3/15/2010

Alchemy of Loss has Moved!

Well, its done! Please find me at my new home(s)

www.abigailcarter.com

or

www.alchemyofloss.com

Please update incoming links accordingly.

Very excited. Please let me know what you think.

3/13/2010

The Art of Getting Things Done

Well, all that procrastination led to some kind of power boost, because I got my taxes done, the website is ready (I will be launching on Monday, so stay tuned), I read and critiqued 8 pieces of student work for my lit fiction class, finished Barbara Kingsolver's book at long last, and paid all the bills. I even got a couple of work-outs in.

Spring organization fever has struck. Beware, it may be contagious! Not responsible for inadvertent trips to the container store. Just bought a tree thingy to hang all my necklaces on. Yup, I got it bad!

3/09/2010

The Art of Procrastination

Funny. I was just avoiding the hell that is known as my taxes, trying not to look at the fat white envelope from my accountant sitting over there with the unpaid bills. And then serendipitously I found this post by my latest Facebook friend Little Big Wolf. Hey LBW, I'll join your support group! Procrastinators Unite!

On the eve of International Women's Day (that was yesterday in case you didn't know), I went to a reading of women writers. Funny stuff. And now I have been inspired to write prose. I'm not even sure I quite know what prose is, but it sounds cool.

So prose or taxes? Hmmm. Perhaps I should write prose about taxes. Or complete my taxes in prose. K, this is going nowhere.

I have been busy on another front however. Well, to be fair, I have been busy paying someone else to be busy for me in that I am having her redesign my website and blog so that they can get married and be one with a new, clean design.

So very soon (end of the week perhaps), this blogspot blog will be packing up the U-haul, and hauling the boxes to this semi-detached:

abigailcarter.com or alchemyofloss.com

Yup, I'm jumping on the Wordpress bandwagon, fully taking the reins of my little bronco here.

I guess I'm not a complete slacker... but really, does anyone want to come and organize my taxes?

3/08/2010

Canada Rocks



Saturday in Vancouver the sun was out and the trees seemed to be throwing their arms into the air, like firmly landed gymnasts, as if to say "see me!" and my body's reaction was to scratch my own eyeballs out. Sneezing is wearing me out. I don't want to blame the cherry blossoms, they are so beautiful, but they are the culprits, among all those other spring beauties.

Despite all the sneezing, I didn't miss all the residual Olympic excitement that continues to linger in that city. I loved driving by "Canada Rocks" painted on bedsheets, hanging from fence posts. It was also humbling seeing all the Canada flags suction cupped to the roofs of cars, reminding me of the US versions,  8 and a half years ago. I can't remember ever seeing Canada so proud. And it made me miss it all the more.

I met some of the newly minted members of my family and sang along to 24 rousing verses of the birthday song written for my 95-year old great aunt (I figure genes-wise I am still in my 20s), followed up by all the verses of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," "You Are My Sunshine," and finally "Old Lang Syne," before toasting her with champagne and cucumber sandwiches and cake.

At the hotel later, it was Carter's turn to attempt to rip out his eyeballs and the bell hop went running across the street as we ate dinner to buy allergy medicine. The restaurant's host judged the kids' colouring, awarding my nephew (and all the others) the "Gold Medal" -- a prize of ice cream and butterscotch sauce (not caramel). I know we were at a hotel where people are paid to bend over backwards to help you, but I know this is also a Canadian trait, one I try to emulate, a trait, I am now reminded, that is one of the many wonderful reasons that "Canada Rocks."

3/01/2010

A Burning Barn

I woke up this morning to this fiery scene reminding me of last week's lessons. Lessons in words and sentences, gerund verbs and participles. I visited a Calder exhibit with a group of 10-year olds, struck by the simplicity of the red, yellow, blue, white, black shapes spinning, equally fascinated by the shadows they cast on the stark white walls. Sculptures at once simple and detailed. For me, an objectification of words, sentences paragraphs. The simplicity of the end result.

Later that afternoon, I pulled open a door to a new world, stepping into a room full of animated people, walls painted mustard, and rich hues of burnt orange. I was greeted with smiles and questioning looks. I did not fit in, though I couldn't say how. The people sitting at tables drinking coffee or milling around had a quality to them, a worn, hardened look around the eyes, clothes not tattered exactly but bearing the Goodwill label, slightly ill fitting. Recovery Cafe is a community center for recovering addicts and homeless.

After signing my name in bright purple ink on several sign-in sheets I was escorted to the classroom, greeted with smiles and a welcome, but finding a chair on the outskirts of the table, attempting to assimilate into the class. I had been invited by my fiction teacher as a guest to talk about my book, my so-called ability to rise above adversity.

But my trauma paled. This I knew immediately, by the haunted, wide eyed gaze of those around the table. I was blessed with resources; these people had few. A woman began reading her work, describing her experience of being labeled "The neighbor lady" in a Facebook photograph, marginalized. She wrote beautifully, her story both uplifting and sad.

I partook in a three-part writing exercise based on the photograph of a burning barn:

1. What would you try to save if your home were burning?

Assuring the kids were safe, foremost might be to rescue memories -- those moments locked in time reminding us of what was, what might have been -- snatching them deftly from between licking flames. Fading smiles caught between slices of clear plastic, and the purple velvet Crown Royal bag that Arron used to collect his precious things -- silver dollars, now tarnished; a clunky gold watch, one of the first digitals ever made, Arron claimed, with its red square numbers; and his wedding ring, the ring he had replaced with an imposter, perhaps sensing its potential for being lost. I would find the cardboard box topped with my old point shoes, the ones I only wore once or twice before a knee ended my prima ballerina fantasies. The box holds yellow manilla envelopes full of love letters, New Zealand flowers pressed inside a Valentine's card, with my hand drawn heart, Arron's crooked, loopy writing concrete evidence of his existence, of his love.

2. What would you be better off without?

TVs, game cubes, remotes, a detritus of plastic, bills stacked forlornly in a wire mesh bin, apologetic. Broken down IKEA shelving, worn shoes, clothes in a pile waiting to be taken to Goodwill. Computers maybe, that hog all our hours, hours that we can't replace. Objects really, taking space. These I would watch burn, feeling the burden of them vanishing in the dark, billowing clouds.

3. What would you do differently if you had to start over?

The Phoenix always rises from the ashes -- the ability to begin anew, cleansed, the ground fertile. Perhaps the spaces would be smaller, filled with light, feeling huge in their emptiness. Time might revert to a simpler age, one before computers and TVs, where everyone knew their neighbours, children played in the street, walked to school by themselves, where needs were few. That time would be blissful, though short, knowing that eventually, the spaces would bloom with undergrowth, the saplings of what was to come.


Another woman read her passages, describing her barn burning, her fear for the swallows nests in the corners, her words resonating in the room long after she finished reading.

I spoke, telling my story, hoping it might be universal enough to the people in this room, my toughest audience, to relate, to inspire. At the end, I gave one of my books to a woman who I knew could barely read, whose body's deformations had clearly defined her fate. I signed the book, offering "best wishes," wondering what those words might mean to her.

That night, at a poetry reading, Mark Doty's words inspired. More words about burning, fires and what you would rescue.  What could this particular serendipity be telling me?

I feel warned. Those saplings have taken root. What, I wonder might they become?

2/24/2010

A 10-Year Old's Lesson in Texting Etiquitte

A hard lesson was learned the other day in the danger of texting. A friend made Carter mad, so in retaliation he texted mean things to him. To be fair, the friend says mean things, it seems, on a regular basis. But he says them, he doesn't text them. Normally Carter just turns the other cheek, but this time something finally snapped.

He knew that what he had done wasn't right. The kid's mother found the texts and sent one back, a warning that she would call me, something she never did, which I found a little odd. Guilt, perhaps prompted him to show me that message and so I had a look at all the messages and was shocked at the words I found. I had to explain the permanence of a text, evidence that can be used in a case of bullying and that it was never O.K. to say things like the things he wrote in those texts, to anyone in any form, under any circumstances.

He sent a text of apology and begged for forgiveness, but spent a long night and morning of anguish worrying that his act would be get him expelled from school. The friend forgave, though I suspect the friendship will never quite be the same again. Or maybe it will. They are 10-year olds after all. But I was glad for the anguish, because I know that a lesson has been learned the hard way, making it one that will never be forgotten.

2/20/2010

My Interview and Thoughts on Barbara Kingsolver

I did an interview recently with my good friend Diane over at Mind, Body, Spirit. I hope you check it out.

And now, my dispatches from San Miguel...

On Barbara Kingsolver

There is a mystery surrounding the bells that sound at all hours in San Miguel, in that counting the tolls is like solving an algebraic equation, one that only the truly gifted could possibly solve. Barbara Kingsolver may just be one of those with the key. Those bells toll with a complexity that at once seems both out of reach, and entirely attainable.

I was too tired really for her keynote speech yesterday. A long day of negotiating people, telling my story, reading excerpts of my book to a smattering of lunching conference-goers, and enduring a chaotic auction were the preamble. But when Barbara finally took the (too small) podium, all grace, salt and pepper hair, and sparkling pink scarf, the experience of being transported into her world of wonder were unmistakable. Upon being asked her inspiration for The Lacuna, something we learned takes over an hour to explain, most find her explanation too long for a sound-bite feverish world. But this was a unique audience.

It began with a file folder, "Notes to a Historian," the start of what she knew not. Trips to Mexico, a Mexican police chief's photo-laden desk, years of individual experiences, each becoming an "acorn" that might grow into something tall and grand, or might just as easily be washed down a river or be engulfed in weeds. Regardless, each thought, each experience was placed into the folder, a folder of abstract ideas. No notion of a story, let alone novel, simply a repository for thoughts, things a historian may one day find and wonder about, looking for clues to uncover this very private of writers.

And some of those acorns grew. And then the world changed in a day we all know too well. A date we now prefix with the word "since" and Barbara responded with what she knew best, her words. Her questions. In the hate mail that followed, she learned a hard lesson. Questions were unpatriotic, un-American. And her acorns grew some more. It took another 7 years for them to finally leaf into The Lacuna.

Lacuna means "a gap," one which might be found in a silent pause in music or in a missing section of text or some missing piece in a point in history, lost, erased, and which changes how we might view the world in future, a theme of the book. The bells toll too many times for the hour, but its OK. I am beginning to understand.

About writing her advice is clear. Simple. She begins with theme. A revelation for me to begin there, thinking always that theme just came, unbided, slithered in uninvited, but welcome.

Then plot, then characters. She assigns meaning to things that would normally have none, and writes about them, erring on the side of obscurity, trusting the acumen of the reader. And another revelation: The first lines of the book need to make a promise to the reader, a promise of what's to come, a promise in the form of a metaphor.

She begins by writing about the book and what its about. She adds structure, mapping out scenes. The themes come, the characters come. She practices voices. Experiments. Researches and then bleeds through a first draft. Like giving birth, painful.

And then the joy of revision, where the art begins.

The characters become real, she cares about them, but doesn't give them away too early. Feeding small details, dropping clues, weaving a tapestry.

And so I absorb, learn, am inspired and keep listening to those bells hoping someday to unravel their mystery. I will be glad to look back some day and see that Barbara Kingsolver herself was one of my own acorns, taking root, becoming something strong, something that will endure.

2/19/2010

Inspiration

I've become a lax blogger. I'm still here, just not here, but attending a writing conference, about to hear Barbara Kingsolver and hopefully be inspired. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in itself is inspiring. A magical sort of place. And today I will read from my book and perhaps add some inspiration of my own.

Hasta Luego...

2/07/2010

For My Grandad on his 97th Birthday


Power Snakes

It was the kind of August day where you could smell winter coming, something indefinable, the smell of snow at the tail end of the summer breeze, hitching a ride. Up until that point, it had been hot, the kiddie pool set up the lawn, which baked in the sun, our relief an escape into the woods, down the path, footsteps sinking slightly in the moss of the ancient forest floor, the brook’s eager journey over pebbles, tickling our thirst. Arron tossed a naked Carter into the lake, Carter’s face full of fear and shock and delight all at once.

The cooler day prompted the workers into action. Mom, Olivia, Carter and I watched through the giant kitchen window, the dance of two who could not sit still – a pas des deux between shed and Jolly House and then down the path, arms full of tools and lumber mirrored by tiny hands making balls of dough into cookies. There was very little chit chat between them – a language of silent signals, a word, a nod.

Later, full of cookies, and soup and bored with blocks and Lego, a small one demanded to find daddy, and so with a screetch and a slam we followed the forget-me-nots to the path we knew so well. But today, there was a visitor, a brown snake twisting and turning before turning white and then orange and looking menacing as its impossibly long body meandered in our direction, to the lake. We heard footsteps approaching, a shirtless Arron in shorts and flip flops.

“Jesus Bird! Be careful! Don’t let Carter near all these extension cords!”
“Isn’t this dangerous? All these cords linked like this?”
“You know your Grandad…” Arron shrugged, accepting the makeshift power supply, accepting the authority of the elder. “Just be really careful, OK?”

I smiled, as I put a little hand in my other hand, away from the danger, knowing the bite of this particular snake could be fatal. The snake disappeared into the cashmere grasses and for a moment we thought we were safe, until it reappeared, crossing the tiny footbridge, its one plank missing. By now we could hear the high pitch scream of a saw, a giant insect prompting little hands to cover ears. As the lake appeared before us, a nest of activity had taken over where before only a grassy knoll had lain sleeping its eternal sleep. The sharp smell of newly cut cedar blended with the old forest and the knoll now had an amour, a platform wide and square. “Solid” as all things built by Arron aspired to be. Grandad stood on the platform, peering out at the lake, surveying his land from this new vantage point, awestruck anew.

Arron returned holding two open beers and handed one to his comrade in arms, engineer of platforms, purveyor of power-laden snakes. Together they stood, quietly proud of their shared accomplishment, content with mutual respect.

2/03/2010

Depth vs. Image in the world of Online Dating: Dating a guy on a respirator?

Something about January has me back on Match these days. I have spent the better part of a year trying to meet new people the old fashioned way, in person. I joined a gym, started participating in a writing meetup (I highly recommend meetup.com for getting yourself out there and meeting others with common interests), even started Salsa dancing on Friday nights. I now have some awesome new friends, but I haven't dated.

So, I dug up my old profile and turned it back on. I even coughed up some money for an auto-renewing 1 month subscription. The emails, winks and interests started rolling in. Back when I was getting a little Match-weary, I updated my profile to be a real heart-on-your sleeve affair. I mentioned that I was widowed, how it had become a part of who I was, how I had written a book and how it was all about the "journey." OK, perhaps not the most uplifting of profiles, but truly honest. It was this profile that resurfaced again last week. The result is that almost all the interest I received has been from men who are at least 10 years older. Some commented on my honesty. Not one held any interest for me.

Now at the risk of sounding like the completely shallow, mean person who will no doubt burn in hell, the clincher came when I received this email"

Would you consider going out with someone in a wheelchair?

Really? Welcome to my dating nirvana! And I wonder why I went off Match?

When I clicked through to his profile I learned that this wasn't just a man in a wheelchair, but a man on a respirator, in one of those wheelchairs that he drives using his mouth, someone who has a degenerative disease.

I don't think its knowing that he is on a nasty path of degeneration that causes me to hesitate. The death part I can handle (I think). Its the care giving part. As my kids get older, my caregiver role has gotten easier (though I write this between trips upstairs with trays of food for Carter who has sprained his ankle). I can't do it.

I keep trying to picture the date, waiting for his his respirator to breathe for him so he can answer a question (like Chistopher Reeve), wondering how he's going to feed himself, worrying about inadvertently raising the topic of sex or horseback riding. Awkward. And then there is the question good night kiss. As much as I want to say I am the kind of person who would go on a date with this man who I'm sure is very lovely, I hate realizing I'm not.

Which is how I came to realize that my profile wasn't working for me. I wasn't attracting the type of man I was hoping to date, you know the kind who has the use of at least one of his legs and can breathe on his own. I sat down and re-wrote my profile, something funny, irreverent, something that really says very little about me. I put up my tarty Halloween pic.

So, the experiment is on. If two days of match.com emails are any indication of the result, then the median age of my respondents has dropped by 10 years, and a few even seem interesting. Have I sacrificed potential depth and understanding for image and a shallow irreverence. Is that OK?

Its not too late to go out with Mr. Respirator...

1/27/2010

A Hallmark Moment Exposed


I noticed Carter's shoulders seemed a little broader and he hauled 15 bags of junk up from the basement so that we could take it to Goodwill. I spent the day feeling like a death camp warden, forcing stuffies into garbage bags, something that will haunt me for a long time, those big, cute plastic eyes peering up at me so that I had to place them into the bag face down (apparently I have an issue: I don't do well with pinatas that have eyes either).

Even as his shoulders get broader and he becomes useful, its still there, in a drawing that he hands me as I return from an evening out with friends. Maybe I was annoyed because he and his sister 'forgot' to clean up the kitchen and I may have slammed around throwing away dried up chicken bits while he dipped around me putting away glasses from the dishwasher in apology. I put the drawing down without looking at it, only finding it the next morning, sad that I hadn't hugged him when he handed it to me. Its never neat and tidy like in the movies, its never a Hallmark moment.




1/18/2010

Sampling the Local Flora

I have been working on a bare bones synopsis for what I hope will someday be a award winning novel of some note and I had one of those moments where Arron was surely taking part in the process. The moon will be featuring in the book and so I have been looking up moon legends and came across the legend of Selene, the Titan moon Goddess. I am sure it is no coincidence that Arron's mother's name is Selena. Selene (Goddess, not MIL, though MIL would not make the distinction ;)) falls for an entirely handsome hunter named Endymion. She asks Zeus to make him immortal which he does by granting Endymion eternal sleep (his name means Sunset). Selene then visits him every night. I had to laugh when this ultimately led me to The First Men on the Moon by H. G. Wells. Shades of Arron appear everywhere in that book it seems, including the moment where the main characters sample some local flora on the moon and enter a state of euphoria. Arron, ever the scientist, was known to keep a year's worth of sandwiches in his high school locker in order to study the mold. He had a minor in Botany from the University of Toronto and was occassionally fond of sampling local flora...

Divine intervention is awesome.

1/15/2010

Alphabet Soup Brain

Do you ever have have those weeks where so much is going on inside your brain, you feel like your head is full of alphabet soup?




I figure if I write out the list of things crammed in my brain, perhaps it will help me prioritize them. Here goes:

Read Madame Bovary (part of my NY resolution to read some classics)
Meet with Carter's potential middle school and not forget the appointment (did it!)
Meet with writing group (Got some great feedback!)
Sign book for USS New York and get it into mail (check!)
Sign forms to update my financial asset allocations
Review forms just sent from timeshare
Set up AppleCare for my new iPhone
Read a friend's manuscript
Send links for books on memoir to a friend (see below)
Pay fee for The San Miguel Writer's Conference where I plan on doing a reading
Finish reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver before Conference
Find a new GP
Send a reply to a lovely woman who wrote me a hand written letter in August (so embarrassed by this one)
Try not to be distracted by FB
Read "Reading Like a Writer" for my literary class
Finish bare bones outline of what I hope will be a new book
Take Salsa dancing (class is tonight with a guy we met called el Diablo. No, really)

OK, I don't feel so bad. There really was a whole ton of junk in there.

Here is a list of great books on writing memoir for anyone intersted:

Your Life As Story, Tristine Rainer
Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir, Lisa Dale Norton
Writing the Memoir, Judith Barrington

And on writing in general...

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
A Writer's Book of Days, Judy Reeves

1/12/2010

Beauty, Dysmorphism, Love and NOT "Settling for Good Enough"

I have finally found some time to read a variety of posts from fellow bloggers, and through three different posts, something strikes me. First, was at Little Big Wolf's Daily Plate of Crazy who writes about a new book by Lori Gottlieb, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. She is irked by the title, by the idea that women are being told to "Settle" for something that is not excellent, or perfect, but "good enough." Along a similar vein, a friend, Shafeen, in his blog ~synthesis~ discusses the idea of barriers in schools, whereby we, as a society are setting the bar too low in schools, thus ensuring the failure of our kids. In an opposing view, Dad's House praises the book, saying the book will help women consider more carefully their real requirements in a partner. Over at Better Now, Kristin writes about being criticized for trying to be healthy, for being tall and skinny, for having (and writing about) her hot boyfriend. She is accused of being dysmorphic and self conscious for simply learning to be at one with herself, for raising the bar for herself. And finally my friend Lindsay at Dispatches on Writing, Art, Music discusses the meaning of beauty with relation to teaching a Rilke poem. When she asks one of her students what they think the meaning of beauty is, one whispers "that I'm ugly." She writes, "Beauty reminds us of our inadequacies, of our mortality, of our limits. Beauty tells us of our short-comings, but also of what is possible."

Lately I have been aware of my own indifference to beauty. At risk of being accused of being dysmorphic like Kristin, here is the truth: when people tell me I am beautiful and I don't see it. When I look in the mirror I see eyes, nose, mouth, hair, but I fail to see whatever it was that lead them to that conclusion.  I suppose when I see beauty in someone, it is not about the components, its about the overall effect. A gesture, a twinkle in someone's eye, the way a certain light plays in someone's hair. I might find beauty in a hand (as I did Arron's), but it has more to do with what the hand can do, its touch against mine. These are things one rarely sees in a mirror.

Lindsay writes in her post: "Love, like Beauty, is supposed to take you somewhere. It has the possibility (the promise?) of taking you closer to yourself, closer to God, closer to life, to Spirit, to Mystery. No matter what you are loving... The lover, takes you, “in the gathering out-leap” beyond who you were, so that you can be at one with yourself, with the world."

Tall order.

I don't know what is in the book, though clearly the author believes that women are setting the bar too high, thus not achieving their unrealistic goals. We expect love to take us beyond who we are. But isn't that always the challenge? I don't think I am willing to "settle" in any aspect of my life. I guess I will have to read the book to be convinced otherwise.

1/07/2010

Where I'm From

"Mama, I forgot to give you this on Christmas," he said. Apparently, I am not the only writer in the family...




Where I'm From

I am from snowboarding, from play dough and Lucky Charms
I am from the basement, warm, safe and my favorite place to be
I am from the aloe and the delicious goo inside
I am from the giant bottle of beer and the lol's, from Olivia and Abby and Arron
I am from the alcohol and obsessive shower time
From "Go to your room" and "clean the dishes"
I am from no church even though we tried it once. It was too corny.
I'm from New Jersey, England and not yet Seattle. New Jersey root beer float and hot dogs
From the famous attack of 9/11 that took my dad and created my author mom
I am from mom's glass doored cased filled with all precious things. A gold ring wrapped in a purple bag that my mom finally showed me, and a marriage ring.

-- Carter, age 10

And Olivia made this in her ceramics class. Could be in a gallery somewhere.
A proud mama and her talented kids... ahhh.


1/06/2010

A Pirate's Blue Moon

The choice of drinks was beer and "Margarita's" but the kind made with something that looked like neon green Kool Aid (or Freshie as we called it in Canada), bile colour and sickly sweet. We all switched to beer after the first sip. The kids were lined up for a dance contest and each one did a solo to that insidious "Gasolina" song. Carter performed the robot, the worm and the stanky leg and blew the tiny competition out of the water. Soon he was chasing little Marco from Chiuaua around the boat, neither noticing the language barrier. The rest of us shivered. I was chosen as one of the women to humiliate. They had four of us sit on stools and then lean back onto eachother's laps while they took the stools away. My big head apparently caused my head's lap to collapse. Big laughter.

The sun slid below the horizon, but no one but me seemed to notice. The moon appeared on the opposite shore, a gigantic fiery ball, rolling along the tops of some tiny seaside hotels, whose windows blazed with the sunset. Photos don't do it justice, but I snap many anyway, though my hair flaps in the sea wind.




A second humiliation as I was forced to dance with a scary dude in a mask known as the ghost pirate. Seemed appropriate somehow, an ode to Arron. I won a shot of tequila for my efforts, but didn't claim my prize. Perhaps it would have warmed me up.

A plate of appetizers appeared, for which we paid an extra five dollars. The flimsy foam plate contained four unpeeled shrimp, a dollop of ketchup, three toothpicks skewered with ham and cheese and topped with a green olive, a blob of tuna salad and a package of saltines. Only later would we be grateful.

Finally, it seemed the ship was heading for port, our treasure chest full. As we neared shore, there was a slight shudder, a glide. I heard the engine kick back. I looked up at the pirate captain, but he appeared calm and smiling. He saw me looking at him and winked. I looked over the side and could see the indigo water below churning, foggy with sand. The shore did not float past. The neon sign of a restaurant on shore remained stationary. We were grounded. No one else had noticed our dilemma, so I turned to my sister, whose three year old was asleep on her chest. Her eyes widened with the news. Soon, the rest of the pirates and victims passengers were aware of our plight. My brother-in-law seemed jubilant, excited almost, chatting amongst the men, making new friends, sharing a common peril. The pirates looked resigned, all now talking on their cell phones, updating their New Year's plans.




We sat, cold, tired, hungry stuck on a sand bar laughing how it seemed a suitable end to a strange year. 2009 had caused us all to grind to a halt in one way or another. The kids kept warm playing tag and ungluing the shimmering baubles off the fake treasure chest. The pirate captain leaned over the rail and smoked another cigarette. Some of the younger men climbed to the top of the boat and set off fireworks, apparently part of the regular pirate festivities.

We admired another cruise boat, one that had an indoors, longing to be inside its warmth, watching its large screen TV. For a while, it seemed to be coming to our rescue, until it became clear that it too was grounded on the sandbar, rocking sideways awkwardly like an ailing goldfish in its bowl.

We waited an hour for the monstrous blue moon (two full moons in one month equal blue, an incredibly rare occurrence) to work its magic on the tide. And then, gently a series of waves bounced us, the pirate captain started the engine and it took us all a minute or two to realize we were once again moving, the neon sign disappearing to our right, the narrow channel's shore only feet from the boat.

As a final encore, the harassed looking waitress emerged from behind a door clad in a bright pink hula skirt with a fake coconut bikini top and performed a strange dance, part hula, part salsa, looking cold and bored.

It was a New Year's eve that none of us will forget -- a strange epilogue to a strange year. But that sunset, the fiery moon and its rescuing tide, the children dancing and the hula/salsa dancer combined in the most surreal, or perhaps just Mexican of ways, to provide us all with a kind of optimism for the year to come.

12/22/2009

Happy Birthday Arron


Its funny as time passes, it seems less and less necessary to celebrate the big events, such as Arron's birthday. Or maybe I should say, it seems less necessary to celebrate outwardly, the big events. Arron had the misfortune of having a birthday 3 days before Christmas. He always complained, as most Christmas babies do, that the birthday was always a non-event, swallowed up in the belly of Santa.

The truth was, that neither of us were ever that great at celebrations. Too much pressure. A simple dinner out, a cuddle, a single rose, a coupon for a back rub. Maybe that's what makes the day so awkward. I can't very well give him a back rub.

For the kids, its even harder. The date, no matter how much warning I give them, still doesn't mean much. And they are at a greater loss than I with how to celebrate. When I mention it, the usual reply is "are we gonna have cake?" which is funny, because none of really like cake all that much.

I have some bulbs I got at one of Carter's school's fundraisers. If it stops dumping with rain, perhaps we will plant them, so that Arron can bloom again in the spring, all shades of fushia and lavender. He would have appreciated the Latin names: Ixiolirion Tartaricum and Allium Aflatunense.

I know its weird, but sometimes I still read his horoscope. Here is what it said for today:

Making discoveries

This is an excellent day for engaging in new activities and for making discoveries about yourself and the world around you. Your life now has an exciting quality that is not always present. Take advantage of this excitement to learn about yourself in ways that are not usually possible. Your heightened perception of your world will help you make changes with a complete understanding of how the various parts of your life are interrelated. This is a good influence for studying any discipline that can reveal new and stimulating aspects of the universe. It favors the study of science, technical disciplines, astrology or other branches of the occult. You want to broaden your understanding, and the more exciting your study, the more actively you will pursue it.

Excitement, heightened perception, stimulating. Really, you couldn't ask for more on a birthday.

12/20/2009

Identity 911

It occurred to me the other day that I no longer discuss my 9/11 status or mention it to school teachers, dentists, doctors, furnace repair men, little old ladies in the park the way I used to. Sometimes I even forget that I am a widow. These days I am a mom, writer, daughter, sister, friend, soon-to-be teacher (if enough students sign up for the class), but amazingly, widow no longer factors.

But every now and then, the 9/11 monster comes back to bite us.

This week, Olivia was bitten. Her class has been reading the Kite Runner, which ends with the main character being unable to react emotionally when the Twin Towers fall. Perhaps I should have remembered that part of the book, braced her, warned the teacher. But I had forgotten, and I think even if I had remembered, I would have let the chips fall as they would. Olivia is strong enough to handle these things on her own.

The teacher started a discussion about people's personal experiences with 9/11. She had no idea about Olivia's history. Olivia let the discussion continue around her, reluctant to raise her hand, until she finally felt she must. She raised her hand, was ignored, so put it down again, relieved.  But the teacher remembered. Liv told her story. Jaws dropped. In Seattle, the event was not real to people, being so removed by distance. Afterward, one girl told Olivia's friend that she thought Olivia was lying to get attention. Other kids treated her differently the next day, becoming silent when she walked into the room.Which is why she tells no one besides her closest friends, why she was able to spend three years at a small girls school with very few people knowing. By now, I expect her entire high school knows. High schools are like that. But she knows these effects are temporary.

I knew this day would come, when a discussion in class would impact her this way. And of course you can't predict those. Olivia handled it bravely and gracefully. As it turned out, I had made an appointment to meet with this teacher, before this discussion took place, to talk about Olivia, her progress in the class. And so I became the 9/11 widow once more. But it didn't last. Soon we were both smiling, admiring Olivia's ability to weather her past, to rise above her 911 identity, to be who she is without apology. And I was back to being the proud mom.

12/13/2009

Scroogenomics


I am such a Scrooge. I know I am not alone, all you other Scroogies out there. A childhood of two households meant several corresponding Christmas celebrations every year. Christmas lost its magic pretty darn quick. I love Thanksgiving. I love Valentine's Day, but Christmas?. Not so much. It seems that a lot of my issues with Christmas stem from the whole gift thing.

I wrack my brain for fun gift ideas, but usually miss on several counts every year. Its a battle keeping the number of gifts for each kid fair. This year I have the dilemma that one kid got very expensive snow board equipment which has already been used, where the other is getting a series of things that can be opened on the day. Am I gonna have at least one grumpy kid who forever thinks that he had a lousy childhood, that I loved his sister better than him? Yep.

I was on the phone with my sister the other day and suggested we just do presents for the kids this year. You know, with the economy and all. "Yea, that sounds good, but I already got your present," she said. Doh! K, so mental note: make the suggestion earlier next year.

And so, I scramble around, trying to keep the NPR piece I heard recently about a book called "Scroogenomics" out of my head. The book that suggests that buying people gifts is a very inefficient way to buy goods. People spend money more efficiently on themselves than they do on other people, with the exception of those that are closest to us. It amounts to tons of waste. More stuff to lug to Goodwill.

I've done my best to mitigate this waste in the lives of the people I love. A wine club for my father and stepmother, homemade cookies, jams, and other consumables, and for the rest, I try for practical gifts. I ask people specifically what they want. And like so many of us, leave it all till way too late. I dash to the mall, and after only an hour I have a headache. I go online, hunting out sites that deliver to Canada.

People ask me what I want, and I am always at a loss. I want for nothing. A Paperback is usually my answer. They don't believe me, but really this is the one present that never fails to make me happy.

And so, the things I do love about Christmas? They never seem to involve the presents. Its the tradition of smoked salmon and cream cheese for breakfast, the Tourtiere (a traditonal French Canadian meat pie) for Christmas Eve dinner (see recipe below) and that lazy time after all the presents have been opened when the kids are engrossed in playing with whatever they received and I am in slippers and a new sweater, flipping through my latest paperback with a giant cup of tea.

Baaaa Humbug.

Tourtiere:
There are a zillion versions of this, but this recipe works for me every year. Its almost better in left-over form.

Filling:

* 1 lb ground pork
* 1/2 pound lean ground beef
* 2 medium potatoes, peeled and grated
* 1 small onion, chopped
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1 tsp. (5 ml) salt
* 1/2 tsp. (2 ml) savory
* 1/4 (1 ml) ground cloves
* 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
* 1/2 cup (125 ml) water
* Pastry Dough, top and bottom

Method:

1. Place all the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to break meat into small pieces. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Roll out chilled dough, and cut two pieces for one 8-inch pie or 8 individual pie plates.
4. Line pie plate with one of pieces of pastry.
5. Fill generously with meat mixture.
6. Top with the other pastry and pinch edges together.
8. Bake at 400 degrees F until golden brown, serve hot.

Its great with Mango Chutney and a green salad.

12/08/2009

Blogging Backlash

Its hard sometimes to know how much to share on this blog. Its a fine line between writing about issues that are relevant to people who are grieving and giving away too much about my private life and that of my family. But I wrote a book. In it, I felt it necessary to be as completely honest about difficult things, things we don't like to talk about, in order for that book to be authentic, to help others going through what I went through. I know from emails that I have received from grieving people that my honesty has been the most important aspect of my book. My honesty is what has helped others through their own difficult times.

On this blog, I try to write about issues that I encounter as someone grieving, as someone human, issues that others might encounter, issues that affect us all. But there is a price. I give up my anonymity and that of my family and friends. Perhaps I don't have that right. And I may be jeopardizing my prospects of matrimony, of career, and those of my kids as well.

A fine line indeed.

12/07/2009

Freedom

The December issue of Chatelaine Magazine has published some essays written by a variety of women from Frontier College. An editor at Chatelaine had this interesting idea to pair an author with a novice writing student to coach them through the writing of an essay. Such an innovative idea.

I was lucky enough to be paired with a lovely woman named Julia from Russia who trained as a doctor before moving to Vancouver to become a nanny. She has been working to improve her English and is now applying to various med schools in Canada.

I was so impressed how quickly she learned and improved her writing over the course of just a few emails and phone conversations. Her essay, Pineapple Dreams dwells on the meaning of freedom, and opportunity and celebration. Its been fun to feel the pride of Julia's success. And it gives me a renewed excitement for my class in January.

My last post seems to have gotten a lot of people thinking, talking, assessing, observing, aware. Its been an interesting dialogue, one that gets swept under the carpet much too often.

12/02/2009

How much is too much?

It was a jovial Thanksgiving. I made a twenty pound turkey, stuffing, pumpkin and pecan pies. People started arriving around four. We drank wine and champagne. We gave thanks. Some of us stayed up till 2am and played my obsession Mexican Train, a domino game. Judging by the bottles I put into the recycling the next day, we went through a large amount of wine.

But in talking with a therapist yesterday, it seems that perhaps this level of drinking might be a problem. More than three drinks in a night is a problem. Over time, you build up a tolerance and this can lead to full blown alcoholism. I was shocked. Three drinks?

I am not a big drinker. In fact I never drink except in a social situation. But I will admit that when in a social situation I have on occasion had more than three glasses of wine. I have woken up with a headache in the morning. Amongst my friends and family, I am not unusual. And yet.

It has never occurred to me before how much we as a society drink. It seems normal to split a bottle of wine with a friend over dinner. To drink two or three cocktails at a party. A few beers over a game. A relaxer after work.

I took this test and scored more than 8, which is high enough to warrant a call to a doctor according to the test. Really?

And so my eyes are opened, consciousness raised. And that can't be a bad thing.

11/23/2009

Center of the Universe

My friend, memoir teacher and fellow memoirist, Theo sent out a Facebook Challenge to write a memoir in 26 minutes. I thought I would post what came:

Center of the Universe

“You’re not the center of the Universe you know.” I was eight. It was Christmas and a hard lesson. My sister had gotten more toys because it’s easier to buy presents for a three your old than and eight year old. It was on the stairs of my gram’s house. I had been moody, uncommunicative, shut down. My son now does a perfect imitation and although it infuriates me, I sometimes smile, knowing what its like to be in that state. “What’s wrong?” they ask, but you cannot honestly say. The mood has simply taken over and consumed you. The Flintstones can sometimes take it away, but Fred always gets in trouble with Wilma, always doing the wrong thing, so sometimes it makes things worse. At Gram’s it was always Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Hour, right after Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Sometimes we only got to watch Wild Kingdom before being called for dinner. Gram would always make me laugh, with her dislike of garlic and wormy applesauce and knew how to coax me out of the mood.

We lived for a while at Gram’s house and we drank powdered milk and I took the bus to school and was given a dime for real milk that we bought from a tiny cooler at the back of the cafeteria. But Senior Kindergarteners had to eat lunch in the classroom.

It was a bad snow winter and so the school was shut for a week and we were snowed in. I built long tunnels, sucking the water from my soaked woolen mittens, and then hid inside, the caverns strangely warm. When the weather got nice again I would swing on the swings of East Garafraxia Township Public School and let a shoe quietly slip off my foot whenever one of the older boys was near. I knew he would pick it up and hand it to me and I would smile at him.

In the summer, I begged my mom to make a dress for me that matched the one my Raggedy Anne doll wore. It took a long, long time. My Gram could make a dress in half an hour, but she was teaching my mom to sew. I had to be patient, but I wasn’t. I wanted to wear it. She finally finished it on a Saturday night. I put it on, along with the white tights. I was so happy. The next day I walked by myself a quarter mile to the church on the corner of the road at the end of my grandparents’ apple orchard. I took Raggedy Anne for comfort. They told me where the Sunday School was in the basement and I sat with the other children in my new dress and white stockings. The teacher talked about God, which scared me a bit. Still does. Later we got cookies and juice and then I walked home by myself.

Gram taught me to quilt when I was ten and would take me to that same Church down the road. All the old ladies would sit in hard wooden chairs around a square of quilt that had been rolled onto two-by-fours on all four sides and clamped in the corners. The frame sat on saw horses. Everyone sat around the frame, two or three to a side to chat and sew, one arm above the quilt, one arm below. I learned to gather ten stitches on the needle before sending it all the way through. When you stitched as far as your arms would go, the quilt would get turned once more on the two-by-four and we would start again. The women drank burnt coffee from the urn and talked about a boy who was shot dead in a hunting accident. My first exposure to the perils of life, nothing I could ever imagine being applied to my own.

My Gram died one December of the flu, too frail to cough. “Let me go,” she begged my aunts. I got the call at work from my dad. Everyone was at my Gram’s house, milling around, aimless. I helped my aunt make sandwiches on hand cut white bread with thick slices of ham and mustard.

At the funeral, I cried and then laughed when the bagpipe started up in the back room of the church behind the alter, like a slowly dying cat, its scream reaching a crescendo until the bagpiper finally appeared and walked down the aisle playing Amazing Grace. He exited the church so the cat could die its slow squealing death.

Amazing Grace played again many years later for my husband and for the thousands that died along with him in the World Trade Center.

Those early years at Gram’s prepared me for what lay ahead. I was not the center of the universe. I could distract my bad moods. I could do what scared me. I could handle death, make ham sandwiches, listen to Amazing Grace again. I learned what it meant to let go.

11/17/2009

Short Shrift

My poor blog is getting the short shrift (which I just looked up and discovered was a short confession before a person was hanged. You know, in case you were wondering and needed something uplifting to think about. I guess a short confession meant you couldn't get rid of ALL your sins. Just one or two. So presumably you were still going to hell, which perhaps was a given already since you were about to be hanged. What then, I wonder was the point exactly of the Short Shrift??)

Don't worry, I have no intention of hanging my own blog, though I would love to find a way to combine it better with my website. Does anyone know if that is possible to do with something like TypePad? Do I have to be a genius programmer to do something like that?

Not that I have time to do something like that anyway. I have to hand in a complete chapter of something fictional on Thursday, do two functional plans for non-profit websites and I just learned that I got a job teaching memoir one night a week at the University of Washington Extension programme starting in January.

Oh Lordy. Only time for one sin.

See? Who has time for dating?

I am excited about the teaching gig, but also very nervous. It will be a steep learning curve. But they always say, do the thing that scares you the most...

Carter surprised me last night. Turns out the kid likes writing. He sat down for about half an hour and wrote a two page piece about 9/11 and what happened that morning. It was a bit of a rehash of what he has read from my book, and I have encouraged him to write things that he remembers, rather than what I do. But he read it this morning to two of his teachers while I was there and took their breath away.

Seems Carter might be teaching that memoir class before long...

11/11/2009

The "Why Bother" Syndrome

I received an email recently from a guy with a blog who wanted to share links with me (what's that called in the blogging world anyway? co-linking? heyheyhey... No really, we are talking BLOGs here people!) I was expecting a blog about widowhood or loss or single-parenting. I did not expect a blog about dating. I had to giggle a little thinking the guy must have done a Google search on "Frustrated" and "Dating" to find my site. Of course I had to browse Evan's site, as there seems to be quite a bit of interesting info and advice there. That's when the "Why Bother Syndrome" jumped out at me. Apparently, I am afflicted with something that actually warrants the title of "Syndrome." Great. But I do have to wonder, have I really given up? Evan says he dated 300 women over ten years before he met his wife. So at 30 dates a year, that's about 1.5 dates a week? Whew!

It begs the question, how did people ever possibly meet before the Internet? Was the advice then still about the numbers -- success comes from dating many frogs? I can't imagine people dated 300 times over ten years when they had to deal with newspaper ads and P.O. boxes.

I know I am justifying my single status, perhaps pretending I am cool with being single, relieved even. I am sure many of you know how much mental energy it takes to do online dating. At every turn, it seems I am either disappointed or I am disappointing someone. And can you really get to know someone in one date? In the 40+ dating pool, you hear tons of "we're old enough now to *know* right away when someone is right." I know because I used to say it myself. But now, I'm not so sure.

Arron and I took years before we actually fell in love. We liked each other and enjoyed hanging out, but it wasn't all rockets and fireworks after the first date, though I was intrigued. I can't help thinking that if I were to meet him now through online dating, I probably wouldn't give him a second glance.

But I won't lie and pretend I don't lie in bed at night imagining some cute sumthin, sumthin lying in my arms. Or waking up in the morning all languid... OK, better not go there! I do. Every night. There is still a gaping hole that Arron left behind, sort of like a phantom limb. But my reality is limbless, and I think that after 8 years I am finally coming to terms with it.

Of course, it won't stop me from checking out Evan's site from time to time. Who knows, maybe with a little dose of Evan's rah-rah dating optimism, a little sumthin, sumthin will come our way.

11/03/2009

The Advantages of Deprivation

I have been undergoing a little experiment with regards to dating, which is to not date. To not actively seek, to be content in my single-dom. I am so tired of the online thing. And I have given up trying to make eye contact with any guy in this city. Possibly, I am purposefully creating a little hedonic adaptation in my life, something I just read about over at The Happiness Project, a sort of law of diminishing returns, where you adapt to new circumstances until they become normal. You get a certain amount of time before something new becomes something old. Dating, for me has definitely fallen into that category. It has, after all, been y.e.a.r.s.

I have this theory that after a loss (divorce or death), you kind of go through a wild, animalistic stage. I think it has to do with trying to replace intimacy with sex. Eventually you realize it doesn't really work, though I have to say it sure is fun for a while. It is possible of course, that I simply got through my thirties.

What I am finding now though, is this kind of "settling in" stage. I am content with almost all aspects of my life. I am over my wild stage. It got old. And now, as Gretchen talks about, the best cure for hedonic adaptation is deprivation. I figure if I deprive myself of dating, then perhaps when something really great comes along, I will appreciate it all the more.

The odd thing is, I am finally feeling OK with being single. Before, I would moon on and on about wanting someone in my life, someone to share experiences with, someone to give me The Look. But these days I am beginning to understand why many women, once widowed, remain that way.


I get to avoid:

1. juggling of kid schedules
2. suspicious kids who don't trust anything that happens after they go to bed
3. ricocheting emotions
4. swooning over love horoscopes


Plus, I get

1. super buff by virtue of the crush on the trainer at the gym
2. to watch Grays Anatomy (or whatever girly show I want) without interruption
3. the sonicare all to myself
4. the two-person closet all to myself
5. to avoid ever having to watch a football game


Of course, if someone were to come along who could deal with my kid/widow/9-11 circumstances, liked Grays Anatomy, had his own toothbrush, and didn't like football, then perhaps I would consider giving him a drawer in my closet. Just one.

11/02/2009

Don't Drip Tea in Your Belly Button



Last week, we got into a nice little routine. Olivia discovered Get Some ZZZ tea (Republic of Tea) and convinced me to buy it. I have been having trouble staying asleep as my brain seems to think its perfectly reasonable to awaken at 4:25am and worry about any number of things. Things like missing that blog radio interview in September, making sure I remember to get on top of middle school applications, remembering to vote, writing another chapter about my dead narrator in my head, the chapter I will forget by the time I get up, bugging myself to get moving on removing the thousands of tiny yellow tomato plants that took over my garden this summer, even though its too late to prevent all those unpicked tomatoes from falling off the vine and planting themselves for next year. Apparently this is all important stuff.


Olivia kind of begged for the tea in the grocery store, and I relented, almost as anxious as she was to try it. We made the tea at 9pm and I dripped some honey into each cup and then loaded them onto the psychedelic pea green tray and carried them to my bed. We all crowded in there and sipped our tea. I found myself saying: "Carter, stop dripping tea into your belly button," which I am pretty sure is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I bet his belly button slept well.

At 9:30, the kids went to bed, and I crawled into my covers and was asleep by 10. and I didn't wake up until 6am! A miracle. We did it every night. The kids almost got along.

Halloween happened (see Ice Queen above). Carter, as a banana trick or treated with a friend and had a sleepover. Olivia (a ring leader) went to a party at some big sports dude's mansion (it had its own theater WITH a box-office! She could totally be on "Teen Cribs" if she wanted...), but then bailed on the sleepover, something she had been doing with regularity of late. I danced my poor high heeled feet off, ate about 5 lbs of smoked sausage, worked hard not to find too many excuses to visit the cute Ozzie bartender, was accosted by some weirdo who kept wanting to "kiss" and finally went to bed (alone) at 3:30am, surprised to find Olivia already there. I was very glad the clocks fell back. I think they must have been at the same party.


Last night, Carter and I went and saw our friend in the last night of "Cannibal, the Musical," which was highly entertaining. When we walked in the house, I looked at the kettle and decided we didn't need the tea, since we were already so tired from our various late nights, sleepovers, mansion parties, trick or treating, etc. I guess I should have. Olivia was already in the bed, watching some kind of schlock like "The Hills," so Carter had a massive temper tantrum, suddenly freaking out that Olivia was part of his "cuddle bunny" time. Olivia stormed off, effectively giving Carter exactly what he wanted. I woke up at 5am again, I guess because I still haven't voted, or gotten rid of those damned tomatoes, or applied for any of those middle schools.


But I have learned my lesson. Tonight, the ZZZ tea is definitely making a return visit to the bedroom and hopefully peace will reign once again.

10/24/2009

My Serendipitous Road to Getting Published

In my last post, I had a comment from Cathy with regards to writing. I hope you don't mind, Cathy if I post my answer this way, as it occurs to me that other people might be interested in my journey to published book as well.

After Arron died and I started coming out of that dreary numbness stage, I started thinking I should start writing down some of the stuff I had experienced, if for no other reason than to record the events for the kids in the years to come. By this time I had met the Prime Minister of Canada, Carter had slapped Joe Clark across the face, I had collected my Ground Zero dust in a weird little urn, received tons a letters and had been visiting the various "Family Centers" on a regular basis. Life was so beyond normal.

So for a year or so, this idea just kept bouncing around in my head. I wondered if perhaps I could write something that might help other widows, or other widowed parents, or if I should write something specifically for kids. This hung me up for a while. I thought I had to have it all figured out before I started writing. Of course, that was silly.

Just before the second Anniversary, Selena and I traveled to London in July and had a tour of Prince Charles' garden at Highgrove, meeting the Prince himself in the process. We went back to London in September with the kids, had tea at the Canadian Consulate, and attended a beautiful ceremony in Grosvenor Square, which is where Carter almost knocked over Princess Ann chasing pigeons, a skill that Arron had taught him.

It was at that point, after so many amazing experiences, that I realized that I had better just hunker down and write. So, shortly after I got home from London, I sat down at my computer and wrote "September 11, 2001" across the top of the page and just started writing. I didn't care very much about how it sounded or grammar or all that nonsense. I just was trying to get down all I could remember. Remembering the first year was the hardest. Mostly it was a series of crystal clear events punctuated by long periods of fog. But it didn't matter. I wrote on and off for around 9 months, until the kids got out of school for summer. At this same time, I was building the birdbath, so I was busy!

That summer, we went to Seattle for the month and decided we were going to move there. When we got back, I had the birdbath party and wrote an essay about it. Through a writing class I took sponsored by Tuesday's Children I become friends with the teacher, Maria Housden who wrote Hanna's Gift, a beautiful book about losing her 4 year old daughter to cancer. Maria had had quite a lot of success with her book, and she loved my essay, so passed it on to people she knew at SELF and at O Magazine (who I never did hear from). SELF loved it and actually wanted to pay me for it! In June, they arrived to take a picture for the magazine, loaded with clothing and makeup artists, the whole shabang! It was crazy.

It was the first time I thought, "Hey maybe I AM a good writer." Before I was published, I really just thought I was just getting the story down. I had spent all my years as a student thinking I was a crappy writer. I blame my 9th grade English teacher who tried to teach me the art of essay writing as though it was a lesson in geometry -- all triangles and rectangles, and it made absolutely no sense to me. I got terrible marks and from then on, decided I was a bad writer.

After we moved to Seattle, I took a memoir writing class through the University of Washington Extension program with Theo Nestor and learned a ton. The class forced me to practice, and increased the amount of material I had, not to mention my confidence. The summer after the class, The National, a CBC TV News program in Canada, came to Seattle to film me, the kids, my sister and my mother for a piece they were doing about me for the 5th Anniversary. It played on September 6th, 2006 and was almost 20 mins long!

About a week after the program aired, I got a call from my mom, telling me that an old colleague of hers was trying to reach me. Denise had seen me and my mom on the show, (where I had read a little of something I wrote), and as luck would have it, she was now a literary agent who wanted to see more of what I had written. She and my mother had worked many years before for a publishing company in Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, where my mom was a book designer and Denise was an editor.

Two weeks later I had written a full proposal (with her help) and attached a couple of sample chapters (stuff I had written way back in the beginning) and she began shopping it around with some of the Canadian Publishers. By some divine stroke of serendipity, it was picked up within two weeks, by, you guessed it (given my love of serendipity), McClelland and Stewart. That was October 2006. They gave me until June 2007 to finish the manuscript. I worked hard to make the deadline, but I did it, practically ignoring the kids in the final stretch. I handed in double the amount of words that I was supposed to.

I had the summer off and then spent the fall doing (a ton of) edits as suggested by my editor, which were finished by December. The book came out in Canada in March 2008. Alas, selling it in the US where "9/11 widow" seems to be a dirty word, we went through 30 publishers who all turned it down. HCI finally picked it up, but like many publishers in the US has done almost nothing to promote it. They are not even going to produce it in paperback. Sigh.

So, Cathy, my advice? Get writing. Buy Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird, one of the best books on writing out there (and it will make you laugh) and just begin. Pour it all out. Don't worry about what it's going to be, there will be lots of time for that.

You all know how I love the idea of living with "No Expectations." Writing definitely fits in that category. Its very freeing to have that mantra in the back of your head as you write. And you just never know where a little serendipity might get you.

10/22/2009

A Quickie

To let you know that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I've enrolled in another writing class - literary fiction. I'm trying to write fiction, another first. I am one of those rare, and exceptionally lucky authors who starts writing and gets her first work published. I don't think it will be that easy with fiction. But its fun. Its fun to make stuff up and mush it together with things that really happened. But its consuming. I have a piece due today for the class to critque, but I have read it over so many times, I can no longer tell if it makes sense. I got so consumed with it, that I lost track of time and missed having coffee with a friend. Why do I keep doing that?

Carter has been home all week with the flu. 38 kids in his school have it. I am told its not Swine, which I am happy about, but that makes it an ongoing threat, as it was on Monday when I thought he might cough up a lung. Being sick, some of his old anxiety seemed to return, and he has confessed that he is frightened of Halloween, and wants to come with me to my party, not let me out of his sight. I hope it will pass with the flu. How can I be a Victoria Secret Angel with a giant 10 year old Banana clinging to me all night?

He said last night, "I wish daddy was alive so he could stay with me while you went to the party." I broke it to him that daddy probably would have gone to the party too. I think it was one of the first times he realized that daddy wouldn't solve all of his problems.

Ok, back to fiction.

10/12/2009

What the Hell is Entropy Anyway?

Arron used to have this thing about Entropy. In the film that his friend Rob made from Arron's stag, the one that was played at his memorial service, he tells his friends, "Entropy is all there is." I honestly don't know what the hell Entropy is other than a measure of randomness. If you want to learn more, here is the Entropy page on Wikipedia. Yea, I didn't get it either. But I still wonder what his fascination with it was. Knowing him, he just liked saying the word. Entropy. It's a good word. And it makes you sound smart. He was smart and did probably actually know what it meant.

I got into a discussion with one of Arron's cousins who knows I go in for all that "psychic/ghost hooey." He's read my book and knows I believe that Arron is around somehow, hanging about in some other-worldly place, drinking martinis and looking after Olivia while she goes under the knife. Davey thinks I am full of crap. He is one of the many who claims to be of the scientific ilk and he needs scientific proof that an afterlife exists. In the meantime, he is happy with the "lights out" theory of afterlife. He doesn't care that its grim, lacks any kind of imagination, would do away with any good ghost/horror movies and kind of puts a damper on life. Or maybe, as he claims it doesn't. Living life to the fullest takes on new meaning. I get it, sort of.

Part of his argument, is that the human brain is capable of so much more than we will probably ever understand (and I just LOVE that kind of irony!) and that it is capable, if not instinctually pre-wired to believe in an afterlife. Our brain is our very own self-soother, rationalizing any old pesky fear we can come up with. SO... with that in mind, our brain does all these kooky things like believe in psychics and signs from our lost loved ones in the form of lights turning on and the smell of smoke and make us think, of COURSE there is an afterlife. But what if its just our brains making us believe there is, because, well its a whole lot more interesting than that silly "lights out" idea, right Davey?

I guess the huge brain theory is just as viable as the afterlife one. Who am I to say? If there is one thing I know in this random world, its that anything is possible. Still not sure how the entropy thing fits into all of this, but boy, it sure sounds good, doesn't it?

10/10/2009

Reconstruction

I've been nursing my little patient this week and thus have gotten nothing else done. All has gone by the wayside as I make healthful meals, and banana bread and allow Olivia to eat as many popsicles as she wants. When the ice maker part of our fridge stopped making ice (why do these thing happen just when you need buckets full of the stuff?), I went online and discovered that "Vacuum Compressor" actually means that you are supposed to vacuum the compressor. I have lived here for four years now and never knew that I was supposed to vacuum the compressor of my danged frige every 3-6 months!

ACL reconstruction is nasty business. A muscle graft taken from her hamstring is used to build a new ACL and is crudely hammered into her leg bones and secured with a metal bolt. And the surgeon does like 8 of these a WEEK! Common in girl soccer players aged 14-17. I guess I should be comforted my the fact that he does so many.

The surgery went well, though its disconcerting to see your child be wheeled off towards an O.R. I spent a sleepless night before worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Funny how we do that. I tried not to get all morbid, but voluntarily putting your child in danger (or what feels like danger) goes against all instincts. I found myself asking Arron to look after her, like he was some sort of God. I felt silly doing it, but there you are. You do funny things when you are a mother.

I have gotten a first-hand look at the effects of Oxycodone. Frankly, I have no idea how any of those Hollywood types would be able to take one and function normally. Olivia can barely keep her eyes open after taking one. I have to say though, she is an extremely cheerful patient overall. I have been getting a crash course in shows like "The City," "The Hills," and "Real Housewives of.." The world viewed from these vantage points is slightly frightening. Are people truly that mean to each other?

Glad its over now. Its nice to be on the recovering end of it all. Now she has the hard work of physical therapy ahead, and although she is frustrated, she is already off the crutches and able to put weight on it with the brace holding everything in place. Keeping her down so she doesn't re-injure herself while she is healing will be the more difficult problem, but one I am happy to handle.

9/29/2009

The Boys Are Back

As I reflect on what would have been my 19th wedding anniversary, I continue to wonder, What if? Of course it's impossible to imagine and yet, I still can in a way. Tonight we might have sat in a quiet restaurant somewhere nibbling sushi, or maybe we would now share in our kid's new foodie delights. Whatever, it would have been a quiet affair.

I had a taste last night of what Arron's life might have been like if the tables had been turned, had been me in the Trade Center that day. I was invited to a special viewing of the movie The Boys Are Back with (yum) Clive Owen. Its about a father who loses his wife to cancer and is left to raise their 6-year old son and eventually his 15 (or so)-year old son from a previous marriage. Cinematically (quite possibly a new word made up for my debut as a movie reviewer) it was beautiful. Set in the rolling wine country of Australia with painterly views of ocean slashed with undulating grasslands and meticulous rows of vines, the views created a mood in keeping with the subject matter. Nature charging forth in its never-ending cycles.

The various universalities of widow-dom (where are all these new words coming from?) were well represented: the anger, the drinking, the lack of housework, the comatose/angry kids, the wild abandon of routine, the doubting mother-in-law, the almost-love interest, the stressful job. My only gripe was that all this was displayed during a few short weeks of the father's grief process. But that's movies for you.

I was astounded at the young boy's (Artie) ability to show the range of emotion required for the role. He managed to capture the 6 year old's desire to pretend nothing was wrong, and then show great insight, extreme, irrational anger, finally falling apart completely by lying in a catatonic state on the floor.

Oddly, the storyline that touched me more, was that of the older son, Harry who had essentially been abandoned by his father (at the same age as Artie). It was touching to watch him deal with the loss of his parent, as though his loss was fresh. He harboured the same anger as Artie, and they seemed to bond by virtue of having lost a parent at a young age.

Of course the movie ends on a relatively happy note, presumably within the same year of the wife's death, which any bereaved parent knows is a little far-fetched, but I was happy to see a film that dealt with loss head on, and handled it with the delicacy and intricacy that loss seems to warrant.

I had stuffed my purse with tissues for this one, but surprisingly didn't use them. The film was infused with humour, mostly at the hands of young Artie, but also in the sheer abandon that Clive Owen's character learns to offset the difficult moments. It may be that I am hardened to watching others undertake their own losses, or because the main character was a man and thus was slightly removed from my own experience, but I was glad that somehow the movie was more poignant and humourous than outright sad.

I never thought I would find pleasure at a movie about loss, but strangely its good to be reminded once in a while that we are not alone. And maybe not even crazy.

9/28/2009

The Toilet Bowl Theory of Raising Kids without Fathers

This weekend I "forced" my kids to go to our house on Vashon. I knew it would be one of the last nice weekends and given Olivia's impending ACL surgery next Tuesday, I figured it would be a good way for her to enjoy some freedom before her confinement.

The reality was an insane drive across town, complete with a very long detour around an "AIDS" walk in order to pick her up from a sleepover. As I was swearing as a couple of red-t-shirt clad walkers in my path (nope, no road rage there), she called on my cell phone. "Mama, some of my friends are going downtown, I was just wondering, do I have to go to Vashon?"

I think I managed not to swear at her, but it was clear I was none too happy. "You are coming to Vashon, and we are going to be a family!" I think was my final two-year old temper tantrum remark. Of course she sulked the entire weekend. And fought with her brother. And of course I questioned my sanity. Should I have let her be with her friends? Should I have risked a bunch of 14 year old girls hanging out at our house unsupervised? "Will I ever be allowed to stay alone overnight?" she asked me at one point. "No!" was my immediate response. Certainly that must be illegal, right? I actually have no idea what the legal age is for leaving a kid alone overnight. Hopefully its 32.

On Sunday I spent almost all day digging out a 25' garden (Only with the help of Tylenol am I now able to write this). Since the house once belonged to a famous author, I felt like I was digging out famous weeds. The were certainly OLD weeds. And tough! As I broke my back with a shovel in the lovely late fall sunshine, both my kids were sequestered inside watching movies on their individual computers, probably for about the 60th time.

If Arron were here, I thought, I wouldn't have such lazy kids. He would have them clearing paths, or hauling rocks or going to Home Depot. He wouldn't allow computers at the cabin at all. There would be no arguments if we were headed to the cabin for the weekend (ok, there probably would, but the disputes would not last all weekend). And then that thought that I sometimes have popped into my head again. I wonder what the kids would be like if their father hadn't died. I know its a useless thought, but it helps me to remember his values in raising our kids. He was a man who couldn't stand still, had very high standards, and laughed a lot. All things that I sometimes worry are missing in my kids lives. But I only have so much energy to be the bad guy. Was it worth Olivia's sulkiness to be a family? Not sure. But I do know that when we went to the hardware store to buy a rake so I could flatten the now lumpy garden, she asked if she could by rubber gloves, a sponge and toilet cleaner. When I asked why she wanted them, she said, "So I can clean the toilet and we can leave sooner."

Maybe there is a tiny piece of Arron in them despite me...

9/24/2009

Amuse Bouche

Man, one little birthday can sure throw off a whole week. But its been fun. We celebrated my rapidly advancing age (where does the time go?) at a fancy restaurant where we indulged our new "foodie" cravings. My kids, thanks to the help of The Food Network are becoming quite the connoisseurs. They were introduced to the idea of an "amuse bouche" ("happy mouth" we decided) with a spoonful of yummy goodness: bacon infused creme fraiche, topped with salmon roe and a few other little niblets that I can't remember because I was so busy swooning. All spoons at our table were licked clean.

Carter had a caramelized onion risotto with seared scallops and Olivia had a grilled chicken dubbed by the waiter as "the Kobe beef of chicken" with handmade potato gnocchi. Enjoying-the-Moment Man joined us which was super-sweet, and I hope it didn't cause too much strife with his girlfriend. Its nice that we have become friends after our ill-fated romance. He too is a serious foodie and we once again shared the most amazing foie gras, something we have shared on several occasions before. I know, I know, its entirely politically incorrect, but I am sort of addicted. Its so darned GOOD!

Dessert is not something I ever order, as I am not a big sweets person, but they figured out that it was my birthday and brought out this amazing dish layered with meringue and a peach compote that was light and not too sweet. Heaven.

I don't know why it always astounds me how much pleasure I get out of the smallest of moments, in this case incredible food, and fun company.

9/17/2009

A Year of Magical Thinking

I was a huge fan of Joan Didion's book, A Year of Magical Thinking, a book that inspired me a great deal as I was writing my own. When some people in my group at The Healing Center decided to go (after much discussion over how difficult it may or may not be), I joined along.

The book is a quirky array of facts around heart attacks and hospitals, consummate with Ms. Didion's journalistic style. It is littered with her often alarmingly snobby views. But she manages to capture that odd numbness that happens post-loss, the automatic motions, the "making arrangements" kind of behaviour that makes people marvel at how "strong" one is. Her narrator voice is almost monotone, something she is criticized for. One of my favorite lines in her book is when a social worker at the hospital where her husband has arrive DOA, describes her to his colleague as being a "cool customer." I loved how that line so perfectly captured the outsider's view of someone in shock after the sudden loss of a loved one. But some of that monotone is simply her style.

It was interesting hearing the continuation of the story where the book left off, learning the circumstances of her daughter Quintana's death, (she died after the book was published). It was a hint that "magical thinking" can last a hell of a lot longer than a year. And the play certainly captured all the important points, and even managed to explore some of the subtle, nuanced connections she makes throughout the book, such as the idea of "The vortex" that she tries to escape as she drives around LA, trying to make detours in order to avoid all the places that her family had lived and been happy, trying to avoid memories.

I have to admit though that I was a little disappointed. Perhaps it was the actress, who peppered her lines with "uh" just a little too frequently, making it clear that perhaps she didn't know her lines as well as she ought to have. (Granted, I can't imagine having to memorize 90 minutes worth of lines). She also seemed to infuse much more meaning into the lines through inflections in her voice than the "cool cucumber" monotone I had imagined.

Somehow the power of loss didn't come through as well in the play as it had in the book. And perhaps I had forgotten this about the book, but Didion seems to find no real magic in her experience, just pain. Just loss. And to me, that's a shame.

9/15/2009

Crunches for the Cause

An article on Sunday in the New York Times profiled an empty-nester who got divorced after her kids went away to college, tried dating, but discovered the sad state of affairs out there in the dating world for the older woman.

“I don’t bump into eligible men my age,” she said. “They’re nowhere. Not in church, not in restaurants, not walking the dog. We’re not in college anymore with an unlimited supply of men our age.”
The article goes on to state that 41% of women over 50 are remarried, where almost 60% of men are.
And if that wasn't enough:
"And if she’s tall on top of that,” Dr. Adler-Baeder said, “the pool’s even smaller.”
Great. I'm 5'10."

I know I shouldn't be looking at statistics. But in a weird way its like vindication that maybe, just maybe I am not crazy, wondering if there is something wrong with me due to my apparent inability to connect with men. I have lost my impetus to date for the moment, the online thing just doesn't do it for me these days. And so I am once again left with the question of how to meet men. And not just any men, but ones that I might actually be interested in meeting or who might actually be interested in meeting me. There is something to the "Seattle Freeze," a sort of apathy in people that seems to get in the way of people in Seattle connecting in a meaningful way.

With all these marks against me, how do I beat the odds?

Today, I went to an athletic club called ZUM. I am going to try it out and I might just join. I love my pilates classes, but I take classes at 9:30am, when all the other stay-at-home mom's take them. I will try a couple of ZUM's noon classes and see how it goes. Even at 2pm, there were a couple of non-gay looking hotties skipping rope (in a very masculine way) who actually smiled at me.

I am also going to take another writing class. I know, I know, why would a published author take a writing class? Well, as a novice writer I still have a ton to learn. Plus, I want to try writing fiction and feel pretty clueless. I need to get back into the writing groove and the motivation of a class, where each week an assignment is due, works for me. The added bonus? There might be an honest-to-goodness man in the class.

I do still need to check out those rowing classes again.

I may never have another romance, but hopefully I'll do some kick-ass writing and be fit as hell.

9/11/2009

10 Things I Love About September 11th

I know how weird that must sound, to love anything about September 11th, but here goes:

On this day:
1. I am comforted in knowing that I will hear from friends and family from far and wide and know they are thinking about me, Arron and the kids.
2. I am reminded of Arron in all his Fabbo-ness*. It keeps the good memories alive.
3. I am grateful for all that I/we have.
4. I can feel Arron's pride in his children.
5. Everyone remembers that sense of community that we all felt in the days following that sad day with smiles and small kindnesses.
6. I reflect on new ways to "pay it forward"
7. Its usually sunny with a bright blue sky, a hint of fall in the air.
8. TV viewing is banned in our house
9. I often do an interview or two where I can talk about making "lemonade" from grief and loss
10. I notice the little things

*A small reminder of Arron's Fabbo-ness:

9/08/2009

Distracted

I'm feeling very lame today. I missed my own interview. Leaving Vashon last night and enduring tons of ferry traffic seemed silly. But I realized this morning that I didn't have a number to call in to the show and had only my cell phone, so couldn't check email. I hope Honoree and Morgan forgive me and will agree to reschedule.

I suppose having 8 adults, 4 teens, 3 kids and 2 toddlers for dinner both Sat night and Sun night might have been a little overwhelming. Perhaps I wore myself out a little. But it was nice to have lots of people around to distract me. Somehow Labour Day and the 11th are very close this year. I needed distracting. But I think I have distracted myself away from the rest of my life.

I have remembered that school starts tomorrow. Of course the kids wouldn't let me forget that. Carter is all packed up with his lunch made and in the fridge, his bus number written artistically in sharpie on his hand. Olivia has a new backpack, pens, binder. She has memorized the map of the school so she won't get lost. I kind of wish I could go to school too. Have a routine, friends, homework. OK, maybe not homework.

So I can't think of what to do on the 11th. As usual, I just want it to be a normal day. But it will never be that. It would be cool to volunteer somewhere in the spirit of the new designation as a "National Day of Service and Remembrance." That name makes me think of poppies (Veterans Day in Canada is called Remembrance Day and plastic red poppies are given out to be pinned to coats). It seems odd to need to find a place to volunteer. There should be a directory or something. I do volunteer quite a bit of time to The Healing Center, though nothing is scheduled specifically for the 11th. Its a lot of pressure to find a volunteer job on such short notice.

The good news is that an 8th anniversary does not appear to be of interest to the media. Its been very quiet on that front. Nevertheless, TV won't be high on my list for that day. I have been invited out for dinner though. It will be a good distraction.

9/02/2009

Single Mom Revolution

I had never heard of blog radio until I was asked to be interviewed for a blog radio show called Single Mom Revolution. My interview will be aired live on Sept 8th at 10am (PST) is you want to tune in, but will be available after than anytime.

Here is the link

A busy Labour Day weekend is in store, with various visitors and hopefully a few rays of sunshine. I hope everyone has an enjoyable one.

8/30/2009

Till Death Do Us Part

I attended the commitment ceremony of my Pilates instructor and his partner last night. There was beautiful music: cello, four handed piano pieces, and two male opera singers. The symbolism wasn't lost on me. Each partner then had friends and family stand up and say a few words, a sister running back and forth across the stage handing the mike from one partner's group to the other's. She made us laugh when she reveled in her "Vanna White moment". Then, in a lovely act of simplicity and ceremony, they mixed water and soil from each of their respective homelands.

Two rows below me one of the partner's parents sat and I could see his father with his head in his hands, as though trying to not see. His mother stared stoically ahead, like a stone statue. But they were there. Despite their apparent disapproval they were there. I lamented the newlywed's lack of freedom to marry, but was awed by their bravery to do it anyway.

All in all, it was a very moving ceremony. The woman beside me was weeping freely. Another woman on stage kept wiping her eyes. Weddings do that to people. Witnessing true love does that to people.

I found myself flinching at the "till death do us part" moments. My Pilates teacher said as part of his vows "your name will be the last words out of my mouth." Something deep down inside me knotted up at these words, and made me swallow to keep it down. I didn't want to think it. I didn't want to leap ahead in my mind to what this new couple might have in store for them. I wanted to believe that it doesn't have to be "till death" because those words give it a finite end, and I know now that it just isn't that simple.

I wish I didn't fear for every happy couple I attend the wedding of, but weddings I realize now, are often a difficult reminder of the happy bride I once was, of the certainty I had that I would grow old with my husband, that when "death did us part", we would somehow be ready.

But no one is ever ready.