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Author Archive: "Lauren Kessler"

My Teenage Werewolf

My new book, My Teenage Werewolf, would not have been possible — or necessary — without its main character. She is a henna-haired, cleavage-revealing, charming, alarming 21st-century teen, a feisty, moody, mercurial girl-woman who can go from sunny to sullen in the blink of an eye. Or, more accurately — and less of a cliché — in the slam of a door. She's sweet and profane, empathetic and cruel, chatty and secretive, a delightful arm-in-arm companion and a royal pain in the ass. Her name is Lizzie, and she is my daughter. My own, home-grown, in-house teenage werewolf.

I had to write about her and her generation of take-no-prisoners girls. I had to dive into the deep end of teen girl culture and try to navigate the stormy seas of our tumultuous relationship. It was the only way I could figure out how to survive her teenage years.

She was 12 when it started. Overnight, it seemed, I toppled from my throne. I ceased to be Mommy the Genius, Mommy the Wise and Beneficent, the font of all things cool and ...

Books! Glorious Books!

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
— Groucho Marx

"I think it is good books still exist, but they make me sleepy."
— Frank Zappa

Scent triggers memory in a special, direct and immediate way. This was explained to me once — some kind of hardwiring from nasal receptors to frontal lobe — but not well enough so that I can explain it now. But we all know it's true: a whiff of something, cut grass, gasoline, banana bread, and we're transported to another time and place, an entire scene evoked, a little drama played out on the stage of the mind. I smell garlic sautéing in olive oil (which I often do, garlic being the staff of life around our house), and I see my mother in the kitchen wearing the ghastly apron I sewed for her in home ec, turquoise it was, with white rickrack. Chlorine? The President's Day weekend we stayed at the old Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City decades after the city's heyday but years before its rebirth as Las Vegas East. I was 12 ...

There’s No “I” In Team — But There Sure Is an “I” In Write

Why do writers write? Do readers think about this at all? I know writers do — especially when times are tough, when an editor says no to the seventh pitch in a row, when work on the book stalls, when we are stupid enough to stop and figure what our hourly wage is. So it's not about money, at least not for the tens of thousands of us writers who aren't J.K. Rowling. And it's not about fame, at least not for the tens of thousands of us writers who aren't J.K. Rowling. (In fact, most writers do not want to be public figures. Writing is a solitary activity, and it tends to attract people who like solitude.) And it's not about power. (This country's powerbrokers are politicians and CEOs not wordsmiths. Dammit.)

So what is it about? Why do writers write?

In his famous essay, "Why I Write," George Orwell lists four great motives, the first being sheer egoism, which he defines as the desire to seem clever and to be remembered after ...

Old and In the Way

Codger, fogy, fossil. Geezer, duffer, dinosaur. Hag, nag, bag, coot, crone. Senile citizen. Our language is decidedly unkind to older people.

The elderly are feeble, frail and forgetful, crabby, creaky, constipated and curmudgeonly. These are the stereotypes, and they are not only insulting, they are largely inaccurate. The vast majority of older people live healthy, productive and independent lives. The active, alert, involved older person is the rule, not the exception. Not only that, but there are lots of these folks. At the turn of the 20th century, one in 16 Americans was 60 or older. At the turn of the 21st, it was one in six. Soon, it will be one in four. Maybe it's time — past time — to rethink how we talk about older people.

This is not going to be a rant about inappropriate language. The issue is not the words themselves, it's the attitude behind them, and the behavior that follows them. The fact is, language shapes how we think and how we act. So all these "over the hill," "past your prime," "Geritol generation" put downs are more than sticks-and-stones. These insults underlie ...

Working Hard or Hardly Working

"It is not always easy to tell the difference
between thinking and looking out the window."

Wallace Stevens

What is work, anyway? I mean: What is work to a writer? This is not a question we'd ask about the efforts of a plumber or a sales clerk, a nurse or an accountant. A carpenter. A barista. A bus driver. We can see that work. It happens in front of us, straightforward and understandable. The plumber installs a sink. The clerk rings up a sale. The lawyer deposes a witness. The nurse bandages a wound. But if you were here right now watching me work, this is what you'd see:

I stare out the window.

I bounce up and down on the big inflatable ball I sit on instead of an office chair.

I stare out the window. I do a few yoga stretches. I change the clothes from washer to dryer. I refill the water bottle. I bounce. I check to see if anyone has commented on yesterday's blog. I stare out the window.

Ah, and now, finally: I type ...

Good News About Bad News

I've been writing a lot about death lately. Death, disease, dementia, frailty, old age.
There's my new book, Dancing with Rose, which follows me into the land of Alzheimer's when I take job as a bottom-of-the-rung aide at a memory care facility. There's a piece I just wrote for about the hardscrabble life of the nickel-and-dimed women who work in eldercare. There's a story I wrote this spring for the L.A. Times magazine on "death with dignity," the end-of-life legislation that allows terminally ill people to hasten their own deaths with self-administered doses of legally prescribed drugs. (It's a law in my home state of Oregon and nowhere else.) And in early fall, I'll have a story in O (Oprah's) magazine on a program called "No One Dies Alone," in which volunteers sit in hospital rooms with dying "elderly orphans" in the last hours of their lives.

You might imagine the writer behind these projects to be morbid, morose and melancholic. Or just weird, like the Winona Ryder character in Beetlejuice, all gaunt and kohl-eyed and gloomy. Actually, I'm ...

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