The end of August, 2014, has been emotional:
Three weeks ago I attended the Seattle 'From Hiroshima to Hope' event. I painted the Japanese letters for 'energy' and 'love' with a soft bamboo brush, dipped in thick black ink, onto the rice paper sides of a small lantern while children played tag and the beads of buddhist monks clicked in the breeze. Later hundreds of us sailed our messages across Greenlake into the twilight, messages of hope drifting across the dark water. The shores were crowded, standing room only but eerily quiet, the only sound the water rippling against the grasses. We were challenged to listen to the messages and remember.
Soon after, the #icebucketchallenge appeared on Facebook, raising awareness and funds for ALS, spearheaded by a young man in Marblehead just a few years ago captain of his Boston College baseball team, now unable to speak and in a wheelchair. I took my video at Kerry Park in Seattle, fifty Asian tourists snapping pictures of me and clapping me on. The challenge has gone so viral, so deeply into the social media, so thoroughly across ages and continents that ALS has raised $41.8 million dollars in one month to date, compared to the $1.3 million this time last year. Hundreds of us have challenged ourselves and others to contribute to stamping out this disease, one bucket at a time. Media gimmick or brilliant idea, ALS is no longer obscure. But it continues to be swift, deadly and untreatable until we challenge ourselves to help.
And then, a few weeks ago, a young girl died in our community, a rare bone cancer taking her at fourteen years old. At an intimate service of family and friends the minister challenged this community to address what is needed to stop this terrible osteosarcoma - to press for the research and funds for a cure, to push medical and political decision makers to understand and put a stop to this terrible disease.
And this week, two dear and precious friends battle ovarian cancer.
I challenge you if you challenge me: How do we help, how do we put energy and hope into the funds, research, human power and votes to find solutions and cures?
I stare at this photo of my lantern and wonder at the timeliness of that evening. To meet these challenges we have to work together, no question. We have to put energy. love and hope into solutions.
The day was Seattle perfect, cerulean lake, mountains etched in a clear blue sky both east and west. The Green Lake path was bustling; runners, bikers, walkers, skateboarders, dogs, rollerblades all jostling for a drink of sunshine.
As I rounded the southern tip I saw two people flanking what looked like a stretcher parked to the side of the path. First, I saw the blazing white sheet draped over a small peak of feet and as I got closer, tucked around an older woman, the stretcher slightly elevated so she was facing the lake which lay just a few yards away.
This was my half-second snapshot: The lake reflecting off her face in a golden hue, the crew shells gliding by, her beatific smile, the man bending to kiss her forehead, a handful of freshly-picked glistening blackberries lying between her curled hands on the sea of white.
Imagine the logistics: This man (her son?) who picked her up somehow, drove to the lake - in a car? minivan? - wrestled the stretcher out of the trunk, unfolded the sides, set the wheels, manipulated her failing body, tucked the sheet around her, negotiated the gravelly pathway, parked the brakes, picked the nearby blackberries, piled them between her hands so she could smell them in the summer warmth. And stood with her in the beautiful day and let the birds sing.
What she must have done to earn that love.
The thought struck me so hard I had to move to the side of the path a few minutes later. I cried all the way home.
The simple act of giving - a favorite view, a small handful of summer blackberries, a kiss on the forehead - can mean more than a trip around the world at the end of life. May I be blessed with love, always, but especially when I can least reciprocate. May we all be worth it, to someone.
I will remember that thirty seconds for a long, long time. And hope that I give, and have earned, some of that love when the time comes.
I am a fairly new tweeter. And I love it. Life in haiku, pithy thoughts in abbreviation, a story distilled in six-words-or-less, bring it on. I have adopted the attitude 'the more the merrier' when someone wants to follow me, unless I suspect we are headed down the slippery slope of porn-related themes and then I frantically press buttons and menus until I have removed the offender.
But most tweets are like little pearls of thought-provoking sentences. The other day, for example, a friend send me a tweet quoting Mr. Rogers:
"There never has been...and there never will be - in the history of the earth - another person exactly like you."
Not only was this a nice and random feel-good tweet but my mind spent the day unspooling significant memories about Mr. Rogers. He played an important part during my mother's last year: In the mornings I would balance tea and a protein shake up the narrow farmhouse stairs, click on the TV when his show began, lie down in her flowery bed and curl myself around her fragile, treatment ravaged body while we sang along to the opening song. She insisted we watch every day. And while Mr. Rogers was singing, pulling on his knit cardigan, lacing his sneakers, she never stopped smiling.
We usually fell back asleep midway through Mr. McFeely and the puppets, but peacefully, and if it had been a bad night, finally getting some rest. He looked out of the TV and told her she was special, OK, and worthy. Everything the mirror and the cancer denied her. I used to think of him as a secret weapon after a bad morphine-infused night, for both of us. He bucked me up. He smiled just for her. We were special.
Twenty words from a friend this week. I felt cherished for the day but importantly I was reminded how little it takes to make people feel really good. As I remember his calm voice, his big, toothy smile, the soft sheets, her hand in mine, I am so grateful for the simple messages, the time I spent with her, the simple lesson of giving.
Here we are palming all this social media but in twenty-words-or-less, in less than a minute, we can pay it forward like Mr. Rogers.
Why don't we do this more often for each other?
I am not sure what stands out the most from my six days as juror #8 in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
The two-hour morning commute?
The 5 shots of espresso I drank before I got there?
The high cost of my civic duty: The most beautiful week in June spent inside besides the cost of gas, parking, lunches, so many coffees?
The tattoo count?
The riveting judge and his great ties?
The juror that clicked his pen sitting in the seat behind me?
The moment another juror looked up from playing candy crush during coffee break and said to the room ‘why does anyone think I can solve these peoples’ stupid problems?’
No. In all honesty day #5 was key: There I was locked in my toilet stall, stripped down to my bra, having just discovered my second cappuccino had at some point on the drive spilled all over the front of my white linen sweater, holding my breath and all but pulling my feet up from the floor while the husky voiced, smoke perfumed defendant loudly talked about the case over the sink. I was SO not supposed to listen to her opinions. Anywhere.
That has to be it: Me and my Tide stick against the world, half undressed, trying to be fair like the judge instructed, trying not to listen or become prejudiced by information NOT presented in the courtroom.
In the loo. Hiding. At 8:45 AM. Taking my job, to my surprise, very seriously.
To all my readers that are lawyers, apologies if I seem flippant. This was my first time tagged and seated and for the most part I was intrigued, focused and present. No matter how many pages of bank statements. No matter how vague the witness. No matter how hot or cold the building chose to entomb us for the day or the absurdity of sharing public spaces with everyone involved.
We were thrown together, so many strangers and professionals and teachers, criers and shouters, robes and ties and jeans - Plaintiff, Defendant, witnesses, Consul, Judge, Bailiff, and the fourteen of us identified as numbers and in the same seats for six days. And we did our best. Asked to weigh and measure information dealt to us in spades and stacks. The case dragged. The counsel argued. The jurors collectively avoided eye contact with each other until we were sequestered.
And when we were, we discovered we had some egos. We had some fiscal conservatives. We had emotion. We inserted, despite all the stern instructions from the judge, some personal opinions from our observations and own life experiences. Yet we made rulings, calculated sums of money. Filed back into the courtroom and said ‘yes.’
And we finished with fifteen minutes to closing time, fled the building racing to our cars, shedding the week behind us on highways and byways, merging with the other afternoon commuters, closing the superior court door behind us for three years.
Only as juror #8, I knew I had closed more than doors. My votes had closed a lifestyle, some wallets, several friendships, cast the final blow on family ties. So I didn’t feel particularly successful or clean scooting to the highway as fast as I could. But here was my ‘take-a-way:’
You never know when your number will come up, and what stranger will be making decisions about you and for you. Jury duty is inconvenient and weird and despite this a sense of obligation settles over you once you know you have a number and a seat and there is no escaping. I knew from the first opening statement I couldn’t solve their problems and I could drive away from them. But I also knew from the beginning I was chosen to make these peoples problems important, and weigh them as fairly as possible to the best of my ability.
I hope they will do the same for me someday, if needed.
And always pack a Tide stick. Seriously.
Thanks to everyone inquiring about this week's blog entry.
I am on a jury for a week (no longer, fingers crossed).
In deference to the daily promise made to the judge to remain silent about anything to do with the case (musing about the almost two hour commute to get to the courthouse daily is TEMPTING) I remain silent until freed.
Stay tuned. Thanks for asking.
Memorial Day weekend was epic. Bodies plus one in every bed, fridge stuffed to capacity, doors and windows open 24-hours, grill deployed every night, movies started at 10 PM, up with the robins pulling rhubarb coffee cake out of the oven the next dawn.
And three days later, in a blink of an eye, not a shred of tinfoil, laundry soap, butter, cling wrap, dog food, kale, basil or bodies to be found. The word ‘whoosh’ comes to mind.
A month ago I was not so sure about spring.
Just a short time ago I didn’t think I could function without our top dog and best friend Beatrice. I panicked that I would put away my writing project and garden-cook-drive-micromanage-repeat for the next two months never to be able to pick up the thread of the last challenging chapter again. Just a few weeks ago I stood outside with my morning tea, wrapped in a wool bathrobe, looking at the wreckage of such a terrible winter and wondered at the wisdom of resurrecting the rose bed or my crippled daphne. Or the wisdom of gardening in general with creaky knees and a tricky back.
Everything looked a bit daunting.
My writing has been challenging all spring, too, an exercise in moving mental boulders, working on the first and last chapters because I am so SURE they would/should/can be interconnected seamlessly and then they do not. An exercise in looking at what is underneath the rocks, like tide pooling on the beach, uncovering the small essentials of the story that thrive a little below the obvious. Some days I am Hercules. Somedays the Wimpy Kid. Leaving Seattle I packed up ten critiques from my memoir group, still unread, and wondered how to meld all the necessary and the preferred when the plane landed. How to keep writing. How to be a Mom. How to help Olive feel courageous as an only dog.
The trick, I discovered this weekend, is not trying so hard.
I shopped and stocked for the favorites, had cash for the ice cream run, replaced a few strategic roses with new varieties, took away the big dog beds and put out one small one, placed a favorite rock on the writing stack near my computer. Made no plan other than to be here. Then opened the door.
And in came old friends, and new friends, beautiful works of art and kindness, less puppy sighs and more squirrel chasing, more hands in the kitchen, even some reading time. The mountain of laundry - make that two mountains, I just discovered the beach towels - is epic, too, but so is the sense that I am learning to expand and contract with the changes in our family more gracefully everyday.
This seems to involve worrying less, more listening, and appreciating the blessing of time together.
We are all growing up. Especially Mom.
Today at around noon I discovered my underwear was on inside-out. That was after I had to coax Olive, the remaining scottie that never breathed a day in her life without Beatrice, out from under the car where she was hiding from everything. After I had to console the electrician next door when he heard about Beatrice. After I spoke publicly and OUT LOUD - in a coffee shop - that Beatrice is gone. Last week I ran out of same shop before my latte was ready because a dog walker was ahead of me and I couldn't tell her.
This has been a long week.
I use the words 'blind-sided' and 'still unknown,' besides 'heart broken' and 'bereft' for what is going on inside me. Big words for a small 20-pound sturdy scottie that spent most of her life arguing with me that she never really needed to walk, her dog bed was just fine. Big words of grief over a small dog that latched on tight and ran the household, slowed walks to a crawl out of sheer stubbornness, debated human commands.
But I wouldn't have it any other way, I embrace big grief and big tears and big blankets to pull over my head. Because I know that if I let my chest crack open I can let in the fresh air, the healing, the friends that have stopped in, made me dinner, prevented me from putting on my PJ's at 4PM. Yup. I tried that yesterday.
No one is actually more surprised than me how sad I am. How I wake at 4:30 AM and want to cry. How when Olive showed me her belly yesterday to rub I cried because she was happy for a small moment and I wanted that happy, too. But a sense of reordering is slowly creeping into the day today, a sense we will be ok.
Today we walked through town and Olive had a little spring in her step, met a new friend, got three biscuits from the cobbler.
One week down, one step at a time. Even with inside-out underwear. Don't tell anyone.
Ten years and eleven months ago my husband and I, with our two youngest children, drove to New Hampshire from Massachusetts to be interviewed for a dog. Arriving at a rambling farm, we parked the car and walked towards the main gate. As we got closer, eleven button noses poked through the lowest picket, attached to eleven wiggling, beanie-baby sized black Scottish Terrier puppies.
They had us, as the saying goes, at the fence.
The decision to have a puppy was complicated: We lived in a town without much yard, my son and I have allergies, my oldest daughter, away at school, felt offended the dog would be in her words a ‘replacement for me.’ But we were ready to be dog owners, and the first step was to find ScotSmith farm and be evaluated by the breeder for our suitability.
I was sweating. What would make us suitable? I grilled the kids all the way there: Don’t mention we didn’t have a fenced in yard, or the allergies. My son, at thirteen, was trustworthy, but I was not so sure my littlest, at eight, would not get chatty and offer too much information to the breeder and his wife. I sternly instructed them that the grown-ups would do all the talking: I had my dog resume all in order - my mother raised rescue scotties, my husband Golden Retrievers. I also felt if the little one spilled the beans, I knew that Scottish terriers - who minimally shed and need to be groomed to keep their hair in check, - while not hypo-allergenic were tolerable to the mildly allergic. The fence we would just have to figure out. But the crucial first step was to first earn the approval from the breeder.
The owners invited us to sit on the ground and meet the writhing mass of warm puppies. They ran helter-skelter over us, chewed on our sleeves, grabbed shoe laces, peed indiscriminately, licked us head-to-toe and completely charmed us.
But one galloped immediately to my son, seized his mesh shorts between tiny sharp teeth, and pulled as if her life depended on it. My son, laughing, playfully feinted with the puppy who was distinguishable from the rest of the large litter by an ear that folded over, unlike the finely-pointed ears of her litter mates. She refused to let go, and several hands were required to untangle shorts and baby teeth before we went into the house to talk.
We looked back and she stood apart, her little square body planted on the grass, staring at us.
She chose us.
As we traveled back to Massachusetts debating the puppies, which ones we liked, my son spoke up from the back of the car. “I want the one with the crumpled ear. She liked me.”
When we called the owner to ask for her, we were told she wasn’t available, that the ear could be a health hazard, and he would get back to us if another one was left after the breeder and trainers had evaluated the puppies. We were crushed.
A few weeks later, the breeder called back to let us know that with a little scotch tape and a little more time, the ear had grown upright and that puppy was ours.
And that puppy was Beatrice.
I can’t tell you if it was beginner’s luck, her personality, or just all the love we showered on this dog, but she was never a problem. The problem, if you asked her, was us getting how smart she was. Intuitive and calm, devoted to the men in our family, so sure I was there to take care of her, absolutely unafraid of anything or anyone, Beatrice was, as friend once commented ‘like a person is looking at you from a little dog body.’
Our family came to understand the ‘Beatrice stare.’ If we called her in from the yard, she just stood wherever she was, looking calmly in the direction of our voices until we came into view, just staring at us, patiently waiting for us to recognize she was here, in the yard, and by the way, busy.
She didn’t chew, stayed in the unfenced yard (except during skunk season) and slept in her crate until one frigid cold night the power went out and I put her between us. She sank into the down comforter, gave a little sigh that said ‘finally you get it’ and for most of her eleven years after that slept on the bed, waking us with the birds, pushing into our bodies with her head, snorting. She never understood our reluctance to get up early and pour her kibble.
When my husband was laid off with two children in private school and one just accepted to college, I lay awake for months, stroking her head until all hours of the night, her head resting over my leg, stoically staying awake with me. I always credited her for getting me through that time of worry. When she felt we needed to get to sleep, she would lie down while I was petting her, pushing my palm down so she could rest her head cradled in my fingers.
When we acquired a second puppy four years later, Beatrice held the world’s record for ignoring a new family member. For three months Olive invented all sorts of dances and games to attract Beatrice’s attention and get her to play, but no matter how hard she tried, Beatrice turned her head away. In hindsight, I concluded Beatrice was just waiting until Olive was ready to settle down and learn the ropes. Then one day they were sharing the water bowl, the dog bed, and the ball. Olive had passed the Beatrice test. Olive would have been a handful if not for Beatrice’s patient guidance - here’s where we pee, here’s where Lou lives but you have to stop at the sidewalk and wait, here’s your side of the bed.
As the years went by, our family went in different directions, - boarding schools, colleges, jobs, my new work taking me away for longer periods of time, my husband traveling extensively. When we came home Beatrice was always there on her dog bed facing the doorway, waiting, greeting us fondly with a little wag, returning to her post where she could keep an eye on the extensive squirrel family raiding the feeder and the orange cat that camped out under the bird bath. She chose to sleep downstairs over the last year, I am sure because my son, living at home between jobs, returned home all hours of the night and she could be satisfied we were all accounted for and get biscuits in return. No fool was Beatrice.
This year she twice-battled pancreatitis and seemed to age rapidly. Whether this was all that was going on or not, she measurably slowed. Two weeks ago we took her to an Easter family reunion, where she got her ears rubbed and her back stroked for three days straight. When we returned, she began to fail.
We will never know what catastrophically occurred in her body, only that two heroic and honest vets and three days of every possible medication could not stabilize her. While we sobbed, she lay her head down on my palm. Eleven years ago we passed the Beatrice test and she chose us. She trusted we could do the job and take care of her. Part of that job, I understood last night, is letting her go. We whispered how much we loved her, the kids loved her, and what a beautiful and good dog she was. Then we said good-bye.
A friend said to me yesterday 'how about that blog?' Rightly so. Two months since I tried to form words around grief I would like to ruminate on healing, and the remarkable experience I have had with Facebook.
For all the arguments made about our attachment to our iPhones-ipads-cellphones-laptops-airbooks-ereaders I have been simply blown away by the role the internet has played in healing after the loss of our young friend.
Within a few days of her death, the family put up a remembrance Facebook page. Hundreds poured their sadness into words, pictures, songs, questions. Each posting as sad and bereft and disbelieving as the next, a virtual tsunami of grief poured onto the site 24-hours a day. Facebook became a portal to not only share, but critically, feel the community of friends and family out there feeling the same way.
A week later, the wake and funeral behind us, the site began to fill with tributes, remembrances, laughs. Facebook shrank the great distances between friends and family who returned to school, home, jobs, enabling them to share this next step - the way friends and family were beginning the collage of memory: Healing rocks tucked into backpacks, selfies on favorite hikes, u-tube concert snippets, photos of friends gathering to honor their friend, photos found and posted of our friend at her best - and at her worst.
We went from wordless to laughing and amazement at how many lives she had touched, places she had been, crazy antics we had missed.
Through the internet, countless people were able to log on day and night when grief and bereavement overwhelmed them and talk to another friend, see a hilarious photo, laugh about penguin pants, bad hair days, and great trips. Reading the site felt like a million arms linked together in a great big hug.
Facebook became a safety net, a healing tool, a place to find company. Now I will fully admit I usually criticize the general concept of FB. But in this case I eat my words: Facebook drew us together, eliminated the emptiness of distance, invited a crowd under the covers when we are missing our friend and sadness overcomes us like a wave. A crowd who gets it and shows us we are not alone.
Two months later, the posts have moved to personal dialogs with our friend, a way to share what we want to tell her. We are living with our grief the best we can, thanks to each other and the ability to share with friends, family and strangers. Memories are powerful healing tools. So is technology. Go figure.
Let's remember to use it wisely. I am grateful.
When the text arrived on my cellphone "..killed in a skiing accident" I truly had to read the words three times before I ascertained who, what, when and where and that my girl was ok. Then I had to find her. Then I witnessed the primal sadness that comes with unexpected loss, the first loss, the end of childhood.
Then I realized I had no words.
The death of my daughter's best friend this month cleanly severed what I thought I knew about grief.
And that is what I confessed to my daughter, when I could finally speak, torn apart by this horrible mortality. I was honest: "I have no words or solutions to this pain and horror," I told her, "there is nothing to do but experience this face on. I am here for you."
Because I had no map for this - no amount of book reading or hospice work or bedside vigils prepared me for the unexplainable death of a child, a best friend, a sister and daughter and granddaughter just getting her wings.
Here's what we did: Everyone flew home, a family pig pile, dogs squeezed twenty-four hours a day, boxes and boxes of kleenex, pulling up photos, stories, reading the remembrance website all day long and finally, a wake and funeral that tore the hearts out of all of us.
And the sun rose each day, glorious, which is another life lesson. And the pictures and stories made us laugh, cracking smiles on chapped wet faces.
And every day I reaffirmed to her, "there is no right way or wrong way to do this. Whatever you need is ok."
Thank you Elizabeth Kubler-Ross for your five stages of grief so neatly mapped out, but here's what we need to tell everyone: Grief tears us apart in a storm that has no beginning or end.
One day you will cry and then laugh and then eat a cake all by yourself and wear your pajama bottoms for three days running and then be mad at your Mom for making your bed. Then in no particular order do it all again. Or do it all again maybe three weeks or two months later.
Or you might finish a paper at three AM and go for a run at six AM and sleep all day.
Or you might curl up on the couch and watch "Despicable Me" over and over again. And not go back to school for ten days.
You know what? It's all right.
And when the conga line reaches you at the reception, put on your Ray Bans and kick up your heels. Wear coral and cool t-shirts and celebrate every single thing you feel and remember.
You will be ok. The hole in your heart will remain but you start filling in the edges with memories, selfies with red lipstick, loving words. Until she is stuck fast and deep, a collage of all that was wonderful, glued firm and forever and smiling.
There is no right way or wrong way. We don't 'get over it' or even 'get on with it.' We get used to it, and in no particular order, let grief do it's job, peeling us apart and putting us back together.
The new year of 2014 is already full of resolutions, football, travel, job hunting, aging dogs, perhaps a new book proposal, rejections and successes.
That is my family in a nutshell. For the moment.
But I need to turn the camera lens on me and take a selfie, something mothers have a hard time doing, even when the kids are adults and not living at home.
What do I see?
I see a woman that has remained a good friend and attentive mother despite the miles that separate her two homes, thanks to the internet, texting, email and Skype.
I see the optimism that comes with hard work and the effort of trying something new every day.
I see the smear of grey that reminds me the clock is ticking.
And I see a smile.
Turn the camera on your self. Take one. Think about it.
This week I have covered some ground.
I attended a moving fundraiser for Rhyther House in Seattle, (http://www.ryther.org) personally coming face-to-face with the challenging statistics of homeless and foster youth in this area, and hearing about the dedicated adults who tackle the odds every day for them.
I munched on a fresh croissant sitting next to my mentor Nick O'Connell (http://www.nickoconnell.net) and listened to Patricia Wells talk about her 14th new book, "The French Kitchen Cookbook" (http://patriciawells.com). Her 'Paris Cookbook' was the first cookbook I purchased as a new bride 28 years ago. I sipped hot coffee and considered how far both of our cooking styles have traveled.
And later today, I will go to the History Cafe and hear about the history of Jazz in Seattle at MOHAI, gaze at a few landmarks, relish the new space (http://www.mohai.org).
I continue my writing project with small victories and long hours of work, some days confident, some days full of questions.
In between, I knit a prayer shawl for a dear friend's wife making brave decisions this week.
Life is a sweet and savory pudding friends. As I get packed to head home for turkey, family and a puppy squeeze I am grateful for all the opportunities a greater being has allowed me.
Fill your holiday with peace and joy.
Last week my world was redefined in code.
All unexpected. All necessary. And all changed my relationship with everyday settings around me.
On Saturday night (yes, this is true) I was at Whole Foods. Honestly, it really wasn't pathetic; there was a quiet calm, people who put in an extra day at work stocking up on good veggies, folks in helmets and stretchy attire back from biking/hiking/sailing in need of dinner, not very crowded, a quiet hum in the aisles, plenty of room at the checkout line.
As I grabbed my bagged goods a male voice came on the overhead speaker. I wasn't really listening as I headed to the door until I vaguely became aware that no one was where they were a minute ago: In slow motion green Whole Food t-shirts and aprons moved to the top of the aisles, stepped away from the registers, were blocking my exit. I suddenly understood what the even voice was announcing:
"Code Adam, Code Adam, all employees immediately, Code Adam."
For a stupid second I debated whether they would be so obtuse about a fire, glad I was near the door, until I heard overhead,
"Mother has signed off. Code Adam cancelled."
And in a blink I realized a child had been lost. And just as quickly employees faded back to their stations, stripping leeks, ringing up Kombucha drinks, stacking baskets.
I left in a haze, my heart hammering, the parent in me suffering a surge of adrenaline for the child, the mother, the shock and awe of witnessing a practiced and well-oiled drill to prevent an abduction - conducted and called-off in less than a minute. The minute it might have taken someone to walk out the door with someone else's child.
Not three days later, I stepped off the 3rd-floor elevator at Swedish Hospital to visit my Aunt recovering from surgery. As I rounded the corner, rubbing in my sanitary hand gel, I was aware of a lot of green scrubs in the hallway, heading the same direction. And in another vague underwater swim to consciousness, I saw that the door to her room was flung open, and she was obscured by more green scrubs, some on the bed with her, others unfolding a box. The Code Blue box.
In a matter of seconds the crisis was stepped down, I was on a bench with my cousin, and capable people were deciphering the problem. For the next hour we witnessed efficient, kind-hearted nurses and doctors bring my Aunt back to consciousness. We gratefully accepted the really sweet apple juice offered to get our plummeted heart rate back up and watched her go from unresponsive to irritated. Just how we like her.
I never saw that emergency team again, nor the emergency black box on wheels that is so legendary. An ordinary black box on wheels, with quick-release hinges on all sides. And quick-footed personnel arriving in less than a minute to help.
A minute. That is all it takes for something to go wrong. Someone to be called. And professional and caring staff to do their job.
The next trip to Whole Foods I teared up and resisted the urge to hug the greeter at the door, for that Mom, for that child, for me. Who knew I needed to feel safe at Whole Foods? There is a code book somewhere, everywhere, and strangers are all practicing to avert disaster for us while we drive, fill out forms, insert our credit card.
Twelve years ago Gloria moved in next door. I peered out my window to see a sunlit woman step out of her car, rearrange her purse, and head to her new front door across my walkway. I was smitten. Star struck. And the luckiest person in the world all in a matter of seconds.
Within a few weeks her presence upgraded the neighborhood - no longer could I in all good conscience slink around the house in sweatpants knowing I might run into her beatific smile and elegantly matched shoes when I ran errands. Early mornings during summer months I was usually knee-deep in the garden, still in my ratty sleepwear, only to see her step out in her hyacinth blue bathrobe to pick up her morning paper, looking radiant, waving her polished nails at me in collusion. We would laugh at how we caught each other unguarded before the day began - her hair a little mussed, me covered in dirt. I missed her when she flew to Florida for the winters.
I soon became convinced she was here to save me from my post-children, grilled-cheese laden self. We talked politics over thin stemmed glasses of white wine. Shared life stories in afternoon visits over cups of mint tea. Gloria keeping her gaze steady on mine when we got to the hard parts. And I was there to listen to hers. We sent each other cards through the long winter months. She had flowers planted in her boxes even when she wasn't home so I would have a better view. I bought nice bathrobes.
She was an unexpected and precious gift, a friend, neighbor and confident I hadn't known I was missing until she found our little street.
My daughter said to me one day 'I hope I grow up to be like Gloria - she is the most beautiful person.' I understood what she meant: Gloria was beautiful inside and out. She cast her smile and we basked in her glow.
Ovarian cancer took Gloria this fall. She threw all her grace, calm, hope and determination into trying to beat the illness. I stopped in every day when she was home, bringing my tea, holding her hand, sharing gossip, putting her treatments out of her mind for an hour at a time. She reigned gracious and smiling from a hospital bed, patting the side of the bed when I came through the door, anxious for me to get started catching her up on the neighborhood, friends, family.
On my final visit to the hospital her body barely dented the bed, but her eyes held mine over the oxygen mask as I stroked her sparse hair. There was a little smile. Then she closed her eyes. I knew I would not see her again. No words can describe the loss of a friend. The loss of this light in my life.
At her memorial, her partner spoke about his beloved 'Glo': 'When she came into the room every last person felt better' he said. 'That's why I think she was an angel.'
The afterglow of my friend Gloria lives in my heart and warms me every day.
God Speed Glo.
I had the extreme pleasure of listening to Alice McDermott read from her new book 'Someone' at Seattle Central Library last night.
230 words of amazing story about pre-depression Brooklyn, an ordinary Irish immigrant child, 'no one special' Ms. McDermott clarifies, growing up to be a woman. And taking our breath away.
Later, the petite, smiling, focused Ms. McDermott gave some of the best answers to the audience Q and A about the book, the process of writing, and balancing work and family.
'Write as a business,' she looked to the crowd, 'If you don't take it seriously, who will?'
She nailed what plagues us aspiring writers - all species of people driven to write, sentence-by-sentence, a story of worth. A solo journey wrestling with words, paper, hundreds of rejections and often misunderstanding.
There are so many ways to falter along the way - until you are a published writer, form your 'platform,' stand on that podium, you are just trying. But this effort is your business. Get up and validate yourself everyday. This is the first step.
Eudora Welty writes: 'Serious daring starts from within.'
Ms. McDermott signed my book and I thanked her for the evening.
'The ordinary is extraordinary,' I say. She looked at me and smiled.
'Yes it is,' she replied.
Walking down a busy urban street a few weeks ago I was struck by how many women passed me, power dressed from head to toe, looking absolutely on fire and on top of their game next to their male colleagues.
Until I looked down at their skirts; with each high-heeled step, the skirts raised into a bubble. I counted at least five in my short walk for coffee.
The culprit? The small thread x-stitch that clothing manufacturers use to tack the kick-pleat closed. And the buyer has to snip off, along with price tags. Before wearing.
When I was 12 my mother put me into a community sewing class and I completed the course by making a wool suit, lining included. Learning the anatomy of clothing turns out to be my 'stupid party trick' forty years later. I am asked to sew buttons back on, fix small rents, and tack together seams for not just my kids, but friends and family. Surprisingly, most people don't know how to sew on a button.
The art of the needle hasn't just died with my generation, but may be non-existant. Along with making cookies from scratch, composting and home-made halloween costumes we haven't so much lost the skill as don't really feel we need it. The same short-cut marketing pitched to our mother's in the 50's continues to disconnect us from the skills that connect us to what we do, eat, wear and see.
Lose buttons? Buy another shirt. Have a tear? Take it to the cleaners. Fill the trash, it goes out to the bin and disappears anyways. The little things we do actually make a difference to ourselves, our impact on the world, what our co-workers see.
It was all I could do not to lean down and snip. With the small scissors I carry, at all times, in my purse. Because you never know what will fall apart and when. And how you can make a difference.
I will indulge in a little self-story here. Attending my second Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference to absorb the industry, test out my book pitch, battle the internal demons of confidence.
But oh, what fun this is.
400 writers with green-logo bags, flowing from ballroom to conference room to coffee stations. Hundreds of hands that get up before dawn or stay up with the moon or squeeze in a few lines at lunch break to work on this craft of so many genre.
Urban fantasy, Cozy Mystery, Fem-Moir, Men-Moir. Thriller. Romance. Steampunk...
A stew of creative minds simmered together, business cards flashing. A new species of person and book born every minute in the window-less iced rooms.
Four days of re-boot.
I held a twelve-day old infant last week. We passed him around at a cocktail party, wrapped in soft blue cotton, swayed and savored by arms that remembered. The embodiment of trust. I had forgotten utter trust.
A few days later we read about the children of India, fingering their government lunch to their mouths while wondering why the strange taste, trusting the adults to nourish them. Full of poisonous pesticide, twenty-three died within hours, their pencils stilled.
I am haunted by a question: Who are the adults that let this happen? Would I ever harm a child in any way - mine or another - knowing each one depends on us as adults to make the world a safe place to grow? For any reason?
31.8 million children each day get served lunch through the National School lunch program in the USA. For some, this is the only substantial meal of the day. And yet, in Chicago alone 50 schools will be shuttered in 2013, masses more in other cities. What has happened to the adults - the system - that children trust to nurture them? We are closing the door on helping them grow - not just their minds, but their bodies.
As the baby boy slips from one embrace to the next, never waking, innocent of harm, I know we are responsible for him not just this soft summer evening but for life. I will remember the clink of glasses, the happy mother, the fireflies when he rides his bike past me in a few years. I will remember I am still responsible to keep him safe because he helped me remember who is in charge of all the children.
I have a sweet spot for islands.
Part of this adoration ties into my love of small: I collect hand-crafted boxes, I like a petite pie, prefer dense couches for two, drive a squat, square Mini Cooper. I like the island geographic - contained, napped by water, boundaries within sight, easy to palm, tangible parameters. But vacationing on a tiny 3/4 mile island this week with spotty, inefficient internet I experience an ironic contradiction: One thing is actually in abundance, overflowing and endless in this small space: Time.
Do I slow down? Probably - there is less traffic, no car, no large grocery store. I walk everywhere and nowhere when I feel like it.
Is there less to do? Well, I brought my weight in reading, knitting, food. There are beaches, and dog walks, and long meals.
Are there less people to deal with? Not really - I have my family and friends in a constant flow, ice cubes and sandy towels and late night conversations amongst the newly-hatched dragonflies.
We all know the hours of the day are the same on both shores. But on an island - admittedly, on vacation - we use them differently. After a few weeks I have relaxed my vigil on the news, finished a book every day, have had time to marinate as instructed, have stopped to talk three times (at least!) on my way to the post office in flip flops. Time actually seems to multiply on this piece of land suspended by cerulean blue water.
Island. Time. I watch red-wing blackbirds dip and dive into the salty grasses at 5:30am, wake with the birdsong riffs and a sun so loudly brilliant the birds go speechless. And wonder how to contain this feeling, box it up and take it home. Keep this new habit, this trick of expansive awareness.
Perhaps shutting the lid to my lap top for part of the day? Muting the phone? Putting on my flip flops? Kicking them off? Maybe stopping to chat.
Let's try this. Let me know how it works.
This has been a heady, nervy week. For SCOTUS (The Supreme Court of The United States), ruling on the foundation of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Proposition 8 along the way affected the quality of life for millions of gay couples. The Supreme Court also ruled on the definition of a 'parent' in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, affecting another dimension of family. On other fronts, Wendy Davis put on pink running shoes and ran away with a filibuster on pending abortion restrictions. The Patriot's are down a tight end and the world of sports just got a little dirtier. Paula Dean was dethroned.
Amazing, remarkable, historic.
Or blasphemous, catastrophic, infanticide, unfair?
Facebook is an interesting barometer of the world. Today friends and acquaintances flooded my site with articles, or live feed links, or words of caution from the media. I learned a lot from what you shared with me. I valued your opinions. Most of you did it nicely.
In the wake of these SCOTUS decisions, Facebook was an amazing example of FOSFA - Freedom of Speech For All (I made that up). Facebook is a new social order, a new way to communicate the old way, sharing thoughts. I heard from friends and total strangers that marriage, benefits, babies and fetuses all touch a nerve, and from many of you, why. And from just about everyone, these emotional topics were weighed and measured with thought and consideration.
And I also came to understand that picking a fight on Facebook is actually amusing and ineffective. We aren't, after all, standing face to face in a protest march, engaging in a fair exchange of dialog. We are, after all, just tapping keyboards, sharing links - on the internet, mind you - from our living rooms, or offices, in bathrobes, boxers or business suits.
Freedom to cyber-speak, between you and me, has one big difference from physical confrontation: If you make an issue a non-negotiable ugly stand-off I can delete you and your opinion.
And your words won't mean anything anymore.
If we want to be heard, shared, linked and friended we have to remember FOSFA. I'll listen to you. Thanks for listening to me.
Such great sharing today, friends. You have enlightened my world.
This week I read Jonathan Safran Foer's NYT opinion piece (June 8th, 2013), "How Not To Be Alone," and felt I had to defend myself.
Not FOR technology, but why I keep asking for LESS. At the table.
More and more I have surveyed a beautiful candlelit table, surrounded by good food, better wine, fabulous people and looked over a line of downcast heads, checking, texting, 'looking for a photo to show.' And sometimes that person is me, too.
Why does this bother me so much?
Maybe because I have less and less time with my friends, family and new acquaintances and a meal together is a singular treat.
Maybe because I didn't invite that stranger on Instagram buzzing you, the texting friend tapping you, or the Facebook interloper creeping to sit at the table with us. I invited you.
But mostly because I want to look you all in the eye and talk. Feel you are listening. Believe you are pondering the conversation and pearls of wisdom accumulating in our words. Enjoying the argument, getting the punchline, enlarging my world. Not anxiously wondering who has just posted a picture of their meal, or their new puppy, or a rainbow, or where you are not.
I email, text, cellphone, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Blog with the best of them. But I'd rather have a latte on a sunny park bench with you any day, the phones turned off, your eyes on me. Because the tangible, breathing version of you is real. And keeps me real.
I'm working on less, "iDistractions" - as Foer so aptly coins our technology - and more you.
More 'tech-less' evenings.
I have an aging dog named Beatrice. Last week, she became ill rapidly and without any apparent reason. I stood under a dripping umbrella in a torrential rain storm at 3AM, despair seeping through my slippers. We have taken care of each other, Bea and I, through thick and thin these ten years. I bend down to pet her tense body. I owe her.
Once inside, I dry her off and lie next to her on the floor, stroke her back. Her body is calm, resigned. How many nights over the last decade she has taken care of me as I lie awake, worrying about kids, finances, family - petting her so long and hard I am surprised she doesn't have a bald spot down her back.
She leans into my hand, sighs, stays still.
Navigating a canine illness is both groping in the dark and opening pandora's box. What she can't tell me in words, I have to intuit. After hours at the vet, it seems she has pancreatitis. I ask all the right questions and don't get many concrete answers. An afternoon on Google is simply upsetting. I make another call to the vet, ask more questions.
In the end, I boil rice and beef, take her outside every hour, check on her late at night, give her meds. She licks the pills from a spoon coated in almond butter, wags her tail. Over these three days I accept that patience and instinct are perhaps the best - and maybe only - medicine for both of us. She lies under my feet in the shade while I read. I offer her fresh water. She seems better.
I will see her die someday, hopefully running my hand through her ears, down her sleek back. But today she snoops in the peony bed and chases a mourning dove, confident I will take care of her breakfast. Today is another day, together.
Yesterday was Mother's Day. I joke that this is a 'Hallmark National Holiday' but in all actuality I really care about this day. For the last 27 years she hasn't been far from my thoughts. But usually on Mother's Day, I am deeply distracted by memories of my mother - and this can be both a cure, and a curse. My family makes meals, and friends celebrate. I wish she could see my beautiful grown children, had been part of their lives. I both dread and eagerly anticipate this date because despite the celebrations, I can feel extremely lonely. This year, I found out I was not so alone.
I woke up to photos posted on Facebook. So many. Posted by friends posed with their mothers here and gone, their young mom's on the beach, their older moms held in a tight squeeze, daughters pregnant. Thanks for FB, we shared our mothers past, present and future. I wasn't the only one that scanned a pic, sent it viral, and got the chance to share a memory. In a way I never could share my mom since she died 27 years ago.
I gained a new appreciation for the internet, Facebook, my friends and my mom.
She looks pretty darn good.
Cheers to all of us. Happy Mother's Day.
I read, with complete and total horror, the story unfolding in Cleveland about three abducted women, once girls.
This summer one of mine goes to Kenya, another to Spain, my son will travel post-college. How to live with letting them go and keeping them safe. Did I mention before I often lie awake at night?
Well, this month I am more awake than asleep.
What a complicated chemistry experiment is parenthood: The balance between teaching them ("I KNOW MOM") , hoping they listen ("I heard you MOM") , accepting they are adults ("I AM in college/OUT of college MOM)", believing they have acquired sense and sensibility ("I have been there before MOM"). Standard delivery. Standard responses. Hope for minimal explosions.
What a leap of faith to buy the tickets, drive them to airports, hug them goodbye. But reading the news, I will continue to deliver, take the eye rolling, the dismissal, the shrugs. Adding the only ingredients a Mom knows best:
Add love. Stir. Repeat.
Since forever I have been a plant rescuer. If there is just a little green, or one shoot, I will give it my all. I figure if the plant has tried that hard to survive, I was meant to help it thrive.
30 years ago, I took in a ceramic planter from my dorm hallway, jammed with cigarette butts and left for the trash. One tiny pale green frond struggled amongst the wreckage to find light.
"Come home with ME," I whispered. I didn't issue those invitations to just anyone.
I watered it carefully, propping up the container with a pair of hefty Bio and Nutrition text books, rotating the listing plant a quarter-turn each week on my sun drenched windowsill.
A month later, I had a three-foot flowering beauty. Quickly identified by a neighbor as a specimen "Cannabis Sativa."
I just as quickly handed it over to him.
Early this morning, under the watchful gaze of a throaty Cardinal I examined the thick, scaling branches on a beautiful, ten-year old Golden Showers rose arbor, intending to cut the seven-foot high beauty to the ground. Arctic winter winds and blistering snowfall decimated the graceful branches. The stems, grey and dry, had not swelled. Those in the know proclaimed it done from winter kill. But as I closed in with the yawning lopers, I saw minuscule red shoots clustered on one smooth branch.
So instead, I carefully prune the dead wood so the arbor looks like a gigantic naked claw. Hideous, in fact. But I don't care. I pour fish emulsion on the roots. Speak quietly into the morning sunlight:
"There you go - spring is here now" I whisper to the peeling roots.
I wonder what that cardinal thought about this gardener in her bathrobe. Who cares. I'll post the pictures in a few months.
Some things never change.
One challenge with writing a weekly blog is not to become 'preachy."I have my favorite columnists and authors that I take mental notes from: Jane Brody, Mark Bittman, Elizabeth Strout. Masters of making a point, illustrating the point, and nailing the point.
The subject of kale is fun to raise at a dinner table. Friends wrinkle noses, throw their hands in the air, offer insight such as 'rub with olive oil.' But our choices are important after a certain age. Kale vs. romaine. Almond milk vs. cow's milk. Oatmeal vs. Cheerios.
After 50 the unknown looms large: Will our genes surprise us. What decisions will our grown children make. Will this knee hold up for the next couple of decades.
I don't know about you but I can lay awake and worry all of this all night long. But here's what I do know: Accepting aging - and the changes that are going with it - is about making decisions. I'd like to be a healthy grandmother, a fluid yogi, an asset to my family.
To do this, I have to stay informed. I will stop eating the foods that drive up my cholesterol no matter HOW much I love cheese. I will look at my body, my numbers, my hair objectively and do the best for all of us. I am adding in that extra walk. Because the fact is, I am no longer 30.
And that means kale. Rubbed with olive oil. Welcome, 50-plus. I'm as ready as I will ever be.
I turned on the TV and watched. Over and over, the 20 seconds that shattered the Boston Marathon, the lives and mobility of hundreds of people, the peace – forever- of an innocent event. My beloved city.
I watched the explosions repeated over and over on the news.
And here is what brought me to my knees:
When the bombs burst, the people fell, the scaffolding crumpled, the earth stained red, the men and women in the camera frame did not run away. They turned on their heels and ran towards the blast.
They turned and ran into the fire.
They ripped off their shirts for tourniquets. Pulled down the fallen fencing. Lifted legs and heads and arms to stop the bleeding.
Not just men and women with official tags or vests but runners, passerby, media.
They turned back into the blast.
That says it all for Boston.
Mr. Rogers said, “When something bad happens, look for the helpers.” I watched you over and over yesterday, my heart in my throat.
At a time when my faith in humanity is smitten to the ground, you reminded me what is good, and kind, and strong and fearless.
People of Boston. People that were there April 15th, 2013, our nation watched you turn into the fire, endure the unendurable.
God bless you.
This last weekend I unwrapped a fortune cookie after a dinner high in chilies and haste. This little strip of paper, random as can be, has been in my back pocket ever since. Small validation for my small project. But the weekend news reminds me nothing is accomplished except one step at a time, God willing.
Anne Smedinghoff, killed in Afghanistan this weekend, delivered essential books to schoolchildren regardless of the dangers, believing in the mission of education. Roger Ebert continued to give life the 'thumbs up' through a disfiguring cancer, filing a story and new website proposal the day before he died, speaking - until the end - for the common man. Malala, a 14-year old Pakistani teen, shot by Taliban because she spoke up for the freedom of education. And lives to go back to school.
All three my heroes. All three testing the limits of safety, truth and mortality because they believed in what they were accomplishing, one small step at a time. Put Anne in that car, gave Roger strong hands to type, marched Malala back into a school.
I sit down at my laptop, ginger tea steaming, dogs huffing in boredom this Monday morning. Small steps in memory of these brave people.
I have a multitude of calendars, all shapes and sizes, stationed around my work surfaces. The images - rosy birds, stenciled sea life, antique florals decorate the columns of days. Thirty more days of my life today.
This morning, on April 1st, I fold back, turn under, flip over March. Contemplating what this month brings.
April brightens my soul. Damp not frozen, I can actually press into springy earth instead of sink into frosty snow. Greener, the shoots persist despite three snowfalls in the last two weeks. Lighter, walking the dogs at 7:30 PM a glow remains on the horizon.
But sadness sinks my usual springtime excitement today: A son wraps up his college career and with it, a lifetime of lacrosse. The cherry blossoms riot in Seattle without me. I read about the sudden death of great percentages of honey bees that sweeten the crops and are essential to our food chain and wonder if 1962 and Silent Spring were really so long ago no one remembers or learned anything. The press continues to pick apart the multitude of shootings across our country, reminding me that we all need to take responsibility for our neighbors.
I stare out the window. A round brown robin sings in the sunshine. I look at this clean calendar page and wonder how to sing - to celebrate - what has been folded behind and what awaits.
April lies ahead. A clean page. Think about it.
I am in the midst of writing a profile/book review for Seattle's Mountaineering Monthly on the gripping novel, The Storms of Denali, and the author, Nick O'Connell.
While researching, I immersed myself in the minds of intense, punishing, driven Pacific Northwest climbers. Accounts of ascent, descent, close calls, avalanches, summits are beyond any physical challenges I have undertaken myself. But writing for the last three years has had striking similarities.
O'Connell's story digs deep into the addicting, exhilarating drive to climb. A need to repeat the 'sensation of ascent' over and over.
This is how I felt after my last six weeks in Seattle, writing, learning, hanging myself over the edge of what I knew and didn't know. A sensation of climbing, hand over hand, of getting somewhere, of wanting more, of seeing a summit ahead.
" Excellence requires sacrifice. No one likes to hear it, but it's true. You don't accomplish things because of your race, color, background or because you're nice to people but by effort and talent." (The Storms of Denali, University of Alaska Press, July 2012)
My book is still at base camp, bivouacked in my study. But when I look up and the clouds part, I see the peaks.
There is nothing quite like the unexpected. For instance, it has been raining FOREVER in Seattle. This is following fog that lasted FOREVER a few weeks before. Now, as Timothy Egan so aptly noted last weekend at the 'Write Now, Write Here' conference, 'Writers have to live somewhere where the weather sucks to get anything done.' Hence, hours a day at the computer, not motivated in the slightest to go outside in this moisture. Hence, all the good literature out of the Pacific Northwest.
But today I went outside anyways to clear a tangle of thoughts and plot lines and rogue verbs out of my head. Put on my Filson rain hat, waterproof jacket, still-damp walking shoes. Went 'round the lake. And came upon this still life arranged on a tree stump.
Here's what was unexpected: No one had disturbed this collage of fresh flowers. No one left a note. Is this a memorial to the tree? A tribute to a special occasion that happened under this once-massive tree? A reminder to cherish all trees?
I continued around Green Lake lost in thought about this bright spot of color, love and devotion. Not those errant verbs. Celebrate the unexpected. Our gift to each other.
There is a lot to be said for lip synching. For instance, when you are singing in front of one billion people for the President's inauguration, you don't have to actually hit the notes, just look glamorous and show perfect teeth and let the recording do all the work.
But you can't get away with that in writing. The words, and your voice, have to be in perfect harmony, no extra air, spaces, hyphens, adjectives or even characters. The reader - the listener - has to hear a tight story line sing from your sentences into their ear, and more than anything else, really, really like your main character.
Well we LIKE Beyonce, but as you don't know I write in a bathrobe, my outfit has nothing to do with it. Or my earrings.
But my words? They are all mine, each and every one crafted and printed for you. Authenticated by me. Enjoy.
Today I start to pack up The Nest in Seattle for storage. The odd collection of kitchen items I seem to find essential - floral plates, thrift store mugs, delicate small glasses for just the right amount of wine - miscellaneous clothes, dishtowels, bird cards for the mantle. I will pack, depart, arrive, unpack, trying to be efficient at each end. But the bi-coastal switch will be filled with sad and glad this week.
Each coast is important to me. I have been lucky to be able to do this. And grateful to those that have supported me with emotional and physical 'high fives' these last two years: On this coast cooked me dinner, listened to really bad first draft readings, cousins who have spirited me away for girl time, my writing group that accepts me 'in abstention' a good part of the year, the wonderful workshop connections.
On the east coast, my family that expands and contracts around the traveling - my friends that meet for coffee to catch up when I get home, my neighbor for watching the garden. The amazing family that takes the dogs.
But always I am sad that my family isn't closer. That not every friend gets what I am doing. That Beatrice and Olive can't chase the ducks at Green Lake.
Writing is a lonely sport, a discipline that comes from deep within with as many temptations to step away and do something else. This is hard work, digging into the heart, the past, the english language to create something worth reading. Writers find rhythms and writing places that are not always conventional. I tell my family they may find this manuscript under my bed in thirty years, gathering dust. I am not sure if that bed will be east or west. But they should know what it has taken, to give and to get, through this learning process.
To date, I have interviewed a dozen people and more to go. I have written thousands of pages to submit 50 to Literary Agents in January. I have developed a taste for classic cocktails, and discovered great coffee shops. The bus driver on Rt 5 Greenwood knows me.
I have a writing community, a family and friends community on both coasts and hopefully, in 2013, a public community. Each pack and unpack brings me closer to this. Thank you all for being there for me.
This week there is a confluence of ovarian cancer in my life: My beautiful neighbor; a talented cherished friend; my writing mentor's wife; my mother's story, now 30-years old, written over and over to meet deadline. So much. Ovarian cancer ranks the ninth most common cancer among women. This week, it dominates our thoughts.
I should have words for this but they all sound like platitudes. The fact is, I just want to help. How can I be most effective, supportive, believable? How much or how little is a help?
Proven time and again, "it takes a village." Back in 1982, church ladies came to help my mom recover. Weeded the garden, cooked meals, sat with me for coffee, rubbed my back. They took care of the little, everyday stuff while we dealt with the big, stick-in-your-throat stuff. They just drove in the driveway, checked out what needed to be done. Most I hadn't even met before.
And this week, the response to these women in need of support is truly incredible - just as it was 30 years ago but with a modern twist because, frankly, "you are not alone." My neighbor is headed to try an alternative treatment, thanks to a random conference call from Greece. The website designed to support my friend went viral in 15 hours - 92 people signed on to pick up dry cleaning, make meals, carpool. Who knew, a few weeks ago, that we could polarize so quickly, from so many directions?
Roll up your sleeves, friends, adulthood is a bumpy ride. But "grace happens" everyday. Which of us knows if we will be here for kid's weddings, grand-babies, new year's toasts. Mind numbing and paralyzing thoughts. But look around. Many of us have new hair, scars, crazy hormones, an amazing team of doctors. We represent the new statistics, the remarkable advancement of medicine. And how lucky we are to have each other.
"It takes a village."
"You are not alone."
They are simply true.
My first Thanksgiving dinner in Marblehead yielded three ruined forks and a dented christening cup. I was told there was no finer repair shop on the north shore than down the street under the eaves of a leaning house on Darling street. Most drove to Fred's workshop after tiring holidays and inebriated kitchen help had taken a toll on their precious heirloom silver. Over the last twenty years I returned over and over because I had a kindred spirit at 2 Darling Street.
For Fred Finkel was a dedicated, lifelong cigar smoker from Meriden, Connecticut. And I am a cigar manufacturer's daughter from New Haven.
I stepped into his shop on that first wet, windy day and filled my lungs with the tobacco-drenched scent that can only be achieved over decades. A smell so singular to my life that tears filled my eyes. He scrutinized me with a squint and a grunt - no doubt waiting for the wrinkled nose, the hanky. I asked who made the earth-brown cigar clenched in his teeth and for the next half hour, as he filled out envelopes in his precise silver-smith language, we shared our stories about Connecticut cigars: The growing fields, his love of my Dad's cigars, the heady days of hand-rolled tobacco, the sad decline of image and production.
There is no doubt I lingered that day with Fred, the smell of his workshop dropping me back to the dark factory corridors lined with broad, elephant-earred tobacco sheaves drying and curling, stacked high in mysterious rooms of wide wooden floors, feet crunching over stems and cuttings. The small, dark-skinned and aproned women perched at the machines, hands and feet moving in a tight musical riff: Grab from the pile, pull, flatten, fill, roll, cut, stack, repeat. Breaking their rhythm to smooth my white hair with their stained fingertips, smile gapping smiles, reach for another moist leaf.
Over the years Fred resized my rings through pregnancies. He straightened tines, and buffed scratches. But his craft was not what drew me into his shop under the stairs, this burly man with the deep kind voice, perched at the counter. Who died last week on his motorcycle.
He brought me home. Thank you, Fred, for the scent of my childhood and reminding me of the unexpected gifts life brings us in strangers.
Safe travels, Fred. You are missed.
Once upon a time I lived in a dorm so large it was a self-sustaining city - bigger in numbers than many small New England colleges, three towers tall. Full of all sorts of people experimenting, and becoming, the sort Mitt Romney wants to help find the 'right way' if he should win the presidential magic wand. I don't understand why what happens behind our doors is any business of the president, much less a campaign promise.
My little story: I loved the world within this dorm. I could rub shoulders with every species of early-adult behavior and interests just by pushing a new button in the elevator. My favorite inhabitants lived on the floor above me. An 18th-floor warren of toothy boys, all enrolled in the competitive and punishing 6-year medical school program.
Bowed before their time under the weight of family expectations, the program demands, the 14-hour days of studying, the intense six years ahead of them, these boys needed a friend off the floor. They adopted me, counting on me to bring a little feminine sunshine, to talk late at night about the mundane.
One night, a week before Halloween, my phone rang. On the other end was one of these 6-year students - a particularly nervous, small boy, always worrying and in crisis and constantly sleepless. He invited me to dinner at a friend's empty apartment on Halloween night, but there was one requirement. A full set of women's clothes, including pantyhose. He would pay me to go to Filene's and find everything for him, including pumps.
At 19 years old, living in this massive stew of strangeness, I don't even think I flinched. All in the spirit of the season. But this was only the beginning of an unusual indoctrination.
I arrived, a large plastic bag in hand, and he greeted me at the door, flowered apron, waving a wooden spoon. Thrusting a beer in my hand, he disappeared with the bag into the bedroom. For the next hour, I spoke directions through the half-closed door: How to put on the flimsy nylons, how to hook a bra, how to settle a blouse into the waistband of a skirt.
Eventually, he emerged. A big toothy grin on his face, his body relaxed. He finished preparing the dinner, served it elegantly and sat down with me, carefully tucking his skirt under his thighs. I was in awe of the strangeness and the happiness. We toasted with wine. He thanked me for helping him, for understanding, for not being critical.
Who did he see in the mirror? What made this feel so good? The home cooked meal, straight seams, soft tap of the heels, the brush of fabric swaying against his legs as he leans into the oven to check the pot roast? Does it remind him of his Mom, quieter times, being safe?
After that night his program ramped up and I saw less and less of my cross-dressing friend. But periodically the phone would ring late at night with a request to add something to my shopping list. By the end of our two years in this dorm, he had amassed, somewhere, an entire wardrobe of suitable women's clothes. And I had widened my understanding of the human spirit.
My young friend went on to be in the top-tier of his program - all the while collecting clothes. I passed no judgement on what he needed to reduce stress and be himself. Today he has helped heal hundreds of lives with his scalpel. I'd like to think I made his life better with just a little compassion.
You are not qualified, Mr. Romney, to proclaim what is 'normal,' what contributes to violence, or difference, or sexual preference. Instead of throwing down stereotypes why don't you practice a little compassion. Think out of the box. You don't have to put on a dress - just let people be. Stay out of our bedrooms. You never know what you might get in return.
Martha died this week. October 5th, 2012 to be exact. After the call, I drank thick sweet coffee watching birds dip into the cerulean blue Sound and tried to articulate this heart-breaking hole in my soul.
Did I miss her presence? I had only met her three times. Her smile? I have a great picture of her to remind myself of a fun girl's night out. Her dry wit, delivered with a twinkle in her eye, no filters, always spot-on? You bet - always and forever. But she was so much more to this casual acquaintance.
We were 5 degrees of separation, but in the past few years, every landing in Seattle held the extra thrill of a Martha update, maybe seeing her, finding she had defied the odds one more time. The take-no-prisoners, I will live despite this illness just watch me, full-on force of her being, was magnetic. I kept up with her through friends. I sent her a few emails.
A friend and I offered to bring her dinner at Swedish Hospital one night last fall, as she recovered from yet another treatment. "Heck " she said over the phone, "I am checking myself out tomorrow and you two are taking me OUT to dinner - and it had better be someplace new."
I knit her a cashmere beret that night, the color of her eyes. She dragged it over her stubble and sashayed through the night resplendent in heels, cashmere and moxie. We talked gossip, food, her bucket list. We ate key lime pie in front of her fireplace way past my bedtime, her sweet dog Gracie at our feet.
That night was a stunning gift to me. She spent her precious well-time with a near stranger. As we talked, I tried to articulate my vague book idea, my writing, my trips to Seattle. She cut me off. "Get on with it," she said, "it sounds useful."
After her death last night - inevitable but inconceivable - I wrestle with this loss. How do you thank someone for reminding you that every day is a good day because you woke up? Who demonstrated to so many friends, strangers, doctors and employees - over and over again - that if you can get up, get on with it? That a bowl of violets transcends all?
The day after Martha I am sitting and sad. I'm also acutely aware that while the day hurts, I am here and have been blessed with our brief friendship. And Martha would insist on follow-through.
I feel a little prod, a cosmic poke. "Get on with it and be grateful," the birds call."Martha would."
I am back in The Nest, a rent-by-night furnished oasis that sits high in the trees, overlooking Greenlake, The Cascade Mountains and intense crow activity.
A nester at heart, I do a fair amount of furniture re-arranging, wall redecorating, glassybaby distributing. Outside the window, crows cast shadows as they fly by, eye level. We are all at work.
But certain idiosyncrasies of the place have stumped me - a tilting shelf that calls for a special pitcher, an off-kilter kitchen table that spills round objects. The solution was suddenly evident to me today.
Coasters. Like a crow swooping down on glittering sidewalk trash I slide them into my purse at every occasion. I don't discriminate, Stacks are stashed throughout the apartment. Round, square, oval, they remind me of nights out, friends, a good meal - colorful homage to beer steins and America and the next best thing to good coffee.
With scissors and a random stack I went to work jimmying up all the tilts and lilts of the apartment. Coaster carpentry is not unlike what I have come out here to do with my writing: Editing and revision is precision work on the rough draft - straightening out chapters, finding new angles, righting the edges of unimportant dialog that sends the story off into a strange direction. I often take scissors to the copies and rearrange paragraphs, wedging in new thoughts to balance what is working in a chapter.
With sharp edges, a keen eye, patience and some moxie I will get this manuscript in order. And my favorite bird pitcher on the kitchen shelf.
I have hosted a bad cold for 12 days. In order to get better for a very busy fall, I dutifully shrunk my life to bed-tea-pills-read-kleenex-repeat for the last week and a half. Not much progress to report. I am cranky.
A few days ago, after Doctor visit #2, I stopped at my favorite bakery. The sparse 4 o'clock crowd, quietly settled in the buttery air, shifted books over tea cups and acknowledged me with small nods. Despite no appetite, I ordered a raisin walnut scone and double macchiatto extra foam - if nothing else to remind myself I could.
I sipped and dunked, read a few pages and eavesdropped. I felt much better and no pills were needed.
Didn't stay long, didn't breathe on anyone, just took the time for a small treat, new chair, different view and the company of strangers.
As summer roars into fall I shake out a few sweaters and pack up for another workshop marathon. In the whirl of travel and work I will remember to walk up the street, take a small coffee in a small cafe, and get my bearings with the help of strangers.
The comfort of each other's presence is powerful medicine.
In the photo his face is split open in a wide smile. He leans against the shovel, knee-deep in the garden he has spent all day digging for me. My seven-year old gazes up at him in admiration. He added laughs and wit to the day. I add a big tip.
He traded in the shovel and extra jobs for a suit and dream job in finance. And evaporated on the roof of the World Trade Center while telling his mom on his cell that he would be fine.
Eleven 9/11's. I wake up each anniversary aware of my privilige to have known him. To have laughed with him. And to remember his bravery.
Rest in Peace, Gordy.
Once upon a time September stirred the itch to get new pens, a haircut, some new shoes and a few notebooks. I took a roll of quarters to call home. Amtrak to school. Went back home for turkey.
The last few days stamped out the new era in so many ways: Two college-bound young adults re-checked their school Facebook links, packed up their new Macbooks, loaded couches, x-long sheets, debit cards, LAX bags. Another heads off in her car to teach high school, briefcase stashed behind a grill and new chairs.
I sit at my desk the morning after, notice the leaves turning to crisp, and recalibrate. They will text me, sometime, that everything is OK and should they use their debit card for books. I will show up for Parent's weekend and take a slew of new-best-friends and teammates to dinner. I will sort out rooms this week, pile summer castoffs into bags for the Mission. The dogs stand in the silent bedroom doorways and stare.
Are we sad?
No. We are rearranged. They are happy, connected, independent. With any luck, headed to success in their goals. I don't dwell on the empty fridge or the cooling washer-dryer. Of what was or what is around the corner. I enjoy the quiet and the chaos whenever it arrives.
I pull out my ipad, put new batteries in the keyboard, clear lacrosse string off my desk chair, and begin my new opportunities. The dogs settle at my feet and sigh. This works, too.
A few days ago my brother Ben and his family scattered the last third of my father's ashes.
This was the easiest decision for my Dad. 'No dirt' he said well into his terminal illness. 'How about all your favorite fishing spots?' I suggested. He smiled, closed his eyes and nodded several times. Check that off the list.
He died soon after, on a damp March evening.
In June, I carried the first baggie by ferry to Cuttyhunk Island. There, his old boat rocking silent in the water, we scooped the ash with a sea shell, flung beach rose petals to mingle with the pebbled dust. As the powerful tides carried him off Canapitsit channel into the splendid pink sunset, a gigantic bass leaped from the water.
Later that summer, Carol put him in her pocket and waded into the surf of Chappaquiddick, her fish earrings tossing with the wind. The ash surf-casted across the white-capped water. The wind hummed.
And a year later, my brother carries him for three days and over three rivers, stashed under the bow seat of a canoe.
Ben's photo arrives in my inbox Saturday morning. I am startled to tears, fast and thorough. Three boys, cigars clamped in their teeth, shaking the last of the ashes into an icy stream in Montana.
The force of sadness and relief and happy crushes me and cracks me open. We are done, in his way and our way. He is now swirling and sliding through the earth, the fish and the air. Just like he wanted. All three bits of him.
Happy fishing, Granddad.
Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference. Hilton SeaTac, Seattle
I honestly did not think after 50 I would ever find myself in a situation where I was sweating through my clothes, tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth, hands leaving imprints on my paper, eyeing the competition with evil thoughts running through my head.
But that is how I awaited 'Power Pitch Block A' on Friday afternoon - my own self-induced 26-mile marathon in a business suit. Steadying and readying myself to 'speed date' 15 Agents and Editors. With 120 other people. And we were allotted 3 minutes - each.
Rebecca and I - fellow Writer's Workshop writing buddies - practiced our 'pitch' day and night for 24 hours. How to distill the book into two sentences. Then have enough brain in our heads to intelligently dialog our story arc, platform, credentials and marketing niche. Before the buzzer ejects us from our chair, we shake hands, deploy eye contact and jet to another line to wait for another 3 minutes with another 'untouchable.'
OMG I am such a beginner. What am I doing here.
All to surmount anominity amongst 600 writers that are milling about this vast cavern of a conference center. All for an Agent or Editor to quickly scribble on the back of their business card 'send me your first 50 pages' or 'send me your outline' or 'send me your entire manuscript when it is completed.' (Engage yoga breathing, shake hands, get to the next line, sit to steady knees).
But I am thrilled to report I have 6 business cards on the table at The Nest. I am currently just staring at them. I exceeded my goals ten times over this weekend. My medals for bravery. Never say never.
Ears still ringing as I work on the book proposal for the Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference coming up very soon...
Breathing. I am so new to this. But following directions.
June has finally hit summer mode. 97 degrees today with more on the way. Packing my youngest off for her Island summer of serving waffles, bare feet and shucking shellfish.
She tosses clothes into a crusty bag. I watch her, digging deep for the summer feeling. At dawn I shared tea with crazed mother sparrows frantically vying for feeder space. A sleek momma delivers food to her chicks flitting up from the feeder. Tucking seeds, beak-into-beak. I will go to the bank machine and tuck paper into a bright red wallet.
I reach inward for the summer slow down feeling, the days of packing beach towels and chex mix, the games of cards in the stunning sunsets. Just a different summer feeling, grasped over a burger or a cup of tea. Checking the calendar for the overlaps, making beds with fresh linen, stocking up my feeder. Just different.
I enter the first gallery completely unprepared for what lies ahead. Luminous colors - a full spectrum of colors – pulse against icy white walls. I take a small step further and peer closer into the first canvas next to me. Light infuses and diffuses transparent layers of pigment, silken edges, words and graphics that rise out of crevices. As my brother David surges into the welcoming crowd, I experience an irrational urge to either eat or caress this wax-layered image on the wall. The gallery vibrates with the human hum of pure joy. I fold my hands behind my back. I have been stung by encaustic.
I have driven to the tip of the Cape for the opening of the 6th annual Encaustic Conference. Disclosure: I am drafting behind my brother, David A. Clark (www.davidaclark.com), an innovative encaustic painter from California. He is one of 300 artists gathered for five days of workshops, demonstrations, lectures, networking. On this warm May evening, Provincetown is awash in blooming poppies, scented rose arbors and salty sea air. Town art galleries, featuring David and other encaustics from around the world, have thrown open their doors to the public. Owners and curators pour wine, hang, stack and pedestal encaustic interpretations of the ordinary and the extra-ordinary. Tonight artists and interested buyers mingle and meld. Some of the world’s finest 'hot wax' painting, collage and sculpture are featured. I am mesmerized. I wish I had a million dollars in my pocket.
Encaustic, to simplify, is a method of ‘hot wax painting’. Beeswax is heated, and colored pigment added. Whether sculpted, painted, printed, transferred - images achieve layers of depth and color. Encaustic artists often press warm canvases or sculptures with objects: Letters, fetishes, fibers, printed graphics. Encaustic art and sculpture, layered in wax and color, gives me a sense of floating up, through and over each piece of work. Examined from close or afar, each work seems to be alive, something working through the wax layer, something holding down the paint. Unlike a flat canvas, depth is so distinctive.
David – all in black, upswept hair, and strong tattoos - works the room, eyes the gallery owners, exchanges cards, explains his smudges. The crowd is as interesting as the art: There are accents, dogs, mini's, maxi's, white hair, shaved hair, running shoes, stiletto's. The galleries are alive with talk of hot boxes, brushes, frame building, transferring, representation. The artists swarm, peer into the works lining the white walls, murmur, laugh, adjust glasses, congratulate. Hands demonstrate. Arms hug. Heads swivel. As I am introduced, I start connecting artwork to artists, and stories to canvas and sculpture. I am swept into conversations that compare art, literature and color. I swear the air shimmers like hives as three hundred creative souls collide.
I did not anticipate how this night would affect me. I came from Boston to visit with David, enjoy Provincetown, spend time together. In each gallery I am engulfed by images: of the sea, inner conscience, dreams, hopes, whimsy, joy, illness. Figures, box tops, horsehair, fibers, dominoes, wallpapers, moths, maps - canvas and sculpture in both gigantic, insect-small, three-dimensional sizes – stacked, layered, painted, printed. There is no end to the possibilities of what silky wax can transform and communicate, and like David’s work, ever-evolving ways to challenge form and unpeel new function.
At the Schoolhouse gallery, I return several times to a work titled ‘”Bent into Shape,” tucked into a doorway, catching the waning sunlight. I yearn to see what is below, under, around each image – peel through the transparent first layer, read the waxed print to the end, stroke the bent tree, smooth the hard-working roots seeking sustenance.
I later send an email to the artist Andrea Bird (www.andreabird.com). She reads this website and reveals:
“I have just read your article about illness” she begins, “and tears are running down my cheeks. The story behind my work,” she writes on, “is actually the story of my Mom, who was twisted with severe arthritis. This tree came to represent her, and its off-balance beauty reflects her incredible strength. The words, ‘all the ways I try too hard’ are in this piece – speaking to my attempts to make her all better, as you did with your Mom.”
Meeting Andrea on that summer night, over wine and wax, I learn something about art and myself. We have expressed our similar, complicated layers with different tools: The fruit of an insect, the curve of the written word. Nothing is arbitrary. “Bent into Shape” drew me in, illustrated my struggles. Illuminated my desires.
Milisa Galazzi (www.milisagalassi.com) put this in words after our email exchange:
“I see a common interest in what motivates our art: Giving artistic voice to intangible human conditions over time and space.”
I am grateful for the opportunity to cross paths with these interpreters, to be conversing though our expressions. To be a fellow artist. For the humble bee – and the chance to cross-pollinate our thoughts.
Later that night, after six galleries, countless handshakes, several warm white wines, I inhale deeply. There is no question when encaustic fills the gallery - the air is thick with the waxy resin, slightly pungent, full of bee. Colors pulse. Images demand. Encaustic had me at ‘hello.’
Our children's future is vanilla, chocolate, mocha, crinkly, smooth, braided, pink-streaked, head-banded, ear-studded, clear skinned. These are not the teachers of our past, tight-suited and panty-hosed, dark suited and bow-tied. 200 upturned faces fill the auditorium seats all around me, poised with notepads, pens, coffee cups, bottled water, messenger bags, eyes focused on stage. This corps of kids raised their hands in the last two years to work for Teach For America. They walked into our inner cities fresh out of college into the arms of poorly funded, often ignored, usually embattled public schools. To teach there. To be part of the solution. They are a solution. And they are all smiling.
A disclaimer: My oldest daughter is one of them. That is what brings me to the first Southern New England Summit organized by Teach For America this sunny May morning in Hartford Connecticut. Governor Malloy walks across the stage with a big smile and a spring in his step. As a result of the recent passage of the education reform bill, Senate Bill 458, Connecticut's House and Legislature have authorized state intervention and support to close Connecticut's enormous education achievement gap - the largest of any state in the US . This all-day gathering of teachers, dignitaries, community activists, education board members, public health advocates begins the process to open a new dialog. Get these factions to sit and talk, educate each other on their goals, answer questions, brainstorm. To gather in workshops and panels and networking lunch tables. To start understanding the multitude of directions and convictions that make up the complicated and diverse system of teaching and in extension, child welfare in this state. To move forward on the promise of The Connecticut Education Reform Package.
Passed almost unanimously this month through Connecticut's Legislature and unanimously through the House of Representatives, I am hearing S. B. 458 is a landmark. I am hearing this is cutting edge, forerunner material, a concrete move towards intervention backed by state accountability and authority, a bill long overdue.
But the next step, the implementation potential and future of S. B. 458, is sitting all around me this morning - the vital voices of the Teach For America corp members.
To become a Teach For America - or TFA - recruit requires multiple applications, interviews, screenings. 48,000 college graduates applied for 5,200 jobs through TFA this year. 46 regions have embraced the premise that plucking recent college graduates and immersing them into the lowest achievement schools presents a new and effective form of teacher and teaching. New, innovative applications of curriculum. New infusion of energy. Barely a summer separates these college graduates from their last class in college. Only a few years separate the TFA corps from their students.
How does this work? After intense immersion training to satisfy state requirements, the recent college graduate TFA recruits commit, and are placed, for two years teaching. I am not here to discuss what teacher training is "better". Or who is "more qualified." I am giving a shout-out that this organization gets something done. Districts need more teachers, and TFA has found them. The success of interfacing TFA recruits with these predominately inner city schools comes from seeing a need to be filled and seeing a resource to do it. And making it work.
What is the root of this organization's success? Social service and steep challenges quickens the pulse of 20-something college kids. They are fresh out of college, full of education, and eager to channel this energy to make a difference. It may be the hottest, go-to social-service-cloned-with-employment organization happening in the United States. I am looking at a room full of type-A, driven, solution-seeking human beings. And they are moving forward with Governor Malloy and S. B. 458 to be part of the solution in Connecticut.
This summit meeting is a meeting of the minds and hearts of Connecticut's impassioned, a first step to overhaul Connecticut's attitude, policy and effectiveness in poverty areas. Initially, there are a lot of acronyms flying around the workshops, a flinging of credentials so to speak: HART, CEA, TFA. But after the credentials comes the stories: Mothers creating community activist groups. Of a businessman rescuing a library and subsequently a town from oblivion. Of lawyers saving kids from the juvenile system. Of relationships, power, communication, credibility, potential, collaboration, neighborhood, equality. Not just the terms but the actions.
The TFA corp members - long, short, wide, skinny - lean forward to share stories and ask questions. How do I focus the strengths of a leader in my classroom? How do I get the community to participate in our school? How do you get leaders to work with you? How do we work with the neighborhood to strengthen the district? How do we work with parents that are not present? How do we get the services funded that make healthy school-age children? Panel members counsel, share email addresses, applaud successes, treat the TFA members with respect.
Without a doubt the implementation of S. B. 458 rides on strategizing to coordinate union, political, social, traditional and untraditional education to address the entire network that affects a child. But importantly, success rides on coordinating all the teaching resources Connecticut has today. TFA offers the state educators a powerhouse of youth, an infusion of intelligence and opportunity with this corps of dedicated adults. Today we are participating in the first steps of inclusive strategy.
Connecticut's reform efforts embodied in S.B. 458 are exciting and promising. Teach For America has a place in the strategy ahead to turn around Connecticut's lowest-performing schools and districts. Today in The Bushnell Center conversation buzzes and administrators, TFA corps members, politicians and community activists mingle around me. As the Governor coined this morning, "This is a bottom-up revolution". The focused TFA teachers, kids themselves not so long ago, are ready and willing to run with the future. My kid. The future for your kid. And the future looks good.
How to work when distracted by white lilacs, bursting peonies and the super moon? It begins with alternately rearranging furniture and my workspace and staring into space. But Chapter 1 is forming, and deadlines approach.
Creative non-fiction, Memoir, how much of 'self' is too much, how much of 'true story' will offend?
This is the million-dollar, lilac-infused question today.
Back by the sea. Who would have thought it would be warmer in Seattle? But I left behind the daffodils and cherry blossoms for LACROSSE season! The car is stuffed with blankets and seat cushions and a thermos. Heading to Virginia Beach for spring training and parent-hovering. Hoping to stage ice cream sundaes in the hotel lobby for the boys one night. We only get a few years to do this and embarrassing them does not bother me in the least.
Unpacked all the writing in my east coast tree house study. Now to carve out the time between dogs and groceries and household and traveling to see the peeps. I think the birds have it right: Early sunrise when the world is quiet and the page is blank.
It is hard to believe that UPS boxes are shipped, books are en route (where did they all come from) and the rippling lake will be soothing a new renter in a week.
I can report with confidence that the book proposal is not a figment of my imagination, with plenty of time to finesse. My second to last chapter - Amazing Grace - was met with enthusiasm by my colleagues at The Writing Workshop. I have made some amazing new writing friends who promise to remain virtually in touch for honest critique.
I continue to interview and reconnect with the people that supported my mother and family during the last summer of her life. Their perspectives humble me and thirty years later I am no less grateful for their expertise and support.
I have mastered the art of laptop, iPhone, iPad and printer multitasking simultaneously - for the most part. I have succumbed to pajamas until mid-day if the writing is going well and the birds keep singing in the trees by the window. I am grateful to Urban Yoga Spa for the afternoon rinse. I have decided I am a better person on coffee, but have marked the date to stop imbibing in good time before my next physical.
I leave The Nest to the next six months of renters, may they love it as much as I do.
Thanks to everyone for notes, hugs, calls and support. A productive time, a challenging time. What fun.
Three weeks here: Experienced seasonal snowstorm, flu and consequently, massive amounts of reading/writing. Curled under on an antique quilt found at Mort's Cabin for the four days of snow. 68th the neighborhood sledding run until midnight every day. So different from east coast snow attitude - felt like Sunday used to before Blue laws revoked.
Book proposal the first to go public this week. Nick O'Connell (www.thewritersworkshop.net) mentoring the process with great patience.
Magnificent spring has begun. Birdsong in the cedars. Viburnum unfurling.
For those of you catching up with me: In fall, 2010, I figuratively and literally opened a box: A four-year diary, transcription and dialog written during my young mother's battle with ovarian cancer when I was 22 years old. The box of assorted notepaper, lined pads, scraps of napkins, colorful diaries and bad poetry has traveled with me for 30 years. The experience of her cancer, my role as daughter, caregiver and advocate
changed my life. Then so did finding out I was having my first child three weeks after she died, raising three children, moving to the East Coast, nursing my grandmother, grandfather, father and friends through illnesses and ultimately, becoming a hospice volunteer.
And when home life shifted to visiting children in schools and apartments, I took out the box, googled 'online writing courses' and put my mind to work.
This January I'm taking my fourth writing workshop in Seattle, the onsite class from the program www.therwritersworkshop.net. My writer's atelier, The Nest, found on craigslist, awaits in Seattle reserved for 7 weeks. Seattle unfolded my heart and opened this story that I want to share: The inspiration and gift of each other at the worst of times.
I am 53 and have allowed myself to do what inspires me, in a beautiful part of the country. Life is good. My family is adjusting. My printer, manuscript and pencils await me in a friend's basement. I am driven by my story. Tuesday the 10th I will be unpacking, stacking and breathing deeply, fingers itching.
My goal is wrestling the story into a 20-chapter outline, marketing outline and the first three chapters by the Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference in July. A heady New Year's resolution indeed.