Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Not What You Think

I had seen his eyes like that before – that I-Am-Trying-To-Tell-You-Something Look. That This-Means-Something so soft but so hard stare of his. It is a soft look, a vulnerable look, like a doe. I see it and I’m supposed to respond. I’m supposed to melt a little, understand what’s at stake. Give in. I’m supposed to give in.

I’m sure that he’s seen the look in my eyes too.

My husband, my straight man, the yin to my yang, and I had a very bad afternoon yesterday.

We bought a car.

And it’s all book-related, so I thought I’d share. Actually, the truth is that I have to write in order to cope. Maybe you’ve read my book. Maybe you’ve wondered, Is THAT true? Did THAT really happen?

It’s the question that you’re not supposed to ask. And it’s the question that you’re not supposed to answer. I’ve asked Tim to answer all such inquiries with this: It’s all true; it’s all fiction. I sorta doubt that he’s actually said that to anyone.

But this is what you need to know: we barely argue nowadays. I mean, we sometimes do. But not in a crazy, explosive, someone’s-going-to-die way. (And, Thank God, because we have teenaged daughters and there’s no way on earth we could handle marital discord on top of teen angst.)

But the car.

I think you also need to know that both us came from families who bought cars and held onto them for decades.

But here we are, married, middle-aged, more or less professional, with kids, two Hondas. Middle class. Like decidedly middle class. We’re in that limbo income place in which rich people look at us like we’re the poor people, and poor people look at us like we’re the rich people. Like we’ve been to Harry Potter World, and we have friends who can’t pay bills. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t discuss money—by people with money—but the point is this: we exist in the in between.

So Tim decided that, in preparation for MY “book tour” (notice the quotes), he’d trade in his older Honda mini-van for a newer Honda mini-van. I was not in favor. I mean, let’s lay it all out there. This freakin’ book cost us a ton. That indie BS pretty much killed my “career” (more quotes). Look, I’m not looking for pity. My book is awesome. But I put money into it that I don’t have. I did it brazenly. And, say what you will, Tim supported my endeavors.

And so he couched this car business in further support: it’s all for the book tour.

The book tour in which we stick the kids in the back of the van and call it “summer vacation.”

But I wasn’t for it. “No downpayment, no increase in the monthly bills.”

“We’ll just trade in my old van,” he said.

We should’ve worked as a team. We should’ve conspired, and acted in concert. We should’ve been in cahoots.

I would be the bad guy. I’d be the one who stuck to her guns. I’d get what I wanted.

I’ll cut to the chase in this narrative loaded with cliché upon cliché: the shit hit the fan.

It probably occurred to both Tim and I midway through that the situation was not going well. But it was too late.

You know the meme:

 Yes, they do.

I finagled. I broke Tim’s heart. I said no.

The car salesman WHO WAS JUST LIKE A CAR SALESMAN even said some bullshit line to me like, “You drive a hard bargain, don’t you?”

I’m, like, You have no clue.

I’m, like, You turned me into something I don’t want to be.

I’m, like, I see my husband’s eyes and I know more than a car is at stake and I’ll give you all of my money if you fix his eyes, take away that look. You can have my money. I need that car. I need to walk out of here with a car and you can’t stop me. You can make me into a bitch, but you will not touch my marriage, you Honda Motherfucker. He cannot look at me that way. I am not the thing holding him back. He is not the thing in my way. We are together. We need that car.

It took hours.

The Honda Guy made a final offer and looked at me.

I hesitated. I looked at Tim. I said, “You get your fucking car.”

Everyone laughed.

But we knew it wasn’t funny.

I am not this person, I wanted to say.

I am not this person, he wanted to say too.

We’re recovering. I’m going on this book tour. We are these road trip people. We love our stretches of highway, our coffee cups and paperback books. We love going to the Arch in St. Louis and the Botanical Gardens in Chicago and Jack Sisemore’s Traveland RV Museum in Amarillo, Texas. We are roadies, middle class and middle aged.  

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Ubiquitous AWP Blog Post

I'm home. And the deal is off. Forget that coconut creamer nonsense. I'm off the wagon. 

That was one consequence of AWP 2019. 
Long Story Short: Five Oaks Press (um, Rob Davidson and Jennifer Spiegel), though defunct, shared a table with Bear Star Press. I had a lot of fun talking with Beth Spencer. Beth was a great woman--a little hippie, a poetess and a painter. Married for 40+ years. Loved her dog. 

I'll share the adventure. But first, since most of my readers are normal people with real jobs, allow me to explain! Finally! Has anyone explained it yet? AWP stands for the Associated Writing Programs, and there's this annual conference of mostly--but not exclusively--academics and writers who gather in one city or another to discuss writing and books and teaching and literary journals. It's at once inspiring and daunting. Writers feel the sense of community, and that is the best part.

I don't go every year. I go probably every three to five years, This time, it was in Portland--and here are the photos!

The keynote address was by Colson Whitehead, who turned out to be funny. Who knew? He won the Pulitzer, friends. I think his prose is beautiful.
I'm a bit of a groupie. He signed my copies of The Underground Railroad and my teaching copy of Zone One.  I wanted to say something memorable to him, but my guess is that I made absolutely no impression on him whatsoever. 

Terese Marie Mailhot
Lan Samantha Chang
I only attended two panels, but I'm giving a craft talk in Kentucky this summer. It'll likely be on . . . creating intimacy in fiction!

This is Kurt Baumeister. Kurt is a voice of snap-crackle-pop rage-against-the-machine, calling out Big Brother,  and writing prose that'll set the political pundits straight. 
Erika Sanchez: Snotty Literati reviewed her book, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, last year.

Rion Amilcar Scott signed his book for me.
I think this cover is AMAZING.

Bonnie Nadzam participated in the other panel I got to go to, and I found her super sharp and articulate. For those interested in her topic, please check this out: MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS 

Mary Kenagy! Mary and I both went to ASU for our MFAs, and I slept on her couch in Seattle one weekend twenty years ago.

More ASU friends! Ayse Papatya Bucak and Susan Allspaw Pomeroy

This was actually the first time that I met Dave in person, but it really was like meeting an old friend. I'm serious. And, Dave, thank you for coming to my reading! Jean and you, Tim and I: dinner soon!

Charles Jensen:I see Charlie and I always sense chic and hip, yeah?

I didn't buy it. Should I have?
This guy had a great voice. He was working the conference, and I asked him if he read often. He said that his family had a library in their home and they were huge readers. I gave him my book. He felt weird about it, but I insisted. PLEASE MSG ME IF YOU KNOW HIS NAME!!!

We read! Actually, I thought we sounded pretty good.

A highlight was meeting Rob Davidson and having some real conversation.

Some of my book haul.

Jackie Cowsill is such a great friend to me, and a real believer in my novel. She's been its advocate from the beginning, and my love and gratitude is immense. She drove in from Eugene, OR--just to go to dinner and visit Powell's with me.

What kind of trip to Portland would it be without a visit to Powell's and a few Portlandia jokes.


So, I came home and my daughters are full-blown teeny-boppers (pretty much)--so they missed me like crazy, but also immediately loathed my very existence. I am feeling energized by this writerly calling, though I'm longing for long bouts of private time with the pets. Here's to writing that new novel! Here's to cream in your coffee!