Monday, August 18, 2014

Couch treasures uncovered and adventures in Equestria

Last week, I had a grab bag of weird silliness I wanted to share -- but after hearing about Robin Williams, I didn't have the heart to share it (even though I imagine he would've condoned weird silliness over morose reminiscing any day). So this week I bring you last week's silliness (well, with some shenanigans from tonight to freshen it up). 

Here we go.

After weeks of squirrel-dundancies, I strolled by the other day and came upon this:

They have palm trees now! The brick pedestals have been transformed into a veritable tropical oasis (I'm actually pretty jealous -- I like to pretend they're spending the afternoon at the Shipwreck Bar on St. Kitts -- drinking something flavored with rum and coconut -- watching the waves and the occasional monkey wander out of the brush. It's a pretty specific daydream.). Now that the squirrel ladies are expanding their little dioramas, the possibilities are endless! Tiki huts! Christmas trees! Snow forts! Miniature school buses!

A couple weeks ago, Lily lost her Princess Elsa MagiClip Doll. I don't know if you've heard of Princess Elsa or the movie in which in between freezing shit, she spends a lot of time as a recluse -- but if you've had any contact with a child over the age of 2 or their parents who start twitching uncontrollably and looking uncomfortably close to homicidal rage every time "Let it Go" comes on (which, by the way, is all the time) I'm guessing you have at least some knowledge of "Frozen." Where was I? Oh yeah, so the doll is missing and it's a pretty big deal. Lily roamed the house tearfully moaning, "Where's Elsa? I can't find her anywhere!" (I pointed out to her that she might have better luck finding her if she were actually attempting to look for her, but my quaint suggestions  seemed lost on her obviously superior (though tortured) 3-year-old brain). 

So I start looking for Elsa in earnest. Digging through the car and under couches and in various toy bins. When I couldn't find her in the usual spots, I took the hunt up a level. Which lead to me not only looking under couch cushions, but also rummaging through the bowels of my sofa -- a marinas trench of treasures unseen by human eyes in millenia.  


Strangely enough, no spare change.

For the record, that's a spoon, two hair clips, half a Sofia the First Princess Amber magnet, a hair tie, a bumble bee stamp, a matryoshka doll, a sea shell, two Sofia the First plastic charms, one Sofia the First Prince James figurine, one static cling Eyore tail, two My Little Ponies, Ohs!, a finger puppet and a giant pile of fur (apologies if you have a weak gag reflex). I ain't proud. 

Note, still no Princess Elsa. She was eventually located mob-style in the trunk of Barbie's VW Beetle. Nobody's talking.

Despite the fact that Lily was not at all concerned about the fact that two of her ponies were missing for months, she took issue with me for how I set one up in her dollhouse tonight: 

Don't judge me.
I have to amuse myself around here somehow …

Poor Harry Pony. (Horsy Potter?)
While Brad and I were eating dinner, Lily marched into the sunroom full of fury  and swatted me on the leg -- "MOM! DON'T DO THAT WITH MY PONIES!!!" She spits at me. Brad was confused -- so I had to explain that I'd been playing with the ponies and the dollhouse, and that Lily might have taken offense to the pony on the potty. 

In my defense, Lily herself had stuffed all three ponies in the closet underneath the doll house steps -- like Harry Potter's equine cousins. How is that any better?

But the saga doesn't end there, because tonight as I was straightening up the living room -- what did I find peeking out a sofa orifice:

Maybe I should stuff some more cereal down there
 so they have something to eat …

These ponies don't stand a chance in this house. 

When we're not losing plastic ponies, stuffing them in the couch or positioning them inappropriately (at least according to Lily) in the dollhouse, we're pretending to be My Little Ponies. Specifically, I'm told that I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, Jovie is Rainbow Dash and Lily gets to be whatever pony she wants (she can apparently morph into different ponies by rolling around on Jovie's bed and snorting). Being Princess Twilight Sparkle is actually a pretty sweet gig, I just lounge on Jovie's bed half asleep and occasionally ask Lily to make me an apple pie (when she's pretending to be Applejack) or to sing me a song (when she's pretending to be Lyra Heartsrings). 

Here's a sample of a song Lily (aka Lyra Heartstrings) sang me recently:

"I want to drum on your heart
I want to eat your tummy 
I want to be your friend."

Think death metal meets Disney power ballad. 

So disturbing, and yet sweet. 

Our games of My Little Pony generally end when, for some inexplicable reason, Lily morphs into "Bad Pony" and proceeds to growl and bite me. Maybe Bad Pony should spend some time in the closet under the stairs.

In between terrible pony impersonations, I've been studying how to talk Scottish by way of "So I Married an Ax Murder," Fat Bastard and "Downton Abbey," in preparation for what will be, no doubt, the height of my literary career: Reading an excerpt from my third-place winning entry to the YorkFest adult literary competition. 

If you're in the York area on Friday night and are looking for something to do (or have been looking for the opportunity to witness my public humiliation) stop by YorkArts, 10 N. Beaver St., at around 7 p.m. You'll also get to hear my friend Joan's excellent non-fiction piece and check out cool art and stuff. 

Maybe you can even get Lily to sing her pony song while you're there -- more likely, she'll just bite your leg. You've been warned.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Growing up with Robin Williams

As I was giving the girls a bath tonight, Brad who was across the hall, looked up from his phone and frowned.

"Robin Williams died," he said.

An apparent suicide. My first reaction was the stock response I take out of storage every time I hear the news of an untimely celebrity passing -- "How sad." But in that distant, several-times-removed from a stranger sort of way.

And then I started thinking about Robin Williams -- thinking about how he intersected with my life -- not ever in person or even tangentially, of course. But the background music to my childhood, it seems.

In elementary school, anytime I was asked who my favorite actor was, my response was Robin Williams. Which isn't all that unusual I suppose. Perhaps a little stranger was when during late-night games of M.A.S.H. as my friends said they wanted to marry the guys from New Kids on the Block (well, not the icky one) or Tom Cruise, I always hoped I'd end up with Robin Williams -- short and hairy though he was. Even back then I knew that all the best relationships -- even the imaginary ones -- are built on laughter.

In fourth grade my mom took my sister and I to see "Aladdin" in the movie theater that summer. A monumental occasion because up until that point I think the only other movies I'd seen in a theater were "An American Tale" and possibly "Beethoven." I got the soundtrack on cassette and memorized all the songs -- attempting to nail each of the accents Williams spits out rapid-fire in "Friend Like Me." When Lily finally saw the movie this year she was either impressed or horrified that all these years later I could sing belt along with the movie, though with only a shred of the energy and enthusiasm Williams has.

Because of my parent's "no TV during the week" rule, my sister Sarah and I would load up on television on the weekends. (We were always so good with moderation.) Because we didn't have cable, we'd end up watching whatever we had on VHS over and over and over again -- "Dr. Dolittle" and "The King and I" were early favorites because of the animals and the beautiful ball gowns. But one of our go-to tapes was "Good Morning Vietnam," with Williams as a radio DJ playing for homesick GIs in Vietnam. Sarah would make macaroni and cheese and we'd have a Pepsi on ice (I can still taste it) and we would lie on the living room floor and watch his frenetic performance. Years later, still awesome.

On my first real date (like boy I like from gym class calls me up and asks me on a date, picks me up in his car and pays for my movie and ice cream date), we went to see "Good Will Hunting." I wore an off-white collared shirt and a brown corduroy skirt (it was much more stylish than it sounds, thanks to my sister Jen insisting I wear the skirt, not the jeans I favored). Williams is darker and low-key, but still so effortlessly funny ("Son of a bitch … he stole my line.")

He was on the screen in "What Dreams Will Come" during that fateful almost-date with my friend Gabe -- the agony of him crying "all suicides go to hell?!" still rings in my ears.

And his voice is often on our television in the morning -- depending on what the girls want to watch that day we'll hear him as the Genie, but also as Ramon/Lovelace in "Happy Feet" and "Happy Feet 2." Despite having watched these movies roughly a gazillion times, I still chuckle every time the pudgy penguin version of him channeling a baptist preacher shouts at a killer whale -- "-- it's a bad day for you … be gone demon fish-ah !"

His death has already been noted on IMDB. These days the end is instant. Well, I suppose it's always been that way -- maybe it's just that it feels that the book is closed faster. The memorials erected before we even have a chance to process the absence. But scrolling through his credits is a rolling diary of my life -- How could I forget about "Toys"? How I wanted to live that weird world of perfect, rolling green hills, robot siblings and fake vomit analysis. How many times did we rent that from the Power Video? 

And "Hook"! "Jumanji"! "The Birdcage" (which I still watch every time I happen upon it on TV). "The Dead Poets Society" -- the one you watch when you're 13 or 14 or 15 and are told that your life doesn't have to be the one your parents or anyone else plotted out for you. It is all yours to create. Carpe Diem. 

On random occasions I still like to shout out "Laila! Get back in that cell! Don't make me get the hose!" from "Mrs. Doubtfire." (I guess you sorta have to see it …)

And for as sweet and endearing as he is in so many roles, he could turn creepy with a vengeance (see "One Hour Photo.") I'm still not sure I want to visit Alaska after "Insomnia."

It's so sad to think that a man who could cause such laughter -- the ones that start deep in your belly and well out of your eyes -- was so tormented that he took his own life. Leaving behind a wife and children -- I don't know that I knew he had either. But then I never really knew Robin Williams beyond those twinkling blue eyes and all those borrowed voices. 

At the turning point in "Good Will Hunting," Will reveals the abuse he suffered under his foster father. Williams, as Will's therapist Sean breaks through Will's wall by uttering the same phrase over and over and over, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault." 

I remember watching that scene and connecting -- not with Will's abuse or other struggles -- but with wanting that forgiveness, that release from all of that bad business in my head.

We all carry the weight of our faults through life and for many of us they become the thing that we feel defines us. That is the mirror the rest of the world sees in us. 

Maybe Williams had his own Sean who tried to unearth the root of his depression. Maybe he didn't. I cannot believe that a man who brought us so much joy, who offered us a reprieve from the weight of being has not found his own peace today. It's his poor family that now faces that terrible journey.

RIP Robin. You will be missed. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why you should keep up with the Jenningses

I found myself inwardly giggling this morning while I swept the sunroom floor that's perpetually blackening the bottoms of my family's feet. 

The pile of sand, fur, Play-Doh bits and dead spiders seemed to be a metaphor for my imperfect life and I had this thought that maybe I could serve as an emissary of lowered expectations on behalf of all stay-at-home-momkind. 

Instead of shooting for lofty goals like keeping up with the Joneses and suffering the resulting stress and anxiety, everyone could just dramatically lower their standards and just keep up with the Jenningses. 

This thought led me to a series of highly amusing scenarios (well, amusing to me at least) whereby relatives, friends and neighbors would find themselves striving to make it through the day while encouraging each other to "try to keep up with the Jenningses!"

For instance, a husband comes home from work to find his wife -- all barefoot, frizzy-haired, makeup-less and still sporting that morning's gym ensemble -- frantically addressing an overflowing pot of spaghetti as the saucepan filled with high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden, store-bought tomato sauce and frozen meatballs spits all over the already crusty stove. The kids are screaming at her feet for sustenance, the affects of the nutrient-free cheese crackers she'd thrown in a bowl for them just 20 minutes prior long having worn off. The dog is casually licking cream cheese remnants off the kitchen table. 

As the wife looks to her husband all exhaustion and desparation, her husband lightly kisses her on the forehead and says, "Oh honey, don't worry, at least you're keeping up with the Jenningses."

The wife takes a sip from a glass of wine she frantically poured out of a screw-top bottle of bottom shelf Pinot Grigio, breathes a sigh of relief and says, "Thanks honey, I feel much better."

And there are nearly limitless opportunities for living the passable life. 

Other signs that someone is trying to keep up with the Jenningses: 

One sure sign you're keeping up with the Jenningses:
Two words: Great body.
  • All of the sudden, modestly priced pre-owned vehicles in nondescript colors show up on their driveway.
  • They own fur-covered sofas that smell vaguely of feet with just a hint of canine flatulence.
  • You notice the missus has started showing up to gatherings sporting the latest in cotton, solid-colored T-shirts she nabbed off the clearance rack at Target. You're pretty sure she's a nail biter and that she shows her stylist photos of Poison circa 1985 for inspiration. 
  • Their children are perpetually disheveled and appear to be wearing the same chocolate-milk-stained "Frozen" T-shirt for the third day in a row.
  • The baked goods they serve at parties and casual get-togethers make Pinterest fails look as if they've been prepared by Martha Stewart. 
  • You noticed they recently invested some time landscaping. And by landscaping I mean they spent 2 minutes frantically weeding the crab grass that's overtaking their wilting flower beds which haven't been properly introduced to a mysterious substance known as "mulch" in several years.
  • Every time you visit they seem to have a new cat lounging on their countertops licking the coffee creamer they offer you with your cup of coffee.
  • They spend a lot of time boasting about the five minutes their kitchen floor isn't covered with sand, fur, Play-Doh and unidentifiable sticky foodstuffs. 

All self-depreciation aside, I am living the life of dreams that iPhone commercial talks about … even if I don't have the fancy iPhone to document it on. 

Sure, the pets could be better behaved (and less smelly), the kids a bit less scruffy (this would be a more attainable goal if Lily didn't insist on using markers to draw mustaches on her face) and the floors a little (OK a lot) cleaner. And some days the pets are better behaved and the kids are less scruffy and the floors are a little cleaner. 

But most days it's just more amusing to just live the life I have than worry about the one I don't. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sandy squirrels and minor literary wins

So I had a little news that I'm excited about and wanted to share

But first, a bit of Inside Voices business. It seems like it's been awhile since I've posted about my (our?) favorite stone (concrete?) squirrel statuary. I haven't been going on as many afternoon walks of late -- the fact that Lily throws herself on the floor and writhes around like an upended june bug every time I mention the word "walk" might have something to do with this -- so I haven't happened by the squirrels too often. 

And then the times I have been by they've been wearing outfits I've already shared. I suppose there is only so much you can do to dress up squirrel statuary -- not that the squirrel ladies haven't an amassed an impressive array of ensembles. I got really excited earlier this week when I happened by and found the squirrels as such:

"Look at that!" I said to myself. "New outfits!"

And I yelled at the dog to stop dragging my arm out of its socket long enough to snap pictures and went on my merry way, excited to end our bushy-tailed rodent drought.

But alack, the sun hats, sunglasses and sand buckets replete with shovels, aren't knew. They rocked this look just last year, in fact. And I wrote about it and everything.

It's disappointing to say the least. But the whole deja-squirrel experience has me thinking it might be time to change up my walk route. Who knows what other neighbors have in store for me? So stay tuned.

Now on to the other news. 

A while back, in a moment of foolish "why the hell not" blind optimism, I submitted a short story I wrote about one horny, two-faced young Scotsman named Donovan MacWallace (you might remember him from this post) to a local literary competition.

It was the first time since high school that I'd submitted any sort of fiction/poetry/creative writing for review by literary sorts. The $5 entry fee seemed a cheap enough risk to take.

Anyway, I got a phone call on Friday that I'd won third place for the story.

Before you say it, yes, I know. I'm a pretty big deal. 

In the future, you'll have to have your people call my people to hear stories about how my 3-year-old stuffed Play-Doh up her nose and had to blow it out in an explosive puff of snot and day-glo yellow goo. 

(Shortly after reveling in my little win, I actually started conceiving of a "Waiting for Guffman"-style short story about a weary housewife whose ego becomes overinflated after she's recognized for some minor life victory.)

The contest coordinator tells me there were "a bunch of entries," so I'm just going to go ahead and assume the staff waded through thousands of top-notch literary submissions before deciding that mine deserved a tip of the hat. 

She also told me they would be having a reception and reading of the winning entries.

"Please let me know if you are available to read your piece," she says.

Aside from the fact that I feel calling a story that features the phrase "Nessie stirred under his kilt" in reference too … well you know what it's in reference to … "a piece" might be giving it a little too much artistic merit -- I'm terrified at the prospect of reading my "piece" in front of a room full of literary sorts. 

For one, I will have to actually read out loud the phrase "Nessie stirred under his kilt" (among other ridiculous excerpts) but given the fact that my main character is a grown American man passing himself off as Scottish by channeling Groundskeeper Willie from "The Simpsons," I imagine I'll have to attempt some sort semblance of an accent, too.

Ach noh.

Stay tuned.

On top of that, my britches got extra inflated today when the super-sweet blogger behind Budget Blonde and newly minted mother of twins sent me an encouraging note/kick in the pants that I could and should be doing more to building the audience for this site. 

She'd posted last week about attempting to find balance in her crazy-busy life (did I mention she just had twins? Cuz she does. Oh yeah and she just relocated. Oh, and she works from home). I related to so much of what she wrote that I sent her a note reminding her that things will get better (and sometimes worse) and that life will be OK (even when sometimes it's not). Perhaps it wasn't the most uplifting email. Either way, she didn't seem to mind the unsolicited ramblings of a complete stranger … and she was kind enough to suggest that more people might not mind the unsolicited ramblings of a complete stranger. Perhaps I should change the name of my site …

Anyway, stay tuned for that, too. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It won't be like this forever

More on this later.
It won't be like this forever. 

I've been saying that a lot lately.

During trips to the grocery store when, as we're heading toward the dairy aisle, both girls claim they need to go potty, which involves a hasty cart ride to the opposite end of the store and often a false alarm from the younger one. 

At home as they kick, pull hair, bite and otherwise maim each other over infractions including, but not limited to, pony, doll and book theft; claiming ownership of a parent ("That's my mommy!" "No!! It's my mommy!!" "NO!!!! MY MOMMY!" etc., etc., etc.); and sitting on an already occupied piece of furniture.

After the playdate when I heard my friend exclaim, "Jovie, what's that all over your leg?" and found that my 2-year-old, who was going commando in an attempt to potty train, was covered in poo (as was a throw rug, various stuffed animals and a "Frozen" puzzle). This, just after I'd cleaned up a puddle of pee on the floor. 

And especially night after night when, after putting the kids to bed at 8 or so, I flip open my laptop and work until past 11 then get up by 6 or 7 the next morning to repeat the cycle -- make food, referee, play, read, clean, more food, clean, play, work, food … I don't even know.

It won't be like this forever.

Last week we went to the beach with my family. Twenty of us total, 10 kids. I worked one afternoon and then decided not to use my laptop for anything work-related for the rest of the week. Instead, I immersed myself in family (well, except for the day or two I immersed myself in bed with a stomach bug). I went on bike rides and raced down water slides with my nephews, spent an afternoon window shopping with my niece, chatted and laughed with my sisters, soaked in all the magical moments of the girls giggling amidst a pack of cousins. 

On the last day, after a frustrating morning with my vacationed-out kids, I ran into the ocean, diving into the rising waves that previewed Hurricane Arthur. I swam and floated and meditated and then headed back to the beach, grabbed one of my sisters and brought her into the water so that we both could enjoy being cradled by the cool waves. 

In that moment, I thought I could've stayed in the water forever. It felt like it would've been easier to swim and swim and swim -- to cross the Atlantic even -- then it would be to go back to the routine. 

But I got tired eventually and went back to shore. 

Of course, I went back.

Returning home was tough. I missed my nieces and nephews and the endless bustle of the beach house. The camaraderie of sharing motherhood with my sisters. 

And I really dreaded going back to nights doing work that isn't always gratifying and that seems to perpetually be keeping me from the work I actually want to do. And we all know what that is by now.

I think some days my expectations for the 24 hours in a day are just too high.

And I feel guilty and kind of lame for whining or complaining. This is the adventure of every mom in the history of mothers, right? We love our babies and relish the time we have with them while simultaneously mourning the life before or the life more balanced. 

Some days I wish I didn't want so much to finish my book. If I wanted it less, then maybe it wouldn't be so infuriating when there's no room for it. But it's this inexplicable force in my life. 

Actually, it's not inexplicable. I recently finished reading "The Dog Stars" by Peter Heller (so beautifully written). The book takes place in Colorado almost a decade after a plague has wiped out most of humanity and what's left seems to roam around as savages. The narrator is a pilot/poet who, despite the fact that he has nobody to share it with, still feels driven to tell the story of what happened -- the loss and the horror: 

"There is no one to tell this to and yet it seems very important to get this right. The reality and what it is like to escape it. That even now it is sometimes too beautiful to bear."

and later he writes:

"The satisfaction of composing. Remembered that Dylan Thomas sometimes would set down one word of a new poem then walk down to the pub and get shitfaced in celebration. For breaking the void of silence."

So tonight I thought I'd break the void of silence. I'm tired and frustrated and defeated. But there's satisfaction in writing about it. 

I think I've decided I'm going to try to say "no" more. Each time I say "yes" to taking on a new project or extra work, I'm saying "no" to completing something that might be fulfilling to me. 

It's easier to say "yes" to everyone else. There's no guilt associated with it, for one. And of course, it's nice to contribute to the family. But if I'm being honest, it also gives me an excuse not to face the right side of my brain and the terror involved with finishing what I started and showing it to someone. Anyone.

I think saying "yes" is the Achilles Heel of most stay-at-home moms -- or moms in general. You start feeling like there shouldn't be space carved into your life for just you. Even acknowledging that you want that tiny corner for you feels very un-momlike. 

But I don't feel very mom like lately anyway. I'm a better mom when I feel like I have time to do something that's just mine and no on else's. 

It puts my life in perspective. 

It allows me to smile more at all the sweet, silly moments.

The extra hugs and kisses at bedtime. The way Jovie holds her little pointer finger beside her face when she asks a question. How Lily requests to wear a "dressing gown" like Fancy Nancy for bed every night.

How now when we drive by a field of tall, green stalks Lily shouts out, "Mo-om! Corn poppin' up!"

How Jovie is perpetually singing, off key, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and quoting the goose in "Charlottes Web," when she tries to spell "Terrific." ("I think it's T, double E, double R, double I, double F, double I, double C, C, C.")

Or, when the girls sit on the rocking horse in the living room together, hide behind the curtain and play with their princess ponies on the window sill -- chattering away and inventing whole plots and subplots.

I remind myself, it won't be like this forever.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I'm not mad Entertainment Weekly, just disappointed

Nothing spurs me to come out of blogging seclusion quite like a little ranting and this week I'm sad to say the subject of my sputterings is my beloved Entertainment Weekly.

It all started a few weeks ago when this showed up in my mailbox:

Whoa, I thought to myself, Entertainment Weekly is starting to look a little like Maxim what with the dripping, scantily clad Jessica Alba and her lusty stare (not to mention teasers like "PERFECT SEX!" and "STUDS IN SPAAAACE" accompanied by Chris Pratt's shirtless torso).

The special double issue was kind of the magazine's official summer kickoff and so, fine, it wasn't inappropriate to have a lady in a bathing suit on the cover -- especially since she's promoting the much anticipated sequel to "Sin City," which comes out in August. Inside, the magazine devoted several pages to Jessica Alba and her come hithering -- she bit her thumb and ate a snow cone and (oops!) dropped the snow cone somewhere near her nether regions (for those who need a visual there's a gallery here). It's all very hot, sultry, and yes, summery.

I just wasn't used to the sudden swimsuit edition turn in a magazine that normally looks beyond (or at least doesn't spend soooo much time focusing on) all the normal Hollywood T&A. And to EW's credit, the accompanying story discusses Alba's pragmatism when it comes to how she uses her body for business.

"Now, when Alba discusses her sex appeal, it's with a certain detachment, as if she were delineating her company's assets. She's a woman in control of her personal brand: the No. 1 shareholder of Jessica Alba Inc," the reporter writes.

I still ranted to Brad a little about it though. Does it make it any better that Alba is aware how the focus is still on what she looks like rather than what she does? Did EW really have to hit us over the head with all the bikini shots? It felt like blatant and obnoxious pandering. And if the editors were trying to be clever -- winking at their readers and saying "Come on guys, we know what we're doing here -- we're not really that magazine" -- it wasn't working. They were still catering to the lowest common denominator: sex sells. 

That issue quickly went into the recycling bin. 

Then the next week, this showed up in my mailbox:

OK. I guess the editors felt like they were on to something (albeit not anything all that original). Fine. The centerpiece was on the show "Masters of Sex," which I've seen a couple times and is an entertaining show. The nature of the show requires a sexier visual. So here's actress Lizzy Caplan with the seductive eyes and the endless legs getting felt up by a fully-clothed Michael Sheen. Maybe I was primed for annoyance because of the Jessica Alba cover. Or, maybe it was the fact that in the Jessica Alba issue they had a whole feature on how the sex scenes for "Masters of Sex" are filmed. Hadn't the show/topic been sufficiently covered? I guess not.

The next week, this showed up in my mailbox:

Phew, I thought. They got that out of their systems.

Except this week, this showed up in my mailbox:

Seriously, EW? 

I was happy to find that at least one other reader was on the same page as me in the Letters to the Editor section:
"When I received the Jessica Alba cover, I was surprised by how racy it was, but then I remembered it was the Summer Must List and it had been done before (Ryan Reynolds in 2009) Then I got Masters of Sex's equally racy cover. While the occasional pinup isn't a bad thing, having it every week degrades the quality of EW, in my opinion."
 But EW did nothing to redeem itself in my eyes in its response to the writer:

So, it's cool that three different actresses were objectified and sexualized on three covers in a month because you let Channing Tatum keep his shirt on? That's your defense? And just pages back from the cover photo where you had the talented (and beautiful) Anna Paquin pose nude. 

I wonder if Jessica Alba and Lizzy Caplan and Anna Paquin all feel that the caliber of their work still reigns supreme.

I get that I sound prude by being angered by this. That in commenting on the expectation that females in the entertainment business be willing to bare themselves for our enjoyment, I sound like a teetotaling, bible-thumping, disapproving grandma. But I'm none of those things. 

It's not that I'm anti-sex or anti-nudity or anti-raciness, I suppose that I'm just tired of seeing the same old images and perceptions of women being trotted out week after week. It's disappointing coming from a publication I respect. 

And I don't even know why I have such high expectations for Entertainment Weekly. know it's not Tolstoy or The Economist, but for a wannabe novelist, there's some useful stuff in there -- especially when they start talking to screenwriters. The magazine showcases interesting stories, interviews and graphics about the business -- giving us a behind-the-scenes look at how our favorite stories are told, plus their book reviews are usually pretty reliable. But I guess they're in the business of Hollywood, too. And Hollywood is in the business of sex. So what do I know anyway? 

The magazine can write all they want about how it's the talent and the quality of the work they really respect, but when they ask yet another woman to take off her clothes, I'm not buying it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Anthropomorphic noveling and other bits of crazy

Recently, I was talking to my sister Laura about families and whether or not to grow them. It seems that once you've had one kid, everyone feels it's their duty to ask when you're having the next one, and then after you have that subsequent child, everyone wonders about your interest in having a third.

I suppose it's natural for such a curious and social species to make inquiries about future plans for my uterus. And as a woman and mother I should accept this line of questioning with grace, right?

But with my 3-1/2-year-old treating her sister like an adversary in a roll-less roller derby and my 2-year-old  requesting to sit on the potty every five minutes (whether or not she has to go) in the hopes of acquiring more M&Ms, I have to say there are limitations to my grace. (What grace did she have to begin with? Many of you are no doubt wondering.)

And lately my thoughts have been so consumed by the possibility of wrapping up my work-in-perpetual-progress that the thought of a third child is as distant as the next time my kitchen floor will be clean (that is to say, a very, very distant thought). 

"Maybe your novel is your third child," Laura told me as I was confessing to her that maybe I wasn't going to be the mother of a giant wily brood -- the vision I'd always had for myself before I actually started brooding. 

Writing -- and especially writing this manuscript -- has sent me through a gamut of emotions -- from excitement to despair to joy to never-ending anxiety. 

I actually asked a couple of my writing friends last week during a panicked "why do I feel like I'm slowly going insane?" moment if my stress over the project was normal. Especially considering that there are no stakes for anyone but myself if it's never completed. 

Both immediately responded.

"Know that you are not alone," Megan* wrote. "Every single step of this journey is full of anxiety and doubt." 

Well that's reassuring.

"Breathe in, Breathe out. I'm sure it's fantastic" Beth** wrote (Which is exactly what I would've told her in the same moment. 

I've been picking away at this manuscript for so long that it this point, it really does feel like a living, breathing thing. Every day I'm curating bits of conversations I have or articles I read or songs I listen or people I see and trying to figure out how they might help round out a character or help guide the plot or back up a theme. And it's both thrilling and annoying to be constantly on duty as a writer -- you can't for one second stop watching and listening and connecting to the world at large at risk of missing that next perfect scene. Ever vigilant.

So while it doesn't demand cereal at 6 in the morning or won't ever need to be potty-trained, for now, writing is my third child. 

And in some ways, I feel selfish and superficial about saying that. I have children, so obviously I know the stakes are not nearly as high with my pet project as it is with their lives. I am devoted to them first and foremost.

But I'm devoted to this, too. And hopefully, by scraping together the time to pursue this beastly thing that brings me so much joy, I can be an example to them. Who better to show them the importance of doing what you love? 

They'll just have to look to someone else to show them the importance of home maintenance. 

* Megan's debut "Make it Count" comes out Tuesday -- so if you're looking for a saucy beach read -- go here.

** Beth's debut "Pack of Dorks" comes out Oct. 7. I think the title of the book should be on my family's crest. Pre-order it here.