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.