Bella Voce

It’s that time of year again,  when my beloved Bella Voce whisks me away from the drone of small town life and catapults me, like a babe in the woods, into the glittering world of the literary elite.  Oh, the cocktails, the schmoozing, the name-dropping and agent-swapping circle of artists and poets!  It’s Genius meets Decadence at its best.

Well, actually, it’s lunch at a hotel in Portland.  But just go with it.

You may remember my last misadventure at Bella Voce wherein I stalked Rebecca Skloot–unsuccessfully–across the hotel ballroom in a desperate attempt to get a picture and a few moments of chitchat.  She somehow (unintentionally, I’m sure) skedaddled away from me and I had to settle for a long-range photo during the book signing, just like everyone else.  And the chitchat?  Forget it–her assistant snapped the shot and moved me through that line like common cattle.  I didn’t exchange a single pleasantry with Ms. Skloot and, truth be told, she didn’t seem all that excited about having me as a fan.  (Go figure.)  And though I always love BellaVoce, the gray February sky that hung over me as I drove home that day reflected my mood just a bit.  I’d spent the afternoon listening to an articulate, matter-of-fact woman talk about stem cell research.  It was interesting; it was informative.  It was moral.  It was what it was.

Fast forward three months to a dazzlingly sunny day in May.  Cruising down the Gorge with my sunroof open wide, I watched the sagebrush turn to rock turn to shrubs turn to trees, the metamorphosis taking place along the sweep of the sparkling Columbia River.  It was one of those rare spring days when the sunshine from the east held steady all the way to the west, and I took this as a bright sign of things to come.  For though I was going to see an author I’d never heard of (Jess Walter) talk about a book I’d never read (Beautiful Ruins), I just knew that this time, I’d get everything right.  The stalking, the photo-opting, the chitchat.  Oh, the chitchat!  My husband says I’m the only person alive who uses that word, but he obviously has no appreciation for the art–or etymology–of the chitchat.  Of course he doesn’t; he’s an engineer.  Engineers don’t understand that chitchat is the fiber by which we weave our cultural threads.  Jess Walter, I’m sure, would.  He may be a male, but he was a male writer.  And that means he’d be capable of chitchat.

I made it to town, parked the car, and ran-walked into the hotel.  I headed for the ballroom where my friend Lisa would be waiting for me, but upon breezing through the open doors, I quickly learned that I had made a wrong turn and instead landed in Italy.  For suddenly I was awash in a sea of blue and green gauziness.  The tables and chairs were covered in white linens and aqua tulle with glassy beads poured over every spare surface.  Enormous Italian landscapes graced the walls which, with the scent of fresh flowers that spilled over the tables, assured every person in the room that they had just stepped inside their dream vacation.  And when the writer approached the podium and began to speak, so we had.  He was that good.  And the day was that dreamy.


Me with my darling friend Lisa, Bella Voce benefactress and the woman I’ll be in my next life.

Jess Walter was brilliant and funny and fascinating and self-deprecating.  He’s a New York Times bestselling author, a finalist for the National Book Award, has had his novels published in over thirty languages, and yet still lives in his childhood home of (drumroll please…) Spokane, Washington.  An east-sider!  You may remember me joking, in my last Bella Voce post, that the next author I stalked might think I’m “crushing” on him?  Fifteen minutes into his speech, those words became prophetic.  He had me at “Spokane.”

He talked about his latest book, Beautiful Ruins, which is set between 1960s Italy (hence, the ballroom decor) and modern-day Hollywood.  Can you think of anything more fun to read this summer?  I can’t—and I can’t think of anyone more fun to listen to than Jess Walter.  When his lecture (comedy routine) was over and the Q&A session wrapping up, Lisa leaned over to me and whispered, “Are you going for a signing again?”

“Are you kidding?  I’m not just going for the signing; I’m going to meet him, and talk to him, and get my photo with him, and run off with him.”  Wait.  Did I say that last part out loud?


“Um, I’m going to get my picture with him.”

Before Mr. Walter had even stepped down from the stage, Lisa had cleared a beeline for me straight to his person, around which numerous middle-aged women were already clustering.  We approached him from behind and, in a gesture diametrically opposite to that of Rebecca Skloot (who, you may recall, kept walking away from me), Mr. Walters turned around and said “Hello there!” with a wide smile, as though he’d been expecting us both.  Lisa wasted no time in stepping back a few feet with her camera and telling us to pose.  That woman is efficient, I’m telling you.  She knew that just a few misplaced seconds and a determined assistant could snatch away our subject and foil my plans.

“Oh, you want a picture?” Jess asked me.

“Um, yeah–yes, if that’s okay?”

“You bet!”    And so inside of a minute (that plays out in my mind like a week) we took the photo, we shook hands, we stood and chitchatted.  And at the risk of getting too personal on this blog, let me just say that if things don’t work out with Derrick, I have a solid Plan B.


Jen and Jess, together for ever a minute

And ladies, it gets better:  he was the one who suggested I hold up the book, so I could remember what the lecture had been about.  Oh Jess…as if I could ever forget!  And then, as Lisa wisely foresaw, he was scurried off to his signing table where a huge line had already formed.  Well past discretion by now, I galloped straight behind him and staked my claim in line.  When my turn finally arrived, he looked up with (what I was sure was) a spark of welcome recognition.

“Well hello again!”

“Hi!”  I may have said this a little too loudly.  “Ha ha–I’m stalking you!  Ha ha!”  My eyes were wide (dialated) and my smile friendly (eager).

“Well, that’s great.  I always wished my stalkers had more energy.”  He was smiling patiently, but wait…did he mean I was coming off as too energetic?  Impossible.  I couldn’t think of anything to say except:

“Well…yeah…I do!  Ha ha!”  This may have been said, again, a little too loudly.  But in true Jess Walter fashion, he  was gracious and smooth and simply asked me a few more questions about myself as he signed my Beautiful Ruins in his beautiful hand.  And what you need to understand is that my book was already signed on the inside cover; that’s a standard courtesy the visiting authors perform for all Bella Voce guests.  Now, however, he would write his own, personal greeting on the title page.  To me.




And with these fifteen words, Jess Walter transformed me from Stalker to Groupie to Fan to Friend.  In my own mind, at least.  Which is, rather happily, a beautiful ruin of its own.


Women of God

I’m lucky to be a churchgoing woman on any given Sunday, but on no Sunday am I luckier to sit in the pew, a pink-cheeked child on either side of me, than I am on Mothers Day.  I cannot imagine passing this (rather odd) holiday anywhere else.  A day that could be dismissed as yet another commercial obligation created by the greeting card companies becomes, instead, a day to sit and reflect on who I am and who I’m trying to become.  Sitting in church this morning, I was thankful for three big fat things in my life:

1)  That I get to be a mother

2)  That I get to teach my children about my beliefs

3)  That I have beliefs to teach them.

Think about that last one with me.  Whatever your belief system is, aren’t you simply grateful that you have one?  There’s a lot of nice things we can teach our children about kindness and love, but I’m thankful to have a skeleton of doctrine with which to hold that Nice Stuff up.

With that, I want to share with you a quote that I heard over the pulpit this Mothers Day.  Though I’ve heard it before, I never seem to tire of it.  Perhaps you’ve heard it yourself:

“Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.”  (Margaret Nadauld, 2000.)

You may not consider yourself religious, but I’m willing to bet that you do consider yourself a woman of God.  And if you don’t, you should—because you are.  And under that consideration, you are given permission to stop trying to be tough, and coarse, and (most thankfully) popular.  No matter how women around you (or, by the world’s standards, beyond you) are behaving, you are allowed—and expected—to behave differently.  Because as a woman of God, those harsh qualities are not in your nature.

What a relief.

Instead, you are allowed—and expected—to cultivate what is in your nature:  tenderness, kindness, refinement (yes, refinement—in the year 2014!)  Faithfulness.  Goodness.  Virtue.  Purity.

Your birthright.  What you already are.  What you really wanted to be, all along.

In the swirling sea of social media, with its “likes” and “pins” and “tweets” and “hits,” never has the hunger for popularity been more insatiable and less rewarding, the thirst for fame more democratized and less deserved.  Vanity rages in the era of the “selfie,” coarseness reigns in the era of voyeurism.  It seems everyone is stretching their hand into a dark digital abyss, grasping for a vague validation from an invisible and indifferent audience.  Today’s world is a strange one, and what was once an adolescent desperation for the approval of our peers is now, via cyberspace, following us into adulthood.  But take heart.  Because as women of care–women of character–we can rise above it.

This quote from the year 2000 is my Emancipation Proclamation for 2014.  If I can remember who I am, I can remember what I’m not.  In a world of women who stake their claim of power and popularity with the very aggression that should alienate them, I will continually remind myself to remind myself:  I don’t have to be that way, and I don’t even want to be that way.  It’s just not who I am.

Because I am not a woman of the world.  I am a woman of God.


 Are you?



I’m kind of a big deal

A few weeks ago, after I’d sobbed on a good friend’s shoulder about the many woes that had recently come my way to visit, she brought me a little magnet to stick on my fridge:


How swell is this?  After sharing a chuckle over it with my sweet friend, this dolled-up declaration got me thinking:  we are all, each one of us, kind of a big deal.  What we do and who we’re trying to become matters, even if nobody notices us at all.  (Did I say “if?”  I meant when nobody notices us at all.  Because they won’t.  Accept that reality.)

If we allow our individual obscurity to convince us that we’re small potatoes, we’ll live our lives as though we are.  But if we understand—believe—that the world’s recognition of us has no bearing upon our potential for greatness (and by “greatness,” I do not necessarily mean greatness-by-the-world’s-standards), we’d stop worrying and start working toward whatever fabulous dreams we’ve been hoarding in our hearts since we were seven years old.  And you know what those dreams are—you’re just too afraid to say them out loud.

Stop worrying about how itty-bitty is your place in The Universe, because as far as your universe is concerned, it’s all riding on you, baby.  And your universe is as real, and as valid, as that of the uber-famous.  Less eyes on it doesn’t make it any smaller.

You’re kind of a big deal.  So live like it.

(Just don’t, for heaven’s sake, act like it.)