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

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Last week I came across some old newspaper clippings and papers from my grade school years, some I hadn’t touched since the time they were created. Others I thought I had lost, and I literally got teary upon realizing that they were again in my possession.

I laughed at the misspellings created by my fourth grade self, smiled at simple drawings made with crayons and tempera paint, and held the edges of newspaper clippings of science fairs and school accomplishments carefully, as they had become almost brittle with age.

My kindergarten year will always be incredibly special to me, as my teacher Mrs. Starr took a special interest in me. Well, I actually think she took a special interest in all her students, but she made each of us feel that we were extraordinary in her eyes. I remember my year with her as warm, secure and loving in a colorful classroom filled with support and encouragement. Outside the classroom things were turbulent and confusing, so school was a haven for me, a trend that continued throughout my life.

Holding drawings in my hand made during that year was like opening a time capsule. Looking at each brushstroke, the signing of my name, my first real written words standing shakily between three colored lines on paper almost forty years old, I felt mystified. I stared hard at these pages, wishing I could remember what I felt in the moment I created the colored lines on it.

One picture in particular stopped me for a moment. It is me, alone, a simple stick figure representation, my hair yellow, a small red smile on my face. In the background, much smaller, a house. My house-the green colored house that we lived in at the time. The lines of the house are bright crayola green, with crooked windows, drawn by my five-year-old hand. I always associate that house with bad things. But there is no indication in the drawing that I was suffering, nothing that would make anyone stop to wonder.

I know also that I had been taught to hide things and keep secrets. And I am sure that was part of it. But as I flipped through worksheets with Mrs. Starr’s notes and smiley faces in red pen, as I looked through more pages of bumble bees and holiday turkeys made of construction paper, I knew that in the moment I drew those in her classroom, I felt safe and happy, and depicted my world under her watchful, caring eye.

It made me think about all the standard drawings we create as children, in and out of the classroom. No matter what the year or time in history, five year olds ultimately pick up a paintbrush or a crayon and draw a square with a triangle on top, then several stick figures standing nearby representing their home and family, prompted or not. Add a lemon yellow sun in the sky above, and you have a grade school rite of passage. I wondered if I sat down now to draw that scene, what it would look like today.

The lines would be straighter, the artwork a little better, but the scene would be nothing like I dreamed it would be back at five years old, nor would it look like any of my friend’s drawings were they to join in the exercise. I have heard (and said) many times that dear friends can become your family. And even though I have said it often before, until I looked at this artwork from my past, I don’t think I realized that I had that extended family long before I acknowledged it. All through the years, I did concentrate on the pain of my existing family, comparing what I didn’t have to what everyone else did, or seemed to. Part of that was some natural realization over time, and honestly, the grieving process for what wouldn’t be. It all took some time. But as I look back, I realize that people drifted in to my life over the years-- amazing souls that filled empty parts of my life just as I needed them. Over the years, slowly, as I began to be honest with myself about the loss of the foundation of family, my “new” family was growing, member by member.

Debby, my second mom, who has loved me unconditionally and completely, has pulled me into her family as if I was one of her own. Her house is home to me and walking through her door is love. I tear up as I even write that sentence, tears of gratitude. She came along when I was six years old, right after we had moved to North Carolina. She has taught me to love, to laugh, to understand, to believe in true love and family.

Kim, my dearest and oldest friend, is my sister and confidante, my partner in crime, and the person who makes me laugh the most, hands down and without even trying. She knows every flaw, every rip and tear in the fabric of my life. She has been there when I have won awards, lost my footing, celebrated, hit rock bottom, and stood near the edge ready to jump. No one else can pull me out of trouble or torment the way she can. I am lucky beyond measure to have someone I trust and love so much in my life. Kim is that person that I know- without hesitation- that I could call from anywhere, having done anything, in any kind of trouble and she would come get me, and this is the best part, without any judgment.

Judith, whose heart knows no boundaries, is my biggest cheerleader, knows of nothing I can’t do or be, and never fails to remind me of that when I need it the most. I could be in prison, convicted of same heinous crime, and I have no doubt Judith would come to visit excited for what I will accomplish behind bars and remark how lucky the establishment is to have me as a resident. She is the queen of sending me a lemonade recipe when my house and heart are full of lemons. And I know she knows me and sees me. Big things. She has made me brave in moments when I was scared witless. She has made me see myself through her eyes when I was blind with grief. Her words are the life preserver I have used so many times to survive a storm.

Patrick, my friend that I made at my first real job out in the big world, helped me believe in myself in the world of work. At first a great mentor for navigating the politics and insanity of the workplace, that friendship grew into being part of his family, his wife and children so dear to me I almost can’t stand it. Over the years, holidays alone seemed daunting until he and his wife opened their doors to me in such a natural way, I didn’t dare hesitate to step through. I count birthday parties for their daughters in their back yard as sunny, treasured memories in my life. His voice on the phone over the years has been my touchstone, knowing he was as crazy I was, and that he could sense when I was about to slip out of control. I didn’t always listen to his advice about men, work, love or life, but I knew I could tell him my failings and he would chuckle, be breathtakingly honest, but still see me as the same person the next day.

Add to that list several of my guy friends who over the years have served as big brothers, taunting me, toughening me up for the real world, and making me laugh until I couldn’t breathe. Also on that list are a small group of women I proudly call my circle of friends who share my snarky, sarcastic take on life and never fail to help me sharpen the focus of my lens on the world around me, and my own choices.

The picture I would draw today would include all those faces, large red hearts outside of the stick figure lines of their bodies, smiles for days. My simple duplex apartment with me in the middle of all that love, acceptance and family, my furry children—my dog and three cats—huddled nearby. Oh, and a big yellow sun, with rays that extend from the sky to the ground. More than I could have imagined, my family grew over the years into something I know I can count on, learn from, be myself with, lean on, and love unconditionally with the same return.

And if that isn’t family, I don’t know what is.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Turning the Page

A lot is made of New Year’s resolutions—making them, keeping them, breaking them. I can honestly say that for every year in memory, I have diligently made lists and started out with the best intentions of keeping all of them. Like most people, though, I rarely checked off even one item, much less multiple entries on my long list.

At the end of 2008, I saw a piece on television that recommended only making one resolution each year. I have mentioned before that I followed that advice for last year, and actually made that goal happen. That one resolution was to get published, somewhere-anywhere, and had been on my list for years. I think there were several reasons it happened, not just because I narrowed my list down, but it didn’t hurt that I focused on one goal for the whole year—a lot less daunting than a list of five or ten things to accomplish.

Taking a hint from that theory, I have decided to back up even further and make my resolution something broader, simpler and more comprehensive all at once. This year’s resolution? Embrace hope.

Yes, I want to be published again, maybe even sell that novel I have been working on. But there are other things in my life that are just as important—continuing to let love reside in my life, trusting the wonderful man I am with even though trust is hard for me, giving more, volunteering more, appreciating the wonderful friends I have in my life that I can count on at every turn. But in each of these instances, embracing hope is the foundation for all I want to be and do. Putting my writing out there and believing that good work will reap great rewards. Trusting someone who more than deserves my trust, love and devotion and having faith that wonderful things will come from that trust. And mainly, just trusting myself for a change, empowered by a positive outlook, and a new commitment to hope instead of doubt.

It sounds simple. Maybe too simple. And on some level it is. But, how hard is it to remain hopeful when things seem to be crumbling around you? Very. How easy is it to slip to some dark place when the cards seem stacked against you? Very. So my resolution is to make hope my safety net, my plan B, my first choice even when it is hard, even when it seems scary or maybe ridiculous. I look back on some desperate choices I have made in the midst of doubt or fear, letting the worst possible outcome become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thinking the worst, seeing that as a possible outcome, almost becomes something you are drawn to. Maybe it is ludicrous or at the very least impractical to think that having hope makes the pull of a bad outcome weaker. But lessening the inner turmoil I go through as I let myself spiral into negative thoughts and gloomy predictions has to be the better choice.

I start this year with more encouraging and optimistic things in my life than I can remember. But there are some huge challenges waiting in the wings also. It would be easy to become overwhelmed and let the negatives become the prominent focus. Choosing hope for both the good and bad will hopefully help me find some balance.

And finally, I think it is so important to really turn the page, wipe the slate clean, and let the mistakes, pain, and complications of 2009 reside in the past. Taking the plastic wrap off the 2010 calendars should be a true new beginning, a fresh start, filled with all the possibility a new year can bring. As the empty days stare back at me from the calendar pages hanging in my kitchen, I have to smile and know there is so much before me that I can’t even imagine, can’t even take in.

And …I can’t wait.



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