When Peyton Price left Washington, DC, for the manicured lawns of its surrounding suburbs some 20 years ago, she vowed that though she might live in the suburbs; get her two sons (now 16 and 13) educated in the suburbs; make friends and even make peace with the deer that believe they own her backyard in the suburbs; she would not become consumed by the suburbs.
“There were a few things I just could not concede to,” she says firmly, when I interviewed her a few weeks back. “No yoga pants. No minivan. No Costco.”
Bwahaahaaa! Whoops. What? No yoga pants? Sorry. Didn’t mean to laugh [out loud anyway]. But really?!? How’d ya manage that?
“I wear leggings. I drive an SUV. I shop at Target. That’s totally different.”
Heheheh. Okay, Peyton. Whatever you say.
As Price writes in her new book Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence, “resistance” — to ‘burb domination — “is futile.”
Fortunately, even as Price made the full transition from city lawyer to stay-at-home suburban mom, her keen sense of the absurd and her gin-martini-dry humor never dulled. In page after page, Price merrily skewers the lunacy, the drudgery, the ridiculous hypocrisy of suburban family life, serving up a delectable feast of poetic snarkentary in bite-sized 17-syllable morsels.
“Like loads of laundry in the dryer,” Price waxes melodramatic in her introduction, “These are the days of our lives.”
We betcha can’t read just one.
Norine Dworkin-McDaniel: So, Peyton, making wry jokes about being stuck in the ‘burbs; feuding with the home-owners-association Nazis; shopping at the the big box stores and “dining” at chain restaurants — if our foodie readers will allow us to call it that — is a humor writer’s stock in trade. But you fling your zingers in Japanese-style haiku, a form of poetry better known for using its spare three lines and 17 syllables to opine on the beauties of nature rather than the daily grind of suburban life. Of all the writing styles you could have chosen, I must ask, why haiku?
Peyton Price: I feel a little awkward talking about this because it reminds me of when you see your favorite actor on Inside The Actors Studio, and they just sound like a moron talking about acting, because they’re taking it So Seriously. And you’re thinking, It’s really not that complex.
But it started when I was walking my son to school in the morning — I have two kids; one was in school, and one was coming home with me. And I’d be walking and thinking, I have to produce something, make something. The thing about being home with your kids is you don’t really have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. At the end of the day, if you’re not worse off than you were the day before, that’s about as good as it gets. So I just liked the sense of doing something. Three lines, 17 syllables, I thought, I could do that. That’s about as much time as I can get out of this day. So that’s how it all started.
NDM: I remember when I was pregnant, someone gave me a very funny book — Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy. And I think the tagline was something like “Because 17 syllables is all you have time to read.”
PP: Haiku is very short, just those three little lines. While I try to make it very specific, it’s magical how general it is. When the reader reads it, it becomes very personalized. I write it about my family. But when you read it, it’s about your family. You fill in the blanks between the lines. That’s what makes it so fun.
NDM: Have you always been a poet? Or a frustrated English lit major?
PP: I wrote the same terrible poetry that everyone wrote in middle school and high school. I’m actually an attorney by training. (Now, I say I am a recovering attorney.) But before I stayed home with my second child, I was out there being a lawyer. There was something about the wordiness of my job and the amount of material I had to read and write every day that made it fun to write something very short. It’s almost like revenge to boil down a very complicated situation to its teeny tiny essence. I think my haiku writing was a reaction to that. Each haiku is a catharsis. I love when you look at a situation, and it’s so ridiculous or beautiful or emblematic of your life, and then you just get it down to such a small thing. Then you can move on. You don’t have to be mad about the PTA meeting.
NDM: So in the book, when you write, I went to law school, but the highlight of my day? Dumping the Dyson, that’s true.
PP: It is true. I’m sorry to say [laughing]. It’s the sad truth. The women who are home with their kids in the Washington, DC, suburbs where I live are very highly educated. You cannot throw a stick without hitting a scientist or an attorney. So, I think our readers are sympathetic to that feeling of This is it.
NDM: This may be a bit of a dated reference, but that makes me think of the first season of Sex and the City when the girls go to Connecticut for a baby shower. There are some to-the-camera “interviews” with some of the other SAHM moms at the shower, and one says she used to oversee a department of 30-plus people, but since moving to the ‘burbs to stay home with her kids, she just bosses around the gardener. You can hear the resignation, like What the hell happened to me?
PP: One of the things I wanted to get across in the book is that we all feel that way. We all think we’re going to move to the suburbs, but we are going to be different. We’re not going to turn into one of Those Moms. When I first moved to the suburbs I was just aghast. I kept saying (and I know other women say this too), Well, we need to move here because of the school and the yard and these opportunities we want our kids to have but we’re not going to be like that. And then you realize … you are like that. There’s really just no fighting it. You should just embrace it, go with it and learn to love it … because it’s going to beat you.
NDM: You make the ‘burbs sound — for the Star Trek fans out there — like the Borg.
PP: The Borg creed — Resistance is futile — is actually the title of the third section of the book. And that’s exactly how I feel about suburbia. When new folks come in with young kids or they’re just starting a family and they say, Why don’t people do this or do that? Or We’re going to do this or that. I just smile. Then I go home and laugh and write a haiku about it. You just can’t fight it. You really can’t.
NDM: Do you hate the suburbs, or are you standing back, smiling ironically about the suburbs?
PP: I hate the Idea of the Suburbs. But in the end, we love it. We live here. We choose to live here. We’re not leaving. We’ve raised our children here. We have our home here. We curse at the deer in the backyard, but we don’t want to move because our neighborhood has so much wildlife. We complain about the school giving our kids too much homework, but we moved here so our kids could go to a top-rated school. So it’s complicated. The very things that frustrate us about why we came here, are why we stay and why we love it. So, I’m one of you, Suburban Folks. It’s a happy life for us, but we still just can’t believe it.
I started writing thinking I was all by myself. And then through Twitter, I found a community of people who look at the world like I do. We all think we’re individuals. And we are. But we’re also all the same in thinking that. So there really is a community of people walking around looking at life around them and thinking, This is completely crazy. And I’m doing it too! You might think it’s sort of depressing that we’re all walking around doing the same thing. But it’s sort of a comfort too. Because we all know it’s crazy. Being in the ‘burbs is like being on a reality show in the second or third season, when all the people on it are in on the joke.
NDM: You started out by tweeting your haiku, sort of like a poetic Justin Halpern who tweeted his way to a book deal for Sh*t My Dad Says. You also have an audio blog where people can listen to the haiku you post daily, Monday through Friday. What inspired you to record the haiku rather than just post them to be read?
PP: The audio blog was a crazy accident. I guess it was last year around this time when NPR posted something on their Facebook and Twitter feeds that they were looking for haiku about cherry blossoms. I live in the Washington DC area, so I’m all about cherry blossoms. I tweeted them a haiku and didn’t think anything of it. Later, I got an email, asking if I would record it for them. They ended up airing my cherry blossom haiku as part of a story with several other haiku writers. A girlfriend heard me on the radio. She called me up and said I really like it when you read these. Could you call me every day and read the haiku?
NDM: One more service you provide!
PP: It was mostly just for my one friend and to entertain myself. I’d been doing these haiku for a really long time. I thought it might be fun to record them, so I did it for kicks.
NDM: And then did you just wake up one morning and say, Look at all the haiku I have. I should do a book?
PP: I’d been tweeting haiku daily for almost a year, and I thought, This is a lot of content. So I started self-publishing little collections of books, mostly for my friends on social media. I didn’t really market it or develop a wide audience. One year, I did a Christmas book, and it got a good response, so I decided to try it as a self-published gift book. I sent one around to traditional publishers to see if anyone would be interested in it, and I got almost no response. But one of my Facebook friends called her own agent and set up a meeting between us. And I had the good fortune to have her represent me. She talked me into doing a book that could be sold year-round, rather than just around Christmas. And she worked with me on the manuscript until it was something she felt publishers might be interested in. And the result is Suburban Haiku, on sale tomorrow.
NDM: Are you as snarky in real life as you are in haiku? Because these poems are tart. You’re plunging a comic shiv right into the heart of whatever suburban silliness strikes you at the moment. To wit:
“Why can’t this school be nut-free?”
Good question, lady.
Half-naked teen girls:
Extra coats of mascara
do not count as clothes.
At Hair Cuttery
it’s fun to watch moms’ faces
when they’re asked, “You too?”
Just an inch of snow
and the perfect lawn next door
looks the same as ours.
“I greet each morning
with motivational thoughts:
Today is trash day.
PP: Well, when you only have three lines, you sort of have to get right to the point. So I would say that the form of the poetry probably amps things up. But I do hope that you would want to sit next to me if we went to the PTA dinner together.
NDM: Absolutely! I need somebody to roll my eyes with.
Peyton Price’s book, Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence is available at Amazon.