Sunday, April 06, 2014
DISCLAIMER: The following material contains adult subject matter. Parental discretion is advised.
I’m serious. Tell the kids under 18 to leave.
Okay, here is what has been in my head lately:
I did not come up with the GENIUS analogy, that self-publishing is akin to masturbation. That credit belongs to John Winters in one of my favorite articles called “I’m aself-publishing failure”. Read the article. Very helpful. Very inspiring.
I mentioned the idea of literary masturbation and referred to John Winter’s article in a recent blog, and I can't stop thinking about it.
GET OUT OF THE ROOM, CHILDREN! This is about to get very adult.
I republished MSW recently, and it felt awesome. A self-induced pleasure, of the publishing kind. There was that build up that goes on while revising and editing and proofing and then—bam—I hit "publish" and a rush of sensations and emotions went through me. I was left with a sweet calm inside, a satisfied contentment.
See how this analogy is PERFECT?!
Doing this act of self-pleasure is so, so much easier today and so much more acceptable than 10 years ago when I self-published MSW the first time. Though, some still say it is something to be ashamed of. But we will get to those hater-folks later.
Self-publishing is EASY, and it FEELS GOOD (most of the time, but more on that in another blog post). It’s faster than regular publishing, and you have all the control (see how this analogy really is perfect?). Regular, traditional publishing, however, is not analogous to any kind of sex, at least not in my experience.
Simply put, it's a hell of a lot easier to get laid than to get published. I think all of us in the biz can agree with that.
DISCLAIMER: This is based on MY experience. SO no HATE MAIL from people who have had an easy, swinging time with their book deal.
So, people of earth, listen up, ALL of you. Yeah, you who just finished that first or second draft of a manuscript and are combing through The Writer's Market or Agent Query, and, yeah, you, too, writer who has received numerous positive rejections from a major publisher. And you, who have an MFA and have been published in several anthologies and magazines and have an agent and are on your sixth manuscript, even YOU, you need to listen and listen carefully.
Getting that book published will be a nearly impossible feat. Traditional publishing is like to getting into Brown, 8.9 percent.
People, NINE F*$KING PERCENT!
ACTUALLY, hold on. I just googled this, and it's a whole lot worse than that.
"Statistics? I've heard that only 0.03 percent of all manuscripts submitted in the publishing industry in the United States each year actually get published. That means out of every 10,000 manuscripts which are submitted, only 3 are actually published."
So, BAD NEWS, folks. Getting published is a whole lot harder than getting into BROWN.
Everyone reading, take a deep breath. I’m sorry to have killed that buzz you had from all of your accomplishments as a writer and all of your efforts climbing the hill towards a book deal. I share that buzz-kill myself.
I know this news is devastating to a writer. Any writer. Newbie or seasoned vet. It devastates ME!
We writers crave to be heard and seen, and we NEED that release of publishing. Our words released to the public. It’s a rush. It’s fantastic.
Thus, that is why the following statistic is not surprising:
Almost 400,000 books were self published in 2012 according to Bowker. And the number of Self-Published Titles Grows Nearly 60% in 2012 according to the website .
AND. . . The number of self-published books has quadrupled from 2007 to now!
Now, about those hater-folks. . . Sure, many people who have solid careers as authors and writers claim that those of us who self-publish are narcissistic animals who don't have the talent to earn the right of a publisher to consider us. I was reading a thread about us no-talent animals and couldn't believe how ANGRY some people are about those of us who have self-published.
And to those people I say, I am not offended by your opinion. What you claim about us is true sometimes and in some cases. But, I would make the same claim to those in the non-self-published category. There are a lot of narcissistic animals who do get book deals and who have ZERO talent and who have definitely NOT earned the right to get published. Can we all say the word “celebrities”?
But this is not a post about being MAD at folks who hate on us self-published animals. Nor is this a blog lamenting the woes of a self-published author. Nor a post about hating celebrity authors. Some write damn fine stuff. Jamie Lee Curtis has a children’s book I really enjoy called, When I Was Little.
This is post about WHY I chose to and still do, to a certain extent, self-publish. . . even though for all of these 10 years that I've been out there I have had an agent, had work published in lit. mags, newspapers, etc. . .even though I have the resume and experience that would indicate a book deal is around the corner. Even though I still very much want and am striving to be published by a traditional publisher. And by the way, there are a lot of us, like me, who have many years, decades into this business and have not reaped the equal and opposite rewards that both experience and talent warrant in EVER OTHER F*$KING PROFESSION.
Yes, I do think I am (somewhat) talented, and finally, I feel and know and understand that talent alone is not what helps you get a book deal. The elusive market is an enormous factor.
Look, it's been wizards, vampires, and porn for the last decade. My shit doesn't line up with that. But this could be the year of voicey, contemporary YA fiction. A girl can only dream.
Years ago, when I won the first place award from WD www.writersdigest.com self-pub contest a few folks likened me to the next Judy Blume. I thought, wow, my dreams are coming true because (like many YA writers in my age bracket) when I was nine and reading Judy Blume, I felt, in my whole body, that some day I would write books like hers and people would love those books—I would become a real author.
And it looked like I was on that path ten years ago, when I hit publish and sold over a thousand books pretty quickly and got an agent. . .
While I still am on the path and haven't arrived at the destination, I have continued to self-publish.
Why am I replaying this tune on self-publishing? Because I republished MSW as a ten year anniversary gift to myself. The original had a lot of errors, and I wanted to clean it up and make it look prettier. I did this republish solely por moi. The decision is a little like a choice for cosmetic surgery. Like a facelift or Botox. While I haven't done either of those yet, never say never, and I don't judge those who do. I suppose that this choice really was narcissistic. But it also was for the small group of readers who continue to email me about my Maddie books and who are rooting for me.
The feeling I got when I republished MSW. . . was good. I mean that good. Sorry, but it's true. IT felt SOOOO good.
To republish it using ten years of wisdom was very cathartic. No, I didn't rewrite the entire thing like I wanted to, that wasn't my intention. But I gave it a face-lift, so I could feel really good about it being out there. Because, believe it or not, that book continues to sell!
AND. . . That is why, after receiving over 50 rejections for my short story anthology Big, Fat, Broken Hearts a few years ago, I decided to self-publish a literary anthology that would feature my (rejected) short fiction as well as all those other writers out there who were in need of that good feeling that publishing gives.
In just a little over a week, I will self-publish again (along with my staff). Sucker Literary, volume 3. And it will feel DAMNED GOOD!
But guess what, so will getting a book deal. And I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive.
So keep writing and keep climbing the mountain. But don't be afraid to take care of yourself once in awhile.
Monday, March 31, 2014
When I conceived Sucker Literary in 2011, never could I have predicted or even dreamed of the amount of support I would receive from the emerging writers of the YA community. Not only has the support been enormous in terms of the amount of writers who currently make up our staff and the amount of submissions we have been bestowed with, but also the support has reached across the globe and back. So when one of my own Sucker Literarywriters or staff members calls upon me to do something, I do it—because this is how we roll.
Kristina Wojtaszek is the author of If It Rains, featured in the soon-to-be-published third volume of Sucker Literary, and she is the impetus of my participation in an author blog hop where participants answer the same four questions (see below) and then introduce some fellow authors.
To learn more about Kristina, check out the links below:
The Four Questions
1. What the heck are you doing?
First, I will start with what I am NOT working on—a completed but rough manuscript that my agent inspired me to pursue. It’s a steamy NA story involving four different point-of-views. I had worked on it feverishly for a period of time (first draft was back in Nov ‘12 of NaNoWriMo)— and I needed some space. I will be back to it this summer after I finish some course work for my OTHER dream I am pursuing (becoming a licensed mental health counselor).
Additionally, I am currently working on finishing up Sucker Literary III and also republishing a little book from back in 2006 called My Summer Vacation. Though I think that I am a better writer and my current work (the first three volumes of Sucker Literary and all my manuscripts my agent has) is much, much stronger, I still believe in the first set of characters I fell in love with. I still believe in the series I created way back when. . . a series I still believe someone out there will eventually connect with. . . someone, as in, a major publisher (Entangled, do you here me?). So, I am on a quest to republish the second one in the series right now. Just like the first one I recently re-released, I won’t heavily edit it (though I will want to) but just tighten it up a bit and redo the cover. There are two more Maddie books, Fear of Falling, which is available in digital and print on Amazon, and an unpublished fourth manuscript, trying to find a publisher as we speak.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I do not hold back in my writing just like I try not to hold back in my life, which is what makes me different. I also don’t like to over describe the way a character looks, and I tend to be very heavy on dialogue, of the very authentic kind. I write from a voice-driven place and like to tackle the emotional inner life of my characters. I don’t lead with the plot when I write, but I love a juicy one, though I believe that a juicy plot comes from the complex inner workings of a three-dimensional character.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Because I can’t stop.
Characters float into my head innocently enough, and then I can’t get rid of them, and so I let them it out. Entire novels and short stories come to me when I fall asleep. If I don’t get them out eventually, I get very irritable.
Also, I write because I have a point-of-view that includes no bullshit and no lies and no fairy tales, and I feel this point-of-view pretty strongly and want to tell stories that have all of the above. . . with a glimmer of hope and faith in oneself.
4. How does my writing process work?
My writing process is exactly like my personality:
Focused, tenacious, and filled with multitasking. Oh, and a lot of Starbucks.
Now, here are some authors that you HAVE to know about!
Kacey Vanderkarr, Young Adult Author
Blurb from her new book Reflection Pond:
Sometimes you find home, sometimes it comes looking for you.
Callie knows a lot more about pain than she does about family. She’s never belonged, at least, not until she falls through a portal into her true home. The beautiful faerie city of Eirensae doesn’t come free. Callie must find her amulet and bind herself to the city, and most importantly, avoid the Fallen fae who seek her life. Seems like a small price to pay for the family she’s always wanted.
Then she meets cynical and gorgeous Rowan, who reads the darkness of her past in her eyes. He becomes Callie’s part-time protector and full-time pain in the ass. He has secrets of his own for Callie to unravel. What they don’t know is that the future of Eirensae lies with them, and the once peaceful city is about to become a battleground for power.
Kristen Tsetsi, Journalist, Fiction Author
"Pretty Much True... is about a young woman who has the misfortune of falling in love with a man who is shipped off to war. What I love about this story is that there's nothing the least bit sentimental or saintly about Mia, the narrator. It's a fascinating study of how the casualties of war extend far beyond the battlefield that is also incredibly funny in places. Great book." - Russell Rowland, author of In Open Spaces and High and Inside
Bio: Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the novel Pretty Much True… and the short-story collection Carol’s Aquarium. When not working or writing and filming scenes for “Inside the Writers’ Studio,” a comic-relief YouTube series for writers co-created and co-written (and brilliantly edited) by author R.J. Keller, she takes pictures of things and spends time with her husband.
Jackie Hennessey, Author and Blogger
Jackie is a Rhode Island mom who understands what other mothers go through. Having worked full-time, part-time, and been a stay-at-home mom too, she sees motherhood from a variety of angles. And thankfully, with a sense of humor. Jackie is the author of the award-winning gift book, How to Spread Sanity on a Cracker, and blogs about being an imperfect mother at http://www.ventingsessions.com.
Jackie earned a BA in journalism from Texas A&M University where she received the “Best Aggie-Life writer” award. She has 20 years of experience in journalism and public relations and works as a pr consultant in Rhode Island. She pens the “Ask Mom” advice column at OnlineRI.com, writes for Barrington Patch, and guest blogs on sites like Scarymommy.com and Bluntmoms.com. Jackie was a cast member of the 2013 Listen to Your Mother Providence show and is a member of the Association of Rhode Island Authors, Rhody Bloggers, Rhody Bloggers for Good, and RI Digital Media Women.
When she's not folding laundry or taxiing her kids around, she enjoys venting with other women and laughing at her imperfections.
Blog & web site: http://ventingsessions.com
Saturday, March 08, 2014
The blue dress clings. It should hang. The ruffles droop. They should poof. The bright blue of the dress clashes with my late summer sunburn. If I were the fashion police, I’d call this the American Flag Look.
Except it’s not the fourth of July, I’m the farthest thing from the fashion police, and today is my sister’s wedding day.
That’s her now, throwing up in the bathroom next door. She got wasted last night with some of her loser friends, who like her, all still live at home, can’t seem to finish college, or get a decent job. Okay, two of them work for their rich parents, and my sister sells tee-shirts at the mall.
That counts. I guess.
“Barb?” I yell toward the bathroom. “Everything okay?”
I hear a muffled noise that sounds like, “Yeah. . . I’m okay.”
I pile my hair on top of my head. For a moment I’m a blonde Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I try to ignore the blue glare of the dress my interior decorator mother, Bernice, picked out. Barbara and I refer to her as “Martha” (as in Martha Stewart). Of course, the dress has a matching shawl and purse made of satin. “Martha” made these herself because the ones at the dress shop looked like “chintzy Walmart garbage.”
While my sister is so hung over she is having trouble getting ready for her own wedding, my mother is upstairs ironing the hem of the wedding gown for the fifteenth time and rehemming my color-coordinating shawl because, “It’s so crooked it will make me nauseated to look at it all through the ceremony!”
I finish pinning my hair and reach for some cover up for the super-size zit at the end of my nose. My puffy-eyed sister opens the bathroom door, flipping the fan switch on.
“I feel like shit,” she proclaims. Our orange cat, Mensch, rubs his chin on Barbara’s leg. She ignores him. I reach down and scratch him behind his ears and then push him away. Let’s not have cat hair all over us, on top of everything else.
And, Barbara, of course, doesn’t look like shit. Except for her puffy, toffee-colored eyes, she looks, as usual, effortlessly beautiful. Perfectly shaped eyebrows she doesn’t have to pluck. High cheek bones and a small, straight nose. A totally zit-free face and perfect coloring, even after hours of vomiting—just the right shade of peach and lips just red enough not to need makeup.
It’s such a waste.
I take another quick glance at myself in the mirror. I’m too tall, too skinny, and too zitty.
“Barb, we’re running out of time. Let’s just get your hair up and make-up on so we can get you into your dress,” I say, trying not to respond to her drama. She’s famous for those productions. Take last night. Before she went out with her loser friends, she spilled champagne on the white outfit that she was wearing to the dress rehearsal dinner. She started to cry and scream: “I screw everything up. I’m not going to the stupid dress rehearsal dinner. I’ll just screw that up, too.” My mother and father were already gone, so I helped her find another dress. Her response to my assistance was, “Thank God for you, Maddie. You’re so together.” I felt like slapping my forehead like some drama queen myself and saying, “Do I have a choice?”
Anyway, now she is checking her breath by blowing into her cupped left hand. It’s time to get moving, and she’s worried about her bad breath? Her dress has about twenty-five tiny buttons and a bustle. She wanted to be “girlie and traditional” Ha! I have to get that girlie and traditional butt into that complicated dress.
“Do I smell?” She walks over to me and leans forward.
I’m 5’8” and she’s 5’2”. So all I inhale is her freshly washed hair, which smells like apples.
“No,” I say, and she really doesn’t, which I find amazing. I grab a brush and steer her into my desk chair in front of my full-length mirror.
“How am I going to get through this?” she asks, as I brush out the tangles in her damp hair.
“You just are,” I tell her.
“I feel pretty crappy right now. I guess if I need to puke, I’ll just do it into one of those huge containers of flowers by the aisle.” She sounds gleeful at the idea of making Mom mortified.
“No freaking out Martha today,” I say. Sometimes I feel better about Barbara when we make fun of Mom together. Like last night, Mom insisted that we all wear blue “because we are special members of the family.” She had my father in a light blue shirt with a light blue-and-white striped tie. She bought me a blue-and-white striped dress and for herself, a blue silk shirt and skirt that had white-striped banding all around the hem and the cuffs. When Mom pulled my striped number out, Barbara was standing behind her in the living room, rolling her eyes and putting her finger down her throat. Then she said to my mother, “I think we should all just go in jeans. And to make you happy, ‘cause you’re into this whole blue-and-white theme, we’ll all wear white tank tops.” My mother whirled around and looked at her like she just picked her nose and wiped it on her tee shirt. I shook my head at Barb and mouthed, “Stop,” but I was laughing, too. It’s dysfunctional, but it’s how we bond.
“You’ll be perfect,” I say as I finish her hair, and she grabs the foundation from the nearby bureau.
She puts tiny dots of rosy beige cream all over her already even complexion. “Maddie,” she says. “What will I do without you?”
I shake my head and take the foundation back, giving her the under-eye concealer. This, she actually needs.
All I can think as I watch her smear the concealer under her eyes is, “You’ll have to manage. I’m done.”
My sister wanted a very small wedding, which really pissed Martha off. My mother has an office in Manhattan. She’s done interior decorating for famous people like David Letterman. She also decorated a couple of soap opera actors’ apartments. She’s a legend in town, and I think she really took it hard when Barbara announced her plans. No elaborate, lace-and-chiffon table skirts or place settings. No showing off to the rest of her yenta friends to say, Maybe my screwed-up daughter can’t get into college or get a real job, but, look, she’s having this great big expensive wedding and marrying this perfect, nice, Jewish doctor.
Eventually, my sister caved. One day, a few weeks after Michael and Barbara got engaged, Barbara sat in the living room with a bunch of wedding magazines scattered all over the light blue-and-gold oriental rug. She chewed her nails and ripped out pictures of dresses, table settings, and flower arrangements, even wedding bands. She didn’t seem to be enjoying herself. Patience is not one of her virtues, and I think you need patience to plan a wedding. At the moment my sister made her aggravated noise: “Ahhhhrrrggg!” my mother wandered into the room. “How’s the planning going?” she asked. I was lounging on the couch, reading Seventeen. I peered up to watch the drama unfold.
At first my sister was stubborn. “Fine, mother. I am doing fine.”
My mother played it cool. “Okay. Well, good luck.”
My sister was still chewing her nails but had her thinking face on. Crinkled brow and scrunched nose.
My mother was half way to the kitchen when Barbara said, “Listen, I‘ll let you do this. But I have to have some say.”
My mother squealed and she’s not a squealer. They compromised on a small ceremony (just relatives, which turned out to be fifty-five people) with me as maid of honor and her friend, Lori, a bride’s maid and a large reception (about one fifty). Mom was thrilled and Barbara was glad to be rid of the extra hassle of planning a wedding.
This whole planning of the wedding thing has been a total nightmare and my sister, who used to be an I-can-pull-it-all-together-when-I-want-to drunk and even, at times, a nicer-than-the-sober-version-of-herself drunk, has now become a mean and ungrateful, nasty drunk. She orders me around and expects me to cover for her all the time. She used to be bitchy sometimes. Now she’s a bona fide bitch.
At her high school graduation, when I was ten years old, Barbara couldn’t get up for the brunch my mother had planned at our house. I rolled her out of bed. Got her in the shower. Sat her in the tub while I turned the shower on. Two years ago, for my Bat Mitzvah, Barbara was MIA two hours before we had to be at the temple. Michael called me on our private line to say he couldn’t find her. He thought she was with Jen Conrad (one of those loser high school friends) the night before and she hadn’t called him. Or maybe she was with Lori Cecci? Had she called home? He wanted to know. Had she come home? Could I tell everyone she had a crisis at work (at Twist?) and would meet theme at the temple? At the time, I was just like Michael, the whole “lets fix Barbara” thing, and so I said, “Of course. Absolutely!”
But now I have seen the light with Barbara. For a while Michael was the one saying we have to save her from herself. We have to stop covering up for her. In February, after a drunken Valentine’s dinner at Clemente’s where she started to do a strip tease for him at the table, he said to me when I met him in the basement to sneak her upstairs, “Maddie, it’s time to do something about Barbara. What if I hadn’t been with her tonight? She could have been raped. I have to do something.”
A few days later he dragged me to an Al-Anon meeting and even talked about doing an intervention. But then, he blew it. He got this nutty idea. If he got Barbara to marry him, then she’d “settle down”, and everything would stop being crazy.
He was wrong. And now I get it, but I’m the only one who does. I didn’t understand the problem until the Al-Anon meeting. The leader, a four hundred pound grey-haired woman who wheezed the whole time she spoke, said, “People who cover for alcoholics are really just as much of a mess as the alcoholic. Because stop and think about this: Why are you covering up for them? Don’t you realize that by covering up for them, you’re contributing to the problem? You’re enabling them not only to drink but to walk all over you. What does that say about you?”
I don’t think Michael heard that part. But I did. I didn’t understand everything. But one thing I got was that covering for Barbara was a bad thing to do.
Even though in my head I see a flashing neon stop sign, I can’t seem to stop covering for Barbara. Last night, she got so wasted, her friends called me. They wanted me to be there when they snuck her in through the basement. Then, I had to undress her and make sure she was breathing and then put her to bed. I wasn’t surprised to find myself doing this at 2 a.m., the night before her wedding. But I was surprised to feel annoyed. That was new. I used to just do it and not really notice how I felt.
I’m not sure why Barbara’s so screwed up or why we all seem to be so careful around her. When Barbara arrived at my Bat Mitzvah brunch two hours late, with mismatched shoes, large black sunglasses and only drank black coffee, my father put his arm around my sister and said quietly, “Long night?” as if she had been up all night writing a term paper. My mother told people that Barbara hadn’t been feeling well lately, and then gently steered her into the ladies room, took off the shoes and put some makeup under her eyes.
No one ever says she’s almost twenty-five and has never held a real job. No one says she dropped out of college and partied high school away. I remember the car ride home from the brunch. We all made excuses for her. None of us mentioned that she was hung over. My father said to my mother, “Barbara has her priorities screwed up. She should have been there on time.”
“She doesn’t have priorities.” My mother sounded tired.
They were silent for a moment and I volunteered. “It’s okay. At least she came.”
My mother turned around and patted my leg, “You’re very sweet, honey.”
My father sighed. “Barbara is just a free spirit. She can’t be tamed.”
Now my mother sounded annoyed when she replied, “Well, I think she’s immature. A late bloomer. Eventually, she’ll have to grow up.”
Eventually still hasn’t happened.
My sister has one true talent, and it’s actually an amazing one. She can sketch and paint. She tossed around the idea of art school at one time and constantly sketches in this journal she carries around. I mean, the thing that gets me is she’s really smart, obviously good at getting people to do what she wants, and very talented. So why has she let her life turn to crap?
Sometimes I wonder if her craziness has to do with my father. My parents married sixteen years ago when Barbara was eight. My mother was married before, to Barbara’s father. It’s a complicated story. My parents have only given me bits and pieces. My mother’s mother, Bubbie Helen, has filled in the bigger pieces of the story.
Three years ago I asked my Bubbie Helen to tell me the whole story. One night during Christmas Vacation, when Barbara and I went out to California to visit her, she did. It was a really cool night, and we sat on her front porch drinking iced-coffee. Barbara was already in bed.
“Your mother was married to a putz. It wasn’t good. She left him after a year of marriage and nine months pregnant. Even though she was only nineteen, she refused to be a victim.” Bubbie paused and took a long drink of coffee. Then she continued. “So, she moved back home and decided to go to college and become a lawyer. I had only been widowed one year, so I was happy to have the company.” Bubbie teared up. “We were very close.” She quickly wiped her eyes. “I was Mom’s Lamaze coach.”
“So how did Mom meet Dad?” I asked, intrigued with the vision in my head of young, pregnant “Martha”.
“Two years after Barbara was born, Bernice met your father in Central Park. Your mother and Barbara were eating hot dogs. Barbara started to choke, and if you can even believe this next part: your dad, a thirty-two year old bachelor, raced over and grabbed Barbara and administered the baby Heimlich on her. After it was determined she was okay, your mother (who was very shy) invited him to stay and have an ice cream with them. He hung around and played with Barbara all afternoon.” Bubbie looked far away as she told the story.
“Then what happened?” I asked her.
“Bernice and Stan didn’t exactly fall in love there. They actually became friends for about two years. I couldn’t figure out their relationship. Every Sunday, he would come over for dinner. I just loved having him over. He was intelligent and funny. A real character. Making us watch wrestling on TV. Cooking underdone pancakes on Sunday mornings. Then lecturing us on the importance of Physics. He made your mother very happy. But it didn’t seem romantic to me. He seemed like her buddy. I just think your mother wanted their relationship to be private.” Bubbie was on a roll now. She had a really peaceful look on her face. I just sat and listened.
“Sometimes he took care of Barbara when Bernice would have a late class. Stan and Barbara became so close over those years that Barb started to call him Dad. When your sister was eight, your parents married. You were born one year later. It was the highlight of those years. You were an easy, happy baby and everyone loved playing with you.” Bubbie turned and looked at me and suddenly didn’t look as peaceful. “Let’s go to bed.”
That story makes me think my parents must really love each other. When they argue, it’s mainly about Barbara. My mother plays bad cop while my father plays good cop. Mom will say, “Don’t stay out too late” when Barb goes out. Or she’ll say, “Don’t you want to do something with your life?” when Barb sleeps until 3 p.m. on her days off from selling tee-shirts at Twist. If my father’s around, he’ll say to my mom, “She’s young. Let her take her time to figure out her life.” Or he’ll say, “Barb is a grown up. Let her live her life the way she wants.” I don’t know what Barb feels about all of that. Once, in private, I heard my dad say to Mom, “We can’t make her grow up. She has to do that on her own.” My mother didn’t reply.
“For God’s sake Barb, the waste paper basket was right next to you!” My mother screams from the bathroom. “Did you have to vomit all over the $700 veil?”
We are in my mother’s bedroom and Mom is in the bathroom furiously scrubbing the veil in her sink. Barbara is standing in her dress bawling, makeup running. I am holding the bustle up with one hand and wiping Barbara’s face with a tissue with the other hand.
“Sorry, Mother. I guess I missed!” she spits back at her.
I am tired. Tired of my mother getting upset over the wrong thing. How come she doesn’t say: “For God’s sake. Barb, did you have to get trashed the night before your wedding?”
Instead we stand around screaming and crying over a veil.
Moments later, after I tuck Michael’s ring (designed by his father who owns a swank jewelry store in town) into my tiny, blue-beaded purse, we tumble into the white stretch limo and are on our way to meet Michael, my dad, and Michael’s parents at the temple. We are fifteen minutes away. My mother is discussing draperies with the limo driver (she constantly tries to recruit more customers, no matter the situation).
“Now, Mrs. Hickman, my wife wants to buy all these curtains and pillows. I tell her: You make it! Why do you have to buy them? Women used to make this stuff. Why does she have to buy it?” says the limo driver, who is a balding, wrinkled man with a toothy smile.
“George, is it?” My mother asks him. He nods, teeth gleaming. “George, your wife probably is a busy woman. She takes care of you and maybe the grandchildren–”
“Great grandchildren!” He announces as if they were a prize.
“Well, then, George, don’t you see how hard she works?” George nods vigorously. “Does she really have time to make drapes and pillows?” She stresses the word “drapes”. My mother refuses to say curtains.
“I guess not.” Poor George has been defeated by Martha.
“Let me give you my card.”
My sister and I look at each other and roll our eyes. She mouths to me, “Sucker!”
My sister busies herself with her compact, fixing her lipstick. It all somehow doesn’t seem real; my sister is getting married and leaving the house. It just doesn’t seem possible.
My mother closes the deal with George and turns back to us. She looks over at Barbara and says, “Did you bring any concealer?”
“Because you have circles under your eyes.”
I stare at my mother. And that’s because. . . ?
My sister looks into her mirror. “I already put some on.”
“Well,” my mother smoothes her dress. “You need more.”
“No, I don’t, Mother.” Barbara turns to me. “Do I need more concealer?”
I stare at her, not wanting to get involved. Not wanting to open my mouth for fear that I may scream, who gives a shit! You’re friggin’ hung over! Can we just say it already?
I say nothing because now they are going at it. I tune them out and stare out the window.
Luckily, I have been gone for most of the summer. I was a CIT at Jonah’s Rock—this “artsy fartsy” camp as my mother so charmingly referred to it. I’ve been going there since I was eleven. Bubbie sends me every year.
“Why don’t you want to intern in the city at cousin Hilda’s modeling agency?” she asked me all last year.
“Mom,” I had told her. “I don’t want to work for a modeling agency. I want to be a writer. I’m finally old enough to be a CIT for the Pub Shop.”
“What, in God’s name, is that?”
I had felt so frustrated with her. “It’s the publishing hut where kids get on computers and type out stories, poems, and plays. I get to be a counselor to other kids who want to write. It’s a great opportunity.”
I was not about to do some stupid, fake internship with stupid, bulimic and anorexic models hanging around.
“But the agency is well known and would look so good on your college transcript.” She so desperately doesn’t want me to turn out like Barbara.
I knew I’d have to sell this to her. “This will look great on my transcript for NYU. I know that many of my counselors went to school there.”
Mom couldn’t knock NYU. She caved.
Bubbie started sending me to Jonah’s Rock when she found me writing my first short story in the sixth grade. It was about a girl whose father died and her mother won’t cry about it. At the end the girl tells her mother, “It’s okay to cry.” And the mother does. “We should cultivate her talents,” Bubbie had told Mom. That was back when they were talking to each other. My mother never really said much about the camp until she came up one parents’ weekend when Erica Jong happened to be reading some of her poetry. Erica Jong is some feminist who writes, according to my mother, “smut.” Mom saw this lady and recognized her. She grabbed my father and me and marched us right out of the Pub Shop, muttering, “Pervert!” All the woman was doing was reading some harmless poetry about fruits and vegetables.
Bubbie lives in California, and I visit her for two weeks every summer and for Christmas vacation. Other than that, I don’t see her. She and my mother haven’t really spoken since I was about ten.
A couple of years ago I talked to Mom about Bubbie right before I left: “Why don’t you come?”
My mother threw me a dirty look and said, “Helen and I don’t get along and it has nothing to do with you.” I never asked again.
We used to have Bubbie come for all the high holidays when I was little, and my mother would be so mean to her the whole time. That one year when I was ten, Bubbie brought my mother a bottle of wine wrapped in this really shiny red and silver paper and a basket of mangoes and coconuts she had brought back from a trip to Hawaii. My mother took the bottle of wine and threw it out. Then they started to argue:
“How could you bring this into my house?” My mother’s voice was low and angry.
“Bernice, what’s the big deal? People bring wine as gifts all the time. So I am forbidden from bringing a gift to my daughter and her family?” Bubbie’s voice sounded light.
There was a long silence at this point. Then Mom said in the same low voice:
“You promised you’d never do this again. Get out of my house.”
And that was it.
For a year after the wine bottle incident, Mom would only let me talk with Bubbie on the phone. She never told me why. I went out to see Bubbie again. But no explanation was given for the year I didn’t see her.
The thing is I have a lot more in common with Bubbie than with my mother. Bubbie is a writer. Although when I say that, she says, “No, I’m not. I just write.” Years ago, she found God at a “Sufi Camp” and she suddenly felt the urge to write and couldn’t stop. She has been writing poetry ever since. Sometimes I wish she were my mother instead of old Martha Stewart. Bubbie pays attention to who I am. She doesn’t want to make me into something, and it totally sucks that she won’t be coming to the wedding.
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