Sunday, December 31, 2023

The old year is out

and the new year is so new it hasn’t even started yet. 

A friend says instead of making resolutions, we should choose a word for the year and her word is Wellness. I like this word. After a year of not-so-good health news, I could use more of it. Here is something I’ve learned about learning about scary health news. First, there is a gut punch. Next, a scurrying around online for more information, after which you think, Okay, I can do this, 

and then you do this. (Public service announcement: if you notice a weird spot on your shoulder that was never there before and it doesn’t go away for five months, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.)  

My husband’s word is Connections and I like this word too. Over the past year I have been reconnecting with old friends and I’m making new connections with new friends. I also do the Connections puzzle in the New York Times puzzle section every day. Have you done that? It’s a puzzle with sixteen words and you have to figure out how to group them. Some days it is very tricky. Some days you can’t figure it out and you want to fling your phone across the room. It’s fun! 

I’ve also been making a lot of connections in my therapy, uncovering the past and having lightbulb moments about how much I’ve carried into the present (talk about gut punches!) and working to break old, unhealthy patterns. It’s hard, but I recommend it. 

(Another Public Service Announcement: It is called the Three C’s. And it refers to how to approach being in a relationship with a person who has an addiction, but I think it could also include anyone you love who has a mental illness or is struggling from dealing with their own trauma. You can’t Cure them. You didn’t Cause the problem. You can’t Control the situation.) 

(I am thinking about having this tattooed on my arm so I will never forget it.)

My word for the year is Trust. One of my therapy gut punches was learning that I don’t trust people. This lack of trust extends to the world. And it extends to myself. But I would like break this pattern. Times are scary. There’s war and illness and climate emergencies and another crazy election looming, and then you add in health screenings on top of it and who knows what is going to happen in the new year. 

But I trust that I—we can do this, whatever comes our way, and together, old friends and new, we will make it through.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

It's quiet in the house

and for the moment, I am the only one awake. Six people, three dogs. Three kinds of coffee to be made. Food for the vegans and the carnivores. We have enough pillows but bring your own blankets. Yesterday my mother-in-law and daughter and I made multiple desserts. Here is a secret about Linda’s famous chocolate chip and m&m cookies and don’t tell her I told you. It’s the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package. Except, after you add the package of chocolate chips, you throw in an entire bag of m&ms. Honestly, I didn’t think there was enough cookie batter to contain this much chocolate candy. But Linda proved me wrong! 

We also made the longtime favorite rum cake and a new recipe, vegan chocolate truffles, which we decide taste like chocolate brownies (secret ingredient: dates). We did not make the Danish potato sausage this year, a decades old family tradition that used to halfway freak out the kids, with the special-ordered sheep intestine casings and the raw pork. I never thought I’d say this, but I kinda miss the annual stuffing of the potato sausage, the kitchen turned into a science lab, the counters a biohazard. It’s the connection, though, to the past 

and to the people who passed it on, and do we really want this tradition to end with us? Maybe we will resurrect this recipe next year. For now, we have the cookies and the rum cake and vegan chocolate truffles, the familiar Christmas carols, the jigsaw puzzle in partially completed chunks on the dining room table. Home is where the hearts are

and sometimes all the hearts aren't home and there are several new hearts. I don't know what I am trying to say. It's early and I haven't had my coffee yet because the coffee machine is loud and people are sleeping in the other room. Last night the dogs arrived, one a dear friend and the other a first time guest. My own dog was not having an easy time of it, but eventually she quit anxious-drooling and greeted the company. Now everyone is friends. 

More guests (people, not dogs) are coming in tonight, some who have never visited us over the holidays, so we will have to bring them up to speed. Where we keep the towels and help yourself to the variety of desserts. I can already hear the laughing and the barking, some singer from the past singing about how she's rockin' around the Christmas tree and having sentimental feelings about people telling her to be jolly. 

I have never had someone tell me specifically to be jolly, but I hear her on the sentimental feelings part or whatever that feeling is where you ache so painfully over the people who aren't here and at the same time feel you might burst with gratitude and love for the ones who are.

But for now, the house is quiet except for the old house creakings, and somewhere upstairs, the soft patter of a dog. 


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Guests are coming and the house is a mess

with unwrapped presents piled on the dining room table, a stack of lovely Christmas cards from family and friends strewn all over the counter. Which reminds me, if I want to send out cards, I'd better get on it. Or is it too late? Time moves along in weird bursts, so that one minute it is August

and suddenly, we are heading toward Thanksgiving, and Boom

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror. Maybe it's the weather. Too mild and creepily sunny for Ohio and how is it December? I build a holiday playlist to get in the proper mood, the Charlie Brown Christmas and the Judy Garland song that makes me want to cry about how someday soon we all will be together, 

and I want to believe this, but what does "soon" mean in this new reality of mine with the weird time bursts? Yesterday, when I was looking for where I stored the Christmas cards, I stumbled on old family photos and went down that rabbit hole for a couple of hours, the kids at various ages posing in front of various Christmas trees, a cat we once had, a dog, people we love, loved, but now they are gone from us. 

A first year without them. A fifth year. A fiftieth. We had no time at all with them. We had all the time in the world. What I want 

is to pin time down and pin myself in it. All of my loved ones in one place, but in every time and with every cat and dog. Until then, Judy Garland says we will have to muddle through somehow. But enough with that sad song.

This year I am amending what I want, starting today as I clear off the dining room table and wrap the presents. Send out the Christmas cards. Clean up the messy house to make room for the people who are traveling to see us. Have faith that we can check in on the ones who are celebrating elsewhere.  

Here and now is all we have and I can't bear to miss a moment of it. 

Sunday, December 10, 2023

What did I read this year? (I don't remember)

So, thank goodness I kept a list. 

Otherwise, I REALLY wouldn't have remembered, and even with the list, it's a little tricky for me. One of the books, Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting by Lisa Genova, basically says that forgetting is our default. We're not meant to remember everything. At least I think this is what the books says, and from what I can remember, I liked this book. 

Other books I remember liking, in no particular order: 

Angel of Rome by Jess Walter. This collection of short stories is so well written and clever. One story still stands out to me. An older couple is having an emotional discussion in a diner and realizes halfway through that a nearby customer has been writing down every word they say. Turns out he's a student who's been given an assignment to record dialogue. The story takes off from there and it's somehow both hilarious and heartbreaking. 

Girls of a Tender Age, a memoir by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith. This book came across my desk at the library and piqued my interest because the woman grew up very close to where I did. Her story centers around a little girl in her classroom who was murdered and how the neighborhood quickly and disturbingly moved on from the trauma. 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. I don't typically read historical fiction, but this one, set during World War II and featuring a female diver in the navy and a mobster and how their lives intersect, quickly drew me in. I read this one because I had the opportunity to hear the author speak and everyone in the audience kept mentioning this book and how amazing it was and how did she write it, and her answer was fascinating. It took her years and most of it had to be completely rewritten and the whole time she thought she'd never be able to pull it off. But she did.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. A retelling of David Copperfield, set during the rise of the opioid epidemic in Appalachia. You've probably heard about this book (it won the Pulitzer Prize) and it has the look of something dense and difficult, but I promise you, it is not. Open it and read the first page and the charming voice of the main character will immediately win you over. 

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos. I've been reading a ton of memoirs lately but this one hit me hard. Part memoir about trauma and part How to Write a Memoir about Trauma. If you're someone who happens to be interested in that topic, this is a must read.

Winter Recipes from the Collective, poems by Louise Gluck. I don't read enough poetry anymore but once upon a time, I thought I wanted to be a poet and this book reminded me why. 

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson. Funny, smart and kind of absurd story about a wealthy family in our nutty society. 

The Guest by Emma Cline. Oh my God I am still thinking about the ending of this book. What happened??!! I read some reviews (because of course I had to see what other people were saying) and one reviewer said it was the most anxiety-provoking book she'd ever read. I agree! I also was extremely annoyed by the ending, and my writer point of view is that it's a lazy cop out. But from a reader point of view...well, I'm still thinking about the damn book. 

The Postcard by Anne Berest. Another book I was hesitant to pick up because of how dense-looking it is. And it's a translation from French. And it's a book about the Holocaust, and I wasn't sure I was up for it. But I'm so glad I gave it a chance. At the core, it's a mystery. A woman receives a postcard in the mail with the names of her murdered family members written on it. No return address. No idea who could've sent it or why. This book has a gut-wrenching story at the core but somehow there is hope and something beautiful at the end. 

Unbroken: The Trauma Response Is Never Wrong, and Other Things You Need to Know to Take Back Your Life by Catherine McDonald. This isn't that groundbreaking of a book. And it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about trauma through all of my reading and therapy. But...there is a story the author tells at the end that broke me apart and glued me back together in a way that all of my reading and therapy hadn't quite been able to do. 

I will never forget it. 


Sunday, December 3, 2023

I don't want anything

is something I used to say, when someone would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, for Christmas. I have everything I need, is what I was thinking. And if there was something I really wanted, I could buy it for myself. 

But recognizing that other people were trying to check me off their lists, I might throw out a suggestion. Say, slippers. 

And then I would get the slippers, and it would feel silly to me. Like, why are we all doing this, going through the gift motions, sending each other our suggestions, often very specific ones, with sizes and styles and helpful Amazon links? And never mind all of the waste and the rampant consumerism and who needs more stuff stuffing up their houses. So, when someone asked me what I wanted, my husband, for example, I'd say, I don't want anything, and he'd get upset, and I couldn't understand why. 

We were locked in this gift-giving/no-gift-giving dance for years, some years with him throwing up his hands in weary resignation and not getting me anything. Some years with him buying the slippers and wrapping them in front of me and making a show of putting them under the tree.  

But the truth is it wasn't all about my stance on waste and rampant consumerism, or how, in general, I believe we as a culture have too much stuff. There was more swirling around under the murky surface of my not-wanting. Money, being the big one, 

and how in the early years of our marriage, I was stressed out by debts and bills, and why not take myself and any gifts for me off the list? Which goes even deeper into an old childhood self, who was keenly aware that there was no money, so don't bother asking, and if you are given a gift, then you must be eternally grateful for it, 

and isn't it so much easier to not want anything.

What I was never taking into account, though, was how much I enjoy giving other people gifts. Last year I turned gift-buying for my husband into a mini scavenger hunt of sorts, seeing what I could find by only browsing in the shops within walking distance of our house. I had a blast putting together a cactus for him in the cactus making shop and choosing a model car kit in the hobby store and stumbling onto a set of glass beakers in a thrift store that I realized would look perfect lined up on the windowsill by his desk. My only exception to the within-walking-distance rule was the tickets I get for him every year to the Car Show, which I know he loves, and isn't that what all of this is about? 

The little charge of delight as someone you love opens a gift you've picked out specially for them. 

And then it suddenly occurred to me that this is what my husband has wanted to do for me, and here I've been denying him all these years. 

All of this is to say that I really don't want anything. Except for one thing. His delight. My delight. As we choose each other's gifts. As we share them with each other. 


Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Cows Don't Know It's Thanksgiving

It’s just another morning for milking and I am here for it. For the record I have never milked a cow in my life. Actually, I have never touched a cow. These cows are… soft, warm. They chew their cud and blink their pretty eyelashes and stare back at me, as if to say, you don’t know what you’re doing. 

You've got that right, cow! But I am open to learning. My daughter-in-law is patient with me. She works on this farm and has kindly invited me to shadow her as she does her morning chores in the dairy barn. Here is how you milk a cow:

You wash off the udder? The teats? You do some pre-milking squirts by hand. The trick is Squeeze and Roll. (I have to try this multiple times before I can get anything out, mindful all the while that a cow might kick me in the head.) The little bit of milk from this squeezing and rolling goes into a cup and the two barn cats come running for it. (One of the cats is named Barbara and I love her.) My daughter-in-law attaches a milking machine at this point and the cow goes on chewing and staring, steam coming out of her nose. Then, it is on to milking the seventeen other cows. 

It is cold out here. Patches of snow on the ground. A gray lake and white-capped mountains in the distance. It is beautiful. This is our first time visiting our son and daughter-in-law. For the past thirty-three years my husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving, cooked the entire spread, one year for nineteen people. Another year, just the two of us. This is our first time traveling. The first time being anyone's guests. 

We are open to learning. Turns out it is very nice. In the afternoon we all go on a walking tour of the town, a ferry boat churning across the lake, a row of pretty houses. This place is a tourist destination in summer, but for now the streets are quiet. If not for our son, we would never even know about it. But isn't that the way with our children? 

They grow up and go, and their places become our places, their people, our people. The things they do become the things we would like to try. Back in the dairy barn I am learning how to do what my daughter-in-law calls the "spa treatment." Here is how you do the spa treatment:

You rub a pepperminty lotion into your gloved hands and you carefully massage it on the cow's ... udders? flanks? backside? being mindful to avoid a kick in the head. When I'm finished, I move around to the other side of the barn to meet the cows I've previously only seen the backends of. As soon as I round the corner, one by one, they turn to look at me. Slightly wary, I imagine, wondering who this stranger is, but welcoming nonetheless. 

I am learning so much today and it's not even noon. My daughter-in-law hands me a shovel and we clean up the cow poop together. Here is how you clean up cow poop:

(Just kidding. I'll leave that to your imagination.) 

When we’re finished, I suddenly remember it is Thanksgiving. Time to say goodbye to the cows and head home. A delicious meal on the table. The people we love, waiting for us. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Looking Forward Looking Back

I filled up a recycle bin with stuff this week, a long overdue project that I'd kept putting off until I finally ran out of excuses. The excuses were dumb things like, "I don't feel like doing this," and "What if I change my mind." 

The Stuff was mostly papers. Bins of old manuscript drafts and old files from writing and teaching events. Why have I held onto these things? Okay, the files, because you never know. I might be asked to teach a particular lesson again. (But I have these lesson plans saved on my computer, and the truth is I rarely reuse lessons.) 

Chucking the old manuscript drafts was a harder job. It meant sort of looking at them again as I tossed them. It meant thinking about all of the time spent, the work, the dreams. But guess what, the drafts are all saved on my computer too. And I have all the finished manuscripts, which is enough paper, I've decided. 

As soon as I decided it and began to tear and toss, I quickly cycled through what felt like an accelerated mourning process. Dizziness to depression to acceptance. All of those stories, all of those words, and no one will ever read them. 

But here is another truth: I didn't want to read them. Anyway, I have new stories to tell. When I finished tossing, I was drained, wrung out. But weirdly, I also felt jittery with pent up energy. I paced around the house itching to shed more things. Old books I never plan to read. A stack of old magazines. Whose dumb idea was it to hold onto that? 

Still jittery, I went outside and yanked out dead plants. Raked leaves. Cut the out-of-control ivy. I didn't want to write about this, but all week it has been throbbing in my head. A story in the news about a man, my age, who was out running in a neighborhood not far from mine. Something happened, the authorities still don't know, and he was killed. It turns out that I know the man's wife, and I can't make sense of any of it. The suddenness of the loss. The brutality. How random it is and how heartbreaking. How do you go on after something like that? 

But I know the answer. You just do. I went back inside and cleaned off the kitchen table. I found a box of flower bulbs that I'd meant to plant and forgotten about because they were lost under piles of clutter. All of my gardening and I have never planted spring bulbs. I had to don my reading glasses to decipher the directions on the box. Outside again, and I chose a place, dug my holes and tucked away the bulbs. 

Here is what I know today: the past is gone and there is no guarantee of the future. 

But if all goes well, the flowers will bloom in spring. Big showy purple ones to brighten the yard and bring whoever chances to walk by a moment of joy after the long winter. 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Life slows down

when you are sick, and all you want to do is burrow under the blankets with the dog, who is mystified that you won't take her for her twice-daily long walks, but otherwise, seems content to cuddle up with you. We do a lot of dozing. Whatever plans I made for the week fall off my plate. 

A baby story-time at the library I'd been looking forward to leading. A dear friend's bookstore event (Natalie D. Richards' tenth book, and her first middle grade, which I can never remember the name of so I call it "The Moose Book" because that is what we called it when she was writing it). (For the record it is actually called Fifteen Secrets To Survival, and it is so clever and fun and just perfect for the 8 to 12 year old in your life-- in case you want an early holiday gift idea.)    

Instead of doing those fun things, I was flopped out on the couch, sipping hot tea (a special recipe from my husband's co-worker in India that he swears by, a blend of turmeric, ginger, basil, honey and lemon. A word about this tea that I figured out after stupidly dumping the contents of those herbs into the cup of boiling water and then needing to sift out the mush: 

you can use a tea holder. I use an adorable plastic dinosaur tea holder that my daughter-in-law gave me, and there's just something about that perky little guy floating around in my tea that gives me such a happy lift.

Also, I was reading a book about how to break up with your phone, called, conveniently, How To Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price. It's very funny (and scary). The funny part is how much I can relate to this particular addiction. How absurd it is that you can go from "just gonna check my email" to reading an article about the rise of fascism in America to shopping a sale at Eddie Bauer and back again, and the next thing you know another hour of your one wild and precious life has ticked by never to be experienced again.

The scary thing is something I already knew, but apparently needs to be pounded into me repeatedly, which is how our phones are specifically designed to urge us to pick them up and to keep us scrolling on and on and on, like an endless dinging and pinging slot machine. (Side note: one of the most depressing things I ever witnessed was twenty-five-ish years ago at a casino, a roped off area with two slot machines that only took one hundred dollar tokens, and there was a man perched on a seat in front of one, slipping $100 dollar token after $100 dollar token into it, pulling down the lever, and losing, over and over again, his face completely blank, like he couldn't stop, wouldn't stop, until he ran out of tokens. 

On our phones, of course, we never run out of tokens. The feed just keeps feeding itself forever.) 

Maybe it is okay to do some mindless scrolling, when you are sick, for example. But I am resolving to you now that I am breaking up with my phone. Or at the very least, I am going to set some serious boundaries on our increasingly toxic relationship. While I am sick is as good a time as any. 

Now. When I have my snoozy dog and plenty of hot tea and good books to keep me company. 

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Falling Back

I early-voted the other day. There was a line, but it moved along, and my husband and I moved along with it. This is a big election in Ohio, but then, all elections feel like that lately. When it was our turn, we voted YES for the library and YES for women having the right to make decisions about their own bodies. And then we went grocery shopping. 

Has it always been this way, with the world tipping further and further into a scary, unrecognizable place, and at the same time, you still need to buy peanut butter? 

Meanwhile, at work I am waging a daily battle with whoever the person is who keeps stealing the Vote YES brochures. At the library we have a table for voting information. Candidates in upcoming races are allowed to place a brochure on the table. The campaigns in charge of the ballot issues may set out their brochures as well. One day I noticed that the entire stack of Vote YESes had disappeared.

I texted someone I know who is involved in that effort, and she gave me another stack. The next day that stack was gone too. This happened three days in a row, and it bugged me. 

Bugged me is a mild way of putting it. Not that I think a brochure is necessarily going to convince anyone to change their mind on an issue, but it's the principle. If you believe your cause is right, why are you cheating? (This is me arguing with the person in my head.)

I know I know. Pretend-arguing with a person I don't know is a battle I can't win. And continually replenishing a stack of ballot issue brochures is right behind that on the pointless-ness scale. And yet I can't seem to stop. I am falling back. To an angrier version of an old self. To a time and place where I had to defend myself but I was powerless. 

This morning I wake in the light. The clock on my phone has set itself back in the night. So much time on my hands that I sign up last minute for a yoga class at a studio in my neighborhood. On the way over I walk past YES signs and NO signs. 

Before the argument can resume itself, I am inside, on my mat, clearing my mind while I stretch and balance. 

Home, and I remember. I am no longer in that place. And I am not that person. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

I am a bulletin board

for Halloween, a last-minute Do-it-yourselfer costume that I find online. What you do is take a corkboard-colored shirt and hot glue a bunch of post-it notes to it. Wah Lah. Bulletin Board. The reason I had to make a costume was I was invited to a Halloween party. The people who host the Halloween party are very creative people. 

I like to think of myself as a creative person, but lately, I am not feeling it. 

I don't know why. It's raining. I'm listening to too many political podcasts. My husband's been out of town for the past few days and the alone-ness is getting to me. In the morning I walk down to the farmer's market and spend a distressingly long time looking at potatoes. I walk the dog in the drizzle and then I flounder around in the house, listening to more podcasts and despairing about the state of the world.  

Less than two hours before the party, and I still haven't put together my costume. Last week a friend suggested we do the Artist's Way again. This is a 12-week course with exercises to help you unblock your creative self. I've done this course three times over the years and it has always worked for me, but this time, I'm skeptical. 

One of the exercises is to write out positive affirmations, such as, I am allowed to nurture my artist, and I am willing to create. I find these affirmations kind of woo woo and weird. 

Also, each week you're supposed to take yourself on what the author calls an "artist's date." The artist's date is supposed to be fun. A couple of hours where you give yourself permission to play. I always struggle with this exercise. It just seems...silly. 

After I bought the potatoes at the farmer's market, I walked past a booth where a woman was selling homemade mini sweet potato pies. She had a big sign hanging behind her that said, YOU CAN BUY ONE, BUT WHY NOT BUY TWO? 

Yeah, I thought. Why not buy two? 

I turned around and went back to her booth. I eat a pie while I hot glue post-its onto my corkboard-colored shirt, and let me tell you how delicious that pie is and how very very glad I am that I bought two. At the Halloween party I feel silly walking around with all of my colorful post-its flapping. But I quickly decide to embrace the silliness. 

I am surrounded by creative people.

I am creative myself.  

Sunday, October 22, 2023

In my dream I am late for work

I have two minutes left to get ready, and all of the clothes in my closet are unfamiliar. Shirts that don't fit. Pants with holes in the legs. Finally, I grab something and rush out the door, but almost immediately, I take a wrong turn. I'm on a strange highway, speeding in the wrong direction. Now I am farther away than when I started.

All week I've been talking to a friend about writing. Or rather, how I've been struggling with how much I am not writing. My old perfectionist tendencies have come back, and I find myself stuck, churning over and over again through the same passage until it feels "right." 

The problem is it never feels right. At the library (in reality, I am never late for work, but I am usually cutting it close) it's my job to handle books. Check them in and check them out. Shelve entire carts of them. I have so many more not-written-yet books stuffed up inside me. But how do I get them out before it's too late? 

Well, here's a solution: Sit down and write them, one sentence at a time. But KNOWING this and DOING it, I can tell you, are two different things. 

Meanwhile, I am helping kids and their grown-ups in the youth department. The other day a young patron asked me where the radio books are. This is a little four or five-year-old girl I've interacted with before, but she's still shy about talking to me. "You want a book about radios?" I said, because I wasn't sure I'd heard her correctly. 

"A radio book, yes," she said. 

"We might have a book about radios," I said.  

"Not about radios!" she said. She was getting frustrated. I was getting frustrated. She comes in once a week with her father who speaks another language and sets up at one of the tables and works on his laptop. When they first started coming in, she'd scurry away if I even looked at her. But eventually, I wore her down by smiling a lot and showing her how to do the scavenger hunt and where we keep the audio books--

Wait! She didn't want a radio book. She wanted an audio book! These are picture books called Vox books with an audio component that reads to you as you turn the pages. We had recently moved our collection to a different part of the youth department and here she was, trying to find them. I pointed them out, and we were both relieved. 

The same day, a toddler kept giving me pizza. The library has a pretend kitchen with plates and trays and plastic food. Silently, she walked over plate after plate of pizza and set it on my desk. I had a long conversation with her that consisted entirely of me thanking her and telling her how great it tasted, and sure, I'd like another slice, while she answered the only word she knew apparently, which was Meh. 

It was a surprisingly enjoyable conversation. 

After work, it's getting late, but I move my imperfect sentences around on the page. Unfamiliar words and paragraphs that don't fit. Unexpected turns heading off in strange directions. One sentence. Two. Time slows and stops, how it always does when I am writing. 

I might be closer than I think.


Sunday, October 15, 2023

There's a rumor going around about you

is what this guy said to me the other day. I was walking the dog and had my earbuds in. But I noticed out of the corner of my eye the guy walking up fast behind me. The dog doesn't like that, a stranger moving toward us. I don't like it either. I turned at the corner, figuring the guy would keep walking straight ahead, but instead, he cut across the grass, looking like he had something urgent to say.

Of course, the dog freaked out, lunging, barking. She's what they call "leash aggressive." When she's on a leash, she feels like she's an extension of me. I am her person and she's got to do what she's got to do to protect me. I love this about her. While at the same time, I don't love this. Some of those lunges have nearly pulled me off my feet. 

Anyway, there was urgent-walking-guy, right in front of us. I held up my free hand like a stop sign, explaining that he should stay back because my dog is nervous. 

That's when the guy said there was a rumor going around about me. 

I had one earbud out and was fumbling with the other. "What?" 

"That you've got your hands full." He laughed. 

I laughed in the way that you laugh when you're creeped out and wanting to get the hell away from someone. He laughed again and continued up the street. 

But I was unsettled for days. Replaying the conversation and trying out other possible responses that ranged from letting the dog loose on him to kindly explaining how inappropriate it is to approach women you don't know so you can say something weird. 

Cut to, I ran into him again. 

I was just home from work and literally had my hands full. Library books I'd checked out, my water bottle, my purse. And there he was, walking fast down the street, and almost at the sidewalk in front of my house. I decided not to make eye contact with him. 

But then, just as I neared my front door, he speed-walked across my yard. The only thing that stopped him from getting in my face was the giant patch of sunflowers I've got planted.

This time he laughed and asked me if I'd seen his beer. I glared at him through the sunflowers and told him to get away from me. And then I blurted out that familiar line well known to grouchy older people everywhere. "I mean it. Get off my lawn!"

He walked off mumbling about how he was only joking.

I did a little detective work and found out from a neighbor that he lives nearby. She thinks he might have dementia. "Did he tell you there was a rumor going around about you?" she asked, and I immediately felt sad and sorry for the guy. While at the same time wishing he wouldn't walk directly toward me ever again. 

I went to the farmer's market down the street. On the way back I had my hands full with bags of vegetables. One bag with two pumpkins, small ones, because that was all I could realistically carry. I hadn't paid for them yet. After I'd picked them out, the farmer said he didn't take credit cards. I told him I lived five minutes away and would run home and get my checkbook and come right back. 

I could feel him sizing me up. Was I the type of person who would take pumpkins and come back to pay for them?

I was. I am. But how could he know that? 

He let me take the pumpkins, and as I rushed toward home, I saw the urgent-walking-guy again, walking urgently toward me. I crossed the street and he hurried along without looking at me. Honestly, I think he may have been a little afraid of me. 

But there we were, both urgently on our way, him to presumably strike up odd conversations with strangers, and me to make good on my promise. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

The chicks went "back to the farm"

and the youth department at the library where I work is completely back to normal. Where did they go? kids and their grown-ups ask me, and I say, "Oh, the farm has people lined up who want pet chickens for their backyards,"

which I was not 100 percent sure is true.

When the farmer came to pick them up, I asked him. We had a nice conversation, and I learned a lot about chickens. For example, the adorable fuzzy yellow chicks grow into the white stereotypical chickens we all picture when we picture a chicken. And, yes, it is true that some people want egg-laying chickens for their backyards. And, you can't tell which chickens are female egg-laying chickens and which are male roosters quite yet, and statistically, our little group is probably fifty/fifty, and most people don't want roosters or they're not allowed in suburban areas, and even if they are allowed, a coop can only have one...

and suddenly, I could see where he was going with this.

I missed a day with the chickens because I agreed to co-present at a school librarian conference with a friend of mine. The topic was Banned Books. Almost ten years ago the two of us put together a presentation for another conference on the same subject, but back then, we approached book banning as kind of a kooky, fringe thing that mostly happened in the past. 

Our concern was that school librarians might soft-censor (meaning, not purchase certain books for their collections) out of a perceived fear of confrontation or controversary, but we assured them that the book banning thing was way overblown and to keep in mind how many kids in their communities really need these books.

I was stunningly naive. 

For our presentation this year we focused on procedures for handling book challenges, how to find allies who are also under attack (such as community theaters), and ways to justify and defend book purchases. After the presentation some of the librarians confessed that they've already dealt with the problem and it is time consuming and demoralizing. 

I went back to work the next day. It was the last day of Banned Book Week and our library had a display of banned books, something we've done every year, but this year, I had wondered if we'd still do it. And I worried about how I'd handle a complaint about a book. Except, I already know-- (see: my unsettling interaction at the library a few weeks ago). 

Suddenly, I realize that I have been sorta lying to little kids about what happens to chickens. 

It's not easy to face the hard truths about the world--and about ourselves. And how do we decide when it's appropriate to expose our children to what we've learned? I want to say that a three-year-old isn't ready to hear that Mr. Fancy Pants might end up in his chicken nuggets. 

Mr. Fancy Pants, I suspect, may have a different opinion. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Six joyful things that happened this week (and one bummer)

1. The chicks hatched in the library and I am in love with them. This is a program we do every year called Bring the Farm to You. A local farm sends us seven eggs and we keep them in an incubator in the Youth Department until they hatch and then we put them in a big cage and they wobble around and chirp and look adorable. 

2. A second bonus butternut squash grew in my garden and I didn't even know it was there because it was hidden by the windy vine and floppy leaves, but the other day when I was digging around, pulling out the spent tomato plants, I found it. I will never get over these surprise veggie gifts. 

3. I reconnected with an old friend and we had such a lovely time catching up. Do you know how certain people remind you of certain times in your life and when you talk to them again, those parts of your life come back and you wonder how you ever lost touch with them (the people, the parts) in the first place?  Well, it was exactly like that. 

4. Friends invited my husband and me to a fundraiser dinner for Franklinton Farms, an urban farm that grows food for people in an impoverished area of the city, and one of the speakers talked about how conversations about gardens and food have led to deepening connections in the community. I've found this with my own garden, how I want to talk to people about what I've grown and give stuff away (butternut squash, anyone?) But also, how nice it is when a more knowledgeable gardener shares their wisdom with me. 

5. (The bummer) I had a routine bone scan and found out that I have osteoporosis and for a day I was so distressed about it, thinking about holes in my bones and feeling weirdly fragile and then joking about how what if I fell down the stairs and broke into a bunch of pieces like at the end of that movie Death Becomes Her. But now, I'm mostly okay with the idea. I mean, I've been walking around like this for years and not knowing it, so what does it really change? Except, be careful around stairs. 

6. Back to the chicks. We had a contest of sorts where kids could suggest chick names and we got lots of cute ideas like, Pumpkin Spice and Butterscotch and Mr. Fancy Pants. But also, one joker wrote:

Chick name: Butt Hole

Your Name: Your Mom

Which we didn't choose, but it still makes me laugh, and to be honest, Butterscotch does sorta give off a Butt Hole-ish-y vibe. 

7. Another invite from a different friend-- (this NEVER happens to us, TWO invites out to dinner in one week!)-- to see a play she wrote (which was great, funny and moving and thought-provoking), but first, a dinner out to meet her friends, and as we were all getting to know each other, one of them asked me if I was a writer too. This is actually a hard question for me to answer because what do I say? 

Um, yes?

But then the inevitable follow up is What do you write? And that is always harder for me to answer. My husband piped up and said, She writes a blog about whatever random things happen to her during the week.

One of the people said, Like tonight? Like us? My husband laughed and said, Yes! And tomorrow, you might be in it! 

And here we are. 

This is for you, new friends. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The other day I had an interaction at work

A patron had a complaint about a book, and suddenly she was talking about book burning. (She thought it was a good idea. She wanted to throw the book into the flames herself.) I didn't know how to respond so I got up and walked away, leaving my partner at the information desk to deal with the situation. Then I spent the next three days replaying the encounter in my head. What I could've done differently and where had things gone wrong in the first place and what a crappy co-worker I'd been and why hadn't I called forth my customer service training—

(It sounds like you're upset. I'm so sorry you had that experience. Is there any other library-related business I can assist you with?) 

I'm reading a book about obsessive thoughts. It's called Can't Stop Thinking: How to Let Go of Anxiety and Free Yourself from Obsessive Rumination by Nancy Colier. 

Are these thoughts serving you? the book asks. 

Well, no, of course not. Because I can't go back and redo the interaction. And never mind all of the time I'm wasting, replaying and replaying and replaying, on walks with the dog and waking up sweating in the middle of the night. 

So, just notice the thoughts and let them go.

The book makes it sound easy. Apparently, there's a You who is thinking the obsessive thoughts. And there's a You who notices the You who is thinking the thoughts. 

I long to be this larger You. Float above all of my past, imperfect interactions. Offer myself a smile and a hug. Say what I might say to anyone who is feeling awful and ashamed. 

You did the best you could. Tomorrow, you'll do better. And even if you don't, it's okay.  

I'm not sure how to do this yet. 

But last weekend after my son's wedding, we all went for a walk at night down to the beach and lay on our backs on a dock that jutted out into the water. I looked up at the stars and my mind was so calm and clear and vast.

Remember this, I told myself, and then I promptly forgot. 

Until now. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023


First there was a hurricane and then there was a wedding.

The wind blew all night and we waited to lose power but the power held and the wind died down and the rain never came. In the morning we drank coffee and readied ourselves for the wedding. Do you know that poem where the poet says he was surprised by joy? 

I can relate to him. A dark moment or a crisis, and all seems lost, but then someone hands you a warm cookie or you hear a bird calling to another bird or somewhere off in the background there’s a child giggling. 

My husband and I had driven twelve hours to get to the wedding. We talked most of the way. The logistics of the drive and what we thought the wedding would be like and would the hurricane hit us. We dissected an argument we had thirty years ago and an argument we had twenty minutes ago. 

Recently, we have discovered a secret about arguing where you keep talking even though you’re upset and want to shut it all down and stew in righteous anger at the other person. The secret is to hold hands and listen to each other until you are both talked out and you are both heard. The argument was over and we felt better. We listened to music. We looked at hurricane updates. 

We talked about the time we brought our son home from the hospital when he was born and we put his car seat on the floor and just looked at him and wondered to each other why the people at the hospital let us take him home. We talked about the time when he was three years old and he was drinking his red juice and he set his little cup down and said, "Mommy, my red juice makes me happy." And how was it possible that tomorrow he would be getting married. 

This wedding was a different kind of joy. Not the surprise kind but the slow-building kind that has been here all along but you forgot for a few moments and then remembered. 

I want to tell you about this wedding. These people. This place. But I confess that I also want to keep it all to myself for a while. 

For now, I will leave you with a wish, that today you may feel joy, both kinds, all kinds. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

My first book, THIN SPACE, came out ten years ago today

It feels like this happened yesterday, and it also feels like it happened a million years ago. This is how time works for me. 

The book is a young adult novel about a teen boy whose identical twin brother died in a car accident. It’s not the boy’s fault, but he feels responsible. He gets it into his head that if he can find a thin space, he can see his brother again. A thin space, according to ancient Celtic beliefs, is a space where the world between the living and the dead is thinner. The boy's plan is to find a thin space, step in, and "make things right." 

Writing and publishing this book was an exhilarating and sometimes anguishing process that took five years. From the spark of the idea to the frantic gushing out of the first draft and the hard mental work of all of the various revisions. The selling of the book to an agent and to her selling it to an editor. The publication itself. The book signings and book tours. A real life dream come true. 

I wrote a handful of books before I wrote Thin Space, and I've written twice as many since and haven't had the same luck on the publication end. It's taken me a long time to make peace with the part of writing that is outside of my control. But then, it's taken me a long time to make peace with every other aspect of life that is outside of my control too.

Let's just say it's a work in progress. 

Something that I didn't see at the time I was writing the book was how autobiographical it is. In fact, I saw it as the most not autobiographical of anything I'd ever written. The sixteen-year-old boy. The identical twin brother. The brother dying in a car accident. Clearly, I made all of this up. 

But at the core it rang true. A person who feels responsible for a situation that is not his fault, who spends his time obsessed with trying to fix things. In the story, fixing things turns out to mean trading places with the dead brother. Which even the brother (spoiler alert: the boy finds him) thinks is an unfair punishment. 

Anyway, it's impossible to change the past. 

I had to write this book to come to that conclusion, and apparently, I've had to relearn that lesson again. And again. 

This is also a work in progress for me. 

It's a dark book, but it has its funny moments. I had many fun moments watching it float around in the world. Too many to list here. But here's one nice memory. I wrote a lot of the book at the main branch of my local library. I used to sit in one of the comfy chairs under the big windows and type away on my laptop while my kids were at school. But first, every time, I would take a stroll through the young adult section, the place where I knew my book would be shelved, if I could finish it, if I could publish it. 

I would find the space on the shelf where my pretend book would go, and shift the real, published books to the sides and try to imagine what it would look like if...when mine was there. 

And then one day, it was. 

When I saw it, I sat down on the floor to take a picture, and my husband took a picture of me taking the picture. It was a small, silly, and yet profoundly meaningful blip in the timeline of my writing and actual life, but it momentarily anchored me in that present. It’s here, I remember thinking. I’m here. 

And then I stood up and life went on. 

A work in progress. 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

I didn't plant the corn stalks

that are growing beside the garage. Or the butternut squash vine that's winding its way across the yard. Things bloom where they are planted. And sometimes, in whatever random place the seeds have shaken out.

I try to save what I can. A year ago, someone I love ended our relationship. They sent me an email explaining their reasons. The reasons made complete sense, and at the same time, they made no sense at all. I wrote a response and deleted it. I wrote another response and deleted that too. 

Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night dreaming I’d been speaking to this person, alternating between defending myself and apologizing, explaining things in such a way that it would fix everything and we could wipe the slate clean and try again. But in the morning, everything was still broken and the slate was the same mess. 

The truth is the mess pre-dates the email by decades. Another sad thing: the two of us didn't make the mess in the first place. But we seem to be stuck with it, and even if I wanted to unstick us, it doesn't matter because the other person doesn't, at least not now. Maybe not ever. 

In the meantime, I feel as if this person has died. I am in mourning. It is a strange unacknowledged kind of mourning, where people who don't realize there is a rift ask me how this person is doing or call to share a happy story about them, and then I have to think about whether to pretend everything is fine or to reveal my shame and my grief. When what I really wish is that someone would say what we say to any mourner. 

I am sorry for your loss. 

And I would say thank you. I have grown where I was planted. I have saved what I could save.

Nudged the squash vine along, clearing a path for it in the grass. Carefully dug up a tomato plant growing in a sidewalk crack and transplanted it in the garden. 

The corn—I don't know what I can do with it. The soil is too rocky. The roots too close to the garage. The stalks are not far enough along in the growing process to produce much of anything, and whatever I might wish, it is likely too late in the season. 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

This weekend we are guests

my husband and I, at the apartment of our daughter and son-in-law. It is interesting being a guest, how we fit into the rhythm and space of other people's lives. What time they wake up and how they make their coffee. The route where they walk the dog and what we should have for dinner. 

As a guest, I want to be agreeable, flexible, pleasant. But I admit I sometimes feel anxious about what kind of job I am doing. Is my fitful sleep interrupting anyone? Is it weird that I want freshly cut lemons in my water or two cups of coffee before noon? This is my family, but still. I want to be a good guest. 

In the morning while our daughter and son-in-law are at work, my husband and I walk over to the Washington National Cathedral, which is near their neighborhood. We have never visited this place before and it is striking. The steeple, the carved stone. You can go on a self-guided tour of the building, and we decide to head up to the observation deck first. We take our time. Only a handful of other tourists. One of them is holding a dog like a baby against her shoulder. I smile and the dog smiles back. Which gets everyone in our small group laughing. 

I read an article recently that brief interactions with people, even with strangers, maybe especially with strangers, can boost your mental health. I will add brief interactions with dogs to this list. The observation deck of this church is roomy, the windows relatively small, the view shimmery in the heat. Sometimes I feel dizzy looking out from tall buildings. But today I am relaxed. Curious. Open to smiling at more strangers and their dogs. 

After dinner the four of us squeeze up together with our dogs in front of the TV and watch a dumb and yet fun movie. We used to do this a lot with each other. During the height of the pandemic our daughter moved back home and for several months our son-in-law--then, her boyfriend--lived with us too. That was a scary time because who knew what was going to happen and what if we couldn't make it through. 

The worst part of it was how I looked at other people. Or rather, how I didn't. On walks or at quick trips to the grocery store, I averted my eyes, because wasn't everyone a potential virus carrier? And that included me too. How could I live with myself if I got sick and spread this terrible thing to someone else? 

In the lower level of the National Cathedral there are small chapels, mazelike hallways with high arched ceilings. Bodies are interred down here. Helen Keller. Along with her teacher Anne Sullivan. But the one that makes me pause is Matthew Shepherd, who was murdered by a different kind of virus, a hate crime, something scarier in many ways, as it never seems to stop spreading. 

But I want to believe that most of us do our best. We walk respectfully through churches and follow the traffic rules. Pull over to let the ambulance through. And whether we are visiting strangers or family, we try to be good guests.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Notes on Self Shedding

Several years ago, I went through a great purging of stuff from my house. It started small--

I'd taken the books off the bookcase in my office so I could dust, but in the process of filing them back onto the shelves, I realized, for various reasons, that I didn't want some of them anymore. Maybe they were books I read and knew I'd never read again. Or they were books I hadn't read, and had to admit, I would never read. Some were books I hated. I'm thinking of you, Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, the only book in my entire college English major career that I could not finish. Who am I kidding. I could barely get past the first chapter. It's the eighteenth century. It's a novel told entirely in multi-page letters. It's misogynistic and repulsive. But I digress. 

The clearing out of books led to the clearing out of knick-knacks I realized I no longer wanted, and pictures on the walls and carpets and lamps and furniture. In the midst of all of this purging, I discovered the Marie Kondo craze and doubled down on my efforts. If something in my house didn't give me joy, I thanked it for its service (literally. I know. It's silly, but it felt good) and then I carted it off to Goodwill. 

The whole process was amazingly liberating. It also left me with a lot of blank spaces in my house that, for a while, I didn't know how to fill. What things did I want to look at and step across and light my way? 

But even more broadly, how did I want to spend my time, and which people did I want to spend it with? 

These shouldn't have been hard questions to answer, but somehow, they were. 

For the past two years, I've been going through intensive therapy. It started as a way to work through unresolved childhood trauma, but I quickly realized that I had issues in my present that needed addressing, specifically, that the coping mechanisms I'd adopted to make it through and out and beyond--while once, necessary--were no longer helping me. In fact, they were hurting me, and worse, sometimes I was, in turn, hurting the people I love.

But throwing out a toxic pattern in your interpersonal relationships is so many times harder than tossing out dumb, enraging eighteenth century epistolary novels or plastic beaded fruits or a shag carpet. And once you see the toxic pattern for its terrible toxic-ness, how do you actually change it? 

Well. I don't know. But I do know step one. It's telling the truth. 

About what you don't want in your life and what you do. It's finding the grace to forgive yourself for doing what you needed to do to survive.

It's thanking that old self for its service, before letting it go.


Sunday, August 13, 2023


Spur of the moment and some friends walk by and invite us to a yoga class in the neighborhood. This is an informal class that takes place in someone's front yard two minutes away from our house. Apparently, it started during Covid and has been going on every Sunday morning since. My husband and I have nothing planned, so we go, rolling out our mats on the grass still wet with dew. 

Like always when I do yoga, I have a hard time settling my mind. It wants to jump all over the place, hammering out to-do lists and stewing over the worrisome things that happened over the week.

For example, the jury summons I received in the mail the other day... which just so happens to be during the time we’ll be out of town for our son's wedding. I read the list of excuses and none of them seem to apply. Am I out of the country? Am I a non-citizen? No and no. What I'm supposed to do is write a letter, explaining why I must postpone and respectfully asking them to consider my request.  

I write the letter in my head in the middle of the night. I write it again while I'm lying on my yoga mat in the grass. I'm sleepy. Restless from bad dreams and jury duty excuse letter writing. It's my son's wedding! Shouldn't there be a box to check for that? 

Breathe in, the yoga instructor says. I breathe in. Breathe out. I breathe out. I have never done yoga outside before. This early in the morning the humidity hasn't kicked in yet, and there's a lovely breeze. 

I close my eyes and when I open them, there's a plane streaking overheard, a thin cloud behind it bisecting the sky. Our son and his fiancé have asked us to prepare something to say at their wedding, a kind of blessing. I love this idea but I am struggling with it. Me, a writer and big mouth talker, but what if I can't find the right words?  

My mind turns over possible blessings and then it slips back into jury duty excuse letter writing mode. I can hear my husband deep breathing beside me. How have we come to be together, on these mats, on this lawn, our children grown and well and happy, our daughter married to the love of her life, our son about to marry his? 

I don't know. 

But I am so grateful I don't think there is a word that can contain all of my gratitude. The yoga instructor instructs us to clasp our hands in front of our hearts. My mind lets go of itself and for a few blissful moments time stops. 

I open my eyes. The class is over. The day has begun. 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

The mourning dove nest on the back porch

is a whirl of activity. For a few weeks now the mother and father doves have been trading places, parking it over their eggs, and then, their hatched babies, glaring at us whenever we open the door. I've been hurrying the dog along, ducking my head, careful not to make any sudden moves, but yesterday, was apparently the big day,

birds peeking out from the nest, feet on the ledge, ready to tip over at any moment, the cooing parents below on the porch steps, keeping watch, anxiously, I imagined. Which was a problem, because my husband was in the middle of a complicated concrete project at the bottom of the steps. 

I asked him to go around from the front into the backyard and he is the type of man who will do that and I love him for it. Also, he said he would work quietly and avoid the sudden movements and I love him for that too. I have written 658 blogposts over the past decade and very few of them are about him. Each week 

it's a puzzle what I want to write about in this space, the weird things swirling around in my head, whatever is going on in my very small world or in the larger one. Where the oceans are boiling and a scientist recently grew watermelons in Antarctica. What can we do about this, a friend asks me. 

I don't know.

Friday my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. Oh my God how absurdly young we were on our wedding day and with no idea of the future, our own small world or the larger one. Moments before I walked down the aisle, I panicked. The heat outside and the lack of air conditioning in the church, and I worried I might pass out. 

Someone who meant well dumped a bowl of holy water down the front of my dress, and I was shocked back into my battle-scarred body, the cold water dripping dripping dripping as I teetered up the aisle, too young to understand yet how lucky I was to leave what I was leaving behind, 

and it would be years before I realized how lucky I am to have found the person I was teetering toward. He finished the concrete project and came inside to watch where I was watching from the window. The mourning dove babies taking their time before suddenly fluttering down,

the new family gathering on the flat stones in the herb garden, cooing at each other, I imagine, with relief and love. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Early mornings and I have been writing

a book that, for now, is only for me. 

I used to have rules for writing. I gave talks at libraries and schools about this. How to Break through Writer's Block. How to Beat Back Resistance. I shared tips and tricks. Set a word count goal or text an accountability partner. But really, all of the rules and tricks boil down to one.

Do the work.   

When you're writing, you're alone. There is no boss looking over your shoulder. No drill sergeant barking orders in your face. You’re the boss. You’re the drill sergeant. I was merciless with myself. 

I did my work. 

Sometimes I confessed to my students that most of the time I hated what I wrote. Something I never confessed: I hated myself. 

Writing and me, it turns out, had a terribly dysfunctional relationship. It was born out of trauma, so maybe I was expecting too much to think it could've turned into anything healthy or fun. 

As messed up as the relationship was though, I did manage to hold onto it for a very long time. I wrote and revised multiple books from that toxic headspace. The voice that says If you don't get your words today, you're a failure. Or, If you sleep in or take a day off, you're a loser.  

Friday, I slept in, and I did not work one bit on the book that I am writing only for me.  

In the afternoon, spur of the moment, my husband and I went to see a movie. We hadn't seen a movie since the pre-pandemic times, February 2020, when we saw the big epic drama about World War I 1917. We thought about seeing the movie Oppenheimer, which seemed like an appropriately weighty picture to end our three-and-half-years-long no-movie-in-a-theater streak. 

Instead, we saw Barbie. 

We both loved it. A few days later we are still talking about it. How silly it was and how achingly sad. How thought-provoking and how... pink. I had barbies when I was a little girl, and I loved playing with them. Maybe not for the reason other little girls do--the dressing them up, the combing of the hair--but because I could put them into stories. 

Playing with dolls was one of the ways I found to escape my terrifying chaotic little life. When I made up stories about them, the stories were for me. (Okay, I also loved dressing them up and combing their hair. It was fun!)   

I am not breaking up with writing, but I am amending the rules. The rules are there are no rules. No bosses and no drill sergeants. No barking voices. Just a quiet morning (or maybe it is afternoon or maybe it is evening or maybe I've slept in) 

but I am alone and having fun, writing a book that, for now, is only for me. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

The sky is so blue and I am not a coastal grandmother

Let me tell you about the sky first. How amazingly blue it is after several days of smoky white. I take a picture so I will remember to never again take the air for granted. But here I am, already forgetting,

preoccupied with trip-planning, the wedding of my son and his lovely fiancé and who will watch the anxious dog and how many days should I take off from work and what should I wear. The wedding will be held in a beach-y location, so I am thinking, something... beachy? 

I discuss this at length with my way more fashion-aware daughter, joking when I ask her if there is such a look as "Diane Keaton in the movie Something's Gotta Give." I am picturing crisp linen or flowy flowery fabric. Or maybe this is more like "Meryl Streep in the movie It's Complicated"?  

Funnily enough, my daughter knows exactly what I mean. It turns out I have stumbled upon a style called "Coastal Grandmother." I am embarrassed to tell you how much time I spend scrolling around online researching this new-to-me aesthetic, wondering if I can pull it off, considering that I am neither coastal nor grandmother. 

But back to the hazy sky,

and how our phones ping us now when there's an air quality alert. "Poor," it announces one day. The next, "Unhealthy." As routine as checking to see if rain's on the way and should we grab an umbrella. Look at us, adapting, 

and aren't we the frogs sitting in the slowly warming warming water. In a book I just read about climate change, The Parrot and the Igloo, the author David Lipsky talks about the frog-sitting-in-water analogy. If you don't remember this story, it goes like this: Throw a frog into boiling water and it will immediately jump out. 

But turn up the heat slowly, and the frog will stay there and cook to death.  

The story, the author points out, gets it wrong. If you throw a frog into boiling water, it dies. A frog in warming water hops out, because frogs do that. They move. Humans are the ones who sit around, blink their irritated eyes against the murky white sky, and go on about their business. 

In our defense, what are we supposed to do? The author has no answers. I finished reading the book on a "Very Unhealthy" air quality day, and thought, Welp, we're screwed. 

My son calls and I forget to run my coastal grandmother wedding attire idea by him. I suspect that he will be fine with whatever I decide to wear. Instead, we talk about a meal he and his fiancé had recently, a visit to a farm in the area where they live, an invitation to anyone who is "hungry for any reason." 

The owner doesn't charge for the food. Anyone can show up to pick, to eat. The farmer's mission is to practice radical generosity, to share what he has with his neighbors in our climate tipping world. It occurs to me that I am hungry for that. 

Today the air quality is "Fair," and I wish you could see how blue the sky is and how beautiful. I promise I won't forget. I won't. 


Sunday, July 16, 2023

I mow the lawn

like a person who has never mowed the lawn before. I'm using our new push mower, the one I pestered my husband to get when our gas-powered mower broke. With this one there is no gas tank to fill. No cord, string? to pull (I don't know the proper lawnmower terminology). Just grip the handle and go. 

I have no strategy. No system. Instead of mowing in straight lines like my husband does, starting at one section of the lawn and making my way carefully, strip by strip, to the other side, or going diagonally, how I've seen our neighbor do, I shuffle around all over the place, easily distracted

by my own thoughts--about our son who is getting married this year and how happy I am for him, about time passing, and loved ones passing, how I don't like the word passing and I'm not sure I believe anymore that any of us go anywhere, except in the here and now,

and what do we do when the here and now is so scary, with smoke settling over us and atmospheric rivers flowing, the ocean roiling like a hot tub? All I can think to do is finish mowing, 

around the flower beds (where I mow triangles), the trees (figure eights), our Little Free Library (quick, jerky back-and-forths so as to avoid disturbing the plants). I planted these a year ago and this season they have come alive, the branches dipping and bending ingeniously around the library frame,

small bees whirring around the flowers. I’ve never seen this kind of bee before. I forget the name of the plant. And how does the branch do that, grow at such an angle, 

its reach tapped out and blocked from the sun, before finding another way?

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Sleep Creep Leap

There’s an old saying about perennial flowers. (These are the plants that come back every year and usually with very little work involved for the gardener.) The saying is: 

The first year they sleep. The second year they creep. The third year they leap. 

I have found this to be true, and not only with my flowers. The book I have been working on, for example. It's a full blown first draft that my beginner writer self would've proudly pronounced finished. But I know better now.

What I know is that I have the seeds of a potential something. The roots. A few clusters of leaves. A small lovely bud here and there. But the story itself is not quite awake. This is a draft I wrote during the pandemic, and most of the time, it was a daily struggle.  

Difficult to sit down and open my file. Difficult to concentrate on a paragraph, never mind on a plot and subplots, characterization and conflict. Reaching the end of it took monumental effort. But I was like the guy in the novel The Plague. I kept writing. 

Do you know that story by Camus? A plague descends on the world. A city is locked down, the fearful inhabitants trapped together inside the walls. Each person reacts to the situation in their own way. The doctor treats the sick. The minister provides comfort. The mayor attempts to navigate the day-to-day practical needs of the people. 

There's a writer character who's the comic relief, popping up in the story every now and then to give an update on the book he's writing. The joke is that he never makes it past the first sentence.

Anyway, that was what I felt like, writing a book during a pandemic. I mean, what was even the point? 

Except that sitting down and writing each day seemed to be the point. And that guy in The Plague loved his one sentence. Every time he gave his update, he was excited about his progress and itching to delve back in.   

I put my draft away for a season. While it snoozed, I worked in my garden. The grubs had killed the grass and I tore up the dead patches and transplanted perennials. Another season of playing with the draft and nourishing the soil with compost. A third season of letting go, allowing what I planted to creep.  

Bear with me as I keep this metaphor going, but

today as I write, I'm sitting on my front porch, computer on my lap, looking out at the flowers in my front yard, spreading, bobbing, blooming. My story wakes up on my screen

and leaps. 

Sunday, July 2, 2023

What's if it's the end of the world and we don't know it

We walk the dog on a gray, hazy day and don't realize until later, it's not clouds, but smoke. Half the world is on fire but we feel fine. That scratch in our throat, it's allergies. 

What's nice is the raspberries eaten right off the bush in the backyard. A gift during the lockdown. Was that only three years ago? Now the plant's taken over a corner of the yard. A fresh crop of berries every morning, every night. 

Before the smoke rolled in, we went on a garden tour in our neighborhood. Nine houses and every yard is a surprise. Some of these houses I walk by every day with the dog, and who knew what they had growing behind the backyard fences. 

There's a brochure with a description of each garden. One of the entries says: “A special treat this year— the giant fennel (Ferula communis glauca) is preparing to bloom, a rare occurrence three years in the making." 


Of course, we cannot miss this! But when we shuffle into the yard, we find that we have missed it.  Apparently the Ferula communis glauca bloomed a few weeks ago. The resident gardener excitedly shows me a picture on his phone. It's lovely. All of the gardens on the tour are. 

I want to rush home and do something with my plants. It's hot, though, and I'm not quite recovered from my surgery. I'll get to it later in the week, I tell myself. But then the smoke settles in. When does life go back to normal? What if this is normal now?

Back to work at the library, and just to be on the safe side, the Blowing Bubbles in the Park program has been moved indoors. In no time the youth department is overflowing with bubbles and children, and I am surprised by joy. We humans can adapt to anything.  

Today the smoke is gone. The thick haze means what it has always meant: a thunderstorm. When it's over, I take a quick walk with the dog, gulping big breaths of fresh air. We sidestep puddles into the backyard so I can doublecheck the progress of my own garden. 

It’s so much greener and lusher than a week ago. The raspberries, sweet and cool and tasting of rain. 

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The birds don't know

we are watching them. They just come for the food. It's funny, though, how some of them seem to pose for the camera. A pause in their eating to ponder themselves on the screen. Why do I think they are thinking? 

And if they are thinking, what thoughts are they--

Wait, is that a cardinal? How absurd and serious he is with his beady eyes. Another bird caught mid-flight, wings raised like medieval monster. And the squirrels... As my friend Deb likes to say, What a hoot! 

I mean, 




That last one was a squirrel. 

We think. There's also a possibility of a possum. One of those popped up at three o'clock in the morning. How it all works is my husband gets a notification on his phone whenever motion is detected. This whole birdfeeder/video thing was a Father's Day present, which means he's only had it out in the backyard for a week. 

But already, I am addicted to it. Checking every movement. Screen-shotting the funny ones, the cute ones, the weirdos. A perfect distraction for me this week because I had my surgery. Did I tell you about my surgery? Well, it was nothing. Just one of those doublecheck-it/in-and-out things. Hardly even any pain. But still,

enough that I was happy for the distraction. When I was waiting to go under, I just wanted it to be over with, and when it was over with, I was so glad it was behind me, is behind me. And now, back to the birds.

How did I come to be a person who delights in watching birds? Does this mean I am old?

Did you ever read the poem "Letters from a Father" by Mona Van Duyn? Here it is. I'll wait, if you want to read it. I read it now myself and got a lump in my throat, exactly how I did when I first read it a million years ago when I was in graduate school. Of course back then I identified with the daughter. 

And I admit, I was skeptical. Could she really woo her old crochety parents back to life so easily, simply by sending them a birdfeeder? 

Hahaha, absolutely. Yes.