A Year and A Half (or Thereabouts)

Last post April 2017.

I should have known the year was going to be a doozy when I ordered this coffee.

Oh dear. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I have excuses. Some of them are good ones. Others, maybe not so much.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been forever. It feels as if just yesterday I was waxing rhapsodic on this very blog about my yellow flats (who are still in my closet, unlike their blue fraternal twins which fell to Hippo’s patient watch a few months ago).

See, the year of 2017 had started rough. Adam’s grandmother passed in February and the timing meant I needed to cancel an event that was really, really important to me — speaking at my alma mater as a “Real Author” type. Hippo was recovering from her first knee surgery. And then things really started to roll. There was illness and weirdness and chaos and travel. Dutchess had a cancer scare. A close friend’s life fell apart and I tried to be closer to help. I felt useless and hopeless.

And so 2017 teetered awkwardly onward, the revolting political climate darkening any horizons of escapism. I traveled more than I wanted to. I was tired. I was burnt out from my second novel and the demands of editing and nonprofit were at least finite, so I threw myself into them, hoping I could still call myself a writer. I took teaching gigs on the off weeks I managed to be home.

By June I’d managed to wind up with a nasty case of pneumonia, diagnosed at a walk in clinic when I finally got scared of not being able to breathe. But Adam’s family was incoming for a visit and Hippo’s second surgery was in the hopper. There wasn’t a ton of time to rest.

My grandmother went into the hospital around that time, saying she had something stuck in her esophagus. The ER docs said it was steak and sent her home with orders to see her doctor. She didn’t. In October I flew home to take her to the doctor myself, but she’d already been admitted to the hospital with extreme blood loss. She was stable and happy to be waited on when I arrived, but it wasn’t long before her doctor pulled me aside to show me that her cancer markers, which are normal under say, 45 or so, were in the 300s. We didn’t have much time. We needed to make her comfortable. She was very, very angry when I finally managed to explain it to her. She threw me out of her hospital room.

Mama’s dogs, Leo and Nova, at her bedside. They were adopted by old friends in GA.

I moved home to Billings to live with her, leaving Adam and the dogs behind. Those of you who’ve nursed cancer patients don’t need me to go into the mud and blood of it all. The palliative care was fair, although she didn’t want hospice and the clinic was not understanding of that decision, asking me to lie to her that I couldn’t take the burden. She was feisty and active until the very end, and there weren’t any problems that were rocket science save controlling her nausea and pain. And that we managed eventually.

My relationship with my grandmother was (and is) complicated. She was a beautiful woman with many gifts. She was also abusive and narcissistic and cruel, turned so inside of herself that she was unable to trust love or friendship, believing there was a finite amount of both. She gave me the gift of raising me, though she never stopped reminding me of what it had cost her. She kept my mother and I at odds in ways small and enormous. She pushed away so many of those that wanted to say goodbye.

And yet. I wouldn’t trade those three months at her side for anything in the world. I wasn’t angry at her anymore for her lies, her insults, the slaps of her bejeweled fingers, her ability to twist the truth into a narrative that made her at peace. She was also human, frightened, angry, dying. And maybe it was the opiates, but she seemed to have a larger capacity for love in those last days. Not that it was a picnic for any of us. But she did hold our tiny family close in the end and she loved us in the ways that she could.

I am thankful for her motherhood and her loyalty. I am thankful for her mistakes, too, so that I can love those things within myself and grow them into something else.

The grief has been complicated, too. As was the estate. As was taking guardianship of her brother. As was paying the bills and selling the house and sorting the possessions. All of it eating away 2018 as if there’d been no break between this year and the last. I’ve been mildly sick a lot. I’ve been away more than I’ve been home this year. In all this year’s chaos there’s been a kitchen remodel that tested the bounds of sanity, sickness and emergency room visits (yes, plural, no not mine), and more death and more cancer and a septic tank disaster and subsequent impending basement remodel. I lost my editorship at my magazine because the publisher decided we didn’t have a clear vision and wanted a hiatus to rethink.

The shoes don’t stop dropping from the skies. Perhaps they won’t. Maybe this is just how life works and before this I’d been lucky. Perhaps this is my Jobian test (which I have most assuredly failed.)

But, in the last week or so, I feel I’m finally emotionally able to get back to the table. I’ve managed not to drown so far. So I must be able to try again to put all this into words. Not these words, but story words. To write, like Adam says, “back when you were happy.”

I go through this, dear reader, not to bore you with the mundane details, but more for the selfish reason that I must account for a year and a half of my life that I misplaced in a maelstrom. I did that. I own the responsibility, or perhaps the blame. And what I can do now is move ahead. Write more passionately than before. Take back my own artisanship. My time. My space. Try again. Anything else is giving up.

That, I will not do.

I will not do that because in part, I did not go through this time alone. My network of support and friendship is deep and wide and for that I am at a loss for words. Grateful does not begin to describe the swell of whelm when I think about who showed up: in person, virtually, on the phone, through the mail, in ways tiny and ways I cannot repay. Each and every time, I was stunned into humility. This was love I might not have deserved then — or ever deserve. And yet, love isn’t a meritocracy.

My relationship with my remaining family grew in unexpected ways, as well. Adam’s family showed up in sisterhood and parenthood and constant care. From Germany, my cousin Valeska gathered up a miracle of resources to bring her four children to say goodbye to their great grandmother and be at her funeral. Mama was reticent about visitors until those children walked into the room and she could not help but love them.

Adam’s sister Sara and Hippo, February 2018.

My mother and I are healing in ways I never dreamed… I’ve always known she loves me, but there was a point when I had no idea if she’d ever like me, like my company, like who I was. That fear is mostly gone. I’m so proud of her and us and the ways we’ve begun to grow as a mother and daughter, even though we weren’t left much for blueprints. Likewise with my uncle, artistic, hilarious, beautiful Bruce, who I adore, but worry I am too much for sometimes. He was there the night Mama died and so many other nights when we went through things words don’t work to explain. We had to rely on each other in ways we hadn’t before. And I love him even more, if that’s possible, and I no longer wonder if that’s mutual (even though I’m sure I periodically work his last nerve).

Living apart from Adam had its own set of challenges when we reunited. There was sadness like molasses that had to be warmed. There were misunderstandings and resentments, choices we’d made with the circumstances at hand that hurt and festered. I’d made a choice to deprioritize our life, and had to make amends. But that, too, ultimately found us in a space for more empathy, more understanding.

All of us, we came out okay — broken, for certain — but like the cliche, certainly stronger, with love not exactly bigger, but a different shape. One that encompasses us and allows us to trust. Those lies, the animosity, the unsure-ness of it all. It’s gone now. What’s left is raw soil for us to cultivate.

And me, I have this garden of a life. These people, these dogs, this blank page, and this cup of coffee. It’s time to put them to use.

See you soon.



Orange to Emerald

On Saturday, Adam and I were out and about, having a pre-dinner drink in advance of a birthday dinner for two of our good friends. The subject turned to the Pantone color of the  year and for brevity’s sake, let’s just say we disagreed and I was wrong. Well, I wasn’t exactly wrong, I was just off by a year.

Loss does funny things to one’s sense of time. Last Friday was marked one year without my grandfather, but the year preceding it was so strange, it’s as if it never happened at all. Or perhaps the rest of the world slowed down or fell away. But it didn’t. Pantone moved on to Emerald from Tangerine, without my acknowledgement or cooperation.

I’d been dreading the anniversary for awhile, trying to figure out how to fittingly mark the day. But, mortifyingly, I woke up on the 18th with a story idea and hunkered down, eschewing breakfast and a second cup of coffee. I had forgotten what day it was until it was halfway over.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve made any progress in my processing of his death and, yet, it’s clear that it no longer pervades things as it once did. The missing is that same evil ache. There is so much I wish I could share with him. But time does smooth things over and pat things down, letting us walk an even surface once again.



In one of my favorite movies, “Because of Winn Dixie,” a little girl is trying some candy for the first time. It’s candy that tastes of sadness and she drops it from her mouth to the sidewalk and says, “Yuck. This tastes bad.” And though I haven’t eaten any sad candy, I’m having one of those days.

A month ago, I submitted my first submission to my online critique group. It was a flash piece that was over-edited and poorly proofed. I was in a hurry, trying to get back and forth to Montana, distracted — I have a lot of reasons for why it was turned in that way, but none of them really excuse me from the responsibility of making sure it was right.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression and this week the piece made its way to the front of the queue. Now there must be hundreds of writers who think I’m a hack because I forgot apostrophes and accidentally cut articles — and this is after spending weeks being complemented for my editing skills. One critique told me to make sure and fix all the errors before I sent it to publishers. (Thanks?) What’s worse is that no one has gotten the story. There’s too much going on, there’s not enough going on. And no one has been particularly polite or supportive. I don’t have as much trouble with negative feedback in person, but for some reason, the online lack of tone really gives me a lot of trouble.

I need to get a thicker skin.

A little more on rejection…

Yesterday evening, in the middle of cooking dinner and downloading with the gentleman about our days, I checked my email on my phone. The first email in the list was a rejection letter from a publication I’d submitted to earlier in the week.

I started to read, expecting a summary dismissal. But it wasn’t a form letter. It was a personal rejection. It was brief but encouraging, complimentary and forward looking. And I was so happy. I mean, of course, I would have been far happier had they wanted the pieces, but I understood why they hadn’t wanted them.

In some ways, I’m glad for the rejection — the chance to build my ongoing relationship with it and process it in a mentally healthy way. I hesitate to submit because I don’t know what a lot of rejection feels like — and I’m frightened. So I’ve resolved to work on shorter pieces for awhile, to keep this exercise going. The future is exciting…


I’ve isolated what I should have answered during all of those stupid corporate interviews so many years ago. My greatest weakness is decisiveness. I hate locking into a decision. I spent three hours yesterday debating three plot points in my novel. I realize it’s a good investment because when I tried to fly by the seat of my pants, I made a big fat mess.

For some people, the creative vision seems really clear — I want to do X and this is how I’ll do it. For others, like me, it is anywhere from slightly to significantly more complex. One of the first pieces of advice I received from another author was never take the easy way out. And while that is good advice, I think I misinterpreted it into never make things easy, which is not the same advice.

Regardless, after Sunday’s fantastic “First Pages” class with Cat Rambo and Louise Marley, I’m feeling invigorated and renewed to run and play with my fictional future Olympians once more.

Writery Stuff

Well, my second Montana visit is almost at an end. Sunday, I’ll return to writing in a major way with a day long workshop with the talented Nicola Griffith. I wrote a flash piece yesterday, but my major accomplishment over the past two weeks is the sheer amount of reading that I’ve managed. I think I am on my fifth or sixth book for the trip, which is useful, always. But I also look forward to next week — goal setting and getting down to brass tacks. And dusting off/salvaging my orphan project for the workshop.

Today, I had the grand task of helping my cousin with some song lyrics. As english isn’t her native language, she needed some grammar assistance and I was more than thrilled to help. Translation… now that’s a theme for the ages.


Today’s lotto drawing is apparently up to $640 Million. This is funny because we as a society get really excited about $500 Million but not $200 Million — chump change, really. But I really do enjoy the collective excitement. The crackle in the air when it gets discussed. I like being a “new” lotto ticket buyer. I like thinking about all the people just like me who have their little tickets tucked safely away in their purses or pockets or paperback who have allowed themselves just a few moments to dream.

I read a quote by one gentleman who described it as cheap entertainment — a license to daydream for a few days. As a writer, I daydream quite a bit (it’s one of my best skills), but I don’t daydream much for myself anymore. So I thought I’d join in. If the lotto ticket in my little red purse is the winner, here’s what I’d do:

  1. Procure and imbibe a large amount of champagne (Krug)
  2. Re-hire the house cleaners
  3. Get a lawyer and a financial advisor
  4. Pick a pen name so that I could keep writing
  5. Buy house with big windows, maybe a water view and an office for both of us. And that elusive “one more room” that everyone needs.
  6. Buy Adam a Lambo or a new Vette
  7. Buy self a restored Lotus Esprit Turbo or Alpha Brera
  8. Travel to Germany at least twice a year
  9. Spend more time in LA and Napa/Sonoma
  10. Buy spare house in Montana
  11. Invest
  12. Be a philanthropist — try to get on some boards. I haven’t been on a board since college. I want to be on a board.
  13. Overhaul wardrobe, buy more shoes
  14. Get one of those walk in glamour closets with a club chair or some such nonsense.

There isn’t much more I would change. Of course I would make sure our families were secured for the future, etc. But in our own lives, there’s really not much more that I would change with more money. If I could I’d throw the whole wad to get rid of Pop’s lung cancer, but it doesn’t work that way. I really couldn’t be much happier.



Back here in Montana, my grandfather has been taking stock of things. Though we still don’t have an *official* diagnosis — that will happen Monday — we’ve vacillated between insisting everything will be fine to envisioning the worst possible scenarios.

He has been reflecting a lot. We get hilarious tales of life in the army — how they hid the burned creamed corn from the angry sergeant who’d been looking forward to eating it to how he and his brawny friends harassed the owner of the neighborhood’s first compact car by picking it up and wedging it between trees and dumpsters. He’s supposed to gain weight so we talk a lot about food. And then there was this conversation:

“What exactly is homophobia? Does it mean that you hurt people who are gay?”

Continue reading


Last Friday, dead on my feet, I spent the day downtown. I even wrote a post on my laptop — it’s marooned there for now which is probably best. I can only imagine the kind of writing that was coming from my addled brain.

I am headed home tonight to be with my family and thus giving myself a week off from structured blog posts. Life is going to change tomorrow and it may change in a number of ways, both good and bad. Time will help us through all of these changes — giving us a new normal — and I’m feeling strong enough to face those changes now.

With Chardonnay, of course.

Dropping Shoes

When  you write a lot about how wonderful life is and how easy it is to be happy if you just try, you might be leaving yourself open to karmic/cosmic comeuppance.

Today I learned that my grandfather — who I was raised by — was diagnosed with lung cancer. Large and widespread lung cancer. I can hardly put one foot in front of the other. Moving through the day seems to violate some new barrier. And yet not moving seems to be a travesty in itself — he isn’t dead and I shouldn’t act like he is or that he will be. And yet at some point he will be. We all will. I’m angry at the sun for shining. I’m angry at my emotions for erupting haphazardly. I’m angry that I am here and not there. At least the latter is fixable and on Monday I will feel less impotent and can at least fret in formation.

I am not ready for this.