A DIY Approach To Being A Sister

(This is a short excerpt from my just-completed memoir The Queen of Everything.  I loved writing it, but now the hard part – finding an agent and/or publisher!)

No one teaches you how to be a sister. There are entire shelves of books and magazines devoted to teaching you how to be a wife and mother. But being a sister is pretty much on-the-job training with no role models or how-to magazines. Just Mom saying, as she runs out the door to catch the bus to her waitress job, “I only ask one thing. Try not to kill each other.”

But, like every other time in my life when I’ve had no clue how to “be” (which has been a lot) I got much of my guidance from books.

I guess this could be seen as a sort of DIY approach to life, a life learned from books. Jo March and Laura Ingalls Wilder were my early mentors, with the sisters in Jane Austen’s novels nudging them aside later, until Seventeen and Tiger Beat took over my teenage brain and turned me into a narcissistic little bitch who would have traded all five sisters for the complete set of Bonne Bell Basics. Continue reading

The Art of Place

(Every story takes place somewhere… In my work I often go back to Golden, Colorado, where I spent most of my childhood.  Here is an excerpt about Golden from The Queen of Everything.)

The town of Golden still has a nicely kitschy sign arching boldly over the center of Washington Street, the main thoroughfare that runs north to south, paralleling the Coors brewery. It states Howdy Folks! Welcome to Golden, Where the West Lives!

To our family, hailing all the way across the country from Plainfield, New Jersey in our cruise-ship-like Plymouth, this Howdy Folks! sign was exciting and exotic stuff. We had left the gritty, grimy, graffitied city life behind; left behind our Irish and Polish relatives, and arrived in the Wild West.

Lookout Mountain rises hugely and majestically out of the western plains that slope immediately upward out of Golden’s city limits. The Table Mountains – North and South – form flat, dusty sentinels on the town’s northeastern and southeastern edges, and the powerful fist of Castle Rock looms over the sprawling Coors plant. You can see the outline of its distinctive shape on cans and bottles of Coors beer.

Our family took a collective breath of the clear, piney Colorado air and noticed something else. Another smell. Something slightly yeasty and malty, cloying and sweet. This odor, the distinct odor of the brewery, belching out steam clouds of its processed hops and barley into the dizzyingly thin mile-high air, was a sense memory my sisters and I would forever associate with Golden, and with our childhood there.

That day though, that first day, the brewery – a few blocks east of downtown – was just part of the exciting sights, sounds, and smells of our new Golden life.

Supermodel Princesses

(This is another short excerpt from my new memoir The Queen of Everything, a memoir about being a sister.)

My sisters and I had a favorite game we played at night when we were supposed to be sleeping. For years we all slept in the same bedroom, so we spent hours whispering and laughing and doing elaborate gymnastics or ballet routines or circus acts, leaping from bed to bed, until we got too out of control, and suddenly there would be Dad, looming in the doorway.

“Do I have to get the belt?” he would ask. Fathers back then were supposed to say things like that. What did he think we were going to answer? This usually happened three or four times each night. Heavy footsteps down the hall, same belt question from him, same silence from us. We knew we had him outnumbered and besides, he didn’t really have it in him. Five pairs of his own blue eyes blinking innocently at him, unless some of us goody-goodies were faking that we were asleep. Continue reading

Excerpt From My New Memoir

(I have just finished writing a memoir about being a sister, and will share here a tiny excerpt from it. The name of my book is The Queen of Everything.)

I have spent much of my adult life trying to distance myself, as best as I could without cutting off actual communication, from my family. It started with the short distance of twenty miles, with the scholarship that sent me up Highway 93 from Golden High School to CU at Boulder, becoming the first in both my parents’ families to graduate from college. I was scrupulously vigilant about creating my own perfect life, which was not going to include crappy cars, HUD apartments, food stamps, green stamps, laundromats, or the government cheese.

I have always had a deep-seated fear that if I got sucked into the lives of my sisters, they would sink me, much as adding extra weight to a small boat might capsize it. I tried to put a lot of miles between myself and my family.

Now it turns out that geographic distance doesn’t really matter.

For the decades of my twenties, thirties, and forties I often chafed at the assumption that, as oldest sister, I was the one to get the phone calls for quick cash infusions for electricity about to be turned off, for car transmissions that needed to be replaced, for rent money. Just to tide me over. I can send you $20 a month once I get ahead. I felt like I was being punished for working my way through college, and waiting until my mid-twenties to get married; when I had met a good, steady man with a college degree and a good job from a third-generation Los Angeles family, and not some pothead loser.

Distance. That has been my mantra, along with all the nuances that word connotes. Not only have I lived most of my life far away in miles from my sisters, but also far away in other meanings of the word. Distance: Remoteness, reserve, restraint, reticence.

And yet, at the same time, I find I miss us.