Joe Likes Pizza! and One Big Thing

Focus. Just don’t annoy your friends and family.

Words written on novel so far: 12,344

Interviews to do today: 2

Miles run today in a delicious summer rain: 3

Hi. I’m Anne, and I’m a multitasker. If I’m folding laundry, I might do it for ten minutes, then remember I’m letting the bread dough rise. I go put the loaves in the oven, come back upstairs and think about my son’s soccer game. Are his soccer clothes clean? I pull them out and put them on the bannister. I go back to folding laundry. But I haven’t talked to my parents in a few days, so I call them while I fold. My mom teaches piano; she mentions her recital, and I remember I need to check my daughter’s shoes for the piano recital. And on and on.

But one thing I’ve noticed: most people can only concentrate on One Big Thing at a time.

When I was in college, I fell in love for the first time. It took up 96 percent of my mental energy, leaving 4 percent (if that) for academic pursuits. Here is how most conversations went circa 1991:

[Setting: dorm with four rooms attached in a suite.]

“Hey, who wants to order pizza?”

“I do!”

“Save some for me!”

“Awwww. Joe likes pizza…”

Yeah. That was me.

Another example:

[Setting: my home, over the Christmas holidays.]

“So Jimmy Bob’s mother died. She was the one who owned the pizza parlor over on Lower Roswell…”

“Awwww. Joe likes pizza!”

Yeah, you guessed it. That was me, too.

One Big Thing. It’s the thing that sticks in your mind amongst all the other multitasking you do in a day: meetings, practices, doctor’s appointments, caregiving…

My husband’s One Big Thing right now is the marathon he plans to run in November. Here is how many of our conversations go these days:

[Setting: His car, on the way home from work.]

Him: Hey–what’s for dinner?

Me: Spaghetti.

Him: Awesome. I’ll be doing my 4-miler tonight and an 8-miler tomorrow. I need the carb loading.

Me: Great. So remember: we have to leave for the soccer game at 6:45.

Him: 6:45… When I was running yesterday, my average pace was 6:45. Well, I started out at a 7:15, but then there was a great stretch, and I got up to 6:55, and then…

There are a lot of numbers involved in our conversations now. A lot of numbers, people.

When I was training for my first marathon last year, it was my One Big Thing. My daugher would sneeze, and I would shriek, “Don’t get sick!” My children were certain I was losing my mind.

I might have been losing my mind: when I would try to sit down and write, A.) sitting down was not as comfortable with my newly bony behind (this is a joke; the marathon did not help in that respect at all) B.) all I could focus on was my next hit… er, run.

My point is: you have to watch out for what your One Big Thing is. You can multitask till the cows come home, with smaller, less brain-intensive activities. But if all roads start leading you back to the “Joe Likes Pizza!” point, beware.

That is why I chose to focus on my novel for a while. Novel writing is my One Big Thing for at least the next few months. Of course, there are articles to write, deadlines to meet, miles to run, kids to take to the pool, floors to clean, laundry to fold, in-laws to entertain.

But always in the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking about my characters. Their plights, their next scenes, their eccentricities.

While my husband spouts out numbers, my mind will be calculating words, feeling the sounds on my tongue, watching strangers to see their weird ticks so I can steal them.

Embrace your One Big Thing. It’s a little bit like being in love.

What’s your One Big Thing right now? How do you keep a balance in your life? Do you annoy others when you keep circling back to your unique “Joe Likes Pizza!” theme?

Men and Women: In Your Eyes

My husband took this photo. What was he thinking when he took it? Why won’t he tell me?

Minutes I spent on a pedal boat this weekend: 30

Days afterward that I am still sore: 3

Words written on my novel over the holiday weekend: 0

From the time I was 12 until I was 18, I babysat a precious little boy who performed “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” for me. I knew then that I needed to have a son when I grew up. Boys and men were an enigma; by having my very own, I would learn how they thought and understand the opposite sex in a more meaningful way.

Ha.

Last night, I went to book club to discuss Catcher in the Rye. Good news: I know what the title means.

After a great discussion, maybe one of our best, one of the women said, “Maybe we can’t relate to it very well because we’re women, and Holden is a teenage boy.”

Eureka. Although I did have a deeper appreciation for the writing at age almost-40, I was sad to report that my current reaction mirrored my 13-year-old reaction: Hmmmm.

Here are the things I can report from my individual life experience about men, boys and male fictional characters:

1. When the going gets tough, men get angry. It’s reported that depression often manifests itself as anger in men. Holden Caulfield is a perfect fictional representation. When you’re writing your stories or novel, keep this in mind.

“I’m afraid our ice cream flavor of the day is vanilla, not bacon.”

Female character response: “Oh, and here I was, thinking about bacon. Hmmm. Let me look at the calendar. Bacon is tomorrow? Great! I’ll get vanilla today and come back for bacon tomorrow!”

Male character response: “D*%& it all to h*&$. Let me talk to the manager. If I have to fry up the bacon myself, I’m getting bacon.”

2. Men notice details, just not the same ones women do.

I got dinged in writing group for describing a (granola, earth mother-type) character as wearing Naot sandals and shopping at Whole Foods. The man in our writing group said she came across as “materialistic.” The women disagreed, saying it spoke to her character; these weren’t social-climbing brand names, merely specifics that helped us see the character better. I would argue that women use brand names in clothing, shoes and accessories as a way to help other women visualize the items.

I wear $17 Target sunglasses because wearing Kate Spade or Coach ones would be throwing money into the swimming pool. I also tell my husband that this makes me low-maintenance, and he laughs. Copiously.

Contrast the clothing/accessory details with men and cars. Picture this scene: a car drives by and throws a large can of paint out of the window. The police officer responding to the call asks my husband and me, separately, to describe the car.

My husband: “It was a Subaru Impreza WRX 2012 in Blue Pearl with a custom body kit. It sounded like he may need more transmission fluid.”

Me: “It was really blue and new and had four teenage boys inside. The paint they threw out was Sherwin Williams Sahara Gold PX 450.”

3. Men don’t ask you about your feelings.

Men would rather die than say something like, “So how is your husband feeling about his mother’s death?” If there is food or alcohol being served after the funeral, men are all over it.

Women want all the details, including which medications are involved, which t-shirt is being worn 24-7 and whether he is seeing a therapist. If so, which one? How much does she charge? Is it helping?

4. Men don’t like to gossip. Except when they do.

I have been fortunate enough to have many male friends since becoming an adult. They are fun. We laugh.

But across the board, they will tell you that they do not like to gossip. Blatant lie. The men I have known have been the biggest gossips around. They’re just sneakier about it. And they don’t elaborate in the same way women do.

Man, talking about a coworker: “Did you see Delilah? I saw her go into Thompson’s office at 8 p.m. when I left work. And, well, you know…”

Woman, in a neighboring office, talking about the same coworker: “Did you see the champagne-colored dress she was wearing before she walked into his office? I would never wear anything that short! I loved her strappy heels, though. I was thinking of picking some up for that wedding I have to go to this weekend? I wonder where she got them. I’ll ask her tomorrow when I stop by her desk for the details. Anyway, I noticed her texting someone when I walked by her desk at 5:30, but then when I asked her if she was heading home, she said she was ‘working on that Barber account.’ You know we haven’t had the Barber account for six months…”

5. Men often say exactly what they’re thinking. Exactly.

When I was younger, I used to think that men had complicated webs of thought spiralling around, just waiting for me to uncover them. If only I caught one in an unguarded moment, they might reveal the nature of their true feelings to me.

Teenage/early 20s-era male I might have liked: Dude. This song is amazing.

Song lyrics:

In your eyes

I see the doorways

To a thousand churches

Me: It really is. We had such a great time tonight. Thinking: I wonder if he looks into my eyes and sees the doorways to a thousand churches? Is he hoping we’ll get more serious? Should I ask him if he wants some more beer? No. I better not move. I want to find out how he really feels. Sit still. Be in the moment. He has gorgeous eyes. What is he thinking? Why won’t he ever tell me?

Male: Thinking: Dude. This song is amazing. Awesome drums. Awesome drums.

How do you write differently about males and females, whether they are POV characters or not? How do you keep men and women from being stereotypical but at the same time, keep them true to life? What strikes you as unreal when you read something about a man or woman in fiction?

Why Not Party Like It’s 1991?

Sure, I can’t get “Call Me Maybe” out of my head, but remember “Layla”? Or “Tennessee”?

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in novel so far: 11,186

Food-related social occasions planned for this weekend: 4 (yay!)

The year was 1991. It was a whole new fin de siecle… and we were doing it better than the last time. Music was angry and indignant, Earth Day was cool again, and I rocked a lot of flannel. A lot.

For Spring Break, my boyfriend and I rode back to Atlanta (6 1/2 hours) with a friend, picked up my parents’ car and drove 7 hours to Florida.

Two of my friends who went to University of Florida had the hook-up: the use of a house right on a stagnant pond lake that was far away from everything conveniently located in the middle of the state. We were thrilled.

We rode around in my friend’s big yellow car that we called The Banana, hitting both Disney World and Daytona Beach within a couple of days. We were wild and free, and no matter how much I told my friend to wear sunscreen, she was simultaneously goose-bumpy and sunburned on 75 percent of her body.

I was in training for being a mom even then. I might have muttered “I told you so” in the backseat. I mean, look at Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth; they weren’t scared of being ghostly white. It was a new era in skin tones.

Not yet owned, and in some cases, invented: cell phones, iPods, CD players in our cars. We listened to my friends’ mix tapes, a whole new world for me. Back in North Carolina, Garth Brooks was singing about friends in low places.

My friends had had a rough year: since the first week they were at college, a serial killer was on the loose who cut off girls’ heads and left them on bookshelves. No wonder they listened to things like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Jane’s Addiction.

Fast forward to a couple of nights ago, May 2012. A friend and neighbor of ours (full disclosure: age–early 40s) went to the Jane’s Addiction show. I was jealous; while I don’t know the Jane’s Addiction oeuvre, I dream about hearing the steel drums in the live version of “Jane Says” actually live.

Our friend had a great time. He said all the people there were oldies like us, but maybe young ‘uns just don’t get it.

Oh, the scathing review by the local music critic. He said Jane’s “is still partying like it’s 1991.” He wrote other less than flattering things that make me infer that perhaps he is not a fan.

I have one of Chris Cornell’s (of Soundgarden fame) newer songs, and when that album was released, it was panned because he was basically trying to be something he wasn’t. Something new, something different, something evolved.

It makes me wonder what Elvis would be doing today or why The Beatles aren’t getting back together to release a rap album.

When bands (or writers) try to stay true to themselves, it seems they are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Now… I’m going to go put on some flannel and listen to Arrested Development. Maybe I’ll even party like it’s 1991. You can laugh at me if you want to.

* All French terms in this blog post were looked up on Wikipedia because I can never remember exactly how to spell them or what they mean.

I Believe Things Should Work Properly

Nature at work. Properly.

Miles run yesterday: 8

Surgeons visited with a friend: 2

Wheelchairs pushed yesterday: 1

I have a strong belief in order in the universe: appliances should function, and bodies should never break down in any manner.

I also think people should be nice to each other. Every now and then, that doesn’t work out so well for me; being optimistic has its down side.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with a friend who recently had surgery. She was still on pain meds and crutches, so she needed someone to drive her to her post-op appointment.

I do things like this, not because I am a super-kind person, but because I am horrible at dealing with sickness and hospitals and saying the right thing and being supportive when people are less than healthy. I view my tiny acts as a kind of penance. I need to make up for my ineffectiveness as a friend and human being.

One time when I was in high school, I talked to my grandmother about it. I told her I wasn’t great at dealing with illness.

She looked at me, narrowed her eyes, and said, “I hate sick people.” And we laughed.

Already, she was facing friends who were dying and family members whose bodies were failing in one way or another. And we both knew that we stunk as patients; possibly, we were worse as caregivers.

This spring, I have volunteered to help out in the only way I am equipped to do so: driving people to medical appointments.

Here’s what I spotted on my medical journey by proxy:

1. A daycare center playground mere yards from the exit at an infertility clinic. That, and the clinic stocks “Baby & Toddler Guides” in its waiting room.

2. Wheelchairs provided at a surgical clinic, but elevators and doorways built exactly the width of the wheelchair.

3. When my friend had two doctor appointments in the same building, she was the one who had to undress, get examined, re-dress and carry her crutches and wheelchair to another clinic. I saw the doctors; we might have gone out for a run together afterwards… Should the least mobile person in the party be the one asked to climb Everest?

4. Check-in times at the front desk rivaled the time it took me to complete the SAT. This was a person the surgeons operated on only last week; did they lose her paperwork? Or were they collecting details in case they chose to write a novel about her in the future? Either way, she was on crutches.

And now, the things I have learned about myself:

1. I am the opposite of patient.

2. I need snacks.

3. I take back what I said in my post the other day: I don’t invent reasons to drink at two in the afternoon unless I am sitting in a waiting room. There, I fantasize about turning the space into a swanky cocktail hour. Think about what we could do with wheelchairs if the desk staff served martinis and pinot noir.

Healthcare may need an overhaul, but I’m not sure they’re focused in on the right issues. What are your observations? Suggestions?

How about Missoni hospital gowns? Computerized check-in like airline tickets? Wine and cheese in the waiting areas? Hot pink crutches? Drive-thru post-op?

Revisiting Doorways

My fantasy life in Tuscany has more realistic-looking shadows.

Words written in novel so far: 9,364

Days ago kitchen floor needed to be mopped: 6

Miles run last week: 24

I have not yet adopted seven cats or started inventing reasons to drink at two in the afternoon.

This is some comfort, given the fact that I keep forgetting why I walked into a room.

You see, I grew up as the Organized One in my family. Not the Smart One or the Pretty One, as is customary in a family with two daughters. It probably started with the Christmas party I planned without my mother’s knowledge, at the age of five, as I blogged about for Mother’s Day.

I did spend part of my middle school years in medieval England and some of my twenties either imagining life at the beach or time traveling with the Outlander, but work got done.

The Organization Fairy stayed with me through my jobs as a public relations person, organizing events and newsletters and such.

I blame the children.

Before I had a cell phone, when my daughter was about five months old, I was thirty minutes away, in the same town where my sister worked, and we were going to have lunch. I got ready to call her from Barnes & Noble, and I realized I could not remember her number. Not like, hmmm. Now how does that number start again? Oh, yeah. Five-one-five… No. Complete block.

I hadn’t slept in about five and a half months, which might have been part of the problem.

At some point, I remembered my sister’s phone number, and when I visited her, I saw the neat files that were part of her Ph.D. studies. My mind whirled. I would be lucky if I remembered to pick up milk on the way home.

Once I recovered from sleeplessness and my daughter went to preschool, I started writing again. To be honest, that was probably the shift.

Going from business-oriented work to loosey-goosey motherhood to writing created some sort of mind-body shift.

I now must employ devices to keep myself on task. At the urging of my BFF, I have bought Clean Shower because until I remember to clean the shower, it will hold off the mold.

When I see a rogue tea cup sitting on the bathroom counter or a dirty sock in the middle of the den floor, I tend to walk past it and think, “Note to self: pick up rogue tea cup and take it downstairs.” I am more than a little annoyed at myself later that evening to find that same cup in the same place.

Being right in the middle of the creation path of my second novel, the characters are doing things in my head. They demand attention, and the mommy duties and cleaning duties and chauffeuring duties are done to some extent on auto-pilot.

Unfortunately, the flotsam and jetsam of daily life end up taking a backseat. Or in some cases, being strapped to the roof of the car (ha!) until I can make a note to do something about them.

If you are ever standing outside my house and wondering why someone keeps walking into a room and then out of a room; in, and then out, please know that the best way to recover a thought is to return to the space of air where you last left it.

You have to revisit doorways.

What was I supposed to do in the master bath again? Oh, that darn cup. Seriously. It’s in the dishwasher now. But the kitchen floor? Small children are still stuck to it. Note to self: I need to go rescue them.

Shoot. What was I supposed to do again?

Put Me On a Pedestal, Please

Do people offer you free gifts?

Free beers given to my husband for his birthday by a store: 2

Bingo games I have won in my lifetime: 0

Free bags of cheese I got last week: 3

People don’t look at me and get inspired to give me free stuff. I haven’t figured out if it’s my look (middle-aged, suburban, non-supermodel) or my lack of an English accent.

Until… just last week, the grocery store check-out lady who loves me reminded me that with the two bags of shredded mozzarella I was buying, I could go get three free bags of mozzarella.

Free, people. That’s like, a couple of extra pizzas I can coax out of my husband at no additional cost! I thought for a moment that my luck was turning around.

But my illusions were dashed yesterday when we went into our local wine store. One of the male owners–who is married, I might add–has a man-crush on my husband. When the owner guy found out it was my husband’s birthday, he trolled the shelves for the perfect-amount-of-hoppyness beer and gave my husband two free beers. For free. As a gift.

This has never happened to me. I think I have a look that either says, “She’s got things taken care of” or “She is not deserving of free drinks or gifts.”

I have been searching through my mental library for times when strangers have offered me gifts for existing.

None come to mind.

But wait! I was walking through the mall last summer, and a well-dressed guy and his partner stopped to tell me my haircut was “precious.” Does that count?

There were no gifts bestowed upon me, but I had a really nice day after that. My hair swished like a Pantene commercial, and I smiled benevolently at children pitching temper-tantrums. (Side note: they used to say they used horse mane products to make the models’ hair look shiny for shampoo commercials. Is that true? I have been haunted by that urban legend since I was a kid. That, and mashed potatoes used as ice cream in ads, which I’m pretty sure is true.)

Oh, it’s all coming back to me now: One time, in sixth grade, an outburst of entrepreneurial spirit occurred amongst my classmates. One girl acquired an obscene number of Coca-Cola, Sprite and other soft-drink-related stickers. (We lived in Atlanta, home of Coke, and her mom or dad probably got them at work.)

Anyway, she started selling them for something like a dollar a sheet. They were shiny and official-looking, and sixth-graders in the ’80s gravitated towards both novel and shiny things. In a type of pyramid scheme, she farmed some of them out where her lackeys began selling them, keeping a part of the profits for themselves but paying her for the acquisition of stickers.

The halls were abuzz. The stickers flew out of her locker. We all sported Coke stickers on every academic surface we owned: binders, pencil cases, parachute pants, even the notebooks that we traded in the hallways with our BFFs where we wrote notes about the latest gossip or how cute our crush looked when he sang, “Everybody’s Workin’ for the Weekend” at our lockers.

But teachers got wind of the scheme and shut it down. The stickers now devalued, the girl looked over at me during science and passed me a few sheets, gratis.

Score!

I existed, and I was in the right place at the right time.

It never happened again. And I kind of got tired of the Coke stickers after a few days.

How about you? Are you given free things just for being yourself?

What I Have Learned About Birthdays

Laughter.

Number of birthdays my husband has had, counting today: 41

Months before his birthday he starts reminding us that it’s coming up: 4

His goal race for this year: 26.2

My husband loves birthdays.

He starts prepping us for his birthday, May 15, around about February 3. As a former public relations professional, I can say with conviction that my husband has birthday PR covered.

It’s been a point of contention for us for our entire marriage, because it is, quite frankly, a lot of pressure. But as I get older, I realize that you should go all out and celebrate: A.) You made it out of your mother’s stomach–good job! And B.) You’re still alive–good job!

Here are some other things I have learned from my amazing husband over the years:

1. You can fix anything. It may involve a fair amount of cussing and some money, but almost anything can be fixed. Except for our Maytag washing machine that was only 14 months old and now serves as a paperweight in a landfill. He couldn’t fix that, and he may be worrying over it on his deathbed.

2. You can do anything as long as you work hard and persevere. Again with the cussing. But darn it, most people give up too soon, myself included. My husband Never. Gives. Up. And I think that’s pretty amazing. It makes me try for about five minutes longer than I used to.

3. When you start getting gray hairs and eye twinkles, you just look cuter. Seriously. People in fast food restaurants ask him to say things “with an English accent.” His regular talking voice makes people swoon. Okay. This one might only apply to him.

4. You should not wear white t-shirts when you eat spaghetti. Whether at home or at an Italian restaurant, plan your top covering carefully. White shirts are not recommended.

5. You should have a cooler filled with ice nearby if you are using power tools that cut things. All future cutting projects in our home will take place with 9-1-1 on speed dial and a device for keeping all limbs and digits cool until they can be re-adhered to the original body parts. All tetanus shots should be accounted for.

6. Food really is the way to a man’s stomach. Men and women may have evolved. We may all be very 21st century and breadwinner-y and independent. But if you really want to stay on the good side of a man, make sure he is well fed in one manner or another. Men–your mission may be more difficult. But keep in mind my favorite quote from Lyle Lovett: Women like to eat outside. Okay. You’re set.

7. If you see a bug inside your house, turn a glass upside down on top of him, and slide a piece of paper underneath. Take him outside. Me? I used to just stomp on them. This is my house, little bug dude. But my husband has taught me to respect all life forms. Mostly. I kill mosquitoes and roaches on sight; they are respectfully dead.

Happy birthday, English Captain America!