Archive | May 2014

The One And Only Cardinal Sin In Emily Giffin’s New Book, The One And Only

One of the smartest legal minds I’ve ever encountered belongs to a woman who unabashedly professes her love for Emily Giffin’s body of work, so I don’t hate on chick-litty books because I’m afraid I won’t seem profound or erudite.  Ms. Giffin’s work clearly appeals to millions of people because she’s landed on the bestseller list six times.  Soon she’s likely to land there for the seventh time.

Nuttin wrong with a beach read

Nuttin wrong with a beach read

 

If you’ve read her previous books, you know her style and her themes.  In her latest, The One and Only, Giffin takes us to the Great State of Texas and immerses us in football and moral dilemmas.  And when I say “immerses us in football,” I mean you won’t go more than a page without a reference to the Heisman trophy, the Cotton Bowl, the NCAA or  NFL drafts.  She’s done her research on college football and I suspect that almost every bit of it made its way into this book.

As one of Texas’ daughters, I appreciate the reverence and respect she pays to the football religion.  I can’t say that I worshipped at that altar myself, considering I spent college Saturdays studying while the Texas A&M Aggies played at Kyle Field– the fans’ cheers rocking the stacks where I studied for Sociology 101 and 20th Century Women Writers. 

I’d say there were too many football factoids and conversations featuring the pigskin for my taste, but you gotta know, that I have zero taste for football.

It’s a fun read, though I’ll confess I was rooting for the professional football player and hoping there’d be some more graphic sex between Shea and fictional Dallas Cowboy Ryan James, but those are forgivable sins.  (True confession: I thought Shea’s romance with her best friend’s father veered too close to incest for my taste, but that’s just me.)

There was, however, one unforgivable transgression.  And only because I hate open letters is this post not styled as one to Ms. Giffin, but Emily, dear popular wildly successful Emily, how could you possible write a book about Texas with no less than 78 references to country music without mentioning Willie Nelson?  Honey, that was an epic gaffe.  Willie grew up 20 miles from Baylor University; he used to live in Austin, Texas; and for the Baby Jesus’ sake, he was best friends with Darrell Royal, the KING of Longhorn football.

 

Willie Nelson and legendary coach, Darrell Royal

Willie Nelson and legendary coach, Darrell Royal

You mentioned Sugarland.  And Taylor Swift.  And freaking Kenny Chesney, but no Willie?  How could you ask me to buy a character like Coach Clive Carr who is the age he is and expect me to believe he’s not listening to Waylon or Willie?

I can’t do it.  I can’t picture it.  I want to, but I can’t. 

Not sure what it says about me that a romance that smacks of incest isn’t nearly as disturbing as snubbing Willie Nelson, but do with all of this what you will, dear readers.

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The Facts About The 5K I Won

See that?  It’s a trophy.  I Instagrammed it– Valencia filter– because I care.

A champion's trophy.

A champion’s trophy.

 

I care because it’s my trophy.  I won it.  And I won it by running my middle-aged bee-hind off in a 5K race.  I was the first woman to cross the finish line.  Because most of my readers are American, they’ll want to know my time.  We care about that stuff– we want hard numbers, figures, metrics, facts, the exact location of that downed airliner.  I get it.  It hardly counts if I can’t produce the numbers, right?

Fine.

I ran the race in 26:08:47 minutes.  And because your calculator is hidden in some annoying place on your phone, I’ll do the quick math for you– my pace was 8:44 per mile.

I should probably stop here.  Press “publish” and let the glory stand for itself.  No doubt I’ve already gone too far.  I’m bungee-jumping and I just passed the first look-out point.  I’m still hurtling downward, waiting for that safety rope to catch and pull me up with a jerk of my neck.  It hasn’t yet.

So more:

I’ve never won a race in my life.  In second grade field day I almost beat Melissa Zimmel in the 50-yard dash, but she elbowed me viciously at 35 yards, and I went home empty-handed, while she had a third-place ribbon pinned to her stupid pink Izod shirt. Bitch.  Two weeks later she tried to cheat by copying my spelling test.  I laughed inside when she spelled desks as “deskes” to earn herself a 94, six points below my perfect 100.

The race in question, though, the one that I WON, was a small affair, I admit.  Four dads who seemed to sprint the whole time beat me.  They, like me, ditched their children to worship the gods of speed and endurance.  We let our spouses handle the pesky work of keeping our children off the course and out of traffic.

There were other women in the race, I swear.  That they were either orthodox Jewish women running in long skirts or benevolent do-gooders shepherding a gaggle of earnest Girls-On-The-Run participants (most of whom had never run more than six yards) is none of your business.  There was one teacher huffing it, but I passed her when I sailed over her oxygen tank like a stag escaping a hunter’ rifle in hot pursuit.

Someone had to be the first woman across the line.  Someone had to enlist her husband to custom-build a trophy case to house the golden, stubby statue that I now call my own.  Someone had to pose for victory photos, seek endorsements from local businesses and offer to headline next year’s charity ball.

There are more facts that are still obscured to you, dear readers.  Facts about the weather, the wind’s velocity, the post-race swag, and the course measurement.  It’s possible you deserve those facts and I should serve them up like I did my times.  Maybe I’ve only served you the mashed potatoes, but you richly deserve your roast beef and fresh peas.

But perhaps I’ve said too much already.

The Lost Summer: The Bar Exam, Magical Cell Phones, and Brazilians

Summer 2003 was hot. Or maybe it was cold. Maybe it was unseasonably humid and hordes of mosquitoes swarmed the city. Maybe people died that year because of record-setting heat, which was dangerous in high-crime neighborhoods where people locked themselves in the “safety” of their apartments only to roast from the inside out.

I don’t know because I took the Bar exam that summer.

julyBarExam_080113

 

Weather? What weather? I paid no attention to it or the news or my family. My beloved Grandmother died, but I was so frothed up about the two-day test that I balked. I didn’t go to her funeral. Like Ethan Frome swerving before he hit that tree, I told Southwest Airlines “I won’t be needing the ticket.” Then, I sat at the glass dining room table staring at my shoes wondering, “What will become of me? Who misses their grandmother’s funeral for a test?” Next thought: “What’s the difference between larceny and trespass to chattel?”

The first morning of the two-day exam I woke up several hours early to review my flashcards. How silly. We were told to wrap up our studying the night before and then let go. Either you know it or you don’t, they said. I decided I didn’t. I flipped through my color-coded, handmade cards, letting the ones I answered correctly fall to the floor like dandruff. It wasn’t about learning; it was about saving myself the agony of regrets that began “If only I’d studied a little bit harder.”

The second morning, I let go a little. I only reviewed a few esoteric concepts while I blow-dried my hair. I tossed the stack into the trash when I was done. It was my boyfriend’s birthday, and the celebration would begin as soon as I tackled 100 multiple choice questions covering all of American law. We had a reservation for one of those places where waiters rove around with slabs of juicy beef sides and slice it onto a warm plate right before your very eyes. Brazilian, I thought, like the waxing.  Ghastly on so many levels, but what did I care? The bar exam would be over.

With only one hour left in the test, I started to obsess about my cell phone. (If your cell phone rings during the test, you automatically fail.) I had taken my battery out of my phone and put it into a separate bag, but suddenly it seemed plausible that somehow it might have put itself back together and rung while I was trying to figure out this stupid question about the use of lie detector tests. I kept thinking I heard it ring.

Ohmygod, they’re going to come and kick me out of the legal profession before I ever start.

I finished the test and avoided other law students as I bee-lined to dinner where I hoped that heaps of meat might soak up my anxiety and bring me back to myself, the person who disappeared the second I cracked open my first study guide back in May.

I was a wreck through dinner.  I started every conversation with “do you think I answered the lie detector question correctly?” The anxiety clung to me like a rash.

The next morning I had the house to myself.  A Thursday.  I sat on the balcony for hours staring at nothing.  I felt the weather for the first time in weeks.  It was a cloudless, vibrant day, the sky so blue I couldn’t help but imagine God’s paintbrush.  I read the newspaper cover to cover, including the obituaries.  I called my family members and reintroduced myself.

I was back.

 

Agony and Ecstacy (But Mostly Agony): The Writing Process

I recently watched a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the point of which was to (1) contextualize the upheaval that Eat, Pray, Love caused in her life and self-concept, and (2) inform readers/writers that success is as up-setting of the natural order of one’s life as failure is.   I love Gilbert for being so honest about her failures and for reminding me that returning to writing no matter what my external circumstances are is a way to experience what she calls “home.”  She says she loved writing more than she hated herself.

pen

At this very moment, as a siren wails in the distance and the smell of last night’s dinner (curry) hangs in the air, and I couldn’t tell you where I fall on the self-hate/writing-love spectrum.  Right now, they are woven together, and I can’t tell if it’s a noose or a rope attached to a life boat.

So, writing.  I started writing seriously– with goals and publication aspirations– about two years ago.  I was 38.  The courtship was dazzling, the romance was whirlwindy.  The honeymoon was all ocean breezes and incessant sex interrupted only by room service bringing thick-cut bacon and farm-fresh eggs.

Now, we are in a marriage.  There’s morning breath.  There are dirty dishes in the sink.  Writing never sends me flowers any more.  There’s petty grievances and hardened resentments that make those early days when I thought Wow, I could seriously write a book seem like youthful folly, not unlike a choir member thinking Wow, I could be the next Mick Jagger.

The business of being intimate with writing is like being in any intimate relationship.  Sometimes you want wind the clock back to the days when what stretched before you was endless possibility as far as your eye could see– those days before you set your sights (and heart and soul) on that thing. 

Because writing is such a bitch.  Do accountants have to grapple with the existential crises? Do they stare at the cloudy heavens and ask Will I ever make it as a comptroller?

Seriously, why is writing such a damn bitch?

And why can’t I quit her? 

The other night I said to Jeff with a stone-straight face: I wish I could just quit writing.  You can, he said.  But I can’t, I cried.  I keep opening that document that has the first second third draft of my book and tinkering.  Searching for depth, the spaces to amplify and elucidate.  Then, I read The Round House by Louise Erdrich, and I want to stab each part of my cell that carries the desire to write because she’s done it so well and for so long.  She’s profound and moving and important– she’s a complete meal with a rich chocolate dessert.  My manuscript feels like cotton candy– no protein, no starch begging for butter, no riboflavin-rich vegetables.  It’s bubblegum pink.  It’s forgettable.

But, I’ll open that document today and I’ll cast about trying to shade the frilly parts into something darker, richer.  Something heart-healthy and high in calories.  Something with more gravitas.  I’ll aim to make her lover more complex.  I’ll develop the arc in a more compelling way.  I’ll have her eat rocky road instead of vanilla.  I’ll draft a scene with her mother that shows from whence the primal ache came.

Then, I’ll close the document and ride the bus home thinking, Why am I doing this? Why not just be a voracious and grateful reader? Why do I need to write a novel?

I’ve memorialized these thoughts thanks to the lovely, hilarious, irreverent, and always authentic Susannah from Whoa, Susannah who tagged me for a blog hop on the subject of writing.  I think it was supposed to be a light exercise, so when she reads this ponderous tome, she might unfriend me and stop following my blog.  (Bye, Susannah, I love you and we’ll always have the blog hop.)

In the meantime I’ll answer the questions that the other bloggers did and then I’ll tag some writers who may be more cheery on the subject of writing.  You know, people who take themselves WAY less seriously.

What am I working on?

Have I mentioned that I’m writing a novel?   

How does my writing/work differ from others in the same genre?

Here’s my hope: I hope my protagonist is an intelligent, ambitious, flawed woman with yearnings everyone can relate to and recognize.  I’d like her to have a stronger voice and I wish she would tell me how to fix the ending. 

Why do I write what I do?

 Honest answer? Sometimes I think I undertook the novel in order to become frustrated and have a giant excuse to walk away forever.  I’ve never taken a single creative writing class in my life.  A novel is a complex art form– why didn’t I start with short stories? Or haikus? Why did it have to be the novel? 

When I am not analyzing my subconscious need to sabotage my relationship with writing, I love writing on my blog because it’s fun, it leads to connection and community and it keeps me from losing my marbles over the damn book.

What is my writing process like?

 I’m pretty sure you guys have a good sense of how gut-wrenching and sublime the whole thing is.  Mostly gut-wrenching. 

 

You Say “Slow Cooker”, I Say “Pot O’ Crock”

My therapist says that blaming (myself or others) is a character defect, but guess what!– he’s in China for the rest of the month so I’m pointing fingers, reveling in my shortcomings and regressing.  Right now, I’m pointing my big fat index finger at my least favorite appliance in our house.  Yes, it’s capacious.  Yes, it’s allegedly multi-purpose.  Yes, everyone from Rachel Ray to Jillian Michaels swears it’s perfect for the “busy working mother”, but I’m no fan of the slow cooker.  I also refuse to call it a “slow cooker,” because it’s the exact same thing my Grandma used to make pot roast in and she called it a “crock pot.”  If that name is good enough for Virginia Tate, it’s good enough for her granddaughter.

So, the crock pot.

 

Sent from the underworld to torture me with promises of "easy meals"

Sent from the underworld to torture me with promises of “easy meals”

I’ve given it a fair shot.  I broke her in gently with basic chilis (with and without meat).  The results were edible, but no matter what I put in there, it always tasted exactly the same.  Will someone please get that Neil Degrasse Tyson on the horn so I can ask him how a recipe with a fist full of paprika and chili powder tastes exactly like one with a sprig of parsley and a pinch of salt?  What the hell happens in that six hours of cooking?

Fine, so the chili was pedestrian.  My heart knows how to forgive (see recent example: Jeff killed a mosquito in the car with my Kate Spade purse and I forgave him within three hours).  So, I let bygones be gone, and I moved on.  I tried vegetarian dishes like polenta stew and vegetable strata with pesto sauce.  Funny enough, both of those tasted like each other and the chili.

Weird, right?

We had a pot roast experience that was not totally toxic, but again, not to beat a dead damn horse, but it tasted like the other six things I tried.  And the pot roast was sitting in four cups of dry white wine.  How in the Good Lord’s name does that not somehow alter the taste?

The very last straw was the latest two recipes I tried, which required approximately 45 minutes of chopping and par-boiling before putting everything in the crock pot.  I thought this giant magic pot was supposed to save me time.  My vision of a good crock pot experience is that I hurl my unwashed veggies (maybe still in the plastic bag from the produce department), dump in some Lipton soup mix, include a protein of my choice and then leave the house for half or all of the day.  When I come home, I want my house filled with savory aromas from food that is bursting with flavor and texture and color.

This thing that it does making everything taste like hearty tomato-based campfire gruel is just bullshit.  So, I’m done.  Keep your slow cooker.  Enjoy that baked Alaska recipe that you can supposedly make in there.  I bet you $50.00 I know exactly how it’s going to taste.  I guess it’s perfect if you like chili for dessert.

You will hereinafter find me slaving over my stove/oven/cereal box/take-out menu.  The slow cooker is a crock.

 

 

The Diaper Genie I Can’t Let Go Of: More Life Transitions

If you came over to my house and wanted to use the powder room, I would point you to the one upstairs (it’s the cleanest).   At the top of the stairs, you would have to navigate a three-foot tall, white plastic obstacle that’s sitting in the middle of the hallway. It’s been there for over a week now. And if you had told me three months ago that I’d have a hard time parting with my son’s diaper genie, I would have called Dr. Phil, because honey, you must be smoking crack.

 

But here I am. My “baby” has potty-trained, which means no more diapers, wipes, and disgusting bags of human waste housed in their bedrooms.  All these accessories have been part of my life for almost five years straight. And now, POOF! Suddenly, we are no longer a family who gets a regular delivery of diapers and pull-ups from Amazon Prime.

 

We are something else.

 

I guess we’re underwear people now. We bought Simon 36 pairs of licensed underwear at Costco the other day, and now he changes his underpants three times and day and likes to show everyone what he’s wearing: Look! It’s Yoda!   It’s Ninja Turtles!

 

Ninety percent of me is thrilled to see my big boy doing things for himself that weren’t that pleasant to do for him. But that ten percent. That stubborn, heels-dug-in ten percent that handles all of my mourning is quietly keening. My baby is growing up.

 

It’s another transition. Motherhood is full of them. Actually, motherhood is really just a series of transitions, and it’s my job as my children’s mother to remain a solid, loving center pole from which they will move away little by little, year by year.   In a few months, Mr. Yoda Pants will start going to school every single day.  There he will eat lunch and have a whole social life that has nothing to do with me. I will rejoice and mourn; both at the same time.  I’m started to get good at that.

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Speaking of transitions and the women who undertake them, May 3rd is the launch date for an exciting collection of essays by women about the transitions in their lives, Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions. From overcoming addiction to starting a business or taking care of elderly parents—these women invite us into their transitions, putting to words the confusing mix of emotions and reactions to the immutable fact that we change. Life changes. Our children change. Our parents change. I am honored to have an essay in the collection, which I hope you’ll check out.

 

It’s time to gather the summer reads—consider including this collection that will feed your heart, your mind, and your spirit. (Channeling Oprah right about now.)  I’m also told that anyone who buys the Transitions anthology before midnight on May 4 will receive a free ebook of our first anthology on Connections and will be entered to win a $500 gift certificate to the Apple store! Simply forward the Amazon confirmation email from your purchase of Transitions to receipts@abandofwives.com to receive your free ebook and to automatically enter the raffle.

Now, please excuse me.  I’ve got a diaper genie to haul to the trash.  *sniff sniff*