Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Announcement

So a few weeks ago, before I went on vacation, I had a discussion with someone about why I can't get a book written and I started really thinking about it while I was away. There's no excuse. I have at least four books in me, possibly more and they want to be written. Maybe it's self sabotage? Maybe I'm lazy? Maybe I'm scared of the rejection or have ADD or all of the above?

I'm writing my first memoir and I need you all to keep me accountable, to kick my ass and email me and pester me and bother me about getting it done. I have to do this.

Here's the plan. I must finish it. I must try to get an agent and if I can't, I'll publish it myself as an e-book. Another thing I considered is that a lot of bloggers books are rehashed posts. This drives me nuts. I want to give my readers new material if they're going to pay to read my writing. I'm writing about my days at the strip club, which I've never blogged much about and I think you'll like those tales if I can get the work done. It's called Amateur Night at the Bubblegum Kittikat.

I'd like to give you a little teaser (remember the formatting goes awry when I paste from Word):

"I passed the Bubblegum Kittikat all the time. It wasn’t one of those sign-free topless bars in the middle of nowhere, behind an industrial complex under a highway overpass. The Bubblegum Kittikat was next to a Holiday Inn across from a Target. It was a present shaped building, wrapped in mirrors, ribboned in hot pink neon. An obscenely large, diamond shaped sign announced South Florida’s premiere gentlemen’s club from the parking lot where an attendant stood at all hours directing traffic with two flashlights as if he were landing private jets on some exclusive runway. I always thought that was overkill, but nothing at the Bubblegum Kittikat was understated, except perhaps me."

Should've Been Romeo

Do you remember last summer when my dad played a bus driver in a movie? Well, the movie is all done now and looking for a distributor. I've seen the director's cut and it's very sweet and funny - a definite family film. Though the story is different, the tone of the movie reminds me kind of like "Little Miss Sunshine."

This movie is a collaboration between a group of guys who I've been friends with since I was twelve years old and first visited New York City. They were a bunch of struggling artists living in Chelsea and they followed their dreams one day and packed up for LA to be a director, an actor and a screenwriter. All have been successful. These guys actually gave me my first book on writing. It was Story by Robert McKee and it taught me a lot about writing before I even went to college. When they were writing the script for "Romeo" over a period of several years, they'd send me drafts of the script to help them with because that's what I love and what I do anyway. I'd make comments, give suggestions and opinions just for fun, because they were my friends. It was a total surprise when they included me in the credits of the finished movie and an even bigger surprise when I found myself on IMDB (kind of a lifelong dream there). I'm really rooting for this movie.

Go visit the web site for me. You can see clips from the film and the more clicks they get on the site the more distributors are willing to buy it.

Here's the link: Should've Been Romeo

Let me know what you think.
Thursday, August 25, 2011

Our Help Our family

I haven't seen the movie version of The Help yet but I'd like to. I enjoyed the book when it came out. I like Southern Lit and stories about women, especially minority women, so it was just my thing, although I could get grad school about it and say that it was unfair that the white character's story was privileged as the "main story" and she was the "main character" and all, but I'll save it. It was entertaining and satisfying. I'm pretty sure everyone has read the book already, but if you haven't, it's a quick entertaining read. I liked it and you probably will too.

My family has lived in rural Southern places much like the setting of The Help for centuries. My ancestors were all farmers and I love hearing stories about the relatives that came long before me. The thing is, you never know what you're going to dig up when you look far into the past and some things you find might be upsetting. What if one of your ancestors owned slaves? None of my relatives were wealthy enough to own any slaves before abolition, but I expect a lot of them shared the prejudices of everyone of their times. We came from a state that was split in the Civil War and a lot of my ancestors appear to have sided with the South after all. We have some old tin types of boys in Confederate uniforms.

On my recent vacation, I had the pleasure of speaking with my grandmother about her grandparents, who were born in the 1860s and who she knew very well. What she told me ended up being a really pleasant surprise.

My great great grandparents were named George Washington and Lydia Hill. Lydia was educated, but George had never been to school and was illiterate until his wife taught him to read. They farmed.

George was lucky enough to get some sweet potato plants that his parents had been growing for many years. They were a special strain I guess that had been growing in his parents' garden forever and who knows where they came from, but they were particularly good. George started growing the sweet potatoes and word got out that George Hill grew the best sweet potatoes around. He made enough money to buy more land and grow more sweet potatoes and pretty soon he was the biggest sweet potato producer on the Eastern Shore and everyone wanted Hill's sweet potatoes.

George Washington Hill wasn't educated but he was a smart businessman and he became a sweet potato tycoon. He bought a magnificent farm called Paradise Alley where he owned hundreds of acres of farmland and was a millionaire. A blight caused his special sweet potatoes to go extinct forever, but he still prospered with other crops and good investments.

George and Lydia had four daughters and no sons. Back then men relied on their sons to help farm, but George only had girls, so he needed hired help. He hired a black man named Sam whom he built a house on the property and he got a homeboy named Woodrow. My grandmother told me that "homeboys" were like black foster children. They were kids with no families who were given to white families. Most people abused them and treated them like slaves. It was child labor. They were called "homeboys" because they worked in the home most of the time. My grandmother explained that they were really treated horribly, and yes, that's where the term "homeboy" came from. I guess the term was reclaimed and recoded by African American pop-culture.

Woodrow was George and Lydia's homeboy, but unlike most farm families, they didn't treat him like their slave. In fact, my great great grandparents ADOPTED him. This was so totally unheard of that it caused a huge scandal. This happened somewhere around the 1910s my grandmother recollects, because she remembers Woodrow as being a young adult when she was a child. Woodrow had his own bedroom in the house and was my great great grandparents' son. He worked hard on the farm yes, but so would their natural sons if they had had any. My great great grandfather worked on his farm until he died even though he was extremely wealthy, although he could have probably hired more help if he'd have wanted.

According to my grandmother, Sam and Woodrow loved George and Lydia dearly. They were allowed to eat at the dinner table with the family, which was also unheard of. They were treated as equals. Mommom tells me that Sam got married and had a family and still remained living in the house that my grandfather built him on property. Woodrow she thinks did not marry, but she isn't sure. She said she just remembers him being around and her grandparents calling him their son and having a very loving relationship with him. Unfortunately, she thinks he passed away young, but she's not sure what happened because she was little.

I find myself thinking about this story a lot and feeling really proud and really happy that my great great grandparents were such good people. I know that most people back then were racist, even otherwise good people, because that was the way they were raised and that was how everyone was. It takes enormous strength of character to see through that sort of cultural norm and to go against popular beliefs and ways of life even when those ideals are wrong and harmful. I'm glad that my family members weren't like the characters in The Help who mistreated their black employees and considered them dirty and less than human. My relatives considered these people their family so much that they adopted a little black boy.


It makes me feel good to know that this is who I came from. I wish I could have known them. George and Lydia and Woodrow, I'm honored to be related to you, wherever you are.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Home!


Before I start, I just need to let you know that there's now way you're getting any kind of coherent post out of me today. I'm still in vacation recovery mode.

I came home to total hurricane hysteria. On the plane home Sunday night it's all everyone was talking about. Mass panic. The big one was going to hit. Monday the local news had two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: We're all going to die.

Scenario 2: We're all going to die but it might not hurt as badly.

Then I got up yesterday and South Florida had been deconed and maybe it'd rain or something but nothing major and the wind chimes probably wouldn't even rattle. Stupid news.

I'm livid though. I missed being in an earthquake by mere hours. I can't believe it. All I want is to feel a harmless little earthquake to see what it's like, but noooooo. No earthquake for me. I miss all the fun. Figures doesn't it?

So I've managed to get my house in some working order now. The laundry is mostly done and put away and everything is clean and organized. My next major project is dealing with vacation photos and lordy there are plenty of those.

I came home and my entire yard was gone, as you can see. We're getting a new driveway and we needed to put in some new water pipes so now I have a yard of solid mud and no damned driveway, which is no fun let me tell you because I am not a fan of parking on the street, but the new driveway won't be circular, so we'll see how this goes with my running over the trashcans issue. I'm thinking it won't go well.

I thought you might like to see a picture. The house/ Money Pit is coming along very nicely. This is the new color. We decided not to go with the green after all and I like this scheme a lot better. The workers with the little tent are sealing our doors if you're wondering. For some reason there were gaps around all the door frames and bugs were coming in, so now all the doors are sealed tightly and bugs are still coming in, just smaller ones and fewer of them. That's life in South Florida. If you're going to live in the tropics, you're going to have to cohabitate with insects unless you want to spray so much pesticide that you'll come down with three different kinds of cancer  by tomorrow in which case you will then have cancer and still be living with bugs.

In the meantime I think I'm going to have to rename the blog NO LAWN and Narrow Minds.
Saturday, August 20, 2011

You Can't Go Back

We stopped because the traffic wasn't even at a crawl. It was a parking lot and we were starving and the exit was right there so I said, just get off here because at least I know where to go. I think. I think I still remember, because how long ago was 1989? But secretly it was because I wanted to go back, to see Nyack again because I never wanted to leave in the first place and I've been mad at my parents for dragging me to Florida since I was fifteen.

I don't know what I thought it would be like. Maybe I believed that everything had been perfectly preserved when I left, the way grieving parents will keep the bedroom of a dead child and turn it into a sort of shrine. I did that with Nyack, but the shrine was in my head - a quaint and glossy museum image of a town, made more perfect by the imperfections of memory and wrapped neatly in one of the many drawers of my brain. 

It's not the same of course. Yes, much has changed, but at the same time I wonder now if it's just that I viewed things differently at fifteen and the things that thrilled me back then don't anymore. 

Nyack, New York is still a lovely little town on the steep banks of the Hudson, but it's no longer a home for which I desperately yearn. I thought I did, but I don't. My ghost no longer lingers on the corner of Main Street and Broadway. I'm not there anymore. 

The town looked shabbier than I recall. It's much more urban than I remember and looks crowded. Much of the Northeast looks as if it has outgrown itself and Nyack is this way too, like it was too small to contain the people and the cars, the stores, yoga studios and organic food co-ops. I saw a cluster of teenaged boys gathered on some steps and I thought they looked greasy and vagrant. Did we look that way twenty something years ago? We couldn't have. My favorite pizza place was on the same corner and we stopped in for a slice, but what the hell? When did Tarantella's decide that penne pasta and Buffalo chicken were acceptable toppings? At least the plain slices were still perfect.

Most of the people I went to school with and ran around with stayed. I don't know a single one of them anymore. I don't have any friends in Nyack now. Maybe I never really did when I stop and think about it.

I've spent twenty-two years bitter and regretful about moving to Florida. I've wasted hours wondering what my life might have been like if we'd never moved, mistakenly imagining it to have been the better life, the perfect life thwarted. I got the life I was supposed to have. Nyack wasn't my home after all and when I tossed my crust in the trash, I couldn't wait to head south on 9W and get out of there.

And finally, I have the closure I needed.

Going Home

I just want to go home. It's been 2 1/2 weeks and I want my own bed and a bathroom that I don't have to share with people with whom I'm not comfortable talking about poop. I may be having a vacation breakdown and I'm pretty sure this is the longest trip my husband and I have ever taken together. It's definitely a long trip with a baby, but she's been just fine and is probably a much better traveler than I am. So far I've managed to live out all of my summer beach house fantasies all up and down the East Coast. We've had sweet corn and blueberry picking, sunflowers, waves breaking on rocks, starfish strewn tidepools, swan feeding, cocktails at fancy hotels, lots of clothes with blue stripes, sunhats, ice cream, darting swallows, one big rainbow and one little one, tons of BBQs, roadside farm stands, lobster rolls, mermaid weather vanes, New England shingle style beach houses and wow, it's been amazing. Exhausting. Beautiful. The best vacation I've ever taken and everything I've always dreamed about.

But now I'm really ready to get home, to get all this laundry done, to get back on a schedule, restock my fridge, start writing again, start planning my memoir class and prepare for my favorite season of all. People, it's only a matter of days before they have Pumpkin Spice Lattes again. I've milked this summer for all it was worth and now I'm saying bring on the fall.

And by the way, we booked our return flights tomorrow night on Southwest since Spirit sucked crap. No charge for checked bags!
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mortified

Mortified and horrified are not synonyms. It peeves me when people use them interchangeably. Mortified means deeply embarrassing and humiliating and horrified means aghast and appalled or generally full of horror. Often a mortifying experience is also horrifying, but they are not the same thing.

I had an experience on this vacation that was both mortifying and horrifying. It was also gross, so if you'd rather not hear about my terrible shame, then you can skip this one and come back tomorrow or so when I'll share a touching family tale.
Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back to Civilization

It feels weird being back on a computer. For the past week, I've been in my extremely rural hometown where the cell phone service is so weak that I couldn't even talk to my husband, who was working in New York. I had no Internet access whatsoever, because my grandmother has no computer and certainly no wireless and apparently, neither do her neighbors. I suppose I could manage without a computer for a week, but the phone? It was torture. I was so aggravated. Plus, everywhere I went, it smelled like some kind of farm animal's poop.

I'll be home in one week. Right now I'm back in New Jersey. This is where we started out. We flew into Atlantic City on the horrendous Spirit Airlines and stayed at our friends' shore house for a day before heading south to Millpond where my husband dropped me off and then went back north to New York for work. I know, it's confusing.

So the baby on the flight was not as bad as I'd anticipated. It wasn't great, but it was completely fine. For the first half of the flight, she was fidgety so my husband walked her around and then she fell asleep for the rest. She saved her screaming for the hour car ride back to the house. That was deeply unpleasant, but over soon enough.

That flight though. I hate Spirit Airlines and I know I'm not alone in this. They just nickel and dime you to death and they've jammed so many seats on the plane to try to maximize profits that you get zero room whatsoever. It's like sitting in the back of a Porsche. And by Porsche I don't mean a new one. I mean some old ass Porsche that's at least 20 years old and hasn't been taken care of so it doesn't even count as a luxury car anymore. That's Spirit. Spirit is so ghetto I think they have rims on the landing gear. I'm pretty sure I saw one of those crown air fresheners in the cockpit too. The absolute highlight of our flight was that right in front of us two black ladies got into a fight. It was great. One of the women was right in front of me and the other one was up a row and across the aisle. The woman in front of me saw that the one across the aisle was messing with her cell phone when all electronic devices were supposed to be turned off and she went crazy hollering and freaking out because she thought it was going to crash the plane. The woman with the phone kept telling the woman in front of me that her phone was on airplane mode but the woman in front of me called the flight attendants on her. I thought it was going to come to blows. She was all "Turn that shit off! They said turn it off! TURN IT OFF!!!" and the other one was all like "It's on AIRPLANE MODE!!" and the other one said "If you don't turn that shit off I'm about to throw you off this airplane mode!"  The flight attendants managed to settle them down before it came to blows.

The next day we spent outside of Seaside Heights where I was pleasantly surprised. I think "Jersey Shore" gave me the wrong impression. There's some of that element, yes, but there's also a lot of pretty houses and nice normal people here too. It's actually very pretty and our friends' house is right on the water and ducks come right up to the dock to be fed. The highlight of my day was crabbing, which I haven't done since I was a kid and which I just love. I didn't eat any of the crabs though. I just caught them for fun and threw them back.

Last Saturday we went to Millpond to stay with my grandmother and it was there that I began having serious technology withdrawals. I spent my week visiting relatives and my husband came back down from New York and got me and brought me back to the digital age again.

Right now I'm in New Jersey (did I already say that?). This week is my husband's vacation week and tomorrow we're going up to Rhode Island to visit relatives. I've never been there so I'm pretty excited about that. We were supposed to go today but we're having torrential rain and we figured we'd rather avoid floods combined with outgoing beach traffic, which is sure to be a nightmare. Add to that a car seat averse child and it just wouldn't end well. So we're making tacos and then getting ice cream.

One thing New Jersey has in its favor is Hershey's Ice Cream. Wow. I guess it's a regional thing, but oh my God. They have a flavor that is chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (my favorite cookie on earth) mixed into vanilla. Words can't describe. I'm not kidding. I may die if I don't get more of it before my trip ends next week.

What New Jersey does not have in its favor is beach traffic. For some reason you can't make left turns here and everything is one way and it frustrates me to no end. I really don't approve of the driving situation in this state. Last Saturday on the way to Millpond we got stuck in a horrific jam behind cars and cars full of Guidos on their way to the shore. You should have seen the fools hanging out of their cars. I saw one shirtless idiot at a rest area making all kinds of body building poses at himself in the reflection of his car door. I kid you not. I guess in honor of it all I should go see the "Jersey Shore" house, since it's right down the street and all. I'm a little ashamed of my interest in seeing such a thing. The people watching here, when the weather is nice, is pretty priceless. Last week I saw a Snook-alike walking down the road in an impossible pair of coochie cutters. She was squawking into her cell phone apparently at someone with whom she'd just broken up. The person on the other end was mad at her for breaking up with him and she was mad at him for being mad at her. Or that's what I surmised between all the sobbing and cussing at least. This morning the entire fire department showed up at the neighbor's house and they went in with an axe. We still haven't figured out what it was all about, but the next door neighbor is an HOA nazi type who gets mad if the stones in his driveway get out of order and God forbid, spill out into the street. 

Last night I got so scared on the way in. We took Route 70, which is some awful, forsaken country road with no lights that winds through the pine barrens. I just knew that any second the Jersey Devil was going to fly out of the woods and carry us off, rental car and all. It didn't but it may as well have. We were chased by some 'roid raging jackass who tailgated us for several miles with his brights on. He had been in front of us, but actually pulled over so he could get behind us to do this. What would possess someone to do this? I was terrified. The baby slept through it all and when we arrived at eleven she was ready to go out and party and refused to go to sleep although her parents were so tired that they were in a zombie-like state.

Ok, my dinner is ready. It's good to be back Internet people. Very good. Next I'll share my deeply mortifying, unbelievably embarrassing vacation experience. It was so bad I almost wanted to sneak out of the house and fly home alone where I'd never have to face my hosts again.
Thursday, August 04, 2011

And Away We Go

The day is here and we're leaving tonight, hoping that a bedtime flight will mean a sleeping rather than screaming baby. My baby doesn't scream, but I'm afraid a plane ride will convince her to start. Let's also hope that she (and I) gets all of her pooping done for the day because I don't want to change her in an airplane bathroom. I guess gone are my days of leisurely flights spent reading trashy magazines and sipping ginger ale.

I can't wait for my vacation to really begin. I can't wait to see my family and I can't wait to visit Rhode Island for the first time. Here is my Rhode Island "To Eat" list: johnny cakes, lobster roll, Gray's ice cream, more lobster, fried clams, clam chowder. Am I missing anything New Englanders?

I'm looking forward to reading on the beach. I figure I'll get some time to do this because there are so many relatives who want to play with the baby that I'm sure to get a few free moments.

Here are my two vacation books.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
and

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

I adore Anne Lamott and her writing book Bird by Bird is one of the best books on writing there is. Operating Instructions is the story of her first year of motherhood and I've only heard wonderful things about it. It sounds like something funny and touching that I could probably relate to after this year.

And The Magician King is the sequel to one of my favorite books of 2009, The Magicians. It's like Harry Potter meets Narnia with sex, drugs and drunken debauchery. Amazing. Loved it. You'd think something like that would be predictable and trite and unoriginal, but it managed to be wonderfully entertaining and satisfying and I've been maniacally awaiting the sequel. I'll have it August 9th. Yay! I'll also be reading Lev Grossman's blog, which I just discovered is also pretty entertaining and more like a real person's blog rather than one of those professional writer blogs. You'll like it. He's funny.


I'll see you again as soon as I have Internet. Remember it's tricky in rural Millpond. Wish me luck.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Fixed!!

For the past month I've been having major issues with my feed. My blog wasn't showing up in readers, the RSS was broken and I lost more than half of my traffic. It was awful.

Through much diligence on my part, pathetic, Luddite me, so technologically uninclined, managed to fix the problem. I did it all by myself, which is nothing short of a miracle and involved a whole lot of googling and a weird bit of divine intervention yesterday where I found a random post on twitter that led me to a blog that led me to another blog where I found a link and well, it's just too freaky to try to explain. But the problem is FIXED. Hooray!!

So here's the deal for people who didn't know the feed was broken and thought I'd disappeared. There's a whole lot of reading material you've missed out on - more than a month's worth. The way I've fixed the problem is by only allowing three posts at a time in a feed, so you're only getting three new ones in your readers now. There are way more. You'll have to actually type in widelawns.com (I know, so hard to do, right?) and go back and read the July archives. Let me know if you have any continuing problems with the feed and give me some comment love. I've been terribly lonely the past month. I've missed about 816 of you.
Monday, August 01, 2011

Packing

I'm in insane vacation mode right now. I'm such an over-packer that it's ridiculous and now I have not only myself to pack for, but a baby and we both need outfits, with accessories, for different events and what if we have something fancy to go to? What if we need extra beach clothes? What if it gets chilly? But wait, what if there's a heat wave? It could happen you know. 

So I pack way too much. I pack stuff I don't even use or need or wear at home, but you never know, I might suddenly need it while I'm away. I tend to look at a suitcase the way many people look at a plate. You know how people fill their plates according to the size of the plate? That's why they say you should always use a small plate, because you'll eat less (that is if you don't pile the food sky high on top of the small plate). Well, I pack according to my suitcase size. It's an empty space and it must be filled to its maximum capacity. It must be filled to the point where both my husband and I need to sit on it at the same time in order to get it to close.

Every time I go on a trip, I tell myself that I don't need to bring so much. I always regret it because then we have to lug a massive suitcase around, and my suitcase really is gigantic, though now it's starting to feel a lot smaller. I pretty much need one of those old time steamer trunks now that I have the baby and all of her gear. I got her a little suitcase, but it's bursting at the zippers too.

I need to stage an intervention with myself. Logically I know that I'm being ridiculous. If I forget something or need something I can just go buy it. It's not like I'm going to be in the wilderness or a third world country. But still, I try to imagine every possible scenario that could occur while I'm away and what I might need in that situation, but I'm out of control. 

I may as well just pack my wedding dress in there too, because you never know. Maybe we'll renew our vows or something. I may as well include it. It's the only thing left hanging in my closet.

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