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Upcoming births

So I’m really, really pregnant. I guess I was just as pregnant the day the ept stick revealed a faint blue plus sign, but now I LOOK really pregnant. Actually, who am I kidding? I’ve looked really pregnant for a while now. Or as one super helpful stranger commented to me, during a book event no less, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you’re carrying REALLY, REALLY big.”

So yes. I  have the classic “there is a fully inflated basketball underneath my shirt” look, and I’m carrying high, which I think is typical if you’re carrying a boy, which I am. It’s all really weird and cool at the same time. Coolest is when he stretches or kicks against me and I can *see* the shape of whatever body part he’s using: a knee, an elbow, a spine! It’s kind of like a tactile version of the children’s game 20 Questions. (He is not bigger than a bread box.)

The baby is due in eight weeks, though Lord knows he could come early or late. Pregnancy, I am finding, is a long lesson in letting go of expectations, and I suppose that crescendos in the delivery room. The advice I’ve been given again and again, by wise women who have gone through it before, is to let go of all expectations. Be curious about the experience, have wishes for how it might go, prepare as best you can, but don’t lock onto any one way your baby must come into the world. As long as you and he are healthy at the end of the delivery, it’s all good. And even if there are complications, it’s okay.

In non-baby news: The paper book of A Place at the Table launches on March 4 of this year, almost one month (exactly!) before the baby is due. It seems I have a way of cramming major life events into short amounts of time. It was only last May 21 that Sam and I got married, and then the hardcover of A Place at the Table was published that June 4. I got knocked up that July, and now we’re entering another cycle of Very Big Events Happening All At Once.

Thinking about all of this it occurs to me that the same advice that women have given me about childbirth could be applied to the publication of one’s book. You do all you can to prepare in advance, and you certainly have hopes and anticipations, but really, you have no control over how the book lands in the world, or how many readers are willing to catch it. And the more you can accept that fact, the more sane you’ll be around the launch. Which is, of course, easier said than done.

Births! Births! Lots of births! I cannot yet show you the baby (in fact I might not show the baby till he’s 18!) but here’s what the paperback is going to look like:
APATTpaperback cover

 

Just Married! Congrats Sam and Susan!

Sam and Susan Wedding Portrait
Congratulations to newlyweds Sam and Susan who are now on a short honeymoon. Don’t worry. They’ll be back in time for Susan’s big launch for A Place at the Table. Hope to see you at the Decatur Library on Sunday, June 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Why not get married two weeks before your novel launches?

I’m not a glutton for punishment, I swear. It’s just that Sam and I are both second-timers with this marriage thing and what seems important to focus on is the relationship, not the bridesmaids. (If I tried to focus on the bridesmaids I’d be squinting at the air cause I ain’t having em.) In fact I am having the world’s smallest (home) wedding. It’s just the minister, Sam, me, and two witnesses. And our cats. The cats will be there to witness it all. Perhaps Peanut will bring a live chipmunk in through the cat door just as we are saying “I do.”

I’m sort of picturing my June 2 book launch as our wedding reception because so many of our family and friends will be there. But I know I shouldn’t get the two events confused, right? I mean the wedding is a tax write-off while the launch is not. (Just jokin’ IRS! Seriously. Just joking.)

Back to the wedding: Yes, it’s crazy to be doing this right before launching a book, but the thing is, Sam and I aren’t getting any younger. I mean, I’m not ancient or anything but the other day my back hurt after playing frisbee. Frisbee. Which is all to say that time is ticking and when you find the person you want to build a life with you want to do it now. (Pretty sure I just stole that line from some famous Hollywood rom-com. Sorry bout that!)

This is also the world’s cheapest wedding. DIY, baby. Well, I didn’t make the dress or anything, but I bought a simple white sundress off the rack and ordered a birdcage bridal veil from Etsy. I’m wearing a pair of blue strappy high-heeled sandals I already own, and my friend is making me a bouquet  of blue hydrangeas from her garden. She’s also making me a cake. We’re trying to decide between chocolate with white frosting or lemon with cream cheese frosting. I think I’m leaning toward lemon. Sam’s brother made us the most beautiful wooden box to symbolize the merging of our lives. The box is made of two different woods, combined and polished till the whole is better than the parts. I think we’ll put our wedding photos in there.

On advice of our pre-marital counselor, tonight Sam and I are supposed to go off by ourselves and say goodbye to our single lives, which makes me think  of my favorite Joan Didion essay ever, “Goodbye to All That,” in which she bids farewell to being young in Manhattan. I can’t think of much that makes me sad as I join my life with Sam’s, but I do think it’s a good idea to be conscious of how utterly huge this commitment is that we are about to make to each other. The first time I went around the wedding block I was more casual in my approach, more cavalier. My thought process was pretty much, “well, let’s see if this works!” This time the vows feel very, very profound. How much more real does it get than “till death do you part?” Just saying those words is acknowledging a truth that I (at least) am always running from: That we will die.

But there’s so much good stuff to experience before we do. For me, right now, it’s a white dress, blue shoes, hydrangeas, a lemon cake and a beautiful wooden box. And a book that I wrote that is about to be born into the world.

 

 

2012-03-08_00-56-43_540

darling alone

 

with Sam in Highlands

but better together

 

In Which I Quote a Ton of Different People While Reflecting on Work, Split Selves, and Divorce.

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m futzing around in the carriage house where I now live: listening to music, doing a load of laundry, making a pot of chicken soup for the week (new book idea: Chicken Soup for the Weak), thinking about whether or not I should try to edit a chapter of the new novel or critique student stories this afternoon.

I have a hard time balancing teaching and writing. Each satisfy some deep part of me, and I tend to be pretty hardcore kamikaze about both. When I’m finishing a novel (all two that I’ve finished!), I become obsessive and bleary-eyed, stationing myself in front of my computer twelve hours a day, thinking about the book whenever I’m not actually working on it. (Supposedly James Thurber’s wife once approached him at a cocktail party and whispered, “Stop writing!”) During the final throws of writing Soft Place, there was one day when I spent seven hours in front of my computer, then put on a black dress and raced to a funeral. (Racing to a funeral. If that doesn’t describe the state of our modern, crazy busyness, I don’t know what does.) Immediately afterwards I returned home and sat in front of my computer again, incorporating a part of the beautiful eulogy into the text.

Clearly, this is not the most balanced approach to writing, or to life. But how do you achieve balance with something as all-consuming as writing or teaching? I’m a very good teacher. Each semester on my student evaluations at Emory someone writes “Best class I’ve ever had.” I won a teaching award at one of the private schools where I taught. But teaching is not just about cult of personality. I “earn” my dynamic classes by putting hours into preparing for them. My classes are choreographed. The more prepared I am, the better I know my end of the dance, the looser I can be during the actual class, the more I can change directions depending on what each student brings to the floor. But I don’t think I could dance so easily if I didn’t know my steps very, very well. And knowing them, preparing, takes a lot of time. I don’t really know any way around it. Betsy Lerner argues that writers aren’t supposed to be balanced people, and I wonder if the same applies for teachers.

Then again, I know there are times I over prepare, turning into a squirrel wildly gathering acorns when there’s already a winter’s worth stockpiled away. I should pay attention to when I start to over-prepare. It probably means I should be turning back to the novel. It probably means I’m avoiding writing a difficult or painful scene. You have to create space for your writer self. She’s not just going to show up. To borrow from Alice Munro, you have to woo her. (Alice Munro says she writes to woo “distant parts of myself.”)

I love that. The times when I am alone but least lonely are when I’m writing, and I suppose this speaks to the Munro quote. You the person meet You the author, and the two of You explore life together. It’s a communion of sorts, that you then package together and hope people will purchase from their local indie bookstore, Target, B&N, or Amazon… :)

On the subject of being alone: I got divorced a little over a month ago, after having separated from my husband nine months earlier. I was in New York over the summer, when I was first separated. At the time I was very careful not to write about my private life on this blog. It was too raw and fresh, and I wanted to protect my (now ex) husband’s privacy, and the privacy of our dissolving marriage. But looking back on all of those blog entries I wrote about cooking in my tiny NYC kitchen, I see them as clues I was planting about that period of my life, the time I mothered myself through the shock of separation, splitting into two selves, really: the hurt girl and the nurturer who could take care of her with grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, homemade desserts. I even had a visual image for the nurturer. I thought of her as an uber-confident 1940′s housewife, a polka-dot kerchief wrapped around her curls, the type of woman who could wring the neck of a chicken for that night’s dinner, who makes sure there are three vegetables on the dinner plate, centered with a piece of protein. Who wants to know about a boy’s background and intentions before she’ll let you go out with him. Someone stalwart and kind.

She is the kind of woman I hope to be growing into, minus the kerchief and the dead chicken. And, I suppose, the retro pre-feminist leanings.

It occurs to me that I am writing about a lot of split selves. Maybe I come up with these separate selves to fight off loneliness, which is such a fundamental part of divorce. And the annoying truth is, if you run too hard from the loneliness, you won’t learn the lessons your divorce has to teach you. (And God are there many.) I’m trying to get comfortable with loneliness, to invite it in and let it hang out a while. Serve it a bowl of chicken soup. It’s like that country song, “Hello, Heartbreak. I’ve been expecting you.”

One of the lessons of divorce: There’s a lot of community among those who have fallen. We’re no longer so sure of our past assumptions. We’re no longer so quick to dole out advice or judgment. We have–in some way or another–failed, and the failure makes our hearts more tender. And yet you also develop a tougher exterior. You are hurt, and you are vulnerable, and you absolutely cannot allow people to hurt you gratuitously anymore. And so you speak up for yourself more often. You start saying things like, “I absolutely do not have the band width to tolerate this.” Most likely, some of your friends and family begin to think of you as a real pain in the ass, but they also respect you more. You begin to understand that it’s better to be respected then to have an all-consuming need to be viewed as nice and sweet and lovely at all times.

Honestly, you begin to re-evaluate everything.

In which I let Joshilyn Jackson do all the work…

Sometimes I’m a lazy blogger.  Which is why I was so delighted to read my friend Joshilyn Jackson’s recent blog entry about her dream featuring me, her, an irate audience, inappropriate event attire, pantslessness, and red shoes.  Joshilyn’s entry is so entertaining, I figured, why not just link to it here and call it a day?

While you’re at it, order Joshilyn’s new book Backseat Saints.  You won’t be sorry.