While I was on the way back to Monona from vacation, to the life that I live– waiting for a flight at Boston’s Logan Airport– I caught sight of the life I should be living. The one I always imagined that I would be living.

Late this month Jonathan Franzen’s much anticipated novel, FREEDOM, is being published. TIME Magazine had his photo on the cover. Inside was an article reminding me of what a great Author Franzen is. Since our flight was delayed because of yet another summer storm over Wisconsin I had plenty of time to consider the life I wanted to live when I was younger, Jonathan Franzen’s, and the one I live now.

I think Jonathan Franzen was born outside Chicago. I was born in Chicago. We both write. TIME stated he goes to an empty office to work where there are no distractions. He has even removed the internet, any possiblity of it, from his computer. I write in my office each day. Okay, sometimes my ‘office’ is the laundry room or the kitchen. But I do not ever check email when I write. Our subjects are the same. He writes about families. My WHOLE life is about family.

I wondered how good Jonathan Franzen’s new novel could be. When I read blurbs and excerpts from it I knew. It seems like it’s pretty darned good. Nothing that I ever write reads like that. That’s why he is in the company of a few good men–the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have read Hemingway and Fitzgerald. AAAAHHH, the differences between myself and Jonathan Franzen began.

In the end I found myself back in Monona, after a flight in which I watched a summer storm rage beyond the plane window with my fellow passengers. It felt pretty nice to be home.

At home, in this life I live rather than the one I imagined in college–the one that included my own photo on TIME Magazine with an article claiming I was a great author perhaps–I was consoled by certain things as I mowed through the jungle our lawn had become while we were away. A wave HELLO from a neighbor or a phone call with a loud welcome back. Our family fell into a familiar routine that felt right.

For years I have been protected from the imagined life I might have lived by friends at the Monona Library. When novels classmates of mine had published came out, while I was lucky to get through the day¬† changing diapers and pushing a stroller filled with young children a few blocks from the house to the park or the pool–even the library, a friendly librarian would whisper to me that the novel in question I was checking out was not very popular–only a few people had checked it out. That helped a great deal.

The last time Jonathan Franzen had a great novel come out, THE CORRECTIONS released right before September 11th nine years ago, I was able to tell myself that I, of course, had not produced such a work. Our five kids had drained me of every sane thought I had ever had. Now I have no such excuse. In hindsight, our kids have given me more than I ever put out.

So, with a bit of healthy envy but a great deal of awe, I tip my hat to Jonathan Franzen and his new work. In the meanwhile I continue to write what I write, where I write it, in a place called Monona–surrounded by the company of very many good men and women.


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