When I started working on my first novel, used to be that I would bump into people in real life--at the coffee house, the bookstore, the library. And class. I was still in school then, and if there was something on my mind, I'd simply talk it out with one writer friend or another, one mentor or another. It made writing a novel seem like not such an exotic enterprise--we were all doing it. No one looked at me funny if I said it was a novel-in-novellas. No one raised an eyebrow when I cited Alice Munro as a huge influnce on that book or said "Alice who-now?"
Then we graduated, and I kept working on the novel. Some of my writer friends moved away, temporarily (like me) or permanently. My friend Corbin started, EarthGoat, a blog where the writers from my class could keep in touch with each other across distances, keep talking books and music and otherwise stay connected with each other's lives. I started this blog for the same reasons, and for a long time it was a haven for me. I published that book. I had a baby and moved away myself. But I was still in touch with the people who mattered to my life, and my writing.
Then Facebook came on the scene, and EarthGoat started to be less where we gathered, and with the baby and the new job and the new book I was writing, the blog started to take a serious backseat. If I wanted to "check in" with friends, they were, for the most part, on Facebook. I had less time to post, and less interest in posting.
Two years ago, Brando and I moved again, this time back to the suburbs of Chicago from whence we came. And like most suburbs, it's a nice quiet place to live, but it ain't exactly an artistic paradise. Here, when I hang out at the tea house at the end of my street, I'm the only writer in the place. I've seen Billy Corgan there a couple of times, but unless I'm able to make him my new best friend (doubtful), I think there's not a lot of chance of talking music. The local yoga moms and I don't have that much in common, since I don't do yoga. No one wants to see this ass in Lululemon pants, doing Downward Dog.
And I think that's why I embrace Facebook, despite some of its obvious pitfalls. I like "bumping into" my friends there, seeing what people are up to, what's on their minds. I like talking books and writing and music there, if not exactly the way we used to, then with enough frequency that I feel like they're still part of my life.
I know a lot of people taking Facebook breaks (and in fact I've had to invest in a copy of MacFreedom for myself, because, hello, look what I'm doing this morning instead of working on the new novel), but most of the time I don't feel the least need to apologize for being a Facebook addict. It's just another morning of shooting the shit around the coffee house before getting back down to work.
Now--get back to work.
...was an uneventful ultrasound, and as B is reporting over on his blog, it was in fact blessedly normal. A relief for people who've been through years of infertility hell. The mental stress is still with us, however, as I am listed as Advanced Maternal Age (oh how I love those sensitive doctors!) and we need to be checked for every chromosomal abnormality under the sun. That's coming up in four to six weeks, so wish us luck that we dodge this last significant bullet.
Do you remember last year? When nearly everything that could have gone wrong did, and in ridiculously spectacular fashion? Yeah, this year has pretty much been the exact opposite of that in every way. I got a great new job and B was allowed to keep his, even if it meant we moved halfway to the Arctic Circle. Our house sold in six hours in the worst housing market in twenty years. And now good baby news. It goes to show that life really does go in cycles, and that the answer to your prayers might in fact be the second-snowiest city in America, a new snowblower, and a little luck.
So in-between Iowa and Michigan I had planned, for the last few months, to meet up with my roommates from college in Missouri. We try to get together once a year or so, which has become more difficult as two of us have kids now and one of us (me) has been broke for the last six years due to going to grad school, that annoying following-your-dreams b.s. that, let's face it, has worked out SO well for everyone. They were coming out to see me this year in Iowa, but because the house sold more quickly than we had anticipated (an excellent problem to have in the scheme of things) we decided to meet up this weekend in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, for a few days of kid-free frivolity.
Which was fine. Because, as I've said before, there are times in your life when you just need your girls.
Except that, last week, as I both taught my novel class at the Summer Writing Festival AND moved my entire life in the same week, I managed to make a truly spectacular dive off a curb and twist my ankle pretty badly. (I have been known to take some pretty bad falls in the past, so much so that members of my immediate family have remarked that if they hear I've died from a tumble down the stairs, they will not be surprised.) I had to finish the class and the move with a really awesome hobble. Thursday was bad, Friday was all right, and then, on Saturday, I made the mistake of wearing flip flops and effed my ankle right up again. So by the time my friends made it in from Detroit, I was in a lot of pain.
B, in his always-droll fashion, called it the latest casuality in my ongoing war with gravity.
But I was determined not to let the ankle stop me. I wrapped it and took a shitload of ibuprofen. Because I don't get to see the girls very often, and I wanted to make the most of it.
Here's the thing: my friends all have very grown-up lives. Becky owns a bakery outside Detroit; Barb is a Washington correspondent for a North Carolina daily; Halley is an ad exec for a business publication in Napa Valley. And I am the author of a book no one read who has basically been living like it's 1989 for the last six years. I have more and better drinking stories than I did as an undergrad. A night at the bar is a typical Tuesday. I go to casinos more than once a month. I still don't have kids, and if our luck continues the way it has, I won't anytime soon.
But my girls needed to cut loose. Without their husbands and kids. They wanted to drink, and dance, and par-tay. We browsed all the shops in town, then got dolled up like we were going to Shattered, except it was a Monday night and no one was out. I hobbled after them, pounding Advil but determined not to bust up the party. We drunk-dialed friends and relatives. Meanwhile my foot looked like a loaf of rising bread dough.
Last night, at 3 a.m., we finally had to break down and go to bed. My foot was mangled. It swelled like an engorged tick, a sacrificee to the gods of girlhood.
This morning we were all a little green. It doesn't matter, though, because every once in a while, every woman needs to remember that she was once a girl.
Today it's back to the real world: the bills, the kids, the doctor. But yesteday it was still 1989.
Well, the day has come. We had a little last-minute drama yesterday when the reimbursement check from the insurance company for the money we paid out-of-pocket to cover the tornado damage, which had gone missing not once, not twice, but three times, finally arrived, only to be in the names of not only B and me but our mortgage company, so we can't cash it straight into our account. We have to wait for the mortgage company to write us a check. What joy. And we were counting on that money for closing on our new house next week. So, Mom and Dad, thanks for the temporary loan until the bank gets back to us.
We've packed everything we own either into a moving van on its way up to the UP or in the back of one of two station wagons, we've cleaned top to bottom, sent the cats home with my parents, and mowed the yard one last time. So it's time to say goodbye to our adorable little house, and to our sojourn in this little corner of the Midwest.
True, we're going to be back in a little more than a week, since B's job is still here and I'm teaching at the Summer Writing Festival again next month, but as of today we are no longer residents of the IC. And it makes me more than a little sad. Because we were happy here, and that's not something you give up lightly.
Iowa City, adieu.
A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with an old high-school friend in the small Illinois town where I grew up. This in itself would not be so unusual, except that we hadn't seen each other in 17 years and neither of us live in that town anymore, or even within striking distance. It was a kind of "meet in the middle" for two people who had been eager, even grateful, to leave the landscape of their childhoods behind.
We ate at the new tea house in town and remarked on the changes that had taken place in the years since we'd moved away, my friend to California and I to Missouri, Pennsylvania, New York City, and Iowa. The playhouse is still there, where my friend once performed in "The Fantasticks." The department store is gone, replaced by a sleep-disorder research clinic. The Ben Franklin where my friend once worked is under new ownership, and the accounting office where I typed after school is now a limo service. There are new stores and new restaurants on Main Street, but the Piggly Wiggly is still there, and the diner, and the old-fashioned movie theater that still shows only one film at a time. The high school that had once seemed to encompass our whole world was still there but remained closed to adults, as it must.
The town has slowly been undergoing a transformation, which accounts for some of the changes taking place. When we lived there it was still just out of reach of the city. Now it's trying to gussy itself up for the future. Civic leaders want to draw new businesses in, to improve the tax base and increase property values as the suburbs encroach. An unnecessary Wal-Mart has gone up in a corn field across from the ditch where I totaled my parents' car. A second high school was built to service all the new subdivisions and the families looking for cheap housing and a safe place to raise their kids. A car dealership took over the cheesy banquet hall where B and I had our wedding reception in 1994.
Underneath the new paint and the freshly laid brick, though, we could still see the outline of the honky-tonk town we grew up in, a palimpsest of our former selves, dying to get out, to get started, to reach a future that always seemed to be one day further away than we could stand.
When we were done wandering Main Street I drove my friend to her father's house, the same house where I first met B twenty years ago. I hadn't been inside that house since high school, but I remember where I was sitting, what I was wearing, even how later that night my mother grounded me for reasons too obscure to go into here. I wished I could stand in that room a moment and watch it all happen again--the dim light, the boy in the Cure shirt and California tan, the ex-boyfriend I was hopeless over rolling his eyes at me. I wished I could see it happen again knowing how it all turned out. But then again, what's the future for?
I dropped my friend off. We promised to keep in better touch, do this again sometime. Afterward I turned around and drove back to Iowa, and she and her boyfriend flew to their home in California. A few days later she emailed a picture of the two of us standing near the sign with the town's name, which I printed and keep on my desk.
We will always be there, on Main Street, waiting our futures to begin.
As 2006 winds to a very welcome close, I'd like to reflect on the horror that's been the past year.
First, a very big pffpht to the tornado, for destroying my garage, two cars, half the roof, all the siding on the house, thirteen windows and the entire backyard.
Second, a pffpht to the insurance company, for taking so long to assess the damage and not giving us enough to cover all of it.
Third, a big middle finger to the construction company, which did such a bad job that even now I'm having to hire people to undo the work they did. To whit:
Who would look at this window and think the repair was done correctly? I mean, WHO??? Bowel (B) Movement (M) Construction out of Cedar Rapids, that's who.
Now, lest you think it's all negative around here, here's a few things I am thankful for:
For the small furry things that live in my house:
My family, for being so blessedly normal;
My friends, for always knowing when (and how much) I need them.
Here's to a happy, healthy, and tornado-free 2007. Blessings to all of you.
This is my Christmas tree. It is surprisingly blurry.
There are few things I hold sacred in this world, but one of them is my right to make as big and embarrassing a deal over the holidays as I wish, including putting up a big and lavishly decorated tree, a right that Brando has trampled on only once, to his mortification, as I dubbed him The Grinch for many years afterward. That was the second year we lived in Brooklyn. The first year we had a very dry live tree and a fourth-floor walkup. The third year we bought an artificial and saved on the cost of marriage counseling.
At any rate, it is always at this time of year more than any other that I think of my second cousin, Saundra, who took Christmas as deadly serious as any kid scrambling to make sure she was on the Nice List. Calling her my second cousin does not quite do our relationship justice; my father's first cousin and an only child who never married, she took an interest in my sisters and me that was closer to a best friend and a beloved aunt. She was the maid of honor at my wedding, a position that I could have imagined giving to no one else.
She was always eager and lavish when it came to Christmas rituals. There was tree decorating at her apartment in the suburbs, then the drive to her mother's farm for decorating her tree and stringing lights outside, then a furious weekend of cookie-making and a trip to my grandmother's to help with her tree. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around we had usually decorated a minimum of five trees and made enough cookies to make ourselves sick for a month.
When I was about five, one of my cousins on the other side of the family, about two years older than I was, took peculiar delight in informing me there was no Santa. Devastated, I declared my intent not to believe in him anymore. Saundra was infuriated by this and set about planning my re-education.
Her father, my uncle Bill, was a gruff old farmer who often had a better way with horses than with people. He had an actual live reindeer that he kept in the barn and that my sister and I had dubbed "Rudolph." Oh-so-original. Bill always had strange and exotic animals on his farm. He once had a pair of breeding rheas, a bad-tempered South American bird related to the ostrich. He also kept pygmy goats the size of Yorkies.
At one point on Christmas Eve, Saundra and my grandmother and aunt Jean called me to the window. Sleigh bells were jingling outside. There was Santa in his red suit! He went into the barn and came back a moment later with Rudolph! Our Rudolph was the Rudolph, just as we'd always suspected!
How she ever got her old dad to wear that Santa suit, I'll never know.
Saundra died May 2005 of a sudden heart attack. I miss her more and more every year.