Friday, July 30, 2010

Just Friends?

Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.

Sally: Why not?

Harry: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form - is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there’s no sex involved.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sally: Yes I do.

Harry: You only think you do.

- Harry Burns and Sally Albright in the film “When Harry Met Sally”

After popular demand, The Disappearances has been officially changed to The Mist Chasers. Thanks to my critique group for suggesting it. And thanks for all of you who voted.

I finished the last of Jackee’s edit suggestions today. The ones from Aubrie were done some time ago. And the critique group members have suggested a couple of critical places for improvement. All of these readers have made the manuscript so much stronger than it was several months ago. It’s my most layered piece to date. It went from 41k to 57k. I'll post the beginning on my 2nd blog soon (See link on sidebar).

One part of the story I wrestled with is Eve’s relationship with Adam. It soon becomes clear to Eve that he likes her, but she wants to remain friends. Like many teenagers, Eve’s initial idea of attraction and love is superficial. She’s interested in the hot football player. Even when Eve’s feelings towards Adam change, she decides losing him if they break up is too much of a risk.

I don’t want Eve to come across as unlikable because she resists dating Adam, and hope I’m not the only one who can relate to her.

My husband didn’t pursue me the way Adam pursues Eve. We were friends for over a year. When we met I had an inkling of attraction, but then it was clear he liked my friend. Another guy asked me out, so that was that. So I thought.

I dated the other guy for a year. Things went well for several months, and then began to sour. We had a long distance relationship for three months, and during that period, I spent more time with my friend. I started comparing the negative qualities of my boyfriend with the positive qualities of my friend.

My boyfriend was jealous of my friend, and it created friction between my boyfriend and me. But I wasn’t going to drop my friendship, especially when my relationship was deteriorating for reasons unrelated to my friend.

Then my boyfriend and I broke up. At this point I didn’t really consider dating my friend. I couldn’t imagine staying friends after a breakup, so I didn’t want to lose my friendship. (Sound familiar?)

But my friend liked me. And I missed all the signs he did, even obvious ones. One summer night he gave me a white bear. This is too embarrassing to admit. But writing is about truth, so I’ll spill it. The bear held a heart with the words “I love you”. Guess what I blurted?

“I don’t like it when stuffed animals have writing on them.”

I know, what’s wrong with me?

But, like Adam, he didn’t give up.

See that lovely exchange between Harry and Sally on the top of the page? My friend and I went to see that movie right around this time. During that scene, I recall shrinking in my seat and making sure not to look at my friend. After all, we were just friends, right?

I mentioned to my other friends and sister that I liked him, but not like that.

One night, my friend and I were supposed to see “The Who” in concert all the way in New Jersey. I couldn’t get off work at the music store, where we sold instruments and gave lessons. My friend was not happy with me. Then I found someone to cover the desk. But he didn’t show up. The last musician scheduled for the night offered to cancel his last students. Besides, it was slow. So I closed the shop early.

My friend and I were running late, but were somehow making great time on the highway. We were going to make it!

I think we were on a bridge between Queens and Manhattan when I said, “Oh no, I forgot the tickets.”

And I could see them sitting on the counter at the music store. It was too late. We’d never retrieve the tickets and make it in time, so we returned to town and got dinner. The whole time he kept reminding me about how BECAUSE OF ME we weren’t seeing The Who.

Afterwards, we went to the park nearby. It was dark. We sat on swings. I wondered if he liked me. I wondered if he’d ask me out. He wasn’t in the best mood. Understandably. He didn’t ask me out.

Nearly a week later, he told me he had to talk to me about something the next day. We agreed to meet at night. I speculated about what it could be. He wasn’t going to ask me out, I knew it. Maybe he got a job. Or was going away to school. Or maybe his parents were separating. (I know, cheerful thought but everyone's parents I knew split up.) It probably had nothing to do with me.

My friend and I ate dinner somewhere and had a conversation I couldn’t concentrate on. And then he took me to the park. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something about liking me and wanting to go out with me. Guess what I said?

“I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”

That was my concern, but it wasn’t really my answer. I’m sure right after I uttered that stupid sentence, I said yes.

So, having Eve be clueless about her feeling for Adam. I get that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


“It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and sense of duty.”

- Albert Einstein

There are many lurkers out there. How do I know this? Because I get a nice number of comments for every post (and I appreciate each and every one of them), but the number doesn’t compare with how many visits I receive per day, which now runs near 300. (To get your own info:

This means some come to my blog by accident, others read my posts but don’t comment, and then there are the people who read and comment.

So many people who target writers advise them to build a platform. This isn’t like the movie “Field of Dreams” where shoeless Joe says to Ray, “If you build it, he will come.” Readers don’t magically show up. If it’s not magic, what is it?

  1. You have to have something interesting and honest to write about.

  1. Being warm and/or funny is a plus.

  1. Make your blog easy on the eyes. LARGE font. Good contrast between background and font. S P A C E between paragraphs. And don’t make your paragraphs tooooooo long - it’s tooooooo hard to read on a computer screen.

  1. Don’t bash people in the publishing industry.

  1. If you review books, be careful what you write. It’s a small world.

  1. Don’t list your mountains of rejections.

  1. While some pictures are nice, don’t make your post only pictures.

  1. Consistency in post size, and/or content is appreciated.

  1. Speaking of post size, try to keep them under 1k words. This includes when you do writing fests. I find it hard to concentrate on a large amount of text, even if it’s good writing.

  1. If someone follows you, follow him/her back. It’s good manners.

  1. If you set up a Google profile, make sure you add your blog as a link. If you don’t and you follow a blog, that blogger won’t be able to click to find your blog.

  1. Comment on other blogs. It’s especially important if someone comments on your blog that you comment in return.

  1. Don’t start a blog just for a platform because it may be obvious.

  1. When you begin, plan to write consistently or people will forget you. But it’s probably not a good idea to write everyday unless your posts are short.

  1. Promote your blogger friends’ blogs, successes, and books when you can (See below). Go a little farther and preorder the book or put it on your Amazon wishlist. And write an Amazon review. (See #5)

  1. Link your blog to Facebook by setting up a Networked Blogs account.

  1. Don’t let blogging take over your life. You’re supposed to be writing, remember? If you stop writing, this “platform” will be for nothing.

  1. When you get that coveted agent/book contract/spot on the “New York Times” Bestseller List don’t forget to keep your blog interesting. No, each and every post about buying your book or patting yourself on the back is not interesting to anyone but you. Okay, maybe your mom. And if you stop commenting on other blogs, people may stop reading your blog.

I’ve mentioned that my blog began as a way to vent about substitute teaching. Before that, I hadn’t looked at other blogs, at least not on purpose. Maybe they came up on a Google Search or something. But once I began my blog, I sought out other teachers and subs. It took me months to realize I should seek out other writers too. (Teachers who are writers have a special place in my heart.) That’s when I learned about something called a PLATFORM.

Having this platform, even if it doesn’t lead to a zillion book sales, is teaching us how to network and promote. So when a publishing company tells us writers to get out there and help sell our books, we’ll have followers, friends, and published writing friends to ask for help and advice. A platform is even more important for self-published writers.

Back to lurking. (I’m too tired for a segway because I’m covering from my daughter’s birthday party: I baked in the sun for 3 1/2 hours. Even though it was in the 90s, somehow it was windy. I didn't buy juice boxes, but decided to be good to the environment and write people's names on cups. Those kept blowing away in the wind, so I spent a lot of time chasing them. Sometimes the wind would dump the juice in the kids' laps. I couldn't light the birthday candle. And a box of cupcakes tumbled to the ground also caused by said wind.)

On “Let the Words Flow”, there’s an interview with Natalie Fischer:

She talks about lurking on other blogs and recommends that you link part of your manuscript. I thought that was a great idea. So I’m adding a link to my sidebar, near the top of my SECOND TITLE “Earnest Writer’s Excerpts” The first chapter of The Disappearances and the prologue and chapter one of Aura will be there. Feel free to visit and comment.

By the way, which do you prefer for a title:

The Disappearances


The Mist Chasers

I was all set with the first one, but someone in my critique group suggestion the second title after the term “mist chaser” appeared in chapter four.

Here are a few fellow writer-bloggers who are selling books (If I forgot you, e-mail me tmilstein at gmail dot com or put your blog in the comments and I’ll add it). They’re in alphabetical order by author.

Aubrie Dionne:

Karen Gowen Jones:

Kate Kaynak:

Walter Knight:

Mary McDonald:

Susan Kaye Quinn:

Beth Revis:

Talli Roland:

Katie Salidas

Hilary Wagner:


Do you view your blog as a platform?

What do you like about blogging?

What do you dislike about blogging?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Productivity and Pep Talks

“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card… and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

- Joyce Carol Oates

Feeling the sweet leisure of summer was slipping through my fingers, I decided to make Monday a productive one. How had a month passed by so quickly? The last two weeks, I’ve endured restless sleep and a twisting stomach. What will I have to do if I’m a daily substitute teacher again? September is chasing after me.

I awoke to the sounds of grinding construction equipment redoing the sidewalk and curb next to my home. Peering at the clock, I saw it was just after 7:00 am, which was a good a time as any to get something, anything accomplished.

After checking my e-mail, I surfed a couple of website for jobs. I found two Building Substitute positions listed in Cambridge. I redid my cover letters for each position and applied. In addition, I e-mailed the principals to tell them how often I’d subbed in their buildings, how well I’d worked with specific staff and students, and how I’d love to work in those schools. And I made sure to attach my cover letter and resume.

When that stressful task was completed, I read a few blogs and checked Facebook. Laundry also needed to be done, so I threw in the first load. My daughter was up by then, so we snuggled. My son doesn’t snuggle as much as he used to, but he gave me a nice hug and we had a nice conversation as I prepared breakfast.

While the kids ate, I did some sit-ups and pushups. Can’t let my body fall apart while I’m in this dismal mental state, can I?

I looked over one of my critique group member’s manuscript, and made suggestions. I still hadn’t done anything related to MY writing.

Besides needing to write, edit, submit more queries, keep a house going, spend time with my children, and look for jobs, I also gave myself a goal of 100 books to read this year*. I know, stupid. But I’ve been crafting some good ways to get close even if I can’t reach 100:

Books, books EVERYWHERE.

1. I have a light reading book in my bathroom. When my daughter was younger and took baths, I read to keep an eye on her without being bored while she played. Then I decided, why not read while brushing my teeth? I read anywhere from 4-6 pages per day. Right now, I’m reading Secret Lives of Great Authors but before that I read Page After Page because it’s an excellent way to get through books on writing.

2. Stephen King recommends always having a book with you. For women, this is easy. I keep a paperback in my handbag to be retrieved when I’m waiting for my children at school, am on line at the post office, or on a break at work. I just tucked Voices of Ire by Aubrie Dionne in my tote.

3. I’ve discovered audio books make long drives go by seamlessly. To and from Maine, my son, daughter, and I listened to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Not only is the man a gifted writer, but also his soothing British accent is perfect for his audio book. (And what a way for a writer to make more money! Too bad nobody would want to listen to my voice for 7 ½ hours.) Normally, I call my father when I get off at I 295, to give let him know how much longer I’ll be. When I reached that spot, I couldn’t tear my ears away from Neil Gaiman. I told myself I’d call my dad when I got to Wiscasset in case I got stuck in traffic. Then I told myself I’d call him when I had to change discs. The next thing I knew, I pulled into his driveway. (Sorry, Dad.)

4. Lastly, I have my main book, which is often a hardcover. Right now, I’m reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling. I know - it’s long. But it’s not as long as book 5 (This one is only 652 pages). I can’t just stop partway through the series, can I? Then there’s just one more to go.

If only I could figure out my writing life the way I’ve figured out my reading life.

Around noon, I walked with my kids to the library. When we got home, we ate lunch. My critique group planned to meet at 2 pm.

The problem was that after my morning applying and obligations, I didn’t have anything left in me to write. The next two mornings weren’t looking too hot for productivity either. And mornings are normally my most productive time. How do these days keep filling up?

I resolved to force productivity later in the day.

But then I went to my critique group, which zapped so much life out me I was going to have to crawl to the kitchen to cook dinner.

Until I read this unorthodox pep talk:

Besides making me miss New York City, it made me laugh. In Page After Page, Heather Sellers likens discipline to write everyday to training for a marathon. This post reminded me of that chapter. We writers are runners (Well, not me, because I hate to run). Just because we may not win a race (I won’t), doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep running (or walking or biking or inline skating).

Just do it.

And I got a second wind after I cooked dinner, writing up a storm well into the night.

My reading post:

Sunday, July 25, 2010


“Slip slidin’ away,

Slip slidin’ away

You know the nearer your destination

The more you slip slidin’ away”

- Simon, Paul. “Slip Slidin’ Away” Simon and Garfunkel

For years my father has run something called “Wednesday Walkers”. Someone used to be in charge before him, and then he took it over; choosing the hike locations, sending the e-mails, providing directions or links to maps, and putting notices in the local papers.

Two years ago, we had to join the hike late because we dropped my children off at camp first, so we only ran into them as we were coming and they were going.

Last year, I went with my father and other Wednesday Walkers to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, with unique sculptures that blended in with the natural surroundings and vegetables grown as art forms:

This summer we went to Laverna Preserve. When my father and I reached the meeting place in the parking lot, he was astounded to find twenty-six others waiting to be led on the hike. A record turnout. Last year I’d met a lovely woman who was also there this time. We spent much of the hike to the ocean talking. She knew I’d visited Paris, and so she told me about her year as a nanny there. After a time, we viewed the ocean but seemed to skirt it instead of descending. Concerns arose, but my father had planned a better place to climb:

I showed my father the picture and said, “This would make a great photo for the top of a Wednesday Walkers blog. Instead of e-mailing everyone, you could just update the information for each new hike, including links.”

My father shifted and said, “No, I don’t think so.”

“I could help you set it up,” I offered.

“Some people don’t even have e-mail, and they find out about the hikes from the newspaper.”

There are people who don’t have e-mail?

Most of these people have a good thirty + years on me. But somehow most don’t seem so far away in age. That should be scary. Then I thought about the high school students I’ve taught and how my time back then doesn’t feel so far away either.

Gasp. Is this middle age?

When is middle age? I must be too young for that. How long are people living nowadays?

There were signs that I was much, much younger than these hikers. For one, the hike was easier for me than for some of the others. But at the same time, I wonder if the hike will be as easy for me as it is for them when I’m their age. Many used walking sticks but this was more for balance than a sign of frailty. A few times I could’ve used one when teetering precariously on slats off wood over mud and swamp:

I’d worn a pair of thong sport sandals. They’re comfortable, with a padded foot, and a sturdy bottom, so I love to wear them on long walks and at rocky beaches. But to the untrained eye, these sandals looked like … flip-flops.

I cannot walk in flip-flops any better than I can in towering high heels. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why flip-flops are so popular. The bottom has no give. With each step, my foot moves while the rubber bottom sort of clomps along. The lack of real treads and me are not meant for each other. The few times I’ve tried wearing them they made me slide. The worst was when I carried laundry down skimpy steps to the basement when I was very pregnant, and the flip-flops caused me to fall on my butt. No more.

Many times, many of these 26 other walkers feared for my balance and safety:

“She’s wearing flip flops.”

“You’re wearing flip flops.”

“Why didn’t you wear hiking boots?”

“Now you know what to buy her for her birthday. HIKING BOOTS.”

“Are you going to be able to get over that in flip-flops?”

My response:

“They’re not flip-flops. They’re sandals.”

“I swear I wouldn’t wear flip-flops on a hike.”

“It’s too hot to wear hiking boots.”

“I’m okay.”

I felt like that bunny in the book Not a Box, as if I could see what nobody else saw.

And in my non-flip-flop/sandals, I made it through just fine. I never even slipped into muck. Although when there was a warning sign, a hiker told me, “Watch out for poison ivy in those flip flops,” I kind of wished I had hiking boots.

I didn’t contract poison ivy. Whew.

When we returned to the parking lot, someone asked my father if it was true he was moving. He said he was. There were grumbles and murmurs of protest. I feel that way too. He’s carved a nice life for himself. I hope he can keep some of the good parts of his retirement as he moves on to his new place and life.

Besides, I’ve grown fond of Wednesday Walkers.

I think for the next hike I’m going to buy a pair of those L.L. Bean mesh top Mary Jane shoes recommended to me by the former nanny in Paris. My foot would be better covered, they can get wet, and they’re only $25. And, best of all, nobody will mistake them for flip-flops.

My slides:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reading Versus Writing (in Verse)

Psssst, I’m number 885.

“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

- Toni Morrison

I did something stupid.

Something to propel me.

To force me to read more.

Except, I’ll never be able to do it.

The goal to read 100 books in 2010 sounded like a good idea.

Except, I didn’t sign up until July.

And I’d only read 19 books by the time I’d signed up.

Though I’m a speed-reader, reading 81 more is daunting.

I’m bad at math, but even I know there’s less than half-a-year left.

That’s… some amount of days.

What’s half of 365, take away a month or so?

Is that like one every couple of days or something?

Here’s my list of 20 (that I remember) I’ve read this year, so far:

1. What the Dog Saw Malcolm Gladwell

2. Page after Page Heather Sellers

3. Bird by Bird Anne Lamott

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling

5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets J.K. Rowling

6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J.K. Rowling

7. Tantalized Cynthia Leitich Smith

8. Desert Nomad Aubrie Dionne

9. The Many Adventures of Courtesy and Patience Jackee Alston

10. Shiver Maggie Strievfater

11. Hush, Hush Becca Fitzpatrick

12. The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

13. Girl Coming in for a Landing April Halprin

14. The Lightning Thief Rick Riordian

15. The Sea of Monsters Rick Riordan

16. The Titan’s Curse Rick Riordan

17. On Writing Stephen King

18. Eats, Shoots & Leaves Lynne Truss

19. Because of Winn Dixie Kate DiCamillo

20. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire J.K. Rowling

Each time I finish a book, I’ll add it to the list.

21. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J.K. Rowling

22. The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman

23. Under the Table Katherine Darling

24. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince J.K. Rowling

25. Evermore by Alyson Noel

26. Orange Mint and Honey Carleen Brice

27. Secret Lives of Great Authors Robert Schnakenberg

28. The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity Mac Barnett

29. The Accidental Tourist Anne Tyler

30. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J.K. Rowling

31. Catching Fire Suzanne Collins

32. Mockingjay Suzanne Collins

33. Frindle Andrew Clements

34. The BFG Roald Dahl

35. Gregor the Overlander Suzanne Collins

36. Agent Demystified Authoress

37. Malcifer Aubrie Dionne

38. Paranormalcy Kiersten White

39. The Mouse and the Motorcycle Beverly Cleary

40. More Six-Word Memoirs Edited by Smith Magazine

41. Voices of Ire Aubrie Dionne

42. The Eternal Ones Kirsten Miller

43. Heat Bill Buford

44. Tithe Holly Black

45. How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack Chuck Sambuchino

46. Radiance Alyson Noel

47. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Grace Lin

48. Joey Pigza Swallows the Key Jack Gantos

49. The Force is Middling in This One Robert Kroese

50. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane Kate DiCamillo

51. Firelight Sophie Jordan

52. Whales on Stilts MT Anderson

53. The Hating Game Talli Roland

54. Reckless Cornelia Funke

55. Gregor the Overlander Suzanne Collins

56. The Higher Power of Lucky Susan Patron

57. Personal Demons Lisa Desrochers

58. Gregor the Overlander and the Prophecy of Bane Suzanne Collins

59. Gregor the Overlander and the Curse of the Warmbloods Suzanne Collins

60. Gregor the Overlander and the Marks of Secret Suzanne Collins

61. The Cricket in Times Square George Selden

62. The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen Jacques Pepin

63. Gregor the Overlander and the Code of the Claw Suzanne Collins

64. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone J.K. Rowling

65. The Thief Lord Cornelia Funke

I don’t expect to read 100 books.

Besides, there’s no magical binding contract.

Like in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (I think.)

I just have to make sure:

It motivates me to read for the joy of reading.

It doesn’t become a chore.

It doesn’t stress me.

And how stupid am I for reading Harry Potter books?

Each one in the series gets bigger.

And I could be reading two or three books for every GIANT one.

So far this summer, my writing schedule has been:




I’m getting less writing accomplished than I was during the school year.

And it’s already my fourth week into summer.

It’s those darned kids, I tell ya.

I feel obligated to pay attention to them.

Entertain them.

While I’ve edited, it’s not going as quickly as I’d like.

I had a list of places to query, but have only gotten about five out.

My rough draft of Naked Eye hasn’t received even one new word.

But I think about it all the time.

The solution?

When I’m not away, I need to devote two hours every morning to writing.

Not blog writing.

Not blog commenting.

Not even critique group editing.


Rough drafts.



If I call myself a writer, I need to write.

Reading is important too.

For reading will make me a better writer.

But reading can’t replace writing.

When I don’t write, I’m less WHOLE.

How do you balance conflicting desires and responsibilities?

Is anyone else trying to read 100 books in 2010?

How’s it going, so far?

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Embracing Change

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

- Anatole France

This afternoon, my children and I are leaving to visit Maine for a week. It will be our third year that the children will attend day camp and I’ll hang out with my father. I’ve loved this yearly routine. Until recently, I wondered how long he’d attend the camp or if he might soon become a counselor in training. Now I wonder if this will be the last year of our brief tradition.

I hinted at some of my family’s story in my Mother’s Day post about my father*. When I was nineteen, attending a local college, my parents finally divorced. My father rented a house nearby for him, my sister, and me. There he stayed for nine years until he got new job. But before he left, I lived one town over while I worked part-time and attended school full time. My dad and I spent a lot of time together, and it wound up being especially fun when I watched my nephew once a week. Soon after he moved, I gave birth to my son, and my father would visit pretty often since it was only about an hour-and-a-half away.

Stuck in a job he didn’t love, he finally retired several years later. By then I had my second child and lived in Cambridge. He moved to Maine, which meant that he was less than three hours away, and we still saw one another pretty often. My father finally had the life he’d dreamed of: owning his own place in a fairly rural area, living near the ocean, hiking, kayaking, and volunteering.

Then he started dating, which has made his life richer, even if it means he’s busier than he used to be. It’s good that he’s busier, but we see him less. That’s why I’ve treasured this weeklong summer visit.

Three months ago, my father announced that he and his girlfriend were going to sell their places and look for a new place to live. My first reaction was to be happy for them. My next was that I probably wouldn’t have to endure all the mosquitoes that live on his property every summer. (Each time we must run from the car to the house, and from the house to the car, and then kill whatever mosquitoes sneak in behind the slammed doors before they eat us alive. My poor daughter got bitten on the forehead just before we left last year, and the spot swelled up like a golf ball.)

But in the last few weeks my husband said something like, “I guess this will be the last year the kids will be in camp.” The camps are right by my father’s house, but soon his house will be forty-five minutes north. It probably won’t make sense to send my son next year. My daughter has always done one of the YMCA camps, so she’s more flexible. But my son’s camp is for wilderness survival, so it’s his kind of way to spend a week.

I can’t imagine next summer. Where will he live? How big will it be? What will it be like to visit two people instead of one?

When I first dated my now-husband, I’m sure the change of having another person in my life was weird for my dad. He’d just gotten divorced, so it was a chance for a fresh start. But I was already an adult and spent a lot of time at my boyfriend’s house. In fact, he’d even set up a makeshift desk for me in his room – a piece of marble atop two file cabinets. This routine had been in place in the midst of the divorce chaos, so it continued. And I had an open invitation for dinner at his house. His family made me feel comfortable, and I liked spending time with them.

Because I feel like much of my life has been uncertain, I crave stability like a dieter craves cake. Routine. Uncertain change looming in the not-so-distant future has often made me uneasy.

In the end, I’m sure our visits won’t be much different. In fact, they’re planning to move in an area that I prefer. We’ll start a new tradition. As family members come and go, families accommodate. Adapt. I’ll look back at this summer as well as the two prior summers, and reminisce of what a nice period of time it was. But then I’m sure I’ll have some other routine that I’ll appreciate, and worry about its end someday.

When things in my life are going well, I have this urge to hold on tight to it and keep it forever. But we can only do that in our memories. I remember when I was in my early twenties, appreciating that nobody close to me had died since I was two-years-old. But when I was twenty-three, my paternal grandmother died. Along with shock and grief, I thought, “I knew this time would come.”

After my daughter was born, I knew we didn’t plan to have any more children. For each milestone she’d reach, I’d be saddened to know it was my last time I’d get to live in that moment.

I battle to be more present-minded. If I mourn what I should be enjoying as it occurs, I’m not really enjoying it, am I? When I look back, most change has been good so I’m going to make a greater effort to embrace change.

I’m going to be busy and my Internet access will be limited this week. But I’ll check on my post and yours when I can. Have a great week!

* Mother’s Day post:

Friday, July 16, 2010


View of Boston on July 4th

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

~Erma Bombeck

Three days after my poignant walk around Northport Village*, I was back in Cambridge to celebrate the Fourth of July. My son stayed an extra week in New York, so just my husband, daughter, and I headed to Memorial Drive to picnic, and then watch the fireworks on the Charles River.

Since moving to Cambridge nearly nine years ago, we’ve only missed one Independence Day in this spot. Two years ago it rained, and though it cleared by the time they set off the fireworks, I’d already put the kids to bed.

The first year, I was VERY pregnant with a due date of July 16th. My nearly four-year-old son didn’t like the noise, and so he insisted I hold him though the thirty-minute display. Did I mention it was during a heat wave? Did I mention I gained 35 pounds? Did I mention he hated loud noise? Picture me, big, hot, balancing the boy on my left hip, holding his body with my left hand, while my right came around to cover his ear as he pressed his cheek to mine to cover the other ear. I thought for sure I’d go into labor on the spot, but my daughter decided to overstay until July 24th.

In the intervening years we’ve taken our children and various friends and family members to celebrate. The Boston Pops always play and they always have a guest singer. Last year was Neil Diamond, which is a big deal for Red Sox fans, who lovingly sing “Sweet Caroline” for each game at Fenway. They pipe the music on loudspeakers to the Cambridge side as we lounge on the grassy areas that make up Memorial Highway.

This year, we decided to go a few hours early even though it meant my daughter would drag me to the port-o-potties more than once. (And for fun, she usually REALLY needs to go just minutes before the fireworks begin.) We brought wine, cheese, bread, barbecue chicken, and fruit salad. I forgot the wine opener, so my husband had to find someone who had also snuck wine, ask to borrow an opener, and promise to bring it back. (Note to readers: barbecue chicken + a little girl is a messy affair.) It was a lovely view of the Boston skyline as we ate:

After we finished eating, we took a stroll down the highway, and up the ramp near the Longfellow Bridge. Spotting the people lined along the bridge reminded me of standing on a bridge in Paris waiting for the Eiffel Tower to shimmer.

At sunset.

Unlike the year I was pregnant, the weather was perfect. It wasn’t too humid. It wasn’t too hot. A breeze caressed us. When it was nearly time, we stood, and walked a little closer, squished between hordes of other viewers. Our display is always well after sundown since it’s nationally televised. By 10:45 pm, it finally began. Here’s a glimpse of it:

When it was over, we put our daughter in the Red Flyer wagon we bring every year that also carried our supplies, and took the fifteen-minute walk back to our home. My child fell asleep and received many comments like, “I wish someone would pull me in a wagon,” that she didn’t hear.

We arrived home and I put my daughter to bed. From our living room my husband and I watched traffic stop in go outside our window for a long while, making us grateful we live close enough to walk.

The entire evening, I thought about how lucky I am to live this close to Boston. Even though Cambridge is missing that freshly cut lawn scent and the Charles River doesn’t smelly salty, and it’s more crowded and noisy than a suburban town like Northport, the place has its charms. Sprawled on the grass and strolling along Memorial Drive reminded me why we live here. And I relished in the thought that I have the home I go back to as often as I want, as well as this home.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010


“A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure.”

- Henry David Thoreau

Once in awhile, I enter a coffee shop or place that has brewed coffee and I’m back in my paternal grandmother’s home. It had this unique aroma of coffee and something I can’t quite pinpoint. Although I know it’s (probably) not true, in those moments I feel like she’s there with me.

Every person, every place has a unique scent. I believe my ability to smell is stronger than most people’s. I whiff when things have expired while my husband cannot, and I often detect fragrances in the air first.

Babies have that lovely sour and sweet smell. I used to inhale the scent of my children’s skin as deeply as I could, hoping to capture it in a memory. But I can’t quite bring it back. And the evenings when I kissed their sweaty heads before I turned in, and they no longer smelled like babies made me mourn for the phase they’d left behind.

In my life I’ve moved eight times, and each time it’s not just the piles of boxes that make a place feel foreign. When I can no longer detect the scent of cardboard and newness, then the surroundings truly becomes home.

Houses often emit faint fragrances of the foods most often cooked. How can you separate the pleasure of eating with the anticipation of the food being eaten as the aroma greets your nose? I've heard people who lose their sense of smell also lose their interest in eating.

Since I was a child, for special occasions my mother always wore Channel No. 5. I never understood its appeal, since it smells synthetic to me.

When I was a teenager, other girls were enamored with Loves Baby Soft, but I wore Obsession, and then Poison. Can you imagine 84-pound me wearing strong scents like that? At some point, I switched to Shalimar because my best friend’s mother wore it, and she was the most beautiful woman I knew, resembling Paulina Porizkova:

In my twenties, I flirted with Tresor.

I’m not someone who stands out. Often my friends are prettier than me and capture more attention. But my fragrance choices remind me that I am more than I seem. It’s like wearing sexy underwear, but others are allowed to get a glimpse if they get close enough.

When it comes to perfumes, I no longer practice serial monogamy. Buying nice fragrances is one of my few indulgences, and learning about perfume notes is more exciting to me than learning about wine notes. In fact, when this book,

came out, I read it cover to cover.

My favorites:

Thierry Mugler Angel (Almost all year)

Bond No. 9 New Haarlem (Coldest days)

Kenzo Amour (Summer)

Chopard Cashmir (Summer)

Philosophy Grace (Hottest days)

When I was in the Montreal airport's duty-free shop, I smelled Kenzo Flower, but not the regular one, the La Parfum one, a parfum extrait. I had money from my birthday so I toyed with buying it. But I didn’t. Once I returned home, I regretted it. I stopped in Macy’s and Sephora, but neither carried the fragrance. When I went to New York, I dragged my cousin to the mall. Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdales didn’t have it. When I returned home, I dragged my husband to another mall, to Nordstrom’s. They only carried it online. Grrrr! Finally, I ordered it from because I found a $10 off coupon. I’ve been wearing it everyday for a week.

Yes, I’m a little obsessed with fragrance.

As a child, snuggles with my father carried the comforting scent of Old Spice shaving cream. My first boyfriend wore Polo by Ralph Lauren, which most of the boys were wearing then. I loved it. My husband won’t wear cologne. When we began dating, I tried to get him to choose one, but now I appreciate his scent.

What are the boys wearing today? Axe. Invariably, someone sprays it at the start or end of class, and I have to endure it for the rest of the day. Girls all seem to love the fragrances from Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, and make the same classroom move. This trend of attempting to smell good for the opposite sex usually starts in fifth-grade. If only every student got the memo because some wait a little too long to begin using deodorant…

Speaking of Axe, you might like this video. It also gives you a glimpse of some of my fellow Long Islanders. I laugh each time I watch it.

What role does scent play in writing? When I write a scene, I’m often aware of my characters’ five senses. The author Cynthia Lord said when she did research for Rules she visited a place on the water that she planned to write about. Instead of a visual, the first thing that struck her was the scent of the sea so that’s what she mentions first about the location in the book. And that makes sense to me because when I visit the village in Northport, NY the strong smell of the salty, fishy harbor is as much a part of the experience as the view.

Somewhere I read about an author who wears a different fragrance for each book she writes. I think she chooses one based on what she imagines the protagonist would wear. I don’t spend much time thinking about what my characters smell like.

When I write, I often choose places I know, and knowing their scents helps add dimension to the manuscript. Aura takes place in Forest Hills, New York, which means it smells like… well… a city. But even in a city, the changing seasons and weather dictate the fragrance of a place. The Disappearances location is in a rural area of western Massachusetts, so I use Long Island and my visits to Worcester as a guide. In fact, nature is such a vital part of The Disappearances that I had to pay even more attention to environment. After all, the theme of the book is the state of our planet. So sight and scent cover virtually every page.

Since living in Cambridge, I miss the scents of suburbia. Often, car exhaust and filth baking on the street overshadow the flowers and leaves. And the scent of earth has been hidden by tar and cement. The Charles River doesn’t provide that energizing scent of the ocean. So when I visit home, I inhale everything. My in-laws property is filled with flowers, and when I’m not there, I miss their yard. My father’s property is dotted with pines, and when I get a whiff of pine trees, I think of his place. His girlfriend lives on the ocean, which is just… amazing. I slept at her place once. Sleeping to the sound of the ocean, and waking to its scent wafting through the open windows was like being on a vacation in paradise.

What scents matter to you?

What are your strongest fragrance memories?

If you write, what part does sense-of-smell play in your writing?