"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You Never Know

I remember this day last year vividly. I woke up slightly relieved. Relieved that Christmas day—the whole season-- was over. I knew there would be remnants of holiday commercials laced with caroling voices, knew that all the decorations in my neighborhood wouldn’t be down just yet, but I knew that at least the day had passed.

I spent last Christmas on my own at my house. Friends had generously offered me multiple invitations, but the thought of feeling like a third wheel was a little overwhelming. While I have friends that are very much like family to me—spending the holidays with a happy couple or family has sometimes in the past left me walking away realizing with a deeper clarity than I would have liked exactly what I do NOT have. And also, I am quite certain I wouldn’t have been the best person to be around even on the best day at that time. It was tough all the way around.

So I suffered through the weeks leading up to Christmas, stayed away from the general public as much as possible, watched DVDs almost constantly to avoid holiday programming and hunkered down to wish it all away. On Christmas Eve, I went to bed early, but still managed to sleep through most of Christmas day, which had been my plan. Go to sleep, wake up, and it’s not a holiday season anymore. It is just another Friday.

A dear friend, who is like my second mother—well she isn’t “like”—she IS my second mother—told me on this day last year that she believed everything could turn around for me, and that this time next year the world was going to look very different. You just never know, she said.

I remember feeling sad when she said that because I was certain of so many things about my future. And I was certain she was wrong.

What is amazing about life is that there is no certainty. That is not always a good thing. We lose loved ones in the moment it takes to catch a breath…and the only certainty is that there was no time for a goodbye and they are never coming back. But the other side of the coin is that no matter how much all signs, occurrences, and logical assumptions line up—a total curveball flies into your life and everything becomes new and the path you are on was one you never could have imagined.

Stepping back, it isn’t exactly a wild curveball from nowhere. One thing leads to another in a chain of events that makes something bigger happen. But the steps are so small leading to it, and there are so many in the chain that it seems to come out of nowhere.

For more years than I can count, I wanted to be a published writer. And this year, after finding a way to pour some of my past pain onto a page, it happened. And that pain then became fuel for something that made a difference in my life—healing me in more ways than one. And then, I found and let love into my life again, which, I am here to tell you, were words I never saw myself writing, thinking or saying again (or for at least good 30 years from now).

Some of it seemed to come out of nowhere. But, the truth is, all the things that happened this year were the end result of events and choices that I couldn’t have planned better.

I brought my dog Bear into my life last January, and he became not just a pet, but a motivating being that made my heart open before all the past wounds closed it completely.

I lost my job, which devastated me, but also made me realize how many hours, days and weeks I had spent working over the last decade. Ridiculous amounts of time gone—never to be retrieved. While some of it was worth it and reasonable for my career, a great deal of it was hiding from life, and letting work be my safe place instead of how I pay the rent.

When looking back on the terrible betrayal and heartbreak I had suffered in 2008, I saw at first only that I attracted horrible people into my life, that I was not worth better, that I had failed somehow. But through all the other realizations, through writing, through friends and through time…I slowly began to understand my value—my worth.

And I found love again because I opened myself to it, and because the person I love helped me take the last steps across that bridge towards trusting myself—and someone else.

It was all a process. A crazy, painful, beautiful process. Planned and unplanned, chaotic and precise.

And more than anything today, a year later, I know this much to be true…

You never know.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I have come a long way. For years, I was afraid of the sound of my own voice, unable to trust my own instincts, or even believe in myself in moments when it seemed obvious that I was on the right track. So, yes, I am further down the path. I have taken risks—believed in my ability to recover—even thrive. I found my voice –on many levels—charting a career course I would never believed I could have—and finding my way to making some of my dreams come true. Sure, I took the long way, but I got here.

But even today, when all signs point north, when the glass is not just half full, but nearly overflowing, doubt creeps in. There is no evidence or reasoning for it. I just seem unable to trust good happening around me, for me, to me…without questioning my ability to have earned it, trust it, and most importantly, deserve it.

It isn’t a conscious choice, I don’t sit and say…let me start worrying, analyzing or doubting it all now. It is quite the opposite. It is a battle I wage against these words, the cracks that appear in the silver lining in my own mind. I fight every bad thought, every worry, every doubt with all my might. But I am fighting a formidable foe.

Everyone has some baggage, some reason that trust or love is a challenge. Everyone has been hurt. Many have childhood trauma that makes my issues pale in comparison. Not everyone has this battle with doubt to fight. Trust becomes the new frontier, the doorway to a new life, the escape hatch from the past to the present. I can only hope that this peace comes to me.

I can remember as a child seeing a large group of black birds circling in the sky—large loops of gliding motion, but even before I knew what they were and what they were doing, watching them was unsettling. Once I knew the explanation, I felt sick whenever I saw their feathered patterns in the sky…as they waited for someone or something to take its last breath, then swoop in to take everything else.

I often feel that doubt is like that for me. Circling above me, waiting for me to break, get weak, let it in. And then it swoops in, overtaking me, leaving me to do nothing but drown in it.

I want to trust with unwavering passion, to let go, leap, and not look back. I am closer than I have ever been. The space between my acceptance of something beautiful and the time the analyzing and worry begins grows farther in between.

As I stretch my soul to replace hope with doubt, I realize the myriad of emotions that accompany doubt—seemingly the same by definition, but each touching a different part of the most insecure parts of me. Fear, worry, distrust…the list goes on. To combat doubt includes confronting old patterns, past pain, and the assumptions of the worst outcome that come as easily to me as breathing.

It is a necessary fight. I honestly feel deep within me that in almost every area of my life, I am at a crossroads. I believe the paths I choose are going to be a beginning for me. I sense that I must choose so wisely, as the gifts that have been offered to me are precious. And to choose wisely I must—most of all-- trust myself. I must leave all the doubt and insecurity behind me. Easier said than done. But somewhere in me, in the part of me that is almost being reborn, I know that for the first time perhaps ever, the things that are happening are because I have been truly myself, flaws and all. So there’s no reason to doubt.

I am about to become who I have always wanted to be…and really, who I have always been.


Sunday, November 29, 2009


It hides from us in corners of our past, peeking out, then retreating for cover.

It bares itself openly in unexpected moments, overwhelming all of our senses and leaving us breathless.

It whispers to us in dim light and quiet moments when everything seems lost.

It endures the struggle of our battle against it, stronger than we could have imagined, defeating our resistance and somehow empowering us after the fight.

It is a mystery, a longing, a prayer with held breath, a distant glimmer of a light that looks something like peace.

It takes audacity to willingly seek it, even when it seems a given that it is there.

It takes a realm of courage unfamiliar to almost everyone to truly fall and know you will be caught by its net.

It is blindingly beautiful in the midst of chaos and debris.

It is today…shocking…because it resides in my heart.

It may at times seem weak to hope. Watching someone stand in the middle of a figurative or literal wasteland and profess hope for the gift of the next day can seem powerful, or a little delusional. And while most of the time I feel the former, when I heard the word audacity tied to the feeling of hope, it hit me how deep the level of courage that is necessary to accept and see some sort of possibility—to simply anticipate that things will get better.

I was not watching in 2004 when President Obama delivered his speech -The Audacity of Hope. I can’t say I have ever seen it, and have not had a chance to read his book with the same title. But I loved those words—and without anything to do with politics. Those words –the audacity to hope—spoke to me.

The thoughts I write tonight come to me as I stand on the edge of uncertain territory. I can say that over the last few years, I have watched my ability to hope falter in what I was sure was a map for my future. But there is a strange mix of fear and courage that brings me to this place—willing to take a step, a leap into an experience unknown to me until now.

And I feel those words that touched me so when I heard them. The audacity to believe permanent scars fade and heal, trust can return to my vocabulary, and a flicker of something I knew only before countless hard lessons, and too many mistakes…the belief that it will all be alright.

And as I type these last words tonight, there is an audacity in that, too. Putting these words out there, giving them life beyond the silent safety of just lingering in my mind.

It makes this real, it makes hope come alive—living and breathing in my mind, my heart…
in my life.


Friday, November 20, 2009


It derails me
that at times
I worry about your passing.

I fear when you reside
in a yard of stones
that I will conjure up ways
I could have quieted my mind
if only you were here.

And you are here
and I can’t thread words together
and you won’t hear me

I practice in my head;
on paper
with keystrokes flying.

I say everything I have ever wanted to say
and things I haven’t.
And yet, none of the words are right.

You won’t believe me
you won’t accept your role
in the path my life has taken;
the bruised soul you left behind;
the doubt in every thought and whisper
I deliver to my own spirit.

You will never
I am sorry.
I was wrong.

You will never
be someone I can count on
or lean on,
gain wisdom from
or trust.

And I will never be
what I pictured
you wanted me to be.

I am, as always,
trying to stay one step ahead of you
before you shock me
hurt me
betray me.

So I prepare for your passing.

I worry
that it
won’t be a comfort or
even painful;
but instead an extension
of a never ending question.

I won’t ever have the answers
in this life;
in yours --
in what has become ours.
You will take your reasons
with you.

And I worry I will be left behind
more buried than you-
even in death.

Will you pull me with you
more away from the living;
sharing the dust with you
as I try and assemble
the pieces of me that are left?
Or will I somehow find
a path
through the tall grass
and ragged stones
to flat land;
a place of solace-

So, I prepare in my mind
for the end
of the possibility
that you
will ever
make things right.

And I know
I must start now
to look for the
path to flat land;
far away from
where you will be buried-
far away from where you
are now.

I am beginning
to trust my own compass
without the shadow of
your life
or death
inhibiting me.

I can see you
fading in the distance
even now.

And I...
am ready.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Haunting Houses

When I was five, we moved to a green house in Richmond, Virginia. The house was far away from any major roads or shopping centers, sitting on a large lot far back from a lone dirt and gravel road. It seemed as if we lived in the middle of nowhere, and only emerged for visits to the grocery store or the bank.

Deep, thick woods surrounded us practically on every side. I can remember walking in the road in front of our house, picking up rocks from the gray and brown selection, with not a worry of a car coming by or following the usual rules of looking both ways or staying out of the street.
We had moved in a hurry, and the process was tense. Even at five years old, I had sensed it. What I didn’t know then was that we were moving to get away from my father’s last mistress. We had lived in another area of Richmond, in a little white brick house with a black door, and neighbors all around us with kids my age. My memories of that first house include what seemed to be one big back yard laced together between four or five houses, and all of the kids intermingling between swing sets and sandboxes, drinking kool-aid in different kitchens all the time.

My sister, nine years older than me, made extra money babysitting for the lady at the end of the street on the corner, who had a little boy my age. Her house was the farthest away from ours on the street, so she and her children were not as familiar to me. But, my sister could walk there to babysit. And she did. And while she did, my father and that woman had an affair; their trysts planned while my sister cared for her children.

I only learned this in college, when my sister told me, amazed that I didn’t remember everything, forgetting I was only five. The things I do remember were an explosion of emotion, my father rushing home, telling my mother something, all of us crying, lots of screaming and slamming of doors and everyone in and out of the house. I remember us all in the car, my mother driving at a frightening rate of speed and finally stopping to look at us, my sister and me, in the backseat.

To be honest, that event had stayed in memory, but I didn’t know the context. And frankly, my mother and father had a number of other fights before and after that, so this one had just seemed more intense. But, as my sister explained to me over the phone fifteen years later, the woman had threatened to tell my mother about the affair, and basically my father raced home to beat her to the punch. We had to move, and it all happened fast.

The green house in Richmond holds a lot of odd memories for me. Lost in the aftermath of their battle, my parents were merely coexisting, fighting constantly, and whether intentional or not, leaving my sister and me to fare on our own. Even though she was only thirteen at the time, I don’t remember her being home much. My guess (and hope) is that she was spending time with friends. I remember being able to wander all around the yard, across the road, and to a neighbor’s house—connected to us by a path through the woods. Maybe my memory is patchy, maybe my mother was always watching, but I felt very much on my own most of the time.

There was a hatred that hung between my parents, and after particularly loud and angry arguments, I would be reassured if I was heard crying, or if I walked into a room where they were arguing. Everything was fine, nothing was wrong. The drastic difference to what I saw and heard and what they were telling me was hard to reconcile.

At some point during the first months we lived there, and I am sure much to my mother’s annoyance, my father bought a motorcycle. I remember its loud roaring motor, the brown color of the gas tank in contrast to the rest of the black bike—and the seemingly terrifying speed with which my father raced down the dirt road, invisible within seconds inside a cloud of dust.

He would take my mother riding on it, and she tolerated it more than anything, always fearful of my father’s moments of daredevil antics. I wanted to ride with him, begged constantly to ride. He would let me sit on the bike while it was idle and leaning on a kickstand in the front yard-him standing next to me, holding me centered on the seat. He would then get on the bike and sit behind me and show me what all the buttons and gauges were for, seeming to speak a foreign language as he talked about gas levels, the ignition, and the odometer.

But I didn’t want to ride the bike because I was a budding speed demon. I was actually terrified. I had watched my father ride the bike seemingly a hundred times, and as he sped around, pulling the front wheel off the ground, I didn’t get excited, I was scared. Scared that he would do those things with me on the bike, and we would crash. Scared that he would go too fast, and I would fly off the bike. Scared that he wouldn’t be careful with me. But, I longed for the solitary attention from him that wasn’t negative. I longed to have moments with him where he seemed as happy as he was riding his motorcycle, but with me included.

I don’t remember all of the details, but I believe my mother had protested my riding with him. At some point, she relinquished, and he took me on a ride down the road and through our yard. I pretended to love him taking off too fast, and speeding up too quickly, and taking sharp turns that left us teetering sideways. I hid my fear in squeals of what I hoped he interpreted as delight.

Over the next weeks that summer, we started riding more, and venturing farther and farther from the house. We would be riding down the long dirt road, and he would suddenly, without warning, veer off the road, through a ditch and into a field of tall grass, trees and weeds. The ride would get bumpy and fierce, limbs smacking at us, and tall grass catching in the laces of my tennis shoes as we rumbled through. There was no way to tell what the land before us had in store, holes, rocks, debris that could have stopped us in our tracks or overturned the bike. But, I acted as if I was thrilled to be along for the ride.

And then one afternoon, in the distance, in the middle of a field, miles and miles from anything, we saw a house.

It was a huge farmhouse with a wraparound porch, faded white paint and a tar black roof. Pale blue shutters, faded in years of unfiltered sun, hung loosely by the windows, some dangling by only one corner. As we got closer, it was easy to see that most of the glass from the windows was gone. There was no front door, and remnants of trash, old tires, and large pieces of metal littered the yard.

He pulled closer, parked the bike, turned off the motor, and lifted me off the seat before getting off himself. He excitedly told me to follow him as he headed toward the house.

My heart was thumping in my chest. What if someone was there? Why were we going inside?

He stepped on the porch, not trusting the steps leading up to it, which were in serious disrepair. He tested the strength of the boards before pulling me up on the porch beside him. He cautiously stepped in through the open front door frame as I followed behind.

His footsteps stopped and I stood motionless, looking around the room, just as he was. It was as if we had stepped back in time. The furniture was old and dated, but was all there. A complete living room, still arranged with sofa, chairs, and tables all in place. A fireplace on the far wall stood open, the stone hearth stained black with years of use. Pictures hung on the wall, and faded crumpling wallpaper hung on to the remnants of the walls. The only indication that the house was abandoned was a layer of dust so thick that I didn’t recognize it as dust until my father placed his hand in the center of a sofa cushion, mesmerized by the density of it.

There was absolutely no sound other than our footsteps as we wandered through the rooms, even venturing upstairs to find a large unmade bed, a closet full of clothes, a nightstand and rugs, all in place, looking as if someone had just crawled out of bed, dressed hurriedly, leaving the closet doors open. The only indication that this wasn’t the case was the inches thick blanket of powdery filth covering the pillows, bed linens, and clothing hanging in the closets.

We made our way back downstairs to find the kitchen, a round table in the center, with an old school workbook my father said he recognized from his childhood. He stared at it in amazement, absentmindedly sharing moments of his past as a young schoolboy in Kentucky. I was afraid to move, afraid he would remember I was there and stop talking. I soaked up every word as he began explaining things to me—what this was—or how amazing this was—telling me to look at this or that.

I was still beyond terrified. I felt as if we had stumbled into some other world where we didn’t belong, into someone’s home, and I knew any moment, the owners would come storming in and harm us for intruding. Even though it was obvious no one had been there in years, that feeling never left me, and I was so eager to get on the bike and return home.

We did return home and told my mother and sister about the house, but weren’t able to deliver in detail what we had seen accurately just through descriptions.

However, that summer, my father and I made several other trips just like that one, and astonishingly, found house after house like the one we had first discovered. Some ended up being within walking distance of our home, and we would trek as a family to look through these houses and their still life histories. But most of the time, it was just me and my father, heading out in search of another adventure.

What amazes me now is that I was so frightened the whole time we went on these rides and explorations. I honestly didn’t want to go, and the whole time we were gone, I wanted desperately to be safe back at my house. But, I never hesitated to go with him. I wanted that time and individual attention with him more than anything, and those rides, however harrowing, were the only time I got them.

And even though I resent many things my father has done, and even the reckless way he risked my safety at times, those motorcycle trips are still one of the most vivid and pressing memories I have of my childhood, and some of the only ones where I remember interacting with him outside of our home and the pain and tumultuous relationship he had with me.

So I am thankful for those summer days in 1975, the two of us haunting houses, chasing ghosts, and visiting private, mysterious places. There have been times over the years that I doubted my memory. There couldn’t have been so many abandoned houses; we couldn’t have just discovered them. I have no photos of any of the houses, or from any of those rides. But my mother has confirmed my recollection, adding details of her own.

I have so often wondered about those houses and how they were abandoned so swiftly, and what happened to the families that lived there.

We didn’t live very long in the green house before my father was transferred with his job to North Carolina. I am sure he asked for the transfer to get us as far away from his deceit as possible.

And even though I remember us packing boxes, and I remember the move from the green house to our new home, I have often imagined the green house sitting empty, the front door missing, and everything as we left it. I imagine someone discovering our house as we discovered the others, wandering in to touch the layers of dust on our blue floral couch or my ruffled bedspread. I can almost see them looking at the rocking chair in the den and the photos on the walls, wondering why we left so suddenly.

And then, just like my father and I did each time, they leave our mysteries and our ghosts behind to go back home, never knowing the answer.


Friday, November 6, 2009

For Better or Worse?

I have been told before by a very talented therapist that I have terribly negative “self talk”. By this, she meant the things we say to ourselves—that tiny little voice we hear when asking ourselves what to do or what is right. Mine has always been negative, not on purpose and not as much as it used to be. But it is sometimes humbling to know that even my own little voice doubts me.

I worry about the choices I have made in my life. What if I hadn’t loved him, moved there, taken that job? What if I had done something wiser, safer, or riskier? What if I had actually believed in myself all these years—what could I have done then?

I know I haven’t lived up to my potential. I don’t know a lot of people that would say they feel they have. I understand that part of that doubt is being Type A, and just being human.
But the biggest issue I wonder about often is children. I am 40, not at all where I thought I would be in my life now. On my own, still wondering what the end result is supposed to look like.
There are days when I am with my friend’s children, or even when they talk about their kids, and I breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have that responsibility, that burden. Even along with the joy I see, it is a level of accountability that awes me.

However, it is easy to say that from this side of things. How will I feel 20 years down the line? Will I feel a huge loss, a huge emptiness?

From the time I can remember playing with dolls as a little girl, I wanted to be a mom. All through high school and college, I saw myself as a lot of things, hoped things for myself, but being married and having kids seemed a given. I had no idea how much nothing is a given then. How could I? I see kids that are high school and college age, and they seem so much younger than I felt then. And I look at them and think of what I thought then, what I believed were facts and expectations, and I now know that in all their eagerness, their beauty, their yearning—they can’t know. It is too much to know the pain that life can hand you, the disappointment. But it is also too much to know the beauty and the realization of a dream. All are grand in measure, at opposite ends of the spectrum. And however you imagine both with a young heart, the reality is still a shock.

What terrifies me is that, at this moment, I am not ready to be a parent. I am barely keeping myself afloat. But at 40, how the hell am I still here—at this point? Why haven’t I gotten it together? I know I have been given gifts in this life, things about me I wouldn’t change…but it all seems so thrown together—scarcely keeping a shape, held together with remnants of tape and fraying thread.

Most of the time, I tell myself I am really ok with the idea of not being a mom. And the certainty I felt about it so long ago definitely began to fade, not just because of reasoning, but as I saw that I wasn’t going to meet the right person in time. Today, even as I write this doubting all of it, I am ok with that not happening for me. I worry more about the future than I do right now.

But one aching, powerful reality does comfort me. Even in times of great longing to know the joys and bittersweet moments of being a parent, I have felt protective of a child that doesn’t even exist. I know that a child is “of” his or her parents. And to be “of” me is a concern. I believe I am a fairly good person (most days), and halfway intelligent (most days), but the pain I take to heart, and the depth to which I feel things is more than I would wish upon anyone coming new into the world. Even though this child’s upbringing would not be the same as mine was, I am a carrier of that upbringing. I know all patterns don’t have to repeat themselves, but the emotional scars I carry would translate somehow.

So even as I worry or rationalize, fret or envision, the larger feeling is protectiveness. Not wanting to spread the doubting small voice any further. Letting it fade, whisper and end with me.

Artwork by Selma Albasini- "Sometimes I Feel Like a Childless Mother". To view more of her beautful work, click here.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Homecoming: The Tragedy at Richmond High

On Saturday night, October 24 at Richmond High School in California, many students were enjoying their annual homecoming dance and festivities. In a back alley at that same school, a fifteen year old girl was gang raped by as many as 10 men, while another 10 people watched.
When I first read this story, I felt physically ill. I know we are all faced with headlines that shock us every day, each more horrible than the last, it seems. But this story, and this girl have haunted me.

Her life will never be the same. I can’t even begin to think how you recover from something so traumatic and brutal. Rape in any form is horrific and devastating, and reading any story about an attack involving rape is painful. But I cannot wrap my mind around 20—TWENTY—people involved in an attack, and no one having a conscience. How does that happen? I understand the psychological theories—this group mentality takes over, but still. It seems so implausible to me that 20 people can all randomly come together and simultaneously lose their humanity.

At this point, it appears that the bystanders can’t be charged. The police do have suspects and there have been arrests. But my thoughts have never left this young girl. After the attack, the rapists left her critically injured and unconscious under a bench. She had to be airlifted via helicopter to a hospital where she spent several days, finally being released later in the week. I have felt such an urge to reach out to her somehow. I knew the authorities would protect her identity, and rightfully so, but I have thought of her every day since reading the initial article.

A friend of hers has spoken out, describing her coming to the dance in a purple sequined dress and faux diamond earrings. I remember those incredibly awkward years when nothing makes sense…and how hard it was to fit in and feel accepted. Her friend said that this girl struggled to fit in. I thought back to how much I didn’t like dances, and often didn’t attend- afraid of my own awkwardness, too self conscious to even pick a dress, fearing how I “wouldn’t” look instead of how I would. I can honestly say that I never, ever felt I was beautiful or even attractive throughout grade school and high school. I think so many of us go through that. And to think of this young girl, dressed up, going to this dance-an innocent thing we have all done at one time or another during our school years—and then to lose her youth, her innocence and far too much more—is almost too much to comprehend.

I am afraid to see the next news stories once the suspects and their lawyers get their sound bytes. Maybe I am mistaken, maybe I will be surprised. But I doubt it. I don’t want to read about her reputation, her upbringing, mistakes she made, if she was drinking, or what she was wearing. I don’t want to read about the rapists’ troubled upbringing, or how they were too drunk or high to know what they were doing, or that some were “pressured” by others to participate. I just don’t. There are NO excuses. NONE. Not for this. The age range of the rapists is suspected to be 15-21. But anyone of any age knows this is wrong. There is no gray area.

Her family has, with much grace I think, spoken out to the community, asking that the response to this tragedy not be more violence. They have asked that the community work to find ways that this will not happen again.

I so agree. Let’s do something—anything—so this kind of thing never happens again. But how do you even begin to know how to do that when the crime itself is impossible to understand?

As much as I don’t want anyone’s childhood to be used as an excuse for this, I do know that this is the only place to start preventing violence. It means raising children to be accepting, compassionate, kind, and with some sort of belief system rooted in decency. This is no small task. And I guess even when all that does happen, someone can grow up to be a criminal. But the odds are lessened.

It does take a village to raise a child. And that whole village, which includes any adult that touches that child’s life, has to be an example for that child to live by. Lofty aspirations I know.
My hope now is that this girl, even in her anonymity, can somehow be saved by a village. First, her immediate family and community, and then by those of us who only know her as the victim.

I didn’t know of a way to reach out, and today, found the solution online. If you feel so inclined, grab a card, a piece of paper, and send this young girl a note with your words, your kindness, your compassion.

Let her know her village is watching over her, even from afar.

The girl's school, Richmond High, is accepting cards and donations for her and her family.
Checks should be made out to the Richmond High Student Fund.
The checks and cards should be sent directly to the school:
1250 23rd St., Richmond, CA 94804-1011.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Over the last few days, it has come to light that the whole balloon boy saga was a hoax. If you don’t know what the balloon boy saga even is, then you must have been vacationing somewhere without television, newspapers, or the ability to tweet or reach Facebook.

When the first blips of the story began to filter through the airwaves and the internet, I was annoyed that any parent would leave something as enticing as a floating, silvery, quasi-spaceship within access of any little boy and his Star Wars fueled imagination.

But as the day wore on, I wondered if this adrenaline junkie father had a bright idea for publicity that he didn’t completely think through. I felt guilty for even thinking such a thing. Then, I found my suspicions were correct, and I wasn’t the only one who thought the whole thing suspect.

I haven’t been able to figure out why this has made me so angry. For obvious reasons, yes. But, I have been more angry and upset than I can remember about this story than others like it. I am furious that a parent or parents would use their child as a bargaining chip to try and find reality-tv fame. I am incensed thinking about the level of manipulation that took place in that household, and how stressful it must have been for a six-year-old to handle. Now, add to this the fact that that same six-year-old will undoubtedly feel guilt for the charges his parents face and the negative scrutiny on their whole family.

But I think what makes me angriest of all is the hold that reality tv shows have on the country right now. I have been as guilty as anyone of watching some of these shows, and even in horror at times, have been unable to look away. But not only are some of the shows distasteful, ridiculous, and at times frightening, the quest to be a part of these fiascoes is more of all of those things.

Average middle-class people now see the new get rich scheme: exploit the worst possible parts of yourself, exaggerate everything, be bigger and worse than you can imagine, and wait for the audience. And, they will come.

The networks are to blame. The Bad Girls Club, Bridezillas,—I mean seriously. These shows are nothing more than filming people who are borderline sociopaths at their worst, and bating them to heighten the craziness.

The newest crop of shows to me is even scarier. The premise—such as with the show Reality Hell—is to pull in unsuspecting fame chasers by “casting” them in a reality tv show, which in truth is all a set up, made to humiliate them. If no one in the network boardroom can see the writing on the wall—that these humiliation-based plot lines will undoubtedly end badly one day—really badly—I am at a loss.

So, yes the networks are to blame. But, the viewers are just as guilty. As larger and larger audiences tune in every week to watch the next televised train wreck, and the networks strive to make their wreck bloodier for sweeps week, the blame seems evenly split.
I have to wonder also…these people who so desperately want this chance for reality show stardom…have they not paid attention? What relationships have survived the daily presence of cameras and the 24 hour audience watching and criticizing their every move? What marriages have ended? What families have been torn apart? It is inevitable. The media scrutiny of the whole Jon and Kate Plus 8 scandal should be a lesson for everyone, including the network brass AND the viewers. Who are these shows really benefiting? You can argue different sides. But I can tell you one thing for damn sure, those eight children are not benefiting one iota.

Looking at the guide on my television screen, giving me options of what to view, I am astounded as to how few shows aren’t reality shows. I don’t want to be left with only the choice of The Girls Next Door or The Kardashians or Kendra to watch. I find myself turning off the television in disgust more often lately, which these days, is not a bad thing.

Like this economic recession we are all struggling through right now, I hope that the television mudslide of reality programming somehow corrects itself. At the very least, I hope there is some hesitation in programs featuring children. I know the odds on that, though. As families break apart before our very eyes, and the two sides split, the only lesson learned seems to be how to pit one side against the other, and from the shattered pieces, create competing shows.

I wonder if Falcon Heene wouldn’t have fared better floating off in that balloon.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Without a doubt, fall is my favorite season of the year. In the south, the summers are too hot, the winters are surprisingly cold, and spring loses itself in the mix. But fall is this burst of color that saunters in after the sweltering heat of summer to usher in the holiday season.

Every year when I was growing up, I actually looked forward to going back to school. I think that in August and September, there was some order to things in my house. Lists had to be made, school supplies had to be purchased, and there was usually a shopping trip to buy new clothes for the next school year. It seemed to me to be more of a beginning of things than any other time of the year. As a ten year old, January 1st had little meaning to me, except that I often slept over at a friend’s house so we could stay up late to watch the ball drop. But, it never had any meaning, it was just another day.

I remember always thinking as the first day of school approached that this year would be different, better. I would feel more popular, more accepted. I often associated these possibilities with the clothes I wore (or styles I didn’t have), my hairstyle, and the notebooks I carried. I was so worried about fitting in. I think of all the superficial things I thought mattered, and in truth they did. At least to middle schoolers and teenagers, looks were important.

But, there was always this feeling of hope going into the fall season. Feeling that first bit of a chill in the air meant new, good things were possible. The need for order in my house extended past planning for school, quickly folding into planning for my birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas. The structure needed to coordinate events or trips to see my family in Kentucky made the house less quiet, and took the focus off of things that were so glaringly wrong.

It was easier then to pretend that we were just like every other family, preparing to enjoy the food and festivities of the upcoming holidays. In what always became a bittersweet mix of hope and disappointment, the holidays were at least busy times. After the new year, things became quiet in my house, too quiet. There were incredibly angry outbursts at times, but for the most part, there was a lot of silence. Uncomfortable silence. As if there was nothing approaching to help us pretend things were normal, and no one knew what to do with the free time.

I have only recently realized that I associate winter with quiet, and more than that, restlessness. It never ceases to amaze me how we truly learn what we live, and how hard those patterns are to change. The holidays are often difficult for me, as I don’t have anything close to what I consider “normal” in my life right now as far as a family of my own or the typical life. But, I have learned to make new traditions for myself, on my own, not trying to pretend things are anything other than what they are, and it has been liberating.

Today, I drove by a pumpkin patch, watching families search through the field of orange, walking in zig zag patterns, calling out to one another to inspect the latest find. There have been times when scenes like that have made me sad, reminding me of what I don’t have. But, today, I was caught up in the spirit of hope in this new season, the chill in the air, and age-old traditions. I pulled over, parked my car, and joined all the other families stepping over pumpkins, searching row by row for the right one. And as I paid for my choice, I was so glad I had chosen to participate instead of drive by, and happy to head home with a perfect piece of fall to place on my doorstep.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Counting the Days

In a matter of days, it will be here.

A milestone, but just a number.

And yet, not where I imagined I would be
at this age, this time.

It was always the holdout.

I will have this, be this, know this by then--surely.
And somehow, it is still all a mystery.

Was it the naive ponderings of youth?
Or was it a reasonable assumption?

Have I failed?
Am I right where I am supposed to be?

If not-- what then?

This day will be just a number.
But numbers are the sum of things.

Addition and subtraction.

The number of mistakes; the number of accomplishments.
The number of tears; the moments of laughter.
The absence of a white dress; the strength in standing on my own.
The times loved; the loves lost.
The dreams dashed; the ones that came true.

The wait will be over soon.
Meeting this number, adding, subtracting,
hoping it somehow equals something meaningful.

It isn’t that easy.

I never could have known.

Will I look back someday,
even farther down the line,
and know I did the best I could,
found my way, tried hard?
Or will it be too painful to even look?

Will I regret too much?
Will I be proud of myself?

I can’t answer those questions.
I can’t be sure.

The only thing I am sure of…
there is a new holdout number.

It is far, far down the line.

And I will do my best
To add more than I subtract,
to hope more than I worry,
And to dream big.

I will make sure
I remember
There is plenty of time left
to do all of the things
I thought I would have done by now
and savor every moment in a new way.

Instead of an ending,
this milestone, this day- fast approaching-
will be the starting line.



Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finding My Voice

From grammar school through high school, I was incredibly fortunate to have excellent teachers. Amazing teachers. People who were in the profession for all the right reasons, and gifted as mentors and educators. There were a few duds in the bunch, but overall, I look back and know that I was very lucky.

For me, teachers were the people who really saw me. They drew things out of me I either didn’t know I was capable of, or secretly wanted to share and had never had the courage. They became my personal cheerleaders, my advisors, and the guardians of my self esteem.

My first instinct has always been to doubt myself, and I have only very recently started to break that pattern. It will be a lifelong struggle, and was no doubt a daunting task to those who taught me when I was younger. But as I look back, I know that these men and women each helped me improve the way I saw myself, each laying a brick, building more and more of a foundation for me to trust and believe in myself.

People who know me now are astonished and unbelieving that I was ever shy or introverted. Although in quiet moments on my own I still have doubts, I can easily speak in front of a crowd any size, and hold my own in any social situation. This definitely wasn’t the case, even nearly, until my freshman year of high school.

From the age of five I had taken dance classes, and by the time I was in junior high, I was in a dance studio four nights a week. Then, a knee injury sidelined things for me, and I was a bit lost. A teacher recommended I sign up for the speech and debate team at school, and when I balked at the idea, I was signed up, whether I liked it or not. I wasn’t a debater, and instead competed in the division of Dramatic Interpretation.

Mr.Kirkman was my teacher and coach, and brought out excellence from what I remember as a pretty rag tag group. So many different personalities in the room-- most inexperienced-- but he somehow found a way to reach each of us. Remarkably, he taught a girl scared of the sound of her own voice to act, to compete, and to win.

While I had found moments of confidence in my life at that point, nothing compared to what was building within me. I only realize now why it all was so important.

I never quite knew what or who I was coming home to growing up. My parent’s troubled marriage consumed them, and the mood at home could be warm and somewhat normal, tense and quiet, or explosive and angry. At times, I know that there wasn’t a great deal of thought behind things that were said, but the lasting impression of several phrases has never left me.

My father is an incredibly engaging and charming man. Everyone who meets him loves him. He is a master story teller, and never meets a stranger. But for various reasons, he has never been able to connect with me in a healthy way, and his words have at times been incredibly damaging, whether this was his intention or not.

As I began competing with the speech and debate team, I started listening to the soundtracks for broadway musicals almost nonstop at home and everywhere else I got a chance. I longed to take my dramatic talent further, and wished more than anything to have the voice of a soprano, and a lead role in any musical.

I expressed this at home, ad nauseam, I am sure. And maybe other things were said that I don’t remember. But amidst the fighting and unhappiness between my parents, the doubts about my musical ability were clearly expressed to me. My father, always the jokester, made funny comments about my singing voice that stung.

I accepted his opinion as truth. And honestly, with that opinion behind me, I did sing terribly. At one point, I even took voice lessons from a local coach. But, I had no confidence in my abilities, and the coach I worked with wasn’t incredibly encouraging. I dropped the classes after four sessions.

Over the years, as I found success in Dramatic Interpretation competitions, and learned and grew, I got involved in some theater productions, but believed that I wasn’t leading role material. Not in the way I wanted to be.

When I moved on to college, I studied acting, but didn’t seem to be finding my way to any major productions on campus.

By coincidence, Mr. Kirkman was living and teaching in the same city where I attended college. During those years, he was as much a therapist as a friend, and was part of a small group of people I knew I could depend upon in the world. He was frequently on stage himself with a local community theater group, and had encouraged me to audition for some upcoming musicals. My immediate response was that I couldn’t sing.

He pushed me. How did I know I couldn’t sing, really? It was all about confidence, he told me. I remember him saying that I couldn’t use that excuse until I really gave it my all, with conviction. I had to believe in myself enough to try 100%. Then if I did all that and sounded horrible, he promised to be honest with me.

Over the next few weeks, he chose a song for me, helped me find the sheet music and a piano player to play and tape the song for me to practice with. We talked on the phone, and I know that my insecurities and endless “I cant’s” must have driven him crazy. But he remained a slow steady voice of support and faith in me. He never wavered.

After weeks of practice, we agreed to meet so he could gauge how things were going.
I don’t remember all of the details. I don’t know what time we met exactly, and I can’t remember the name of the school where he taught at that time. But, I remember the important things.

We met in the theater at his school. I had my tape of the music, and I stood on the stage alone, the rest of the room darkened, and Mr. Kirkman stood in the aisle. I couldn’t get my courage to even start. He encouraged me, coaxed me, and finally bellowed from the aisle for me to go already.

The music started and my heart was pounding so loud, I was positive he could hear it across the room. The first words came out soft, but clear, and if not perfect, better than I had ever sung before.

I will never forget his expression with just those first notes. It was happiness, some surprise, and pride. With every word my voice got stronger, louder, and clearer. He was jumping around in the aisle, so excited for me. In that moment I realized that I might be capable of so many things that I had thought impossible, if I could just believe in myself. It was an incredibly powerful moment in my life.

When I hit the last note, Mr. Kirkman asked me, with great exuberance, What are you going to do if they offer you the lead? I giggled and found myself dancing around in place. I answered him, I guess I’ll take it!

I did in fact get offered the lead in one musical that summer, and one of four lead roles in another.

The reason that moment-- when I found my voice-- was so important was not only because I learned I could sing and realized a dream. It was significant because this thing that I had grown to believe as a FACT for my whole life- that I could NOT sing- was reversed in a matter of weeks by someone believing in me, and making me believe in myself. I had this talent all along, and the ONLY thing holding me back was negative words I was taking to heart and turning into my own beliefs. My whole world got turned upside down that day. I suddenly realized that a million other things I thought were impossible for me might be within my grasp.

Mr. Kirkman and I remain in touch and friends to this day. And though I sense he knows some of the impact he has made on my life—I have thanked him for many things—I doubt he knows the full picture. With every note I sang on stage that summer, I found another piece of me. I would stand in the wings each night before a scene and have to pinch myself, that I- me!- was doing this amazing thing I never thought in a million years I could ever do.

And from then on and to this day, when I start to hear doubt creeping in my mind about something I want to try or do, I close my eyes and take myself back to that day in that high school theater, just as the music started, and I find my voice all over again.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

If you don't already know about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, you are in for such a treat. Get ready for some amazing singing, a hilarious script, and loads of sarcasm. I have enjoyed watching this so much this morning, it just made my Sunday.
Hats off to the director Joss Whedon for creating such a fun, enjoyable piece, and also for just recently snagging an Emmy for his work. Read more about Joss here, and to get to the main site for Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, click here.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Back in Time

Both of my parents grew up very poor. This is one of the few things I know about their childhoods with certainty. Most of my family comes from an area of Kentucky where to me, a great deal of the area seems frozen in time. Even though I grew up in North Carolina in a very small town, the town where both sets of my grandparents lived, and my parents grew up, was so different and foreign to me.

We visited my grandparents often, especially when I was much younger. During grade school, I can vividly remember long car trips, annoyed with my sister who was sharing the back seat with me, and feeling as though the car got smaller and smaller with each passing hour of the drive. We spent many holidays in Kentucky, usually staying with my cousins in their beautiful house that, to me, seemed out of place from the rest of the area. And honestly, it was.

Most of the towns in that area are indiscernible, rocky, rural, and for lack of a better word…distant. Even through young eyes, I was shocked and troubled by the level of poverty I saw—ramshackle houses, some barely standing, with light peeking through the cracks of the old wooden boards holding it all together. We would drive by places and people that seemed a million miles away from the life of our family, but all the while I knew that my family came from just such a place, just such people.

I would watch out the car window as we passed stores the size of my school classroom back home that served as the grocery store for a whole town. Gas stations looked like they were decades old, with pumps that seemed like something out of an old movie to me. My small town in North Carolina suddenly seemed modern and progressive in comparison.

I would breathe a sigh of relief as we drove across the tiny bridge then down the long driveway to my cousin’s house. Once inside, I felt insulated from the sights and sounds that reminded me of the struggles my parents faced growing up, and I suppose, my own history.

We would always go to visit my grandparents several times during our visits, trekking out for the day, driving around on tiny twisting roads, listening to my father tell funny stories about the people he grew up with, and the characters that lived in his town. Usually, we would first go to see his mother, and she would shower me and my sister with compliments, and always gave us some money before we left. I felt more comfortable with her than my other grandparents, and sometimes tried to draw out the length of the stay. It is only in hindsight that I can remember my father never being quite comfortable during these visits, at least when we were alone with his mom. It is hard for me to even conjure up an image of him sitting in the room, instead standing, shifting his weight, and moving from one room to another, talking or answering questions from a distance. I never met or knew my father’s dad, or his stepdad, knowing of their existence only through a few rare photos, or accidental mentions in the telling of a story.

The drive to my mother’s parent’s house was quite a journey, as their little house was fairly high on a mountain, situated on what seemed like mostly rock, with some patches of grass here and there. The house itself never ceased to shock me in its primitiveness. It was only a few rooms, and looked to me as if it could fall apart at any moment. My grandparents had raised five children in this house, and I remember constantly, for all the years I went there, trying to imagine where everyone slept.

The furniture was sparse, and the floors seemed bare in my memory. An old pump in front of the house was used for gathering water, and at the time I thought it was fun to be sent with a bucket to try and find the strength to fill it. This was in the late 70’s, and my grandparents had an outhouse for their bathroom. The outhouse remained there until after my grandfather’s death in the mid 80’s.

My grandfather was a coal miner, and although I am sure he was only sick for the last few years, the picture of him I have in my mind is of a man dying of lung cancer, brought on by a job he had held all of his life. He was a kind man, very affectionate with me and my sister, and I never heard him talk above his distinct monotone. My grandmother , however, was always a complete mystery to me.

She never seemed to change, from the time I can first remember her, until she died. She always, without fail, wore her incredibly long, white hair in a bun, and wore same wire-rimmed glasses. Her face seemed to be made of wrinkles, and she always appeared very old to me, not growing older. She, like the landscape, seemed frozen in time to me, never changing, never evolving.
As I look back, I can also remember my mother not completely comfortable in the setting of her childhood home. Although I never doubted the deep love she had for her parents, especially her mother, I couldn’t define the uncomfortable feeling I had in that house with my extended family. It wasn’t just the sparse surroundings, it was something about the people themselves that seemed distant and awkward to me. The Hallmark images I saw on television of children bounding into their grandmother’s home full of anticipation and happiness never matched up to my experiences in any way.

My grandmother, as a true mountain woman, was tough and could be abrupt. Although my mother might share with me that she had observed my grandmother being sad, or having her feelings hurt, I can’t at any time remember witnessing these emotions. She seemed so different from my mother and me, who were very-- even overly-- emotional. I couldn’t find common ground with her-- my mother’s mother-- and that troubled me. I saw and heard my mother speak so passionately about her deep, intense love for her mother, and I felt at fault that I didn’t feel the same way. I had so much respect for her, raising five children in the conditions that she did, managing to feed and clothe them somehow, struggling to survive, but I couldn’t find an emotional link to her.

My mother’s stories of her childhood, the few she tells, are of a fairytale type of love within her family. Although she has been fairly honest about their financial struggles, this seemed to pale in comparison to the amount of love she received. Knowing this, and hearing that, made me even more concerned about the fact that I couldn’t and didn’t feel a strong connection to her parents.
As I grew older, we made fewer trips to Kentucky, and my sister, nine years my senior, had moved out on her own, and didn’t join us as often. With the backseat to myself, I felt more trapped somehow, as if I had even more of a burden to find a bond with my grandparents, without my sister to carry half of the load. And as a teenager, I also felt deeply ashamed of the world my grandparents lived in. I was terrified someone would see all this, find out where I came from, and ridicule me. And even worse, I was worried constantly that my parents would find out I felt this way.

My grandmother passed away about nine years ago, while I was living in California. I remember the call from my parents, my father angry, accusing me of ignoring their many calls, which I had missed because I had turned the ringer off the night before. When they finally reached me, my heart broke for my mother, who was beyond devastated, but I could not bring myself to the level of sadness I thought was appropriate when one loses a grandparent. I hadn’t known my grandmother, I hadn’t ever really gotten to know her, except through my mother’s eyes.

And today, I regret that I didn’t ask more questions, observe more, listen more. So much of that regret is because the picture my mother paints of her is without flaws, and is in deep contrast of my impressions, and I am sure the truth lies somewhere in between. And more than anything, I wonder if my grandmother could have, in any way, helped answer some of the many questions I have about my parents, the secrets they keep, and the pain in their past that I have inherited.
I wonder if I could have found common ground with her if I had tried harder, made more of an effort, done something different. But in truth, I think that keeping secrets is a family trait, and my lack of knowledge and connection lies more in this fact than in any lack of effort on my part.

A few years ago, it hit me that all of that possibility is gone. All of my grandparents have passed away, and my other family members are less likely to know anything that could feed my curious mind. But, as I look at the picture of my grandmother sitting on her front porch, I finally realize that what I hoped to find all along was my own fairytale of happiness, something to make me feel and believe that my family history is different than what I know it to be. Perhaps she could have told me something--a story, a recollection, that would make everything all better.

All along I thought I was searching for the truth, when in reality I was searching for anything but. And there is a freedom in finally knowing that. What I have ached for and regretted not knowing wasn’t possible, wasn’t going to happen. I have found comfort in the present knowing that the key to my happiness doesn’t lie in my past.

I still have questions, and perhaps I always will. But more and more, I am beginning to realize that who I am is more about who I have become than how I came to be. And now, as my grandmother looks at me from her front porch, captured in that one moment in time, I don’t see her as so much of a mystery, just as my grandmother…a resilient mountain woman, who loved her little cabin on the side of a mountain, who is part of my history—and just one piece of how I became me.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years

David Filipov looks for a picture of his father, Al Filipov, at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in New York City. The center is run by the September 11th Families Association as a museum and memorial to the victims and history of the World Trade Center and the 9/11/2001 attacks. Filipov's father was on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane flown into the towers. (Scott Lewis)

I have struggled to find words to write here today. So, I have decided to let one of my favorite photo sites, The Big Picture, do the talking for me.

It is hard to believe it has been eight years.

Please check out their moving tribute here.


Thursday, September 3, 2009


On Monday, some simple, ordinary things happened. I dragged myself out of bed for an early work meeting. The skies were gray and the rain drizzled. I called a friend from my car while waiting in traffic. And sometime during the morning, a delivery service put thousands copies of a magazine in stands, offices, and on shelves throughout my city and other cities. Another delivery person brought several hundred copies of this magazine to the office where I work.

Then, something extraordinary happened. I took an issue from the stack brought to our office and flipped hurriedly through the pages to find…my essay. In print. In an actual magazine—one that I love and have loved for years. A magazine founded and edited by someone whose writing I love and admire. My essay, The Suitcase, was published.

For the last ten years, I have followed a ritual: on December 31st, before midnight, I always make a list of my New Year’s resolutions. In the first years, the list was long and more than a little daunting. I crammed all my hopes and dreams on a slip of lined paper, each aspiration numbered according to priority. As I look back, there was no way I could accomplish all those things in five years, much less one.

So, as I got a little older and wiser, I pared the list down to 3 or maybe 5 things, more realistic, maybe less daring things. I probably saw the reality a little clearer, and sadly even began to want less—to wish for less.

But every year, without fail, the number one resolution has been: Get published. Somewhere, anywhere.

And then last year, on the eve of putting a painful year behind me, I changed the channels on my television in time to see part of a segment on a local news station about New Year’s resolutions. The advice was this: only have one resolution each year. Otherwise you get lost in the list, and give up on too many goals swimming in your vision, and you accomplish few, if any.

So, the idea was to choose one-the one. The most important thing. And it was the same number one choice from all the other years. Get published. Somewhere, anywhere.

And it has happened.

I don’t completely buy into the fact that narrowing my list down made this happen. But what choosing that one thing did was make me realize of all things, all my hopes and dreams, this was the most important one.

It has been the most important one from a day in third grade when I handed my teacher a story I had written as part of an assignment. She stood next to my desk reading it as she had read all the others. I had watched her walking from desk to desk, breezing through story after story, making corrections or a final red check mark on all the other papers. She grabbed mine with the same movement and then, I saw her face change. I saw her slow down, her eyes following the words. She looked at me over the top of the page, made a check mark with her red pen, and as she handed the paper back to me, told me to come see her when we were done.

She told me my story was good--very good. I had a talent, she said. And from that moment on, she and the other two teachers that worked in my room encouraged me at every turn. They gave me special assignments just to keep me writing.

That moment was when I realized that even at such a young age, this thing I loved to do was more than just the way I passed time or finished a classroom assignment. This was something special, and it made me feel… found…when I felt lost most of the time.

For any writer, getting published for the first time is always a landmark, a celebration. Seeing my essay, my words, my name in print, was definitely reason to celebrate. But it was also a moment of rekindling hope for a dream that I have held close to my heart since that day in third grade. And after years of successes and wrong turns, happiness and sorrow, and ultimately getting lost along the way…a little ink and newsprint has made me feel found all over again.


Monday, August 24, 2009

West with the Night

It always amazes me how a song can take you back to a particular time and place so immediately, even within the first verse. I hear a particular song and I am transported back to the break up with my first love, the year I started college, or a really joyous moment or event.

For me, one audio book has the same connection and feelings tied to it. It was as if it was one long song, and seeing the cover, the title, or anything about it takes me back to 1998 and my move from Atlanta, Georgia to San Francisco.

At the time, I was working in an administrative job, wondering what had become of all the promise I had when I was very young. The words teachers wrote in the pages of my yearbooks never left me. Words such as “I can’t wait to see all that you will become one day!”, and “You will go far in life.” I believed those words then-- I felt I had accomplished so much--and would continue to do the same. And then, I went to college.

I had always been an excellent student in high school, fretting over every test, every paper, and every assignment. The one place I felt confidence was in a classroom. But from the first day of college, I felt lost, adrift, and without purpose. I didn’t realize then that this feeling had more to do with breaking away from a troubled family for the first time than it did with academics. Every day for over four years, I felt I was drowning, paddling wildly, never able to get air. I finally gave up and left without getting my degree, and feeling more like a failure than I ever thought possible.

I got an entry level job right after leaving, and then some sales and administrative jobs. I was consumed with thoughts that I had let everyone down, especially myself.

And then, by chance really, I got an interview with a company in San Francisco. I didn’t dare think I would be hired, but I flew out to interview, got the job, and was told they wanted me there in two weeks. My head was spinning. I had told no one about the interview, had never mentioned a desire to move to California, and now it was happening.

My friends were cautiously supportive, but my parents were livid. They told me of all the horrible things that would happen if I left, what a terrible decision I was making. In the end, they forbade me to go. I felt shaken. It was scary, what if I was wrong?

My friend Judith, who has always been like family to me, believed from the first moment that this was something I should do. She had lived in San Francisco years before, and she told me of all the beauty and opportunity there, and all the things she saw for me. She never wavered in her belief that this was the right decision. She helped me realize that this was what I wanted to do-- I wanted more than anything to go.

I stayed at her house the night before I left. And the next morning, as I pulled out of her driveway, I saw her waving good-bye to me in my rear view mirror. I felt as if she was pushing my boat away from the dock, sending me out smoothly into this new adventure.

She had given me a gift before I left, a collection of some of her favorite books on tape. I don’t remember any of the other titles, but West with the Night by Beryl Markham has always stayed with me. This was a time when I still had a cassette tape player in my car, and there were 6 tapes, with nine hours of play time. The narrator’s voice was so ideal for the words--easing me into the first leg of my journey. The story itself-- of an independent woman taking on adventure and succeeding-- it was all so perfect. And in a way, it was the voice of my friend-- rooting for me, encouraging me, reminding me that I was on the right path.

To this day, if I see the green cover of that book, I am transported back to my little Honda, seeing the landscape change through my windshield. Each day that I got farther away from Atlanta, I was more enamored with the scenery—the flat, dry land of Texas, the jagged-edged mountains of New Mexico, the fluorescent-colored sunsets of Arizona. I knew that I had made the right decision. Whatever was before me, even if it was a mistake, I knew I was doing the right thing in that moment.

It ended up being the best decision I have ever made. The job I took there was, and still is, one of my most magical career experiences. I worked with amazingly talented, witty, and giving people, many of whom I still count as friends today. I began building a real career in that position, and felt liked and respected as I never had before. I believed I had purpose, and finally a connection with the words my teachers had written so long ago.

I know I would not have been able to see the opportunity for what it was had my friend not painted a picture for me. I am certain I could not have taken that risk without her support. I will always be thankful for that, and for the comforting words of West with the Night that carried me to my new home and my new life.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Twenty Boxes

Not much about moving is pleasant, and this recent move was more stressful for me than any other I can remember. But, in the aftermath, I have finally tackled unpacking some items that have been bundled away for years.

I have twenty boxes that have gone through my countless moves--across the country and back-- and to the various cities I have inhabited on the east coast. These boxes contain things that I don’t need in my everyday life, and much of the contents are remnants of my childhood, or just forgotten pieces of my life at the point they were taped shut.

These are the boxes that have ended up in the spare bedroom, or a storage unit, regrettably with the same tape they were sealed with left unbroken. During this move, I purposely decided to go through those particular boxes in the beginning of the unpacking process.

This decision has slowed down my overall progress, but I have found possessions that I had forgotten existed. Some have brought tears, smiles or both, and a few items met the wastepaper basket. But discovering things like old love letters, photos with faded colors and yellow edges, old birthday cards from my grandmothers-both gone now, and art pieces I made in Kindergarten, have left me on the floor sorting through memories and forgetting the time.

Last night, I came upon an album with all of our old family photos-- my parents staring into the lens of the camera with young faces from a house unknown to me. Me, a toddler, smiling over a birthday cake with two candles. My sister, tall and skinny, nine years my senior, on the floor playing Monopoly with me in my footed pajamas. I am drawn into these pictures because so much of my family is a mystery to me. I don’t understand my parent’s marriage; I don’t understand the dynamic between me and my father. I don’t understand their need to keep secrets about their childhoods or mine. I get caught up in these photos, scouring the sepia images hoping to find answers.

A few years ago, I decided to work on our family tree, joined ancestry.com, pulled what little information I could get out of my mother, and started to work. Through my own research and the wonder of the internet, I discovered family members whose names I had never heard before, and more details about the names that were familiar. But I hit a point when certain things weren’t adding up. I couldn’t connect this person or that to my family, or find the name I needed. There were missing pieces in the puzzle of our family that I just could not uncover. If I had reached the point in my research where I was five generations back, and records were sparse, it would be one thing. But I was barely beyond my grandparents when the lines seemed broken.

I called my mother. I explained the trouble I was having and found out through that conversation that my dad’s father did not share our last name. He was his biological father, but my father had changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name when he was very young. The reasons for this weren’t offered, even after probing, except to let me know that the reasons weren’t good ones. I was a bit stunned as I hung up the phone. Over the years, I had looked at the one picture we had of the grandfather I had never met, seeing my father in his face so clearly looking back at me. I had asked a million questions it seemed, remembered asking, but not getting answers. And now I was finding out that in truth, my family’s last name should have been something else. I wondered if I was overreacting, if anyone else would just see this as a pulled thread in the quilt of a family. But to me it seemed as if I had lost a little of my identity, and had a whole part of my family I didn’t know and never would.

With this information, and the correct last name, I was able to fill my family tree with many branches. But so many of the names seemed so lost to me, as if they were all people who lived in another country, too far away to visit, and seldom talked about due to distance.

I know there is pain in my father’s past. I know this pain has manifested itself in ways I would like to forget. I know that his pain—in general terms—has been used as an excuse for countless things. And while I can understand that there are some things I don’t need to know, the whole of my parent’s past has been a well guarded secret. I have been told bits and pieces of happy memories, explanations of photos here and there, but the subject quickly changes when deeper questions are asked.

I know that compared to what my parents keep packed away emotionally, my twenty boxes are a small stash. I still foolishly hope that somewhere within the cardboard and tape I will find some answers. I think that was the reason I left them untouched for so long. I knew that any hope died if I unpacked and inspected every item, every letter, every photo, and didn’t find the missing piece to make all the disjointed memories fit.

I have six boxes left.

A part of who I am will always be unknown to me. But the ache to know and the absence of answers have made me who I am. I sometimes imagine that somewhere, in their attic perhaps, my parents have twenty boxes. They have always been hidden from me, and one day I discover them. And with each item I unearth, one of my questions is answered. And then, when the last box is empty, I know everything. All of the pain and secrecy make sense.

For now, as I cut the tape of box number fifteen, I still have hope.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet Ruby

I could write an entire post about how much I hate reality shows. But it would probably contain a lot of foul language, and I would then have to mention the offensive shows by name—thereby highlighting them in some way. It seems a new one is on television all the time with each premise more ridiculous than the last.

But, the Style Network of all places has managed to produce one that I think is worth watching. The name of the show is Ruby, and follows the journey of Ruby Gettinger, a Savannah, GA woman who, when the show began, weighed nearly 500 pounds. It had become a do or die situation, literally, and she begins to change her life to save it.

The most appealing thing about this show is Ruby herself. She is funny, charming, and so incredibly authentic that she draws you in. But the best aspect of the show is the lessons it teaches--not about weight loss-- but about judging and being judged, and realizing that identity is definitely more than skin deep. We all know this already, right? Well, I consider myself a pretty enlightened and compassionate person, but I have learned a thing or two from watching Ruby.

I have grown to like this woman, she is definitely someone I could see myself being friends with. (and yes I know this sounds crazy, as this is indeed a reality show) But, caring for her has made the struggles she faces so much more real and impactful. In an early episode, Ruby was taunted and mocked by a table full of people at a restaurant that appeared to be my age. MY AGE. I was floored. Teenagers doing this I can understand, not condone, but adults—over the age of 30?? It made me realize what every day was like for her and for other adults struggling with this battle. I quickly realized how much harder this would make it for anyone dealing with this large of a weight loss goal to get the courage to start going out into the world to exercise, when the world can be such a cruel place. An incident like that would make me want to go home and draw the shades and give up. In so many ways that episode accomplished something that a lot of other shows, articles, and books cannot. It really brought home to me that no matter how far we have come, we still, all of us, sometimes forget the beautiful person that can exist behind any face, any body, any image.

Though there are sad moments in some of the episodes, there are many more inspirational ones to see. All of this is a credit to Ruby, who is just enjoyable to watch, and easy to cheer for. With many of the other reality shows out there highlighting the ridiculous, it is nice to see one at least attempting to educate and inspire. There are few shows out there that I set my DVR to tape anymore, but Ruby is on the short list.

Check out the website for the show here.


Monday, August 10, 2009


Last year after a painful, crippling breakup, when it seemed everything was falling apart with me and depression was creeping into my everyday life-- it was so easy to crawl into bed or under a blanket on the couch and lose a day or two-- then cancel plans to lose another day on purpose. At the time I already had cats as pets, three actually-- all rescues-- and they were comfort and entertainment, but they weren’t exactly heartbroken that I had chosen to hunker down and become a homebody.

On a day when one of my friends wouldn’t accept excuses, I agreed to meet her after the Christmas holiday for a late gift exchange. She had just gotten a puppy for her son, and on the way to meet her, I decided to stop by the local Petco to grab something for her new addition to the family.

As I drove into the parking lot, I saw several dogs from a local shelter in front of the store in various cages and dog pens, and I honestly contemplated not going in. Tears came way too easily at that time, and I always find it so heartbreaking to see these animals begging for a new home. It is also way too tempting as an animal lover to stop and get hooked on those little faces peering at you.

But as I turned into my parking space, I caught sight of a puppy, a large one. He was all white with one brown ear. I had the strangest, strongest feeling, I can’t explain it, but I thought, that is my dog. I shook my head and figured it was the depression talking, and decided that I was moving to a whole new level of crazy if I felt that I connected with a dog I didn’t need and couldn’t afford across 30 feet of asphalt.

I got out of my car and made my way closer and stood over this little wire playpen he was in and he caught my gaze. I sat down on the sidewalk and stuck my fingers through the bars and he came over and looked at me. Everyone was commenting on how beautiful and sweet he was. A nice couple came up and started giving him attention and I looked at the husband, who was next to me, and said, Please take this dog home, you will be doing me a favor. He responded, chuckling, that they were just looking. And then he said, I think this is your dog, anyway.

I made the biggest snap decision I have ever made. I told the volunteer I was going to adopt him and signed the paper, paid the fee, and went into the store to buy everything I needed. When I got all the puppy necessities I could think of loaded in my cart, I went up to the cash register to pay, and the cashiers were both teary and talkative. I said I was adopting a new puppy outside, and asked about a book of coupons I was supposed to get for new adoptions. Both cashiers hurriedly asked me which puppy? And when I told them, one of them came around and hugged me. Today was his last day, she explained, he was going to be put down if he wasn’t adopted by 3pm when the shelter loaded up the unwanted dogs and took them back. It was 1:30pm.

So, he left with me, and we got in the car to drive to meet my friend, and I looked over and thought, what have I done?

What I had done was brought a little being into my house that was having nothing of me laying around. He needed to go outside, he needed to be walked, he needed my constant, undivided attention. He needed to be comforted, fed, cared for, and watched constantly. He also brought some stress and frustration that any 12 week old puppy will, but it kept me busy, made me keep the house clean, made me move valuables out of paw’s reach. He got me out into the cold air, made me meet neighbors I hadn’t met in two years of living in my neighborhood. He got me talking to people at dog parks, and visiting my friends to show him off. He and the cats found common ground, and even became playmates and napmates. I named him Bear.

Any animal lover can relate, and even if you aren’t a dog person, there has to be some recognition of the connection and healing. I wasn’t ready to let any new person into my life to love, and I had even had trouble letting my close friends in on all the pain and sadness I was feeling. But, this little animal gave me no choice but to let him in. And it opened up my heart just enough to allow me to remember what it was like to love and be loved.

Even though I know I am biased, Bear is a beautiful dog. People will literally stop their cars when we are out walking to ask me what kind of dog he is. I love telling people that he is a mutt, a shelter dog, a shining example of why you don’t need to visit a breeder or buy a designer dog to get a gorgeous, wonderful companion.

There is a certain gratitude with rescue animals, I see it all the time. It is as if they know you saved them, and in small moments, there is such recognition from them of-- you rescued me—you saved me.

I rescued Bear in every sense of the word. I did save him.

And in return, he saved and rescued me.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The 3/50 Project

I work in advertising sales, and every day as I drive around in my territory, I see more and more businesses that have closed their doors due to the economy right now. Not only are some of these businesses my clients, but they are unique boutiques and stores that I love as a customer.

Everyone is feeling the pinch right now--all types of businesses-- including larger chains. But the small brick and mortar businesses are feeling it more than others. What I see when I go into these stores is not just products or price tags, but someone's dream or passion. Meeting these store owners is inspiring, and right now heartbreaking, as they try everything to simply keep their doors open.

I found out about The 3/50 Project about a month ago, and passed on the information as quickly as I could to everyone I know. Not only is this a great idea, it seems to be working. The basic premise is this: Look around your community and pick three brick and mortar businesses that you love and frequent, that you would miss if they weren't around. Make a point of going to those businesses and spending $50 in each one. It is a simple plan to help these businesses survive, but it also means helping to secure the patchwork of diverse businesses in our communities.

Even if you can't spend $50, spend $5.00. Every little bit helps. And if you can't spend $5.00, just pass the word along. When this recession turns around, and it will, we don't want to be left with only national chains standing.

I am guilty of spending a lot of my shopping dollars online, mainly for convenience. But knowing about The 3/50 Project has helped me remind myself when I start an online search, that I need to head out the door to the little stores I love instead to find what I need. Getting to know these store owners has made that an easy choice. I want these businesses to survive, and it has nothing to do with my advertising sales quotas.
What I also love about this idea is that it brings around the concept that each of us--even one person--can make a difference. And lately, it's hard to remember that as big issues loom around us from every direction. It's easy to sit back and feel overwhelmed or to complain about the economy. It all feels too huge to even know where to start. The 3/50 Project narrows down the journey of a thousand miles by showing us that first step to take. We can impact what's happening around us in so many ways, and this is just one great example.

Check out the 3/50 Project website here.



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