A Book I Like. No, LOVE.

I have had a monumentally crappy day — the kind of day where everything that could possibly go wrong did.  Well, to be fair it was all little things, but they just piled up and it made me feel like the universe was conspiring against me.  But now I’m tired and calm and I see that everything is okay, except my computer smells like cat pee.  (I told you things went wrong in the most craptastic kind of ways.)

However, there was a wonderful bright spot in all this — I fell head over heels in love.  With a book.  I swear, I haven’t been this thrilled with a book in a long, long time, and want to shout from the rooftops. I am about halfway through, and don’t want it to end, yet I keep turning the pages, eager to go forward.

I’ll let Goodreads give you the blurb, but the blurb is somewhat boring.  Just trust me.  Get to your local independent bookseller (please, don’t buy from Amazon — support your local brick and mortar store!) and buy it.  Put on something cozy, get something delicious to eat or drink (that you can just nibble or sip without tearing your eyes from the page) and hunker down.  You will be so glad you did.

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Mother’s Day.

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When I was younger, I had a friend tell me that I would be a terrible mother — I was too much of a “party girl” and I was much better suited to the “Auntie Mame” role than that of Mrs. Cleaver.  She was probably right — I really was a so-called party girl, and to be honest, I’m not very good at even being an Auntie Mame.  I forget to send cards on birthdays and I tend to buy books as gifts, a guaranteed, “meh” from children.

Still, sometimes I do wonder what life would be like if I had children, especially now that I’m older.  What if I hadn’t listened to that friend?  I had always kind of assumed I’d have kids, and kept books and toys that I thought I’d pass along to my future daughter.  What if I hadn’t been such a party girl, and instead was looking to settle down?  More than being a terrible mother, I was terrible at relationship choices when I was younger.  What if I hadn’t met the love of my life later on, after he had already had two kids and that was enough?

So instead of being a mom, I’m a stepmom.  And I’m not the best at it — I am definitely in the Auntie Mame school of parenting for sure — but I’m not horrible.  But I love these kids so much, and do get great pleasure being part of this family.  I lucked out, big time.

I think Mother’s Day for stepmothers can be pretty hard, in my experience anyway.  Their mom gets the cards, the flowers, and the one time my stepdaughter gave me a card I was thrilled but confused, like, “Wait, for me?  How come?” Whenever anyone wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day, I feel like correcting them, telling them that I’m not a mom.  My job as a stepmom is far less than that of their own mother; I don’t deserve any accolades or well-wishes, though it’s nice.  If anything I feel like an impostor or an observer on this day.

So this morning I’ve been thinking of all of this, and I must admit, it does hurt a little.  My biological clock rusted a long time ago, but I do get little nags now and again.  But as I was thinking about it — REALLY thinking about it, I think I know what it is: Mother’s Day is synonymous with brunch.  And I really like Eggs Benedict.  I don’t know if I’ve cheated myself out of the joy of motherhood or cheated myself out of the joy of Hollandaise sauce.  It’s a tough call.

However, they did bring me a cinnamon roll this morning, and that was good.  And I just told my stepdaughter that her dress was too short (she’s getting tall) and that it’s cold outside so she should put some leggings on.  I can nag with the best of them, just like a “real” mom.  Ha cha!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, and that includes you stepmothers, too.

I Heart NY

Yes, I’ve missed a few days, and I’ve really wanted to write, but I’ll catch up…  I do have a good excuse — I’m in New York!  And there hasn’t been a lot of downtime.  I’m here for a conference which was last night, but now I’m off for a few days to see friends and run around.

I love New York.  In college, when going to NYC was just a distant (but determined) dream, I had this print hanging on my dorm room wall, bought from Z-Gallerie because I was, you know, so sophisticated (pffft):

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So I looked at that every day, and always thought of New York as somewhere that was a combination of that,books like Eloise and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, movies like The Warriors, Desperately Seeking Susan, Times Square, and Annie Hall, Andy Warhol’s Factory, a lot of traffic, and snippets I saw on David Letterman when Larry “Bud” Melman would report from the street. And, of course, my fascination with Dorothy Parker and The Algonquin Round Table (which had been ingrained at a probably too early age). In other words, I thought New York was a gritty, fabulous heaven — filled with danger and excitement and glamour and interesting people.  In retrospect, I wasn’t that wrong.

I didn’t get to New York until right after 9/11, and that trip was extraordinary.  I went with a group of friends, and they knew the city so I had great guides.  I was shown all the things I wanted to see and wonderful things I didn’t even know existed.  I was so so lucky to have such a magical first trip.

And in the dozens of times I’ve been back since then, it is still magical.  I never get jaded — when I see the skyline I still get so excited, and I remember the first time driving into NYC.  We flew into Newark and when we came out of The Holland Tunnel, we all smelled something strange.  “What is that?” we asked the cab driver.  He looked at us and said, “Bodies.”  Sure enough, the WTC was still burning, and the city smelled like a giant crematorium.  That still seems unbelievable to me.  But I was so amazed by everything I was seeing — I felt like an eight-year-old.  I also had a broken toe and was limping around, so I was SUCH a goober.

Now I pretend that I’m a little more savvy, and I do know my way around fairly well (well, better than I did 14 years ago), but I still feel like an eight-year-old.  I look up at The Chrysler building and want to scream with glee.  I ate in The Oyster Bar the other night for the first time in about 6 years and was still bouncing in my seat.  And don’t get me started about The sacred Algonquin — that’s another post for later.

So…  I’m off to explore glorious architecture and have a fabulous lunch and head off to Brooklyn…  I may have skipped 2 days, but living and experiencing is good, too.  Biting the big apple and all that…

Packing Anxiety

No “real” post tonight — I’ve been packing for my trip to NYC tomorrow…

I don’t know why packing fills me with such anxiety, but it does.  Maybe it’s because I can’t choose what to wear, that I’ll forget something, pack only one pair of underwear, lose my luggage…  It throws me in an absolute tizzy and I always overpack.  And for work trips it’s especially not fun, because I have to pack work clothes and none of my “fun” clothes, and I feel so bleh.  (But in reality, I’m not hip enough for New York, so it doesn’t matter anyway.)  You’d think that after over 10 years of work travel I would have gotten the hang of this by now, but no.  I think I’ve gotten worse.

This time, though, I think I did okay.  Except I had based everything around the one pair of pants I couldn’t find.  But I finally did, and even found a shirt I thought I’d lost years ago in the process, along with a bag of dry-cleaning I forgot about.  If I take it in, I have a whole new wardrobe of stuff that probably doesn’t even fit anymore.  Sigh.

All I’m missing is an umbrella, but whatever, I’ll just get wet.  I have my glasses and pajamas and an extra pair of ballerina flats and a striped tee shirt, so I’ll be JUST FINE.

Except maybe I should pack a teddy bear?  Hmmm.

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Next dispatch:  New York!

Hold On

Not much to report today…

Today at the bookstore, time was slower than however slow molasses is, I don’t know.  There were no customers, too many volunteers, and I was bored and itching to go home. I was standing near the doorway and the weather felt more like a sunny day in Los Angeles than in Oakland, and I felt transported back to my senior year in college when I was working in a bookstore on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I couldn’t wait to get out of work, out of college, and back to San Francisco. Today I felt that same longing to go and anxiety to move forward. It was like a deja vu moment, only I recognized it.  It felt like the exact same moment was being replayed 25 years later.

I haven’t thought about that job or time in my life for a long time, and to feel it so acutely today was weird.  But nice. 1990 was actually pretty gross.  The number one song of the year was “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, fashion was atrocious, and it was the year I tried to have a perm (ahem, body wave) but it only lasted for 24 hours before it fell out.  I look back on 1990 as being a year I was lost and making pretty stupid decisions — life-wise AND hair-wise.  It wasn’t all bad — I graduated from college, had great friends, a nice but very-wrong-for-each-other boyfriend, an okay job with a nice boss, and one time Donna Summer AND Captain of Captain and Tennille came into the store AT THE SAME TIME and talked about gardening.  I mean, that was really phenomenal, like seeing Bigfoot AND a unicorn frolicking together.

So it wasn’t all bad, but I’ve always had this overall felling of “ick” when I think about it.  I wasn’t being true to myself — I went through a phase where I thought I was supposed to get my shit together and be “normal,” and that didn’t work so well.  No more pink hair, no more vintage clothes (I still lament the garbage bag full of dresses I dropped off at Buffalo Exchange in July 1990), no more me.  So no, I don’t look at the early ’90s with much fondness, but today I did.

I’ve noticed that one of the nicer things about getting older is that some of those old, icky memories have been smoothed over a bit and cancelled out by the good ones.  Even a few years ago I would have thought about 1990 and shuddered, disgusted by it all.  Now I can look back and think, “Yeah, but that year ruled because of Captain and Donna Summer, hello!”  I find that I’m much more forgiving than I used to be.  I was even emailing with a friend today, and I asked how an estranged person from my life was and thought, “I miss that guy. He was fun.”  THAT is never anything I would have even considered a few years ago, but now I feel kind of meh, like I don’t want to expend that energy.  So weird.  Maybe I’m maturing, or maybe it’s Alzheimer’s, or maybe I just don’t care anymore and can be happy as a middle-aged fuddy duddy, I don’t know.  Or maybe I’ll be back to my regular self tomorrow, seething about something that happened in 1995.

Anyway, I didn’t really have much to say today, but this was fun.  And here, now you, too, can be transported back to 1990 and be totally grossed out as well.

My Independent Bookstore Day Haul!

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Since I don’t want to spend a ton of time online and instead want to spend my Saturday night reading and doing laundry (my how life changes as one gets older), I’m just going to show off my Bookstore Day haul…

My first stop was the wonderful Books Inc. in Alameda, where I met up with friends and went to the Rad American Women A-Z reading.  It is an “alphabet” book of trailblazing American women from Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, and a MUST HAVE for all young girls so they, too, can grow up to be role models.  I must admit I got pretty emotional, especially after Kate Schatz, the author, had her mom read the letter “X.”  I swear, I think I was a suffragette in a past life — every time I vote or hear about historical struggles of women, I cry.

But it was a GOOD cry, because the audience was filled with little girls who were enthusiastic and excited and who will be the future feminists of America.  (Hopefully they will be paid the same amount as their male counterparts, and their bodies will be their own.) It was a beautiful sight to behold.

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Continuing that theme, I picked up We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the print version of her TED Talk by the same name.  I read it as soon as I got home, and it was just fantastic.  Accessible and true, it really is a call to action for feminism, simply that women should be treated equally by everyone, and we should raise our children to be aware of that instead of perpetuating gender roles that can do potential damage to girls and boys alike.  And that you can wear lipgloss and clothes you like and love men — or not — and still be a feminist.  That’s what I love about this “new wave” of today’s feminism — it dispels earlier notions and makes so much damn sense.

After Books Inc. I headed to my local neighborhood bookstore, Walden Pond, in Oakland.  I actually had a specific book I needed: Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.  Which is absurd — I have it in a box somewhere, and I was just at Flannery O’Connor’s house AND farm in Georgia, and I didn’t buy it.  Because I thought I had it.  And now we are reading it for a book club at work (which is going to be kind of weird), and I need it.  I love Walden Pond anyway, but one thing I especially love about it is that they have an actual Flannery O’Connor PERMANENT DISPLAY. How great is THAT?

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Alas, the ONE book they didn’t have was Wise Blood!  But I could not leave empty handed — I had to replace my copy of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (I loved it in high school and have been wanting to reread it), and the latest by the brilliant Lorrie Moore, Bark.

And I can justify these purchases because I have 4 flights in the next 2 weeks, and it’s my favorite time to read.  Yeah, okay, to be honest I do NOT need any more books — if I stacked up my “to read” pile it would be at least 6 feet tall, no joke — but what I do need is for independent bookstores to stick around, so I will help out in any way I can.

Besides, what I realized today is that the one place where I feel completely comfortable, other than my home, is in bookstores,  Being surrounded by books is what makes me feel at ease and comfortable — I am VERY good at being surrounded by books.  Bookstores are my temples — I have a lot of friends on those shelves, ones I know, and ones I have yet to meet.  And more than anything I love sharing my favorite books with people.  Today I got to recommend The Secret History, one of my all time favorites, to my friend Jessica.  And I just love that so much.

See?  Look how STOKED I am to be in a bookstore!

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Alas, I didn’t find Wise Blood on Bookstore Day, which means I need to keep it going.  (Maybe it’ll even come into my own little volunteer bookstore where I will be tomorrow morning.)  And believe me, I don’t mind.

Thank you to everyone who shopped at independent bookstores today, and made it such a happy celebration! Okay, off to read and do laundry now…

Independent Bookstore Day, May 2nd!

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I don’t remember the first time I went into a bookstore.  I mean, it would make a great story — the awe I felt as I looked up at all the shelves and shelves of books, clutching my favorite with fat fingers, the anxious car ride home, hardly being able to wait to read my new book…  No, I don’t have a memory like that.  I remember the first books I ever learned to read (My Toys and Bunny Blue) and the first book I ever bought for myself (a Bugs Bunny book — it was the first thing I ever went up to a counter and paid for — I was 5), but I don’t remember my first trip to a bookstore.

I don’t think it’s because my memory is shot; I think it’s because I’ve been going to bookstores for longer than I can remember.  I learned to read when I was really little — only 3 — and my mother learned that the best way to get any peace was to make sure I had a book in my filthy little hands.  So we went to the library all the time, and if I had been especially good, it was a trip to the bookstore to buy a book for my very own.

The bookstore was always the special place I went with my dad.  If I got an A on my report card, or he was home on the weekend instead of traveling for work, we’d go to the little local bookstore (Rakestraw) and buy me a book.  And not just any book — a fancy, hardcover one!  And then he would inscribe it, and to this day, the ones I have left are some of my most treasured possessions.  I even carried a photocopied inscription from one of those books folded and tucked in my wedding bouquet, to make it feel as if he were there with me. weddingbouquet

Those little bookstore trips of my childhood are some of my most cherished memories, and I’m grateful to my parents for nurturing my love of reading.  I was so lucky.

Though I can’t remember my first trip to a bookstore, I do know that at some point my parents took me, and I kept going back.  But there are kids today who can’t remember their first trip, because they haven’t had taken them.  There could be a lot of reasons for that, but the one that concerns me most is that there aren’t as many bookstores around anymore.  Thanks to online shopping, small, independent booksellers can’t really compete with that big website named for a large river.  Some have had to close, but others are still going today — many of them thriving.

One of the reasons for this is because they have come up with ingenious plans — they have excellent selections of books (and other merchandise), fantastic staffs who get to know their customers and can recommend joy (aka books they will like), events that draw customers, and they build a strong community in their neighborhoods.  They are invaluable.

And one of the most ingenious plans they have cooked up is “Independent Bookstore Day,” happening Saturday, May 2nd.  Taking a nod from Record Store Day, it started off “small” (just in California to test it out) and was such a huge success last year that it grew to become a nationwide “holiday!” Bookstores all over the US will be hosting events, authors, selling limited edition books and posters (I heard Green Apple has a special exclusive John Waters poster!!!), storytimes, bands, serving refreshments…  SO much cool stuff is going on, and all to celebrate independent bookstores.  How great is that?  The Bay Area even has a little passport you can print out and you can get it stamped and get prizes for how many stores you visit.  I love it!  I’ll be heading over to Books Inc in Alameda this year for their Rad Women from A-Z by Kate Schatz event.  I am so excited — a rad book about rad women at a rad bookstore on a rad day?  YES, PLEASE.

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But there are tons of events all over the country at over 400 bookstores — check with your local bookseller to see what they’ve got going on.  (Type “independent bookstore day” in the search on Facebook — SO MANY show up!  I wish I could go to all of them…)  Here’s the Facebook page for some information, but look up your favorite bookstore’s page as well.

I don’t want to live in a world without bookstores, and the only way we can assure that bookstores can keep going is to shop there and support them and celebrate them.  That goes for every day, but be sure to celebrate them May 2nd especially. So go and buy yourself a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, or any old favorite for a friend or a new treat for yourself. Parents, take you kids, and daddies — if you have a daughter, buy her a special book and inscribe it for her.  It could become one of her most valuable treasures she’ll keep for the rest of her life.

So go out there and buy some books and keep culture and your heart and mind alive. Long live bookstores, and long live Independent Bookstore Day!