15 posts categorized "Joshilyn Jackson"

December 02, 2011

The Ears Have It



SO My nine year old daughter, Maisy Jane, has been agitating for pierced ears since she was seven. I objected. Strenuously. Not because I grew up in a VERY conservative church (although I did) where it was held as gospel that only slatterns, loose women, and future fishwives would pierce their maidenly ears before high school.

My objections were more pragmatic:

1) I had my ears pierced when I was in eighth grade, and I had an immediate and severe allergic reaction. My lobes puffed into red ooze-y balloons of pustulant misery. At the time I felt pretty sure this was the Lord’s visceral response to me slatternishly getting them done a year before it was proper (according to Leviticus).

I pulled the earrings out and let the holes close up....

OKAY, FINE! I may have had a tiny frisson of retro-worry that if Maisy Jane got hers done a full FIVE YEARS before was religiously proper, God would smite her slatternly lobes RIGHT OFF HER HEAD....but I QUELLED that with an icy blast of Presbyterian Pragmatism. God, I told myself, has bigger problems these days.

Tlc stickerAnd truthfully, I was more worried Maisy might have inherited my metal allergy, and would suffer the pus-addled miserable fate. BUT! EVERYONE ALIVE pointed out they now had nickel free uber-hypoallergenic supersonic earrings of the future, and even The Boy in the Bubble could get a stud through his eyebrow if he really wanted one.

2) But still I said no, because I KNOW my kid. She HATES pain. This is the child who comes to me with every pinprick sized scab and faint grey-ish speck of bruise, tear stained and demanding life saving medical intervention. This is the child who SCREAMS and crumples to the ground and writhes and clutches her head and flails, and then goes limp and stares accusingly damp-eyed at me from the floor if she has to have a TANGLE combed out.

I just KNEW I would end up with a child who sported a single hoop earring like a pirate, because she would never sit still for the second puncture wound after experiencing the “mild pressure” the internet said would occur. One man’s “mild pressure” is my girl-child’s “being set on fire.”

Tlc claire bearBUT! EVERYONE ALIVE said that at Claire’s, they arm two girls with piercing guns and, as your child clings desperately to the Claire Bear, they simultaneously stab open BOTH sides of her head.

All my reasonable, rational concerns had been addressed...and yet, I still did not take her. Not for months, even though Scott and I had discussed it and we had already TOLD her she could.


I think I was just resisting the adult-ness of it. She is, after all, my very youngest, and for me, it was a rite of passage. Okay, granted, it was a failed, pus-ridden, swollen, MISERABLE rite, but still. It was my first real, clear indication that my mom knew I was growing up. If Maisy got her ears pierced, that meant SHE was growing up, too....and I DO NOT LIKE IT.

This is my YOUNGEST, my little, my sugar-pie, my snootchy bear, the baby-est of all my babies.

She is also a tall string bean of a girl in fourth grade now. She has learned to roll her eyes and stand with one hip cocked. She secretly likes a boy. She gets some of my jokes. She covets lip-gloss. She still calls me Mama most times, but she has also learned the two syllable exasperation-clad cry of, “Mo-om!” She reads books with no pictures. Hell, she read books with KISSING in them. She IS growing up, whether I like it or not.So.

Reader, I pierced them.

Ftk maisy earOr rather, the nice lady who owns the local Claire’s did it. She was working the store all alone, so I tried to say OH NO WE NEED BOTH DONE AT ONCE NEVERMIND and put it off AGAIN, but she took us both in hand and popped Maisy in the piercing chair and!


One ear was punctured, and immediately Maisy hollered, OW OH NO I HATE THAT DO NOT---


And that was that.

Maisy grabbed the mirror and said, “Mama! I look SO GROWN UP!” And oh, but she did!

Rite accomplished, both pierced, and the super-earrings of the future caused no trouble, no allergic reaction or infection at all, and everywhere she went she was made much of and told she looked like quite the young lady.

As rites of passage go, it was a remarkably bloodless one. A lot of young southern boys have to shoot Bambi in the face to get that kind of approbation.

What was your rite? What act or moment let you first feel that you were moving toward your man-hood, or stepping closer to your womanhood? Did you or would you or will you let your kids do the same? Earlier than you?

October 07, 2011

In Which Something Odd Happens


SO! As the title intimates: Something odd happened.

Ftk electrical thing

See this thing? It is a big node-y box of electrical wire hook ups and mysterious magicness, like a HUB, or something. Okay fine. I tried to front like an electrical playa, but I don’t know what this little cluster of stuffs is. There are a LOT OF THEM in the world, and the electricity and cable and maybe phone things and all matter of magical modern-life wires and whatnot goes through them.

The signs all over them probably say, but I have never yet whipped up sufficient interest to read them. I don’t even know what it is called....Mysterious Energy Knobbit? What-ev. We have one in our neighborhood.

Heck, we probably have a buncha; it is a piece of generic scenery, and so I tend to look riiiiight through it, unless it is doing something at that very moment to call my attention, like, say exploding, or perhaps rising up in front of my child’s heedless bicycle as she yells over one shoulder and wobbles off the road, causing her to fall and scrape up her knees.

This one I have pictured above about has never set itself in the path of my personal child’s personal pink bicycle, nor has it exploded, so I had no idea it was THERE. I habitually looked right through it. Kinda like it was squirrels.

You know how you do that? Look through squirrels? Because the yard is full of them, and probably also full of bushes and weeds and rocks and whatnot, but who can pause and look with their eyes with such intensity that they notice every freakin’ squirrel? Sherlock Holmes, maybe, and he was a cokehead. So. Me? I am not Holmes. I am not a cokehead. Put a LLAMA out there. I promise to notice that.

Ftk yard llama

DIGRESSION: There is ONE squirrel I notice because he has a brain disorder; he likes to come up onto our porch and LICK THE BRICKS.

Then the dogs go BUH-ZERK, barking these hysterical high pitched frenzy yarps (Ansley) or these low wooooooooobling tornado warning bays (Bagel).

Both dogs, multiple times a day, become desperate to inform me that EITHER the armies of the damned have indeed risen and are coming across our lawn to crack my open my skull and snarfle out the delicate meat of my brainses, OR that same squirrel is licking the bricks again. One of those.

Ftk zombie squirrel

It is usually the squirrel.

You better believe I notice HIM, the brick-licking, dog-maddening little freak.

Anyway, I did not notice that power box either, until it went and did something extraordinary, which was, “Be attacked by a crazy person with a machete who desired to hack down into its tasty innards and yoink out all the copper wiring to sell.”

I hear this, I IMMEDIATELY think “Meth head.” I think Meth Head for two reasons.

First because this is SO not a good idea for a crime. A person who was NOT on Meth would have better ideas about how to steal. I am not on meth, and I had ten better ideas about how to steal as I TYPED THAT SENTENCE.

SECOND because the ODD THING that happened. I know, right? Copper wire-stealing meth head with a machete AND a brick-addicted squirrel with an oral fixation, and we are JUST NOW getting to the odd thing! Welcome to Friday.

So anyway, SECONDLY, I think METH HEAD because...wait for it... Wait for it... THE CUSTOMER SERVICE REP AT COMCAST TOLD ME IT WAS A METHHEAD.

Let us pause here to give my fellow Comcast customers time to recover from that information. Go on. Breathe into a bag. Pour yourself a stiff and fortifying drink. Fall prostate on your fainting couch and take a big whiff of smelling salts. Whatever you need. We will wait.

Ftk pearls

Ready? No? I can see you are not able to fathom this.

I cannot blame you, really. Let me say it again: I called Comcast to find out why I had no phone, tv, or internet, AND THE CUSTOMER SERVICE REP ACTUALLY TOLD ME WHY I HAD NO SERVICE.

Granted, it was TERRIBLY disturbing to know a meth head WITH A MACHETE was trolling around my generally bland and woodsy and peaceful little neighborhood looking to crack open things that might contain valuable things. Like, say, boxes full of wiring. Or, say, people full of healthy, transplantable kidneys.

But that was not the thing that put the most strain on my credulity.

It was that she responded in a complete sentence with actual information while using a POLITE---even CHEERFUL---tone. While I was still reeling from THAT, she gave me an estimated time when my service would be RESTORED.

Ftk boggle

Those of you who are NOT Comcast customers probably are not getting why the rest of us are so stunned that actual drool strings are falling onto our pants from our unhinged mouths, so let me explain how we feel about Comcast.

Usually, when something is surly, or hateful, or smells particular corpse-like, or is ruining our good time, or causes a violent allergic reaction that almost ends in death, or makes one suicidal, we call that thing, “Comcastic.”

Sample dialog ---

Person 1: Wow, I see what looks like a tidal wave of RAW SEWAGE bearing down on us, so within thirty seconds, we are literally going to drown and die in poop-infested waters. Also, in case we survive, and PS I really I meant to tell you this BEFORE we had all that sex, sorry; I may have Chlamydia.

Person 2: Comcastic!

I am so bedazzled by the light of a polite and helpful Comcast customer service rep that I do not think I have yet fully processed the part about the METH HEAD wandering my neighborhood. WITH. A. MACHETE.

Anyone else have COMCAST? Anyone noticed a SEA CHANGE? Or was this girl an anomaly? Should I buy more guns? Yes? What should I shoot? The squirrel or the dogs or meth heads WITH MACHETES? Do you think the Comcast girl was LYING? How would she know that about the meth head ANYWAY? Was SHE a cokehead? A CHEERY, POLITE cokehead? I am all aflutter.

September 11, 2011

This Day to Remember.

Where were you on September 11th? What do you remember?

From Margaret:

  I was awakened earlier than usual to be told that a close relative was in the hospital with a broken hip, so when I flipped on NPR to catch the morning headlines and heard that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center, I immediately turned on the television and was shocked to watch as that second plane went in.  The first could have been a weird accident; the second was clearly deliberate, but who?  why? The horror continued as I flashed on the few times I'd taken an elevator up to one of the towers' high floors.  How long it took even on the express.  To think of trying to walk down through smoke and fire . . .? Ghastly. In addition to all the people who died that day, there were even more deaths to come.  Of the two close friends who lived in lower Manhattan, I'm convinced that  breathing those contaminants for months caused the death of one and hastened the end of the other even though neither was in the building itself.

From Nancy Martin: 

 I was living on a mountaintop in rural Virgina--alone because my husband had already moved back to Pennsylvania for a job. Between writing the last chapter of my first mystery, I was packing boxes that morning and watching the Today show.  With packing tape in my hand, I heard Katie Couric's incredulous voice saying,  "We don't want to alarm anyone, but it looks as if a small plane may have crashed into the World Trade Center." And while I watched, the second plane hit.  I thought, "My daughter is in New York," and you know that expression "my blood ran cold?"  Well, that's how I felt---as if a terrible block of ice hit my chest and spread through my veins all the way to my fingertips. 

An instant later, the phone rang, and the voice of my great friend (and backblogger!) cried, "Are you seeing this?"  It was just like our mothers telling us about Pearl Harbor.  We couldn't believe it.  The sky was so blue and perfect. For hours, I kept trying my daughter's phone, but of course it was out. Thank God for Ethernet.  When she got back from class, we emailed, and she begged me to phone her boyfriend's mother in DC.  Her boyfriend had been on a plane from New York that morning, but I couldn't make the call. I kept thinking he'd been in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.  I couldn't call a mother whose son had died.  But he was already on the subway in DC when the plane went down, and he reached my daughter by email within a few hours. 

My mother called from Pennsylvania.  Her voice shook.  "An airliner flew over the golf course.  It was so low, we thought we could reach up and touch it." That was minutes before it crashed. When I phoned my husband--already at his new banking job--he said in amazement that the guys he'd been doing business with the previous day weren't answering their phones.  They worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. My sister, in Brooklyn, said her front steps were covered in burned bits of paper with the Cantor Fitzgerald letterhead.

That night, alone in the house on the mountain, I heard a tremendous roar of powerful engines down in the valley.  It went on for hours, and the concussion rattled the windows of the house.  I was afraid to go outside to listen by myself, so I took the dog, and Dolly and I stood on the lawn, listening in the dark. Dolly leaned against my leg. I remember how warm she felt, and comforting. Turns out, all the east coast railroad companies had sent their locomotives to hide in the old coal yard in the town below. To be safe from terrorists. Terrorists!  What was a terrorist?

I remember how we all felt in the weeks that followed--joined in a common spirit.  Makes the current Congress look so self-absorbed and petty. If nothing else, I'm glad we have so many stories of heroism and patriotism and unity from that terrible day.

From Barbara O'Neal:  

I had been on a very challenging hiking trip in Provence, and made it home on September 11 at 3 am Colorado time.  I awakened to the phone ringing, and it was my grandmother calling to be sure I was home. She said, "Oh, thank God you are not on a plane. I didn't know when you were coming in. They've bombed the Pentagon."  I thought she was being alarmist, but turned on the television to see the towers smoking after the first plane hit.  The calls continued all morning--my family calling to make sure I was actually home and not on one of those planes.  I have a lot of friends in NYC, but my thoughts that morning were for the friend I'd gone hiking with.  She was stranded in Paris, alone, because she'd taken a later flight than I did, and didn't get home for two weeks.  

The story I think about the most is one from an editor I was working with at the time. She lived in the village and couldn't get to her apartment for quite some time. When she finally got back, she said the smell was awful in the neighborhood and she commented to her boyfriend that it smelled like rotten garbage all the time. He said gently, "Honey, that's not garbage."   


From Hank Phillippi Ryan:

It was a beautiful, beautful day on the East Coast, as you remember, too, Nancy.  And chillingly, as it turned out, that's one of the reasons the plot could work--because it was so clear that it allowed the terrorists to see the towers.

I was--crazily--at the hairdresser, getting a hair cut. That night was my station's preview party for the upcoming TV season, and we were all sprucing up.  Someone came running in, saying something incomprehensible, and then the news came flooding in. I had wet hair.

I knew I had to get to work, GET TO WORK as  soon as possible. As a reporter, this was...well, it was work. Separating the journalists from everyone else. I called Jonathan, yelling over the sound of the blowdryer. Yes, he knew.  Are the kids okay, in Park Slope? Our step-son works in the city...yes they're okay. I don't know when I'll be home, I said. (And I will admit, what I really wanted to do was go home.)

I walked to work, maybe 4 blocks, in that beautiful day. The bars were all open on Congress Street, all the glass fronts wide open, all the televisions on. I remember, so clearly, deliberately walking slowly. Thinking, so clearly, so clearly, "this is the moment our lives are all changing. When I get to work, our lives will never be the same."

(Ridiculously: I'm the investigative reporter, you know? And my boss came racing into my office. "How did this happen?" he yelled. "You and Mary (my producer) have to find out how this happened!"  As if we could do that. I think we stayed in the office for the next--three days? And every time we started to   complain, we'd look at each other and say: "We're not dead. Not dead." And then go back to work.)


From Sarah Strohmeyer:

Yes, it was a beautiful September morning and I'd just sent the kids off to school and sat down to write. We'd recently redone our computer system and installed a New York Times news alert. So many ways to procrastinate! Oddly enough, the first message that popped up was from my childhood friend, Connie Jordan, whom I hadn't spoken to in, gosh, ten or more years.

Connie is a smart, beautiful woman, a Swarthmore/Harvard grad and Presbyterian minister whose husband survived a nasty bout of cancer early in their marriage. I've often thought of Connie as being deeply spiritual - though we occasionally butted heads over different interpretations of Christianity. Anyway, I'm still moved by the randomness - or not - of hearing from this woman of God just as my New York Times news ticker started firing bulletins about a plane crashing into the twin towers.

The bulletins were confusing. First it was a small plane. Then it was a jet. Wait, something was going on in D.C.? Was that another plane in New York? Or the same one? I remember thinking that it was probably a joker pilot. About a month before, a single-prop plane had flown precariously close to high rises in Manhattan and in flying from Manchester to New York, our little commuter flight often followed 5th Avenue. You could even see people working in their offices. 

But this was different.

Finally, I wrote Connie this: "Something's going on."

Connie wrote back. "I know. But what?"

"It's bad," I wrote back, getting chills as the bulletins became more alarming. A missing plane in Pennsylvania. Reports of a small plane flying into the Pentagon. More planes missing.

"I have to pray," Connie said. And that was it. I've never heard from her since.

I called Charlie at work and he was just getting the news. I flipped on the TV and there was Peter Jennings, smoke swirling from the twin towers in another frame. I told Charlie to come home immediately, that the towers were on fire. I thought of all my friends in New York, of the husband of my daughter's godmother who worked at Merrill Lynch. Like Connie, I prayed.

And then the unthinkable. The first tower fell, just crumbled like a house of cards. Peter Jennings went dead silent as Charlie came through the door and I looked at him and said, "We'll never be the same."

All those people. Gone.


From Elaine Viets:


That’s what I remember most after 9-11. Don and I lived in a beach condo in Hollywood, Florida. After the attack, the airport was closed for weeks, silencing the constant drone of commercial flights.

Instead, the skies were patrolled by sinister black helicopters. Warships cruised offshore, some with the ominous bulge of nuclear weapons.

Three of the terrorist leaders moved to Florida in 2000, near our home. South Florida is an international community, and they blended in. They used our local library, where the computers are free to all. They made one of their last appearances at Shuckums Oyster Bar in Hollywood, where at least two "holy warriors" drank forbidden alcohol – screwdrivers and rum and Coke. You can make what you want of this: They ate chicken wings.

Twelve hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, the FBI flashed their photos around the bar. The Shuckums’ server remembered them – and their lousy tip.


From Heather Graham:


The very words will, for everyone old enough on the day, be horrible and poignant. And no matter how much time passes, we all know where we were and what we were doing on that date. 

For me, I was mourning, and cleaning out mother's house with my sister; we had lost her just weeks before. And one of the things that kept running through my mind was at least she doesn't have to see this.

But my mom's passing became back-burner; I hadn't seen a TV. I was driving to a store to buy cleaners when a friend called me and frantically told me not to go to downtown Miami. At the time, I never went downtown, and I thought she'd spiked her morning diet coke. Of course, when she told me that two planes had hit the towers, I immediately started trying to reach my third son--he was going to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at the time, and the kids there were always on the Path train to reach the store where they bought their art supplies. I was frantic, trying to reach him. His cell went straight to a dull tone. 
I rushed back and got on my computer and I was amazed when I got an instant message. He was on the roof at Pratt and miraculously, his Internet was up. He was alright; he was feeling his gut wrench as he and fellow students watched the towers burn. Suddenly he wrote, "OMG! It fell, it fell!" And I didn't know what he was talking about, until he explained, "It went down; the whole damned tower went down. Oh, God, oh God."
The day that travel was allowed again, Dennis and I got on a plane and flew to New York; I had to see him, and friends in the city who had lost loved ones. If I didn't get on a plane, I could never suggest that anyone else ever do so again. I was terrified getting on that plane. It turned out to be Dennis and I, a few scattered people, and about ten pilots heading up to start commercial travel again. I'll never forget flying by the place where the towers had been--and the ground was still smoldering. 
I'd considered myself a student of history, and I had thought I'd known something about terrorism; my mom and her family left Dublin because they were "mixed" and the "troubles" continued. But I had never understood the kind of hatred that could make anyone massacre so many people so blindly. I'd been to Egypt, I had friends who were Muslim. And I had to make myself realize that while their was a culture of hatred--quite possibly the result of poverty and misery as so much hatred was--was not the culture of everyone. 
Today, I know that we often wonder what our men and women in the service are accomplishing because it's true that you can't kill and ideal. But I was with a young serviceman the other day who told me, "You don't get to see the good very often on TV. I was there when we opened a new school, and the parents and the children were grateful and wonderful. Building and giving, yes, we can make a change."
So what do we do in our world today? We defend ourselves. We learn how to do that through intelligence. We suffer, because we can't stop everything. We keep trying to be the country we began to be after the Civil War, seeing all people as equals. It's so easy to hate. And I hate fanatics of any kind who would do harm to others; I pray that I never do so blindly, and I always judge a person for the person they are. And because I really have no control, I pray for our men and women in the service, and I pray for all who are caught in the violence brought upon them by others. Most of all, I pray that we stop being such a party-determined society, and that our law makers can stop following party lines, and work hard to defend and strengthen out country, and show others, through our united front and efforts to benefit all mankind, that we should be emulated, and not alienated, assaulted, and attacked.

From Joshilyn Jackson:

I went downstairs to get coffee and I turned on a little television I had on the kitchen counter. There was the first tower, with the plane going into it.

I immediately called my friend Lydia Netzer and said, Turn on your television, because I didn’t want to be watching alone. They showed it over and over.  It seemed crazy and impossible. We began coming up with explanations for it, back and forth, two fiction writers constructing implausible scenarios, looking for a way it could have happened. We were like children telling each other fairy tales ---- pilots having strokes and electrical instruments going haywire, anything to keep ourselves from understanding.

The second plane came. We saw it happen.

Then we knew. There wasn’t any way to not know. This is on purpose, we said back and forth to each other, but only because there was no other explanation left. We had tried so hard to make it be Fate---God---Accident---Error, anything at all. Anything except a deliberate, human choice.


From Brunonia Barry:

I worked at the World Trade Center for several years in the mid-seventies, soon after it opened. I was in the accounting department of Toyoda America, Inc. on the fiftieth floor of the North Tower. It was one of my first jobs out of college, and I loved the whole experience. But most of all, I loved the WTC. It was like a small community. I was there when Phillippe Petit walked the tightrope between the towers.

Windows on the World had not yet opened, and, for a short while, we were allowed to take our lunches up there and enjoy the view from the top floor. A small group of us representing many different companies lunched there most days, until the construction crews put an end to our visits. After that, we all continued to meet for lunch at the restaurant on the 44th floor.

I was our company’s fire marshall, and used to lead the employees in monthly evacuation drills, things they sometimes participated in and sometimes refused to take seriously. Thankfully, my friends at Toyoda had relocated their company offices a few years before the towers came down, but there were others I knew there who remained, friends who were lost.

Ten years ago on September 11th, I was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. I remember the television and everyone huddled around staring. I remember hoping that I was hallucinating from the medication, and then realizing that it was not a dream. In the ten years that have passed, I have not visited the site. It’s still difficult for me to think about, as it is for many of us.   


September 10, 2011

Volunteering: Causes, Passions and the Salem Lit Fest

Volunteering: Causes, Passions and the Salem Lit Fest

By Brunonia Barry

  SLF logo

I don’t know about you, but these days, I seem to be volunteering for more than ever before. This is something I’m happy to do, but I’m finding myself spread far too thin. As a novelist who only made her last deadline by forty-five minutes, I’m now hesitating to take on any new projects.

I am already involved in a variety of passionate causes, one of my favorites being The Women’s Lunch Place in Boston, a daytime shelter that provides refuge and services for Boston’s homeless and poor women and children.

Then there is teaching. I do some writing workshops, and visit local high school English classes to talk to students about writing and literature.  

I have joined boards to preserve historic landmarks, committees that provide scholarships, fund raising efforts to end domestic violence. The list goes on. 

But sometimes (alright many times, if I’m being honest here) I’m just exhausted. I can’t take on one more thing. There aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s a good thing I sleep a lot less than I used to, but, frankly, there aren’t enough hours in the night, either.

So it was a surprise even to me when I said yes to yet another project, one that has required more time from me than all the others combined. This year I agreed to co-chair the planning committee of the Salem Literary Festival.

“Are you insane?” was my husband’s question. “Probably,” I answered. If I had known what would be involved, I might not have continued. But the Salem Literary Festival is one of my all time passions, and I wasn’t about to let it die. And that’s just what would have happened, if it weren’t for a group of dedicated volunteers (one of whom turned out to be my husband).

When Salem’s independent bookstore, Cornerstone, closed last year, one of the less obvious casualties was the three-year-old Salem Literary Festival, which was started and anchored by the bookstore. It was a great festival for both readers and writers.

Salem is the ideal city for a lit fest. It’s small, walk-able, beautiful, and it has some of the best historic architecture in the country. Touted as the birthplace of the great American novel (a legacy left by Nathaniel Hawthorne, our native son), Salem has a rich and enduring literary tradition. Add to that Salem’s other American firsts: first millionaire, first candy store, first brick house, first elephant. (The elephant evidently had a drinking problem, but that’s a story for another day.) Salem’s full of quirky places and creative people, the perfect combination. We were determined to see the festival continue.

First we recruited more volunteers. The Spirit of ’76 bookstore in Marblehead offered to stand in for Cornerstone. We held committee meetings at my dining room table. We secured historic venues including The House of the Seven Gables, the Salem Athenaeum, the Phillips House. Even the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) made room for us.

We were a bit less lucky with hotel rooms. The Lit Fest runs from September 23-25, but we found ourselves blocked by Halloween visitors who seem to come to town earlier every year. There wasn’t a hotel room to be had. Well, actually, there was exactly one. We grabbed it.

When I tell you that our committee meetings have been stormy, I am being literal. Our second meeting was spent huddled around a television set in our kitchen watching the news. A tornado was ripping across Massachusetts. Our founder’s husband and daughter were stuck at home in their basement, waiting out the storm.

We wrote the festival brochure during hurricane Irene with a copywriter who lived near New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and kept losing power and a collaborator who had no electricity for three days. Somehow we managed. We picked up the printed brochures last Wednesday amid renewed rains and flooding.

Besides working on the brochure, my assignment was securing writers and creating events. Erin Morgenstern, writer of The Night Circus (written while she lived in Salem), and Lipstick’s own Joshilyn Jackson will be our keynote speakers. And speaking of The Lipstick Chronicles, we are hosting a panel on Sunday September 25th featuring Hank, Cornelia, Heather, Sarah, Joshilyn and me.  Believe it or not, it will be the first time some of us have met.

All in all, we have over fifty authors and many great events. Check it out at http://www.salemlitfest.com/schedule.

If you’re anywhere near Salem the weekend of September 23rd, please come. We’d love to see you. And for any of you writers out there, we have an open mic session at Gulu Gulu café on Sunday at 4PM. We welcome your participation.

This is one volunteer job that will soon come to an end. I’m sure I will feel simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. And even though I swore I would never do it again, I will undoubtedly volunteer again next year.  After a short break, we’re planning to have a meeting to discuss next year’s lineup. Knowing New England and our stormy history, I figure it will probably snow.

So what kind of things are you passionate about? What inspires you to volunteer?

August 04, 2011


By Joshilyn Jackson

I have to talk craft today. This will be writer-centric, but I think it applies in all the arts, and maybe past that into jobbishness and life? In any of those contexts, I’d love to chew it over here. You see, I got I a little inernetsian tiffsy over in Lydia Netzer’s comments. It was kinda funny---got very E-PEENY and made me feel like I was 25, post-club-tiddley, and trolling the Prodigy message boards...AH MY MISSPENT YOUTH.

It’s the age old INNER VOICE v/s OUTER EYES debate...As writers, do we listen to our inner voice or the outside voices of our critters?

Ftk editorcat2


On one extreme side, I think GUT is too subjective to be wholly useful, unless you are one of your generations 2 or 3 Samuel Becketts, in which case, bully! Good on ya! but what works for the greatest among us is not true for the merely brilliant or talented or good. Gut alone stories generally only please one person, and they read it already. As they were writing it.

On the other side, 99% of the people I have met who claim they would be delighted to sell out aren’t good enough writers for anyone to BUY...Most good writers, in all genres, want to write what they are writing, and make the people they love in their head be alive.


Ftk editorcat
 In other words, one of these extremes is silly and the other is vile and mostly hypothetical. SO let’s throw them out of the mix. No straw man arguments here.

The real question here is, how far do you bend? When your trusted editor or long-term crit partner says the crippled duckling is not working, do you obediently cut that duck, knife to sternum, dead duck, done? Or do you change him until he does work, maybe into handi-capable albatross? Or do you fight for his right to exist as he is, because your gut tells you so?

(Reading this hyper-extended politically-not-correct metaphor, did you think, WOW SHE HAS BEEN WATCHING GLEE? Because you were right. I have totally been watching Glee on the elliptical every day.)

Me? I say you bend. 90% of the time. You mostly will not break and cut him (though sometimes you should---knowing when is the trick) but even when you are not certain... yeah.

I say you bend.

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Here is why: I have seen too many writers stick to an artistic vision that was SO STRONG in their heads, so glowing and lovely, that they were unable to see they had not managed to transfer that to the page. That the thing they were trying to do had not been done, that the words only worked as a short cut for THEM to enter their own world, and other readers were left outside of it.

But they were unable to hear that or take criticism, because the vision was SO real for them...

This is fine, if you are writing for yourself; I believe PERSONAL writing is a noble and worthy thing.

But if you are writing for publication, if your audience is greater than the sum of you, you need others to be able to enter your imaginary lands too; that means LISTENING to your trusted, smart critters when they tell you that they cannot, that you have blocked them out, that here and there you have muddied the way to your whole, real world.

One caveat---BEFORE you let editing eyes touch your creation, it better be wholly yours. You can’t turn in a fetus and expect the animal who is eventually birthed to be anything but a mutant hybrid.

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You have to get the spine and the heart and the brain of your novel wholly working and wholly yours BEFORE your editor/critters get aholt of it, and then, after that, editing is safe, changes are safe, finding new paths in is safe, because the animal IS what it IS.

Giving it a poodle cut or putting it in a bejoooooled collar won’t change the animal.

Your beast is itself because of the heart and spine and brain, the magnificent biological WORKINGNESS and LIFE of it.

I believe you have to not be all up ons if someone suggests you change your creature's shoes.

And if the animal is WHOLE and ITSELF and BEAUTIFUL, that’s what edits will boil down to. The world you create is yours---gut your way there. But when it comes to how you make paths in, you have to listen to the people trying to navigate your map.

SO here’s my nutshell take: If you are blessed with a good crit group/editor, get over yourself a little, and err on the side of listening.

Yes? No? What do you think?

July 17, 2011

Guest blogger, Ann Napolitano: Helpful Bumps In The Road

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Joshilyn here---and above. I am the google-eyed loon glowing with fan girrrrl "radiance" (that's southern lady talk for sweat, ya'll)  as I meet Ann Napolitano. Ann is holding her book, A GOOD HARD LOOK, which I read in ARC form, and it blew me out of the water. Picked me up and set me down different. I have become a crazed evangelist for it. Some books, you simply have to make everyone you ever loved read them; this is one of those. And Ann-the-person is LOVELY, and she is HERE today, talking about how she came to write so finely, with such understated wit and grace, about our desperate, human mandate to live our finite, God's-blink lives deeply and well. 

I had just finished my junior year of college, and started a summer internship at a New York City literary magazine. I was being paid to read story submissions and was hopeful that they would offer me a full-time position after college. Reading stories for a living—what could be better than that? I remember feeling really pleased while riding the bus to work that first day. I could feel myself standing on the cusp of my future—one that I had chosen and earned—and it felt good.

   When I arrived at the magazine office, however, the good feeling disappeared. There was a strange echo in my head, and I felt hot. I ended up having to force myself through the day that I had been so excited about. I went to bed early that night in an effort to regroup. Tomorrow, I told myself, I will feel normal. But I woke up the following morning with a fever of one hundred and four, barely able to stand. That fever persisted for two weeks, while doctors ran tests and tried to figure out what was wrong. I was eventually diagnosed with the Epstein Barr Virus, an autoimmune disease that wipes out your immune system, (so you catch every cold, virus or infection that walks past you on the street). It is a lengthy illness with no known cure.

   I had to quit my summer internship, obviously. I returned to college in the fall against the doctor’s recommendations—dormitories are not known to be sterile environments—simply because my parents and I agreed that lying on their couch, depressed with no friends and no activity, was not an attractive prospect. I signed up for a half-load of classes, with the understanding that it would take an extra year for me to graduate. My main recollection from that fall is sitting in a chair feeling wan while watching my twenty-year-old friends dance and laugh and basically bounce off the dormitory walls. I felt like a rickety octogenarian; they felt immortal, untouchable. I wanted to scream at them: You’re not! Life can change in an instant! Look what happened to me!

   Screaming would have taken too much energy, though, so I kept quiet. Instead, I focused on a huge tome that my creative writing professor had assigned me, The Habit of Being. The book was a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters, and her voice pulled me in right away. In her letters, the writer was irreverent, hilarious, and insightful. I read about her diagnosis with lupus, and how she gave up a full, happy life in Connecticut to return home to the family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia.  I followed her as she set up a new life—an apparently diminished one—in the company of her fiery, headstrong mother. I read as Flannery came to terms with her changed situation, and decided to focus her limited energy where it would matter most—in her writing. She put aside three hours each morning, and while her beloved peacocks squawked outside her window—she wrote.

   Those letters shifted something inside me, and I found myself sizing up my own situation in a similar manner. I had always loved writing, but I lacked the requisite confidence to declare myself a writer. (Hence the idea of working at a literary magazine—I would surround myself with other people’s words, not my own.) But my illness, and Flannery’s example, offered up a new clarity. I was able to appreciate, in a way my obnoxiously healthy twenty-year-old peers could not, the sheer brevity of life. I felt, with every quivering, exhausted muscle in my body, that everything I’d taken for granted could disappear in an instant. And this gave me a new drive to make each moment meaningful, and to make my life matter.

   My illness disassembled, and then reshaped, my life. From within its foggy walls, I chose my path. I would be a writer. I realized that this was no dress rehearsal; this was my life and I should—at the very least—take a swing at it.

   I was sick for three long years with EBV. If someone had tapped my ill, younger self on the shoulder and told her that this miserable time would have any positive outcome at all, she would have shaken her head with disdain. The truth is that this difficult period essentially made me who I am, and I am now deeply grateful for that particular bump in my road. And to top it all off, Flannery O’Connor showed up over a decade later as the central character in my new novel, A Good Hard Look.

   Of course, I’m not the first person to benefit from some kind of adversity. Tell me, what moment or event changed your life forever?




Ann Napolitano is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach.  She received an MFA from New York University; she teaches fiction writing for New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.  She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.


June 30, 2011

Flan-Flan-Bo-Ban, Banana-Fanna Fo Flan

By Joshilyn Jackson

Tlc flan mothership


When I texted this picture to my fellow Southern scribe Susan Rebecca White, she immediately texted back, “!!!! YOU’RE VISITING THE MOTHER SHIP!”

Indeed I was.

We all have heroes, and (Mary) Flannery O’Connor is one of mine.

In my most recent novel, Backseat Saints,the narrator is a rural Southern Catholic girl, mostly in homage to O’Connor, and she references and even quotes O’Connor as she drives her hell bent, bullet-ridden way toward a bright red kind of redemption.

Rose Mae Lolley did not come by her Flannery love by accident; it’s infectious, and she caught a bad case of it from me.

The curator at the O’Connor house is a guy who rents the topmost floor and who has spent several years now working on a book in which Jehovah gets into cosmic trouble and hires an atheist lawyer to rep him. How oddly, weirdly, wonderfully fitting.

Tlc flan pram

The house actually belonged to a rawwwther well heeled relation of the O’Connor’s. They could not have afforded it on their own.

That same relation also must have bought them this pram, as it is gilt-soaked, and was the Valco Baby Tri Mode of its day. (That particular Valco is called THE CADILLAC OF STROLLERS by...well, mostly the guys who produce it, but you get the point.)

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O'onnor slept in this baby cage as an infant; not because she was JUST that savage, but to protect her from mosquitoes bearing deadly fever.

Later, she had pet chickens – always a bird girl, Flannery, even before her famous peacocks. She wanted to sleep with her pets. I get this; I have two to four animals draped all around us in the bed most nights. Alas, her mother refused to let her sleep with the un-potty-trained chickens roaming free.

So Flannery would drag a couple up the stairs and lock them in her former baby bed. They never did potty train, a very young child, she even taught one of them to walk backwards, her earliest claim to fame.

You can see the actual Newsreel footage of Mary Flannery O’Connor and her backwards walking chicken here, complete with that famously billious asshat narrator who seems to have done every possible newsreel---and who emphasizes SO many words he might as well be saying BLAH BLAH BLAHHHHH BLAH.

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This is the best thing I saw there; a childhood book of Flannery’s, with her nascent literary criticism skills being honed on the title page in pencil, signed M.F.O'C. I have to say, The Fairy Babies does NOT look like a very good book.

It was a Southern Gothic girl’s version of a Pilgrimage.

What about you? Who are your heroes, and have you ever gone to stand in a place they once occupied, just to see if the air might taste richer there? Did it? Or was it just a place?

June 27, 2011

Yes, Virginia, We WERE Actually Working. Mostly.

TLC porn moose



As we type this, we being Karen Abbott, Sara Gruen and Joshilyn Jackson, we are way high up alone in a mountain cabin in North Carolina, waiting for the registered sex offender named Stan who brought our pizza to come back and murder us in our beds. Tlc pizza We didn’t think we would need him to; we were fully expecting to be mauled to death by bears days ago.

 The bears apparently wanted Stan to have a nice night before his eventual consecutive life terms, so they let us be. You can tell a registered sex offender has brought your pizza when he marches in into the house and then stands there for a good ten minutes, flipping casually through an enormous wad of five dollar bills, giving each individual breast in the room the rolling crazy-eye in leering turn, all the while telling in great detail about the time he was a Navy Seal and killed really, no really, just big old boat-loads of people.

Tlc seal Note to Stan: REAL Seals don’t explicate their super-secret missions in gory detail. Further note to Stan: Our pizza was dead cold by the time we gently shepherded Your Craziness out of the house. Last note to Stan: We tipped the crap out of you ANYWAY, in the hopes that you would not kill us, so maybe the whole Seal thing IS kinda working for you, on one level.

After Stan left, we kept looking at each other and repeating his bloodiest lines and saying, “That’s not scary,” in high pitched, terrified voices. Finally we sat down to write this blog entry in the hopes of not thinking about the shining gloss of loon-spittle on his flappitty lips.

Since this is the last thing the three of us can reasonably be expected to write, (Although, in 2/3rds of a brightsiding digression, we should mention Karen has the bed on the main floor. Sara in her basement hidey-hole and Joshilyn, tucked up safe in the loft bed, may well be fine!) we wanted to go ahead and put down for posterity the words that have made it into the lexicon over the course of this writing retreat.

You remember the Lexicon, right? Joshilyn wrote a post about the Lexicon right here on Lipstick Chronicles. It is a list of terms that are shorthand for larger situations/ideas/concepts that come out of your posse’s communal history. The backbloggers shared many of their own posse’s terms ---worth a click for the comments ALONE if you missed that one! Here are our new Lexicon words:

Tlc porn moose backPORN MOOSE --- (Proper Noun) Pictured here from behind and at the top, perched on some of our books. Porn Moose indicates the Holy Grail of tchotchke. Double Porn Moose-osity if it has a practical function. Our Porn Moose, for example, cradled Sara’s usually oft missing glasses against his hopefully uplifted buttocks. She never lost them once. In more general terms, a Porn Moose is a thing YOU WANT SO BADLY AND CAN SEE, but can never have. In some ways, Johnny Depp is a Porn Moose. *ahem* In the specific, he was the thing we most want to steal from our rent-a-cabin.

PROCRASTERBATION ---(noun, verb: to Procrasterbate) The act avoiding writing via any self indulgent activity, including but not limited to: googling high school boyfriends, playing online Mahjong, Trying to decide if that’s actually naked Blake Lively on The Superficial, doing 15 versions of everyone’s natal charts with speculated birth-times after ones parents have helpfully said things like “As I recall, you were born in the evening. Well, evening-ish.”

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Noga –(Interjection) The non-affirmative answer to an offer to work out. Here it is being used correctly in a sample dialog. Karen and Joshilyn, in hopeful voices: Yoga? Sara: Noga. Noga can also be used to refuse walks, runs, lunges, push-ups, showers, putting on real pants, or any physical exertion greater than that required by reaching for a crisp glass of pinot gris. (Sara: IN MY DEFENCE I DID DO THE DAMN YOGA. Karen and Joshilyn: Once.) Downward Facing Porn Moose – (Noun) Any advanced yoga position that people who might be doing yoga for the first time attempt, not that we’re judging, and then they say very very bad words.

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Gamus Interruptus: (noun) The inability of the three of us to finish any kind of competitive game, ever, including, but not limited to: pool, Texas hold em, trivia, online mahjong. Because the second Karen Abbot or Joshilyn Jackson begin to suspect they might lose, they call the game invalid for some dumbass reason (usually spurious accusations of cheating or chip mixing or card dropping or ball moving or bad winds or hurt feelings or cruel fates or lapses of attention leading to game error or rule adding), and demand that the whole shebang restart while Sara backs away slowly from the table saying in a tiny hopeful, voice, “But games are FUN. Can’t you two set down the knives so maybe we can finish just one game? Of anything? Once?”

Answer: No.

That’s actually a lot of lexicon entrees for a single week, so you know the retreat was fruitful. Sara is arguing for Porn Moosing as a verb/adverb and possibly gerund by shoe horning into every other thing she says, i.e., “Pass the porn moosing salt, please!” but Karen and Joshilyn are not quite convinced it has enough real world practical applications. Tlc cabinRight now it mostly seems to mean to search the internet for an exact Porn Moose replica that WOULD be the trophy for the winner if we ever finished a single damn game.

Addendum: The cabin’s owner KINDLY GIFTED US with Porn Moose; he was awarded first to Sara for coming closest to winning a game. Not that we finished one. But she had the most poker chips when we gave up in despair. Karen and Joshilyn will re-challenge and try to get him back on our next retreat, in August.

May 20, 2011


By Joshilyn Jackson

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Every inner circle has a private lexicon, your own little language and shorthand steeped in your communal history. It’s a vocabulary list used most often when you are secluded with just each other, those times when you wear super soft plane socks and have no make-up (or ties) on.

Things that enter the lexicon are rarely said publicly, so when speaking lexiconically, one is not necessarily always so sugar mouthed or PC as one might be in mixed company. *ahem*

In my writing group, we overtly build ours. We can even apply to the group to get a new term included. If one of us coins a phrase or word think it is super prime, we submit it by sending out an email that says “THIS NEEDS TO GO IN THE LEXICON!” Then we define it, give sample sentences, and even narrate some situations in which it would prove useful.

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Recently, I submitted Douche Cue. A Douche Cue usually happens at a meeting or just after an introduction, and it is a sign or a signal that this new person is not one with whom you wish to pursue a deeper relationship, because, um, the guy is a probably a douche.

They are also a warning, in case one’s friends run across this person later.

I once met a writer at a festival who introduced himself in this way:

“Hello, I am Namey McNamerson, bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novel, Title of Pretentious Book. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I was just talking to *NAME OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL BEST FRIEND* at Swanky Event You Weren’t Invited To, and I am sure she would want me to give you a big, warm hello from her.”

I count at least four, maybe five douche cues right there, in the first 15 seconds.

Or, for another example, in this Savage Chickens Cartoon, anything from Lanai on up is probably a Douche Cue:

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Douche Cue got picked up immediately and is currently in wide circulation in my posse, but if an overt submission FAILS, you can simply use it relentlessly and show the posse how USEFUL a term it is and hope it gets added.

To Succulent Vines for example, entered via its usefulness.

Yes, To Succulent Vines is a verb, and it seems farfetched when you try to explain it as an entry, but one quickly discovers how useful a term it can be when one test drives its practical applications.

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One Succulent Vineses when one is trapped in a situation where one MUST say a nice thing about something one truly does not care for.

For example, say you read a book, and a week later, you go to a dinner and the author’s mother is there. And someone at the table hollers ALL THE WAY DOWN THE LENGTH OF IT...

“Oh. I know Joshilyn read that book! Joshilyn! What did you THINK OF IT?” (Your name is Joshilyn in this F’rinstance.)

Well, you hated it. HATED. It offended you on every level. You had four therapy sessions to recover from the violent physical paroxysms of convulsive loathing the book induced.

But the mother? OH! She is teeny and ancient and dear and has kind black shiny mouse eyes peering hopefully out at you from behind her copper-rimmed glasses.

What do you do? You can’t praise a book you hated. You can’t revile it in front of the mother and a table full of her friends. So, you succulent vines it. You say things about it that sound good but are meaningless.

“Oh yes, I DID read that! (true) You must be so proud that your son is a published author! (true) WhenI was reading it, I kept noticing that his amazing facility for dovetailing rich, extravagant images!” you might say.

You do not mention that the images made you want to puke up your own spleen and throw it at the author.

Just a heads up? If you ask your friend if a dress makes you look fat and the friend says, “It’s such a good color for you!” Well! You have juuuust been Succulent Vines’ed.

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Lastly, Lexicon words can come from outside sources.

Fantasy Pants, for example, is a term coined by my brother.

They are big floppy drawstring pants made of soft knit that one wears ONLY in the privacy of one’s own home or at a retreat facility, when engaged in the task of flipping one’s eyes around backwards to see the story that one is inventing in one’s own brain and as you attempt to MOVE story 10,000 light years through space and time, which is the approximate distance from point a (the writer’s head) to point b (the page).

Fantasy Pants are extremely unflattering; they do not bite into your waist or constrict your hips or mold your buttocks into a more pleasing shape. Nor do they inhibit the digestion of the many, many, many Cheesy Poufs that I feel are necessary for art to happen.

What’s in your lexicon? Anything you can SHARE? Or is it all too dark-n-dirty and secret for public consumption? OH, tell anyway. It’s the internet! Plus I showed you three of mine. Playground Justice dictates that you should show me yours.

April 29, 2011


By Joshilyn Jackson

MAISY BY ERIN small She is on the tail end of it. It is going. She is my youngest, and her eyes are still wide and feckless. She is a flibbertigibbet. She cannot be pinned down. She gets every solo and the lead in every play, she is the only girl in jazz who can do a full split. She is built like a blade of grass.

She wants toe shoes. She wants to know who she will marry. She wants a puppy. She is incapable of turning in her book report on time. She likes a boy, a boy, a boy and she doesn’t even know what that means, but she knows enough so that I am pretty sure she would die if I told you what his name was.

Setting: The pediatricians office, waiting for her check –up. While we wait, and wait, and wait, she gets bored enough with her own book to ask me to read her the pamphlet on puberty in girls. We read it. We get to the part about periods.

Her, in outraged tones: Does that really happen?

Me, very matter of fact: Yup.

Her: Well whose idea was that?

Setting: My basement. A commercial for insurance or banking or something comes on and someone who might be 5 for Fighting is singing, “I’m 22 for a moment...”

Her: I don’t get that song. It makes it sound like your twenty-two for, like, a second, and then BANG, what, you are forty-five all of a sudden?

Me: Yes. Exactly.

Her: Mama. That doesn’t make ANY sense to me.

Me: *I wait til she prances out of the room to say, in an ominous tone* It will.  

Setting: We are rubbing the belly of a nice dog.

Her: Why do Ansley’s nipples look like that, like, weird and poinky down like that?

Me: Ansley was a mommy-dog. The puppies nursed there, and pulled them down a little.

Her: EW! It’s kinda gross. I’m glad that doesn’t happen to PEOPLE!

Me: *crickets*

Maisy tiny fat smug small It’s going. She used to look like this, and now? She’s nine.

The last day I was truly innocent happened when I was nine. Things changed that year --- a hundred things happened. Here is one: I stole Alex Haley’s ROOTS and read it under the covers. The slave ships, the rape, the foot. I never knew people could be so mean. Literally. I did not know there were people in the world capable of such things.

Her last day is coming, but I take her to rub the bellies of adoptable dogs and read her Frances Hogsden Burnett because it’s not my job to end these days. The world will do it for me.

When did you lose yours?