Archive | July 2014

Thirty Opening Chapters in Thirty Days: Day 2– Inspired By Life

Y’all, Day 2.  Let’s celebrate my tenacity, my stick-to-it-ed-ness.  I made it to the second day.  Only 28 more to go. Let’s hope I don’t burn out.  Say it with me now: One day at a time.

Today’s post is set in contemporary times and features a newcomer to American pop culture: The Blogger.  This one’s male.  On a whim, he creates a fake blog where he impersonates a mother of four who has just been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer.  Lucky for me, I’m only writing the beginning so I don’t need to get him out of his jam.  I just need to get him in.


* * *




Jim Thorpe didn’t think of himself as a man who had particularly great ideas.  In fact, science had confirmed he did not.  Before he was hired as a world sciences teacher at the Thomas A. Edison middle school, he was given a test designed to measure his creative thinking, his analytical abilities and his problem-solving skills.  On the creative thinking metric, Jim scored in the lowest quartile.  He got the job anyway and trudged his way through his probationary period and the requisite seven years before earning tenure. 

So he can’t be faulted for not realizing it was a great idea (or for the fact he didn’t characterize the idea at all).   To Jim, he was just putzing around on his computer.  The night before his Great Idea he’d disabled his WordPress account because no one read his blog.  Not even his mother, the omni-supportive Clareen Thorpe, could bring herself to read Jim’s posts, all of them turgid, ranty odes to Johnny Lydon (popularly known as “Johnny Rotten”) and the Sex Pistols.  According to Jim’s blog, “not nearly enough has been written about the Golden Age of music, those day when the bands like the Sex Pistols weren’t afraid of original thoughts or guitar riffs.”  Apparently, he was wrong.  Plenty had been written and the theme was thoroughly ground down.

Without his little blog and its meager following to rail against, Jim found himself staring at the empty white screen with the blinking vertical line.  He heard the cursor say, “Write something, Damnit!”

“Fuck it,” he said out loud.  Then, he bent over the keyboard and wrote his first line.  “I’ve got stage IV metastatic cancer and four children under the age of eight.”  Then, his second. “This on-line journal is a love letter to my young children and my husband of fifteen years.”  His third.  “They are the loves of my life, and I want them to know before it’s too late.”

Jim wrote for over an hour.  Shamelessly, he borrowed the tragedy of his colleague, Elizabeth Gatsbell, the beloved art teacher, whose classroom was across the hall from his.  Elizabeth got her diagnosis three weeks ago, and the grim-faced bean-counter of a principal, Dr. Beau Stanton, had gathered all the teachers in the lounge for an emergency announcement.  The librarian, PE teachers, and ESL specialists all burst into tears the moment the word cancer slid from Dr. Stanton’s lips.  Jim had grabbed the box of tissues from the window sill and passed it around.

He didn’t cry at the time.  

During the meeting, he’d worried about Elizabeth’s kids, all of whom he met at the annual end-of-year picnics.  He could picture their four sets of brown eyes, crumpled with fear and grief over their mother’s health.  Such a happy family, why them? Jim wondered aloud.

He’d contributed to the fund started by the criers who hoped to defray some of the out-of-pocket expenses for the Gatsbells.  He wrote a check for a hundred bucks, no small amount for a public school teacher.

Jim respected the way Elizabeth brought her enthusiasm to the students’ yearly self-portrait projects.    Last year, she’d started a unit called “as inspired by.”  The students got to pick their artistic inspiration.  She was undaunted when half the students chose the obvious Picasso and Monet.  Jim knew she was going to tinker with the concept and try again this spring.

Jim bought the new domain, after giving the name a total of three minutes’ thought. Of course, he kept his identity anonymous.  He typed in his credit card number, then it was his.  Inspired By Life.  He leaned back in his chair and squinted at the screen.  He needed a tag line.  He stood up and walked to the kitchen.  “Tag line, tag line,” he muttered to himself.

When he sat back down, he typed it out.  “One mother’s journey to record her love in the face of a stage IV cancer diagnosis.” He’d written “before it’s too late,” but deleted it.  Too morbid.

Really, he was just goofing around.  Putzing.  He never meant for it to go anywhere.

The morning after he published the post, Jim awoke to 400 emails on the gmail account he created (  Ellen DeGeneres retweeted the link.  It was shared on Facebook over 12,300 times.

Viral.  His first post went viral.





Thirty Opening Chapters in Thirty Days: Day 1– The Dogs Came First

Internet, I’ve been bored.  When I get bored, I do an unpleasant self-pity thing that grates on everyone’s nerves– think your kids’ whining combined with Lee Press-On Nails on an old-timey Little-House-On-The-Prairie chalk board.

I need to shake things up– my creative life is a martini that needs something more than a vigorous stir.  Wait. I’m in recovery; I shouldn’t make martini jokes.  Again: My creative life is like a still snow-globe– BOOOORRRIINNNGGGG.  I’m giving it a shake and watching the flakes fall like my fourth grade teacher’s dandruff.


I gave myself an assignment.  (Actually, my sponsor gave me an assignment and I self-willed it into what follows.)  For thirty days, I am writing a short first scene of a new novel– that is, a new novel every day for thirty days.  Different voices, eras, plots, genres. 600 words max.  Thirty times.  It starts today.

What follows is Day 1.  Today’s opening is for a book set in the rural south, pre-Brown v. The Board of Education.  It’s Jim Crow.  It’s violent and cowardly townspeople v. my plucky protagonist whose family took in Mr. Coleman, a black ex-con looking to start his life anew after a wrongful conviction landed him in prison for three years.

Tomorrow? Something totally different.

* * *





Day 1: Opening Chapter

 I heard the dogs first.  Their deep, incessant barking drew closer, my heartbeat thrumming in time with them.  Must have been a pack.  When they reached the fence around our yard, I dared look out the window, even though Mama made me promise I’d stay in bed.

I dumped my three stuffed animals out of the old gray milk crate in the corner of my room.  The crate made a loud, scraping sound when I dragged it under the window.  As I stood on it, the middle sagged under my weight and the crisscrossed plastic made waffle indentions on the bottom of my bare feet.

In the high moonlight, the dogs’ fur shone black as wet dirt. Their teeth looked as white and sharp as the dinosaur fossils in the Natural History Museum in Birmingham.  The dogs tumbled over one another as they tried to scale the chain fence.  The biggest one, a black male with a bald patch between his ears, seemed to look right at me.  He stood still as a pole and stared straight at the window, then started barking anew with such ferocious intensity that I ducked below the window and fell off the crate.

We knew they would come. Mama and Daddy had said so as soon as we took in Mr. Coleman.  “Not a matter of if, but when,” Daddy’d said as he watched Mama make up the back bedroom with an old quilt from my closet.  “When” had come.  The dogs.  Just behind them, the men with their sticks, their fire, their rifles.

I should have been scared. In retelling the story, I write in the fear as if it was there along.  But that night, it wasn’t fear.  It was relief.  We’d been twitching at every sound in the yard, dreading every smudge on the horizon that we feared was someone from town coming for us.  I’d grown so tired of hearing Mama cry behind the bathroom door and watching Daddy pick at his fried chicken as if it tasted like burned biscuits that I just wanted them to come already.

Had I only known what they were bringing I would have been afraid.  Because I was a child, I had the idea that they would come quick but then leave us to get on with our business. I didn’t know they would turn their lit torches to our roof or cut our fence so the dogs could sink their angry white teeth into our chickens, our rocking chair, our legs.  I didn’t know how deep those teeth could sink.

I didn’t know what it was I would have to survive.

People ask me, in hushed whispers, whether I harbor any ill will towards Mr. Coleman for what happened.  How could I hate Mr. Coleman? He just wanted a roof over his head until he could join his people up in Detroit.  He wasn’t the one who torched my family’s house.  He never even kicked the chickens that flocked around his feet, nipping at his ankles, when he fed them in the morning. I’d kicked those stupid chickens every time I walked across the yard to the milk barn.

With so much hate to go around, I grew tired of finding a target for mine.  I buried it like a time capsule I had no intention of unearthing.  Let some later generation dig it up and go through it.

The doctors in here tell me I have to look at it.  They’re trying to draw it out of me, like leeches taking blood.  I keep telling them it’s in too deep.  If they really wanted to help me with the headaches and the visions, they’d forget about the anger and start with the fear.

Yes, the fear is where this story should start.

Go to Rehab With Your Matching Doll: The Services American Girl Doll Should (But Doesn’t) Offer

There’s a famous doll store near my house. *cough* American Girl Doll Store *cough* Tourists come in droves with their wide-eyed little daughters to this mecca on the Magnificent Mile. I’ve witnessed countless weary (wealthy) parents struggling under the weight of the signature red bags, while trying to hail cabs so they can collapse back at their hotels. The store is supposed to be a place where a little girl can have “real” experiences”—modeled, one supposes, on the “real experiences” she’ll have when she’s older. Tea parties. Hair salons. Ear piercings. You know, big stuff that a girl should practice and be exposed to before adulthood.




What about all the services the American Girl Doll Store is ignoring? The brand should recognize the untapped potential of the experiences they’re ignoring. And it’s too bad. There’s major bank to be made if they would think outside of the jewelry box.


How about these:


  • Go to rehab with your doll! Right? Think of how many young girls will grow up to struggle with substance abuse. It’s not a joke. Have you read Jennifer Weiner’s newest book All Fall Down? The mom’s a pill popper of the highest order. Let’s prepare our daughters. Let’s get the American Girl people to offer rehab (think group therapy sessions ($150), AA meetings ($100), anger management classes ($130)) for our daughters and their dolls. They can always get their ears pierced afterwards.
  • Botox and Lipo services! Ya’ll, let’s get real. Our cherub-faced little girls are going to grow up and want this no matter how many Dove commercials they see. It would be wrong to not prepare them to celebrate and honor these future milestones by letting them “practice” getting the fat sucked out of them ($500) or having bovine whatever-Botox-is pumped into them ($250).
  • Divorce court proceedings! I probably don’t even have to sell this to you. Half of all marriages end in divorce, right? Think about it: more girls will get divorced than get their ears pierced. Let’s give our girls some real life practice standing before a family court judge to argue that she should have more alimony ($120) or full custody ($120) or that the Judge should ignore her extramarital affairs because her Baby Daddy cheated first ($200). These are real life situations just waiting for our daughters. AmIright?
  • Unemployment office visit! In this economy, it would be wrong not to expose our daughters to this slice of bureaucratic life. She and her doll could fill out paperwork, then languish in a waiting room for over an hour before being informed that she’s not yet eligible because she filled out her paperwork incorrectly ($300). This office could be set up next door to a fake DMV, where a young girl and her matching doll can stand in line for hours only to be told that her proof of insurance is expired so she’ll have to come back tomorrow ($100).



All I’m saying is that they could make a mint, while giving our daughters some “real life” experiences. Sure blow outs and fake eyelashes make for great memories, but 12-step meetings and family court have their charms as well. Shouldn’t we share those with our precious little ones?


10 Truths About My Latest Rejection

The ballet teacher I worshipped gave us no warning. “Line up against the wall, ladies! A photographer is going to come and pick three of you for a wrist-watch advertisement.” We all shuffled in our soft pink shoes to the side of the room. I remember standing tall, shoulders back and neck long, just like we’d been taught. I could play the part of a young ballerina pirouetting around a Rolex watch.




Pick me! Pick me! Pick me! I willed myself to be chosen as the photographer scrutinized us all, peering through his camera at our feet in tendu. After pacing before us like a butcher choosing prime cuts, he picked three petite ballerinas, all with strawberry blonde hair and perky, turned-up noses.


It was 1979. My first rejection. You never forget your first.


When I wasn’t chosen to be one of the background ballerinas, I cried in the bathroom alone. I had the idea that I wasn’t supposed to be upset in front of anyone else. Rejection is shameful, I thought, so I buried it like the dirty tights at the bottom of my ballet bag.


I don’t really do that anymore. Now, I publish my rejection stories on my blog for the whole world to read.


So, the latest:


Yesterday, I got a form rejection letter from a literary agent whom I queried on Monday. When her email came in, I was at the half-way point on a six-mile run.   Seconds before I checked my email, I was gazing at Lake Michigan’s rolling waves underneath a vast and flawless sunny sky. I literally had this thought: There’s nothing wrong with me that the beauty in this moment can’t heal. How blessed I am to be here right now.


PING! I glanced down at my phone in my sweaty palm and saw, “Thank you for your submission, unfortunately …”


I laughed. How could I not laugh at the timing? It felt like a test—do I still feel blessed? Do I still find spiritual solace in the beauty all around me?


Answer: Hell yes. More than ever.


The email passing on my novel said all of these things to me:


  1. You’ve gotten your first rejection over with! You never have to have your first again.
  2. You’re on your way—you are doing it, and rejection is part of “doing it”.
  3. Now you get to see how badly you really want this.
  4. You’re putting yourself out there. *applause*
  5. You’ve taken a huge leap forward to arrive at the stage where people can judge (and reject) your work.
  6. Rejection won’t kill you—it may not even hurt that much. (Yet)
  7. You’re brave.
  8. Your query needs more work.
  9. You need to ask others to help you jazz up the query.
  10. You’re on your way.


I don’t know how I’ll feel ten or twenty rejections down the road. I’m sure at that point I’ll Google other authors’ rejection tales – J.K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Stephen King, etc.   Then, I’ll immerse myself in the writings of Anne Lamott and Brene Brown and gnash about.  I’ll be insufferable. I’ll eat too much peanut butter. I’ll threaten to stop writing altogether.  Maybe I actually will.





Until then, I’m celebrating the rejection because the other great truth of it is this: I’ve been rejected for lots of things I didn’t really want (see on-line dating fiascos, Vice President of the student body in 1990) that it’s nice to at least be trying for the things I do want.


I’m in the game.


It feels amazing.



Grandma Would Have Loved The Hula Hoops

I walked half a mile across the steaming asphalt parking lot because I decided it was time. I had to see for myself what the hell was in those stores. As I reached for the door, I saw foam pool noodles, sun visors, and cheap Tupperware jammed into bins by the door.


Heaven on Earth. Why did I wait so long?


Once inside, I was unable to keep from touching every.single.thing. The glittery hula hoops were so alluring that I grabbed two and hung them from my neck. “These are going home with me,” I said, as if someone had just challenged my claim to them.


Dollar World.  Its treasures beckoned me, shoved as they were on racks with alarming randomness. I picked up a number 5 candle for Sadie’s upcoming birthday celebration. Naturally, it was hanging right next to a colander and a package of disinfectant wipes.


Seriously. This place was actually better than heaven. It’s more like a calorie-free Dunkin Donuts or a Costco with that sells single rolls of toilet paper.


Dollar World, I think I love you. Said that out loud too.


It was all shits and giggles until I got to what could loosely be described as the “hair care” aisle. I didn’t realize that giant pink foam rollers were still a thing. I hadn’t laid eyes on them since sixth grade. But there they were: two five-foot stuffed racks announcing their continued existence. You can’t convince me it was a “coincidence” that Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survived started at that exact moment.


I dropped all the shit I was carrying, dusted off a twelve-roller set of the bigger black ones with the fuzzy, Velcro-like stuff on the outside. Just like my Grandma’s.  I didn’t need them any more than the ceramic hippo vase or the nude panty hose, but I wanted those rollers. An homage to my Grandma.


Nobody would love Dollar World more than she would have. She who never met a garage sale she wouldn’t pull over for or a thrift store she wouldn’t stroll into to peruse the dusty piles used men’s dress shoes—even after my Grandpa died. Sure, she’d love my kids—especially Sadie’s habit of breaking into song and the way Simon scrunches up his face when he’s playing ninja. (The Jewish thing might elicit a few vague judgments-disguised-as-questions, but she loved me and I was Catholic, which was almost as bad as being Jewish to her southern Baptist mind.) But she’d really, really love Dollar World.

By the time I dumped my haul on the counter, I felt that jittery I’m-about-to-cry tremor.  Thank god the teenaged clerk distracted me by trying to stuff my hula hoops into a bag better suited for a pack of gum or a hot wheel (both of which I bought).

It was hard to tell if the emotion was coming from that place in me that loves a bargain and plastic bags full of cheap shit, or the part of me that misses my Grandma and wishes we could split a piece of Big Red gum.  Hell, it was both.  Not sure how different those are sometimes.

Back at my car, I scrolled through my iPod to find the perfect music for the ride home. I floored the gas and cruised home with the sun roof open, How Great Thou Art on repeat.

Man, she would have really loved those hula hoops.

What Should You Read Next? Outlaw Mama’s Summer Reading Guide

Beach time!  That means those of you who don’t have a rabid fear of water may be in need of a beach read.  (Those of you who are like me are in need of heavy medication when visiting a beach.)  I’ve been consuming books like Costco snacks these days, in part because of my startling discovery: reading books is about a googleplex times easier than writing them.  Plus, if you are reading you can convince yourself you are doing “research” for your novel and not hiding because of your crippling fear of failure.

I’ve read 22 books so far, and lucky for you, I have opinions about all of them (and only 1 of them is about Willie Nelson).  I’m in a new phase of reading books that are newly published.  Heretofore, I’ve never paid one ounce of attention to that, but now I’m getting off on reading books in the same week they are published. Because HIP! TRENDY! CUTTING EDGE!



So, readers at the beach, by the pool, and in the camp carpool line, this list is for you, lovers of the word.

  1. What Remains, by Carole Radziwell: It’s a memoir about Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and John Jr. penned by a current real housewife of NYC. The first few chapters are nauseatingly self-indulgent, but it picks up speed. I felt dirty reading this, my interest being purely prurient. Then I found out the author is now a real housewife. What can I say?
  2. Little Failure, by Gary Shtenygart: Heavy, heavy Russian immigrant-y. Full of angsty stories about how his parents berated him as a loser and his massive struggle to reconcile an early childhood in Cold War with the demands of his new Queens community. Confirms the prevailing myth that a miserable childhood is fertile soil for a young artist. I didn’t feel dirty when I read this, but I did feel a little stupid since Shteyngart is spends a lot of time telling readers how fucking smart he is. That hurt my feelings a little bit.
  3. Son of a Gun, by Justin St. Germain. Memoir. Riveting story of a son trying to make sense of his mother’s murder. Set against the backdrop of the wild west (OK Corral and Wyatt Earp’s myth looms large here), St. Germain ties his family history’s own violent, love-thirsty lurches for fulfillment with those of the heroes and anti-heroes of the Wild West.
  4. Salvage the Bones, by Jessmyn Ward. This book was a dark and murky gumbo. The writing was insanely metaphoric—one critic said Ward never met a metaphor she didn’t like. The intense imagery worked though—this book is set in the few days before Hurricane Katrina decimated the rural areas that were destroyed in its wake. There are graphic descriptions of dog fights that wrenched my heart, but what lingers is the pulse of love and loyalty among the siblings and citizens of this little world that was almost devoured by the storm.
  5. Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan. A light-hearted look at how her mother got the fucking short end of the stick because she was stable, mature whereas her father was flashy and charismatic. (I get a little tired of Corrigan’s father-worshipping). Corrigan views her mother from the lens of her own stint as a nanny to grieving children during a trip to Australia. Full of truths that resonate for all of us with one parent who got to be “fun” and another who was stuck slipping bologna sandwiches into too-small Ziploc bags.untitled
  6. Splitting the Difference, by Tre Miller Rodriquez. Memoir. Her husband had a heart attack in bed one lazy Sunday morning. It’s as heart wrenching as you can imagine, with some spicy elements, including the “rough” sex they enjoyed and the portal into a dashing NY lifestyle of a young gorgeous couple with no kids. To this day, I wonder if her deceased husband’s mother read the book and if so, what’d she think about their whip-tastic sex life.
  7. Heartworn Memories, by Susie Nelson. She’s the daughter of legend, Willie Nelson. Her childhood had some sucky parts as her dad shouldered his way to fame and her mother and step-mothers descended into alcoholism. Pretty sure this isn’t in print anymore and I’m not loaning my copy out, so you’re on your own here.
  8. Cut Me Loose, by Leah Vincent. Okay, she got kicked out of her ultra-orthodox Jewish family for passing notes with a boy. Horrible, right? Of course. The read takes us through all of that and the dozens of marred relationships, as Vincent staggers through her life sexing and trying to find a true connection after being cut off from her entire support system. Frankly, it was exhausting to read and I was dying for something redemptive to happen for the final third of the book. It finally did.
  9. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, By Karen Joy Fowler. This one blew my mind—there’s a secret revealed a quarter of the way in, and it was as stunning as the passage in Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible where the youngest daughter gets bit by the snake. I’m not an animal lover (which I recognize as a severe deficiency in my character), but this book made me want to be one. Read this if you like original material delivered in a unique voice.
  10. House Girl, by Tara Conklin.Certain passages of this book transported me to the antebellum South, where plantations spread across the land and enslaved people were forced into unspeakably cruel conditions. I admire the scope of this story, but I felt too removed from it. There’s large chunk that is all letters, which was a good device to get the reader information, but it kept me too distant from the soul of the story. Wait until it comes on video.
  11. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. No, it’s not hot-off-the-press, but thank god I read this. It’s the story of resilience that is unfathomable. I lost so many hours of sleep reading this book—I could not put it down. This book has the immediacy that House Girl was missing. Prisoners of war are so fucked. If you want to read about one who survived an insane ordeal, starting with a terrifying plane crash into the ocean and weeks lost a sea, only to be rescued and tortured by sadistic Japanese soldiers, well, pick this up.
  12. Suicide Index, by Joan Wickersham. Her father committed suicide, and now she wants to make sense of it. One sort of wants to wish Wickersham “good luck with that.” But she valiantly puts pieces of her father’s past together and what emerges is a picture of a man under pressure to outrun demons, some past some current. Her dad had a ticking bomb inside of him, all the scarier because no one seemed to know. Avoid this if you have a depressed parent or spouse, but if you are in a solid place, give it a read. The writing is good, though the story is a downer.
  13. Someone Could Get Hurt, by Drew Magary. It’s a comedy book. Picture your favorite blogger (besides me, or I could do in a pinch) whose best posts are witty observations on the absurdity of modern parenthood and the children it serves. It’s funny with just enough poignancy to keep me from writing him off as just another jokey dude. See? I can read light and funny books.
  14. Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead. Calling all would-be ballerinas. For anyone who’s lost her toenails because of pointe shoes or sobbed because the head of the Boston Ballet told her she was too fat for his company, this book is for you. I couldn’t get through Seating Arrangements, but I loved the language and the story here. Sweaty ballet sex with a Russian defector? Yes please.
  15. Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. Rape survivor accuses the wrong man. After his conviction, the awful truth comes out—an innocent man is serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. Now he must rely on DNA evidence to clear his name. Okay, all of that is compelling enough, but get this: this memoir is written by the rape victim and the falsely accused man. I read it in one day. The forgiveness, heart and humility at the heart of this book brought me to my knees.
  16. There Goes Gravity, by Lisa Robinson. Hands down, this is the most fun read of the year so far. Who doesn’t want behind-the-scenes dish about the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin? While those bands peaked before my time, Robinson’s book is a rollicking ride through the ego, riches, and career vicissitudes of musical greatness. My favorite chapters were the stars who rose in my time—Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson—but the whole thing… rocked! (Confidential to Lisa: Where is your profile on the mega-stars of country music? See Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash. Or just Willie Nelson.)untitled
  17. Round House, by Louise Erdrich. A hefty piece of literary fiction, this one. This story had some of my favorite elements: child protagonist, legal gray areas, and a rich sense of a place I’ve never been (Indian reservations in the Dakotas). Like Son of a Gun, the story concerns a son’s search for truth about violence perpetrated on his mother, but in this fictionalized account you get much more, including meditations on Indian/tribal rights and vengeance.
  18. The One and Only, by Emily Giffin. I already reviewed this book so I won’t belabor the point. I have some things to say about why Giffin commands so much press/buzz when the better writer, Jennifer Weiner, has only a fraction of her following. That rant, which involves discussion of the supremacy of long blonde hair, latent anti-Semitism, and Aryan beauty norms, so you have that to look forward to.
  19. The Next Best Thing, by Jennifer Weiner.  An entertaining read about the realities of running a Hollywood show. Jennifer’s plucky heroine is admirable in her quest to bring “real” looking women to the small screen. I got a little sick of her constant moralizing about it, but overall I enjoyed this glimpse into grueling life of a show runner on a debut series.
  20. Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. So much to say, but what you really want to know: Is it worth it? The novel is 700 pages plus so it’s a commitment. It’s not a microwave hot pocket, it’s a sit-down-five-course meal with wine accompaniments. Bottom line: it’s worth it. The writing is every bit worthy of that Pulitzer it won. The plot is intricate, but not overly so. The characters were so well drawn, that I swear one day I will run into Boris in the airport. Make the commitment. Support the contemporary, women-authored masterpieces.
  21. Vacationers, by Emma Straub. This book is coffee gelato smothered in whipped cream and thick hot fudge. Topped with a cherry. It’s totally delightful and surprisingly rich. Deeper than the back cover leads readers to believe. It’s a book where everyone has a secret that is slowly revealed. How Straub shifted among so many points of view without pissing me off is a mystery. I’m buying this for my mom before her trip to Spain next month.untitled
  22. We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart. I yelled at this book. I couldn’t help it—it shocked me so thoroughly that I yelled, “STOP IT! SHUT UP! NO WAY!” when a certain plot point was revealed. It’s a heart stopped. The language is unique and the story will curl your pedicured nails. So well done. BONUS: I tweeted the author gushing about the book and she tweeted me back. “Thank you,” it said. Read this.

Lapsed Catholic Mother With Kids In Jewish Summer Camp




Let us bow our heads and pray.

I knew, but didn’t really know¸what putting my kids in religious school would trigger in me.  It’s been more than twenty years since my twelve-year stint in Catholic school, but its messages, rituals, dogma and secrets float inside me, mostly stable free radicals that rarely react.

But when I brush up against other religions, the past hums to life.  And thanks to the 34 hours a week my kids are spending in a Jewish day camp, all kinds of whizzing and whirring is going on.  It’s my daughter’s first exposure to religion and she’s treating it—religion—like an exotic pet that must be handled with care and examined from every single angle.  Oh, and discussed ad nauseam.  She’s the one insisting we say the blessing before we eat—not just meals but each snack in the car and stray yogurt pop on the go.  She’s all challah this and Shabbat that, and I’m struggling to learn the words to prayers the meanings of which are inscrutable to me as the inscription on the door of their school.

Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jeff knows what they are talking about—he’s only a few decades from his own Bar Mitzvah.  The prayers have returned to him like a language he never really lost, prodigal sons gliding off his tongue.  I bow my head and mimic the words they say a few beats behind, hopeful that by the end of summer, I’ll remember the Hebrew word for “bread” and that it will fall from my lips naturally like shalom, or the trickier, mazel tov.

God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.

I thought it would be Jeff who would be more rattled by this.  He was the adamant one: no religious schooling; the kids will decide for themselves.  I pictured our children dragging him unwittingly back to his own religious past, sheriffs hauling the prisoner back to his old cell.  So far, however, he is amused and good-natured that our children are learning his prayers.  “I remember that!”

Baruch atah Adonai…

I learned a whole other set of words—prayers about the Father, the Holy Virgin Mary and the ephemeral Holy Ghost, who, for most of my childhood, I pictured as Casper’s skinnier, more pious brother.  I dropped them all, like toys abandoned in a sandbox during a long, dark winter.  I’m not sure if I want to risk the frostbite and dig them out, or devote myself to the new prayers echoing through my house.  The longing is inchoate; I’m not sure it’s longing for a religion to give shape and contour to spirituality or the longing to join my voice with those of my family members.

Like the kids, I’m going to have to decide for myself.

Let us bow our heads and pray.