1999: Across the pond, the euro is born, but here at home, there are carpools times a thousand, dentist appointments, doctor appointments, snacks for all the various games, watching the various games, school conferences, the grocery times a thousand, the meals that nobody wants to eat, the arguments during meal times, the spend-the-night parties, the Sunday chores, and so many gifts that I keep tape and scissors in my car so I can wrap on the way to the party from the store. On TV, we watch in disbelief as teen-agers drop out of windows at Columbine. In the spring, I’m accepted into my first writing workshop–Elizabeth McCracken’s at the Napa Valley Summer Writers’ Conference. I reserve a Hideaway Cottage in Calistoga. Kathleen graduates from high school. I head to Napa where Mark Doty, Jane Hirshfield, and Richard Bausch are also teaching at the conference. Evenings are readings at vineyards with wine tastings. In class one day Elizabeth crawls up on a counter to reach the blackboard so she can illustrate the reader/writer compact. Every day for a week, we talk about writing. Back home, I do another round of Bon Voyage French Camp for the kids Sam’s age. I’m so ready for Kathleen to go to college, and she’s so ready to go. Cal and I take her to Ole Miss. When I hug her goodbye on the curb, I burst into tears. I get in the car and wave, but I cry and cry and cry. Forty-five minutes out, Cal stops at a liquor store and buys a bottle of wine. Gradually I stop crying. No one is more surprised at this behavior than me. The West Wing premieres, and Wednesday nights have new meaning. I read 73 books this year–one of which is Eat Fat, Lose Weight. But among the highlights–and this is an amazing year of reading–Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Mary Gordon’s Spending, Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
Wow. I’m now feeling a little guilty about my extreme aggravation at my mother’s weeping the day they dropped me. I mean I always have very good reasons for being annoyed with my mother, but apparently that wasn’t one of them. That can’t be Kathleen in that picture, can it? She looks like she’s in her 20s!
In my early writing years, when I was still flirting with the page here and there, all my writing time I spent hunched into a computer, writing short stories about food. The first one I wrote was about a cake that wouldn’t bake. I wrote one about a middle aged man making spinach soup as he thought about his mother’s death, another about sisters inventing gourmet ice creams to entice their starving mother to eat, one about a couple celebrating an anniversary over a multi-course menu and each course represented another argument. And on and on. One about a literal shit sandwich. I wish I had gone out in the world like you did, mingled a little, got some expert advice. It literally never occurred to me that I could.
Columbine felt like a turning point, didn’t it? Still feels like that to me.
I can’t remember the last time I read more than 20 books in a year. I need to step it up. Did you eat fat and lose weight??
Haha, I doubt it. And I no longer read 50 books a year. I’ll be interested to see if I can figure out when the shift occurred. These days, at the end of a writing day, the last thing I want to do is read. Which is sad.