Some favorite Adair Lara columns from the San Francisco Chronicle

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I JUST REALIZED THAT while children are dogs, loyal and affectionate, teenagers are cats.

It’s so easy to be the owner of a dog. You feed it, train it, boss it around and it puts its head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting. It follows you around, chews the dust covers off the Great Literature series if you stay too long at the party and bounds inside with enthusiasm when you call it in from the yard.

Then, one day around age 13, your adoring little puppy turns into a big old cat. When you tell it to come inside, it looks amazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor.

Instead of dogging your footsteps, it disappears. You won’t see it again until it gets hungry, when it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn its nose up at whatever you’re serving. When you reach out to ruffle its head, in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you, then gives you a blank stare, as if trying to remember where it has seen you before.

It sometimes conks out right after breakfast. It might steel itself to the communication necessary to get the back door opened or the car keys handed to it, but even that amount of dependence is disagreeable to it now.

Stunned, more than a little hurt, you have two choices. The first — and the one chosen by many parents — is that you can continue to behave like a dog owner. After all, your heart still swells when you look at your dog, you still want its company, and naturally when you tell it to stop digging up the rose bushes, you still expect it to obey you, pronto.

IT PAYS NO attention now, of course, being a cat. So you toss it onto the back porch, telling it it can stay there and think about things, mister, and it glares at you, not deigning to reply. It wants you to recognize that it has a new nature now, and it must feel independent or it will die.

You, not realizing that the dog is now a cat, think something must be desperately wrong with it. It seems so anti-social, so distant, so sort of depressed. It won’t go on family outings.

Since you’re the one who raised it, taught it to fetch and stay and sit on command, naturally you assume that whatever is wrong with it is something you did, or left undone. Flooded with guilt and fear, you redouble your efforts to make your pet behave.

Only now, you’re dealing with a cat, so everything that worked before now produces exactly the opposite of the desired result. Call it, and it runs away. Tell it to sit, and it jumps on the counter. The more you go toward it, wringing your hands, the more it moves away.

Your second choice is to do the necessary reading, and learn to behave like a cat owner. Put a dish of food near the door, and let it come to you. If you must issue commands, find out what it wants to do, and command it to do it.

BUT REMEMBER THAT a cat needs affection, too, and your help. Sit still, and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has not entirely forgotten. Be there to open the door for it.

Realize that all dog owners go through this, and few find it easy. My glance used to travel from my cat Mike looking regal and aloof on the fence to a foolish German shepherd on the sidewalk across the street, jumping for joy simply because he was getting to go outside. Now I miss the little boy who insisted I watch “Full House” with him, and who has now sealed him into a bedroom with a stereo and TV. The little girl who wrote me mash notes and is now peeling rubber in the driveway.

The only consolation is that if you do it right, let them go, be cool as a cat yourself, one day they will walk into the kitchen and give you a big kiss and say, you’ve been on your feet all day, let me get those dishes for you — and you’ll realize they’re dogs again.

 

Warnings That Can Never Be Heard

ADAIR LARA

Published 4:00 am, Tuesday, August 18, 1998
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The bomb will explode at 3:10.

It’s just 3:05 in Omagh, Ireland, so there’s five minutes to go. Plenty of time to get away.

Brenda Pogue, 17, a soccer player, is in a shop with her mother. Stay in the shop, Brenda. No, her hand is on the door handle, she is going out. Her mother, absorbed with something she’s thinking about buying — a package of T-shirts or some blue thread — lets her go. There is a blur at the edge of her vision, her daughter leaving. Going out into the street, attracted by the commotion. “I’ll be over there, Ma. See you.”

Two minutes to go. Brenda heads into the summer crowd on Market Street. The police have got word of a bomb threat and are herding the carefree summer crowd from the courthouse steps to safety — in Market Street.

Stay on the courthouse steps. This crowd is used to bomb threats that turn out to be nothing. But they go along with it, good-naturedly.

 

NEAR BRENDA ARE young exchange students from Madrid, a woman shopping with her pregnant daughter, her little granddaughter, a scattering of small boys — look at blond-haired 8-year-old Oman tagging along with his friend Sean. There’s broad-faced 21-year-old Adrian Gallagher shopping for jeans. What do you need jeans for, Adrian? Wear your old jeans, for Pete’s sake. It’s reckless to go out shopping on a Saturday afternoon, don’t you know that? Shop tomorrow. This Saturday’s afternoon light is dangerous.

Julie Hughes, 21, a university student, has run out of her summer job at the Image Xpress to see what’s going on. Go back in, Julie, go back to developing pictures. Don’t listen to the music. Get your head down.

No one is paying attention to the danger. Kevin Skelton is shopping with his wife, Philomena, 39, and their three teenage daughters. Philomena. What kind of name is that? Go home, Philomena. Your daughters will live, but you, you are going to have your clothes blown right off, right here in what is at present a shop but soon will be rubble. Right in front of Kevin. Philomena, go home.

Nearby is a festival, with floats and music. The crowd mills past a maroon Vauxhall Astra. A couple of teenagers even lean against it, maybe, as they talk. What are they talking about? Why don’t they listen? Go somewhere else, kids.

What kind of car is that? An absurd purple plum of a car, packed with explosives. The men who put the explosives there have hurried away. They did not stop to finger a pair of jeans, or riffle through brightly colored pairs of socks, or try on jeans. They are no dummies.

BRENDA STROLLS NEAR the car. She’s not thinking about getting that job she wants on the mushroom farm, or about playing soccer, or about her twin brother, who sensibly stayed home on the farm. Like Julie, she just wants to see what’s going on out here.

Some of the fathers have gathered in the Kosy Korner pub to wait for their wives and daughters who have, against all reason, chosen to go shopping today. One mother has gone out to buy a school uniform for her youngest child. This can wait. Buy it next Tuesday. Discover you have no cash and step to the safety of the bank in the next street. Go on, now, while there’s still time. Remember that you have to call your mother or that you haven’t fed your parking meter.

Oh, God, it’s 3:09. There’s a man getting in his car, driving away. Smart man. Don’t wait for the light to turn green. Just go now. He’s turning the corner. Oh, the relief. He’s out of sight now, but we imagine him, driving into the rest of his life. The blast will fill his rearview mirror with rubble and smoke and orange flame.

Brenda, go back into the shop. There’s just time.

Oh, Brenda.

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About Adair Lara

Adair Lara 95 Scott Street San Francisco, CA 94117 415-626-9157 Adairlara.com Adair.lara@gmail.com Adair Lara is a writer, teacher and author in San Francisco. A former magazine editor, she wrote a popular, award-winning personal column for the San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years before leaving the paper to write and teach full time. She has appeared in dozens of national magazines. She is the author of 12 books and is a popular voice on Facebook, with 5000 friends who are mostly writers and teachers of writing, many well-known. Her most recent book, which has become a cult favorite in the writing blogsphere, is Naked, Drunk and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essays (Ten Speed). She is at work on another, with the working title Make Your Memoir Suck Less, on voice in the memoir. She holds sold-out workshops in her house on writing essay and memoir and other forms of autobiography, and consults with authors individually, in person or long-distance. Her essays appear in many national magazines, and have been anthologized in dozens of textbooks. • BOOKS • • Naked Drunk and Writing (TEN SPEED) 2011 • The Granny Diaries, Chronicle Books (2008) • The Bigger the Sign, the Worse the Garage Sale, Chronicle Books (2007) • You Know You’re a Writer When, Chronicle Books (2007) • Oopsie! Ouchie!, Chronicle Books (2004) • Normal is Just a Setting on the Dryer, Chronicle Books, 2003 • Slowing Down in a Speeded-Up World, Redwheelweiser (2002) • Hold Me Close, Let Me Go, Broadway Books (2001) • The Best of Adair Lara, Scottwall Associates (1999) • At Adair’s House, Chronicle Books (1995) • Welcome to Earth, Mom, Chronicle Books (1992) • History of Petaluma, a California River Town Scottwall Associates 1982 • Anthologies (a sampling) • Over the Hill and Between the Sheets Springboard (2007) • The Secret Lives of Lawfully Wedding Wives Inner Ocean (2006) • Too Young to Be This Damn Old by Inc. Sourcebooks (Paperback - Mar 1, 2006) • The Thong Also Rises: Further Misadventures from Funny Women on the Road (Travelers’ Tales Guides) by Jennifer L. Leo, Ayun Halliday, and Laurie Notaro (2005) • A Sense of Place Shapiro (2004) • Sand in My Bra & Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road, Travelers’ Tales (2003) • Coming Alive From Nine to Five in a 24/7 World: A Career Search Handbook for the 21st Century by Betty Michelozzi, Linda Surrell, and Robert Cobez (2003) • The Nine Modern Day Muses: 10 Guides to Creative Inspiration for Artists, Poets, Lovers, and Other Mortals Wanting to Live a Dazzling Existence by Jill Badonsky (2003) • How to Say It Style Guide by Rosalie Maggio (2002) • Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach (2002) • Paris: An Inspired Anthology and Travel Resource Three Rivers Press (2000) • Simple Pleasures of the Home: Cozy Comforts and Old-Fashioned Crafts for Every Room in the House by Susannah Seton (1999) • Mama Get the Hammer! There’s A Fly On Papa’s Head! by Barbara Johnson (1994) • A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 More Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit (Chicken Soup for the Soul) by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (1994) Awards: • 1990: Associated Press, Best Columnist in California. • 1997: Humor Columns for Newspapers over 100,000, National Society of Newspaper Columnists • 1998: First place, general interest columns, National Society of Newspaper Columnists. • 1999: Second place, commentary, American Association of Sunday and Feature editors contest, competing against papers with circulation over 300,000. • May 17, 2002 was declared Adair Lara Day in San Francisco by proclamation of Mayor Willie Brown Book consulting My students also include Robin Wolaner, founder of Parenting Magazine and author of “Naked in the Boardroom” ; Terry Gamble, author of several novels including “The Water Dancers”; Susan Parker, who wrote columns for the Chron and came out with “Tumbling After,” Peggy Vincent, author of “Babycatcher,” David Gottfried, author of “Greed to Green,” and James Frey, whom I told not to worry about making stuff up, no one would notice. (Ok, made up that one). JT Leroy may have taken my class, who knows? John Brooks The Girl Behind the Door The Girl Behind the Door (Simon & Shuster 2016) Without Adair's guidance, sharp wit, coaching, seasoned interviewing skills, succinct editing and experienced counsel, there is no way that my memoir would ever have been published. David Gottfried, author of “Greed to Green” Adair's keen editorial eye and sharp sense of story arc helped me pare a 500-page manuscript into a tighter, plot driven read. Her coaching and enthusiasm opened doors to locating an agent that had previously been bolted. Mary Patrick, author of Family Plots The Upside of Down -- will be published in September by a Melbourne publisher called Transit Lounge. Adair, I would not be in this position were it not for you. Your support, comments, feedback and encouragement were critical and came at a time when I was wondering why I was staying up late at night working on this book. Susan Biggar The Upside of Down -- will be published in September by a Melbourne publisher called Transit Lounge. Adair, I would not be in this position were it not for you. Your support, comments, feedback and encouragement were critical and came at a time when I was wondering why I was staying up late at night working on this book. Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs series When I first met Adair, I wasn’t at all sure where I ultimately wanted to go as a writer – although I did, and still do, harbor a deep wish to be an Adair Lara. Joining her personal essay workshops opened so many avenues of possibility, although Adair kept suggesting I try my hand at fiction. Eventually, I took the leap, sharing the first chapter of my novel, Maisie Dobbs with Adair, who pushed me to continue. Without her insightful guidance and encouragement, Maisie Dobbs might be just a couple of chapters collecting dust in a drawer.” Sunshine Mugrabi Based on your suggestions. I’ve cut the manuscript by about 20,000 words and three chapters. It’s down to about 93,000 words, 35 chapters. I’ve cut pocket bios, tightened dialog, looked for inconsistencies, listened for clinkers, tried to strip out redundancy and make the narrative taut and linear, while retaining the lyricism and improving pacing and rhythm. Your critique really helped me see how to cut and focus. I’ve carried your printed suggestions around for the past three months, the pages now tattered and coffee stained. I’m grateful for your thought- provoking suggestions and encouragement. Hey Adair: Hope you got my gushing call the other day. I LOVE what you've done for my book in too many ways to mention. Peggy Kennedy When I first met Adair, I wasn’t at all sure where I ultimately wanted to go as a writer – although I did, and still do, harbor a deep wish to be an Adair Lara. Joining her personal essay workshops opened so many avenues of possibility, although Adair kept suggesting I try my hand at fiction. Eventually, I took the leap, sharing the first chapter of my novel, Maisie Dobbs with Adair, who pushed me to continue. Without her insightful guidance and encouragement, Maisie Dobbs might be just a couple of chapters collecting dust in a drawer.” Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief This was my first writing workshop and it snowballed on me. First you talked about needing conflict/struggle in your story and I thought, "Well, crap. There goes my non-fiction piece about living in an RV for ten years. No conflict. Won't work." (I know - these are my thoughts and they're supposed to be italicized but the email font won't do it!) After the first day I was thinking maybe I should just try essays and forget my project. Then, on the second day, you honed in on specifics and I got inspired. I'm just going to write. I don't care if it gets published. I'll have my story and it will be mine to keep. Thank you for your humor, your insight, your warmth and your knowledge of writing which you so willingly Peggy Kennedy author of Neverland Hey Adair: Hope you got my gushing call the other day. I LOVE what you've done for my book in too many ways to mention.
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