As I begin the great Thanksgiving cook-fest, with the feast looming less than twenty-four hours in my future, I thought I’d wipe off my hands on the dish towel and turn from the stove for a few moments to give thanks. Continue reading
Category Archives: The Writing Life
September is here. For me, it’s always been the beginning of a new year, despite there being no symbolic cultural or physical turning of the calendar or changing of the year. I have spent so much of my life in school that it’s always seemed natural to me that the year begins in September and ends in August. I sometimes joke perhaps that is what drew me to Judaism as an adult; it was merely an extension of my pre-existing calendar bias.
Perhaps it’s simpler. I was born in September. I adore the crisp mornings warming into bright sunny afternoons. I adore autumn fruit: shiny red and green and yellow apples, firm and unyielding until baked, cut up and put into a pie or a cobbler, or simply eaten straight from the tree. Cranberries, pears, kumquats, pomegranate fruits. Autumnal vegetables thrill me. I love nothing more than scooping out a pumpkin and roasting the seeds with cinnamon, salt and sugar, or roasting a spaghetti squash and mixing the flesh with butter and salt and pepper for a yummy lunch. Acorn squash cry out to be hollowed out and filled with a turkey-cranberry-bread stuffing and roasted. During the autumn months, I try always to have my home smell of apple cider or wine simmering on the stove with mulling spices, even if the only way I can accomplish that is by lighting one of the Yankee Candle candles that are ubiquitous throughout my space.
Gretchen Rubin‘s “to-do” list for September tells me I should focus on the following items this month.
a) Write a novel.
I’m already working on this. Well, not a novel, but a book. At this stage, I’ve got only notes and the beginnings of a proposal, but it is in progress. See the “Writing the Memoir” tab for more details.
b) Make time.
Much to my eternal chagrin, I have only recently begun to realize – feel it in my bones and understand, realize – that my time with my little boy is glaringly short. With that dawning has come a covenant to spend as much time “in the moment” with him as possible. By “in the moment” I simply mean I try to let everything else go during that time. I try to forget about the dishes piling up in the kitchen sink, or piles of newspapers and old mail growing on the kitchen table and counter, the thousands of Lego blocks strewn about my house like invisible little IEDs waiting for my unsuspecting and not-yet-caffeinated foot to step down and then explode into a thousand points of shearing pain.
Instead, I focus on his obsession with cars – specifically, minivans and SUVs and me getting rid of my current car and substituting either model. My great concession to stop the never-ending and often loud debate was to agree that if I had triplet girls (never, ever, EVER going to happen), I would buy a minivan. Specifically, the Honda Odyssey minivan with a built-in vacuum depicted in a rather amusing commercial.
I focus on his questions about life and death, which are becoming more and more frequent, and less easily answered. I focus on his questions about the new school year and what it will hold, which belie his anxiety about the beginning of kindergarten and the addition of nine children to his tiny little group of eight classmates. I focus on his questions about me having another baby and his envy over the twins one of his friends is soon to have as siblings.
I focus on all these things because I know that someday soon he won’t ask questions of me and he won’t want to talk to me; he’ll ask questions of his friends and he’ll want to talk to his teachers. I know this is normal, and I know it’s healthy, and I know it’s the way the world works. Children are born and cling to their parents for a little while, but then they move on to their autonomous lives faster than anyone expects and can prepare for. But as I sit here writing this, tears snaking down my cheeks, I know I’m ill-prepared to face that. I cannot conceive of it, yet.
So I make time for all of the things that he wants to share with me, no matter how small, and I hope that by making that time and sharing those experiences, I can keep him close and ensure that he will always want to talk to me, to ask me the tough questions and that even though his friends and his non-mama world will get bigger as he does, he will always save a space and time for the woman who will always love him best.
c) Forget about results.
This one I’m going to have some trouble with as I’m an anal-retentive control freak. A lawyer by training and profession, albeit a happily retired one, I’m results oriented. I’ve had a difficult enough time adjusting my life philosophy to embrace the adage that life is about the journey, not the destination. My adult life has been about winning the case, beating the opponent, getting the settlement the client wants. Anything else just didn’t make sense.
I’ve always set goals for myself. I guess it’s been my way of marking off how close I am to achieving my dreams, but now that I’m actually living my dream of a life dedicated to writing, I wonder if I still should be keeping such a strict “to do” list, intent on ticking off items. My tendency to mark off life accomplishments like so many chores hadn’t made me happy, and since I haven’t really had so much time to put into my goals-oriented life plan, I have been happier, more in the moment. Hmmm…..something to ponder.
d) Master a new technology.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, technology is defined as: (1) the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area; (2) a capability given by the practical application of knowledge; (3) a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge; (4) the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor.
When I first read the fourth item on September’s “to-do” list, I scoffed a bit. My first thought was that I could skip it as I’m pretty computer savvy, and our home is filled with just about every new or newish technology available. Then I looked up the definition, and decided to approach this instruction from the angle of learning something new about a subject matter I enjoyed and about which I was already somewhat knowledgeable, namely cooking.
I enjoy cooking, and I know that I need to up my game as it relates to my family’s nutrition as both Ernie Hemingway and The Boy have the palate of a four-year old boy. I can cut The Boy some slack as he’s not too far removed from a four-year-old boy, but Ernie, not so much, as he turned sixty this year and should know better.
So my technology challenge for September shall not involve computer or other information machines or processes, but shall involve the bookcase filled with abandoned and lonely cookbooks, as well as my forlorn All-Clad slow-cooker, my much-loved Zojirushi rice cooker which gets not nearly enough attention from me, my Cuisinart food-processor and Breadman bread machine which haven’t seen me since the last century (and both of which were wedding gifts when I married my first husband in 1999), my much-loved and well-used Kitchen-Aid mixer (I do actually cook sometimes!), and any other kitchen implements and appliances I might come across in my kitchen.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
I stumbled across the blog Two Shoes in Texas earlier today. The author, a woman named Josie, posts writing prompts for her readers to participate in, and the one that started accepting submissions today is called Six Sentence Stories. Each Thursday, Josie posts a new prompt. This week’s prompt is “dream.” Here is my submission.
Your hand snakes over my hip and curls around my hard, rounded belly, tugging slightly to let me know you want me to move backward into the curve of your body. I breathe, feeling you tighten and push between my legs. Your lips on my neck make me shiver, and I put my hands out in front of me, pushing back to get closer to you. Waves of pleasure wash over my consciousness, and my body responds to your touch. I feel my hoarse breath pulsing at the base of my throat. My eyes fly open and I stare out into the dark, but you are gone, the only traces left the echo of my ecstasy and the swirling presence inside me.
I started this blog with just a kernel of an idea: to get my writing out into the world, possibly find a connection with some like-minded people. Seven months later, I’m beginning to figure out why the monumental drive to write and publish a blog – and I hope someday more – lives within me.
I took a long detour in life and very nearly threw away everything that was dear to me because I couldn’t see that where I was for the last 15 or so years was neither who I was nor who I wanted to be. I’m finding my way back to me, day by day, and I hope you’ll be willing and interested to join me for the journey.
With that in mind, I’m making some changes to narrow my focus, to clean up the rough edges and, I hope, find the people who really want to connect with what I have to say. I know I’ve got a long way to go, but to anyone who has read any of my posts, and is reading this now … thank you.
I spent most of the month of June in my car. I’m not exaggerating. I started the month with just over 48,000 miles on my car. On the morning of July 1 when I took my son to camp, I saw a number in excess of 52,000 on the odometer. Barring a coast to coast drive, I didn’t think it was possible for me to put that many miles on my car inside 30 days. I did it, though, all the while listening to audio books, drafting stories in my head, revisiting my past, and blasting 80s music on Sirius radio.
I was in my car so often because we own a condominium in Waterville Valley, NH that we have decided to use as a rental property. My husband bought it in 1997 and until he and I began dating in 2005, it was used as a weekend home base for him and his daughters during their competitive skiing lives, as well as a summer home for his former wife and their daughters. Built in the 1960s, the architects squeezed five bedrooms and two baths, plus a living room, an eat-in kitchen and an attic loft into 1,500-odd square feet. The color scheme is awful – all muted trees and yellows, nothing bright, nothing cheery to make the space appear lighter and more open, but instead determined to make the space claustrophobic and dark. The walls are covered with random, obvious yard sale relics, and whenever we did use the place, it took me hours to clear the musty smell by lighting Yankee Candle candles and opening up the floor to ceiling screens.
The kitchen/living area now boasts a hard wood floor.
The front halls and upstairs hallway are now a glacial bluish-purple color, bringing in much needed brightness. The tchotchke-ridden walls are cleared of most clutter, and the shelves and closets have been cleaned of the books, movies and detritus that was the life of its former tenant. The showers have been re-tiled with bright white and non-moldy grout, there are new toilets. Soon all the remaining wallpaper and paint will be replaced, as we plan to replace the bathroom floors, vanities and all the remaining carpeting. Voila! The transformation will be complete.
Ironically, now that we are in the midst of renovating, it is becoming a place I might like to visit, to spend a weekend or even a week. If I could just get over the fact that it was once my husband’s ex-wife’s favorite place on earth.
I hated going there, resisted with everything I had. The facts of the long drive, none of my own things or my little boy’s toys being there, at least a thirty minute drive to the closest grocery store – hell, to civilization – no television or internet service unless I bring my mobile hotspot (or unless I want to pay for cable and internet service nobody will be using 99% of the time). All of it screamed flee, dig in your heels, hold on tight to your space and your familiar. After many years of debate on the subject, my husband and I agreed to renovate a little bit and put the place into the hands of the property management company for renting out as a vacation spot to skiers in the winter, hikers and bikers in the spring and summer, leaf-peepers in the autumn. Hence, I spent the month of June hoofing it up MA Route 3N from Boston to Concord, NH, US Route 93N from Concord to Waterville Valley, NH.
Thinking. Ruminating. Considering. Dissecting. Grieving.
When I was young and still had a fairly regular relationship with my biological father, he lived in Nashua, NH with his second wife and her two daughters. On the occasions he picked me up for the weekend, on time or at all, we would drive up MA Route 3N to exit 7W. During my regular drives to Waterville Valley during June, I drove past that exit every time I headed north, every time I headed south. Each time I saw a different piece of my childhood cloud my vision. Most of them weren’t pleasant.
There was the fact of the second wife, my step-mother in name. A woman who called herself my mother’s best friend, who encouraged a close friendship between her own daughters and me, who ultimately slept with my mother’s husband and broke up their marriage, albeit, not without significant assistance from my biological father. A woman who deliberately set out to destroy my mother’s marriage and my life simply because she was a lazy cow who couldn’t be bothered with the consequences of sleeping with her best friend’s husband. A woman who, when my biological father adopted her two daughters, told me – a five year old child – that he was their daddy and could no longer be mine; I’d have to find another daddy.
She was a beast, and on days I look pityingly at the misery, the ultimate disaster her marriage became and how it destroyed her two innocent children’s lives, I remember her telling me I had to find a new daddy, and my hatred for her burns infinitely hot. For while she wrecked my home, I ultimately did find a new daddy. In fact, I lucked out and got the best father any child could have asked for, a man who loved me and supported me, adopted me and gave me his name, and never for a moment has treated me any differently than his own biological child, my sister. A man who gave me the love, support, guidance and courage to live my life and make mistakes, so that I could grow up without fear. A man who adopted me at age 21 just because he loved me and because I asked him.
Her own children were not as lucky. My step-sisters, two young women who were adopted by my biological father and were truly my sisters in emotion. I loved them like sisters. We fought like sisters, laughed like sisters, shared like sisters … almost. They were destroyed by their mother’s second marriage, and for that I blame my former step-mother, among others who failed them. I grew up with them, but when their mother’s marriage exploded in horror and insanity, I lost them. My luck in finding a new daddy saved me from the horror they lived, and I was a constant reminder to them of that awful time in their lives, so I lost them. Two of my sisters, a chunk of my childhood gone. Despite the access to information granted us by the internet, I have not seen either of them in over twenty years.
I think of my sisters when I drive past exit 7W. I think of sleepovers and letters written in wavering childish scrawl sharing the little tribulations of our pre-adolescent lives. I think of the bike rides, the shared adventures exploring the woods around the apartment complex where they lived. I think of the time we were all laughing so hard while riding our bikes that I couldn’t see the parked car in front of me and so slammed into its back bumper, causing the metal handlebar edge to gouge an inch-long hole in my left leg at the edge of my kneecap. I remember screaming and screaming until my biological father came and picked me up to carry me back to the apartment. I remember his wife running cold water in the sink, and him holding me while the water ran over the hole and poured red down the drain to reveal the wound, so deep we could see the bone. And I remember him driving me to the emergency room to get my knee stitched up – garishly so, given that it was 1975 – holding my hand while the kindly young man sewed up the hole, marking me forever.
I am so used to the nasty scar on my knee that I hardly notice it unless questioned about it – usually by my son or another small child – but I have been thinking of it almost incessantly since I started my marathon drives to New Hampshire in June.
Just before exit 7W is exit 6, which leads to Silver Lake State Park in Hollis, NH. I think about swimming in the sandy lake with crystal clear water, frolicking and playing with my sisters as though we were little fish, getting my first sunburn, just two rings of red on my eleven year-old shoulders. I remember the square dancing my biological father and his wife did, my sisters and I watching the broad skirts of the women spinning like great snowy tornadoes as they kicked and leaped with into and through their partners’ arms. And I remember my older sister playing on the seesaw with some other kids whose parents were dancing, as well. Until the other child jumped off the seesaw while she was in mid-air and the board came crashing down to the ground, her face hitting the handle hold, her lips opening, blood spraying as if propelled from a pressurized can, fine mist covering the toy and those of us standing nearby as her vocal cords were rubbed raw by her guttural cries. Then my biological father sprinting across the playground area, gathering her up in his arms, carrying her to safety and first aid.
I asked him later how he knew it was her; he said that he just knew her screams. I puzzled at that as a child, but knowing what I now know, perhaps it was more than that. There is part of me that will always surmise it was more, despite my certainty that no matter what the background if my little boy screamed, I would know it, feel it in my bones.
Of course, all the memories triggered by exit 7W lead me down the street called stream of consciousness and onto so many other paths, into dark corners and my own personal nightmare on Elm Street, but those I can’t relive in a single motion while driving. For those, I need the security of my family, the safety of what my hard-fought battles have reaped. I cannot do it while operating an automobile at 75 MPH on the highway. I need my couch, a blanket, a good stiff drink and my husband’s arms around me while I cry.
My familiar happiness muse tells me that July is a month for buying myself some happiness. Without further ado, here’s how I plan to acquire happiness during the month of July.
a) Indulge in a modest splurge. I need a new pair of eyeglasses this month, and rather than head straight for the sale rack at For Eyes, I plan to stop by the fancy-schmancy eyewear store in the next town and pick up the beautiful pair of Tiffany brand glass frames that I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years.
b) Buy needful things. I’m an under-buyer married to an over-buyer. I guess on some level we balance out one another’s purchasing insanity, but rather than accepting that logic, I’m aiming to bring both of us towards the center.
c) Spend out. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten quite good at this. I get rid of worn out or no longer useful items in my household. What I cannot do is apply the same guidelines to my writing. If I’ve written something, even if I know it’s lousy and will never develop into anything other than what first comes out of my pen or keyboard, I am simply unable to get rid of it. I must learn that the delete key can be my friend.
d) Give up something. I’ve given up my bad habits over the years: too many margaritas or glasses of wine, too much partying, driving overly fast, the occasional social cigarette, eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz in one sitting when I’ve had a bad day. I’ve eliminated all of those bad habits as I’ve aged. To be fair, I still do crave that ice cream on really bad days.
One thing I haven’t given up, however, is my worst habit ever. I yell. I have an explosive temper, most especially when I feel defensive. So that’s what I’ll be giving up for the month of July, and I hope for good. I don’t want to yell at my child or my husband anymore, even when I’m seeing red.
I recently discovered the blog The Orange Rhino, written by a mom who decided she was fed up with yelling so much at her kids and decided to stop. Her commitment was 365 days without yelling; I will commit to 30 days and when I fulfill that obligation to myself and my family, I will recommit to the next 30 days.
Lately I’ve been reading some squirmingly honest blog posts and articles by some incredibly brave women. Posts and articles about drug addiction, weight issues, regret at having become a mother, past love affairs, and any number of other cringe-inducing “god, I wish I could erase that from my experience” moments. I’ve had my fair share of those moments, but not many of them are nearly interesting enough to provide me with enough material for a blog post or an article. For example, the time that I told my good friend I would never consider purchasing a particular house that had been for sale for some time because it was on a main cut-through street. A street on which she and her husband had just purchased a house. Ugh.
What reading those pieces has done for me, however, is given me the courage to look at my own life with honesty and try to discriminate between those little moments that are not worth obsessing over and the things that truly deserve my examination and analysis, the moments that have defined me. While most of them have been good moments, I’d be lying if I said that all of them have been.
There is the gut-wrenching divorce from my first husband that shattered my soul.
There is the relationship (or lack thereof) that I have with the man who provided half of my DNA (otherwise known as Sperm Donor) that reverberates through my being, affecting everything from my self-confidence to my willingness to be vulnerable in a relationship. I’d like to be blithe and say that Sperm Donor and how things went down between him and my mother, and between him and me, doesn’t affect me, that he doesn’t have that much power over me, but I’d be lying. The truth is that he was my father for the first five or so years of my life, and his abandonment has caused problems for me, lots of therapy notwithstanding.
There is the ending of my career, the career that I pursued for most of my life with a single-minded drive bordering on obsession.
There is my marriage and learning how to navigate a long term intimate relationship with another human being not related to me by blood.
There is the birth of my son, the most amazing and awe-inspiring gift I’ve ever received, that turned my world upside down and challenged my opinion of myself and my world view.
There is the decision I made to start this blog, to put myself out there for the world to see, flaws included. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that decision set me up for my most recent defining moment.
Last week I received a mass e-mail from Danielle LaPorte, a lifestyle/career guru. She is starting a new magazine in September, and she’s seeking submissions for the inaugural issue. My heart leapt when I read through the submission guidelines, and instantly decided to submit something in each of the categories. Over the last week or so I’ve been revising and shaping up various pieces, and for most of that process I’ve been doubting myself, wondering if I’ve really got any business doing what I intend, wondering if the reviewers will be laughing their asses off reading the materials I’ve submitted. But still I’m going ahead. Heart pounding, mouth dry, hands shaking, I will be pushing the submit button and sending my babies out into the publishing world. I may get my head slapped, but at least I’m moving forward, taking chances, and building the life I want.
With any luck, someday soon I’ll be including a link to my published work. Wish me godspeed and good fortune.
Unwilling to write yesterday for fear I would awaken to find whatever I created was an April Fool’s joke played by the universe, here I am today looking forward to my April goals as promulgated by my happiness muse, Gretchen Rubin.
a) Sing in the morning. I don’t know about singing, but I have started putting on music in the morning when I awaken. I’m afraid if I begin singing, something horrible will happen. Perhaps my husband will divorce me after hearing the horrid noise emanating from my throat, perhaps the skies will open, and the gods will smite me for daring to blemish the beauty of an early morning with something so foul, or my child will be horrified and seek to become emancipated at age five. I have a horrible singing voice and sound like nothing so much as a melee between a bunch of alley cats. My son told me at age three that he didn’t want me to sing to him any longer because I had a terrible voice.
I’ve also purchased an under-counter radio/cd player for my kitchen. In my mind, these types of appliances have long been the province of my grandparents; it seemed as though my nana had some type of machine under every inch of cabinet space in her mongrel kitchen that my grandfather built piece by piece. Regardless, I don’t want a radio taking up valuable counter space, so I caved. I haven’t yet installed it, so Ernie Hemingway hasn’t seen it. I’m hoping the reaction is not explosive, unless it’s along the lines of ‘what a fantastic idea!’
Regardless, the goal seems to be having more lightness and more music in my mornings, so whether I sing is irrelevant. The idea is to make this whole happiness project thing work for me, so I’m not being bullied into singing.
b) Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings. Although not as good as I could be, I’m told I’m actually pretty good at this. Having a young child is terrific practice. The person with whom I have the most trouble in this area is the person with whom it should be easiest. But I’ll keep trying.
c) Be a treasure house of happy memories. Holidays with my family remind me how fabulous we all are at remembering the good and putting aside the unpleasant. It’s not that we forget; it’s that we deliberately choose to put the negative aside in favor of the smiles, the laughter and the warm feelings. This is one of my favorite things about my family, and one of the things I most want to pass on to my child. Having a sense of history, a sense of your place in the world, is important, but having positive experiences to frame your sense of self is one of the most extraordinary gifts a parent can give a child.
d) Take time for projects. I recently cleaned out what we call “Mummy’s Closet” in my house. It’s a small area in the hallway that looks remarkably similar to the closet in which Harry Potter spent his nights while living with the Dursleys of Privet Drive, in which I keep gifts and books and crafting materials. Everything in it is my exclusive domain. I can hardly ever find the things I want in there, and I have found that I often “lose” Christmas and Hanukkah gifts I’ve bought early in the year, so I decided the contents needed to be culled and organized.
I made a pilgrimage to my spiritual home, The Container Store, and purchased several bins, which I separated into three categories: yarn, patterns, crochet hooks and knitting needles; jewelry making supplies; and fabric and sewing notions and patterns. I am hopeful that now I’ve seen all the wondrous colors and projects available to me, I will make time for them. I’ve already made a couple of jewelry items and pulled out a sweater that I started working on before I began law school in 1993. When I asked my mother for help in figuring out where in the pattern I had stopped, we joked that although it’s been so long since I started the sweater that the style has likely gone out of fashion and come back in again.
My main project for April, however, is writing., or rather the devoting of daily time to my writing practice. I’ve got hundreds of starts – stories, essays, poems, just about anything – and I need to devote myself to finishing some things and making other nascent thoughts into reality. I could commit to getting up thirty minutes earlier each morning to write in peace, but I am far too committed to my sleep for that. I’d like to say I’ll take thirty minutes each night after putting my son to be, but I get so little time with Ernie Hemingway as it is that I will not sacrifice those hours each night before we both go to bed. Instead, I will make time during my day, giving up thirty minutes of mindless internet surfing or watching one television show on my DVR. Writing is a much better use of my time, and much more likely to help keep me sane than cruising around the ‘net or watching Emily Thorne get her “Revenge” on the Grayson family.
Writers. Writing. Ernest Hemingway once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
For writers, writing is at once practice and breath. Writers cannot live without writing, cannot live without creating, without that constant striving to reach the pinnacle of a mountain that always seems to grow just beyond your current spot on the trail.
Most of what I write just fills various notebooks I keep around the house; they litter the floor next to my bed, hang out on the table and couch corners, fill up my closet cubbies and my shelving cubes, take up space in my oversized handbag. Regardless of the location, they all share one thing in common: they contain my musings, my stream of consciousness rantings, my worries, my happiness, my grief, my pride, my fears, my love, my anger, my breath. The majority of what I write I wouldn’t publish, as it’s the reflection of my inner mind, but occasionally I spit out something particularly pithy or witty, and I find myself drafting something I want to be seen.
I must write every day. I don’t feel awake or alive until I’ve opened my mind and let the contents flow down my arm and onto the paper. It is likely that nobody will ever read most of what I write, except perhaps my child when he cleans out my house after I’ve lived my life and have moved on from this earth. Even then he probably won’t be particularly concerned with the daily minutiae of my life or musings thereon, but that doesn’t matter to me.
Writing is coffee for me. I need to cleanse my mind each day as surely as I need to have my morning cup of coffee. It matters not whom my audience is, or even if I have an audience. It’s just what I need to do to function, to feel my limbs come alive, to feel the breath move through my lungs and energize my muscles, to fuel my cells.
Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, somebody might find something of interest in what I think and say. Once in a while my thoughts might matter to someone besides me. And maybe my daily practice, the practice of which Hemingway spoke, might one day be just enough to get me to the next level on the trail so I can see past the clouds to the pinnacle, even if only for a moment.