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Category: Jenny Gardiner

Beauty School Drop-Out

I long ago recognized that I am the ultimate beauty school dropout. And I’ve made peace with this. I do what little I must to get by, and don’t lose too much sleep over it. Although lost sleep could be at the root of my beauty faux pas…

I’ve long recognized that we all come to the table with our pluses and minuses. Back when our oldest child was ready for elementary school, it was the trend to hold back children so they had the advantage of that extra year of physical and mental maturation. At the time we thought it crazy that we actually had to contemplate holding our kindergarten-ready child back a year because everyone else was. Fact was, our son was ready for it. So despite his shortcomings—he was small for his age, he was young for his age—we decided that he needed the challenge of school and would be far too bored without it. Unfortunately, this meant that his peers would be driving well before him. And that they would most likely have the physical advantage over him in sports.

But I realized when my babysitter’s mom told me that her daughter was so upset because she was “too tall” for her age that we are what we are. When I was her age I thought I was too average. Others think they’re too short. No one is ever quite satisfied with the status quo. So you do what you can with what you’ve got, and hope for the best (and throw in the occasional beauty products as a talisman against too much fugliness).

Anyhow, while I was not so lucky in the fat ass department, I was more lucky in the complexion department. Which meant I’ve been fortunate to avoid “necessity make-up” over the years: make-up has often been optional for me, for better or worse. In fact, it wasn’t until my first book came out and I started having to show up in public places on a regular basis that I realized I had to do something about this. I was downright stunned to see what magic that Mac cosmetics associate (the one with about ten piercings in her face and bright pink eye shadow on her lids) worked on my face. I wasn’t used to anything on me, yet all of a sudden she’d presented me with a daily 20-minute face-presentation regimen. Damn. It was so simple back when all I had to do was wash my face in the morning.


I went through a month or two when I stuck to it. I had to, between the signings, the TV appearances, the speaking engagements. I just realized I looked pretty pathetic without it—-like the <span style=”font-style:italic;”>before</span> picture. Which is I guess the whole point of those before and after pictures. I was the damned poster child for the <span style=”font-style:italic;”>before</span> picture. I just hadn’t known it.

Over the summer, I got used to my slovenly routine. Less to do with the book. Kids were home, thus less running around. Pool days here and there. Make up? Hell no! Got to be where my biggest beauty aid was a good night’s sleep. Not that I ever actually get a good night’s sleep. Case in point, recently,  at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. our crazy dingo dog who’s deathly afraid of thunderstorms awoke to one seriously ominous storm. She actually hurdled the 4-foot tall gate in the mudroom (switching on the light in the process) in her haste to flee her loneliness and seek out her human counterparts. Meantime, the Labrador? My son says she’s like the prisoner who takes advantage of the power outage to launch a food fight. Yes, while the crazy one was freaking out over weather, the food-driven one was ravaging the trash can, littering my house with very messy garbage. Needless to say, I didn’t get back to sleep last night.

I’m convinced I can ditch the mascara if only, if only I could get some more sleep. Just a <span style=”font-style:italic;”>little</span> here, a little there. Avoiding make-up as much as possible. Maybe throw in yoga for peace of mind. And happiness, because nothing makes you look as good as a burden-free face with a warming smile.

So what’s your beauty secret?

A Little Aside...

I know I’ve been pretty slack about keeping my blog updated. Excuses, excuses, I know, but really, life’s been crazy busy.

So rather than toiling away at a new post today, instead I’m going to just throw some names out there. Writers I enjoy. This is a random off-the-top-of-my-head selection, so if I’ve forgotten someone, I’m sorry! It’s early and I’ve been sick all week so have slept like a snake with one eye open. Bear with me.

So I’ll start out with my friend Kim Stagliano, whose memoir, ALL I CAN HANDLE: I’M NOT MOTHER THERESA: A LIFE RAISING THREE DAUGHTERS WITH AUTISM comes out this fall. I’ve known Kim for several years now and am so delighted that her amazing story is soon to appear on the pages of a no-doubt bestseller (it”ll be out this fall). She is one of the smartest, funniest women I know and I have admired for years how she handles with such grace, aplomb and humor what would drag many other people under. You’ll just have to read her memoir (or “Kimoir” as she likes to call it) to understand what I mean, but truly, she is about as close to a diminutive Albanian (with Indian citizenship) nun as you’re gonna get without having to have taken vows of chastity (she has, after all, had three children).

I can’t wait to read the entire book and I hope that you’ll run out and put it on your pre-order list right now.

Another author I’ve been thinking about is Lisa Dale, who is so delightful and whose writing is evocative and thought-provoking. I’ve been promising Lisa all summer that I would do a book giveaway with one of her books and I really have meant to but you know my excuses about being overwhelmed  (see above, crazy overloaded schedules). Lisa—if you’re reading this, let me know and I’ll add it in here!!! Lisa is a lovely writer and a lovely person and just a very thoughtful one as well. She is on the fast track to becoming a big name in women’s fiction so do check her out.

Okay, so some other writers I’d like to mention. I often cite Danielle Younge-Ullman when I discuss the inequities with the book business. Danielle is one of the most talented writers I know. Her book Falling Under is one of the most kick-ass books I read the year it came out (the same year my novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver was released). In fact it’s about the kick-assiest of kick-ass books. But as you will note when you link to it on Amazon, it is no longer available from the publisher, because it was left to wither on the vine. Which is a shame, because the book is awesome. So while Danielle won’t even see a penny for the sale of the remaining used books, you should buy them anyhow, because you’ll be amazed at her writing and the passion therein.

Eileen Cook is another friend whose writing I love. She’s funny, smart, clever. While she started out writing humorous women’s fiction, that genre is for some bizarre reason not in favor with the reading public, and so she took a turn to YA and mid-grade fiction, and is starting to burn up the charts there. I LOVE the cover for her YA novel Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood. I love that Eileen didn’t let that little detail about no one buying humorous women’s fiction get in the way of her forging onward in her writing career, and instead her little flower is pushing through the sidewalk cracks in another neighborhood. Check her out.

JoAnn Ross is a lovely writer as well. Despite being a hugely successful New York Times bestseller (The Homecoming is kicking butt on the Times list), she is always willing to take the time to talk with readers and other writers. She’s toiled in this business for many years and has seen a lot of ups and downs and many, many changes. Talking with JoAnn is often simply reassuring, which is a good thing in this business.

Malena Lott, well, she’s another of my writer homegirls. I love her savvy business sense when it comes to marketing and publicity, and am charmed by her writing style. She needs to have had about ten books out by now, but that women’s fiction market is prickly at best, so she treads water while deciding what her next course of action is, but whatever it is, you should check her out. I really enjoyed Dating DaVinci and think you will too. I have a feeling she’ll be doing what many authors are doing now–putting her next book up digitally, as she has a fan base anxiously awaiting her next novel.Throwing a few other names into the pot: Jamie Ford—adore him, his writing, and absolutely love that he hasn’t let success go to his head. He’s a talent to be reckoned with. Beth Hoffman, ditto. She’s sweet, clever, smart, fabulously talented writer. Check her out. Sarah Pekkanen—she’s hilarious and charming and much fun, love her writing. Eve Brown-Waite—her fish-out-of-water memoir First Comes Love Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life about contending with life in a sometimes confounding difficult African nation is fabulous and hilarious. Ad Hudler—such fun, terrific writer, very truthful in his writing, which I love. Hilarious. Oh, in the better-late-than-never category, I just got around to reading Mary Kay Andrew’s Savannah Blues. Charming, fun, intelligent. She has a keen reporters eye for details that I appreciated, and she is great fun to hang out with (and has such a lovely agent and publicist, to boot!).

Ooooh, there are soooo many writers I’d like to shout out to right now but my middle-aged brain is only coming up with a handful. I’ll add more as they come to me. But in the meantime, check out the aforementioned and I hope you find you love them too!

Que Sera Sera

I’ve never been too good at letting go, even with small things. Hell, I’m still hanging onto some size six clothes from the late 80’s (not sure if this is out of unfounded optimism, sheer folly, or a merely a strange affinity for shoulder pads). So letting go of important people and things is especially trying for someone like me. My reluctance to even send my 16-year old away for a simple two-week trip with her grandparents drove this realization home. But I find myself in what seems to be a season of letting go—of a parent, not of my choosing; of a child, off to new adventures as a newly-minted adult; and of long-held dreams that may well remain just that. These days it seems the only thing I’m not losing is weight (and with that class reunion looming, that’s a whole ‘nother issue).

The loss of my mother has been especially hard because technically she isn’t gone. But for all intents and purposes she is–now merely a sad, lonely prisoner of prescription drugs that have locked her into her own deadened universe, well beyond a point at which anyone can reach, let alone help her. The hardest part about losing her might well be that: she’s not officially gone. Except the mother that I once knew is. And the stranger in her stead is helpless and hopeless. While it feels like I’m quitting by giving up on her (and I’m not a quitter), I know I can no longer allow her to ensnare me in her addiction. It’s a loss that is perhaps most bitter, having seen the toll her abuse has taken on everyone whose lives she touches. Not to mention having to witness someone who lived a good life allowing it to wither away like an untended flower until it fades into nothingness. Maybe the logic of it makes it hardest: how can anyone waste a life like that?

With the “loss” of a child to the inevitable transitioning into adulthood, well, that’s not at all bitter. Bittersweet, perhaps, but it’s something that is ultimately the happy culmination of many years of love and caring. While I’ll miss my girl like mad when she’s gone off to college, I’ll revel in her ever-expanding world, enjoying as she seizes opportunities she can’t yet imagine are in front of her. I know despite her anxiety over the unknown, ultimately she’ll be happy, and that eases the sense of loss that inevitably accompanies a child moving away. Although I’d be lying if I said there won’t be plenty of tears shed over the next several weeks.

My third loss is even less tangible but saddening nonetheless. I’ve worked endlessly over the past several years to try to establish a successful career as a writer that would enable me to actually earn enough to enjoy a career as a writer. Unfortunately I picked a rotten time in the history of publishing to do so, with an industry in the grips of radical change, a public that doesn’t actually pay for books anymore, and an economy that doesn’t encourage it anyway.

And so I find myself at a crossroads, in which I can no longer afford to try to sustain the full-time job of writing, and need to find a full-time job to support my full-time job. I know that inevitably what this means is that my writing career will be relegated to the wee hours of the morning, and the incremental gains I’ve worked so hard for will creep back as I’m unable to continue the consuming work of finding readers and getting my name out there (not to mention the actual writing part). Probably what is most frustrating about this is that the likelihood of my having succeeded fiscally only a few short years ago was great. But timing is everything, and with a publishing world that is in dire straits, my family can no longer afford to support my tilting at windmills.

I remember years ago when I was first trying to become a published author I met a woman who asked me what I did. When I told her she said, “Oh, my mother tried to publish her books. She’s dead now.”

In a business fraught with rejections, there have been times along the way that I could pretty much relate to her mother’s current state—and I’ve been lucky enough to achieve Part A of that dream: I’ve succeeded as a published author–hard enough under the best of circumstances. But I’m sad that in today’s world a career in panhandling likely pays better than a career in writing.

My eyes well up as I write this—at the losses themselves, perhaps at the compounded nature of it. Losing a little here and there is hard enough but the onslaught of many at once is sometimes overwhelming. And I can’t help but mourn the loss of what could have been, just as I mourn the loss of what once was with my mother. But now is the time to turn my focus to what can be.

As my daughter faces the unknown with great apprehension, so do I. But also I know I’ll make lemonade from these lemons and will turn this into something of a gain. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even write about it some day.

And while I hang onto those shoulder-padded clothes that wouldn’t fit if my life depended upon it, I’ll continue to cling tightly to my dream, and hope that someday, now against even greater odds, Part B will indeed materialize. It’s a dream I choose not to abandon, circumstances be damned.