While waiting for the tow truck...
what would 1990s KJ do?
The wheels off of my plans this morning—literally, although not in the plural. The wheel came off the car my kid was driving to school (happily, on a small rural road). He and the friend he picked up had to walk back to the friend’s house and find a ride. Me, I had to call three auto shops to find someone with time to figure out what went wrong, and as I write this, I am sitting by the side of said road, waiting for a tow truck. (I have no ETA on the tow truck, which the insurance company is supposedly finding and paying for, and I suspect I’d have had better luck calling around myself as we’re all locals but here I am.)
So. Definitely could be worse. Could also be better.
I spent the drive here (we’re half an hour from the high school) listening to Cal Newport’s Deep Questions podcast, in which he talks at length every week about how we can try to live the life we want in spite of the many distractions calling our name in ever-appealing ways. It got me thinking about what I would have done back in ye olden days while waiting for this tow truck.
Early 1990’s KJ would have read a book, or possibly written in a notebook. There’s little doubt that 1990’s KJ would have HAD those things as she rarely left home without them. Except that 1990’s KJ would have had to hitchhike to the gas station to find help, and then ride back to her car with the tow truck driver. (She safely managed both of those things, more than once, because while the world can be a dangerous place it is also mostly filled with people who mean well.)
It is unlikely that 1990’s KJ’s parents would have been involved in this other than to blame her for whatever went wrong with the car.
Anyway, we’ll leave 1990’s KJ chatting with the tow truck driver and move on to late 1990’s/2000’s KJ. She would have had a mobile phone. But not necessarily a smart phone. So she would have called someone else to find phone numbers, called the insurance company or tow truck and then be… maybe typing tiny texts with a friend by pressing numbers multiple times to get letters? ths sux, she might have typed. :(.
There would have been no emojis.
Then, she’d have been back to her book or notebook… oh wait! That KJ would definitely not have had service here. So now she’s hitchhiking and hanging with the tow truck driver again. I’m getting worried about her. With every requirement that she hitchhike, etc, the chances of encountering something unpleasant increase. But maybe, instead, she walks up this driveway and meets the people who live in this house, uses their phone and they become lifelong friends.
If this version of me has not yet partnered up, maybe it’s a meet-cute! The house is a cabin owned by a grumpy hockey player who’s out sidelined for the season due to injury, and he’s just fallen in the kitchen and his crutches are out of reach and 2000’s KJ has to help him before she can use his phone, which is down because it’s a snowstorm and now they’re stuck alone together for days with his cute dog. She makes hot toddies and he proves to be an amazing cook with the limited ingredients on hand as they both overcome emotional obstacles on the way to a HEA.
I like the way my life has turned out without this intervention, but my point is—the world has changed. We have changed. And some of it is for the better—I’ve had an entire huge exchange with my agent and multiple friends about a proposed cover for my next book, Playing the Witch Card (you’ll see it soon, it’s fab) while sitting here, for example. And some is for the worse—I did meet the person whose driveway we’re half-blocking, she is not a grumpy football player, but because I have my cell phone we weren’t forced to hang out and thus lost any chance to become fast friends or bitter enemies. But on the other hand, I’m not hitchhiking in the rain, either.
I’m pretty over the whole angsting-about-constant-connectedness thing. We live in the world we live in. I’m glad that, when he had to pilot his suddenly three-wheeled vehicle over to the side of the road unexpectedly this am, my kid could call me. I’m frustrated that—even though I knew good and well I’d have better luck just calling around for a tow truck myself—I let myself get sucked into the idea that the insurance company’s app could do it better. (It could not, and after waiting two hours I called and got a tow in 20 minutes).
But mostly I’m just reminding myself that, when I find myself sitting in my Jeep in the rain for two hours, I feel happier when I’m the one who chooses how I spend that time. Writing to y’all, for example. Listening to a podcast. Texting friends. Talking. All things I could do because I could be online, although I kinda regret not taking the driveway owner up on her offer of a cup of coffee.
Cal Newport has a point about making choices instead of accepting the easiest alternative, and it’s one that’s echoed in one of the books I finished this week, Tranquility by Tuesday: effortful often feels better than effortless. I love scrolling as much as the next person—and in that I include everything from social media to skimming the NYT or my email—but I love connecting, writing and reading books more. As long as I remember that, I do just fine.
NOTE: I held onto this for a while after writing it. Car is fine, kid is fine, all is fine.
Did I tell you about Witchmark last week? First in a series, deep deep Harry Potter vibe, political, intricate, steampunk. Our hero is a witch hidden in a turn of the last century alt-London in a society where witchcraft is illegal but also practiced by the upper echelons of society, which he is—but because he’s supposedly a less powerful witch than his sister, he’s supposed to be bonded to her and enslaved. So he runs away to use his healing power by becoming an actual surgeon and surviving an ugly war, which of course was caused by those clueless upper class witches. I’m maybe not selling this (and honestly, it’s a great example of why you shouldn’t write a book without a hook, which we’re discussing in an upcoming #AmWriting podcast) but it’s hard to explain. Harry Potter meets…. I dunno, what’s a WW1 family saga? The Forsyte Saga? Maybe it’s enough to say I could NOT put it down and downloaded the next two in the series instantly.
I mentioned Tranquility By Tuesday. I’ve shouted it out before, because although author Laura Vanderkam has become a friend over the years she’s also my absolute using-time-the-way-I-want-to mentor and guru, and the woman who taught me that I’m never too busy to do the things I actually want to do—which has helped me to remember that I’m always making choices, so—as alluded to above—better to make the choices myself than let others do it for me. This book offers nine rules for changing your relationship with your time, and I love them. The one I mentioned—effortful fun before effortless fun—is a mantra I’ll come back to every evening and weekend for the rest of my life. I just finished it and I appreciated every word.
Have you had a Tootsie Pop lately? I can now walk straight to them in the two highway rest stops I frequent. (That’s not a thing for most people, is it? Oh well.) A perfect, long-lasting treat for a drive, although you’ll come out of it with a sore tongue. I’m so into them at the moment that I put them in Playing the Witch Card, too.
FICTION: About-to-finish: Back in a Spell, Lana Harper. If you like a small witchy town with lots of steam and all kinds of romance, this series is for you (as it is for me). The Start-up Wife. This one’s giving Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, but I’m not deep enough in to know what’s coming. Chick Magnet by Emma Barry (thank you, NYT Romance columnist Olivia Waite, I bought all of these recs. Paywall, you should pay but if you can’t, do add Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn, Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni and Midnight Duet by Jen Comfort to your #tbr like I did). Definitely will finish Passing, by Nella Larsen. I may be letting Babel go.
NON-FICTION: The front-runner for actually finishing: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. I’m still reading the others but probably won’t go back to them until I wrap this one.
Whatcha reading? Come chat. And if anyone’s read an advance of either Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld or I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai, COME CHAT NOW. I must discuss.
Get more me (free!) in your inbox by signing up if you haven’t already.