grown ups are like that....

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Three years old or thirteen, it doesn’t matter--you always want your mama when you’re sick in the night.

I hold her tight as she trembles.  I spoon against her slight body and realize that, actually, she’s not so slight after all.  She’s curvy and womanly and almost as tall as I am.  But right now this girl-woman is shaking with illness and fatigue. She snuggles closer and I wrap my arm around her waist.  My neck aches; her bed is too small for the two of us. I consider moving to the floor and realize that she doesn't just need me in the same room; she needs me right next to her like when she was a baby.

 Earlier in the night I heard her desperate call of, “MAMA!” from my room. Every imaginable boogie man swam in my head.  I stumbled down the hall only to find her bed empty. Instead I found her in the bathroom, sobbing over the toilet bowl. She finally let it all come up and out, and I got her back to bed where we are now.

I feel guilty as I silently pray that no one else gets sick before Christmas Eve.  I stare at the bottom of the top bunk while I whisper a mother’s incantation. . .

Let her be ok. Let her feel better.  Spare my boy this.  Spare ME this. 

I look around the room and see all that makes her my daughter: Chap Stick on the night stand, candles on the dresser, bookshelves two deep, messy journals, tie-dye socks, posters of foreign lands, sea shells, crystals.

 She sprints from the room and I race behind her. She dry heaves again over the commode.  I notice she is gripping tight to her glasses, the cute turquoise and black pair.  She is afraid they’ll fall in the bowl.  I slide them off of her face, and she empties her stomach again.  I sweep back her hair and hold back my own tears.  It makes my heart clench to see her so weak.  I cover her in towels and watch as she lays her cheek on the tile.  I remember moments when viruses or beer or heartache put me in a similar spot.  I remember that all I wanted was a clean towel and a cold tile floor and my mama. 

She decides on a shower, and I let her have her privacy though every cell in my body wants to sit on the toilet lid and make sure she is ok and that she doesn't slip in her shaky state.  But I don’t stay. I go back to her bed and nod off to sleep.  I have fitful dreams of lost babies and an absent friend.  I dream my daughter is driving a car.  I dream of an empty museum and yellow flowers with wooden stems.

At some point she comes back and I help her dress in fleece PJs and warm socks. I tuck her in and slip away, back to my own bed. At eight-o’clock my mom calls and I snuggle under the covers with the phone and pretend she is with me, keeping me warm in my big empty bed. 



Sunday, December 14, 2014


Several months ago I handed my husband a stack of  Poets & Writers magazines and told him to get rid of them.

"Recycle them, take them to the library, leave them in the English Department.  I don't care, just get rid of them"

I had declared--rather childishly, I admit--that I was done with writing. I was no good at it, I felt, and the local writing community did not support my writing efforts or the literary reading series I host. I felt lost and ridiculous and tired of trying. I was done.

Several weeks ago I woke with a start and tears filled my eyes.  I needed to write again.  I couldn't contain the words roiling in my brain and belly and heart.

With the help of a professional writing coach and editor I began again. I've written almost every day for four weeks. I've submitted one creative non-fiction piece and have several others earmarked for either editing for future submission or inclusion in a book.

Today I found that stack of magazines hidden under a shelf.  I showed them to my husband.

"I couldn't do it.  I would just have been wrong."

This gesture was more loving than any bouquet of flowers or fancy piece of jewelry. I think I'll keep those magazines indefinitely now.  I'll look at them and remember that someone special loves me.  I will look at them and remember that I am a writer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ekphrasis IV: The Artist's Studio

“You have something pent up inside.  You are frustrated.  You need to create.”

For a crazy moment I think she is a bit drunk and has lost all sense of who she is talking to. But I look in her eyes and she is serious, her beer nowhere near empty. I feel shaken, like a fortune teller has just read my cards and showed me Death.  But an educated querant knows that the death card only means change, not demise, so I take a deep breath and say, “Yes.”

We go to her art studio after the beer is gone.  One by one we switch on the lights to reveal nude figure drawings on every wall.  

There is a static buzzing in my brain, yet I can’t figure out where this electricity is coming from. Why does it feel like a heated spark is bouncing around inside of my skull?  I realize, crazily, that the nudes are conduits of energy, and I’m picking up a charge just being near them.  I want to feel this power all the time.  I suddenly decide I will go to art school and  immerse myself in charcoal and pencils and pastels.  But do I want to be an artist playing with shadow and light or do I want to be the nude figure, face turned to the wall, pubic hair and nipple boldly exposed? When the static calms I realize that I want neither.

 Vitruvian Man Leonardo DaVinci

We talk of discipline and education in art, of how if we want to challenge convention we first have to learn the rules.  This makes me think of my writing, and I fight back hot tears (am I sad? tired? inspired?) and hate myself for being such a crier, a personal trait that annoys me and so many others.  Keep it together, keep it together, I chant in my brain. I focus on the objects in her studio in order to calm down. They are so simple and perfect and loved. A poem in 3D. I take stock of what I see.

1. Yellow and brown paper coffee cup.
2. Rubber band, fat.  The kind that holds your broccoli stalks together.
3. Bottle of German mineral water: Gerolsteiner.
4. Pencils of all sizes. 
5. Charcoal. 
6. Stoneware mustard bottle holding paint brushes of various size, bristles up.
7. Two saints candles.
8. Reclined nude pencil drawing.  Her legs are up the wall, head and arms resting on an oversized pillow.
9. Hoosier cabinet:  light sage green with enamel-top work surface.
10. Lemon juicer:  ceramic, white and blue.
 Time to go. Walking into the cold air feels good and sobering though I've had nothing at all to drink. I'm ready to create now, give birth to what she saw pent up inside me.  I say a little prayer to the cold stars thanking them for this night.

Winter, 2012

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Coffee Talk: World Book Night 2014

When my daughter was small I’d throw her in the umbrella stroller and head down to Java Junction.  Java is a quirky-cool coffee shop in my little town in Western NY.  It is a place where you can grab a cup of coffee and a fresh baked scone and settle right in.  Kids and babies are always welcome.  So, when my, now thirteen year old, daughter was just a wee thing, I would escape to Java.

I could nurse her without being looked at sideways or being asked to leave.  I could sit for as long as I wanted while she slept peacefully in the stroller or squirmed in my arms. As she grew, she didn't just want breast milk though, I could get her a bagel or a grilled cheese and a lidded cup of juice.  I was given cookies and smiles and boxes of crayons for her active little hands. It didn't matter if she was fussy or quiet; she –and all children—were always welcome.

Fast forward a few years and my son came into the picture.  Now, I had new infant snuggled in the sling as well as a slow-shuffling toddler. The five minute walk now took what felt like twenty years.  Yet still, we went and the years passed swiftly by.  Soon, strollers and slings and wagons were abandoned and we would walk and skip and sometimes dance to our downtown destination.

We’d meet friends or have coffee with my husband. We’d have prolonged breakfasts that eased into leisurely lunches.  We’d run in for a cold drink in the summer or a cookie and hot cocoa in the winter.  Today we still go to Java, though everyone can get there on their own steam, and my girl can now go there all by herself when the urge calls to her.

The sense of home and love and family is why I chose to pass out Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City to my friends at Java Junction for the second year in a row.  There we all sat with coffee and bagels and tea and cookies.  Several of us sent our kids off to school that morning, and others came with toddlers and infants.  We passed around little baby Phin and I looked at his sweet face as he swatted Cheerios on the table.  I saw my girl and boy and every “Java Baby” in his eyes, and I knew I had chosen the right place, the right people, the right book; a book that could take us far away to the other coast to visit with Mona and Mrs. Madrigal, and Mary Ann. We could close our eyes and see a city bright with life in the not too distant past.  Each and every one of us needed an escape and a gift, and I was thrilled to be able to hand over those books to some very happy women.

The best “thank you,” though, came from Bobby, the owner of Java.  She is a business owner and baker and mom to three lovely children.  When I handed her that book, her smile was the brightest I’d ever seen, and my heart was glad.

Thanks to World Book Night 2014 for making this all possible.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On Not Writing

Last week, all the literary "things" happened.  I gave away books on Shakespeare's birthday, read poetry at a local bookstore, hosted a literary reading at an art gallery, and attended and read at an open mic.  I offered advice to a friend as she chose a cover for her new book.  I helped form a local writer's group. I had a Tiny Poem published in a wonderful magazine.

But the one thing I didn't actually do was...write.

I haven't written in a dog's age, as they say.  I sit down in front of my computer or with a pen and my journal and nothing comes.  Nothing.

I do everything but write, actually.  I meditate and practice yoga.  I work, of course, and run errands. Countless errands.  I volunteer. I lift weights.  I make healthy meals.  I balance the check book.  I walk the dog. Watch TV.

But I don't write.

There was a time that I would wake in the night with an idea fresh in my mind.  I would get up and write and write until it was all out and I shook with relief.  Something was created and purged and spoken into the ether all at once. I would sleep deep and feel refreshed. Other days I would form whole stories and essays in my my head as I ran. When I returned from my jog I would have to type furiously lest I forget my ideas.

But not now.

Perhaps my Muse will return. Maybe not.  For now, I think, my role is to watch others as they write and help them when I can.

Maybe I'll write tomorrow.

But not now.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Burning the Old Year (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Letters swallow themselves in seconds. 
Notes friends tied to the doorknob, 
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn't,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn't do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Burning the Old Year" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

When Sarah posted Nye's poem on Facebook I felt a keen, driving need to touch, feel, hold the ephemera of 2013.  I should count my stones instead, but there is an urgency to this, a voice shouting, "Take account.  File, save, treasure, or burn the hand written petitions of the year gone by."

I take heed.

Artist's postcard. I took a snowy January walk to her art show.  Snow drifted in the streets and flakes stuck to my hair and scarf.

"Patron Receipt" from a quick library trip. Cloaked in Red.  Did I read that?  No, one of the kids, I'm sure of it.

 Ikea sales slip.  I recognize only one item on the list and realize it was a friend's receipt, not mine.   She bought me a Skydda mattress pad.

Date book entry, April 7: "Write thank you notes" (for what? i can't remember), "Pay bills," "Balance the budget."  What isn't written: "Mary passes."

Yoga practice created by my friend Stephanie.  It's on lined note-book paper with little stick figures demonstrating how to perform the poses.  At the top is written "Stability."  She underlines this word twice.

Fluorescent yellow post-it note.  "Sheets, drawers, E. BD, camping list, $ store, B. library."  Only B. library, sheets, and camping list are crossed out.

Broccoli soup recipe.  The grease stains suggest that I've used it several times this year, and it's true.    A note at the top tells it like it is: "It's easy and fast!"

Stack of cards from my surprise birthday party.  The top one reads, "#40, You Go Girl! Love, Amber."  There was so much love.

Newspaper clipping. "Club prepares for Brockport Giftaway with Toy Drive." Thousands of toys.  Tears.  Fatigue.  Joy.

Christmas card.  The very last holiday card of 2013 reads: "Wishing you much Peace & Love in 2014."

Even as I recycle and shuffle and file these feather-light tokens of the last twelve months I realize that these *are* the stones.  If each one erupts in flame and is reduced to ash they will still be gems, still golden, still treasures. Even those things that go up in smoke carry supplications and griefs and gratitudes to the heavens, perfuming the air with prayer.