I’m watching the snowstorm out my kitchen window. The flakes have turned bigger and fluffier, and they are predicting perhaps seven inches of snow by this afternoon when the storm winds down. The schools are all closed, and the news has been doing it’s Storm Center reporting.
I open my laptop and type in weather.com. But instead of looking at my local forecast, I type in Delhi, India, followed by Varanasi, India and then Bodh Gaya…I look out my kitchen window again, watching the accumulation.
I can enjoy this snowstorm, because it’s Friday. If this were Sunday, I wouldn’t be noticing the way the snow reminds me of vanilla frosting, of how the snow weighs down the branches swaying in the wind. No, I would be stressing and looking for continued updates on flight cancellations at Logan Airport. I would turn from a contemplative mode to a neurotic mode in a second. Make that a nanosecond.
Which I am not proud of. I want to be someone who practices equanimity, who doesn’t get caught up in the moment and well, freak out. I’m working on it. For 49 years I’ve been working on it. Still, I’m glad that the snowstorm is today, and that Sunday should be clear so that I won’t have to test my resolve to be calm, given how much snow we in the Northeast have had this season.
See, on Sunday, I’m going to India on a pilgrimage called: In the Footsteps of the Buddha. And I’m ready to take off these snow boots and slip on a pair of leather sandals so that I can place my feet upon the sacred ground marking the major events of the Buddha’s life. So, I’m hoping that I get some good Karma and the Northeast gets a break from snowstorms so that I can celebrate my 50th birthday on the Ganges, which sounds like heaven...or make that nirvana.
So, I just got back from five glorious days in Aruba with my husband, Steve, and our kids, Allie and Matt. Both attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison where Allie is a senior and Matt is a freshman. In our duffel bags we had our bathing suits, suntan lotion and an assortment of books. Included in said assortment was an advanced reader copy of my novel, Syd Arthur. Both kids assured me that they wanted to read it on vacation, but I wasn’t so sure that was going to happen. Matt had packed lots of books about economics and business, and Allie was planning on reading some books on genocide, her area of study and in preparation for her trip to Rwanda in the spring to work with teen-agers orphaned by the genocide. Yeah, just your typical light beach reads for my kids…oy vey.
On day two of our vacation, Allie, a voracious reader, put down a book she was reading that was written by her political science professor, The Order of Genocide, and picked up Syd Arthur. As I glanced at her while she read, I watched her smiling and laughing. At first I took this as a great sign, but then I realized that after reading the heavy books about human rights violations and atrocities that are her standard fare, even reading the real estate page of a newspaper might provide her comic relief. But as she continued to read over the next two days, my confidence soared. She would laugh out loud, or would tell me how moved she was by a particular character. Allie told me that I was much funnier on paper than in real life. And much wiser, too. At first I was going to put up an argument about this assessment, but as she was reading another page and laughing again, I figured I’d go with the flow and simply enjoy her praise.
But then she got to a sex scene between Syd and her husband, Gary, who Allie insists must be Steve and me. I don’t get it. She can read about mass murders and atrocities and not flinch, but a quick sex scene between a husband and wife and she’s making faces and telling me the best she can do is skim this section.
And really, it’s not even a section. A paragraph and a half, at most (after all, Syd has been with Gary for over twenty years, there’s not really that much to write about old married sex). But again, she was laughing and telling me how much she was learning about Buddhism and following a spiritual path, about the challenges in friendships when people change, about family and the cultural obsession with dieting. She was focused and engaged so I let go of her needing to read every written word. Later in the book, when another sex scene occurs, she surprised me and told me she actually read and survived it. Towards the end of the book, she was laughing and crying and after she read the last sentence, she closed the book and came over to my beach chair and gave me a big hug.
Allie is not a big hugger. This meant a lot. She told me she loved the book, and didn’t want it to end. I decided then and there that it was worth being in labor with her for the three days it took to give birth.
On day four, Matt put down is business book and picked up Syd Arthur. He had decided he wasn’t going to bother bringing a razor or shaving while on vacation. So there he was, a nineteen-year-old college man with a scruffy beard in the making and reading a chick book on the beach in Aruba for all to see. I told him that he was in good company, that so far, along with his father, two male rabbis had read the book. And with the beard he’s got growing, he almost looked like he could follow in their career footsteps.
I kept interrupting him to thank him for reading the book, telling him that even though I think men could enjoy this novel, it’s geared toward a female audience. As I explained this, I asked him what part he was on. He looked up from the sentence he was reading and in a deadpan voice said, “pap smear.” Allie overheard this exchange and started laughing. I said, “there’s a blog entry in this.”
About forty-five minutes later, Matt was confronted with the sex scene. Unlike Allie, he would not even skim it. He decided to go on to the next chapter, until I got up from my beach chair and showed him where he could begin reading again to finish the chapter he was on. When I asked my kids what was so hard about reading this one little section, they told me that no one wants to think of their parents having sex. I told them it’s fiction, but they pointed out all of the similarities of the novel and my life. I told them you write what you know, but this is a work of fiction, not non-fiction. They both looked at me and smirked.
Matt is a very smart and creative young man. After a while, it was clear that lounging on the beach with my book cover was not creating that laid back college man with the four day beard look he was going for. But he was committed to reading my book and, as he told me, he actually loved it. So he took the cover of the previous book he was reading, Fooled by Randomness, and put it over my book cover. It looked like his testosterone upped its production in conjunction with this simple act.
I loved it when Matt told me what he found funny and wise in the novel, but felt just a bit miffed when he marveled that though I claimed this was fiction, his neurotic mother jumped off the pages. When a quick rain shower surprised us, he ran to the beach hut to protect the book and keep it dry. I was touched.
Matt finished the book and gave me a great big hug. He told me that though he had to pass on reading the second sex scene, he read everything else. Matt said he loved the book; my heart felt brighter than the Arubian sun that glistened off the Caribbean Sea.
Later, Allie and Matt devised a game called: Fiction or Non-fiction. They picked various parts of the book and asked one another if that happened in my life, or if I made it up. At one point, when they insisted that I was pretty similar to Syd, I told them to read the: I Am Not Syd: A Spiritual Time Line, that is on my website. Allie told me she started reading that when she was at school, but that it was “really long so I didn’t read the whole thing.” I wanted to remind her how long I was in labor with her, but she had been telling me how much she enjoyed the book and how proud she was of me, so I let it go.
Writing this book has given me so much joy. Watching my kids read the book, hearing them discuss its themes, hearing them laugh, and feeling their arms around me in the hugs they both offered when they finished the novel was like rainbow sprinkles on top of that joy. I wish I could say that later that evening we talked through the night about life and its meaning, but truth be told, we went to the casino where I insisted on playing the slot machines. When we didn’t win, I thought back to the book Matt had been reading, Fooled by Randomness, and though I didn’t really know what it was about, I had feeling that I might have exemplified that title when I was hoping the triple wild cards would randomly appear and offer me the big bucks. They didn’t.
But Allie and Matt, if you’re reading this, please know that since the day you were each born, dad and I felt like we hit the jackpot; We love and adore you both…