Thank You

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 6.20.01 AM It’s finally arrived! My last day of my daily blog posts. I’m rather proud of myself for being able to blog every day this month and I thank you for stopping by, reading, and sometimes even interacting by leaving comments or liking the posts.

I started this little one-month experiment as a way to reconnect not only with my blog, but, as cheesy as it sounds, to reconnect with myself. Blogging sometimes helps me figure out things in my life. Words and the act of writing can sometimes make order out of chaos. The very act of writing alone organizes as you think of what to write next, what word to use, what colors to paint your world with.

There were days I didn’t want to blog, but I blogged anyway. Sometimes I’d start to panic and think “What if I run out of things to say?” but then I’d sit down and some kind of topic presented itself, as if it was just sitting there waiting for me.

My only rule when sitting down to write was to be genuine. And allow myself to be vulnerable too. It allowed me to post in Lunch With Strangers about meeting my father for lunch and the sadness I feel about letting go of a relationship-that-isn’t.

I wrote about struggles with my son’s behavior in There’s Something Wrong With My Kid and the shame I felt for breaking a plate and screaming out of sheer frustration. And then I heard from dozens of people who wrote to me and said: “Yes. This is happening to me too. I’m part of the Broken Plate Club”, and I was comforted by the idea that maybe I’m not a monster.

I wrote about the things I love in I Love The Way, as an exercise to remember the good in the world when there is so much darkness.

I had days where I made myself laugh, even if no one else did. I loved my Love Poem To Ulgra by Hammertoh the Dwarf, and the idea that my stress level is indicated by my legs’ hair growth.

I re-posted my favorite blog about my difficulties with friendships, and my love for my girlfriends in To The Women I Have Loved And Lost. And I remembered both my worst and best Thanksgivings.

All in all, this month has been a journey, a bit of an adventure, a bit of a nightmare, all wrapped up in a wonderful life-burrito. And I thank you, truly, for reading.

For a long time, I’d given up on thinking of myself as a writer at all, or questioned the point of even trying, but your reading this, your comments, your kind words to me, gave me a little more faith in myself. A much-needed recharge of spirit. And I really mean Thank You.

The blog’s not done, but the daily posts are. I’m going to put my energy this month into rewriting my novel. I hope you’ll check in occasionally, and I’ll occasionally post when something happens where I feel moved to write about it.

I’m actually a little teary right now. It’s probably hormones, but maybe not. Maybe it’s that this has been a great experience. I’m proud of myself for doing it. And I’m astounded that so many of you followed along with me as I put words into order and posted them out in the world. I believe this is an act of magic. Magic does exist; it just doesn’t look the way we expected.

So thanks for the little bit of magic, too, and for helping me to believe.

Top Ten Things That Turn A Mom On

This morning, while scrolling for my Facebook feed I saw a headline from The Elephant Journal that read “Top Ten Things That Turn A Mom On” and I thought WHAT? And then I realized what it actually said was “Top Ten Things That Turn A MAN On.” Oh. That made more sense. And then, imagining the two lists, I thought…I bet those lists would have very, very different things on it.

So here is my list of the

Top Ten Things That Turn A Mom On

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1) Taking a bath without someone pounding on the door because they need to poop and/or they need you to set up the Xbox.

2) Having your husband say without your asking: “Don’t worry about dinner tonight. I got this.”

3) Having the kids actually listen to you and pick up their room/brush their hair/ take a shower.

4) A clean house, free of Lego Death Bombs on your feet.

5) Finding a nice place to get your hair done where the stylist doesn’t need to make small talk and you can just Be. Quiet. And get your head rubbed.

6) Having your head rubbed.

7) Being able to watch some of the programs you’ve recorded to the DVR while the kids play quietly upstairs and don’t try to strangle each other or shout things like “Stop looking at me!”

8) Taking out your winter clothes from last year and trying them on and having them STILL FIT.

9) A good, supportive bra that lifts your boobs and is sorta stylish and doesn’t make you look like you shop in the Granny section at Kmart.

10) A nice glass of wine, a good chocolate truffle, a slice of pizza (warm and gooey), a kiss from your husband on the side of your neck, having enough money in the bank for the essentials and some extras.

*Bonus Turn On*

11) All the male movie stars in England.

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No Sleep For You!

I had one of those ultimate bad-sleeping nights, the kind when you get up in the morning, it’s like trudging through knee-deep sand. The kind where Mr. Sandman has declared “No sleep for you!”

Last night, by 8:45, I was done. Done as in exhausted, and tired of my son’s meltdowns and the kids fighting and cooking food they didn’t want to eat and having to do laundry and clean the house and and and. I was just done. Sleep called to me like a satiny seductress.

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I wanted to wake up at 4AM and get a little recording done. I have a couple of big, ‘important’ books due this week and any progress I can make will mean a less stressful week. So I told everyone I was going to bed. I immediately fell asleep. By 9:01, I startled awake, gasping, as my son thudded upstairs screaming for me. My husband quickly reminded him that I was sleeping, though it was already too late.

Hubby tucked the kids in and I fell asleep and then gasped awake again when my daughter started calling for us because she need Dream Dust to help her sleep. (Basically, we rub our hands together and then tickle the ‘dream dust’ on her. She knows we’re doing this, but it’s the routine, I guess that helps her sleep.) Hubby took care of her. Good man.

I fell back asleep and a few hours later, around midnight, hubby let out some snores so deep and disturbing that I thought he was demonically possessed. I nudged him a few times, but to no avail. That man was ASLEEP.

Fuck it, I said, and stumbled downstairs to sleep all contorted like on the couch. At 12:30, hubby let the dog out and he zombie-walked back upstairs. My dog sat in front of the couch. Whining. Whining. Whining. I got up to get her a bone, but evidently, she wanted to play so she attacked a pair of slippers while I floated in that haze of dear-god-just-let-me-sleep.

Finally, after about an hour of constant whining and running around, she jumped up to fall asleep with me where we slept, for a while, pretzel-like, and then I had a dream that I was on a boat and there was an enormous tsunami wave coming right at me and then my alarm went off at 4AM so I could narrate, which there was no way I could do because I’d sound drunk.

I gave up and made some coffee.

Now I’m grumpy and depressed and stressed out and I had turkey tetrazzini for breakfast and I need to workout but I have no energy and I’m just, generally, unlikeable right now.

Maybe I can wiggle in a nap. I might have no choice. I think it’s either nap or pass out in leftover stuffing swimming with gravy.

Ugh.

To My Love Ulgra A Poem Written And Performed By Hammertoh, The Dwarf

I’m too tired to write a blog today, so I am posting this for my friend Hammertoh. He’s new to writing, and I really want to encourage him. He also came over to my house (unexpectedly) and recorded this (by forcing me to boot up the studio with a dagger at my throat), so you can either read or listen to his sweet words of love to his girlfriend, Ulgra.

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To My Love, Ultra written by Hammertoe, The Dwarf It’s the holiday season, Ulgra, And instead of playing into the rampant commercialism, I thought I’d write you a love poem instead. (Also, because I’m unemployed and have no income because my parents are making me pay rent to live in the basement of Mount Elohnay.)

I love you. I love you with a deep throbbing. A good throbbing. Not an infected throbbing. I love you the way that elves love eating salads With things like kale and chick peas and them there flowers. I love you the way that dragons breathe fire, Not from indigestion but from their sheer desire For all the shiny things. I love you the way the Dark Lord Goneigha loves death And blood Though maybe that’s not a good example. I love you with all of my being Which, like my stature, is mammoth. I love you more than I love to crush rocks. And that’s saying something.

So this holiday season, it is with all my life essence That I give you my love. I’d also give you a ring, But, again, no income. Still. You have my giant hand, My love, and my giant loins.

They are yours to do with what you want. Happy holidays, Ulgra. You are the stones beneath my feet, The molten lava in my veins, The giant battle ax of my metallic heart. You are my foundry, my heat, the sword in my stone.

I love you. That is all. And, as you know, That Is Everything.

To The Women I Have Loved And Lost

This, maybe, of everything I've written, is my favorite blog. It is written simply but it says the things I've always wanted. On Thanksgiving, I'm reminded how lucky I am to have wonderful, powerful women in my life who 'get' me and all my awkwardness. And since the writing of this blog, I have new friendships in my life, proving that even though it's hard, you can still connect with others. And your life will be better because of it. Happy Thanksgiving. Wishing you blessings, laughter, and lots of love!

Tanya

quiet

TO THE WOMEN I HAVE LOVED AND LOST

Kaly was my first love. Our Barbies humped in her room upstairs, her house slouching next to a gas station. We made them dresses and they were fashion queens and then when Ken came in, everything went to hell. I didn’t know then that I was creating a pattern in my life. Ken, the bastard, would always tear friendships apart.

Then there was Katie. She had blonde hair like Sally in Charlie Brown. She wore plastic bangle bracelets, slouchy shirts, and puffy skirts. She played the piano while I sang Barry Manilow. We watched Madonna on MTV. We sang so loud we had to open the windows so our song could escape.

Missy lived across the street and we felt pressure to be friends because our moms were friends. I sat in her room and we listened to 45s. She played “I’m Your Venus” but I thought it was “I’m Your Penis” and I refused to sing it out loud, but wouldn’t tell her why.

I moved and my friends could not come with me. They slipped silently underwater.

Three of a kind

At my new school and now living with my dad and his wife and my new stepsiblings, I fumbled around for a good friend. My stepsister would become my life’s greatest love, and one of the most complicated. We went through everything together: our first period, first crushes, first heartbreaks. We snuck out once in the middle of summer to meet a couple of boys at the basketball court, but it was boring and we snuck home. We shared a bed and sometimes we’d kick each other, trying to hurt the other one. She lit her bangs on fire and we laughed and laughed at how fast Aqua Net could ignite. Boys loved her. Boys thought I was her brother. I dreamed of being beautiful, like her. (I still dream this.)

High school friends were on the outside of my life, but in my senior year, there was Kim and Cheryl, the Cheerleader and the Brain.  We took an independent study with Mr. Messing. One day, we spread out a blanket on the front lawn and I made them listen to Crosby, Still, and Nash even though this was our parents’ music. We listened and we talked of all the places we would go. How we were unlikely friends, but our lives would be magical.

In college, I had roommates. Amy with the wild hair, so curly it seemed like it was trying to escape from her head. And Jill, who was eight years older, a returning student. She drank her coffee with a straw because she didn’t want to have yellow teeth. Shannon wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t understand her. She ate weird things like bread so sour that it made my lips pucker. She said it was that way intentionally and I didn’t believe her. She was obsessed with the human body, constantly amazed by it. She once called me into the bathroom to see her enormous poop and how it snaked around the bowl three times. “I did that!” she cried, proud. “Isn’t that amazing?” It sorta was.

But they were on the outside because I met Paul. He was from Detroit. He would be my Ken, but a tougher Ken. A Ken raised in an all black neighborhood in the heart of Detroit, even though he was white and Italian and Catholic. He was a genius and I loved his family and he made me feel like the world was safe and comfortable as long as I was near him. I ditched hanging out with my girlfriends so we could drive around in his Iroc, windows rolled down, Guns N Roses blaring, singing at the top of our lungs, even though I thought the band sucked. I liked jazz, but you can’t sound angry while singing to jazz.

When we broke up, I moved in with three women who would transform me: Kim, the artist; Rachel, the singer and attorney; Sarah, the director. We wore red lipstick. We ate pot roast. We talked about heart break. When Paul came over asking for me to come back to him, they supported me silently but blared “I’m a Creep” through their rooms. Sarah directed a play I wrote and Rachel starred in it and Kim helped with the posters. The friendship I had with Sarah was intense and confusing. We fought over the play. I told her I was embarrassed and wanted to know how she was directing it. She thought I didn’t trust her, that I thought her work was crap. Really, I didn’t trust myself. I was embarrassed by my words. I wasn’t good enough. I dated an actor, and then I went back to Paul. Sarah dated someone out East, but still loved her high school sweetheart. I told her that you don’t marry your high school sweetheart. That’s what our mothers did. But what did I know? I didn’t know anything. In the end, she married him, proving how wrong I was. About everything.

Paul and I moved to Miami so he could go to grad school and I could be a waitress.  I met women who wanted more than life offered them. In the Beverly Hills Café, there were women who wanted to act, be a stewardess, find love. Women, like Gina, who was warm and from Georgia and had a laugh that could melt butter. I should’ve spent more time with them, but I was always with Paul. I should’ve asked them more questions. I should’ve been more present. Instead, I was always looking out the window, wondering how my boyfriend was.

When I left Paul, I taped the engagement ring to his computer. I said goodbye to him and I felt cruel. I did not get to say goodbye to his Italian mother. I missed her pragmatism. Her strength. The way she’d push the grocery cart in Kroger’s as if she was ready to run anyone down. She taught me the secret to her family’s Italian pasta sauce, and I still feel guilty. I have never cooked it. I did not get to say goodbye to Paul’s sister, Beth. We laughed together, curled up on the couch, eating Ben & Jerry’s from little Dixie cups. We watched Anne of Green Gables over and over, though we were in college. I had red hair and she had brown hair and secretly, I pretended I was Anne and she was Diana and Paul was Gilbert and we would all live happily ever together. We did not.

On my own, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I began to do theater. Community shows where I was in Assassins, and played Squeaky Fromme. I was in Angels in America, and I played Harper and I felt like I knew her because she was just as lost as I was. I became friends with Shelly and Tracey. We were called the Triumvirate, and I didn’t know what that meant though I thought it was religious. We had big boobs. We laughed a lot. We drank more. At night, we’d meet up at the Cottage restaurant and we would pass around lemon drops. We’d flirt with men. We’d flirt with each other. We told secrets. We kept secrets. The friendships felt intense and like we would never be without each other. Then I moved to New York, and the friendships could not come with me.

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There were others. Of course there were. Dionne and Ann and Vicki and Arnie and Jeannie and Shayne. Women I envied for their beauty and their strength, for their intellect and creativity. Women I could’ve learned more from, and grown up with, and cared for. But I was jealous of them And angry. And petty. They were women that I put second and third and fourth because what was important wasn’t friendships, but finding a man, getting married, having kids before my womb dried up at thirty.

I found a man. I had kids. I said goodbye to all my friends. Not consciously, but they slowly fell away, like leaves dropping. And now that I’m forty, and remarried, and my kids are past the stage of needing me for every moment, it’s not the ‘wild years’ of my twenties that I look back at with longing. It’s all the women that have fluttered into my life. How they changed me. How they influenced me. And how I was never brave enough to hold on to them, to put friendship before dating, to give them the time and energy they deserve.

I wish I could have them back. All of them. I wish that the girlfriends I have managed to keep over the years (Keeley and Rachel and Kim) I wish that we could be closer. I wish I was the kind of person that could talk on the phone for hours. I was I had a Sisterhood or something. Potlucks, maybe. Book clubs. Something. But it’s hard to manage. It’s hard to reach out. I wish I had my sister back. I wish it was summer and we could sneak out of our houses, not to meet boys again…but to hang out under the stars and the moon. To look for fireflies. To laugh at each other. To say "Does this make me look fat?" and have the other say "God yes, but who the fuck cares?"

I wonder what they’re doing now, these women I have loved and lost. All of them. I wonder, are they happy? Do they laugh? Do they ever think of me? And if they do, I hope it’s with fondness. I hope it’s with understanding. I should’ve been a better friend. I should’ve been a better person. But you do the best you can, even when the best you can isn’t good enough.

My Favorite Thanksgiving

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 6.45.31 AM My favorite Thanksgiving happened in 2001, when I was living in New York. I’d moved there in July, got a job at Carnegie Hall, slept on a friend’s floor for a while, and then sublet an apartment across from Bloomingdale’s. It was all sort of magical. But I had no real network of friends there, no family, no boyfriend. Then 9/11 happened and everyone, the whole city it seemed, was depressed.

I was looking at a Thanksgiving eating a burrito alone in my apartment since my roommate (who wasn’t really a friend) was leaving. And then my college roommate called. She was in school at UMass. She wanted to come to the city for Thanksgiving, along with her Madonna-loving-political-planner boyfriend. And could they bring some friends?

Kim and Kyle came the night before and we walked around the town. We ended up on the Upper West Side to see the balloons. Apparently, the night before the parade, they blow up all those Macy Balloons and then corral them on one long city block. The city trees were awash in golds and reds and we wove between families dressed in bright sweaters and scarves, and we pointed and laughed at the goliath balloons, bobbing in the slight breeze.

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The next morning I happily set about cooking in the tiny apartment. Cooking for me is an act of healing. It’s meditative and calming, and something I couldn’t really do when I lived in New York because I was alone and poor, and anything I wanted to cook was so fragrant that I’d annoy my roommate and everyone in the apartment complex. But on Thanksgiving, I could do what I wanted.

Kim and Kyle went to see the parade and I opened the windows while the turkey cooked. I could hear the sounds of the parade in the distance: the clash of drums, people cheering, loud and tinny sounding music, and I thought: “I am here in New York. I live here and this is happening.”

When they came back, their friends joined us. We didn’t have enough chairs so we sat on the leather couch, stools, and maybe someone was on a box. I didn’t even know half of the people there, but for that one meal, we were a family when I needed a family most in the world.

That meal reminded me of the good things in the world. The colors of red and gold, balloons, families wearing bright scarves and gloves, a warm meal cooked with love. And it also hinted at the things I didn’t think was possible then, but I would one day have: a family of my own. But this time, with enough chairs.

Seriously I Dreamed This

I was going to write about my favorite Thanksgiving, but I had a dream last night of such profound importance that I decided that I needed to write about that instead. It’s all about flexibility, people. I dreamed I was at a Magic Mike type strip club with my sister.

Ahem. Yes. Let’s just revisit that line again and then move forward.

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I dreamed I was at a Magic Mike type strip club with my sister. Only I didn’t feel like I could go there and wave dollar bills. That felt too dirty. So instead, I brought sheets and sheets of cake balls that I had infused with liquor. I handed them out to all the ladies and screamed: “It’s Drunken Cake Balls, y’all!”

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The women pounced on those balls like they were…uhm…liquor infused chocolate cake balls…while the half-naked men watched in horror. Really. The music stopped and those men just stood there, their male bits tenderly cradled in pleather swaying slightly in the breeze caused by mad women shoving cake balls in their faces.

Then I woke up. Slightly aroused. But not because of the strippers. It was all the Drunken Cake Balls, y’all.

That’s gotta be a thing, right?

My Worst Thanksgiving

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.59.51 PM Holidays are always hard, especially when you have an extended family that is more dysfunctional that functional, or even present. So, in general, I have these wide hopes for the holidays inspired by epic holiday movies, and things generally fall short. I try to adjust my expectations.

My son was about two and a half, my daughter around seven months. Instead of doing the whole turkey thing, I decided I’d make Chinese food instead. Homemade eggrolls, crab rangoons, meatballs in a hoisin sauce, rice, sweet and sour chicken. My in-laws were coming down from Canada and they’d already had their Thanksgiving, so it seemed fun. I spent a day sweating and rolling eggrolls and when we sat down to eat, I had the realization that it would’ve been so much better if we’d just ordered takeout. I craved turkey and mashed potatoes, not mediocre meatballs in a soy sauce dotted with sad slices of green onion.

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That night, my son called out in his sleep and I ran to him. “Mommy I don’t…” I knew he was going to say ‘feel good’ but he started retching and I looked around in a panic but couldn’t find a trash, so I held out my hands. It was the moment I felt like a real mom, trying to catch my kid’s vomit. Then my daughter got sick, followed by my husband, and then his dad.

The house reeked of illness. I tended to everyone while my mother-in-law stood outside in the cold chain-smoking. “I am not going to get sick,” she said and I couldn’t tell if it was a promise or a mantra of black-magic using cigarette smoke to ward off the demons.

Two days later, everyone had recovered and we sat at the breakfast table. My father-in-law slowly ate a bowl of cereal as if it took great effort and looked at me and said in his thick French-Canadian accent: “Oh, Tanya. It was ze ring. Ze ring of fire.”

He wasn’t kidding. Because later that day I got sick. I felt like an exploding pin cushion. It was all kinds of horror movie.

My mother-in-law took over caring for the house and(still chain smoking) made her famous pot of spaghetti with a homemade sauce of spicy Italian sausage, red peppers, and onions. The smell permeated the house like a plague. I tried not to breathe, but it was either breathe or pass out.

The days passed, slowly trudging to Christmas.

With four adults and two children getting sick, our septic tank backed up and on Christmas eve, it broke entirely. I’d recovered enough to talk to the plumber in the basement and then my daughter, in her new crawling adventurous spirit, decided to follow all the adults and she tumbled down the stairs.

She was fine and we scooped her up and dusted her off, but the plumber looked at me (I’m pretty sure) like I was evil incarnate for leaving the door to the basement open. For the record, I didn’t. There were four other adults who trundled down the stairs after me.

I don’t remember much about that Christmas, but I do remember when the Thanksgiving/Christmas/NewYears mania was past us, I thanked the gods above and below. And I made a vow to never thwart tradition again. From here on out, Thanksgiving would always feature turkey, mashed potatoes, and a corn casserole that I would be the only one to eat. And maybe I’d start chain-smoking too. Just in case.

My mother-in-law never did get sick.

Quiet Walk With My Dog

Reggie I am not a dog person. Not by any means. When I was little, I was petting a dog the way little kids do, by scrunching its fur with every ounce of my little body. The dog bit me in the face. For the longest time I had a little scar by my eye and my mom says the doctor told us “One more millimeter, and she’d have lost that eye.”

While I don’t remember the event, my body does. When I see a dog, I tense. The weird thing is, dogs seem to really like me. They’ll come bounding after me, tails wagging, tongues lolling and intellectually I think “Oh, they’re coming to say hello”. Emotionally I think “DEAR GOD THAT DOG WANTS TO BITE OFF MY FACE!”

We are not friends, canines and me.

Except for one. We got a dog mostly for the kids, but she’s snuggled right up close to my heart. We take walks together. Sometimes when I don’t really want to, but I guess that’s a benefit of having a dog too. She makes me leave my house. Everyone in the neighborhood knows her and you can hear echoes of “Hi, Reggie!” when we walk up and down the block. Once a woman called out “You got your dog a haircut! She’s looking goooooood!”

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This morning we took a walk in the snow. There’s a peculiar thing that happens after a heavy snow. Things quiet. I’m sure the snow muffles the world. This morning, it was particularly quiet. No cars whizzing by. No insects. No birds. Just the soft shuff shuff of my boots and the click of Reggie’s claws on the icy sidewalk.

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The air was so crisp and clean and I just breathed it in. Reggie dug her face in the snow and occasionally looked at me for approval.

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We plodded along, in the cold and the white, and I thought, “You know, some dogs are okay.” And mornings like this put me back in center. In calm.

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Later Reggie and I will take a nap on the couch. She will lay her head down next to my face and we will sleep.

See? Proof that you can learn to trust again, even after you’ve been hurt.

Today's Secret Word Is SIMPLIFY

Ahhhh. On this cool and wintry November morning, I'm reminding myself that some things have got to go. I need to simplify so that I can focus on the important things. The important things aren't things at all, they're my kids, my husband and myself. So. Out go the extra appointments that can be postponed for the next few weeks. The laundry can wait. I'll cook easy meals that don't really require a recipe. I'll play gentle jazz and drink some good coffee. My to-do list will shrink from ten to two. We'll have a simple Thanksgiving, just the four of us, and give thanks for good food and being together. Today, I'm letting go of some chaos and making things a little more manageable.

It's not some spiritual zen thing or anything. It's just a little time to brush away the extra crumbs and start with a clean tablecloth. Maybe that metaphor is too complicated. This simplifying thing might take some practice, at least for me. That's okay. I can do this.

This is me...just making things a little easier so I can breathe.

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Prologue To My New Novel

I took a long break from my blog to work on my novel. I just finished the first draft, and will begin the rewrite in earnest on December 1. In February, I'll go to a writing conference in that ever-hope of finding an agent or a publisher who believes in me. So there will be another long break from the blog. If you're curious, here are the opening pages to the novel. It's called The Murder Of Cora March. Hope you like it. Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 4.45.46 PM

PROLOGUE

Chicago December 1910

LILLIAN

My father says we have to move the body and come up with a story before anyone finds out. I find that very odd. Not the story part, I am used to stories, but the part about the body. Just an hour ago, that body was Mother, but now she’s gone. Her soul hissed out like steam from a kettle. I cross to the object who was Mother but now is The Body. Papa says hurry and I do. “The police will be here soon and we must be ready,” he says. He does not know that the police only come to the Packinghouse District to drink and to open their trousers.

There isn’t time for me to see the room through my father’s eyes, but I do anyway. It is easier to see the room than it is to look at the deep red staining my hands and dress. The drops on the floor that start small and blossom, like crimson fireworks. I don’t look at her boots with the many small buttons. At her torn stockings and too-short skirt. At her sad, exposed bosoms, like white dough gone too long to rise. I don’t look at her face and her open eyes, and the red blooming along her front. I look at the room while Papa scrubs my hands with a stiff brush and cold water.

There is my straw mattress in the corner. The postcard I would stare at hidden underneath. The paper shade that she pulled to block me from sight. The iron bed with the mattress that smelled of damp earth and the sea. The wallpaper is curling in the upper right corner as if it’s a snake shedding its skin. There are playbills nailed to the walls. The places Mother went to, maybe, in the beginning. The places she dreamed of going later. The places she’ll never go to now.

My hands burn.

“Lillian,” he says. His words are molasses. “You must change. Do you have anything else you can wear?”

I cannot speak. I am metamorphosing like the bugs in the biology book I used to read. My words are a rock in my throat. I shake my head.

“Is this all you have?” he asks and I can hear the sorrow clinging to him. “She left home for…” Now Papa has no words either. Maybe he is metamorphosing too.

He squeezes my hands in his. He has worker hands. Firm and rough and warm, but I am not afraid of his hands. He still thinks I am just a girl.

I point to the dresses she has hanging on the door. There are two. One looks like a costume, and I suppose it is; it is meant to be taken off quickly. He grabs the light blue one, the summer dress. This was the dress she wore when she took me from him. It is stained and torn, the hem thick with mud and horse dung. Once, it was the color of the Michigan sky over the bay, its ruffles like whitecaps surfacing. The blue is more grey now and it smells of loss. “Put this on,” he says. “I will tend to…” He turns away from me, for propriety, I guess, and I try to stop the giggle from bubbling. He thinks there are still things left for me to hide.

I dress. What I’m wearing now is no better than a sack and it pools at my feet. I step out of it, and into the dress that once hung to my mother’s curves. The dress’s bustle is long gone now and it floats on me. I breathe with relief. It does not fit me. Her curves are in the wrong places, so maybe there is hope that I will not grow into her shape.

We have lived here for a year. I was a child when we first got here, and I am leaving transformed. Worse than becoming a woman, I have become a monster. I know it is worse because I am glad of it. In the blue stained dress, I am a demon, and I am smiling because we are free of her.  

Afraid To Go Gray

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 3.01.11 PM I’ve been so busy with the little calamities happening to my family, that all trivial things are sort of taking a backseat, or getting postponed indefinitely. Most of those trivial things are things for myself like working out, shaving my legs, going to the dentist. Not enough time, not enough energy, too many appointments for the kids to have appointments for myself. I mean, I have to try and work around all the therapy appointments, homework, and chaos that has become our every day.

Two weeks ago, I had the appointment set for my cut & color and I was looking forward to having my hair played with for two hours and coming out smelling like an Aveda shower and looking if not like a model, then at least in a slight more-together me. But my son was sick, again, so it was yet another canceled appointment. And because of the holidays, I can’t get into the salon for another month.

There is so much gray in my hair. So. Much. And I’m tempted…I’m so tempted to just let it happen. I’ve been dyeing my hair since I was sixteen and have been every color of the hair-rainbow. At least until the modern hair-rainbow of blues and greens. But I’ve been black, platinum, brunette, blonde, auburn, and sometimes purple. That was a mistake, that purple, and resulted in a lot of tears and an immediate return to the pharmacy for Ash Blonde and a bottle of Absolut.

I’ve been dyeing my hair so long that I don’t even know what color it is anymore. And frankly, in all that dyeing, I don’t even know who I am anymore. But now I have a hint. I’m in my forties, and I’m probably forty-to-fifty percent gray. Not just gray, but bright silver. Threads and threads of it.

What stops me from just letting it happen? I don’t know, exactly. I’m afraid. It seems like such a little thing, but it’s a big thing too. If I let it go gray, then I’ll look older. Will it stop me from getting cast in romance novels if I look middle-aged? If I go gray (or silver), will I suddenly stop being attractive? Will people judge me for ‘letting myself go’?

These seem like really trivial questions or concerns in light of the world. And they are. But they’re also tied somehow to my identity. My sense of self. Which….right now…I’ve got to tell you…is as fragile as a butterfly’s wing.

I’m holding on. I’m keeping strong. I’m taking care of my kids and we’re figuring things out. And maybe if to do that, I need to ‘let myself go’ a little bit, maybe that’s okay too.

There will be time, sometime soon, for that pampering. That long shower. That new outfit. That luscious dinner out without having to rush home.

Just not right now.

So maybe the choice has already been made. At least for another month, gray it is. Although, actually, maybe I’ll just call it silver. The words that you use can sometimes shape your perception, and silver sounds a tiny bit magical.

Early Morning With My Daughter

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.53.24 AM My daughter is nine and doesn’t need me as much as she used to. It’s a good thing, this growing independence. Still, she will call out occasionally, and it warms my heart when I can go to her. Last night, or rather early this morning, around 4AM, she called out and I immediately jumped out and bed and stumbled to her room.

“Mommy, I can’t sleep. I keep trying but I just can’t,” she said.

“You want me to just sit with you for a while?”

“Okay.”

And so I sat next to her. And waited.

“My eyelids are tired,” she said.

“Well, don’t try to keep them open. Let them close.”

“But the rest of me isn’t tired.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “Just close your eyes and try to think of things.”

She closed her eyes. “What things?”

I yawned. “Oh, I dunno. Think about a project you want to work on.” Her face scrunched and I could tell that wasn’t working. “Think about a magical animal.”

“What kind?” That softened her face a little, the idea of magic and animals.

“Oh…Think about what an animal would be like if you combined a cat and a bird.”

Her face re-scrunched. “Mommy. That would never happen. The cat half would try to eat the bird half. It’d be chaos. It’d never survive.”

“Ah,” I said. “Good point. Well then, just picture a cat with wings. That’d be cool.”

“Maybe,” she said.

We sat there for a while. The house ticked. It was dark. She reached for my hand in the dark and we held on for a bit.

“Do you think I could get up?” she asked.

I wanted to tell her “Can’t we just stay like this a little longer?” but instead I said “Sure, baby. We can get up.”

And we did.

Giveaway! Rocky Mountain Shelter

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 7.25.37 AM On today's blog, there is no angst, no deep thoughts, no "Why dear god did I eat that entire pan of brownies!" No. Today, I'm simply giving away an audiobook. In fact, I'm going to give away an audiobook on the next few days. So stay tuned. To enter, just leave a comment. Once I get a nice response, say ten or so, I'll randomly pick a winner.

Today's free audiobook is a download of the erotica "Rocky Mountain Shelter" by Vivian Arend. This is a saucy listen with lots of heat...but also lots of heart. If you're like my friend Rae and are traumatized by my reading sex scenes, this is NOT the book for you. Wait for tomorrow's post. But if you like the occasional NSFW, earbuds in, kind of listen, then I think you'll really enjoy this series. It's part of a series, but it also stands alone. So. Leave a comment, and enter to win...and have a lovely day.

Check out Vivan Arend on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/VivianArend

When A Loved One Has A Severe Mental Illness

heart sun This is a problem I’ve been struggling with but I don’t know how to put it into words. When I phrase the question, it sounds heartless, but I don’t mean it to be. In fact, it’s a question that is heavy with heart and feeling.

And here it is: When you have a loved one with a mental illness, what is your obligation to them?

See. It sounds cold. It sounds like I’m asking because I don’t want to help them. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is this…for most of my life, I have had a family member or loved one dealing with a severe mental illness. Mental illness seems to be all around me. My mom worked with the mentally ill. My dad worked for the VA. I have aunts and uncles who are social workers. I’ve read so many books on psychiatry and what happens when the mind fractures. But even though this information is all around me, I still don’t know what to do.

It seems simple. When someone you love has a mental illness, you take care of them, right? That’s should be the answer. You get them help. And sometimes that is enough. There is therapy and medication, and together they do work. But what if…what if there isn’t any real help for them? What if they won’t get better? What if you can’t afford the therapy or the medication? What if their illness causes them to hurt you? It’s not their fault, exactly, it’s the disease they have. But what if that disease causes them to be dangerous and abusive?

What if your spouse has a mental illness? You do anything you can to support them, yes? But what if that spouse’s mental illness causes them to be a danger to your children? Who do you choose to support? Do you support the spouse and expose your kids to danger? Or do you leave your spouse in the hopes that you can get custody of the kids, which you probably won’t? Who wins here?

What if you have a sibling with a mental illness and you want to help them but doing so puts your family at financial risk? Or having them in your home could put your children at risk? How do you help from a distance?

How do you support and love a family member who is struggling with psychological issues, but how do you do that in a way that is safe and healthy for you?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I have tried to help those in my family who have struggled, but there are some mental illnesses that cannot be fixed. There is a lot of talk about accepting and supporting those who have these issues, and I so agree with that. But there’s something I don’t hear much about…and that’s the question of how do you support their caregivers or their children? How do you make sure they’re safe when there isn’t enough money? When you can’t send someone to a hospital for the long stay that they need?

I feel so powerless in this. And it’s a recurring issue in my life as I try to raise my kids in a healthy, positive way. I’ve had to be very firm on boundaries of what I can and can’t do to support loved ones, and it leaves me feeling a bit cold. A bit unfeeling. And that’s the other thing about having a family member with a severe mental illness. Sometimes, to help them, you have to be cold and unfeeling because any emotion you have can set them off. And so you start to freeze, bit by bit. But you have to do it, because it’s one way to keep yourself safe and to not set off any triggers for them.

It’s tragic, really. This question. When you have a loved one with mental illness, what is your obligation to them? My answer is…you do what you can, you love them, but you make sure you and your children are safe first. It might mean helping them with resources, but it might also mean walking away to protect yourself and your children. It certainly means some hard decisions, firm boundaries, and risking looking like you don’t care, even when you do.

Quiet Thoughts

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 11.37.00 AM Often when I’m stuck with a piece I’m writing, I take a long walk. There’s something soothing to me about the motion of walking. It quiets my brain a bit. Actually, that’s not quite true. What happens is it allows my brain to splinter a bit. One part focuses on walking and is aware of the weather, the wind, the sounds, the colors of the leaves, but the other part of my brain floats free and thinks of stories or works on problems. Most of my writing happens while walking, and not at the computer at all.

Today, taking my dog around the block, I tried to think of things to blog about. I could write a bad poem about Thanksgiving, since that’s coming up. I could post some recipes. I could talk about narrating or my little company I’m working on. But nothing feels right. It’s not that I don’t have things to say. I do. And I have topics I want to write about and question, but not today.

Today, I am tired. Weary. Maybe it’s all the sadness happening in the world. Or maybe it’s this cold I’m fighting. Maybe it’s just that Sunday kind of blue where things feel heavy, my shoulders pulled down.

What I want most to do today, is to read a little bit. Curl up on the couch and take a nap. Cook some food. Help my kids with their homework. Coerce the kids to do something on their own so hubby and I can watch The Walking Dead. I just want to be home, and be quiet, and be wrapped in a cocoon of comfort.

There was no inspiration today on my walk. But not every day needs to be day filled with inspiration. Sometimes, just being is enough.

I Love The Way

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 8.08.09 AM It is hard to sit down and write most days. Especially hard when terrible things happen in the world and everywhere you look online you see pictures and stories and tweets about violence and death and sadness.

But I am sitting down to write. One thing I learned from 9/11 was that a gentle kind of protest is to go about your life the way you always have. Maybe you’re a little more present in it for a while. A little more grateful.

And it also helps to remember the good things, and the good in people. It’s like Mister Rogers said: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Here is an exercise that I used to give my students, and it’s one I use on occasion to remind myself that there is beauty in the world and it is stronger than all the ugliness.

I LOVE THE WAY

Start there. Make a list and write the things you love.

I love the way the sky is always different when I take the kids to school in the morning. Blue, grey, cloudy, bright sun. Some days there are vibrant streaks of orange and pink threaded with purple and it makes me a little breathless.

I love the way my daughter slouches in her chair, sitting sideways, legs over the armrest, and how she doesn’t like me to hug her much anymore, but when I pass by her she holds her foot out so I can squeeze her big toe.

I love the way my son tells me that I have the best chin ever. And I wonder if I told him that this chin is the thing that I have always hated the most about myself? How angular it is. How strong. How you can grab onto it. It is funny to me that the one thing I have always been so critical of is the one thing that (even as a baby) he’d wrap his little hand on and laugh.

I love the way my husband can listen to me freak out. He might be zoning out, but he seems so present. He lets me go on and on and vent until I’m satisfied and then he’ll give me a hug. He doesn’t try to fix it, unless I give him a to-do list. And this is sort of magical.

I love when I’m narrating and my dog sits outside the booth and gives one quiet whine so I will open the door. She curls in around my feet and goes to sleep. Sometimes she farts, but I love her so much that I don’t mind, even stuck with her in a tiny front closet, narrating stories of love.

I love that I get to read stories for a living. How lucky I am to curl up with these words and characters and try to breathe a different kind of life in them.

I love a full-bodied red wine, a slice of salty cheese, and a bit of dark chocolate truffle. If I can have them all at the same time, you will see me in a state of Zen so deep that you’ll think “Ah. That look on her face. That’s what Nirvana looks like.”

And

I love that on the days when I feel most alone, somehow, magically, I hear from someone in my family, or a friend, or an online acquaintance and they say something that reminds me that I am not alone at all. It’s like when you’re on stage, in a spotlight, you think that you’re all alone, but when the lights change, you see there’s this whole audience of people who have been with you the whole way, and maybe you were just so wrapped up in your own story that you didn’t notice. But when you slow down, when you really pay attention, you can feel that audience along with you. Breathing. Like the sound of waves.

Hasselhoff Inspires

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 9.29.28 AM This morning, whilst sitting in front of my computer, I realized that it's Day 13 of my Blog Every Day in November and I may just have run out of things to say. Or maybe I'm constipated. Whatever. Same difference.

So I turned to Youtube for inspiration and I found this David Hasselhoff video. Now, I won't tell you what search terms led me to this gem. Let's just say that I was drawn to this video the way that I'm drawing to mysterious PIs who wear Hawaiian shirts and eat sandwiches. It was simply fate. Enjoy and may you find inspiration for whatever you need to do today:

https://youtu.be/ZTidn2dBYbY

I Can Tell My Stress Level By How Hairy I Am

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 7.00.50 AM Perhaps this blog should be filed under the TMI heading, but…it’s true. I can tell my stress level by how hairy I am.

Yesterday, somehow, all the planets had aligned, the world was spinning on its axis properly, and both kids and the dog were happy, full, and content. (My husband’s default is happy, full, and content, so I don’t usually worry about him.) The house was quiet and everyone was doing their thing. “This is my chance!” I thought gleefully. I called out: “I’m going to take a bath! Doyouneedanythingno?Okay.thanks.bye!” And I ran to the bathroom and Locked. The. Door.

And I slipped into the bath.

Ahhhhhh.

That’s when I realized I was at Full Yeti Red Alert! This was serious! My stress level (according to the hair on my legs) had soared beyond the green zone of Peach Fuzz, passed Winter Is Here Bitches, and even went over I’m A Hipster Naturalist to enter the Red Zone Full Alert of the Yeti Zone. In another day, I might have slipped to the highest alert yet: Aunt Martha.

It’s not a fashion thing, really. I just hate the feel of hairy legs against my yoga pants. When they’re smooth, I feel…I don’t know…fluid. Not really fluid. That sound a little gross. I feel silky. I feel like I’ve taken some time to tend to myself. Those sacred moments of taking a warm bath when you can just relax and decompress. And it’s something I’ve not been doing enough of lately. Clearly.

So. Yesterday I got my chance, and the threat level is back in the green zone.

Of course, I have three books to record in the next two weeks and Thanksgiving is coming…so I’m thinking Aunt Martha is bound to make an appearance. One cool thing about Aunt Martha, not only can she lift really heavy things and yodel, she just doesn’t care what you think about her. So maybe when she shows up, I’ll wear a miniskirt.

Deep Twitter Thoughts/Awkward Moments

When I was in my twenties, and even my thirties, I would have a deep thought or awkward moment happen...but had no where to broadcast them. I mean, I could pin said thought or moment to a light post, but that just made me sad. So I walked around, forlornly, until the deep thought passed and I thought about a cow. Today, the same thing happens, only I DO have a place to put these! I put them on Twitter! I love Twitter because it forces you to say what you want quickly without boring everyone.

Here are my favorite Deep Twitter Thoughts/Awkward Moments over the last few months:

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And my favorite...which actually happened again to me today...

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