I'm a writer living in the south, mother of two teens, wife of a professor, and terrifically inept housekeeper.
About the Author
I was raised in an Irish Catholic family of ten children. My fatherâs job, first as a fighter pilot and then a professor, meant we moved a lot. Eight times in eighteen years, to be exact, which may account for the extraordinarily closeness of the extended Curran clan, as well as our openness to new ideas. If moving does nothing else, it certainly shakes you loose of pre-conceived notions. I remember moving from Athens, Georgia to Youngstown, Ohio in ninth grade and realizing that Southern rules Iâd memorized were pretty worthless in an ethnic steel town.
Solidifying my fate as a rolling stone who desperately yearned for moss, I met my husband, an aspiring academic, in college. Despite my fantasy of staying put,I followed him to graduate school in Chicago and then to various teaching jobs in New York, Virginia, Boston, Arizona, England, and Florida.
As an Air Force Brat, and then the dreaded Trailing Spouse, Iâve observed the many ways oneâs identity can shift depending on random circumstance and networks of support from friends and family.
The Real Life Roots of Fiction
DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN was born one evening in 1998, in Oxford, England. My husband had invited me to join him at High Table, a glorious ritual in which British professors (called Fellows) are wined and dined at an elevated platform in a palatial dining hall. Seated to my left was an older woman who was married to a world-renowned scholar of Greek who was visiting from another Oxford college. When she noticed my name tag, she said âOh, itâs a good thing you have a different last name than your husband.â
âIt is?â I asked, still reeling from the splendor of my surroundings.
âYes. Most of the colleges donât approve of bringing oneâs wife to High Table. He can bring his mistress, or his homosexual lover, but not his wife.â
âTruly? How â how does that make you feel?â I couldnât help asking.
âWell, it bothered me at first, but then I thought about it a bit, and I realized that the purpose of High Table is the exchange of ideas. Women who are at home with children all day, what could they add to the conversation?â
I went home and thought about this clearly intelligent woman having participated in her own demotion.
The unsung heroism of women who stayed at home all day with their children was a subject with which I felt all too familiar, having been tempermentally unsuited for, and therefore in awe of, those paragons of patience who seemed to get it right.
During my year in England, I met many such mothers at my daughterâs preschool. They were kind to me, showing none of the anti-Americanism Iâd been warned about, and in the course of knowing these faculty spouses, I came to hear many more horrible husband stories. (See Vile Husband contest.) There was the Fellow who lived in his college rooms and returned to see the children only at tea-time, dining most nights of the week with his colleagues. After years of this, heâd finally confessed to having an affair with a student, with whom heâd fathered a child, though fathering might be a stretch of the term since he spent no more time with that toddler than his other four children at home. His wife blamed University tradition: High Table most nights of the week, bedrooms adjoined to offices, and butlers on hand to take care of all domestic needs. This system had been invented during the years in which professors werenât allowed to marry, devoting themselves to the generation of ideas, not offspring.
I became fascinated with Oxfordâs facutly wives, who, despite their intelligence, wit and strong-willed personalities, appeared to be trapped in roles theyâd not signed on for. And trapped they were, by a social order in which mothers were expected to handle all the menial labor, in which their parenting accomplishments were ignored, and in which any professional goals of their own were held hostage to their husbandsâ round-the-clock vigils at the altars of knowledge. Though Iâd observed simliar patterns in American academic life, I think being an outsider allowed me to see the inequities without feeling personally confronted to change my life, or abandon the culture from which I gained sustenance as well as social meaning.
Furthermore, inequality is never as simple as it seems. These British women had fallen in love, gotten married, and willingly entered the world of the stay-at-home mum. They wanted to be their childrenâs primary caretakers, and didnât have the financial wherewithal to make ultimatums, especially when doing so might endanger their husbandâs success in a competitive, exhausting academic enterprise. Thus my new friends carried on with what theyâd begun, venting now and then about what useless sods theyâd married, who at least werenât âquite as useless as so-and-soâs husband down the lane.â
I heard stories of philanders, sadists, pompous boors and pretentious blow-hards. Before long, these tales coalesced in the character of Ted Lively, just as their narrators began to take the form of Diana. (To read the first ten pages of DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN, click here.) (Excerpt ends with a request for the next ten, and so on, through the first three chapters. Purchase the Book button displayed at top and bottom?)
More on Sheila Curran
To make money Iâve written grants, waited tables, tended bar and worked in the admissions office at an alcoholic treatment center. I have two children, a Masterâs degree in Comparative Literature, a standard poodle who gets suicidal when I leave the house, and an annoying habit of either talking-too-much-while-speaking-too-loud or having absolutely nothing to say, sometimes within the same five minutes. If 1950âs children had been tested for their sense of direction, Iâd have been institutionalized at a tender age, which would have made for a great memoir, but nixed the happy childhood, the serial wardrobe of plaid, pleated Catholic school outfits, and many other aspects of growing up in a happy family who moved too often.
SOME OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW ABOUT ME.
*I am a Food Evangelist, pressing recipes on my friends until they cry for mercy (click here for my salsa, salad dressing and pasta sauces)
*The longest Iâve managed to stay on a diet can be counted in hours and on one hand;
*I am terrified of making phone calls to people I donât know, even if itâs to get my washer repaired or my teeth cleaned,
*I once successfully gave up drinking for three days until my children and husband begged me to just have one beer,
* I have been kept alive, literally and figuratively, by the affection and support of my family and friends, whose sum total is my proudest boast and matters much more to me than my bank balance or intelligence quotient.