Reminiscing the other day about holidays past, I became a bit wistful and blue, thinking that the stuff of sparkly memories was reserved for the very young—the uncrushed, unwrecked, and unsullied by mean people, disappointment, life. Then the most amazing things started to happen.
I went shopping right before Christmas. (My cousin Melanie has all her gifts purchased and wrapped by mid-summer.) As I drove to the mall on December 23rd, I made up ways to kill Melanie that involved curling ribbon and scotch tape.
Filled with dread I swung into an overflowing parking lot and immediately found a spot at the very front, nearest to the entrance. I got out of the car and a young man walking by turned to smile at me.
“Happy holidays!” he said, tipping his hat. Full disclosure: he did not tip his hat in an old school sexy way like Bogie might have done. Or Ol’ Blue Eyes. It wasn’t that kind of hat. He was wearing a sort of Tyrolean deal with flaps over the ears and a pompom on top, but he tugged an earflap as he wished me well, and I’m counting that as a courtly gesture.
The whole shopping excursion was actually…not bad. Maybe it was because we hadn’t had a mass shooting or a new war in a few days, and people were feeling carefree, and therefor pleasant to deal with. Children behaved. Adults were cheery. Store clerks couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly. I grew worried. Had I been abducted by aliens in the moments that I blacked out as I was bleaching the grout in the shower?
My efficient and lovely cousin Melanie had organized a bowling tournament for Christmas Eve, and all the family showed up for kegeling hijinks. We’re not normal by most standards, and when I pay attention I discover that we laugh a lot more than other people. Our family crest is a set of wind-up chattering teeth.
In the sport of bowling there are winners and there are losers, and when the person who set the thing up partners with the best bowler in the Midwest, well, the fix is in, but even that didn’t derail the holiday. Everyone gave Melanie a nice pat on the back as the official “winner,” (mine was more of a solid thwack that caused her to swallow her gum) and off we went to her house for more togetherness.
Usually I am behind my camera, chronicling family gatherings for future generations, but I left my camera at home and decided to be fully present this year, instead. Watching people when they don’t realize they’re being watched tells you a lot. The faces of the children beamed with anticipation and excitement, while the adults watched them with a delicate blend of indulgence and nostalgia.
While the littlest girl gleefully opened a great big package, barely able to contain her exuberance, I noticed my mom’s fingers mimicking the tot’s, as if she were unwrapping something wonderful herself.
How I wished we could all see the world, if only for a moment, through childlike eyes again, erasing the doubts, fears and insecurities we have as grown ups.
Christmas day we gather at my parent’s—my precious-at-any-age godson Chad (who is now in his early 30s) comes with Nolene, his astoundingly wonderful girlfriend of several years, and an assortment of their friends. As a bonus this year, Nolene’s brother Andre was visiting from South Africa, and he rounded out the entourage. All of my cousins and their children, husbands, wives, and significant others fill the house with noise, hugs and laughter. We had invited my folk’s neighbors Steve and Robyn, and their friend Paul to join our loud and crazy family, and with their arrival the house was officially rockin’,
After the silly White Elephant gift exchange, in which my mom’s “The Clapper” was the gift to beat, I began gathering up paper plates, empty cups and bits of wrapping paper. Chad stood up and announced he had something to ask Nolene. My heart skipped a beat. We adore Nolene. Could this be “the big question?”
Chad reached into his back pocket and dropped to one knee. I glanced around as it became apparent what was happening. The room had fallen silent for the first time all day; the atmosphere charged with thrilled electricity. Chad produced a small box with a glorious diamond ring inside, and he asked dear Nolene to spend the rest of her life with her hand in his. She said yes. Judging from the expressions of wonder and unmitigated joy on everyone’s face, it was the closest thing to childlike awe that I could have imagined. For the moment.
(Note: always keep a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge. You never know when you’re going to need it!)
We popped the cork and toasted the young couple, wishing them well on this new chapter of their lives. There was an abundance of hugging and crying—hand shaking and pats on the back were not sufficient to this milestone at all. The children danced around like Druids, trailing bits of ribbon, and whooping their gladness for Chad and Nolene.
My parent’s neighbor Steve is a magician, a detail I had forgotten, but which became magnificently clear when he enlisted the two youngest to be his assistants for…The. Greatest. Magic. Show. On. Earth.
I could describe in great detail the fantastical sleights of hand, card tricks and voilas! that captivated us that day, but there are no words to convey the actual magic that transformed each of us into a five-year-old, to whom the world is still an enchanting, happy and profoundly wonderful place to live. How perfect then, on the very day that Chad and Nolene reminded us “love is all you need” to be blessed with a remedy for cynicism and adulthood. My blues, wistfulness, and doubts were replaced with all the wide-eyed wonder of a child, and tremendous gratitude for this great gift called life.
My wish for you all in the New Year is that you find that little bit of magic just when you need it most.
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Do you have a writer in your life who deserves a great gift? Here’s a list of goodies every wordsmith would love to have.
Books! (and gift certificates for books)
No one loves a good book more than a writer. Well chosen words on a page not only transport us emotionally, writers appreciate the author’s struggle to be published, read and validated. Indie bookstores are the most wonderful places on earth, giving visibility (and shelf space) to some incredibly talented authors you may not find at Barnes and Noble.
One of my all time favorite books, which was a gift to me from a dear friend and from which I never fail to find inspiration and focus, is The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz (1996 Random House)
With an introduction by John Updike, The Writer’s Desk showcases Jill Krementz’s black-and-white portraits of over fifty well-known writers from the latter half of the twentieth century, such as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda, Susan Sontag, and Kurt Vonnegut, at work on their craft. Emerging and established writers alike will be inspired and fascinated by the photos of the authors, which are accompanied by their own descriptions on individual creative routines and spaces.
A first edition.
If someone you know and love has a favorite author, and you’ve got a little extra money to spend, there is nothing like owning a first edition to make a writer (aspiring or pro) feel connected to their literary lion or lioness. Alibris has been around forever, and if they don’t have it they will find it! Click:
A stand-up idea.
Kierkegaard did his best writing standing up, as did Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf. You can put Ernest Hemingway in the standing desk club, too. If I sit at my computer for more than a couple of hours I experience a searing white hot pain in my back that distracts me from penning the great American novel.
I recently bought a WorkEZ Standing Desk – Laptop/Monitor Stand plus Keyboard Tray & Mouse Tray (pictured above). It’s lightweight, portable and costs around $130. Your novelist (and her back, shoulder and neck) will thank you to the moon and stars. (You can find WorkEZ at numerous online and brick & mortar stores.)
A balance ball chair, that is. Gaiam does it best. For under $80 your journalist will improve stability and balance, take the pressure off his back, and work the core. Stronger ab muscles protect the lower back and promote better posture, so give the gift that’s truly fair and balanced.
Bold brewed inspiration.
Whether your writer likes to grind her own beans and French press, or she grabs the laptop and does her best work at the local latte joint, she will appreciate the gift that has fueled artistic endeavors for centuries. Compliment cappuccino’s robust deliciousness with a groovy mug, and you’ll be called out in the acknowledgements as her favorite person of all time.
Beautiful blank pages.
What a bright idea! With choices to fit any budget, a good desk lamp is essential to the writing process. Sure, it would be nice if the sun shone upon us each time we sat (or stood) to write, but with the gracious gift of a serious desk lamp, your writer’s light will always shine.
Good grammar and punctuation, please.
The AP Stylebook is an essential tool for every writer. The definitive guide to proper punctuation, grammar and usage, this little gem should be mandatory reading for every American. And now it’s available through an online subscription, which makes it the most convenient writing resource ever. Click:
Proper writing attire.
We never know when inspiration will strike, and if it’s 3AM and the house is quiet, your scribe is going to need something comfy and elegant in order to court the muse. The perfect robe, thoughtfully monogrammed with your author’s initials, will ensure he doesn’t look like Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys. Robeworks has the yummiest, softest, most writerly robes around!
We are an insecure, wildly overconfident, creative, wacky, lovable and neurotic bunch. When you believe in us—when you tell us that our writing made you laugh or cry or think or want to scream—well, you’ve given us life. Your support and friendship is the best gift of all.
The holidays are upon us. Whether you’re celebrating in style or sipping a little spiked nog in front of the fireplace, there are a few things you should know before you choose to get behind the wheel.
It was nearly two years ago, when I had just moved back to Wisconsin from Los Angeles, that I was pulled over because it was 1:30AM on a Sunday morning, and was arrested for drunk driving.
Even if you’re driving perfectly, (or think that you are) the police can pull you over and administer sobriety tests on the side of the road, or throw you in their vehicle, take you to the hospital and have your blood drawn, and if they feel like it, they can demand that you pee in a cup. This is what “implied consent” means when you sign the paper to get a driver’s license in all 50 states.
There are many ways to “drive erratically,” that do not result in traffic violations—perfectly legal things such as “deviating in your own lane” and “tires touching the gravel shoulder.” Add to that the hundreds of offenses on the books, such as “failure to dim brights” and “chipped windshield” and there are literally a million reasons for the police to justify a traffic stop.
Implied consent also means that you do not have the right to ask for, nor speak with an attorney before taking a Breathalyzer, blood or urine test. So all those crackpot lawyer ads on TV that tell you “don’t talk to the cops until you’ve spoken with me” are bull kaka. If you refuse the tests, it is instant arrest and revocation of your license. Even if it turns out that you were not legally drunk, you have lost your license for one full year by refusing to take a test.
I was out with a friend the other night not drinking and he said I was being paranoid. Really? See what you think:
1. The police do not need probable cause to pull you over to find out whether you’ve been drinking. Yes, on the books cause is legally required—some reason other than it’s bar time or after a Packer game, but in reality? The policeman who taught the drunk driving class I had to take in order to restore my driving privileges told us the police will find “cause” whether it’s there, or not.
You will not get off on an “illegal stop” defense.
Example: I could prove that the police had no lawful reason to pull me over. I had graphs, satellite images, a video recreation, match box cars, a laser pointer, street maps and a lawyer in a $5000 suit. But it was 1:30 in the morning on a weekend.
The Sheriff’s Deputy who initiated the traffic stop, sat on the witness stand in court and swore under oath that every word of his report was accurate.
Then, just like on TV, my lawyer breaks out the visual aids, and says, “How is it possible that you could see my client’s passenger tires touch gravel a quarter of a mile ahead of you, on a road with no gravel shoulder, on a moonless night, on a county highway with no street lights, as her vehicle was turning away from you?” Ah ha!
On TV, that’s the moment when the audience knows the defendant will be acquitted. In real life, not so much. The Deputy turned a shade of vermillion, then said quietly, “The report is wrong.” I’m thinking they’re going to handcuff the guy at this point and charge him with perjury, but I was wrong.
The judge ruled that it was a matter of credibility, and frankly, who’s more credible than a cop? “People make mistakes on reports all the time,” he found.
2. In the State of Wisconsin there were over 42,000 suspected drunk driving arrests in 2014.
Q. How many of them did NOT result in a conviction?
Conviction rates around the country are closing in on the 99% range.
3. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is as powerful a lobby as the NRA and Teacher’s Union combined. If a judge, prosecutor or District Attorney does not succeed in securing a conviction for a drunk driving case, MADD will throw their full weight behind making sure that elected official is not re-elected.
4. Your license will be suspended for at least six months on your first arrest even if you are not convicted.
It is the one time you will be punished and serve a sentence before being convicted of any crime.
5. Here are a few expenses you can look forward to if you are arrested and convicted of OWI/DUI/DWI.
–Towing (they have your vehicle towed to a lot)
–Storage fees if it’s a Saturday or Sunday (even though the lots are closed on the weekends, you will be charged for storage. Or, they will open up so you can claim your vehicle, but that charge is the same as storage)
–Suspension of your license by the DMV
–Obtaining an occupational license from the DMV
–Special insurance to be able to get an occupational license (called SR22 in Wisconsin)
–An increase in your regular auto insurance, as well as homeowner’s and medical
–Reinstatement of your regular license after you’ve served your suspension on an occupational license
–A substance abuse assessment
–Mandatory classes, minimum 21 hours (even if the assessment shows you are not at risk and do not have a substance abuse problem, you must take the classes)
–Fines and penalties
–Ignition Interlock Device if you blow over .15 An IID must be installed in any vehicle that you drive. Installation averages about $150 to install and about $80 per month, per vehicle, for a minimum of one year.
Legal fees: $3000 – $15,000
6. According to the officer who taught my class, more than 40% of drunk driving stops are the result of civilians phoning in a license plate. Yup, it’s the same people from grade school who used to tell on you for chewing gum, who are sitting in their cars outside the restaurant or bar with a Holly Hobby notebook in one hand and a cell phone in the other.
7. You will receive a check for $100 if the person whose license plate you phoned in is convicted of drunk driving. They have incentivized tattling.
8. Your first OWI stays on your record for 55 years in Wisconsin. 55. A first DUI or DWI or OWI varies from state to state, but will remain on your record for a minimum of 10 years no matter where you live.
9. MADD has closed, snapped shut and eradicated all loopholes. There is no more “wet reckless” or pleading down in drunk driving cases, regardless of what any attorney tells you. The police will not lock your keys in your trunk and tell you to walk the last block home. They will not let you call your dad to pick you up, and they will not “give you a lift.” They will arrest you, your car will be towed and you will be convicted.
10. Once you’ve been convicted of your first drunk driving offense, you can be arrested and convicted of a second OWI with as little as .02 alcohol in your system. That’s one beer on a full stomach. The police have a scanner device, like a radar gun, that gets info from your license plates. If you’ve had one drunk driving arrest and/or conviction, you are more likely to be pulled over for “driving erratically,” a chipped windshield, failure to report hitting a deer (which is considered destruction of property), and on and on. You’re doomed.
11. A second OWI offense comes with mandatory jail time, where you’ll be incarcerated with rapists, gang members and basically every kind of violent felon there is. Forget driving for at least a year after you get out of jail.
12. There is a (not-so-secret) quota system.
If you’ve just left a restaurant and have had two beers with your meal, you get pulled over and the cop smells Old Milwaukee on your breath, it is up to the cop’s discretion (even if you blow under the limit) as to whether he will arrest you. If he hasn’t met the drunk driving “quota” for the month, you are toast.
Technically, and legally, the police do not have a quota system, but “off the record,” “according to sources,” and “of course we do,” they do. If a cop fails to haul in as many impaired drivers as Officer Krupke, he’ll be pulling desk duty faster than you can say the alphabet backwards.
13. If 42,000 drunk driving convictions resulted, on average, in $2000 worth of fines, penalties and fees per person, Wisconsin raked in $84,000,000 in 2014. If the average person spent only $3000 on a lawyer (I spent three times that), the legal profession hauled in another $126,000,000, in one year, in one state.
The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is about to lower the legal limit from .08 to .05, which will likely double drunk driving revenues in every state.
There is tremendous financial incentive for the police to pull over, arrest and aid in the conviction of as many people as possible.
14. It doesn’t matter whether you are actually impaired or not. If you have any alcohol in your system and you decide to drive, the deck is stacked against you the minute you shift into drive. Wait! I take that back.
I learned that even if you are asleep in the backseat with the keys in your pocket you could be arrested because you “are in control of your vehicle.” For real. I couldn’t make this stuff up. The cop who taught my drunk driving class told us, “If you plan to sleep it off in your car, place the keys outside the vehicle.”
It takes about two hours for each drink to work its way out of your system, so you may want to call a cab and spend the next 6 to 12 hours in the comfort of your home.
Still think I’m being paranoid?
Since Uber and taxis are not available everywhere, I suggest either not drinking at all if you’re driving, or paying someone $20 an hour to be the designated driver, which you could split amongst your friends. I did the math on my drinking and driving.
On March 30, 2014, I paid $2800 per drink. Cheers!
A lot of people want to be writers, or they think they want to be writers. People seem to imagine that we’re all making bank like J.K. Rowling, and lounging around a 2500sf white and ecru Hamptons bedroom/sitting room/writing space in slinky silk loungewear sporting perfect ponytails and Robert Yurman “casual” jewelry.
We earn 10% of each book sold. My books retail for $24.95 in hardcover and $16.95 for a paperback. Any good at math? I’d like to ask everyone who’s ever bought a Harry Potter book to please buy one of mine.
Movies and retellings of Hemingway’s escapades have romanticized the writer’s life. I honestly don’t know a single writer who gallivants all over Spain drinking daiquiris all day, or who owns an estate with a 2500sf white and ecru bedroom/sitting room/writing space as featured in nearly every Nancy Meyers film.
I know a lot of writers, some of whom do it as a vocation. They’re all nuts. Maybe actors face as much rejection as writers, but I doubt it. An actor may not look right for the part, or perhaps doesn’t audition well, or seem believable enough. No one tells an actor that their thoughts and ideas, heart and soul…blow. Actors may occasionally go off the rails and boast of tiger blood and winning. Writers flinch when the toast pops up, waiting for the toaster to judge us.
Writers do not generally wear stilettoes and bras as outerwear like sex columnists on old timey HBO, nor do we tramp around in an ex-wife’s pilled fleece pink bathrobe a la Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys. Our wardrobe is a hybrid between jammies and nearly socially acceptable tracksuits, assuming the athletic wear is not shiny with a stripe down the pant leg. A real writer wouldn’t be caught dead in that. We have standards.
Friends and relatives call me throughout the day while they’re taking a break from work, or enjoying lunch. They get grumpy when I tell them crisply that I am working. Sometimes they actually snicker. (I can hear you, you know.) Just because it’s two in the afternoon and I’m home doesn’t mean I’m not working. (And I never answer Skype or Face Time so there is no way you can know that I haven’t brushed my teeth or hair, and am wearing PJs with a Marquette University sweatshirt that was old and faded before the turn of the century.)
The other day someone rang the doorbell and as I was expecting a case of wine I raced to the door and flung it open. There stood the next-door neighbors—a beautiful Australian fitness instructor wife, a 13 year old “could be an Abercrombie model” daughter, and a handsome hubby who owns a plane—all dressed dapperly in what I like to call “public clothes.”
It was two in the afternoon. I had on PJ bottoms that after three days of wear stretch to the point of being a foot and a half too long. I try to roll them up, but they’re soft from age and wear, and puddle around my “house socks.” I top off the ensemble with a formerly white waffle-weave sweatshirt that I once wore to paint my dining room Tiffany’s blue.
The pretty family on the porch reared back, having forgotten why they came. I asked if they saw a wine delivery guy outside. The girl picked up a flyer for a tree-trimming service that was on the ground and she handed it to me, then they turned and hurried away. I still don’t know why they stopped by.
The writer’s life isn’t pretty. It’s not all sleep ’til noon, drink scotch ’til dawn, and crank out magic by the gigabyte. It’s fraught with anxiety, doubt, panic, and the belief that there is nothing else we’d rather be doing. I think we don’t decide to become writers. I’m pretty sure we have no choice.
Thank you Lorelei Mustas and all the great ladies and gents who gathered ’round for a great evening of story-telling, wine and laughter!
January 14th, 2016 6:30 to 8:30
Great wine, great discussion, great people!
S42W31428 State Hwy. 83
Genesee Depot, Wisconsin 53127