Saturday, December 31, 2016


We make resolutions, promises, declarations of change, fist slamming into the table, things will be different. They will change. I will change. Things will be better. New year, fresh start. Change.

We reach the end of the year, tired, holiday hangovers, a year's worth of regret, of problems, of pain. The human need to quantify and qualify, to measure out time in manageable chunks, to put an end and a beginning on time. Next year will be better.

This has been a tough year, the first year that age has been a factor, has been felt, felt in my bones, my knees, my soul. Seen on my face. Realizations. The moment time stops and you look around and see the scenes of your life playing out and you wonder who wrote the script? Who cast those actors? Who is directing this mess?

Things will be better next year.

Fear of making mistakes, making the wrong decisions. Forever sitting on the fence, one foot down and then back up again, turning a different direction then back. Never committing, never jumping down and walking away without looking back. Next year will be different, never year will be better.

Next year.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


I wrote a short essay about my grandmother when I was a senior in high school. It was titled "Grandma's Last Dance" and it described the gradual decline I had witnessed in her during my 17 years of life. The small things. She was quieter, perhaps not as vocal, as active, as sharp. When I wrote that essay, she was only 65 - so old in the eyes of a 17 year old and yet so young to me now. Grandma at 65. Still driving, still walking, still dressing herself. Still cooking and talking and laughing. Still taking care of everyone around her. Still so young.

It is now 20 years later. How could I have written "Grandma's Last Dance" back then and left nothing for now? If her last dance was 20 years ago, what is happening now? What is this? Her last cry? Her last stumble? Her last desperate plea? What is this? Who is this woman?

It all started with her hands. I stood next to her hospital bed, cutting up the turkey sausage and scrambled eggs, getting ready to feed her breakfast. Grandma was fidgeting as always, touching this, grabbing that, nearly tipping over the plate of food into her towel-covered lap. Suddenly, she stopped and looked at her hands. She looked at them in amazement, as if she had never noticed them before, or as if she didn't recognize them. She didn't.

"How ugly!" she cried out, a look of horror and astonishment on her always dramatic face. "These hands. . .so ugly."

I stopped cutting up her food and looked. I looked at her hands. Fingers thin with large, arthritic joints. Skin like paper, so thin, so fragile, barely covering veins and bones. Bruises, dark and angry, overlapped on top of each other, some fading and faint and some new and alive. Brown blotches scattered like sad polka-dots. Bumps and scars and band-aids from multiple blood draws. A plastic IV line snaking up one wrist.

I looked at her hands. I saw hands sprinkled with baby powder from changing diapers on five babies all born within 6 years. Hands spattered with cooking grease from the hundreds of pot roasts cooked for Sunday dinners (with never enough gravy to go around). Hands dry and cracked from cleaning and scrubbing and bathing and caring for everyone around her and rarely for herself. Hands splattered with paint and varnish from refurnishing the antiques she loved and bought and sold. Hands moving across paper as she took notes at Cornell, the only woman in a microbiology lecture hall full of men. Hands sunburned from haying on the farm where she was born and grew up. Hands ink-stained from drawing in high school, back when dreams of being an artist or fashion designer filled her head. Hands that had comforted me a thousand times. Grandma's hands.

"You're hands are beautiful", I told her, grasping her cold fingers in my warm hands. "They are beautiful."

I looked at her, the old woman in the bed. Tiny, withered, white hair falling limp across her forehead. Arms and legs a bit contracted, head and neck always leaning toward the left. Small enough that I could lift her, hold her, as she once held me. I searched for my grandmother, for the woman I once knew. I searched.


"What is something special about her?", the nurse asked, as she perfunctorily filled out the white board hanging on the wall, carefully writing her name and phone extension, the date, the plan for the day ("control pain" and "get x-rays") and then paused, her black dry erase marker hovering over the box where she had to write something special about each patient. I had no voice. I was frozen. I could not think of a thing for her to write in that little square. A summary of a life in a small box. What is special about her? What is the one thing that she would want them to know?

"She yodels", I finally said, surprised as I heard the words come out of my mouth. The nurse turned and looked at me, a funny look on her face. "Yodels?" she asked, wrinkling her nose, "how do you spell that?" turning back to the board.

Grandma yodels. It is family lore, it is something unique, it was a sound heard throughout my childhood. Grandma loved to yodel. When she was younger her voice would rise like a summer sun, warm and bright, breaking to hit those high notes. She couldn't sing, couldn't carry a tune, but oh she could yodel.

She still can. She remembers. She yodeled for the nurse who took it in wide-eyed, not expecting to hear the clear, loud notes come from the tiny, confused woman. She yodeled for a minute, then stopped and closed her eyes. Tired. Enough.

She wanted me to sit where she could see me, she wanted to know I was there. She would lightly doze, occasionally opening her eyes to make sure I was still there before absently smiling and returning to sleep. Sometimes, however, this made her angry, seeing me sitting there. She would suddenly rise up in bed, with the strength of  a wild animal, and scream at me to "get out! get out! you stupid fool, get out of here!" and she would throw off her blankets, shake the bed rails and shriek maniacally. Sometimes she would grab my hand and tell me they were coming to get us and I had to run, run, run! And sometimes she would grab my arm and squeeze it hard, digging her nails into my skin, trying to hurt me, her lips pressed tightly together with the effort, her hand shaking with rage before dropping limply to her side. She would look at me with pure hatred on her face, and then the expression would be gone and only confusion would remain. Then, sometimes, she would lay back on the pillow and allow streams of words to spill from her mouth. . .beautiful nonsensical poetry:

"The flies, the flies they come today. . .why do they come and fly away. . ."

"The dreams they dance on the plate like flowers. . ."

And, once in a while, she would turn to me and say:

"I love you so much" or "Why don't you love me anymore?" or "Will you love me for all time?"

When she got too angry, too distressed, too scared of the people who were coming to get her, we listened to music on my phone, we listened to the old tunes she loved with the the words that she still knew:

Make the world go away
And get it off my shoulders
Say the things you used to say
And make the world go away
Do you remember when you loved me
Before the world took me astray?
If you do, then forgive me
And make the world go away
Make the world go away
And get it off my shoulders
Say the things you used to say
And make the world go away
I'm sorry if I hurt you
I'll make it up day by day
Just say you love me like you used to
And make the world go away.

Make the world go away
And get it off my shoulders
Say the things you used to say
And make the world go away

And then other times nothing would calm her, nothing would distract her, and the rage would build and build until a nurse would come in with a little paper cup. Sometimes.

She couldn't understand her pain, her inability to move that left leg. She would stare at her leg, muttering "come on! come on!" under her breathe as strained to move it. She would fling back her blankets and start to swing her good leg over the bed side before being restrained by that leg, that dead weight, that just wouldn't move. She didn't understand.

She didn't understand all the people, all wanting to touch and poke and prod and hurt her. The constant needles, always more blood to draw, more IVs to start. "Such small veins!" they would all sigh as they poked at her thin forearms, before attempting and failing to place the needle. Moving her in bed was an ordeal. She hurt, she didn't want to move, she didn't want to turn, she didn't want us to clean her, change her, help her. The screams. The desperate panic. The moaning and begging to stop hurting her. How many times I have heard this as a nurse, how many times it has caused me pain. This time it breaks my heart.

"Why do you keep hurting me?" she asked through tears, looking straight into my eyes. I would leave the room for a minute and when I had come back in she had forgotten about the pain. The pain I had caused as I had lifted her broken leg onto a pillow or adjusted her body so she wouldn't get a pressure sore. I would stroke her hair, pull her blankets close around her shoulders. Touch her with love. No pain. Please don't associate my touch with pain.

I found myself calling her "baby" without meaning to, calling her "baby" like I call my son when he is crying or hurt. "Don't call me 'baby', I'm a big boy!" he always says defiantly, but Grandma would just nod her head and smile.

I never noticed before that her nose is crooked. I never noticed until I spent hours watching her sleep, watching her face slowly sink further and further into the mountain of pillows surrounding her. Her nose is crooked, bending slightly toward the right. Her cheeks are still smooth, smooth and soft at 85. She has a small patch of stiff, white hairs poking out of her chin - not a lot, just a few, maybe eight. I count them. I watch her chest rise and fall, so slowly, as she sleeps. The loose skin of her neck moves gently with each breathe. I watched her sleep.

Grandma's last dance. It wasn't her last dance, all those years ago, it wasn't even close. She still dances, even with a broken hip and a broken mind, she still dances. I searched for my grandmother in the tiny old woman laying in that hospital bed and I found parts of her, pieces all mixed together. Still the passion, the voice, the smile. The strong hands. The flaws. The absolute beauty. Her music is still playing. She is still dancing. . .even though she doesn't always realize it.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


I was once told that I would "never be happy". It was not a passing comment, or a prediction, it was just a factual statement told to me by someone who knew me well and who was trying to make me understand. Understand why I was always frustrated and anxious, why I could never relax, be satisfied, be content.

Content. That is a state of being I have never mastered. Always looking forward, wanting more, planning something, daydreaming of what could be. A dreamer, yes, but a functional dreamer. A girl who could work 40 hours at a soul-sucking job and seem completely at ease in the world, all while feeling completely empty inside.

In my 20's. . .oh my 20's. . .I heard so often, from everybody. . ."you'll grow out of it". Grow out of what? My dreams? My wanderlust? My hunger for the new, the weird, the fascinating? It was always there. I gave in, occasionally, and went off to Spain, to Latin America, to Africa. Never for long, never as long as I wanted. I always came back, fearful, scared, unsure. Surrounded by people who didn't understand, didn't get it, just didn't think like me. It was before social media, before you could sit down and search in Facebook for "Wanderlust" and instantly be connected to 10,000 people around the world who also googled searched flights to India just for fun. No, back then you had to meet people the old-fashioned way, and the people I met had mortgages and kids and blouses from Ann Taylor and my conversations with them were forced and unnatural. When I did meet someone who understand, when I found a kindred spirit, I tended to jump, attach, seek fulfillment, declare them soulmates, blind to anything else.

The mistakes made. The emotions wasted. The path that brought me here.

"You will never be happy."

Recently, I read a book about creativity, and the author shared her belief that ideas - ideas for books, art, poetry, movies, whatever - that ideas exist outside of humanity and sort of float around aimlessly until they find a suitable vector, a physical being to inhabit in order to make itself a reality. If the physical being does not recognize this idea and does not allow it to manifest itself, to come into creation. . .in other words, if the chosen human does not write that book or create that art installation, the idea will pick up and leave, will float around, will find someone else.

At the time, I thought that was the dumbest thing I have ever read, but obviously it has stuck with me, except for me, it's not an idea or inspiration that inhabited me. . .it was this feeling, this notion, this energy, this drive, this absolute truth that I was meant for other things. For great things. For adventure. For a creative life. For far-reaching connections with humanity. For a different path, the rocky uneven path through the heart of the rainforest. The things that excited me, that thrilled me, that awakened me. Where I was natural, where I shined. Where I was surrounded by people who felt the same way.

I was inhabited by an all-encompassing hunger for the unknown.

This spirit, energy, whatever you want to call it, dwelt with me for years. It gave me every chance to embrace it, pursue it, manifest it. I never did.

Now it is gone. I awoke one morning a couple of months ago and felt its absence. At first, I thought it would be back, that it had just shrunk down, maybe cocooned itself for a bit. But no, it's gone.

I'm fine. That dull, meaningless word. Fine. I'm not happy or unhappy. I just am. Is this contentment? Folding laundry on a Saturday morning? No plans, no one to talk to, no excitement in the day? No longing to take out a kayak and lose myself in the mangroves? No wistful glances at my dust-covered passport? Drinking coffee, walking the dogs, going through the motions, no real desire for anything?

"You will never be happy."

Maybe he was right. Maybe this is as good as it gets for me. It's not depression, it's more an acceptance of what life is and what it will be. 38, kid, mortgage, 9-5 job, pets, bills, car, packing lunches, driving to school. Debt. Home repairs, dryer making a weird sound, broken glass in the door, kitchen needs new caulking, pressure washing, toilet scrubbing, on-call, work, life.

"You'll grow out of it" - No, I didn't grow out of anything. The "it" outgrew me. The "it" got tired of waiting. The "it" moved on to someone else.

I hope it moved onto my child. If Max ever comes to me, with a light in his eyes, and says to me, "Mom, I don't know what to do, I'm just not happy, I want to. . .go somewhere. . .try something new. . .this just isn't me". . .I will look at him and say just one word. The word I wish I would have heard a million times over. The word that should have been my mantra. The word that can set you free.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016


My dream last night:

Sitting in a cafe on a lovely, foggy street. Obviously in Europe. . .just obviously. Across the street I see the ocean and tiny islands scattered in a line to the horizon. It is chilly out, a mist in the air, waves breaking onto rocks. I run over with a camera to take a picture, and notice a carnival - quaint, retro, the rides shimmering in the fog. All bright pastels against the grays. One ride catches my eye - it is a spinning carousal that lifts high into the sky, back and forth, the laughing children on the ride appearing and disappearing. I pick up my camera and take a photo right as the ride is above me and it is perfect - the kids with a 1,000 different expressions, the colors of the ride pink and green, the ocean crashing at just the right moment. A woman comes up behind me and points at the photo on my camera and shakes her head while smiling "I've been trying to get that shot for years" she said before walking away.

I cross back over the street and return to the cafe. My friend sits there with his coffee. I am excited, I say "Let's go! We've never been to Copenhagen, to Amsterdam, to Berlin. . .let's just go, like we used to!"

He sadly shakes his head. "You have no shoes" he says. I look down at my feet, dirty and bare, and realize he's right. I can't go. I don't have any shoes. Suddenly, the joy is gone and the dream fades away.

It was the sort of dream that left me feeling rather sad this morning.

Other things I dreamt about last night:

Arriving at a yoga class only to find out it was over and watching the people stream from the classroom, holding their mats, all with that slightly dazed, glowing expression that only an hour of yoga can produce. I felt so alone and forgotten.

Trying to take Sammy to the vet only to realize that he has a new owner who had come to take him away from me. He was an old man, white hair and beard, looked like a psychology professor. I cried as he took my dog, but I knew I had no choice in the matter. The old man told me to "leave now" and I did.

There is one more, but it is too fuzzy in my head, I didn't capture it quickly enough. I just have vague images of sitting on a patio with two women drinking coffee while someone was trying to break down the door to get to us. None of us seemed overly concerned.

Time for coffee, dog walking, and another day of training for my new job. It's one of those mornings that I am having trouble shaking off the world of dreams, the grey fog that followed me through each dream still surrounds me. It's one of those mornings I wish I could sit here and write, work on (one of) my books that exist in fragments scattered through piles of notebooks and random Word documents. Someday they will all come together. Maybe someday. Today, however, I have to shake the fog and return to reality.

(I really wish I had been wearing shoes. . .)

Monday, May 30, 2016


Sometimes I don't want to be a mother. The constant need, the constant demand of my attention, my thoughts, my heart, my soul. My ears tuned to him, to the constant stream of "Mama. . .Mama", to the laughter and the coughs, the banging and the sudden silence followed by a wail of pain. Silence. Silence used to be a splendid thing, but now, with a child, silence is rarely good, silence signifies an attempt to not get my attention, an attempt to do that thing which a thousand times I have said "No! Do not do!" Silence is climbing on a kitchen counter, eating candy at 3 PM, digging a hole in the front yard. Silence is never true silence, unless they are sleeping. And even then, in sleep, their hold does not lessen - for in sleep, we listen, we strain to hear, are they breathing, are they comfortable, are they sick, are they waking up oh god no, don't wake up, please just go back to sleep.

The child is born, the button is pressed, there is no reprieve, it never ends. The child can be 1,000 miles away, visiting family in another country, and it is still on, you still feel the pull, you wonder, are they OK, are they playing in the pool, is someone watching them, are they safe, are they loved.

No reprieve. You forget yourself, the bubble of protection you always groomed around yourself is formed around them instead. You would do anything, you would stop a speeding bus, you would fling yourself off a cliff, you would do anything to keep them safe. You would starve your soul. You pretty much do.

A symbiotic relationship, is that the right term? What we learned about in science class years ago? The two organisms who cling to each other for life, using each other, feeding off each other, cannot live without the other. The child gets so much - love, food, shelter, protection, knowledge, attention - and the mother, the mother gives so much, gives all of that and more. Gives too much at times. In return. . .what? What is received? Love, need, trust. Late night cuddles, a hopeful face upturned. You are godlike to them - they love and fear you, they want to please you yet constantly fail you. They want your approval and they try to hide the bad things. . .but you know, you always know.

You are the kisser of boo-boos and the cleaner of faces and hands. You are the one who is run to when things go wrong. You are the wiper of tears and the carrier of sleeping bodies, so heavy, how are they so heavy when they sleep? You are absolute truth - the child trusts you with all, the child trusts what you say. You create the child's universe.

No pressure or anything.

Labels in life. We have so many - friend, neighbor, nurse, woman, daughter, wife. We can be any and all. Mother, though, mother comes in and trumps the rest. You are mother first, all of those second.

All of this I wish I had known. But there is no way to know, no way to truly know, until the child is born and the button pushed. By then, it is too late. The button is final. Once pushed, your life is forever changed. For good, for bad, it doesn't matter, it just is. Mother. You are now two hearts, two souls, too bodies. You will be in two places at once, your focus forever divided.

You will never be alone again.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


I have been reading voraciously these past few weeks, inhaling books without stopping to relish the scent, swallowing chapters whole without pausing to chew. Ravenous, needing, double-fisting books. . .ingesting them with both my eyes and my ears. Always a book waiting for me on Audible, always a book waiting for me on Kindle, always a book waiting for me (patient, old-fashioned) on my coffee table.

Non-fiction. Am I lonely? Is that why I have been craving the memoirs and the personal essays? Am I looking for conversation? For friends? For mentors to learn from? For people, for stories, for words and thoughts and emotions free from the restraints of relationships?

Or am I just feeling a bit lost, trying to find my path again, hoping that while strolling down other people's roads I may just stumble back upon my own?

Books chosen by random, what happened to be on my bookshelf, what was "recommended" by Amazon's algorithm. Read without thought as to Why. All by women, by very different women. Women I would never be friends with in real life. Women who dress differently, speak differently, react to grief and loss differently. So foreign to me. Women who I would pass by in a cafe without a second thought, women I would likely judge.

I have found insight in the oddest places, revelation in other people's confusion and answers to my own questions in the thoughts and words of these women, who, removed from myself by time, distance and culture, are safe and nonthreatening. I can react to their lives freely, without worrying about giving appropriate responses or offensive opinions. I am free to like or dislike them, agree or disagree with their choices, and I can close the book at any time, set it down, walk away.

A memoir about a woman wrongly imprisoned during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960's taught me about staying true to yourself, no matter what the consequences. A woman journalist living and working in the middle east taught me to accept and embrace my own crazy and, most recently, an analytical and introspective look at the grieving process by a female icon taught me about love and marriage and the difference between the two.

I have always loved to read, ever since I was a child and systematically read every book my small town library had to offer. I used to love fiction, likely a need to escape my own life and live in a variety of fantasy worlds. In fiction, no matter how realistic, there is a sense of freedom, of complete possibility, of infinite choice. There is separation - too painful, too bold and you can tell yourself, it's not real, it didn't happen, it could never happen.

But non-fiction, solid and absolute, non-fiction is truth. It happened. It could happen again. The person survived or didn't survive. The pain was real, the pleasure a possibility. It is a way to truly live another life, then come back to yourself with more insight and knowledge.

It is a shift from fantasy to reality, from passive dreaming to active planning.

It is a shift from reading to lose yourself to reading to find yourself.

Next step? The shift from reading books to writing them. . .

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I can't believe I bought this book - the title annoys me and the idea of some zen Japanese chick telling me that organizing my sock drawer will change my life really pissed me off. However, I bought it, I read it, and I'm following her plan.

I'm tidying up my life.

Yes, the book is about tidying up your home - simplifying your existence, paring down your massive mountain of belongings to just those things that truly bring you joy, making sure every item in your home has a place and that you return it there - but as I go through it, it truly is affecting more than just my possessions - it is affecting my heart and soul.

First, Zen Lady wants you to take every shirt you own - every sweater, t-shirt and blouse - and throw it onto your floor (or your bed, if you are lazy like me and don't want to bend over) and then take each item and lovingly hold it in your hands to see if it inspires joy. If it does inspire joy, congratulations! you get to keep that shirt. If it does not bring you joy. . .or if it brings you annoyance, anger, guilt or rage. . then into the reject pile it goes.

As I gingerly lifted each item, it got easier and easier to feel the joy or lack of. It also got easier and easier to feel other emotions pour through me - frustration (this shirt is too small, why am I so FAT), anger (I wore this shirt during that shitty job interview), guilt (but this shirt is brand new and I never even wore it!), sorrow (this t-shirt was once soaked with heartbroken tears) and jealousy (this shirt is so cheap, I wish I could afford a better brand). As the emotions swelled, so did my reaction to each; I no longer tossed each rejected item into the pile - I balled up, threw, kicked and violently slammed those infuriating pieces of cloth into the mountain of color that grew at the foot of my bed. With each discarded item, I felt a bit of emotion leave me, until, when I was done, I was left feeling infinitely calmer and less anxious. I bagged up that mass of garments without a second thought and as I tossed the bags into the back of my car (to donate tomorrow) I felt relief and. . .well, joy. It was truly a cathartic experience. . .and a little exhausting.

And all of that from just SHIRTS. Imagine what will happen when I get to accessories, books and, gasp, memorabilia!

The book should really be called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. . .and Letting Go of All of the Pent Up Rage, Frustration, Sadness and Regret that Courses Through Your Body and Gets Transferred to the Mountains of Inanimate Objects You Choose to Surround Yourself With. But I guess that is not as catchy.

On to sorting my pants. . .