Thursday, December 18, 2008


I just watched this documentary this morning. I was so inspired by it in part because of what we're doing with the Memoir Project. Old is the new black, apparently, and that's great. And yet the Memoir Project asks seniors who live in Boston neighborhoods to tell their life stories, which is a more traditional activity for elders. This is celebrating something different. These folks are singing songs written by angry young men, some of them highly privileged, as part of a rather whiny ongoing counterculture. And here are these oldsters singing these songs with real feeling and giving the lyrics all kinds of sly new meanings. They make the Ramones seem insightful, for goodness sake, and they rescue a Coldplay song from its tin-eared emotional entropy and turn it into something poignant. There should be a special grammy for that. 

The other thing I like about this film is that it doesn't get so wrapped up in the cutie pie feeling about old people still being active, and let's cheer for them just for that reason. It does show them struggling to remember lyrics and struggling to get around and fighting the illnesses that are going to kill them. It also touches on the real despair the singers face when they can't participate in the group anymore because their health won't allow it. Many times older people are given activities to occupy them, when in fact they need activities that challenge them. That need doesn't diminish in old age or even with grave illness.  If you give people a community and a goal, their lives improve. We've seen that in the Memoir Project and I think that comes through more than you'd expect in this film.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gifts, X-mas and Otherwise

I spent yesterday looking for one of these for you-know-who for Christmas. It's time. She hasn't asked for one, probably because she doesn't spend any time in any toy stores (thank heavens) and therefore doesn't know that you can buy these. In her mind, they exist only at school. I think she's going to love it and for the first time in a long time, I'm excited about the holiday.

We're at that stage for the holidays where the kids have actual wants. They want things. Before, any toy would do, really. As long as you had to rip paper off of it beforehand, as long as it had been sitting under the tree taunting them with mystery, as long as it was a toy, they loved it. Now...

Now we're in a new world. Garret wants a certain electronic chip to go into the video game he got for his birthday. And guess what? They're sold out. And by they, I mean everybody. You ask for some specific DS game and the clerks at Best Buy and Toys 'R Us and Target just smirk at you. And I'm thinking: Yeah, I know. It's Christmas and I'm a middle aged lady who just crawled out from under a rock. Must there be disdain? Can't there be a shred of sympathy?

I don't quite know what I'm going to do.

I wasn't alone. Many, many women like me, and some older, were on cell phones shouting at some other party on the other end, shouting out game titles and waiting hopefully for some sort of affirmation that this would be okay. I have no idea who might have been on the other end of these calls. People my age and older were running up and down the aisles in the middle of a work day, grabbing up every Wii game imaginable, and it's possible that some of these purchases weren't strictly for the kids. People seem to be holing up for the winter and the long economic winter ahead. Stay at home, they must be thinking, play video games. What else is there to do? The line at Best Buy was at least 40 people long. It's possible that Wii sales are what's propping up the economy right now.

I took enormous, if short-lived, satisfaction in walking empty-handed past that long line and out into the bracing December weather. I went home, wondering what to do about this gift thing, and found what at the front door? A different sort of gift. It was an overnight package tucked into the screen door. And yet it was a little miracle all its own. The editor had returned our manuscript with her edits and instructions to resubmit the edited manuscript as soon as possible, by mid-January. I had never printed out the pages before, so this was my first chance to look at it as a whole piece of writing. It came with the customary letter, saying that we done good, and then listing in bullet form the changes she's requesting. The copy edits so far are light, and the requested changes pretty doable. No major shuffling. We need to turn it around in a month, at which point most of the work on this will be done, at least from my standpoint. 

A year ago at this time, we didn't even have a book proposal. Now we have a book.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Literal (Not Literary) Nit Picking

I got the dreaded head lice call the other day. "We think your child has head lice. Come to the school right now." Ug.

I've heard from other moms that this is just about the worst day of your life. They really say this. They talk about the endless loads of laundry, about the combing the special shampoo, all that. And there's real panic behind it, and a bit of shame, really. And the schools have no sense of humor about this. They are adamant: you need a special comb; you need a specialist; you need to wash every fiber in your house in hot water and dry it thoroughly in the dryer and bag everything you can't wash for two weeks. You need to go over every hair on your child's head to remove every single egg. And then you need to repeat this every day for three weeks. Or else it will never go away. 

Strong stuff, huh? Welcome to suburbia, where the manicured lawns and granite countertops are thin armor against the fear that something bad might happen to you. I was given the news about my daughter along with a thick packet of information about lice and the phone number of a professional nit picker and strict instructions to call her immediately to buy a special comb. Right away. Right now. Today. Buy this comb. I'm not making this up.

Okay, so I told myself that I was not going to panic, but of course I did. Who wouldn't under those circumstances? My daughter's preschool teacher said that she would not be allowed back on the premises until every single egg (called a nit) was removed from her head. I wanted to say, "Are you kidding me? Where do you think she got it? While bathing lepers in Calcutta over the weekend? She got it here."

I called the nitpicker who recited a lengthy piece of nitpicking doggerel constructed of just really painful rhymes. (if you have lice, you won't think that's very nice) This was her answering machine message. She called back about four hours later and told me that I really should buy a comb for every person in the family because we probably all had the lice. Only $15 a pop. Okay, what am I going to say? No? I'm not going to buy the one true comb that will remove the infestation from my child? I was given instructions to her house where she would leave the combs in a bag in her mailbox. I would exchange the combs for cash. Like a drug drop. 

I asked what it would cost to have her go through our hair to remove the nits. She sounded almost bored when she said that it would take two to three hours per person at $100 an hour. Wait. There are four people in our family. I wanted to say to her, "Honey, that's almost $1000 per family. That's not a treatment; that's a ransom." Instead I asked after her availability. She said she could come over in a few days, but not right away, see, because, "I want to get some shopping done." Now, you have to understand that about 15 kids have been sent home from this one preschool with head lice. They tell you point blank that your child can't come back until the skull is clean. The only phone number they give you is the woman I had on the phone squeezing me in around her shopping schedule. I imagine she did have some ready cash to spend. Talk about a recession-proof industry. 

We said no thanks to that. But she was right about one thing: three of us had it. I found that out when I took one of the combs and ran it through my son's hair. We found a couple of the grown up bugs on him, and he started to cry. "I don't want to have head lice," he said. I agreed with him; I didn't want him to have it, either.  

We've done the shampoo; we've done the Cetaphil. We've done a prudent course of laundry. Nothing crazy. We're combing, combing. And the kids are good about it. They don't seem to mind. I think we're ahead of this thing. After all: they're just bugs. You can kill bugs. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cloudy with a Chance of...

We've had a bit of a good news/bad news vibe going on here. It is the end of the year, a time when people who hustle for work have to think about what income they might have, if any, in the following year. This is the first year that both of us have been doing the same thing, and it's a bit frightening. 

The good news is that the boy book is a go. The editor sent a nice little note late last week and said that she was accepting the manuscript. Hooray! Of course there will still be edits and adjustments, but still. Hooray!  I believe that about 7. 3 seconds elapsed before our agent sent a note back asking for the next check. I love having an agent. And that's why.

On the bad news side, well, there's plenty to go around. It's in all the headlines all around us. One of the companies that Larry works for now on contract basis just fired five people on Friday. (Oh, excuse me. They enacted a dramatic corporate restructuring that eliminated five positions.) How do we know this? Well, Larry was talking to one of these folks on the phone about a story and the guy said, "Oh, wait. Can I call you back? My boss is on the other line." He never called back. His computer was turned off and he was escorted from the building, we found out later.  

Another place Larry works for depends on the automotive industry for funding. Enough said there. It's scary.

Talk to editors and agents now and they describe the book market as either skittish or lethal. That's not good news for anyone who wants to start a book project, as I do. 

Still, irrational hope abounds. 

Larry walked into the bedroom today holding the above title: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Cute book. The kids like it. But Larry's looking indignant. He points to the book. 

Larry: Know what this sold? (dramatic pause) A million copies.

Me: So I should be writing those?

Larry points at me and gives me his famous smirk. 

Larry: Cloudy with a Chance of....Poopies.

I start doing the lip chewing thing. It's meant as a deterrent. It never works.

Larry: Everybody Poops? Big hit. How about: Everybody Pees.

Me: That's almost funny.

Larry: We could do a whole line of books about bodily functions. One could be called: Do Boogers Taste Good? called: Daddy, Why Do Farts Smell?

Me: So this is a memoir?

Larry walks out of the room, gets halfway down the hall and yells back. 

Larry: It was written by a husband and wife team.

Me: Great. 

Larry: One wrote it, and one drew the pictures.

Me: So you'll be drawing the pictures?

Larry: Me? You can draw a turd, can't you?

I think that pretty much sums up our collective career prospects.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Seamus the Kissing Bandit

Yesterday, while I was putting pony tails in S's hair, she came out with this pronouncement: 

"Seamus tried to kiss me yesterday." 

I ignored the ping of alarm in my belly and continued combing. I said, Hmmm. Or somescuh. S continued.

"Seamus is in love with Kerry Fitzpatrick."

"Then why is he kissing you," I asked with a little more force than intended. "Why can't this be Kerry Fitzpatrick's problem?" This was a mistake. It's always a mistake to ask these questions. Any questions. There are no rational answers. S is four years old. I want to call the school, but this would make me one of those crazy mommies. It would, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? 

"Well, he is in love with me, too," said S, with her palms up.  Right. Of course. Who wouldn't be?

Did you tell the teacher, honey?

"I told him that there's no kissing in school." Good for you, sweetie. That's the spirit. 

Can you tell the teacher next time, honey?

"Well, I telled Mrs. Baer, and she telled me to tell him that there's no kissing in school."

Well, okay. You did the right thing.

"But he didn't listen." 

Oh, honey. They never do. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fiction Thingy and Gratitude

So, a couple of days before Thanksgiving the phone rang. Caller ID said: Purdue University and I thought, "I don't know anyone at Purdue University." And then I answered it anyway, even though these things are usually someone in a recorded voice announcing that my car's warrantee really, really is going to expire and that this is absolutely the last time that this recorded voice will be contacting me to remedy the situation (yeah, if only).

But it was a real person, whose name I didn't listen to saying that he'd like to accept a short story I sent over there. You know, an actual fiction thing that's made up and all. He stunned me into silence, the kind of silence in which you scroll through a list of names of people who might think that a prank phone call is a fun way to spend an afternoon. I think the guy on the end of the phone might have said, "Hello?" into the silence, before I roused myself and said, "Yeah, okay." We shared several more seconds of silence before he said, "Um, do you have any questions for me." I had none. I had no thoughts whatsoever. 

I wandered downstairs where I found Larry hanging window treatments. He nests when he gets anxious and so in the light of the advancing holiday season and the end of year scramble for new work, he's spent the last few days trolling the aisles at the soon-to-be-expired Linens N Things. I don't get in his way during these little excursions because nesting is the least self-destructive activity a person can engage in while anxious, and because his taste is better than mine. Here again I married up. (I also caught him watching West Side Story the other day. He seemed to know all the songs, too. Perhaps that's a story for another time.)

"Someone take your story?" he asked and then he got down off the ladder and gave me a kiss. He asked the name of the magazine and I had to admit that I didn't know. I didn't ask.
On the very next day, I got another note from a different literary magazine wanting the same story. I didn't open it because I wasn't home. Larry opened it, and he got in the car with both kids in tow and came to the coffee shop where I was meeting with my co-author. Larry knocked on the window and came in to make the announcement. He was genuinely excited and proud.

The look on his face: This is what I'm thankful for.