Making Conversation, Comparison, and Corrections

“She wondered: How could people respond to these images if images didn’t secretly enjoy the same status as real things? …Nothing got inside the head without becoming pictures.”- Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

It was Christmas night, and my SiL Jenny and I were driving home to my parents’ house from my Grandmother’s. My precocious little niece, the Bean, was in her car seat in the back holding a conversation with her newest friend, a plastic Handy Manny doll.

“Vamanos, tools!” she exclaimed periodically.

In between exchanging stories of family holidays gone by – the good, the bad, and the ugly – I happened to look down next to the passenger seat to see one of my favorite novels, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen . I had given it to JaxBro a few Christmases earlier – it’s the story of one family and the wackiness that family can be. These are the people that know you better than anyone else, and those we feel most often don’t know us at all.

“That’s one of my favorite books,” I said, reaching for its thick spine.

“I know, I don’t think your brother has read it yet, but now I am. It’s great!” Jenny replied.

I asked her if she’d noticed the same similarities I had between Franzen’s fictional American family and the one she’d married into. At the surface alone, for example, there are three adult children: one hopelessly straight-laced, the middle child a bit of a hurricane, and the youngest daughter unpredictable at best.

Jenny chuckled. There are a few scenes in the book that I’m sure many American families can relate to – not just ours. But in the haze of the Christmas frenzy, I think we were both feeling kind of introspective.

“My family is a lot of things, but I think it’s a much bigger support system than a lot of people I know have,” I mused.

Jenny agreed. “I love your family. And Bean has so many people around her.”

It’s true – my extended family on the Cape can be huge and imposing, unless you’re the kind of person that can run into the fray full-force, which Jenny is. It’s like a big game of red rover, with holidays, but once you’ve broken through the barrier, you’re in.

“OhmyGod, right?” I replied with another tired laugh.

On cue, Bean held one mittened hand up in the air. “Oh, my God,” she repeated. I think she’ll be reading Franzen by the end of the month.

…And that’s how the holidays went this year – quietly, for the most part, with a few comfortably predictable moments and a few changes to the repertoire. Mum jingled sleigh bells at the bottom of the stairs on Christmas morning, even though the youngest child in the house was 32, declaring we better get down to the kitchen soon before she lost her Christmas spirit for good. Stockings bulged by the fire. Later at Gramma’s, the Bean pulled toys out of the same cabinet I used to run to to grab dominos, crayons, and coloring books. I took a mint out of a decorative bowl and almost broke my tooth. At home, I drank too much nog and ate all the Goldfish crackers. I heard about the latter in the morning.

At the Boston-area home of JaxSis, we toasted with red wine and played games as my brother-in-law ignored us. I slipped on the hardwood floor and fell on my ass like I always do, and fell asleep on the couch with one leg shove underneath the cushions and the other splayed across an ottoman. My 12-year-old niece overdosed on sugar and adrenaline and JaxMum wished, briefly, that she’d stayed in a hotel. JaxDad didn’t say much – he watches, and reads, and takes it all in – the degree to which I’m sure no one is aware.

Then in my own house, I took advantage of the quiet to reflect and to unwind. Then, I passed the point of unwinding and just got bored, sitting on the couch looking at the ornament-stripped tree and the cat. Drowning in the silence of January. This is the cycle.

Inevitably, at the end of the holiday mayhem, I turn to my pens and my keyboard, and this is the best part of the later winter months. I’m able to untangle a thought or two, let my brain switch from nostalgic to inspired, and maybe record some little moments. I think I might want to remember, for instance, that Handy Manny was Bean’s favorite toy of Christmas 2009 and the moment at which JaxMum and I realized Gramma’s fridge was stocked primarily with beer and cheese (the apple, they say …).

Because truly, will I remember where my mind was, what was eating away at me, what my hopes were, my dreams, my obsessions, and my never-ending foibles? Will I look back on that one day and remember that life seemed like it was speeding up, and moreover that I was well aware that Christmas 2010 will be an entirely different day for hundreds of reasons?

In some ways, yes, these vague impressions will remain. But when I really break down how my mind works, the snapshots of a little mittened hand waving from the back seat of an SUV, my favorite book on the floormat next to one of my favorite people, and the sound of clunky little sleigh bells at the bottom of the stairs I used to slide down on my bum will retain the bulk of the detail.

That said, a book is nothing but uninteresting if the pictures don’t change as the pages turn. For me, 2009 will keep its mental images of a white Christmas on Cape Cod, but 2010 is already the proud owner of a few visuals.

Keep following along with me.

Published: Sunday, 3 January 2010 Tags: corrections jonathan franzen


A visitor‘ left this comment on 5 Jan 10
I heart you and your writing. Did you ever know that you’re my hero? Well, you’re one of them 🙂

writerjax‘ left this comment on 4 Jan 10
aw, thanks you guys! Thanks for reading 😉

A visitor‘ left this comment on 4 Jan 10
This is beautiful! Glad you had such a great holiday!

Happy New Year!

A visitor‘ left this comment on 3 Jan 10
What a wonderful post, Jackie. I loved it.

PS: Have you read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron? I think you’d like it.

Twenty Questions: Easy Like Sunday Morning Edition

I first started reading Elysa’s blog GenPink when I was a 20sb – Twenty-something Blogger. Not only was her writing fresh and her blog oh-so-coolly designed, she’s one of those folks in the blogosphere that is always on the cutting-edge of w
chalkboard quote Carl Jung
Signs of Life, Martha’s Vineyard; (C) jaclyn c. stevenson 9.10.2005

I first started reading Elysa’s blog GenPink when I was a 20sb – Twenty-something Blogger. Not only is her writing fresh and her blog oh-so-coolly designed, she’s one of those folks in the blogosphere that is always on the cutting-edge of what to do next.

Such is the case today too, at which time Elysa hasn’t posted about the latest Technorati trend, but rather a good productivity tip for Creatives that’s also good for the soul: 20 Questions to Ask Yourself Every Sunday.

The list of Q’s actually originated from Marc and Angel Hack Life, another great productivity blog, and just as it inspired Elysa (to add her own five ‘bonus’ questions, no less), it spoke to me. Greater detail as to why the questions are important to ask oneself at the close of a week are at Marc and Angel’s ; here’s my own dry run. Edited for General Blog Audiences, of course.

(Caveat: this past week blew for me. My life is not generally as morose as my answers make it seem, or for that matter, philosophical.)

  1. What did I learn last week? ~ I learned that I still have a lot to learn, but that I’m better than I was 10 years ago in most ways.
  2. What was my greatest accomplishment over the past week? ~ That I ploughed my way through at all.
  3. Which moment from last week was the most memorable and why? ~ When my 72-year-old dad texted me. The method and the message were both memorable; “Love U.”
  4. What’s the #1 thing I need to accomplish this week? ~ Solidify an important appointment.
  5. What can I do right now to make the week less stressful? ~ Get a few easy things done on my laptop and keep an eye on the forecast.
  6. What have I struggled with in the past that might also affect the upcoming week? ~ Stress, time management, overwhelm.
  7. What was last week’s biggest time sink? ~ travel and errands caused by upheaval. Personal crap.
  8. Am I carrying any excess baggage into the week that can be dropped? ~ I dropped a lot throughout the week. The rest will have to fall in time.
  9. What have I been avoiding that needs to get done? ~ Finances, invoicing, miscellaneous writing, client contact, hour tracking, and eating.
  10. What opportunities are still on the table? ~ …There are still opportunities on the table.
  11. Is there anyone I’ve been meaning to talk to? ~ yup. Mostly work-like folk that got the shaft this week.
  12. Is there anyone that deserves a big ‘Thank You’? Yes.
  13. How can I help someone else this coming week? ~ Listen more and talk less. Work toward common goals. Keep calm and carry on.
  14. What are my top 3 goals for the next 3 years? ~ life, love, and growth.
  15. Have any of my recent actions moved me closer to my goals? ~ no.
  16. What’s the next step for each goal? ~ make a plan, break it down, take it one step at a time. Chill. Stop procrastinating. Be tough.
  17. What am I looking forward to during the upcoming week? ~ Talking socmed with a restaurant client. Doing some scrapping. Publicizing PodCamp II.
  18. What are my fears? ~ more drama, more upheaval, more people needing me than I can handle.
  19. What am I most grateful for? ~ the awesome people around me.
  20. If I knew I only had one week to live, who would I spend my time with? ~ I really dig this question. 😉

From Elysa:

  1. Who can I inspire this week? ~ My clients, my boss, mah babehs.
  2. Did I tell the people in my life how much they mean to me? ~ Not all of them. Thanks for the reminder.
  3. Did I make a difference with someone? ~ I’d like to make a more positive one this week.
  4. Did I learn something? ~ Yes; I think that’s ultimately the best part of the week.
  5. Have I done something creative this week? ~ Yes. I created five new scrap pages with Teen and got back to this poor, neglected blog. There’s also a new featured blogger at TSB.

What questions do you ask yourself every week?


Published: Saturday, 16 January 2010

Press Release of the Week: PodCamp Western Mass Returns

Less than a year ago, PodCamp Western Mass. was a smash. So much of one, in fact, that peeps didn’t want to wait a full year for another go…and so, I give you PCWM II – The Sequel! Click on the link above to see our online newsroom at PitchEngi

Less than a year ago, PodCamp Western Mass. was a smash. So much of one, in fact, that peeps didn’t want to wait a full year for another go…and so, I give you PCWM II – The Sequel!

Click on the link above to see our online newsroom at PitchEngine – complete with media coverage links, video, photos, logos, you name it.

PodCamp montage by Morriss:

Published: Wednesday, 20 January 2010 Tags: pcwm podcamp western mass social media new wsc westfield state college press release pr eventbrite

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