Coming In from the Cold

11 May 2016

This week, the Society for Midland Authors awarded my book, Galileo’s Middle Finger, their 2016 prize for Adult Nonfiction. I was delighted to go with the mate to Chicago to receive the honor at a dinner held at the Cliff Dwellers’ Club, a group whose membership gets to enjoy an astonishing view of the city. (That’s me on their terrace.)

This year happens to be the first I have lived in the Midwest longer than I lived in New York, so it seemed especially fitting to win this Midwestern writers’ award this year. I realized, being in the company of so many pleasant Midwestern writers, that I’ve now reached the point of feeling like a New Yorker in the company of Midwesterners and like a Midwesterner in the company of New Yorkers—always a little out of place, so always grateful to be accepted.

Rex Huppke from The Chicago Tribune was the m.c., and we both recalled when he interviewed me a few years back for a story he was working on. He told the gathering this was before I became famous, which made the mate chuckle.

I kept my thanks brief, and so didn’t talk about how this book smashed up the two separate Midwestern lives I had been living during the eight years that went into it: one, dressed up and teaching at Northwestern’s medical school in Chicago; the other, dressed down and being a partner and mother in East Lansing.

In my own existence, the two lives overlapped substantially. Most of my research work for Northwestern was done in the writing cottage in my backyard in East Lansing; and while at Northwestern, I was still doing homework and other mothering with my son via Skype. But most people in East Lansing were generally unaware of my Chicago life, and vice versa.

It was only when Galileo’s Middle Finger came out that the mix of the two lives was revealed, and so the gig was up. The nice lady at the drycleaners no longer wondered if the fancy clothes I was bringing in belonged to another woman who just happened to be my size.

Now when my plumber comes over to fix my drains, he wants to talk about Galileo’s Middle Finger, and people I meet around the country on my book tour ask me about how things are going for my son since the live-tweeting of his sex ed class in East Lansing. It is all smashed together as one.

It’s okay, but I am still getting used to not hiding the other life, and of not having the other life to hide in. Now, when my neighbors want to know if I’m away, they’ve learned they can check my speaking schedule. And now they also know I’m a writer, which I guess at some level makes me a writer, as does this lovely award. A writer who has come in from the cold.

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