My Story Does Not Start Here…

IMG_20141117_143543-2 IMG_20141117_143646-2 How to put into words the joy of holding this book in my hands? It’s not the final copy but just even that my words are between these two covers is enough for me. I am so grateful. Thank you, Andrew Scott and Lacewing BooksIMG_20141117_143555-2

your vicious scars

For years I kept Charles Bukowski’s poem “so you want to be a writer?” pinned to my refrigerator. I would read it every day before I wrote. It was part of my process. An affirmation. A prayer.

I needed that voice to burn through me and provide a sense of belief that someone outside of my skin was pushing me forward. I needed to believe that I was not alone.

But I was.

You asked me to tell you whether you should keep writing or not. You said, “Read what I’ve written and tell me if I’m a writer.”

I said, “I can’t tell you that. Only you can tell you that.”

This is what I tell myself. I tell myself: You are the only one who can make you stop writing. You are the only one who can tell you if you are a writer or not.

What you are craving is validation. I understand that. I do. It doesn’t help, though. Well, it helps temporarily but it doesn’t help in the long run. Validation is fleeting. Validation does not stop you from doubting yourself.

I would imagine that even the most successful and well-known writers suffer the same doubt. When they sit down to the page, they are seeking the same thing. They are looking for someone to say to them, “Keep writing. You are a writer.”

They come back to the page again and again for this same reason and there are many days when they feel like they have failed or like they have not been heard. There are many days when they receive no validation at all.

As for me, all of my words are piled upon the words of rejection. No. Not good enough. Not for us. Not the right words. Not the right message. Not the right writer. Not a writer. Not good. No good. No. No. No.

There have been yes’s but they are fewer and harder won. The yes’s have never come as easily as the no’s have.

When all of it piles up and I am struggling with time, I have the difficult conversations with myself. Should I keep doing this thing that hurts me and sometimes takes me physically, emotionally, and mentally away from my family? Should I? Why do I even want to?

Always I come back to not knowing why I want to but knowing that I have to and have always had to, whether anyone else cares if I do or not.

And yet, I know there was a time many years ago when I was just starting out that I wanted someone to say to me, yes, you can do this and you should do this. I also know that someone did say it to me.

But not until I allowed myself to be fully and completely vulnerable.

The walls of a fortress leave us cold, unmoved. It is only when we spy the crack and find our way through the walls that we are able to understand how it is you want us to feel. Every fortress has vulnerability. Show us yours.

Vulnerability is the key.

The solace you seek in your words is available to you but only when you are willing to break yourself open.

Only when you are willing to expose your dark heart.

Only when you show us your vicious scars.


I was in a Mexican restaurant in Topeka, Kansas when a man taught me how to peel an avocado. We had driven downtown, past the hate signs, through the empty streets. A town without pedestrians.

This is the way you do it, he demonstrated with his empty hands. This is how you separate the skin from the meat.

It might’ve been a mango.

I learned how to peel something and then I forgot.

It was something about the texture of the skin beneath your fingers.

Something about the flesh beneath the skin.








The day we went to look at the house, she was there on the street, watching us as we drove by. Then again on the day we moved in. She was out on the cross street, a busy road, herding a child to safety. She stood tall and weighed well over 100 pounds. Her coat was pure white but often filthy after she took to the woods or the brook.

At first I feared her. Shepherds, in general, I feared. When I was a child, there was a shepherd on my street that would chase me when I came home from school. I learned to start running from the stop sign. This was a mistake. Running only made me more tantalizing. Then I started taking a short cut through yards, but still there was no escaping her.

This white dog was no different, I believed. I avoided her.

Out running one day, she approached me, barking and then growling. One of my neighbors drove up and I told him how afraid I was of her. He said, “She’s harmless.” I wanted to believe him, but I wasn’t sure I could. One day I held out my hand to her and she licked it. Then she let me pet her. From then on, we were friends.

She had accepted me onto the street once I let go of my fear. Actually, she accepted me before I let go of my fear. I was the one holding back.

For the past four years, she’s been a constant on this street. Standing in her yard. Lying in the road. Cruising up and down to make sure everyone’s homes are in order. She’s been here watching us. She was sixteen years old.

Over the winter it was clear that she was starting to fail. Her head hung lower. She moved more slowly. Then, this spring, she followed someone from her house as he ran with his dog. On the way back, she lost the use of her back legs. She was stranded in our yard. My son and I talked to her, encouraged her. I was worried that she would die and we would witness it. I was worried she would die. Instead, she used her two front legs to pull herself across the street into another yard. She rested a few minutes and then stood.

She made her way slowly down the road to her house.

Dogs are amazing in their pain. Briefly it is visible and then it is covered over. They will not show it. Our old dog had been living with pain for a while. We brought him into the vet in earlier December and he told us outright that he would likely not be able to make it through Christmas. Making the decision to let him go was excruciating. The second he died, I begged for him back. “My friend,” I said. “I want my friend. Come back. Come back.” I yelled this out in the room, in the vet’s, on a Sunday morning. The vet had come in specially to help us. He did not want this dog to be in pain.

My friend. We had gotten him after my mother died. For years, I spent more time with him than I did with any other living creature. We were a pack. The last morning, I felt the soft fur behind his ears. Most dogs have that same soft fur behind their ears, I’ve found. It’s their puppiness. Their vulnerability. We let him go because we had to.

The last time I saw her was one of the hottest days so far this summer. She stood in her driveway, swaying. Her coat was blowing out. Her paws were filthy. I was going to stop the car and say something to her like I normally would but I drove on.

Day before last they knew it was time. She’s gone now.

I think of her with gratitude for helping me let go of one of my fears. It’s never too late to let go of something that’s holding you back. A dog taught me that.


survival of

The pines belong here, seventy feet up or more. The oaks have found their way. The greedy hemlock hugs the border, its low-slung, dead branches cover the ground below. There is no light beneath it. A survival technique. A way to keep all of the light and water for itself. The swamp maple is as diseased and twisted and scaly and ornery as it sounds, but with a characteristic blaze of glory in the fall. There are also the birches—the white and the black. They are not hardy but they are beloved.

Cut back the diseased and the crooked and then the bigger, stronger trees have a better chance. When the leaves came in and we found we were entombed, I was right there with the pruners. Later, I watched and understood how taking some of them gave others a chance.

My head is full. My head is hot. My head is a cloud.

The sugar maples are love. The pines, desire.



You are treasured. Grown by bone and hair, pushing up and out. Flesh surrendering to the pull of gravity, the earth. The basil on the windowsill smells of summer and an open wound. The house smells of ash and the decay of last night’s meal in the can. The day’s frozen air smells of infinity, snaking forward, pushing you into breath, the ache.






We say we will follow the deer tracks in the snow later in the day but we never do. They all lead to the same place, back to the denuded arbor vitae. We could trace them to our windows and look in as though strangers seeing it all for the first time. The empty bed. The daffodils blooming in the jar. Dust on the picture frame. We would not see the hard line or hear the clock ticking down time. We would not know that to fear death is the worst fear of all because there is no escaping it. There is no wishing it away. The deer always come back to that which feeds them.








There was a man. Or someone like him. Another man like that. The door was always left unlocked. One night a man wandered in. She couldn’t remember what he looked like. Someone ends up dead or missing. The boss goes missing from his room. You can’t live alone.







When I was eleven, my best friend and I would talk endlessly on the phone. I remember pulling the cord as far as it would go, up and down the hallway. I don’t even know what we said to each other but there seemed to be a lot to say.

As an adult, I eschew the phone. I feel trapped by it. Even cordless, I am strangling.

The smartphone is different. I don’t use mine much for talking and when I’m having an actual face-to-face conversation with someone, I try to remember to put it down. In truth, I fought against getting a smart phone but was very quickly addicted to it once I had it. Even so, I’m struggling to see how it has enhanced my life. I’ve cut back already–no Facebook on the phone. No more words with friends. But still it calls me.

For a while, my son’s favorite movie was WALL-E. I remember watching it with him and becoming depressed at the scene where all of the humans are shuttling around on their chairs talking into devices. The scene is meant to represent a possible future but, in truth, we are there already.

I realize, I’ve come to use this device in the same way I used to use a cigarette. I use it when I am uncomfortable or alone. It makes it easier not to look and listen when all I should be doing is looking and listening and living in the moment. I tell myself that I need to capture these moments of my son’s childhood and post them out to the world, but do I? The pictures of me at his age are few, but my memories remain. I lived those moments for myself. They belonged to me and not the world. They still do. I wonder if I am robbing him and I do believe that maybe I am.

As a rule, I don’t make resolutions but this year I am. This year I am going to fight the urge to pick up the phone when all is quiet. I am going to fight the urge to pick it up and hold it in front of me when I should be using my own eyes instead.

I am going to look. I am going to listen. I am going to let the world be quiet.





The cold is quiet. It is still. Crows are larger than expected. Frost edges the cracks in the pavement. The light is gentle, not punishing. The brother and sister are dressed appropriately for the weather. From a distance, they might be a middle-aged couple walking their dog. Closer, he carries a radio and sings along. She holds the lead. They do not feel the cold in their fingertips and toes. They did not grow up in the north, waiting for the bus at -30 degrees. They do not know the squeal of boot on snow when it is past midnight and the moon breathes down. They do not know the crunch of tires over ice. They do not yet know the way that winter settles into your mind.The quiet of it. The stillness.

2014, a year in preview

My son will say something that dazzles me and reminds me of the beauty in the world.

I will come to the anniversaries of loss and wonder that you have been gone for 35 years, or 13 years, or five years, or less. You will come to me in my dreams and I will know you then as I once did.

My heart will turn black with envy, or worry, or shame, or anger. I will rage and rage and rage, until I remember our time here is short and then I will let it go.

Sometimes I will overeat and drink too much. Other times, I won’t.

In the dark night, I will worry over my health and promise to take better care of myself.

I will lie next to my child at night and he will tell me that there is no better mother in the world and I will believe him and know, as always, that this life we are living together is precious and should never be taken for granted.

Often, I will fear that I will lose you only to discover that you are not lost.





it won’t snow until the brooks are full

It is the season of lights.

I am not a religious person and yet the lights represent something to me; they are a coming home. A call out into the world that we are not alone. A shining forth of our good will.

In the darkest night, light gives us hope, even if it is in the distance. Perhaps, especially then. It is something to strive for. To move toward.

And yet my heart holds on to darkness now that I find difficult to shake. In my darkness, I think of the anniversary upcoming. That of the extraordinary loss of life at one school not so far away from where I sit in my chair, in my warm kitchen. It is possible to say that every day since the Sandy Hook tragedy, I have thought about those children and adults who were lost. The reality is that it probably has not been every day, but most days for sure.

Especially in the morning when I drop my son at school, I think of those lost. My son is six and in first grade. He loves his teacher. He loves his family and his dog. For Christmas, he is equally excited about gifts and spending time with his family. When he was born, he was someone we didn’t even know was missing from our lives until he was within them. His presence was a magic light turning on within all of us who love him.

His light burns ever brightly.

And as I watch him walk confidently into his school each morning, my heart catches in my chest and I drive on. Trusting that all will be okay again today, again today, again today. It is a prayer. It is a plea. We are okay. We are okay. We are okay.

That day, after I knew much of the horror, I waited anxiously for my son to get off the bus from kindergarten and when I saw him, I could breathe again. Later, we sat together with his hand in mine. I placed our hands together on the black and white blanket we have on our couch. I marveled at his warm hand in mine–that he was there with me, alive, well, happy, and innocent of the horror all around him.

Innocent or not, we find a way forward. We have to or we would not survive. It is our nature to move forward while still looking back. It is part of our survival instinct to listen and learn from our elders and from their tragedies and their happiness, from their love and loss. And as we age, our loss piles up like a rock wall around us, threatening to not let anything through.

My husband’s grandmother told us once that “it won’t snow until the brooks are full,” and I have seen this to be true. Until the brooks around us are full of water, any snow that falls, typically does not stick. It must be something about the frozen ground, that water cannot permeate.

Left to its own devices, nature does not disappoint us. The sun rises and sets. The Winter Solstice approaches and we turn on our lights, welcoming the darkness.

The brooks are now full. The solstice is coming.

We turn on our lights and send out a message of hope to all who are out there in the darkness and alone.

In the dark nights, we turn on our lights and we wait for snow.

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