I am ashamed to admit it, but I have yet to fully read one of Anne-Marie Oomen’s memoirs or books of poetry, even though I own two of her books (signed) and have attended a couple of her writing sessions (one for teachers and other, this past spring, open to the general public), as well as a reading from her latest book, As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’ve only read and heard snippets of her work … so far.
What I’ve read and heard thus far is wonderful, and knowing the topics/subjects/genre included in many of her books, I know that I will love them. How could I not purchase a book titled Love, Sex, and 4-H? Then there is As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I can’t wait to read it. The passages that she read during her author event, along with the anecdotes she shared about herself, her mom, and writing the book, definitely left me hooked.
What I really want to discuss today is her capacity as a teacher. Just over a month prior to the shutdown orders signaling the official start of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to attend a day-long writing program aimed at teachers. Titled “Homecoming: Coming Home,” it was sponsored by the Saginaw Bay Writing Project. Anne-Marie Oomen happened to be one of the presenters that morning.
During her allotted time, she taught us the term ekphrasis – a method of using different works of art to create various forms of writing, whether poetry, personal essay, or short story. Imagine studying a painting and then creating a poem from your experience. That is ekphrasis.
After explaining the process and providing us with examples of her own work, Anne-Marie Oomen had us create our own art inspired piece. She brought with her a large collection of postcards. I chose one with a portrait of Annie Oakley on the front, “little sure-shot.” I enjoyed the experience and still have a digital copy of her presentation from that day. I left realizing that I could easily create vision boards on Pinterest to gather my thoughts and ideas for various writing projects.
As wonderful as that experience was, a few months ago I learned that Anne-Marie Oomen was to be a guest scholar at Saginaw Valley State University. During that time, she conducted a similar writing session open to the general public at the Marshall Fredericks Museum on SVSU’s campus. I am so glad that I attended. It made me look at one of my favorite museums in an entirely different light. I left with a notebook full of ideas and even a rough draft. The following evening, Anne-Marie Oomen held a reading at the Wirt Public Library in Bay City, sharing snippets from As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’m so glad that I attended as I brought back so many memories of the short few months I had living with Grandma Reid before she needed more care than I could provide. It is never easy watching someone you love age and decline.
I took something away from each of Anne-Marie Oomen’s events. On top of sharing her love and knowledge of writing, she is a wonderful teacher. Better yet … she is a Michigan author willing to help aspiring writers and teachers.
“All Things Must Pass” is a documentary that covers the rise and fall of Tower Records during the second half of the 20th century and the first few years of the 21st. What I love about the documentary is the fact that I experienced a lot of changes that took place in the record industry, particularly in the record stores, during those years. As a businesswoman, I loved the discussion surrounding the birth and death of Tower Records’ business model. At the end of the documentary, I left thinking what a great case study it would make.
I can just imagine the beginnings. Supposedly Tower Records started as Tower Drugs. After World War II, leading into the 1950s, Tower Drugs began carrying 45s in an effort to tempt their teenage customers hanging out at the soda fountain. As the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of entrepreneurs who owned a pharmacy in Marshall, Michigan during this same time period, I can picture it.
In fact, my maternal grandparents met at Peck’s Drugstore in Marshall. My grandfather’s parents were partners in the business, and at the time, before graduating from high school and enlisting in the US Navy during World War II, Grandpa worked there as a soda jerk. Grandma, who attended then nearby Marshall High School, loved their lemon Cokes. I’ve visited Marshall and located the corner where Peck Drugs once stood. Marshall Junior High School, once Marshall High School, is located right across the street. Even though my grandparents were gone by that time, I could easily envision the circumstances under which they met.
This burgeoning teenage culture in the 40s and 50s led to rock and roll and the astronomical growth of the record industry from the 40s through the end of the century. I happen to be just old enough to have witnessed the heights of the 1980s, the changes experienced all throughout the 1990s, and the chaos that followed in the first decade of the 21st century.
I lived it. Madonna and Michael Jackson’s reign as Queen and King of pop were a huge part of my childhood, as were Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Wilson Phillips, Paula Abdoul, and so many others. As grunge exploded in the 1990s, the music industry fractured in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death and the advent of the internet. The music industry wasn’t nearly as tightly controlled as it once was and formats were changing yet again.
As a teenager, I understood the frustration. During the early part of my childhood, vinyl and cassette tapes dominated. Before long, CDs took over. WIth each new format, some felt the need to repurchase their music collection yet again. However, by the late 90s, people had had enough. During that time, I remember the anger that the equivalent of the 45 didn’t really exist in the CD format. You might be able to purchase singles, but they were never the hit songs. In essence, the record industry reached a point where they were pricing teenagers out of the market. Full CD albums during that time period usually ranged from $15-$20, depending on the artist and popularity. Today, I spend $8.99 a month for Amazon Music, which includes electronic access to whatever is available via Amazon Music – i.e. pretty much anything and everything.
The sad thing is that rural teenagers in the 90s, like me, mostly had access to the big box music retailers of the time, such as the behemoth Tower Records – or the CD clubs of the era, Columbia House and BMG Music. Oh, how I wished there were used record stores near me! When I arrived on campus at Michigan State in 1999, my friends and I made regular visits to The Wazoo, a mom and pop used record/CD store run by an old hippie who truly loved music, or WhereHouse Records, another great used music store. We could get an entire pile of albums for the price of one new release.
This atmosphere and the business model became a recipe for disaster. Enter the file sharing frenzy that took place in the early aughts. Napster and Limewire were king at this time. Why purchase music at all when you could download your favorite songs for free from a friend of a friend of a friend? While it wasn’t that simple – mislabeling ran rampant and download times could be excessive – it worked well enough. If anyone had actually been prosecuted for downloading music illegally, our judicial justice system would have quickly collapsed. Colleges, universities, and even many high schools would have been empty with students rotting in jail instead of receiving an education. That may be hyperbole, but not by much.
In the end, it could not last. Businesses such as Tower Records, so heavily dependent upon real estate and inventory, could not survive once people refused to repurchase their music collection yet again, pay full price for CD albums with only a handful of well-known songs (if lucky), downloaded whatever pirated music they wished via Napster and LimeWire. The electronic music market, now dominated by Amazon and Spotify, had not yet come into its own. Today, Tower Records lives on in Japan, a testament to its homegrown slogan – “No Music. No Life.”
“All Things Must Pass” is entertaining if you are interested in music and the history of the music business at all. It brought back a lot of memories for me, and frankly, I feel for teens today who do not have the experience of spending time in stores dedicated solely to music. Creating a Spotify or Amazon Music playlist just isn’t the same. The title “All Things Must Pass” comes from the sign a former Tower Records employee put on their sign as their original store was closing. “All Things Must Pass … Thanks Sacramento.” It is, of course, also the name of George Harrison’s triple solo album and hit, “All Things Must Pass.”
Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976) (Video)(Lyrics)
(Written May 7, 2023)
“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘Gitche Gumee’ …” (Gordon Lightfoot 1976)
There is probably no more iconic opening lyric in modern music history. Sadly, Gordon Lightfoot died on May 1st, 2023 at age 84. In capturing the story of the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald in song, he immortalized the iron ore carrier, its crew, and its disputed demise for generations to come. In a sense, it has become an elegy for all those lost on the Great Lakes over the centuries.
Growing up in Michigan throughout the 1980s and 1990s, we learned about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald through Lightfoot’s lyrics. Personally, I’ve been fascinated ever since. It is easy to see why so many are still drawn to the story. First, it is a fairly “modern” shipwreck. The Fitzgerald sank on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. They had enough lifeboats, modern radar, and radio communication. In fact, Captain McSorley’s last radio communication with a nearby ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, was “we are holding our own.” That chilling fact alone sends my imagination reeling.
Next, there are lingering questions as to exactly how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. Some say that she ran aground on SIx Fathoms Shoal, while others believe that the hatchways were not properly secured. Then, there are those who believe one of the Three SIsters – a reference to gigantic waves developing on Lake Superior in the wake of incredible fall storms – doomed the ship.
In fact, the subject of the Edmund Fitzgerald still garners a lot of local interest in Michigan. In September 2022, former reporter and Edmund Fitzgerald researcher Ric Mixter presented information on the wreck at the old court house in Omer. I happened to attend his presentation, and for such a small community, there was standing room only. Ric Mixter, a former reporter for local WNEM TV5, went on to present in Bay City and other nearby communities as well. What’s great about his presentation is the depth of his research, his respect for those who died in the tragedy, and his obvious love for the subject matter. He lets his audience decide for themselves the ultimate cause of the wreck. After I attended Ric Mixter’s presentation, I compiled some of his resources in the post All Things Michigan.
Finally, Gordon Lightfoot’s master songwriting draws one into the tragedy. WIth lyrics like “ice water mansion” and “Does anyone know where the love of God goes,When the waves turn the minutes to hours?,” it becomes a timeless folk song dedicated to the power of the Great Lakes. By telling the story in a basic timeline format, he immortalizes the old cook and Captain McSorley, along with the rest of the crew, for all time. I can’t think of a better tribute to the 29 men that lost their lives that fateful November day. It is one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard and fully deserves its rightful place in the history of timeless American folk songs.
WordPress, which I love, has a new feature that provides a writing prompt each day. One that caught my attention was “what makes someone unique?” The idea of individuality – ie uniqueness – gets right at the heart of what it means to be human. Sadly, there are times when our individuality sets us apart from the rest of society due to no fault of our own.
When do we learn in elementary school that the “other” is not OK? I’d love to think that things have changed since I was bullied in early elementary school due to my appearance, mostly height and weight, but I’m not that naive. I’ve watched in recent years as various school districts have tried to address the root of bullying with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, it all starts at home. Children need to learn from a young age that we are all different. We all have different talents and ambitions, as well as strengths and weaknesses. All of us – all eight billion people on Earth – face challenges at different stages in life.
There are certain things that a person may experience in life that no one will fully understand unless they have been through it – or something similar. For example, unless you have lost a parent or a child, it is impossible to truly understand that level of grief. It is similar when dealing with infertility. Unless you are affected, it is impossible to imagine the depth to which it alters one’s life.
Aside from all that sets us apart from one another, including our challenges, there are interests. My interests are vastly different from that of my siblings or parents. I’m used to it, and over the years, I’ve developed those interests through various opportunities and friendships, both in real life and online.
If I had one wish for students today, it would be for them to have all the resources necessary to first find their interests and then have the ability and support to pursue them further. How many people have stopped doing something they enjoy simply because someone discouraged them, saying they had no talent? I see and hear about it all of the time. It saddens and sickens me. We should be encouraging healthy interests, as well as providing students outlets to develop them. For example, a student who enjoys art should be encouraged to pursue that interest as much as possible, even if there is no interest in making art a career.It comes down to expectations. At times, we focus so much on making ends meet that we need to make a life. We need to teach students that there is so much more to life than material things. It is more than OK to be yourself. You need to be your authentic self.
On Friday evening March 31st, 2023, I joined scores of others to attend “Madonna 40” at the Delta College Planetarium. A sold out show, it was incredible – and a lot of fun! Designed to honor Madonna’s 40th anniversary of her first hit single “Holiday” and her always controversial place in Bay City history, it did not disappoint. My only wish: I would have thoroughly enjoyed another hour of her classic music videos and would have gladly paid accordingly. There is nothing quite like watching the music videos that made Madonna a superstar and an inspiration to a generation of girls and women, for better or worse, on the big screen. It is an experience I will never forget. Her early music will always be a part of the soundtrack to my early childhood memories. In designing the program, the following original, unedited music videos were shown in all of their ‘80s and early ‘90s glory:
Frankly, the music video portion of the program outshone everything else. The videos have held up over nearly four decades. What struck me most in the vintage videos was Madonna herself. Definitely not model thin or “fat,” she exuded old-school glamor in “Material Girl,” “Vogue,” and “Like A Prayer” with the dance moves that made her famous. As for “Papa Don’t Preach,” she looks like any fresh-faced midwestern high school or college girl.
Personally, I felt that the organizers/designers missed a huge opportunity by not including at least the videos for both “Promise to Try” (1989), which was largely filmed at her mother’s gravesite in Kawkawlin, Michigan (just north of Bay City), and “This Used to Be My Playground” (1992), which was included on the A League of Their Own soundtrack and supposedly written about Bay City becoming her refuge after her mother’s untimely death. The only actual footage of Madonna in or near Bay City was not included in the program. How?
The next segment of the program, “Smelly Little Town,” is originally why I wanted to attend the event and even moved around my schedule to do so. Debuting as part of the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival in Bay City in 2021, I doubted I would ever have another opportunity to see it. Growing up with the controversy, knowing Bay City a little too well, and having been born in Bay City myself, I had to check it out.
First and foremost, it is quite possibly the most Bay City thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Let me just say this: It began and ended with scenes of people polka dancing at the St. Stan’s Polish festival to the Steve Drzewicki Band, both Bay City institutions. I half expected to see my ex’s parents go dancing on by. In general, the film did a decent job describing Bay City, covering all aspects of the “smelly little town” controversy with Madonna, and explaining how ever-corrupt Bay City small town politics is the answer as to why Bay City has never really been able to capitalize on the fact that it is the birthplace of Madonna.
For those who don’t know, Madonna Louise Ciccone was born at the former Mercy Hospital in Bay City, Michigan on August 16th, 1958. Madonna is her actual given name as she was named after her mother. Upon her mother’s tragic death in 1963, Madonna spent time in Bay City with her grandmother, who lived in the Banks area, then home to a nearby oil refinery (hence the “smelly little town” comment that caused such an uproar). To this day, there is very little commemorating Madonna in Bay City. Then again, this is the same city that passed on becoming home to a casino and a minor league ballpark, both of which went to nearby communities.
If something wonderful is planning on coming to Bay City, one can be sure that public outrage will ensue in some way, shape, or form. I am speaking from experience. When I moved back to Michigan with my ex, a Bay City native, in 2005, the controversy over the then new Wirt Public Library – a gorgeous new anchor for downtown Bay City – had yet to wane. While I agree it doesn’t have the history of the historic Sage Library in Bay City, people were genuinely upset over a beautiful new library downtown. I will never understand the mentality.
Then again, back in 2005, Michigan experienced a one-state recession which was about to turn into the Great Recession. 2008 is covered well in the documentary. It is rightfully called one of the darkest times in Bay City history, and frankly, I consider my life in Bay City (2005-2012) one of the darkest periods in my life as well. Yet, while Bay City is almost unrecognizable from that dark hour, there is still nothing formal honoring Madonna in the city.
As much as I wanted to see “Smelly Little Town,” I doubt it would have been half as entertaining if not for my own experiences with Bay City and my early love of Madonna’s music. In fact, much of it is forgettable. However, it did a good job highlighting the ridiculousness of the entire situation and Bay City politics. I actually understand the controversy now. A little explanation and context behind Madonna’s comments would have changed everything. In the same infamous 1985 interview with Jane Pauly, Madonna goes on to say that she has “great affection” for Bay City.
By the way, Bay City still is a “smelly little town.” In a hilarious coincidence, I happened to drive by the Michigan Sugar plant on Friday on my way to see “Madonna 40.” For those who don’t know, processing sugar beets can smell like hot garbage on a good day. Friday, as I drove by, it never smelled worse.
Clearly, Madonna’s relationship with Bay City remains complicated. I fully understand why. My love/hate relationship with Madonna – I will always love Madonna’s music, but question her methods of self-promotion – mirrors my love/hate relationship with Bay City itself. I do hope that she is commemorated in Bay City at some point. Not every small town can claim to be the birthplace of the best-selling female musical artist of all time.
By the way, if you want a quick, accurate outline of Madonna’s complex history with Bay City, the article below does a wonderful job of doing just that.
I admit, it took me a little longer than usual to get throughStoryteller: Stories of Life and Music by Dave Grohl, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. Considering his current stature in the world of pop rock/alternative, whatever you want to call it, as a drummer, his humble nature shines through. It all started with his pure love of pop rock, namely the Beatles, moving on to the punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s, and making it big with Nirvana and grunge. Today, it seems as though Dave Grohl has settled in as drummer and girl dad extraordinaire. If planning on reading the book, I highly recommend the audiobook version as he reads his own memoir. There is nothing quite like hearing about Nirvana’s early days and the danger of their exploding fan base from the drummer himself. Then there are the well-placed expletives in his internal monologue as he meets his musical heroes and juggles world tours with daddy-daughter dances and musical projects with Joan Jett.
There is so much that stands out that it is hard to know where to even begin. First, the unwavering support of his teacher mother is undoubtedly one of several keys to his success. She supported – or put with – his love of music and his decision to drop out of high school in order to tour the United States with a band. Dave’s description of his discovery of punk rock at the hands of a formerly “preppy” family friend is memorable, as is his realization that she was in a punk band herself. It sets the stage for what is to come.
His description of his life between dropping out of high school and eventually joining Nirvana is as hazy and transient as his life at that time. It’s great and easy to imagine. Opportunities to fill in and drum with his idols Iggy Pop and Tom Petty standout as it is clear that Dave was as star-struck as can be at the time.
Frankly, the section in Seattle with Nirvana is just sad as we all know how it ended. Dave’s descriptions of Nirvana’s meteoric rise to infamy is gut-wrenching to read and full of danger. He describes in spectacular detail playing venues far too small for how big Nirvana had grown in such a short amount of time thanks to MTV and “Smells like Teen Spirit.” After Kurt Cobain’s death, Dave understandably took some time to process everything and ground himself once again.
Given the timeline, it appears that Dave developed Foo Fighters and started his family at roughly the same time, both growing together. For me, the best part of the book involves Dave’s descriptions of juggling life with his three daughters and superstardom. Stories involve things such as Paul McCartney giving his eldest daughter her first piano lesson and Joan Jett reading his daughters bedtime stories.
The Joan Jett story is one of my favorites. It starts with Dave in the Barbie aisle helping his daughters pick out a doll and coming across a Joan Jett doll. His girls didn’t realize that Joan Jett was a real person. Soon, Joan herself was over to their house working on some musical project with Dave, when his oldest daughter asked her if she would read them a bedtime story. She did .. in her pjs.
Then there is the story of the daddy-daughter dance. It involves a whirlwind trip to Australia and back to make the dance, the Australian tour itself, and a horrific bout of food poisoning. Yet, he made it and didn’t break his little girls’ hearts.
Above all, it is a series of stories about following your dreams, hard work, fame (or infamy), family, and music. Dave’s descriptions of conversations with his dad are touching in the end. In the beginning, it seemed as though Dave hated his dad due to his conservative politics and his parents’ divorce. While much of Dave’s relationship with his dad remained complicated prior to his fame, it does seem as though they made up in the years before his father passed away. It also appears that Dave took his dad’s financial and career advice.
While I didn’t outline it here, there are plenty of rock star stories from the road in the book as well. They are just as good. Dave appears to have found a balance between his career and family both in the memoir and in real life. If you love music at all or just enjoy memoir, check it out.
The overall message of The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams far outweighs anything else I can say about the book. Are the characters relatable and well-developed? Yes. I found myself cheering them on throughout the entire book. Would I say that they are the best or most important aspect of the book? No. The relationships they develop with one another are much more interesting. Above all, the role that the local library and the reading list plays in the plot and the development of the relationships between various characters is the real story.
The main protagonists, Aleisha, a young teenage girl with a troubled home life who works at the library over the summer at the suggestion of her older brother, and Mukesh, a widower who struggles to regain his sense of purpose after the loss of his wife of decades, Naina, meet at the local library. The unlikely friendship that unfolds after their first unpleasant meeting sets the stage for all that follows that fateful summer, changing both of their lives irrevocably.
Set in the quiet London Borough of Ealing, the local library serves as a focal point for the community, even if it is well-loved and in search of additional patrons. The reading list Aleisha finds, labeled “just in case you need it,” ultimately brings several people together in unexpected ways. It is this list that I find to be the most interesting aspect of the book. It is obvious that The Reading List was written by a bibliophile for bibliophiles.
The following reading list is found in the book:
In Case You Need It …
The Time Traveler’s Wife * (discussed in the book, but not included on the list)
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Kite Runner
Life of Pi
Pride and Prejudice
A Suitable Boy
From the Author …
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
Katherine Heiny, Standard Deviation
Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance
Hiromi Kawakami, Strange Weather in Tokyo
Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Attia Hosain, Sunlight on a Broken Column
Ali Smith, There But For The
Ultimately, The Reading List is about how books and libraries can bring us together. It is a great message that more people need to hear. While I don’t often hear it anymore, there are still some people who do not recognize the modern importance of libraries. Personally, I believe that they are more important than ever. I am grateful that my local libraries appear to be doing well and have a lot of local support. I can’t imagine life without them. What makes The Reading List so powerful is the demonstration of how various characters connect over books and how those connections impact their lives. The right books seem to appear at just the right time. I feel for anyone who has not had that experience. I cannot recommend The Reading List enough.
Yes. I do intend to eventually read through both lists.
I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with Turner Syndrome over the years (you can read my story here), but it still amazes me to see Turner Syndrome – along with certain aspects of myself – depicted in popular culture. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how those representations influence perception and so much more. Both well-known depictions of Turner Syndrome, one a “victim” in the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit titled “Clock” (hint: turns out she isn’t a victim at all) and the other, Gwen, the protagonist in the popular novelThe Condition by Jennifer Haigh, have issues and inaccuracies, and yet, there are certain truths that shine through. Personally, I have yet to meet a woman or girl with Turner Syndrome who isn’t as stubborn as we are portrayed in popular culture. It is quite simple, actually: We have to be.
Even though these images of women and girls with Turner Syndrome, along with their accuracy (or lack thereof), have been analyzed to death in the Turner Syndrome community, that isn’t my intention here. No. My intention is to describe my experience of seeing aspects of myself in relation to Turner Syndrome in Gwen in The Condition. I am discussing my experiences only.
Frankly, while I enjoyed The Condition, it isn’t a book that I would necessarily reread in its entirety. Yet, there are scenes, plots, and subplots in which I couldn’t help but see myself mirrored in Gwen – not as a woman, but as a woman with Turner Syndrome. It is those pieces and depictions that have stayed with me for well over a decade at this point. There are several things Gwen is faced with in the novel that most women will, fortunately, never have to face.
The opening scene still takes my breath away. In it, Gwen’s father, who later becomes almost obsessed with the fact that she has Turner Syndrome, watches Gwen tag along with her slightly older female cousin at the beach. He observes them as they run into the ocean. The difference in their height and body structure is noticeable. Gwen’s body remains almost childlike while her cousin’s decidedly does not.
Growing up with older female cousins, particularly my cousin Abby (10 months my senior), I couldn’t help but compare my body to theirs. I always wanted to catch up but never could. I distinctly remember one December shopping with my aunt, cousins, sister, and mom. I desperately wanted to be able to finally buy clothes in the misses section (not kids, not juniors …) like my older cousins. Nope. Not yet. Even though I was now in high school, it would have to wait. In that opening scene of the novel, I could distinctly visualize Abby and I swimming somewhere as preteens. In my head, I was the one comparing.
Later, Gwen is described as hiding herself away from the world in a job in which she remains in the background. Now in her late 20s/early 30s, she wears jeans, t-shirts/sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday, all often too big for her. Given the choice, I’d be right there with her (and am when I can). Quite simply, it is often difficult to find clothes that fit correctly if you are a woman with Turner Syndrome.
A few years ago, I tried on a top while shopping with my mom. I loved the color, the style – everything – except the fit that wasn’t quite right. I came out of the dressing room to ask her opinion. My mom almost mumbled under her breath: “Damn Turner’s body!” I found it hysterical because that is precisely what I was thinking. I just needed it verified. As much as I love the button-downed look, I could purchase blouses three sizes up and still suffer from gap-osis. Sadly, fashion is a struggle at times.
At the end of the novel, I can’t help but root for Gwen. She is so fed up with her family members’ actions and reactions to the life she has created for herself and the fact that she finally met someone that she runs off to the Caribbean to be with her new boyfriend. Considering how her family treats her and reacts to different aspects of her life, I can’t say that I blame her. Her new life in the Caribbean sounds fantastic.
I admit, I am extremely guarded about my personal life as well. It is just that I’ve always needed space. Throwing infertility into the mix is never easy. The idea that someone you love would have to give up having biological children of their own to be with you … Well, unfortunately, that is reality in many cases. I pray that it will get better with age, and in some ways, it already has.
When I finished The Condition all those years ago, my immediate reaction was one of wonder. Did Jennifer Haigh have Turner Syndrome herself? Did her best friend? Who did she interview to get into our heads so well – or at least my head? I loved the title of the book. One may think that “the condition” references Turner Syndrome, but in reality, in the book, each member of Gwen’s family battles demons of their own, even without a diagnosis.
I am a firm believer that everyone has something – some huge hurdle he or she needs to overcome in life. Everyone has a story. As The Condition lingered in my mind, I couldn’t help but feel “seen” in a way I’ve never experienced in a book. As a teacher, it reinforces the need to expose students to as many diverse books as possible. Unfortunately, when we talk about diversity in literature, we too often just focus on race, religion, and sexuality. The reality is that there are so many other stories out there and so many other ways to view diversity. This is one reason why I wish everyone would share their story in some way, shape, or form. No one is ever truly alone.
By the way, if you happen to be the parent of a girl with Turner Syndrome, I can’t recommend the National Turner Syndrome Camp enough. I attended two years, and it allowed me to meet others with Turner Syndrome for the first time. It also boosted my confidence in a way that nothing else ever has.
Have you ever fallen so in love with a place that you still dream about it years later – and you fall so in love with your memories of that particular time and place that you instinctively know that reality will never come close to what you remember? It can happen. In 2002, I fell in love with Austin, Texas. In reality, I fell in love with a time and place that no longer exists.
It started out innocently enough. When I began planning my year abroad – one semester in Quito, Ecuador and another in Caceres, Spain – I knew that I would also need to make plans for the summer after Spain. I lucked out. The spring of my sophomore year at Michigan State, I landed a position as a paid intern at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota. I must have been on a roll that semester because I also landed a paid co-op opportunity (6 month contract) with Applied Materials (AMAT) in Austin, Texas. Ultimately, I accepted the position with IBM and asked Applied Materials if I could pursue the co-op opportunity the following summer/fall. They said yes, and I left East Lansing for a series of adventures that would take me away from campus for over a year and a half. I was well on my way to pursuing several of my dreams at once, including a career in tech.
My time in Austin did not start off well. When I arrived in June 2002, I didn’t know anyone. I ended up subletting my first apartment from a UT student. It was OK, but my only roommate in our four bedroom apartment spent all of her time with her boyfriend. Often the only trace of Carly was the reeking skunk smell of pot. Soon, things would change.
The first week or two at Applied consisted of orientation classes and touring facilities in what’ve been loving termed bunny suits. What I loved about AMAT was their place in the tech industry. We didn’t make the chips; we made the machines that make the chips. After a long day of orientation, an engineer I’d just met, Melissa, asked if I wanted to go get a drink and have dinner after work. Little did I know just how much she would impact my time in Austin.
Melissa and I became fast friends over dinner. Once I began describing my experiences studying abroad in Ecuador and Spain, she began telling me about her former coworker at Motorola, Andy, a fellow engineer. She thought that we should met, and frankly, I think she was trying to set us up. There was only one catch: Andy was currently exploring Machu Picchu in Peru and wouldn’t be home for some time. It would be worth the wait.
In the meantime, on July 24th, 2002, on my way to work, a huge moving truck made a left-hand turn in front of me when I had the green light. He hadn’t seen me. In the accident, I broke my big toe and the metatarsal. The molding on the driver’s side door of my car also sliced me behind my ear. If I had had a passenger, he or she probably would not have survived. In the aftermath of the accident, things somehow came together. My mom flew out to Austin to help me find a lawyer and a new car. She couldn’t believe how well I knew the city even though I had only been there just over a month. I had to help navigate in the days before Google Maps due to my cast.
By the time I had a walking cast, all bets were off. I quickly found out that the six month sublease I’d been promised was really only for three. Livid, I needed a new place to live within a few weeks. In the end, I found a much better place to live just in time thanks to Applied Material’s internal listings. The months living with Karen and her toddler son were great. It was almost as if I had the good fortune to live with a fun aunt for several months. Things were finally looking up.
In all the chaos of the accident and moving, I finally met Andy. We ended up on a blind date at the type of place that could only exist in Austin – Flipnotics. The first floor was a quirky retail t-shirt shop. The second floor included a restaurant/bar with a small performance space for live music. We were there for the music. I wish I had a video of Andy’s face when I opened my car door. He was horrified to realize that I had a walking cast up to my knee and that he had invited me to a venue requiring climbing a large set of stairs. Fortunately, we hit it off right away.
One of the best things about Austin, then and now, is the live music. It isn’t called the live music capital of the world for nothing. Andy was the perfect companion with whom to check it all out. It turns out that as a hobby Andy had a radio show – ATX Live – on the local co-op radio station KOOP. Soon I would met his friend and manager Cheryl. Andy would later serve as president of KOOP for several years. It isn’t every day that a man you admire and respect introduces you to someone who soon becomes one of your best friends. That is precisely what happened.
Over the next few months, Andy, Cheryl, and I had numerous adventures. I admit, I had a huge crush on Andy by this time. Cheryl did her best to try to get us to end up together, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, the fun I had that late summer and fall are never to be forgotten. The three of us attended the first Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park. Cheryl “conveniently” couldn’t join us the second day. The antics that took place that weekend are stories in themselves that belong with other songs. At the end of the festival, Andy and I ended up at a favorite local restaurant called Shady Grove. As it was within walking distance of the festival, we had to order takeout and eat/drink on the lawn, it was that crowded.
Later, Andy had LASIK surgery, and unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. He ended up blinded for a week. As it was near his birthday, Cheryl and I threw him a party at his house once he regained his sight. I finally got to meet a bunch of his friends, coworkers, etc. It ended with Andy having to smooth things over with local cops late in the evening. Our “dress to be seen”/birthday party was a complete success.
As Halloween approached, Andy asked if I wanted to go to a house party hosted by local musician Chelle Murrey. Once we arrived, I dressed as a gypsy and Andy dressed as Zorro, Andy told me that he had a surprise for me. It turned out that a Beatles’ tribute band were going to play at the party, and knowing that I was a Beatles’ fan, he wanted me to have the opportunity to check them out first. I will never forget it. I bought Chelle’s CD that evening, and even though the music hasn’t quite held up, it will always remind me of Austin.
Shortly after one more party – this time a birthday/going home/Christmas party for me in mid-December at Karen’s house – I had to pack up my new-to-me 2002 silver Grand Prix and make the long journey home – alone. I arrived back in Michigan right before my birthday and Christmas. A year and half and a thousand adventures later, I would be returning to Michigan State in January 2003 to finish my degrees. I would graduate in May 2004. I never wanted to leave Austin behind.
On December 15th, 2002, a cold, foggy day in Austin, I left, listening to Chelle Murrey, trying to keep it all together. Austin represented everything I wanted after graduation – a good job, great friends, beautiful place to live, and for the first time in my life, a social life that actually felt like me.
My senior year at MSU, I did everything in my power to land in Austin. I made it to second round interviews with both Dell and Applied Materials. Unfortunately, my manager at AMAT left a few weeks before I did. He didn’t even get a chance to do my review before he left, that was left to someone I had only known for a week. In essence, I had no one on the inside fighting for me. Only half of the engineers and supply chain grads were hired. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them.
I did put my time back in Austin to good use, however. I met up with Andy and finally told him how I felt. In essence, he told me that he viewed me as a little sister. He explained that he was at a completely different stage in life. At 22, devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. Looking back, I completely understand where he was coming from at that point. At 29 and about to finish his MBA, he already owned his own home and was established in his career. I still needed to finish undergrad.
It is funny how I should have seen it coming. He bought me a cowgirl hat at the Austin City Limits Festival because he was afraid I was going to fry otherwise. As cold weather set in, he warned me about trying to drive on ice in Texas. In essence, I may know how to drive on ice being from Michigan, but others in Texas do not. My dad would have been impressed.
Today, Andy is married and still lives in Austin, now owning his own business. I’d love to track down Cheryl. I have a feeling that if we were able to catch up after all these years, it would be as if no time had passed at all. The only person with whom I am in contact is Karen, who keeps reminding me from time to time that Austin has changed – and not for the better.
In essence, this is a love letter to the Austin I knew in 2002. Some of my favorite landmarks and haunts, namely Flipnotics and Shady Grove, no longer exist. I still follow AMAT and the semiconductor industry. How could I not after 2020? The Austin City Limits Festival has grown beyond all recognition. I can only imagine how the city has changed and evolved. I just hope that it is still as weird as I remember and remains a welcoming place for young undergrads trying to find their place in the adult world. Those memories of Austin will always be a part of me.
It seems so obvious, and frankly, it is a piece of advice that everyone loves to share with writers: “Write what you know.” It just isn’t quite that simple. There are things you know – and then there are things you know – the gut-wrenching realities that no one wants to truly admit. I’m beginning to see the difference. For me, that is passion. There has to be a lot of enthusiasm behind whatever it is that I’m sharing if it is going to be any good. I have to love what I am about to write.
Early last week, I found myself writing an article outlining different tips for writers regarding their reading lives. In short order, I had nearly 2,000 words. It is something I know and perfected over the years. I take reading seriously. It simply amazes me how I tend to have almost too much content when I write about certain subjects. If it involves reading, books, music, or education, I could keep going for hours.
Why, then, haven’t I been focusing on just those topics all these long years? The simple answer is I don’t know. The full answer is a bit more complex. WIth music, copyright laws surrounding song lyrics are tricky. I needed to come up with a unique way of sharing the music I love. I think I may have finally accomplished that. When it comes to books and reading, I spend so much time reading and discussing books in person that it seems silly to write about it much, book reviews aside. In essence, I need to get over myself.
Then there is education. As at least a 5th generation teacher (yes, I’ve traced the teaching tradition in my family back at least that far), I have definite opinions and insight – far more than my actual experience in the classroom would suggest. I have to be extremely careful. Sometimes when a writer is a little too close to the subject, it is easy to get burned. In private conversations, I’m content to know that I am not alone. One day, once I’ve made some definitive decisions regarding my teaching career, it is going to get interesting.
It may have taken me quite some time to find my voice, niche, and style, but I am just getting started. In spite of the fact that I am 42 and a certain TV “personality” – I refuse to use his name here or mention the network – stated that women reach their peak in their 20s-40s, declining once they hit 50, I have so much more to accomplish that it isn’t even funny. It will take me well beyond 50. Stay tuned!