Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It's Been a Quiet, Reading, Thinking Month, a Waiting Week

It  makes sense that my books’ protagonists are older women.  I‘m interested in older women because I am one.  I also read about women who have survived the traumas of being young and are now facing the uncertainties of age.  So, I expected the three books I chose last month at Powell’s to have been written by writers like me. Old ladies. Not true. And all three books have found permanent spots in my bookcase. I’ll read them again and again for pleasure and for contemplation.
Dancing Fish and Ammonites, a memoir by Penelope Lively, describes being eighty so truthfully that I had to refrain from reading the first few chapters aloud to my sleeping husband. “You get used to it.  And that surprises me.  You get used to diminishment, to a body that is stalled, an impediment?  Well, yes, you do…” Reading it, I felt I’d found a sister, one who writes about being old a lot better than I do. Not an old lady, a vital one.
Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, tells of a brave seventy-year-old woman who visits her widower neighbor and asks him to sleep with her. He does.  It is a wonderful story of love, family, and the realities of being alone, aging. Haruf wrote this in his seventies, his last book, published posthumously.
Rabih Alameddine tells the story of An Unnecessary Woman,  who lives alone, unfriended, in an apartment in Beirut as war circles around her workroom where she translates classic translations into Arabic and then places her manuscripts in boxes in a back room to be read by no one. I had to look up Alameddine’s bio to confirm that this gorgeously written, sensitive description of an isolated old woman, was written by a man.

When I tried to place book covers on this post, my computer started writing in Greek. Really. I  believe this was punishment for stealing images from Amazon.  I'm trying again. As one of my books states, "It's never too late to. . ."  whatever, even  become a thief.  And I'm thinking that it's time to get back to the rewrite of the untitled manuscript in front of me––right after I attempt this little diversive crime . And finish Elizabeth Strout's new novel lying open on my chair.

Jo Barney Writes

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


As the final pages of the first draft of my next novel fell out of the printer and were punch-holed into submission, it became time for me to tackle the next challenge: the recalcitrant toilet paper holder problem.
            Its downward slant seemed designed on purpose to send the roll of toilet paper off itself and onto the floor, out of the reach of the seated roll-ee. Dangerous. I found an Allen wrench, the place where a tiny screw was not screwing well, and I crawled along the foot of the toilet bowl towards the culprit .
After few minutes of fiddling with the wrench, I got good at “righty tighty, lefty loosie,” and I worked the screw loose. About the size of a comma, it, now liberated, dropped to the floor behind the toilet, not once but thrice, and I was forced, on my knees, to feel my way to its resting places. Each time, the wrench slid under the rug or the counter or under an aching knee. I gave up, limped away.
            So, that evening, over a glass of wine and his latest manuscript, I coerced my carpenter/writer buddy to help me. It would be an Even Steven deal. I was willing to assist him in placing his commas. He would get my toilet paper thingy level. He agreed.
 I noted that he straddled the toilet, rather than crawling behind it as I did. His approach, aggressive, male, however, led to him dropping the screw, the wrench, and then, with a deep inhale, a mutter of the same words I’d used. The bar went on slumping. My friend wondered out loud if commas were worth the effort.
            “Would super glue work?”
            “Haven’t a clue. Any Malbec left?” he asked and we went on to commas.
This evening, undaunted, I discovered a tube of super glue in our weird-tubes cabinet.  I can do this, I told myself. I straddled the toilet, loosened the screw, dropped it but didn’t swear, squeezed the glue into the hole and when I found it, onto the screw, wrenched it one more time, and wiped the overflow off with my fingers.
Within minutes the holder was solidly parallel to the floor, no longer a threat to the rolls that trusted it. And within the same minutes my fingers had become a mass of bone and flesh, no longer fingers. No longer possible were attempts to poke at keys on my computer. No longer did the corkscrew fit into my paw. No longer could I avoid noticing the irony of believing that one can be good at anything she tries, when her fingers are glued together.

I still believe. But sometimes it takes time, a very hot shower and a bottle-opening husband to affirm that belief.



Jo Barney Writes