Interview with Curtis Sittenfeld in Times of Israel

Up in The Times of Israel today is an interview I conducted with Curtis Sittenfeld, the New York Times bestselling author of “Prep” and “American Wife.” Sittenfeld has a new book hitting shelves this week: “Eligible,” a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The cover of author Curtis Sittenfeld's new book 'Eligible.' (courtesy)

I’ve been a big fan of Sittenfeld’s since my NJ book club (make that my beloved and sorely missed book club) read “Prep” as our first selection back in 2006. “Eligible” was cleverly entertaining and I definitely recommend it. It was a huge pleasure to speak to Sittenfeld by phone from Israel recently. Check out my article in TOI for more.

Make It Easy on Yourself

My husband: “Seriously, Jen. This Facebook post about your thesis defense must be your most popular post ever. People keep liking it.”

Me: “It makes up for the nine birthday wishes I got this year.”

My husband: “No, really. I think it’s because of what you wrote about me.”

Me: “What? Because I was publicly nice to you? That thing about love and support?”

My husband: “Yes. That. Exactly.”

Me: “I don’t think so. People just like milestones. And baby pictures. And cats.”

*   *   *

I love Facebook birthdays. Seriously, the last eight birthdays since I joined Facebook have made up for the 30+ birthdays prior.

My birthday is in August. Worse: the end of August. No one remembers your birthday when they are boogey boarding and eating funnel cake by the Jersey shore.

This year, as most years, I pretended to not be excited about my upcoming Facebook birthday. I also pretended to not be upset at 12 noon on August 19 when I had only received birthday greetings on my wall from my mother and my old friend, Sondra, with whom I share a private birthday challenge. (For decades now, we’ve competed to be the first to wish each other a happy birthday.)

Checking my watch as we set out for our family vacation to the Israeli desert, I silently pacified my ego by blaming the time difference between Israel and the U.S. However, later that evening, only a handful of greetings on “the wall,” I realized the annual sea of flattery and acknowledgment was not coming.

I would, I guess, need to feel satisfied by the real-time, in-person love of the people in my company: my husband, my three kids, and friends we were travelling with. That was new.

susan d note fb

*   *   *

When I turned 18, the week before we all left for college, my girlfriends bought me a book about sex and a package of Today sponges as a birthday present. A how-to guide with illustrated positions, that book might have been the most thoughtful birthday present I ever got from friends. I saved it for many years. It was lost somewhere between Elizabeth, NJ and the port of Haifa.

I wonder if writing today about this memory of the birthday sex book  is why I dreamed last night about a college boyfriend I haven’t seen in decades, and why I remembered this morning he said to me once, “Enough with the hand job. I can do that myself.”

*   *   *

The good thing about your Facebook friends forgetting your birthday is the idea that once something is on the internet, it might have a chance at one day being forgotten. That we don’t have to worry so much about naked photos of our children on instagram or that time we wrote a blog post about the color and consistency of our poop.

*   *   *

There’s a line in my thesis I love. In fact, it might be one of the most important statements in my entire thesis (a lyric essay memoir).

Despite my fears of saying what I really think, I am almost certain the people who have loved me over the years of my life love me because of the words I’ve spoken out loud, not because of the words I’ve kept to myself. 

This almost-belief is what allows me to sleep the nights I’m worried about the words I’ve written: on the blog, in old letters on frayed pages of spiral-bound notebook paper, or in emails during the late nineties. It makes me think I will one day be forgiven by anyone I’ve ever hurt. It gives me the confidence to continue sharing my internal truths, even when I’m so frightened by the consequences of admitting to them.

*   *   *

Truth: I suffered the absence of my Facebook birthday this year. I really did. And I will likely suffer next year, so DON’T FORGET!

I don’t like that about myself. I don’t like how much I want your attention, how much I want you to remember me…and fondly. I don’t like that I still struggle with loving myself enough so that I don’t need to be loved by you.

But I’m getting there.

Maybe this is why so many people liked my “thesis defense post.” They subconsciously know I’m getting there.

 I’m getting there.

The Speed of Summer

This has been the summer of slow: of washing the morning’s dishes; scraping and sweeping up Cocoa Pebbles off the ceramic kitchen tiles; straightening the throw pillows on the couch again; hanging pool towels on the line. There have been days when I wanted to scream, when I wished for salvation in the form of a plane ticket to Philadelphia paid for by my mother. There have been days I’ve feebly attempted to convince my 12 year old to wake up before 11 so we can spend a morning off the kibbutz doing “something,” but he’s never acquiesced and I’ve never pushed it.

It is August now, and we’ve done nothing, he and I. It is August, and we’re closer now to the end of the summer than the beginning.

Read more of this post at The Times of Israel.

Blogger fatigue

If it was a color, blogger fatigue would be mustard yellow and it would be caked on to the countertop like a booger.

You stare at it. Ponder it. Consider your options. You could walk away. Leave it for someone else, but in the end, you’re compelled to scrape it off with the nail of the middle finger of your right hand. (Or the other, if you’re a leftie.) Then, you use your thumb to extricate the pieces of blogger fatigue caught beneath the nail. You flick the hardened flakes into the sink — if you’re the kind of person who cares where boogers land. If not, you flick your blogger fatigue into the air where it floats down to the kitchen floor. You’re going to have to sweep it up anyway.

Blogger fatigue — by which I mean the temporary aversion to sharing any more inner thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, dream analyses, stream of consciousness poems about childhood shopping malls, lists of tomorrow’s tasks, casual references to cool things you’ve done or celebrated people you’ve met, tips for new moms, tips for old moms, tips for moms who wish they were lesbians, recipes with pretty Pinterest pictures, links to other bloggers whose interests I might share or not but who might link back to my blog and increase my traffic by two — is bringing me down. But not down enough to shut down. Not forever.

If there was a cure for blogger fatigue, it would be temporary, like sweatpants are a temporary relief for seasonal affective disorder. I promise, once my region of the world lights up again, I’ll return to wearing skinny jeans and telling you all about the time I touched Matt Dillon’s butt in the basement of a bar whose name I forget on the Lower East Side.