Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The reason I blanked on the day is that I'm a teacher (elementary library and computers). So I have two months off every year and I kind of lose track of the days during July. Used to be one month off, but thanks to being published, I can now dedicate summers to writing, and can guiltlessly not sign up to teach summer school.
I've taught for sixteen years, kindergarten, ESL, fourth grade, and now I'm the librarian. And it galls me to say it, but I love my job. Granted, it's not easy...you ever try to get a bunch of five year olds to use a damn computers?
"Get it out of your mouth!"
I come from a family of educators. My father, mother, wife, aunt, cousin, and sister-in-law are all veterans of the public school system. My father, incidentally, is not only a retired school superintendent, but was expelled from high school at fifteen. He was only one of two kids in his neighborhood to actually go to high school, if only for two weeks.
So while my dreams of being a 'real' writer with no other responsibilities have not yet come to pass, teaching is a close second.
Yes, I know this post was supposed to be about my teenage summers, but no one wants to read about me stealing street signs and working as a mall survey taker.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have four classrooms to set up.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
It was the most supportive peer community I'd ever found. While we had our own groups of friends, I don't remember any cliques forming to exclude or bully others. Admittedly, I didn't do much writing that summer. Interacting with other artists for the first time in my life was a powerful experience, and I had more fun watching my artist friends draw, choosing Beatles tunes from the box of cassettes that a friend carried everywhere with him (he always said he could play any Beatles tune you wanted, on the spot), exploring the cemeteries that are part of Wesleyan's campus, or listening to an actress friend practice one of Juliet's speeches. But when I got home, my writing blossomed. Not only did I work on my fundamental writing education (challenging myself to write both Petrarchan and Elizabethan sonnets, for example), but the contemporary fiction I loved to write had a new simplicity and directness. Within a year, I had written the short story that became my first published work.
It may be no accident that the years when I was "on my own" artistically were my least productive. When I began to attend writers' conferences, when I joined SCBWI and started interacting more closely with other writers, my writing blossomed again. Community isn't just about the technical interchange that occurs with critique, or the nourishment from reading colleagues' books. There's a synergy that occurs when writers bond. Maybe it's just the validation we give one another that this work is important and difficult and rewarding.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
To read more about my writing about the bloody Countess Bathory, check out this previous post where I shared my musical inspiration: http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/2011/02/props-to-bjork-and-mozart-alisa-m-libby.html.
Happy summer to all!
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Monday, July 22, 2013
My first date, my first boyfriend, my first kiss all happened in July. When we were kids, we hated when July ended because August meant it was time to think about school. Funny, I can't remember any of us ever complaining we were bored or hot.
We knew July would be over soon.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Without meaning to, she taught me something important. Or maybe she meant to all along.
Friday, July 19, 2013
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Contrast that with how I saw myself: Gawky. Plain. Awkward. Insecure. I didn't know how to smile like Annie did. Most of the time, I didn't bother.
I actually had some good reasons for not smiling, but not many people around me (including Annie) knew that. And I tried not to think about those things too specifically. My life was the way it was, and I was acutely aware that I could not change it.
Something I began noticing the summer I was fourteen was how other people began noticing Annie.
We'd be out walking or riding our bikes or browsing in the mall or swimming at the local pool, and boys would stare, older teens would whistle. Sometimes grown men would call out Hey baby!
Annie would blush and smile that smile, and we'd continue walking or biking or browsing or swimming.
It bothered me, for a variety of reasons--those whistles and hoots. I was a budding feminist and it seemed wrong to me that boys--men!--felt entitled to express that kind of admiration so blatantly.
But when I expressed these concerns with Annie, she smiled. She didn't mind guys ogling her. She kinda liked the attention, liked knowing people thought she was attractive.
It was impossible for me to understand. Annie probably didn't understand me either.
I was so uncomfortable with myself back then. Walking in a pretty girl's shadow confirmed what I felt about myself: I was not worth looking at. I was invisible.
At the end of the summer Annie came along on a camping vacation with my family. Oh, the boy in the camper next door was soooo cute. Annie and I watched him through the window of our pup tent and plotted different ways of introducing ourselves. We roped my little brother into paving the way for a meeting. The boy (let's call him Peter) turned out to be cool and eager to hang around with us.
The first night we got together, I watched Peter stare at Annie. I watched Annie joke and smile back. After a few hours of fun flirty banter, Peter asked us if we wanted to go for a walk.
Annie jumped right up, then she looked over at me. "You're coming too, right, Jody?" she asked.
"No," I said, without even thinking about it. It was clear the Peter and Annie liked each other, that they really didn't want me tagging along. Yeah. Whatever. I sighed, as I watched them walk off together.
They were inseparable the rest of the week.
When school started in the fall, even though Peter lived several towns away, he and Annie fell into a serious romance that lasted for most of high school. I ended up being pretty good friends with Peter, and years later when he and Annie broke up, he swung by my house once to say hi.
I don't know what made me ask him. It just blurted out, this thing I'd always wondered: "What did you think of us--of me and Annie--that first time we all met at the campground?"
Peter shrugged. He laughed. He scratched his chin.
"You know what?" he said finally. "When I first saw you two, that first night, I couldn't tell you apart. Isn't that funny?"
There is more to this story and a million ways I could tell it. But I will stop at this part--the part where I learned that how I viewed myself was not necessarily how other people viewed me.
And if I was invisible, it was only because I had chosen to believe it.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
My best festival memory of them all was Lollapalooza 1995. This was back when Lollapalooza was still a traveling show and it was ALSO back when you could not get tickets on the internet. For big concerts like Lolla, my friends and I would get up at the asscrack of dawn to sit outside our local Ticketmaster branch at the Carson Pirie Scott department store at the North Riverside Mall (yes, where Kara and Cass from Ballads of Suburbia met while shoplifting... and where I met my BFF while shoplifting). They would do a lottery system to discourage the whole getting-there-before-sunrise-to-wait-for-tickets thing, but we always got there early just in case they would decide to be nice and let the people who got there first have the first crack at tickets (because that was actually FAIR).
Lollapalooza 1995 had an INSANE line-up, including Pavement, Beck, The Jesus Lizard, Sinead O'Connor (who canceled the Chicago date, but Elastic played instead which almost made up for it), headliners, Sonic Youth, and the band who totally saved my teenage life, Hole. I was dying to see it all and to see Courtney Love especially as close up as I could. So I got there to the North Riverside Mall at like 6 am with my BFF and we stood outside until 9:30 when they came out to draw lottery numbers and for the first and only time luck was on my side and I DREW FIRST PLACE. As a result we got FRONT ROW TICKETS!!!!!
I was practically THIS CLOSE for Courtney!
|Picture I cut out of the paper from the review of the show|
So yeah, that was my most epic summer concert experience.
I am actually having one today, too, because it is my birthday and I've just moved to Seattle where Sub Pop also happens to be celebrating their birthday (or their silver jubilee as they put it!) with a free concert. Mudhoney is probably the band I am most excited to see and I saw them in the summer of 1995, too (but inside, not at Lollapalooza). I think it's gonna be one of the best summer concerts/birthdays ever!
What about you? What was your favorite summer concert? Have you seen any yet or do you have any cool ones lined up?
Friday, July 12, 2013
I have walked through this picture. The July after my sophomore year in high school, I spent three weeks here with a French family hosting me as a summer exchange student. Their daughter, Alex, was my age, and wherever we went, she referred to me as “ma couresse Americaine.” She didn’t like me very much. But I was a girl from Westchester County spending her vacation on the Riviera instead of the town pool. I drank Gini lemon sodas and wore mini-dresses so short they barely covered the curve of my butt cheeks. I grew fluent in the language and developed a deep, unapologetic tan that made the whites of my eyes pop like bleach stains. Two days into my stay, I traded my one-piece Speedo swimsuit for a bright turquoise string bikini decorated with tiny pearls.
In the mornings, breakfast with fruit and croissants and hot chocolate in small bowls at a long table on the balcony draped in a red and white checked tablecloth. Then, the beach until lunch, the pool all afternoon. At night, we’d hook up with a dozen or so other teens from all over Europe and make our way to a club in town.
That day with the magazine, these memories overtook me, having not thought about St. Tropez in years. I had to catch my breath. How awesome that I had this experience! At home, later, I looked for and miraculously found the thin brown steno notebook I used as a journal that summer. On the front was my name -- spelled "Jennie" with an IE like I did back then -- in tiny script handwriting that’s half the size I use now. And I started to read.
I read about being on the plane and feeling nervous and excited and sweetly hopeful about my summer. I read about meeting the family and settling in to my room, and the strangeness of putting ketchup on rice and how couples actually danced together at Alexandra’s end-of-school party. Ah, memories. So far so good.
But then I was reading about how one day Alex is friendly, the next she’s cold and snotty and thinks I take too many showers. I’m coaching myself about being more relaxed and outgoing, and to ask for things that I want even if I can’t find the right French vocabulary words. I buy a copy of Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day” because it’s one of the few English language books in the nearby bookstore, and make it my new “motto” so that these European teens will like me and maybe, just maybe, I’ll kiss a boy before summer’s over. SEIZE THE DAY!, I write in big block letters across the top of one page.
Worst of it all, yet so tenderly familiar, is how I can’t stop talking about how "fat" I am. I’m using words like “thunder thighs” and “cellulite” and trying to diet -- DIET! -- during my month in France. Every second or third day, I berate myself for losing my willpower and swear to start again in the morning. I’m looking in the mirror nightly and searching for where the pretty might be. All the other girls go topless on the beach because it's normal here, but I just can't do it, too ashamed of what I don't have.
By the time I was done, when the journal had taken me through St. Tropez and up to Paris for a week with my mother and then ended abruptly, I was overcome with ironic regret, and my heart…my heart ached with a type of sadness you can only feel many years after the fact of something.
Because you know, I have always looked at photos of myself from that summer and thought it was the most attractive I’ve ever been. The thinnest, the fittest, the most poised on the edge of a fabulous young adulthood I have ever been.
Now when I think of St. Tropez, the memory is spiced bittersweet and forces me to look at the insecurities I had then, and the ones I have now, and whether any of them have really changed. I still have that damn hot turquoise bikini. It's so tiny, I could gluestick it onto a scrapbook page. I'll never get rid of it because it's connected to everything that summer was, and continues to be. It wasn't exactly the stuff of juicy romantic YA novels, but it was all mine for better or worse, and that alone makes me want to hug this girl:
I posted a version of this story on my own blog about two years ago, but I'm telling it again, here, because the irony of it haunts me still. SEIZE THE DAY indeed. I hope you can revel in the good moments of this summer, learn from the bad ones, and embrace all of them as part of who you are.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
- waking up to the smell of fresh cut grass on Fridays (when the lawn guys came every week)
- eating dinner in the screened in porch with my family (grilled chicken, corn on the cob and my mom's tuna and pasta salad)
- going out for Carvel with my family after dinner (large chocolate cone with rainbow sprinkles)
- sleeping with my bedroom windows open (or with the AC blaring on really hot humid nights)
- reading books, lots of them (Norma Klein was my favorite author)
- babysitting kids at our country club while the moms played tennis (the moms paid me to play with their kids in the pool and feed them ice cream - and they each paid me by the hour and I could watch at least six kids at a time!)
- the sound of frogs ribbit-ing in the pond beside our house (even though I do not like frogs)
- the sound of crickets at night (not a big fan of crickets either)
- the smell of skunk (which is why I started my novel LOCAL GIRLS with this exact memory)
- getting a paycheck (when I started having summer jobs)
- spending my paycheck (mostly on clothes)
- keg parties on the beach (and running away when we saw the flashing lights of a police car coming our way)
- looking forward to school (around August, when the thought of a new school year was still exciting)
Monday, July 8, 2013
Every summer I read books and dreamt about sleep-away camps, new best friends and the perfect summer romance. I wanted the chance to reinvent myself. But instead I wore a hideous, green, polyester uniform and waited on ALOT of obnoxious families pit-stopping on their drive to their vacation destination. But I'm an optimist and I'm here to tell you that several really great things came out of my time serving Grand Slams...
*I went to college on the "Denny's Scholarship Fund." Due in part, to my amazing ability to charm more than one senior citizen and hustle like waitressing was an Olympic event, I got through four years of college with only one small school loan.
*I also learned not to take my college education for granted because I knew exactly what I had to do to earn it.
*With the help of a lovely, fellow waitress named Pat, I now know why you NEVER heat up hard boiled eggs in the microwave. That table of ladies, who hit the ground like a land mine was going off, probably still tells that story too.
*I learned that, no matter how hard you try to do everything right, you will find a dead fly in Al Roker's kid's chocolate milk after you've served it. (I'm just waiting for one of my books to hit it big time so I can go on TV and laugh about this story with him.)
*I also learned that Karma has your back. There were two rude ladies with several obnoxious kids who made the BIGGEST mess I've ever seen under a table. A mess so gigantic I needed a shovel to clean it up, but since I didn't have one, I was down on my hands and knees. It was when I was down on the floor underneath table three, fuming because they didn't leave a tip, that I realized they'd dropped a $20. Any other time I would have run it out to the people as they were still getting into the car. This time I just smiled and waved.
*I learned a lot about the power of earworms (An earworm is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing.) I started off almost every Saturday morning by sneaking up on Bonnie and singing the Hanes Underwear commercial to see if she'd still be singing it at the end of our shift. * grin * She always was.
*I discovered that the best and most respected managers know how to do everything their staff is supposed to do. They pitch in when needed. They are respectful and fair. Anything less than this caused huge problems.
*I was pleased to learn, more often than not, happiness is contagious. If you proof a senior citizen for a 65+ meal they will find you charming. And if you ask someone to "walk this way" and proceed to the table waddling like a duck--there is always one cool person who will waddle after you.
*I'm not sure why this learning curve was so hard for some people---BE NICE TO THE COOKS!!!!! They will bury your checks, screw up your orders and do mean things to your own breakfast if you get on their bad side. And yes, they did have bets about who would be the first waitress to cry every day. Seriously--life lesson--do not bite the hand that feeds you.
*You do not want to deep clean a juice dispenser or a hot fudge pump. Avoid that job any chance you get.
*Murphy's Law--the less money you made that day, the more side work (cleaning) had to be done.
*I really love crispy hash browns.
*The more miserable a job, the better the stories and memories become. Life is cool like that.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Get the idea? Only you really DON’T. Because now what you need to do is substitute in 6 middle-aged women who spoke ONLY POLISH. They cut material and sewed scarves and some of these scarves were sort of double sided because THAT WAS M’s TRADEMARK THING. So the Polish ladies would sew them inside out and then hand them to ME. And I would take this wooden stick and poke it through a tiny hole and turn them right side out. After which I would iron and fold them. And the regular scarves? I would fold those, too. And package them into boxes.
What was your worst minimum wage job? I would love to hear your stories!
Saturday, July 6, 2013
As a teen, I couldn’t wait for that first trip “down the shore,” which is how I grew up describing a visit to my state’s wonderful beaches. Once I crossed the bay bridge to the barrier islands, I remember feeling like I could finally breathe.
Hoping to get stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel with a cute boy.
Sadly, these memories have been made even more poignant in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The rides pictured here became iconic images of the aftermath of the storm. When this post goes live, I’ll be “down the shore,” a different one from the place where I spent my teen years. But even in recovery mode, it’s still the place where everything feels all right.