Monday, June 15, 2015

That one time I quit writing my newspaper column

I published my last TFP column yesterday. Thirteen years is long enough, you guys. I'm starting to bore myself a little, which suggests to me that I've been boring other people a lot for quite some time now. Enough already.

But hey, I'm kind of fake quitting because I will still blog. Writers gotta write, yo.

So I will blog when I feel like it, and I will say what I want (profanity goes here!). I may blog twice a week or maybe I'll blog twice a year. Hell, I don't know. But last month, when I decided to just blog what was in my head, it got picked up by Scary Mommy and that was pretty thrilling. So just blogging. Let's do this.

Meanwhile, if you want to read my final TFP column, I am pasting it below. I am not linking to it as a petty act of defiance because the newspaper keeps running this horrendous 10-year-old picture of me on their website. I am like 5 minutes postpartum and I am growing out a bad haircut and I have this sleep-deprived, thousand-yard stare. I look like the walking momdead. Why did I let anyone take a picture of me at that point in my life? Oh right. I was insane from giving birth, which has that effect on me. I'm really glad I stopped doing it.

Anyway, I keep saying, Hey you TFP guys. Run another picture. You've got several. Some of them are better than that. And they keep running that horrible, horrible picture.

So anyway, here's my last TFP column. Something sentimental goes here about the end of an important chapter in my life. I'll see you on the blog.

The art of knowing when to say when
I really thought I was going to make it, but the afternoon sun through the clouded glass finally did me in.
"I'm going to have to pull over and wash this windshield," I told my mother. "I hate to stop when we're so close to home, but I'm driving blind."
The windshield of my mother's 19-year-old car was caked with sand from Florida and road grime from nearly 10 hours of interstate driving. We rolled into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Ringgold and I popped the trunk. Mom rooted around in there until she came up with the giant jug of washer fluid she carries around, toted it to the front of the car and threw a few splashes of it on the glass while I ran the wipers.
"That's got it," I said. "Let's go."
My mother doesn't find this at all ridiculous, and I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut on the topic of her old-car fetish. She can't keep washer fluid in the reservoir of her car because no plastic reservoir is built to last through 19 years and 275,000 miles. They crack. If you try to repair them (and she has), they crack again. And, if you're my mom, you just shrug and start carrying around a jug of washer fluid in the trunk.
She's only driving this 1996 Camry because I bullied her into giving up her 1989 Subaru. It was around 2005, and I had a 5-year-old son and a newborn baby. My mom loved that tuna can of a Subaru, and she loved toting her grandsons around, but I wasn't happy with the idea of my little boy and my little baby in the backseat of that flimsy thing. So she caved and bought a 9-year-old Camry, which she still says is too big and heavy for her comfort.
Ten years later, I have a 15-year-old son, a 10-year-old son and a mother who will not give up her 19-year-old car. Every year, I drive her home from our annual trip to Florida, and every year there's a new quirk to accommodate.
"It's a good car," she says any time we talk about the possibility that a 19-year-old car is due to be replaced. "It has never once failed to proceed."
That's really how she talks. It's pretty cute. But still. Nineteen years, Mom?
As it happens, I think a lot these days about letting go. My sons are suddenly so grown up and independent. The first time my husband and I went out and left them at home, I felt disoriented and anxious. Now I don't think twice.
This year I've had to stop teaching the university media writing course I loved so much to accommodate a terrific career that requires more of me than I ever predicted. Maybe one day I'll have time for teaching again, but now is not that time.
This column is next. I've been writing it for 13 years — from the time I was barely 30, my older son was a toddler and my younger son was just an idea. I've written through the many joys of watching my boys grow up, through the challenges of illness, job loss, new careers and multiple moves.
I've loved writing this column, but I think it's time for something new. Thank you for reading what I wrote, and for all the times you wrote back to let me know how much it meant to you. Y'all have got to be the nicest readers anywhere, and it's been a privilege to share my stories with you.
Also, if you have any ideas for repairing the washer fluid reservoir in a 19-year-old Camry, I'll still be around and entertaining ideas.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I can't wait for our beach vacation! Is the biggest freaking lie I tell myself every summer.

Every June, my husband, my mother, my sons and I spend a week at the beach, and let me just start by saying that only a hideous, ungrateful shrew would complain about this. So now that we've been properly introduced, let me tell you about the difference between Beach Vacation in My Head and Beach Vacation in For-Real Land.

Every winter, I spend the gray, post-holiday months building up the fantasy of Beach Vacation in My Head. During Beach Vacation in My Head, I do hours of reading in a horizontal state while my skin turns a creamy shade of caramel. I take long, solitary runs along the sand. I dine in sweet little restaurants with my husband; we linger over tropical drinks. My hair looks fucking amazing. It never rains.

My children are somewhere around here, I suppose, but they are occupied studying sea life and journaling about the habits of ocean birds. Or flying kites or whatever. They're definitely wearing linen, wherever they are.

Beach Vacation in For-Real Land goes like this: NO, throwing sand at your brother is not a game you just invented! DID YOU JUST SPRAY HIM IN THE FACE WITH SUNSCREEN? WHAT THE HELL?

During Beach Vacation in For-Real Land, my hours of reading work this way: My younger son, who's 10, sidles up to my chair as I recline and open my book. "Mom, are you almost done reading? When will you be done reading? Are you done now? What about now? How long is that book, Mom? It looks pretty long. Like, 300 pages? It doesn't really look like you're reading. It looks like you're done. What do you want to do now?"

Every single day, everyone needs to eat three damn meals -- a soul-crushing fact I avoid much of the year by being at work for many of them. I do more grocery shopping the week of Beach Vacation in For-Real Land than I do the entire rest of the year. Grocery shopping does not feel like a vacation, no matter where you do it. And it's weird, but I NEVER remember the grocery shopping part during Beach Vacation in My Head.

Every afternoon, the summer thunderstorms chase us inside, where my sons apply sand and water to every surface where one might reasonably expect to sit or lie. My hair grows into an immense, frizzy cloud of snarls. Five days in, my skin is covered in red bumps from sand, salt, sunscreen, razor burn and mosquitoes. The condo is decorated entirely in wet towels and mateless flip-flops. (Seriously, why are there six left shoes in here??)

By Thursday, I'm always contemplating an early exit. I could just rent a car, you know? I could just go home and spend a few days by myself. No big deal. That's normal, right?

"It's Thursday of beach week," my friend texts me every year. "Are you ready to come home?"

And let's talk about the packing, shall we? In Beach Vacation in My Head, I toss everything I need into a grocery bag. A small one. Bikini, flip-flops, running shoes, shorts, T-shirts, toothbrush, and let's go, bitches.

Actually that's what I do for Beach Vacation in For-Real Land, too. But at the part where I open my mouth to say, 'Let's go, bitches,' I remember that we have to go install the giant box on the roof of the car to hold all the golf clubs and sand toys. And put five coolers in the back and load up all the electronics. Yes, we are those people.

Then there's the unpacking upon arrival. Then the repacking upon departure. Then the unpacking upon arrival. We finish Beach Vacation in For-Real Land more exhausted than when we left, it will take two gallons of aloe to get my skin settled down and my keratin treatment is totally wrecked.

My mother says I'll miss all this chaos one day, but I'm certain that's just one of the 10 million lies she's told me in her merciless quest for grandchildren. I'm on to you, lady. You hear me? I'M ON TO YOU.

"Man, I can't wait for our week at the beach!" my older son recently crowed. He's 15 now, and we are heading back for our 11th consecutive year at the very same place. "It's always the best week of the year," he said. "I love it."

"I know," I said, wrapping an arm around his skinny man/boy shoulder. "It's the best, isn't it?"

Shit yeah, it is. Because it's still Beach Vacation in My Head, and there's really no reason to start Beach Vacation in For-Real Land until it's absolutely necessary.

I'm standing like that because my legs are covered in bug bites and sun-allergy bumps and it kind of hurts if they touch, but look how much fun we are having, you guys!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jack's got my number, so text with care

Switching cell phones is always kind of a pain in the ass, but it gets even more interesting when you hand your phone off to your teenager. When I gave Jack my phone, I warned the folks I correspond with regularly that my number would change over to my work phone, and that went off without a hitch -- mostly.

I was especially aggressive about warning the folks with whom I regularly swap secrets and juicy personal stories. "Text me back and confirm that you got this," I demanded of them. "I do not want you sending my son into therapy. That's my job."

"So don't text him this?" responded my friskiest friend, shooting me an elegantly framed still life of her unclothed bottom.

"No, don't text him that," I responded. "It's very pretty, though. I'm keeping that picture forever."

There have been a few minor, harmless text mix-ups, but they're quickly sorted out when Jack responds and pastes in the boilerplate I wrote for him instructing people that this is his number now and directing them to my new phone.

The best mix-up, though, came when a student I hadn't heard from in many months wrote me a long text to tell me what a great job I did teaching my media writing class, and what a big difference I had made for that crop of young 'uns.

Jack read me the text that afternoon when I picked him up from school.

"Mrs. Fortune, I just want you to know how much we all appreciate what you did for us," he read to me.

"Wow," I said. "That's just awesome to hear. Your mom is a media-writing-teaching badass, young man."

"Uh-huh," he grunted. "So can I delete this now?"

Anyway, today's TFP column is about adventures in cell phone swapping and the eternal nature of the cell phone number. I hope you like it.

And please don't text me any pictures of your butt without confirming the number first. Thanks.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The folks from back home

When she settled us in Chattanooga 26 years ago, my mother told me we're related to pretty much everyone in East Tennessee one way or another. For a long time, that information did not interest me at all. I suppose it's yet another sign of my official arrival in the land of middle age that I suddenly give a pretty significant damn about all these family connections.

Today's TFP column is about a weekend I spent with a bunch of people I'm related to and the people they're related to and well, you get the idea.

Lord, y'all, I'm turning into my mother. But hey, I could do a whole lot worse.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Yeah, who else is loving the snowstorm-that-wasn't-but-was-instead-cold-rain-and-ice-and-my-kids-are-STILL-out-of-school? It's fun, right?

Just to make things funner, I took this week off work to indulge in a whole lot of nothing to celebrate my husband's birthday (Thursday) and my birthday (Friday) and decompress a little because, you guys, I could use to decompress a little.

Instead, I am home with Ben (10) and Jack (14) and their dad (58 on Thursday!) and I love them, yes I really really do, but gah, you guys, this was supposed to be the week of running and shopping and reading and writing and getting my hair did and going to yoga and running and shopping. Instead it is the week of trying to keep my kids from killing each other (Shut up, fart brain!) and then listening to them complain when I separate them (I want to play with Jack!) and then rinse and repeat repeat repeeeeeeeeeaaaat.

That's OK. It really is. Because I have the playroom. Last weekend, I published a column in the TFP about the playroom. I forgot to share it here then, but I am doing it today with a renewed sense of gratitude for that ratty, filthy, chaotic den of boy noise.

The playroom is serious, you guys.

Halloween in the playroom. Some of these children are mine. Most of
them are not. As long as they stay upstairs, I like them all just fine.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

I hate writing this so much

I don’t want to write about Brian Kalla. Instead, I want to have some of the amazing pancakes he always made when our families had breakfast-for-dinner dates, or the spicy matzoh ball soup he would bring me because he knew how much I loved it.

I want to pour him a drink and tell him one more time how much it meant to us this past summer, when my husband Jim had a terrifying MRSA infection, and Brian came over and tended to him, brought him Medihoney and medical advice and comfort and friendship.

I don’t want to write about Brian Kalla. But I have to, so you’ll know how few real friends my husband has – how guarded and cautious and how very, typically male Jim is about letting anyone in. I have to tell you how I teased Jim about the unabashed bromance he and Brian had going.

“You totally love that guy,” I would say to Jim as he headed off to spend the afternoon building stuff or working on cars at Brian’s house, or when he invited Brian and the kids to come hang out at the pool, or called him up to see if he could borrow his pressure washer. Again.

Brian had this laugh that got me every time – it had a kind of a shout in the middle of it, and it cracked me up. He helped carve the turkey at our house this past Thanksgiving. He brought his much-adored family over for trick-or-treating this past Halloween – an annual tradition that has long served as a milestone in our years.

He was outspoken and irreverent and prickly and warm and sweet and absolutely funny as hell. He was one of four brothers, just like my husband, and Jim and Brian had a running joke about that. I would explain it here, but it’s really only funny to them. Lots of things were really only funny to them.

My husband loved Brian, and I loved him, and we had vivid pictures in our minds of the future Halloweens and Thanksgivings and breakfasts-for-dinner we’d all have together as we eased deep into middle age, as our amazing kids grew up, as the bromance I teased Jim and Brian about spun out for years and years.

I do not want at all to write about Brian Kalla. But now I will because we were robbed. His wife and kids, who adored and relied on him. His friends, who loved to hear him laugh. His patients and his colleagues, who counted on not just his expertise, but his humanity and his humor, his irreverence and his intellect.

Those pictures we all had in our heads of a long future that included Brian – that included his laugh and his warmth and his many sharp edges -- are erased. And we’re left to figure out how pictures of the future are supposed to look without those essential things.

Above all, I know this really would have pissed Brian off. I am sure of it. It certainly pisses me off. And I know the loss of our great friend is a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of the loss his family will endure from now until always. So I guess I’m writing this thing I really don’t want to write about Brian Kalla for them.

Because Suzanne and Sadie and Joey, please know, please understand: We love him, and we love you. We know there’s nothing we can do, not really, but we’re standing with you and we always will.

We’ll always be among the people who can hear his laugh in our heads. He’ll always be part of us and of our family, and you will be, too. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for you.

And I'm just so damn sorry I had to write this about Brian Kalla.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I would really like to spend more time doing it all night long

Sleeping is what I'm talking about there, you guys. Sleeping. What did you think I meant, you freaking weirdos?

Today's column in the TFP is all about the ways my true love, my boyfriend Sleep, has both comforted and betrayed me throughout my life. Most recently, he has been viciously teasing me -- taking me in, letting me get all seduced and unconscious, then tossing me unceremoniously back into the horror that is wide-awake-at-2 a.m.-and-gotta-work-in-just-a-few-hours.

Is this a middle-age thing? I used to be like a pro sleeper. If there had been a Sleep Olympics, I would have been on every podium, pitying the competition as I slept standing up through the awards ceremony.

I don't know what's going on with Sleep, but that jerk better step right, and soon, or I'm going to…well, I might have to take a lot more naps, I guess.

Threesome. Hell, yeah.