Okay, that title has nothing to do with this post, but I’m listening to a WNYC program’s discussion of the Bee Gees, and they played this song, so, y’know, why not.
Classes begin tomorrow, and while I’ve taught all of these courses before and my syllabi are set, I’m always a bit nervous before the curtain rises. Last semester my bioethics course kicked ass and my American government course sucked ass, so I’m hoping to maintain the performance of the former while raising that of the latter.
I’m also teaching a course I haven’t taught for a couple of years, and I’ve rejiggered it somewhat from my last pass. It’s an intro to political theory course (more or less), and the last time out the students never truly engaged the material. I don’t know if it was them or me, but I do know I was rather listless by the end. This time around, I cut back a wee on the reading and reconfigured the written work; we’ll see if it works.
<<Oh, shit, I haven’t yet updated my course website. Dammit. Maybe tomorrow morning.>>
Is this all a way of excuse-making in advance for not posting as much as I should? Why, why would you even think such a thing?
Actually, the busier I am, the more likely I am to write, so who know: maybe I’ll be a bloggin’-machine this semester.
I need to get some real writing done, too. The Unexpected Neighbor is already e-pubbed (link at right), but I stopped in the midst of editing Home Away Home. I really should get back to it, not least because it’s a better manuscript than Neighbor, but also because once I finish that, I’ll have no excuses for not working on my next project. If only I could settle on that next project.
Anyway, here are bits from Home, the first, in honor of the previous post:
Kurt had taken Jamie for a ‘walk-and-talk’ before his son left for Daytona. ‘I know we talked about this before, and I know you’ve been living away from home for awhile now, but I don’t want you to get in any trouble in Florida.’
Jamie tugged on his ponytail, trying to keep a smile off his face.
Kurt noticed. ‘I know, you think this is funny, and your old man is way behind, but James, seriously, a person does things on vacation that, that he wouldn’t do at home.’
‘Dad!’ Jamie looked at his father. ‘What do you think I’m going to do?’
Kurt took a deep breath. ‘Well, Rachel is going to Florida, too, isn’t she?’
Jamie laughed. ‘Jeez, dad. She’s staying in another hotel from us guys.’
‘She’s been staying on another floor from you in the dorm, but that hasn’t stopped you, has it?’ Kurt kicked aside a melting chunk of ice.
Jamie said nothing.
‘Look, Jamie, I know you’re not a stupid kid, and I assume you and Rachel have been. . . smart about. . . your relationship.’ Kurt shuffled around more ice pebbles. ‘But Florida, the beach, the booze, everything—your common sense can fly right out the window.’
Jamie scratched his still-unshaven face. ‘Dad, don’t worry. I can handle it.’
‘And no drugs. All right? No drugs.’ Kurt continued as if he hadn’t heard Jamie. ‘You don’t know what kids can do on those things.’
Jamie paused behind a large ice chunk, retreated a few steps, then ran and kicked it down the path. ‘I’m in college, dad, all right? None of this stuff is new.’ He tapped his boot free of slush. ‘Besides, you’ve met Rachel, right? She’s not exactly Janis Joplin.’
Kurt stopped. ‘Janis Joplin? Kids still listen to her?’
‘They listen to all that sixties crap.’ Jamie walked ahead of his dad. ‘Well, Rachel loves Janis, so I can’t call her crap, but, you know.’
Kurt double-stepped to catch up to Jamie. ‘She’s not, she’s not like Janis, is she?’
‘Dad! I just told you. Jeez.’ Jamie looked at Kurt, shaking his head. ‘She’s a chem major, for crying out loud. That’s super hard.’
Kurt nodded. They ambled along the gravel path in silence. ‘Have you picked a major?’
‘I was thinking math, but, I don’t know.’ Jamie hitched up his back pack. ‘I don’t think so. I got time. Maybe sociology. Journalism.’ He looked sideways at his dad. ‘Those aren’t very hard majors, are they? I mean, compared to chemistry. Or philosophy.’
Jamie was now staring ahead, his cheeks reddening. Kurt rested his hand on Jamie’s nearest shoulder, and leaned into his son. ‘Do what makes you happy, James, and do it well. That’s what matters.’ He moved his hand under Jamie’s ponytail. ‘The rest will take care of itself.’
And the second bit:
Summers in Madison alternated between the glorious and the brutal. There were days Maggie would borrow Laura’s bike and tool along Lakeshore path, cooled by the shade and the breeze from Lake Mendota, and other days when a dip in Lake Wingra felt like taking a warm bath. ‘I get cooler going under and standing up than staying in,’ Maggie said to Laura.
‘I know,’ Laura responded. ‘I’m in the water and I’m sweating. This is ridiculous.’
On those nights they’d set up cots on the back porch for sleep, the humidity making them careless if the neighbors saw them in their underwear. ‘I’d go naked if I thought it’d make a difference,’ Laura declared.
Maggie only smiled. ‘We used to sleep in the basement.’ She handed a beer to Laura, and flipped the tab of her can. ‘It was nice, though. Not like the dungeon here.’
Laura turned the can away from her as she opened it. ‘No shit. I don’t even like going down there in the day.’ She put her mouth over the fulminating beer. ‘Too bad we can’t turn it into a pool.’
‘That’d be nice,’ Maggie agreed. ‘Sleep on air mattresses.’
‘Pfft, those things leak.’ Laura pushed her cot against the wall then slouched against the boards. Her dyed black hair was piled on top of her head, and she held the cold can against her pale neck. ‘So you’d sleep in the basement, huh? You usually don’t talk about your life before here.’
Maggie was wedged in the opposite corner, her beer on the railing next to her. ‘Yeah, well.’
‘So what’s the deal?’
Maggie peered through the stiles at the backyard trees. ‘I don’t, uh, I don’t really have much contact with anyone.’
Maggie pulled her beer back to her belly, setting it on the exposed skin between her cut-off t-shirt and underwear. ‘Not really. It’s just, I left, you know, after graduation. Needed time to myself.’ She brushed the condensation into her belly button.
Laura looked over to her. ‘Does your family know you’re here?’
‘Not really. I mean, maybe they figured it out.’ Maggie yawned. ‘I was born here, and I wanted to come to school here, so maybe they know.’
‘But you haven’t called them or anything?’ Laura was staring at Maggie.
Maggie avoided her gaze. ‘Nope.’
‘Wow. You just left?’
Laura took a long drink, then let out a long belch. ‘Wake up, everybody!’ she laughed. Then she frowned. ‘I don’t know if I could do that. My dad and I fight all the time—you’ve heard me, on the phone—but, jeez, not talking to him? And it would kill my mom.’ Laura’s family lived about nearby, just on the other side of Sun Prairie; she was the second of three children. ‘Do you have brothers or sisters?’
Maggie continued to squeegee the water off the can. ‘Yeah.’
‘And they don’t know where you are, either?’
Maggie shrugged. ‘Well, my older brother, you know, he was at school last year, and he’s never around, so I bet he doesn’t really notice. And my younger brother and sister, they’re really young.’
‘So nobody knows you’re here?’ Laura was now sitting cross-legged on her cot, looking directly at Maggie.
Maggie sipped her beer. ‘Not really. I called my friend Colleen the other day—which reminds me, I gotta write down the number—but I didn’t tell her I was here.’ She peered up at Laura. ‘It’s just easier that way, you know?’
Laura was shaking her head. ‘I don’t know, Mags. I think they must be going a little crazy.’ She peered down into her can. ‘What if they think you’re dead or something?’
Maggie waved her off. ‘Oh, I left them a note. Told them I was leaving, I was fine. Had money saved, the whole thing.’ She paused, drinking her beer. ‘Just wanted to be on my own for awhile.’
‘I don’t know.’ Laura squinted at her. ‘That’s pretty rough.’
Maggie raised her eyebrows. ‘They’re fine. We weren’t getting along. They’re probably relieved I’m out of their hair.’
‘I don’t know,’ Laura repeated. ‘I think maybe you’re making a mistake.’ She swirled her beer. ‘But hey, it’s your life.’ She took a drink, and grimaced. ‘Shit. Even the beer can’t stay cold.’
Maggie raised her can and laughed. ‘Just gotta drink it faster.’ She chugged the rest of it down, paused, then burped. ‘Then you can taste it, twice.’
‘Gross.’ But Laura finished off her beer as well. She stood up, and held out her hand for Maggie’s can. ‘Want another?’
Maggie shook her head. ‘Nah. It just makes me sweat.’
Laura stood at the door. ‘You ever going to go back?’
‘I don’t know.’ Maggie turned and looked up at Laura. ‘Maybe. I don’t know.’
Laura held up her hands. ‘Like I said, it’s your life.’
I’m not giving anything away in these excerpts: You figure out very quickly that someone—Maggie—who was long gone has now been found, and then are sent back for the story leading up to that point; the narrative catches up to the first page by the middle of the book, and goes from there.
A friend who read the earlier draft wasn’t convinced that someone would just leave home and never look back, but oh, haven’t there been times when you wanted to keep going, just (to steal a line from Neighbor) to see how far you could go?