Apr 30, 2009

I got hate mail!

Well, a nasty comment, anyway. If I'm not mistaken, this is an important milestone in the blogosphere. It rates right up there with recent invitations I've received to contribute to allvoices.com, considering the fact that ANYONE CAN JOIN. I'm confused, and honored.

Hate mail is confusing because 1) most comments don't make sense and 2) why do people subject themselves to media they don't enjoy? I mean, what does "I take and I take..." mean and why is it so strange that my blog is about me? Also, I don't sit on my ass watching Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, ranting, "You're such an asshole!" And I'm honored that someone else actually has more time on their hands than I do to fart around online, probably from their desk at work, and has chosen to spend it judging my rantings. I actually ran that last post past a couple of people to make sure it was clear that I was joking. All I can suggest, not-so-gentle-reader, is don't read my blog, WHICH IS ALWAYS ALL ABOUT ME! (And a reminder that nothing is truly "anonymous" on the internet.)

Back in the real world, I had a great day yesterday visiting independent bookstores in Portland, talking to people who truly appreciate the written word. They took my misprints and press kits and asked if I might be interested in doing a reading, which blew me away because they were so friendly and open-minded and very, very Portland. I won't make any money, but it's nice to shoot the shit with geeky bookworms like myself.

Also, the family went to the park after dinner and Grace finally went down the winding, tubular slide that has so vexed her for over a year. The look on her face was priceless. Pride, radiating from a three-year-old who has conquered a fear, is indescribable.

Apr 29, 2009

No one to blame but myself. And everyone else.

Bright and early this morning I received 25 copies of the final version of my novel, the version I approved for expanded distribution worldwide. I had received a proof a week or so ago and made a few minor corrections, including adding a necessary blank page to the title pages. Unfortunately, that threw the entire book out of whack, causing every chapter to begin on the left-hand page instead of on the right. (This is not good.) I was in a hurry to get on with the book promotion so I could sell lots of books and, you know, abandon this pesky business of looking for a real job. A costly mistake, it turns out, unless someone would like to host a "discounted misprint signing party" so I can recoup my losses and maintain a sense of humor about what happens when the meds start gaining on the OCD streak in me.

Which brings me to my current downward mood swing, which I attribute largely to lackluster sales. Despite all the positive feedback I've gotten from readers and my tireless efforts at self-promotion, I would be embarrassed to admit how few books have actually sold. I knew this would be a slow, frustrating process, but OH MY GOD. So in order for me to sleep tonight and be able to get up and look myself in the mirror tomorrow morning, I feel the need to place blame where blame is due. I don't mean to be indelicate and I certainly don't want anyone to take this the wrong way, but you people disappoint me. I give and I give, right? I entertain, free of charge, by sharing the gory details of my soap opera of a life. And so I beg you, for the love of God, quit reading my blog and go convince someone to buy my book. Consider it your good deed for the day.

Apr 27, 2009

We put the house on the market — again!

Today I went to the unsold house (unsold, as in undead) to do a quick clean and make sure there was nothing rotting in the refrigerator (there was). It was about a year ago that my life took some unexpected forks in the road, and moving into that house seems to represent a lot of those little twists and turns that culminated in one huge detour. Nothing happened suddenly; it feels more as if a series of crises and decisions left me in a place where there was no turning back. But when I step into that house, there is a definite before and after; a time of happiness, expectation and optimism, and then a time of uncertainty, grief and resignation. That's a lot to lay on a house; I had such high hopes. But for most of the time I lived there, I was miserable and behaved badly.

I think that's what makes me feel like crying every time I walk in. Nothing turned out the way I had planned and waited for so impatiently. I can count on one hand the number of good memories forged during the year we were there. Grace's third birthday party tops the list; I reconnected with some old friends (although that's bittersweet because some of those connections have already been lost); idyllic summer afternoons in the backyard with Grace; the few times we had friends or family visit; meeting Michael. Maybe I knew, on some level, that our time there would be short, because I never took the time to make the house ours. I didn't paint a single wall or plant anything in the yard. I left so many possessions unpacked, and opened up so little of myself to the community I longed to be a part of. So it's not the house I miss, or the neighborhood, because it never felt like home. I miss the idea of the home it might have been.

This last bit of legal unpleasantness has left me bitter, which is neither healthy nor productive, but seems somehow... symmetrical. Our buyers bailed, taking a toll financially. And, of far more significance, our marriage failed, which cost us so much emotionally. Will we end up in a better place? I haven’t a clue. I’m trying not to plan and predict and look forward to a different life. The one I’ve got right now, when I stop and pay attention, is pretty friggin’ good.

Apr 26, 2009

Feeling a little used.

Powell's is a Portland institution, occupying an entire city block and hailing themselves "the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world..." who carries "an extensive collection of out of print rare, and technical titles..." blah blah blah. Every time I mention I've written a novel, I am asked some variation of, "So is it for sale at Powell's?" And everyone assumes I will eventually be doing a book signing at Powell's, since they are so beloved locally and one assumes the feeling is mutual. They have a section devoted to debut authors; another category comprises local authors.

I have Powell's to thank for one book sale: the copy I dropped off with my press kit wound up on Amazon.com for sale by Powell's as "used" — and below retail price. I had visited the store twice hoping to be granted an audience with their purchaser, and left several messages regarding my novel. Nothing. This hurts. As a local, debut author, I guess I expected at least the courtesy of a return phone call or a, "You're wasting your time" heads up from the person who took my information. Instead, they discarded my blood, sweat and tears (oh, the drama), making almost entirely profit. I get nothing but the satisfaction of knowing that at least someone bought it.

I knew this kind of crap happens with booksellers, reviewers and other media, but POWELL'S? Yuck. I guess I have one thing in my favor: when Soft Landing is finally available through wholesalers, I'll be able to revisit the great and powerful Oz at Powell's and let him know they've already sold out of my novel once.

Apr 25, 2009

A happy visit.

Sandi, Grace's part-time nanny from way back when, came for a visit last weekend.

I kept my yap shut until I knew for sure it would happen THAT DAY, because as soon as I told Grace the news, every conversation went something like this:

"Do you want an apple or a pear with lunch?"
"Is Sandi coming now?"
"After your nap, bug."

"Do you need to use the potty?"
"Is Sandi coming now?"
"Not yet. After your nap."

"Stop kicking Brady, Gigi."
"Is Sandi coming now?"
"After your nap."


"Will Sandi come into my room after — "

She was so excited she stayed up later than usual, then slept forever. When Sandi got here, we waited as long as we could before going into sleepyhead's room, then I watched as they had one of their love fests where Grace clings to Sandi like a monkey until we peel her off physically. Afterwards we went to the park and watched Grace screech, "There's a bug! A bug! THERE'S A BUG, MOMMY!"

John told me his mom once took him to visit a woman who took care of him when he was little, and how awkward it was because he didn't remember her at all. I won't let that happen with Grace; Sandi was part of the family and basically taught me how to do everything, including how to not die from worrying too much. So I'll make sure Grace knows that Sandi is largely responsible for both of us being alive.

Apr 23, 2009

My brush with media greatness.

I appeared on this morning's KATU AM Northwest, our local ABC affiliate's morning show. This six-minute segment took WEEKS of phone calls, emails, planning and preparation. The woman talking about child abuse agreed to appear on the show with me to provide some credibility so that I could shamelessly promote Soft Landing. Fortunately, she got a bit more air time than I did, because her message was more important than mine, and I may have pissed myself if they had asked me one more question. I'm sure there are countless reasons people choose to become writers; I'm fairly certain that those reasons DO NOT include a fondness for public speaking. But doesn't my hair look great?

Apr 19, 2009

Can I sue someone for being an asshole?

It turns out that one might have the law on their side and retain an excellent lawyer, and still get completely screwed. I don't know why this surprises me. The house remains unsold, even though the neighbor has conceded in writing that our home does not, in fact, constitute an encroachment on the easement. Our buyers have been incredibly patient; rather than backing out completely at the beginning of this fiasco, they extended the closing date and waited for us to straighten things out. Coolio, right? Problem is, the easement, while not necessarily enforceable, is still there. In theory, the neighbor can run a driveway right under our living room window, and our buyers aren't down with that scenario. And now they've gotten their own lawyer, so the only money changing hands is going directly to three lawyers.

What kills me is that EVERYTHING IS ARGUABLE. Our lawyer believes we can challenge the validity of the easement, but it's possible we might lose. We could talk the neighbor into applying for an off-street parking variance with the city, but there's no guarantee they will grant it. If the variance is granted, the neighbor will argue that the value of his property has been affected. (This is their latest attempt to extort money from us; we're waiting for a dollar figure before we tell them to fuck off.) We could be hard asses and try to keep our poor buyers' earnest money if they back out, but because I didn't check the little box on our disclosure statement that asks if the property had any easements, the whole contract is called into question. The buyers got the same title report that we did, which briefly and vaguely mentions the easement, but apparently I/we should have been more clever than they are when we bought the home.

The bottom line is this: we may be victims of our neighbor's questionable legal actions, but to establish that fact in a court of law could take up to eight months and cost $20,000 — and if we lost we would be liable for the neighbor's legal fees. We can't put the house back on the market until we hear back from our buyers regarding our latest offer, and they're taking their time. So we pay two rents and a mortgage, while the entire decision to sell the house was based on the fact that we couldn't afford it. And we wait.

I need a hobby.

It is 8:15 on a Sunday morning, and Grace is still sleeping. I made sure she's breathing. Even Brady hasn't gotten up yet. I have absolutely no idea what to do with myself. So I blog.

Apr 16, 2009

I don't like Thursdays.

Each Thursday I drop Grace off at school knowing I will not see her until Saturday night. She reads my mood and insists on hugging and kissing more than usual before I leave her. And on Saturday night, she will regard me with some disgruntlement and tell me, "I missed you, Mommy." She also misses Daddy when she's here, which makes me wish she didn't have to miss anyone at all.

There was a protracted discussion about today's outfit, but I believe we both came away feeling satisfied with the results.


When you move from one home to another, do you ever seize the opportunity to get rid of all the stuff you no longer need, items that clutter your closets and drawers and gather dust in the basement or garage? Are you overcome with the urge to lighten your load and possibly clear a bit of space in your brain as well?

Yeah, me either.

Each time I move, I vow to not bring with me anything I haven't used in the last year, anything I can't identify, or anything broken that I will never get fixed. Sometimes my intentions are lofty enough that I imagine a pile for garbage, a pile for recyclables, a pile to bring to Goodwill and a pile of items I might be able to sell. Sounds easy enough, but I'm tormented by the notion that one day I will realize I'm missing a part to something and remember, "AH HA! I KNEW I SHOULD HAVE KEPT THAT." So each time I unpack, I find myself wondering what possessed me to keep the extra paper tray to a printer I no longer own. Or an ancient cordless phone that doesn't work. (I blame my father for this; he's never gotten rid of a cordless phone. I swear they have dozens of them.) Or a pair of shoes that hasn't fit since my feet grew wider during my pregnancy.

Ah, shoes. I have seventeen pairs of black shoes, including boots. Ten pairs of black pants, if you count leather and denim. Eight black sweaters. Seventeen black T-shirts/tops. And black coats? I don't know, because some are still at the other house. Then there's all the charcoal grey and light grey and khaki... I do have some lovely clothes, many that were ridiculously expensive. But on any given day, I will be in uniform: jeans and a T-shirt, a sweater if it's cold, and a pair of comfy shoes — rarely black. I do laundry infrequently, because I tend to wear the same few things until I run out of clean underwear. I used to dress for parties, wanting to look fashionable. (Unfortunately, photos where I may have looked fabulous are marred somewhat by the presence of a cigarette in my drunken fingers. The good old days.) Now I'm happy to reconnect with friends at a party, and I know they don't give a shit what I'm wearing.

I bring this up because of our recent move from a 1700-square-foot house (small) to a 900-square-foot-house (micro). The clothes are just the tip of the iceberg. I also have a box of barware (pilsners, water goblets, champagne flutes, wine glasses, etc.) that I never bothered to unpack after the last two moves, reminders of times when I loved to entertain. Books (non-fiction) that never made it out of their boxes at the last house, because I never got around to building bookshelves. And projects, endless projects, involving old and new family photos and scrapbooks and Gracie's artwork. The most telling uncompleted project? Wedding photos. I've printed and framed ONE PHOTO from my wedding day, and never managed to create an album or send photos to family and friends.

I love the art that I've collected because most of the artists are friends or family, so paintings and photos and sculptures are usually the first to make an appearance in a new home. Grace's room has been meticulously replicated for the fourth time, because I feel so guilty about uprooting her repeatedly. And I never feel settled until the bathrooms are in order, which was brilliant this time because we have only ONE BATHROOM. The rest? It's in the garage, and I don't miss it. I couldn't even tell you what's out there, except the saddle I used as a child and some of Grace's outdoor toys. And my beloved dining room table and chairs, which will be fostered by a good friend until we have room for them again.

Over time, I've developed strict criteria for making new purchases. It's a complicated equation involving affordability, necessity, and disposability. In other words: Do we have the money? Do we really need this? When I realize we don't need it, how will I get rid of it? I consider this part of my transition from yuppie to financially challenged; consumer to human being. I will always have a weakness for shoes and handbags (thanks, Ella), and clothes for Grace. But these are manageable vices and, most important, don't take up much room.

Apr 14, 2009

Home sweet home.

The house we're renting is the first I've lived in with any curb appeal. It may be tiny on the inside, but we have a huge front porch, a big brick patio in the back, and a fully fenced yard (front and back) so that Brady can reach top speed running all the way around the house. I suspect we'll be spending most of the summer outside.

Grace loves it out here until she sees a bug; then she runs screaming into the house.

Michael decided to give the beard a shot until he realized how gray it is. It's gone now.

This one's for you, Stinsons. Remember door shopping? I finally got one of these do-hickeys.

Apr 10, 2009

On personal hygiene.

"Mommy. Your hair is icky."
"My hair is fine. You're the one with jelly in your hair."
"Here, I'll cut out the icky parts." (Pretends to cut off all of my hair.)
"Great. How about a bath to clean up your hair?"
"Okay, okay, your hair is fine. How's mine look?"
"Mommy, your hair is SO PRETTY."

It's all relative.

Today I talked to my dad for a while, and realized what a truly ridiculous predicament he's in, with the broken neck and all. From everywhere, he gets conflicting advice. His neurosurgeon tells him to remain immobile and wait for surgery; a friend who is an orthopedic surgeon tells him he'll never heal wearing the brace, and to avoid surgery at all costs. One person tells him it's important to exercise, while another warns him to take it easy. Everyone has an opinion on diet, naturally.

Can you imagine having a broken vertabra, one of the important ones up at the top, one that if you move your head the wrong way might shift and damage your spinal column? Every time I think about this I get sick to my stomach and try to go to my happy place, but my father doesn't have that luxury. So he compromises, wearing some version of a neck brace all the time, continuing to take Max (the main dog) for daily walks to help slow his canine arthritis, all the while quietly freaking out because the Hood Canal Bridge is scheduled to close right around his next visit to Seattle — which means a long, windy drive all the way down to Olympia and back up the other side of Puget Sound. I wish I could pay to airlift him from one place to another, or at least guarantee a safe car ride. But there's not much I can do and it's really not about me. Except that I would gladly trade places with him, because I live in a city with lots of hospitals. Why do people choose to retire to places without adequate medical care? Maybe I'll broach that subject with my parents once my dad can eat without loosening his brace.

I don't drink as much as I used to (mostly because of last summer's unprovoked attack on my digestive system), but tonight I made an exception because I like red wine with my spaghetti and I felt like relaxing. Tomorrow I will pay. But I'll be able to twist my aching head in whatever direction I choose, and make my way to the bathroom without worrying about falling. So right now I'm feeling pretty lucky.

Apr 7, 2009

I just want to be a mom, write and have people read my books. Is that so wrong?

There has been so much stress engulfing me and my family lately, part of me quite frequently wonders, "What the fuck?" The hassle of moving again. The legal bullshit that is delaying the sale of the house (although I will say this: that prick next door got in way over his head — we've got a kickass lawyer). My ongoing unemployment and resulting financial panic. Watching as Grace tries to adapt to yet another huge change in her life, without quite so much resiliency this time (heartbreaking). And the real sucker punch, my father's back pain turning out to be a broken vertebra that will require risky surgery. I confess to more than a few afternoons finding me curled up in bed, sleeping in order to tune out my world.

Normally, I would search for perspective in the problems facing the rest of the world: the more serious economic crises of other families; the earthquake in Italy; the shootings in New York; Michelle Obama hugging Queen Elizabeth (the horror). But it's not working for me anymore. To the contrary, it adds credence to the question that gnaws at me more and more lately: what's the point?

I used to find excitement in drama. I worried that if I ever found happiness or, more precisely, contentment, that I would be bored. But right now I would give anything in the world to be bored. I long for a predictable daily routine, one that doesn't have me constantly bouncing from one crisis to the next, never able to completely extinguish any one fire, always feeling as though I should be doing something else. It's draining, and I'm not much fun to be around. (Also, I tend to skip showers when I'm stressed, so I neither look nor smell very appealing.)

I know what I want to be doing. I want to have the luxury of time to promote Soft Landing without feeling guilty, to continue working on my second novel, and to curl up on the couch every night to watch a movie we've seen so many times we can recite the dialogue (The Secret Garden; The Neverending Story; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Little Princess, Over the Hedge). Weekends at the playground and the dog park. Friends over for a barbecue in our adorable little backyard. Driving to my parents' without worrying about paying for gas. Just your basic, boring old American dream.

I love to write. It's the only time I truly feel that I'm doing my work, making my contribution. I want Soft Landing to succeed because I love the feeling I get when someone tells me how much they enjoyed reading it. It's not money or even validation I crave; it's the knowledge that something I've created has made an impact on another human being. To everyone who has taken the time to tell me how much they loved the book, THANK YOU! Please keep your fingers crossed that one of my upcoming publicity efforts will hit, or that word of mouth alone will help Soft Landing find a larger audience.

Then I'll be able to obsess over the fact that among four-year-olds, one in five is obese.