Sunday, November 30, 2008


As of today, you can pre-order my book on Amazon:

Call me crazy, but I'm starting to think I have a book coming out.

Friday, November 28, 2008

We Gather Together.

Since Daughter was born, my family has spent every Thanksgiving having a picnic on the beach. We do this for a number of reasons, the most relevant being that we’re a little strange. This year it rained the day before Thanksgiving but the day itself was clear and windy. Within minutes of arriving, Daughter found a girl exactly her age playing on the beach with her father, both of them staying out of their house so that her infant brother could nap. Daughter and this girl quickly discovered common passions for doing cartwheels and squealing at algae and her father and Consort had been in the same business in the past, so the four of them spent the better part of the afternoon down by the water, talking and frolicking. I didn’t mind, as this gave me plenty of time to read, eat the stinky blue cheese that only I like and glare threateningly at the seagulls who were trying to annex our sandwiches.

I usually don’t start ideas by saying “There are two kinds of people…”, because the only logical answer is “Yes, Quinn. There are two kinds of people. Lazy people who begin thoughts that way, and people who actually put some reflection into what they’re writing.” But, here goes. There are two kinds of kids: Stay and Go. Let me explain.

As a parent, one of the things you learn about your child as they grow is whether or not they are temperamentally inclined to be near you or not. Stays go to college nearby; they arrange to work in the city in which they grew up; their idea of heaven would be to buy their childhood house from their parents and live there forever. Go people might love their family dearly, but they’re born wearing walking shoes. College is chosen at least partially because it’s as unlike home as possible and graduate school or the first job is three time zones beyond college. The Go person dreams of filled passports and inoculations against exotic diseases. A Go would see the predictability of the Stay life as something akin to being buried alive.

I know this is overly simplistic. Most people’s lives are a combination of choices they make and choices made for them. Someone inclined to travel might spend his entire life living at home town taking care of a relative. Someone who longs for the comfort of her first home might fall in love with someone in the military and never live anywhere longer than two years. But as I was cooking up this theory, I started quizzing friends about whether they thought their kids were Stay or Go. It was fun how definitively the mother would answer the question.

“My daughter will go, but she’ll come back and visit. My son will stay, because he likes clean laundry more than autonomy.”

“My two older kids will be around. My baby would go to boarding school for second grade if I let her.”

One friend sighed of her adult daughter, “Oh, she thinks she’s a Go, but she’s a Stay, and I’ve got the guest room to prove it.”

I rarely talk about Daughter’s personality quirks, because it’s her personality and not my trove of writing material, but I will tell you this. My daughter will go. She will go away to college, and then she will go further than that. When she calls us, my first question won’t be “How are you?” but “What day is it there?” She has been wired since birth to stare outwards and plan adventures. I don’t take it any more personally than I take her wavy hair or her thin feet -- two other traits she didn’t get from me. I lived at home until I was 21. Until I was thirty I never lived farther than five miles from the house in which I grew up, then I moved to San Francisco for three months and came right back to Los Angeles. I am SUCH a Stay.

At the beach, I watched Daughter frolic with her new friend and I thought about the time when she won’t be with us on Thanksgiving because she’ll be in some part of the world with no word for “Turkey” or “Green bean casserole.” And then I thought about the bloodbath in Mumbai. On the first day of the siege, the criminals had taken hostages, looking specifically for people with British or American passports. Mumbai is the economic heart of India, so it’s safe to say that some of those British or American hostages were there for work, and perhaps some of them had sighed in dismay when they were posted there by their companies, preferring the comforts of home. But some of those hostages were in Mumbai because their souls had been whispering “Go” for as long as they could remember, and India was where their journey had taken them. Then again, before I start wishing Daughter were the kind to stay around her parents, I’d best remember that there were victims who were residents of Mumbai, killed in their own city. Homebodies live in the same dangerous world that adventurers do.

Right now, I have Daughter near enough to touch. Right now, if she’s going somewhere she still has to get my permission. Right now, everyone in the extended family is reasonably healthy. Right now, there are no nasty reviews on Amazon of my book. Right now I don’t have a copy of the quarterly report on my mutual fund. If I start thinking about the millions of right nows that might be ahead of me, and all the myriad ways they can go wrong, I get dizzy and I get frightened. So this year, I’m thankful for right now and I’m going to try to live in it as much as I can.

The sun had nearly set and the temperature was dropping fast. It was time to leave the beach. I packed up the food, throwing three Brussels Sprouts to the gulls for the pleasure of watching them squabble, and I walked over to my family.

“It’s time to go,” I said softly to Consort, but Daughter heard me. Enamored with her new friend and the beach, she wailed, “But I don’t want to go!”

I said, “Yeah, I don’t want to go, either. But it’s time.”

We said our goodbyes to the other family and, holding hands, walked back to the car to go home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


One of the more maddening aspects of my life is how I only get smarter about things which no longer affect me. Daughter, being my daughter, has always been something of a maniac on the subject of reading so I have a deep and thorough knowledge of children’s literature, both classic and off-the-beaten-path, and for every age from newborn to eight years. Of course, we just had the one offspring and the youngest child among my immediate group of friends is four years old so all those wonderful titles I found for my daughter when she was three and younger are just clattering around in my head, squeezing out more immediate concerns like “Where are the keys?” and “I remember something about eggs. Is it that we need eggs or that I have to stop buying eggs?” and “Where did I put the cordless phone this time? Is it near the keys?”

So, to the person I accosted in the baby-book section of Barnes & Noble and made a flurry of unsolicited book recommendations: I can understand your confusion. No, I don’t work there, I just needed to feel competent about something. I would hang around children’s clothing stores if I didn’t worry about someone calling security because, you see, I am very well informed on the subject of girl clothing, three months to 6X. I know exactly what labels make the kind of smocked dresses I like for dressy-wear for Daughter. I know which cuts suit her. I’ve even made my peace with the reality that not all of us are flattered by navy blue. Without bragging, I’d say no one dresses my Daughter in partywear from size three-months to 6X better than I do.

Of course, she’s now wearing an eight.

This means that, once again, the Etch-a-Sketch which is my brain has been cleared and I have been left to relearn how to dress my child in a hostile and expensive marketplace. Why did no one warn me about the vast wasteland which is girl tweenage-wear? [And oh, how I hate that word. The only reason I used it here is that you cannot say “Tween” without whining and the racks of party clothes for her age group make me want to lie down on the floor and simper until a person more mature than I am picks me up by the arm and says crisply, “I see someone needs a nap.”]

We have a family event this month. For a while I pretended that Daughter could get away with a kilt and a cream turtleneck; then I started hearing rumblings from other family members that it was to be a bit more fancy than that. “Fine,” I thought resolutely, “I’ll just get her a party dress. Something classic and pretty. It should take no more than a day.” I thought this because I drink before noon.

For those of you who don’t have children -- or your children haven’t reached this age yet -- let me tell you about party dresses for the eight-to-eleven demographic: If you like your pre-adolescent daughters dressed up like bar girls in wartime, you’re in luck. I found endless racks of spaghetti-strapped or one-shouldered slip dresses in fabrics which had aspirations to work very hard and grow up to be rayon. Daughter could have attended the family event and then gone off for an evening convincing men to buy her two-hundred-dollar bottles of Champagne. I was willing to admit that maybe she was too old for the smocked dress, but I was still unnerved by dresses with built-in bras. She's EIGHT!

Okay, if I didn’t want my daughter to be a bar-girl, she could be a bridesmaid because the other default style seems to be a spaghetti-strap dress with a full bell skirt and matching jacket. At least the bridesmaid look didn’t cry out to be accessorized with plastic heels and a prescription for Valtrex, but I learned quickly that “Matching Jacket” meant “Over a Hundred Dollars.” Also, Daughter is very lean and the full skirt gave her a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” effect -- I knew there was a girl somewhere in that one-hundred-and-eighty-dollar explosion of fabric, but damned if I could find her. I was stumped and I was irritated. I was also finishing the rewrites on the book, which meant a) I really had no time to be thinking about this and b) I hated rewriting so much that I was prepared to make this party dress my life’s work.

[I’m haunted by how many of my decisions are based on “Sure, this task is dreadful, but it’s much less dreadful than this other thing I’m avoiding.” Then again, copper-bottomed pots don’t polish themselves. ]

Flummoxed, I called Veronica because she buys her equally-lanky daughter a new holiday dress every year, and we both have similar, passionate feelings about spaghetti straps.

“Go to Nordstrom,” she advised.

“I did,” I said peevishly. “That’s where I found the backless dress for the nine-year old model in the single-malt Scotch ad .”

“No. The Nordstrom in Topanga,” she said patiently, “I don’t know why, but they have the few remaining non-trashy pre-teen dresses in Los Angeles.”

I sighed. Topanga? I sighed again. Topanga is notable for being inconvenient to nearly everyone on the planet. If you are reading this in Kansas City or Nepal, know that Topanga is only slightly more problematic for you than it is for most people who live in Los Angeles. And, just to keep things lively, Topanga is up near the wildfires which were currently defoliating my city. We live nowhere near the fires and the air near our house had the consistency of granola. For two days, I'd been coughing up what appeared to be exercise balls -- I couldn’t even imagine what it was like right up there in the belly of the beast. And wouldn't it be sort of fiddling-while-Rome-burns to be comparison shopping just a few miles away from people were losing everything they owned? Shouldn’t I be donating blood or offering them my house to live in or something meaningful? I ruminated aloud, endlessly.

“Or...” Veronica drawled, neatly cutting me off. “You can go back to your writing.”

Veronica was right. Nordstrom in Topanga does, in fact, have dresses which are classic and pretty and within the proper price range. I found one which will not make Daughter look as if she should be sitting on the lap of a local warlord. With only a modest effort, a quick call to a friend and an endless drive through apocalyptic smoke, I was now that much smarter. Driving home, I reveled in my new information. I toyed with calling mothers with smaller children and working the conversation around to the topic of party dresses, just so I could know something new and relevant. I looked forward to years of droning on to polite victims about how you simply can’t trust any Nordstrom but the Topanga Nordstrom.

And then the ember of reality hit the tinder-dry tree which is my self-esteem. Daughter needed shoes and nearly everything I saw in her size had heels. I sighed tiredly. Well, there were two upsides to this: 1) I could get boring on a whole new topic and 2) driving all over creation looking for flat shoes is still better than rewriting.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Grass is Always Greener.

About six months after I moved out of my mother’s house, I was back home for the afternoon. I don’t remember exactly why but I’m guessing it had something with being able to do laundry without having to hoard quarters. While grabbing some ice for my drink (another benefit to home-laundry: free drinks), I observed the Lean Cuisines in the freezer. In fact, I observed the freezer had become a sort of elephants' graveyard of branded low-fattitude -- Lean Cuisines as far as the eye could see. I astutely noted to my mother, “You seem to own a lot of Lean Cuisine.” She nodded, smiled and replied blithely, “Yep, that’s dinner most nights. Lean Cuisine and a glass of wine.” She then added with a happy sigh, “It’s wonderful.”

I was shocked. I sputtered, “But where’s the salad?” Nearly every night of my childhood, there was a salad on my plate, usually cozying up to another vegetable and some form of protein. I had to make serious inroads on the green stuff if I had any hope in hell of getting dessert. My mother said casually, “I haven’t eaten a single salad since you left the house. Not one. I only did that for you.” She thought for a moment and then said with a certain buoyancy, “I never have to eat a salad again if I don't want to.”

I was, in a word, stupefied. Only a few days earlier, had you asked me how my mother felt about salad, I would have predicted she'd be moving to a more tolerant state to marry lettuce. At the very least, she was a lifetime member of the Salad Bar Association. Now it seemed my mother had viewed eating salad in the same category as wearing cheap shoes so one could afford to send one's child to cotillion, or becoming Classroom Mom, or trick-or-treating -- just another noble sacrifice on the altar of parenthood. Suddenly, having inculcated me into the World of Romaine, she had gone back to the swinging single-gal diet of her pre-Quinn life, minus the cigarettes.

In politics, a grass-roots organization is a collective effort which springs up from the needs and desires of a motivated segment of the population. Sometimes, a movement appears that resembles a grass-roots organization but is, in reality, underwritten and managed by a large corporate sponsor or a well-funded lobby. These are known as “Astroturf" organizations. I am starting to realize that a fair chunk of the parenting I do is less grass-roots and more Astroturf, springing less from deep maternal convictions than from an itchy awareness that, being a parent, I am supposed to care about these things.

Things I really do care about include: please and thank you; thank-you notes; being kind (even when no one is looking); working hard on a school project (not because she needs to know about the Miwok nation but because she should know what it feels like to work hard and be proud of what she can accomplish); and being a person of integrity (even if it means a few lonely afternoons). Thes are all grass-root convictions, springing naturally from things I believe are important.

And then there are the Astroturf issues. Take teeth-brushing. Oh, please do. Every single morning and every single night it comes as a great surprise to Daughter that I expect her to clean those things. She gets snippy. I get shouty and wave-my-hands-aroundy. Even when the toothpaste isn’t vile and non-toxic, she still views brushing her teeth as some cruel and peculiar fetish of mine. And here’s the irony: until she began her orthodontic adventure, my feelings were mostly Astroturf. Even as I was hovering and barking about mouthwash some little voice in my head was sighing “Oh, let it go. She’s doing a crap job anyway. Eventually, someone will tease her at school for having bad breath and that will motivate her far beyond my ‘Domanatrix-with-floss’ routine ever will.” But then she got a palate-stretcher, and I started paying for it in monthly installments, and I started taking her to the orthodontist, and enjoying their copies of Highlights magazine, and my feelings about her dental hygiene became all too real. As Consort says, we own the note on those teeth. I will expect proper maintenance.

I only care about her hair being brushed to the extent that if we don’t fix today’s tangles they will meet up with tomorrow’s tangles, breed and form a super-tangle capable of awareness and bent on global destruction. I pretend to be obsessive about shiny hair because I’d rather she think I was shallow than tell her that her tangles sometimes hiss at me when I go after them.

When she wants to wear shorts in December, I protest. Not because I am concerned about her fragile well-being -- I have yet to see a child die of exposure in Southern California -- but because seeing her knees turn grayish-blue makes me have to put on extra scarves.

Bedtime? Kind of Astroturf. That would shock her, as up to 25% of every evening’s conversation becomes a Hegelian dialectic about the meaning of the phrase: It’s late, you are tired, you should be in bed. The definition of "late" is debated, her fatigue is debated, her place in bed is hotly debated. To Daughter’s way of thinking, I live to force her to sleep, a thing she neither needs nor wants to do.

My dark secret is that I know she’s a night person, just like her charming and nocturnal father, just like his entire family (her grandfather was a cameraman on “Saturday Night Live” and her uncle ran nightclubs in New York City. Other relatives have freely chosen the night shift of whatever job they did. I don’t think a single member of the family has voluntarily seen the front side of six a.m. since the Bronze Age). But if she is allowed to wander freely throughout the house until all hours I cannot do things like rewrite my book or watch documentaries like “Half Man, Half Tree.” She must be in bed so that I can have Quinn Time before I collapse in exhaustion, which in the natural order of things would occur about two hours before she does.

What I cannot tell her is that if she just turned the light back on after I tucked her in bed and read to herself quietly I probably wouldn’t notice or care. Sure, she’d be monosyllabic and unhelpful in the morning if she didn’t get enough sleep, but she’s a night person -- even with ten hours of sleep, getting her off to school is like pushing pudding uphill.

What’s great about Astroturf issues is that they have given Daughter so many ways to rebel against me that actually don’t affect me at all. She can spend all of high school wearing shorts in the driving sleet, her hair one solid mass of tangles, taunting me that I can no longer make her go to bed. With any luck, I will silently note that she's kind and fairly polite and diligent and brave. And then, in the most cunning tactic of Astroturf parenting, I'll do her the favor of seeming thwarted.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pictures of Lilly II

Soon, Lilly; but first a little history.

When I was fourteen, my mother and I fought over my wardrobe. She thought I should wear classic, flattering clothes. I thought I should wear trashy statement clothing from second-hand boutiques and Goodwill. This meant everything I liked was too tight, too short or smelled like other people. My mother and I had a free and frank exchange of views over this for months, with no one gaining any ground.

One day, in a fit of spite, I came up with a brilliant idea: I would use her love of preppy clothing against her. I would become the most nauseatingly preppy teenager ever seen outside of Darien, CT. My watchband would match my argyle socks which would pick up the minor color in my headband and the monogram on my shirt. It would be completely over the top and she would find it acutely irritating and she wouldn’t be able to say a word because I was appropriately dressed!

I might have even rubbed my hands together in glee but I said nothing out loud. The very next day an LL Bean catalogue arrived in the mail, addressed to me. This was intimidating; how did they know? If I didn’t purchase something right away, would I find a mutilated canvas tote on my pillow the next morning? With just a tinge of Orwellian fear, I ordered my first fashion item with initials on it which were actually my initials.

Well the joke was on me. It turned out classic clothing was really comfortable and occasionally cute. Unlike my thrift-shop finds, it didn’t have a habit of splitting down the seam before French class was over, nor did it have food stains from a decades-old meal. Insidiously, I became the prep I had been when my mother picked out my clothes. Decades later, my catalogues arrive and I say things like “Ooh, THAT’S a nice corduroy pant!” and “WHAT a fun place to put a monogram!” If my mother cackles in vindication, she has the grace to do it after I leave earshot. And then four times a year there’s the Lilly Pulitzer catalogue, which is the most wondrous succotash of the desirable and the disasterous.

So, without further ado, my impressions of the newest Lilly Pulitzer catalogue:

Let us try to determine what happened here. Bitsy was going for a bicycle ride on grass while wearing a straight skirt and shoes without traction. To the surprise of no one but her, Bitsy had an accident, which explains the bicycle on its side in the top of the frame. Before she hit the ground, her trench coat nobly leapt in front of her, so as to take the brunt of the grass (Bitsy’s people stain easily). Having hit the ground, Bitsy thought, “I should take a picture of the sun.” Having taken more than a few falls in my life, rarely with benefit of trench coat, I can suggest with some experience that after your head hits the ground hard, the first idea you have is rarely a great one. I once insisted I needed to take my purse into an MRI. Bitsy, put down the camera and wait for the coat to call 911.

Something about the combination of glasses, jewelry and what looks like housecoats doesn’t make me think: “Quinn, buy this and a life of ease and privilege will be yours.” It makes me think: “Quinn, give these women coral hair and a large pill-dispenser and this is what you will look like when you retire to Boca Raton.”

This is not an overexposed picture. This is, in fact, what you look like all the time when you wear a Lilly Pulitzer shirt. The aura is so strong that some counties forbid the wearing of Lilly near airports. In place of fog lamps, Florida drivers tie preppy women to the front grilles of their cars.

Do you remember that nightmare you once had where you were in the middle of a park and you were wearing a dress made from the doodles of a hung-over sorority girl, industrial-strenght support-hose, shoes from a dinner-theater production of “Annie”, and you’d let a four year-old style your hair?

Me, neither.

I have met women who model for a living who are quite clever; some were even getting degrees in things that made me all depressed because it meant beautiful women can also get all the brains. So why do I assume this woman is, shall we say, untroubled by larger issues? Because she is staring in adoration at a man holding a book, perhaps reading her a fairy tale about what lovely things happen to maidens to keep up on the peroxide? Is it because he's wearing glasses — the time-honored signifier for “I’m the smart one and she’s the other one”? No, we are to understand she’s in the lower third of her massage-therapy class because she put that belt with that dress.

[And I think the book is upside down.]

I don’t like the look on his face. Something tells me only one person is coming back from this little boat trip. And look what’s on the next page: the only objects found after they dredge up the boat. Paolo, the engagement ring and her bank account are already back in Argentina.

Some stylist in Florida looked at this outfit and thought “You know what would set this off perfectly? ... A life-vest!” I would agree, because it has distracted me from my original thought, [Has any man ever loved me enough to wear those shorts in public?] and set me off on a new thought [You are wearing a life-vest and you are on dry land. There is no boat visible to the horizon and you are sitting in a wicker chair -- an object which has never caused a single person to drown]. My final thought: Perhaps I can introduce you to Belt Lady about two pages back…

*** *** ***

LL Bean and J. Crew dress me, but Lilly’s better company.

(This blog was brought to you by a generous donation of time from the Consort Foundation. Putting these pictures in was a Herculean labor, and I thank him.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Heads up.

I was going to do a measured think-piece about the election, but then the mail came.

And my Lilly Pulitzer catalogue arrived.

See you tomorrow.