Thursday, July 29, 2010

Moxxi, The Heat Lightning, and Book Junky Blues

From August 2008 to January 2009, I wrote a monthly column called Book Junky for Moxxi Magazine, a New Times-style publication geared toward women. Even though Moxxi only lasted five issues and the Editor-in-Chief was a friend, I am absurdly proud of this experience because the magazine was not virtual, it was actually printed (issues 2-5 came out online at the same time). Book Junky’s format was to recommend three books each month, one that had been out for a while, one which was new the month the issue came out, and one to lookout for. Other than that, I could do whatever I liked.

When I asked to be part of The Heat Lightning - one of the few times in my life when I’ve seen someone’s vision, agreed with it, and believed I had something to contribute – I was again given carte blanche.

Looking at my five Moxxi pieces (how pretentious does it sound when you call your writing “pieces?”), I’m surprised by how well the recommendations stand up. Granted, it’s only been a shade over two years, but these are all still books I suggest today.

I’m tempted to say books are more enduring than movies, but I guess movies are the same - a lot of chaff gets made, and we hope critics will give us the wheat.

Books & Books employees used to get a $5 gift certificate for writing book reviews, with a maximum of $20 per month. If Booksense (or Indiebound, as they’re now known) published one of your reviews, you’d get a $50 gift certificate. I reviewed four books a month for two years and got one published review. $530, with my employee discount? That’s a lot of books.

The downside of these experiences was that they played hell with my reading queue. Instead of choosing by mood, I had to check the date (Advanced Readers Copies come out months before the books go on sale; right now, the furthest in the future I’ve read is a great book that won’t be published until February 2011). The only portion of those Moxxi columns which make me cringe now are the last recommendations, the one which I had to include because it was “the one to look out for.”

Not that any of the five were not strong recommendations, they just barely suited that month’s tone or theme.

It’s an aesthetic thing.

Now that I know I’ll be writing about books for someone other than myself, I feel pressure to read new releases. This pressure comes from me. Instead of bringing ARCs home and shelving them, knowing they’ll be there when I’m ready, I find myself making stacks, ordered by date. I actually read the letters publishers include with the ARCs. Instead of ordering older books recommended by friends (or for myself, I put them on my “to-read” shelf at Goodreads and forget about them.

Ultimately, I’ll read what I feel like reading, when I feel like reading it. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to make the comparisons which make good book columns. If I’m competent, I’ll connect more books with more readers.

I refuse to let something I love become a chore.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Please, Not in Front of the Queen

Books & Books hosted Julie Andrews a couple weeks back for The Very Fairy Princess and someone had the gall to get belligerent when we cut the line off.

The event was originally supposed to happen in May. Due to time constraints, we could only sell 200 tickets to the event. In this case, “ticket” meant buying the book from Books & Books and getting a ticket to have Julie Andrews sign it; there was no extra ticket charge. The event was sold out for two months. We advertised it as a sold out event, but Mrs. Andrews had signed stock in her hotel room the day before. You could show up and buy a book, but you had no reasonable expectation of meeting the author.

Of course, the world is filled with unreasonable people.

Julie Andrews had a plane to catch at 4pm, so we cut the line off when we had to. Apparently when he saw how long the line was, Mr. Entitlement got a bite in our café. Reasonable enough. But when he waited too long and found the line roped off, he got in Carroll’s face about it, yelling obscenities, questioning our booksellers’ parentage, suggesting uncomfortable places Books & Books’ employees could store extra copies of The Very Fairy Princess, and accusing us of engaging in salacious acts with our mothers.

This was the last guy trying to get in line. He didn’t have a ticket. If he chose to say, “Excuse me, Miss, but I seem to have taken over-long with my lunch. Would you mind if I just snuck past this rope?” our Carroll would have let him through with a wink and a smile. But cursing in front of children? Abusing the people from whom you seek a favor? Not the best course of action.

When he didn’t get what he wanted out of Carroll, Mr. Entitlement asked to speak with the person in charge. Event coordinator Cristina had overheard his diatribe (well, the entire west side of the store heard it) and explained that everyone else had waited in line, Mrs. Andrews had a plane to catch, and the event had been sold out for two months. Mr. Entitlement didn’t care. Cristina offered a refund. Mr. Entitlement refused. Cristina offered a signed copy. Mr. Entitlement started swearing again. Then he pushed her.

Well, depending on who tells the story. Some reports have Cristina backed into a wall while spittle flew from Mr. Entitlement’s raving mouth, his face inches from hers. Others maintain the push was an angry finger, poked into her chest. Others say it was a push.

I wish I could tell you definitively what happened, but I stayed home. I know, I missed the Queen Clarisse Renaldi of Genovia and Queen of Far, Far Away in one shot, but I don’t work Sundays.

I wish I could tell you what happened to Mr. Entitlement, but there’s no statute of limitations on. . . what happens when you tangle with booksellers. I don't want to get anyone arrested.

What can I say? We’re close to the edge, man. People have been pronouncing our vocation dead for about a century, but lately these reports of doom have sounded particularly dire. We’re glad to have your business, but for your own sake – tread lightly.

Anyway, we’ve had security at many events. Any time celebrities are involved, it draws a few people who can’t control themselves. But if any household name would seem safe to host without a uniformed presence, it would be Julie Andrews.

Some people just can’t handle their Poppins.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just Another Day

Goldie is a six-foot, bisexual Haitian woman who cleans at Books & Books. She’s built like a linebacker, and she often lifts Becky from the ladder in the children’s section and slings her over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Becky is good-natured, Cuban, just over five feet tall, and tolerant of sexual invitations from Goldie which are off-putting at best and predatory at worst.

One day, Goldie bids Becky good day on her way home. Before she reaches the door, Goldie begins to sway. Her eyes go dull, her skin pops with sweat.

“Hospital,” she moans, “call hospital.”

Becky ushers the large woman onto a stool by the computer in the children’s section, bolstering her as best she can while dialing 911 on her cell phone. Becky tries to get information from Goldie for the 911 operator, but the Haitian is incoherent. Her eyes flutter, and she’s sweating like she’s running a marathon.

When the paramedics arrive, neither speaks Haitian. They check Goldie's vital signs, but there are things they want to know. Becky runs to Goldie’s boss, Irving, the café manager.

“Irving, there’s something wrong with Goldie. The paramedics are taking her away. Does she have insurance?”

“No.” Books & Books offers insurance for all full-time employees, but not all of them sign up.

“Do you have her address?”

Irving does not.

“What about her phone number?”

No dice. Further, he doesn’t seem particularly interested in finding either one.

“Call the office. Linda’s got to have all that for payroll.”

“Okay, great.”

Becky runs back to the paramedics to deliver the bad news (if there’s one person who won’t answer her phone, it’s Linda).

As they grunt and struggle the barely-conscious woman onto a stretcher, the paramedics laugh. They can’t believe the prodigiousness of Goldie’s dead weight. They ask more questions Becky can’t answer, so she runs back to Irving.

“Irving, do you have her Social Security number?”



“She doesn’t know?”

“She can barely talk.”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Thanks a bunch.”

Goldie is finally on the stretcher. The paramedics are taking a breather.

“Do you know how old she is?” one of them pants, hands on his knees.

Becky runs to Irving once more.

“Irving, do you know how old Goldie is?”

“These fucking Haitians, they don’t know anything.”

At this point it might be worth mentioning that Irving no longer works for Books & Books.

“Irving, fucktard, she’s un-con-scious. She can’t talk. Do you know how old she is or not?”

On her way back, Becky remembers a recent trip she took to Paris with her sister.

Anniversaire,” she yells at Goldie, “Anniversaire.”

Turns out it’s Goldie’s fortieth birthday.

During the next few days, Becky is amazed at how blasé her co-workers are about Goldie’s health. Hospital visits, flowers, cards, phone calls, letters, no one makes an overture toward any of these standard procedures the Books & Books family has used for various health concerns over the years – and Goldie left the store on a stretcher.

Before Becky’s amazement has time to build into a righteous ire over what can only be racism – a specific kind, as various Latin American nations are strong in number among the staff – Goldie is back. She was tested in the hospital for three days.

“The doctors say anemia.” Goldie sucks air through her teeth, a short, clucking sound; the noise sums up the stupidity of white people and their hospitals. “I tell you what Papo told me.”

The other Haitian cleaning woman apparently used voodoo on Goldie. She told the cook, Papo, and swore him to secrecy, but Papo refused to remain silent. The physical manifestation of the voodoo is a small bundle, hidden in a cabinet in the men’s room.

“Now I take the voodoo to my friend,” Goldie says. “My friend make it go back on her triple.”

The flood happened before my time at Books & Books, but I saw the aftermath. A functioning alcoholic who went missing for days and weeks at a time during her ten-year stint as a buyer trained me to replace her. We had a manager who ruled by blowjob and cliquishness. From day one, I knew this would not be a normal job.

Five years later, employees are passing voodoo curses back and forth. It’s nice to know my job still has the ability to surprise me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Even in Movies, Mean People Suck

Netflix created another odd double-bill for me, the Lindsay Lohan vehicle Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and the Oliver Stone opus (where’s the sarcasm font?) Alexander, two very different movies which suck for the same reason: the protagonists are assholes.

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about two movies that are so old (actually, you’re probably wondering why I’m watching Lindsay Lohan movies, but that’s not important right now).  Well, I rarely have a vested interest in seeing movies immediately.  When a movie piques my interest, rather than brave crying babies, hordes of teeny-bop-texters, talkers, and ten-dollar popcorn, I toss the movie in my Netflix queue.

I hate to brag, but my queue is very long. Hence, the delay.

In Confessions of Teenage Drama Queen, Lindsay-as-Lola moves from New York City to New Jersey.   She trashes her new best friend’s life in various ways, giving nothing more to the “friendship” than her company.  The antagonist is a rich, evil, Machiavellian bitch, and Lola robs her of everything that matters in her life.  Classmate love.  Boy attention.  The lead in the school play.  Lola out-dances the antagonist in Dance Dance Revolution, for God’s sake.  Such an insignificant thing to have mastered, but Lola can’t let her have even that.  I was supposed to hate Miss Popular Machiavelli, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.

Of course Lola isn’t vicious; she can’t help it if she’s better at everything she does than everyone else. No, her flaw is making up wild stories.  When her classmates learn she’s a liar, she makes a transformation which is nothing of the sort; she’s still a selfish taker who will say anything to get people to like her.

This…is our hero.

Cut to Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great, a power-hungry prick who conquers and names “barbaric” provinces after himself until he’s got two million miles of land under his rule.  Supposedly, Alexander respects the tribes who lived thousands of years before “civilization” found their land, he just wants to free them from slavery to warring kings.  He does so by killing mighty bunches of them, then enslaving the survivors to feed the war machine.

Alexander wins Babylon but spends three years hunting the powerless king Darius in the mountains. The parallels between George Bush and Osama Bin Laden are obvious, except the exiled lords give Darius up hoping to call Colin / Alexander off.

Guess what? Doesn’t work.  More war, more slow-motion death, and the putting down of a mutiny.

Colin exudes no charisma* and no leadership qualities as Alexander, making it impossible to believe he won the love of his troops.  He fights beside his troops, sharing every hardship of their nine-year conquering spree, but so what?  His soldiers just want to go home to their families.

Only after suffering a near-fatal wound does Alexander finally turn back, not as a changed man, but a guy who was afraid to die.

That these two movies portray selfish egomaniacs as heroes makes me worry for societal trends.  That they failed in my modest expectation of a couple of hours of mindless entertainment makes me worry for the state of the movie business.  That all I have for a blog is complaining about two bad movies no one saw when they came out years ago makes me worry for Sweet with Fall and Fish.

But if I save one person from wasting time or money on these cinematic suckfests, it will have been worth it.

* - While in town filming the movie version of Miami Vice, Colin Farrell came in to Books & Books.  Two members of the staff invited him across the street to John Martin's to tip a few back, and tip they did.  The female staff member vibrates when she tells the story.  The male staff member has never been with a man, but would have let Farrell violate his body six ways to Sunday.  I’m not sure why this obvious personal charm didn’t come through on the screen.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Brilliance of Mistakes

In my short story “Happy Halloween,” the narrator starts off hungry from not having eaten for a week. Immediately, his narrative is suspect. As he slides into a drunken state, the narrative degenerates. By the time he spins a fellow party-goer around to ask where the bathroom is, our narrator is pretty drunk.

The party-goer is dressed as a mime, with a bullet-hole in his forehead. Our narrator gets a kick out of this and forgets what he was going to ask. It’s first person, present-tense.

I meant to write, I spin him around and I laugh and I forget what I was going to say.

Editing later, I found I’d written, I spin him around and I laugh and I forget what he was going to say. Oh, perfect – that’s how far gone the narrator is.

I wish I’d thought of it instead of mis-typing it, but I’ll take it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Three Week Increments

In November 2006, over the course of three weeks, I met my goal of finishing my first book, worked my first Miami Bookfair International, had an editor at Harper Collins looking at the book (yikes; I hadn’t yet learned to keep all first drafts to myself), and went up north for Thanksgiving where the three cousins I grew up with – Shane, Shawn, and Shannon – were there all at once for the first time in years.

November 2004, I took three weeks off work to go up north. I’d missed Thanksgiving the year before with work, and I was determined to gain twenty pounds. From Dinosaur Barbeque to homecooked meals, from the Thanksgiving bacchanal to Steak and Sundae, I came home twenty-three pounds heavier than when I left.

November centers around family and friends, so they’re usually good to me. But my two favorite chunks of life had nothing to do with November, and both also lasted three weeks.

In August of 96 (I’m honestly not sure of the year; keeping track of life before I started recording it all is difficult), I took a three-week road trip with Andi, driving up and down the east coast in a battered k-car. I don’t remember what we saw on the drive down and what we saw on the drive up, but we re-visited our favorite restaurant on Strawberry Street in Richmond, Virginia. We saw a friend perform on stage in The Sound of Music in New Jersey, where the ocean was dark, cold, and violent, in contrast the warm, calm waters of South Beach. Along with famous monuments, we saw some of the best artwork in the world in Washington, DC. We danced at a lesbian club in New York City despite their strict policy of not admitting men. Along the way, we ate in some amazing restaurants, lay in the sun, reminisced with friends, and partied with Mickey Mouse. It was the best vacation I’ve ever had.

Of course, any chucklehead can have a great vacation; making a glorious time out of day-to-day life is more difficult.

It’s odd considering all that went wrong while her parents were in Europe (apart from expensive, painful problems with her cat, it’s personal Quiroga family business I’ve no right to air), but these last few weeks with Becky and her son have been a little slice of heaven.

Waking without hitting snooze, getting as much writing time as possible before Dylan wakes (Becky says I can use his real name; he’s not Apple or Lourdes, after all), making breakfast, making lunches, getting to work, leaving to pick Dylan up from summer camp, getting dinner on the table for all of us, bathing Dylan and reading him to sleep, ending the day with Becky – the two of us falling asleep in front of the TV, or reading, or making love…

It’s all so mundane, and so beautiful, and so perfect. It’s a family like the one I grew up in, only smaller. My mother had breakfast on the table for all of us in succession each morning, a constant rotation of French toast, omelets, bacon and eggs, pancakes, Eggos, and cereal on Fridays. The entire family sat down for dinner every night. Recreating that on my own is more satisfying than I could have imagined. Add yoga, biking, and a book contract and I’m the person I’ve always wanted to be.

These last three weeks have been the greatest of my life because they showed me what I want out of my life.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don't Try to Live Your Life in One Day

Fridays at Books & Books are made for one thing: getting through them so we can have a Warsteiner dunkel at Fritz & Franz Bierhaus. Then I heard about how Becky and Cleo Jr. spend their Friday nights. They make pizza, pop popcorn, and watch a movie. The evening often involves cookies or cake as well.

I think my generation is the last who remember movie nights on TV. Growing up, television offered four channels: NBC, CBS, ABC, and a local PBS affiliate. VCR’s hadn’t been adapted to home use. No one had thought of pay cable. If you missed a movie in the theater, you had to wait for one of the networks to show it. I don’t think this wait lasted years; it probably only felt that way to a child.

My father would pop popcorn in oil on the stove, batch after batch until he had most of a doubled-up paper grocery bag filled. This popcorn tasted better than any I’ve had made with any other method – the hot air popper you used to plug in, microwave popcorn, even fairground or theater popcorn. He added just the right touch of melted butter and salt. The paper grocery bag would sit beside the couch for a few days, for whoever wanted to munch. It tasted best the second day.

I tried popping corn from scratch on the stovetop once; I ended up with charcoal, sending smoke signals.

Anyway, the thought of a new family movie night was compelling, even when presented with friends and co-workers talking shit while drinking the greatest beer on the planet. Knowing how we love our Fritz & Franz Fridays, Becky presented the offer with a little hesitation in her voice. She needn’t have worried; who wants to be the guy who’d rather get drunk than have family time?

Unfortunately, I decided to do it all. Warsteiner at Fritz & Franz with Mark, a Guinness and a chicken wing with Hilldawg and Linda at The Bar, and then movie night with Becky and Becky Jr.

Texts and calls revealed that drinking nights and family movies night run on different timelines. Cutting off drunken revelry extremely early still means you miss dinner. You arrive late, hungry, with no sympathy for your hunger forthcoming because you were supposed to be there earlier. You also miss the beginning of the movie.

Drinking with friends was a bust. Movie night was a bust. I could blame my lack of a car, but that’s a circumstance which can be worked around. I won't get into specifics of Sunday, but just know I was short of breath by day's end, having flitted through everything I had planned but without enough time to enjoy or appreciate any of them.

This weekend taught me to choose. Say yes to everything and you end up giving everyone in your life short shrift.

The hard part isn’t choosing what you like, it’s letting things you don’t choose go.

Friday, July 16, 2010

You Should Still Read Joyce Maynard

I finished Joyce Maynard's The Good Daughters this morning over breakfast.  Looking up from my kitchen table, I saw two Christmas gifts hanging on the wall: the picture Becky drew of the two of us in Sarasota and the quilt Stacy had knitted, inspired by Leonard Cohen's Anthem.

Tears stood in my eyes; I thanked God for my life.

When fiction is done right, it’s powerful, evocative, simple.  The Good Daughters is amazing, but is it amazing because of how it struck me, or because of the work itself?  That’s always the question, and it can’t be answered because you can only have one first reading.

The Good Daughters was my second foray into Joyce Maynard, after Labor Day made me an instant fan.  I also purchased her memoir At Home in the World some month’s back, but I’ve yet to read it.  I was surprised to learn that Labor Day is Maynard’s tenth book and sixth novel.  Even if I’ve never read a book or an author I can fake it up nice when customers ask, but in ten years of bookselling I had somehow managed to overlook Maynard.  Also, the marketing for Labor Day felt fresh, not like here’s another remarkable (Stunning! Amazing! Gripping! Blah! Blah! Yowza!) work from the genius (Original! One-of-a-Kind! Masterful! Unique! Yawn!) mind of Authorten L. Writerface, but like William-Morrow was suggesting a new voice they knew you’d love.

Reading The Good Daughters scared me the way being in love is scary.  What if we’d never met?  How lousy would my days be without this other person, who makes my life so rich?  As a reader, I wonder how less lovely my literary landscape would be if I’d never picked up a Joyce Maynard novel.

If you need another reason to look for the book when it comes out on August 24th, Maynard thanks local author, Lip Service co-founder, and all-around cool person Andrea Askowitz as an early reader.

I’d love to pull quotes so she can speak for herself, but Maynard doesn’t write that way.  There are lines in this book that are just- oohhh.  Like hearing a gorgeous voice raised in song over a cessation of music, or seeing a powerful actor in that moment when she’s fighting against tears.  I could pull quotes and they would be quite something, but without the rest of the work, you lose too much meaning.  Maynard’s straightforward style is the gradual lapping of waves unearthing an object in the sand which is ultimately revealed as something wrenching and beautiful.

You know I don’t do plot synopsis, either, so we’re left with just this: buy the book and read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Automatic. It's Hydromatic.

It's my latest post for The Heat Lighting.

That picture of Hilldawg and I talking fiction at Books & Books has nothing to do with it, but I wanted to jazz this up a little.

Besides, Khaled Hosseini came into our Bal Harbour store yesterday and needs a consolation prize for us being so low on stock of his books.

Ten Sweet Readers checking out this photo ought to do it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wild Wildlife

Coming back to the Treehouse after turning the air off and leaving it vacant for three weeks, I shouldn’t be surprised that the ceiling fans look like the chandeliers in Disney’s Haunted Mansion; we all know it’s essentially an eighty-year-old attic. Still, just when I think I’m familiar with the wildlife I’m living with, the Treehouse manages to surprise.

Here’s the tally:

- Lizards: two; one alive, one dead.
- Cockroaches: five, all thirty spindly little legs in the air.
- Drifts of Termite Droppings: one
- Drifts of Termite Wings: one
- Live Termites: three
- Millipedes: four, dead
- Beetles: three, living
- Bees: twelve, dead
- Spiders: eleven, alive
- Unidentifiable remains of bugs: three

If you were searching for the surprise on that list and spotted a dozen bees, give yourself a big fat pat on the back. I also have to admit the number of spiders was higher than I expected.

What brought bees to my bathroom to die? Opening the bathroom window, I found a bunch more in the window sill, so we know they came from outside the bathroom window. Probably the neighbors got scared of the hive hanging under the roof of their shed and - rather than calling a bee specialist to come and relocate them, or create hive for backyard honey – decided to bomb them. Several escaped through a nearby window, but they’d already inhaled fatal doses.

Or they were members of a bee cult who decided to perish together in a suicide pact.

Apart from speculating on why bees came to my empty apartment to die, there was also one fun moment while I was making morning coffee. A small cricket – a new addition itself and not part of my original inventory – hopped into the web between the kitchen window and the dish rack. I got to see the classic battle between predator and prey. The fascinating spectacle was never really in doubt, but it was still a fascinating spectacle; Circle of Life Breakfast Theater in my own kitchen.

Even in death, the cricket got the last laugh. This particular Miami native has extremely acidic blood, not unlike a lovebug. Apart from tasting terrible, their blood can be fatal to smaller spiders. Okay, I made that up. But the spider did become sluggish as he was biting and cocooning the little cricket. When I finally cleaned up, the cricket hung in the web, wrapped for safekeeping, but the spider lay curled on the counter, dead. If science doesn’t explain it, perhaps this is a cricket capable of cursing.

I love alliteration.

If there’s one good thing about how much funk accumulates when the Treehouse is empty, it’s the satisfaction of seeing it clean again. Basking in the smell of Febreeze-laden Swiffer wet (I’m not lazy; I mopped the weekend before I left) and Lysol multi-purpose cleaner, dustbunnies and cobwebs relegated to the trash, I can watch hours of TV on DVD with a glass of wine in one hand and not feel an once of guilt.

Except wishing I’d been able to get all the spiders outside without killing them.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Work It

“If there is a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
- Toni Morrison
There’s no secret. To succeed, you need to work your ass off. We know this, but we convince ourselves there’s something we lack. We admire her writing, his artwork, her fluency with languages, his carpentry skills, her guitar skills, his sewing ability. We wonder what makes these people so special. Instead of applying ourselves to the skills we admire, we envy those who have already mastered them.

Everyone might not have the potential to be world-class at a given activity, but who can say? I heard on NPR once that it takes fourteen years of effort. If you started playing piano tomorrow, it would be fourteen years of practice before you played a solo concert at Carnegie Hall. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell expresses this as ten thousand hours. The Beatles’ voices and fingers weren’t blessed, their minds weren’t filled with melodies and lyrics sent by God, they just practiced. A lot. Ten thousand hours worth.

I'm not sure if that relates directly with the Morrison quote, but I do like the two ideas together.

Let’s get crackin’.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Year to the Day

Going back in my diary to be sure of the date, I’m amazed how much shit went down in the months before I heard her tell me she wanted to see other people, and she wanted to separate. I understand now why she texted me some months back, saying it had been a year, asking if I was happy. Not because she was using a different measure of when we’d separated, as jealousy and resentment immediately wanted me to believe, but because she had separated from me in her mind long before she said the words aloud.

After immediately getting drunk to the point of sickness - a classic case of hitting exactly what I headed for - I spent three days in bed, paralyzed, watching the first season of the original Star Trek series on DVD. I couldn’t watch any movies because the context had shifted (did you know “The Wedding Singer” is a tragedy, under the right circumstances?). Bloom had loaned me Star Trek months before. Vaguely disturbing and seemingly endless, the boxed set saved me from having to feel what I was feeling.

I can’t believe that was a year ago.

I didn’t call work, but I did eventually go back. No questions were asked, which is the upside of working for an independent bookstore with no management system. I’d thankfully built up years of trust by that point, so taking a powder and working sporadically when I did show up didn’t lead to getting fired.

Just a year ago, but a different life lived by a different me.

This new life stopped feeling temporary two weeks ago. I took some laundry out of the dryer at Becky’s parents’ house and hung it in the corner. I realized that somewhere along the line of acting as if I was okay, that changing my life wasn’t all that traumatic, that I really was okay, and I no longer felt traumatized. No big epiphany, just a quaint miracle of good feeling.

I’m sure signing the divorce papers won’t be a frolic through the park, but the life waiting for me on the other side will pull me through.

Life is a series of doors; going through them is the thing.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Come, the text read.  Live with me for three weeks in a house that isn’t ours. Please.

Becky lives with her parents.  For some people, this is a deal-breaker.  I remember when I worked at Starbucks.  My fellow baristas swooned over dark, handsome, buff, triple-grande-four-sugar-nonfat-latte after he left.  They watched him walk through the parking lot and stand at the bus stop, and a collective so-much-for-that wind blew through them.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, pretty much,” one of them answered, while the others laughed.

I was new to urban life and Miami, unaware that the rules of attraction are entangled with economic success to the point where personality is an afterthought.

Now when I read a chapter of Sex and the City called "Bicycle Boys," I know exactly where I stand with a certain type of woman, a woman who is everywhere in places like Miami.

Thankfully, Becky is not that woman.  She’s also not the deadbeat who can’t move out, or the child who refuses to grow up.  She’s in a class with a few of my friends, people who flew solo for a time and crashed into relationship wrecks, or career derailments, and found themselves moving back home.
Miami is an expensive place to live.  You either need a place smaller than the living room I’m typing this in (like the Treehouse) or you need a roommate.   And what roommate in her twenties wants a five-year-old tagging along?

I’m typing this in a place bigger than the Treehouse, Becky’s parents’ living room, because Cleo Mater and Cleo Pater are traveling the Mediterranean for three weeks.  This gives Becky, Cleo Junior, and me a taste of what living together would be like.  Apparently, I would bake more and write less.  Much, much less.

“You’ll never live with me after this,” she told me.  “I’ll destroy your writing career.”  Which might be true, if I had a writing career.

“It’s an adjustment,” I told her.

I need my discipline back.  I can’t afford to snooze when Cleo Junior comes curling into my lap before seven (I suppose I could tell him I’m busy, but who the hell wants to be that guy?).  Two hours might be all I get, a world of time in the right circumstances.  I also can’t afford to watch DVDs into the night, unless I want to be a zombie the next day.  These are habits which can be adjusted, ironed out.  If the home is filled with love, everything finds a way.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.

When reading at Books & Books a couple of years back, Jodi Picoult laughed when asked about writer’s block.  She has a gaggle of children (one of whose poor health inspired My Sister's Keeper), and any spare minute to write that she can squeeze into her day isn’t spent wringing her hands over ideas.   Diana Abu-Jaber recently adopted a child, and she’s been grilling writers on how they get anything done.   Waiting for author Chris Cleave to begin speaking about Little Bee, I saw her writing longhand on a legal pad.  I could be them soon.

Thankfully, I haven’t been lazy.   I’ve pushed the cursor hard, and I didn’t put my life on hold to do it.

Looking back, I probably put in all those hours in preparation for this time, when I’d need to make every available minute count.  I’ve always done my best writing pushing against something, be it a job, a deadline, or a self-imposed goal.  When I look back on these three weeks, I’ll realize this was the turning point, when a string of zero-snooze days stopped feeling like a victory and became habit.

More importantly, it will be the time I tasted my future and found it sweeter than anything I’d imagined for myself.