Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Of the Present Value of Things

For M.S., who navigates well.


Today snuck up on me. Somewhere between splashing in the pool w/a million small children and Yo La Tengo in my ears on the stairclimber, wedged in between days of travel and deep connections with friends, I have forgotten to think about New Year's Eve and all of her crushing expectation. It hit me, tonight still clad in yoga pants and smelling of chlorine, that today is that day that I sit and comb through time, inspect the year for all of the scrapes and bruises, for the sweet bits and revelations. But I've done none of that, here in one of the most complex, sad, happy, confusing, heartbreaking, ass-kicking, wonderful, horrible years of my life. I was too busy loving on my kids, taking care of my body, talking with my sister, being in the moment. And this is it, this is the instruction that I needed, revealed to me in a trip to the restroom where I paused for a moment to realize that today was today. Be here. Quit living with one eye in the rearview mirror, sad for loss and wishing for what never was going to be. Cut your losses and recognize the sunk costs, today is here with the smell of piƱon smoke and tomorrow will be another thing altogether. The world has given you so much, Fran. Pray to whatever force that settles the world that you are here to begin to pay it back, with your whole heart saying yes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


This moment feels like so much "YES.", loaded at the precipice of so many things, the wind rushing through to slam doors shut and open others. YES. That wind is miraculous, cleansing, fresh like a boat plowing through the South China Sea, fresh like the morning wrapped in a blanket as dawn comes up. I remember this, you see, so many years ago when my younger self was transported through space on a ship, across water, to so many far away places. I remember the feeling of things becoming, rose fingered dawn slipping across the horizon of water, the vibration that everything was possible. There, so many years ago, my heart didn't know what was next but it was wrapped in freedom and lit with possibility. I loved that girl, her curiosity, her laughter, her intensity, her ease at shouldering her pack and heading off into whatever port had come to call. She's not gone so far away, the smell of the sea reaching far inland, beckoning. Put on your traveling shoes, sister. The next chapter awaits.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Letting Go

The couch was a good place, close enough that I could hear what was going on in my mother's room, far enough away to sit or sleep, to think and process, to rattle around in my brain looking for answers. My mother was a few days away from dying. This time was marked by ups and downs in her mental state, her physical body crumbling underneath her as she rested in the hospital bed we'd had brought in a couple of weeks before. She'd be alert one minute and wanting to go out to sit in the sun, the next completely out of it. "She's not ready to let go yet," the short, red-haired night nurse whispered to my sisters and me. I can imagine my mom, at this exact moment of whispering, popping her head up and demanding to know what we were being so secretive about. It was an insane ride, those days.

Although we had had many people die in our lives, this was our first rodeo with terminal illness. My sisters and I would look at each other with the sad and incredulous faces of people who desperately needed the situation at hand to come to a close, while at the same time wanting to roll back time...back, back, a safe space where all of everything just went away.

On one of those nights, and in a desperate attempt to find some help, we downloaded the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying on my ipad, scanning its pages in the semi-dark for a way to help my mom let go, this woman who had weathered so much in her lifetime, who fought and stood strong throughout our lives. It was there that we read a passage that would change our perspective on death and dying, what leaving means. In dying you lose everything you have ever known. You lose the touch of loved ones, the smell of your favorite meal, the soft fur of your beloved animal, the sunshine on your face, your favorite vista. Even if you are religious or ready to die, facing that loss is tremendous and overwhelming in a way that we often don't think about. It's not the not being there, it's the anticipatory longing for the parts that you love but have to leave behind.

My friend and I were talking about the similarities between divorce and death, how losing someone in death is almost easier, that bereavement is different when what you have lost is walking around in the world. And much of this same story line holds true for divorce. You miss your former life even as your new life is emerging: the camaraderie and closeness you once felt with your partner, the regularity of someone's habits, the well-worn teamwork of holiday packing, the gathering of extended family that you love with all your heart. It is stepping away from this certainty, the compilation of so many days, that provokes unexpected stabbiness as you rise from anxious sleep,  haul the bags out to the car, worry that you have forgotten something, check the tickets twice. It's cutting an entirely uncertain path, thrusting yourself in a future you cannot see and don't entirely trust. In leaving you lose everything you have ever known, even if you know in your mind it's the right thing to do, the heart a few paces behind.

Monday, October 27, 2014


For Lara, who has taught me so much about the wheel and for Sharleen, who is that determined kid who will get it.

Round and round, death defying pace, toes scraping trenches into hardscrabble earth, someone jumps off and grabs the rust-flecked metal and starts running again, propelling the welded frame around its axis faster and faster. Sweaty, grubby hands just barely hanging on in the Oklahoma heat. Older kids with wide open faces, laughing and smiling. Younger kids clinging with terror in their eyes, trying to be cool. Flicker of kid and kid and kid and kid and kid and that open seat you are aiming for --missed it-- and kid and kid and kid and kid and--jump to it, bump off, land on your ass in the dirt as your friends howl and another kid pops off to pump the merry-go-round faster and faster. Determined, you pace it again ---kid, kid, kid, kid, kid-- bam! lucky enough to get the seat next to the frame so you can pull your skinny self up and onto the smooth-worn wood and lean out and away into the abyss of flying. 

You are not a brave kid, nor have you ever been, but you feel compelled by the sense of freedom that you believe you'll experience when you are on, through the false starts and times you've had to dart back from flinging legs and uneven ground, muster courage, learn about the pace and the rhythm and the movement before stepping back in, running alongside, hoisting yourself on with whatever strength you have, hoping that you can catch the ride before it starts up again at maximum speed. 

Years later when this metaphor comes back to you in the 5am scratching of pen on paper, you wonder what it meant to you to try, to keep at it, to land on the hardpack ground a few times, to risk. Did you even think about it? Probably not. More likely it was the possibility of movement and sound, your vestibular system afire with sensation, the action not singular but communal, your body used to meeting the dirt and the ground with so much more frequency than you would know in your adult years. And a shorter distance to fall. And less jarring.

So it's there again, that seat that flickers in front of you, the one that you know you have moments to seize before it's taken by another. Think not of the smell of metal on your skin and the ache of your wrists from leaning too far forward. Think instead of the hot wind on your face, the thrill in your stomach as you lean into space, of the excited shrieks of the people around you, of flying, of freedom, of joy and the the reward of having taken that leap.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In Ordinary Time

For my lovely sister, Sara, who teaches me these things as she's learning them herself. I love you.


Earbuds in place, even though there was nobody in the house, my body felt the urge to get outside and walk and listen, my limbs couped up recovering from a nasty stabbing pain in my heel that made me slow to a snail's pace for a week. That pain, the most frustrating thing in a moment where I needed to walk it out, exhale breath, give my brain a chance to consolidate it's drive, said "slow down". It actually said "slow down, motherfucka, or you are going to reap 10x what you are sowing here." Slow down, sit with it, be in it. There is no avoiding it. Sit down. Heal.

Leaves falling, air crisp-to-lovely, I wove my way around my new section of my new old neighborhood, circling close to home lest the heel rebel, returning waves to people I do not know. It's bizarre to be out in the middle of the day, my normal schedule shot through with extra time, my head uncomfortable and loose in the luxury of making my own hours. I don't like this looseness, this working when I want or need to, this feeling of ambiguity. But ambiguity surrounds me everywhere, all of the conventional things in my life having turned 180, my life in the blue sky. Ambiguity, looseness, the lack of structure, the lack of a task list, no horizon or compass is like warm water, not so much like a bath but of floating. I have always been a girl with a vision and a mission to boot. Now is the preparation time for that uncovering, in these next few months. Waiting to sense the clicking in, listening for that tug at the gut, that inner compass.

Slow down, sit with it, be in it. There is no avoiding it. Sit down. Heal.

Leaves falling, air crisp-to-lovely, listening to these words.

The Gate

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world

would be the space my brother's body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man

but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,

rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.

This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I'd say, What?

And he'd say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I'd say, What?

And he'd say, This, sort of looking around.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Little That is Noble

My mother's biggest fear was going old and senile, of losing her marbles before her body shut down. She would, from time to time, remark that she wished there was a bottle of that "special Tylenol" in the top of the cupboard, referring to the Tylenol cynaide scandal of the early '80s, just in case she started to slide into dementia. Those jokes were kind of half jokes / half wistful thinking living in a state where any sort of assisted suicide would be seen as punishable to the greatest extent of the law.

My mother, brave and strong and tough as nails, weathered some of the greatest heartaches life had to dole out, the final coup being a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer one week shy of her retirement. She dug in, for us, and tried to stave off the cancer that would inevitably kill her. She tried, beyond probably her own desires, to stick around as long as possible.

And the end was a shitty one. The entire process, honestly, was a shitty one of doctor's appointments and side effects and loss and not knowing, really, when to say "when". She did it for us, true to her form of putting her own desires last, loving the people who needed the comfort of a few more months or days more than her own need for peace.

We talked through the "special Tylenol" options, downloading Final Exit only to discover that the options were to put her physician friends in professional peril or die of suffocation, her worst nightmare. I remember sitting on the ottoman of the big chair where she spent most of her time, walking through the options with my sisters, her shaking her head at each one. That was about the time when we decided hospice was the best option and things went downhill on icy skates.

In my mind, there is little that is noble about the way we treat the dying in this country. There is little noble about asking someone to suffer a horrible end or to be drugged nearly unconscious until her/his body fails. There is always the question of when to say goodbye, because there is always false hope. There is always the question of what to do, how to be, what to say, who to involve. I brought David and Ava in to say goodbye to my mother in the final days of her life. Ava clung to her father's neck crying "That's not my grandma! That's not my grandma!" while David buried his head in my waist. I don't know that I can forgive myself for that failure as a parent, for giving them that fearful last look at someone who loved them so deeply, who was hilarious and full of energy and love all of their lives. Instead, my mother was a shadow of herself, incoherent and frightening. 

What a beautiful thing it would have been to have had her pass on her own terms, our small family with her, her having said her goodbyes in her own way. She could have kissed and hugged all of her grandchildren, she could have had a final drink with her sons in law, she could have given each of us girls a special kiss on the cheek and held our hands as she did in quiet moments. Yes, that night would have been one of the hardest in all of our lives, but she would have gone out strong. She would have been herself. For those of you who knew my mom, you know what I am talking about. On her own terms, just like she lived her life.

I watched this video from this beautiful young woman who is now living in Oregon so she can end her life with dignity, vibrant and true. People faced with a terminal illness want and deserve a choice in the matter of how they live out their final days. I can't say this much better than it's described in the video, but I honor her choice as it may some day be my own. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

That's it, every day.

I sit here at my computer and 10 feet away he sits with his guitar across his knees, seated on a zigzagged ottoman that accentuates how much he's grown in the past few years. He's knees and elbows and huge brown eyes and a gorgeous smile. As we were leaving the orthodontist's office today, I kept telling him how weird it was when he turned 6, when he went into first grade, that first grade was the first shred of proof for me that he was going to grow into a young man. "And, today here we are, amore," I said over my shoulder with a smile. "Today and you are a middle schooler and we are on to braces." He smiled his gorgeous sweet smile and leaned forward and put his hand on my shoulder, which would have been his head if the distance of the seats had not been such.

This boy is a favorite teddy bear wrapped in an enigma. He's honest and disclosive in one minute, difficult to gauge the next. He prefers, almost any day, to recline right on top of you in the cold Fall wind. He hasn't figured out that that's uncool. He's just starting to sense what is uncool. I don't know when he's going to grow into that uncool thing and I alternately feel like I haven't done enough to middle school him up and thankful for the buying of time that his sweet nature has given us.

He converses easily with adults. He's building his own style of humor that he tries on with his sister, dad and me at every turn. He loves a turn of phrase or a double entendre. There is no bad fart joke. He cracks up when he talks about butts. To match that, I showed him Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" and he spent most of the next day commenting on the fruit, and less on the back, or being a little "uhhhhhh, that was weird" regarding the ardent appreciation of the female form through Sir Mix-A-Lot's voluptious stylings. I think the giant buttcrack was perhaps the biggest hit. So it goes at this age, I've kept reminding myself. So it goes.

This is the kid that still likes me to tuck him in at bedtime, who is happiest when he can reach across and touch your hand. He is tactile and yummy and stinky and kind. When I found out I was having a boy, I thought "Good, I know nothing about what it's like to be a boy. I can see him for himself, in all of his dimensions, without clouding my

[Ok, so he just walked over as I was typing this, gave me an enormous, lingering hug]

without clouding my view with all of my own stuff." And that's it, every day. He's still a mystery to me in so many ways, such a beautiful thing to unwrap, like sitting waiting quietly for the birds to come out. They come and you get to see beautiful things, but sometimes it's just the stillness that brings them, the moment of breathing with whatever is there. Or, the time that those same creatures catch you unawares, explode into view, fill you with delight and catch your heart with laughter. That's what D is like. He's deep and sweet and hilarious.  He is golden. I love him so.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Memory Kit

Gran's mushrooms cooking in butter
Mom's scent
The feel of a cheek on my cheek that lingers after a hug goodbye

My mind has been on this idea that Andy Warhol had about his cabinet of scents. He'd wear a scent for three months, then force himself to stop wearing it and would put it away in a special cabinet so when he smelled it again, he would remember things that happened in that three month period of time.

A little body warm and curled to mine
The view of Seattle coming over I-5 in the breaking light
Hunter waiving goodbye, basketball tucked under his arm

Three months. I can't imagine even being able to pinpoint things in such a short period of time. Another thing I've been pondering is this idea of memory, particularly sensorial memory and how it fades over time and what could be done to keep it. Smells, skinfeels, tastes, visual snapshots. Like the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" but collapsed into a life museum where you could sit and visit. It would be a blessing and a curse, something that would keep you so mired in the past, like an addict almost. This may be why memory fades, because our heart and mind cannot bear the rawness of the feelings that we experience in those moments. Or, perhaps, constant access to those moments would tend to erode the impact of the feeling of these experiences when they come upon us suddenly. On one end, it's a soft blanket. On the other, it's a meth addiction. You could have your own little kit of memories, a set up that would put you under, just for a minute.

The smell of scotch and water
The feel of Ava's warm, newly born body on my chest
Dew-kissed sunrise over rust-colored earth

And then there's the difference between the memory as it was and the memory as you remember it. Which would you want, if there was a difference? Would you include shitty memories like the vomity smell of saline that they used to clear your port or the smell of incense that made you nauseous at your brother's funeral? 

I think you would have to lock these away too, happen upon them from time to time like the disgusting buttered popcorn jelly bellies that sneak into your handful of yumminess. Then the kit becomes real, a record that reminds you that life is not meant to be lived in perfection, that you survive and make it through. Triggers, these are all triggers and for some it would be a nightmare while others it would help them heal and thrive. 

What memories would I put in my kit if I only had 25 spaces to fill? 10? 5? What experiences would I carry with me? What is essential to what has made me? What is worth remembering and what is worth letting go?

Thursday, July 31, 2014


My chest felt tight and unusually heavy as we swung out of Panera, coffees in hand, to make the 40 minute drive from Oklahoma City to my childhood home. This was the trip home that ended things, most things left being sold, my mother's house contracted for sale, the end of my time of having a place to land should I need it. This all ended long ago with my mother's death and our inevitable dividing of things and the eventual acknowledgement that our childhood home would be bundled up for someone else to own.

But it's been a tender couple of days. I walk past all of the tables in my mother's house that are laden with memories in the form of glass and silver and ceramic and oil paint and I feel a tug, a grasping for these items that remind me of my grandmother's home or of some piece of family history that I'm not quite ready to let go. I suddenly think that I haven't taken enough, that my parsimonious view when we were dividing things was short-sighted, that now I need these things to fill up a certain void left by dividing and new space and the time when my own children might want something of their own. I have a moment when I believe that I have bankrupted their future with a few fickle objects, which is total bullshit because these things mean nothing to them now and will mean nothing to them in the future because they don't know the people for whom these pieces had value. Still, I feel the tug and want and I sit in these feelings for a moment just letting them come and go, come and go.

The most interesting feeling that I am having is the feeling of grasping at something, fine threads of memory that are silken to the touch but so fine that they are hard to feel between the calloused fingers of my memory. I pick up my grandmother's wrecked suitcase, I take my dad's toy monkey, I find an electric razor that may contain DNA that would help me unlock who I am through where my dad came from. This all lands for me at a remarkable juncture in my life. I am losing the emotional security of my childhood home just as I have moved into a new place of my own to live. I am packing up a lifetime of memories just as I am launching into a new sphere of work. Never have I been in such a transitional space in my life, all by choice, all completely without a concrete plan or emotional safety net.

A strong vision or the predictive power of decision trees have been my family's way of managing through some of the shittier events in life. Have a vision, you'll know what to aim for. Map out the predictable outcomes, you won't be surprised when the worst outcome arrives at your door. There is comfort in knowing what is going to happen and in a family that has had such wildly unpredictable loss, it's been a saving grace.

But wrapping up pieces of your life and closing the door on spaces that house your memories is terrifying. It means closing off the one thing that you knew you could come back to, no matter what. It also means that sometimes you just have to sit without a vision for the future, that sometimes you have to just be in it. And you think back across those people whose things you touch: remembering what a kind woman your grandmother was, or what a fiercely strong woman your mother was, or what a generous and loving man your dad was, or how you look back over your family history and realize that you come from perserverant and courageous stock.

And the grasping slowly subsides and is replaced by appreciation. And you muster your own courage and think about working without much of a net. And you can let go, slowly, and move forward, slowly. And so be it. Amen.