Making Space for Light

2014-04-12 13.30.43Yesterday we chopped a tree down. There were 5 Maple trees all growing out of one small spot – so we took this one out to give the rest a better chance to thrive. Plus, our vegetable garden will get more sun. And we’ll have firewood for next season. And R will build a charming little reading nook nestled into the other trunks.  Okay, it’s this that really sold me on taking it down – imagining this sweet place to read.

Still, it took some time for me to agree, to let go, to get ready to – well… grieve a little. I’ve lived in this house for 17 years so of course there are memories attached to everything.

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I held a rope taut ready to guide the wood away from the hedge and road as R cut a wedge of trunk first on one side, then the other. With a huge crack, the tree fell to the lawn as if it was shot. Prone, it appeared more massive, a daunting crush of wood.  We spent most of the day cutting branches and logs, turning our tree into pieces. “We need to have a ritual bonfire.” I said. We cannot simply trash these twigs, bundle them off to the town brush dump. We’ll burn them in our fire-pit, perhaps with neighbors or just the two of us will raise a glass and stare into the flames recalling years of shade, the different voices of wind and rain channeled through foliage and fractals. These branches were visible from our bedroom window – a best seat to watch squirrels scramble between limbs, Woodpeckers banging, Chickadees tweeting. We need to herald this wood off with a blessing.

2014-04-12 13.30.50Now a weird emptiness lingers in that space. Perhaps it’s like Phantom Leaf Effect – when a part of a leaf is cut off, it is still visible using a special photo technique that captures energy. Amputees experience this too, feeling sensation and even pain long after losing their limb. So the energy remains, some essence invisible to the naked eye. I’m anxious for the remaining trees to leaf, perhaps easing this sense of nakedness in our garden. How can I not be mourning a little, the absence of this tree. Or to think about death?

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I cannot avoid it, especially in Spring even as everything around us promises new life. For me, the sweet scents, the vivid morning light, remind me of a terrible morning on May 1st. This year is the 10th anniversary of my husband’s suicide. Enough time has passed that I mostly remember the man I loved, my daughter’s father, rather than the often frightening shell he’d become at the end. The mourning of possibility never goes away when someone dies too young – like a phantom limb, sometimes, inexplicably calling to us.  Grief brings such darkness in the early days of loss, yet I’ve heard from others and experienced myself, there comes a light like we’ve never seen before, made all the brighter by the shadows.

Cleaning up this downed tree on an impossibly brilliant Spring day, I honor darkness and make space for light.

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Revelations from My Stat-High

For the past year or so, the record number of views of my blog stood at 176.  Watching the climbing digits that day was thrilling. And from all over the world! The little flag icons on my stats page looked like 1st Avenue outside the United Nations and included unlikely spots like Turkey, Romania, Saudi Arabia. Initially I was thrilled since my usual readership is an average of 20 or so devoted friends. Alas! These global citizens had only stumbled upon my blog in pursuit of a scantily clad gal by the name of Tierney who is identified as one of the ‘Suicide Girls’.  I wrote about it here, but in short, if you search ‘Tierney’ and ‘suicide’, you also find me because I sometimes write about my husband’s suicide. I suspect none of those 176 visitors stuck around for very long.

So imagine my delight last week when that mockery, that in-search-of-nudie-shot number disappeared into my blogging history. On Sunday night, the hits climbed to over 200 and they were legit. But where were all my new readers coming from? Had my just posted Author Events:  been “Freshly Pressed” – a coveted and seemingly unattainable shout-out from Word Press editors? Nope. This is how it happened: readers shared. The first share came from a Tweet by cyber friend and fellow book fanatic on the West Coast, the lovely and obviously well connected Diane Prokop. Soon other bookish-readers Tweeted. Thus, by the time I went to sleep with a smile here on the East Coast, my numbers had climbed to well over 200 and I was satisfied.

The next morning as I rolled out of bed to get ready for work, I checked again — over a  THOUSAND hits! Cheryl Strayed had shared my post saying she agreed with everything I said! (pinch me still) And later, more hits came in thanks to a share by Nathan Bransford, author and blogger full of wise and generous advice for writers. For 3 days my stats climbed.

Then, a weird thing happened. As the numbers got higher on my stat bar-chart, my perception of success changed. What, only 2,000 hits today? I thought. The baseline shifts, the bar gets raised higher. When does that stop? What number will be enough? Insert many words before ‘what is enough’ – starting with money. Examples of disasters caused by that kind of thinking abound. Of course with writing, as in any of the arts, the bar should be raised higher and higher still. But not as measured by ‘stats’ on a blog or Amazon (ugh) sales of my (future) book, but rather, internally. Over the course of those days of watching the increasing readership, I was beside myself with excitement. But aside from the comments, a real connection with so many great writers and people, it all became a little unreal. I learned to, at least (a little bit) to let go of those numbers. And to appreciate the thrill of a single reader.

I write out of a longing to connect not only with readers but to some kind of magic, bigger than but within myself – a quest I discovered and honed first as an art student. “Great things have no monetary value” my guru-type sculpture teacher once told me. Substitute ‘numerical’ for monetary in this case. Better I check my work against an internal compass and remain in pursuit of that unnameable something that makes a painting, a book, an essay – sing. Numbers can be very distracting.

Another insight I garnered from all this blog-excitement, is to be confident. I hesitated to write my first sentence of last week’s post that says “… I can claim to be an expert…” How dare I?  I suspect many women can relate to this. Journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written a soon-to-be-released book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance addressing just this phenomenon. Why don’t we believe in ourselves?  I regularly downplay my skills and expertise both professionally and personally. But last week my timid declaration was affirmed by so many, including publishing professionals and authors like Masha HamiltonKristin Ohlson and of course my new BFF, Cheryl Strayed that I could not help but feel and believe, I am an expert. And I’ll be reading Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s book for answers and encouragement on this front.

I loved last week’s ride. Writing is a solitary pursuit but an amazing and accessible community of support exists. And I while I know I just wrote about writing-to-write, art and all that – and do believe it all – ultimately: who doesn’t want readers? Otherwise, what’s the point?  I want my writing to move and inspire and perhaps, to comfort. My recent glimpse of reaching a larger audience, was amazing. Thank you to all my new cyber-friends who helped to get me there. Now back to making the donuts.

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Author Events: Notes to Myself and a Rant

After 17 years of running author events at a bookstore, I think I can claim to be something of an expert on the subject. Having learned from some of the best authors who have graced the store, (you know who you are) I know what to do when it’s my turn to be the star.

When it is me behind that podium talking about my book, the number of chairs set up by someone else for a change will conservative since it’s better to have to add chairs then to have them be half empty. But worry not: at my event, those chairs will be full because I will only appear where I am pretty damn sure of an audience. That means, my proud mother (not in my case, since she’s no longer alive – but you get my drift) lives in town or I have a lot of friends nearby. I’ve contacted an existing group interested in the subject I write about.

Yes, authors, the onus is largely on you. Unless you are a ‘name’ or are a psychic willing to do readings at your event (seriously – this always gets a crowd) do not go down a list randomly calling bookstores hoping to set up an event. And even if my publisher provided publicist (still dreaming) sets up my events for me, I will still personally reach out to the organizers to discuss the date. Maybe they always have a core group audience – and more likely, not. I’ll know in advance what kind of hustling I need to do to entice my supporters out and will do it. I will not delude myself that an audience will just be there – I know how hard it is to get people to come out so I’ll help rather than talk only to 3 homeless people asleep in the chairs.

At my book events, here’s what I will not do: I will not read from my book. I know, that’s what everyone’s instinct is — to share your glorious book with everyone by reading your favorite passages. Okay, maybe I would read a very little bit. Trust me, even 10 minutes at a shot is a wee bit too much. Really. The fact is, most people, including authors, are not good readers – not good enough to have that be the feature of the show. Record yourself and you’ll understand. See how your voice changes into a ‘readerly’ voice? Maybe this sounds good to you, but it’s unnatural sounding and in most cases, is terribly soporific.

Have you noticed that very few authors read their own audio books? The publishers are not dumb. You can write, but chances are you can’t read. I don’t need you to read to me. Don’t read. Talk to your audience and tell them about why you had to tell the story that is your book. Tell us what you ate for breakfast – whatever. If someone has traveled in the rain or snow or come in from a beautiful day to sit in an uncomfortable chair for an hour (and it should never be more than that!)  it is because they are interested in YOU. Don’t disappoint them.

Pretend you’re a standup comic and work out a routine. Even if it’s not funny. Or imagine you are a motivational speaker and getting paid $10,000 for this event. (Hey, this may lead to something!) Or just be your quiet self but tell us your story. We will then want to read your book. And then you can read us a passage or two, if you must.

Just be natural. Don’t come with a script – but know your lines so it flows. And if you’re doing lots of venues in the area or are appearing at the same place, even years later, don’t tell the same story. Your groupies are there and have heard it – tell them a new one.

Here’s my suggested program: following the brief but charming introduction your host makes for you, greet your audience – calling out any local connections, the one’s you love, etc. and perhaps, their significance to you and/or your book. Connecting like this make everyone feel a little cozier – most of all you. These are your peeps after all so taking these minutes to reach out – it will relax you enough to enjoy this time. And then, so will your audience.

Now, tell us a good anecdote or two to draw us closer to you and your work. Okay, you can read a brief passage to illustrate some point you just mentioned. Now stop reading. Stop. I said stop… and tell us something else. Talk to us. Make us laugh and cry. You do it in your book, you can do it here. Readers want to know more about you or they would not have shown up. You know what I mean. Why do you think your picture and a blurb are on the back jacket of the cover? Who are you? It’s sometimes what readers look at even before the blurb. Flesh out that blurb.

This should fill about 20-30 minutes. We really love you now and want to know more and now feel okay asking. So ask for questions. You’ll panic because no one raises their hand right away. Wait a few seconds but don’t make it awkward. People are shy and no one wants to be first. So ask your own question to the audience – that will give someone courage to raise their hand. Sometimes if authors have a friend or relative in attendance, they’ll plant a question – a good idea. You’ve just got to get the ball rolling, that’s all.

You’ve now been at this for about 45 to 50 minutes. Unless you’ve got a really scintillating discussion going, stop. Thank everyone for coming and tell them you’ll be happy to sign books for them. Enjoy this one-on-one with your readers but don’t linger too long with any one of them – share contact info if you must catch up or ask them to wait and join you for a drink later,  but don’t keep others waiting. You want everyone to buy your book and people are busy. You are a salesperson here to sell your book: sell it! Help keep books and bookstores alive by doing it right. We’ll all live happily ever after.

Oh yeah, this was advice to myself, wasn’t it?

Maybe you disagree. Do you want to hear authors read their books?

 

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Over the Hill

My birthday is this week. Again. Since I slipped over to the downward slope, everything goes so much faster. Once again, it’s time to celebrate. But didn’t we just do this?

March 9

I’ve never been particularly coy about my age, but this year’s number does sound a little shocking when I say it. I’m how old?! It’s hard to believe. And I cannot ignore how our society perceives this number. I am increasingly less employable with every year. My age group has the most difficult time getting hired and most of us, still need to work. Retirement? Ha! So I better hang on to my job. And how many years left there? In a bookstore? While I still feel confident in my company’s ability to survive the Amazon storm, I’m also not stupid. And as my bones become brittle, will I really be able to hauling boxes of books to schools? Oh yeah! Students are, or will be soon, using tablets so I won’t have to, right? So much to keep up with! If only I could get paid just to keep reading. I’m so good at it.

Red Leaf

And then there’s the memoir I’m writing that I hope to sell to a publisher. Yes, I’m still working on it and it’s becoming a better book — really. But have you looked at the back flap on any book jackets lately? New authors are (attractive) youngsters. Who wants to read about the adventures, the romance, struggle and resiliency of a geezer? (Okay, I know I’m not quite a geezer – I just like that word.) But publishing, like much in the world, is the realm of the young. First time fifty-something author? Not so many of us.

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And I can’t ignore the physical dimensions of aging. I know there are things that I can do to look younger for my author shot – like color my hair. But since I suck at maintenance I’d soon end up with one of those skunky-stripes across the top of my head – right up there with crazy-clown lipstick as a bad look for an older woman. See, it’s not that I lack vanity, I’m just realistic. Besides the fact that coloring my hair is not what I want to spend my time or money on, better to look like a sea-hag from behind. When I turn around I can get the reaction “oh, she looks good for her age” rather than have the hair of a sixteen year old and a face of a, well, 55 year old. I’d rather hang onto my silver strands than risk that cringe factor.

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At this point, as long as nothing major fails in the body department I’d like another 3o years or so. Preferably with the ones I love. I know that’s a tall order – the people we love don’t always stick around and that’s heartbreaking.  I won’t even go there (for a change!).

I don’t mean to be depressing. I am not depressed, rather, I’m contemplative. We humans are a marvel of nature and in nature, everything has a season and all that. I’m glad to be here to keep marking the seasons.  I’m not horrified at the prospect of aging. I embrace it and intend to do it as well as possible. Like the New Year, I think of my birthday as time to take stock. Where and what do I want to be doing in X number of years from now?

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Oh, never mind all that. Better to savor the moment, seize the day. Pay attention. That I can do. Cheers and happy birthday to me. And while we’re at it, happy birthday to you too – it will be here before you know it!

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A Tast of Spring

Finally, that endless crush of snow has melted!  For a few hours today, in the cold air and bright sun, I raked leaves and discovered –

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At last! Keen to find more, I made my way around the yard to every patch where I know spring bulbs are ready to burst, to clear away blankets of rotting leaves. Sure enough, there are plenty of emerging crocuses (croci?) in different stages of bloom – some still torpedo like, others, sweetly opening up to the sun.

We don’t take autumn clean-up very seriously around here (truth is, we don’t taking any clean-up seriously around here!) and as a result, there’s a lot of good compost material to be had. Sure, we end up taking some to the town leaf-dump, but mostly we throw it in to the vegetable garden – in-place-mulching, if you will.

I ventured up in to the vegetable garden I’ve mostly abandoned to the greedy groundhog these last years – who shockingly, doesn’t seem to enjoy asparagus. I’m hoping that this year’s yield will be enough for more than a meal or two. I cleared away the matted, dry grass that had encroached on the patch to more easily spot the lovely spears.

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These scraggly sprouts are Horseradish plants that have multiplied from one that I planted years and years ago. Horseradish spreads just enough to be a handsome, leafy addition to the garden without bullying other things out of the way – not like the damn mint that would swallow the house if I let it. I dug up a root to grate. Fresh horseradish is intense – but then, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

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I’d forgotten how much I love working outside. I think better with my hands in the dirt, I see things – well, differently. I become absorbed in a way, transported into a zone – very like the place I aspire to be in when I write.

With the changing, warming light, I can feel my winter-torpor fading. It’s time for me to get efficient and disciplined again. In the garden, in my work! Enough of this lounging about in front of the fire! I’m ready to feel the ache of my body after a day of gardening. Ready to feel the heat of the sun on my body, to get my vitamin D not from a pill. I’m ready to savor meals (outside!) with fresh sage, basil, oregano.

Yeah, I’m ready. Are you?

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Denial at the Dentist

“Anything been bothering you?” my dentist asks every 6 months. I am a diligent brusher and flosser and the good result is that I have been cavity-free for years. Since the dentist usually has her hands in my mouth when she asks the question, I simply answer in a guttural negative.

The fact is I’m lying. One of my lower molars on the left side of my mouth is sensitive and sometimes aches. I chew mostly on my right side and often worry my ancient filling with my tongue. This has been the case for years. And years ago, she pointed out that this tooth had a slight crack and I’d probably eventually need a crown. Money was tight then, so when she told me the probable cost I balked.

This news, along with once enduring an excruciating “scaling” procedure, has made me ultra-vigilant when it comes to my mouth. I am also determined not to be like my mother whose teeth were a mess because of her lack of  mouth-maintenance. She claimed she had a phobia of the dentist. I vow to not ever let my mouth get the way hers was in the last years of her life. Besides, research indicates a link between gum disease and heart disease.

And yet, there I go, lying to the dentist. And it’s no longer because of money. I feel dismay at a big bill from the car mechanic but I still fix the car. This is my body we’re talking about. But I also have dentist-fear. I hate the image of what I vaguely understand they do to your tooth: grinding it down to a nub and attaching the fake bit on, right? Ugh. No, I lie about my discomfort because I’m chicken and it doesn’t hurt quite enough.

But recently, I’ve decided I better act now. One day, it might be the money again. Bless Barnes & Noble, I currently have great coverage – including dental. A good chunk (oh, my poor tooth!) of the cost would be covered. And so I am prepping myself to bite the bullet (!) at my next visit and answer the call of my molar.

Acknowledging my dental-denial has reminded me of how I behaved for years; my avoidance of dealing with the painful truth. I convinced myself things weren’t really that bad and surely they’d get better. If distress was not perpetual – day-in and day-out – I ignored it. I am an easy mark and could be distracted by sweet talk and what proved to be only hollow promises. Anything to avoid conflict and anything rather than give up on the illusion of the happy family.  This used to be me. It’s not uncommon – mostly women do it – dismiss our pain insisting we’re okay, really we are. Excuses, rationalizing reasons for other’s bad behavior. Anything to avoid giving up on the one we love. Chewing on the other side to avoid confronting and dealing with the pain of taking the steps to end it.

But I’ve learned over the years, that even after the most terrible pain can come incredible serenity and bliss.

And at the dentist office, I’ll just ask for lots of Novocaine.

Who do you lie to?

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Some Winter Joy

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I have always identified myself as a Winter-hater. When the rich Autumn light thins into icy-grey and nights grow long, I fall into a funk. I mourn the passing of warmth and resulting ease of moving from inside to outside – no coats necessary.  As the garden gets lost to frosts and buried in banks of snow, I miss plucking flowers and herbs from my garden. I hate slipping and sliding down the streets. But this year as we edge towards Spring, I’m beginning to savor aspects of this usually dread season about to end. There are things I love about Winter.

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My pajamas. I change as soon as I get home from work into flannel-y, soft pants. They’re my ‘I ain’t going anywhere’ garb matched with fuzzy socks and a sweatshirt. How decadent to be dressed for bed at 5 PM!  I’m ready to climb into bed with a book. What I do instead is lovelier: I snuggle up with a blanket on the corner of the couch in front of the fireplace. R is the master of fires and we have a blazing one every night, cranking our heat down and keeping this baby stoked – this room heats up quickly. Once settled in front of these sweet flames, it’s impossible for me to pull myself off the couch so I nod off in place, prodded up to bed when only the glow of embers remains.

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We’ve had a crazy amount of snow this year – a tough one for the birds. Our feeder has been a popular spot for visitors like this. Bliss is sitting by this window with endless cups of tea, pretending to write while a flurry of feathered friends visit us. When I’m too old to do anything else, I’ll still be happy if I have a view of the birds.

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Winter allows me to read guilt-free. It’s so miserable outside, I can’t do anything else, can I? I better just finish a few more chapters. When things warm up there will be so much to do outside, I won’t let myself just disappear behind a book all day. There will be garden beds to clear and so much to do to get this place in shape not to mention the veggies to plant for the groundhogs. For now, these patches are buried in snow and we are cloistered here inside, windows shut tight. The silence is lovely – no sound of the highway traffic, usually our background noise during the months of open-windows.

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While it is still February and the temperatures remain frigid, the light is changing – growing warmer and the days, longer. The branches on some of the trees are beginning to swell with the suggestion of buds. It won’t be long. So for now, I savor these last harsh days in the warmth of my home walled in by my piles of books and a view of the birds.

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My Canine Love

Weekends, even when I’m inclined to linger in bed a little longer, Tetley, my Cairn Terrier, gets me up. Now that he’s an older dog, he’s more of a sleeper himself, staying curled at the foot of the bed later than he used to. But he’s still going before 9, sidling up beside me, nudging me with his wet nose. I can buy myself more lazy time by scratching his ears and usually, he’ll rollover onto his back so I can rub his belly. Soon, squirming upright, he shakes and starts pawing at me, sometimes punctuating his gentle punches with little guttural pleas to get the hell out of bed.

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Especially during these winter months, I’m inclined to hibernate, but Tetley gets me outside a few times a day – at least for a walk down the street. I feel the weather, taste the air, notice the changes of the seasons, the comings-and-goings of the neighborhood. I pay attention. This morning the roads were slick with black ice so I stepped carefully, walking only on the snow covered part of the street.  He pees his way up and down the street, sniffing and sometimes barking at phantom or real squirrels. These days, with the branches bare, I watch the birds – Nuthatches, Cardinals, Woodpeckers – darting around the wood. Mourning Doves were perched around like clergy waiting for their flock to show up on this Sunday morning – I still hear their insistent cooing an hour later. I look up at the sky – today, beautifully blue and clear after yesterday’s snow. At night, I watch the stars, where the moon is, whether waxing or waning. These little jaunts, I notice the world in a way I might otherwise not. Thanks to my beloved dog, these walks become a kind of meditation.

Tet on wintry walk

Tetley is getting old. Molly was in second grade when he entered our lives and now she is in college. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned – my only canine love and as true a love as I have ever felt. I purposely forget his actual years – we’ve been saying ‘about ten’ for awhile now.  Small dogs can live quite long lives and I trust (and pray) Tetley lives to a very ripe old age. He’s still fit, although his teeth aren’t great and his breath smells like a swamp. He prefers not to have to leap up on the bed anymore, (I lift him) and he sports a distinguished white goatee. Recently, we’ve noticed he gets underfoot and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s just a tad blind. That’s okay – I’ll lead the way, aging too with my aching love for him.

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The Light of Venus on a February Dawn

There is a bright glow in the dawn sky on this cold morning. At first I think it is the light of a plane passing and I imagine the sleeping passengers heading home to loved ones or departing on adventures. I watch, waiting for the plane’s glow to disappear across the sky but instead the light remains, slowly rising away from the horizon as the earth turns towards the sun and fading only as the morning light moves in. Venus.

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The planet Venus, named for the goddess of love, after the Sun and the Moon, is the brightest planet in the sky. Only slightly smaller than Earth, and with densities and chemical compositions similar to ours, Venus’ surface is so windy and hot, speculation is that any water once there, all boiled away. Venus is sometimes called the morning star. That’s what I thought, this early morning when I realized I wasn’t looking at a plane. Maybe it’s a Nova – one of those stars that burn so hot they explode. Like people sometimes do.

It’s Philip Seymour Hoffman’s kids I can’t stop thinking about. The older two are about the same age Molly was when her father died. A tough memory from that nightmare blur of a morning, when I told her that her father, who she’d been watching a movie with before she fell asleep, was dead. How? She wanted to know. Rather than tell her that he’d put a noose around his neck, I said: drugs. She knew about his drug problem – we’d been living with that struggle for years and she’d known for at least this last one. Tough stuff for an 8 year old. That morning it seemed liked ‘drugs’ inferred an element of accident rather than stating the truth of his intention to die.

Besides, I wasn’t lying. His addiction did destroy him. It took me years to finally step away, to stop trying to find a way to fix him. Eventually, to even let go of hope. That was the hardest. I rode that roller coaster of hope and disappointment until it was one too many times. Yet even in deciding to finish the marriage, I harbored a touch of magical thinking that in doing so, I was giving him the ‘bottom’ – the wake up call he needed to finally get clean. I still deluded myself I might possess that kind of power. I still hoped.

So I look at those kids and I think of mine. And, I think of their mother, his partner, and remember myself. I remember the dark months, weeks and days leading up to my husband’s end. I lived for so many years with lies, sometimes even knowing I was making a choice to believe them, as if that might make them true. Did she do that? What ultimatums did she give him? Did she feel relieved when he moved out of their home, feeling that bitter relief of not having the risk of drugs in the house, of being better able to protect their children from being with him when he was high?  Of, while heartbroken, relieved not to have to wonder why he wasn’t coming to bed yet? Or worry why he was still in the bathroom? The not-knowing. Ever.

After all, if this can happen after 23 years of sobriety. Once there, even if for a glimpse, how can we ever trust our addict is clean? Our addict. We all have at least one addict that is ‘ours’ because we love them. They can never really be ours.

And we wonder why? Why our love, why the love of our children provides no cure? As much as I learn about addiction and accept that it’s a disease, there will always be that tormenting truth that nothing I ever did was enough. So yes, as the death of yet another celebrity throws a spotlight on addiction, I welcome the attention being paid to this complicated issue, although there are no answers here, we have to keep asking the questions. The heartbreak continues, with only a terrible comfort in the knowledge we are not alone. The loss of this great actor and good man saddens me too, but it’s those kids and their mother that I think of as I watch the morning star of love fade away at the break of another day.

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Musings on Love

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I have a front row seat to holidays thanks to my job in a bookstore. I track the changing seasons by displays with holiday relevant books and gewgaws almost as much as I do by observing nature. Christmas hoopla, we all agree, starts way too early. The arrival of merry product the retail cue for imminent insanity, makes me groan when it shows up in September. St. Patrick’s Day stuff of dubious Irish humor books and clover chotchkis, is pretty lame but the sight of it still makes me happy. Like sandals displayed in the shoe store next door even though snow still blankets the ground, the green of St. Patrick’s day signals that the end of winter is near. Of course Easter and Passover bring with it lovely garden books, so what’s not to love?

But Valentine’s Day is my favorite. Vibrant red blankets and boxes of chocolate, heart shaped candles, stones and French milled soaps, pocket sized Pablo Nerudo Love Sonnets, gorgeous displays celebrating the warmth of love to get us through frigid-February. I am almost as much a sucker for this Valentine stuff as I am for love.

I think, it’s why we are here.

Pete Seeger died this week at 94, only months after the death of his wife of 70 years. Toshi Ota was Pete’s anchor throughout his well-lived life, so off he floated after her, following the love of his life. Moving stories of devoted couples dying months, days, minutes apart, abound.

Not all of us are lucky enough to discover and keep such a love. Sometimes it takes decades and many, many false starts to find ‘the one’, if we ever do at all. While I now blissfully share my life, I had plenty of false starts. (In fact, my guy and I reunited 20 years after such a start – but another time for that story.)

I’ve always been love-crazy, maybe even a little obsessive. When I began writing this post, I thought love might be a nice break from my usual musings on addiction and grief. But then it dawned on me that for most of my life I was a romance-junkie, pursuing impossible notions of true love across the country, even around the globe. Plenty of grief got mixed into the soup.

My addiction started in early adolescence with serious crushes on my older brothers’ and sister’s friends, unattainable because they were either oblivious to my 13 year old designs or just decent guys. My best friend Rita (who shared my affliction) and I spent long hours sprawled across the bed in her purple bedroom listening to Cat Stevens after strategically prowling the streets, hoping to encounter our current obsessions. That sense of pining with an edge of pain stayed with me through high school where my most serious romantic episode could have landed the guy in jail. Early on, I associated the thrill of love with an element of danger.

There is danger. We risk getting very seriously hurt. Perhaps that was the thrill for me. My version of psychic cliff-jumping, the madly intense feelings, the brew of first attraction that I was convinced was love.  Of course, in a healthier person this is where things start – and go somewhere or nowhere. For me, it was that very intoxication of questions, hopes, dreams swirling in a crazy alchemy of beginnings where I got stuck.

ti amo blanket

I can conjure the weird drop in my stomach still. Will this be the one? With no roadmap to what a healthy relationship with a man might be, I regularly got lost, mistaking those mixes of passion, wine, fantasy for something that might last. And mostly, they didn’t.

But I never stopped hoping. Finally, I discovered what the gift of real time together means and that after that first rolling boil of love slows — a delicious, long-burning simmer begins.

How does a first encounter turn into 70 years? What a mystery! While we no longer have a chance at 70, R and I are shooting for 30.

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