When my youngest son, Lucas, was a baby, his bedtime routine was fairly simple — he had a bath in a baby wash chosen for the way it enhanced that “baby smell,” I wrapped him in clean cotton pajamas and, with his hair still damp, bundled him onto my lap for his bottle and story. Then, after we turned out the lights (and I finished swooning from smelling his baby hair), I tucked him into his crib and sang to him in the dark. The child was surprisingly tolerant of my wretched warbling and invented songs, and grew to enjoy music in spite of it.
One afternoon, just after he turned two, however, something changed. He was strapped in the back of my old white Jeep, his older brother beside him, and Semisonic’s song “Closing Time” came on the radio. Lucas’s little jaw dropped, his juicy lower lip, slick with drool, hung down low. My toddler was utterly entranced by this song of last calls, gathered coats, found friends, and reluctant exits.
His love for this mournful song grew to the point where we learned not to interrupt his listening, never to change the station.
One night, some film industry friends were meeting at a place called the Chick ‘N’ Deli, a Toronto Landmark featuring to-die-for wings and live jazz or rock music, depending on the night. This was back in the days of smoke-filled bars, but it was a quiet night, the air was less opaque than usual, so we all figured…eh, let’s give the kids an adult experience.
They loved it. We had a table right beside the band, who played classic rock all night, and our collective six kids spent the evening gobbling wings and dancing in front of the band. Lucas was especially intrigued and spent much of his time sitting on the edge of the stage and staring at the instruments.
Then, just as we gathered our coats, the band launched into none other than “Closing Time.” Lucas froze, eyes wide beneath his long shiny bangs. He stood perfectly still, not two feet from the musicians, until the song was over and the musicians began packing up.
I’ll never forget his moment. His joy. And my awe that something had touched my baby that deeply.
Lucas eventually grew out of his fascination with this song, but I never did. Every time I hear it, still, I’m taken right back to that delicious little face filled with wonder.
“Closing Time” has been running through my head all day in anticipation of my last Tuesday post. In particular, the last line:
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
We debs may be shifting over to allow the debs of 2008 to shine, but don’t turn out the lights on us just yet. We still have plenty of new beginnings in store.
Last dance for love
Yes, it’s my last chance
For romance tonight
Okay, so maybe the lyrics to this Donna Summer number aren’t completely relevant. Because I suspect that although this is my last Monday post on The Debutante Ball, it isn’t in fact my last chance for romance. But is it possible to say “The Last Dance” and not immediately have this song stuck in your ahead, along with a visual image of Summer’s frizzy hair and a disco ball?
It is, however, my last chance to regularly communicate with an amazingly inspiring group of women who I feel are a part of my graduating class into the publishing world. (Eileen, you got held back part of a year but that’s only because the teachers couldn’t bear to say goodbye to you yet.) We’ll all go off to our different colleges (er, publishing houses) but have enough reunions (that’s what Saturdays are for, right?) and chances to visit our school (er, grog) that we won’t go into complete withdrawal.
Because this grog, which managed to combine Freshman through Senior years in one 12-month period, truly did help me feel stable enough to now go out on my own. Knowing that when I got really bad news (say, my publisher being fired), just bad news (ditto my editor) or simply this-couldn’t-be-happening-again news (can anyone say four different covers?), I had five women that I could reach out to with a few simple key strokes — women who not only tended to write me back faster than members of my own family but also offered more support, compassion and wisdom than I’d have thought possible.
Lots of news has been trickling down the pipeline this graduation week. I got an offer on my second book. There’s been more exciting talk about the movie, TV and reality TV versions of Party Girl. My grammar school selected me as one of 50 graduates to feature in their 50th anniversary book about alumni who are reflecting the school’s mission. Party Girl got some nice new press. And one poor Hollywood party girl got into trouble yet again, prompting me to get quoted in a slew of articles about Hollywood, addiction and recovery. (I wrestled with whether it was right to potentially profit off of someone else’s suffering but ultimately decided that what I was saying about recovery was intended to help people, not get them to buy my book. Even though I wouldn’t be opposed to that, either.)
I’ll leave you ladies with the quote that my six friends and I put on our 8th grade yearbook page in 1984. It had seemed borderline brilliant at the time, somewhat overly simplistic years later and is oddly back to being brilliant again now.
There’s something better than you and me and that’s us.
Congratulations, fellow debs. It was an honor to be in your class.
Debs as Mentors…sort of! Deb Kristy’s words of wisdom are featured in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007, the inaugural edition of a new annual collection of articles to refresh and upgrade any writer’s skills, with advice on craft and career development. It offers an eclectic mix of expert how-tos, short pieces on creativity, marketing, and professional issues, and other insights on being a successful writer today. Of course Deb Kristy’s bit, the How Many Writers Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb thing originally posted at Good Girls Kill and given wordwide props on Miss Snark, is slightly less instructional than the other pieces. Deb Kristy is apparently doomed to go down in history as a smartass. Which one supposes is better than going down in history as a dumbass.
Our topic this week was “Memories.” All I can think of when I hear that word is the movie Fame and the audition of pathetic little Doris Fenseker, in which she earnestly eeks out…”The Way We Were.”
Such is the nature of memory. It plays tricks on us. It makes us believe we lived through something one way, when, in fact, it was another way. It gets you lost in the town you grew up in because you were positive that Locust Street connected to Sudbury when you lived there, and you’re sure of it because your best friend, Eddie, lived at that corner and that was where you broke you arm when you fell out of his tree right after your sixth birthday.
But your mother tells you that you never had a friend named Eddie, his name was Danny, and he lived on Third and Stoughton, and you broke your arm when you were eight at a baseball game because you wouldn’t stop fooling around on the bleachers.
Hmmmm…And who is right?
You shuffle through pictures, trying to find that one with you and Eddie and that cast on your arm. But the one you find likely has you, at a highly recognizable eight years old, with a cast on your arm, next to a kid that you suddenly recognize as…your old friend Danny.
I mourn the corrected memories. There are strong emotions attached to them, there are lessons we thought we learned, and the sudden, irrefutable proof that they are wrong feels like a violation to me. I hang onto them these days, and I try to not speak of things I am slightly unsure of in front of people who are likely quite sure of them, and who are quite sure to point out how faulty my memory is.
I’m keeping my emotions, and my lessons learned, and maybe one day I’ll learn how to maintain a journal so that I can look back myself and keep my embarrassing memory lapses to myself.
By the way, an awful lot of lovely things have been said this week, about the start of The Debutante Ball, and about me. I am enormously flattered and touched, but I do have to say that the surest way to make people think you’re brilliant is to surround yourself with brilliant people. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have found such amazing women, and I treasure my time with them.
I’m like gum on your shoe- you just can’t get rid of me.
I’ll admit when my publication date was pushed back I was disappointed. If by disappointed you can picture me throwing myself to the floor and yelling out “Why God Why?” I described it like being pregnant going to see the doctor and having him tell you “whoops we figured that out wrong- turns out you won’t give birth next week, it will be more like next year.” Ha ha ha.
Here’s the secret to the publishing industry- you can’t do a darn thing about it. The publisher is doing what makes the most sense from the business perspective. The fact that I had already started a daily countdown to publication did not factor into their decision making process. I can’t complain too much- I got a nifty new cover AND I get to be the deb that carries on with the new deb class for just a bit longer. So you’ll be stuck with me a bit longer- until February when my novel (say it together with me) Unpredictable, hits the shelves.
I’ll be sharing my deb slot between now and February with The Divine Jess Riley. I met Jess online. We haven’t met in person- so as far as I know she’s strictly my imaginary friend. It seems only fair as I couldn’t imagine a better person to share my slot with. You’ll want to check out her book as well. I’ve had a sneak peak and it’s divine. More about her next week!
What is one thing you want to accomplish between now and February (other than pre-order my book of course)?
I’m a bit of a loner. I think, as a writer, most of us are by default – we don’t necessarily think we fit in, we’d rather be writing, we’d rather be reading, we have a healthy dose of insecurity and anxiety.
In general I tend not to do the group thing. For me, it’s just a lot of work; I tend to get easily frustrated. I do much better one-on-one, or in *really* large groups. So when Deb Kristy invited me to join The Debutante Ball, I was, oh, a tad apprehensive.
But the amazing group of debut authors she had put together, along with her own bubbly and fantastically enthusiastic personality, pretty much sold me before I finished reading her email. I don’t remember where I was when we first walked on the moon, but I remember where I was when Deb Kristy invited me to join the grog. In Chico, at my in-laws, in the small home office by father-in-law willingly shared with me whenever I needed to write. It was the summer of 2006, and it was hot.
Having the grog as my virtual support group this past year has been a wonderful experience. I honestly think that one reason everyone has had such great success with their books is due in part to the energy we’ve had as a group. With over 200,000 books published a year, publishing is a tough game to get into.
But I’m reminded of a game, Red Rover Red Rover (send the publication naysayers over!). With the six of us on one side (arms linked, looking tough and haggard), we went into our debut year as a force to be reckoned with. We found strength in numbers, but also friendship. And since writing is a lonely business, I think that’s pretty damn good.
I have a lot of memories, and I mine them frequently for my fiction writing, and for blog posts on the Ball — but there’s little doubt in my mind that many of them are just plain wrong. I am notorious for not remembering things the way they really were, or for forgetting things altogether.
My brother teases me about this when we take little trips down memory lane. To illustrate his point, he simply has to say, “Glastonbury.” To which I say, “Huh?”
See, for two or three (or maybe more?) years of my life, I lived in a town in Connecticut that I really remember almost nothing of. I remember our address (38 Williams Street – see Tom, I didn’t forget everything!) and that our house was white and brick. I lived in the basement, which I painted purple. I remember the names of some of my friends, but in all honesty, most of that whole time period is a blur.
Yes, I was a teenaged stoner. Sort of a self-absorbed idiot, actually. But I should still be able to describe the way you got from our house to, say, the high school (I think it was so close I could walk…) or where we did our grocery shopping. (We must have gone shopping, right?)
My brother now lives quite close to Glastonbury and sometimes incorporates old landmarks into his conversation: “It’s right near Glen Lochen…” then he stops himself. “Oh, that’s right. You don’t remember Glastonbury.”
But I do remember some things. Like one year, when we lived in Glastonbury, my grandmother announced we weren’t going to have Christmas (she was upset, no doubt by the two difficult, ungrateful teenagers living with her, one of whom remembered nothing). In the 11th hour, my friend Billy and I stole a tree from a lot, took it home and got my grandmother drunk on high octane eggnog – so drunk she sang O Tannenbaum all the way through in German, tottering around our beautifully trimmed tree. It’s one of those memories I cherish, all bright and shimmery at the edges.
So Tom, if you’re reading this, and it isn’t really the way it happened, don’t you dare tell me. Don’t tell me that I paid actual money for the tree or that Grandma didn’t really sing that song. Let me remember this one the way I want to, the way my brain and heart say it should have been, even if it’s not exactly the way things really happened.