Saturday, October 27, 2012

Random Quotes Saturday.

On being in Massachusetts for a prolonged period after being in Florida for 8 years, the children are trying to adapt.


The 5 year old says, "When's it going to be morning?"
"It's noon. It was just morning, this morning."
"But when's it going to be shiny morning?"
"Are you asking when the sun is going to shine?"
"Yes! When is it going to be sunshining?"
"Well, you're used to being in a state called the Sunshine State so it was usually sunny there and here's it's not."
"What's this called? The Dark State?"


Sometimes I Regret Raising Children with Opinions and Critical Thinking Skills: PART I

I put on an ankle length sweater-skirt the other night to go to my 15 year old's play. 
The 5 year old walks in, grabs it, and screams then makes gaggy noises. 
"Is something wrong with my skirt?" 
"No, it's fine." 
Huh. I walk downstairs, a little nervously. 
The 17 year old looks at me and says, "No, mmm-mmm. No. It's a little to Massachusetty," except she switches the syllables for effect. 
"Really?" I say and recount the 5 year old's reaction. 
Then the 12 year old boy walks by, minding his own business, and says, sarcastically, "Wow,  that's sweatertastic." 

 
Sometimes I Regret Raising Children with Opinions and Critical Thinking Skills: PART II

 Few days later, my 15 year old walks in and says, "So what's going on with your hair?"
"Nothing. I don't think."
"I mean, are you like doing it for charity or something?"
"Doing what for charity? My bad hair? What charity?"
"I don't know. Maybe something about empowering women to insist that it's what's on the inside that matters?"



Thursday, October 25, 2012

1/2 Dozen with Jay Wexler

When I phoned my father -- a corporate lawyer for over thirty years -- and told him that I'd been asked to blurb a book on constitutional law, he was pretty sure that something had gone very, very wrong in the world. Maybe it had. Jay Wexler was the author of said book -- The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of its Most Curious Provisions.
It remains the only book on law that I've ever read, cover to cover, and it's weird and wonderful and very, very funny. The perfect book to give your favorite wise-ass know-it-all, which, in my case, is probably my father.


So Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, now has a debut collection of stories out -- The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, Associate Justice, and Other Stories -- and he's here to talk fiction, law, [laughter], puppets, love, eagle feathers, Bo Derek, and Moby Dick

Enjoy!



Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise. 

I’ve been obsessed by bald eagles and eagle feathers for at least two years now.  I’m a law professor, and my fields include law and religion, environmental law, and American Indian law.  Native Americans believe eagles are sacred creatures, and many use eagles and their feathers in their religious ceremonies.  But possessing even so much as a single feather is illegal under federal law.  That law also allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to grant permits to members of federally recognized tribes to possess feathers and other eagle parts, but the way that FWS has gone about implementing this has primarily been to establish a bizarre agency called the National Eagle Repository outside Denver which collects dead eagles from all over the country and then distributes them to American Indians who apply for them.  The agency has also granted a couple of permits for tribes to run aviaries for injured eagles where the molted feathers can be collected and distributed.  I’ve visited the Repository and written about it, and I just came back from the aviary run by the Iowa tribe in Oklahoma.  For about 18 months I was trying to convince publishers to give me a contract to write a book about the history of the bald eagle as a contested symbol in the United States, but to no avail.  Instead, the eagle story will be one part of the book I’m working on now about what happens when religious practice and environmentalism collide.  It should be published sometime this century by Beacon Press.

What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

I wish I knew how to answer this.  All I can do is relate my own story, which involves marrying someone who couldn’t give two shits about what I write.  Karen did read my first book, and her major reaction to it was that the size of the book was kind of weird.  She hasn’t read either of my other two books, and the notion that she would ever read any of my scholarly articles is laughable (not sure I can blame her for that).  She’ll tell you that if she showed too much interest in my writing, it would give me a big head, and my ego would explode out of our house, and she might be right.  Luckily we have other things in common.  Both of us hate cell phones, for instance, and we’ve never had one. 

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?
 
I’m an only child, so I grew up muttering to myself and talking to my extensive collection of puppets.  I would write puppet shows and put them on for friends.  Many of the puppet shows were spoofs on movies, like “Zero,” which was a spoof on Bo Derek’s “10” and starred Discombobulated Duck (a duck puppet that got permanently squished in the suitcase my father brought it home from vacation in) as a particularly ugly woman.  My parents got divorced when I was twelve, and I think they felt pretty guilty about it, so they let me do pretty much whatever I wanted, which explains why my mother let me put on a show called “Friday the 13th,” which involved lots of squirting ketchup on the walls and blowing up fireworks inside the house.  I think I was a character myself in one of the shows and I think I may have pretended to have sex with one of the puppets on the stage.  It might have been Munchie the mouse.  I’m not proud of this.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

I read primarily fiction.  This past summer I took Moby Dick with me on a three week vacation.  It took me six weeks to finish it.  I’m not sure I’d recommend it as vacation reading.  I don’t read as much non-fiction, but here are two very cool books that I like a lot and that people might have missed: Jason Fagone’s Horsemen of the Esophagus, about the world of competitive eating, and Robert Sullivan’s A Whale Hunt, about the Makah Tribe’s quest to hunt and kill a whale as a way of revivifying their traditional culture.  The book is fascinating and hilarious, and Sullivan carries on this side conversation in the footnotes about his reading of Moby Dick while he was researching the book.  This was why I decided to read Moby Dick.  

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life? 

Yes, but it wasn’t always easy.  For the first seven years or so of being a professor, I would write these crazy stories and humor pieces and scripts on the side to keep me sane while the rest of the time I was writing a bunch of bloated, footnote-infested academic articles so I could get tenure.  It’s the crazy stories and humor pieces and one of the scripts (and also the associated paintings of angry fruit, etc.) that I put together in the Ed Tuttle book.  Once I got tenure, I found I could more easily reconcile my professional interests in constitutional law and the Supreme Court and religion, etc., with my story telling and humor side.  My first two books were the result.  I still want to write a novel, probably about the Tuttle character, but I can’t get myself to sit down and start it.

What project of yours was the easiest writing of your life? And, flip-side, which one was the most like wrestling bears? (And could you tell before you started or did they turn on you, for better or worse?)

The easiest thing I ever wrote was the thing I’m best known for, which is the joke study of Supreme Court oral argument humor that I published in 2005 and that was then featured on the front page of the New York Times.  I was talking about an oral argument transcript in class and I noticed that it said at one point, “[laughter]”.  I thought that was hilarious.  Then I realized that the court reporter had just recently started identifying the speaking justices by name, so it had become possible for the first time to go through the transcripts and figure out which justice got the most laughs during the term.  I did the research and wrote up the study in three hours, and still, seven years later, the justices sometimes mention it in their speeches.  On the other hand, the piece of writing that was the hardest to write was a 100 page academic article entitled “Preparing for the Clothed Public Square: Teaching About Religion, Civic Education, and the Constitution,” which was published in the William and Mary Law Review and was never read by anybody.

Jay Wexler is a professor of law at Boston University, a former law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the author of three books, Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battleground of the Church/State Wars, The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of its Most Curious Provisions, and the recently released book of fiction, The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, Associate Justice, and Other Stories.  His stories, reviews, humor pieces, and essays have appeared in places like Barrelhouse, the Boston Globe, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Mental Floss, Monkeybicycle, Opium, Salon, and Spy.  This is his website



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Open Letter to Mitt Romney -- This is my Family.

Dear Mitt Romney,

Last night in the debate, when you were asked about assault weapons, AK-47s, you told America that it would be better if children were raised by two parents. 

You started by saying that we needed "to change the culture of violence that we have." You went on to talk briefly about education and then you hit us with this: "But let me mention another thing. And that is parents. We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids. Wherever possible the — the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea."

This was an answer to a question about automatic assault weapons, AK47s, and violence in America.

My father was raised by a single mother.  His father died when he was five years old. He had two sisters. His mother was the sole breadwinner, and times were very lean, but all three children thrived -- non-violently, I should add. In fact, my father is very anti-gun and always has been.

But, also, his mother wasn't completely a single mother. My grandmother's younger sister had never married. She moved into the house to help -- not financially but as another mother in the house.

So, actually, my father -- a smart, kind, wonderful man and great father -- was raised by two women. 

This brings me to your dueling hypocrisy, Mr. Romney -- your desire for people to get married and raise children, and your desire to constrict and limit people's ability to get married -- by forcing your definition of an appropriate marriage (a man and a woman) onto our culture. 

I know that you were at the helm when Massachusetts passed its same-sex marriage law. I've looked it up. You fought it, did what you could to limit the law -- and, in this progressive state, you failed. 

You have become an infamous flipflopper -- you've even flipflopped on your views of automatic assault weapons, in fact. However, you have been steadfast in your stance against same-sex marriage and have vowed to push the Defense of Marriage Act.

Look, in some ways, I'm old fashioned. I got married at 23. My husband and I wanted a big family and now have four kids. I imagine those times on down the line when someone falls for one of our children and gathers the courage to ask our permission to take their hand in marriage.

Not that I really believe that it will be our say, but I love the tradition. (When my father asked my mother's father, my grandfather handed my father a family heirloom -- a German luger. My father dismantled it and hid its parts.)


My husband and I are clear on the kind of person we want our children to marry: someone who loves them, who's kind to them, someone who inspires my child's love in return. We want them both to support each other's hopes and dreams. We want someone with strong content of character.

But I've been having this vision of the moment -- this wonderful young person tells us that they want to spend the rest of their life with our child and build a family together, and at that moment, Mitt Romney, you appear. You want to know genders. You want to match them up according to the foundational ideas of your faith -- just as once upon a time the government wanted to check on engaged couples' races

I see the government telling us who we should welcome into our family and who we shouldn't. (From a party that wants to get rid of Big Government, it sure seems to want to bring its Big Government into our homes.)

The irony is that those faiths that promote big families have more of a chance of having gay children -- sons, in particular. (Maybe you've heard of this, Mr. Romney?) It's not just because they have more children, no. The Older Brother Effect is one of the few scientific understandings of sexual orientation in men. 

From Wikipedia: "The fraternal birth order effect is the strongest known biodemographic predictor of sexual orientation. According to several studies, each older brother increases a man's odds of having a homosexual orientation by 28–48%... The effect has been found even in males not raised with their biological brothers, suggesting an in-utero environmental causation."


We don't know the genders of the people our children will one day bring home to meet us and we don't care. We want our children to find kindred spirits in this world, people who truly love them for who they are.


Raised by two women, my father's older sister became a pioneering journalist and a mother of two. His younger sister got her masters in education, had a strong career, and had three children. My father became an engineer and lawyer, a father of four. 

When people speak about their fathers, the men of my father's generation -- he's in his mid-seventies -- I often can't relate. Rigid in their opinions, unable or unwilling to express emotion, as if emotions are a sign of weakness, hard on themselves and others -- these characteristics don't apply to my father. I've seen my father cry many times. I've seen him dance like Zorba the Greek. I've heard him talk about what's most important in life. He's a man who believes in humanity. 

And, yes, I've wondered if my father is such a good man because he was raised by two women, alongside two sisters... But that's not it.  The main thing is that he was raised with love. That's what it takes to raise a family. 

   
Now back to the question, which was about assault weapons, AK47s.We do need to change the culture of violence in this country, Mr. Romney -- not by limiting our definitions of family, but by limiting assault weapons.


Sincerely,

Julianna Baggott

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Creative Writing/French and Starvation/Poverty

My father had a pet name for my college major of Creative Writing/French; he called it Starvation/Poverty. So, here's a video of yours truly -- a two-part author interview for the Pure Euro Tour in Paris this summer -- doing the interview in French. (Bill Baggott? How you like me now?)
I want to shout to Sister Joan (if you hear a little Bronx in my accent that's from her); Monsieur Lachance, Monsieur Columbat, the nuns at Mt. Aviat who spoke in French among each other as a secret code that I was motivated to break
Now, since this is the first time I've seen myself speaking French, I notice 
A. I repeat hand gestures (I think that the damn bonnet gesture is because I thought the tape would be edited to sound bytes, which, um, didn't happen) 
B. I understand French interviewers better when biting my bottom lip nervously. 
And C. at 4:26, I start talking about the Freudian interpretations of the Dome and my childhood -- relating to my wonderfully hyper-protective mother, Glenda -- a move that's so French, I can barely stand it. 
The second video link on this page -- click here --  here is better -- you know, wild gesture and strange faces-wise. Seriously, in the screen shot for video #2, I look like I'm trapped in the body of Celine Dion.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Why my Father, Registered Republican, Corporate Lawyer will not be Voting for Romney


My father, Bill Baggott, has been a registered Republican for over forty years. Now retired, he worked in corporate law for thirty years. I'm a registered Democrat for over twenty years, and there have been times when we haven't seen eye to eye. That said, I deeply admire his breadth and depth of knowledge on almost any topic I throw at him -- as well as the convictions of his heart.

The number one reason my father isn't voting for Mitt Romney is this: he feels Romney lacks character. But his lack of character is something that my father sees most pronounced when on the subject of the American economy.

Yes, he sees Romney as someone who flipflops on major issues, as a politician who panders. While my father is leery of Romney's plan for economic recovery, my father also believes that the bulk of what will happen to the economy in the coming years will be the result of factors largely outside of government control...

                                             except in one area -- American confidence in the American economy.

As a leader, the role of the president of the United States is to give the American people hope for the future. "Romney has been actively trying to depress the confidence of the people. He and his campaign put a negative spin on every piece of economic news. They are constantly reminding us how bad off we are," my father tells me.

Of course, one could say that it's a common political strategy to blast the opponent -- even when the opposition is trying to lead an economic recovery, maybe especially when the opposition is trying to lead an economic recovery. My father's point, however, is that Romney has chosen a campaign of negativity, instead of inspiring hope. My father has seen Romney, again and again, as a leader who uses scare tactics to garner support and not his ability to charge the hearts of the people, to inspire confidence -- and this has a cost.

"When people are constantly being reminded how bad off they are, they don't spend. They don't buy homes. They hold back, and businesses do too. They don't make new hires; they don't expand."

My father is a man who believes in principled leadership and solidarity in times of hardship. He was born during the Great Depression, and his childhood was marked by World War II. And so when Mitt Romney blasted President Obama after the assassinations of a US diplomat and his three staff members in Libya last month, Romney lost my father completely.

"I can't think of another time in history when an opposing candidate publicly criticized a standing president in a time of international crisis. That was not the time to blast our international position. We needed to speak with one voice."


This is how Mitt Romney lost the vote of a registered Republican, corporate lawyer. And it isn't just my father's vote alone.

At Republicans for Obama.com, they have this to say,

"The Republican party isn't what it used to be. Our leaders and our most vocal activists have written moderates out of the party and have refused to work with the other side, to the detriment of the nation....
"Unfortunately, Mitt Romney has not proven to be able to stand up to our party's most extreme elements. Instead, he has fallen for the 'one-size-fits-all' mentality that tax cuts for the already-wealthy will solve all of our problems, and has no workable plans to solve the challenges we face."

It's 2012, and my father will be voting for a leader who he sees as having true character. He'll be reaching across party lines and voting Barack Obama.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Men, men, men.

For some odd reason, this past summer, I ended up watching and reading and going to exihibits that created a strange melange of the lives of famous men. (Well, let me nod to the fact that we still live in a male-dominated world and so this was not really all that odd. It's personally odd because of this particularly odd mix ...)

I picked up a Neil Simon memoir at my parents' house. Caught on an overseas flight with few options, I watched a biography of Woody Allen. Late night, Dave and I caught a documentary of  Vince Lombardi. Ditto, Walt Disney. In Madrid, we blew off the famous museum and wandered into a lesser known one to find the work of Piranesi. And in Paris we blew off the Louvre and went to exhibits of Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. All this over a few weeks. These men are all jammed up in my brain. So now that some time has passed ... I'm left with:



Louis Vuitton, well, he was a master of 1800s marketing. That LV you see par tout,  he was the first to mark his trunks -- he was, in fact, a trunk maker at the start -- with his initials. Like many Parisian artists and craftsmen, he was invited to a grand exhibition of new ideas. Unlike the others, he was prepared to take orders. He lived through wars and famines and kept making and making ... Am I wrong or does he look a little like Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec?




Lombardi's obsessive nature. The way, after a win, he'd have a party at his house, but, after an hour or two of laughing and joking, he'd cloud over, already thinking strategy for the next game. I was curious about Lombardi's version of God; what did those prayers sound like? I apprecaited his progressive take -- for the era -- on interracial marriage. And always get the colonoscopy. Always.




Woody Allen -- I was fascinated that he worked through the scandal; was it his ability to compartmentalize or that his work is his coping mechanism on a very deep level? A film a year.



Young Disney, oddly, kind of thought he looked a little like a young darker Ed Norton. I loved how he bet everything on those groundbreaking, early animations -- mortgaged the house, all in. I'd never have that much guts. I was fascinated by how he felt betrayed by unions, his bizarre remarks about Communism, and the film's take on his alleged antisemitism.




Piranesi. Saw his work at the Caixa Museum. He's brilliantly OCD. (Escher and his staircases owe him about everything -- ditto Dali and his melted clocks) -- and found this quote: 

"Diverse Maniere gave free rein to what he called the mad freedom of working according to whim."

Mad freedom of working according to whim. I believe deeply in the writer's need to follow whim. I believe we are currently in a period of Diverse Maniere in the publishing industry, in point of fact, and I love finding myself wriitng in this era of blurred genre boundaries. 

And Piranesi's exhibit included a quote from Guercino. "By dirtying, one finds." That's what writing feels like, getting dirty, building a world from the infinite specificity of detail, and then lifting your chin and finding...

And that brings me to Neil Simon's Rewrites -- two love stories, the love of his first wife and the work of the playwright. He says of going to plays:

 "One tends to learn infinitely more from the bad than the good, and ones learns nothing from the brilliant. The brilliant is born out of a writer's pain, some divine inspiration, and a slight bit of madness. You can aspire to it but you can't plan on it, epscially if you know your limitations. Your horizons can expand, however, if you allow yourself the possibility of failure. You must, in fact, court failure."
 Yes, yes, yes.

After his first big smash hit, Bob Fosse toasted him. "Okay, a toast to Neil. Tonight is the last night he'll have any friends!" This rings in my head.

He writes very compellingly about the squallor of his childhood and the rift in his psyche between who he once was and who he had become. 

A doctor calls him at six in the morning. Simon takes the call, thinking it's an emergency. The doctor tells him that he had some ideas on how to improve Simon's play, which he'd seen the night before. He was at an airport about to fly back to Detroit.
"What kind of doctor are you?" Simon asked.
The man was a dentist.
Simon asked the guy for his number in Detroit. The dentist gave it to him, adding that he usually gets hom after five, "if you want to call me in Detroit."
Simon said, "No I intend to call you at three in the morning to give you some advice on how to pull teeth," and hung up.
 
I don't have the exact quote from the Marc Jacobs' exhibit but he says something about getting fired from every job he's ever had, which I take to be about risk, artistic risk. 


But, I have to say that the most fascinating male mind that I encountered during those few weeks was a London cabbie ...

Tomorrow, the cabbie, his brain, and how it relates to writers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bruce.

[The day after the first presidential debate.] 
 
So maybe it's obvious why, this morning, I needed Bruce -- the Boss -- I needed "this town rips the bones from your back". I wanted someone who's raged for those who struggle. I wanted a Democrat rocker to sing it for me. But at the beginning of this youtube video from a live show, he says, all breathless and rough, "Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins."

That's my America.

I'm so tired of hate. I'm so tired of people calling almost half this country parasites. I'm so tired of this divided America. Knock it off. Shut up, haters. Pick a president for the 100%. Vote. And I swear if some divisive hater writes back to me today -- blaming the poor, blaming those who work hard, blaming the elderly, blaming everyone around them, including PBS, I will -- and this is no idle threat -- start quoting Rocky and Jesus. Do not mess with me today.

Rock out.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sh*t I Said on a Panel this Weekend -- in no particular order

Situation: Fall for the Book. The panel's topic was literary and genre fiction, something maybe about how those boundaries are all shifting. The brilliant moderator was novelist Louis Bayard and the panel included Alma Katsu -- a debut novelist with a fascinating life -- and critic Mark Athitakis.

I detest Harold Bloom. There's no segue to that point and none away from it. For the record, he's an ass.  (Slight context: Moderator and novelist, Louis Bayard, had previously quoted Bloom's reaction to Stephen King's recent lifetime achievement award, in which, I'm pretty sure Bloom dismisses Stephen King's imagination and possibly even basic humanity; it's that damning.)

The novel itself started out as a bastard genre.

My first novel came out just at the early rise of Chick Lit, during the Great Pinkification of Women's Literature, as it were. I didn't know the term Chick Lit until I read an early review of Girl Talk under the headline "Chick Lit Deserves More Credit." Suddenly I found out I was in a genre -- a disparaged one.

I first thought of writing a novel as selling out -- even writing a literary novel.

Writing poetry is my Kevlar. I can't be called a complete sell-out because, look at this bulletproof jacket of writing for no money whatsoever.

Writing for readership and writing for respect are both burdens, traps. They handcuff you.

My first book was reviewed in The New York Times. I waited book after book for another review there. Finally, when I fully embraced genre, they weighed in again -- calling my really commercial attempt at sci-fi/fantasy world building poetic.

Mark Athitakis, critic, was discussing how we comment on how a genre novel "transcends genre," which is belittling. He went on to say that maybe we should also note when a literary novel transcends literary. I said, I'm going to start saying that, Mark. That certain novels transcend the literary genre. (And here I am doing so.)

Writing a novel is like hauling stones on your back. There's not much difference betwee writing a literary novel or a genre novel. You might switch shoulders but the weight's the same. 

It's the blur between art and entertainment. In the creation of good art, entertainment happens. And in the creation of good entertainment, art happens.

Some asks a question directed at the critic. With more and more books being self-published, how do you go out and find those good books and decide which to review. Mark responded that he wants a burden of proof -- proof that more than just one person believed that this work should be a published book. (I'm paraphrasing badly.) He also spoke of a novel now published by University of Chicago Press that was first self-published. I talk about how I'm a champion of the Great Democratization of Art through technology -- music, filmmakers, art, books. I love that we live in a time when where people have options. But I also tried to explain the critic's situation this way: You have to imagine the critic under an avalanche of published books -- hundreds of thousands each year. He's suffering Marxist alienation of labor. He's Lucy, and the conveyor belt of donuts is coming at him nonstop. He's shoving those books down his pants, down his shirt. He's eating them. And they just keep coming. He doesn't reach up from the avalanche or dust the sugar powder from his shirt and go looking for more. Critics are overwhelmed. Review space has shrunk. It's a brutal, brutal industry.

Just when I think I'm completely toughened to criticism, one line will throw me off completely. It's the unpredictability of my reaction to a line or even a word in a review -- sometimes even a word in a positive review -- and it will feel like my entire family has been insulted and the people I come from dismissed ... that's what's hard for me -- my own unpredictability when it comes to criticism.

A kid in the audience raises his hand. He says he likes to free-write. He loves the self-expression and freedom. But after hearing us talk. he says that he wonders if he ever finished a book, would it even be worth it to try to get it published? It just seems like such a hard business. Now, as context, I give a lot of talks. I discuss in very honest terms the difficulties of being an artist in a very tough business -- one that entails a lot of rejection and criticism and failure (in the art itself as well as the industry), and no one has ever acknowledged this. I turn to my fellow panelists and say, "Don't you kind of love him? I mean, finally, someone's listening!" Louis and Alma give brilliant responses. I tell him that my job, at this point in my career, is to protect my relationship with the page. Elbows out, protect the page. That's the place where I'm engaged in a long marriage -- sometimes our horns are locked and it's a battle, but that's the place where I'm free to make my own decisions, that page is the reason why I'm here in the first place and why I continue on. And as hard as the business is, I protect my relationship with the page as aggressively as possible. I feel damn lucky that everyday a part of my job is there -- within that long marriage, me and the page, and the freedom to write it as I see it.

Sometimes I would look up at the small audience during the panel and look at my Dad who drove me to the event. He's in his seventies now and he's been with me through all of it. He's my most-trusted researcher. He tears up when I make money. He knows the relief of a good review and how to spin a bad one. I send him a draft of what I'm working on -- everyday. He was sitting there so damn -- I don't know -- maybe defiantly proud. My God, I can't describe his face -- chin down, his eyebrows raised, his arms crossed. When I was a kid, the nuns at my school taught us how to give speeches and I was eventually sent to contests. My father always took me to these things. I'd be up there reciting -- of all things -- "The Highwayman" -- as a sixth grader -- the woman who warns her lover with a gunshot, one that kills her. I could go on here about why a nun might be drawn to such a poem ... but mainly I remember my father in the audience -- that same expression, that same pride. My father's own father died when my father was five years old. If I could give my father a gift, it would be that one look from his own father. Years from now, that's all I'll remember of this event. Not what I said or what was asked. Just my father's face.

How did the event really go? I don't know. I said things. Others said things. I met some people I admire. I sold less than ten books. I missed three days of being home with my kids -- one of whom threw up in the middle of the night... I was on a train for seven hours and I wrote notes, tried to prioritize my life, tried to give it some order, some meaning ... I think this is what trains are for. My birthday came and went, which is the most one can ask of birthdays really...