I met a guy

I met a guy at a party last weekend, at a writing conference in Michigan. He was hot, but don’t worry, he’s married with kids, and plus, he’s a pastor. Still, I was attracted to him, in that way that I can’t explain except to say that we didn’t arrive together, but within minutes, we were. We met over a table of stickers with adjectives on them, where we decorated our name tags with descriptions of our writing. He chose dark, I chose twisted. Five minutes into our conversation, he told me how he watched his ex-fiancée spiral into drug addiction in L.A.

Here’s what’s bugging me. There I was, at a party, excited to be mingling with a room full of writers, ready for anything to happen. Five minutes in, almost without any effort, a hot guy opened up to me about what was probably the most difficult experience of his life. It could have been just what I’d hoped for, a deep connection. But in the moment, I thought only about a dear friend of mine who lost her husband to the underworld of drugs. Still a connection, but without any emotional risk of my own. I don’t think I even mentioned my friend. In the moment, I laughed and made a joke. To make him feel better, I thought.

In the moment, I forgot all about my own, very similar story, about how my big sister went on crack when I was sixteen. Standing next to that guy at the party, Kim never even crossed my mind. It was like I couldn’t access my own memories, or worse, like I didn’t even know the memories existed.

The guy and I chatted for a bit, then we drifted apart. The next morning, he sat several rows ahead of me in the auditorium. The collar of his sport coat was sticking up, and I imagined folding it down for him. We bumped into each other before lunch, and he almost but didn’t quite ask me to eat with him.

That’s it. We didn’t get a chance to talk again. He cut out of the conference early; I saw him walk out of the auditorium but didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t think much of it until my drive home. In the privacy of the car, my memories came rushing back to me: the time I begged Kim to stay with us (she left anyway, and never came back), the insomnia that plagued me through my twenties (lying awake at night, wondering if she was dead), that feeling of utter helplessness (at the pain of losing someone I loved).

When I think of Kim, all these years later, I’m left still asking the same questions I asked back when I was little, long before she became a crack addict. How can someone whom you’ve poured your love into choose to waste that love, and instead head down a path to ruin?

Now I realize that we all make mistakes. We go through life on the surface, moment by moment, sometimes without access to our deepest memories. We choose what makes us feel good instead of what helps us grow. We miss connections that might make all the difference in our lives, simply because we don’t risk our emotions.

I haven’t spoken to Kim since our mom died almost a decade ago. Yesterday, she popped up on Facebook and asked to tag a photo of mine. It was a shock to see her, but I said yes.


Two posts in one week, guys. This is huge!

Canard is French for

duckling01I’ve always liked to lie. Maybe that’s why writing fiction appeals to me so much.

The first time I remember lying, I was seven years old. My best school friend, a fellow Catholic schoolgirl, was over and we were playing in my room. I guess I could blame what happened on her, but it was my idea. We played post office. I did the writing. She sealed the envelopes. I addressed them. Even back then I didn’t like to relinquish my pen.

Afterward we delivered the letters to all the neighbors: Miss Lil, who had hanging plants above a poster of Matisse’s goldfish; Miss Shirley, the young divorcee with two kids and a case of herpes; our top-floor drug addicts; ever kind Miss Malcolm who once bandaged my bleeding toe when my mom wasn’t around. And there were more.

My friend and I finished our deliveries and came back to my house for a snack. Hours passed and she went home. When the knocks on the door began, I wasn’t worried. First Miss Lil came to the back door, frantic, nearly in tears. I grinned on the way to my room. I didn’t get to see the rest of the neighbors come, but each one did. I missed their worried looks and concerned hugs. I never got to witness the fruits of my labor, except in my imagination.

I’m sure there was an appropriate punishment. What I did was evil. Good girls never lie and tell the neighbors that their mom died. Good girls don’t trick nice people into thinking they’re starving and miserable. But I did, and I was never sorry, not even for one single second.

Still, it’s funny how the universe always brings out the best in me. By chance, nice old Miss Malcolm got my friendship poem and came downstairs the next day to thank me.

Are you okay?

Just the other day, a faithful reader of mine asked me this question.

I didn’t answer him right away.  But I wanted to say no.

Are you okay? Well, yes, absolutely. I have all the trappings of happiness: Good health. A great husband, three healthy kids, a nice house. I have wonderful friends in real life. I have hobbies that I love. I get to take vacations to break up the winter. I have fulfilled my childhood dreams of marrying my best friend and owning an RV.

What more could you possibly ask for, you ask.

Well, I’m greedy. I’m not proud of that fact, but I do accept it about myself. I want it all. I only get to live once. I’m lucky, I’ll be the first to admit it. My life is good. I’ll spare you the details of how hard I’ve worked to get it that way. But now I want the bad with the good. I need to feel sadness, anger, and fear just as much as I need to feel joy, compassion, and calmness.

Why, you ask. Here’s the thing: Disequilibrium makes me creative. When I’m not okay, I write. When I’m not okay, I write like this, and this, and this. All of my best writing comes to me when I’m not okay, or when there is some disparity between where I am and where I want to be. Bridging the gulf makes me work harder, it makes me resourceful, and it makes me creative.

So what, you ask. Why seek difficulty? Why not just count your blessings? Why not go shut up and be a good little married mom? Why not be okay? Because I can’t. Because a year ago I came a little too close to losing my mind, and I glimpsed something while I was there on the edge. Because when you get a peek of something more than you expected in life, and when you’re me, you can’t just let that go. Because I want to feed myself to that transcendent gristmill and then write myself back together again. Because I want to live before I die. And if I chase death a little along the way? Even better.

Are you okay? Totally fucking not.

Where I grew up

Where I grew up, there were dumpsters next to the parking lot out front. I grew up in gritty strip mall suburbia in a crummy apartment that wasn’t hideous but it wasn’t pretty either. There was an asphalt covered play lot with a metal merry-go-round and a set of monkey bars but no swings. There were concrete tunnels for us to hide out in and those dumpsters always smelled bad but not as bad as that grape candy smell from the McCormick’s plant down the road.

Where I grew up, everyone was poor but us kids never knew we were poor. We existed in some alternate plane where we were queens and kings ruling from the top of the monkey bars and meting out punishments in the concrete tunnel dungeons. We held trysts in our gardens: the forsythia-lined collection of air-conditioning units. We were mean to each other and nobody told us to stop.

Where I grew up, we hid behind a tree and watched a couple of thirteen-year olds make out behind the bushes and we liked it. I can still taste my shame, hear my laughter, and feel my legs stretching to get away when they noticed us watching. Nothing will ever feel that good again.

Where I grew up I used to be brave. I walked by myself to the store starting when I was seven and a friend’s big brother used to chase me every time. I always narrowly escaped.

Where I grew up we had lug our clothes to the communal laundry room. More than once my clothes were tattooed by the neighborhood badasses, and after that we hung out in the hot small room while the clothes dried. My mom wanted me to be a good girl.

Where I grew up the kids were mean to me. They called me French fry because I was a skinny white girl and they used to push on me and nobody ever stopped them. The kids were mean to me and I had to deal.

Where I grew up everybody was just getting by. There was a girl named Brandy whose dad was a drinker. She and I were fraught, like girls always are. We fought as much as we played. My mom sort of adopted her for awhile until I don’t know what happened but we didn’t see each other anymore. Brandy was cool. I don’t think she minded dropping out of school in ninth grade to take care of her dad. I saw her a couple years later on her way out of the Planned Parenthood by the mall, her hands on her big belly.

Where I grew up I couldn’t stand to go outside on summer days because of the grape smell but I never really minded the dumpsters until I got to high school and had to beg rides home from the cool kids who had cars. You know, the ones who never saw a dumpster before. Where I grew up, I learned to like ugliness.

Where I grew up, I found a story around every corner.

Thanks for the inspiration, Samara.

Three nightmares and a revelation

Three nightmares:

A baby, a ladder, a criminal

The baby has a slit neck, blood oozing, gruesome.

A set of ladders, in place of escalators, in the center of a glittering shopping mall. I avoid the climb down.

The criminal invades our home. He sits with my daughter as she draws, chatting with her, influencing her.

It’s risky. No matter how difficult it is for me, it’s time.



Breaking the rules

I’ve been thinking a lot about rules lately, and I’ve been breaking more than a few. Sadly, even some of what I write as a blogger breaks some of the rules of my marriage. Last week, I read this article by Molly Crababble on money and success. She contends that to accomplish anything above and beyond the marriage-big-house-two-and-a-half-kids pipe dream, women have to break the rules. I agree.

In her article, Molly Crabapple talks about how artists in particular have to transgress established norms. Artistic success, she says, depends on “doing the ambitious work everyone said you weren’t ready for, then getting mocked and rejected for it, until, slowly, the wall began to crack. You could never do what you were supposed to, never stay quietly in your place.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but if you’re new around here, one of my reasons for blogging is that I want to return to work. I want to work as a writer, and I want to write creatively. My plan is to start with writing about myself and move on to separate characters. I find myself in a unique position: well-educated, with some decent experience on my resume, and with several years away from the workforce to raise my kids. Not to mention that I have a certain level of financial freedom.

Since I stopped working full-time when my daughter was born, my husband’s opinion has been that it doesn’t pay for me to work. Truthfully, by the time we pay for childcare and our ridiculously high tax bracket, there would be very little money left to make my efforts worthwhile. This is the “official” reason that I stay at home full-time. It doesn’t include my strong desire to be at home with my kids when they are little, to start them off with a strong emotional attachment. It doesn’t begin to cover all the fun that we’ve had together over the past seven years, and it certainly ignores all the skills that I’ve learned as a mom.

Stepping out of the workforce has given me clarity about the pros and cons of paid employment and what I really want out of a job. I want to do what I love. It’s a sacrifice to hand over part of your life to a manager. I’d love to have the freedom to write as I like, indefinitely, without any consideration of pay. But I think that’s impractical. And honestly, I think it will serve my marriage well for me to once again receive a regular paycheck.

So here I am, on the cusp of changing nearly everything about the daily structure of my life, of my kids’ lives, of Geoff’s life. I want to savor this time as I transition from full-time to part-time mom. But I’m constantly reminded how much I have come to expect of myself in this unpaid role. It’s nothing short of perfection. I am used to filling my days with taking care of my family’s needs, with making their lives special and fun. I do love that job, with all my heart. But I just can’t do it all anymore. And to change, I need to break the rules.

To write this blog, which I hope to craft into a portfolio, I need time away from my kids. Rule #1 broken. I need to hire a sitter during the day, which means spending money. Rule #2 broken. I need to make time to do what’s important to me, and I need to do it before I take care of anyone else. Rule #3 broken. This is unfamiliar territory, and I only know that to succeed, I have to make up new rules as I go. Do you think it’s easy to make up new rules? Does it sound like fun? Maybe. But it’s also hard, like running uphill. Sometimes a nice life, with enough money, a loving husband, and three cute kids, can act like a trap.

I’m going for the impossible here: I want to have the family and a job that I love. Do any of you have an axe I can borrow?

Note on my creative process

Sometimes after I read something, it has to sink in for awhile until I understand it.

Sometimes it takes a few days, sometimes a number of weeks, sometimes even years can pass while those words simmer on the back burner of my mind.

Then–suddenly–my thoughts are boiling, sometimes out of the pot.