Lost Balls

Maturity line graph from "Lost Balls" andreabadgley.com

Last holiday season, when I worked at the Barnes & Noble in Minnesota, a clean-cut 30-something man, about my age, approached me at the information desk. His short, sandy hair was neatly trimmed, his face freshly shaved, and he wore a grass-green long-sleeved polo, tucked into khaki chinos. He stepped up to the counter where I stood waiting to help him and said, straight faced, “Yes, I’m looking for a book called ‘Lost Balls.’ “

It had been nine years since I’d worked in the world, having stayed home with our kids until I started this job at the book store. Though I dressed the part in a pale pink button-down shirt and tailored black slacks, light makeup and petite pearl earrings, I wasn’t accustomed to maintaining professionalism. I smiled involuntarily, tucked in a giggle, and said, “I’m sorry, did you say ‘Lost Balls?’ “

“Yes,” he said, squinching his eyebrows and looking somewhat perplexed.

I typed it into BookMaster and tried to school my face, the hilarity growing inside of me as I watched the letters, one by one, fill in the search box. L-O-S-T- -B-A-L-L-S. The corners of my mouth twitched, and my eyes watered, and the more I tried to remain stoic, the harder it became to contain my Beavis and Butthead reaction. Huh huh. He said balls. I stifled a laugh, but my lips cracked into a smile despite myself.

He tilted his head a little, still serious, still knitting his eyebrows. “It’s about golf balls,” he said.

I looked up from the computer screen, straight into his searching eyes, stretched my mouth into a full grin, and said, “It’s still funny.”

Venn diagram of Intersection of the hilarity of balls, farts, and friends at andreabadgley.com

P.S. I am in our kids’ elementary school cafeteria, seated in the half moon arrangement of folding chairs as I wait for our son’s 3rd grade concert to begin. Sitting next to me is a small child – maybe three? – farting up a storm. He squirms around in his chair, his butt aimed mostly at me, and I suffocate in a noxious cloud of toddler toots while he jabbers on, oblivious to his killing cloud. It is all I can do not to burst into laughter as I smell this kid’s farts and write about lost balls. (Okay, I did burst into laughter. The kind that you try to keep in, but still it escapes, through snorts and squeaky giggles. Our daughter is looking at me weird, head tilted, eyebrows squinched. Not unlike the man at the book store.)

Venn diagram balls farts subsets at andreabadgley.com andreabadgley.com
P.P.S. I added the graphs last minute in response to the WordPress Image vs. Text challenge. That last one really has me thinking. Who is a subset of whom?

Originally published February 19, 2013.

Have you ever learned a critical lesson from an only okay book?

A man without a wife can be lonely in a big black Mercedes, no matter how many readers he has.  – Howard Jacobson

Have you ever read a book that just didn’t do it for you, but had one character, one scene, or one line that has stuck with you forever? You’re going through life, feeling sorry for yourself that you don’t have more time to write, and then BAM. You remember a line from a book you had otherwise forgotten, and you thank God you read it?

That’s how it is for me with the line above from Jacobson’s novel, The Finkler Question. The book itself was only okay to me. The characters, meh. Kind of endearing, but kind of annoying, too. The story was not funny in a laugh out loud kind of way, but was witty, in an internal chuckle kind of way.

But that line. I have come back many times to that line. And it made the whole reading worth it.

I met with a fellow writer recently to trade critiques, and our conversation gradually transitioned to where to submit, who pays, who doesn’t, you could pitch it this way for this publication, that way for that journal. She is far more seasoned than I am, and when I asked whether her writing contributes substantially to her family income, she responded, “It doesn’t supplement my husband’s salary, but it pays for my writing studio.” And I was instantly jealous. A writing studio!  God, how I’d love a studio. A room of my own, with a window seat, and light on my face, and a door that closes.

But more than that, a designated room would mean that writing was more than a hobby. That it was something serious, that I had time to do, that I wasn’t squeezing into an hour here, a half hour there. I’ve got 17 pieces I have started, then abandoned when it was time to wake the kids up, or volunteer at the school, or shop for groceries, or meet the school bus. By the time I get back to the essays, the mojo is gone. I’m not with the feeling anymore, and I can’t finish.

At these times I get frustrated. I fantasize about having large chunks of time to focus on writing, to research, to finish pieces, to edit, to polish. I go into my head, mulling all those incomplete essays, thoughts for this one jumbling with ideas for that one, and I think, if I were alone, and didn’t have all these responsibilities, I could take care of these. I could get them out, get them done.

A man without a wife can be lonely in a big black Mercedes, no matter how many readers he has.

And then that line from The Finkler Question snaps me back to reality, reminding me what it would really mean, at this stage in our family’s life, if I dedicated that kind of time and mental focus to a life of words. Because that line, regardless of its context within the novel, is about more than the emptiness of fame and fortune, or the loneliness of the writer’s life. It’s about throwing yourself into something so deeply, dedicating so much of your attention to this passion, or job, or hobby, that you risk losing contact, sacrificing closeness, with the most important people in your life.

There will come a time in the not so distant future when our children leave home, and there will be silence where their voices once were. Like the writer in The Finkler Question who lost his wife, I will rattle around in our empty house, with all the time in the world to write, and every room will be a room of my own. I will think of the pies I made with our daughter, of reading The Old Man and the Sea with our son, of answering their questions about sex and bad words, and I will give thanks for that single line in an only okay book. The line that reminded me to take my time, to enjoy my kids. A woman can be lonely in a room of her own, no matter how many readers she has.

The Finkler Question by Howard JacobsonThe Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson.  “Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, Jacobson’s wry, devastating novel examines the complexities of identity and belonging, love, and grief through the lens of contemporary Judaism.” (Publishers Weekly)

During the holidays I will be republishing posts from my first couple of years on Butterfly Mind. My site has this fancy new look now, and since I don’t foresee myself writing a lot over the next couple of weeks, I didn’t want the makeover to go to waste. This post was originally published two years ago today, on December 18, 2012.

I gave my blog a makeover

When I originally started Butterfly Mind, I planned my site to be an online home for writing. I wanted words to be the focus – I didn’t foresee using photographs at all – and I selected Oulipo, a journalist theme (layout), to highlight that intention.

Butterfly Mind site using Oulipo theme

Butterfly Mind with Oulipo theme

That was almost three years ago.

Recently, I’ve been feeling the limitations of that choice. I’ve started posting more images on my site, and my original theme was not kind to photography. The column was too narrow to showcase landscape layouts, and there were no options to feature images.

But aside from that, I felt an itch to move the furniture.

Back in June, Cheri Lucas Rowlands wrote about her choice to redesign her blog. She got my wheels turning, and I think I browsed the WordPress.com theme showcase at the time – just to see. I didn’t do anything with my site then, but the seed had been planted. Though I didn’t water or feed it, it grew anyway.

When I returned from Hawaii, I returned inspired. More fluid. Vulnerable to beauty. The past few nights I’ve been staying up, computer on my lap in the big comfy chair, while my husband watches The Walking Dead. I signed up for a free site, set it to private, imported all of my content from Butterfly Mind, and started playing with themes.

I tried several that didn’t suit me, then found a post highlighting themes for writers on Hot Off the Press, the WordPress.com news blog. From there I narrowed my choices down to two. I tweaked widget areas, played with featured images, rearranged menus. And I ultimately decided (with our 9 year old daughter’s help) on Hemingway Rewritten; I was a little giddy that the theme that works best for my blog is named for one of my favorite authors.

The influence of Hawaii is obvious in my color choices and header image, and what I love about Hemingway Rewritten is that it still offers a sidebar like my previous theme, but it eliminates a third column by moving the menu to the top.

Butterfly Mind site using Hemingway Rewritten theme

Butterfly Mind with Hemingway Rewritten theme

Now photographs can take up more space. They can breathe. And I particularly love that I can customize a particular post’s header by attaching a featured image, like here, here, and here. Of course, that means I need to go through nearly 300 posts to attach featured images, but that’s okay – my husband has a lot of Walking Dead to watch.