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April 2011

Nature's Power

Yesterday I was hyper-conscious of the beauty of spring. This morning I am overwhelmed by her force. It seems that the battering of the south just won't stop. The scary thing about tornados is how little warning time people have. Though at least meteorologists know when conditions are likely to spawn tornados. Earthquake victims have no time at all. As I read about the silliness of the Obama birth certificate debate and other petty human squabbling, it all seems remarkably small.










Maybe it's because we had such a harsh winter, but it seems as if this is the most beautiful spring we've had in years. Below is what our family calls "the popcorn tree" because of the way it blossoms almost overnight. I love this time of year.

Popcorn tree 1

The Final Interview

Images-1 I think I only have one person left to interview for the book. Last week, I finally tracked down my elusive "boy expert" - a man with whom I had been trying to connect since 2009. When the interview finally took place, he turned out to be extremely helpful, charming and gracious. Almost worth the 2 year wait.

But there is one more request from my editor that I'm still chasing down. In a section about football moms, I refer to Char McNabb, the mother of NFL great Donovan McNabb. I quote from her blog, but of course my editor would prefer a direct interview. Again I've been trying to reach out to Mrs. McNabb, known as "America's Sports Mom" for quite some time. But yesterday I heard from a lawyer who represents the McNabb family, and I was asked to send written information about who I am, my project and some sample questions. Progress! I think she would add a very valuable - not to mention unique - perspective on the mother-son relationship.

Full Nest

Images The whole family was home over the weekend for Easter - the opposite of the empty nest. There was a lot of cooking and eating, (a roast rack of lamb with an herbed crust that was a triumph, if I do say so myself), a disgraceful amount of chocolate (it's amazing that at this stage of our lives, the Easter Bunny can still find our house), and a good deal of lounging and laughing.

This morning it is terribly quiet. My kids are so grown up. The fact that they are independent means that the Weatherman and I have done our job, I suppose. But sometimes I still feel like there's something wrong with the entire American culture - why do we raise them so that the sign of success is that they  leave? If I had slept any better I would come up with a metaphor about eggs (with the Easter egg motif) and nests and chicks and Moms that plays with the "empty nest" cliche and comes up with something better.

But I'm tired and foggy and must marshall any creative forces I have for the new ending of the book.

The Elusive "Expert"

Unknown There is one expert on boys, who shall remain nameless here, who I have been trying to contact since 2009. This person has done some well-respected research on the mother-son relationship, which I refer to - with attribution of course - in my book.

One my editor's requests is that I rely less on secondary sources - that is, don't just quote the study, interview the author directly. And she particularly requested that I speak to this boy expert. Heaven knows I tried long before I turned in the manuscript. It wasn't that he totally shut me out. We would get tantalizingly close and then it would fall apart. There would be emails to arrange a time to chat, but when I'd call at the arranged time, I would get voice mail. A month or so later, there would be a message apologizing, we'd start over again to schedule something, and again, there would be a problem.

I have an electronic "to do" list on my computer's homepage. "Interview XXXXXX" was on it for more than a year, until I deleted it in frustration. But now I've been told to track him down again. For the last three weeks, we've been at it again. We had another interview scheduled for Tuesday that fell through. Today we are on for 2:30 this afternoon. Will he pick up the phone? And more to the point - what is going on? Does he simply not want to talk to me, but won't tell me directly, or is he wildly disorganized, or overwhelmed or what?

Grrrrrrr......When and if I complete this interview, I will be done with my second round of research and ready to re-write chapter 7 and complete the revisions. Hooray!

Subtitles and Book Jackets

Images While I am still wrestling with revisions on the book, the rest of the process keeps moving down the pipeline. I think I mentioned that my editor didn't like my original title - "Oedipus Wrecks." Nor did she like the subtitle, which was something along the lines of "How Moms Are Pushed Away From Their Sons And Why They Should Push Back." She thought it was too aggressive.

The book has been retitled "Mothers and Sons" but neither one of us can come up with a good subtitle. It needs to be pithy and capture the essence of the book. I'm open to all suggestions, folks. Evidently, we need to decide quickly, because it is time for the designers to start working on the book jacket to show to sales.

The whole thing is just amazing to me, because I've nurtured this project for years, and it now has a life of its own. It's really going to happen.

Young, Smart and Accomplished

Images At the end of last week I was up at my alma mater for a series of meetings. I serve on an executive alumni committee that provides the college input on a variety of issues. We also try to connect with the students on campus, and on Friday we had a career forum where kids could come talk to us for professional advice.

I figured my table would be empty (given the dismal state of journalism jobs) but it was packed. What struck me was the caliber of these students. One young man had noticed in my bio that I had taught a writing workshop to homeless kids. He asked me about my curriculum for the class. He then told me that he taught a creative writing workshop in Jordan (his home country) and he used the tuition he charged from that class to pay for a class he taught to homeless kids too.

Another student asked for advice on what he might read to improve his writing skills. He said that he had difficulty organizing his thoughts. After I suggested that he study short essays and Op Ed pieces, for examples on how to make a compelling argument in short form, he thanked me profusely. He went on to tell me that it was easy to write in his native Portuguese, and that he could craft papers well writing in French and German, but that English was more challenging.

Sheesh. Let me just say that these two young men were sophomores. Oh, and then there was the young woman who was the Sports Editor of the paper, had interned at CBS, and spoke fluent Chinese. She was going to study in Beijing next year, because while she had mastered between 3000-4000 Chinese characters, she still didn't have a firm grip on the entire 10,000 she needed for complete literacy.

The idea that I had anything of value to impart to these students seemed crazy, though they all professed to be very grateful for my time and thoughts. I only hope someday one of them might give me a job. 

Et Tu, Watson?

Unknown Readers know I have long had a cyber-crush on Watson, the IBM computer. I was lucky enough to meet him shortly after his historic Jeopardy match and was completely charmed by his capabilities. My friend who works at IBM - the same one who got us in to meet Watson - recently gave me a book called "Final Jeopardy: Man Vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything." It is basically about the development of this amazing super-computer.

Last night I came upon a paragraph that confirmed a fear that I have until this point just been joking about. Stephen Baker, the author, is describing the wide-ranging intellect of David Ferrucci, the chief scientist of the team that developed Watson. Baker included this comment, almost as an aside: "Early in his tenure at IBM he and a friend tried, in their spare time, to teach a machine to write fiction by itself. They trained it for various literary themes, from love to betrayal, and they named it Brutus, for Julius Caesar's traitorous comrade."

Computers writing literature?! Replacing authors?! What next? Et tu, Watson?

Italian Mamas

Unknown Last night I baked banana bread for The Boy. He is home for a few days, finishing up some papers which he will email to professors, and then heading off for Spring Break with some friends. I was really tired last night, but The Boy was driving hundreds of miles in a nasty rain storm, and I wanted him to have one of his favorite foods, all warm and savory, when he got here.

That's nice, but I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Italian moms that put me to shame. There is actually a guy who is in the business of trucking Sunday dinners, cooked by Mama, to their off spring in other regions of the country. He hauls the lasagnas, raviolis, baked fish and other goodies in his refrigerated truck, so that the children - wait, did I say "children? Some of the offspring in the article are in their 30s! - can have a nice meal, prepared by Mom. And it's not just Mama's boys either; daughters are also getting the deliveries.

Of course by our cultural standards, it's completely over the top, but as I read about the almond paste cookies, the lightly breaded artichokes, the stuffed eggplants, the home-grown vegetables and more,  I had to wish that I had an Italian mama.

Losing it or Overload?

Unknown Yesterday was a busy day, but I carved out an hour to run to the gym to workout. After my customary 40 minutes on the elliptical machine (are we having fun yet?) I went to the Ladies locker room to grab my fleece. Staring at row after row of lockers, I could not for the life of me remember which one I had my stuff in. I had to open nearly a dozen before I found my things.

That wouldn't have been so bad, had it not been followed by the fact that when I went out to the rather large parking lot,  I couldn't remember where I had parked my car. Worse, my car is mid-sized and grey, and looks like a lot of other cars, so I wandered around approaching a number of other vehicles before I finally found mine.

So here is the question: am I starting to lose it for good, or is this just temporary mental overload? I do have a lot on my mind these days, but still, it was a pitiful performance. 

My Son The History Nerd

Thesis I'm not calling The Boy any name he wouldn't call himself. He IS a history nerd. And he is also in his last few weeks of college. These two photos illustrate the combination of seriousness and wacko-ness that is The Boy. Lincoln chia pet

On the left, we have his completed thesis, which focused specifically on a slave conspiracy and uprising in Colonial New York City, and more generally on race and class relations in the colony at that time. He sent me this photo of the completed work on Friday at about 6 a.m. Now, as any mother of a college students knows, that does not mean he was up bright and early on a Friday morning; it meant he had yet to go to bed from Thursday. But Heaven knows I understand all about skidding in just under the deadline.

On the right, we have the Abraham Lincoln Chia Pet. This really speaks for itself. I was incredibly proud when I found this item for sale in Rite Aid at Christmas time. What more inspired gift for a budding history nerd? That he actually seeded and grew it was just icing on the cake. Pretty hilarious.

Interviews set up all morning for various parts of the book. There are several few parts where the editor has asked for examples or direct quotes or more specifics, and this requires more reporting. Onward!

How Times Have Changed

Check out these olds ads, especially you young women, and be grateful for the feminist movement!
















Wow! What a dream come true on Christmas morning! How about this great approach?


Does that make you cranky? Well, don't take it out on your guy!


Hmmm...that could cause more than a bit of "Menstrual Distress." But wait - there was marketing to men too. And is it possible that a lone woman snuck into the advertising agency and approved this copy targeted to the guys?



Why a Good Editor Is Like A Offensive Tackle

Unknown-1 If you've seen the movie "Blindside," you know that offensive tackle Michael Oher says to his family and teammates, "I've got your back." (And given the size of Michael Oher, that's some pretty good protection.)

That's what a good editor does. And it's becoming increasingly clear that I have a really good editor. Yesterday she sent me more detailed edits, and I have to say I agreed with each one. Some are quite specific - "this is an important point; take it out of parenthesis" - some are a bit more general ' "I'd like to see some examples here." And of course the re-write of Chapter 7 is the biggest job of all. 

But the point is, I know she is making this a better book. She's got my back. Phew! 

Note: This blog post has been corrected from an earlier version. The Weatherman pointed out that I had mislabeled Oher's position. He is an offensive, not defensive, tackle. My defense is that I meant no offense by my mistake.

Goodbye Chapter 8

Unknown Remember I had a phone appointment with my editor yesterday? Well when the word "editor" is combined with an illustration of a meat cleaver, does that convey some of the content of the conversation?

OK, I'm getting far too dramatic. On balance, the conversation was great. She pronounced the first 6 chapters "rock solid" and said that overall she was "thrilled" with the manuscript. There were many other positives, but I don't want to get too braggy. Then we got to the last two chapters of the book, 7 and 8. 

Chapter 7 is "Let's Here It From The Boys," and talks about the mother-son relationship from the guys' point of view. Mostly, she liked it, but she said it was too long and anecdotal, and needs to be tightened up, as well bolstered up with some voices of experts. OK - that shouldn't be too hard. Also, I completely agreed with her.

But Chapter 8, my poor Chapter 8, which was "Great Mama's Boys In History." Gone. Finito. History itself. The editor didn't think it was a strong enough finish to the book, that little of the material was new, and while she felt I could salvage some of the anecdotes and use them in other parts of the book, overall, the chapter had to go. All that work! 

That said, I believe she knows what she is doing, and she is the boss, so out it goes. Of course I'm a big believer in "reduce, reuse and recycle" so that material may appear at some point as a magazine piece or in another format.

Meanwhile, time to tackle the unwieldy chapter 7.

The Book: Round Two

Even though it is early Spring, today feels like the first day of school to me. I was one of those kids who actually loved school, and the excitement of a new classroom, new school supplies, and one new "back-to-school" outfit filled me with an anticipatory energy - this year I was going to really work hard and do well. (You readers knew by now what a nerd I am, right?) 

Anyway, I feel like I've been on a bit of a summer vacation from the book. I turned it in to the publisher in early February, and then more than a month went by with no word from the editor. In mid-March I started to get email feedback - most of it positive, thank Goodness, but with a few suggestions on how to strengthen the manuscript, particularly in the final two chapters.

Today I have a phone appointment to talk to my editor and to really bear down on revisions. When I first finished the book, I couldn't stand the thought of looking at it again, but now I have had sufficient time away and am feeling excited to start work on it again. I have a spanking new computer, and working with the editor is new, so all I'm missing is a new edit-the-book outfit. 

Instead of illustrating this post with a photo of editing (yawn) I am including a video that a friend sent that has no relevance whatsoever, except that it busts me up every time I see it. Apparently it's an oldie that has been around, but I had never seen it until recently. Enjoy!