Field Notes on Foul-Mouthed Babies, Disenchanted Women, & Careening into Middle Age
When Kara Martinez Bachman began writing a collection of essays that would comprise her newly-released book, “Kissing the Crisis,” she went to her local library to do some research “I wanted to know what was out there, what people were writing about,” she said. Perusing the aisles, she found a taboo subject. “I couldn’t find any books about the process of turning 40. I hesitate to say midlife crisis, but for me, in some ways it was.”
Bachman, a freelance writer with a husband and two teenaged children, found her Generation X concerns largely eclipsed by stories of aging baby boomers and tech-savvy millennials. “There was nothing out there for someone like me,” she said. “I’m not menopausal, but I’ve reached a point where I can look back and say that I’m at a midway point. This book is about the questions I had, and have, at this point in my life.”
“Kissing the Crisis: Field Notes on Foul-Mouthed Babies, Disenchanted Women, & Careening into Middle Age,” starts with Bachman’s succinct advice for forty-somethings who still want to party (sometimes) – “Apply glitter with Bengay.” She then explains why she turned down a night with Brad Pitt: She was too young to know better. This is Bachman’s style of humor, where the jokes are funny because she acknowledges the reality beneath them. She’s never going to go out with Brad Pitt, and now she needs Bengay.
“I read a lot of humor essays. I love authors like David Sedaris and Dave Barry, and I knew I wanted my book to reflect that balance of humor and seriousness,” Bachman said. “I think that’s the thing about humor, there’s usually something really serious behind it. We use humor as a way to deal with issues in our lives. It’s like a release.”
The essay where this technique is most apparent segues from a hilarious anecdote in Mississippi, while Kara and her husband shop for a house, to a description of her mother’s death in her early 50s following aggressive cancer. “When I had my first book signing at Maple Street Books (in New Orleans), I read that chapter. I don’t know why. But people were laughing, and then I start talking about my mother and everyone got so serious. I felt like I almost had to get more serious to match them, and it was my mother.”
There are also humorous stories involving Bachman’s husband and children, but the bulk of the work focuses on the questions plaguing the author as she ventures into what she describes as new, uncharted territory, “where you will look different, act different, and even feel different. It’s like you’re becoming a whole new person, and that person is your mother.” The process of writing the novel allowed Bachman to explore the way she, herself, was changing as she created a field guide for other women. “It was like a form of therapy,” she said. “I sometimes felt like I was writing in a journal, working things out.”
A native New Orleanian and current resident of Louisiana’s Northshore, Bachman focuses the bulk of the novel on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and southeast Louisiana. Stories about a gunshot jamboree in the Ohio River Valley and a leaky boat in Cabo San Lucas garner laughs, but Bachman’s biggest strength lies in telling stories close to home.
“It was really important to me to include both New Orleans and Mississippi because I wanted there to be at least a Southern feel, if not directly a Southern voice, to the work. There is one chapter where it seems like I’m making fun of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but I love the South. What I wanted to do was show the pros and cons of living in both places. When I was in New Orleans I was so tired of the crazy, but once I spent some time on the Coast I was ready to get my crazy back,” Bachman said.
Native New Orleanians will recognize the characters that appear in Bachman’s stories about Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, Cooter Brown’s and the Rock 'n' Bowl. She writes about local landmarks, live oaks, celebrations, and her first job at a donut shop with authority and nuance. Her penchant for collecting cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and onions thrown from floats during New Orleans’ St. Patrick’s Day parade is also well known to regional residents. This sort of local color brings the story to life, and also gives readers the ability to envision Bachman’s vibrant personality.
“Oh, I’m already ready for St. Patrick’s Day this year,” said Bachman, laughing. “I have a big freezer in my laundry room and it’s cleaned out. I’m going to fill it with chopped cabbage. If you put all those veggies and garlic bulbs and maybe some meat together and steam it, it’s paradise. Catching things at parades is like going hunting. It’s my primal instinct.”
Bachman becomes serious when the topic turns to a less enjoyable Gulf Coast tradition: hurricanes. In her book, she describes the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how it changed her. Before the storm, Bachman never entered fresh water. She was scared of tubing, scared of snakes, really scared of anything below the surface of the water. After the storm, when she watched a king snake flop off the roof of her house, slide down her husband’s back, and slither away from her flooded home, these fears fell by the wayside. She writes that, “Katrina snatched up some of our memories, but at the same time freed me up from the fear of making new ones.”
These kind of observations set the collection apart and make it a worthy read for people who may not meet the age and gender requirements described in the title. Some experiences are universal, and laughing as we gracefully age is definitely one of them.