Friday, March 30, 2007

Fly Away to Ioway


Reservations for 2 adults, 3/30 to 4/1/07

Weekend getaway at Alexis Park Inn, Iowa's only aviation-themed hotel

Complimentary breakfast basket delivered to your door

His and Her massages

Late-afternoon aerial tour of Iowa City

Dinner for two at Old Capitol City Brew Works


All that and the Big Ten Rowing opener v. University of Iowa.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Selling Out follow-up

See my post below. . . .

Selling Out

My son would earn extra credit in one of his classes if he brought in magazines no older than 2004 that his teacher planned to use for discussions on popular culture. I gave him the new O magazine that I had taken from the back of a Northwest Airlines seat. (Someone had left a personal copy there; did you know the airlines no longer stock magazines in that vertical bin right next to the Coach-class bathrooms? They even scraped off the labels, “Magazines.” Someone could store her Ziplock baggie there now, I guess.) My son found a few other mags, too: a Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine, a Vogue with Kristin Dunst on the cover, a USA Hockey, and a few Sports Illustrated. I wasn’t embarassed to shout down the stairs, “Hey, don’t take the one with Joe Mauer on the front cover!”

I found a drawer filled with some oldies—Martha Stewart pre-prison, Oprah pre-second weight loss. Flipping through them I could see the trends in advertising and graphic design and when companies started using .com addresses at the bottom of their ads. There were straightforward URLs at first:,, and

In the newer magazines, whole Internet campaigns unfold on the glossy pages. There is no longer just but, where readers can share their stories about crying and all those other moments when a tissue in hand is essential. You’ll find a Let It Out blog and a Let It Out Tour as well. No simple anymore but now, an incentive to bring all Coke-loving, fun-seeking pals together around themes like Nascar, March Madness, and American Idol. Trend-following companies like Iconoculture tell us that community building is in. (Pets as substitutes for kids and home meal replacements [HMRs] are in, too.)

The NFL wants to trademark “The Big Game.”There is Just Do It. (Nike) When it rains, it pours. (Morton Salt) Think outside the bun (Taco Bell--okay, we’ll probably never use that one.) Keep Walking. (Johnny Walker)

Our prose will now be filled with little TM marks, like those children’s books of a decade ago where you could press an icon that appeared every phrase or two: The donkey (cute icon of donkey) kicked his master (funny icon of peasant) all the way down the hill (small icon of lake). The donkey brays, the master yells, and the lake splashes—cool little multimedia pieces inside a traditional board book. Only in this new millennium of product-branding we’ll have a love story with all the expected plot twists and if you tap on the little icons next to the dialogue you’ll get the sexy voiceovers: “brought to you by Coke,” “courtesy of Kotex,” “copyrighted by Kodak.”

We’re still doing pretty traditional marketing at my publisher. No Internet communities or viral marketing—although we will give away some nifty snow globes with a book cover inside at the upcoming BEA. A perfect Minnesota knickknack.

Did you hear about Algonquin, the publisher for Brock Clarke's September novel, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers Homes in New England, who sent a fictitious letter to the media that warned of some famous houses torched or soon to be torched that brought out the Massachussets state police?

Publishers Weekly writes,

". . . the house mailed a one-page, seemingly handwritten letter to book review editors and members of the press last Friday. The missive, on paper decorated with roses and butterflies addresses a Mr. Pulsifer, and implores him to "burn down Edith Wharton's house." The note, signed "Sincerely, Beatrice Hutchins, Lenox, MA," makes no mention of a book, publisher or publicity effort, nor that Pulsifer and Hutchins are characters from a novel.

A PW staffer who received the letter contacted the Edith Wharton House, which is indeed located in Lenox, for comment. Susan Wissler, v-p of The Mount, the formal name for Wharton's estate, said Friday that while the letter seemed like a joke, it contained sufficient "menace" to warrant involving the police."

And how about the new videos some publishers are producing to promote books? Click on the video above for a new mystery that really could have used an editor, to say the least. Is this going to make me buy his book? Yeah, I don’t think so.

When I was at a writing conference a few weeks ago, I ran into a man who wanted to pitch me his manuscript, “Am I Famous?” Good God, I thought, let’s hope not. I’m getting a little sick of all the spin, aren’t you? Instead, let’s make things better (Philips). Let’s aim high (US Air Force), think different (Apple), find our own authentic inspiration (Airwick)—shall we?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Girl Fix

Spring is here. Easter is on the way. Mama needs a new pair of shoes.

We hit 84 degrees here yesterday. I played a little catch in the backyard with my son, then took pitching lessons from him. He taught me the wind-up: pull my arms and elbows in, lift my left leg, reach back with my right arm, and fire the ball over to the net we've set up against our garage. He didn't even tell me about the correct grip. No need now--my pitching mechanics need serious work. He's a good teacher but my balls went flying over the top of the garage. I even hit the neighbor's garbage can in the back alley, knocking it over like a lone pin on the bowling alley. What is the word you yell when you've got an errant pitch flying over the garage? Not "Fore!" but "Holy crap, watch out!" It's funny when I pitch or throw so wildly off-target that even the guys behind me wrap their hands over their heads.

It's fun to be outside with the kid, but what I really want to do is buy new shoes. I live in a house with two males now and if I tell them what I really want is new spring shoes they just look at me like I'm trying out a new Bulgarian phrase on them. Huh? New shoes?

You mean baseball spikes? Golf shoes? Those Teva runners we can use up at the lake?

No, no, no, I mean new shoes from Nordstrom's, to go with the new linen skirt I plan to buy and the pink retro tee-shirt I picked up Sunday.
These boring loafers are what I've been wearing with my five winter outfits, all grounded in black--my black wool A-line skirt, my black knit fluted skirt, my black velvet pants, and my black corduroys.
Off with the black!

Sometimes I have to remind them I'm a girl. They know I could tell you why Silva should be sent to the bullpen and why Greg Oden is going to be the March Madness MVP. I've never pierced my ears and don't go for much flash--heck, my husband's underwear drawer is more colorful than mine. But it's spring and what's the point of living in the Four Seasons if you can't break out the toe polish and the espadrilles when the snow finally melts?

Which brings me to the shoe shopping. I've already got a few picked out.

Tonight I'm meeting my daughter at Manny's Tortas and I know I can have a lively chat about ballet flats, wedges, and toe-peekers. Someone asked me recently how my year was going and--it's going fine, thank you--but all I could say was how much I missed my daughter, that I thought things were going very well but sometimes it just hit me how much I missed her. I prepared for this, what experts call the sixth stage of parenting--the "departing" stage. But over the years we had grown so close. She and I used to judge her dresses by how much they twirled. We rooted for the Notre Dame women's basketball team in their championship season. We rented movies and ate our favorite salty-sweet combo of popcorn and Dove chocolates.

Anyway, I'll get my fix tonight of Manny's specialty sandwiches and my daughter's lovely presence. I miss her now just thinking about it!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Yes, well, it's Monday here in St. Paul--

and 71 degrees and sunny! We didn't get our big rainstorm yesterday so we fiddled in the yard some more: cleaned out the bird house, picked up all the dead branches, swept off the porch. I'd rather be out today cutting back the dead clematis vines and all the old garden gunk but instead I'm

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I've been waiting for rain

In the great Minnesota striptease--this March melt--we find a dead pigeon in our backyard, a lime green tennis ball, and last season's Christmas tree stuck in a blue bucket with orange halves tied to its branches. We tip over the pools of melted snow from the yellow and red slides lying scattered around our back yard.

My husband climbs the old metal ladder and clears out the gutters before the Sunday storm. I wince from the top bedroom as I hear him clang the safety clip against the high rungs. He shopvacs the car rugs and I fit the lids on tight to the alley garbage cans before coming in for the night.

C'mon rain. We're ready now.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Payday, payday, payday, payday

Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday. . . .

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Google Unto Others as You Would Unto Yourself

On one of our work bulletin boards is the phrase, “Don’t Google Yourself.” It’s there on a post-it with a lot of other sticky-note advice, like “Shit Happens” and “Eat your veggies.” Of course, yesterday I did just that--Googled myself--because someone told me an article of mine had been published and I couldn’t remember the specific URL.

My name came up in about ten citations: mastheads from previous work, bios from earlier volunteer groups, a playlist from a radio show, that state fair presentation last summer. There was even a picture of me on one of the sites. (It wasn’t a bad picture. . . . But I wonder, why do I always look away when someone holds a camera in front of my face? I swear, there must be a dozen portraits of me with my head turned, like I’m advertising neck cream or I have a deformity I’m trying to hide, like Bob Dole always gripping that ballpoint pen.)

And then I find listings for the woman with my name who suffers from fibromylagia and a few for the man with my last name who writes romance books. There’s also the sound-alike essayist who lives in the Appalachians and the actress who has just published a book about her five former husbands and who also recently testified with Pamela Sue Anderson for a statewide ban on cockfighting. All of us share the same last name and if we all Google ourselves we’d run into each other somewhere along the findings.

Sometimes I Google my boss just to see what might turn up. Once a comment popped up that he had posted over ten years ago on some niche listserv and I got a hint of a private passion of his; in this case, classic typography. I Googled my daughter recently and felt my chest fill with pride at the results of her recent crew winnings in Tennessee. Her coach told his athletes that they should beware what they post on sites like FaceBook and MySpace because there are all kinds of reporters and other nosey folks who want to “out” Division I athletes—and what better way than to share a nasty picture of some local athletes downing Tequila Sunburns at a campus house party?

My mom once asked me to Google my grandpa, because she had heard his name had been included in the credits for The Band of Brothers. I did, but came up with nothing. Once my husband said to my son, “You won’t find anything if you Google me.” He said it a little defensively, I thought, but my son said that was alright by him. Who wants strangers to know stuff about us anyway?

I haven’t spoken to my brother in over a year and haven’t been close to him for awhile now. He sends the kids Christmas gift cards; I send him and his wife D’Amico gift cards in exchange (stuff that can be mailed but no personal visits between us) but that’s it. When my parents come to town they drive over to his house for a visit and then come across town to my house for the other half of their stay. My brother and I had a bad falling out; feelings were hurt.

So I got a generic Christmas letter from his wife this year that mentioned some of my brother’s new doings. I was interested. I Googled him. I got links to photo album pictures of their big wedding anniversary party. I got comments about his talents from some fans of his new gig. I got a calendar of places where he would be performing and teaching. I got news of everything I didn’t know about him. And then I got very sad. I felt not like he had died, which sometimes happens when you don’t stay in touch with someone you once were very close to, but that I had died. It was so clear that I was no longer part of his life—yet his kept going strong without me. I wasn’t next to him in the anniversary shots, he and his wife smiling broadly to the cameras. I hadn’t congratulated him on his new ventures. I hadn’t known about any of this, yet here it was, broadcast to the world. I’m never doing that again.

One of my most terrible Internet experiences was when I Googled my deceased cousin and got the article a San Diego reporter had written about her murder. There it was. Her name, her death, her murderer, his sentence, her mother’s (my aunt’s) tear-jerking response. God Damnit. Why did I do that? There I was in front of my computer in my white noise-filled office surrounded by clicking typewriters and whirring fax machines and people laughing in the hallway. My cousin had died and the whole thing was summarized in a screen full of words written by a stranger. I wanted to heave my monitor across the room. It was as if I had been invited to the cold morgue to identify her dead body while the others debated American Idol across the hall. I had all this awful reality in front of me and no one around me knew the space I was in. They had no sympathetic gestures. They had no words of condolences--they had no idea. How would they know I was confronting that gruesome experience again?


I read with interest Randy Cohen’s The Ethicist column in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday. In it he talks about the ethics of Googling young job or college applicants—and comes out against it. He writes:

“Put down the mouse and step away from the computer. . . . You would not read someone’s old-fashioned pen-and-paper diary without consent; you should regard a blog similarly. Your reading this student’s blog is legal — he posted it voluntarily, and in that sense it is public information — but not every young person grasps this. Many unwisely regard their blogs as at least semiprivate. You should not exploit their youthful folly.”

For an amusing take on the same topic, see The Unethicist, “I know what you blogged last summer.”

I blog anonymously. Many of us do. I like the freedom of writing from a perspective not loaded with all kinds of perceptions about who I am and what I do for a living (though, of course, Night Editor gives away some of the mystery). I like having a standing date with my blog. I like this unwritten commitment to an audience (however small) and to my own writing practice. But I’m keenly aware of my own truth--and my own dirty laundry. My husband e-mailed me this line after reading one of my posts: “Do you have to tell the whole world?” I want to respect the privacy of those I love—including those who might not love me anymore. I think about the chance that someone I know might stumble onto my blog and say, “Hey, I know her and . . . she’s writing about me! What the hell? I didn’t give her permission to do that.”

There’s a whole lot of Googling going on. I’m reminded to keep my head up and my fingers nimble, to be truthful and not spread the nastiness--and to remember, of course, it is the personal connections that make life rich and meaningful, not these random findings. I blog, therefore I write. I Google, therefore I know. I live and breathe in the real world, therefore I am.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Quiet Man

I'm broke. You're broke. Let's all scream for being broke.

Okay, that's the mantra in our house this week. Good news is all tuition is paid for 2006-07. Bad news is that we have $13 in our checking account until Friday. Suddenly, I want to buy new trendy Wellingtons just for this rainy day. I want to have lunch at Margaux, drinks at The Chambers Hotel. I want. I want. I want.

So I have to check my greed and remember this story I heard in Vancouver last year:

The Vancouver Post featured a local man who had won the Canadian lottery. He said that his father told him Vancouver was the best place in the world, so the son had moved there from China three years earlier. The man went on to say that he wasn't sure he had read the lotto numbers correctly from the TV so he asked his wife to check the ticket against the Internet listing. When she told him they matched he said he couldn't quite believe it and that he was so excited he got cold and shivery and had to stand by the heater just to warm up. (His quiet and sensual reaction to the win is so in contrast to our bellowing "I'm gonna quit my job" declarations here in the States.)

Satisfaction. No expectations.

Quiet celebrations. A little joyful shivering.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Shine Upon You

May the blessed sunlight shine upon you
and warm your heart
till it grows like a great fire
and strangers may warm themselves
as well as friends.
~Irish blessing

Thomas Lynch wrote a beautiful St. Paddy's Day essay last year, and it's worth reading again: "When Latvian Eyes Are Smiling."

Happy Day to all you Irish and Latvians alike!

Friday, March 16, 2007


Give it up for my new monthly feature: POM POMS. Hey, cheerleaders everywhere will correct me--it's officially Pom Pons, I know--but we all get license in inventing our own acronyms, right?

POM: Product, Person, or Place Of the Month

POMS: POM Story to go along with it, because I'll never recommend anyone or anything I don't know about firsthand. Unlike Patriot Radio, I do not run stories with prefaces like, "There's this terrible book, it's undermining all we believe in. Now I haven't read it, mind you, but here's why you shouldn't either."

My POM for March, women's history month, is the book Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier. Angier, a Pulitzer-Prize winner, writes the way I want to write--she tackles the intricacies of science with a clear, funny, personal, and subversive style. Gloria Steinem blurbs: "[The book] is nothing less than liberation biology. Anyone living in or near a female body should read this book."

Angier is a master of the art of narrative (yes, science in stories--Einstein meets Kingsolver) in laying out all that science has to offer us on the female body, with chapters like:

Unscrambling the Egg: It Begins with One Perfect Solar Cell

Greasing the Wheels: Estrogen and Desire

Wolf Whistles and Hyena Smiles: Testosterone and Women

Cheap Meat: Learning to Make a Muscle

It's an eight-year-old book, so maybe some of you have already read it. I keep it in my bathroom, next to Sports Illustrated (we still have last year's issue with the cover of Joe Mauer) and USA Hockey and O. My copy is wavy with wrinkles from my bathtime soaks. Sound too heavy for your Calgon getaways? Really, no, you should give the book a try. On female aggression and our chemical make-up:

"The problem with ignoring female aggression is that we who are aggressive, we girls and women and obligate primates, feel confused, as though something is missing in the equation, the interpretation of self and impulse. We're left to wander through the thickets of . . . our roaring hungers and drives, and we're tossed in the playground to thrash it out among ourselves. . . wondering why we aren't nicer than we are, and why we want so much, and why we can't sit still."


In first grade I lived in Texas and attended elementary school on an Air Force base where my dad was stationed. We had teachers from town who earned "hardship pay," extra salary for coming in to teach us military transients. I had Mrs. Dennis, a solid sixty-year-old with the bust of Auntie Em. It was my first year attending full-day school and so my first introduction to recess. Because we were in El Paso, Texas, we were always outside. The girls were assigned the parking lot for play, and there we could draw out our boxes for hopskotch or line up for Chinese jump-rope. We were like mini-inner cities, those military bases, and I was friends with many kids of color and from lower economic classes. Well, except for the officer's kids, we were all on the lower rungs.

The boys, at recess, got the grass playing field, and had a baseball diamond and the long metal slide. Room to run and bat and play tag with abandon, without fear of scraping a knee or bruising a shoulder on the hot-tar parking lot we girls were stuck with. After about a month, I couldn't stand the inequity. I snuck over to the boys' side and climbed up the tall stairs of the slide and sat at the top, blocking the boys from going down. "Hey, you can't do that. You're not even supposed to be over here." They bullied me and jostled me and then one of them shoved me down that long slide so that I landed hard on my butt down at the dirt end. He quickly flew down after me so that one of his sneakers kicked me hard in the back. I turned to him with such vengeance that he took off running, way out in the open field. I was a fast runner and tackled him. I didn't know how to punch or otherwise fight so I grabbed and bit his fleshy upper arm as hard as I could.

Later, after recess, Mrs. Dennis came over to my desk and asked me to come out to the hall. There Johnny-what's-his-name was crying, with his shirt-sleeve rolled up and the principal holding that same fleshy upper arm out, so that I could see the damage I had done. The kid had been wearing a windbreaker and a sweatshirt but I had apparently bitten so hard you could see the horseshoes of my teeth marks and the spots where I had drawn a little blood.


The first book on the female body that I read front to back was Our Bodies, Ourselves. Those were the first pictures of a woman's body I saw in detail without the editing and airbrushing of Hugh Hefner and the like. Wow, it's fun to think back about how taken I was with all that new knowledge. And from Angier's book, I can see I've always got much more to learn about who we are, what we're made up of, what more we can be.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Night Chills and Sweats

My husband came down with the flu yesterday, right about bedtime. He slept alone in the college kid’s room but came rushing in—right when I was eating a dark chocolate caramel from The Caramel Queen and watching the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” episode from Sex and the City—looking for his plaid flannel jammers and extra blankets.

“I’m freezing, I’m freezing,” he cried out, in the voice of the wicked witch just after Dorothy throws water on her. I get the West Virginia quilt Aunt Mary got us for our anniversary and the other patchwork I bought for $3.99 at Goodwill.

“I’m freezing, I’m freezing,” he says, shivering. I run downstairs and turn up the thermostat to 68 degrees after a warm weekend with it mostly off. I grab the down lap quilt from the basket and bring that to throw on top of him, too. Now he looks like a mythical mass under that mound of patched fabric—my own Fisher King. I tell him I’ll shut the door to that little room to keep the heat in.

Throughout the night I hear him moan and cough. I remember in college when he had both knees scoped at the Mayo Clinic. He knew I’d be his only visitor after surgery. When I came into his room he was moaning and calling out, “Come here, just kiss me, just kiss me,” but was reaching out to a set of nurses and not me. He tells me he has a hard time coming out of anesthesia. He drove this old car at the time that was full of dents and was deteriorating month by month. The gas foot pedal had broken off and he had rigged a screwdriver to a rope and tied it to the accelerator, and you pulled up on this makeshift handle to get speed; the whole thing jimmied like a flapper if you took it over 45 mph. When it was time to go home I drove out on the curvy Highway 14 in bluff country but pulled over after about ten minutes of this chitty-chitty bang-bang stuff and slammed out the front door, telling him “You’re driving us home.” Pity the fool with two patchwork knees, a wreck of a car, and a stubborn girlfriend to boot.

And then I remember when he went in for his vasectomy. I was up at the lake place with my father, and my mother stayed at my house to help with the kids. She accompanied my man to the clinic for his procedure. She got nervous driving downtown—which she always does, even in sleepy downtown St. Paul—and made him drive back home after he was snipped. When I called home later she handed the phone to him. He told me she had had no sympathy--he was on the recliner and she had thrown him a sack of frozen peas for his sore crotch.

So I’m not the best nurse and I can’t say I come from a particularly nurturing family, but I’m trying to do better.

About 2:30 a.m. my 13-year-old son bolted into my room. He was scared and whispered to me, “Mom, I can’t sleep. I’ve been hearing voices outside my room all night. It sounds like there are people down below, trying to get into our house.” I wondered how long he had stayed awake in bed, petrified. He must have been hearing his father’s flu moans—otherwordly coming out from under the door and all those old quilts. Like the ghost of Christmas future.

I told him he could crawl in bed with me if he wanted. I never do that but I was too tired to get up myself and soothe him. I gave him half the covers and then he promptly rolled over taking all of them to his side. A few minutes later, when I could tell he wasn’t sleeping, I suggested he try sleeping up on his top bunk and that I’d tuck him back in. He took my pillows, walked down to his room, and climbed up to his top bed.

So I crawled back into my now cold bed, sans pillows, and my husband comes into the room again, groaning and dripping from the night sweats, and tells me to leave the door to his room open, he was practically suffocating in there.

Good God. They tell me this is what menopause will be like. I’ll just call last night a practice run.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

If Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates then

this should be called, "Controlling Your Own Destiny"--Cocoa Bella Chocolates ( lets you customize your own box of chocolates, so you're not stuck with those sickly-sweet pink creme fillings or the almost-there white nougats. I'm going to call my mom a month before Mum's Day and pick her selections together, online, while we're on the phone. It will be a shared treat--she choosing, me clicking and dragging, only she'll get to do all the luscious eating when her box arrives at her door . . . .

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pep Talk

To wrap up a hectic week back at work, here’s a quote I keep around when I feel I just don't have it in me. It's from Thomas Beller, author of How to Be a Man, and also Seduction Theory and The Sleep-over Artist.

“When you think about writers that one likes, it's just amazing that they were even able to get it together. I’m not just talking about talent. There’s that stupid Gatorade commercial which says something like 'it’s what’s in you,' and I’m like, no. In basketball and writing, it’s not what’s in you, it’s what you get out.”

[Photograph, "Pep, TX," courtesy of Drake Hokanson, writer and photographer and author of Reflecting a Prairie Town.]

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

About a Boy

I've been thinking a lot about time today. My Outlook calendar is jam-packed. I'm working on editing the Fall 2007 list, on developing the Spring 2008 list, on acquiring the Spring 2009 list. I pick up the phone today to encourage all the authors on the Spring 2007 list as they head into their promotion season. All four of my family are traveling to different parts of the country, separately. My husband to Vegas today for a conference, my daughter to Tennessee Saturday for a race, my son to south Texas in a few weeks to visit my parents. Our bills lay stacked on the dining room table, ordered by due dates. Time is running the show here. Time dictates. Time never stops.

But I spent the evening with my son, who celebrates his thirteenth birthday tomorrow. We finally drive to Barnes and Noble/Roseville so he can spend his Christmas gift card. He waited a long time on this one. By the time I walked over to the Young Adult shelves he had six paperbacks in his arms and beckoned to the hardcover for the final Book Seven of the series, PenDragon, by D. J. McHale. He had the money to cover all of them but the hardcover so I told him it would be an extra birthday present just from me. He bought me a coffee and himself a hot chocolate and we read at the tables awhile. I could see him smile to himself as he read to page 5, page 12, and then he looked up at me and said, "I'm already on page 63."

He's been reading as long as he can remember. He learned to read early, with the help of his Sri Lankan caregivers, so that when he read along the lines he would say, "The bucket eez in the feeshing boat. I weeel help heem get it." Here's a picture I took while hiding behind a tree one summer morning while camping. My son had just crawled out of the tent, barechested and bushy-haired, and slipped right into a chair with his book.

Tonight I scrolled through our digital pictures, which only go back as far as three or four years ago. Time hasn't changed much but, measured by the life of a boy, I see expressions and postures I haven't seen awhile. He is turning thirteen and all the American teenage ways are upon him. He has braces, pimples, and greasy hair. He tells me things about a political hip-hop song, "I mean, excuse the language in this CD, but the swear words are used for good, not bad." He tells me there are some things he'll never tell me, and I thank him for letting me know that. He is more a loner now than he ever has been.

For a good five or six years he was best friends with a neighbor boy and they were nearly inseparable. Once my son came running in, grabbed some Pop Tarts and told me if I needed him he and that best friend would be in Fort 59. For over a year they had created forts round the block. The demarcations might be as simple as a slight hole dug and filled with oak leaves; another spot they left long sticks used as swords.

Once, at 7, he asked me if God was a man or a woman. I told him I was no theologian but that I thought God was us. And that I felt that in each one of us was the image of a man AND a woman, that we had a little of both in us. So I couldn't really say about God, except that God reflected us. He thought for a long time and just as I was about to walk away, he said, "Mom, I know you believe what you say, but don't ever tell me I have even a bit of girl inside of me ever again." My son, then, the he-man.

Here are pictures from the time Papa taught them target shooting up at the lake place.

There is a closeness there that makes me swoon; I remember the two of them hanging upside down--shirtless--for hours on our backyard monkey bars. And then I remember their big fight, when they felt they had little in common anymore--his friend's mother, a million-dollar earner as partner on the big tobacco case in town. Many new things were consumed by that now-wealthier family. My son had little tolerance anymore and little sentiment for the physical bonds they had once shared. And already I am jumping ahead to my son at twenty, at thirty, as a man, not a boy.

Today we talked about what it's like to be in a room with people who are older than him, or more talented. He tells me he just stays along the side and doesn't say much; he says he likes watching and learning from people he thinks are stronger than him. When we walked to the store last week, we talked about the elderly in our neighborhood and their fixed incomes. He told me all about what he had learned of Europe's aging population and that their pensions were, he begged pardon, "screwed." I hide my surprise at his maturity until after he's gone along his way.

He and I are at pivotal ages. I see him and at once I look back at all that has formed him and ahead to all that he will be. His life seems to take charge of time for me and not the other way around. I am grateful for that.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Surf's Up

While I was at AWP, drinking Georgian Sweet Water pale ale,
watching the passers-by from the window perch of The Urban Tea Party,
and listening to the publishers of newish lit journals like and A Public Space,

my New Hope, Minnesota, friend sent me this picture of his board-groovy son playing in the backyard this past weekend:

Sunday, March 04, 2007

No Place Like Home

Sometimes the best part of the trip is coming back home. Today the whole family surprised me at the airport, all tucked tightly in the little Vibe to greet me at the pick-up gate. After we got home, we sat together in the living room and listened to each other's stories. I heard about the colossal snow and all the takeout food they ate; they listened to me tell about Atlanta. I brought home caramel taffy for the 12-yr-old and handcrafted earrings for the college student.

Here's a bit of what I told them:

I stayed at the Highland Inn ( in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta, which seems a little like Lincoln Park in Chicago and a little like Uptown in Minneapolis. The building, which was once a family apartment complex with sleeping porches and main hall for family bridge games in the twenties, and then became the famous Wynne Hotel and Tea Room in the forties, is now billed as a boutique hotel, and people who stay there seem to know the furniture is old and all the doors and windows stick a little bit. Pictures in the hall are autographed by the Indigo Girls and Jerry Jeff Walker, the All-American Rejects and Joan Baez. It rained a good twelve hours on one of the days and my roof spouted a leak. I put the ice bucket under it and another leak started. When I called down to the front desk the Southern gent at the office told me, "Yes, it's been raining quite a lot today. But it'll stop." So I walked down to housekeeping and got another ice bucket. I lined them both with washclothes to buffer the ping-ping of the raindrops.

The manager finally turned on the heat Friday night, after I had slept in socks and my Gortex jacket the previous nights, and the radiators hissed and banged and popped. Each room has an orange photocopy on the back of the door that reads, "What Is That Strange Noise? Built in 1927, the Highland Inn uses a steam radiator to heat. The pipes make a loud noise for a few minutes unitl it heats up." I met a man in the foyer and he said, "This place reminds me of a ship, with these long hallways and all these doors and pipes."

The hotel outsourced its guest transportation to Executive Services, and a mild-mannered black man named Kenneth met me at baggage claim. The "Where Atlanta" tourist magazine claims, in an article titled "Atlanta's own 7 wonders," that Hartsfield-Jackson International is the world's busiest airport. On the freeway, on the way to the inn, I asked Kenneth about the nearby Little Five Points neighborhood.

He said, "You like that hoochie-koochie-crazy stuff, huh?"

"What do you mean?" I laughed.

"You'll see. A lot of crazy people walking around there."

I looked over at him. "Is it safe?"

"Yes. It is. With crazy people, see, at least you know they're crazy. You know what you're dealing with. It's the others that worry me. See what I'm saying?"

"I know what you're saying," I tell him.

"I drive a limo. I pick up a man and a woman and they're all 'Oooo, I love you, kiss-kiss, smooch-smooch.' Then they start drinking and they're in and out of clubs all night and then they're all 'I hate you' and 'You're despicable' and slamming doors and carryin' on. That worries me. I don't know what they're going to do next."

Another African American driver, this one much older, picked me up at the Hilton taxi stand. He didn't talk much until I asked him what he thought the temperature was outside.

"You talking to me?" he turned his head to the side.

He said, "I dont know exactly. 60, maybe 60, in the sixties." He talked like he had a few sore teeth.

"Where you travelin' from?' he asked me.

When I told him Minnesota he said, "Oh, I couldn't live in a place that cold." He told me he had lived in Atlanta his whole life. Said he'd never been anywhere else, really. He had a brother living in New York for awhile but he never went up there to visit. I told him I hadn't been too many places either.

He said, "My kids they always telling me to get out and travel. I'm goin' to do that sometime. Take a whole year off and travel to all the places I've been wanting to go. My kids be like, 'Where are you? We can't find you. You're never home.' "

I asked him where he'd like to go first.

"Oh, I don't know," he said.

Traffic had started to pick up and he'd tap his horn at a pedestrian about to cross in front of him or a car wanting to pull into his lane. A snappy young man dressed in all black--black suit, black shirt, black tie--walked his white poodle along Freedom Parkway. I thought the dapper man cut a striking scene. But my driver said, "Look at that dog. Looks like he having a ball." You could tell he loved his home, the people in it, the people, even, passing through it.

I said, "Traffic's heavy now. I heard about that bus accident this morning." A motorcoach filled with a college baseball team from Ohio had crashed on nearby I-75, killing six and injuring many others.

"Yeah," the man said, "I'm still getting over that one. That one hit me hard. I'm still getting over that one."

p.s. Those margaritas I touted earlier were mislabeled. I'm not a big margarita fan anyway. They were martinis, freshly squeezed grapefruit martinis and yum, they WERE Atlanta's best.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Rosewater margaritas and Walter Mosley

Here in Atlanta, at the Associated Writers and Writing Program, I've listened to presentations by Walter Mosley, Charlie Baxter, agent Scott Hoffman, Judith Kitchen, Valerie Miner, Tom Lombardo, Dana Gioia of the NEA, and at least a couple dozen others. Heady stuff. Some of the lines that stay with me are:

1. "You must listen to me and be frightened. Be frightened by these FOUR words:

'Paris Hilton, best-selling author' " (Scott Hoffman, literary agent)

2. "The best writing is not about me, as author, but about you, as reader." (Philip Gerard)

3. "Here, the best story I can tell you to illustrate plot is this one: about a man, a woman, and the bet about square testicles." (Walter Mosley)

4. "Do I write every day? I don't know. I sit in front of my computer and if I see a poem, I try to catch it." (attributed to poet Bill Matthews)

p.s. Oh yes, the highlight of the night activities are the fresh grapefruit and rosewater margaritas at the Eclipse di Sol, voted Atlanta's 2006 #1 favorite specialty margarita. Now there's a muse!