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April 2010

Spain!

Photo_lg_spain  Holy Cow! The Weatherman and I are flying to Spain tonight. This is a long planned trip to go visit The Boy, who has been studying abroad since January. 

Basic plans include a tour of the Andalusian region of the country, which is Map-of-spain2   to the South. We'll visit Seville, where the boy lives, and also tour Granada and Cordoba, and possibly the small seaside town of Cadiz. I have never been to Spain and I am pretty excited to see both the country, and of course, The Boy. 

Those of you who know me know what a cool, calm and collected traveler I am. NOT. I'm in a complete tizzy. I'm hoping to blog at least a few times  while I'm over there, so please check back occasionally next week.

Meanwhile, the illustrations here are meant to whet the appetite, though truthfully I have NO intention of seeing a bullfight. Everything else is fair game.




Excerpt

RP-pencil-tip  Yesterday I was asked by a very small, local magazine if I would like them to publish an excerpt from my book. I thought I should take a pass, because the book is far from done (to say the least), the magazine tiny and I am leaving tomorrow for Spain, about which I will post tomorrow. 

But my agent thought otherwise - any publicity is good publicity, who knows whether a TV producer will pick up the magazine, etc. etc.

Here's the challenge: I need to figure out how to take a complicated subject I've been working on for more than year, about which I've already written 150 pages and narrow it down to a coherent 900 words. 900 words! The speech I just gave, which simply outlined some of the main themes of  the book was 6956 words. Yikes.

In a parallel consolidation, I have to figure out how to pack for an 11 day trip in a relatively small suitcase.

Editing. Bleah. But all for good ends...


Empathy and Judgment

Supreme_court_building1  My kids often used to say, "Oh Mom, don't be so judgmental." I would bristle and wonder, "what's wrong with making judgments?" Of course, what they really meant was "don't be so critical," but it still irks me that "judgmental" has turned into a pejorative word. 

Now President Obama is under fire for his choice of language in choosing a nominee for that ultimate judgmental body - the Supreme Court. On the last go-round of nominations, he said he wanted a judge with "empathy," and he was pilloried for using that quality as criterion. Critics said empathy had nothing to do with applying the law.

This time, the President has dropped the term, and instead is saying he wants someone with "a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people."

It's a slight variation on the theme. To be empathic is to be able to imagine oneself in the predicament of another, essentially to be able to walk in their shoes. (That's different from being  sympathetic, which means sharing the feelings of another to the point of compassion or pity.)

Obama's opponents don't like his new tack either, believing these emotional qualities would interfere with impartiality. 

Of course we all know that Supreme Court Justices never, ever bring their own life experiences or personalities to bear on any decisions, but instead act as automatons, mechanically analyzing what the words of the Constitution mean. That must be why they agree about everything. 


Go On - Let It Out

Crying-baby_medium  Yesterday I was interviewing a psychiatrist about - you guessed it - moms and sons.We got into the whole "boys don't cry" subject. This doctor was very big on the idea that crying is one of the ways that our bodies deal with pain and stress and that it serves an important healing function.

So I've been very upset lately, mostly for reasons I can't blog about, because it would compromise the privacy of someone I love. Yesterday afternoon, after hours of phone calls on this troubling news, I sat down to work on the book, and couldn't craft a sentence. I finally gave up. I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to watch one of the all time great weepy movies - "The Joy Luck Club."

This melodrama about several generations of Chinese women is incredibly moving. I was sniffling within the first half hour and sobbing half way in. I had a long, good cry. 

Have my worries and sadness disappeared? Of course not. But after my big weep fest, I do feel a little better. 


Editors

FormerLife
 
I have this cartoon hanging on the wall behind my computer. I got it in the days that editors at the NYT drove me crazy, messing with my copy and asking what seemed like inane questions. But now I see things differently. Back in my journalism days, it was easy.  There was so much guidance. You wrote your article. You sent it in. Your editor looked at it.  Various copy editors looked at it. If the story was missing something, the editor saw the hole, had you do more research and then made you rewrite. If there was something in there that shouldn't be, the editors took it out. If you made some embarrassing grammatical or spelling errors, the copy editors fixed it. They smoothed your copy. All in all, you were protected, and by the time the article was published it had been thoroughly  vetted.

But writing a book is like flying solo. Of course an editor at the publishing house will eventually look at it. But only when it is done. It's scary out here by myself. I never thought the day would come, but I sure miss my old editors.


Mothers-In-Law

Mil  You can't research the mother-son relationship without getting into the topic of mothers-in-law. I'm approaching it with care, because I think the whole image is steeped in anti-women stereotypes. I mean - hey, I did a Google image search for "mother-in-law" and look at this picture that came up. And how about the bumper sticker "Mother-In-Law In Trunk"? Ha, Ha, Ha. One presumes "Father-in-Law in Trunk" will just not hold the same hilarity.

You know the drill: a mother-in-law is a possessive, interfering, domineering, difficult woman who lives to get between her precious son and his wife and make the daughter-in-law's life a living hell.

Meanwhile I've been interviewing mothers of sons and of course the reality is far more subtle. Listen to this one mom, coming to terms with her son's significant other: "I was really sad about losing him. He's going to fall in love, be attached, move away. I finally had to come to grips with the reality of losing him and the changing dynamics of the family."

She talked about trying to negotiate a relationship with this "other woman" while also attempting to  maintain a closeness with her son. She said the experience  revealed things in her self that she didn't much like seeing - that she was often judgmental and sometimes competitive. But she kept working at it and now feels closer to both of them. Over all this mother was thoughtful and honest with herself. Not the screaming harridan that you want to lock in the trunk. Just another caring Mom trying to do her best by her son.


Good Advice

Anne_lamott  I go back and forth with the author Anne Lamott. Some of her books I love; others drive me around the bend. Ditto with her persona - she can be so smart and funny, but then other times really grating. But she is always interesting. Yesterday I was reading a Q and A with her (she's promoting a new book) and came across the following:

Q: The best piece of advice you've actually followed?

A: "When my best friend Pammy was dying, I asked her if I looked fat in a certain dress, and she - from a wheelchair - said, 'Annie, you really don't have that kind of time.' I live by that."

Amen.


Girls' Night Out: The Next Generation

3_Girls_Night_Out-1.JPG  Last night I was meeting My Daughter and My Niece for dinner at a restaurant on the Upper West Side. We dined roughly a block and a half from where I once had an apartment, back in my twenties when I was working and then going to graduate school at Columbia. Still, I managed to get disoriented when I came out of the subway at 72nd Street, and headed in the wrong direction, proving with all certainty that I am now a middle aged woman firmly ensconced in the suburbs.

Spending time with these two is always a treat,  and for me, it's also a marker of time flying by. There is My Niece,  who is a month shy of getting her PhD in psychology, married almost two years, talking about starting a family and moving to a bigger apartment. My Daughter,who is 4 years younger than her cousin, is dealing with a demanding boss at work, an irritating ex-boyfriend and plans to explore Brooklyn when her lease runs out.

I look at these two beautiful blondes, so full of life and promise, but oddly, I don't feel envy. I can also see My Daughter looks tired and is stressed about work. My Niece is anxious about balancing babies and work. And though I wouldn't mind looking like that again (did I ever?) I would not want to revisit those days where every decision seems (and often is) potentially life changing and - smart and competent as these two are - you are still figuring out who you want to be.

Note to J and E - If you promise to have dinner with me again, I promise not to blog about it.


Power Politics

Adam_Bradley  Adam Bradley, the Mayor of White Plains, has been arrested twice recently in a domestic violence case. First he was accused of physically and emotionally abusing his wife, incidents that included slamming the door on her hand. Later he was arrested again, on charges that while the case was pending, he urged his wife to recant, check herself into a mental hospital, admit she was crazy and go hang herself.  David-patterson-5-23-08  

This charming fellow is still in office, and many members of the White Plains City Council would like to get rid of him. They are said to be "weighing their options" and one of those, according to one city council member, is to ask the Governor to remove him.

Now that's rich. Gov. Patterson is another pol who has obstinately refused to abandon his office, despite charges that he personally interfered in a domestic violence case. The Governor tried to get a woman to back off from charges that one of his top staff guys choked her and threw her against a door.

Gentleman, please - be gone. 


Parenting Advice

Mother-child  The book I am writing about mothers and sons is not a parenting book. However, in my research, I  occasionally come across some great material that does attempt to instruct mothers - like the  book "Mother At Home" written by the Rev. John S.C. Abbot in 1833. If any of you are struggling with wayward children, perhaps this will help:

"Every mother has the power to obtain prompt obedience if she commences with her children when they are young. They are entirely in her hands. God has placed in your hands a helpless babe, entirely dependent on you, so that if it disobeys you, all you have to do is cut off its course of enjoyment, or inflict bodily pain so steadily and so invariably, that disobedience and suffering shall be indissolubly connected in the mind of the child. What more power can a parent ask for than what God has already given?"

If you do not heed Rev. Abbot's advice, the consequences will be dire indeed. 

"If you can not summon sufficient resolution to deprive enjoyment and inflict pain when it is necessary, then you must feel that a broken heart and an old age of sorrow will not be unmerited. And when you look upon your dissolute sons and ungrateful daughters, you must remember that the time was when you might have checked their evil propensities."

Dear me!



Help Yourself

American-wife1  My Daughter came home for Easter Day, which was a treat. I successfully lured her with promises of delicious food, nice weather and quality time with the kitties. We had a really nice day, and as always, I was sad to see her check the Metro North train schedule and plan her return to the city.51ZD4B051XL  

Just one thing took the sting out of her departure. As is her custom, she wandered up to my office to peruse the bookshelves, saying that she needed new things to read. She left with the following somewhat eclectic selection: Charlotte Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," Norman Mailer's 41AC5WXZK7L  "Armies of The Night," and Curtis Sittenfeld's "American Wife."

Bronte and Sittenfeld's books were mine; Mailer came from The Weatherman's collection. Nothing could make a nerdy writer/reader Mom more proud than watching My Daughter tuck those books in her bag.


AOL - No Way Out

Aol  Last week my friend Carin notified me that she had received some "weird spam" from my AOL account and that I had better check it out. Then The Weatherman asked why on earth I was sending him ads for Viagra. AWK! Someone, it seems, had hacked into my AOL account, gotten a hold of my contacts and was now generating this nasty stuff.

Now I rarely use that account - it was my first Internet account, but it's pretty much inactive, and right now my AOL inbox is clogged with advertisements and that's about it. So in light of these nasty goings on, I figured I would simply close the account. 

Easy, right? Hah! First, the account is free, so it's certainly not as simple as no longer paying your bill. I spent more than an hour on the AOL site, trying to figure out how to close the ^*^%* thing, and got stuck in an endless loop. There was no information under the "Help" or "My Account" tabs. If you wanted to actually talk to a human being or enter a live "help" chat, you had to upgrade to a paid account. This was the last thing I wanted.

Finally, I googled "cancel AOL" and found lots of fellow bloggers who had been through this same rigamarole and offered some tips. As of yesterday I was directed to a fax number where I could send a request for my account to be closed. (You'd kind of think there would be an email option, given the nature of the company.) Anyway they say it takes awhile to process, so if anyone gets any correspondence from me via AOL, do not open it. Just like I wish I had never opened an AOL account in the first place. 


Phew!

6a00d834527abb69e20120a9236997970b-320wi  Over the weekend, I gave my keynote speech at a conference on mothers and sons. Phew! And that "phew" refers to two things - one, it seemed to be very well received and two, it's over.

Public speaking is not my thing, but I had worked really hard on the talk and practiced a lot. And I had a really nice audience. They were almost all mothers of sons who had an interest in the topic, and they  seemed like a particularly warm, welcoming group. There was one woman in particular who kept nodding enthusiastically at a lot of points, and I kept my eyes on her a lot.

The Q and A that followed was interesting and helpful too, because some of what was asked definitely pointed to areas that need to be addressed in the book. 

After the talk, I led two workshops - billed as a continued conversation on the themes of the book. Here, women really opened up about their own lives. It was great - young moms who were worried that they would one day lose their sons for ever, single moms who were on the receiving end of critiques for being "too close" to their boys, gay moms who struggled over issues of masculinity, and moms of grown sons who expressed a great deal of sadness and regret that they hadn't nurtured closer bonds and had listened to some of those around them telling them to push their sons away.

Over all, it was a good experience, and certainly confirmed that this is a subject that mothers are longing to talk about.

Afterwards, I changed out of my jacket and high heels and into my jeans and clogs, and climbed into the passenger seat of the car. The Weatherman drove us home from Maine to New York and I slept on and off the whole way home, happy, relieved, and wiped out. 


It's Always Something

Squirrel-eating  Yesterday's TV interview didn't start out exactly as planned. The producer called  to say they were running about an hour early and could they arrive in about 15 minutes? I had been running around all morning but unthinkingly said "sure" and as soon as I hung up realized that the house was a mess and I was a mess.

I decided to begin by picking up the Family room, where the filming would take place. Imagine my surprise when I walked in to find a large, live grey squirrel cornered in the room by my two cats. I let out a scream, the cats took off and the squirrel scampered in a panic up on my couch and then darted all over the room. Chaos ensued, but suffice it to say that I finally got the squirrel outside  and was just about to turn to picking up, throwing on some makeup and figuring out what to wear, when the doorbell rang.

Can't wait to see this interview in which I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, my hair wild, sofa disheveled from squirrel attack, while I calmly discuss the pros and cons of a Kindle.

 Meanwhile neither cat is talking about who brought the wildlife into the house.