follow tali on ...

the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
SEP
05

Stranger than Fiction...and Funnier, too

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, one who I grew up with back in Oregon, and she was telling me about the book she's writing. It's about her life, and as she was telling me about some of the events that will be included in the book, I was shocked. Truth is stranger than fiction, everybody knows that--or at least everyone should--and I actually found myself at one point asking her, "He really did that??" when she told me about one of the scenes from the book. I honestly couldn't believe it, to which she quipped that it would not be possible to make this stuff up.

That's why I love real life. It's why I love reading about real life. And I know I say it all the time, but I just love memoirs for that reason. It's so satisfying knowing that what you're reading about really happened. And I think the potential for grand emotions is heightened. Real life has the potential to be more heartbreaking, more inspiring, more joyful, more hilarious, and certainly more unexpected than anything we can make up. That's probably why I'm sixty pages into a new novel right now (I know! I know! What am I doing reading fiction?) and can't seem to get into it but was in stitches when my friend read me the opening pages of her hilarious memoir. Life is just funnier. Now, back to this novel. Groan. (Watch, it will turn around any second and become the best thing I've ever read and I'll be eating crow for days. Which, incidentally, would also be pretty funny.)

SEP
03

Weekend Totals

4,400 words. That was my total written over the long weekend. Not too shabby. Although it definitely cut into my pages read total (this is the final month of the family contest), which was like 20. Of course that didn't stop me from picking up two new titles while at B&N this weekend. (You know, for all this reading I'm doing.) If I can read the book I just started as well as the two I just bought before the month is out, I'll deem September a literary success. And if I win the family contest, I'll deem this the best summer ever.

SEP
01

When a Writer Cleans House

I cleaned house yesterday. For seven hours. A few have expressed their bafflement as to how a house as small as mine could possibly take seven hours to clean, but this was a cleaning the likes of which I have never done in the 5 years I've lived here, at least not all at once. Going through every drawer, cupboard, and closet. Throwing away bags upon bags of crap I don't need, making a pile of stuff to give away, etc. It was quite an undertaking. One that left me exhausted from standing...not to mention lugging heavy bags and boxes up and down the stairs all day. But my house is now so improved, and I'm reveling in the lack of clutter; the improved organization.

Mass organization projects such as these affect me in ways they probably wouldn't if I weren't a writer. On one hand, they cause me to look back. I've been in my house for five years, and as I sorted through the photos, letters, and mementos I've acquired during these years, it was hard not to wax sentimental. A lot of things have gone down, from the most joyful to the most heartbreaking, and it's as if yesterday I relived them all. On the other hand, mass organization projects also cause me to look forward. The jumbo pack of Q-tips I found in the upstairs hall closet (Thank you, Costco) will last me nearly 1000 days, for instance. Almost three years. And I wonder what life will look like then. Will I still be in this house? This city? This job? All I know for sure is I'll be out of Q-tips, but it's a little exciting to think that even as an established adult, there are still unknowns out there; things to figure out, chances to take, trails to blaze--even if we are later to the game than we had always planned on being.

And all this just from cleaning out a closet. No wonder I only do it once every five years.

AUG
28

Wild

b2ap3_thumbnail_wild.jpg

I resisted reading this book. And I tried not to like it. I'm not sure why, I guess because I don't care about hiking. And once I started reading, I was somewhat less than sympathetic to the author's I've-made-a-mess-of-my-life plight. Because she HAD made a mess of her life. True that the redemptive theme of the book never really grabbed me, but the hiking, surprisingly, did.

Call me crazy, but the scene where she tries to load her backpack only AFTER she's flown to the west coast and is minutes away from actually beginning her journey was hilarious. Who wouldn't make sure everything fit beforehand?? And the frequent mention by other (male) hikers about her pack being much heavier than theirs just added to the hilarity. The hiking piece of the story...the piece about a girl who knows nothing about hiking taking on one of the most ambitious hikes possible (and solo!) was fascinating, that's just a fact. And I thought the author's use of flashbacks was good, too. (Although when you get to the one about the horse, skip over it if you are sensitive to sad animal stories.)

And as much as I tried not to let it, the end moved me. Not because the author had made up for her previous behavior, but she ends the story with a lovely sentiment about how even though it's impossible to know how things will turn out when we make a certain decision, it IS possible for them to work out even if we are at rock bottom; even when we haven't got a plan, a clue, or a dollar to our name. An inspiring message, no matter the source. Well done, Queen of the PCT.

AUG
26

Three before Two

I have a confession. I started writing my third book. I know, I know, it's ridiculous. I only just barely made all the changes recommended by my editor to my second book and handed the manuscript over for typesetting. There's still so much time before book two is even out, and here I've gone and started on book three. It makes me feel like a mom who's robbed her baby of his babyhood by immediately upping and having another baby.

But the thing about getting books out there is it takes so damn long once the writing is done that you find yourself--even when in the thick of the book prepping and publishing processes--missing the actual writing. It's what writers like best, after all, and considering I finished the manuscript way back here, this means I haven't actually written anything in months. So I couldn't help myself. Not to mention the fact that one of the chapters that will go in book three is fresh on my mind and should really be written up pronto. At any rate, I've begun. It will be slow-going with everything else happening bookwise, but I don't mind. 684 words in, and I'm already hooked.

 

AUG
20

Tuesday Nostalgia

b2ap3_thumbnail_mermaid.jpg

Because, why not?

The Lion King came through town a few weeks ago, which I suppose is why I've been a bit nostalgic ever since about all things Disney. When people ask what my favorite Disney movie is (to be clear, no one ever asks me this), I say The Little Mermaid. It probably has more to do with my age at the time the movie came out, but I'm pretty convinced there is a rather large contingent of women out there who hold Ariel and her underwater posse close to their hearts.

I always thought it was just me and was almost embarrassed that I had latched onto the movie so, but at a church camp one summer years later (a girls camp), I learned I was not alone in my obsession. Being a church camp, the camp leaders had put together a little book of songs that were approved for us to sing en masse while we sat in the lodge and waited for our tables to be dismissed for dinner. (Because certainly the worst possible thing that could have happened that week while caring for hundreds of teenage girls would have been inappropriate song lyrics. The horror.)

Anyway, one evening as we sat waiting for dinner, someone started singing Part of Your World, which, incidentally, was not in the song book. A few more joined in, then a whole table, and in a moment that was as solidaritous as it was amazing, pretty soon the entire lodge was singing this song. We knew it by heart. Every single one of us. And it wasn't just that we knew it, it's that we were into it. Think about it: here's a story about a girl who risks everything for a chance (and not a good one) to have what she wants most. That kind of gumption is not just admirable, it's inspirational. It's empowering. So imagine a campful of teenagers all wanting something more than they currently have, whether freedom or opportunity or circumstances. Imagine letting them loose with this song. Not sure I've ever seen such passion in all my life. Thank you, Disney. And thank you, Jodi Benson. For giving us a voice, then and now.

AUG
15

The Judges

My very talented book designer entered Schooled into a competition a while back, for the design and cover categories, and I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the writing and content categories as well. We didn't win anything, but I'm so glad we tried. It's always nice to have some "possibilities" out there, plus a lot of the feedback that came back from the judges was extremely positive. Here are a few excerpts:

"Cover got my attention. Loved the chapter pictures and the author's photo. Liked the chapter typeface. Well Done!"

"Very clean, in every way! Well written, great editing, interesting story-telling, easy to engage in, professional cover. I would buy this book and pass along to friends. Great job. A diamond in the rough."

"What a delightful book! You are able to tell school tales with a wonderful voice, which prompts the reader to want more! By the title and knowing this was non-fiction, I was expecting to read about assessment, policy , or other academic topics. Much to my surprise, you offered a pleasant and humorous distraction in the process. I look forward to reading your future projects. Best regards!"

"Very nicely done. The cover photo does an excellent job of portraying that the book is about a girl at school, and it gives us a clue about the time period, too. The typeface, which I generally dislike, is well-used here."

AUG
10

Glee/Terror

b2ap3_thumbnail_mall.jpg

I'm addicted to the log chute rides at amusement parks...the ones modeled after Splash Mountain. The ones that send you careening down a big drop at the end (or the beginning if you're on the Atlantis ride at Sea World...did NOT see that coming), the drop getting you sufficiently soaked. I'm not sure why I like them so much, because they scare me. It's true that I want to ride them and can't wipe the grin from my face after I do, but there's always a moment--usually as the log car is slowly ascending the pre-drop climb--that I ask myself what the hell I was thinking getting on.

It's a pretty accurate parallel to life, at least for me it is. Because when I look back on the decisions I've made, particularly the weighty ones with significant change or impact upon my life, the options I've chosen were usually the ones that scared me. It's not that I'm drawn to scary things, it's more that I can never justify using fear as a reason to give up something I want.

Recently because of some decisions I've made--calculated risks, I'd call them--I now find myself, well, sort of screwed in a particular aspect of my life. Some have asked if I wish I had made different decisions back when I had the chance, but I don't. Because I believe in going after what you want most, and that's what I did. And I'd do it again. Unpleasant as they are, things like disaster and failure and the going awry of best-laid plans are still not as punishing as regret for never trying...or for letting fear keep you from choosing the thing you wanted most.

Which is why I took a cab over to the Mall of America this past week while in Minneapolis for work. It's why I waited in a long and stuffy line, why I sat in the front seat despite being warned I'd get wet, why I was giddy even in the presence of panic as the drop approached, and why I came back to Cleveland feeling more myself than I have in weeks. It's also why I bought the overpriced picture. Evidence that Glee/Terror happens. And that sometimes it does us good to seek it out.

AUG
01

Good, Better, Best

Thanks to a few recent plane rides (and my rainy trip to Toronto) I've got some books to report on. Penny-a-page is in full swing, so July has proven a decent starting month for me. It's on, sibs.

b2ap3_thumbnail_shematters.jpg

When I first heard about She Matters, my inner soul rejoiced. What a wonderful idea for a book, I thought. The importance of female friendships. The author recounts various friendships throughout her life, although unfortunately only two of them struck me as moving or meaningful in any way. Most of them had me frustrated at the author and wondering why each of her friends seem to end the friendship for the same reason (blaming it on the author's selfishness). It ultimately left me with the impression that she is, in fact, selfish. And this made me dislike her and care less about her story.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bernadette.jpg

I rarely read novels, but I picked this one up because there seemed to be a lot of buzz around it. I confess I did enjoy it. I read it quickly...although that could have more to do with the airport delay that left me little else to do. It seemed pretty unrealistic at times (read: all the time), but I loved that it was so random. I mean, Antarctica? Really? And having the whole thing be a series of letters and emails made for a fun read...very different than your typical book.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bookclub.jpg

I have Will Schwalbe to thank for the gem of July. The End of Your Life Book Club was pure delight. Not because it is cheery on ANY level...in fact, delight is probably the wrong word. It's more that it was satisfying, completely. The perfect combination of literary musings and tragedy, it was just the kind of book I relish. More than that, I really felt like I got to know Will's mother, and I'm so in awe of the kind of person she was. A truly remarkable woman. The chance to follow along as they read their way toward her inevitable death was, in my opinion, truly special.

Bring on August.

JUL
29

Ode to the Salt Mines

I hate you, salt mines.

Yes, it's day one back at work after a nice, long vacation, and while what I really need is a slap in the face (I'm grateful to have a job and all the benefits it provides me), it's always a bit depressing to return to real life. And Cleveland is always a bit depressing after NYC in particular. (Isn't ANY city?)

But, no matter, my real life is pretty fun too, at least that's what I tell myself. Sure, there are expectations of me, I have to cook my own food, and I end up at home most nights instead of out seeing a show or eating cheesecake at Carnegie Deli at midnight (or frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity). Sure, my editor has told me that manuscript #2 needs some work. Sure, I miss home and family and there are things about my life I wish I could change, but I'm fresh off a trip to the city, and for the moment I can't be anything but grateful. Hard to ask for more than a view like this.

b2ap3_thumbnail_nycjul1.jpg

JUL
23

Specs and the City

If you're leaving on a ten day vacation and have an early morning flight and so throw on your glasses, you might want to make sure you have packed your contacts. Because if you don't, you might have to spend the first few hours of your vacation trying to convince an optician to sell you some contacts even though the brand your doctor faxed over on the prescription is not one they carry. This vacation city optician may refuse to so much as sell you a trial pair of lenses, so you might end up having to buy two full boxes of lenses that are not your brand and do not even match the curvature of your eyes. The ridiculousness of not being able to buy lenses even though a valid prescription has been faxed over might cause you to yell or cry, or both, or maybe it's just the vacation hours slipping by wasted that will wither you. Just remember as you walk out of the optician's office with two boxes of off-brand lenses (and a 4-pack of lense cases because they wouldn't just give you one like they give EVERY SINGLE PATIENT) that any price is worth not having to experience ten straight days in glasses. Even if they're cute.

JUL
16

And it's in.

My second manuscript, that is. Handed it off to the editor tonight. It's funny how in these final days and read-throughs I was hit with all kinds of "this isn't good enough" thoughts, to the point of pure panic, but then again, that's exactly how I felt last time. And I think Schooled turned out pretty well. Even though there's a bit of angst this time around as well, mostly I feel incredibly relieved this evening. And proud. And also excited about seeing the book take shape over the coming months. I loved what Crystal said in this post about manuscripts being like childbirth...it may be ugly but the kid is still mine. And this manuscript in particular is definitely mine.

JUL
14

Guest Post!

b2ap3_thumbnail_crystal.jpg

My friend Crystal Brinkerhoff, a fellow writer who hails from the same corner of Oregon that I do, is today's featured post. It's my first guest post and I hope to do more in the future. Enjoy!!

Gotta Fight for Your Right to Write
I rolled out of bed while the house was still quiet to work on this brain child that I keep obsessing over. (Why won’t characters leave you alone once you get them down on paper?) I avoided the squeaky floorboard in the hallway. Maybe I could have a few minutes alone. I swear the 3-year old has built-in radar that alerts her when I’m awake. I started typing when she appeared in front of me. 
 
“It’s morning,” she pointed out the window. “Cereal?” Fair enough.
 
I spent some time answering emails and other boring stuff. A task that was supposed to take a few minutes grew to three hours. (When I found the immunization record I was trying to track down, half the page was ripped and missing. Was someone hungry? For paper?)
 
My husband called needing a book and could I please bring it to him since he had a lunch meeting. I’m proud of the fact that we love books. But I considered downsizing today.
 
“What does it look like?” I asked.
 
“I’m not sure, but it’s 8 ½ x 11.”
 
“You know the size but not the color? Is it green? I’m picturing green.”
 
Pause. “Yeah maybe.”
 
Lunchtime rolled around later than normal. I’d been avoiding grocery shopping. Food schmood. So I dug through the bare cupboards until I found enough food to fake it. A package of six crackers, two fruit roll ups, and a bag of carrots. If I cut the roll ups in half then they can each have one. Desperation leads to genius in my opinion.
 
After lunch my youngest curled up to me with a book in her hand. I kept getting a whiff of something funky. Sure sign it’s time for a bath. But first I had to clean the tub.
 
I got around to getting myself ready for the day which meant I could deliver the book to my husband. Then realizing we had nothing for dinner I stopped at the store. I got home just in time to make dinner, get my oldest boys fed, and send them off to swim lessons. My husband took them tonight so I could get some writing done. He’s a gem that one.
 
I sat down in front of the laptop. I made the mistake of looking up. Dirty dishes on the counter. I’ll just do them really fast. Then my 5-year old offered to help. I’m not about to squelch an interest in chores.
 
By the time we were done my 7- and 8-year olds came in needing showers and then it was bedtime. Brush teeth, use the bathroom, get pajamas on, tuck in and smooch kids, turn off lights.
 
At last I sat down in front of the computer. Footsteps on the stairs. My toddler. I wasn’t going up the stairs again if I could help it. I let her curl up next to me.
 
I’ve been fighting since waking up this morning to write. There’s finally time tonight. It’s quiet. Everyone’s asleep. My youngest is sprawled on the couch next to me while I type, breathing soft snores.
 
I recently finished my roughest of all rough drafts. It was agonizing. It was amazing. Not the draft. The draft is garbage. But the process is magic, like delivering a baby without the blood and tears. Even if it’s ugly, the kid is still mine.
 
I let my oldest read part of it. He’s eight. That’s where my courage was.
 
“You wrote this? It’s awesome!”
 
I tried to play it cool, “It still needs lots of work.”
 
“Yeah but Mom, you’re going to be a famous author! Kids in my class would read this!”
 
His enthusiasm was sweet and I won’t lie, the praise is nice regardless of the age of the source. But the proudest moment for me was when he grabbed his own notebook, sat on the other end of the couch and got to work on his own story.
 
He gets it.
JUL
10

Rain Across the Border

b2ap3_thumbnail_201379-rain-toronto.jpg

After being stuck in NYC for Hurricane Sandy, I'm a bit sensitive to storms when I travel. So when it started torrentially downpouring in Toronto on Monday while I was in town for work (we're talking record-breaking rainfall for them), I got a little panicky when the rain didn't stop. And when the subways flooded. And when the cab ride to dinner took an hour because all the stop lights were out. And when the restaurant ended up being closed because they had no power. It's one of the only times while on business travel that I ended up with a pocket of time to read the book I had packed, simply because it was too nasty to go outside and explore. Can you say silver lining? I can.

JUL
07

The Pines

b2ap3_thumbnail_huxhill.jpg

Or whatever they are. (Firs?) I don't really know trees, but I grew up positively surrounded by them. It's always funny to hear people talk about how "green" Cleveland is, because are these people insane? They don't know green.

I've just returned from spending the holiday week in small town Americana with family, something I do as often as I can. Shelling peas picked fresh from my grandparents' garden, attending a flag raising ceremony at the local church, the parade down Main Street, the piddly festival in the park, the community orchestra performing Stars and Stripes Forever, the late-night fireworks down by the water.

What gets to me most is Oregon itself. The greenness. The peace and beauty that is country living out there. The quiet. The deer. The lack of paved roads. And while I've always looked forward to returning to Cleveland--my life, my love, my career, my cat--this was the first time in years that I wanted to beat my departure off with a stick. I was misty to drive away from the homestead, misty to say goodbye to my parents at the airport, and usually not one to even look out the window while on a flight, I couldn't look away as the plane took off. I ached to stay. I kept my eyes on the trees as long as I could see them, until the green expanse of Western Oregon had given way to the brownness that is everything else.

Not sure why this occasionally overcomes me. I guess the excitement and adventure that is having your own corner of the world sometimes pales in comparison to the loneliness that can come from being completely on your own and far away from those who care about you. I know, I know, I need to put on my big girl pants and be braver. But I ask you, if this was the view from YOUR homestead, would you ever want to leave it?

JUN
30

Advice...on dirty laundry

b2ap3_thumbnail_dirtylaundry.jpg

Because my books are piddly and my well-knownness even piddlier, it's not often that I am asked for advice on writerly things. So I was pleased when someone got in touch with me recently who is preparing to publish a family history of sorts. Her questions centered around how does a person handle talking about others and still maintain those relationships, especially when some of the experiences published are somewhat negative or revealing.

I'm not an expert on the subject, nor can I say that all my relationships remained perfectly intact after my first book, so answering this woman's questions got me thinking about my approach on honesty and if it's changed at all with this second book. I believe it has, because even though I still believe in honesty (and in sharing even some of the not-so-flattering stories that make up our lives), there are things I have written differently, rephrased, or edited out of this second book completely that I otherwise would have left. Not sure what that means, so I guess make of it what you will. And best of luck to all you family history writers out there.

JUN
24

The Read-Through

b2ap3_thumbnail_manuscript.jpg

I did my first full read-through of the manuscript over the weekend. Of course I've been reading/editing for a couple months now, but this was the first reading that happened all in one sitting. And also the first reading since I've had the chapters arranged in their new order.

It went well (although there's a Saturday afternoon I'll never get back), but reading from start to finish like that makes you think, All this effort for something that can be read in a matter of hours? I guess that's the nature of the beast, and why only a handful of people out there are crazy devoted enough to write books.

JUN
21

It's Over

b2ap3_thumbnail_chess.jpg

Remember that scene on Searching for Bobby Fischer where the parents have been banned from the chess tournament and are getting their updates on the championship match from the little boy who keeps running into the room with the latest play?

"Queen takes pawn."

"Josh is in trouble. He's down another pawn."

"Knight takes rook."

"Petey just hung his rook!"

And then the final announcement, the boy not running this time, rather walking slowly and with his head hung low: "It's over."

I've felt like this boy as I've written to my brother (who currently can only get letters and is pretty much cutoff from all media outlets) and given him an update after each of the games in the NBA finals. We both wanted the Spurs to win (as I hope the majority of the world did), so it was fun to report such tidbits as, "Spurs win game 1!" and "Spurs win game 5! They lead 3-2!" And considering that Fischer was a favorite family movie growing up, I have no doubt that he'll know exactly what happened when he reads my post script on today's letter. "It's over."

JUN
17

Seeing the World Through Both my Eyes

I love this commercial so much. And not just because of the piano music. To me, it's about life. Capturing it, sharing it. When you think about all the things we see in our lives, it's simply impossible to preserve all these memories without documenting them somehow. Isn't it?

The other school of thought on this topic can be summed up by John Mayer's Three by Five, a song I've always taken to heart. Because when our focus is on snapshooting our way through life (an event, a vacation, a sunset, whatever), we, in my opinion, get less out of the experience as we are having it.

While at an Indians game this weekend, it was the bottom of the 9th and a win was headed our way. Wanting to capture the winning run and the crowd's response, I readied my phone and managed (after a few dud plays) to hit record at just the right time. Success! Although it occurred to me as the crowd went victory-wild that I had failed to actually watch that final play. I'd been so focused on my little phone and making sure it was positioned correctly that I had to actually ask what exactly had happened, how the run had been scored. In my effort to preserve the moment, I had missed it completely. And I'll never get that moment back. Sure, I have a grainy, unfocused few seconds of footage shot from the upper deck, but I would gladly exchange that for the experience of having actually watched the runner slide into home plate and erupted into cheers with my fellow Clevelanders. Maybe today I finally overcame trying to fit the world inside a picture frame. Take it away, Mr. Mayer.

JUN
14

Summer Side Job

b2ap3_thumbnail_books.jpg

My Mom began sponsoring a summer reading program years ago. It was just for us kids and had a maximum payout of $50 each, but still. We were being paid. To read. Game on. In those early years of the program, I remember being a bit irked that my much-younger brother was filling up his "completed books" list with kids books. Since we were paid by the page, how was this fair? His pages had only a small fraction of the words my adult pages had. Word count would have perhaps been a more accurate payout method, but pages made more sense. Mostly because they were actually measurable.

This summer reading program, dubbed Penny-a-Page, has continued, such that we still participate every year, even as adults. We're each allowed to pick the 3-month summerish date range that our payouts will be based on, and from there it becomes a bit of a friendly competition. I think I'll go with July-September. I've got some plane rides in there that should help my page total. Did I mention game on? (To this date I have never won. So, there's that.)