On Turning 47

On Turning 47


Two years ago, I wrote about turning 45.

Last year, I didn’t have much to say about turning 46.

But this year, I have thoughts about turning 47.

I have a lot of thoughts.

Today I decided to look through my calendar to refresh my memory from the past year. What I saw was a whole lot of doctor’s appointments.

  • Mine—I have a very bad back.
  • And my husband’s—he has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

This has been a year of “coming to terms.”

I’m coming to terms with the fact that: Continue reading

11 Days: My Caregiving Story

11 Days: My Caregiving Story


I don’t usually tell personal stories here, but helping my mom get her caregiving project going has inspired me to tell my own caregiving story. This a cross-post between my blog and my mom’s. Wow, now that’s something I thought I’d never say.

Day 1

On Sunday Dec. 4, 2011 my mom called me and said Grandma had had a stroke and could I go to Peru. An hour and a half from Muncie. I went.

Continue reading

I have a new job

I have a new job


A few weeks ago I went to the high school graduation party of my second cousin, Erin. She’s going to be a freshman at Ball State this fall. I asked her if she was taking ENG 103 with “Staff,” and she said, “How do you know?”

“Because starting July 1st, I’m the person who makes sure there is a class for you to take and someone to teach it.”

So, today I officially started my new job as Assistant Chair of Operations of the English Department at Ball State University.

What does this mean?

Well, I work in a very large department. We have a chair and two assistant chairs. Basically, I’ll be in charge of:

  • Scheduling classes. This is pretty complicated when you consider 100+ sections of first-year writing, the needs of 60+ faculty members, and the desires of hundreds of students who want to graduate on time.
  • Advising. I’m the primary advisor, which means I’m the person who figures out when you can graduate, whether that class should count for the major, etc.
  • Library budget.  One thing I’ve learned about academia over the last 20 years is the value of a good university library. I’m the person who reminds everyone to turn in book and journal acquisition requests.
  • Personnel. I will hire and help to review the yearly performance of our full-time contract faculty.
  • Communications. With the help of three interns, I oversee our social media accounts, department blog, and yearly newsletter.
  • Other things I’ve probably forgotten.

2014-07-01 16.41.08A few of my thoughts today

Right now, I feel least confident about the advising aspect of this job. I know the creative writing curriculum very well, but now I’ll need to understand the needs of all the majors, notably the teaching majors.

I feel most confident about the communications aspect. It’s a challenge I look forward to. How the hell do you communicate effectively with such a large number of people? I’ve been thinking about this a lot with regard to my job as a writer (communicating with readers) and as a teacher (communicating with students), and now I’ll apply what I’ve learned to my job as an administrator (communicating within and without the department to faculty, students, alumni, donors, deans, etc.)

Because my job will involve hiring contract faculty, my new position will give me a front-row seat to the adjunct crisis. This issue has been on my mind a lot for the last few months. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know I’ve been sharing many articles like this one. Unfortunately, I will not be in a position to fix the problem (determine budgets and create teaching lines, etc.), only to manage the problem. But I am determined to use whatever privilege I’ve been afforded to do right by everyone.

Most writers who work in academia eventually take their turn in administrative roles. Writers have a reputation for flightiness in these matters, but I have many friends and acquaintances who are/have been excellent administrators. Most of my grad school cohort have all been directors or assistant chairs or chairs by now.

Conventional wisdom for writers in academia is that you should practice a healthy kind of selfishness: keep your head down, do what needs to be done at the institution that employs you, but volunteer for nothing that will distract from the limited amount of time you have to write. I know many writers who have directed writing programs, but very few who have chaired an entire department or who would want to. Creative writers aren’t typically very good at being bureaucrats. And that’s what I have agreed to become, really, a slightly bigger cog in a large bureaucracy called an American university.

My problem is that I have always liked being in charge of something. This goes all the way back to my junior year of high school when I was elected class president and spent one class period a day working behind the scenes to put on The Prom. I’ve never been so happy. All those moving parts. The lists. Creating a structure, a system, a kind of machine. If you build it right, things go smoothly. I love trying to figure out how a system works.

This blog was created in an effort to figure out how my classroom works, and I shared that thinking with you. However, I cannot do the same thing re: my new position. Much of what I do will concern confidential matters. There are many blogs about being a writer, some about being a teacher, but none (that I’ve ever seen) about being an administrator. Why? I imagine it’s because you’re too freaking busy, because it’s not interesting to most people, and because there’s a lot you can’t really talk about anyway.

However, I think that this silence re: the professional lives of academics is one of the reasons that we’re in the mess we’re in. The public doesn’t understand what we do. Some of my most popular posts here at the Big Thing are on “unspoken” topics, such as how to ask for a letter of recommendation for grad school or how to write a Statement of Purpose. I’ll try to find a way to share what I’m learning with all of you in a way that’s helpful but also professional.

(Many thanks to Nicole Walker for pointing me to this blog, Confessions of a Community College Dean. The blogroll will be of much interest to anyone interested in higher ed issues.)

Will this job make it easier or harder to finish my novel? That’s a good question. The position comes with release time. I’ll go down to one course a semester. I’ll need to be in the office more often, but I can work something more akin to “banker’s hours.” I’m looking forward to more compartmentalization in my daily and weekly routine, and that, I hope, will be good for my writing habit. I do better with a little structure to my days. I recognize, however, that protecting my writing time and the head space for it is largely up to me.

This past weekend, I became very nervous about taking this job. I went into my closet and realized that most of my teaching clothes are for fall and winter. In the summer, I mostly wear t-shirts every day. So I went to Goodwill and TJ Maxx and bought myself a shit-ton of classier summer attire. I rationalized these purchases by remembering this quotation from the fashion designer Mainbocher:

“How you look influences how you feel, and how you feel influences how you act, and how you act influences how many other people act.”

I’ve never really been in a position of authority before, but I’m grateful that the newly elected department chair, Dr. Adam Beach, thought I could do the job. I anticipate that the focus of this blog might change a bit–in fact, I have no idea what category to call this post!–and I hope you’re willing to go along for the ride.

On Turning 45

On Turning 45


Given that my grandparents lived into their 90’s, I’d say that my life is roughly half over. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just an honest one.

So, I’ve been thinking:

What did I do during the first half of my life?

  • educated myself
  • started a career
  • published two books
  • saw one of those books take on its own life
  • sat in the dark and watched other people watch my imagination come to life on a stage
  • got married to someone I want to be talking to when I’m 90+ Continue reading
Movie Marriage: Thoughts on my 4th Wedding Anniversary

Movie Marriage: Thoughts on my 4th Wedding Anniversary

General Writing

I’ve had marriage on the brain for the last few months. Here’s why:

  • Today is my fourth wedding anniversary.
  • We’re getting some marriage counseling.
  • I’m writing a novel, which is about–among other things–why people get married.

I read an article recently which said Year Four is when the euphoric stage of “passionate love” fades and “mature love” begins. Yep, I believe it. I’ve never been so blissfully happy in my whole life as I was during our first year or two together, and right on schedule, our marriage has been tested recently.

Before I Got Married

It wasn’t that long ago that I was 37 and single, and all I could think about was love and marriage, chance and fate. Why had my life turned out the way it had? Was there anything I could do to change it, or did it need changing at all?

I challenged myself to find out these answers, and then I wrote a strange little book about it: Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love. It’s about the Colts 2006 Super Bowl season, and about my season of dating. Imagine a mashup of a smart rom-com and an inspirational sports movie. When Harry Met Sally meets Hoosiers.

Sports metaphors have always resonated very strongly for me, and there was one that I kept going back to again and again. Vince Lombardi said:

There are approximately 150 plays in a football game, and there are only three of four plays in any game which make the difference between winning and losing. No one know when the big play is coming up. Therefore, every player must go all out on every play.

I felt there was a lesson in that. Maybe I’d already met the “right” three or four people, but I’d let them  go because I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe, in order to change my life, I needed to stop acting like I had all the time in the world and start paying attention.

So: that’s what I did. I went all out on every play, every day for a year, and holy shit, it nearly drove me insane. Here, I wrote about for SI.com.

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset

This is the full story of how I met my husband.

We met the first time in 1990 and got along very well, but then we lost touch–as people did in the pre-email, pre-Facebook days. Flash forward 18 years. He heard me on the radio talking about Comeback Season and got in touch. I remembered him immediately, although I’m not going to say that I spent those years pining for him. But I did think of him as one of those important plays out of the 150.

before sunsetThe summer we started dating, the summer I was trying to decide if this man was the person I’d been waiting for, I happened to rent the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset.

Background: Jesse and Celine meet as twenty-somethings in Vienna in the first movie, Before Sunrise, and then nine years later they reunite as thirty-somethings in Paris in Before Sunset. They float down the Seine and reflect on the what-ifs. What if they’d exchanged phone numbers in 1994? What if? What if?

Celine says, “I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.”


They talk about the book that Jesse has just published about that night in Vienna, which is how they’ve reconnected: she read about him in a magazine.

Jesse: You want to know why I wrote that stupid book?

Celine: Why?

Jesse: So that you might come to a reading in Paris and I could walk up to you and ask, “Where the fuck were you?”

Celine: [laughing] No – you thought I’d be here today?

Jesse: I’m serious. I think I wrote it, in a way, to try to find you.

Celine: Okay, that’s – I know that’s not true, but that’s sweet of you to say.

Jesse: I think it is true.

And so, reader, I married him. Four years ago today.

It wasn’t just because of the movie, but yeah, it had something to do with it. Yes. And I’ll be honest: I’m a fiction writer, and I cannot deny that one reason why I married my husband is because I knew it was a great story. It’s like the happy ending of rom-com/sports movie. It gives people hope; I know this because people who’ve read the book write and tell me so. Here’s one I got the other day, as a matter of fact, from a woman who is getting married soon:

I was very much inspired by your real-life story…it gave me hope for my future too. And I’m SO glad to see that you two are so happy together!

Before Midnight and Mature Love

A few weeks ago, I saw the third film in the Linklater trilogy, Before Midnight.

before-midnight-ethan-hawke-julie-delpy-11Jesse and Celine are finally “together,” but things aren’t blissful. In fact, the movie contains a wonderful, 30-minute knock-down-drag-out fight. I saw the movie with a bunch of friends my age, and we laughed ruefully throughout. What fascinated me about the movie was its realistic depiction of a mature relationship. How do people stay together over the long haul? I really want to know. And sentimental rom-coms aren’t going to give me the answer.

As I watched, I thought about the people (mostly married) who told me when I was going through my Comeback Season phase six years ago that I was just idealizing marriage, that marriage wouldn’t necessarily make me happy.

They were right. And they were wrong.

Take This Waltz and Happy Endings

There are two kinds of stories about love: the kind that ends with the big kiss/the declaration of love/the wedding, and the kind that begins there and moves into mature love.  Happily-ever-afters vs. reality-ever-afters, and as you know, mainstream America loves the comforting, sentimental nostalgia of the former, not the big bummer of the latter.

But here’s the thing: our lives contain both of these stories.

When I was living the experience that was Comeback Season, someone close to me said, “You have to find love at the end of the book or nobody will want to buy it.”

[Remember, I didn’t meet my husband until after the book was published.]

I said, “But I didn’t meet anyone. No one special anyway.”

“Well, then just end the book at a moment when you are dating someone,” he said. “Give the reader some hope.”

This isn’t what I ended up doing, but the conversation did make me think a lot about where writers end “relationship stories” and why .

take this waltzOne of the best films I saw this year was Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz about a married woman (Michelle Williams) contemplating whether or not to have an affair. For most of the movie, I thought the dramatic question was “Which one of these two guys will she end up with: her husband or the neighbor?”[Spoiler alert!] Then she chooses the neighbor, and they embrace.

If the movie had ended there, it might have been your typical rom-com. But it doesn’t end there. It keeps going. You get a montage of Williams’s relationship with the neighbor, which moves from passionate to mature (slightly dull) love. I’m not sure how much time passes in this montage, but for fun, let’s say four years. Clearly, Williams isn’t sure if she made the right decision leaving her husband, and her former sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman) says, “Life has a gap in it. It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it like some lunatic.”

Mind the Gap

Last week, I took my husband out for his birthday. We had a perfect day. And I said, “Can you believe that just one week ago, we were fighting so bad I thought we were going to have to get a divorce?” And he said, “I don’t even remember that.”

If you’d ended the movie of our marriage a week earlier, it would have been as depressing as the day the Colts released Peyton Manning, but a week later,  it was all Harry kissing Sally on New Year’s Eve/Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!/”You had me at hello.”

Being married isn’t one decision. Being married is deciding to stay married every single day. It’s hard. It’s boring. It’s not terribly cinematic.

A lot of people want to get married because they want to perform “Being Married” in front of other people–in real life and on Facebook.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe I’m guilty of this sometimes, too. I share our good moments, but not our bad. I don’t especially like admitting that my marriage isn’t perfect–there’s some shame involved in telling you that–but maybe if I tell you that I’m trying to mind the gap, it will help you mind it, too.

Maybe  the best way to give you hope–whether you’re married or not–is to tell you that my own love story has Happy Ending Days and Bummer Ending Days, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Writing Machines & Writing Spaces

Writing Machines & Writing Spaces

General Teaching Writing

A little over a year ago, I had back surgery, and this has changed forever the way I write. Because I can no longer sit for long periods of time, I move around a lot. I have a few places where I write.

This is my main desk, command central, you might say. I have a home office. The picture on the left is what my desk looks like normally. The one on the right is what it looks like when I do a purge.


Continue reading

The Girl with Big Hair

The Girl with Big Hair

General The Circus in Winter

On Thursday, July 19 at 7 PM, I’ll be at the new Indy Reads Books reading a story called “The Girl with Big Hair.” Here’s why you should come.

Because I had some rockin’ hair in 1987. Admit it.

Because you’ve probably never read this story. It was published in The Gettysburg Review in 1999. The story concerns Jenny and Ethan Perdido, characters in The Circus in Winter, but because it’s not set in Lima, Indiana, the editor and I decided it didn’t quite fit into the book manuscript.

Because it’s about my internship at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. In 1990, I went to New York with a bunch of other Midwestern college kids. We lived in a Chelsea brownstone and did internships by day and roamed the city by night—and got college credit! It was glorious.

Because one of the other kids in this program was this guy from Wabash College named Eric Kroczek, who I clicked with immediately but pretty much blew off.

1990, New York City. Eric and I are far right.

Because when I sat down in 1995 to write a story about my Interview experience, I remembered blowing Eric off and put him in the story. I changed his name to “Nate.”

Because when Comeback Season was published in 2008, I was interviewed on WFYI’s Art of the Matter, and Eric Kroczek/”Nate” was living in Indianapolis, driving to the grocery store, and he heard me on Art of the Matter. When he got home, he emailed me and we clicked again and a year and a half later, we got married—17 years after we met in New York City.

[This is where it all comes together.] Because that interview that Eric was listening to was conducted by Travis DiNicola, Executive Director of Indy Reads, who made Indy Reads Books a reality.

Because if it wasn’t for Travis, I might not be happily married.

Because, to thank Travis, I’m bringing wonderful things to give away to people who come to the reading with books to donate., including a vintage issue of Interview magazine that is featured prominently in the story I will be reading.

Because the best reason to come to the reading is that you’ll be supporting a new bookstore in downtown Indy as well as a nonprofit that brings literacy to adults in Indianapolis. That’s something you can feel pretty great about.

And if all of that is not enough to convince you to come to this reading, I offer this: my parents will be there, and they are really, really cute.

My parents circa 2004. Still this cute.


Thursday, July 19 at 7:00 PM at 911 Mass Ave., Indianapolis.

Bring books to donate! There will be a drawing! Win things!

Here’s the Facebook invite.

Me and the staff of Interview, circa 1990. Good times. They offered me a job! But I turned it down and went to grad school instead.

1000 Cranes for My Wedding

1000 origami cranes
1000 origami cranes

Three years ago today, Eric and I got married surrounded by family and 1000 origami cranes, called Senbazuru.

I got a lot of questions about why I did this.

Are you Japanese?

Um. No.

Have you read Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, and if so, what does your wedding have to do with the bombing of Hiroshima?

No. And nothing.

What were your wedding colors? Those birds are so many different colors!

Why does my wedding need to be color coordinated?

Oh God, next thing you know you’ll be saying you didn’t wear white. 

Oh, I wore white. Just not a white dress. A white suit.

[Sigh.] Okay, so really: where did you get the notion to fold 1000 cranes?

I loved Northern Exposure, and if you watched that show, then you might remember Adam and Eve’s wedding.

Northern Exposure, "Our Wedding," Season 3, episode 22
Northern Exposure, “Our Wedding,” Season 3, episode 22

Eric’s family folded a few hundred cranes for me (thank you), and I folded the rest during the 2008-2009 NFL playoffs. I could fold pretty fast—one crane in two minutes—and so I could crank out 20 or 25 birds an hour and still catch all the big plays.

I folded the 1000th crane during Super Bowl XLIII as the Steelers beat the Cardinals.  Then I put the birds in big paper grocery bags in groups of 100.

We got married in the beautiful backyard at Eric’s parents’ house in LaPorte, and had the small reception in their sun porch. That’s where we decided to hang the cranes—in the windows that looked out over the scenic back yard.birds 010


Traditionally, Senbazuru strings are comprised of cranes stacked on top of each of other, but I wanted a little space between each bird, so I cut up drinking straws to use as spacers.

We spent the day before the wedding stringing. Forty birds per string. Twenty five strings total.

birds 011Or maybe it was twenty-five birds per string, and forty strings total? Whichever. It was a lot of birds, and it was beautiful.

An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish. What did I wish for as I folded those birds? It’s hard to put into words, but it felt the way this song sounds.

No marriage is kissy poo and cranes every single day. Certainly not mine. But so far, my wish has come true. Not every single day, but most days. At least 1000 so far.


Cranes re-purposed for the reception.
Cranes re-purposed for the reception.

What happened to the cranes?

Technically, you’re supposed to burn the cranes after your event in order to send your wish aloft. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. My sister, who is a grade-school teacher, asked if she could have them to hang in her classroom. I said sure. But before she could get them hung, something else happened. A man and his two children were killed in an awful semi truck accident in southeastern Indiana, near where she lives. The mother’s wishes were to have 1,000 cranes at the funeral for each of her loved ones. So, she donated her cranes to the family to help them cope with their terrible loss. This makes me very happy indeed. Here’s the full story.

After Downton: Try These Great Period Drama Series

After Downton: Try These Great Period Drama Series

General Writing

When Downton Abbey, Series 1 finished last spring, I was bereft. To cope, I embarked on a period drama frenzy. These were my favorites. Perhaps they will fill the void for you, too.

Click on the title to go to part 1 if it’s on YouTube, but most are streaming on Netflix as well.

The Forsyte Saga. When you get to the end of series 1, you’ll need to watch series 2. Trust me. A highly charged miniseries that follows the intrigues and scandals of a landed middle class London family, and the one woman who will turn their world upside-down.  Adapted from the novel by John Galsworthy.

North and South. Who knew the Industrial Revolution could provide so much opportunity for intrigue and romance? Basically, this is Pride & Prejudice, but it’s also about LABOR UNIONS. There’s an Elizabeth Bennett named Margaret Hale, and a Mr. Darcy, here called Mr. Thornton, played by Richard Armitrage, and he’s every bit as smoldering, growling, and mesmerizing as Colin Firth.  Adapted from the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.

South Riding. A fiery young headmistress Sarah Burton brings her modern ideas to the conservative girls’ school in depression-era Yorkshire, sparking conflict — and attraction — with Robert Carne, a stubborn, brooding landowner mired in a troubled past.  Based on the novel by Winifred Holtby. Like North & South, a fascinating example of how a good love story can make a politically-minded novel sing.

The Way We Live Now. This adaptation of the Trollope novel is a satire of the financial scandals of the 1870’s, but it speaks perfectly to our 99% times, too. Again: Romance + Social Commentary = Love Stories that “Matter”

Wives and Daughters.  Adaptation of another Gaskell novel. Note: Gaskell died just before completing the book. She was obviously aiming at a happy ending, and the writer has supplied the lost denouement with surprise and style. 

Bleak House  Gillian Anderson leads this ensemble cast. Charles Dickens’ complex tale of young love, murder, and the quest for a mystery-man’s identity unfolds in this adaptation by screenwriter Andrew Davies. Bleak House features some of the most famous plot twists in literary history, including a case of spontaneous human combustion and an inheritance dispute tied up for generations in the dysfunctional English courts.

Is it bad to admit that at a certain point, I was watching so many of these things that I could recognize recycled dresses and country estates?

Sense and Sensibility 2008  This one’s not on YouTube. You’ve probably seen the 1995 version directed by Ang Lee. But this one’s wonderful, too, esp. because Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) is Edward Ferrars.

What all these have in common is that they’re adaptations, and this, gentle reader, is why Downton Abbey succeeds so well. It is not an adaptation. Downton Abbey is Dallas with corsets and British accents. On the spectrum between “soap opera” and “serious drama,” it falls toward the latter only by virtue of its aristocratic setting.

Most of the series I’ve listed above are based on books of serious literature, which contain romantic subplots along with social commentary, as does Downton Abbey. But Downton, on the other hand, need not have any fidelity to a source text written long ago when narrative was simply a whole lot pokier. Downton Abbey may look like a Merchant Ivory film, but it “reads” as fast as Hunger Games.

That’s why we love it.