Dispatch from the River: Washed Clean (and Not Just the Angry Bird Underpants!)

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Southcentral Idaho. Peace reigns between the bots. Being in a new place does for Mbot what it does for me: washes out the mind like the rainstorm we drove through just south of the Nevada state line, like the ocean arriving all at once on our windshield, wipers arcing furiously to not quite keep up, white spray from the few passing trucks to the left obliterating the view—I think of the blindness that might occur temporarily if one traveled at lightspeed, or that occurs when I board an airplane to sit encapsulated for an hour or two or nine until deposited in a different geographic location, often thousands of miles from the point of origin, during which time (if one is traveling without bots) one has spent reading a magazine on home style.

On the first day of travel, we debarked at the splash park in Henderson, Nevada the first scheduled stop on our two day, thousand mile venture north, fresh out of the rain storm. The botmobile shined like it was new, the silky navy of the paint gleaming as though you could walk through it into another world.

And so we have.

Here, between the mountains and the prairie, the winds wash down from Galena Summit, thirty miles north, like an invisible river though the valley every morning, cool air seeking low elevations, warming through the day, and then flowing back up into higher climes each evening, cleansing the air ‘til every object takes on a crystalline appearance, sharp edges, unfiltered greens—that never fail to bring back the memory of my first pair of glasses, set on the bridge of my nose at the age of eight. How my environment snapped into focus–I could almost count the serrated green alder leaves and suddenly the towering blue spruces became communities of individual needles, where before the trees had loomed, undifferentiated from one another. Synapses that had lay dormant for perhaps years, fired the news: Vision! Vision! Vision!

And so it is, here: vision.

For as long as I can remember–ever since my family drove away from our house on the hill in New Hampshire and set off across the country in a VW squareback toward Alaska–travel has been as much about marveling at the wonders of a world that isn’t mine as much as turning to marvel from a distance at the wonders of the world that is. And then marveling at the marveling.

I sense the same neural dynamic in Mbot, for whom every Magna-Tile has taken on a new attraction in this place–as though the Magna-Tiles, and not the place, were new. Marvelously, his brother, too, seems to have acquired a certain sparkle (in Mbot’s eyes) in this high mountain air, and the bickering has dwindled to token poking, pestering and name-calling.

Gbot benefits from the attentions of Pam.

Gbot benefits from the attentions of the wonderful and talented Pam.  You, too, could be this cute if you came to Idaho. Pam could help. Although if you come here, visit Pam, and find you are NOT this cute, do not blame Pam.

This mental re-setting is a real thing, and I know enough now to recognize that it will always be an important part of how Mbot interacts with his surroundings. He and I will have to get out of town on a regular basis, to recalibrate our focus on not only our external environments far and near, but our internal landscapes.

Husbot, who has stayed in Arizona to take care of pets and business, isn’t wired this way. Gbot, too, is less influenced by his environment than by the internal Contentment Bug he’s hosted since birth. He’s truly the captain of his own ship, never mind the water and wind, and I’d trust him to get from here to there in any weather. Mbot and I are at the helms of our ships, too, but we’re buffeted by both the water and the wind, and we’re very busy looking at the view and wondering if we might go there and if we do, what here will look like once we’re there. It will not be easy for anyone in our regatta. But the journey will wash us clean, outside and in.

Mbot steers the HMS  "Huggie Mommy." I did not name her.

Mbot steers the HMS “Huggie Mommy.” I did not name her.

Portrait of the Artist as a Snow Man

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I played hookie one morning to construct a temporary sculpture in the Boston Public Gardens.

The 2013 AWP Conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) brought more than eleven thousand warm bodies to Boston this past weekend, and one cold one.

The conference is a gargantuan affair: three days; over five hundred panels, readings, and soirees; three vast exhibition halls in which a persistent attendee with a long attention span could peruse table upon table which, lined up end-to-end, would stretch approximately a mile–stacked with poetry, fiction, nonfiction, everything at the edges and everything in between.

By Day Three, this is how I looked.

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Completely spaced out, wandering in the snow in search of anything but printed matter. Fortunately, there was a bowl of steaming clam chowder available in the hotel lobby a hundred yards away.

Boston, inspite or because of the two-day blizzard, was wonderful, from the Boston Baroque Ensemble to the mummies at the Museum of Fine Arts (in those few stolen hours between the five hundred panels, readings, and soirees). I met some very fine people. And I actually got a good idea on the plane flight home. Climbing aboard an airplane–alone– never fails to give me perspective that I don’t seem to be able to get anywhere else. Which is a shame, because driving is cheaper, and the neighborhood wine bar has more leg room.

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Giving Thanks for a Hamster Dance

Do not let the reindeer pajamas fool you. He is guilty.

ln our neck of the desert, Thanksgiving came and went with much gaiety about the feast in the Montessori classroom and much griping about the feast on Grandma’s picnic table. Apparently, Thanksgiving would be better if the Pilgrims had eaten pizza.

I expect a fair number of the Pilgrims had colds over Thanksgiving, and we did, too. Gbot had the croup. We spent Monday morning at the doctor’s office while he struggled to push off the mask attached to the nebulizer. I found myself chanting a wild, ridiculous, rhyming song about dancing hamsters that I made up as I went, to make him giggle and forget the mask. It worked. By the time we were heading home, he was breathing deeply, and the hamster dance was jammed in my head like some parasite from the Amazon jungle that disappears into your ear and consumes you from the inside out.

I wrote it down that evening, at which point it had turned into a forty-line tongue-twister. I tweaked it. I loved it. I actually sent it to an agent.

She wrote back the next morning before eight a.m. She loved it, she said. But she thought it was too sophisticated for the picture book crowd.

A disappointment. Especially as the bots were on their way to memorizing key verses and danced madly to it every time I chanted it, and Mbot had decided he wanted to bring it to school and turn it into a play.

I tweaked it a little more, and sent it off to seven other agents. Into the ether. But it has already served a purpose. Not only did the ludicrous thing help Gbot breathe easier, it helped me, too. It reminded me of how much I love silly children’s verse.

So the next day I checked out a book called Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem, by Jack Prelutsky, the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. I hadn’t even known there was such a person! It is a wonderful book, written for a pre-adolescent audience. It is full of sage advice. Prelutsky repeats perhaps ten times that kids should carry a notebook and two pens around with them everywhere, to jot down ideas as they have them. He does, he says, because if he doesn’t, he forgets them, and there goes a whole poem. This made me feel a lot better about my inability to recall a bot-statement even fifteen minutes after it’s uttered.

For anyone who loves language, and who wants to teach children to love language, check out this book! Literally.

amazon.com

Oh, and the picture of Gbot pillaging sweets first thing in the morning, with the help from the stool that should be in the bathroom? I just needed an image to start me writing. It’s always a delight to find actual photographic evidence of someone caught with his hand in the bag. This week, I was reminded of my love of poetry for children–really good poetry for children–both reading it and, with any hope, writing it. Rediscovering this, I feel like a kid stealing candy. It’s such a deep, simple joy. And I can do it in my pajamas.

I hope you had a Thanksgiving that was peaceful–even if it wasn’t pizzaful.

They are Both So Beautiful Girls

(from the very interesting blog, http://www.buckbokai.com)

I’m blogging infrequently not because I’m participating in NaNoWrMo (is that how you spell it?)–I’m not. I’m blogging less because right now, there are so many things competing for my two most marketable commodities, 1.time, and 2.the ability to have things not die on my watch.

Although my plants would argue about commodity #2, if they weren’t shriveled, blackened versions of their once plumply-chlorophylled selves that looked out eagerly from the shelves at Lowe’s at all the possibilities open to them. If they had known better, they would have screamed to be spared when I put them in my shopping cart beside Mbot and Gbot. For all I know, they were screaming, but their plantly pleas were overwhelmed by whatever bottish conversation/bickering was already occurring in the cart.

I plead guilty to the murder of two fine plants that had not wronged me in any way.

I am starting to feel like my writing is wizzling, too.

Yesterday when I might have been writing, I was installing pull-out bins in the kitchen cabinets so I can finally organize the kitchen and get all my paperwork off the counter. One can only ignore such an ungodly mess for so long (a year). My friend Solveig, visiting from Colorado, helped enormously by not only ripping out the original crappy shelving, but by playing a game with the bots called “Who can stay out of the kitchen the best?”

Tuesday, when I might have been writing, I was doing fifty-three administrative tasks related to my volunteer work as caregiver, teacher, peacekeeper, entertainer, home manager, laundress, sous chef, chef, dessert chef, server, busser (although the bots are junior bussers now), interior designer, social secretary, event organizer, correspondent, and chauffeur.

Then I was attempting to keep my children from ransacking the child-free home of the very nice child-free friends of Solveig’s, with whom we were watching the election returns. Or rather, Solveig and the very nice child-free friends were watching the election returns. I was watching to make sure the bots didn’t launch themselves through the very nice plate glass window as a result of jumping on the supersized beanbag chair. What? Huh? Who won? The candidate campaigning on the platform of subsidized childcare? What do you mean, there isn’t one???

Monday, as Solveig watched the bots at home, I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble, telling myself I should be writing. Instead I slouched in a stupor in the children’s book section, reading picture books. The kid’s book section–when I am there by myself–is one of my go-to recharging stations.

It is a challenge finding the necessary combination of time and energy to complete any task larger than emptying a loaded diaper or laundry basket. (And even then, the towels get left in the dryer overnight by mistake…when will I get around to hanging that clothes line in the garage? Oh right–right after I put up the shelving in the garage….)

It is not that I dislike any of the tasks I am called upon to complete. (Well, anyone interested in doing just dishes, laundry, mopping, sliding bin installation, and plant watering, please call, I am hiring.) It is simply that there is such a vast accumulation of tasks, that I find it difficult to complete them, and my writing projects, too.

Do I want to play with the bots? Yes. Do I want to cook a lovely dinner? Yes. Do I want to sew Junepbear a fluffy sweatsuit out of fabric Mbot picked out himself, because Junepbear sports more and more unfluffy spots these days? Yes. Do I want to paint a mural in the bots’ room? Sit in a quiet room by myself with books and a computer? Get on a bike and sweat for an hour? Start teaching at the college level again? Yes, yes, yes, yes. Do I want to clean the litter box? Actually, yes. But what do I need to do? For my family and for myself? The need to prioritize wisely–and reap contentedness from my choices–has never been so urgent.

I am working on solutions. One is as simple as leaving the YMCA and joining, for $11 more per month, a gym that has educational computer games in the childcare area, which is open all day, as opposed to the one at the Y which, as fun as Gbot finds it, is closed during the critical hours of one to three. If I took advantage of this service, I could get up to two hours per day to either write or ride, work or workout, while the bots are in good hands. It’s a start.

I am trying not to feel guilty about this decision, and to understand the roots of the guilt. Guilt rarely has roots in logic or rationality. I just started reading Pamela Druckerman’s bestselling mommy memoir, Bringing up Bebe, about the differences in American and French parenting–and so am trying to open myself up to “there are many ways to raise a child right,” and, “as long as I am worried I am not doing a good job, I am probably doing a good job,” and, “I need to be healthy and happy to help raise children who are healthy and happy.”

Finding myself with so many things I want and need to do, I feel a little like Mbot must have yesterday at snack time. On the drive home from school, I asked him who he’d had snack with–his friend Mbug? Obot? Hbug?

“Oh, by myself,” was the answer.

“Why, Potato Sweet?” I asked.

He shrugged, raising his hands in the air, both palms up. “Well, Mbug and Hbug are both so beautiful girls, I just can’t pick.”

Hiding my smile–he just turned four! It starts so early–I explained that he could sit with Mbug one day, and Hbug the next, and be friends with both.

There is not a lot of time for introspection these days, and so I will leave it at this: I may not be able to do everything on my list. But I need to be friends with my achievements, and friends with my expectations, too.

I think this means I need to stop buying house plants.

It’s That Time Again….

My wine key broke the other night–good thing I own a tool box. It doesn’t exactly relate to my post, except that innovative problem solving is always a must when traveling with bots. And wine, afterward.

…time to get on an airplane with bots.

Yesterday I attended an all-day conference an hour away put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Tomorrow at 3:55 a.m., the bots and I leave for the airport to fly to Idaho. In between, we have to run a thousand errands and pack three small carry-ons and one medium suitcase to bring on Allegiant Air, whose low fares (the airline is affiliated with casinos) are less ridiculous only than the hoops they make you and your baggage jump through to get onboard. Fares do not include a seat or any luggage beyond a single “personal item” no bigger than 7″x15″x16″. I am betting on the fact that since the occupants of two seats have dimensions of approximately 40″ x 10″ x 7″, the staff will not charge for two very large stuffed bears.

Once I selected my flights online (a choice of flying either Monday or Friday), then I was sent to a seating chart, where each seat was assigned a different price. Not an extra price if I wanted a choice berth, just a price for sitting down. And they don’t allow you to stand up the whole time, although the bots would probably prefer that option.

My question: Can they factor in where the guy with the body-odor problem who jiggles his knee like he’s got a potty problem, chews gum with his mouth open, and sniffles every thirty seconds is seated? Shouldn’t you get a rebate for occupying the seat next to him? Fortunately, my seat companions are not the devils that I don’t know, but the devils that I do. It’s a nonstop flight, and we’ll be at Nanny and Poppy’s by noon, so I am trying to focus on that.

More on the very informative conference once we are on our way. Wish us luck.

The Revising Life

Mbot, doing his own shopping at The Phoenix Children’s Museum. Fortunately, he won’t be out on his own for many, many formative years.

Over the weekend, I read an article by author Matthew Salesses about revising, and how to know when a piece is done. In “Take the Horn Out of Your Mouth,” Salesses recommends that young writers submit to their best chances first (read: those with the lowest standards)–because once its out the door, they will keep revising and–quelle surprise (not his words)–it will get better.

He’s right. At least in my case.

A few days after I read the article, I faced a deadline for a local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference registration. I filled out the forms, and then the manuscript evaluation forms, wrote the requisite checks, and confidently pulled “Magnolia Squeakyface and the Gloppy Bloppo” up on my screen to print two copies of the 780-word manuscript to include. I had not planned to revise it. It had been finished six weeks before.

I’d already sent it to eight carefully chosen agents, behind a carefully crafted query letter. I’d already gone through a months-long writing process: write, revise. Feel good. Let sit. Read aloud. Feel bad. Revise. Revise. Feel good. Let sit. Read aloud. Feel bad. Revise. Repeat. Etc., etc.

But rereading over the weekend, after a six-week roosting period and four polite rejections (I love how quickly agents respond these days), I found myself asking a few questions about my characters’ knowledge and motives. 1. How does the dad know what a gloppy bloppo is? 2. Why does Magnolia’s brother, Newton, call his baby sister “Squeakyface?” 3. And why does he play with her at the end, instead of try to kill her?

It turns out, the answer to all three questions can be answered in one question about my own motives: it was convenient.

Don’t get me wrong: the story worked. I’d already run the manuscript not only by the bots, but by several writers/mothers/friends, and it had gotten thumbs-up all ’round. But it wasn’t perfect. There were these pesky small issues that kept it from being 100% believable, 100% satisfying. And so I attacked each issue one at a time, eliminating anything that was present mostly because it was convenient.

The process was like–as I’ve found fiction writing always is like for me–putting together a puzzle, but a puzzle in which I was simultaneously creating the pieces and fitting them together, consulting the picture on the top of the box, an image I could not quite see clearly even when squinting.

By the time I printed it out in the coffee shop on the day of the deadline, it had slimmed down by fifty words. It had lost the word “Squeakyface.” It had gained another fun-to-say nonsense word. The dad didn’t, in fact, know what a gloppy bloppo was, and Newton had more incentive to play with his baby sister instead of kill her. Assonance, alliteration, internal rhyme, and rhythm had risen–and I have found, in many rereadings of many picture book classics–that these characteristics contribute to the magnetic force of a story–the invisible, often unpin-downable reason a set of seven hundred words isn’t just entertaining, but unforgettable.

I sent it out the door on Monday, feeling that if it wasn’t perfect, it was at least one degree of magnitude better than it had been three days before.

Incidentally, the same day, I found myself talking with another mother who was lamenting the fact that she hadn’t had her oldest, now in high school, repeat kindergarten. Not for the scholastic performance factor, but for all the other ones.

“Can I have a do-over?” she asked, laughing, repeating the famous Billy Crystal line from City Slickers.

The answer, of course, is no.

That afternoon, after a long day of revising, actually mailing, and momming, I received an email from a writer friend, which included a ridiculously timely quote from Kurt Vonnegut:

Artists are people who say I can’t fix my country or my state or my city, or even my marriage. But by golly, I can make this square of canvas, or this eight and a half by eleven piece of paper, or this lump of clay or these twelve bars of music, exactly what they ought to be.

I’m still not sure Magnolia’s exactly what she ought to be. But I’m sure I’ll get a second chance to make her that way. And a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, if that’s what it takes. That’s one reason I love her and need her. Because I can’t revise my children once I’ve sent them out the door.

Brrrrrr……A Cold Look at Myself

I, too, would be able to sneer at the cold from within DKNY’s new line of goosedown outerwear. But big questions remain: Will it keep her legs warm? Will she care?

In my nonblogging writing life, I’m writing an essay about being cold. Partly because I’m cold a lot. I won’t go into the details, but it’s through a combination of sheer will and clever dressing that I’ve spent a great deal of my life playing out in the snow.

The idea to write about what I am constantly teased about by warmer human beings occurred to me during a discussion in a graduate writing course last spring, when I explained, for reasons I no longer remember, what I have determined to be the three factors that contribute to “being cold.”

After my explanation, one of my classmates told me she’d love to read an essay on it, and I realized that I could probably pull one out of my frozen ass, but first I had to find out more about my frozen ass. I realized I had no idea if my theory had any basis in science, as my knowledge of physiology and brain chemistry have all been gleaned from The Human Body book that I read when I was twelve, Discover magazine, and The New Yorker, and so I went online to investigate.

It turns out there is an entire branch of science–along with its own worldwide symposium–dedicated to the field of thermal physiology and pharmacology. But before I say more, I’ll share (because I know you are dying to know), Betsy’s Trinity of Cold Determinants:

#1 Local pysiological phenomena resulting directly from a low environmental temperature. (Translation: The temperature of parts of me or all of me actually drop.)

#2 The sensory part of my brain seems to be very sensitive to #1. (Translation: If my hands are experiencing low blood circulation in a cold room, I feel it acutely.)

#3 The tolerance part of my brain seems to be intolerant of #2. (Translation: I hate being cold.)

I began perusing the literature (with an online dictionary at hand), and it seems that I’m basically right that feeling cold results from a combination of things happening in your body and brain. The details are quite fascinating. So I’m plodding through articles and will soon feel like I know enough to not be a complete idiot when I pick up the phone (or probably open my email) and contact a few of these thermal scientists to see if any of them will enlighten a writer who wants to explain to the world, in terms that do not involve using an online dictionary, just why the hell I’m cold, and why not to listen to the people who tell me, “It’s just because you’re skinny,” or are thinking, “But why? You’re so darned fat.” or exclaiming, “But you lived in Alaska for twenty years!” or saying with jocularity, “You’ll warm up in menopause!”

So wish me luck and lift a mug of hot chocolate to the two women in the study called “Subjective Perception of Cold Adaptation, Exertion, and Stress During a Two Woman Longitudinal Traverse of Antarctica.” Really really really glad it wasn’t me.

Food for Thought

(image via thehamiltonian.net)

Aren’t lives apples and stories oranges? What really goes on when you try to change one into the other?

– Joan Wickersham, “The Suicide Index”

I love these words, and I think a lot about their truth in relation to blogging. What is said, what is left unsaid; what is picked up and woven into a narrative; what is discarded because either it does not lend itself to brief essay form, or is too complicated, or too disturbing, or doesn’t fit the blog’s tone, or requires too much analysis?

I had come to think of lives as grapes, stories as wine, and blogs as grape juice. But the apples and oranges cliche–which is so unexpected in this context as to rise above cliche-dom–may be a truer description of the relation of the two. Food for thought.

Great Gender Expectations

Wrong is relative: If you’re two and wearing rented ski boots, I’m betting there’s just not much difference in the left and the right.

From the back seat:

Mbot: “I saw a girl that looked like Gbot.”

Me: “What made her look like Gbot, Bug?”

Mbot: “She had hair that was long and had curls like Gbot. (Giggle) She looked just like a boy!”

Just the day before, I’d been reading writer/teacher/blogger Kate Hopper’s new book, Use Your Words:  A Writing Guide for Mothers, in which the mother of two–one born dangerously early–dispenses practical, invaluable, and hardwon advice on the craft of writing and the art of balancing writing and mothering. She includes superb excerpts from her own writing and that of many (m)others–the bibliography reads like the guest list of my dream toddler group; I’d had no idea the genre outside the blogosphere was so rich.

But the one that came to mind after Mbot’s comment was “Pretty Baby,” in which memoirist Catherine Newman introduces her son, a boy whose favorite color is bright pink, and whose favorite outfit “involves a floral-printed t-shirt with fuchsia velour sleeves, and the pants…from the magenta-striped terry cloth that Ben picked out from Jo-Ann Fabrics.” The essay is the most articulate, funny, searing argument I’ve read for abolishing the expected gender-specific appearances and behaviors that have a stranglehold on the majority of our society–and abolishing them from Day One. Because Day One is when children start to learn. And they learn from us.

Mbot’s observation from the back seat is proof enough for me that I have taught him–however inadvertantly–that long, curly hair is for boys. And now it’s my responsibility to teach him tolerance: that we don’t laugh at girls who have long blond curls like a boy.

Dear Nora,

Nora Ephron. Photo by Elena Seibert on tumblr

I will miss you.

In today’s New York Times obit, Meryl Streep is quoted as calling you “stalwart.” Stalwart is something I’ve never been.

You weren’t a whiner.

I am.

I don’t like that about myself, but obviously not enough to make great inroads into changing. Husbot bears the brunt of it. But this is not a whiny post. This is about how you affected–and still affect–my life.

I remember when Mbot was six months old and I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, that I came upon a profile of you in The New Yorker. For a couple of months after reading the profile, I sucked it up. I kept my mouth shut when I wanted to whine. I looked on the bright side. I had more confidence in myself. I didn’t mind making enemies for the sake of saying something I believed. Yet at the same time I attempted to be more diplomatic.

Then we moved (down twenty-one stairs, without professional movers, in the summer in Pheonix, eight months pregnant with a fifteen month-old on my hip–sorry, am I whining?), and the article got buried in a pile of other New Yorker articles I’d ripped out and put in a folder to take with us, and I forgot about it. I gave birth again, lost sleep in a box-filled apartment to not only a hungry infant but to a howling one year-old; I forgot to not whine, to look on the bright side, to have confidence, to be diplomatic. I had my sense of humor, but it works better somehow in the company of those other things.

It is time–past time–to read that profile again.

But since it is not at my fingertips, and since quiet time in my house has failed to result in a nap for the two year-old (the almost four year-old finally fell asleep, in spite of the midget Cirque du Soleil on the next bed), my blogging time allowance may end at any moment, shifting you to stage left and the weebots to front and center. In fact I am right now typing to the chant, “Please give me a cookie,” which, however polite, is distracting. And so I will just briefly mention three points in the profile that stayed with me.

# 1

You were married three times, divorced twice. You obviously weren’t afraid to try, and fail. You turned your divorce into a best-selling novel (Heartburn)–and not only a best-seller but a funny, self-deprecating, insightful, vivid story about womanhood, marriage, pregnancy, professional life, and motherhood. You felt like a failure, as a woman, and as a wife, but you wrote about it, bravely and with humor. I am not planning a divorce, but there are things other than my husband that aren’t working out so well, that I would like to walk away from.

Like my whining. Some might say it’s a symptom: a symptom of my need to communicate honestly; of my children who no longer nap regularly; or of the fact that I am living in Phoenix in the summertime. But that symptom is f**cking with my life.

Honest communication is great, but so is strength of character. And if I were a character in my own book, would I admire me?

Not when I was whining.

#2

You were taught by your alcoholic screenwriter parents that everything in your life is material for your writing. I always felt that was true about mine, but often lacked the conviction to jot things down on the spot. Although I was the first junior high student in Juneau, Alaska, to wear legwarmers, a bandana around my head, and a cropped t-shirt, when it came to real life, I was afraid of doing the unexpected. My floor might as well have been cold, hard, Mexican ceramic tile for all the times I made love on it. Reading that you and your writer sisters embraced this way of seeing your lives–as material–strengthened my courage to do the unexpected, even if it was only ignoring snickers when I whipped out my notebook or took notes on my arm during events or conversations that others deemed unremarkable. Being true to my need to document the ordinary has a temporary effect of whine-quelling.

#3

You have two grown sons whose absence in the tabloids leads me to suspect they are fairly well adjusted. As a mother of two sons myself, I know this is part their doing, part yours. I would like my own sons to grow up with a mother who can lead by example in the nonwhining department. But it is too late to send them to you. And so I will just have to buck up.

In an essay of yours that appeared in The New Yorker not long after I read the profile, titled “My Life as an Heiress,” you wrote about how you were working on a screeplay at the time you received an inheritance from some long lost relative. You mentioned that you remember the screenplay was “‘really, really hard.'” The sum of the inheritance was debated among family members, and estimated to be quite large. You had some expensive landscaping done to your house in the Hamptons. You fantasized about retiring to a life of leisure.

When the money finally came, it was something like $5,000. I think it barely paid for the landscaping. You finished the screenplay because you suddenly really needed the money. You pointed out that it was a good thing you didn’t retire right then and there, because the screenplay you were working on–the one that was “‘really, really hard,'” was When Harry Met Sally. Which, in spite of its lack of Oscars wins, is probably–among women between forty and fifty–the most quoted and widely referenced movie I know. Still, today, over twenty years later.

I shouldn’t whine, even when things are really, really hard. You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.

I want to just suck it up and turn it into material. I want to have the confidence in myself to leave behind what isn’t working and try something new. I want to have the confidence in myself to believe I am trying hard enough. Or if, in fact, I’m not, to recognize and remedy it: read more, write more, seek a mentor, seek an audience, seek the quiet time I need. I want the longterm perspective to see past this tired day and draw strength from knowing that I will not always be this tired, this constantly needed, emotionally and physically. And also to appreciate that as long as I am needed, I’ve got job security.

I want to be braver, more confident, more persistent, and more stalwart. Even if it’s really, really hard.

I want what you’re having. But with the dead part on the side.