The other day I found myself crawling slowly along the road while clusters of MAMILS – Middle-Aged Men In Lycra – cycled along the bike path two and three abreast, as I grimaced and swore at them from the quiet and safety of my car.
Where did these men come from? I understand that something strange happens to women at around the age of 45, with menopause fast-approaching, when we suddenly stop sleeping, burst into tears for no reason, and are irritated by everything. Could this be the modern version of the male mid-life crisis? They run out and buy cycling shorts in fifty shades of black?
I approached a traffic light where two old boys were balanced on their souped-up bicycles, helmets bobbing as they chatted. The light changed, they very slowly creaked their limbs up as I finally lost it.
“Come on!” I shouted, rather politely I thought. There were no swear words involved. The men looked round in disgust, as I shrank in horror, and gave a big smile and a wave, pretending to be joking.
The one on the right was my husband.
There were more further up the street. All these men used to commute into Manhattan on a daily basis, and then either retired, took a redundancy, or decided to stay home and bother their wives by mooching round the house all day asking what’s for lunch, where are you going, and are you writing today? No? Why not? Don’t you have a book due?
Once upon a time I was in a relationship with someone who worked from home. Every time I would stand in the doorway and ask if he would do something for me, he would sit behind his large mahogany desk and bark that he was very busy. I would gaze over his shoulder to the reflection of his computer screen in the darkened window, and the only thing I ever saw on that screen was computer solitaire. Every time.
I’m not sure about the whole men being at home thing. On the one hand, I love it. Now when the children have doctor’s appointment and Beloved comes to remind me, I bark that I am very busy, as I turn the iphone upside down to hide my facebook activity.
On the other hand, I quite miss having the house to myself. I miss that me time when girlfriends come over and we could sit at the kitchen table talking up a storm for hours and hours. Every time a friend comes over now, Beloved now comes in to say hello. He sits. And stays. He has become my most reliable gooseberry, and although I love him, I’m quite missing the kind of girlie gossip that only happens when the men have gone.
Luckily for me, there is lunch. The Organic Market is a largely-male-free zone, which has subsequently become my meeting place of choice.
As long as you don’t tell my husband.
I had breakfast this morning with Funny Girl. We went, as we always do, to the local diner, and we spent much of our two-hour breakfast, as we always do, discussing our problems with food and what we look like.
Funny Girl orders, as she always does, a plate of fruit, one toasted English muffin, and a side of Canadian bacon (which is essentially thick-sliced ham, fried). She ate three grapes, a slice of melon, half the muffin, one slice of bacon, and took the rest home for her mother.
I ordered an omelette with onion, cheese and spinach. I ate the omelette with onion, cheese and spinach. I did not bring anything home for my mother or anyone else, but I did spend the entire meal bemoaning the fact that I have gained huge amounts of weight this summer, despite the fact that I tend to eat incredibly healthily, and not very much. Clearly, the omelette doesn’t count.
I think this comes from living in America where all the portions are absurdly sized. When I first moved here I remember going to an Italian restaurant and being served an enormous platter of chicken, and being horrified that they thought the food, enough for four, was for one person.
Now when the platter arrives, I think, food’s here! Yum!
When I was back in London for a week earlier this year, I kept ordering food in restaurants and a small plate would arrive, with a small portion of food, which I looked at with an air of bemusement. “Where is the rest?” I kept thinking. I was permanently starving.
Everybody knows that American portions are inordinately enormous. But I was raised in a country where children starving in Ethiopia were held over our heads as reason to finish everything on the plate. It is a habit that has been deeply ingrained. If you give me a small portion, I will eat it. Place a portion that is enough to happily feed a family of four in front of me, and I shall eat that too. I am not fussy.
Americans have a tendency to deal with the huge portions by exercising like crazy people. Many of the women in my town do not work. They don’t have time. Hot Yoga takes an hour and a half, which doesn’t include traveling time to and from, gossiping time in the changing room, showering time, straightening hair again time, and coffee time with the girls which, apparently, often stretches into lunch.
I say apparently because on principle, I will not go to hot yoga. Nor will I go to anything vaguely class-like. In fact, one of my friends has been laid up with a torn Achilles tendon as a result of running, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the perfect evidence to support my belief that exercise is bad for you.
Now I just have to train myself to eat less.
A while ago, a friend of mine lost a child in a terrible and tragic way. She began to knit things for the people she loves. In the thick of her grief, her friends would go to the mailbox and find an envelope stuffed with colorful hand-knitted items, with grief, and loss and love winding through every stitch.
I thought about this today, as I pulled the hat she had knitted me from the depths of the closet, and wore it on my way to the doctor’s office, the russet and orange skeins of wool perfect for this rainy Fall day. I rest my hand on that hat frequently; every time I do I feel the love, and pain, that went into it.
I have been thinking about conscious acts of love, about how we choose to live, while musing over an article that came out in the New York Times over the weekend. It was an article that characterized both my husband and I in ways that are so misinformed, so factually misleading, so viperous, it was almost funny. Almost.
If you have heard me speak at an event, you may very well have heard me tell the – apocryphal – story of a woman who pulls into the gas station in my town of Westport. She tells the attendant she is moving here next week, and asks what the town is like, what will she think of it?
He looks at her and asks what the town is like where she is moving from.
“It’s awful,” she says. “The people are rude, and entitled. They are greedy, arrogant, and self-absorbed. We haven’t made a single friend in all the years we have lived there.”
He nods, knowingly. “Well,” he ventures. “I think you’ll find Westport is much the same.”
A few days later a different woman pulls in, and tells him that she is moving to Westport with her family, and what kind of a town is it?”
He asks her what her old town is like.
“It’s wonderful,” she says, her eyes tearing up. “The people are warm, and inclusive. They give back, they are connected to their community, and they welcome everyone. We have met the loveliest people we have ever known.”
“Good,” he says. “I think you’ll find Westport is much the same.”
I believe that life is where you look. I believe that whatever we put out, we will get back a thousand fold.
When a newspaper of repute prints a story like this in the Style section, however distorted and subjective, people accept it as fact.
And yet today, finally, I am beginning to understand that this story says far less about me, and far more about the person who wrote it, who snaked her own agenda through every line.
The people I love, knit hats in their darkest hour. They write articles that rejoice in other people’s creativity, entrepreneurship, and success. Kindness, care and respect, are the keys to living a good life.
I may not be any of the things I am described as being in the paper last weekend, but I am so very much more, mostly because I am surrounded by wonderful people – family, readers, and friends.
If you’re on this page, thank you. And if you bought that paper a few days ago, wrap it round some fish and chips, douse it with vinegar and salt, and enjoy.
Every week I will be bringing you a sneak peek of A Novel Idea, my new weekly column in The Lady magazine in the UK (http://www.lady.co.uk/). What my readers may not know, and as my new weekly column for The Lady will reveal, is that I also spend an awful lot of time avoiding writing my novels. Take my work in progress, the title of which you will discover over the coming months; have I started it? Or have I been online shopping, drinking coffee, gardening, tending to my family and other animals? The clues are in my columns…
By Jane Green
Hours spent driving: 4.5
Hours spent playing solitaire: 2
Hours spent lugging stuff to and from the beach: .5
Hours spent cooking/cleaning: 3
Hours spent writing: 0
I am just back from a four and a half drive back from Nantucket. I should have started the new novel, but Nantucket was calling, and when Nantucket calls, there is only one thing to do.
It is a four and a half hour drive to Nantucket, which feels like nothing to me these days. Growing up in London the thought of driving anywhere for longer than (more…)
Hours spent on Facebook: 2
Hours spent having tea with friends: 1.5
Hours spent food shopping: 1.25
Hours spent tidying/organizing: 1.5
Hours spent writing: 0
I have a tiny office in our local theatre, the Westport Country Playhouse. I moved in several months ago as their ‘unofficial writer-in-residence”, decorated it with beautiful trays, lamps and throws, then disappeared.
I get emails and Facebook messages from them saying they all miss me terribly, and I am now their “unofficial writer-out-of-residence”
Being busy with other things is not good for the business of writing novels. This year I wrote a cookbook, several articles, then went on book tour to promote the novel I wrote a year ago. I am looking for all sorts of ways to procrastinate, and (more…)
Figless Manor, our old house, was gorgeously featured in New England Home magazine this month. And oh! But it looks beautiful! Creaky Cottage is home, but so proud of what we built with Figless Manor.
Check it out here: http://nehomemag.com/article/novel-approach
Want to meet me, Patti Callahan Henry and Elin Hilderbrand on Monday night? I’m zipping back to Nantucket, my most favorite place in the world, next week, and I’ll be doing a wine, cheese, and book event with Table1 Nantucket on Monday evening July 27th at 6pm! If you’re on island, there’s no excuse not to be there! Elin – probably one of the hottest names in women’s fiction right now, will drop by for a drink (and bring (more…)
Jane Green is the author of seventeen novels, including sixteen New York Times bestsellers. She has over ten million books in print, and is published in over 25 languages.Full Bio