Category Archives: parenting

Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others

I’m looking forward to participating in the Out of the Mouths of Babes reading and panel discussion at Bard College at Simon’s Rock Blodgett Hall on Friday, March 2 at 7:00pm. This event is part of the month-long Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.  Please check out the websites for lots more info.

Interview with Rosanne Cash: On Writing Her Memoir, The Nature of Mature Beauty, Twitter, and Pie Songs

Singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash‘s fourteen albums have charted eleven number-one singles. The genesis of her new album, The List, dates back to a day in 1973 when her father, Johnny Cash, discovered some gaps in her knowledge of American roots music. He spent the rest of the day making a list on a legal pad, and at the top he put “100 Essential Country Songs” handed it to her and said, “This is your education.”

Three-dozen years later, Roseanne has selected twelve songs from the list presented to her by her father to record her first album of covers. She approached each composition—from Jimmie Rodgers’ “Miss the Mississippi and You” to Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country”—in search of its particular essence. She is currently on tour and I look forward to her concert at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on June 29.

Rosanne is also the author of the short story collection, Bodies of Water, and the children’s book, Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale. Her new book, Composed: A Memoir, will be published by Viking on August 10. She lives in New York City with her husband, John Leventhal, and her children.

The Cover of Rosanne's Upcoming Memoir

Gina: Why did you decide to write your memoir now? What was the process of writing it like for you?

Rosanne: I’ve been writing it for a decade, so ‘now’ is relative! Things kept happening, I was making records, raising children and a lot of Life went on. The process was …SLOW. And it was a great organizing principle for me. Many, many times I have not understood my own life until I wrote about it. I get to see the connections, past and future, the patterns, the depth of the relationships.

Gina: As the mother of a 15-year-old daughter, I’m thinking a lot these days about the notion of mothers ceding, or not, the spotlight. Do you have any thoughts on this issue having raised three daughters? How to support our girls and revel in their budding beauty and potential, while hanging on to our own sense of self as powerful, sexual beings?

Rosanne: It was jarring to me when they were teens…to see your daughter come into her own as a woman. I felt faded at first…then realized slowly that power, sexuality, and beauty are NOT age dependent! Youth and beauty are wonderful, but age plus authenticity equals another kind of beauty, and requires a life well lived.

Gina: You are a Twitter Queen. Your hashtags are always hilarious. What do you enjoy about the 140-character form?

Rosanne: It’s kind of how my mind works.  Short bursts. A little manic. It’s a perfect medium for me, sadly.

Gina: Off the top of your head, how many songs can you name about pie? And which one is your favorite?

Rosanne: Well.  There are songs that have pie IN them (“Ode to Billie Joe”) and then songs with Pie in the title (“American Pie”, “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch”) but songs SOLELY about pie? That will require some thought. And what an odd question, congratulations.

Gina: I was fishing for “Country Pie,” which I recently stumbled upon doing research for my Pie Contest in a Box. Here’s a great clip of your dad with Mama Cass.

Teen Self-Care in the Age of YouTube

Annalena mentioned last night that she’s taken to watching this video every morning — that if she watches Smokey Robinson and The Miracles sing The Tracks of My Tears, she has a good day. I think back to when she was a baby and discovered the comfort of her thumb to sooth herself through the night. I don’t know how she found this video or what exactly about it she finds sustaining, but on a non-linear level, it makes all the sense in the world. The lyrics of the song transcend time, not to mention the suave dance moves. How wonderful that YouTube makes this wisdom of the ages accessible to teenagers in 2009.

Chillin in Her Tipi: Letters Home from Camp

Finally, two letters arrived today that junior mailed a week and a half ago from camp on the west coast. She wrote them while “chillin in [her] tipi” between stilt and tightrope walking classes. She’s fine, of course.

I read an article the other day about the new trend of “kidsick” parents. The expert advised that it’s okay to tell your child that you miss her while she’s at camp, but you’re not supposed to say that the dog misses her, too, and the house is lonely without her. Whoops. But I did send chips in her care package.

Camp Care Packages

I missed the farmers’ market this morning to drive Annalena to the airport. She’s going to a very not-New England camp for a couple of weeks with her best friend from fourth grade. I’m not going to name of the camp here, though it’ll be obvious to some of you from this photo. Suffice to say that I’m happy my girl will get indoctrinated with a big dose of core values from the old country, plus learn some useful skills, like how to ride a unicycle.

Re: camp care packages. So far I’ve gathered glow sticks, temporary butterfly tattoos, temporary henna tattoos, a poker deck, fancy lip balm, turkey jerky, lollipops (sugar free so as not to be confiscated), bubbles, a “Grow a Pirate,” fortune telling fish, postcards and stamps, and a Red Sox pen that doubles as a flashlight. I’m also thinking to throw in some pretzels and chips to share with her tipi mates. Other ideas?

Interview with David Samuels

David Samuels is the author of The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue. He is a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, where sections of The Runner first appeared. A graduate of Harvard and Princeton, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and young son.

The Runner tells the story of a drifter and petty thief named James Hogue who woke up one cold winter morning in a storage shed in Utah and decided to start his life anew. Reimagining himself as a self-educated ranch hand named Alexi Indris-Santana who read Plato under the stars and could run a mile in under four minutes, Hogue applied and was accepted to Princeton University, where he got straight A’s, made the Princeton track team, dated a millionaire’s daughter, and was accepted into the elite Ivy Club before his deception was finally exposed.

Gina: The vagaries of higher education are on my mind a lot these days, as my daughter starts high school in the fall. I went to San Francisco State University. Through the course of my publishing career, I’ve known a lot of Ivy graduates and seen up close how that club functions…they do rule the world and favor their own and they’re not all as brilliant as they think they are.

I’m encouraging my daughter to aim high with her college ambitions even though we have little savings to pay for tuition and no legacy ties because I don’t want her to be penalized for lack of access to power.

Who mentored you as a writer?

David: I learned how to write comedy as an editor of The Harvard Lampoon and found that the lessons I learned over time were applicable to writing fiction and narrative nonfiction. I am grateful to a number of very generous editors who gave me a chance to write good stuff when I was sleeping on my friends’ couches in New York, particularly Lewis Lapham at Harper’s Magazine and Anne Fadiman, the former editor of The American Scholar. I think I have learned the most about writing over the years from my friend Ben Metcalf, a fellow Lampoon editor who later became my editor at Harper’s.

Gina: You seem to identify with James Hogue because you too were an outsider when you applied to Harvard. Where are you from and what was it about you at 18 that made you a winning candidate for admission?

David: I was born in Brooklyn and went to an orthodox Jewish day school in New York City. My grades in high school were quite uneven. I have no real clue as to why Harvard chose to admit me. I can only guess that my combination of indifferent grades, high test scores, and strong teacher recommendations appealed to someone who got bored of admitting kids from Jewish day schools with perfect grades, high test scores, and strong teacher recommendations.

Gina: You say that you think the Ivy League should be abolished. What do you propose replace it?

David: Nothing. If the Ivy League didn’t exist I think that students and employers alike would be more alive to the range and specificity of particular educational and life experiences rather than simply looking for silly designer labels that promote a fraudulent pseudo-meritocracy that celebrates itself in a frequently nauseating, self-congratulatory fashion while bestowing a parcel of unfair and unearned advantages on their handpicked classes of entitled little snots. That said, I had a wonderful time at Harvard, and wouldn’t be upset if my son was lucky enough to be admitted there. While the classroom education isn’t that great, it is hard to beat the self-confidence that comes from being told at the age of 22 that you have been formally certified as a member of the American elite and can venture forth in the world and tell the suckers how to think and behave.

Gina: You are extremely critical of the practice of preferential admissions treatment of children of alumni, yet your son may well benefit from your status. What are your hopes for his education?

David: I hope he learns to read and write, and that he can connect in a deep and sustaining way with a particular body of knowledge, whether in the humanities or the sciences.

Gina: What are you working on now?

David: A multicultural Jewish-inflected novel about the coin-operated machine business.

For the Love of Our Funky Cheese Shack

My daughter and husband made me promise not to blog about them, but since their radio shows are public, I think I’m safe. Our Funky Cheese Shack, co-hosted by Annalena and her friend Hannah, can be streamed live on WBCR Friday afternoons from 4:30pm to 5pm EST. It’s like Wayne’s World, only they’re 8th grade girls. Doctor Dave’s Saxophone Power Hour features saxophone music from around the world. It happens every other Saturday from 2pm to 4pm, though the doctor may take the summer off.

Parents Magazine Podcast

Searching for Mary Poppins lives with this recent Parents magazine podcast interview with my wildly articulate and charming coeditor, Susan Davis.

If any of you are curious about the process of editing anthologies, click here to see an interview between Susan and me and then click on the names to the right for more editor interviews.

Red, edited by Amy Goldwasser

I just finished inhaling Red: The Next Generation of American Writers — Teenage Girls — on What Fires Up Their Lives Today and highly recommend this anthology of essays to anyone in the throes of raising said generation.

Our girls are facing some different questions than we were at their age and these poignant, raw, and passionate essays offer both hopeful and harrowing insights into their predicament.

Jeremy Toback & Renee Stahl's Sweet Big World for Little Ones

Yesterday while dithering away the afternoon looking at other people’s friends on Facebook, I stumbled upon a familiar face. Jeremy Toback and I were summer camp counselors together at Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts in the mid-80s. Back in the day, Jeremy had rock star written all over him and I’ve periodically heard updates of his L.A. music industry roller coaster ride from a mutual friend. I was delighted to discover yesterday that he and singer Renee Stahl recently released an utterly sweet, smart, and charming CD for children titled It’s a Big World. Click here to see a video of them singing Night Mantra, a hypnotic lullaby.

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