Rachel Johnson is funny.
If I were to place her on the grrrlfriend spectrum, I'd guess she's the one who would be quite frank about how often her kids were bathed when they were young and could turn a few quick pomtinis into one of those nights you long for with your favorite women, lingering over politics and parenthood and the why itsy-bitsy panties are fabulously inappropriate to wear when you're preschool mommy of the day.
At least that's what I imagined when I got the invitation to interview her as a part of her tour across America to promote Notting Hell.
After actually reading Notting Hell months earlier and giving way too much late night debate with myself over the boom of questionably-called "mommy lit" and whether I was being very American in thinking this very well might be Bridget Jones all growed up, I jumped at the chance to chat with Rachel Johnson, if only for a few minutes in between signings.
I admit, my inner Brenda Starr came running -- clicky heels, eyelash extensions, steno pad and all -- to the surface.
True to my J-school preparation, I spaced my three serious and two cheeky questions (prompts, really, a la Charlie Rose or JuJu Chang) on my yellow notepaper, ready to listen, nod, uh-huh and write down furiously.
Alas, the interview barely happened.
Thanks to time zone confusion and a packed schedule, my moment of glory gave way as Rachel* ran from one event to meet her agent and I heard the cry from the crib, "Mommy, I'm all done with nap! I want to GET OUT NOW."
I put my pomtini back up on the bar (OK, we all know it was my third cup of coffee and I carefully balanced it on a pile of co-op schedules, calendars and a file folder full of post ideas, but for a brief lapse in real time, it was felt like a shiny walnut gateway to me).
Maybe another time. Interviewing British columnists-turned-fanfared-mommy-authors one moment, wiping a tush the next. It's a glamorous life, this blogging mama thing.
And then as Lil E and I zoned out with a fishy cracker snack to a little post-nap Bob the Builder, the great bartender in the blogosphere nudged my drink back toward me. Rachel called.
"JESSICA!," she yelled enthusiastically into the phone. And then apologies and chatter about her crazy schedule and something I expected less than her actual return phone call, "You're the blogger! You're my first blog interview!"
I beamed. It's not like I am some kind of blogebrity or any of that craziness. I am quite a newbie and honestly, it made me smile to be in good company.
Rachel answered one of my questions, something about all the product name-dropping in Notting Hell and the culture of consumerism among mommies in that book and many, many neighborhoods. In the whirlwind of finally speaking and a conversation that reminded me of when I catch my best friend from grad school in the midst of one of her doggie walking business "client appointments," I think I wrote down three random quotes. My notes read: Baby Gap practically gives clothes away for free - Character friendships/competition (which is actually part of a question I intended to ask but never squeezed in) - Yummy mummy group with perfect hair and...?
Not exactly the investigative stuff of award-winning human interest features. But it was easy to just listen and laugh as Rachel talked a mile a minute for just about four miles/minutes before she landed in her literary agent's office and had to hang up.
I was dizzy when I said goodbye. And I was glad, even if I didn't gather up blog-propelling goodness in a 300 second interview, I got a bit of Rachel on the phone.
I did have enough time to tell her I'd be at a MotherTalk salon later in the week where she'd be leading a circle of women in a book discussion. There'd be another chance to get all that note-taking in, not that it really seemed to matter.
Hours later, as the witching hour before dinner approached and I was on hold with the pediatric nurse to discuss Lil E's emerging seasonal allergies, an unfamiliar number beeped in on the other line. When I checked my messages later, I smiled to hear Rachel's voice for one more brief moment.
"Jessica!" she launched again and then left her apologies and cell phone number and abbreviated travel schedule should I like to call her back for another interview attempt.
And really, it didn't sound at all like an author whose book I powered through and wondered about and took note of the pleasingly unsuspected ending. It sounded like that grrrlfriend who wants to talk but is so in her own life that you can't be frustrated at all you've only chatted in passing; you're cheered up a wee bit just to hear her on your voicemail.
By coincidence or divine timing or the crazy way this city strings people together, I had that MotherTalk event ahead of me.
I'd been following MotherTalk since I met Andi Buchanan, who gave new life to virtual book discussions and literary salons among bloggers and authors and the women who read them, at The MotherLode last fall. Since then, I'd met my friend Danielle of Foodmomiac fame. Danielle got the invitation to the salon and asked me to join her at the event hosted by Kim from Hormone-Colored Days and Scrambled CAKE on Chicago Parent. Kim, who I'd emailed about meeting in person last year but could never make work. It -- and we -- all came together out in the suburbs with a room full of women, a table full of local snacks and bottles of wine opened exactly at the right point of a Friday night for a mama.
We met, we mingled, we scribbled each other's names into an ice breaker sheet with descriptors written down like, "I work outside the home" and "I'm a blogger" and "I believe No Child Left Behind is ruining our educational system" and "I have a really fat ass."
OK, the fat ass one wasn't on there but I totally would have claimed that one for myself. Or at least scribbled part of it out and written in something like, "I have...a bumpin' bootaaaaay" or "I have...to believe I'm the inspiration for Baby Got Back or else I just. cannot. go. on." You know, just to stir it up a little over Chicago-pounded hummus and pita.
Rachel talked writing (at a desk in the middle of her living room) and getting motivated to write (which is lost on feeling tired). Rachel talked about her neighbors (which inspired her characters but aren't her actual characters) and herself (which inspired, quite cheekily, the character Mimi). Rachel talked partnerships (with her hubs the "domestic imperialist") and kids and admin (which swallows up the time and energy of every mum, she says). Rachel talked competition among women (see? I did get that question in after all) and recycling and organics (and chic vs. the inconvenience of caring for the Earth) and Oprah (of course, Oprah).
And then the women in the circle talked. About husbands who don't get it and those that do. About the rift that so easily divides working moms and stay-at-home moms and the expectations that bridge both lives. About playgroups and making dinner and why the Green Issue of Vanity Fair didn't include enough about eating organic. More about recycling. More about Oprah.
As for me, with my nostalgia for the consciousness-raising I've only read about in a zillion books on my mom's shelves and Women Studies texts, I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to unravel how horizontal hostility is keeping women in competition over strollers and sleep training rather than in debate over whether Hillary or Barack is going to best serve the women and children and marginalized people in this country. I wanted to talk more about how organics feed our kids and fuel our overworked bodies and fire up our sense of celebrity chic. I wanted to hear more about how one woman hammers out a novel or three, not to mention a whole history of columns, on a Home Depot desk amidst the admin of three kids, a husband and a dog. I wanted to know where in the world Rachel got that kickass Rocker Chick studded red leather belt that wound up her jeans and frilly blouse and Converse low-tops outfit that only a Brit can pull off.
But Rachel had to speed off again and the rest of the group wasn't completely familiar. It was a good start. A very good start.
I did have a chance to introduce myself to Rachel as her first blogger interviewer and to laugh at her recognition of my name: "Jessica! Yes!"
The next day, still exausted from a late dinner of Korean BBQ with Danielle and happily Keening after a night of cha-cha footwear, I quickly checked my email before heading out on a hike. Right there in my inbox was an email from Rachel, thanking me for coming, agreeing with my own silent thoughts about how salons beat out bookstore events, and asking me to please fill up a few seats at a signing where the only granny attendants will be there because they think she's Rachael Ray (eeee, annoying).
"You're are so in it," Bruce peered at me over my monitor.
"What?!" I asked laughing. "In what?"
"Your element." He winked at me and bent over to tie up Lil E's hiking shoes.
I couldn't agree more. I had a few minutes over literature and motherhood and the realities of women's lives and recycling with Rachel Johnson. And well, she's funny.
* Note that I've mustered up all my journalistic rebellion, abandoning last names and Ms. So-and-Sos for the fabu familiar. Go ahead, say it. I'm a bad ass.