Our most pathetic Thanksgiving ever

dwight schrute

I’d like to file a complaint.

Hello? I would like to enter the contest for most depressing Thanksgiving, please! Yes, yes, I know that many people had depressing Thanksgivings this year, and many more will come home infected with COVID and be even more depressed, but I’d still like to enter. I can? Thank you!

This year, we had planned a wonderful, anti-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. We didn’t ditch the gratitude part…it was more the turkey-with-all-the-trimmings we opted to skip. The Princess and her fiancé went to visit his family, so it was just the three of us—Dearest Son, just home from college, McIrish and me. Sainted Mother was quarantining with her COVID-infected brother (he’s better now, thanks!). The only nod to tradition was that I made a pie.

And that was the first harbinger of doom. I’m a really good baker. I’ve won many blue ribbons at the local fair. Apple pie? I could do it in my sleep. The crust was perfect, mind you, but I couldn’t find the apples McIrish likes best. So I substituted with another tasty apple.

Which was not good for pie. Nay. The pie was soupy. Soupy, I tell you! I was, in a word, ashamed. This just doesn’t happen to me. My reputation took a hard hit. Oh, the boys were kind about it, but I could see the despair in their eyes.

what we pictured

What we pictured.

We had planned a movie marathon and a Chinese food extravaganza. I have been dreaming about this sort of non-Thanksgiving for years, and 2020 gave me my chance. On Thanksgiving morn, we lounged around in our pajamas, eating donuts and not watching the parade. Around 1:00, we decided to order the food. Pulled up the menu and went a little crazy adding things—dumplings and sesame noodles, egg rolls, moo shi pork, spicy scallops with garlic, and yes, General Tso’s chicken. The list went on and on, because we had no food in the house, not wanting to go grocery shopping and expose ourselves to the masses the days before Thanksgiving.

Then, we hit “order.” A moment later, we got the message that online ordering was not available today. “They must be so busy,” said I. After all, so many people were having micro-gatherings. Chinese restaurants would be killing it today.

So I called. The phone rang and rang. “Wow!” I said. “I can’t even get through!” After several fruitless redials, I tried another establishment, painstakingly entering the dozen or so dishes we wanted. This time, my online order went through.

A moment later, the phone rang. “Hello?” said a woman. “This is Great Wall. We’re closed today!”

“You are?” I said, stupefied.

They were.

I called five more places. They were all closed. Every single one. Even the ones listed as “Open on Thanksgiving.”

not as pictured

The real deal was not as shown.

McIrish, always great in an emergency, came up with an alternate plan. “I’ll run to Stop and Shop and grab some frozen Chinese food, but I have to go now, because they close in 40 minutes.” Off he and Dearest dashed.

“Get PF Changs!” I called. “They’re great!”

Well, they’re great in the restaurant. In the frozen food category…yuck. They’re awful. Everything smelled weird and turned to mush. Even the crispy green beans were tasteless. We had to open the windows to get rid of the smell.

But, we were still grateful, damn it. “What movie do you want to start with?” I asked. Dearest read from his list of movie choices. He and I had never seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and what better time to see a classic than on Thanksgiving afternoon?

We ate the nasty food, all of which tasted the same, and gave the movie a shot.

It’s a classic, you say? It was awful, we counter. “How long is this movie?” I asked several eons in.

“It just won’t end,” said Dearest.

Screen Shot 2020-11-30 at 12.33.21 PM

We had high hopes.

We all felt the movie had aged poorly with its awkward, slow close ups and “realistic,” meandering and repetitive dialogue. The plot was unbelievable—can one really steal a school bus, charter a boat and procure a prostitute when one has no money and is in fact an escapee from the state mental facility? The last 10 minutes were action-packed, or so I hear. I dozed off.

At least there was soupy pie for dessert. I skipped it and got some ice cream instead. Dearest retired to his room after a brief discussion about who should be blamed for choosing Cuckoo’s Nest. McIrish and I then poured ourselves some wine and watched reruns of The Crown to console ourselves.

i'll never quit you

Vanilla ice cream, you never fail me.

As holidays went, it sucked. But you know…we have each other. We have our health. Our pets. Our snug little house. And for that, we are truly thankful. Also, for ice cream. For PF Changs frozen food, not so much.

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Day in the Life of a Writer

it's not like this

This is not what it’s like.

People often ask me if I write every day. The answer is no. But I work every day. Every single day.

When you’re a writer, it means everything you in order to produce
a book is A) done alone and B) comes from your brain. There is no curriculum. There are no substitute writes who will drop in and write a chapter or tweak a character because you’re sick. If you take a vacation, in the back of your head is the page count, lying ignored. You can’t help yourself…you have to add a few notes here and there.

You talk to your friends about your characters and their lives. You ask them for input, maybe. You research. You might join a forum or a Reddit thread about people who’ve been in those positions. Maybe you interview someone. You visit the setting, if you’re lucky, and you fill pages with notes to make sure your book will deliver an appropriate and multidimensional representation. You take classes or workshops from time to time. You answer reader mail and post online. You reply to professional emails. You mentor other writers. You’re always editing or promoting the book you last finished.

LOL

LOL…no. Not like this, either. Come on.

So it’s a mixed bag of what exactly you’re doing…at least, for me.

But when I hunker down to write the first draft, here’s my routine.

Wake up.

Caffeinate.

Find a quiet spot (my office, or the upstairs couch, depending on how cold or hot my office is, or our little house on the Cape).

Start a sentence.

Then, hopefully, the writing gods will be good to you. You’ll finish that sentence and write another, or maybe many! You’ll continue until soggy-brain sets in…it might be ten hours, it might be 45 minutes. You decide that you’ve started in the wrong place. You revise. Or you don’t. You just keep blasting through, years of experience telling you this can be fixed later.

more like this

It’s more like this.

When you stop and rejoin humanity, it’s through a Twitter check, or a news check, or a family member who, you vaguely realize, has come in and might be talking to you.

Repeat as many times as possible. J

That’s where I am now, gang…hoping for the writing gods to smile on me. Brain cluttered with details that I’m trying to sift out and sort. Sentences begun and finished. Begun and deleted. Begun and revised.

Wish me luck!

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Li’l Flannery

I bought a human head.

Okay, okay, I bought a fake human head. But still.

first day of school 2007

My bébés on the first day of school, 2007

I’m going to be doing my daughter’s hair for her wedding in June, and here’s the thing. The Princess doesn’t love to have her hair done. There’s a window in which she’ll let me practice on her, and then the window closes. I’m pretty good with hair, having once had long hair myself, and having been the kind of mommy who loved braiding and brushing my daughter’s hair.

My grandmother used to French braid my hair, and I loved it. My own sainted mother had more of a sadistic approach to hair—the “Hungarian water torture” in which she dumped ice cold water over our heads to rinse the shampoo, or the time she just cut off my ponytail because my hair was tangled, and she lacked the patience to comb it out (I still resent your Prince Valiant jokes, Mother!). And so I vowed that, should I have a little girl, I would be the kind of mother who knew how to do hair.

And I was. Flannery went off to the first day of school for twelve years with French braids. Every day, she’d sit on the living room floor while I brushed and styled her hair. She had hairbands and barrettes and clips. She still lets me brush her hair—it’s incredibly thick and silky, and it’s a Zen-like experience.

Thence cometh her engagement. We looked into having a professional stylist do her hair on the wedding day, but those services are few and far between on Cape Cod (and ridiculously expensive…$800? For one person?). “No matter!” I said. “I can do something.”

And, bless her, she trusts me. So we’ve had two “sessions” in which I’ve given some lovely wedding updos a try. Flannery winces and sighs and, a couple of times, has admired the end product. But wedding hair is not first day of school hair. Wedding hair has to stay in place. It has to have texturizing spray and dry shampoo and heat protection and flat ironing and back-combing and ten thousand bobby pins, and my daughter’s time is limited.

IMG_6873So I bought Li’l Flannery here. She is a practice head made just for these purposes.

I love her.

When I got the notification she had arrived at the post office, I texted McIrish. “My head is here! Please pick it up!”

Li’l Flannery has immediately become a family joke. I sent the Princess a picture of her new sister. “Is she your favorite daughter?” she replied. That night, as I was in the bathroom, McIrish poked LF’s head in and asked, “Do you need anything?” resulting in my screams. Later, when he was asleep, I clamped her to the counter and combed her hair over her face so she’d be the first thing he saw when he got up for work in the morning.

I took her to the Cape with me this weekend, figuring I could practice up here. Texted the family and said I had locked Li’l Flannery in a closet and feared for my safety. The next text said “Mommy isn’t here, and Li’l Flannery doesn’t like you”…as one does on Halloween.

IMG_6878I’ve become quite fond of Li’l Flannery. We did hair last night till one a.m. and she did not complain once about my pulling those little neck hairs. I’ve perfected flat iron curls and a French twist on her. I’m sure Real Flannery will be quite pleased in our next practice session.

For now, she is clamped to the counter, patiently waiting for me to do some writing and then perhaps wash her hair.

Hey. It’s a hobby.

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My first lousy best friend

This is the story of a friend who tried to tell me for years that she just didn’t like me very much, and how I ignored her very strong messaging.

Barbarosa—not her real name—and I were high school friends. She had a boyfriend; I did not. Her boyfriend was great, and the three of us hung out together all the time. I think her parents didn’t like him, but if I was there, acting as a de facto chaperone, it was okay. Back in the day, I thought they just wanted to hang out with me. We got along great. I didn’t like him that way, so it was very amicable, and we laughed all the time. They were pretty much my entire social life through high school.

balloonsWhen Barbarosa went to college, she’d invite me down for the weekend, especially if there was a party, and proceed to ignore me at said party. I’d find myself alone, trying to talk to strangers who were not my classmates, while Barb talked with fellow students. It was awkward. She went to a very prestigious college, and when people found out I was not a student, they’d move on, more interested in talking to their fellow brainiacs.

But it was nice, wasn’t it? I’d tell myself. At least she wanted me there. I’d invite Barbarosa to my college, too. She never came. She broke up with her boyfriend, who moved to another part of the country. I was mad at him on her behalf, so I never wrote or talked to him again.

left outAfter college, she took a job in a very tightknit community, and she loved it. She lived just 20 minutes from me. Being that she was my best friend, I figured we’d hang out all the time. But every time we got together, she’d have one of her fellow coworkers with her, and they’d talk about issues in the community, issues that I could not weigh in on because I didn’t work there. If she threw a party, she’d invite me, and once again, I’d be the odd one out. When I asked if we could hang out just the two of us, she’d say yes, then turn up with a work friend. It’s an awful feeling, being left out, especially when you’re with an alleged friend.

Still, when my father died, she was wonderful. She came to my wedding a few years later. I went to hers. I loved her parents, especially her father, who taught me to parallel park, a skill I’m still proud of to this day.

Then a job opened up in her community, a job that was perfect for my skill set. How great it would be on all levels! A super job, with the added benefit of being in Barbarosa’s world! We could be close again I interviewed. They loved me. They told me that I was the most qualified candidate they’d had, that I was perfect for the job, and they’d call the next week. You know that feeling when you hit it out of the park? That was me. A grand slam.

Barbarosa invited me to a night out that week. There were lots of her work friends, including the wife of the big boss. I had once babysat for her kids years before. When Barbarosa had told me the big boss’s name, I said, hey, small world, I babysat for them once. The little one had had a meltdown, and when I reported this to the parents at the end of the night, the mom had flatly denied that her child would ever do that. Even though I was a babysitter who was much in demand, they never called me again.

photo by Amanda Tipton

(photo by Amanda Tipton)

Obviously, I wasn’t going to bring this up.

Barbarosa did. She told the big boss’s wife that I was up for a job, and then, in excruciating detail, she told the babysitting story. She repeated the words the wife had said to me—her kid did not have tantrums. I sat there, horrified and shocked, and watched the wife’s face change. Barbarosa brayed with laughter like it was a great story everyone would enjoy. She had never had a great sense of humor, and I remember believing she just didn’t realize it wasn’t funny.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I stopped calling Barbarosa to see if she was free. I was always the one to initiate, and I was tired of it. She could call, I thought. But she didn’t.

She did let me know when her father died. He’d been in the hospital for a long time, a fact I didn’t know. I was so sad I didn’t get to say goodbye…he was one of those adults whose friendship and encouragement meant the world to me. I went to his funeral, grateful that at least I got to do that.

It was the last time I saw Barbarosa. I’d run into her mom occasionally, and after I got published, she would say that she and Barb had wanted to come to one of my signings, but, well, you know…life was busy. Her mom always looked so embarrassed that they hadn’t come.

The sad thing is, it took me decades to realize that Barbarosa had never liked me that much. It took me decades to realize she’d invited the boss’s wife to that night and told that story with the exact intention of tanking my job chances. Once, I had served a purpose—chaperone, security blanket, whatever—and when that service was no longer needed, our friendship was over.

I have better friends now. I’m faster on the uptake. I’d like to say that this one friendship opened my eyes, but nope, I’ve made plenty of friendship mistakes since then. It took a therapist to tell me that I was allowed to be discerning, and this wasn’t a bad thing. I’ve learned so much in the past decade or so, things I wish I’d know way back when.

CF full coverWriting an advice book on friendship…making a podcast about female friendship…it’s been therapeutic. It’s been wonderful to hear people say, “Oh, my gosh, me too!” and tell Joss and me their stories. It’s been wonderful to talk about what we deserve as friends, and how we don’t have to waste time with people who aren’t the true blue type. It’s been cathartic to acknowledge the times I myself haven’t been a good friend, or made mistakes. It’s been amazing to make space for the women who really show up, really love me and are deeply, deeply loved in return.

So I hope you’ll buy our little book, which Joss and I think is packed with good advice and stories of women who’ve been as baffled as we’ve been. I hope you’ll write to our podcast or tune in and listen, laugh with us and save yourselves the time and heartache spent on the Barbarosas of the world.

To buy the book (which would make a great gift, just saying): www.bitly.CFtheBook.

To listen to the podcast: www.crappyfriends.net.

Take good care, my friends! Don’t settle for anything but the best in people, and give them the same.

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To All the Songs I’ve Loved Before

 

Some songs have had all the life squeezed out of them. Let’s face it. Songs that are so familiar they’re just white noise. It doesn’t mean the artist isn’t talented, or the song wasn’t once great, but I find myself barking at the radio from time to time, saying, “Enough already!”

scenesFor example…let’s start with one of my favorite artists ever. Billy Joel. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant is a song I’ll listen to every chance I get. Uptown Girl? STOP IT. No. Enough. Why play that crappy little song when you could play, I don’t know, 649 other Billy Joel songs that are far superior? Until the Night. New York State of Mind. Miami 2017. Rosalita’s Eyes.

I’m pretty much done with the Beatles forevermore. Oh, I loved them! Don’t throw trash at me! But enough already. I Wanna Hold Your Hand? No. I do not. I reject you, Paul, John, George and Ringo. In My Life is still beautiful to me, but even songs like Hey, Jude, which I once loved and can still sing word for word, just don’t hit me in the heart anymore.

Born in the USA. Okay, first of all, anyone who thinks this is a patriotic song about how great it is to be American needs a hearing check. It’s about the lack of opportunities in the blue-collar towns of the US. It’s about how we shouldn’t have gone to war in Vietnam. Besides, Bruce Springsteen has so many better songs! Born to Run. Thunder Road. The Rising. Philadelphia. Much more poetic and heartfelt. Also, Born in the USA doesn’t have a great beat, and I can’t dance to it.

bowieLet’s Dance by David Bowie. Again, one of my all time favorite artists. The only celebrity whose death made me cry like I’d lost a favorite uncle. Play Heroes forevermore. Young Americans. Putting Out Fire. Star Man. Anything but Let’s Dance.

Stairway to Heaven. If I never hear this song again, it will be too soon.

Sweet Home Alabama. Ditto.

That one about pina coladas. HOW did that get so much play? How? Why?

champagneHotel California. Yeah. Put the pink champagne back in the fridge. I’m good.

Someone Like You. Adele, if I have to hear you caterwauling about your stupid high school boyfriend one more time, I’m going to scream. I have screamed. That being said, you can sing Make You Feel My Love to me until my death, and it won’t be enough.

Phew! That felt good! Thanks for listening.

 

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Getting Married & Being Married

My little girl is engaged.

The happy couple and Mushroom, their cat

The happy couple and Mushroom, their cat

Oh, we knew it was coming, and we couldn’t be more thrilled, because her fiancé is kind and thoughtful, hardworking and honest. His family loves the Princess as if she were their own, and we love him like a son already. He asked for our blessing, and the ring is gorgeous. He’s a firefighter; she’s a nurse. They’re both wonderful people, and they’re crazy in love and have been for the past six years. They met their first day of college and started dating a few weeks later.

The last wedding I planned was my own. I helped with my sister’s wedding, but it was more of the gardening kind of help, since she got married in our mom’s backyard. Almost thirty years ago, weddings were different—they were just a happy day. Planning didn’t take up your entire brain. I don’t think wedding planner was a career.

The man of honor

The man of honor

McIrish and I picked a place, picked the food, made a playlist. My sister was maid of honor, and my godchild was flower girl. My mother-in-law made the centerpieces with dried flowers from her garden. It was Christmastime. Everyone had a really good time.

The other day, we talked with the happy couple about what they wanted. A small wedding, as the Princess isn’t the type who likes to be the center of attention. She wants to wear a beautiful gown and dance. The food should be good, she said. She’d like to have lilacs in her bouquet. Otherwise…not a lot of requirements. She hasn’t been dreaming of a wedding since she was a little girl…instead, she’s been dreaming of having a cozy house, children, a job she loves, a husband who will stand by her and love her the way her father loves her mother.

The Princess and her maid of honor

The Princess and her maid of honor

Likewise, I haven’t been dreaming of my daughter’s wedding, even though I’ve known she and Mike would get married for a few years now. I figured we’d wait till the ring was on her finger. And now that it is, there’s some work to be done.

What I want for her wedding is that it’s magical, beautiful and fun. I have no color schemes. I have no opinion on food, other than that it be delicious. While I would like all my friends and family who love the Princess to be there, I respect the kids’ wishes for a small, intimate wedding. I want to see my daughter and her husband smiling all day. I want to make this planning time fun and easy for her. She has asked me to do much of the planning, as I’m organized and know how to get things done.

Magical, beautiful, fun.

I remember a moment at my own wedding, which was all those things, too. I was sitting there, eating the delicious food, trying to take it all in, and I had a thought—I just want to be home with my husband. It wasn’t that I was having a bad time, not at all! It was that I was ready for this new stage of my life to begin. Just the two of us (and our cat).

So happy!

So happy!

Getting married was great. We ate and laughed, and I cried a little when my grandfather and I danced during what should’ve been the father-daughter dance. It was a beautiful night.

But being married, all these years…that’s even better. All the happy, ordinary days—more than ten thousand of them!—sprinkled with some real heartbreakers, are so much more important that that one magical, beautiful, fun day in December so long ago.

My wish for the Princess and her firefighter is that they are just as happy and dedicated and blessed as their parents have been.

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Non-buyer’s remorse

 

Dictionary.com defines buyer’s remorse as a feeling of regret experienced after making a purchase, typically one regarded as unnecessary or extravagant.

I do not suffer from this. I suffer from non-buyer’s remorse.

apartment-719984_640Take, for example, that brownstone in a then run-down section of this borough no one ever went to…Brooklyn, I think it was called. The entire house was intact and original, and you’d have to gut it in order to break it into apartments, so the asking price was a hundred grand. This was back in the early 90s, when a certain couple had nothing but love and debt and a skinny cat. A hundred grand might as well have been a million zillion dollars. “We’ll regret this,” said I to my husband, and I made good on that promise. To this day, I remind McIrish that we could’ve owned an entire brownstone in bleeping Brooklyn. Not that we could’ve done anything about that, but when has that ever stopped a wife from bringing up the past?

Seventeen houses on Cape Cod. They were all fixers uppers that would require several years of indentured servitude by McIrish, but guess how much those babies are worth now? A lot.

That sweet little boat in someone’s yard that may have been free. But we don’t live on the water! But we have no boaterly skills! Even so, we could’ve had a cute little boat. For free. I could’ve driven it around some lake or other body of water and not caught fish, as is my hobby. But no. We left it there.

kitten-3422770_640The six black kittens at the cat palace shelter in Pennsylvania. Don’t lecture me about being a pet hoarder! They were adorable! Huck remains determined to reject me. I could’ve had six of my own cats who loved me. I could have.

Any number of perfect articles of clothing that I talked myself out of. “Do I really need it, though?” I like to ask myself. “No. Good for you, Higgins!” Then, a month later, I need it. I realize that my black sweater has been eaten by moths, and my white shirt is stained, and I have nothing to wear to the event that starts in 20 minutes. “Damn it, Higgins!” I say to myself. “Don’t be such a tightwad next time!”

The mysterious paste I got that one time at TJ Maxx. Oh, don’t judge. It’s my favorite grocery store, and never shall I forget the time I did indeed take a chance on the green Thai sauce that took my tuna noodle dinner from disgusting to amazing. I only bought the one jar. There were no jars left the next time I went, nor in any other time since then. I’ll never forget you, green Thai sauce. Someday, I hope we’ll meet again.

bike-1245904_640The bicycle with the couch-like seat and low cross bar in Tiffany blue that was being practically given away by a bike shop at the end of the season. “But I have a bike!” I told myself, fondling the blue bike’s handlebars. Yeah. I do. I rode it today, and boy, does my butt feel it. And every time I swing my leg over my bike’s cross bar and nearly fall, I curse myself for not getting that blue bike, which, in addition to being much more attractive than my muddy gray bike, was kinder for people with balance issues.

Ah, well. The next time I come across a brownstone full of black kittens with a blue bike parked in front of it, you can bet I’m jumping all over that.

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A Day in the Life of an Author

 

I’ve been writing a lot this week. Oh, sure, be happy about that, you wretches! Do you want to hear what it’s really like? You do?

Ass ache. Yes, yes, you know you’re supposed to get up and stretch every hour and all that. You don’t. There is no time when you’re really engrossed in a book. Time does not exist. The timer may go off, and you may not hear it. Or you forgot to set it, because you’re cranking out pages or staring at the screen, lost in thought. Whatever the case, your ass hurts, but you ignore it.

waterDehydration. Sure, you poured yourself a big glass of water. It’s still in the kitchen, where you left it, and you just got settled down to work. Your cat is sleeping on your legs, and it’s an honor, and you don’t want to disturb him, plus you’re in the middle of a really good paragraph. It’s only water. Who really needs water? You have room temperature coffee that tastes like death. You’ll be fine.

Filthy eyeglasses. You’ve only been looking at the screen 18 inches in front of you, so it doesn’t register that there are thumbprints and eyelashes and flecks of toothpaste from that time you remembered to brush your teeth. It’s fine. Who needs to see, right?

Hunger. You just want to get to work. You’ll eat in a little while, you tell yourself. Hours pass. Your stomach growls for half an hour, then gives up. Finally, you stagger to the kitchen, blood sugar crashing, lightheaded from a lack of water and nutrition, and eat everything in the fridge.

tshirtThe cold, cold world. Or maybe it’s hot. You’ve forgotten what season it is. You take the dog for a walk. Whoops, you’re still in your pajamas and sarcastic t-shirt. Your hair is…oh. Eesh. You pretend to be normal and wave to the neighbors, who keep a cautious distance. That’s fine. You need to get back to work, anyway. It’s been fifteen minutes. Where has the day gone? Panicked, you return to your chair.

Stomachache. Remember that “lunch”? should’ve planned more carefully. Maybe eating the whole box of mac and cheese, plus chips and salsa, plus that giant spoonful of ice cream, plus another coffee was a bad idea. (Hint: it was.) You endure. You could eat a Tums, but they’re in the bathroom, and the cat is on your legs again.

soggybrainSoggybrain. This is an undiagnosed writerly condition caused by overthinking the problems of fictional people. There are so many of them! Dozens in this book, thousands in your body of work, and why are they all so complicated and angsty? You become unable to finish or start a sentence; you just start talking in the middle. Your spouse or children question the randomness of your statements, which sound like “a better sister because Dad” or “always had liar so can’t.” They sigh, wearily accepting you. Defeated, you must take a nap.

Coma Naps. Soggybrain cannot take anymore. You slept poorly last night (was it last night?), so you flop into bed and sleep. This is no power nap. This is a coma. It is not restful as much as a baseball bat to the head.

Time confusion. You wake up. What day is it? What hour? What season? Does it really matter?

Binge-watching. You’ve been writing for many, many hours. You don’t smell so good. Your hair is sticky. It’s time for…Netflix! Hooray for the many shows that don’t remind you of your book! Glow Up! Hoarders! This Old House! Something with lots of murders in it! Netflix pops in to ask you if you’re still watching. You are. Stop judging, Netflix! It’s been a day, okay?

higgins hairVery late bedtime. Is it 2 a.m. already? That nap really screwed you up. Should you go to bed, or should you watch one more episode and maybe finish that ice cream? You finish the ice cream. You go to bed and have vivid dreams and thrash around.

Repetition. Hey. It’s a living. Besides, ass-ache and soggybrain and dehydration aside, there’s nothing better.

Have a great week, gang!

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New school shoes

katydidEver since I was a kid, there’s been a melancholy associated with the month of August. Here in New England, around this time, the katydids start with their distinctive call: three buzzes, a pause, three buzzes. As a kid, these bugs alerted me to the fact that summer vacation was ending.

In June, I wouldn’t even think of the end of summer—two and a half months of freedom, of playing outside, seeing cousins, going to Cape Cod, reading whatever I wanted. We’d
play in the woods, make forts, ride my horse. My sister and I would sit on the edge of the feed barrels in the barn and talk as we slid our bare feet in the cracked corn or slippery oats. Andy, our barn cat, might make an appearance. The goat would mill about, and the horse would swish away flies with her tail. Our feet were perpetually dirty, the sign of a life well lived.

barefootAnd then those katydids would start at night, and we were reminded that summer was winding down. Our mom would schedule a trip to Sears, where we’d get most of our back-to-school clothes: corduroys and sweaters, shirts with big collars, stiff new school shoes. In fact, that’s what those katydids seemed to say to me: “New school shoes. New school shoes.”

I’d reassure myself that summer was still flush, that I wouldn’t have to go back till September, and that I should put school out of my mind. But I also had to clean out my bureau, pass the clothes that no longer fit to my sister or cousins. Melancholy suffused on the air as thick as the August humidity.

Before my kids were school-age, I loved this time of year. Older kids would have to go back to school; I’d hear the hiss of the brakes on the school bus as the drivers practiced their routes, and I’d be smug with the knowledge that I’d have this time with my little ones. We’d go to the much less crowded Cape in September, not having to worry about making a left hand turn onto Route 6. No lines at Arnold’s or Ben & Jerry’s. Free parking at the beaches.

school busWhen it came time for my kids to go to school, it would take weeks for me to adjust to their absence. I would be excited for them, eager to hear their stories and watch them learn and grow. I’d remind myself that it was my job to raise them, not to keep them. I never wanted to be that mom who mourned that her children were growing. Still, I had an annual period of adjustment: the first half of September felt empty and strange until my writer’s brain kicked into gear. Digger, our first dog, would perk up exactly on time to go to the bottom of our long driveway and meet the bus. Autumn, the most beautiful season in New England, would seep into the leaves and cooler air.

flannery & declanThis year, the Princess starts working as an RN in a couple of weeks. After nineteen years of school, college and graduate school, she has a the career of her dreams. This is the first year in two decades when some form of school hasn’t been on her horizon.

Tomorrow, Dearest Son goes back to college for his senior year. We went shopping for his stuff the other day; he graciously lets me come on this annual pilgrimage, though he’s more than capable of driving himself and paying on his own. As we stood in line at Target, I said, “This is the last time we’ll be getting you back-to-school stuff.”

“Aw,” he said kindly. “Thank you for everything.” We hugged to the amusement of the check-out clerk.

Those dang katydids. They get me every year.

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How’d you break your wrist, Higgins?

In an attempt to broaden my horizons and have more hobbies that don’t involve eating popcorn, I recently decided to return to horseback riding. The first time I rode a horse, I was four years old . The horse’s name was Thunderhead and what a magnificent name that was. The horse-girl magic happened , as it so often does, and I was in love.

jennyFor the next seven years, I took lessons and campaigned my father to buy me a horse. This involved many foot rubs, many cards, many snuggles, until, on my 11th birthday, I got Jenny. She was a half broke Appaloosa mare, way too much horse for a kid, but I didn’t care. Jenny could jump any fence, which she proved by escaping from her field and running sometimes miles from home. She had a special preference for our down the street neighbors magnificent green lawn. Many were the times when I was paged in high school by Sister Mary: “Kristan Higgins, come to the office. Your horse is out again.”

Jenny stayed with us until her death 20 years ago. My horseback riding became limited to National Park trips. But I missed real horseback riding and the special way a person interacts with nature that way. I missed the squeak of a leather saddle and the comforting snuffles and snorts and smells of the horse,. And so I sought out a situation in which a horse needed some love and exercise.

Which brings us to Wednesday.

gracieI had met Gracie, a beautiful bay mare with a white blaze. We had meaningful eye contact and blew gently on each other, and she whickered when she saw me, sensing my adoration. I made an arrangement with her owner, and on Wednesday, I went to the farm for my first ride. Before one can ride a horse, one must first bond with her, so I spent an hour grooming Gracie and talking to her and telling her how beautiful she was . I gave her treats and leaned against her and scratched her itchy spots. Then I put her saddle and bridle on and lead her up to the paddock.

There in I found the problem. Gracie is 17 hands, which means she is wicked tall in the horse world. Not being used to a western saddle, I was having a little trouble getting my foot up into the stirrup. Finally, I did, only to have my boot slip out . With one foot in the air and the other on the ground I hopped backward, fell, and heard a noise I hope never to hear again in my life. It’s bad, I thought.

Gracie looked at me with her big compassionate brown eyes. I looked at her, stood up, and draped myself over the fence so I wouldn’t pass out. Well, shit, I thought. You broke your wrist, Higgins. Being a veteran of broken bones, it was easy to recognize that special, hellish pain.

However, this was my first time at the farm, and I did not wish to make a bad impression on the owners. This is always the first thought of a Catholic…It’s my fault, and I’m sorry. So I took a few yoga breaths, patted Gracie, who had come to stand next to me in concern, and led her back to the barn. I tried to take the saddle off , quickly learned that my right hand would not help and did it one handed like a total badass. Then I put Gracie in her stall, gave her a snack, and called my husband, who did not pick up. This is often the case in times of emergency. I called my son instead, and said, “You and Dad need to come get me. I just broke my wrist.”

the cutenessThen, because it was hot, I sat in my car. I called the bookstore where I was supposed to sign books and told them I was on the way to the ER instead. I called my friend and cancelled our plans for that evening. En route to the ER, I called Gracie’s owner and apologized for not putting the tack away as neatly as I would have ordinarily, and also for breaking my wrist. She was extraordinarily nice. Horse lovers usually are.

And so, I get to spend the next five weeks in a sweaty cast. I am learning the dictation feature on my computer and how to shampoo one handed. I will have a new scar from where the surgeon had to put in a plate.

I can’t wait to get back to Gracie.

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