And for the first time in my writing career I'm worried I might not be able to do justice to my newest love affair.

Like I said before, I'm under no illusion it will be Tolstoy. But it will be mine and hopefully I'll be up to making it everything I think it can be.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Writer-Scary

I've been social media-scarce over the last week. And the noun-adjective combination in the previous sentence is one of the reasons why, but I'll get to that later.

We had houseguests during the first half of last week, which, as my daughter perfectly phrased it, "Is such a special treat!"

And it was.

Especially the part where the kids set their alarms for 6:00 AM so they could get in a solid hour of Make-up Chase and Darkness Mob in the basement before they had to get ready for school.

Fun Times! No seriously, it was fun.

In the middle of refereeing games of Make-up Chase and handing out ice packs for Darkness Mob (haven't played it, don't know the rules, but it involves lights outs, a large size dog crate and is more dangerous than hockey) I received an email from Agent Emily telling me the book is so very, very close to being ready to go out on submission, but still, a few more tweaks were needed.

In a manic moment, I decided the tweaks really weren't that substantial and "absolutely, no problem, could get them done by Friday."


It's funny how tweaks always look smaller in an email than they do when you're combing through the four hundred plus pages of your book.

The first one, as I hinted at above, was easy. I love a good noun-adjective combination. They're a crutch that makes it easy to paint a quick picture. Agent Emily wanted them gone. I complied.

It was the other tweaks that turned me, like a seasonally appropriate house decoration, from writer mommy into writer-scary and created conversations like the following.

"Mom, can I just sit on the couch next to you and watch you write?"

"No, you can not. I'm WORKING."

"I'll be quiet."

"I can hear you breathing. You HAVE TO LEAVE."

Writer-scary is probably the downside of having a writer mom. The upside is I made monster brownies this weekend to soften the blow of having to live with a temporary monster writer.

What about you?

How are your Halloween plans shaping up? Do you turn into a monster when you have a deadline?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Playing Freud

In Portland, during play dates my kids would build forts, play capture the flag or dress up. Every now and then dolls would make an appearance. Swords were a no-brainer.

It seems, however, things are different in McLean.

"So what were you playing at your friend's house?" I asked my daughter the other evening as I was making dinner.

"Therapist," she said.

"Therapist!?! How do you play therapist?"

"It's like this, Mom. One person lies on the bed and the other person sits in a chair and asks the person on the bed how they're feeling. Whether they're sad, happy and if so, why."

"So...?"

"So, what?"

"When it was your turn to lie on the bed what did you say?"

She looked at me and sighed the kind of sigh I'm sure is foreshadowing for the coming years where it will be proven, unequivocally, like a mathematical equation that I know nothing, absolutely nothing at all.


"Mom," she said "the things you say in therapy, stay in therapy."

"Like Las Vegas?" I asked.

"What do you mean? What happens in Las Vegas?"

"Exactly!"

And that's how we ended the conversation, because even if my daughter is telling her pretend therapist things she won't tell me and has a mother who doesn't understand the rules of the game at least I still know the slogan for the biggest city in Nevada.

Which is something.

Sort of.

I'm going to hold on to that and hope autumnal love for Dr. Freud turns into an unexpected spring fling with Capture the Flag.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Torture on I-95

There are lots of reasons I-95, the freeway that runs southbound out of the Washington DC area can be classified as a torture device.

It is always, as the local top 40 radio station says, 'jacked up'.

(Brief aside on that phrase)
Child 1: Isn't jacked up kind of a swear word?
Me: Not technically.
Child 1: So I can say, 'this is so jacked up'.
Me: NO! You can not!
Child 1: But why not?
Me: Let's listen to NPR

But back to I-95. We happened to be on it this weekend, coming home on a Monday after a long holiday weekend. It was excruciatingly slow (which is the family-friendly phrase I'm going to use on this blog).

My husband was driving which left me in the DJ seat and in charge of appeasing two cranky passengers whose electronic devices WERE ON RED. Quick confession; when met with that set of circumstances my musical taste can run to the, well, let's call it eclectic.

We started with a French folk music sing-a-long. My daughter joined in using her hamster voice which is high-pitched, sort of like Miss Piggy with lots of consonants pronounced like Ws. My son sang too, substituting blah-blah-bla-bla-blah for the actual words.

"Maybe something else?!?" My husband suggested, cranky from behind the steering wheel where he was muttering other words that aren't going to make an appearance on this blog.

I put on Kimya Dawson because my kids adore her wacky lyrics. "Umm, so we're just sort of listening to this woman talk to music," said my husband.

Undaunted, we turned to Christmas music....with a twist. The kids and I made up hamster-friendly lyrics to almost every popular Christmas tune. You'd be surprised how easily this can done.

"Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the shavings are so delightful."
"Hamster baby, hurry down the tube to me"
"Running on your wheel, in a one horse open sleigh"

These, of course, were sung in full falsetto hamster voice, because how else do you sing hamster-themed Christmas songs?

After that we listened to a little bit of Miss Piggy (did you know she has a whole album? I didn't either. Thank you Spotify!) and then circled back to Selena Gomez.

On an interesting side note, I don't think I've ever seen my husband quite so happy to hear the three of us belt out "Love You Like a Love Song" in the interior confines of our car.


Or maybe it was a smile of gratitude because traffic was finally moving and he knew escape was close at hand. Personally, I'm going to chalk it up to a late in life appreciation for tweenage music. Next road-trip we'll break out the Taylor Swift.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Kiss and Ride

The first time I heard this term I thought it was a colloquialism. Something people say in Virginia because, after all, Virginia is for lovers and all that.

Turns out it's a real thing. As in prior to the school year I got an email reminding me to register my children for Kiss and Ride if I planned to use it. There are signs at the Metro stations pointing to the Kiss and Ride lanes. People talk about it without a hint of irony. Like this....

"The Kiss and Ride line was so long this morning."

"Yeah, it always is when it rains."

For those of you who are in the dark when it comes to Kiss and Ride, it's what the rest of the country calls 'drop off'. However, when it comes to my children's school Kiss and Ride takes on a hint of military precision.

Children wearing safety guard vests are lined up on big blue dots approximately five feet from each other along the sidewalk next to the school parking lot.

A teacher stands outside directing traffic, both vehicular and human. A line of cars pulls up, stops at the blue dots, the children dressed in fluorescent gear open the back doors and like a well-rehearsed dance the backpack toting passengers hop out and make their way to the classrooms.

The line of cars who take part in the Kiss and Ride ritual each morning stretches for several blocks. My kids and I figured out early on we could park our car, hop out and be at school for kisses good bye long before the idling line of Kiss and Ride vehicles.

As much as I'm trying to embrace the customs of my new home, I'll admit to having a little trouble with the Kiss and Ride debacle. In Portlandia, in lieu of cars inching forward, the streets were filled with lawn signs reminding us of the nasty environmental impact of idling vehicles.

The information in those signs now play on repeat in my head each morning and afternoon as I pass people in their cars and/or watch them try to do the vehicle equivalent of cutting the Kiss and Ride line.

Wouldn't it be so much simpler and green-clean to park and walk? And by the way, I feel compelled to mention that, to date, I haven't witnessed any actual kissing in the Kiss and Ride cars.

Although, I'm sure it happens. Virginia IS for lovers, right?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Women's Reading Month

I didn't plan to read only from the canon of female authors last month, but looking back over my Goodreads reading list, I realize that was exactly what I did.

Here are my favorite discoveries

Rachel Kushner's, The Flamethrowers

I can't say enough about the incredible art-world dialogue and the author's steadfast refusal to adhere to strict plot guidelines. Did I ever really know Reno, the main character? It's impossible to say because reading this book was more like experiencing a world as it's happening, like jumping inside someone else's skin midstream.

Erica Jong's, Fear of Flying

I'd never read this classic look at the first wave feminist approach to sexuality. To say it was the 50 Shades of Grey of it's time is selling it short from a literary standpoint, but it had similar shock value when first published. All these years later, it stands up to the test of time with its challenges to social norms and customs imposed upon women, that all too often, we accept without question.

Hart Johnson's, A Flock of Ill Omens

The first two installments of this series have been unputdownable (autocorrect tells me that's not a word, but I'm putting my disagreement on record). I love the setting because it hearkens to home, the characters and the way Hart bravely jumped into a brand new genre without even the smallest hint of hesitation.

Molly Ringwald's, When It Happens to You

I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but when I saw this book, I had to pick it up because well, it's Molly Ringwald! I was sold the minute I read the back. Interlocking vignettes told on a family scale. The stand-out in the bunch features a mother as she struggles to accept her young son's desire to cross-dress.

There you have it! My month, week-by-week, book-by-book. All so different, satisfying and a perfect reflection of the myriad of ways women experience the world.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Parenting Congress

As I scrolled through yesterday morning's Facebook feed, littered with descriptions of how the government shutdown is hurting a far flung cross-section of people, it occurred to me our elected representatives, on both sides of the aisle, are behaving like children.

It just so happens I have some experience dealing with recalcitrant children and so I've drafted a short plan for encouraging better behavior and avoiding governmental gridlock.

1. Immediate Consequences.  Even pet owners know consequences for bad behavior should be immediate and relate directly to the bad act.

If my children refuse to eat dinner they don't get dessert. This consequence wouldn't be nearly as effective if, say, their refusal to eat dinner meant the neighbors didn't get to eat dessert.

If Congress can't pass a budget, they should go without pay. Immediate. Connected. Consequence.

2. Time Outs. Time spent alone is an effective, nonviolent reminder that your inability to play nicely will result in a set period of time where you are disengaged from all your normal activities.

Elected officials who engage in bad behavior could take a time out in their office (minutes equal to their age, of course).

Maybe they'll miss a vote on the floor. Maybe they'll miss two. I can guarantee the parenting public will reap the benefits by seeing a pleasanter Congress that knows its boundaries and how to be first time listeners.

3. Bad Behavior. Of course we'd need to define what constitutes a time out-worthy offense. Since Congress can't even agree on a budget, I'm under no illusion they'll be able to agree on something as basic as behavioral guidelines.

Don't worry, elected officials! My son's third grade teacher has a list of expectations that are similar to those that have decorated classrooms every year since my children started Kindergarten. Even if you can't agree, the rest of us can, have and will expect you to comport yourselves with dignity and respect equal to that which is required of our nation's school children.

4. Loss of Privileges. I admit it. Sometimes time outs and immediate consequences aren't enough.

Those are the times when I have to dig deep into my parental bag of tricks. Phones and screentime are a favorite privilege of my children which means they're first on the parental chopping block.

Clearly, threat of not being re-elected is not a sufficiently immediate consequence (see point #1). But that doesn't mean our elected officials don't have privileges they enjoy.

Their staffers, their drivers, their exclusive access to the Congressional café? It doesn't have to be a one-size fits all answer, but like a good parent, I have faith a good group of constituents would have that special insight necessary to determine their Congressman's favorite privileges and then deny them until good behavior (the kind on classroom walls throughout the country) is achieved.

5. Perspective. I want my children to understand their desires aren't the end-all, be-all.

Yes, I know that new Skylander is really, really cool and possession of it might open up all kinds of video game doors, but we can't drop everything to go buy it RIGHT THIS MINUTE because we have things like homework and dinner and the daily grind of life that takes precedence.

And yes, Congress and President Obama, I understand Obamacare either (depending on your political viewpoint) needs to stay in place, as is, because it's really, really cool and will open up all kinds of health care doors or the failure to defund it will be the end of modern civilization.

But I also have the perspective necessary to understand we shouldn't drop everything to have it pass RIGHT THIS MINUTE because there are people who need their paychecks to buy the groceries required to make dinner and dying, indigent people who can't get treatment until their Medicaid forms processed.

No parent worthy of the title would put up with this behavior from their children, so please, legislative and executive branches, get a grip on your perspective and put an end to your Capitol Hill tantrum before it grinds our country into an economic standstill.