• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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That’s Where You’ll Find Me

Do you ever regret anything you’ve written, wish you hadn’t published it, or even just shared it with another person? Now that my daughter is a teen, I sometimes gulp hard to think of what she will think of me if she reads my memoir. I was quite cavalier when I wrote it. My motto: secrets did the most damage. It was the stuff under the carpet that kills. Now, the carpet’s looking mighty fine.

Please tell me about literary regrets. The more self-flagellating and recriminating the better.

21 Responses

  1. I wrote a column about one of my son’s teachers. She is a wonderful, kind woman and always wears sweaters that have little scenes on them, ie; Christmas, Halloween, etc. My intent of the article was to write about our eldest children who were both in 8th grade at the time. I wrote that I always checked with her on homework assignments because me being “Mother of The Year” was clueless. One day she said to me “How did you like that last doozie? It took me about four hours to get through it?” My natural reply was “What homework?”

    I wrote a column and it came off insinuating that she does her son’s homework. It also insunuated that she was a nerd for wearing decorated sweaters. Everyone at my little guys preschool where she taught was talking about how I could insult poor Ginny. In the meantime I was really trying to make fun of myself.

    I felt AWFUL. I had to write a column the following week apologizing and explaining that as a columnist I am allowed a great deal of freedom to express myself and how sorry I was for hurting someone who was innocent, kind, and helpful.

    The ironic part was that I got more feedback from the apology column than any other.

  2. I wept with embarrassment when Howard Nemerov advised me that my poems would make good song lyrics.

  3. I was trying (in a very cool non-obvious way, of course) to become friendly with 2 mums at school. During a first datey type lunch, they both said they never go to the library. I then wrote a relatively mild (well, apart from the WTF bit) post on my blog wondering why people don’t use libraries.

    A few days later one of the mum’s mentioned she’d checked out my blog. Then she gave me this cold look and I realized she’d sussed my carefully disguised anecdote as relating to her.

    There have been no further lunches . . .

    (P.S. I want that carpet in my living room)

  4. I haven’t written anything I regret–yet. I thought I could write my memoir after all the secondary characters were dead, but I just can’t do it. The keeping secrets and making everything look just fine thing my mother taught me goes too deep.

    Betsy, your daughter will love you even more after she reads your book.

  5. Ten years ago I interviewed a perfectly nice middle-aged man about his never-ending love affair with the two years he spent as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa 30 years previously (he has a whole theory of literature based on writers who have been in the Peace Corps…it’s kind of a fetish with him; annoying, but harmless enough). He was so open, and helpful, and energetic about his web site and work to spread the news of the Peace Corps School of American Lit. And then I wrote a snide article about him for a local magazine. I regret that. I should have told him upfront that I intended to do a hatchet job on the half-assedness of starry-eyed ex-Peace Corps Volunteers. If I ever sober up and do my Ninth Step, he’s first on my list of amends.

    Also, I want to apologize for what I wrote on page 137 of my book. Halfway thorugh a clunky paragraph I wrote that the letters of Nancy Mitford were “epistolary perfection”. I deeply regret that mortifying choice of words. “Epistolary perfection”. Everything wrong with me as a person are in those two words.

    • Seriously though, people in the Peace Corps can suck it. The holier than thou thing is just so tiresome.

      • so is generalization

      • Sigh. Fine, not ALL of them can suck it. Just the ones who think they can sanctimoniously brand everyone else a corporate shill because they spent two years saving the world, m’kay?

  6. In novel #2, several characters were thinly veiled portraits of friends. I wrote that one friend’s apt was full of tchotchkas (tacky stuff) and he was really hurt and insulted after he read that. It wasn’t meant as an insult–I love kitsch (shotglasses with Hawaiian hula dancers etc). But I learned my lesson with that novel–create characters from bits and pieces of a lot of people. In my WIP, none of the characters are recognizable friends or family members.

    • Think it was Kate Christensen who said in an interview that if you change up the physical details, no one ever recognizes themselves. People are not as self aware as you’d think but I guess maybe the tchotchkas were a giveaway in your case.

  7. Currently shopping for carpets, preferably made of Kevlar, despite assurances to my extended family that none of the characters in my forthcoming novel is based on anyone perched on our family tree.

  8. I don’t think I regret anything I’ve ever written. But I struggle with the consequences of people knowing my dark side.

    I once wrote about my father’s behavior around my friends in my blog. I knew he never read my blog. He never would have read it (even though it’s there on the web), but an LA Times reporter wrote an article about the Internet that featured my blog and a picture of me.

    When it came out I sent it to my father. He still never looked at my blog. However, he sent the article to all of his friends, and, eventually, someone told him. We didn’t talk for a year, then went to therapy….and blah, blah, blah.

    I also called some guys at work “frat boys.” Amazingly, I didn’t get fired, but was told to take those posts down. I think my boss thought it was funny.

    Let’s face it, I’d rather write than tell people how I feel to their face. I’m both extremely chicken shit, and brave.

    • I’m like that! I kept a blog for over ten years, and in my posts I was terrifyingly honest about everyone in my life. Every few years, there’d be a dustup — someone would read about themselves and contact me about it, and I’d take the entry down but continue writing about everyone else the same way I always had.

      The beginning of the end was when my mother found the blog. I was living overseas then, and I hadn’t contacted her in several days. Instead of calling, she googled me, found my blog, and read the entry that was right on top… which just so happened to be about my mother’s passive-aggressive ways of communication. I let the blog limp on for a while after that, but I knew it had to go. I get a lump in my throat when I imagine my mom reading that blog entry. We’re fine now, after a lot of conversation and apology. Probably could have stood to do some therapy, though.

      I still get the urge now and then to bust out a new Blogspot and write about the people in my life. I’ve got a friend right now who’s driving me nuts — God knows I won’t ever sit her down and say, “The best thing you could do for yourself right now is to get laid, stop listening to your mother, and quit writing for at least a year,” but I can’t help but think I could get a week’s worth of blog entries out of a single coffee date with her.

  9. I can’t imagine that Tennessee Williams didn’t feel the same way. The trick is to turn the bitch-tone into art. Still working on that.

  10. It is better to wear a hairshirt for the rest of your life than regret what yu have written.

  11. Regret only that I didn’t start earlier

  12. I have only two regrets in my life: that I didn’t continue with my piano lessons and that I didn’t keep studying French. I decided to do other things, oi vey.

  13. Sending out my first query letter when I wasn’t ready to send one.

  14. I’ve actually completely wrecked my life half a dozen times thanks to my creative “sensibilities” and the fact that if you have to stand up and say something, other people by default have to hear it. Bottom line though, even when I can tell someone will vehemently disagree or be ashamed of me for whatever I’ve done, there comes a point where you have to stand up straight and become who you are. If it turns out you’re not a calla lily, but a cactus, so be it. What if you’re an oak tree? Dig in your roots and remember who you are, and other people have to choose to respect you, sometimes for not being like them. Also, become a better debater, because you know a teen daughter with that much ammo is going to be sharp as a whip. …Things you signed up for in the fine print of parenthood… Time to enjoy the ride!

  15. Carpet no carpet, carpet no carpet…hmm! My current dilemma as I submit my work.
    Its a great book, drugs, prostitution sexual abuse, guns, rape, institutions, jails, did I mention stripping? Oh and swear words that I would never let them even think about speaking.
    Its the stuff under the carpet that kills– I agree, I am just wondering if it will kill my now young adult children who were not present for this part of my past..
    My loving supportive boys have promised not to read it until they are thirty, but boys will be boys.

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