How Is Your Day Going So Far? (Please Do Not Ask Me That)

Contemporary life has it’s annoyances. I don’t like the superficiality of “how are you?” I found it particularly difficult when I was bereaved as a widow. Did the person really want to know? Should I lie? I still brush it off—charmingly I hope—with the answer “I have no idea!” Sometimes people laugh. Mostly they just ignore the unexpected.
At 8 am at the dentist’s office, I was asked “How is your day going so far?” So far? Well, I had coffee and psyched up to be injected, numbed, drilled, crowned, and charged a king’s ransom. My day was mediocre, headed for bad. Why ask?
“What can possibly have happened so far?” I said. I was unprepared for the answer, which in true New Mexican fashion looked at potential disaster with both resignation and humor. The speaker answered: “You could have been pulled over by the cops. Busted. You could have gone into labor. Someone else could have gone into labor…” I had to laugh. This sounded like some of the more plausible excuses I used to get in English 111 about why an essay was late.
So I enjoyed the exchange. Until the next time I got asked. At the airport. At 6:30 am. I’d had coffee, and psyched up for TSA, lines, turbulence, and strange landing gear noises.
This time, I didn’t say much of anything.
Next time, please don’t ask.

Inside Story by Julia Goldberg

1. Julia–you’ve just published your first book–INSIDE STORY. The focus is a guide to writing creative nonfiction. I found the tone and approach very helpful. What in particular can the reader expect to learn?

My hope is that the book has appeal to many different types of creative nonfiction writers, from students to working writers and everyone in between. Inside Story delves into various categories of nonfiction—from memoir to journalism to the lyric essay. Each chapter endeavors to provide explanations about craft, writing exercises as well as references and resource lists. So, it’s a way to both learn more about the genre but also very much a practical guide to reporting and writing creative nonfiction. I have read many craft books myself, so I tried to distinguish my book in terms of it sounding like me—it has, I hope, much of the information one might find in a textbook, but it has a voice as well.

2. Was it easier–or more difficult–to write a book than you expected? You’ve been an editor in numerous capacities, including the Santa Fe Reporter but this is a different kind of endeavor. What surprised you?

I was surprised at how challenging it was! I’ve written on deadline my entire adult life and have written many long-form reported pieces. I worked as an editor on another book (Best Altweekly Writing, 2009-2010 from Northwestern Press). So I am familiar with many of the components needed to write a nonfiction book, such as research, reporting, organizing and, of course, the actual writing. But the accumulative process—writing for hours every day, day after day, and still not being finished, was a challenging—invigorating and difficult—experience. It set a bar in terms of my appreciation for the stamina it takes, for sure.

3. Anything else you want to add?
The book isn’t just my take on reporting and writing. I’ve been lucky in my career to both meet and read many amazing writers. I interviewed and reference numerous people for this book, whose own perspectives and experiences are in each chapter, and I’m very grateful for that.

4.How can readers buy a copy?
If readers are in Santa Fe, they can buy it at Collected Works. The book also is available on Amazon and all other online retailers. I’m also doing a giveaway on Goodreads May 24-June 23, so they can enter and maybe win one!

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Story-Everyones-Reporting-Nonfiction/dp/0997020776

Goodreads giveaway link: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/237632-inside-story-everyone-s-guide-to-reporting-and-writing-creative-nonfict

House Dress

I spent the majority of Sunday cleaning house and watering the yard, warring with the omnipresent Chinese elm seeds, and feeling virtuous. And I was properly dressed for the occasion—in a housedress. My grandma Sadie always wore a neat little flowered duster of a dress to do housework. It was practical, differentiated home from the outside world, and looked tidy. As I prefer unconstricted clothing—sometimes even drawstring pants are too much—I’m happy in my one piece items that range from classic housedress (snaps, pockets, puffy sleeves) to a colorful short caftan that works just as well.
My mother loathed the look. She hated Depression era fashion, particularly on me. We fought for years about my favorite dress—a black 1930’s styled cotton dress patterned with red cherries. She would have bodily ripped it off me if she’d dared. I wore it to college interviews against her imprecations—only to have interviewers say: what a cute dress! It was a cute dress, and flattering, and modest. In an era of micro mini skirts I have no idea what my mom was freaking out about. She just hated that it reminded her of her mother.
Before she died, my mom sent me a clipping of me receiving the first poetry award I ever acquired while wearing…the dress. In that photo, I recognize the girl I was, the woman I would become. My expression is pleased if bemused—I look happy if slightly confused by life. My hair is bad—lank and unstyled. My dress is sweet. This is how I will remain for the rest of my life—bad hair, good dress, nice smile, mixed attitude. My mother enclosed a note saying—I don’t know why I carried on about that dress.
I don’t know either. My grandma Sadie came from poverty and oppression in the Ukraine to Boston. She was a seamstress, a union organizer, and a woman who loved clothes. She could crochet and trim a hat and judge a garment by its seams. She had a beautiful heavily embroidered silk kimono that never fit any of us as she was well under five feet tall. My mother also loved clothes. But I think she was ashamed of her roots in some way—she disliked the handmade, and the fashions of her childhood.
My paternal grandmother Esther also loved clothes and wore brilliant brocades and rich fabrics and patterns as her family ascended the social ladder. From her my sisters and I inherited a love of massage,hot springs and exercise. Influenced by the European physical culture movement, she did calisthenics naked and swam in the ocean every day. When I went to massage school, my father was as upset as my mother had been over the dress. “It’s all Esther’s fault,” he said.
My parents wanted to be modern, assimilated, American. But the counterculture—and cultural style itself—brought back everything from Swedish massage to shoulder pads.
Thank you grandmothers for your influence and sense of style.

What I Was Grateful For Today

It was an uneventful day, and I didn’t do anything major, or even write anything. Still…I’m grateful for

1. The blooming lilac, yellow desert broom, and pink roses have bounced back from the weekend’s late spring snow
2. I accomplished a minor but necessary safety repair on the very old Toyota
3. A student solved a creative problem in a useful way
4. I managed to get on with everyone in my immediate sphere–despite some disturbances in the field
5. My pain level was under control
6. I fell back in love with rock and roll
7. I danced, I walked, I swept
8. I had time to waste
9. It turns out the insurance customer service guy was wrong–I am getting a reimbursement
10. My closet has nice spring and summer clothes and I sorted them
11. I had dinner with two very dear friends
12. I got to talk about death and other serious matters–in three separate conversations
13. My husband made me laugh so hard I spit out my coffee
14. I did not feel overly perplexed by human life

White Line–Musing on Love’s Education

Driving at night on a dark country road, I always think of someone I once loved who taught me to navigate by the white right hand line. It’s a handy bit of information. I never think of it though, without remembering the relationship, which came to a sad end.
When I bang a jar bottom to open it, when I put raisins or olives in a cooked dish, when I use the expression “God willing and the creek don’t rise,” I think of those who introduced me to these small yet pungent things.

Letter To My Younger Self by Claudia Hagadus Long

Dear Younger Claudia,
 
You’re sixteen and I’m sixty-one, so obviously I don’t know anything at all about anything, but let me borrow your attention for a minute. Stop reading and look at me.
 
The world is going to change in ways you can’t yet fathom.
 
There will be portable phones that you can take anywhere, send messages all over the world, and do any kind of research you want with them, and you can take photos with them. You know how we always said your sister was born with a phone growing out of her ear? Well, almost everyone will walk around with phones growing out of their ears one day!
 
There won’t be flying air belts, at least none we can use, but you will, eventually, pass your road test and get a driver’s license. You’ll always be a lousy driver.
 
New York City will become safe and airports will become dangerous. Lyndon Johnson will seem like a liberal. We’ll have a black president and we’ll have women on the Supreme Court. And yet birth control will still be an issue. All that marching around you do will actually have an impact on the world, so keep marching around.
 
You know how you became sexy last year, after four years of ugly-duckling-hood? Well, you’ll be sexy for the rest of your life, at least through sixty-one. No, that’s not gross, even if you think it is now. And no, you won’t ever see your natural hair color again.
 
What can I tell you to do differently from what you’ll actually do? I know you’re enjoying the moebius-strip nature of that question. We both know that you won’t take my advice, because, well, you didn’t. You love twisted stuff like that now and you still will when you’re sixty-one.
 
First: Love your mother. She won’t be with you forever, and there are things she’s dying to tell you. Listen to her stories. Be very kind and don’t judge. One day her stories will be your inspiration and you’ll realize that she never had the chance to tell you everything she wanted to because you were too judgmental. Give her that chance.
 
Second: Love your brother. You’ll lose him before he’s 29. His spirit will inhabit your son, but it won’t be the same. So love him while you’ve got him.
 
Third: You’ll marry for love, so don’t settle for anything else. There’s no hurry.  Be as confident inside as you act on the outside.
 
Fourth: Go far away. Take more time off. Go to Switzerland when you get that offer.  You’ll always regret it if you don’t.
 
And fifth: When you’re walking to work next week and you’re late…Don’t take a ride from anyone. Please. This one time, please rewind the future and don’t take that ride.
 
But you will, I know, so let me tell you now, it will be okay in the end.
 
You will live to at least sixty-one. I promise!
Older Claudia
 

Criminal Minds

I’ve been stressed out about a practical matter in my life. This isn’t the time or place for details, but let’s just say that although the end is clearly in sight I’m feeling a bit like Hamlet in his soliloquy where he says that things like legal delays and irritating people have put him over the edge. (OK—I’m wildly paraphrasing, but you know what I mean).
So I’m watching trash. My old friend Miriam Bobkoff, a librarian, and sadly now deceased, always quarreled with my use of the word “trash” to describe what she considered “genre” in film and books. To take her point, I’ve always consumed a fairly steady diet of “genre”—preferences running more to spy and suspense plots than straight up murder mysteries.
However, right now, I crave the narrative flavor of wrongs that are righted—preferably within the hour. For over a year, my low rent television consumption was the entire series “House.” It wasn’t even really trash, and it hit many of my sweet spots—crippled protagonist on pain meds (yes!), rare diseases which are catnip to my inner hypochondriac, and longer lines of story/character development which I love.
Then I finished, life got more complicated, and I stumbled upon “Criminal Minds” which is basically composed of things I hate—violence, sex crimes, serial killers, menaced women and children, stock characters, no basic conflict other than generic good vs. generic evil…And I’m watching it. Quite a lot.
I feel better when those psycho killers are profiled as…psycho killers. And caught and locked up. I wish my own problems—both internal and external—were as tidy.