Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Better Question

We meet someone at a cocktail party, and one of our first questions is apt to be “What do you do?” By that, we usually mean, “Where do you work?” and “What’s your job?” Whether the answer is accountant or domestic goddess, we tend to make certain assumptions about that person. Aha, we say, the accountant must be good with numbers and probably makes a good living. Secretly, we wonder, though, if he might be a bit… well, boring. And that domestic goddess? Apparently, she can afford to stay home with her kids. Who can do that anymore? Her husband’s probably a corporate executive and they live in a McMansion in the suburbs. Of course, our assumptions and stereotypes are often dead wrong. Finding out what someone does, or doesn’t have to do, to pay the bills gives you remarkably little information about what they’re really like. But we keep asking anyway. It’s simply the American way. We tend to evaluate folks by how prestigious their jobs are, and how much money they make. If we actually want to get to know someone, however, a much more useful question is what they do when they’re not working to pay the bills. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Manhattan. My grandbaby’s nanny’s son was visiting from Trinidad. He was a shy, gentle young man who told me he had a decent job in IT back home. The economy is good there, he said, especially for jobs in [...]

By |2016-02-25T22:09:22-05:00February 25th, 2016|Work|1 Comment

Still My Mom

When I was twelve, my single parent dad remarried. I was ecstatic beyond belief. My new stepmom was warm, caring, and fun-loving. Best of all, she was the first parent I’d ever had who wanted the job. It didn’t matter that most of the other kids in seventh grade thought it was babyish to hang all over their parents. I proudly held my new mom’s hand everywhere we went. I never wanted to let it go. And in lots of ways, I never have. For decades of my adult years, my mom was my closest female friend and confidante. In frequent phone calls, we shared problems, exchanged book lists, and laughed a lot. Every summer without fail, my children and I traveled to Connecticut to visit her. These visits remain among my children’s (and my own) fondest memories. Somehow, I thought until one of us kicked off, things would always be like this. I’d be able to pick up the phone and discuss politics or books or personal stuff with my mom. Every summer we’d swim in the pool at her condo and then  solve the world’s problems over a glass of wine. But in her late eighties, things began to change. My mom couldn’t remember what we’d discussed only moments ago. She grew increasingly paranoid, anxious, and fragile. Eventually, my sisters and I moved her into an assisted living place in Boston where most of our family lives. I miss my mom. Even when I’m physically with her, it’s [...]

By |2016-02-17T18:24:27-05:00February 17th, 2016|Mental Health|1 Comment

Jennifer Echols Offers Refreshing Look at Teen Romance and More in Perfect Couple

High school yearbook photographer Harper is stunned when she and star quarterback Brody are voted “the Perfect Couple That Never Was.” Never mind that she’s been attracted to the handsome daredevil since their elementary school days. She's currently dating Kennedy, the intellectual film buff and yearbook editor, and Brody’s with Grace, a popular cheerleader. Besides, Harper and Brody have zilch in common. She wears glasses and obeys school rules, while Brody’s impulsive pranks land him in the principal’s office with astonishing regularity. Naturally, despite a bunch of obstacles, the two are drawn together. They shed their current dating partners and end up as an unlikely but mutually committed couple. This, of course, is a familiar trope in romance—bad boy with the good heart and six pack abs ends up with a nice, slightly geeky girl. In this case, it doesn’t hurt that Harper turns out to be astonishingly beautiful when she takes off her glasses. And yet, Echols manages to flesh out the characters of Harper and Brody and the issues each confronts, so that their romance feels authentic and their lives much more complicated than the issue of “will they or won’t they end up together.” Harper’s parents are locked in a bitter divorce battle. Her mother wants Harper to forego college and work with her in her newly acquired bed and breakfast. But Harper is passionate about photography and wants to pursue it in college and beyond. Meantime, her boyfriend Kennedy is controlling and emotionally abusive. If she [...]

By |2016-02-12T11:40:23-05:00February 12th, 2016|Review|0 Comments

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

In fiction writing, we have something called the “unreliable narrator”—a story-teller that we eventually discover can’t be counted on for objective accuracy or full disclosure. We readers often end up surprised by what the “truth” is. “Truth,” however, is a slippery concept. There is a sense in which all of us are unreliable narrators. The narratives we construct about our lives are invariably subjective and may radically differ from those of other folks who experienced the same events. I was reminded of this when I had several heart-to-heart discussions about our childhood during a recent visit with my two older sisters. When I was a newborn, and my sisters were four and seven, our mother had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized. Our father’s initial response was to send the three of us out to California for two years to live with his mother-in-law. She was less than thrilled to take us in and was very cold toward my sisters—pushing them off her lap if they sought comfort when they missed their mommy and daddy. Meantime, the housekeeper my dad had hired to care for us was fixated on me, the baby, and ignored my sisters. In those early years, I experienced my sisters as not particularly friendly. They were a tight dyad, bound not only by the closeness in their ages but by the experience of what amounted to a double-abandonment by their parents and the total absence of any adults they could count on for love and support. [...]

By |2016-02-03T20:01:15-05:00February 3rd, 2016|Aging|1 Comment