Tuesday, September 24, 2013


This morning, driving home from spin class, I heard “Beauty and the Beast” on the radio and I didn’t cry.

Here’s why this is noteworthy to me:

When my son was in the fourth grade, he played the Beast in a school production.  He got the part mainly because he was tall and also because the director loved him.  He did not get the part because of his voice.  (The director told me, “He sings in the key of H.”)  Still, when it came time to sing the big song, he pulled it off.  And for years, every time I heard that song on the radio, I burst into tears.  Not because it’s THAT kind of song—even though it is—but because it reminded me of the boy he was:

Here we are at about that time: me rockin' the Howard Stern look, him being his wonderful self.
Last night I talked to my son on the phone.  He is crazy-busy with a new job and with helping his girlfriend start her business.  We talked about his nana, who has dementia and didn’t recognize him at dinner a few nights ago.  And about his grandpa, who is dying with supreme dignity in New York.  He has become a person whose advice I seek, a man I look up to.  I carry the little boy he was in my heart, but it’s not who takes my call once every two weeks.  And somehow, after many years, this has become okay with me.

Next week, my daughter and her boyfriend are going to Ireland, and I’m almost completely okay with it.

They are going to be hiking through tiny towns without phone access.  It will be raining.  They won’t have much access to the Internet.  I’m fine, except at three o’clock in the morning, when I’m not fine about anything.

When my kids were young, I couldn’t imagine that they would ever be able to cross the street by themselves, or drive a car, or drink alcohol, or talk to strangers.  And now, they live independent lives and I go to sleep every night not knowing where they are or what they’re doing.  And somehow, we’re all getting by.

I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal to a lot of people.  But maybe a few parents will appreciate knowing what I wish I’d known ten years ago: that one day, the hurt of their leaving will fade; that you will always miss them, but not as desperately as before; that gradually, your life will take on new contours, shift to a different shape, and you will be able to rejoice in it.

You won’t forget the way it used to be.  But remembering won’t make you cry as much.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rage and Fear and Weariness

In this blog, I try to write about subjects that affect or relate, directly or indirectly, to my life as a writer of books for children.

But today I feel compelled to write about something I always swore I wouldn’t touch. 

Two days ago, yet another gunman with serious mental-health problems walked into yet another public space and started shooting.  By the time he was finished, he and twelve other people were dead, and many more were injured.

I am weary and heartsick.  And furious.  And terrified.  Most of us are, aren’t we?  I’m sure I’m not writing anything inflammatory or controversial here.  Aren’t we all just bloody tired of this?

When I read the victims’ names in a news account yesterday, I noticed that many of them were in their fifties.  It took me aback.  Perhaps, post-Columbine and -Sandy Hook, I have now come to expect that children will always be among the murdered.

As the day went on, I found myself thinking about the middle-aged dead, how they went to work as usual, undoubtedly preoccupied with the minutiae of an unremarkable day, without the slightest inkling that they would never see their families again.  But something else was bothering me, something at the edge of my conscious thought.  At first I thought it was some degree of over-identification I might be feeling with the victims, many of whom were close to me in age.  But that wasn’t it.

It took me a while to figure it out.  It took me thinking of my own adult children to realize what was bothering me so much.

All those middle-age dead people are somebody’s babies.  Tonight, somebody’s elderly mother is remembering something no one else does: sleepless hours in a rocking chair in the middle of the night, rainy days re-reading The Cat in the Hat aloud until she thought her eyeballs would pop out of her head, hours spent pitching balls and braiding hair and correcting spelling and lying on the grass, pointing out the cloud that looked like Abraham Lincoln.  Her heart is blown apart as surely as if someone had fired a gun into her chest.  She will never again be able to laugh deeply or take a joyful breath.

I wish this would stop happening.  I wish everyone—gun owners and non-owners, Republicans and Democrats, hunters and vegetarians—would get together and figure out a way for the world to right itself. 

Because this isn’t working.  This isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing.

Monday, September 9, 2013


The walls of my office are painted.

It was an interesting week.  In my last post, I complained about being frustrated by my lack of sales, by the effort of writing books that no one seems to want to buy.

Then, when I had to spend every minute of every day of the last week painting, I found that writing was constantly on my mind.

For the first time in years, I fell asleep dreaming of dialogue.
When I woke up in the middle of the night, I put myself back to sleep plotting as-yet-unwritten novels.
I am re-reading The Stories of Mary Gordon (Anchor, 2007) and finding that a great writer’s voice is supremely motivating.  I have always known this to be true, but it has struck me anew.  Gordon, like Alice Munro, writes about small, domestic moments in ways that render them urgent and important.  I particularly enjoy the stories about adults told from a child’s point of view.

At any rate, I heartily recommend taking a break from the daily task of setting words to paper in order to create in one’s self a near-frantic urge to return to doing it.

Or maybe it’s just the fumes.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

On Home Improvement and Distraction

Robert and I are about to embark on a home-improvement project.  We are going to paint my office and the adjoining bedroom (aka my now-adult daughter’s old room), remove the carpeting and have hardwood floors installed, and have more built-in bookshelves built.  The end result will be an office/library.  I’m excited to start.

But I have a theory.

My theory, developed after years of watching friends endure the agony of home improvement—entire families living in hotels, eating take-out food for months—is that people put themselves through this misery to distract themselves from other life problems.  The reason I think this is true is that many of the people I know who have done this didn’t much like their spouse or their job or their children before they started building a family room, and hated them after it was finished.  And then started on the kitchen.  I found it staggering and mystifying.

So, as is my wont, I’ve given our project a lot of thought.  Am I distracting myself from something unpleasant?  Do I prefer the discomfort and limbo of having my office torn apart to something else?

And here’s what I’ve come up with: 1) I really need to fix up my office, and 2) I hate my career right now.

Okay, “hate” is extreme.  I love writing books.  But I hate working on a manuscript for over a year and then finding out that no editors want to buy it.  I hate devising perky, chirpy 140-character sales promos for my books on Twitter in the hope that a few of my followers will actually want to buy them.  Most of all I hate making the switch from full-time writer to part-time writer /part-time entrepreneur.  I don’t want to be an entrepreneur.  (If I did, I would have put my MBA to good use during the eighties, when it was actually worth something.)

So yeah, in the spirit of brutal candor, I must admit that I am looking forward to the diversion that comes with matching paint chips and gesticulating madly at non-English-speaking carpenters.

On the bright side, the paint currently on my office walls is the color of an Ace bandage.  It will be nice to look at something else all day while I am writing and not selling anything.