Books and Kids & Kids and Books
Long ago, I realized that whatever I did career-wise would have to involve kids and books or books and kids. If not, there was no way I’d ever be happy. If I’m teaching and/or writing, I am usually happy. Not always. There are down sides to every profession. There are long periods when I don’t have a clue as to where a novel needs to go. And I’ve had plenty of lessons that I thought (and probably my students did, too) were far from stellar. All you can do is learn from those days, I guess, try and strive and break your neck to make them better. Or, get a good night’s sleep and go for a run the next morning.
Recently, I did a school visit at Fort Johnson Middle School in Charleston, South Carolina, and one word sums up this experience rather nicely—AMAZING. So, how does an author have an amazing book talk? In my humble opinion, it has little to do with the author. Mostly, it has to do with how well the event is planned, and Erica Ciucci, guidance counselor extraordinaire, planned what I consider the perfect event.
1. Many of the students had read at least one of my books, and they’d spent time discussing the book, which meant they felt like they already knew me.
2. They did not torture poor middle school boys with my book talk. It’s a girl book. That’s not to say a boy can’t read it. I think if they did they might understand girls better. However, mostly boys don’t read my books, and since I think girls are pretty darn awesome, I am totally fine with that.
3. Promotion, promotion, promotion. Guidance Counselor Extraordinaire spent lots of time promoting the event. She got the girls psyched.
4. There was a theme. My point in coming was to discuss my career as a teacher and a writer. I prepared a brief talk about this, confessed some of my own middle school goofiness (there was plenty of material, trust me), and I left time at the end for students to ask questions. Luckily, they had lots of questions. There is nothing quite so lively and uplifting as a group of 11-13 year old girls—yay, Target Audience! Oh, how I adore you!
5. Guidance Counselor Extraordinaire scored a beach house (thanks so much to the teacher who donated its use), and she said I could bring a friend. One of my besties went with me, and we did not stop talking for two solid days. I feel certain my husband is not sorry he missed this.
6. Finally, everybody pitched in. A parent donated my plane ticket since he works for U.S. Air. A grandmother of one of the students prepared fabulous treats for an amazing reception after the presentations, and she had homemade Benne Wafers. If you’ve never had homemade Benne Wafers, my heart goes out to you. Teachers and librarians and administrators and secretaries went out of their way to make me feel welcome. When I pulled up in my rental car, I spotted my name on the marquee. Now if your name on a marquee doesn’t make you feel special, I don’t know what will.
I still get a tad weepy when I think about my time in South Carolina. Erica and her coworkers and girls took Southern Hospitality to a whole new level. This visit definitely made up for an awful lot of lonely and difficult days spent at my computer.
Fort Johnson Middle School totally rocks!
Eleven Things To LOVE About Fall
Usually, I whine and moan about summer being over, and I can’t
say I’m not sad about my fading tan or the fact that we haven’t
seen the Eastern Shore of Maryland in a while. Truthfully, I hadn’t
missed the hectic pace of the school year. But, fall is here, and I
might as well focus on all the things I actually love about it.
10. Red wine.
9. Cupcakes. That added layer of fat keeps
you warm, right?
8. Decorations. Yes, I am one of those cheesy
people who believes every season warrants a trip to Michael’s.
7. The scarecrow. And he is pretty scary,
actually. Every time I glance out the window, I think some strange,
skinny dude is standing in my yard.
5. A guard duck. Everyone needs a guard duck.
4. Being surrounded by the ones you love.
3. A child old enough to read your books but
still young enough to appreciate them.
2. The last round of zinnias. I haven’t
paid for fresh flowers in months!
1. A fire. Every year I am so thankful to
the cave woman who invented this!
Happy fall, y’all!
So why haven’t I blogged for the last six months? Let’s
I could make excuses, and I have plenty of those. But, the real reason
I haven’t blogged for months and months is Tyler Clementi, and
if you don’t know who I’m talking about, you can refer to
the blog from October of 2010. After that heartbreaking story, I somehow
couldn’t bring myself to blog about flowers or holidays or my
kids or the new book I’m working on. It just didn’t seem
right. I could’ve taken down the blog about Tyler, but that felt
wrong, too, so I left it there. And left it there. And left it there
some more. I guess my hope was that if readers happened to visit the
website and click on the blog page, they would discover my blog, and
Tyler would live on in a few more memories, which is still my hope.
The other reason I haven’t blogged much is that my oldest daughter,
Cassie, graduated from college. That’s right, I am old enough
to have birthed a college graduate, and said college grad is also blogging.
Her blogs are so much more youthful and witty, and I thought Why not
leave such things as blogging to the young folk? Actually, I didn’t
think it quite that way (I’m not THAT old!), but you get the general
Finally, I am just a tad bored by reading blogs, which is something
that used to completely distract me. I followed YA authors and other
authors (I won’t say “adult authors” on account of
for some people this implies a completely different kind of book) and
random people who took the time to put their thoughts into words and
post it on the Internet. For some reason I haven’t cared about
this much lately, which brings me to my final, and perhaps most important,
reason: I have been writing. A LOT.
It’s taken months and months and some make-me-wince feedback,
but I finally feel like I’m settling into this new book, which
I initially called Hatched then Not Hatched then Not Quite Hatched.
I have a new name for the book now, but I refuse to reveal it because
it will likely change a few more times before it’s published.
Over the last number of years, I have written a total of—drum
roll please—seven books. Yes, I know, only three of these books
are actually on the shelf, but still I have written seven books, and
in many cases (like now) rewritten them.
Recently, I found a quote by John Irving that says, “Half my life
is an act of revision,” and I have to say, I feel the exact same
way. What a lucky thing it is, though, to revise, to be able to go back
and change things, flesh out characters who were previously too evil,
rework plots that just aren’t working, bring new people into the
story who will (hopefully) add greater depth and meaning and kindness,
or maybe just figure out what the darn book is really about anyway.
This is what a writer, or at least this writer, does during the revision
process, which brings me back to Tyler. Just think how nice it would
be if we could somehow revise his story.
If I don’t blog for a few more months, which is entirely possible,
you’ll know it’s because I’m revising since that’s
what writers are fortunate enough to get to do. Sometimes over and over
and over again.
I am supposed to be grading papers for my high school students, getting
ready for a book festival, and preparing a speech I need to write for
a Baltimore County Public Library event next week (the superintendent
is coming—yikes!). Instead, I am mourning the death of a boy I
did not know. His name was Tyler Clementi. He was eighteen and a freshman
at Rutgers University. He played the violin.
Without permission. Without his knowledge. In the privacy of his dorm
room, he was videotaped while, according to news reports, “having
an encounter with another boy.” Perhaps it was his young face
or the image of him with his violin or the statement issued by his parents—the
family is heartbroken beyond words—or the fact that Tyler
Clementi is yet another casualty of bullying that made me too sad to
continue my regular work.
Instead, I found myself pacing, browsing the Internet, reaching out
to other YA writers, hoping we could do something. Of course, we can’t
really do anything. It’s too late to be nice to Tyler, to respect
his privacy and that of his male friend. It’s too late to be more
mature and tolerant. I have to wonder at those last moments of Tyler’s
life, when he was on that bridge. How lonely and afraid he must’ve
been. Ultimately, though, he was more frightened of the video posted
on the Internet, such a callused and heartless violation of his privacy.
Earlier this week I volunteered at my children’s new school. It’s
a special place with wonderful teachers and nice kids and families.
For the day I was “lunch lady,” opening juice boxes, passing
out sporks, wiping down tables in between shifts. At one point a young
boy approached me. Rather quietly he said, “I don’t have
a place to sit.” The situation was familiar—every table
filled, all chairs scootched suspiciously close together, young eyes
guiltily averted. I grabbed a spare chair and asked the other students
to scoot and make room for the boy with a plastic tray of pizza and
a carton of milk and a fruit cup.
For the rest of the day, I thought about that boy and his unfortunate
lunch situation. Today, I am thinking of another one. We’ll regret
forever the times we didn’t make room, the day we teased or taunted
or ridiculed or shunned. Who killed the Kennedys when after all
it was you and me? But I doubt any of us ever regrets an act of
Rest in peace, Tyler Clementi.
Being a mom is the best. It wears me out, makes me crazy at times,
keeps life busy and full of surprises (not all of them good), but it
was always the thing I wanted most, to have a family of my own. When
I was a kid, I used to dream about being a mother. How many kids would
I have? Would I have boys or girls? Would we be close? There were so
many unanswered questions! Now I know the answer, of course. I have
three daughters: Cassie (20); Flannery (10); Elsbeth (8).
Recently, Cassie decided to move back home. She is finishing her last
semester of college, and it just didn’t make sense for her to
sign another year-long lease. She wants to travel abroad soon. And she’s
started a blog of her own. Her future looms large in her mind these
days. Graduate school? A job? Real job, that is. What will she do with
her life? We discuss this often, but the truth is I like what she’s
doing with her life right now, studying hard, interning, working part-time,
and living with us. In college I was pretty much a train wreck, so when
Cassie left for school, I made her sign a contract. It’s still
tucked in a drawer somewhere, but it basically said she had to get good
grades and study hard and avoid too much partying. In other words, she
had to do the exact opposite of what I did in college. Looking back
I see how unnecessary this contract was for her. She would’ve
done those things anyway, in three-and-a-half years instead of four,
as it turns out.
Sometimes you sit back and watch and wonder how they managed to
grow up so quickly. How did they become so much smarter and worldly
and mature than you ever were at that age? Then you remember making
all those dinners and driving them to school and folding endless towels
and sheets and pillowcases. Children keep you preoccupied so that they
can quietly (or not so quietly) grow up.
Flannery just started her last year of elementary school. She is a nature
lover, dog lover, book lover, and flower lover. She has her own garden
out back with a sign she made from wood scraps left behind by the contractors.
It hangs on our tool shed. “Flan’s Garden,” the sign
says. She loves to try and teach Iris new tricks (operative word is
TRY). She loves to help me in the kitchen and explore the woods in front
of our house. There is a sweetness in this child that is both fascinating
and scary. I’ve watched her try to navigate girl world, something
I was never very good at myself, and she has learned some difficult
lessons: 1) not all friends turn out to be nice friends; 2) everyone,
no matter how hard you try, will not like you; 3) when someone breaks
your heart, try again with a new friend. And it will work out. You will
find your Leanne and Caroline and Georgia, and even if you move and
switch schools, they will still love you.
Oh the heartbreak of a mother! All that watching and biting your
nails and trying, trying, trying not to intervene too much or give too
much advice or be too nosy. How was school? Who did you sit with at
lunch? How was math? Did the teacher check your math? And, finally,
you realize they have their own approach, which is different from your
approach. Sometimes, okay, OFTEN, it’s better, in fact.
Elsbeth, the youngest, gallops. That’s right. She gallops. Like
a horse. When Cassie was her age, she barked. Perhaps this animal behavior
is genetic, I don’t know. All I know is that most mornings when
I’m finishing up a chapter or fretting about the fact that I still
haven’t finished a chapter, I hear galloping—loud, pounding,
herd of elephant-like galloping. Round and round the loop of kitchen/family
room, hallway, dining room she goes and goes and goes. Until I yell.
Because when she gallops, I will, inevitably, yell. Her galloping makes
me crazy. Go out and play! Ride your bike! I’ve even
Googled “kids who gallop.” There was one hit, and the website
on fitness actually encouraged children to do this. When I say she gallops,
I do not mean she skips along on a stick with a horse head attached.
I mean she hunches down on all fours and gallops. This galloping is
also a good metaphor for how my youngest child approaches life: head-on.
Switch her house, put her in a brand new school, and on Take-a-peek-at-your-seat
Day, she’ll run off and leave you (because she somehow, miraculously,
already knows her way around this new school). Ask her why she isn’t
sitting at the dining room table doing her homework, and she’ll
say she’s already finished. You check her work. Yes, she is finished.
And while you’re still looking over the spec sheet for her latest
school project, she’s already in the basement starting it.
But you were so colicky and cranky, such a needy little thing, the
toddler who made me understand what those parent hotlines are for! And
now you’re galloping through the third grade. Where did you get
this confidence? How are you so good at math?
If you are reading this and lucky enough to still have a mother, call
her. Or write her a letter or email. Remind her of some quirky, sweet
thing she used to do or thank her for the sandwich in your lunch (yes,
even if it was “potted meat”). Or, if you’re even
luckier and still living at home, go hug her. Right this minute. Perhaps
she’s annoying (you are probably to blame for this), but do it
anyway. You will never regret hugging your mother. I promise.
Since moving into our new-to-us home last October, we’ve repainted
several rooms, replaced a number of light fixtures, arranged and rearranged
furniture, and landscaped (some of the yard anyway). As of yet, there’s
no patio. It’s been too hot for my husband to get started on that
daunting project, but come fall the task will fill most of our weekends,
I’m sure. Or, maybe I should say I hope it fills the weekends.
Our old house was surrounded by trees. This property does have trees,
but they’re off in the distance—away from the foundation
and pipes, etc., a good thing structurally, I know. Still, it’s
hard to push yourself outdoors in 100+ weather when there isn’t
a comfortable shady spot.
A few weeks ago, we were planting things—a pretty crepe myrtle,
some knock-out roses, Shasta daisies, coneflowers, day lilies. As we
dug and hoisted and mulched, I kept eyeing the screened-in porch adjacent
to our living room. In my mind, it was a distant project, one of those
things we’d get around to in the second year or the third perhaps.
All that afternoon, it rained on and off, and each time a big soaker
came along, I’d duck onto the porch, sit in an outcast rocking
chair, and gaze at the sky. The small space was cluttered with old flower
pots and discarded furniture we planned to consign or give away. Glorious
clouds floated by, birds chirped in the distance, and a faint breeze
cooled me off. That rainy day in June sealed the deal: the porch would
jump from the bottom of my list to the top.
The next week I began combing the Internet and local
stores for furniture. I wanted something simple and comfortable and
on sale. I cleared away the old things, swept and cleaned the brick
floor, and wiped down ledges. After endless searching, I came upon a
deal at one of our favorite nurseries. A three-seater outdoor sofa,
plus what I refer to as a double-wide chair for such a great price I
almost hugged the sales lady. In our garage was that old coffee table
from my husband’s childhood home, and the chest and washstand
Elsbeth no longer needed for her room. Home Depot had lush ferns, required
for a porch, and we already had lots of candles. Last week our electrician
installed a ceiling fan! It doesn’t make a sound. It blows away
the bugs that manage to work their way in, and it takes the bite out
of that heat.
On weekends I eat breakfast here. Most days my girls
and I have lunch here. Scott and I sip wine here and have real adult
time, as in, actual conversation. I’ve decided there isn’t
much a screened-in porch can’t fix. Need some time away from bored,
whiny children? Get thee to a porch. It always takes them a while to
find me. Feeling overwhelmed by work? Sit for fifteen minutes and watch
the clouds. Better yet, add a birdfeeder and be still. They’ll
come, I promise.
So much of my life is run, run, run, please, please, please, do and
do and do. It never ends, and I guess I’m mostly grateful for
that. Boredom isn’t an accessory I wear well. Out of all the big
projects we’ve taken on in the past year, this simple room has
brought me the greatest joy. Guess I’d better start looking for
deals on those outdoor heaters because I do not plan on going inside
for quite a while.
Normally, I want to write a semi-happy blog. I want to talk about flowers
and kids and books and home and friends. I like to write about these
things because I like this kind of stuff personally, and the blogs I
return to again and again myself (Sarah Dessen for one) tend to be light-hearted
and funny because we all need lifting up, right? But the truth is I’m
not feeling very light-hearted these days, and the things on my mind
aren’t funny at all. In fact, they have a lot to do with where
I’ve been and where I’m headed.
There have been the usual milestones—21st birthday (I don’t
remember this one); 30th birthday (I do remember this one, unfortunately);
35th birthday (an exceptionally good year); 40th birthday (my mother
was dying, so enough said); and 46th birthday. Yes, that’s right,
I said 46.
Forty-six should not be a milestone year. Forty-six should come, be
appropriately celebrated (it was), and then it should be forgotten.
The trouble is I can’t forget it, and I’m already halfway
to 47. If you’re reading this and you’re older than I am,
you are probably rolling your eyes. If you’re a teenager, and
in theory this website is for teenagers, you’ve probably already
gone to a more interesting blog. Here’s the thing, though. Forty-six
is like a throbbing headache that won’t go away. It’s like
that very random person you friended on Facebook who didn’t accept
your request. It shouldn’t bother you, but it does.
Here’s what I’ve figured out about 46: I feel like the really
big, exceptionally good stuff is already behind me. And trust me when
I say I’ve tried presenting all the Life begins at forty
counter arguments to myself, yet this hasn’t worked, either. We
feel what we feel, logical or not.
Possible solutions to this problem:
1. Have another baby.
2. Get a new car, something shiny and colorful and important looking.
3. Head to the nearest cosmetic surgeon.
OR…maybe…the real solution is found in facing forty-six,
not fighting it. I am 46. I’m never going to birth another child
unless I’m stuck in an elevator with a crowning pregnant woman.
And I like the car I have. It’s not colorful—it’s
gray—or important looking—it’s a station wagon—but
it is shiny, thanks to Auto Spa. And while I applaud the choice to fix
things you don’t like about your face and body, surgically or
otherwise, I don’t want to go there myself for a number of reasons.
For now, I’ll just do my best to feel grateful, really, truly
blessed (because I am!) that this “big stuff,” as I call
it, happened to me in the first place—the sweet wedding and those
At the end of every day
I have been blessed
With so much more than I deserve
To be here with the ones
That love me
To love them so much it hurts
I have been blessed
Martina McBride’s “Blessed”
Written by: Hillary Lindsay, Troy Verges, and Brett James
Lots of things make me happy: a clean house, a pantry and refrigerator
filled with groceries, my garden, birds on the feeder, a new issue of
Country Living in my mailbox, a bonfire with our new neighbors, and
summer. Like most people, I love everything about this season, and I
starting obsessing over its approach in late March. It seems that summer
will never come, that I’ll be wearing dark clothes and sweaters
and my winter coat forever. Then we have that first taste, a random
day in April when the weather gets freakishly warm, and everyone emerges
in shorts and T-shirts, happy simply because the sun is shining. Of
course, summer retreats then, as she is coy and knows her power.
But now summer is here! Finally! And my new book is out, and I’m
working on another new book. School is almost over, both for my kids
and for me. Plus, we’re doing our first overnight on the sailboat,
which means crabs and french fries and corn-on-cob and the smell of
Bay water on my children’s skin.
Just yesterday I went to the library to return a book-on-tape, and the
librarian said eagerly, “You won’t recognize this place
in a couple of weeks.” “Why?” I asked, slightly worried
since I love the space exactly as it is. She replied, her eyes glittering
with excitement, “Summer reading. We change everything in the
summer.” My eight-year-old looked up at me wide-eyed, which means
we’ll be spending lots of time at the library, and there’s
a snow cone stand right next door. We’ll be spending time there,
too, I think.
During so many other seasons, we expect big things. Fall is back to
school and homework and teaching and grading and stress. Christmas means
lots of shopping and spending and cooking and decorating. Spring is
over-loaded with so many school functions and household projects. But
summer expects nothing more of us than to step outside our doors and
squint up at the sky or listen to the breeze in the trees. Of course,
people still work and have responsibilities. Writing with kids underfoot
won’t be easy, and those first couple of weeks after school lets
out they feel the stress (yes, stress) of entertaining themselves. That
I can handle, though, because there are three brand new hydrangea bushes
planted just outside our screened-in porch, and my husband’s garden
of cut flowers and vegetables is showing signs of life.
Ah, summer, you will be gone before we know it, as my mother used to
say, but while you are here, I plan to enjoy all your riches. I wish
everyone a safe, happy, hydrangea-filled summer.
The sun came out today, and the temps warmed up, and tomorrow we’re
headed out of town on a two-night family (minus Cassie, sadly) vacation
to the Eastern Shore, one of THE most beautiful places on earth. Lately,
life has been stressful. If you read my last blog, you probably gathered
that. But this morning when the sun came out for the first time in days,
and it was warm enough to bounce on the trampoline with Elsbeth and
weed the garden this afternoon, I felt instantly better. Plus, there’s
that promise of the weekend ahead—dinners out and reading and
maybe treating myself to a pedicure. Even the two-hour drive
sounds like fun. The kids in the back seat, my husband beside me, music
on the radio.
Monday will come, of course. The house will be dirty and the laundry
will have mysteriously piled up even though we were away all weekend,
but for now, I’m not thinking about that. Or, I’m going
to try not to think about all that. Truthfully, I’m not
good at this letting go stuff. I’m more of a get-it-all-done-now-so-you-don’t-have-to-think-about-
it-tomorrow kind of girl. The problem with my mindset, however, is that
“it all” never gets done.
As I’m writing this, the phone is ringing off the hook, and the
kids are playing outside, but the TV is still on upstairs (it’s
blaring iCarly). And there’s that exciting matter of a new book
coming out in days. There’s also the new, new book I’m working
on. And my students are expecting their sudden fiction stories back
next week. Yikes, I have an observation lesson to plan! Oh, and the
yard is still a mess from the bad winter and all the construction work.
My girls have school projects due, too. See how easily I can slip back
into the real me, the worrier, the I-can-fix-it-all-if-I-just-work-harder
person that I truly am?
Sometimes I think about that carthorse in George Orwell’s Animal
Farm. Boxer was his name, and he kept saying I will work harder
over and over and over. And then he did work harder and harder and harder.
I’m simplifying Boxer’s situation because he and poor Clover
symbolized the oppressed working class in Russian society. I get that.
But to me, Boxer was kind of personal, too, because I related to him.
He was gullible, naïve enough to believe that working 24/7/365
would bring him some sort of rich reward he couldn’t quite imagine.
In the end, though, those pigs shipped him off to the glue factory so
they could buy more whiskey. Boxer’s situation was pretty hopeless,
really, given Stalin and those Communists and all. But I wish he would’ve
grazed more on the sly or swished his tail defiantly in the breeze or
sown some oats maybe, rather than exert every ounce of his energy just
trying to get it all done.
I’m not sure how I went from a trip to the Eastern Shore to Boxer
of Animal Farm. A sure sign that I really do need a vacation?
Elsbeth just switched off the television, thank heaven. And I unplugged
the phone. It’s quiet now. There are two Adirondack chairs on
our front lawn, and one of them is calling my name. For tonight and
tomorrow and the next day and half of the next, I am not going to work
harder. In fact, I’m not going to work at all. R.I.P., Boxer.
In case you’ve ever wondered, writing a book is scary. You could
be doing so many other things that would provide instant gratification,
or at least the kind of gratification that doesn’t take two years
(or twenty) to realize. Writing a book makes you question decisions
and choices, those you’re making in the here and now and those
you’ve made in the past. Writing a book makes you laugh on some
days, cry on others, or even do both simultaneously. Writing a book
can make you insanely jealous because somebody else, lots of folks,
actually, are having way more success than you, and so you’re
constantly comparing—Amazon sales rankings, tours or no tours,
marketing campaigns, school bookings, awards, Facebook friends, fan
pages, starred reviews or no reviews at all. And you so, so, so want
to be where those successful authors are. You know you do, so don’t
lie. You want to rise to the top and be important in this field you
love. You feel a bit desperate about it, actually.
When you write a book, you spend a lot of time alone, staring at a computer
screen, studying diction and syntax and characters and plots and symbols
until you’re certain you no longer understand the first thing
about any of it. You read things aloud to yourself and wonder if the
UPS guy could hear you as he came up the walk. Maybe he thinks you’re
crazy. Maybe you are crazy. Yes, you are crazy because no sane person
would ever choose this line of work. You talk out plotlines in the car,
or stand in the shower too long because you’re obsessing over
how to describe water trickling down the drain or how to transition
better from scene to scene. You watch people too intently—at the
grocery store, in the carpool line, at the gas station, or the gym.
You want to know their stories because you know they have a story—everyone
You spend a lot of time defending your profession, or if you’ve
been at it for a while, just keeping your mouth shut when people say
stupid things to you, like, “Boy, I wish my husband would let
me stay home and write a novel,” (yes, she said let) or “I’d
write a novel, too, but I just don’t have that kind of time.”
And right before a new book comes out, you’re even nuttier. Is
anybody going to buy your new book, and if they do buy it, will they
like it? Will you get reviews? And is a bad review really better than
no review at all? And how will you mark publication day? And the days
following? Will this book do better than the last one? Maybe not. You
know, there are no guarantees about this sort of thing. And if this
new book does poorly, then what? Will you ever get another publishing
deal? Will the editor you love ditch you? Will girls who hated you in
high school have a rowdy celebration, raise their wine glasses high
to your abysmal failure? Will kids tease your daughters on the playground?
You can’t go on like this much longer, so you set out to find
your inner Anne Lammott. You’d look cute in dreadlocks, right?
And even though Anne Tyler doesn’t know you, you live in the same
town at least. There’s hope in that. Maybe success is in the good
old Baltimore air; all you have to do is inhale deeply. You met Lee
Smith and Sarah Dessen not too long ago. They were doing a reading together
and you had your picture taken with them, stood so close that your shoulders
touched. Some of their talent rubbed off. It did! And they have so much
of the stuff they were probably glad to slough off a little.
One day after you’ve poured orange juice on the kids’ cereal
or searched endlessly for the sunglasses on your head, the madness stops.
It has to because you’ve exhausted yourself and your family and
your friends. The UPS guy leaves packages out by the garage now. The
dogs look at you funny when you walk past them. You have to get a handle
on yourself, so you close your eyes and think back to your twenties
when you wrote bad stories for a trade publication. You remember your
early thirties and graduate school, all those classes you took so that
you could be a better writer. You picture that pile of rejected manuscripts,
those hours of your life you willingly gave up…for this. It meant
so much. You got up early, went to bed late, dreamed and dreamed and
prayed about having just one book on a shelf somewhere. Your forties
showed up, and while your mom was being invaded by cancer cells, you
kept writing, sorry that she’d never get to share the day with
you if that acceptance letter or phone call or email ever happened.
Then it did happen. The Agent believed in you, and you spent all those
months working together to make the book saleable. Eventually, The Editor
believed in you, too, and you spent lots more months making the saleable
Yes, writing a book is scary. So is writing the next book and the next
book and so on. Wanna know what’s scarier than all this? Not writing
Somebody Everybody Listens To is available for pre-order on Amazon!
Fall (I know it’s almost spring, but bear with me) is a crazy
time for birthdays around my house. Everyone in the family, except me,
has a birthday in the fall—early fall, mid fall, late fall. My
birthday comes in January, so by the time it rolls around, I am so done
with birthdays. Typically, every family member gets a celebration of
some sort. My husband and oldest daughter opt for simple, theme-free
affairs—favorite dinner, cards, a few balloons, cake, and gifts.
My two youngest daughters alternate “big” birthdays and
“little” birthdays. This year it was Elsbeth’s turn
for a “big” birthday, which meant she could invite all her
classmates. Flannery had a “little” birthday, which meant
she could invite three BFFs.
Here’s what I planned for the Big and Little birthdays:
1) Elsbeth—outdoor event—moon bouncing, swimming, and face
painting in mid September.
2) Flannery—sleepover—movies, pizza, cake, and American
Girl dolls in late December.
Here’s what I didn’t plan:
1) Elsbeth—pouring, drenching, cold rain, mud, LOTS of squealing
little girls in wet clothes and dirty sneakers, and a deflated moonbounce.
2) Flannery—blizzard conditions, freezing temps, stranded children
(this slumber party went on for 48 hours, thank you very much) and squealing
girls in wet snow clothes and boots.
About the last thing I expected to be doing in early March was hosting
yet another birthday party. Birthdays, or so I thought, were behind
me until September. BUT…according to the eight and ten year olds
who live in my house, Iris, our 23-pound Jack Russell terrier, was expecting
a birthday soiree of her own. Seriously? I asked. Yes,
my girls insisted. They were serious and already armed with
invitations they’d made themselves. Cute invitations, I had to
admit. At the very least, this futile attempt at party planning would
get them out of the house for a while (they were hand-delivering the
invitations). Okay, I said, confident it would never happen.
Here’s what they planned:
Invite the neighbors, 19 people (not including us).
Play dog games and watch dog movies.
Eat dog cake.
Unwrap dog presents.
Here’s what happened:
Our incredibly kind neighbors gave up a Saturday afternoon to attend
a dog party.
They brought dog gifts.
They didn’t make fun of us for hosting a dog party.
And, the weather was perfect.
The birthday girl had a good time, too.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about crazy dreams. You know
what I’m talking about, or at least I hope you do. You’re
in the car singing your heart out to Taylor Swift. You might be forty-six
and crinkled, but in your head you’re fifteen, smooth, and it’s
the first day of freshman year, except you are so much smarter than
you were back in high school. This is a fantasy, after all. Or, maybe
it’s Monday morning and you’re in spinning class. The music
sucks and the teacher is kind of loud, so you retreat to the Lance Armstrong
dream—last stage of the Tour de France, yellow jersey, crowds
shouting, horns honking, and you’ve nearly reached the finish
This time of year I really need to kick into my crazy dream side because
I don’t much care for winter. I don’t ski or snowboard.
And even with a hat, my ears still freeze when I go for a run. The other
day I wore a pair of those cropped workout pants to the gym. I was on
the rowing machine (in my head I have arms like a champion sculler),
and I glanced down at my calf. Really? Is that MY leg? I thought.
How did it get so white? Or so dry? In no time I was pushing
those pedals with Megan Fox’s legs instead of my own.
When I was a kid, I spent most of my life fantasizing. I played with
my tape recorder— made up songs, told stories. I sat in the living
room chair and imagined I was being interviewed by Johnny Carson on
The Tonight Show or guest starring on Carol Burnett.
Sometimes, Charles Ingalls was my father or Donny Osmond was my boyfriend
or I replaced Mary Tyler Moore and tossed my own red hat into the air.
In my twenties I wanted a turquoise-blue Harley Davidson, ripped jeans,
a white T-shirt, a guitar, and a voice not unlike Mary Chapin Carpenter’s.
I like the pretending that goes along with being a writer. I like the
places my imagination takes me. I like the way characters slowly appear
on the computer screen or yellow legal pad if I don’t intrude
too much. Back in high school, I spent way more time staring out the
window than I probably should have, but now I can see that I was practicing
for the days ahead, the days when I would need to be really good at
dreaming stuff up.
Whenever I start feeling like it’s time to grow up, time to listen
to talk radio or history books on tape, stop pretending I’m Miranda
Lambert singing White Liar or Megan Fox on the rowing machine,
I remind myself of those dreary winter days so long ago. Back then I
was supposed to play and imagine things. All part of being a kid, right?
But dreaming isn’t something I plan to give up or outgrow, and
I don’t want my girls to give this up, either. No matter how crazy
or silly or unlikely they are, our dreams mean we’re alive with
Now close your eyes and pretend it’s a summer day. You’ve
been kissed by the sun and…
The rest is up to you.
A year ago I bought giant plastic storage bins, and we cleared out the
bookcases in our old house. By “clear out” I mean that when
we were finished there weren’t books stacked on top of books stacked
on top of books stacked on top of books. The books left behind, mint
condition hardbacks only, were single file on the shelf, and they reminded
me of rigid soldiers—at attention and saluting prospective buyers.
The poor paperbacks were shoved in a dark storage unit a few miles away.
Normally, I’m all for clearing out and organizing. My name is
Suzanne, and I’m a neat freak. The pillows on my bed are lined
up a certain way, and they get that HGTV karate chop down the middle.
The surface of my desk is dust and clutter free. The kitchen counters
get wiped down at least twice a day, and rugs are vacuumed regularly
(I also comb the fringe). In my book James Dyson has rock star status,
which brings me back to my original topic: Books.
Yes, with most things I like neatness and order, but when it comes to
my books, I want messy and piled up all over the place—on my bedside
table, on the coffee table, in the passenger’s seat of my car,
on my children’s bedside tables, and in the bookshelves. I need
to be surrounded by books, but I don’t want them organized in
any logical way. When I must find a particular book, I want the thrill
of the hunt: climbing on ledges and eating a little dust and rifling
through stacks of other beloved but forgotten books before I find the
one I’m looking for.
I confess I have different copies of the same book. For example, there
is my tattered copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s
been dog-eared and highlighted and I’ve written comments in the
margins, and there’s the brand new copy of Bird by Bird that hasn’t
been touched. There’s my hardback of Brad Gooch’s biography,
Flannery, a book I really, really hope goes to paperback so that I CAN
dog-ear pages and highlight passages (it just feels wrong to do this
kind of thing to a sleek hardback). There’s my collection of every
Lee Smith book ever written, my stack of Anne Tylers and Barbara Kingsolvers
and Thomas Hardys (I realize he doesn’t quite fit into this other
category, but I am a book lover, not a PhD), and there are my beautiful,
beautiful YA novels—Sarah Dessens and John Greens and Lauren Myracles
and Laurie Halse Andersons and so many others, the books I go to over
and over again when I feel a craving for the teenage perspective.
But there is a dilemma in my new house. We have two very nice built-in
bookcases, but they are way too small. Once again the hardbacks are
standing tall, but my paperbacks and all the YA titles and most of my
good grammar/teaching books are still packed, and I NEED these books.
I’ve lived without them long enough. The question is where will
they go? More built-ins? Pretty but expensive. New bookcases? Prone
to sagging when overloaded (and they will be overloaded).
This year I’ve given myself one New Year’s resolution, and
it is to resolve the where-do-I-put-my-books problem. For some people
this might seem a very mundane decision, but (Warning: there’s
a cliché coming) these books are my friends. I love they way
they look and feel. I love the way the ink smells on the pages. I love
the way characters, when well drawn and fully three-dimensional, come
into my life and return again and again. I love the way great last lines
resonate years later—“And so we beat on, boats against the
current…” or “It’s no real pleasure in life,”
or “Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which
the conscience of the world is tending—a wind is rising, and the
Books comfort me in a way nothing else can. They keep me company when
I’m lonely. They entertain when I’m bored. They take me
places that family and work and finances prohibit in real life. I wake
up with a book (usually the Bible or some devotional thing), and I go
to bed with one (currently Olive Kitteridge). I give books as presents
and enjoy getting them in return. I even love the way the word BOOK
sounds. Say the word BOOK aloud. Your mouth moves the same way it does
when you kiss someone’s cheek. And, besides, BOOK sounds so solid
and dependable and straightforward. B-O-O-K. And even B-O-O-K says Be
You’d think I was raised in a house filled with books; I wasn’t.
But somewhere along the way, probably when life proved disappointing
or overwhelming or just plain sad, I discovered that words on a page
offered a kind of wisdom and inspiration and guidance I couldn’t
get on my own.
Yes, this is the month to get ALL my books out of boxes. Now that I
think about it, the kind of shelf doesn’t matter. Whatever I decide
Happy New Year!
As I write this, the sun is just coming up. There is frost on the grass.
And my family is still asleep upstairs. I can no longer sleep late.
Truthfully, I look forward to those first few minutes of the day when
I am alone with my Diet Coke, my carb of choice (muffins lately rather
than toast), and my mind. This time of the day always feels like the
calm before the storm.
Mornings around our house usually go something like this: “School
days, school days, dear old golden rule days…” I sing this
to my children to get them up, and it works every time, mostly because
I can’t sing. There is groaning. There is protesting—from
my children, that is. The dogs actually seem to like my singing; Maddie
and Iris pop up, yawn, stretch, and give me their always-happy dog smiles.
“Be dressed in five minutes,” I say and head to the kitchen.
Clean dishes are waiting in the dishwasher, and while unloading them,
I toast things—waffles, bagels. I flick on lights, pour juice,
and start calling, “Breakfast is ready!” Breakfast is not
ready, mind you, but by the time everyone drags downstairs, not only
will it be ready, it’ll be cold. Next, I’ll retoast the
waffles and bagels, and sit down with my children for a minute. They
are bleary-eyed, grumpy. They scold one another for making eye contact
and chewing too loudly. I cajole them into eating just enough to get
them through the morning, then nudge them upstairs where they’ll
brush their teeth, and I’ll pull out the heavy artillery: a tea
tree oil concoction I spray on their hair to stave off head lice. There
have been numerous cases at their school this fall, and I do NOT want
this experience. Backpacks are loaded and waiting by the door. After
thirty minutes in the car, we arrive at school. As hectic as the mornings
are, I feel this slight twinge of sadness as I watch them go. “Bye,”
Flannery says and gives me a wary smile. Elsbeth leans across the console
and kisses me. “Have a good day,” I say at least three times.
“Learn something,” I add. They unload backpacks that only
linebackers should be lifting and take off up the sidewalk. There are
multiple cars behind me, filled with other mothers and fathers who have
packed lunches and poured juice and perhaps sprayed tea tree oil concoctions
into their children’s hair. I hesitate, though, because I want
to watch my girls walk toward the building.
The sun is fully up now. Even though it’s Sunday, there’s
a tile guy coming to work on the new basement bathroom. Besides that,
we have a play at our church. Elsbeth is baby Moses. She is eight, so
I’m assuming the cast pickings were slim. The afternoon will be
filled with grocery shopping and laundry and some cleaning since I was
away at a conference yesterday. If I’m lucky I’ll get to
eat popcorn tonight, maybe coerce my husband into watching Desperate
Housewives with me. The older I get the more I realize it’s the
little things that make a happy life—the turkey sandwiches minus
the mayo, the clean clothes in a basket, the encouraging things we say
to our kids when they slide out of the car or step onto that school
In this season of giving and receiving and returning or regifting, I
am going to do my best to focus on the little things (and people).
We moved. Oh. My. Lord. Not fun. Not fun a-tall. For starters, we miss
our home. Yes, it was old and cranky and needed lots of attention (sounds
a bit like me, actually), but it had charm and character, and we had
important memories there—newlywed days and new babies and first
Christmases. I hate to admit this next thing, but we also had youth
Don’t get me wrong, the new house is pretty, and it’s not
125-years-old. So far the septic system is just fine, and all the windows
are airtight. The toilets flush—no need to jiggle the handle.
The bedrooms and bathrooms actually have locks, and said locks are on
the right side of the doors. To explain, our old bathroom had a lock
on the door, but it was on the outside of the door, not the inside.
We didn’t install this lock, by the way. More importantly, we
never had the old lock fixed. For years, we just amused ourselves with
all the reasons the previous owners might’ve wanted a lock on
the outside of the bathroom door.
The new house is still a work-in-progress. Most of the main living quarters
are finished, but as I write this, head-banger music is cranked in the
basement and hammers are pounding (we’re in the drywalling stage).
Lately, I’m noticing the differences between carpenters and drywallers
and duct guys and plumbers and electricians, and I could see this somehow
ending up in a novel one day. The drywallers alternate music choices:
one day it’s Carrie Underwood on the boom box; the next it’s
At the end of this, we will have a finished basement, something I have
never had, and I’ll have an office of my very own. An office with
an actual door. A place not in the middle of the house, but tucked away
and private. I can have real file cabinets and a bulletin board and
bookshelves just for my teacher/writer books. It sounds dreamy and maybe
a little too grownup somehow.
As hard as the move has been on my children and my husband and myself,
it’s been hardest on our dogs. Iris is packing on the pounds,
and Maddie is often too afraid to jump off the porch. Mind you, we’re
talking fearless, active, crazy Jack Russells here, little dogs who
definitely don’t cower on the porch. This is what an invisible
electric fence and nail guns have done to them.
This morning my husband left late for work. Instead of his usual racing
out the door and leaving a cell phone and brown bag lunch behind, he
made another pot of coffee, and we hung out for a while. We discussed
all the ways we feel displaced, in limbo, floating just above our lives
instead of inside them. Technically, we’re living in the new house,
but because of all the workers, it doesn’t feel like it belongs
to us yet. Besides all that, it takes time to make memories. Other than
the dogs getting into a bag of contraband Hershey’s kisses they
found in Flannery’s room and barfing up chocolate and tin foil
all over the new slipcover, we don’t have real memories here yet.
But we will, I keep reminding myself. The chaos will die down. I’ll
hang some curtains and make too many decorating mistakes to count. There
will be scratches on the wood floors and scuff marks on fresh paint,
and this place will feel like home for a couple in medias res.
For now I am going to ignore the sound of a buzz saw, pretend Judas
Priest isn’t screeching Hot Rockin’ in my soon-to-be-finished
office and try to get some work done at my make-shift desk in the kitchen.
Somehow I have a feeling this new story will involve a life still under
construction or at the very least a character who yells, “Fire
in the hole!” when he pops a nail gun.
As I write this, I am packing, leaving a house where I have lived for
eleven years. My husband and I dated here. He carried me over the threshold
here. We brought our girls home from the hospital here. We laughed,
grieved, loved, disagreed, and celebrated here. For so many years, this
1880s farmhouse has been our home, and we have enjoyed it. I love the
creak in the wooden steps. I love watching the flowers we’ve planted
bloom. I love the fact my best bud lives right next door, and I can
hear her dog barking when he wants back in—appropriately enough,
his name is Boomer. But, like all good things, our time in this house
must come to an end.
Usually, I’m a sentimental girl, and perhaps I will be when that
giant truck pulls up in front of our house, but tonight, with all my
life in boxes, I feel ready for something different, excited that we
have fresh adventures awaiting us. The girls will have to adjust. There’s
a crawl space in Elsbeth’s room that is already completely freaking
her out, but I have promised that its future use will be as a Webkinz
clubhouse. She smiled at that idea, a start, I suppose. Flannery will
miss her friend down the hill. Cassie just shakes her head, and I sense
that she’s wondering if our new house will ever feel like home
More than anything, I will miss my kitchen window. At heart, I guess
I’m a nosey neighbor because I love washing dishes and staring
out that window—observing the comings and goings of everyday neighborhood
life. I know who leaves early for work and who comes home late. I know
who the sloggy joggers are and the dog walkers who don’t bother
with pooper scoopers. I know the bus routes and the best running paths.
It sounds mundane, but I think there is great beauty in routine things—in
people who go to work and come home again, in joggers and dog walkers
and big yellow school busses. I like being a part of all that, but I
also like to stand back and observe. Maybe this is why I’m a writer.
In our front yard there’s a magnolia tree that was given to me
by two very special friends when my mother passed away. It’s a
giant thing now, and I’ve gone back and forth about whether to
leave it for the new owners or take it with me. It’s possible
to move large trees, I know (expensive, too). There is a big part of
me that wants to drag it along, but in these past few years, I’ve
learned that sometimes you have to let go. Maybe next spring I’ll
go pick out a new tree—a pink dogwood or a Yoshina cherry perhaps.
Lately, I’ve tried to imagine myself as an old woman, not fifty
or sixty, but eighty, ninety. Frail and forgetful or vibrant and with-it.
I’m not sure which category I’ll fall into, although we
all hope to be vibrant and with-it, I think. Right? This started because
one afternoon, I pulled out some old photo albums (this is SO unlike
me). My two youngest daughters were still home for summer vacation,
and we were a little bored. Besides that, I’d been working much
too hard on line edits, and I knew the kids needed some mom time. So,
I took out the albums and sat down on the sofa with Flannery on one
side and Elseth on the other (Cassie was already back at college by
“Elsbeth, you look just like Mommy!” Flannie said when she
found my second grade school picture. In it, I’m missing my two
front teeth. Elsbeth studied the photo, and I could tell it made her
feel better to know that my front teeth took forever to come in, too.
There were baby pictures and high school pictures, old photos of my
mom, some of them taken when she was much younger than I am now. The
albums weren’t perfectly organized. In fact, some of the pictures
were missing or lost, with just the faded captions left behind in my
mother’s handwriting. I’m so negligent when it comes to
photo albums, but she really tried to document my life.
What struck me most was the way I felt looking back at the much younger
me. No wrinkles. No sun damage. No need for a monthly trip to the hairdresser.
I was just young and smooth and filled with a kind of energy that I
no longer have—boundless energy. Not that I’m decrepit,
mind you, but I am no longer that same girl. And I sat there on the
sofa with my children, and I thought, I am SO GLAD not to be her! I
don’t care that she has no age spots even though she bakes in
the sun. I don’t care that her hair is such a pretty color. Naturally.
I don’t care that her eyes aren’t crinkly.
It was strange because I could instantly remember all the silly things
(and people) that mattered so much to me then, all the ways I wanted
to please and be important. The irony is that none of the things I remember
thinking were so important turned out to actually BE important, at least
not most of them. And in a way, I felt sorry for that girl in the pictures,
wished I could somehow go back as the me I am now and give her some
guidance and comfort, things I so needed at the time. And like any writer,
I began to entertain this idea: What would I tell the nineteen-year-old
me if I could?
For starters, I would tell her not to be so hard on herself (or on other
people). I would tell her that in time she would lose that college fifteen
(twenty in my case). I would tell her that parties are NOT all they’re
cracked up to be and that actually going to class and working really
hard are totally worth it in the long run (she’d learn that later,
thankfully). I would tell her to put boys on the back burner. Turns
out, there’s lots of time for dating. I would tell her to take
a close look at the people she calls friends. Good friends show up when
life is really happy and when it’s really sad. I would tell her
that the time she spent with her family was time well spent. I would
tell her to get a job as a waitress. Waiting tables is probably the
best way to learn about human nature. I would tell her that even nineteen-year-olds
need God. I would tell her that exercise isn’t as bad as she thinks
and that she should try it, not just sometimes, but all the time. I
would tell her to trust her gut more, listen to the voice inside her
head because she’s smarter than she realizes. I would tell her
that everybody doesn’t have to like her. I would tell her she
wears way too much eyeliner. Seriously, what is UP with that? I would
tell her not to cut her hair really short. That style just doesn’t
look good on her. I would tell her to take care of herself because I
hope she’s around to get old.
Of course, my thinking on this topic didn’t end at bedtime. It
never does. My mind gets wound up even tighter when it’s time
for sleep. Lying there in the darkness, I began to wonder what the eighty
year old me would say to the now me? What a concept, you know? If you
could go through your entire life with this much older, wiser you always
at your side? So, I tried to picture myself as this old lady, heavily
lined (not with eyeliner, thankfully) and a little frail, more forgetful
than I am now (scary). Once I had a picture in my head, I let her start
talking and I did my now-sleepy best to listen. Here’s what I
think she said: Enjoy the body you have—it will only get older
and more wrinkly; perfection is a trap, so don’t go there; be
thankful for every run and every workout because you CAN still do those
things; don’t be so hard on people, including yourself; cherish
every second you have with your family, for families are born and they
die; if given the choice to scrub the bathtub or sit down and read to
your children, read to your children; enjoy your job(s)—one day
you won’t be able to work, and you will miss it. Don’t fret
when people drift out of your life; just appreciate the ones who stick
around. Always, always say thank you. Remember to be grateful. Take
care of yourself because I really hope you’re around to get old.
I awoke at 4:15 AM and could not go back to sleep. For starters, my
husband has way too many mothballs in his closet (no, this is not a
hidden metaphor for anything else—it really is just about mothballs),
and when the door is left slightly ajar, the smell makes me allergic.
My theory is that you only need a few mothballs to prevent holes in
your sweaters or suits, but he seems to think an entire box of naphthalene
is completely necessary.
So, while I lay there thinking about how much I detest the smell of
mothballs and how much I would pay someone to quietly close the closet
door for me, my mind wandered to the topic of revisions. Yes, that’s
right, I can go from naphthalene and holey sweaters to manuscripts in
an instant. I began to obsess about the changes I want to make to a
brand new project I’m working on, then I moved on to the line
edits for next summer’s book, Somebody Everybody Listens To. Soon
I was thinking about a group of writers I met in Orlando back in June,
wondering if the workshop my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, and I did
on the topic of revisions had helped them with their own manuscripts
(I really hope it did, btw).
Basically, it worked like this: attendees were allowed to view Artichoke’s
Heart in its original form (the way it looked when it was submitted
to Julie back in 2006), then make comments and observations on their
own. On day two of the workshop, they read Julie’s editorial notes
so they could compare her expert thoughts to their own natural instincts.
There were also writing exercises and lots and lots of questions and
discussions, etc., but the main objective was to give writers a chance
to see how the editorial process really works, all that back-and-forth
and give-and-take that most readers never see.
All this obsessing over manuscripts and conferences and writers U-turned
back to mothballs and revisions again, mainly because I still hadn’t
gotten up to shut the closet door. At this point, I crept out of bed
and went downstairs to make cinnamon raisin toast. I pushed the lever
and waited for the small kitchen appliance to startle me with its eruption,
chalked my weird thought patterns up to sleep-deprivation and crazy
writer quirkiness. But as I sat down at my desk and ate the buttery
toast and browsed Facebook status updates, it struck me that no matter
how hard we try, in life or in writing, we will have to revise, revise,
revise, and maybe this is really what defines us. Not what we do wrong,
but how hard we try to make it right. Over and over and over.
In my case, I’m lucky to have an editor like Julie, someone smart
and kind who will guide me, show me ways to make my wobbly story better
and stronger. And I’m fortunate to have my husband, because those
sweaters aren’t the only things he’s vigilant about protecting
(hmmm…I guess there’s something metaphorical about that
mothball trait, after all).
It’s June, people! June 2009! How did this happen? Time went
by, and I turned around, like, twice, and now it’s summer (almost)
again. My roses and foxgloves are blooming. My kids will be out of school
as of tomorrow. We have two vacations planned, plus numerous sailing
trips on the Chesapeake Bay to look forward to. And besides all that,
I’m in the mood to be lazy. So are my kids. We’re listening
to “Multiply With Power” with far less interest on the way
to school each morning. I find myself NOT checking their homework quite
so thoroughly (if at all), and I feel like every day should be some
sort of mini celebration—summer is a reasonable excuse for too
much ice cream or impromptu salsa and chips or hanging out by the pool
well past six o’clock and just winging dinner.
Maybe it’s the Southern girl in me, but I like to sweat. I love
it when the temperature soars and everyone around me is whining about
it. Secretly, I am thinking YA-HOO, let it be hot. Next thing you know
we’ll all be complaining about snow! Give me bare feet and T-shirts
and no makeup any day. Put me in a garden, and I’ll pick weeds
happily. Slice up a tomato and boil a few ears of corn, and that’s
my idea of bliss. Plus, summer is the time when stories come. At least
this is how it works for me. Maybe it’s all those hours spent
outdoors or listening to my girls pretend or the opportunity to sit
at the beach and watch people behind the cover of sunglasses. If you’re
a writer, summer is a fertile time because the best stories show up
when you’re running up that big hill or half-asleep by the pool
or staring at what you think are weeds but could actually be those zinnias
you planted weeks ago.
When my brother and I were little, my mother would begin each summer
vacation by saying, “Before y’all know it school will be
starting again.” I hated it when she said that, but she was right.
Now here I am SO many summers later, yet I’m still just as excited,
eager to monitor the hummingbird feeder or to jump on the trampoline
with my girls. Or better yet, to lie on said trampoline and look up
at the big ol’ summer sky. Because you know what, school WILL
be starting again before we know it.
Happy almost summer, y’all.