Bad Hostess

Posted: April 22nd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Boredom, Parenting, Working World, Writing | 9 Comments »

I think I forgot how to write. But maybe if I just start doing it again it’ll all come back to me.

You see, for a while—this fall and winter—I had a freelance job that paid me money. Like a big girl! And I showered every day and drove on highways during the trafficky times and went to lots of meetings. One day I was even the last parent to pick up my kid from preschool. (Although, blessedly, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I think it’s cool.”)

I had forgotten so much of this life. When two parents are working and there’s milk in the refrigerator it’s a freaking MIRACLE. Wheat Thins can become the main course in a working parents’ family dinner because, hey, they’re wheat. And one can quickly adopt a European “wear it twice before washing” attitude about laundry.

My circadian rhythms were out of whack too. I started using an alarm clock again—sometimes even waking up BEFORE THE CHILDREN. And I don’t want to brag here, but a few times at the end of a long work day I managed to stay up past 8:30. That’s a solid 30 minutes of Me Time after the kids went to sleep.

I did NOT however maintain my consistent workout and daily green-juice-drinkin’ routine. But I did replace that with a rigorous I’m-stressed-so-I’ll-treat-myself diet that included the M&Ms, potato chips, and candy-like granola bars that the agency I was working at kept on hand. In my three months of office work if my FitBit could’ve talked to me I’m sure it would’ve just laughed.

The thing is, my gig wasn’t even full time. I was cruising in mid-morning after dropping the kids at school and darting out early some days to chauffeur them to ballet and the horse ranch. Then we’d swing by the grocery store at 6PM in a mad dash to forage for food. So I guess when I think of it that way it was really more like I was doing two jobs (but only getting paid for one).

And let it be known my volunteer commitments didn’t lag. I still ran the school’s monthly coffee party (vintage tablecloths, home-baked muffins, ‘n all), kept Room One’s parents abreast of upcoming field trips, and hit up unsuspecting families to donate to the school—all while typing emails on my phone and taking conference calls in the short-stalled girls’ bathroom.

I spent plenty of time at my office too. I perfected the art of tossing carseats on our front porch on days that I knew might go sideways. If I sensed a meeting would run late I’d text a slew of sitters in the hopes that one was free to zip by our house, grab the boosters, and careen over to the kids’ two schools in time to lay claim to them before after-care ended and CPS was called.

It was like playing with fire—not knowing if my client presentation would sink or swim, while concurrently wondering whether my girls would be busking on the sidewalk for dinner money by the time I got over the bridge to fetch them.

If this sounds like a stressful, miserable existence, you might surprised to hear—now that the project I was on is over—how desperately I miss it. How muchly much muchly I was energized by every over-scheduled minute.  And how, dare I say it, during that time I appreciated every moment with my children and engaged with them wholeheartedly, unlike these days when I sometimes go to the bathroom just to hide from them.

Here’s a shout out to the Grass Is Always Greener Working Mother Club. I’m here to tell you how incredibly boring it is to have a fully-stocked pantry and fridge. Clothing that’s clean—and folded—and put away—for the whole family. And a fresh filter in the water purifer. My typical tower of store returns—various things we didn’t need, that didn’t fit, or were found to be faulty or broken—is non-existent now, which I tragically see as distressing since it means that I have no errands to run.

I mean this is how bad it’s gotten: We don’t have A SINGLE OVERDUE LIBRARY BOOK.

I think what I miss is the stress of having something challenging in front of me, and having to think, hustle, work away at it and finally conquer it. Try as I do I’m not getting deep satisfaction from having discovered new lunch items Paige is willing to eat at school. (Sliced turkey is a contender over the poppy seed bagels we used to pack every day. Huzzah!) Nor am I smug with satisfaction because I’ve read several novels, gotten back on the elliptical regularly, joined the coconut water craze, or finally tended to our front porch ferns that had experienced a savage two-month drought that I’d cruelly imposed upon them.

They are, unsurprisingly, not springing back to life. Yet.

And to show you just how freaking bored and on top of the homefront shit I am, I even pulled out my scrapbooking box. Kill me now! I have made a total of nine—count ‘em NINE—scrapbook pages in my life. (All frickin’ works of art, mind you.) They include me pregnant, Kate as a newborn, Kate’s first Christmas, and a road trip we took when she was like 5 months old. Someday when we are decrepit and infirmed, Mark and I will reflect on those four events, without so much as one photo of Paige to jolt our addled Alzheimer’s brains into remembering that we did in fact have a second child.

Despite how very little attention I’ve given to the housewifely art of scrapbooking (far less than I’ve ever bestowed upon our ferns) I appear at one point to have spent roughly $2,000 on every possible scalloped-edged photo cutter, colorful adhesive-backed letter, patterned background paper, and floral sticker. Really, I could pay for two semesters at Harvard with the money I spent on that crafty crap.

Anyway, because she was home sick but wasn’t really sick (long story) I got Kate to make two scrapbook pages. Then I tucked it all away for another six years. With enough neglect, all that stuff will start looking vintage. Maybe then I’ll think it’s cool and want to do something with it.

In the meantime I’m trying to remember what I used to do before my freelance project left me so stressfully, blissfully over-occupied. And I think the answer was: blog.

So here I am. I’m back.

I feel kinda like I left my own party to go to a movie or something. And now I’m sneaking back in, shamefacedly trying to hide my Raisinets. I have no idea if anyone’s even still here. And if there are people here they’re either mad at me for being such a crappy host, or are expecting me to do something really dazzling and entertaining to make up for my absence.

Trust me, if I could find that thing, I’d be doing it right now.



Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Books, City Livin', Discoveries, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Milestones, Writing | 3 Comments »

The woman with the skinny ass from my writing class called me a liar the other night. Well, not in so many words, but she did point out that I made a mistake.

It turns out she reads my blog. (God love her.) And she said the writing exercise I posted a couple weeks back—about Sundays with my dad—wasn’t the one she’d suggested I publish.

She was actually very nice about it. And it turns out that She of Slight Booty is quite the writer herself. I’m nearly finished with her book, Family Plots, which is a total page-turner, and set right here in Oakland. What’s more, she pulled a hilarious media stunt to promote it.

Anyway, welcome to the first ever correction on *motherload*.

Here’s the piece she originally liked. The prompt the teacher gave us that day was simply, “I love you.” This is pretty raw—the product of 30 minutes of in-class writing. And names have been changed to protect those who were in love.

Hope you like it as much as Tiny Tush did.


I Love You

Maybe some women have an entire shoebox packed with love letters. Letters from lovers, from admirers, from husbands who’ve been off at war, or sea, or hell, grad school.

Me? I’ve got one. Maybe two such letters.

It’s in my basement, stacked somewhere amidst other papers and ephemera from that time. It had to have been 15 years ago. Probably more.

I had a boyfriend at the time. A serious relationship I’d been in for a year or more. Were we in love? Hard to say. But we were together. Every night. Most certainly a couple. Undoubtedly monogamous. I was not up for grabs.

He worked long hours and I was doing some internship or other. My time was more open and flexible. And so it started that some Sunday afternoons I would go off with my friend Jake to the movies. He’d been traveling in India for months and came back brimming with stories and wearing bright pants with drawstring waists. He had an appetite for tea, and preferred walking everywhere, even when it took hours.

And aside from wanting to tap into his travel energy, it was our love of foreign films that brought us together for outings. Obscure and high-minded movies. The kinds of films that required a few cups of coffee and some rock-hard biscotti afterward to process.

Movie-going wasn’t something my boyfriend enjoyed. He had programming to do. He could sit at his computer for hours, even on sunny weekend days. So Jake was the perfect companion to indulge in filmic field trips.

Did it sometimes feel like we were on a date? Well, sure, I guess. We enjoyed each other’s company unabashedly. We made each other laugh. We wowed each other with intellectual deconstructions of plot, theme, cinematography.

I think I knew that he had a little crush on me. I think my boyfriend knew too. But we were smugly confident about our status as a couple. Whatever crush Jake had was mild and sweet and likely to stay under wraps.

Until the receptionist called me one day at work. Someone had come to drop something off for me. And I was thrilled by the prospect of an unexpected element in my day. I was a fact-checker at a magazine, calling sources all day to verify spellings and ensure the veracity of quotes. Whatever was at the front desk blessedly peeled me away from the next pediatrician on my list, whom I had to interrogate about something like the management of cradle cap in infants.

At the desk there were two long-stemmed roses wrapped in cellophane, and a small ivory envelope with my name printed across it in blue ball point, the letters leaving deep furrows in the paper.

I don’t remember if I knew at the time, before even opening it, that it was from Jake. Something about the setting—work, daytime, a weekday even—it wasn’t the context in which he was usually present in my life. Jake and I had a Sunday afternoon thing.

But it was from him.

The wording, the sum total of it is lost to me now. But I do remember it started simply, “Kristen, I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time now.”

I was stunned. Impressed by the bravado of his proclamation. Flattered. Saddened that I was on the receiving end of this vulnerable, beautiful declaration. And concerned that I didn’t feel the same way.

There was one part of my brain that telescoped into the future. That knew this was some rite of passage. Even though I wasn’t going to say ‘I love you’ too; even though I knew, sadly, that our Sunday movies had come to an end; even though our friendship would take a huge toll from this declaration—with all those other thoughts swirling in my head, there was part of me that thought this is a letter that I will always hold onto. This is the beginning of what may be an entire shoebox full of letters. Or maybe just one or two.

Do you have any love letters tucked away somewhere? Do tell!


Sundays with Dad

Posted: May 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Holidays, Little Rhody, Writing | 9 Comments »

I’m taking a writing class on Tuesday nights. I care that much about improving the quality of the crap you read here.

We do a half-hour writing exercise at every class. This always kind of annoys me because I figure we can just write at home. But then if I end up liking what I write, I’m not annoyed any more because I can read it out loud to the other boys and girls. And I like attention.

Last week we analyzed an essay about cooking, that turned out to be a big metaphor for sex. For our in-class work, the teacher asked us to write about something we know a lot about. It could be about anything—playing tennis, fixing a carburetor, painting your toenails.

There’s an attractive woman in my class with a really skinny butt, who I was shocked to hear has a daughter in her twenties. After I read my piece last week she said, “Okay, so with that one?” then pressed her index finger into the table, “Post to blog.”

So I decided I would. Because I always listen to women whose asses are smaller than mine. And because I had nothing else to post today.

I thought of saving this to run on Father’s Day, but for me growing up, every Sunday was Father’s Day.

So here’s to you, Daddio. I love you madly, and expect you to share this with everyone at your Rotary Club. You know I like all the extra traffic I can get.

And happy weekend to the rest of you. I’ll be camping with my daughter’s school. (Plenty of blog fodder to come out of that, no doubt.)

See you back here next week. xoxox

* * *

Sundays with Dad

When your parents get divorced when you’re a kid you play lots of miniature golf. And eat lots of soft-serve ice cream, and get to order soda out at restaurants, and sometimes even see movies that are PG-rated when you’re really only allowed to see the G ones.

This, at least, was my experience on my Sundays with Dad.

But mini golf wasn’t always the plan. Some days we’d get a wild hair to go further afield from our little hometown. We’d wander down rural routes to flea markets, or make the hour-long drive to Faneuil Hall in Boston in his tiny Mercedes, which he pronounced MER-sid-eez and insisted was the correct pronunciation.

That car was an extension of Dad himself—a luxury, an indulgence. Something my Mom—who I lived with and who set the rules, doled out the punishments and certainly never even ate at restaurants forget allowed me to have soda—something that she, who drove an old beater Volvo, would roll her eyes and say, “That car.”

On Sundays at 10:30AM when he’d pick me up, Dad would pull “that car” into our big semi-circular driveway and beep the horn for me to come out. This was divorce East Coast style. He and mom never talked, and avoided contact at all costs. Every weekend he’d beep, and every weekend Mom would say, “Does he HAVE to beep that damn horn? Can you please tell him not to do that?”

And every time I’d forget, because by the time I got out to the car and climbed in and slammed the door, I was transported into the special world of Dad. My mind was already racing about where we’d be going, what we’d get to do. Mom and her requests were a million miles away.

And on the drive to wherever it was we went, we’d talk and talk and talk. Dad talked to me like a grown-up. He got excited by my ideas, what I was learning about in school. He’d add new thoughts, challenge me. Share stories that seemed like the kinds of things I imagined he talked to other grown-ups about.

“Do you know what really happened when that volcano erupted in Pompeii?” he’d ask.

Or, “The president has really painted himself into a corner this time…”

We’d talk about travel, or geography, or politics. Or I’d hear some story about when he was a kid and how his mother saved some choking dog that everyone else thought was rabid.

And sometimes he indulged the kid in me. On the country road to Newport he’d suddenly declare, “Okay, I’ll close my eyes and you tell me where to drive.” He kept his left eye open, I assume—the one I couldn’t see from my passenger-seat vantage point. And even though I think I knew that then, I’d still try to pretend I thought both his eyes were shut. I’d howl and cry out, “Slow down! Wait—we’re veering into the other lane!” Or, “Right turn–now! Now! NOW!”

When we’d get out of the car, he’d hold my hand, and we’d do the three squeezes thing. Do other people know this too, or was it our own special code? Three squeezes is the code that means ‘I love you.’ My husband does that now sometimes, but I think it must be because I told him about it from Dad.

On one of our Sundays together we saw the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. Or maybe we saw them twice. (This spurned my epic pen pal relationship with Mishu, the Smallest Man in the World.) Dad was always getting tickets from clients to things that came into town, like random radio station events or the Harlem Globetrotters.

We even were invited to ride on a Goodyear Blimp once, though in that foolish didn’t-realize-what-I-was-passing-on way I decided I didn’t want to go. I remember I was nervous that there wouldn’t be a bathroom onboard.

To this day, when I see a blimp in the sky I laugh to myself wondering if there’s a toilet up there.


What Happens in Dayton…

Posted: April 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Learning, Travel, Writing | 12 Comments »

Someone slid me their resume under the door of a bathroom stall once. A stall that I was peeing in.

It was certainly a memorable way for that person to “get her name out there,” but I didn’t end up hiring her. In fact, I had no authority to hire anyone at the time. Too bad she didn’t know that.

This all happened years ago. It was my first-ever professional conference, held by some women in broadcasting group. And I was as nervous and green and wide-eyed as a gal could get. But I was also working for CNN at the time. You may have heard of it. And little did I know the reaction those three letters on my badge would elicit from that mob of viciously competitive, turbo-coiffed, wannabe anchorwomen.

From the moment I slipped that lanyard over my neck I was stalked like a Coach purse at a T.J. Maxx. People applied lip gloss before approaching me, thrust their reels into my bag, and crammed their complete career histories into introductions at the breakfast buffet.

If anything the experience left me doubting whether I wanted to stay in TV news. Those women were not my people.

But last weekend, in Dayton, Ohio of all unlikely places, I had the good fortune of attending a conference with 350 humor writers (mostly women, with a smattering of husband purse-carriers and a gay man or two). And it turns out that those folks are my people.

And true to how I operate—now a jaded veteran of the conference scene—I learned much more outside the sessions than I did from any of the PowerPoint slides.

I mean, I met a totally witty and glamorous woman from Boca who it turns out home schools. I was shocked. She didn’t have stringy brown hair, and wasn’t wearing a poncho she and her five children weaved. She didn’t have a collection of KILL YOUR TV and MY CAR RUNS ON FRENCH FRY GREASE pins on her hemp bag either.

So that’s one thing I learned. Those homeschoolers can be anywhere really. You can’t pick ‘em out of a crowd any more. Which is kinda refreshing, right?

Other things: Since I got back I started journaling for ten minutes every morning. It took two writing teachers and a speaker at this conference urging me to do this before I finally drank the Kool-Aid. (Apparently I’m highly suspicious of smart people trying to teach me something.)

But here’s the thing. It turns out that dumping your early morning thoughts onto paper (yes, NOT your laptop) is wonderfully cleansing. It’s like the feel-good hit you get from clearing out your closet, but with your brain. And instead of “wasting” my words, as I feared I might do, I’ve found it actually warms me up to do even more writing.

So I learned that too.

And the keynote speakers were all so dazzling I sprang from my seat for standing ovations—either dabbing my eyes with my napkin, or waving it in big churning circles over my head howling, “HOOOOO-eeee!!!”

But after each speech I still wanted more more more.

Like, I want to be Connie Schultz‘s best friend.

I want Ilene Beckerman to adopt me. (She wrote her first book at age 60. Sixty!!)

I want to go back to college to have Gina Barreca as a professor. Or hire her to do stand-up at my next book club/wedding/kid’s birthday party/bris.

I want to get to the bottom of Alan Zweibel‘s relationship with Gilda Radner. Did they do it or didn’t they? I’m just saying, it’s human nature to wonder. Like how you want to know whether or not figure skating couples are schtupping.

I want to swap Italian-girl stories and meatball recipes with Adriana Trigiani.

And I want to have even one-eighteenth of the success that any of these writers have had. And for a math-phobic like me, that’s saying a lot. Or at least, I think it is.

Finally, a word about the Bombeck family. They were all there, and at our meals each one read their favorite column of Erma’s. (Cue more tears into my napkin—many from laughing.)

I’m no event planner but if you ask me this conference has legs. In the alternating years when it’s not being held, I think Bill Bombeck (Erma’s widower) should lead a workshop on spousal adoration. All I can say is, my husband does a damn good job of this himself but he’s not carrying around my autograph book from elementary school and reading from it lovingly. There’s always room to up your game, and I think the husbands of America can learn as much from Bill as us wives have from Erma.

I humbly clutch my housecoat for a deep curtsy to the attendees, speakers, and organizers of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Thanks for the laughs, the insights, and the three pounds I gained from all those Midwestern desserts.

And thanks too, ladies, for only passing me toilet paper under the door of my bathroom stall.


Becoming One with Erma

Posted: April 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Moods, Other Mothers, Travel, Writing | 7 Comments »

Every once in a while a friend will introduce me saying, “This is Kristen—the funny one I was telling you about.” The new person then turns to me wide-eyed, as if they’re expecting a monkey to jump on my shoulder playing maracas, and for me to launch into celebrity imitations and a slew of hilarious one-liners.

Oh, there’s always a two-drink minimum when I’m around!

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but that introduction—which I realize is meant to be a compliment—tends to leave me dumb and drooling.

I wish I could hear the conversations those people have as they walk away from me. “Is she feeling alight?” “So, wait, THAT was the Kristen you were telling me about?” “Do you think she’s maybe having a petit mal?”

Speaking of mal, I’m awake at a blisteringly painful hour, awaiting lift-off for a flight that will take me to the bright lights and glamor of Ohio. Yes, I’m goin’ “back to Ohio,” land of my alma mater, for a weekend writing workshop. It’s as if all those times I drunkenly sang that Pretenders song at Kenyon frat parties were somehow truly prophetic.

I wonder if that means there’s a Funky Cold Medina in my future too.

Anyway, I managed to get off the waiting list for this humor writing workshop that happens every other year, and sells out nearly instantly. A friend—the sassy and hi-larious Nancy of Midlife Mixtape (read her blog IMMEDIATELY if you never have) told me about it. When I asked to be put on the waiting list months after registration closed, the conference coordinator sent me the kindliest Midwestern email, essentially saying I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting in, but he’d be happy to add me to the list.

But then a couple weeks ago a woman emails me outta the blue and says she can’t make it and would I like to take her spot. And thanks to The Husband’s preponderance of frequent flyer miles, here I sit watching the worst-ever American Airlines safety video. It is truly truly atrocious and I’m not sure why it’s pissing me off as much as it is.

At any rate, the conference is called The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Yeah, yeah, she’s the bowl full of cherries greener over the septic tank writer your mother loved so much. Several people have asked me if she’s still alive, and sadly she’s not, but I’m nearly certain we’ll have a seance to make contact with her at some point in the weekend. I mean, what else would you expect of a Marriott full of 350 kidless-for-the-weekend women? Think of it as an immense slumber party of hundreds of thirty- and forty-something women. We’ll all be globbing on eye cream and padding around in our slippers in the hallways raiding each others’ mini bars.

I know, I know. You want to come now too, don’t you?

Of course, when I first got the email about getting in I ran through my Mental Check List of Unworthiness. Aside from it being last-minute and utterly unplanned for, I wondered whether I really belonged in the company of those funny, successful women writers.

I also wondered:

Will the other kids like me?

Will I make any friends?

Should I spend the money to do this so soon after sending that large monetary gift to Uncle Sam?

Will I suffer some of the same dorkish alone-in-a-crowd feeling I sometimes had in the swarming throng at BlogHer?

What does one WEAR in Dayton in the springtime?

Not to mention all the practical issues, like childcare while I’m gone and the fact that the hotel hosting the event was sold out. Staying a mile down the road was sure to solidify my deeply internalized outsider status.

But then the woman whose spot I took said she knew of someone who didn’t need their hotel room. A pants-pissingly funny blogger who I heard read once, and had the entire room in eye-wiping hysterics. I sheepishly emailed her and within minutes she very graciously (and helpfully) outlined what I should do to transfer her room to my name, insisting I wasn’t at all the “stranger” I’d labeled myself as when I contacted her.


Call me a late bloomer, but I’m getting a hit of that down-homey comfort of an online community.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for me in this group of gals yet.

So then, here I am. Horrifically early. (Did it mention that?) Ohio-bound. Awash in first-day jitters—though that may just be my body’s reaction to the 3:45 wake-up call.

If this workshop were a yoga class I’d have to set an intention for, it would be to try to learn as much as I can. And to put myself out there and meet lotsa people. And to not worry about being funny, because I’m clearly so very out-ranked there that I’m just thrilled to tag along. (When I make my Oscar speech some day I’ll really mean it when I say I’m honored to be in the company of the other candidates. I won’t mean it when I thank my agent. And I will mean it when I say that Mr. Harris was my favorite teacher in high school. Okay so he was really from Lower School, but do people ever thank elementary school teachers? Is that even done? I think that the high school white lie is the way to go.)

So wish me luck! And send some good vibes to The Husband who is gallantly wrangling the kids solo all weekend to make this happen. I told him that the kitchen is the room with the refrigerator in it, so he should be fine.

Actually, the man hardly needs domestic guidance (thank GOD), but that line just felt so Erma.

I’m already letting the channeling begin.

Light as a feather… Stiff as a board…


Getting Schooled

Posted: March 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: College, Discoveries, Little Rhody, Writing | No Comments »

I have a shameful confession to make. I have a bit of an educational superiority complex.

It’s not like I’m some Ivy-Leaguer with any real reason to have this attitude. But when I recently signed up for a writing class in San Francisco, I was a bit leery about, well, about the level that the other writers would be performing at. (See? Total snob. Terrible!)

I was also uncertain about the teacher. She had great reviews online. Students seemed to adore her. But she’d spent the lion’s share of her career at a community college, and teaching adult-ed classes at random adult-ed-class places. She’d had some books published—maybe even won an award or two—but nothing I’d ever heard of.

Worst case scenario, the class could be a waste of time. (And money.) But it might at least focus my writerly energies a bit.

Writing is so solitary and personal. And if you don’t want to do it, you just don’t. But I’d been feeling like I could use a personal trainer for my writing. You know, some tough-love coach to put me on the machines that I don’t like to go on, and force me to do 20 more reps than I’d ever do on my own. Painful in the moment, but beneficial long-term.

This blog has become like a comfortable elliptical machine that I spend thirty minutes on, wipe my brow, then go crack a beer. I need someone to force me over to the kettle bells, or make me do a shit-load of squats. And if I ever hope to write a book, I need to be nudged out into the cold for a long, long run.

I was also hopeful that at least one or two of the other students might be good—at writing, of course, but also at giving smart feedback on other people’s work. A class I took in ninth grade seems to have set the standard in my mind for the value of sharing work aloud, and the joy and pain of group critiques. I’ve been wanting to form a writer’s group, and a class seems like a good setting to suss out others to join me.

On the first day of class I parked my car at 2:28. And as I grabbed my bag and marveled at my timeliness I was suddenly struck by the thought that 2:30 was an odd time to start a class. 2:00 would’ve made more sense. Moments later as I walked into the loft where our class meets, it was immediately apparent that I was late. I’d missed the first half-hour, the ever-critical why-I’m-here and what-kind-of-writing-experience-I-have introductions. I’d have to work overtime at our 10-minute tea breaks, casually interrogating everyone and sizing ‘em up.

Last week—our second time meeting—we did an in-class exercise. When it was time to share what we’d written, I didn’t love what I had, but figured it would cut the mustard. Someone volunteered to read first. And can I just say, they were good. Very good. As in, I looked at my laptop screen meekly and wondered if I’d tackled the assignment correctly. Another person read and I quietly closed the lid on my computer. I could just volunteer to read another time…

Mid-way through Reader #3, my superiority complex left the building. I don’t anticipate it will be coming back.

As for the teacher, she invited us to a women’s writing conference at her community college. An old friend of mine calls junior college “high school with ashtrays.” I love that. It reflects, once again, my shameful snobbery about schools.

Anyway, I went to the event on Saturday. And it rocked. Two impressive and super-cool authors read. (And I’m totally making my book club read this book, written by one of them.) Some students got awards for their writing. And there was an open mic on the theme of “roots” that I participated in at the end of the program. Because my teacher encouraged me to. Which I thank her for.

I got some really nice feedback—both during my reading, and from folks coming up to me afterwards. A young Asian man who I think was semi-retarded even tried to pick me up.

So I’m sharing here what I read. It’s something I wrote last February while visiting my dad in Rhode Island. I’ve changed it at bit since I originally posted it.

Here’s to me and my new attitude about school. I’m polishing up an apple to bring to my teacher this week, and I’m planning to give those other student-writers a run for their money.

Wish me luck.


The Bristol Two-Step

We were in the library, so I decided to let out a blood-curdling scream.

I’d been chatting with the librarian. There are two gray-haired gals who still serve there—at my hometown bibliotheque—since back when I was a kid. I mentioned that to one of them once, thinking we might have a nice moment. Instead she looked at me like she’d sucked a lemon.

But yesterday I took a chance and whispered to Kate as we were checking out books, “The woman who’s helping us was the librarian when I was a girl.” And, thankfully, she looked up and smiled.

Then we did the who-are-you? Bristol Two-Step. Which is to say, she asked me what my name was and who my parents are. And when I told her she said, “Oh sure” then listed off the names of all the streets we ever lived on in town. “Now your mom was up on Hope Street for a long time, then she moved to Beach Road, right?”

“Your mother,” she said, hunched over the desk leaning towards me. “Her and my friend Dottie DeRosa? Those two were out in their gardens at the very first signs of spring. We’d say the ground is still frozen, but there’s Vicki out there gardening.”

I admit my awareness of my daughters’ whereabouts had faltered a bit. I was drawn in by the kindly librarian. I wanted to hear another little story about my mom. I devour whatever tidbits of her life anyone shares with me. But before I could coax more out of her, I looked up to see Paige step into the empty elevator, and the door start to close.

PAAAAAAAAAAAIGE!” I bellowed, as I did a sideways-flying Superman-type lunge for the door. I wedged my hand in without a second to spare. Blessedly the door lurched back open. Paige was standing inside smiling, as I skidded into her like home base.

After that wake-the-dead Mama shriek, those librarians should have no trouble remembering me the next time I drop in.

At dinner last night, at my favorite chicken parm place, a couple walked in and sat at the table next to us. Some sort of comment on Paige’s ability to pack away the pasta ensued. Then my father held out his hand towards the man, but squinted by way of saying he didn’t remember his name.

Cue the Bristol Two-Step.

“Oh yes,” my father said, hearing the guy owns the photo shop in town. “You live on Court Street! My cousin Jimmy Rennetti used to own that house.”

There have to be a million annoying things about the lack of anonymity that comes with living in a small town. But this absurd form of interconnectedness is so extreme–is such a weird form of sport–it’s brilliantly entertaining. At least for someone who only experiences it for a week or two every year. And despite the fact that I’ve been away so long, I love that I still have enough hometown equity to play a fair game myself.

At the end of our meal a little girl wandered over to say hi to Kate, her mom trailing behind her. Kate, demonically thrilled to be in possession of a piece of chocolate cake, was disinterested in the other child’s attention. So I tried to jump-start their conversation.

“Are you in kindergarten, honey? Where do you go to school?”

When she responded “Rockwell”—my own elementary school alma mater—I nearly squealed with glee.

Though really, of course she goes there. It’s a small town—not many schools. Not much has changed since I was a kid.

But as someone whose grown accustomed to the sprawling anonymity of the Bay Area—of Oakland, for God’s sake—learning that I had something in common with this little stranger felt like such a sweet cozy coincidence.

Sometimes when I’m back in Rhode Island I somehow forget I’m there, then I find myself getting excited to see someone wearing a RISD sweatshirt. Or I’ll be driving along, then perk up at the sight of an Ocean State license plate.

Proof that this place that I think of as home is somewhere I’m not used to spending much time any more. Somewhere along the line I got re-programmed as a Californian, so my default mental setting is that any Rhode-Islandisms I ever come across must be far-flung artifacts that’ve managed to make their way out West. Like me.

At any rate, Kate’s would-be restaurant friend didn’t find my enthusiasm about Rockwell School far-fetched. “Did you have Miss Sousa too?” she asked, wide-eyed.

Aw, honey. The thing is, I probably did have a Miss Sousa, but a very different one than yours.

There’s a strong tug of temptation to run around and see a ton of people when I’m Back East. To schedule non-stop activities, and of course hit up all my favorite places to eat.

But on this visit I’m just trying to melt into the scenery. Just enjoy it at a normal intake dosage—not feel compelled to have to soak it all up so frantically. So aside from a grandparent-sponsored jaunt to the toy store, and dinner out for Dad’s birthday, the only real plans we have are to go to story-time at the library.

In fact, we arranged to meet Kate’s new friend from the restaurant there. Which is great since I never got a chance to ask her what street she lives on, or who her teachers were at preschool.

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