Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Ghost Showed Up

Happy Halloween! Just in time for the occasion, a ghost finally made an appearance over here. And I posted the whole thing in its entirety for anyone who wants to read it straight through. While doing so, I corrected about two dozen spelling and grammatical errors that would have driven me crazy if I'd read something written by someone else that had them. I'm sure there are probably about two dozen more. I don't have a proofreading assistant, so I'll just apologize in advance for the pain it might cause you to read it.

Most importantly, though: I'm done! (Well, with this draft, anyway.) Yea!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Five Things Expanded

Sharon J. was kind enough to share my five things you may not know about me here, and to let me know she had. I realized after reading her post that not only are memes like slam books, as I once noted, they’re also like one of my all-time favorite childhood games, "gossip." I used to squirm in my seat (if that’s possible while sitting cross-legged on the floor), waiting to hear how the six words I’d whispered into someone’s ear had changed by the time it had gone through twenty other people. (Why is it that, although we had to play dodge ball, a game I despised, about fifty times during any given school year, we only got to play gossip about three?) I’m not quite sure why that game so fascinated me, except maybe that I’ve just always been extremely keen on how and why people perceive and translate things the way they do.

It’s interesting how many of us don’t know, by the time it gets to us, where a meme originated or what it first sounded like when it was initially whispered into the ear of that first person to help send it floating around out there in the blogosphere. Litlove recently posted her Thursday Thirteen, as did Courtney. Now, if I’d only read Litlove’s, I would have thought all Thursday Thirteens had to have something to do with books (maybe even with classics), but with Courtney’s, I realized they didn’t. Thus, I wasn’t aware until I got Sharon’s comment that those five things about me were meant to be inspirations for my writing efforts.

Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about my five things. I’d already planned to write about fears (I actually had ideas about that last month when I was on vacation), but then conversations I had when I was at the office last week got me writing about spelling in my head (I'm one of those people who walks around writing in her head all the time). I looked at my other three things and thought “I could easily expand on all of these.” I'm translating Sharon's meaning very liberally, as the famous five were really meant for writing stories and developing characters. I'm just going to develop my character a little by telling embarrassing stories about myself.

So, all this is to say that if you’re not interested in these things, I’m letting you know in advance, so you can take a vacation from my blog for the next ten days or so. Of course, I’m also planning a Thursday Thirteen, more along the lines of Litlove’s, because, as we all know, this is really the book talk site disguised as a telecommuter talk site. Then again, maybe I’ll do both and address books one Thursday and things that drive me crazy about my workplace/home on another.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Interlibrary Loan

Those of us in the book publishing world spend an awful lot of time these days talking about the book. As I was typing that, I realized you’re probably sitting their thinking, “Uh-duh. Of course you talk about books,” but what I mean by that is the physical book, those printed pages nestled between the two ends of a cover. We wonder how it’s going to change. Is it going to last, or will it go the way of the vinyl record? Are people too impatient these days to sit down and read a whole book?

So, I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues the other morning about the efficiency and effectiveness of the book, and he mentioned something that rarely comes up in these discussions, which is that people like to lend books. This was just after another colleague of mine had walked into a meeting with me and pulled from her bag a copy of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (in case you couldn't tell, I was visiting the office this past week). She told me I had to read it, that I’d find it fascinating (judging from what she told me about it and the cover copy, I’m sure I will).

This got me thinking. Is there anything more flattering than having someone lend you a book? I mean, people can lend you CDs, or they can lend you DVDs, but ultimately, those don’t take quite as much thought, nor as much investment of time. Also, people don’t tend to refer to music and movies as “friends,” do they?

To be lent a book means that: A. someone was actually thinking of you when he was reading it, or at least thinking of you right after he read it, B. someone is willing to risk having you think he’s a complete fool by recommending something you might hate, C. someone is willing to part with something he adores in order to share it with you, and D. someone trusts you enough to believe you won’t walk off with it forever. Is there anything more emotionally intimate or generous than that?

Point A really needs absolutely no explanation: “someone is thinking of me! When I’m not around. Wow!” When it comes to point B, I have to admit, although some books I’ve borrowed from friends haven’t exactly turned up on my most-favorite list, none of my friends has ever lent me a book I absolutely hated. That’s flattering in and of itself, since they’ve obviously put energy into thinking about what I might like. And then there’s point C. Imagine taking one of your best friends (let’s call her Sarah) and saying to another friend (let’s call her Patty), “Here, you two hang out for a while together, because I don’t really need Sarah that much right now, and I’m sure you two will get along famously. Hang out with her as long as you’d like, Patty, but please just make sure I get her back at some point.” No one would do that (and I’m beginning now to understand those people I know who refuse to lend books). Point D is why at this point in my life, having grown up and realized what a rare thing trust can be, I’m much, much more vigilant and obsessive about returning books than I was when I was younger.

When I’m getting to know someone, I always feel we’ve reached some sort of turning point in our relationship when we begin to lend each other books, and my best friends almost always turn out to be those with whom I share books. You start off talking about titles with each other and lending those the other person says she thinks sound good. Eventually, you move into this sort of unspoken territory in which you do things like produce books you’ve never discussed with each other every time you visit or meet for lunch or dinner. And then, sometimes, out of the blue, you just might receive an Amazon package from that friend who’s decided you might like something so much, you ought to have it for your own collection.

My colleague was right. I just can’t imagine exchanging something like an ebook with a friend. Will we one day just email links to each other? Somehow, like a peck on the cheek versus that first real kiss from a new love, I’m sure I will never be able to find that as satisfying. I hope the physical book as we know it at least out lasts my lifetime.

(I’m beginning to realize I really ought to just change the name of this blog from “Telecommuter Talk” to “Book Talk.” But, I did mention the fact in this post that I was “visiting the office,” which was at least a nod to the fact that I telecommute.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Scuba Diving v. Hiking

On a recent hike, I started thinking about the fact that Bob and I tend to do one of two things when we take a vacation: hike or dive. Sometimes, when we’re in a place like Saba or Belize, we get to do both. I’ve been doing a lot of hiking lately, and I began to think about the two and to wonder which I like most. That day, because I’m definitely a “grass-is-always-greener” type, I was inclined to favor diving, but also probably because I was exhausted from hiking farther than I should have, and I was a bit annoyed with my hiking companion who is always a million miles ahead of me (three guesses as to who that was).

The problem with hiking is that I’m always envisioning it as a nice, leisurely activity. I’ll get out there into the fresh air, hike a little, stop, breathe in the musty smells of pine and moss, watch a turtle crossing the path, sit on a rock and admire the way a river races below it…In other words, I’m under the delusion that I’m going to be enjoying nature. However, I rarely ever hike alone, and my hiking companions tend to be men whose goal always seem to be to conquer this current trail as quickly as possible in order to move on to as many other trails as can be conquered in one day. This means hiking at top speed; breathing in merely to keep the lungs full enough to keep going; stepping on the turtle, who deserves it for getting in the way; and only sitting on a rock in order to wait impatiently for me, that huge hindrance who probably shouldn’t have been invited. Instead of being able to share what we’re observing with each other, my hiking buddies are always at least forty paces ahead of me. As soon as I manage to make it to that rock where they’ve been waiting, catching their breath, they’re up on their feet, ready to take off again, and no, I can’t stop and catch my own breath. The sun’s going to be setting soon, thanks to the fact that I’ve been so slow, and we have three more trails to go.

Also, as mentioned in my previous post, I happen to be terrified of heights. To expand on what I said there, I’m not terrified of all heights. However, put me anywhere I’m responsible for keeping myself from falling, and I become paralyzed with fear. A good example of such a place might be some rock on the side of a mountain somewhere. My logic is that there are reasons mountain goats are built the way they are, and that I’m built the way I am, one of which is that I’m not meant to go climbing up huge boulders on the sides of mountains the way they do.

My hiking companions, however, so often seem to have different ideas. They are completely fearless: to them, the higher, the trickier, the more slippery and treacherous, the better. And this ridiculous little fear of heights I happen to have, as I stare up the huge boulders that have a metal ladder surely constructed during the Iron Age, with rungs the size of baby shoes, built into them? I’m just supposed to get over it and to trust my feet. I have one friend who lives out in Oregon who kept telling me to trust my feet and not to look down, as he led me across log bridges (i.e. huge trees that had fallen and lay from one side to the other) over drops into canyons and gullies that even Wile E. Coyote couldn't survive. Turst my feet? One of the main reasons I’m so afraid of heights is that I know I can’t trust my feet, and I have to be able to look down to make sure they’re not going to trip on something. They’ve been tripping me up all my life.

After racing around the jungles of Belize and Guatemala with Bob, other couples, and nothing but male guides, observing that all the males on these excursions were always way ahead of the females, the females being the ones who often wanted to stop and really watch the monkeys that had been spotted in the trees (not just point to them, say, “Oh, there are some monkeys” and quickly moving on, but to stop and really observe them), I decided someone ought to set up “Hikes for Her.” These would be wonderful, leisurely hikes that would encourage hikers to take their time, stop to do things like wade in a creek, observe animals around them, poke around under rocks to see what they could find, etc. Hikers would have the option of hiking the entire seven miles, but no one would think they hadn’t “done it all” or had “wimped out” if they came to a spot where they just wanted to sit and meditate. This would be perfectly acceptable, and the rest of the group would just stop and pick them up on their way back.

The other problem with hiking is that when one hikes, one doesn’t usually embark on a trail expecting it to be full of, oh I don’t know, moose, for instance. I’ve been to Maine countless numbers of times, and I have yet to see a moose in the wild while hiking. Therefore, to be big and fast and to go crashing through the woods on a trail-conquering mission isn’t really seen as a disadvantage (although maybe I would have seen a moose by now if I weren’t always in the company of such companions).

Despite all this, I still love to hike. I love the physical exertion combined with the serenity of the woods, and I like the idea of trying to find the shy creatures that might be all around, because it’s such a treat when I actually do see something like a rabbit or a snake or a doe with her baby. And I even like the vistas, as long as I’m not having to stand too close to an edge somewhere.

Scuba diving, on the other hand, is completely different. One of the main points of diving is to see as many creatures as possible. If you’re told a dive site is full of turtles, then you’d better damn well see some turtles, or you’re going to be very disappointed. And woe to the diver who’s along and scares things off by moving too quickly or stirring up sand on the bottom. Diving is a sport just made for females. Our smaller lungs are an advantage, because we don’t use up as much air. I’m always left with tons of air at the end of a dive and get to hang around much longer than Bob does at fifteen or twenty feet below the surface.

Diving’s made for slow-movers like me. If you move too quickly, you probably won’t see as much, which is why a few years ago, when I was lagging behind a bit as usual, I was the one who got to see a moray eel scare an octopus out of its little hiding place, while all the others on the dive almost missed it, and what they did see was only the after effects, with the octopus and its ink already out of its little rock cave, arms whipping wildly around as it scurried away (still pretty cool, I realize as I describe it, but not as cool as seeing the whole event). It’s also made for those who tend to have a little more fat on their bodies, because we don’t sink as fast, don’t need to use as much air from the tank to fill up our BCDs to control our buoyancy, and, I suspect, probably have overall better buoyancy control once we know what we’re doing.

The other cool thing about diving is that it is truly meditative and very dream-like. All you can hear is your own breathing. The underwater world is seen through a mask that distorts it a bit. The colors are so different from what they are on the surface. You see things that you can never see anywhere else.

All right, I’ve convinced myself. The grass really is greener. We’ve got to get back to the Caribbean soon. There you’ll find me lugging a tank and dive bag full of gear down the dock and onto a boat. Ask me what I’m thinking. I’ll probably tell you how hiking is so much easier than diving, because all you really need is some water and a small pack to hold your book, journal, pen, and a good map.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Five Things You May Not Know About Me

Thanks to Charlotte for giving me a topic for my post today.

1. I was singled out in seventh grade to take the written spelling test for qualification for the state (and ultimately national) spelling bee. I purposely failed the test, because I was petrified by the notion of getting up in front of an audience to spell. I’ve been a horrible speller ever since. I can now speak in front of crowds, but I still hate doing so. And I have forever wondered how many other kids purposely fail such things for whatever reasons, leading adults to think they can’t do something they absolutely can.

2. I believe in God, because my rational mind encounters too much unexplained mystery in this world. I call myself a Christian (never a “good Christian”), because I believe if I truly could ever learn to live life as exemplified by Jesus, with love, justice, and a lack of interest in material things at the core of my being, I’d find real inner peace. And I live in a world in which I am almost always reluctant to admit to these things.

3. I don’t believe for one minute “blonds have more fun.” I was born with copper red hair that turned blond when I was around five years old, and I’m convinced those years I spent as a redhead were some of the most fun years of my life.

4. I love nonhuman animals but somehow can’t bring myself to become a vegetarian. I don’t, however, eat a lot of meat, and when I buy it, I don’t buy anything that’s been factory farmed. I don’t buy dairy products that have been factory farmed, either. And I’m a bit jealous of those who are willing and energetic enough to have committed themselves to being vegetarians, most especially the vegans I know.

5. I’m very afraid of heights, but only when the not falling part is left up to me. So, for instance, I don’t mind at all going to the top of the Empire State Building in an elevator, or being in an airplane. However, put me five rungs up on a ladder, or on a tree branch, or on a cliff with no railing, and I’m petrified.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A New Blog for 21st-Century Feminists and a Meme

All right, so the eloquent and smart Ms. Barton (as opposed to that notable-book-writing Ms. Barton) is going to take Bloglily up on her very kind offer of providing a place where all we eloquent and smart women (and men. I don't want to leave out you eloquent and smart men) can write about all things feminist whenever the mood (or horrible article, or TV ad, or book cover, or movie...) that leaves us feeling appalled hits us. It will be an open blog, so spread the word to your like-minded friends.

Meanwhile, my previous post got me so riled up, I needed something comforting to calm me down, so back to books and memes.

The Fictional Character Meme

1. Which fictional character frightens you the most?
Robert from James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. He's such an extraordinarily rationally evil person, and he does a much more brilliant job of turning religious dogma on its head than any other character I've come across thus far. The Tooth Fairy from Thomas Harris's Red Dragon is a very close second. The way he chooses and observes his victims is the stuff of my worst nightmares.

2. Which fictional parents do you most wish you had?
It's pretty hard to beat Pippi Longstockings's out-of-the-way parents, isn't it?

3. Which fictional character has the most balls?
I don't like him one bit, would have nothing to do with him if I ever met him, and find him utterly despicable, but he certainly has balls: Sammy Glick from Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run?

4. To which fictional character's home would you most like to be invited to dinner?
Stephanie Plum's mother's house from Janet Evanovich's series. Stephanie sometimes complains about putting on a few pounds here and there, but if I ate at her mother's as much as she does, I'd be about 100 pounds overweight. Still, an occasional meal there would be fabulous.

5. If you could invite three fictional couples to your own house for dinner, who would they be?
a. Adam and Eve. I'd cook them up the best feast ever and say to them, "If you're going to be the ones who cause the fall of all humankind, could you please at least do it over something like this rather than over some measly and boring unidentified piece of fruit?" I mean I just might have been able to sympathize if it had been raspberries and cream, but we all know that kind of fruit doesn't grow on trees.
b. Romeo and Juliet. I'd tell them I know they don't believe me, but they're young, things will change, and it really isn't worth their killing themselves over.
c. The Rochesters about fifteen years later. I want to see if his secrecy and inability to communicate is something she still finds fascinating or if she's now beginning to realize how he might have driven his first wife mad.

6. Which fictional character could probably entice you into his/her bed?
Oh, I'm so easily mesmerized, I would have been no contest for Dracula. I'd have been moving in and renovating his coffin for two before I even knew what hit me.

7. Which fictional character would most likely have broken your heart?
If he'd shown the least bit of interest and encouragement, I would have been the 20-year-old, completely naive student suckered in by the married Garp, and it would have ruined me for life, causing me to forever swear off men.

8. In which fictional character's home would you most like to live?
King Arthur's. I know it would have been cold and damp and scary, but I'd make sure the servants had the fire roaring wherever I was, and it would be worth it to get to be surrounded by all those dashing knights and all their exciting tales all the time. My second choice would be almost any home in which a Henry James character lived (one obvious exception being the one in Turn of the Screw).

Okay, nobody ever listens to me, but you're tagged again, if you're reading this. And add some more questions, if you'd like.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


“Appalled.” “Outraged.” “Depressed.” “Demoralized.” I can’t even begin to think of all the words I need to describe how I felt when I read Bob Herbert’s op-ed piece in Monday’s New York Times. Bob Herbert annoys me. I almost always agree with him philosophically, but he’s one of those writers I attribute with having ruined solid, tell-it-like-it-is journalism. I want my novels to give me stories that take me to different worlds, beautifully painting pictures and setting scenes for me. I want my newspapers to tell me what’s going on in this world, and I want their opinion pieces to tell me how the writer feels about it. Therefore, if my favorite restaurant is closing, I want an article that begins, “After nearly fifty years in business, Emily’s favorite restaurant is closing.” An op-ed piece might add what a shame it is that these businesses that have been around so long can no longer afford the exorbitant rents the landlords are extracting from their tenants. I absolutely don’t want an article that begins, “The signature pink and green doors, bearing marks of nearly fifty years of swinging open and closed, had not yet been unlocked for what would be a memorable and poignant night for the hordes of people lined up in front of them, ready to savor Chef Don’s offerings one last time.”

However, Mr. Herbert’s article in Monday’s paper about our culture’s misogyny was enough to make me want to call him up and apologize for all my previous dismissive attitudes. I was reminded how we’re so quick to point fingers at other cultures, other countries, without taking note of what’s happening in our own backyards. He so eloquently also reminded me of all the reasons I can’t stand to hear women say, “I believe in equal rights and all, but I’m not a feminist.” I always want to respond with, “You can’t possibly believe in equal rights and not be a feminist.” I mean, what do these women believe in then? Oh, just that women should be paid what men are, but that shouldn’t be an issue, since women should be at home, not taking jobs away from men? Or maybe it’s that, sure, women should hold positions at institutes of higher learning, but not in the tough fields of science and math, since their brains obviously weren’t made to understand such complicated matters? Perhaps these “non-feminists” mean women should have an equal say in who gets elected, so they definitely should have the vote, but they definitely shouldn’t be the ones holding office.

What truly, truly infuriated me the most, though, was the quote that opened the piece. Not that I ever shop there, but I’m going to tell everyone I know to boycott Abercrombie and Fitch (and any company associated with them). Did you know they’re selling t-shirts for young women that say, “Who needs a brain when you have these?”

So, here we are, sitting atop our stars and stripes, all high and mighty as we pontificate on the horrors of life for all these women living in misogynistic countries around the world (not that I am in anyway insinuating that those women’s lives aren’t horrific, too). Meanwhile, we’ve got people making big bucks by convincing young women in our own country that to degrade themselves in this manner is somehow “cool.” My first instinct was to disparage anyone who would buy such a shirt, but then that’s what we always do, right? Blame the woman who wears the shirt, who resorts to selling her body to support herself, who won’t leave the man who beats her silly…Why blame the ones who’ve been made to feel so worthless they actually believe wearing such a t-shirt is the way to find value?

So, I’m placing the blame on the idiots who designed those shirts. I’m taking my money to places that support women; to places that encourage teenaged girls, when they need it most, to value their intellectual abilities; to places where I might find a t-shirt that says something like this instead, “Eyes focused here? Then what’s up there wants nothing to do with you.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Shock Treatment

A couple of years ago, Bob’s father had a heart attack and was given a 10% chance of surviving the night it happened. Against all odds, two years later, he’s still alive (which just goes to show what doctors know. Of course, they didn’t know the sort of fighter they had on their hands). This week, he’s developed some complications and is back in the hospital. We fully expect him to be home soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been spending an awful lot of time at the hospital, and we’ve been living at my father-in-law’s house with my brother-in-law who lives here fulltime (my mother-in-law, sadly, died before I ever had the pleasure of meeting her).

The things you find out about yourself when plucked from your normal environs and plopped down in unfamiliar territory are often quite shocking. The way things are going this week, I’m feeling like a patient in a 1950s asylum where ECT is all the rage. I’m surprised my hair isn’t standing on end.

The worst thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m a horrible person who harbors an out-of-control morbid curiosity. When we were hanging out in the ER Friday night, waiting for a room in the cardiac unit, I found myself far more interested in what was going on in all the other little rooms around us than in our own. One woman was moaning and yelling at all the assistants and nurses who tried to help her, claiming that all anyone wanted to do was hurt her, while someone I suspected might be a son was hovering around in a very embarrassed manner. Eventually, some policemen came along to question her. The police were involved? How dare they shut the curtains around her and speak in low tones, so I couldn’t hear what they were saying? I was just dying to know what the story was there (had someone broken into her house and beaten her? Was she a psychotic who’d refused to take her medication and had hurt someone herself?), but it seems no one else was interested in my enlightenment.

Then there was the young woman being wheeled down the hall in a wheelchair by two EMTs. She was weeping uncontrollably. I was trying to keep up with them to figure out what was going on, as I could only see her from behind (was she hurt? Was she just in a wheelchair because she was so distraught she couldn’t stand on her own? Had she been involved in some sort of accident in which she’d survived but had lost a loved one?), but they were moving as if they were about to win some sort of wheelchair marathon.

Saturday morning, I found my father-in-law in his room with a roommate. The gentleman was very sweet and informed me he was ninety years old and that his wife had passed away last March at the age of 89. They’d been married for 55 years. That was all fine and great, and I responded as politely and kindly as I could, but it wasn’t what I wanted to know. I wanted to know why he was there. Had he had a heart attack? Was he just there for tests like my father-in-law? I also wanted to know who the person was who kept calling obviously to say she loved him but who never seemed to visit. And I wanted to know why his great nephew was the one who lived with him and took care of him.

Finally, there’s the Halloween factor. I’ve been reading a lot about ghosts lately. Yesterday afternoon, I found myself sitting next to my father-in-law, watching him sleep, and wondering how many people have died in this room, which led me to think about hospitals and ghosts. Seems to me that if ghosts exist, hospitals must be full of them. Yet, I can’t recall any ghosts showing up in hospitals in any popular stories from the genre. I’m dying to ask the nurses if there are any stories of any hauntings in the hospital (which is just the sort of information someone with my imagination needs while hanging out in a room all alone with a man who’s spending most of his time sleeping, and when he's not, has strict instructions not to walk around too much) .

So this is what I become when I’m living away from home and making frequent visits to the hospital. Basically, I’m no better than all the rubber-necking ambulance-chasers I tend to mock when I’m busily going about my life on my own familiar turf. Well, at least I’ve learned a few things, not the least of which is that I’d better stay away from cemeteries.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Conflicting Emiliosis Disorder

A while back, Mandarine had suggested a good way to confront my addiction to such places as chatterbean.com might be to design a little quiz of my own. This sounded like quite sane advice, and so I have. You can take this very short quiz to help you decide whether or not you suffer from Conflicting Emiliosis Disorder. Chances are, you don't. This is a rather rare disorder whose symptoms include, but are not limited to:

An inability to reconcile the rational with the emotional
An extreme dependence on "shades of gray" rather than "black and white" thinking
An abundance of conflicting stances and feelings about situtations and ideas, such as embracing feelings of both love and hate about almost every aspect of normal living (e.g. owning a home, working, family, etc.)
An abundance of examples of not living the way one intends, such as having a desire to be more organized while living a life ruled by disorganization and chaos
An extreme fondness for taking the "Devil's advocate" position

The following test should help you determine whether or not you may suffer from this disorder. Remember, this quiz is not a substitute for a clinical evaluation. If you think you may suffer from Conflicting Emiliosis Disorder, you should consult with a professional.

1. A Bombay Sapphire martini with extra olives, a frozen margarita with salt, and a fine bottle of wine:
a. are all wonderful things at the right time and in the right circumstances, but the circumstances are always right for a good book and a pot of tea. Of course, a good mystery with a gin and tonic in a hammock in the summer time is also a good thing. And then there's a nice glass of sherry with a good book of ghost stories by a fire on a rainy fall evening... (3 points)
c. are various lunch choices (1 point)
d. are fattening. Please pass a Diet Pepsi instead. (2 points)
b. can't hold a candle to a McDonald's milkshake. (o points)

2. Packing to go on vacation:
a. starts as soon as you decide where you're going. Books must be chosen with meticulous care, and you need to take as many as possible, because if you only take one or two, what happens if you're stuck sitting on the runway for 12 hours and you finish them? Or what if you discover you've chosen one you just can't possibly get into? Somewhere, you'll manage to find space in the suitcase for a bathing suit, a couple of pairs of shorts, a toothbrush, and the credit card you'll need to pay for the books you'll be buying while you're away. (3 points)
b. starts as soon as you've decided where you're going. You pull out your worn copy of "How to Pack," make sure you've got everything on the checklist, order what you don't have and need, check to see that your passport is up-to-date (even if you're traveling within your own country. You never know what might happen), get your traveler's checks, make sure you'll be able to use your A.T.M. card wherever you're going, stop by AAA to get your maps, oil all the wheels on your suitcase, and have your car tuned up (even if you're just driving it to the airport). Three days before you leave, you've got all your clothes, your first aid kit, your Swiss army knife, emergency phone numbers, 2 carefully-chosen lightweight paperbacks, and all your toiletries neatly laid out on the spare bed for packing. 2 nights before you leave, you've got them all neatly packed in such a way as to avoid wrinkles (even though they're all supposedly wrinkle-free, because you'd never dream of traveling with something that wasn't), along side your travel iron. (0 points)
c. is something you'd never do. You hate to leave the comfort of your own home, and the idea of going to unfamiliar places is way too scary. (o points)
d. means online shopping. You absolutely must have a brand-new, color-coordinated wardrobe suitable for your intended destination and some new books to take with you. (1 point)

3. A bath:
a. is a complete waste of time. Why wait around for a tub to fill up and then sit around in it when you can be in and out of a shower in five minutes? (2 points)
b. is one of the most decadent luxuries first-world countries have to offer their residents, especially when they've got lovely-scented bubbles in them and are in a huge tub in a warm bathroom, comfortable enough for the bather to lie back in and read. That is, as long as you weren't absolutely filthy when you climbed into it, and as long as you don't allow yourself to think about what might be floating around in there with you. (3 points)
c. is for dogs and children. A shower is the most effective way to clean yourself and to apply and rinse all your hair care products. (o points)
d. will do in a pinch without a shower, because you absolutely can't go more than twenty-four hours without washing. (1 point)

4. Food is:
a. one of those great pleasures in life, given to us to counterbalance all the horrors and disappointments we have to face. It's meant for experimentation, savoring, sharing, loving, comforting, oh yeah, and providing sustenance. What else can do so much? (2 points)
b. a pain in the ass when you're doing something truly fun and absorbing (like riding the boat from one scuba diving site to another), suddenly realize you haven't eaten in five hours, forgot to bring a sandwich, and there's no source of food to be found for miles around. (2 points)
c. the enemy, enticing you into its trap and slowly killing you when you eat too much of it.
(2 points)
d. all of the above, depending on the day, time, and circumstances. (3 points)

5. You're in New York City where three different friends have called you at the last minute to invite you to three different events tonight, all on their dimes. The first one has spare tickets to go see "A Chorus Line" on Broadway and would like you to join her. Another one called to tell you he's got tickets for an Alfred Hitchcock festival at one of the theatres. A third has invited you to an author reading and book-signing at Barnes and Nobles with Anne Lamott. You:
a. go see "A Chorus Line" (2 points)
b. go to the movies (2 points)
c. go to the author reading (2 points)
d. want to kill yourself. Why are you always faced with these sorts of dilemmas? Why is it that you go months and months and months with nothing to do, and then all the best-sounding invitations for the past five and probably next ten years in your life always happen on the exact same night? How can you possibly choose from one of these three to-die-for options? (3 points)

Scoring: each answer has a number in parentheses at the end of it. Total up the numbers for your answers. If you scored:

0-5 points: You have no need to worry. You don't even have a remote chance of developing Conflicting Emiliosis Disorder. (I have no idea what's attracted you to this blog, though.)

6-10: You have some characteristics of those who display classic cases of Conflicting Emiliosis Disorder. However, everyone, from time-to-time, is known to exhibit some symptoms. Unless you find yourself answering questions with, "Yes. No. I mean yes. Well, maybe not...it all depends on...and did you think about..." you are probabaly safe. You may find this blog a fun place to hang out from time-to-time.

11-15: You're an excellent candidate for my Conflicting Emiliosis Disorder support group, whose handbook and meeting place are conveniently all rolled into this one blog.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Halloween Meme

(I haven’t officially been tagged for this one, but everyone knows how I feel about a good meme, and Halloween is my favorite holiday, so this one was absolutely irresistible.)

What is your favorite work of horror fiction?

If loosely defining “horror” with no supernatural component, it would be Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. True supernatural horror is a much more difficult question. Maybe it’s a 3-way tie among Dracula, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Victorian Chaise Longue. But then there’s nonfiction. I typically choose to read two or three nonfiction books about the paranormal around this time of year. My blithe attitude before reading these books? “What a bunch of hooey!” My not-so-blithe attitude about twenty pages into the first one? “I hope reading all this stuff isn’t making my brain attract the energy forces, or whatever it is that causes these paranormal visitors to dump their suitcases in the hallway and mount the steps to join us normal folks in our bedrooms.” The one exception was Mary Roach’s Spook, which I loved and which kept me up in stitches, as opposed to keeping me up quaking in terror at every little noise I heard.

What is your favorite work of science fiction/fantasy?

Book you would find in the “SCI FI/FAN” section of your local library: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Book you’d find in “FIC” that should be filed in “SCI FI/FAN:” Time and Again by Jack Finney. What can I say? I’m a sucker for time travel. Combine it with a good mystery and New York City, and I’m a Halloween-sized package of all-day lollipops.

What horror movie gives you the most chills?

The Exorcist, with The Shining and Haunted being close seconds, all three of which I can watch in the middle of a beautiful sunshiny day and still want to head under the bedcovers.

Freddy v. Jason?

Freddy when I’m visiting a friend in Florida, have just watched the movie, shortly after seeing one of those huge Palmetto bugs for the first time in my life, and have to walk from my friend's parents’ house down to the guest house in order to go to bed. Jason, when I’m working at a summer camp and looking out on the big pond where he could easily be lurking.

What is your favorite Halloween treat?

Tootsie Roll Pops (perfect combination of hard candy and chocolate all rolled into one).

Ghosts or goblins?

Ghosts. Most definitely. As a matter of fact, I’m writing about them over here. Or at least, I will be if they ever decide to show up. They seem to be as elusive in my fiction writing as they are in real life.

What is your scariest encounter with the paranormal?

Despite the fact I grew up in the South and spent plenty of time in England, both places where ghosts are supposed to be a dime a dozen, my only rather suspect encounter with the paranormal was staying in an attic room in a hotel in Normandy when I was 8 years old that my siblings and I were convinced was haunted. Other than that, I have to quote Katherine Ramsland from her book Ghost (one of this year’s nonfiction reads),

“The story of my life is that I’m always the one sitting next to the person who saw a ghost, or staying in a haunted house the night before someone got scared out of his wits.”

Of course, being a complete scaredy cat, I’m not exactly someone who’s ever gone in search of the paranormal.

Do you believe in ghosts?

At 2:30 p.m. on another one of those bright, sunshiny afternoons when a group of friends and I are are engaged in a rational discussion about the reasons humans resort to the supernatural to explain what they don’t understand? Absolutely not!

At 2:30 a.m. around this time of year, when I’ve been reading a bunch of ghost stories, it’s raining out, and the dog is acting strangely? Absolutely!

Favorite Halloween costume?

The first Halloween I remember, circa age 3 or 4, I was Adam Ant (the cartoon character nobody remembers, not the pop star everyone does). We went to a little party being thrown for the "faculty brats" at the college where my father taught, and all the students lavished attention on my sisters and me, and I got to eat lots of Tootsie Roll Pops. Quite obviously, being Adam Ant was the be-all and end-all, and I was never going to go back to being Emily.

Now, did you feel that? Don’t turn around, or you might discover the long, bony finger that just tagged you on the shoulder, the one that isn’t attached to any earthly body. Time to get to work on your own Halloween meme, or that disembodied finger might come back to do more than just tag you next time…

Monday, October 09, 2006

Vacation Reading

I’ve always associated travel with books, unfortunately, sometimes, to the detriment of where I was traveling. For instance, I can’t tell you much about our family trips around England and Europe as a young child, only that my traveling companions were the animals from Blackberry Farm (I was especially fond of Emily the Goat), many of the Mr. Men, and Peter Rabbit and his friends. My wise mother obviously chose small books that traveled well.

When I was in college, burnt out on texts and analytic reading of the classics, I was more into the typical “beach read” sort of vacation reading. Stephen King came along with Cujo on a leash the first time I went to Florida. The one exception to this was spring break my final year, when I was so far behind in my reading for my history of ancient Rome course I spent a good deal of it reading excerpts from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.

When I was single, I seemed to spend most of my vacation time visiting friends who’d moved to places I’d never been. One vacation in Texas was spent reading two books of urban legends that inspired my friend Eddie and me to make up one of our own to tell at a dinner party with some of his friends. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep up the hoax and ended up telling everyone what we were doing (too bad. It would be fun to log onto snopes.com and read that no girl ever found her ring in the stomach of a shark she was dissecting in her biology class). I flew out to Oregon trying to spot Tom Robbins’s roadside attractions from different heights and angles, and I flew back with Tom Wolfe trying to get me to drop acid.

As you can see, I wasn’t exactly choosing my books based on the places I was visiting. This was a concept that never even occurred to me. I liked to go where I was going, find the books about the places I was visiting, and bring them back with me. I loved truly being able to picture the places described in the books, and I could pretend I was still back where I was instead of in a house full of roommates who were driving me crazy or a tiny apartment that desperately needed cleaning.

Then Bob came along, and I realized we differed completely in our approaches to vacation reading. He would choose novels based in the places he was going and start reading them weeks before he left. He encouraged me to try this approach, so with some trepidation, I began reading Michener's Hawai’i before we left for our honeymoon and was about halfway through it when we boarded the plane. (But I also had War and Peace along just in case.)

I have to admit it was kind of exciting to visit Honolulu and to see some of the places described in the book before we set off for other islands. However, I must stress kind of. I still went around shopping for things like Cook’s journals, Mark Twain’s musings on the Sandwich Islands, and Hawaiian folktales to bring back with me, so I could relive this place over and over again.

Over the years, though, I’ve become a complete convert to reading books set in the place where I am while traveling. I start the process of collecting such books about a month before I go. I’ve always tended to be somewhat liberal in my definition of “where I am traveling.” If I’m going to Oregon, books that take place in Northern California are close enough. Likewise with a Caribbean island and books that take place anywhere in the Caribbean. But then, two years ago, I went to Guatemala and read portions of a Michener-type novel called Tikal by Daniel Peters while sitting under a tree in the middle of the ruins of that grand old city. I read about cutter ants just after hiking through the jungles and watching lines of them carrying their cut leaves across our paths. This inspired me to read Adolph Bandelier’s The Delight Makers while exploring the ruins he discovered in New Mexico and attending a Native American feast day that featured Delight Makers. These were magical experiences for magical vacations.

When we decided to go to Maine this year, my books were, once again, chosen with Maine in mind. One of them, however, was not. Litlove had not too long ago mentioned in a comment that I might like Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris, a short little book I received from Amazon two days before I left and decided I certainly had room to tuck in my suitcase. Another was most definitely a “Maine” book, Louise Dickinson Rich’s We Took to the Woods, which I’d discovered through one of The Hobgoblin’s posts.

I didn’t realize my Tikal and Bandelier experiences had “ruined” me until I started reading Rich the night we spent in Portsmouth, NH before heading to Acadia. She lived deep in the inland woods of Maine. The little cabin we were renting was on the coast in Southwest Harbor. I thought, “this isn’t going to work. It’s not the right part of Maine.” I picked up Fadiman’s book to discover she had a whole chapter on “You Are There” reading, which I gobbled up as though it were the first meal I’d cooked after a long fast, a meal that had turned out flawlessly. Feeling fully satiated with the knowledge that “there” means “there,” not some close approximation to it, I decided maybe I’d save We Took to the Woods for some other time.

Then we arrived at our cabin. Turns out it was in the woods. It was only accessible via a footpath (granted, that footpath was well lit and probably wasn’t even 1/20th of a mile long, but I could still pretend I was a member of Louise’s family or a friend staying with them having to walk long roads through the woods to get home). I entered the cabin and immediately noticed in the little desk area (a nook where I could certainly picture Louise with her typewriter and notebooks and pens, busy at work) a guest book that dated back to 1932. We Took to the Woods was written not too long after that. I also discovered I needn’t have brought any books with me. The cabin had shelves of books, just the sort of things Louise would have read.

Fall and winter come early in Maine, and it was beginning to get chilly up there. When we lit a fire in the fireplace for the first time, not realizing the grate needed to be pushed all the way back for proper ventilation, thus filling the entire place with black smoke, I was back in 1930s Maine with no electricity, dependent on a fireplace that might do exactly this, wondering how I was going to get the smoke out when opening the door was bound to bring a howling wind dumping snow all over the floor. When I cooked meals in the tiny little kitchen without the help of such conveniences as blenders, can openers younger than fify years old, and a dishwasher, I could pretend this was just like cooking without an electric stove and oven, reading cookbook recipes by the light of a kerosene lamp. When we went on seven-mile hikes, stepping stones across streams, and occasionally losing a trail, I was Louise, trying to prove she knew her way around those woods and couldn’t possibly get lost.

So, now I have to change my tune. Reading at some close approximation to where you are can be a wonderful thing, especially when the author was so obviously mistaken. She’d been in the woods so long, she’d forgotten where she was. She most definitely was in a cabin in the woods of Southwest Harbor, on which one side was a body of water called the sound, not the river.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Testament of (the Other) Emily Barton

One of these days, I’m going to have to read one of this Emily Barton’s books. In the meantime, I want everyone to know she and I are not the same person. I explained in one of my earliest posts why I am Emily Barton for the purposes of this blog. However, I realize no one ever has time to read entire blogs from the day they were created, so I’m beginning to think I ought to just every so often log on and write, “I’m not the Emily Barton you are seeking.”

Meanwhile, here is some evidence I’m hoping will convince you that you need to take that little “blogspot” out of your URL to get the Emily Barton you’ve just seen on The Today Show (or wherever).

1. The first dead giveaway is that I haven’t written a complete novel since I was in sixth grade (and that one was just an E. Nesbit/Elizabeth Enright knockoff), much less had two novels published, the very first of which was a New York Times Notable Book.

2. I did not graduate summa cum laude Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard. I’m lucky to have graduated at all from college. However, I was raised in the South, so even if I had, there would be no way I’d let that information show up on any biographical profile related to me, lest I set entire cemeteries in motion, my ancestors (many of whom were Bartons) rolling in their graves over such a blatant act of drawing attention to my achievements (of course, they’d be climbing up out of their graves to tell people of my success at Harvard, as well as the fact that I have my name on two books, but I wouldn’t be allowed to do so). Mine would have to say something like, “Emily Barton went to college in Massachusetts. When not writing and cooking wholesome meals, she enjoys a good game of cribbage.”

3. My phone is not ringing off the hook with requests from the editors at The New York Times Book Review to write reviews for new books by authors such as Francine Prose. It should be, though. I could write a damn good book review, if only someone would give me the chance. Nobody would have to know it was Emily Barton, the cribbage-player, and not Emily Barton, the summa-cum-laude writer of notable books.

4. When she wins literary prizes, she gets to go be a writer in residence at Bard College. I’m sure her prize-winning efforts have never appeared in high school literary magazines with typos that devastate her, because they change the whole meaning of the brilliant poem she wrote, proving that nobody “got it,” as did the little piece I composed that won me the $1.00 fourth-place creative writing prize when I was in twelfth grade.

5. I don’t pose for pictures wearing my glasses and glamorous black dresses. Ever.

I hope you now understand that we are two completely different people. Nonetheless, please don’t make the mistake of referring to her as the “real” Emily Barton. I’m older than she; thus I was Emily Barton long before her little hand was grabbing a pencil and forming letters. (All right, so Barton was my middle name, it still counts.) You can just start referring to me as Emily Barton #1.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Anna Makes a Match

Being single wasn't something that was exactly easy for me -- not because I was one of those women who was always pining away for dates while doing nothing to meet men who might be inclined to invite me out, nor because I was dying to get married. No, it was because, as with many things in my life, I was completely clueless. I spent most of my childhood and teen years pal-ing around with my brother and his friends, so I wasn't particularly uncomfortable around boys. As a matter of fact, I always seemed to befriend boys much more easily than I did girls.

The problem was that I had absolutely no ability to discern a boy who wasn't attracted to me from a boy who was. I just assumed they weren't, since I thought all the girls I knew were far more attractive than I was, and I'd learned from experience that any boy who made my heart skip a beat was likely to be madly in love either with my sister or one of my friends, but never with me -- most likely because I always turned into a shy, blushing, bumbling idiot around such boys, whereas my sister and friends were always ready with some interesting or smart response to everything they had to say.

Thus, I had a few awkward encounters when I was in my twenties with young men I assumed felt the same way I did, that we were like brother and sister. And what I like to think of as the perverseness of life is epitomized by the fact that one of the most beautiful and heartfelt love letters a young woman ever received was presented to me by one of these "brothers." Give me a thousand men I love who don't love me over one man who loves me whom I don't love. I felt horrible. But, of course, one man wasn't enough for Life Perverse. That same year, I received another (not quite so eloquently written) letter from another brother admitting he'd been having some incestuous thoughts. This, you have to understand was during the year in which I was convinced I'd never utter the words "my boyfriend" again, because, as always, I was busy doing my bumbling idiot act for two young men who quite obviously didn't want to be seen with such a person. How could I not have known the two love-struck ones felt the way they did until they spelled it out for me? Maybe it wasn't an act. Maybe I truly was a bumbling idiot.

Anyway, by the time I was in my late twenties, and a good number of my friends were getting married and even having babies, I'd decided men were far more complicated than I'd ever suspected. Why was it that every other female I knew seemed to meet men who made it abundantly clear from the get-go that they thought she was extremely attractive and that they couldn't get enough of her? I had roommates who would say to me when the phone rang, "Could you answer that, and if it's Jay/Mike/Ralph, tell him I'm not here? I wish he'd leave me alone." I never had any men pursuing me like that. Or so I thought, until all of a sudden, one day, I'd be saying goodnight to someone I'd been thinking of as my "movie buddy" for well over a year, and he'd suddenly grab me and kiss me the way I'd always wanted to be kissed (you know, the way Jimmy Stewart kisses Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story). He'd walk off to his car, and I was left standing there with the "WTF?" bubble over my head. This happens enough times, and you begin to think you're meant to live a When Harry Met Sally kind of life. I expected some friend of mine from college and I would suddenly discover we both were madly in love with each other.

Surprise, surprise. I was completely wrong. The man I married turned out to be someone I'd never laid eyes on until the day he came barreling into the library where I worked, looking for some good music. I made some recommendations for him, and then he decided to stand around the desk and chat with me for about an hour, even offering to help others with their questions. I had to remind him, politely, of course, that this was my job.

I wish I could tell you I remember every detail of our conversation. Unfortunately, I didn't happen to know this was the man I was going to marry, and I'm afraid I didn't treat him with the sort of care and awe I should have. I do know I began to wonder if I should ask him to leave, as I was afraid his presence was discouraging others from asking for my help. And I also happen to remember the two most important pieces of that conversation. We talked about both books and music, and he recommended to me before he left that I read Anna Karenina and listen to Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

About a week later, he came barreling back into the library, ostensibly to ask me more questions about music. What he was really doing was asking me out. Finally, a man was truly pursuing me. Did I recognize this for what it was? Of course not. I was working in a public place. When you work in a public place, forget innocent until proven guilty. Everyone (especially someone who comes back to see you) has to prove he's not a raving lunatic before you believe it. His "smooth" offer to come over and listen to music sometime sounded like something out of a Thomas Harris novel to me.

Sure, he was cute, and sure, he'd recently left his job as a boarding school teacher to try writing full-time and was temporarily living rent free at his father's house while his father explored the world aboard freighter ships, but that wasn't exactly the most believable thing, now, was it? I mean, freighter ships? Can't you just see the headlines, "Former Boarding School Teacher Hiding Father's and Others' Body Parts in Freezer?" I started to give him my home phone number, thought better of it, and gave him my work phone instead.

Did I mention the fact this was during a period in which I had absolutely no time for dating? I was finishing up a semester in which I was taking two courses toward my graduate degree while working full-time. In a few weeks' time, I was going to be taking a month's leave of absence, so I could spend a week in North Carolina for the holidays, Christmas at my parents' house and New Year's at my sister's. I would be returning to a few days of rest before starting one of those intense interim courses in which a semester's worth of material is covered in two weeks. I stuck the phone number he'd given me in exchange for mine in my wallet, thinking maybe I'd give him a call after the holidays and see if he'd like to meet for a drink or something, so he could start producing evidence to convince me he wasn't an ax murderer.

Then he called me. At work. While I had a long line of people waiting for me to retrieve magazines. While my boss happened to be standing right there. Well, what would you have done? I told him I couldn't talk, that I had no time to do anything, and that I would call him back when I did have some time. In other words, I succeeded splendidly in "playing hard to get," with absolutely no intention of doing so, having always been horrified by the thought of playing games. He'll tell you that what I said was, "Don't call me, I'll call you," convincing him I was blowing him off without ever having given him a chance.

Being as clueless as I always was with guys, I went off to North Carolina still thinking I might call this guy when I got home. I'd have a few days before my class started. Maybe we could even have dinner rather than a drink. I had no idea he was seething at this point and that his only desire was to tell me how wrong I'd been to judge him before giving him any sort of a chance.

When my sister and I arrived at her house a couple of days after Christmas, I found myself browsing her bookshelves (you know, moth-to-light sort of thing). There, I found a Penguin Classics version of Anna Karenina. I pulled it off the shelf and said to her, "Funny. This guy came into the library recently and told me I should read this."

Her response? "You've never read it? Oh, Emily, you have to read it! Take it."

I did. I loved it. I decided a man who would recommend such a book was definitely worth knowing. I went out and bought Big Head Todd and the Monsters, which I also loved. I dug around in my wallet to make sure I still had that phone number. When I got back home, I called him. He wasn't there. He was so surprised I'd called, though, that when he got the message, he immediately called back to hear me say,

"I have two things to tell you. I bought Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and I'm reading Anna Karenina." For once, the bumbling idiot had disappeared, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now tell me, honestly, as much as you may love The Unbearable Lightness of Being (and I do), Milan Kundera's Anna Karenina story just doesn't hold a candle to mine, does it?

Monday, October 02, 2006

My Love Affair with Maine

When I was in college, I had a housemate Tim who’d spent his summers working on an island off the coast of Maine where his friend Erica’s mother was busy rebuilding one of those old “camps” that were popular vacation spots at the turn of the 20th century. Tim didn’t merely wax poetic about Maine. He dripped epics that made me want to jump into my beat-up old Nissan Sentra and attempt the 15+-hour drive to the border the way Sir Thomas Malory makes me want to mount a horse (although I can’t ride) and castle ruin hop around the British Isles.

My first trip to Maine, however, was not to Tim’s idyllic island. It was to the Oxford Speedway with my brother and other friends. Now, before you start picturing me as some pouffy-haired, obese, tobacco-chewing, NASCAR nut, I have to tell you: I’m not. We went there to see The Grateful Dead. Of course, now you can picture me as some dreadlocked, skinny, Indian-skirt-wearing, strung out “twirler.” I’m not one of those, either. I just happen to really, really, really love the way Jerry Garcia played guitar. He’d stand up there on stage the way the rest of us would sort of stand around watching something amusing, only his hands weren’t shoved in his pockets. His hands were holding a guitar that was doing some absolutely amazing things. I went to see him as many times as was conveniently possible, as I was always convinced, since he didn’t exactly live a healthy life, he was going to die soon, and I wouldn’t get to see him again. He eventually did just that.

Anyway, getting to see Jerry Garcia play guitar is enough to get someone like me to wax poetic. Getting to see him play guitar, sitting in a field surrounded by the gentle rolling hills and mountains of Maine, every once-in-while looking up to see the massive Maine sky, where all the stars obviously go to vacation, since so many more of them seem to hang out up there than anywhere else I’ve ever been (when they’re not vacationing in New Mexico, that is)? Well, that’s enough to make me drip epics. But I won’t. Trust me. You don’t want me to do that.

The following year was the year I visited Tim’s island for the first time. I thought I was in love after that initial trip, but that year, Maine pulled out all the stops for me. That rustic little vacation would have been marvelous with nothing more than the mere exploration of the little island (to which we had to take a lobster boat, as there was no bridge), as well as the surrounding islands (which we visited by canoe); lying around on beach chairs and reading; playing Dictionary; telling ghost stories; and eating freshly-caught lobster, cooked on the beach. But then Maine decided to show me the Northern Lights for the first time in my life, and, well, no one needs to be told what it’s like to lose your virginity to your first real love. There’s no turning back.

A couple of years later, I moved in with a friend whose brother lived in the Portland area. She’d quite obviously lost her virginity to Maine, too, and we were both reduced to giggling schoolgirls whenever under its spell. We’d save our money and travel up to Portland and Freeport every chance we got, both insisting we’d move there one day. She did. I’m still waiting for the day when I can.

It’s no surprise that Bob’s and my first vacation together was to Maine. We rented a cabin on Sebago Lake, and I proceeded to introduce him to all the reasons I so loved this state. That vacation, I suppose, wasn’t too dissimilar from any first vacation between two passionate people. We laughed our heads off, marveled at the beauty all around us, enjoyed getting to spend every waking minute with each other for the first time since meeting, and one day had a massive fight (over whether or not one should brush one’s teeth before eating breakfast or after. You know, one of those really important things that couples fight about) that had me packing my suitcase and insisting I was taking the bus back, because there was no way I was spending any time in a car alone with him. We got over that moment, somehow, and by the time we left, Bob was talking about wanting to move to Maine, too, and I (the woman who was not going to get married) was beginning to think I could spend the rest of my life with this guy. Maine will do that to you.

We got married and honeymooned in Hawai’i, where Bob infected me with his passion for scuba diving, and poor Maine was left out in the cold (an appropriate place for a state described as having two seasons, “Winter nine months of the year and three months of damn poor sledding”), as we took vacations to the Caribbean, and one to Great Britain. People do dive in Maine, but I’m not one of them. I like my diving to take place in warm water where I can see more than a foot in front of my face.

We returned to Maine the year we got Lady and decided we wanted her to be able to join us on vacation. It turns out Acadia National Park allows dogs, so we chose this area of the state where neither one of us had ever been. Not only was Maine forgiving of our neglect, but we were welcomed back with open arms. Discovering Acadia was like living with a man for five years and having him say to you on your fifth anniversary together, “I’ve got a castle in Scotland with a full staff, and I’d like you to come share it with me.” That did it. We don’t care how unfaithful Maine may or may not be, enticing others to the kind of love we feel; we’ll be forever faithful.

After spending yet another glorious week there, the Acadia epic is just dying to come out now, but again, I’ll spare you. You can write your own when you come visit us one day,when we're old and gray, in our cabin on the water in Southwest Harbor.