My Christmas Poem, y’all

“I want to know everything about you, so I tell you everything about myself.”

– Amy Hempel

Until I realized that almost no one read it (see recent WSJ article Bring on the Holiday Letters), I used to write and send out a Christmas poem every year, and I (rather) miss* doing it.

So, inspired by the Journal author’s words that holiday letters (for me, poems) have a of “seasonal warmth,” and her reminders that they

“…bring us together in a way that our relentless digital connections cannot…represent tradition in a world that discards traditions too quickly…and they require real effort and thought: Somebody took the time to write them.” (emphasis mine)

…here’s my latest:

The kids are all grown; the house, empty, almost –
No more lunches to make, no more bagels to toast.
They’re all doing their thing; my job raising them’s done –
And for me and my husband, the fun’s just begun.
Around les enfants, my world used to revolve.
When ma fille was twelve, I found a nouvelle resolve:
I sat down to write books, and I ceased to write verse
For my “holiday letter” – of it, I would disperse.
“Who would miss it?” I thought. Just a relative**  few.
All the others would not; from them, I took my cue.
So I focused my brain on a lofty ambition:
“Why not write a whole novel?” That was my admonition.
“You can do it!” I said to myself. “You have time;
For a break, you can always come up with a rhyme.
When you hear and see things, you are constantly thinking:
‘That would be a good scene! Or way, with them, for linking.’
“Yes, I know it takes months – sometimes YEARS – but, once finished,
You can start a new project, no right-brain cells diminished.
And then, hopefully, readers will love what you’ve written.
Those at home, and in places like France and Great Britain!”
So, not knowing if I would succeed or would fail,
I began to create, it became my travail. 
It’s ‘ton boulot,’ a French friend expressed, when I asked.
(That means ‘job.’) And with that, it’s what I am self-tasked.
Au même temps, I chose, fluency, to re-attain
in French, la langue stored somewhere inside of my brain.
I commenced with a course that I’m still taking now
And I’ve risen in level, and at times, I know how
To think en français; it occurs more and more
When I don’t think about it – then, my “puzzler” gets sore.
I have much more to learn, and to write. But I’m glad
That two books, I have published, and that they can be had
On your tablet or, if you’re old-fashioned, in hand.
You can give them as gifts, put them on your nightstand.
I am writing “Book Three” – it will be out next year;
And to you, I wish holidays full of good cheer! 
* I just like to smile write. Smiling’s Writing’s my favorite.
** One relative in particular did…
 photo 2

Relationships: être ensemble – “to be together”

An article published today in the Wall Street JournalFind a Man Today, Graduate Tomorrow by Emily Esfahani Smith is sure to spark some discussion.

The author (a member of Generation iY, or maybe just Y – and married) quotes her mother as telling her a few years ago: “You’re in college…There will never be a better time to meet someone…so start looking.”

Like Jenny, the main character in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, I tend to like people who are direct – as long as they aren’t unkind or insensitive. I also happen to agree with that mom, who’s a member of my generation.


The Wedding Cake of a bride and groom
who met in college and got married last year

I know – declaring that I agree with her may not be wise. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who disagree – or, at least, who find that mom’s instruction advice distasteful  offensive somewhat objectionable. I’m not fond of confrontation…but I think there’s more to college life than academics, and more to life afterward than career, for women – and for men.

In a word, relationships.

I suppose I’m biased, because I met my husband when we were in college. Many of my friends met their husbands years later, either at work or through friends. Some married after going to graduate school, after beginning their careers, or both. I wonder sometimes how difficult it was for them to find the right man.

A few of my friends met their husbands (and got married) younger than I did; I found “The One” – my One – in college. It was (and I’m sure still is) a great place to meet guys, and to get to know them. When your biggest stress is writing a paper or studying for an exam (or both), well, it’s not like having the responsibilities of adult life, even single adult life. Normally, when you’re in college, you have a lot more time available for friendships, fun and dating.

I didn’t set out “looking” for someone when I arrived at college, but I did look for relationships with friends – male and female – and I can’t imagine why young people today would not. You can have your cake and eat it, too relationships and achieve your academic and career goals, too. And sometimes, male friends can develop into something more…one of mine did.

I don’t apologize for finding the love of my life – or for him finding me – in college. Yes, we were both immature, but we matured together. I wanted company, and so did he. Turns out, initially, you’re going to be a rookie at adulthood. You can either do it alone, or do it with someone you love.

Perhaps because I did it with him, ça me fait en colère (it makes me mad) when I sometimes hear others say (self-righteously?) that it isn’t smart to do so… or that (since they did not?) no one should. Jenny in MAKE THAT DEUX (and her friends, and basically, her whole generation) believes that it’s just fine to find that special someone in college.

Pourquoi pas?

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La Compétition: Bravo!

Les jeux olympiques have changed over time, but la compétition hasn’t.

This year’s summer olympics took place right after my trip to France; as we were leaving Europe, tout le monde was arriving. Watching the olympics on television, I was amazed by the athletes’ physical abilities, their strength, courage and determination — and their sheer competitiveness.

I’m not competitive by nature, though my husband might disagree. In fact, my recurring statement, “If I can’t win, I’m not playing,” has become a sort of household inside joke, since it really means I am competitive.

I want to win — just like all the athletes who competed in London this summer. But I suspect they all believed that they could win in their sport. They wanted to win. Otherwise, why train? Why even compete? Though I exercise, I don’t try to beat others in races or sports. I’m not a big game- or card-player either, but I like to compete in some mental matchups. I’ve gotten very good at Scrabble, for example, thanks to a desire to beat a certain sister-in-law, and no one in my house will even play me in Mastermind (see above quote).

I want my teams to win, too. Since I’m a Tar Heel, I love to watch UNC win at play basketball, especially against arch-rival Duke (though I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for the Duke Medical Center). I’m also a big UGA Bulldawg fan, and I love the Atlanta Falcons.

UNC 2009 Basketball Championship sculpture, until recently located in front of Spanky’s restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

But back to personal bests and achievements. In this age of social media, I find it a bit troubling weird that so many people post not just those, but all their personal (only good) news, big and small.  Many also share updates about their fabulous trips* as part of a carefully shaped and managed narrative. What are friends and followers to think but “Good for you?” Or, Bravo!

A recent WSJ article by Elizabeth Bernstein titled Are We All Braggarts Now? examined this fairly new phenomenon. Though I’m active on Twitter and (finally) about to create a Facebook page, aside from writerly and the odd motivational (and sometimes cryptic) tweets, I’m endeavoring to keep personal business personal. But that’s just me.*  And, well, marketing is…marketing.

The protagonist of my novel, coming out soon, gets to watch an historic and exciting olympic game, and, though she’s only twenty, reflects on its significance.

But she quickly reverts her attention back to her own life, as any normal twenty-year-old would.

*Oops, I guess I’ve been doing that whole look-at-the-photos-from-my-fab-vacay-in-France thing in recent blog posts. Desolee!

L’université: College costs

I just read the recent Wall Street Journal article New Course in College Costs and was struck by how much things have changed.

With college costs increasing so much since 1990 (150%) and federal aid rising even more (242%), it’s hard to believe there’s no connection. Whether costs have skyrocketed due to market demand only (as some say), or whether it’s because the government has gotten so deeply involved, one thing is sure: college debt has risen dramatically.

When my husband and I attended the university where we met, he was from in-state and I was from out-of-state. Compared to today, the price of tuition was a bargain for both of us, but to help pay for our expenses, we had to work during the school year and of course the summer. We got no federal aid — grants or loans. He was a sandwich maker at Sadlack’s Deli, located near Hector’s Restaurant on the corner of Henderson St. and Franklin St. I worked at Spanky’s, on the corner of Franklin and Columbia, and at the Carolina Coffee Shop, a Chapel Hill landmark and institution. Both restaurants are still open and neither have changed that much.

I was a waitress at the CCS in the late seventies while Byron Freeman owned it, and I’ve read that writer David Sedaris was also one of his employees a few years earlier. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as classical music played in the background, the Carolina Coffee Shop was a coffee shop before coffee shops were cool. Graduate students hung out there in groups or alone; couples went there on dates, and all kinds of students and families waited in line for a table on weekend mornings. I worked twenty hours or so a week and once served Chapel Hill visitor Alan Alda and some of his friends.

For a time, I juggled shifts at the CCS and Spanky’s to make as much money as I could while a full-time student at the university. Before we graduated, both my husband and I also worked (at different times) at another restaurant, the Country Squire, a steakhouse located between Chapel Hill and Durham; it was closed and torn down when I-40 was built where it stood.

I was able to go to France for my junior year and attend Université Paul Valéry because I was charged North Carolina, in-state tuition. Though I traveled throughout that year, I did it cheaply and watched my expenses. I never even considered going into debt to go to college, and I didn’t know many students who did.

Now, graduating with a college loan to pay off is almost ordinaire. I find that very troubling and wonder how people deal with it. When my husband and I graduated in the early 80s, we had little money but no debt. We got jobs, lived on a shoestring, and got married young, happy to be together and independent. With college costs so high today, who can work through college, pay for most of it themselves and graduate in four years with no debt? There just doesn’t seem to be a good raison why things have to be the way they are.*

When I was a student, few UNC dorms had air conditioning, not everyone owned a typewriter (I didn’t), and Michael Jordan played in Carmichael Auditorium. Professors were paid less and worked more, and fewer administrators filled offices. I suppose things have really changed.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though: you still have to pay back what you owe.

*Earlier this year, I read Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker. The author examines the system and makes some very good recommendations. I hope things change.

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