Thursday, January 31, 2013

Truth: Memories of my breakfast with John Updike

Tortoise sees  the hare reading "Rabbit at Rest". - New Yorker Cartoon

Tortoise sees ...
Mort  Gerberg
Buy This at

It was about this time of year, twenty-two years ago, when I had breakfast with John Updike.  I was a freshman at Agnes Scott College, and he was visiting the campus.

There were a couple of public opportunities over a two day period to hear him read from his works and speak, and I enjoyed at least one of them.  But a Junior who was a fellow English Lit major encouraged me to show up for the early morning breakfast in the dining hall.  She said it might be a small group.  Any student could have joined, but few had expressed interest in getting up so early.

So I rolled out of bed, threw on a matching skirt and blouse (but no makeup) and headed over to the dining hall.  It was a bad hair day, but I felt sure John Updike wouldn't care.  I got my tray, looked around and sat down at a table in the middle.  I was a tad early.  Then he came, along with the Junior who had invited me, and maybe two or three other students.  Small, intimate group.  He sat down next to me, on my left.  I'm sitting next to John Updike and having breakfast, I thought.  He's talking to me.  I was a little starstruck.  In fact, I still have a hard time believing it.

John Updike was a very pleasant and affable gentleman, though.  His presence was not daunting or haughty, despite his enormous career and accolades.  He had a magnetic smile and wild, white, unruly eyebrows.  I mostly listened as he chatted with the other three or four students and entertained their questions.  But I did ask him one question.

In my 18-year-old exuberance and foolishness, I had begun writing a few stories which were more snapshots or scenes than stories, as I had no idea where they would go.  I had been told by more than one advisor that I needed to know how it was going to end before I started.  Phooey, I had said.  Let the story take a life of its own, I thought, and bend with the wind, or else it's all a mathematical equation.  This was the 18-year-old's know-it-all theory.

So I asked the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner himself.  "Do you always know how the novel is going to end before you begin?"

"Oh, yes," he answered me.  Then he told me that there were bound to be surprises and twists along the way.  He said he was open to things that would pop up and change here and there.  But he confirmed that he always had the end in sight before he even wrote the first word.

Then, and only then, did I believe that that is how it must be done.  This concept is so simple, so basic.  And yet, with my hard head, it took a world-renowned master to tell me before I believed it.  I could have asked him anything, and there are so many more complex things I would ask him, if I had that same opportunity today.  My question was so elementary, that it embarrasses me now.

An artist doesn't put the brush to his canvas without knowing what he will paint.  He doesn't just start dotting and swiping, hoping that it becomes something.  Nor can a writer craft a story without projecting what it will be at the end.

So I do bend with the wind, and sometimes my characters surprise me.  But I make sure my roots are firmly planted before I bend.  Posthumous gratitude to John Updike for sharing breakfast and wisdom with a whippersnapper like me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Day AFTER National Pie Day

Woman taking cherry pie from oven

Woman taking...

Buy This at

I became aware that it was National Pie Day yesterday, and had intended to write a post about pie.  Why pie?  Pie rocks, that’s why.  Who doesn’t like pie?  I can’t think of a single person.

So my heartfelt ode to pie was all ready to go inside my head until life happened.  When you’re a mom and you work from home, work tends to get edged out by things like remembering to take the garbage out as you hear the truck coming down the street, an overflowing toilet, picking someone up early from school because they aren’t feeling well, etc.  So I’m a day late and a pie short.  Key lime, by the way, in case you were wondering.  That’s my favorite.

But today is apparently National Compliment Day!  So a message to my readers:  I appreciate your intelligence, good taste, excellent sense of humor, and great wisdom.  You obviously possess these qualities because you are here, reading my blog!  You’re a good-looking bunch, too, I might add.  Please enjoy the attached fun pictures.  Related to pie, of course.

Key West, Florida - Key Lime Pie

Key West, Florida...
Lantern  Press
Buy This at

Lemon Meringue

Lemon Meringue
Catherine  Jones
Buy This at

Pie a la Mode

Pie a la Mode
Louise  Max
Buy This at

"Milkman Meets Pieman", October 11, 1958

"Milkman Meets...
Stevan  Dohanos
Buy This at

Portrait of Mature Woman Holding Pie

Portrait of...
George  Marks
Buy This at

Pie Eating Contest

Pie Eating...
H.  Armstrong...
Buy This at

Sigh . . . I really do love pie.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Could it be Marge?

I saw this picture and immediately thought of the character Marge from my story, "Eat at Joe's."  What do you think?  I picture Marge as being older, heavier, and less attractive than the lady in this picture.  And Marge already has all prerequisites to be a country song.  But the gentleman getting out of the truck looks like he's hankering for a piece of pie. One Relationship Away From Being Country Song Funny Poster
One Relationship...

Buy This at

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Just Enough Redneck

I get excited about things.  I try to be all reserved and conservative and formal, per tradition from my family of origin.  But being Scottish, we also tend to get passionate about things.  We can also have fiery tempers, if ignited.  Many in my family have red hair.  You do the math.

Take my dad.  He knows what to do, when to do it, what to wear, how to act.  He’s a gentleman, just as he was reared to be.  He is comfortable in any social setting.  He can comfortably talk to people deep in the country who have no teeth and barely have running water.  You could also take him to Buckingham Palace to greet the royal family.  But if you know him, he lets you know how he feels, and he’s very open about things ticking him off.  If he needs to be polite, he will simply *leave.*  However, if you are family, close friend, etc, he will just tell you he’s mad.  You will likely be able to figure it out before he tells you, too.  He’s very healthy about expressing his anger.  It’s almost always at some degree of boiling.

Not me.  I’m one of those silent simmerers.  It builds inside me while I smile, or just simply keep to myself.  Then, without warning, I will explode.  Those in my path are petrified off-guard, like the stony victims of the Pompeii volcano.  “What?”  “I didn’t know she was mad.”  “I didn’t see that coming.”  “Better give her a wide berth from now on.”  I’m not proud of it.  It’s just how I am.

The good side is the passion and enthusiasm that I have for good things.  I believe in Jesus.  I believe in the Made in the USA movement.  I believe in protecting people who cannot protect themselves, in feeding the needy, in supporting certain other Christian causes, and in the right to bear arms.  I love my state and my hometown.  Ask me.  I can excitedly tell you why any of these causes is important or dear to my heart, and I can make a case for why you should feel the same way.  With enough coffee, I’ll even pace, jump around and gesticulate while I’m talking.

But when I get angry . . . oh, my.  I have just enough redneck girl in me to make me scary.  It doesn’t come out often.  It’s mostly kept in check by daily prayer and Bible reading, by my education, by my status as a former debutante, and by my more noble pursuits such as Junior League involvement.  But the redneck girl makes an appearance when she sees grave injustice, wilfull stupidity, rising evil, and the like, and said injustice or stupidity or evil doesn’t listen to reason.  Enter the redneck girl.  Oh, she also detests inconsideration.  But rudeness doesn’t offend her unless directed at her son or her mama.

She’s disguised behind correct grammar, good hair (no dark roots), and a Talbot’s wardrobe.  She’s trained to win verbal and written arguments (by a law school known for its trial advocacy program), and she’s always loaded for bear.  I really don’t like to let her out of the tool shed, for fear she will run over me with a tractor or hit me with a tire iron.

Few have seen her.  Even fewer have been on the receiving end of her wrath.  But now you know.  Better safe than sorry . . . don’t summon her.  I’ve never seen her lose a fight.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Truth: Christmas Village Casualties

I know they’re tacky.  But come on, admit it.  You love them, too.  Christmas Villages are so much fun.

For the first time since my son was a tiny baby, I set up the Christmas Village this year.  I began collecting the pieces just after law school, and my husband brought a fire station to the table when we got married.  We haven’t brought the village out for several years now, for fear that my son would play with it and demolish it.  This year, we decided he was old enough to restrain himself.

For the most part, we were right.  But every now and then, the five-year-old hurricane would sweep through the village when we weren’t looking.  He knew better than to pick up the heavy porcelain houses.  The freestanding, battery-operated fishing trawler wasn’t so lucky, though.  It lost a flag on the first day.  Not long after, the anchor was broken in two.  A lamppost lost its festive red bow, and a member of the string quartet in the town square mysteriously vanished, leaving only his feet behind.  The violinist now plays imaginary strings in the air, with an imaginary bow.

When I would notice my son playing with the village, or standing wide-eyed in front of it, I would often look the other way.  If you’re five, what fun is it to have a Christmas Village in your house if you can’t touch it?  While I drew the line sometimes (“No, you can’t sit on the table!”), I mostly just told him to be careful and let him move the people around.

One afternoon, I noticed my son was crouching underneath the table and looking really hard for something.  “What are you looking for?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said quickly as he stood up straight.  Yeah, right.

The next day, I noticed the clapping lady who watches her husband and daughter ice skating was no longer clapping . . . but was now missing her hands.  That would be something fairly easy to glue back on, assuming we had the hands.

"Oh no!” I exclaimed.  “The clapping lady lost her hands!”  I started looking around the table, in the gazebo, behind trees, under the brick sidewalk.  “I wonder where the hands went?”

My son pointed under the table.  “Well, they’re definitely not under there,” he said with certainty.

“Mm, thanks for your help,” I responded.

I put the village away yesterday.  The hands were never found.  Oh, well.  That’s okay.  Will I put the village up again next year and let him play with it again?  Of course.