Away on holiday in the Midwest, I still am thinking about those silly yearbooks. I promise this is the last post on the topic (for a while, at least.)
Amid the promises and love professed in cheap ink between those covers, one good friend wrote, "You've helped me through some very tough times in my life. I love you."
It means a lot that I helped shepherd him through his emotional love affair and other issues, but here's the thing: that friend is now dead.
Could I have prevented his death?
We matriculated together, and maintained a casual friendship for years, but when his life's path veered away, I let it. In our twenties, I sort of dropped off the face of the earth. I knew thing were difficult, though I had no idea how difficult. I knew he was coping with pain in unhealthy ways, but I just kept moving. I should have slowed down. I should have showed up on his doorstep unannounced. I should have intervened.
Sure, I helped him though high school, but that's hardly enough. Perhaps he would be alive if I'd been a better "friend forever."
And that is a very heavy thought.
I believe my friends wanted to keep their promises. We weren't a bunch of liars. I'm sure I also wrote, "Love ya forever," and "Best friends forever," and a slew of sloppy quasi-romantic notions in their yearbooks.
So what happened?
We aged. We grew apart. We moved on and other things became important. I understand that, I do, but why make promises at all? Isn't life full of change?
Maybe the best we can promise anyone is to love them in this moment. "Best friends for now!" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but at least it's honest. Maybe it's enough to remember that, at one point in our lives, we loved each other enough to promise forever. We hoped that our friendships would last forever.
Maybe that's enough; I'm not sure.
(Several people wrote variations of, "please don't ever change." I'm so glad I didn't promise that. Shudder.)
Photo Credit: fabulously40.com
I'm new in Seattle, so I'm wading through the social structure looking for kindred spirits.
This week, when I finished the public draft of my manuscript, I needed to celebrate with someone. I shared the good news with an acquaintance and she was ecstatic.
"Tell me about this book!"
"It's contemporary YA about a guy whose mom is murdered on graduation day."
Her transformation was immediate: blank eyes, fake smile, squared shoulders. "I only read books for grown ups." And then she glanced furtively, as if the book police would arrest her for talking about YA.
I can't befriend a book shamer. I'm not embarrassed of what I write or what I read.* Here's a sample:
That's just one shelf of the 36ish in my house. (I'm not counting the children's shelves.)
I'm not ashamed of the YA or the commercial fiction. I don't need to justicy the Griffen & Sabine trilogy (though really, the letters! The envelopes! I swoon.) I also don't feel compelled to explain the two copies of The Time Traveler's Wife (or the other three copies floating around my house.) Hey, there is American Erotica on the shelf, too. (Also, I hadn't realized how similar the spines are for I Thought My Father Was God and In a Sunburned Country.)
I thought about cropping out the shelf below for aesthetic reasons, but why? It elaborates on the story. Liberating Grammar, written by one of my favorite college professors, is quite good. You probably recognize the Harry Potters (including an English, i.e. Not American version. There's a story behind that one.) What else is down there? More Bill Bryson, The Help, Erich Segal's Love Story. (There's a story behind that, too. Two stories, actually.)
I'm not ashamed of any of that. I didn't remove a single book from that shelf. (In the interest of full disclosure, note that I did remove a chocolate bar from the shelf. When Dove milk chocolate is found in the house, it's a sign. It was delish.)
I'll photograph every shelf in my house if you want. (Hey, that would be fun! Take photos of your closest book shelf and share it!)
Read what you love. Graphic novels ring your chimes? Go for it. You only like 18th century French literature? Bon appetit. Everything by Stephen King and no one else? Go ahead and scare the crap out of yourself again and again.
Being ashamed of what you read is one step removed from lying about who you are. Read what you love. It's the literate equivalent of letting your freak flag fly.
Don't be ashamed of what you loathe, either. I could never get into David Foster Wallace, no matter how hard I tried. Most fantasy is just not for me. Ditto space operas. Most of Shakespeare, even though they might revoke my bachelor's degree for admitting it.
I love lots of different kinds of books. I love adult contemporary. And I love really good science fiction. I love nonfiction. I love reading middle grade books (Is 2008 ready to read The Penderwicks yet?) and I love reading YA.
I love writing YA. In fact, I am happier writing YA than I ever was writing adult contemporary.
We've gone round and round the Internets about books for boys, books for girls, books for grown ups. It's all BS, people.
Books are for readers. Read on.
*I am, however, somewhat ashamed that I haven't organized my books in the eight weeks since we moved in.
Last week, my brilliant and creative friend Heather hosted space camp for a slew of preschoolers and their toddler siblings.
After we had launched rockets, experimented with dry ice, compared moon dust to Mars dust and eaten planetary pizzas, the children ran amok in the yard searching for asteroids we had hidden.
Lounging across from my spouse, I realized there were nine little girls rushing through the grass and trying to climb trees. No boys.
Among my book club ladies, we have 11 children, two of whom are boys.
My best friends have girls. Between 1977, me, and our sisters, we have only girls.
This baffles me. Who is having the boys, and where are they? Research suggests the ratio hovers at 1:1, but that certainly is not the case in my life. (And yes, Dear 1977, I know “data” is not the plural form of “anecdote.” I remain baffled.)
Are there pockets of your life where all the children are male?
Years ago, when I moved to Chicago, I created a book club. I chose a book, set a date and sent (paper!) invitations to my favorite Chicagoland-based women.
We met every month for years. At some point, we started a Facebook page that we never used. Two years ago, because the suburbanites had difficulty balancing the commute and our littles' bedtime demands, we split into two groups.
Now I meet with the suburban book club ladies monthly and see the urban ladies individually for brunch and whatnot.
Today, as I removed myself from several groups on Facebook, I found that old Facebook page. It had two posts. When I tried to leave the group, a message popped up: "You are the only member of this group. If you leave the group, it will be deleted."
It's true on several levels. I miss my joint book club. I miss my urban ladies.
Maybe we should try to reconcile.
My current project is YA, and as I work on that first draft, my contemporary (adult) fiction is in the hands of my early readers.
I love this, sort of. I love the part when they all send me feedback and are eager to discuss the draft with me, but I hate the waiting. Three of my readers have seen this manuscript before, so they understand the story arches and characters well enough. Four of my readers are new to this manuscript, and I have no idea how they will receive it.
Or, I had no idea. Within the past 24 hours, one reader complimented a new scene, one reader said she'd finished the whole draft (in 10 days) and another reader called to curse my existence. She started the draft yesterday and has only 15 pages to go, which means in the last 24 hours she has finished nothing else.
I love that part. The positive feedback is great, and it will hold me until I receive all their real comments.
I can be patient. I can be patient. I can be patient.
I blog rarely, because I'm busy writing books. When I do blog, I focus on writing, friendship, family, and books. Because my family's best nicknames are private, I use their birth years for shorthand: