Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hello From The Other Side

Sorry, guys. This has officially been the longest I've gone without writing a blog post since two weeks before I started the blog in the first place.

Truth is, my life got seven kinds of fascinatingly crazy all there at once, and I can't even discuss it for fear I would cast out the humble part of a humble brag and just be obnoxious. Complaining about my recent schedule would be akin to complaining that the Academy Award I just won was so heavy I could barely carry it back to my seat.

What I'll say is that I had big immovable blocks of Cool Stuff that took up lots of time, and then I had to find space for big blocks of Finish The Book, and that all sorts of smaller stuff got squeezed out of the picture entirely, not because I don't care about them but because I simply had to let Finish The Book take up that much room. So for the past few weeks, no blog. It's all been about priorities. I've paid the bills but not balanced the checkbook. Fed the horses but not ridden. Worn clean underwear but not folded the laundry. You get the picture. I even curtailed my yoga practice, which I hate to do. I took a yoga class Monday when I thought my brain was in danger of actual explosion, and I took one this morning, in celebration, because I am DONE.

I sent my latest draft off to Jess's capable hands, and now I'm leaving--right now, ten minutes from now--for a week in England with my whole family, including my son who's studying there this semester. I've accomplished everything I had to do. I've accomplished almost nothing that was optional, but I do not care, not one whit, not one single tiny bit. Last week I emailed a dear friend, "I may have finally bitten off more than I can chew," but I did get it done, in a way that pleases me, and now I'm going to see my boy.

I'm already driving him nuts. When I haven't seen him for a long time I want to cuddle him and hold his hand, and now that he's no longer six he finds this a little cloying. Also, when I'm visiting him at college, I like to know all about the school and his life there. I ask a lot of questions. You'd think he'd be pleased by my interest but so far that has not always ever been the case.

Oh, and I've got tickets to Downton Abbey Highclere Castle, which is brilliant because it happens to be, in addition to the ultimate fangirl experience, absolutely necessary research for my next novel. (I am not making that up!) Which is extra-brilliant, because it makes this whole trip a business expense.

Cheerio! Back soon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


I woke up this morning and realized I am never going to achieve work-life balance. I'm going to have to put up with just doing the best I can, whatever it is, today and tomorrow and the next day, and so on. It sounds very philosophical, especially given that I haven't had all that much coffee yet today, but really I think it's just my brain's way of excusing the number of unfinished projects around the house, the piles of laundry, the suitcase I haven't unpacked from Florida and the fact that I have to be on a plane at 6 tomorrow morning.

I'm going to New York to accept the Josette Frank award for fiction from the Bank Street College of Education. I'm completely fangirling over this, because it means I get to hang out with the other award winners, Marilyn Nelson (poetry, for My Seneca Village) and Carole Boston Weatherford (nonfiction, for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement). I love their work. I can't wait to meet them.

I have to give a short speech. I woke up in the middle of the night and composed a brilliant speech, witty and just the right length, but can't remember it. Doesn't matter. I'm sure I'll come up with something to say.

While I was gone, my husband cleaned his closet, organized a big chunk of the basement storage room, researched the probable college schedules of our children for next year and put them onto the calendar (yes, we already have a 2017 calendar hanging on the inside of our pantry door--one door has 2016, the other 2017), and planned a boffo summer vacation for July. I'm not saying I should be gone more often, but I will say he uses my absence to good effect. Makes me wonder what he'll accomplish for the next few days.

Meanwhile, I'll be back at the hotel that loans companion goldfish. I hope to be reunited with Henry.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Mother Trucker

Today is a free day. It's not a day in which I'm free to do nothing--no time for that--but it's an extra day of work and family and I'm loving it.

I went back to Florida late Wednesday. The plan was to compete at a horse trial down there on Saturday and Sunday, drive myself and the horse back home today, recoup tomorrow, and fly to New York at 6 am Wednesday morning (I'm still doing that.) It turned out that I was finished competing at 1:30 yesterday. The horse trials was about an hour's haul from Ocala, where I was staying, so instead of driving back to the barn Sunday afternoon, unhitching, driving to my hotel, cooling my heels until very early morning today, driving back to the barn, rehitching, and driving down the exact same road to the horse show, I just left for home yesterday from the show grounds itself.

It was a ten-and-a-half hour drive, going as fast as I dared, with no construction or traffic delays, and only three stops for gas/food/bathroom breaks.

I've never driven my own rig back and forth to Florida before.I 've gone to Florida for the past ten years and always had my horse shipped commercially. The first few years, when my time in Florida was extremely limited, this made perfect sense: the horse got down to Florida, had a requisite day off (riding in a trailer is physically strenuous for horses), then I flew down, was able to spend all my time riding, and the horse shipped back after I'd gone home. As the years went by, and my children obtained driver's licenses and my absence became physically easier on my family, I spent more time in Florida, but I still shipped the horse, even though I own a truck and trailer and drive myself to all my regular horse stuff, and even though shipping the horse was quite expensive. The reason for that was simple. I was afraid of the drive.

When I was sixteen I failed the vision test at the DMV. My brand-new driver's license said that I was only legal to drive if I was wearing glasses. The thing was, I didn't have glasses. (Please note: somehow they let me take the driving part of the test even though I failed the vision test. I have no explanation for any of the incredulous parts of this story. I'm only reporting what happened.) I didn't get glasses for 18 months. I was driving my grandmother's old 1971 Pontiac Catalina, an enormous boat of a vehicle with dicey brakes. I couldn't see clearly, and, without glasses I have absolutely no depth perception at all.

So driving on highways was terrifying. At least on city streets I could slow way up in advance (or what I thought was advance) of the stoplights. and inch my way forward. (Why did I never know the street names in my hometown? Because I couldn't read the street signs. Dur.) On the highway, cars came and went at wholly unpredictable speeds. Off ramps were hard to gauge. Signs impossible to decipher until I was so close to them I no longer had space to appropriately react.

No wonder I was terrified.

Then I got glasses. I could see everything just fine, I'd never had an accident while driving blind (and, to this day, have never had an accident that was my fault). Yet the terror of driving on the highway remained. I got my truck in 2001--a big, beautiful, quad-cab dually diesel F-350--I love it and always felt safe driving it--the sucker could pull a house out of a bog--I felt competent with my gooseneck horse trailer. Yet I still felt anxious each and every time I hit the highway: heart rating rising, muscles tensing. I never connected the dots to understand why.

Then my son turned 15 and began to drive. Not only was he comfortable driving, he enjoyed it. One of the first times he drove us out on the highway I was nearly dizzy with anxiety. The thought of him having to do what I still steeled myself for, after all these years--I chattered an endless stream of advice and consolation.

"Mom," he said, "Driving on the highway is easy."

"The cars come up so fast--" As I said that, I realized that he actually wasn't anxious at all. For the first time ever, I put it into words: "I've always hated driving on the highway."

"Mom," my son said patiently, "That's because you couldn't see."


He was right. I was afraid because I back then I couldn't see. Now I could see. I no longer needed to be afraid.

It sounds like it should have been the most obvious thing, but it hadn't been. "You couldn't see," my son said.

I began to relax.

I quit dreading highway trips. I don't think I'll ever enjoy driving, but I started minding it a lot less. Last winter, when the horse shipper I'd always trusted proved untrustworthy, my coach and I brainstormed other ways of getting my horse south, until the obvious solution slid into my head. I'll drive her. I'll drive my truck and trailer to Florida myself.

My aunt came with me when we headed down. I was super glad of her company, not just for the long drive but for the several days she stayed with me afterwards. She, my uncle, and my daughter are the only family members that share my passion for horses. We had a lot of fun.

On the way back, I felt like I needed to make the trip alone, if only to prove to myself that I could. And I did. I listened to Emma on tape until the tapes started getting wonky (my truck contains the world's oldest tape deck) and the English accents a little too sonorous. Somewhere in the middle of South Carolina I switched to the audio of Bill Bryson's new book about the summer of 1927. It was perfect listening for the dark highways, the long long stretch of night.

When I pulled Sarah off the trailer it was just past midnight. I turned her out in the big pasture. She squealed and galloped away. I shut off the truck lights. Above me the sky glittered with a thousand stars.  I could see them all, sharp and bright.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Today is Super Tuesday. Fourteen states, including Tennessee and Virginia, hold their primary elections today.

If you live in one of those states, go vote.

This year's candidate pool is a heaving dank morass of lies, hyperbole, and cynicism. I've heard jokes that Canada is building a wall on our border to keep us from immigrating there. I've heard that Canada is paying for this wall. I read a piece today about Superdelegates, which I didn't know about, and it made me feel even more cynical and sad. I've long said, in truth, that the last Presidential candidate I wholeheartedly endorsed was Theodore Roosevelt. If he weren't a hundred years dead, today I'd write in his name.

However. While we wait for principled, decent, intelligent women and men to seek to run our country, we're stuck with this lot of rascals. So pick one. Do your part. People died and are still dying in parts of the world for the right to free elections. I've never forgotten the final room of the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. After an entire building documenting decades-long race-based subjugation and terror, the final room of the museum is simply filled with video screens. Every screen shows lines and lines of people, thousands of people, running through the townships and slums and cities. Black, white, colored, Indian (those were the Apartheid designations), all lined up to vote. A triumph and a miracle: voting instead of civil war.

Go vote.