Fightball: Dying of Suck, Reviewed

Some five-ish years ago, almost six now, when I was new to writing online (as opposed to just journaling my thought-vomit), I wandered, much like Gretel, into a witch’s dooryard. This witch lured you with laughter and wit so dry it crackled, she fed you beautiful imagery, and then cooked you with brilliant, lovely snark in the comments.

Okay, maybe not. The cooking part of the analogy doesn’t quite work, but it was good up until then. Kris Wehrmeister of Pretty All True is that witch, and I have just been cooked again. Or something.

Fightball: Dying of Suck Cover

Fightball: Dying of Suck is Kris’s second 2015 release, the first in a series of what I will presume will be more snort-out-loud-while-your-husband-is-sleeping-next-to-you funny memoirs which I truly hope concludes with her elder daughter’s proposed masterwork, “ALL THE TIMES MOTHER HAS FAILED ME AND ALSO A FEW TIMES DADDY MESSED UP, by Maj Wehrmeister.”


You know that outward-blown snorting, hissed-breath laugh you do when you’re reading? Few pages didn’t cause that. I laughed out loud enough times that I ended up reading bits aloud to my eight-year-old son. Ill-advised, that, since now he regards then-eight-also Kallan as a spirit animal of sorts.

That ends well for me, I bet.

I won’t lie, this book isn’t for everyone. If, however, witty, hyper-literate hyperbole, finding the tenderness in absurdity, and the kind of truth that’s certainly stranger than fiction excites you as much as poo-slugs and the number 72, I highly recommend picking Fightball up.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes

Full disclosure: I won my paperback copy on someone else’s blog, and Kris was kind enough to flatter me in her autographed note, but the unattractive and ill-timed snorting was all my own.

Not Without My Father: A Review and A Memory Made

NWMF_AmazonBuyImageTwo weeks ago, I celebrated opening day at Kimball Farm with two women I am consistently delighted to have in my writing village. When I found out that Andra Watkins was going to be doing some book events in central MA, I more or less badgered her into meeting up with me, despite a punishing schedule, because the best ice cream I have ever eaten was going to be available for the first time this season on that very day in the very town where she was presenting!

Opportunity knocks, friends, but you have to let it in. Especially if Opportunity is carrying a cup of Kahlua Chunk ice cream that could feed a platoon.

Lisa Kramer (who is that friend who will show up for your stuff) joined us on that brilliant Thursday to stand in line and laugh for an hour, and then scarf down delicious frozen dairy perfection, and I left feeling buoyed. Because friends. Fellow authors. Ice cream.

And a freshly signed copy of Andra’s memoir, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace.

I had – until last night – three favorite memoirs. Stephen King’s On Writing, Sophie Morgan’s Diary of a Submissive, and Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life. Words, sex, and farming. What did they have in common that spoke to me? A love story. And yes, I consider On Writing to be a love story.

Seems now I have a fourth.

Not Without My Father is a love story, too. A child’s love story. What begins as a publicity stunt for a talented and ambitious novelist becomes a love song to making the moments of your life count with the people most important to you.

Andra is a storytelling daughter of a story teller, and she gives space on her pages for both her own and her father’s voices. We accompany her on her journey from Natchez to Nashville, along 442 miles of physical misery, hilarity, fear, and transcendent joy. Framed around the music that kept her company on the road, Andra’s chapters unfold like the pages of a map, and like the unfolding reveal of the trail ahead, Andra’s vision lengthens from simply meeting her mile goal to living a life less ordinary with her aging parents.

This is not to say that Not Without My Father is a tender, gentle tale of a family’s journey. Andra presents herself to her readers as she is, shredded feet and exhaustion included. It’s grim, funny, sometimes awkward, and not shy about bodily fluids. It’s also incredibly sweet.

By the end of the story, she not only discovers more of who she is, she sees more of who her father is, who her parents are, and who they are together. She has made memories with them that will keep them with her long after they’re gone, and she urges us – her readers – to do the same.

It wasn’t until I sat down to explain why I loved this book, that I realized I’d made a memory just by insisting that Andra bring me a copy to buy and get some seriously good ice cream on a sunny spring day. Sometimes, it takes a five week journey to make the memories, but sometimes it’s just being in a lovely moment with friends, and I thank her for reminding me of that.

**I bought my copy of Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace with my own money, directly from the author. All opinions are entirely my own.

The Roasting Pan and the Expanded Heart: The LTYM Essay that Started It All

This is the essay I submitted for my Listen to Your Mother audition in February. It changed very little over the course of rehearsals, but there are always little edits–and slips in the live delivery (which incidentally, I am dying to share with you all once the videos are released!).

We didn’t have a kiddie pool, so we used a roasting pan.

Jay was eighteen months old. It was deep, sticky summer in Back Bay. You know, those still, blinding days when the rowhouses draw the heat down to settle into the brick sidewalks, and the exhaust from the cars on Boylston and Comm Ave is so thick you can hold it in your hands. The condo was blissfully air-conditioned, but we were… stir crazy. I grew up with a woodsy backyard, a stream, a hose, a kiddie pool, one of those sprinklers that fans back and forth, the kind that stings the soles of your feet if you hold them still over the spray too long. These were the hot weather tools in my parenting tool box.

There I was, barely out of college, alone with a pudgy-cheeked cherub who was sick to death of being in the same five climate-controlled rooms, alone with a stumblingly mobile little man who had HAD ENOUGH of his wooden Thomas railway, alone and starting to appreciate Steve, Blue, Mailbox, and Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper like a prisoner with Stockholm Syndrome.

Walking was right out. We wouldn’t make it around the block. Those awkward little legs were not interested in the stroller, and I was not interested in sweating for an hour, even in the name of sanity. There was a walled-in terrace out back, on the alley side of the building, but the garbage cans were ripe with heat, and I was convinced in those Frankenstein-style-shambling days that the stone floor would leave his head permanently scarred.

Out front, two small green areas enclosed with wrought iron, each perhaps three-by-six feet, “landscaped” with boxwood hedge and grass. Wait! Grass! … No hose, no sprinkler. … If only we had a tiny pool!

No tiny pool, but there, in the far corner cabinet of the small, garden-level urban-dweller kitchen, was a big roasting pan. Perfect for a 25-pound bird, why not a twenty-five pound kid?

(I know you’re all thinking it: why didn’t I consider the infant tub? I think I know now, but bear with me.)

It took some doing, bringing out the pan, bringing out the water, all while a toddler orbited like a curious little moon, but we made it work.

He was a sight: splashing happily in a roasting pan full of cool water, wearing nothing but his diaper and the drawn-bow smile that stole my heart the first time he offered it to me. The shade of the buildings was welcome; the breeze from passing traffic almost refreshing. In… out… in… out… blades of grass on his feet the way I remember blades of grass on my own feet as a child, dirty rivulets running down his legs and pooling in the gorgeous creases of his baby fat.

I think of that afternoon every time my young son plays in his kiddie pool or runs under the sprinkler on our small, suburban lawn. Because I was not Jay’s mother, but Jay, and the two amazing siblings who followed him into my heart, taught me to BE a mother in the small, silly moments like those.

I never thought of the infant tub because bathtime wasn’t usually part of our day. I packed up my book and my sweater and rode the T home at the end of our days together like Mary Poppins with a messenger bag, and Jay had bathtime and bedtime with his parents.

Jay taught me that motherhood is more than biology, more even than the endless, selfless – and often excruciating – work of days, of weeks, of months, of years, of forever. That sweet, bright little boy wove the thread of his life into the fabric of my heart: a warp and weft of connection and love like nothing I’d yet experienced. His little sister Em left rows of baffled adoration, knits and purls of headstrong, brilliant little girl tears and laughter. His baby brother O, ever the independent soul, undid the seams of my already roomy heart and made a pocket all his own.

Motherhood is the expanded heart. Forever-pockets full of love and unsnappable connection.

To mother children in that way before giving birth to my own son changed my life in ways I feel humbled trying to explain. I know it doesn’t always happen that way.  I know being a nanny is not the same as being a mother. I know not every child a nanny cares for takes up residence in the rest of her life.

And yet… I know how precious those children are to me. Being Cam, being me the way I was for them, is never far from my thoughts, never far from my worries and doubts about my own mothering path, never far from the bigger-on-the-inside joy that is being Mama. If that isn’t a true reflection of motherhood, I don’t know what is.

That grinning little boy in the roasting pan who taught me my first lessons in mothering is now a freshman in high school, away at boarding school, and the little boy who made me Mama is in Kindergarten. When I see them together, bookends of my newness to mothering, my chest aches. I can feel the walls of my heart pressing outward, growing and reshaping to accommodate who they are now and who they were in the moments when each of them was the center of my world.

Every cliché about the passage of time passes under my feet like the sting of sprinkler spray, and the children in my heart can only dip their feet in a roasting pan of cool water.

Motherhood is the expanded heart, and mine grows to make room.

The Hollow Place

One word of backtalk too many and the day boiled over into hot tears—the kind that choke, that blind. My son didn’t know what to make of the blotchy-faced monster who hauled the car over the side of the road and sobbed.

Those days were hard. My work environment required me to pretend I was many things I was not, and maintaining the illusion exhausted me. There wasn’t enough money in the bank and the precarious tightrope walk of which bill not to pay left me anxious and headachey. The tears did nothing to alleviate the financial strain, and frankly they made the headache worse.

There was a conspiracy of misery that night. Just before the backtalk that broke the dam, R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts came on the radio. The DJ didn’t know the song drags a sack of grief up from the dark place in my heart. But there is was, a little bit open at the top, the festering contents of loss breathing out into the atmosphere of the car—a gas leak waiting for a tossed match.

I’d tried to write earlier in the day, but the words wouldn’t come, dammed up behind the pretense and the fear.

I’d fed the stress on a diet of poor choices and excess, soothing the savage voices in my heart with flavor and texture on my tongue, but my body better understood that it had been a mistake. Self-loathing feels like a snug-waistband and bloated ankles. Self-loathing feels like dry mouth and belly ache.

The exhaustion, the grief for the choices I hadn’t made and for a friend lost a half century ahead of schedule, the frustration of writer’s block, poured out like the sticky and viscous fluid from a lanced wound, but what they left behind began to heal.

Pulling the car back onto the road and sniffling my way home, a very silent child in his car seat behind me, I allowed the space where the tears had been to breathe, to be empty and peaceful. When I arrived home I brought my son inside and held tight to to him and to his father. I showered away the tear tracks and slept away the tired eyes.

I shared the tears with all of you, and you filled the hollow place with joy.

Write on Edge: RemembeREDSelect an old blog post you’ve written and rewrite it as a memoir piece. The original can be found here.




A Patch of Sand

There aren’t more than three miles between my parents’ house and Mai’s. I rode my bike up and down that stretch so many times that summer. I rode all over my end of town that year. Wheels and my generally responsible nature meant freedom. 1991 was before helmets were en vogue.

I was on my way home, with the sunset behind me. I swerved out into the road a little to avoid a patch of sand. Those skinny road-bike tires are so fussy about sand. I’m sure I was telling myself a daydream about a boy whose name began with J. There were a million to choose from in my eigthth grade class. Continue reading