Back to Zion

I’m out and about collecting material for future essays and blog posts. This involves a trip to the home where I grew up in Ogden, Utah…or at least the parts of it that are still standing.

Aside: My kids think they’re going to visit their grandma, but really we’re on an archeological dig to unearth my high school yearbooks and other incriminating material.

I have tickets to tour the Ogden City LDS Temple on Friday morning. IMAG0894While I’m busy, please check out Heather B. Armstrong’s (@dooce) piece When in Utah. She captures so many aspects of life in the Beehive State.

Aside: She also has at least 1.5 million twitter followers and makes a six-figure salary as a mommyblogger…not that I’m jealous or anything. She apparently isn’t afraid to offend her grandfather who follows her blog. (Hello, Grandpa. Thanks for the follow!)  

Aside to the Aside: Heather, in case you’re reading this, I need a literary agent for my memoir manuscript. Help a fellow Gentile out!

Happy Pioneer or Pie-N-Beer Day, Utah!

When I realized that my self-imposed blog post deadline fell on July 24, I had to pay homage to Pioneer Day, or, as the Gentiles call it, “Pie-N-Beer Day.”

Aside: Saints = Latter-Day Saints (LDS) or Mormons; Gentiles = non-Mormons. My mother claims that Utah is the only place where a Jew can be considered a Gentile. This title lumped a lot of us together: Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’i, ski bums….

July 24 is a lightning rod of sorts for Utahans. My mother used to lament that it’s a bigger holiday than 4th of July. Although I haven’t lived in the state for over 15 years, the date is still seared in my brain. I spent much of my young adulthood rebelling against a celebration of someone else’s ancestors trekking across the country. One year I marked the date by consummating a relationship. In 1997, I worked in a gift shop inside This is the Place State Park where 50,000 people converged to greet a throng of Saints who were re-enacting the historic arrival of Brigham Young’s crew. The bonnet-clad crowd consisted of 45 horseback riders and 380 walkers with 61 wagons and 9 handcarts. While customers bought commemorative Christmas ornaments in the shape of handcarts, I celebrating the occasion with the purchase of a souvenir shot glass that pictured the Salt Lake City LDS Temple.

Aside: If this religious/cultural war intrigues you, consider finding me a literary agent and publisher so you can read my memoir Outside the Temple Doors.

After I left the state, some Gentiles came up with the great idea to dub July 24 “Pie-N-Beer Day.” Consuming a slice of pizza pie and a cold beer on that day is akin to giving Mormons the middle finger.

A week before this auspicious state holiday an ad popped up on Facebook with a personalized shirt for me to purchase. It read, “Just a Utah Girl in a Virginia World.” What is a “Utah Girl?” Is the implication that I like a slower paced life and wide-open spaces? Or is it that I constantly fight against what I perceive as the dominant culture? In any case, it’s clear that the overall sentiment is that I don’t quite fit in. Which is true, but I’d never wear a shirt advertising that fact.

Aside: If you ask my close friends, they would probably say that they love my snarkiness. They’ve become my friends in response to my rather abrasive taglines: “I’m from Utah, but I’m not Mormon” or “I’m a stay-at-home mom, but I don’t do the PTA thing” or “I belong to a Christian church, but I’d never vote for a candidate from the Christian right.”

In a month, I will set foot back in the Beehive State to visit family and friends. I’ll bring my two kids and husband along. We have tickets to tour the newly renovated Ogden City LDS Temple. While living in Virginia, I’ve developed friendships with some really lovely people who happen to be Mormon. For me, being a Utah girl living in a Virginia world means that I will have to weigh my clothing options carefully and curb my salty mouth because I now care about offending some really wonderful friends. With my kids in tow, I’ll try to instill a respect for diversity in our world.

Aside: Rest assured, dear reader, that after the tour I’ll have a beer while eating some pizza pie; perhaps, I’ll raise a glass of Polygamy Porter or Latter-Day Stout to the founders of the great state. After all, you can take the girl out of Utah, but you can’t take Utah out of the girl.

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If You Loan a Writer a Car….

It’s 90 degrees in Virginia with at least 80% humidity. I know this because the air conditioning in my car crapped out the week I volunteered to serve as a shuttle bus operator for my son and his friend. They’re heading to Camp Invention, and I am in charge of pick up (PU) during the hottest part of the day.

Aside: If you have kids, you should definitely check out Camp Invention. The kids take shit apart (and by shit, I mean the electronics lurking in your basement that no longer work) and design new machines out of junk in your recycle bins. If you’re lucky, your kid won’t be able to bring any of these creations home at the end of the week.

Hauling two sweaty 6 year-old boys around on Monday motivates me to schedule the oil change that’s 3,000 miles overdue and to ask the car dealership to add Freon. Because it’s 90 degrees with 80% humidity, the other million people who live in my county have the same idea. The soonest appointment is Friday. I can drop off my car Thursday and pick up a loaner car with A/C in time for afternoon PU at camp.

Except that they’re out of loaner cars an hour before PU.

Fast forward to me sitting in a hot car with my charges while phoning the dealership, which is only three miles from the PU site. They have one! I rush to the dealership without breaking any traffic laws, hustle the boys out of the hot car with their backpacks and booster seats, and herd them into the office. After four days of riding around without A/C, we are all eager for bone-chilling air. Paperwork, key exchange, gathering of belongings, and we walk to our new ride.

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“Blue” turns out to be neon blue. The 4” letters emblazoned on the rear window that spell out the dealership name don’t faze me. Nor does the compact size. We are about to have A/C. I shove (or rather gently secure) the boys in the backseat and open the driver’s door. “Ew yuck,” I hear before the heat and the smell overtake me. “Just wait, I’ll get the A/C on,” I say.

Aside: I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country and pride myself in trying to be moderate in my consumer habits. My SUV is nine years old. It has crumbs and stains galore, but this loaner car has just grossed out two sweaty 6 y.o. boys.

I can barely see out the back window because it is so small. What I can see is obscured by white letters. The side mirrors have some funky second smaller mirrors on them that disorient me every time I change lanes. Still, having a car, even a loaner car, is a privilege. There are homeless people sleeping behind my church, for God’s sake.

My resolve cracks Friday afternoon at PU when I receive the call from the dealership. It isn’t the estimate ($1,600 for a new air compressor); it’s the prospect of keeping the loaner car for an entire weekend. My SUV is the swim meet car, the one that can haul a 12’ canopy, 4 lawn chairs, a cooler of snacks, and towels. It still has greasy handprints where my son touched the exterior and interior after applying sunscreen.

We could make it work. The glitch is that I previously offered to drive into DC with a woman I barely know who is rungs higher on the career ladder than I. She has a book and a respectable journalism career. Hell, we’re not even on the same ladder.

Aside: This is not like the time I wound up driving Dave Eggers to an event at Fall for the Book because my friend, the festival organizer, walked into a parking garage arm that was descending, got a mild concussion, and asked me to fill in. This is a true, first-world crisis.

Luckily, I am able to weasel out of driving, but accept her offer for a ride. “I can just meet you at your house,” I say. Which sounds like a good idea until I’m about a mile from her house. The homes get bigger, and the lawns more expansive. Holy shit, I’m on her street searching for numbers in a clown car. Her house stands at the top of the cul de sac. I start looking for places to park/hide my car. Except there are no other cars on the street because these houses have three-freaking-car garages and sizable driveways.

I park in the shade and trek up the driveway. The garage magically opens. My writing acquaintance emerges to greet me. Inside the garage, a Tesla sits connected to the charging station.

Aside: Let me be clear, I’ve seen expensive cars when taking my children to play dates with school friends. Porsche, Escalade…but this is a Tesla. True, it’s not a Bentley or a Lamborghini, but hot damn.  

While this Tesla-owning writer runs back into the house to retrieve the keys to the Lexus SUV parked next to it, I text another writer friend. Only my phone’s autocorrect indicates that the car is a “Trespass.” Now she thinks I’m about to commit a crime. Covert texting ensues to clarify.

Aside: This car situation mirrors my own feelings of insecurity about attending an event with fellow writers, many younger with more publications than I.

The trip into the city, the exchanging of business cards, and the pleasant conversation with my new writing friend go well. I soak up her advice and remind myself that she is older and wiser….

When we near her house, my new friend spots my neon blue, clown car. “Oh, that’s you,” she says, parking her Lexus SUV beside it to let me out. I drive away thinking how glad I am that my sunscreen-streaked, crumb-infested vehicle is back at the dealership, far away from the Tesla. I can’t wait to get it back.

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Big Cheese

To celebrate my massive readership for Off the Page (Thanks to my twelve commenters), I succumbed to the desire to shop with the masses in a members-only warehouse last Friday. Now that I’ve paid my $55 annual fee, I can stroll through the aisles with abandon wondering if pallets of 72-roll toilet paper might lose their footing and come toppling down to crush me.

I come from modest roots. My people steer clear of “big cities” and get “cleaned up to go into town.” My mother drives her truck an additional ten miles to get cheap gas. We are the target audience for these types of megastores.

Aside: I am getting to the writing part. Notice that I used “audience” not “consumers of cheap shit.”

Nonetheless, it had been several years since I belonged to one of these places. Proximity is a big issue. Five years ago, my family moved from a suburb where construction companies were clear-cutting forests to build these behemoths in favor of living in a closer-in suburb where mature trees threaten to flatten houses during derecho storms. At our former residence, we could hand a Miller Light to the next-door neighbor from our deck. Currently, we can forget we have neighbors while we sit on our deck sipping IPA.

Aside: we don’t actually consume beer that often, but my in-laws do. They are lovely people, who have been married for nearly 50 years now. When buying food to prepare for their visits, I have noted that my MIL likes Miller Light and French’s yellow mustard; my FIL prefers IPA (the more expensive, the better) and Grey Poupon.

Now, back to the shopping spree… I experienced a bit of reverse culture shock while maneuvering my oversized shopping cart across concrete floors. Everything looked smaller under the three-story ceiling: one 32” HDTV resembled the 13” black and white set with rabbit ears that I took to college. A 1½ lbs. brick of Gorgonzola cheese looked like reasonable quantity to add to my salads.

Gorgonzola WedgeRight

Amazingly, my haul for the first trip came in just under $100. As I drove home with my wild caught salmon, fancy rice crackers, California-grown apricots, organic chocolate milk, and hunk of cheese, I realized that I hadn’t seen a book section in the store. Had I missed it? Was it tucked away in some corner I hadn’t found yet? What if they didn’t have such a section?

Aside: My reading material usually arrives in brown boxes at my front door because I am too lazy to drive to the few remaining bookstores housed in strip malls. I’m mildly embarrassed by this lapse in literary snobbery.

Lamenting the chance to see dozens of Hillary Clinton’s 600+ page memoir stacked neatly on a table, I wondered if I’d made a mistake in joining.

Thinking about memoirs, I reflected on my own manuscript. Part of wooing literary agents and publishers involves convincing these people who work on commission that my words can put groceries on their tables or yachts in their slips.

There are essentially two categories for traditional publishing:

  1. Small presses that print under 3,000 copies of a book, usually in hardback, with a hefty price tag and place them for sale in fancy bookstores. For foodies, Bouteque de Fromage would be the equivalent of a small press.
  2. Large presses print no fewer than 30,000 copies of a book, usually in paperback, and expect to sell these in bulk for cheap prices. Think individually wrapped American cheese slices.

Aside: You’d think that people in the literary world could come up with more creative titles than “small presses” and “large presses,” but who am I to judge?

Whether you love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton can sell books. Enough books to help her climb out of debt and finance not one, but possibly two trips to Iowa in hopes of trading in her FLOTUS hat for a bigger POTUS one.

This will come as a shock to some of my loyal fans, but I am no Hillary Clinton.

Numbers wise, I’d be lucky to sell 3,000 copies of Outside the Temple Doors. I have fewer than 300 FB friends even after “friending” everyone I know from high school.

If reality television is any gauge, freak shows have mass appeal. I could align my Mormon characters with the small rogue sect represented on Big Love and convince my mother to grow a scraggly beard like Phil Robertson. That would sell books! Believe me it’s tempting. True, I’d have to discard the storyline about my journey from prejudice to acceptance, but hey, celebrating diversity is really overrated, right?

Aside: It’s easy to be snarky about the New York Times bestseller list when you’re sitting in an ivory tower earning a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. I once attended a session at an Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference wherein the speaker advised us to “Look around the room because these are the people who are going to buy your books.”

I’m not really highbrow enough to get all of the writers who hold MFAs to buy my $25 hardback memoir even if I sign copies at a swanky book launch. I’m not the gourmet wheel at some fancy London cheese shoppe, but I’m also not the individually wrapped American slices.

Aside: I apologize in advance to anyone whose book has ever sold over 30,000 copies, especially anyone who might one day write a blurb on the back cover of my memoir. I love you, Mary Karr and Jeanette Walls and Cheryl Strayed!

I need small numbers at a cheap price, or at least a Medium Press for that chasm between <3,000 and >30,000. I’m a hybrid or a Goldilocks.

“What about self-publishing?” you ask. Hold that thought. I won’t consider that route until I have a respectable amount of rejection letters. Also, I’m out of words for this week’s post.