Free Preview!

December 1, 2012

Unknown-5In case you didn’t already know, writing and revision can be endless, but after a little crisis of confidence a  year-and-a-half ago, I decided to revise further rather than send out too soon, killing countless trees in search of a first final copy. But the manuscript is officially now out with publishers–and if you think writing takes a long time, it’s nothing close to how long book publishing takes. That is, unless you’re writing a tell-all book about a celebrity already on her 14th minute of fame or you’re a reality star on her 14th minute of fame and you have to get that beauty book/self-help book/cookbook/YA novel out before no one remembers or cares who you are. Unknown-8

images-17So, as I wait to find out the book’s fate, I thought I’d share a link to the Winter 2012 Ploughshares magazine, which has published a chapter of the manuscript. You can think of it as a free preview . . . . I’ll have one more preview chapter appearing in the new online magazine 1966, and then I hope I’ll be able to say you’ll have to buy the book to find out the rest!

This chapter is about The Miracle Worker and about body image and about the lovely and mysterious Heather, but primarily it’s about how quiet and secretive the culture of northern New England is.

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Maybe it’s the climate, maybe it’s the careful conservative natures that seemed necessary for survival, but more often than not northern New Englanders never reveal our deepest fears and desires, and we certainly don’t reveal our secrets. As I write in the essay, “What I believed to be true was true—if you don’t say something, no one will ask you. If you don’t ask—and you hardly ever ask—no one will tell you anything.” Hope you enjoy; I’d love to hear your feedback.

“Heather, 1984” 

 

 

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Life Intervenes

October 14, 2011

Yesterday morning as I was vacuuming for probably the first time in a couple of months, my silk scarf was suddenly sucked up into the machine, yanking the hell out of my neck and giving me a pretty crummy wake up call.  “Are you kidding me?” I thought. “I’m going to die doing housework?” At least Isadora Duncan was riding in an open top car in Nice when her scarf led to her downfall.  

I know we’ve all had these fatal visions: choking on a Dunkin’ Munchkin, running off the road while fiddling with the radio, being run off the road while riding your bike or walking your dog. And we’re certain our last thoughts will be some variation of Why didn’t I? Why didn’t I check the weather? Why didn’t I stay home? Why didn’t I chew more thoroughly? Why didn’t I listen to my mom? You can fill in the blank.

So I spent the rest of the morning rubbing my neck and contemplating the unsettling phrase, “She died doing what she loved,” and then I wondered if I’d ever get my act together and finish editing my book so if I did in fact die doing what I loved I’d have something to leave behind other than a partially cleaned rug. I recently gave an interview to a magazine I used to screen fiction for where I said, once again, that I was in the final stages of finishing my book and I needed to get ready to send it off. Admitting that made me a little queasy. I’d planned on sending it off a year ago. A year ago. 

A phrase I often like to use whenever I get stuck in the writing process is Life Intervenes, as if that’s an excuse for anything. Life intervenes for all of us in some way—we move, we take new jobs, or we get married or we have kids or we get sick or the kids get sick or the parents get sick or a tree falls on the roof or the water heater explodes—you know what I mean.

Not my house, thankfully.

And then a scarf gets caught in the vacuum cleaner or a big bite of burrito clogs the airways and I’m quickly reminded that everything I do is life, whether it’s flossing my teeth or watching my son’s first cross-country meet or going to the library with my daughter to find just one more book to read rather than working on my own. And once again I tell myself to get my act together, to face the truth that’s there’s a limit to how long I can keep my nose buried in the laptop before I have to admit the book’s as good as it’s going to get and if it gets accepted or rejected it’s not going to be because I have a perfectly placed semi-colon on page 172.

Goes with almost anything . . .

So I will do my best. In the meantime, here’s that interview I just gave, posted on the Ploughshares blog http://word.emerson.edu/ploughshares/2011/10/05/an-interview-with-ploughshares-senior-reader-kate-flaherty/ where I discuss editorial pet peeves, egalitarian reading tastes, and how strange it seems now to have grown up in the pre-Internet, pre-blog age.


Okay, no one was naked, but I’ve had this title in my cache since my friend Reynard used it as the subject line for a post-Mardi Gras email he sent me years ago and I just had to use it if only so now it’s copyrighted under my name. (Reynard’s a painter not a writer, so I feel no qualms about stealing it). Plus, it works in so many ways: All the Wrong People Were Drunk, All the Wrong People Were Dancing, All the Wrong People Were Swindled. Try it, you’ll see!

Anyhow, here I am with the post-reunion blog. . . I came away from the night feeling that curious mix of fulfillment and frustration—glad I reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in ages, sad that time ran out too soon or was spent in idle group banter about bad haircuts, growing midriffs, and the unfortunate effects of too many Jell-O shots. I wanted to pull one friend after another aside so I could get down to the truer business of how their lives really were, as if I were working on a ninth grade biology project and could (theoretically!) slice down their middles with a scalpel. I wanted to see their inner workings as if, through looking at their lives outside and in, I could understand my own life—the choices I’ve made, the mistakes I’ve made, the triumphs I’ve had that now seem too distant and unremarkable.

But I’m a writer—I assume everyone understands their own lives by explicating the lives and stories of others—perhaps I expected too much from this one event. And while I did file away some terrific anecdotes I heard that I’ll be able cannibalize for future fiction, ultimately the reunion was just another slightly awkward social event that everyone experienced with different degrees of anxiety and delight. I spent part of the night assigning updated senior superlatives to various attendees: Most Likely to Have A Diamond Studded Pinkie Ring, Most Likely To Still Know Every Word to Back In Black, Most Likely to Maintain the Same ‘80s Hairdo Until Death (and no, I’m not being snarky—I could easily win every one of these superlatives myself).

I spent the other part of the night wishing the band–as they got tired of playing all the ‘80s tunes they knew and the lead singer began Googling lyrics to ‘80s tunes on his iPhone so they could try out new songs–had begun playing live Karaoke for the crowd. I know for sure they could have gotten each and every one of us behind the mic for blistering versions of “I Love Rock and Roll,” or “Melt With You.” It would have been wonderful and excruciating, yet overall an event to remember.

And here’s where I look back at the yin and yang of this blog: fulfilling and frustrating, mistakes and triumphs, anxiety and delight, wonderful and excruciating. That doesn’t just describe a high school reunion—it also describes high school to a T, no? We all relived that mix of emotions on Saturday night, and just like we were ecstatic to graduate and be gone so many years ago, my guess is that on Saturday night we also were all happy to get out of Gunstock and escape back to our homes. But it doesn’t mean we won’t come back to give this reunion thing another shot ten years from now, straggling in to Gunstock or Pheasant Ridge with our anticipation and reservations equally intact.

And while many were missed this year because they didn’t attend or, sadly, couldn’t attend, as they’ve left us way too soon—Mark Merlini, Gar Green, Dave Musacchio, Brian Bean, and Tom Fabian—we all were together in spirit. So I’ll end by saying with firm conviction: All the Right People Were With Us.

I recently was asked to contribute a brief bio for my upcoming high school reunion, and while I have been working on a memoir for more years than I care to admit, may I say that I look forward to writing things like this about as much as I’d look forward to writing a yearly Christmas letter, where every statement seems to require an exclamation point and all news is good news.

I revel in good news—don’t get me wrong—I love the joy of graduations and state championships and blue ribboned art projects, I love new jobs and new babies and new driver’s licenses and straight A report cards. But I also love the truth of life—bad backs and fender benders and midlife crises, the smaller triumphs of finding a great pair of jeans at the thrift store or picking five bucks off of the sidewalk.

And most of all I love revelations, like figuring out that croissant is the French word for crescent because the pastry is shaped like the new moon, or determining that four-year-olds can still be amazed by the fact that red paint and blue paint make purple, or finally decoding that The Clash aren’t singing “stand by me” in their song, but instead “you didn’t stand by me,” a discovery that just makes you want to lie down on the floor and cry because true disappointment really does hit you lightning-quick that way.

 

 

So while I was unable to bring myself to write a proper bio, I was able to submit this small paragraph for my Gilford High School Reunion Booklet. There are no exclamation points or pieces of actual news, but everything below is completely true:

Katie Flaherty–Gilford Middle High School–What Has She Been Up To?

Over the years I’ve stuck my nose where it didn’t belong, acquired sunburns and poison ivy in uncomfortable places, walked my dog, wondered how the heck I got here, complained about my co-workers, yelled at my kids, ate squid tacos and tongue tacos and tacos al carbon and more Grape Nut ice cream than I could ever measure, drank too much coffee and wine and Diet Coke, ignored surgeon general’s warnings, finished all my vegetables, believed God was my DJ, camped on the beach, fell asleep on the couch, watched bad TV, danced the Polka, put pennies on railroad tracks, read cheesy books and great books and annoying books and far too many books I wish I’d written myself, been shocked and jealous and panicked and pathetic and proud and devastated and deliriously happy, been a sucker for the corporate ploy, plucked my furniture from the city dump, saw great bands and crappy bands and bands that were somehow both at once, went to the opera and wondered what the heck the hype was all about, been underpaid and overworked, demanded my money back, had my heart ground to dust on the sidewalk and then swept up and put back together, had poppy seeds and parsley and popcorn stuck in my teeth, drooled on my pillow, cried at the movies, got blisters from new shoes, and hugged my kids, grateful still to be here in this world.

This weekend I saw Super 8, a great little movie where the director, J.J. Abrams, basically throws E.T. and Stand By Me into a blender, adds a pinch of Dawn of the Dead horror show kitsch, and then whips in the most important element to any fairy tale action adventure—he kills off the mom from the get-go.

My kids and I agree that any halfway decent adventure story begins with first getting rid of the mom, sometimes the dad, and better yet both parents entirely. Do I have to list the examples? Star Wars, Harry Potter, James and the Giant Peach, and pretty much any fairy tale you could come up with. It’s such a joke at my house, Emily sometimes shouts out while she’s reading, “Hey Mom, this book is getting good—the mom just died!” And sure enough, J.J. Abrams—who proved in Lost that the conventions of fiction and fantasy run through his veins—kicks off Super 8 with the mom’s funeral. And so the adventure begins. . .

The memoir I’m still struggling to polish up and publish does not include a funeral—my mom was very much alive back then, as she is alive now—thankfully!—but the story I write does begin the same year my mom first took a fulltime job and my parents also began working a lot of nights trying to start their own business to make ends meet.

It was 1979 and the economy stank, so they had little choice, and while my grandmother lived with us too, my brother and I were usually left to our own devices, as were a lot of our friends whose parents were also sucked into a black hole of work and responsibility. No one was dead, no one disappeared, but it seemed parents were suddenly ghost-like and peripheral, and we kids were happy with our newfound freedoms.

The adventures we had in those times sometimes were minor and sometimes were sketchy, but all of them depended on the basic framework that all such shenanigans require—bravado, independence, and a touch of stupidity on the case of the teenagers, plus that healthy helping of benign neglect from the parents.

That phrase “benign neglect,” comes from my friend and fellow writer Ladette Randolph, and she uses it to describe how she managed—in no particular order—to mother her kids while she also wrote, worked, and stayed sane. Ladette’s idea is that sometimes leaving adolescents to direct their own lives is not only benevolent, but often necessary—whether it’s continuing to throw them outside every day, letting them fend for themselves in the kitchen, not demanding they check in every hour, and telling them every now and again they have to make their own way home. It’s a difficult and scary balance to sort out, especially when parents don’t have a choice, which in today’s economy—about as lousy as it was in 1979—is pretty much most parents including me. 

But the upside of that benign neglect is opportunity for adventure—or at least a life less managed—for kids today. And while their independence might not necessarily lead to a Super 8 style of adventure involving M-80s and zombies and an alien slightly less benevolent than E.T.—it also shouldn’t require the death of one or more parents in order to get jump started.

And despite the fact that my kids are caught up in their own adventures, my daughter Emily has recently taken the time to nag me over the fact that I haven’t so much neglected my blog these past few months as I have completely abandoned it. Perhaps with Emily’s careful attention and prodding, I’ll do a better job making more posts. We’ll see. . .

As I sit here in the early winter dark, having received the call that schools have been closed today and my services will not be required, I consider the mixture of anticipation and activity, boredom and patience, as well as the obligatory heavy, hard work, that a proper snow day imparts.

Charley.

And let me say that today—with a few inches dusting the sidewalk that did not in any way prevent me from taking my dog Charley on his morning walk, did not prevent the bakery on the corner of my block from opening and tempting me, as always, with the smell of fresh gingerbread muffins, and will not prevent me from hopping into my car in a few hours to go into school and pick up some work I need to finish—today is not a snow day.

 

 

A proper snow day is when everyone stays home and everyone is off the roads except for snowplow drivers, guys in trucks driving to the public works so they can start their work as snowplow drivers, and the occasional idiot in a Jeep Cherokee or a Subaru who thinks doing an unexpected 360˚ spin on I-93 is somehow entertaining. And why is everyone off the roads on a proper snow day? Because there would be a twelve-to-twenty-four inch thick blanket that we’d need half the day to clear from our long New Hampshire driveways and half the day to recover from. Alternately, a proper snow day would not include snow at all, but instead a one inch sheet of ice on everything that meant we weren’t going anywhere until it warmed up enough for us to head into our yards and start clearing away all the fallen birch trees and broken pine boughs.

But I live in Massachusetts now, so today is just a day that school has been cancelled, and by ten o’clock kids will be sledding or building snowmen or playing Wii in their basements while parents go out to run errands or do laundry or seclude themselves in their offices because they’re “working from home” and end up surfing Hulu and watching an entire season or two of Arrested Development or Lost. By twelve o’clock the streets will be full of Domino’s Pizza delivery drivers and teenagers going to the 12-plex and soon enough the day will be over.

And it’s not so bad, this unexpected holiday, at least until June when it’s seventy-five degrees out and sunny, and we’re all wondering why the heck we’re still stuck inside the classroom when our brains have checked out weeks before. And that’s where patience has to kick in, just like it has to kick in on a real snow day, when the sledding’s done and the cocoa’s drunk and you’re just staring out the window almost wishing you could be in class, because at least being in class isn’t nearly as boring as staring out the window at plowed roads and the Domino’s guy zipping by in his dented old Corolla.

But right now the snow’s still falling and it’s still a little dark and Charley’s sitting here at my feet chewing ice balls from his paws. I don’t have to shovel just yet and I don’t have anywhere to be, so proper snow day or not, I might as well enjoy it.


As I look forward to what 2011 will surely bring, I figure it all kind of comes down to Rejection and Acceptance, whether you’re a writer or not, so here’s a little advice on how we all can handle it. And yes, it’s all pretty obvious, treacly-type stuff, but that’s what New Year’s is about, no?

Rejection.

We all know it’s coming in some form or another this year, and it will happen more than once. A joke you tell at a party will be met with stony silence, an outfit you put on will get the eye-roll from your twelve-year-old daughter, the job you apply for will go to someone less-qualified but better connected, and, of course, the book you may have put way too many hours in writing and fine-tuning and carefully mailing out will be returned after too many agonizing months with a brief note saying it was good but not good enough, or good but not good for us.

I know rejection is coming for me from someone, somewhere, even if acceptance might follow soon after (and oh boy do I hope so). And while it can be good to bolster your spirits with those dreams of eventual acceptance (or dreams of gut-busting laughter at the next joke you tell, or your twelve-year-old daughter saying, “Yeah, I guess you look okay,” instead of  “I guess you look o-kay,” or getting that call with the salary offer and start date), it’s important to be prepared for the alternative. So here’s some advice I acquired this year or over years past. Read, learn, then perform.

  1. 1. Tell the truth (at least some of the time) when someone asks “How are you?” Answering that question honestly this year helped me find a new house, get half a sandwich every now and again if I forgot to bring my lunch to work, and good advice or a listening ear whenever I really needed it.
  2. 2. Share your lunch. Have dinner together. Go out for breakfast. This advice is inspired by my friend Megan who, by design, will bring to work too much leftover orzo pasta or rice and beans and insist I help her finish everything. In return I bring in the extra-large carton of Goldfish crackers every other week, the thermos of coffee every day, the occasional pot of hummus with carrot sticks. Friends share their problems, friends share their good news, but it seems when friends share food (or coffee, or the occasional well-crafted cocktail), that’s when the conversations last longer and mean more.
  1. 3. When necessary, lie down and have a good cry. It does wonders.

 

 

 

Acceptance

There will be good news too, even if it’s just that your kid didn’t catch the lice or the pink eye running rampant through your school or that you somehow missed getting the flu this winter. Even more than that, there will be that special day you break 100 in bowling, you get the good parking spot at the beach with an hour left on the meter, and, finally, you’ll get the word you’ve been hoping and waiting and longing for. Whatever that might be for you. What do to then?

  1. Tell your friends. We need to hear good news, even if, or perhaps especially if, it’s not our own.
    It not only gives us hope, makes us think that maybe our turn is next, it makes us happy.
  1. 2. Be grateful. You know you didn’t do it all by yourself—say thank you. Or buy someone lunch or a coffee or an ice cream cone.

3. Remind yourself that acceptance sometimes means accepting help—don’t be too proud!

4. Celebrate! Dance around in your living room. Get dressed up and go out. False modesty doesn’t suit you.

So those are my words of wisdom for 2011, and I suspect I’ll have to go back and re-read this blog a time or two as I enter the hard year of finding out whether or not my book is worth the paper it’s printed on, plus the toner cartridge I emptied printing it out, not to mention all those long hours I could have spent watching television or perfecting my batting stance or learning how to needlepoint. . . but I have all of 2011 ahead of me—maybe it’s time for a few new resolutions while I work and write and wait for the mail to come. Happy New Year.

1. Spent a lovely couple of end-of-summer weeks in a cabin in New Hampshire where I somehow managed to blow through the revisions on my book. I was amazed at how much work I was able to do when, for the first time in my life, I had the luxury of working like writing was a real job (though sadly I received no paycheck).

2. While I only had two weeks and not two years like Thoreau had when he wrote Walden, I did feel a little Thoreau-like in my cabin in the woods, even dusting off my old flute and playing for the birds . . .  (and yes, any bad  “Kate’s flute playing is for the birds” comments would be entirely appropriate here).

3. Other than tidying up what I hope will be the final major edit of My Brief History, I think the other great accomplishment of the trip was convincing my dog Charley to take the great leap and go swimming. Charley is part-Lab, but he only inherited the “likes to jump up on people” Lab gene and has, until now, been completely terrified of any water that’s not sitting quietly in a bowl next to his food. I have to say I was proud of both of us.

How Charley usually looks when he gets too close to large bodies of water.

4. Went to Gilford Old Home Day and fell into the trap of telling the kids “Back in my day there were no fireworks, no climbing wall or fried dough or rock bands playing in the grandstand and still we had fun,” though I strongly suspect that wasn’t really the case. Was pleased to see one band in particular—Rick Page and The Round-Ups, which you can hear for yourself at http://www.myspace.com/rick1page1. I thought they were terrific though I admit I may be a little biased because I was in Rick Page’s first band—a.k.a. the Gilford Middle High School Band . . .

5. Wondered for a minute whether I might deduct my New Hampshire stay on my taxes by claiming it as research for my book, in part because I ran into a handful of people I hadn’t seen since high school and was quickly able to determine that my characterizations were right on . . . would love to hear from any accountants out there if that might count as fact-checking or not.

6. Managed a field trip to the Weirs, which I attempt at least once a summer if only to make sure the neon sign is still there and the Drive-In Theater is still open. (Yes to both). Also learned the disturbing information from the coin-operated animatronic fortune-teller on the boardwalk that my lucky color was pink just before her recorded voice began endlessly repeating, “Fortunes out. Please report to arcade attendant. Fortunes out. Please report to arcade attendant.”

However my luck changed when I discovered the end-of-season $2 sunglass wall at the boardwalk T-shirt shop, where I bought a pair of rose-colored glasses—and yes, life did immediately look better, so maybe my lucky color is pink even if I appear to currently be out of fortunes—and I found a pair of fab white bigger than Jackie O. shades that I now wear everyday out on the playground with my students since summer is over and school has begun again. . .

7. Had a chapter of my book published this fall in Prairie Schooner, a literary magazine I worked for ages ago. Prairie Schooner published Chapter 3 of the book, which I re-titled “Method Acting” because “Chapter 3” sounded a little lame. I’d summarize it for you, but then you might not care about reading it, so I’ll leave it a mystery. I was inspired by a large portion of the rest of the Fall 2010 Prairie Schooner, which is a collection of tributes to the magazine’s editor—my former boss, mentor, and friend, Hilda Raz—to honor her retirement. Hilda Raz is one of the main reasons that today I write more than just grocery lists and notes to Joe and Emily’s teachers about early pickups for dentist appointments, but rather than go on at length about Hilda’s attributes myself, I will instead include the most succinct and witty tribute, written by my friend and one of my favorite writers, Erin Flanagan. I will end this post with her words:

What I Learned from Hilda Raz

by Erin Flanagan

Strong glasses demand attention. Do not let people you don’t respect tell you what to do. Always carry an extra pair of underpants in your purse when you travel. Listen to your instincts. If you throw a dinner party and find a spider in the salad, pluck it from the greens and make a literary reference that will leave your guests charmed. Love your children fiercely and honestly. Surround yourself with brilliant friends. Survive. Listen to what an author is trying to tell you no matter what she is saying. Call first thing in the morning to keep people on their toes. Follow your heart, that nebulous device.

What I failed to learn from Hilda Raz: how to imagine Prairie Schooner without her.

Reprinted from Prairie Schooner, Fall 2010, by permission of Erin Flanagan

It’s the body image blog, inspired in part by the fact that it’s bathing-suit season, inspired in part by the fact that the other major suggestion my editor-friend made re: my manuscript My Brief History of Sex Education had to do with the fact that I rarely describe my body in the book, an omission she apparently thinks leaves the book wanting.

Me in my favorite sweatshirt in the offseason.

It made me realize that perhaps I write like I used to dress in high school only I hide behind words now rather than clothes. In high school I used to go to the beach and disappear beneath a giant orange Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup sweatshirt, size XL, that my grandmother had gotten free through the mail after sending in about 100 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers, 89 of which I had eaten myself, which may have been why I felt compelled to wear the sweatshirt in the first place.

Heart attack in a jar.

At school I wore a wide variety of oversized clothing, especially toward the later years—the years after I quit playing basketball and field hockey and before I realized that when you’re no longer playing basketball and field hockey you really shouldn’t be eating a half dozen cheese, pickle and Miracle Whip sandwiches every day for an after school snack.

So my daily wardrobe consisted mainly of clothes I raided my from my grandmother’s closet—think comfy wool cardigans and big shirts in silky fabrics or blue chambray, a curious mix of Bea Arthur in her Golden Girls era and pretty much anything Katharine Hepburn wore after she turned 60 or so. I enjoyed spending my day wearing something big and soft that smelled like a comforting mixture of baked goods, talcum powder, and Jean Naté perfume, but I’m not sure I made much of a fashion statement.


When I wasn’t wearing my grandmother’s clothes, I tended to look like Boy George only not as cute if only because he did a much better job than I on hair and makeup. For this look I alternated between black leggings and a collection of elastic-waist skirts my grandmother sewed from a stack of Polynesian-themed fabric she had piled in the recesses of her closet, over which I wore tablecloth-sized scarves and tuxedo-shirts I’d bought at the Arrow outlet store on Weirs Boulevard in Laconia, New Hampshire or my favorite accessory, my London Fog black raincoat which covered me almost head to toe.

And no, I can tell you that smoking does not help you lose weight, unless you consider the fact that you lose pretty much all your weight after you die of lung cancer.

Really could have used this back then. . .

What was the point of these fashion choices? In part they were due to the cheese, pickle and Miracle Whip sandwiches and in part they were due to adolescent insecurity; I liked to believe that the larger my outfits were, the smaller I would appear. I’m pretty sure, however, the only thing that looked smaller was my head, a la David Byrne in his Stop Making Sense phase. But boy would I have loved a suit like David Byrne’s—with a suit that big I could probably have disappeared entirely. And isn’t that what we all want when we’re teenagers?

David Byrne is probably thinking about high school. . .

So is my manuscript is lacking because I don’t share these body image anecdotes? I have to admit perhaps. In my discussions with various agents and editors this year (and no, no one has yet swept me up and whisked me off to publishing heaven yet, but I remain hopeful and hardworking), many have said my book would do well as a memoir for young adults, and girls in particular would better connect if I were more open about these body issues—issues that affect all women, however perfect or lovely we truly are, however beautiful we appear, from the inside or out.

And as I think back to my own absurd ways of dealing with the insecurity I felt about my body back then, it wasn’t hard to immediately recall all the silly things my girlfriends did in high school as well. Below is the briefest list of girls I’ve known and the insecurities they suffered through in high school:

A girl who wore long johns beneath her jeans because she thought her legs were too skinny. She also wore a huge sweatshirt at the beach like me, but in her case she wore it because she also thought she was too flat-chested and was always afraid her lack of body fat would make her lips turn a noticeable blue.

A girl who also thought she was too flat-chested and would stand in the mirror and jump up and down every day, hoping against hope that one day she would be able to see her chest “jiggle.” Although I was unable to witness the breakthrough myself, I can happily report that she said she was eventually successful.

A girl who, convinced the light golden fuzz on her arms turned her into a girl-illa, shaved her arms as well as the rest of her body. All I can say is that I think women already have to shave enough parts of our bodies and that arm stubble is weird and I really hope she doesn’t do it anymore.

A friend who used to borrow her mother’s girdle because she thought she was fat until one night her boyfriend put his arm around her and squeezed, then squeezed again, then asked, “What the hell is that?” and she lied and said it was a back brace and then never wore it again.

These are just the silliest examples, the light-hearted examples—discussing how easy it may have been to develop a full-fledged eating disorder (in the ‘80s the simplest way would be to catch a few choice episodes of Oprah, many of which could basically serve as how-to manuals) I won’t even begin to touch on. But I think, again, my editor-friend is right. More work, but it’s worth it. No more hiding behind my muumuu of words . . . time to strip down and reveal all.

And as I finish this final blog of the summer—yes, September is upon us even now—I want to encourage any of you who are enjoying these infrequent posts to subscribe to my blog. As you can tell I do not overwhelm you with the banal minutiae of my day—I promise no blogs about what kind of breakfast cereal I prefer or which shampoo best cures my nagging dandruff issues—but if you like what you’ve read so far, click on the button way down at the bottom of the blog and add your email to my list. It will keep you posted (better than Facebook even), on when I post something new. Plus it’s free—and what is there left in the world that’s free, other than love and the common cold?

The blog has been quiet for a while and it will remain so at least another week, because I’m so busy wri–no, wait a minute, I’m not writing. I’m on vacation, not doing much of anything constructive though I tell myself I’m in a hunting and gathering stage for the next project whatever it is, which is pretty much what I always tell myself when I’m not actually getting any work done.

I’m also still mulling over necessary revisions, especially the suggestion from an editor friend of mine that I include more of my parents in the book. “They were around, right?” she asked. Yes, of course they were but as I write in My Brief History of Sex Education, they took on the characteristics of adults in all those Peanuts holiday specials I used to watch on TV.

My parents were there for me and I could depend on them without reservation, but I don’t really recall what they looked like, their voices were garbled and indistinct, and I barely remember a word they said. Though they weren’t absent in real life, I think for the purposes of the book I decided to take the fairy tale approach (kill the parents or at the very least the mother, so the main character can be fierce and independent and do her own thing). I’m reminded of this setup almost every time my daughter begins a book and tells me, “Hey Mom, guess what? They killed the mom off in the beginning again–now everyone gets to have fun!” Delightful.

But I admit that my parents are conspicuously absent from my book, My Brief History of Sex Education, even though they weren’t absent in real life. So as I enjoy my vacation with my own kids, knowing full well that whenever I talk to them they are thinking to themselves,”I see your lips moving, Mom, but I have no idea what you’re saying,” as if our conversation were being held underwater or across a vast, wide chasm complete with dramatic hand gestures that usually do more to confuse than clarify, I will do my best to remember how my own parents involved themselves in my life way back when, in those years I rarely paid them any attention.

In the meantime, a bit of news that’s uplifting, especially when my pen has been temporarily put down. A short essay of mine, “Fast Forward” was just published in You Must Be This Tall to Ride, an online journal of stories about childhood and adolescence. It originally appeared in this blog so you may have read it already, but for those of you who haven’t here’s the link.

www.youmustbethistalltoride.net