Deaf, Dumb, and Blonde

I can’t speak for all blondes, but I have a pretty good idea as to why people sometimes think I’m dumb. I’m not talking about those who would call me less than intelligent because of my political views. Nor do I refer to those who question my cerebral capacity due to my love of cats, the content of my blog, or my inability to understand and utilize the new sound system the Jarhead recently installed in our media room.

Rather, I’m talking about the folks who, in the midst of an ordinary conversation about an ordinary topic, suddenly stop listening to the words I’m saying and start mentally scratching their heads in wonder as to what on earth I’m talking about. I’m also talking about those poor souls who, despite their ability speak clearly and articulately to me, can’t seem to make me understand because my brain has decided to process the sounds they are making as different words.

The first time I remember this happening was when I was about five years old. I was playing in the sandbox in my grandparents’ backyard when one of my relatives came out and asked me if I wanted a sandwich. To this day, I remember looking up at this person, tilting my head like a confused black lab while my eyes squinted in the sun, and asking her what a sand witch was. So she repeated: A sandwich. And so I asked again. After two more attempts, this person—whose name is the only part of the story I’ve forgotten—threw her arms into the air and walked back into the house, complaining to everyone inside that Billie Jean was being a smart ass—or the 1970’s equivalent of the term.

At that point, my dad came out and asked me if I was hungry or not. I answered to the affirmative. He then told me to quit being a pain and come in and have a sandwich. That’s when it hit me. “OH a SANDWICH!” I remember observing aloud. “Yes, a SANDWICH!” he repeated.  Maybe if the first person to offer me one had mentioned that it was something to EAT rather than leaving me to assume—from my position in the SANDBOX—that it was something fun to play with—I might not have been confused.

A similar incident happened around fifth grade when the word ‘mere’ appeared in my spelling word list. As per Mrs. Runquist’s rules, on the Tuesday after we received our new words, we were required to use each new word to create five sentences. Having recently read a book about a kid who was learning to speak French, I knew the word ‘mere’ as the French word for mother and, thus, proceeded to write five different sentences wherein ‘mere’ stood in for mother.

Having just read this, you likely will not be surprised to learn that my homework was returned to me bearing a series of red question marks, along with the suggestion that I henceforth use a dictionary to determine the meaning of the words on the spelling list prior to composing my sentence. In retrospect, it was pretty dumb of me to think a French word would appear on my spelling list, but in my not so humble fifth grade opinion, it was equally dumb of her not to know the French meaning for the word, or that I was using the word correctly.

Incidents like these also occurred in the company of friends. For example, when I was about twelve, I was visiting my friend Bonnie, who suggested we go to the movies. Having not planned for such an opportunity, I was forced to decline Bonnie’s offer on the grounds that nothing I’d brought with me would be suitable to wear to the theater.  To my surprise and delight, Bonnie then offered to let me wear something of hers. Excited, I followed her to her room where she turned to me and asked if I liked gauchos. I found this question a bit odd, given the context and our task, but decided to roll with it.

“Of course I like gauchos,” I said casually. “But what do South American cowboys have to do with our going to the movies?”

Bonnie looked at me hard for a minute. “I said gauchos,” she repeated. “Not cowboys.”

“Gauchos are cowboys,” I informed her.

“No,” she insisted. “They’re pants.”

I knew better, of course, but fearing that saying so would get me uninvited to the movies, I zipped my lip and followed her to the closet, from whence she withdrew a pair of short pants—just like the those worn by the gauchos who ride across the pampas of Argentina. For a moment I wondered if maybe I needed to spend less time reading and more time shopping. Now and again, I admit, I still wonder.

Like five short years ago when Maria, a member of the staff at my last job was talking to me about the different elementary schools that offered bussing to our facility near downtown Rochester. Having heard of all but one of them, I interrupted her to clarify.

“Baroque School?” I inquired. “Yes,” she replied with a nod. “Baroque Elementary.”

This sounded too good to be true. “Is that a music magnet school?” I asked with excitement.

Then Maria eyed me sideways—as if wondering how I convinced the hiring committee to make me the Director of Operations. “No,” she said firmly.

“Interesting,” I mused. “Then why do they call it Baroque Elementary?”

“I don’t know,” she replied with thinly veiled irritation. “Maybe because there are a lot of Burr Oak Trees in that neighborhood.”

Oh BURR Oak. Well why didn’t she say so?

Again, I can’t speak for all blondes, but this probably wouldn’t happen if EVERYONE communicated in writing.


It’s About Time

After more than twenty years, my first book is finally going to print. Yes, after many false starts, a few forced stops, and several revisions, Thinner Skin will finally see the light of day as a complete work by yours truly.

That paragraph may be confusing to those who have purchased and/or read Unmatched, so I will explain:  Although Unmatched was released first, it was actually written eighteen years after Thinner Skin for the purpose of entering it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition in 2012.

I had planned to enter Thinner Skin in that same contest in 2011, but had to scrap that plan when I realized its word count exceeded the contest’s limit by a substantial amount. With only weeks to go before the contest—and having tried and failed to reduce the word count several times in the past decade—I decided I had a better chance of writing a new book before the contest deadline, than I did of trimming Thinner Skin by almost 20 percent.

Although I made a good show of it, I missed my deadline for the 2011 contest by a mile, which is how Unmatched came to be a 2012 entry instead. And although it made the first round of the competition, it failed to place in the second round, which is how it came to be released as an indie novel in October 2012.

Since then, I have spent my time promoting Unmatched, writing this blog, and revising Thinner Skin. Although it still exceeds the Breakthrough Novel Award competition word limit by a smidge, it is significantly lighter, funnier, and cleverer than at any point since its conception. Although I do not have a firm release date yet, I am confident it will be available sometime this month.

And so, without further ado—and in the interest of stoking your interest in reading the rest—I hereby present the prologue of Thinner Skin.

Bon Appetit!


Thinner Skin, by Billie Jean Diersen


I’ll never forget the night I met the only man I’ve ever killed. Despite my efforts to erase it from my mind, I remember it as clearly as I do the night my mom died, the day I got married, and the days both of my children were born.

That’s not to say I make a habit of committing to memory my every experience—much less the circumstances surrounding each new acquaintance. For example, I have no idea how or when I met my husband. Nor do I recall meeting any of my closest childhood friends. Although I can ballpark the geneses of these relationships, when I try to summon specific dates or memories of the occasions, I draw a total blank.

Maybe that’s how it is for anyone who’s moved around as much as I have. You come into contact with so many people over the years that you don’t stop to document the moment you become aware of their existence. Unless you keep a diary—or have OCD—you don’t bother; there just isn’t time.

So the kid who sits behind you in fifth grade gradually becomes Tony Zeigler and, later, the first boy you ever kiss, while the girl with the pink-rimmed glasses becomes your science partner and, over time, your best friend, Quinn. You don’t remember your initial meeting or when you first spoke. Unless there was something special or significant about the event, you only know that at some point they appeared on your radar and you somehow learned their names. You also learn that relationships are fluid, and you don’t expect them to last.

That’s how it should have been with Rob Copeland. And yet, although there was nothing at all significant about that Friday, I remember it as if it were yesterday, and in fine detail. I don’t recall the date, but I can name the location right down to the zip code. I also remember what he wore, what he was drinking, and nearly every second I spent with him until the moment he was no longer of this earth…


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