Monday, November 17, 2008

Hidden in Plain Sight

"Why not be oneself? That is the whole secret of a successful appearance. If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekingese?" Dame Edith Sitwell

ROBERTA: Those of you who know me would probably describe me as a small person, right? Maybe, if you were being brutally honest, you'd even say short. But I don't feel small. A couple of years ago, I joined the board of directors at our golf club and eventually assumed the position of green department chair, which made me responsible for supervising the golf course superintendent. He and I were a funny contrast in many ways, but the most striking might have been physical. He's 6'6 and I'm 5'2 (just about.) At a golf tournament for board members and superintendents, this photo was taken. Suddenly I had to face facts in a new way. Yes, Mike is tall. But I'm also short. This might explain why my back has started to bother me. (Chairs and couches are not built for small people, and therefore our feet don't sit flat on the floor, which causes our backs to arch unnaturally.) it also explains why I can't see over people at the movies! Duh...

So tell all Jungle Red: have you had the odd experience of suddenly recognizing something about yourself (can be physical, can be internal) that others knew all along?

HANK: Roberta, you're funny. Remember that nursery rhyme that says: I'm just as big for me, as you are big for you? Here's a picture of me at Bouchercon with authors Andrew Grant and Gayle Lynds. Now, you'd call me tallish, right? I'm 5'8", and I have on very very high boots. And look at this. Who's the small one?

Someone asked me once if I was a organization freak. Of course not, I said. Not even close. My husband started laughing. What? I said. I was truly perplexed. He pointed out that the clothes in my closet are hanging by color. Black jackets on the top row. Colored jackets on the bottom--white, then gray, then navy, then red, you get the idea. And that on the day before the cleaning people come, I clean up. And then, after they leave, I insist they've moved all the furniture out of place. Like, half an inch.

JAN: Oh Roberta, this is a topic I could go on and on about. I'm almost 5'10 and when other kids were worrying about getting weighed in middle school, I was getting nauseous about having to be measured. When they told us not to smoke cigarettes because it would stunt our growth, I bought my first pack. (At age 13) Yes, and I'm happy to report that it worked! My brothers were 6'6", 6'4" and 6'2".

Once, when I was living in Aix-en-Provence, I was walking home early one Sunday morning, up a hill, just as a French family of four was walking down the hill to church. I had maybe 2-inch high boots on. The combination of the heels and the hill made me tower even more over them. I happened to turn back and saw that the whole family had stopped, turned, to stare at me and my height in absolute awe. One of the asked, "Vous etes Allemande?" which means, "You are German?" Clearly, they thought I was a female Attila the Hun. (Jan says the caption to the photo at the right is: "Here's Jan with her childhood friend Eva, who got to be petite (far right), and Eva's friend Michelle, who got to be even more petite. See how freaking tall Jan is?"

RO: First off, they DO move all of the furniture half an inch. Not enough to notice until you walk into something and get a nice little black-and-blue mark because your sense memory tells you the chair was where it was the day before. Question...if we don't move everything back will THEY do it the following week, or will all of our furniture eventually be moved out the front door?

I caught a glimpse of Roberta walking next to Harlan Coben at Crimebake this past weekend and ..yup, darlin' you are a tad on the short side! Me? I have no idea. Half the time I walk through life feeling invisible..I'm constantly surprised - and flattered - when someone remembers me. Other than that, people have told me that I walk fast. I don't really think about it unless I'm walking behind someone and start to think "what is wrong with this person?!"

HALLIE: Anyone remember the Dr.Seuss book about finding the right hat? One after the other, the guy tries them on... Too beady, too bumpy, too leafy, too lumpy, too twisty, twirly, too wrinkly, too curly. For me, when I was a kid I thought I was too skinny, too pimply, too bossy, too surly. I've turned out to be none of the above...well, maybe I did get a large helping of the Lucy Van Pelt gene. But doens't everyone WANT to take orders from me??

ROBERTA: Yes, Hallie, we do! But Hank, if Hallie or I were in that picture, you'd only see us from the waist up! And since Ro did have to mention Harlan Coben (who was our fabulous and gracious guest of honor at the New England Crime Bake this year), here's a photo that captures the long and the short of it. That's Katherine Hall Page in the middle--she's even smaller than I am. But I bet she doesn't know it!

Okay, time for you Jungle Red Readers to tell about yourselves! And don't forget to stop back on Wednesday, when we'll host debut author Jeri Westerson, and then on Thursday when we'll host mystery pro Kate Flora, and on Friday...when anything can happen....


  1. Hi Roberta,
    Sorry to have missed Crimebake. You petite people look like you had a BLAST!!!

  2. Oh we did Jan! The conference was terrific! And the tall people seemed to have fun too:)

  3. At dinner one night, my daughter announced, "you know legally I'm a midget." She's not actually--at
    4'10 7/8", she is 7/8 inch too tall to be a midget. We have a wonderful photo of her standing with an acquaintance who is 7' tall!
    My hubby considers himself to be not tall but "on the taller side of average." He's 6'4", I'm 5'3", I'm sure you get the picture!

  4. I'm a sort of middish height (5'7") so no one really notes me either tall or short.

    I look a lot like my mother did at my age. I never realized it -- would have denied it -- until others mentioned the resemblence in the past few years and recent photographs really won the point.

    This is not a bad thing, but I'd always thought I didn't look much like her.

  5. 6'4" is the taller size of average??? Wow, your husband should write fiction Peg...

    And Susannah, Yes, I've had that experience too--only people say I look just like my father. Oh lord, he's perfectly fine looking for a man, but maybe all those features wouldn't be the top choice for a woman. Sigh, that's where we need to go back to Dame Edith's wisdom.

  6. Roberta, do tell what is Dame Edith's wisdom? Since we share a name, I'm curious. And you and I share the less-than-tall trait. I'm 5'1" when I stand up real tall. I lived in Japan for two years, and what a pleasure (and comfort) it was to have the chairs and tables built for people like us. I'm SO sorry to have missed the petite people's fun at Crime Bake, but with the recent onset of my status as Unemployed Person (after 13 years at the same job), attending didn't seem to be in the picture.

    About things we didn't know about ourselves: one year for Halloween in graduate school, my best friend and I, who are the same height, switched all our typical clothes, perfumes, and shoes, and practiced each other's mannerisms, and then went to a department party wearing face masks and fooled quite a few people. But when we were getting ready and Jennifer started holding her hands in a certain way, I said, "I don't do that!" Turns out I do...


  7. When I was way young, I had a wonderful anthology of old songs and imagined I'd be 5 foot 2 w/ eyes of blue forever! But then I grew two inches and another fast one at age 18 to make a grand total of a very average 5'5". People seem to think I'm taller--It's because my mother always yelled at me about holding my stomach in. Did everyone's mother do that? Sometimes I realize I'm holding my breath and almost pass out.

    She also told me once that she and her friends used to pummel their thighs because they would bruise and suck up fat? blood? and make them look slimmer. Now THAT seems, uh, twisted....

  8. Hi Laura,
    My mother never told me to hold my stomach in, but she yelled at me all the time to pull my shoulders back.
    And I constantly nag my daughter about her posture, too.
    I thought it was a tall thing, but maybe its just a mother thing....

  9. Now that I think of it...we(Mo?) took a group photo at last year's writers workshop with Nancy Pickard; someone asked the tall people to stand in the back. I did and Pat Remick laughed out loud...

    Bruise your thighs to suck up fat? Yes, it does seem a little out there, but more importantly, did it work?

  10. I'm 5' 10", but I've always been one of the tall kids in the class, so I tend to forget it until I see a picture of myself standing next to someone else. Strangely enough, many of my best friends have been short.

    Years ago I found myself in the marketplace in Merida, Yucatan--and realized I could see over the heads of the entire crowd.

    Bless whoever has been recruiting tall guests of honor for Crime Bake--it's the only chance I get to wear heels.

  11. Maybe when your thighs are all bruisey, you don't notice the fat? Eeesssh..

    That sounds like the hideous advice an anchorwoman told me her "journalism" professor had given her years and years ago in college. He suggested she start smoking so her voice would get lower. She did, it did. And last I heard, she still smokes.

    I mean, I think that's a lawsuit.

  12. I have always thought of myself as tall, even though I'm barely 5 foot 7. That's because I shot up at eleven and for a year I was the tallest in the class. That was also when I dropped out of ballet school. Every ballet seemed to be fairies and butterflies and I was the tree in the middle!
    And Hank, as for smoking--when my mother was expecting me, the doctor recommended she smoke to calm her nerves! it's a wonder I grew at all

  13. I don't know that my mom ever said anything about the bruised-thigh think working, but I remember that when she told me she sounded rather serious about it....

    Smoking? She told me that smoking made her sick early in each of her pregnancies, but that she lighted a cigarette every morning until it didn't make her sick anymore. But we were all over nine pounds at birth--goodness, how big would I have been if she hadn't?!

  14. Oh, Rhys, you were the TREE? Somehow that's so sweet and touching...but you certainly turned out to be the star. Hope all those fairies and butterflies realize that. And the teacher.

    Laura, yikes. Its the same feeling as watching Mad Men...did you see the episode where the kids are casually playing with the plastic drycleaning bags? Putting them over their heads?

    And the mother shrieks at them--turns out she's worried that they'll get mud on the carpet or something. It's a wonder we all lived.

  15. Hey Rhys,
    I, too, strugged with never making it as ballerina. I was forced into 9 years of lessons. Besides the tree thing, there was also the toe shoe thing. Imagine squeezing size 11 feet into toe shoes and then trying to balance 5'10 inches onto the very tips of toes. Even my mother admitted defeat!