Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My New Biography

It's raining in Bristol today. Feels like April outside. The dog has gas, and is lying in her spot on my windowseat, wheezing from both ends. My husband is upstairs in the guest room, virulently ill from the flu, bless him. It's a Wednesday so he should be operating, and I can only remember one other Wednesday, in twenty years, when he stayed home sick. Bart slept last night in the guest room because I'm not quite over my cold, and he didn't want to catch it, an irony I'm quite grateful for this morning.

The flu--which I can not quit spelling flue, then going back and removing the e--is fierce around here these days. Last week a bunch of the school systems shut down over it. I'm now going to be washing my hands 300 times today, while avoiding gently tending my husband. I've got a school visit Friday, my first post-concussion appearance. Hooray!

In completely epic news, The War I Finally Won is now in the hands of the copyeditor. This means, it is mostly out of mine. I have never had to work so hard on a book in my life and I'm delighted with the result, and not only because I'm finally finished. (Alternate title: The War Is Finally Done.)

Meanwhile I've been wanting to re-write my official bio, that shows up on my website and on Goodreads and a couple of other places. The one I have now is so earnest and boring. Who cares where I went to college? Kids at schools never ask that. (Ok, once they did--at very expensive very private school in NYC where kids are taught early to think such things matter. But only once. I've been asked if I've ever been to prison an equal number of times.)

So I asked on Facebook the other day, what would people actually want to know about me? And lo and behold, I got answers.

What was your favorite book growing up?--Hands down, the Little House on the Prairie series, which I read until the covers fell off. But that's a hard one to admit to now, as the casual virulent racism towards Native Americans rightly shocks most modern readers.

What was your inspiration for TWTSML? I get asked this question all the time. I have no idea. I never felt inspired to write TWTSML. Reluctantly compelled, perhaps. The real answer to this question is as long as the novel itself, and there is no short answer. Next.

What's your shoe size? 8 1/2 in European sizes, 39.

How many puppies would it take crawling all over you for you to laugh out loud? Mmm. I imagine this is an over/under, the maximum puppies before you'd start laughing, the minimum that would make you laugh out loud. The problem is I can't remember the last time I was around more than two puppies. But I laugh pretty easily, so it's probably less than that.

From my sister: who's your favorite sister? You are, my dear.

Did I write TWTSML because I knew someone with a disability? I know a lot of people with disabilities, but I didn't write TWTSML for them. I wrote it for me.

How many horses do you have and how long have you been riding? I started riding as a freshman in college. My first two horses, Maddie and Trapper, are dead, as is my daughter's first pony, Shakespeare, but we've still got my third and fourth horses, Gully and Sarah, my daughter's next two horses, Pal and Mickey, my son's retired pony, Hot Wheels, and we have two friends' horses living with us, Syd and Silver. Gully, Sarah, Mickey and Syd are still rideable. Horses live a long time on our farm.

From a college friend, When did you decide to become a writer? The same time I decided I wasn't going to be a doctor, which was, in total honesty, about a year before I actually quit medical school. But there you have it. I do not regret the decision.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Two Birds, One--

I wrote this email to my friend KBB1 and then I thought, screw it, let's make it a blog post. Bristol peeps: I really want to know if I'm the only person who notices the postman with the rug. I nearly took an opinion poll in the line today.

Dear KBB1,

Oh, this is all going pear-shaped.

First, I am not happy with the knitted objects I am sending you. I consider myself a resourceful, imaginative, and productive knitter, but we're missing something on this round. You'll see. You may wear them or not, with my love--of course that would be true no matter what--I'm just sorry I couldn't do better in the time allowed.

Second, speaking of the time allowed, I sort of had this feeling I had a day or two more, and then I didn't. So..here's the outrageous part: I went down to the main post office at lunch today to Overnight the knitted objects to Slidell. I had to deal with the main post office, which everyone hates, because the branch office shuts for lunch, 11:30-12:30 in theory but then the postal worker "goes to the bank" until 1--not making this up--and lunch was when I could go. So I get the postman who wears a wig--it's a horrible wig, it's like he's got a russet-colored porcupine on his head--I don't know what he's thinking--it looks less like real hair than anything you can imagine. He pokes his computer for a long time, and then says, looking at the Express, Overnight envelope, "two-day delivery." 

"No," I say politely, "overnight."

He tells me what that'll cost me. I nod. He pokes his computer some more and then sighs and says that no matter what envelope I use or how much I pay, the soonest the US postal service can get something from Bristol, TN, to Slidell, LA, is two days. Whether this is the fault of Bristol or Slidell I do not know. But the man gave me a less-expensive envelope to slide the whole kit into, which you will see I have done. Thursday, when it gets there. Do they not deliver mail on Wednesdays i Slidell?

I feel like a garbage knitting friend. I am sorry. I will endeavor to do better next time you need a pussy hat and a Lady Liberty crown.

Love,
KBB2

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Still Mine: A Ridiculously Long Sappy Story for Valentine's Day

So today is Valentine's Day, a sugary flowery made-up holiday that attracts way more attention than it rationally deserves.

I thought of writing here today about the first Valentine's Day I celebrated with my beloved, but I don't know--there's something private about the story. Also it's so treacly sweet it might induce diabetic coma in more sensitive readers.

One of our own children once described our relationship to friends as "effing BS." I think it was meant as a complement. Also I don't really want my children emulating me by getting married six weeks after they graduate college. (My son is right now older than his father and I were the day we exchanged vows.) I'm sort of surprised my parents went along with it, though, as my mother pointed out, that was mostly because they knew they couldn't stop me.

I was sixteen years old. I'd been classroom rivals with this tall smart boy for several years, trading insults and eye rolls and exasperation. Then I'd inexplicably started dating him--though I was pretty much the only person surprised.

That's a story I'm willing to tell. Not our first Valentine's Day--which really wasn't much because I was candystriping at the local hospital all evening any way, it's just that we were disgustingly touchingly sentimental, and also--I just checked--the tiny stuffed bear he gave me that day, February 14, 1984, is sitting on my office desk right now--yep, I know, it's revolting--anyhow, here's the story of the prelude to our first date.

We had gone to the local branch library together one morning of Christmas break to work on a paper for some class, probably English. Back then, with no internet, this is what people did. It wasn't a date even though he drove and picked me up--I didn't have a car. Nor were we alone in the library--as soon as we arrived, this freshman who lived down the street from me came over and sat down at our table, chatting away. It was snowing like crazy, and at one point, looking out the library window, I said, "We should forget this work and go sledding."

My Not-Yet-Beloved (more like my Crosstown Rival) jumped up. "Great idea," he said. "Let's go." The freshman also jumped up. "Let's go!"

"If we're taking him," I said, nodding to the freshman, "we might as well take my brother." So we did. We went home and bundled up and drove out to Franke Park, which was one of the very few places in my hometown with any hills at all. (My current driveway has more elevation than my hometown.) We went sledding in the deep soft snow. Afterwards, as we were piling into my Not-Yet-Beloved's car, he said, "Are you going to the basketball game tonight?"

"Probably," I said. Every Christmas break our town had a holiday basketball tournament in the big sports arena, the Fort Wayne Coliseum.

He said, "I'll give you a ride."

Now this presented a dilemma. Very few people in my group of friends had cars. My friend Julie down the street did--she and I and the Freshman carpooled to school together. My NYB did, and he typically drove a whole group of guys around. So. Was this "a ride," me and several others, or was this "a date"? Being sixteen, I didn't ask.

At home I showered in my parent's bathroom, because that's where the shower was. I was walking back to my own room, one towel around my torso, another around my long wet hair, and the phone rang. Remember, this was before cell phones, but my parents had a phone on their nightstand, so I answered it, dripping onto the carpet. It was my NYB. He said, "Want to grab some dinner before we go to the game?"

OHMIGOSH. IT WAS A DATE.

"Sure," I said.

I hung up the phone, and before I got out the door, two steps away, it rang again. (not only was this before cell phones, it was before texting. People had to use actual land lines for all their communication needs.) It was Julie down the street. "Hey, I'll give you a ride to the game, pick you up at ---," whatever time. Julie was a cheerleader and usually needed to arrive early.

"That's okay," I said. "I've got a ride."

Julie lived two houses away from me. "Don't be ridiculous-" she said, then, "Oh. OH. Bart Bradley finally asked you out."

"Shut up," I said, and hung up the phone.

And it rang again. I swear I'm not making this up. It was another friend, with whom I played Dungeons and Dragons, because I was that kind of a nerd. He said, "Hey, we're all playing D & D tonight, my house, So-and-so can give you a ride."

"No, thanks," I said. "I'm going to the basketball game."

"Forget that," he said. "You don't even like basketball."

"Yeah, I think I'll go to the game."

"Ohmigosh. Bradley finally asked you out."

"Shut up," I said, and hung up the phone.

As God is my witness, it rang again. While I still stood dripping on what was now a pretty wet patch of carpet, swathed in towels.

It was So-and-so. "Hey, did you hear about the D&D? I'll pick you up at seven."

This was getting ridiculous. "That's okay," I said, "I'm going to the basketball game."

So-and-so roared with laughter. "He finally asked you out!"

Yes. Yes, he did. Bart Bradley asked me out, and we went and ate Italian food from a restaurant long since closed, and then we went to the basketball game, and then we played video games at a nearby arcade and then I had to go home because I had an early curfew and he thought it meant I hadn't had fun, but he was wrong, I'd had a great time.

On the first day back from Christmas Break nearly the entire population of our high school said to me, individually, over and over, "You're dating Bart Bradley? I thought you hated him." I pretty much wanted to hide in my locker.

I never hated him. By Valentine's Day, less than two months later, I thought I loved him. I was sixteen; who knows?

But now I'm forty-nine. I understand what love is. I do love Bart Bradley, heart and mind and body and soul. If that's effing BS, so let it be.

Monday, February 13, 2017

5:21 am at Richmond International

1) I am sitting at gate B11 of the Richmond International Airport. I am here way too early, not just generally, but specifically too early for my flight home.

2) This is because I don't trust modern technology. I never dreamed that when I hit the Uber button in my motel room at 4:28 that Philip would be picking me up 6 minutes later.

2b) Uber is the greatest invention ever. It cost me $16.21 for a ride to the airport at 4:34 am. In Richmond. For Pete's sake.

3) I was also unprepared for the incredible speed and efficiency of the airport TSA screeners. They should be cloned and distributed to airports nationwide.

4) Food options here at this hour are extremely limited.

4a) I am eating something the woman who nuked it called disdainfully a "chicken sausage."

4b) I chose chicken sausage primarily for the bread it came wrapped in, an English muffin, as I don't like croissants (bacon) and distrust airport biscuits (sausage).

4c) The only other bread option, ciabatta, came with turkey bacon.

4d) Poultry sausage isn't good, but it beats poultry bacon.

4e) the coffee is acceptable.

5) At this hour, autocorrect is my good friend.

I went to Richmond to watch my daughter compete in a mock trial tournament. It was excellent, even if Nino Scalia's best friend did scold me for knitting. But that's another story.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Cheating

My dear friend Sarah--one of my childhood friends, a graduate of Yale, and now both an Episcopalian nun and a priest--send me this 17th century nun's prayer awhile ago. It popped back up on my Facebook page, and it's better than anything I have to say today. So here you go:

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but... not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint – some of them are so hard to live with – but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.
Amen.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eight Years Ago Was a Very Good Day

You know how Facebook likes to remind you of posts from previous years? Today mine recalled a post I wrote eight years ago: "I have been reunited with my luggage, and am about to go riding on a beach in Durban (really!)!"

That was a fantastic day--a fantastic gallop on a bright white entirely empty beach, surf crashing, searing South African summertime sun, my Zulu guide, Cyprian, with his head thrown back, laughing--I remember that day like it was yesterday. I treasure it. Today it was a very good memory for me as I continue to be frustrated by my concussion, because that good day in Africa was born out of a bad day in Bristol, a bad day which led to a lot of good changes in my life.

Nine years ago, nearly exactly, my husband ruptured his Achilles tendon while coaching middle school basketball. The surgical repair did not go as well as we hoped, and recovery was long and difficult. For several bleak winter months my husband thought he'd have to give up his passion, golf, and he wrestled with frustration as well as physical pain. (Being my husband, he took exactly two days off work, for an injury that usually sidelines people for six months or more.) I was just beginning the four-year odyssey that would result in my book Jefferson's Sons, the book that ended up transforming the way I write. Of course I didn't know that at the time.

In recovery my husband spent a lot of time on the computer, looking for websites and chat rooms about golf and golf course architecture--if he wasn't going to play golf he was at least going to study it. I decided to knit a pair of socks. It was January, 2008, a summer Olympic year, and I was sort-of friends with a person who had a shot at making our Olympic team in my esoteric sport, eventing. (Now that my daughter fences, I understand that fencing is much like eventing: even though making the Olympic team in any sport is really, really tough, the number of overall participants in fencing is so small nearly every one who fences knows at least one former Olympian. I had two pointed out to me at my daughter's recent fencing match.) Anyway I sat down and designed a pair of Olympic socks, and they were really cool, and for some reason they pissed my husband off. We'd be at another middle school basketball game, and one of the other parents would ask what I was knitting, and I'd say, "A pair of socks for a friend of mine that might make the Olympic team." My husband would interrupt with, "She is NOT your friend." Dunno why. I had the woman's cell phone number, and if I called her she'd pick up with, "Hello, Kim" because she had mine. That was friendship in my book. Still is.

But I knew my husband was suffering so I didn't let him get to me. Until spring, that is, when he announced that he'd invited one of his new internet friends, a man prominent in golf course architecture, plus the man's entire family--wife, two kids--to spend a weekend with us at our house in the mountains. "We've never met these people!" I said.

My husband said, "SO? You're knitting Olympic socks!"

I sort of got what he meant. Who was I, to knit socks for a famous person? (Famous in a small pond, but still--famous) Who was he, to entertain famous people at our home? (Famous in a small pond, but still--famous).

My friend made the Olympic team. She loved the socks. She made the team again in 2012; not only did I make her another pair of socks, I went and watched her compete. Not kidding.

My husband's friend came with his kids and wife and we had a fantastic time. Halfway through dinner the first night, well into our second bottle of wine, the architecture guy said, "Hey, we've got a group going to South Africa for two weeks this winter--you guys should join us."

My husband and I looked at each other and grinned. What the hell.  We'd learned a thing or two. "We'd love to," we said, and we did. We loved every minute of that trip. Furthermore, taking it--taking the risk of taking it--opened our world in a thousand different ways. It made us unafraid of reaching out to people and unwilling to postpone adventure.

My husband got hurt, and then he got adventuresome. I knit socks, and ended up at the Olympic games. I'm sitting here healing my head, working on my new manuscript, learning to write a movie script, and planning my travel calendar for the year. I can't wait to see what's happening next.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Whose Side Are We On?

So I'm still hanging out with my concussed head. Getting very slightly better very slowly. The pace of change is not within my control, and, I'll be honest, I tend to be annoyed when things are not within my control.

And then there's President Trump.

I've said repeatedly that I have no political home: my personal beliefs don't mesh with either party. Never has that been more true than now. I have friends on both sides of most of the arguments.

I would really just like to write about my horse. Or my books. Or something that is not politics. Anything.

At the same time, this seems to be one of the times when we as a people are going to be judged by our actions. I don't just mean our votes. I mean what we do after we vote.

I didn't march anywhere--honestly, I couldn't have physically managed it. I hate that, but it's true. But I knit a hat that was worn on a march, and I read my sisters' stories of marching. I'm trying to keep abreast of the real news. Writing and calling our congressional representatives--great. Voting every chance I get--absolutely. I support social justice with my money and my time. I'll keep doing that.

My biggest gift is with words. That's where I can make the most difference: the stories I write now, and the ones I'll write in future.

My novel Leap of Faith starts with a girl, the protagonist of the story, stabbing a classmate in a middle-school cafeteria. When I first school-talked this book I was surprised by the number of students who disliked my protagonist at the start, and only gradually came around to having sympathy for her. I always tell the students, "I'm firmly on the side of the kid with the knife." They're puzzled--they understand, and correctly, that Violence Is Bad--but I think that by the end of the book they understand my point of view.

I'm pretty sure I'm not making much sense today. Sorry about that. We'll blame the concussion, shall we? I might as well get some use out of it. What I'm trying to say is that we need to decide who and what we can defend, who and what we can uphold. And then do it. This is no time to be idle.

That's not really about President Trump. There has never been a time to fail to do good.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Nothing To Report Here.

Hi everyone.

I'm back. Back-ish. The head trauma is slowly healing, to the extent that in 20 minutes I will leave for a Beginner Yoga class.  Hooray! My third attempt at yoga since my accident, December 17th, and what I've learned is that I'm mostly capable of a Beginner class, but can only do about half of a Room Temperature But Not Beginner class. Apparently my head still doesn't like being moved swiftly in three dimensions, which means sun salutations are no good for you. But it feels excellent to be moving, however slowly, again.

I'm still months away from riding again. I miss it like crazy.

Right now I am full of News that belongs to other people. It's frustrating the way not being able to do your life's work because you have a concussion is frustrating. I could tell you all some really awesome stuff, except I can't, because it's not mine to share.

That's something I've really learned writing this blog. There are stories that are entirely mine, and stories that are part mine, and even some stories that are not mine at all but are okay for me to write about--with permission--and then there's a whole lot that are really great stories, really fabulous, and sometimes I can even see the perfect way to write about them, the structure and the words and everything--and they are not my stories and I don't write them.

I've come to realize that the job of a novelist is to take all the other stories and mix them up with your own, and use the feelings you get from them to write about some completely other fictional world in a wholly authentic way. When I talk to schoolchildren about The War That Saved My Life--which I do a lot, thank you email and Skype--they want to know what parts of the story are based on my life, or on anyone's actual life. I tell them, almost nothing. For starters, I wasn't alive in WWII; my parents were, but only barely. (My mother was born on the one-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor.) But the emotions are real; I know about them either by feeling them or by paying very close attention to other people's feelings.

So anyway, here's today: full of joy and happiness, and glad to be feeling that way. It's not my story, but it is my joy.