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. 


Sunday, June 18, 2023

I can't stop smiling

I think it's the bubbles blasting out of leaf-blower-style bubble machines or the feathery frothy angel wings some people are wearing. The rainbow signs. The balloon-festooned floats blaring party music. And the dancers and the strutters and the flag wavers. 

Maybe all of the over-the-top things you expect to see at a Pride Parade. And maybe all of the things you don’t expect? 

Like, the moms and dads pushing babies in strollers. The grandparents offering free hugs. The children sporting face paint and plastic Mardi gras beads.  

Church group marching after church group. The preachers wearing colorful vestments. The elderly women carrying banners. We love you. You are welcome here. It shouldn’t have to be said, but let's say it. 



Something I’ve noticed lately, every shop I walk into, a clerk smiling and chirping out: Welcome in! I don’t know when this became a Thing or why it surprises me every time, but every time, I love it.  

People are kind. Nearly all of them. Even the ones who are strangers. 

The others-- can we offer them grace? Hope that one day they’ll come around. Okay, maybe not so far around that they’ll be joining the 700,000 people at the Pride Parade in Columbus Ohio, but around enough that when they catch a glimpse of a bubble whirling past, the flick of a colorful flag, a happy dog trotting by,

they will do like the rest of us

and smile. 

Sunday, June 11, 2023


Down in the youth department at the library it is joy-chaos. 

Our summer reading program has kicked off, and everyone and their mother is here to pick up their prizes. “What’s your name?” a little boy asks me. 

I don't answer for a moment. (I’ve never been asked this at the desk, and the kid is maybe eight? nine? and children this age, especially now, post-ish pandemic-ish, are, in my experience, shy. So, the question throws me off.) “Jody,” I say, after another beat. And then, a smile. “What's your name?”

“H-,” he says, smiling too. 

“Nice to meet you, H-!”

“Nice to meet you too, Jody!” He is over-the-top smiling when he leans forward and whispers, “My dad told me I should I introduce myself to people.” 

“That's a good idea.” I try to freeze his little face in my mind. I want to remember this child. I want to remember his name.

A few days later, at the farmer’s market in my neighborhood, I don’t ask people their names, but I chat with them during the transactions. The guy who sells the gorgeous peonies who gives me tips on transplanting. The lady who bakes rosemary bread and luscious Everything Bagel rolls. The woman who sells us our eggs. 

I've been buying eggs from her for four years, and I just now learn that she’s a teacher. The farmer’s market is her summer job.

I stroll home, past the feminist gift store and the breakfast taco place. The coffee shop where they have live bands on Friday nights. Chalk scrawled on the sidewalk in front of the used bookstore: I hope you heal from the things you don't talk about. 

Who wrote this and how did they know it was me? 

At the library H- introduces me to his little brother and their grandmother. They’re regular patrons here and finally we are properly introduced. The boys pick out their summer reading prizes. Their grandmother chats with me about books. 

A mom, another regular, must have been watching our interaction. When it’s her turn at the desk, she calls me by name. She tells me hers, and we greet each other like old friends. 

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Half of the seeds I planted never grew

Squirrels dug up and tossed one of the purple basil plants. And slugs ate the kale. A deer lost from the herd wanders up and down the sidewalk in front of our house, threatening the hostas, barely even blinking when the dog shriek-barks. The weather turns sweltry. I have so many plans for the week,

but in the end, I do nothing, momentarily sideswiped by unexpected health news, which turns out to be a bit of a bummer, but I'm trying to roll with it. 

In the meantime, I laze on the porch swing, escaping into a good book. There is always that. Did I tell you how books saved my life? And how lucky I am now. Surrounded by them. Speaking of

the good book I'm reading. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. From the very first sentence I am hooked and marveling. The voice. The story. A darkness at the core about how this country treats its unwanted children, and even though I know this and wish I could forget it, I can't stop reading. Let me tell you a story.

A harried grandmother comes into the library, three little kids scrambling off in three different directions the moment they all spill through the door. A girl and her two little brothers. The littlest one breaks my heart with his droopy eyes, how he's old enough to talk, but doesn't. How he goes stiff with a tantrum when he doesn't get the plastic train car he wants. How he disappears into the stacks the second the grandmother turns her back. 

The grandparents who visit the library fall into two categories: 

the doting, swooping, gushing, proud

and the worried, rigid, impatient. These are the ones who forgot what it was like to have children of their own or are glad to be through with it, and how greatly relieved they'll be when this visit is over and the grandkids can be handed back off to the parents. 

But there's also a third category. The grandparents who thought their parenting days were over, but now, here they go again, for whatever reason, with these children in their custody. 

The harried grandmother wears a look of continual surprise as she mutters weary reminders to say thank you, to share, to clean up after yourselves. I want to tell her she's doing a good job and it will all turn out okay, but how could I ever know that. 

Instead, I offer the kids stickers. The next time they come in the littlest one remembers and makes a beeline for my desk. He garbles out the word Sticker, and I want to hug him, hug the two other little ones, hug the grandmother. 

I've let go of any hard feelings for the lost deer who will any day now chew my plants down to the dirt. Because, why not. 

The things that seem to matter so very much, in the end, don't. The things you can’t imagine will ever matter, do. 

A reminder to myself: half of the seeds I planted grew.


Sunday, May 28, 2023

One little goat has blues eyes

and his little horns are just beginning to poke out. When he tries to jump on my shoulders, he slides off. Note to self: next time you sign up to do Goat Yoga in the park, don't wear a slippery shirt. 

But the other goats manage to clamber up, no problem, so maybe it's only Baby Blue Eyes. I can't stop laughing at his little clompy hooves. The way his mouth scrunches up when he's eating grass out of my hand. When he piddles on me, I surprise myself by laughing. 

Maybe this is me now, finding joy in the little things. The toad I find nestled in my thyme. The cupcakes a regular patron brings into the library to share with the staff. The free mocktails my husband and I are handed when we stroll into one of the trendy shops in our neighborhood. 

This is a thing now, apparently. Mocktails. The bartender who makes the drinks explains it to us. We want to be inclusive, he says. Why should drinkers have all the fun drinks? 

The drinks are fun. Refreshingly cold and gingery. There are mocktails at a party we go to later in the week too. The party is outside, at an urban farm downtown. Between the interstates and interspersed around a struggling neighborhood are twelve city blocks of vegetable and herb gardens. The volunteers raise money by selling the food at farmers markets. They give food away to people who live in the community and teach anyone who's interested how to garden.  

My husband and a friend and I wander under the trees, carrying our mocktails. Teens from the neighborhood give tours and guide us through the interactive stations. Paint a rock. Make a nature-inspired collage. Assemble teabags out of freshly cut herbs. And here, says one of the volunteers, pointing at rows and rows of greens, is the U Pick Garden, where everyone is invited to take whatever they need. 

Even flowers, she says, because don't we all deserve something beautiful? 

At the farmer's market close to our house, one of the farmers is selling mocktail mixes. Mango and orange it says on the label. Our daughter is visiting for the weekend, and she immediately perks up. Mocktails! she says. I love these!

We buy a bottle, and after we clean up from the Goat Yoga goat piddle, we crack open the bottle, and my husband joins us on the patio. Okay, the truth is, it's just mango and orange juice and... is this really worth fifteen dollars a bottle? 

The evening is so unbelievably lovely I don’t even know how to describe it to you. 

Yes, we decide. 



Sunday, May 21, 2023

Each chive blossom contains one small bug

and for a moment, I am in awe, an entire world in my herb garden, and I am just a visitor, clearing out the weeds, untangling the thyme, which is creeping out onto the patio and winding around the outdoor furniture. I am in a constant battle with my yard. What to leave alone. What to cut and yank. The bugs to flick away. 

The ones to smush. 

This bug looks like a ladybug, so it's on the cute side when it comes to bugs. I have to put on my reading glasses to get a better look. I make a snap decision. Smush it. But now I feel a twinge of guilt. In my defense I was in the middle of making Chive Blossom Vinegar. 

Here is the recipe:

1. Pack a jar half full with chive blossoms. 

2. Add white vinegar. 

3. Let it sit for two weeks. 

4. Drain the soggy blossoms, and wah lah! A lovely, purply-colored vinegar for tossing on your salad.

Meanwhile I am reading a book about awe, called Awe. The author is a scientist who studies awe, carefully detailing what awe is ("the feeling of being in the presence of something vast") and how experiencing that feeling can help us (it takes us outside of ourselves, reminds us of our connection to each other and to the wider world).  

The book is broken into sections on where we can find awe, such as being in nature, listening to music or looking at art. There are studies on how awe can positively affect our minds and bodies. I believe all of this, and like the author, I want to feel awe every day. 

But the biggest takeaway of the book is that it doesn't have to be a big momentous occasion to catch the benefit. Because how many times in your life do you get one of those? I'm thinking of a few years ago when my son took my husband and me to Yosemite and that first glance at the mountains rising up around the bend in the road and how we all gasped at once. Or the time I wandered into a random church in Prague and I was all alone in the quiet space and found myself bursting into tears. 

Those chive blossoms aren't really blossoms, but pink-purple balls, each one made up of thread-like strands--petals, fronds? (another thing I don't know) and so intricately designed, it is almost a shame to lop them off, drop them in a jar. 

But a wonder too, that together we can make something beautiful.  

PS. Next time I won't smush the bugs.  


Sunday, May 14, 2023

I'm only here to ride the elevator

is what it says on the little boy's t-shirt. He's a regular patron at our library who comes in once a week with his grandfather, and as his t-shirt makes clear, he likes to ride the elevator. 

This was impossible when the elevator was closed for repairs (FOR A YEAR but who's counting), a major annoyance for pretty much everyone--the staff who had to heft books by the armloads up and down the stairs, the parents with babies in strollers, anyone with bad knees. But the little boy was actually cool with it. 

The broken elevator was a seemingly endless source of interest to him. Why was it broken and when would it be fixed, and how... And you should've seen the joy and wonder on his face on the days when workers were there, actively working on the elevator. 

He reminded me of my son when he was about the same age, a day at the zoo a million years ago, there to see the animals, but instead we sat for two hours on a bench near a fenced off construction area and watched a cement mixer pour cement. Another time when my daughter laughed hysterically in the driveway as a stray cat wound around her legs. 

I can still hear her high, sweet voice singing over and over: "Kitty go round me! Kitty go round me!" And what do you do in moments like that except exclaim yourself. Look at that cement mixer! Or, You're right, what a silly kitty! Until you swear you can feel it too, the joy and wonder of a three-year-old.

This morning I headed out into the garden. Mother's Day, for me, means a day of planting, and I am all business. Setting out vegetable seedlings I bought from the farmers market and flower seeds carefully collected last fall. The gardening tools and plastic planters. The graph paper notebook I use to chart out where to plant. 

I am the opposite of a three-year-old. 

It is sunny and warm and before long I am sweaty, dirty, stopping only when my kids, long grown and flown, call to say hello and catch up, and then it is back to work. Digging, mulching, labeling, falling into the rhythm of it, the dog snoozing nearby, overhead a mourning dove making that coo coo coo sound I love, my fingers in the soil, and then

Look! on a lettuce leaf a slug, its weird tiny antennae twitching. Instead of flicking it off how I normally would, I scooch in closer, on hands and knees now, grinning like a goofball, 

careful and curious as a child. 

Sunday, May 7, 2023

At the Cactus Store

you can buy a miniature cactus. You can pick out a lovely little container and decorative rocks to fill it. You can buy an adorable hat to put on your cactus. Or skip the hat. I skipped the hat. (It was five dollars, which seemed a little over the top to me?) But otherwise, I was getting a kick out of the entire process. 

There's a table in the back room of the store where someone assists you with the planting. How to loosen the cactus roots and set it carefully into the dirt. How to tamp it all down with the decorative rocks. A handy instruction sheet for cactus care. 

This is an actual store within walking distance of my home. It's next door to the Colorful Stones Shop and the place where they sell vegan ice cream. Last week less than a mile away, in the opposite direction, there was a drag race. Apparently, one hundred cars showed up to race along with dozens of spectators. 

It was eleven o'clock at night and the spectators ran out into the road and stopped cars that were driving by. They were clearing the street so they could have their drag race. I didn't hear it when it was happening, even though the police were called and shots were fired and the one hundred cars sped out through the side streets in my neighborhood, the streaks of headlights caught on various people's Ring cameras. 

The dog and I slept through the whole thing. 

I was conked out from multiple hospital visits. I don't know what the dog's excuse was. Maybe she caught some of my anxiety. Maybe she's just old. Or she needs the rest. We all need the rest. The patient is back home and doing fine. But it was a close call. 

The world is a close call. 

For a day all my neighbors can talk about is the drag race, oh my god how dangerous this was and what if someone got hurt or worse, but then we all let it go. I can tell you one thing I know for sure: It is relatively easy to take care of a miniature cactus. 

Give it a good watering once a month. Basically, that's it. It doesn't feel like enough, but what are you going to do?

You do it. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The coffee machine in the hotel room doesn't work

It's sort of the same kind I have at home, so I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I added the water. I popped the little coffee pod into the correct slot. Is this thing on? Is it plugged in? 

It doesn't help that I haven't had my coffee yet. I am bleary-eyed and groggy. And I'm feeling anxious. I'm supposed to be leaving the hotel for a writing event soon. I'm slated to teach writing classes to middle school students. Trust me when I tell you I need coffee for this. 

At least from what I remember, I do. The last time I did a school visit was February 2020. Driving up the day before--(only a two hour drive but still)--I am also anxious. It's a mixture of driving alone (never been a huge fan), wanting to do a good job with my writing lesson, and a residual worry leftover from the major surgery my loved one went through several weeks ago. He's got a follow up appointment today. While I am teaching the middle school students. 

But okay. I can do this. Leave him for the night. Drive two hours. Teach writing classes. Make a cup of coffee... That first week in the hospital, a friend told me I could do hard things. But what if I can't do easy things? 

I trace the coffee cord. Unplug it and plug it back in. Squatting in front of the machine, I notice there's a graphic on the bottom. Directions! 

I have to put on my reading glasses to decipher it. Ha! Apparently, there's an order of operations to this device. 

1. Insert the coffee pod. 

2. Add water. 

3. Set your coffee cup under the Where the Coffee Will Come Out thingy

4. Press the On button.

I feel like I've summited Mt. Everest when I hear the familiar gurgle emanating from the machine, see that first welcome shot of coffee sputtering into the cup. The writing classes go well. What I want to say comes back to me. The kids are sweet. 

But I hit another snafu on the way home. Before I leave the event center parking lot, I plug in my phone GPS and the sound doesn't pick up on my car. What is wrong with this thing? I run through every possibility I can think of, and then, just let it go. 

If I want to get out of here, I'll need to do it old school, by paying attention to the road signs. 

Everything was fine at the follow-up appointment. But a few days later we are back in the hospital. That first drive in the dark to the emergency room, the walk past the ridiculous Chihuly glass, I think I might lose my mind. 

I don't know how things work anymore. And what the hell is the order of operations? 

I have no idea. All I know is somehow the coffee got made. And twenty miles into the trip, the GPS flicked itself on loudly, its calm, steady voice leading me the rest of the way home.   

Sunday, April 23, 2023

I am in a battle with grubs

the grubs are nibbling away at my front lawn, slowly, or maybe, not so slowly, taking it over. This is not a new problem. But now it's spring, and I actually have to deal with it. How I am dealing with it is how I deal with a lot of problems. 


This means researching. Talking about it with my husband and kids. Journaling. Talking about it with friends. Attending a lecture at the library called "Gardening with Nature in Mind." Talking about it with random strangers. And finally, just bucking up and taking action. 

The action entails getting down on my hands and knees and digging up the dead patches of lawn, finding the grubs, and plucking them out one by one. Their wormy goopy curled-up bodies initially activate a major ick response in me, but eventually, I get over it. This is war and I am going to win it. 

You are not going to win it, the "Gardening with Nature in Mind" teacher says emphatically, during her lecture. Nature always wins. 

I write these words of wisdom in the Notes feature on my phone so I won't forget them. Also, some other interesting tidbits, such as:

Plants are talking to us; we just don't understand the language.


If you're poisoning your lawn, you're poisoning you.

Later, I head back outside and fill three yard-waste containers with dead lawn and goopy grubs. If they are speaking to me, I can't hear them, but I can imagine: Leave me alone. I want to eat grass. I want to snooze with a full belly in my warm bed of soil. I don't care about the destruction of your yard. 

I realize as I write this that I am not writing about battling grubs. I am writing about relationships that pain me, but have no clear resolution. At least no resolution that I can see, and this is--I promise you!!-- after an obsessive amount of researching and journaling and talking talking talking.

The gardening expert at the library reminds us that it’s all about finding the balance between changing the things you can and accepting the things you can’t. 

I haul the yard waste containers up to the curb for trash pickup. In the bare spots of soil, I drop clover seeds and plant flowers. I know there are more grubs burrowing under my knees. I will let them go for now. 


Sunday, April 16, 2023


Yesterday my plants were crushed by a maintenance guy. Which upset me, to put it mildly. 

These were lovely hostas, their stalks poking out, their leaves just on the verge of unfurling. All of this gorgeous spring weather we've had this week, and I'd been outside sprucing up the garden, reveling in the sun on my skin, a much needed break

from the visits to the hospital, the multiple back-and-forths, the simmering-under-the-surface anxiety, but that was over now and tucked safely in the rearview mirror. 

Everything is fine. We are fine. I am fine. 

I tend to the plants in the evenings. Set out dishes of fresh water for the toads. I find one asleep in a pile of leaves when I am combing through the matted oregano, scoop it up, a heart-sized ball thrumming in my hands.

A younger version of myself would have screeched in surprise, would have tossed the thing without a second thought. But old me, new me sets it back down in the oregano patch, close to his water dish. His, her, their? I know nothing about toads, 

but I suspect they want what all of us do. Gentleness. Care. Or maybe I am thinking too hard. Maybe all they want is to live on this earth, undisturbed. 

I know the maintenance guy didn't notice the hostas, didn't purposely grind his boot over them when he was doing maintenance on our air conditioning unit, which happens to be located at the edge of my garden. He was preoccupied by his job, just going about his business, and who can blame him. 

Still, the crushed plants crushed me. When I found them, I was over-the-top enraged and in tears, and possibly alarming the neighbors. My husband consoled me for a minute and then escaped inside to take a nap. I stayed outside with the toad, nursing my anger. I have a right to be mad! 

But even as I was reassuring myself, I knew it was more than a crushed plant that was crushing me. Sometimes we need an escape valve, a release from bottled up stresses. And as far as releases go, this was a damn good one.  

Anyway, the air conditioner is fixed. The plants will come back.


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Hanging out in a hospital waiting room

is like being stuck at the airport. Nothing is under your control. There's a lot of walking, sitting. Waiting. Before I leave the house, I even pack the same things. My laptop and power cord. Phone charger. Snacks. A bottle of water. A nice hefty churning chunk of anxiety comes along with me too. 

I imagine the flight being delayed. I imagine myself missing the connection. I imagine the plane dropping out of the sky. 

When I am at the airport, I always read a book. And then, after, I will forever associate that story with my travels. This time I am reading the book Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. It's historical fiction, set during World War Two, and has no parallels to me, my life now, and why I am presently sitting in a hospital waiting room. I love this book. I love every exquisite sentence. 

Ten chapters in, and my loved one is out of surgery. All went well, they tell me. I am greatly relieved. I move from the waiting room up to the patient's room and now the real waiting begins. 

One long day and I know this place. 

The Jello cups. The muffled hallway sounds. The pattern on the hospital gowns. One day. Two. The nursing staff leaves, and the new staff arrives. And the next group. And the next.  

In my book the main character is a woman who works at the naval yard and is training to be a deep sea diver. I didn't know they let women dive back then. Or work for the navy. The suit she wears weighs two hundred pounds, and for a moment, when they close her up in it, she is terrified, as if she is trapped in cement. But when she slips below the water line, she finds her bearings in the murk. Her task is to tie a knot. 

Above water I fumble opening Jello cups. The nursing staff changes over again, but now I know everyone on every rotation. I race home to walk the dog, and I am back at the hospital. Pass the information desk, a hallway with dangling lights, the always crowded Starbucks. A Chihuly glass installation. Why is there a Chihuly glass installation in a hospital? Who knows. It's pretty, though. 

Meanwhile, the main character ties the knot underwater. She rises to the surface, triumphant. I've lost track of time. Three days. Four days. Another dash back and forth to let the dog out. She sniffs around the garden where only a week ago, I planted lettuce. Now, like a miracle, a sprinkle of green. 

Five days. Six. Someone tells me it's Easter. Back to the hospital, another miracle.

We're going home. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

I was going to plant lettuce yesterday

but it was too windy. It was too windy for a lot of things. Instead, I went to the grocery store. I was thinking about storms breaking out across the country and school shootings and a person who shall not be named getting indicted and who knows how that will end up, whatever kind of carnage this might unleash. 

I was standing in line to pick up a prescription at the grocery store pharmacy, and the line wasn't moving. I did one of the calming-breathing exercises my therapist taught me. The calming-breathing exercise was not really doing it for me. The line was not budging. The song "Under My Umbrella" by Rihanna came on and I found myself swaying to the music. 

When she says, You can stand under my umbrella ella ella, ay ay ay, I starting singing the song under my breath, laughing a little too, because it just seemed odd to me that this song was playing as the grocery store background music. I remember when this song came out, and my son, who was in middle school, used to sing the AY AY AY part at the top of his lungs. 

That was sixteen years ago. Now, I am feeling old and one of my loved ones is having surgery this week, and the truth is there is no space left in my head for storms or school shootings or indictments. 

Time for more calming-breathing exercises. Or maybe time to try something else? Last week when I told my therapist I was a little anxious, she said I might try "leaning into the anxiety" instead of struggling to squelch it. Take a brisk walk, she suggested. Or dance to loud music. 

The theory is that if your heart rate's already up, just go with it. I went with it in the line at the grocery store pharmacy. I went with it later when I was standing in line at the garden center, buying my lettuce seeds. When I got home, I braved the weather and took the dog for a walk. 

The wind blasted us, and for a few minutes, we were pelted with hard icy drops of rain. I had my earbuds in, the umbrella song on repeat. The dog and I walked briskly, and then we ran. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

In Another Country

It's sunny here and warm. The kind of warm that feels like a hug. My aunt hugs me when she picks me up from the airport. We get to talking before I finish sliding my roll-y suitcase into the back seat. My aunt is a talker. And if you know me in real life, you know that I am a talker too. When we get together, the talking is next level.

Before we hit the highway, we've covered the book I was reading on the plane, what's up with her friends in the condo community, how the little dog she's been dog-sitting is settling in, book banning (we're both against it), the weather (supposed to be hot this weekend in this part of Florida), and all the latest news on my kids--

with a dizzying digression into the past, as my aunt recalls funny stories, sad stories and everything in between about the kids when they were little, about the kids (me and my siblings) when I was little, about the kids (her and her siblings) when she was little, and weirdly, none of it feels in the past. 

My kids are five years old, and I am five years old, and she is, and all of it is happening, is always happening.

And then we are here, in her cute condo with her cute little foster dog, who is suspicious of me but decides to give me a chance. My aunt and I talk way past my usual bedtime. We talk in the morning after she wakes up, earlier than her usual waking-up-time. We talk over lunch. Over dinner. And up late again. And just when I think maybe we are talked out, she tells me a story,

which reminds me of a story, which reminds her of another one. It's been quite a few years since I've visited her, but when I slip outside (WHEW IT IS HOT!) to take a walk, I wonder if I will remember the layout of this neighborhood, the route to a pond where there's a walking trail and all of these condos looking very much the same. What if I get lost?  

But as soon as I set out, it comes back to me. A turn at this corner, a turn at the next. The pond with the signs warning me to beware of the alligator, which I have never seen (but sorta want to!) The palm frond designs etched into the sidewalk squares. A beautiful bird that I don't know the name of, but I snap a picture of it, and only later, remember that years ago, the last time I was here, I saw the same kind of bird and thought the same thing. 

Maybe it is the same bird. Maybe I am the same person. Maybe time stops in this place, and I am always taking pictures of those creepy and yet somehow adorable little lizards that scuttle across the path as I walk. Around the pond, the heat really starting to get to me now, and back to my aunt's condo, only overshooting it by a couple of condos. I have to double-back, where I find her

just setting out the little dog--and it really is so different from her last little dog, the one she loved for years--and yet, it is entirely the same. 


Sunday, March 19, 2023

I still haven't finished painting the closet

but I have made serious progress on it. The scraping. The caulking. One coat of primer, and yesterday,

another coat. But then I got stuck for a few hours contemplating the ceiling. First, because I realized I didn't have any paint rollers, and painting ceilings, I've learned, is much easier with a roller (and much more professional-looking too). So, off I went to the hardware store to buy rollers, mid-job, and somewhat paint-spattered. 

Also, I had less than a quarter can of ceiling paint. Would that be enough? I paid for the rollers but passed on the paint, and let me tell you later, what a nail biter that turned out to be. But whew, it was enough. 

Ceiling done, and now all that's left are the actual walls, the part of "painting the closet" that most people imagine I'm talking about when I say I am painting the closet. 

Everything takes so much longer than I imagine at the start. 

The book I began writing three years ago, for example. A messy draft "finished," but it wriggled around all over the place, morphing into several possible books. The therapy I started last year, just a little tweak of the psyche, I thought, at the beginning, but it has morphed along too, spiraling in multiple directions, 

breaking me open in ways I never dreamed, and still, barely past the scraping and caulking phase, and nowhere near the finished product. I know I know, deconstructing the very core of your own self isn't like painting a closet. Or writing a book. 

I'd put that away for a while, (the book writing) and a few months ago, plunged back in, trying to trace the various potential storylines and finding what seemed to be two decent possibilities. A friend told me, Hey! Why not write both books? And I laughed and laughed, but then I seriously considered it. Why not? 

The brainstorming and revising, the caulking and priming, the tearing apart and forgiving—others, myself— 

maybe the point isn’t perfect completion, but gathering the tools, dipping the brush, moving past the beginning, and somewhere into the middle, 

where it’s good enough, for today.