A conversation with my Dad

“Suz, how’s, how’s, you know, my favorite guy?”

I’m on the phone with my Dad. He’s 90. Can’t hear. Can’t recall much anymore (including, sadly, his kids’ names, never mind those of our significant others). He also can’t stop talking long enough for me to help him out.

“He’s—” I try.

“You know who I mean!” He laughs.  “The big guy. Your guy.”

“I do dad, I do,” I say laughing. “You mean—”

“Dammit. Why can’t I think of his name?”

“Dad!” I yell, not too loud, just loud enough to get his attention, stop him before our entire conversation becomes what it usually becomes these days – a heartbreaking, hysterical, but ultimately exhausting exercise in futility.

“What? Why are you yelling at me?” He sounds offended but that’s good. It means he’ll stop talking for three seconds.

“Robert,” I say. “His name is Robert.”

Silence. And then, “Why are you yelling at Robert?”

“I’m not, dad. I’m trying to tell you his name.”

“I know his name!”

I want to smack myself in the head with my cellphone.

“How is Robert?” He asks, finally.

“He’s great, dad. You know, kicking ass, taking names, being his usual Master of the Universe self.”

“That’s from that book,” he replies, and then pauses. I don’t jump in. He’s got it. I can feel it. “Bonfire of the Vanities!”

“Great book,” I say. “Though I still think Tom Wolfe quit at the end. Like he suddenly realized they were only paying him for 100,000 words so he just wrapped it up, really quickly. I found it very dissatisfying.”

“So, how’s the relationship?” He asks.

“With Tom Wolfe?” I say, teasing him.

“Smart, very smart, Suz. With Robert. How’s things with my favorite guy?”

“Things are wonderful, dad. He’s so good to me and he’s incredible with Case.”

“I know he is,” he says impatiently, “but what’s the prognosis?”

What’s the prognosis?

“It’s terminal, dad.” I reply. “I’m gonna die of love.”

“I raised four wise-asses,” my father replies. “You know what I mean. Not prognosis. Errrr… the plan? Do you two have plans?”

Ever since my dad met Robert, about two months into our relationship, this is all he’s wanted to know. And now, as we’re approaching two years together, it’s all he wants to talk about. It’s funny how he forgets Rob’s name, and calls him Steve, Stu, Bob, Bobby, and “the dark-haired fellow,” but never forgets that there’s man in his little girl’s life who’s been around awhile. And, more than that, he wants to know what Steve’s, Stu’s, Bob’s, Bobby’s, and “the dark-haired fellow’s” intentions are.

“Yes, daddy,” I reply. “We have plans. We plan to spend the rest of our lives together.”

“So, marriage then!” he exclaims.

“Dad, stop,” I say. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

“Crystal?” He bellows. “You don’t want crystal! You want diamonds!”

“Big ones, pop.” I reply.

“That’s my girl! Make sure you tell him, or I will! I’ll say—” he pauses. “I’ll say—”

“Rrr—” I start.

“I’ll say young man; my daughter gets diamonds! Big, Hope diamond-size diamonds! Nothing less!”

“You do that, dad.” I reply, laughing.

“Hey, I gotta advocate for my little girl,” he says, “even if I can’t remember her boyfriend’s name.”

Or, hopefully, his phone number.

And now, another reason not to go hiking

A close encounter of the bear kind at the summit of Old Rag Mountain. Photo by Jack Cumming, via National Park Service, via InsideNova.com.

As if I needed another reason not to go hiking: bears are helping themselves to the picnics outdoorsy types bring to enjoy once they reach the summit of Old Rag Mountain, and they don’t care that folks are standing there, taking their picture as they make their escape. These are very comfortable bears, my friends, so comfortable I expect we might soon see them snapping selfies with their Safeway and Wegman’s bags filled with all manner of ill gotten goodies.

Oh no, the hiking thing is not for me.

I did go once, with He Whose Name Will Neither Be Spoken Nor Written, and between the sweat and the bugs and the bugs sticking to the sweat, I was miserable. I actually ran all the way down the damn hill to the car. And we all know how much I hate to run.

Are you sensing a pattern here? I hate to hike, I hate to run. One might get the impression that I don’t enjoy outdoor activities and yet I do. I do enjoy outdoor activities!

I enjoy taking a book outside to read, in the shade, where there’s a breeze and no bugs. I enjoy taking a glass of wine outside, to sip, in the shade, where there’s a breeze and no bugs. See? I’m really very outdoorsy!

I even emphasized my specific outdoorsy attributes in the online dating profile I used to have. Sadly though, most of the men who contacted me thought those qualities were up for compromise – with one even suggesting I bring my book on a hike he and I would take together so I could read it at the summit. Can you say “Swipe left“?

Oh no, the hiking thing is not my thing. Between the sweat and the bugs and the bugs sticking to the sweat and now the possibility of crossing paths with a bear, you can count me out my friends. But I don’t begrudge you your passion for getting out there, conquering that mountain, filling your lungs with fresh air and releasing those awesome endorphins. Do it, I say. Just do it! But when you do, leave your Safeway and Wegman’s bags in the car. With me. I’ll be sitting there with the a.c. and my reading glasses on, enjoying a book and looking for bears snapping selfies.

When terrible memories abuse us anew

Why is it I can go along for ages with certain horrid memories tucked away so deep it’s like they never happened, and then BAM, awaken one morning – this morning – to discover one of them out and about and abusing me anew? I don’t know.

He used to take the dog out without a leash.

My son’s dog. His beloved Golden who was never taught to go off leash. Hell, the dog could barely walk on a leash. Every single solitary time he took the dog out leash-less, the dog would disappear. Sometimes for hours. My son would be sobbing. Together we’d drive around in a panic, looking for the dog. And you know what HE would do? He’d come storming, pounding into the house, slamming doors and yelling that the dog was gone, and it was our fault. Mine and my son’s.

I’m sorry. You lose our dog and it’s OUR fault?

This happened so many times, each time more traumatic than the one before. And it’s not like I didn’t beg him not to let the dog off the leash. But listen to me? Never. Not once.

Why is this memory – these memories, because it happened too many times to count – making me sick today, so many years after the fact?  I don’t know. Maybe it’s my subconscious reminding me to stay vigilant.

Things are good now, Susan, but stay alert! You thought they were good before and look what happened. Look what you put your son – both of your sons – through.

Yes, yes. I’m alert. I swear. Now please, get back in your box and go away.  

On Writing

My favorite Stephen King quote.

If you don’t read, you can’t write

I can’t tell you how many times people have approached me at book signings and writing clinics and told me they want to write a book, have to write a book, they’re going to write a book! But I can tell you that in every one of those instances I’ve replied with, “That’s great. Now tell me, what are you reading?” All too often the responses have been a mix of blank stares and the following:

Nothing. I can’t recall the last time I read a book.

Who has the time?

I don’t have the patience for books. Do magazine articles count?

Right here and now, I’m going to tell you what I told those lovely people. If you don’t read, you can’t write. It’s that simple.

And no, magazine articles don’t count. A piece of fiction or memoir, excerpted from a book and placed in your favorite magazine is fine, great in fact. I hope you read it, love it, and run out to buy the book and devour it from cover to cover. But an article on planning for retirement? Choosing the right eye shadow? Which celebrity wore what wherever? Nope. None of those count. And, full disclosure? I’m a magazine editor and a full-blown magazine junkie. I love those glossy tomes and read them all, but not one copy of my beloved Real Simple will ever replace my passion for the pile of books by my bed.

Part of the reason people think they can write without reading is that a large majority of us have gotten it into our heads that if we write how we speak, it’s all good.

It’s not.

There isn’t an editor in the world who is ever going to publish phrases like, “If you’re wanting a great gift,” “The store is so popular, and they’ve only been open six months,” and the one that makes me the craziest, “We ate McDonalds.”

Really? You ate McDonalds and somehow David Muir missed it? Clearly you need a new publicist.

But of course, what you really need, particularly if you’re at a loss for what’s wrong with any of the aforementioned phrases, is to read a book.

And then another book.

And when you find a book you simply can’t put down, I beg you, read it two, three, five times in a row. Read it until the author’s voice impacts the words you speak, (please God, no more eating McDonalds), those you write and, most importantly, the way you write them. Don’t worry; you’re not “stealing” someone else’s style. You’re simply improving your own.

If you really want to write a book, read, reread, and read some more. If you don’t read, you can’t write. It’s that simple.