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.

I’ve been thinking a lot about endings lately, and not just because I’m supposed to be at an ending now myself, what with the revisions I finished during my stay at the little cabin in New Hampshire and my goal to send this manuscript out by the end of October. But instead of packing everything up, working on cloying cover letters to editors and agents in this past month, and dropping that stack of manila envelopes at the Post Office like I was dropping raffle tickets into a bucket at a church fair hoping to win the grand prize, I have instead become obsessed with my last chapter, worried that my book finishes like a lousy pop song with a cheap, slow fadeout, a sound engineer just turning the dials to zero because the band couldn’t come up with anything better. Who wants that?

My fixation on this last chapter is complicated by the fact that I’ve recently determined everything I thought my book was about—sex, boyfriends, best friends, and all we have to unlearn once we finally leave high school—was slightly off base. All of that is still there—the boys, the best friends, the awkward adolescent fumbling—and I still like what I’ve done so don’t get me wrong, the book’s great, you’ll love it, it’ll be the best twenty bucks you’ll spend. But I’ve had some revelations these past few weeks and while I won’t reveal the specifics—that would be like giving the ending away—I will tell you what brought me to this discovery.

Last week I went to see a former teacher of mine, Ted Kooser, give a poetry reading in Concord, New Hampshire where he’d come to accept the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon American Prize in Poetry. To say that Ted was my teacher is a bit of a stretch since all I really did was sit in on an introductory poetry class he used to teach once a year at the University of Nebraska (I went to school there for about ten years in an attempt to prove the theory that if you threaten never to leave school someone eventually hands you a degree or two if only to get you out the door). So after that class ended, I’d occasionally fax a poem I’d written to the insurance office where Ted worked and he’d write down suggestions and make corrections and fax it back to me at the office where I worked, and I’d do my best to incorporate his suggestions before filing it away in my notebook. And yes, I would love nothing better than to scan and post one of those faxes here on this blog, but after spending about two hours hunting through various boxes and notebooks in my house looking for something I know I’d never throw away, I remain empty handed. Sigh.

Anyhow, though I am not, nor have I ever been a poet, Ted was a generous reader just like he is a generous writer and he humored me during this experimental phase in my life.  Since that time I haven’t written a single poem, but Ted has written a lot, and he’s done a few other things as well like become the U.S. Poet Laureate, win the Barnes & Nobel Discovery Award, and win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Hooray Ted! In reading Ted’s award-winning books over the years and delighting in the fact that he was finally getting recognized, I also continued to learn from his writing—about focus, about revision, about cutting out the fluff—and I was excited to go see him in my home state of New Hampshire. A major plus for the night was that I attended the reading with my kids, Joe and Emily, my parents, and two of my favorite Nebraska alums, poets Liz Ahl and Sandy Yannone.

 

Me, Liz and Sandy, so so happy because we just had a mini-Nebraska reunion with Ted!

 

But back to the reading. Ted gave kind of a greatest hits performance as he read a range of poems he’d written over the past several decades, and, ever the teacher, he spoke in-between about what stories or images he drew from in order to create each composition. Ted has always been a wonderful storyteller, whether in front of an audience or just in conversation, but last week he seemed more contemplative to me—or perhaps just exhausted from the long trip to New Hampshire from Nebraska—and there was one point where he stopped for a few seconds in-between poems, deep in thought, before saying, “I think I’m an elegiac poet. I think that most of my poems are elegies. . . and when I write a poem about someone—my mother, my uncle—I lift them up, for a brief moment, into the light. You need to do that too—all of you. Whether you’re a writer or not you need to write something—anything—about your Uncle Ed or your mother or your brother, and then you need to put it in a drawer and leave it there for someone to find. Then when someone finds it and reads it, years later, for that brief moment that person has been lifted into the light, no matter how long they’ve been gone.”

So yes, the tears flowed after that, much to the embarrassment of Emily who had the misfortune of sitting next to me. And what’s so beautiful about this idea is that Ted doesn’t mean just writing about people who are long gone, but also about people who are still living, and he doesn’t mean just writing about the grand and life-changing things those people have done, but instead about the small and the everyday—going to a garage sale or taking the dog for a walk. That elegiac spirit is in every moment Ted writes about—his wife washing her hands at the kitchen sink, his father snoring through the night, his own moment on a park bench in a small Nebraska town. Ted’s poems are a testament to a life spent just paying attention to and appreciating the everyday, rather than waiting for something remarkable and earth-shattering to happen. His small poems about screech owls and abandoned farmhouses and his mother making oatmeal on a cold winter morning are a testament that the everyday is remarkable if only we could stop for a minute and take stock. 

So that’s where I am today. Obsessed with endings, both real and artificial—the ending of a book, the ending of a chapter, the ending of a marriage, the ending of a way of life that no longer can exist—but thanks in part to Ted, thanks in part to all of the people I went to Ted’s reading with as well as the friends I have who could only be there in spirit, I am reenergized with finding the remarkable in the everyday, as well as in a small, humble book I hope to drop off at the Post Office by the end of October.

For another ending, below is a clip of Ted reading one of his poems–he read this in Concord too, and it made me cry too (again, apologies to Emily).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NS3ztwm125Y

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

As we are on the eve of Motorcycle Week in the Lakes Region—the annual pilgrimage of bikers that both rivals (and predates) Sturgis, Daytona, Myrtle Beach, and all those other Johnny-come-lately events—I thought I’d write a little on the subject of wild behavior, though Bike Week is not necessarily that wild anymore, despite the cage fighting at Meadowbrook this year, despite the free Foghat concert at Laconia Harley.

The last time I went to Bike Week a couple years ago, I got free samples of Harley Davidson brand beef jerky at the Harley Davidson tent set up in downtown Laconia and I went to Weirs Beach on the Hobo Railroad—a train that runs on the old Boston and Maine tracks from Lakeport to the Boardwalk—so I could avoid the traffic. For $10 extra I could have ordered a “Hobo Picnic Lunch,” which actually comes in a little bandanna tied to a stick. If you don’t believe me check out the website: http://www.hoborr.com/winni.html Some stuff you just can’t make up.

I’m not going to write more about Motorcycle Week right now though, if only because there’s a whole chapter on it in my yet-to-be-published book, A Brief History of Sex Education, so you’ll have to wait and read more about it there. All I’ll say is that when you’re thirteen years old there’s nothing like cruising Lakeside Avenue during Bike Week on the back of a borrowed moped . . .

But back to the subject of girls gone wild, Gilford-style. Perhaps knowing that I am not by nature a wild person, I’ve often appreciated the company of friends who have, over the years, enabled me to say I have done more with my life than just sat on the couch reading books or writing blogs. And by wild, I’m not talking about “let’s drink a fifth of vodka and go hijack a golf cart” wild, or “let’s split a pack of Marlboro Reds and see who pukes first” wild—no, that kind of wild is unimaginative, run-of-the-mill, and just plain stupid.

I’m talking about the brand of wild I discovered when Patti moved in down the street from me in fifth grade and swept me up in her whirlwind. Except for the one time I recall having to help Patti clean her room—and yes, we did shove everything either into the closet or under the bed, including the glass of milk that had turned to cottage cheese—virtually all of my memories involving Patti occurred outside and all were a result of Patti saying “Hey!” followed by “Let’s—” and no matter what followed that “Let’s—” my answer was almost always “OK!”

“Let’s ski all the way to the bottom of the mountain without taking a single turn!”

“Let’s bike down Morrill Street without using our brakes!”

“Let’s see how fast we can ride the minibikes around the bases at Stonewall Park!”

“Let’s take the outboard close enough to the Mount Washington so we can wave at everyone standing on deck!”

The SS Mount Washington. Yep, it's a big boat to be buzzing by in an outboard. The wake is a lot larger when you're in it, I'll tell you that.

And yes, I did wipe out and have a complete yard sale on Gunstock Mountain more than once, I did end up crashing through the woods on my bike in the pre-helmet age of cycling, I did run my minibike into the fence behind home plate at Stonewall Park, and in retrospect I absolutely believe riding an outboard in the wake of the Mount Washington might be considered just as stupid as drinking a fifth of vodka and hijacking a golf cart (and I do remember it as the only time Patti actually said, “Um. . . we probably shouldn’t do that again.”), but I also learned the value of sometimes just saying “OK.” And I wonder too if I learned something about the nature of being wild—because maybe without me, Patti might not have done any of those things either—Patti needed someone else to say “OK” and join in. So maybe being wild really means running in a pack, not just going off on your own, and as long as the pack you join isn’t a vodka-swilling, Marlboro Red, let’s lift our tank tops whenever some jerk shows up and lifts his video camera kind of pack, then it might actually be OK sometimes. As long you’re wearing a helmet. And maybe floaties too, especially if you’re riding an outboard.

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