Homecoming

*

I just watched a “soldiers coming home” meme on Facebook, meant to draw a few tears, a sad smile, a thank goodness. I cried, not over those soldiers and their families, but because I felt what they felt, once. In a dream. I was sitting at my kitchen counter, and I felt him walk in. I turned, and there he was, standing in the doorway. There he smiled. There he held out his arms for me to launch myself into. Watching that stupid meme, I remembered the mindbending joy of those people in it. And I remembered how empty my arms remained as I launched.

**

It’s been hard to post in here, lately, ever since my weighted house and bear dream. My days are full of so much happiness, so much happening. It’s not all fucking rays of sunshine, but who can let the heaviness devour when your son and his lovely girlfriend come home to visit, when you see your family more than usual, when your grandkids are adorable, and your oldest daughter makes you tea, and your youngest one has a new puppy and a one-eyed cat? When all your literary aspirations are, daily, happening and happening and happening? And so I don’t leave any of myself here, because there’s just too much to contain, or set loose.

***

The weight of this house still presses on my shoulders, but I’m better at bearing it now. Deciding I’m okay leaving has built up some sort of muscle, or muscle memory, that keeps me from going down on my knees. Bear is gone north, without even a glance over his shoulder. He can’t. I know he couldn’t. But still it skewers me, a kebab on the fire roasting low and slow and inexorable. Maybe he’ll be back. Maybe he won’t. I never did like kebabs all that much.

****

I want to be done here, to be in the new, to leave behind (only a safe distance) this dream of life I’ve led all these years. Turn the corner, the page, the bend in the road, the wheel of the year. I’ll be patient, faithful that things will work out in a way I’ll be able to work with. It’s what Tiggers do best, after all–roll with the punches, make lemonade out of lemons, always look on the bright side of life.

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Bear Dreaming

     I dreamed a bear came to my window. It was dark; his teeth were the first thing I saw, only making out bear’s huge outline after. He first appeared at my bedroom window (south), then my front porch window (west). Last he came to look in my kitchen window (east) and was gone, leaving, I felt but did not see, from the north.
     I know the science behind dreaming, but, “There is no cognitive state that has been as extensively studied and yet as misunderstood as much as dreaming.”  I dream and know my brain is processing events into memory. I dream and know it’s trying to work through thoughts and feelings I’m struggling with. I dream and know my inner storyteller is at work. And then there are those dreams that seem like more. Maybe I just want them to be, but It’s my brain; I get to decide.
     This dream felt like more.
     I’ve read several “meanings” for bear, and they all differ slightly, but the gist is strength, leadership, and taking conscious control of your future. It’s powerful symbolism that could well fit with my life right now. But that’s really secondary to the fact that Bear is also Chris.
     He always associated with bears. He was a big guy, often misunderstood. He once wrote a story about a grizzly bear who befriended all the little animals being picked on by the bigger ones. In it, the grizzly was sad because, though he loved the little animals, he wanted to be friends with everyone else, too. He didn’t want anyone to be scared of him, not even the bullies.
     Christofer’s little boy love of bears morphed into aspirations of being a biologist studying bears in the wild. It was his whole life. After the accident, it was his impetus to regain the use of his leg. He worked so hard. He endured so much pain. The leg just wouldn’t mend. But he didn’t give up. We took him for a college visit his junior year in high school–Paul Smith’s College up in NY State, his goal still intact. Once there, he had to face the fact that his dream was well and truly done. Getting to his “classrooms” required several mile hikes over rough terrain. He had enough trouble getting from class to class in high school to know it wasn’t happening. He had to let it go.
     But his love of bears never quit. When he started working Girl Scout Camp (archery), he chose the name Grizzly for his camp name. He had a bear paw tattooed on his biceps. When I asked him to choose a charm for my bracelet to represent him, it was, of course, a bear.
     So naturally, the bear in my dream was Christofer. I’ve said before that sometimes I dream of him and it’s just a dream, other times it feels more like a visit. That he came to windows south, east and west felt significant, but I had no idea what that significance could be. It dogged me all day. Finally, I wrote to my friend, a biologist with a witch’s soul, and asked her if she had any insight.
     As some reading this might recall, the dollbabies use Medicine Cards every year as a tool to ground us in the week. I won’t go into all that, but it’s pertinent to the response my friend sent. This is what she responded:
SOUTH: “The South is the Path of Trust and Innocence and is sometimes referred to as the Way of the Child – the part of us that can establish relationships through faith, trust, and innocence….The South is the direction to help you see things in clear detail and to begin to perceive your own nature….In the South you are going to rid yourself of the encumbrances that obscure your true self and prevent you from seeing your own self in its true light.”
WEST: “…the emphasis of the West is on change and transition. It is also where we have to face the truth about Death, and to recognize that every change is the death of what has gone before. Death is a transition to that which is a new beginning….[in the West] we can prepare for renewal.”
EAST: “When the adventurer comes to the East, a realization begins to dawn – the realization that living is meant to be enjoyed, not suffered or endured. Life is intended to be pleasurable….East is the direction of fresh, vibrant energy – the kind that can seemingly work miracles. It is the place for undergoing self-renewal…”
(From The Medicine Way by Kenneth Meadows)
I responded back to her:
That the bear appeared first South (trust, innocence, the way of the child etc) feels, to me, like Chris was announcing himself, telling me, “MOM! It’s me!” Big and strong and fierce, but still his sweet self. That was ever Chris. Fearsome to behold, all mush inside. But he was outside (in all sightings), telling me that the barrier between where he is and where I am is flimsy, but impassable.
Bear next appeared West. Change, transition. This speaks to both recent events in my life as well as bear’s opinion of it. Like he was saying, “Mom! It’s me!” he’s also saying, “Mom, I’m dead. You have to accept that.” It’s time to accept his death, and that holding on to the past is only holding us BOTH back.
Bear then moves East. Living is meant to be enjoyed. Renewal. Joy. And that it is also my kitchen–the heart of my home–speaks volumes.
But Bear left North open, and I feel that’s the direction he chose to go.  I’m curious to know what North means, within this same cannon.
Her response back to me:
“In the North we ‘stop the world,’ we silence the chatter and confusion of the airwaves all around us and come into harmony with the creation from which we have been isolated…[the North] is also a place of Purification and Renewal in preparation for new beginnings – for ‘rebirth.'”
     There is so much more within those meanings, and my dream. We dream, and those we remember, we interpret–or let go. I choose not to let this go. Not when it speaks to me so brilliantly. Silencing the chatter and confusion was everything Chris strove for those last years of his too-short life. To be one with everything, like the grizzly bear from his story. Bear went north to his new beginning free from those things that cost him this life, here, with his family. It’s time to move on. We both know that. But I’ve been clinging so hard to things, to a way of life, to a home, to him. It’s all encompassing, the imprint he’s left, that imprint I make bigger and bigger every day. It has come to a point that there isn’t an inch of this house, this yard, I don’t associate with him. Four of our children  lived here, made this home–and yet I’m having a hard time recalling memories of them. They’ve become secondary characters in this story of our life in the log house, on the river, in the mountains. How many kinds of wrong is that?
     Bear came to me, from all directions but north, because that is where he was going. “I have to go, Mama, and you can’t follow here.” Bear gave me permission to let go of all I have been clinging to, to make my own way out of the crushing grief that has been burying me without me noticing. I don’t care if it sounds silly, I believe it with all my heart.
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The Weight of This House

I first stepped foot onto this property a little more than fifteen years ago. It was dusk. There was no driveway. Just an undeveloped two acres of wildflowers, forest, and the river. Thrills ran up the back of my neck, prickled my brain. “This is where I’m going to die.”

Beside me, Chris said, “So am I.”

He was eleven. All that was to come was still years away, not even a momentary consideration of a path on our horizon. I laughed. “I sure hope you’re not still living with us by then!”

I don’t remember exactly his response, but he said something about it being his house by then. We were moving into this new adventure, into this dream come true–a log home on the river, in the woodsy mountains, in this town we love–with every expectation of those in the prime of life with nothing but more good stuff coming our way.

Things don’t always turn out the way we anticipate. The weight of this house and all its echoes rests so heavily on me now.

ambivalent: n. in psychology, ambivalence is defined as the mental disharmony or disconnect a person feels when having both positive and negative reactions regarding the same individual, situation, or object.

This is what I am. I want to leave here so badly, leave behind this shattered dream, this too big house, the expense, the echoes of all the good and bad that happened here. But the thought of leaving rips me apart. How can I leave this beautiful piece of land, this house I dreamed of all my life? How can I leave Chris’ tree, the roof he built, the splatters on the wall from the chemical explosion that stunk up my house for days? How can I stay with those things, and not feel the weight of them forever? I want to go. I want to stay.

We need to go.

This house is too big. The property, too much. With Frank possibly retiring, our expenses need to narrow down to what we need, while still having some semblance of the life we’ve worked so hard to live. I WANT small. Cozy. A place just mine and his. No echoes of kids’ laughter in the rafters, or bangs in the night that meant catastrophe had fallen…again. I know this is right. And yet…

Ambivalence at its most visceral. It hurts. And it’s heavy. And I need to let it go. I know that underneath all the churning in my gut, my heart, my brain. In writing this, all that churning makes the computer screen blur and my flying fingers skip keys.

I know it’s right.

I know it’s right.

It’s time for a new adventure. We just have to take that leap.

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Posting for Posterity

Just putting this here, for posterity’s sake. Dreaming August won the Rone Award for best Women’s Fiction, 2017. For anyone wondering what the Rone Award actually is, look here. Otherwise, just gaze upon my pretty star. Hehee!

Thanks for all the kind words, well wishes, and congratulations! I am still basking in all your love.Rone-Badge-Winner-2017--

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Kapowie

I don’t even know the words I’m trying to find,

sitting here staring at the cursor blinking.

All my babies are sick, I wrote in a text

just yesterday. I hesitated over that line, that

simple line. All my babies. All

my babies.

Not all.

I couldn’t take it back and insert living 

in between my and babies. It was too crude

too…just too. Many things. Real and

raw, and simple and true. All

my babies.  All

three of them, not four. All

the ones left for me to aw, honey!

over their sniffles and sneezes, their relationship highs

and job lows, their new puppies and upcoming trips and

huge steps into all their tomorrows, like buying a house,

or a car, or a new brand of peanut butter.

*

There’s too much space between last time and next one,

That next one possibly the final burst of endorphins

released into my dying brain, or that wished for beyond of all beyonds

where a tunnel of light gives way to beloved ghosts, waiting.

It seems like too much wishing, and yet I will

on the off chance it happens to be the truth

And he’s waiting for me. They are. All of them, but mostly

him. Open arms (if arms we have) and brilliant smile

(if teeth are such a thing, lips curled up and over to flash in eyes once violet blue) falling-04

I’ll fall into them, and fall and fall and forever fall,

until the missing words fill in.

~TLD

 

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This Moment Changes Everything

I was a little stuck yesterday. Writing the last pages of Thicket Stars, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to let this family break, or keep it together. Neither one felt right, to be honest. I didn’t want a happy ending tied up with a pretty bow, but the evolution of my characters didn’t ring true with abandoning one another either.

Instead of forcing this key moment, I closed out early in the hopes a bit of simmering would work it out. The brain never turns off. I forget what ingredient I’m going to the pantry for between knowing I need it and arriving at the shelves; when it comes to story, my brain is a steel trap…that’s not aware it’s set and ready to spring, but that’s beside the point.

Last night, watching So You Think You Can Dance, Taylor and Robert danced to Change is Everything.  The dancers fight being together, and breaking apart. Absolutely gorgeous, choreographed by Travis Wall to an a capella version of the song. And my brain, ever-working, snapped its spring.

This moment changes everything
The course of blood within your veins
A stranger’s form, your skeleton
See the bones glow as they break free

Long, long and long ago, I was twenty-one, pregnant with my second child, and married to a man who was finding life with a wife and child, a job and another baby on the way terrifying. Claustrophobic. He was constantly battling with his love for us, and his need to fly. It manifested in too many scary nights, wondering when I’d get the call from the morgue. One day, I sat down with him and said, “I can’t do this anymore. Go. Do what you need to. I’ll be here when you’re done.”

That moment changed everything.

He didn’t go. He cried. He told me he couldn’t leave me and our daughter, the baby on the way. He loved us too much. That week was the happiest we’d had in too long. He seemed…good. Happy. At peace.

And then he was gone. Motorcycle accident. Just like that. A week later.  Another moment of change. Isn’t that what life is? A series of those moments.

It all came together last night, listening to that song, watching the push and pull of the dancers, remembering that conversation with Brian. I won’t speak for all writers, but I have no hang-ups about laying it out there on the page, all the gore and the glory of my life, for all to see. Call me an exhibitionist. It’s how I deal. It’s how I make my stories authentic and, I hope, touch my readers.

This moment changes everything. That really is the key to the climax of this story, the answer to the question: Do they break? Or do they heal? I know now. I just wrote it. Well, most of it. You’ll have to wait a while though.

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Novel Evolution

It started out as an idea sparked by the movie QuartetHow lovely, thought I, to retire to a place full of industry folk. Great, nearly great, obscure. All birds of a feather. Then came my beautiful monster, Cecibel, who embodied a great deal of my personal life then and now.  MV5BMTk5ODEyMjQwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTU5Nzc3OA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_

When I began writing the novel, it was called Traegar’s Lunatics. The agents at The Knight Agency (and later, my editor) didn’t like the title. It said nothing about the story, and the name was difficult to remember/pronounce, so it became The Pen, and sold as such to William Morrow. But those at William Morrow who heard the title consistently asked, “Oh, is it like Orange is the New Black?” So the title changed again. My editor liked the idea of titling it from a line in the book, and thus it became A Thousand Different Ways. 

I loved that title. Though I remained partial to Traegar’s Lunatics, I did see where it wasn’t the right one for the book. A Thousand Different Ways worked on many levels. But the reps didn’t like it. Boo. It said nothing about who’s inside, gave no clue as to what the book is about, and that is as important as the cover where a potential reader is concerned. So we worked.

…and we worked…

…and we worked…

Several weeks of going back and forth–Beloved Agent Janna, Fierce-Lady Rachel (editor), and I–title after title. Nothing worked quite right for marketing. Finally, Rachel said, “Why not just call it The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and their muses)?”

Well, now–that pretty much says it all. I wasn’t sure I liked the title. I didn’t hate it, but love? Hmmm…then again, it does exactly what the reps and marketing want it to do. It’s kind of funny, because it’s verbose. Writers do love their own words. It tells a potential reader exactly what’s inside, in a kitschy, Wes Anderson (my daughter Grace’s assessment) way. It brings to mind titles like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  That, in a nutshell, is what we’re going for. A lightness (because the book does open with a marijuana-smoking octogenarian calling her psychiatrist a dick, in a very mercurial way, of course) within a much weightier story (it’s an old folks home where the old writers and industry folk live daily with death, after all.) The more I consider the title, the more I like it. Dare I say, love? Not yet, but I’m getting there.

I did my final read-through while sitting on the beach last week. I got to see what it’s going to look like inside with all the lovely chapter fonts and embellishments. Sigh. I enjoyed every moment of it. I’ve never just read my story. I wrote it. I edited it. I edited it some more. This final pass was as clean a read as ever I read. The only final edits I had were to delete a repeated ‘only’ here, or a ‘still’ there. When you can go over your own book for the gazillionth time and still love every word, it’s an indescribable joy even someone in love with her own words can’t quite express.

My part in the production of The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and their muses) is done. I’ve been asked how I feel about a June 2018 release date, considering William Morrow picked up the book early in 2017; my answer is, I like it just fine. The anticipation is luxurious. Like the countdown to Christmas, or my yearly retreat in Virginia Beach. Things are always happening. Sometimes small, sometimes big, but consistent.

Next, the cover. My heart just exploded a little bit.

 

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Deifying the Dead

Saint Anthony. That’s what I call my late-father-in-law whenever my husband waxes poetic about his wonderful dad. He was a good man, he had a good heart. He could also be an ass of epic proportions. He didn’t believe in sparing the rod, or spoiling the child. “Love them while their sleeping” was one of his catch phrases, whenever I hugged my children in his presence. He was also a raging misogynist.

But he visited every Sunday, and brought the kids donuts or lollipops. Jamie and Scottie were his grandchildren from day one. I loved him. We all did.

Just like I don’t downplay my brilliance or deny my less than stellar traits, neither will I do so for my beloved dead. Loving a person means doing so because of and despite their many quirks.

But today? I’m going to deify my beloved dead just a little bit, because it’s so very easy to remember the turmoil, and the sorrow they caused.

I see Brian every time I look at our GrandWilliam. The swing of his hair. The dimple in his chin. I know Will looks just like his daddy at that age, but I see what I see. I imagine the child Brian was, because I raised his son and now watch our grandson sometimes wander sometimes rage through his days. Sensitive. Sweet. Prone to indecision. Affectionate. I remember this Brian so well, and lovingly.

And Chris.

I know Chris’ facets, better than most. Today, I’m not dwelling on the chaos, but the calm. He was just so brilliant. A chemistry savant (not my words, but I agree.) He could discuss complex medications and how they work, why and why not, without ever having studied. Just show him the compounds, and in his head they created themselves the way composers see music.

He had a spark, that something that made him stand out in a crowd, and not just because he was 6’1″, built like a god, and gorgeous. It was in his smile, his charm, his great big heart. There was one time, during his bouncer days, an extremely drunk patron causing a ruckus had to be escorted out. Somehow, he wiggled lose and chomped down on Chris’ thigh so hard he ripped through his jeans and drew blood. The other bouncers called out for him to punch him in the face to get him off, but Chris didn’t. He didn’t want to hurt him.

He. Didn’t. Want. To. Hurt. Him.

It reminds me of when he played soccer, as a little, little boy. If the ball came to him but someone on the opposing team wanted it, he stepped aside and let him have it. His coach thought it was the sweetest thing. Like when he walked his little sister to her classroom every day, and gave her a kiss before she went in. All four teachers in that hall would stand outside their rooms just to watch.

He befriended every misfit, defended the picked on, patiently and competently taught others when they just didn’t understand. He shared his brilliance, not to show off, but because he loved to share what he knew, and see that spark when someone else understood, too.

Chris was insatiable. (Grace’s word, and the perfect one for him.) No  matter what he did, he did it completely. Obsessively. Until he’d mastered whatever it was he did. If he loved you, he loved you entirely and without boundary. When he took up hunting, bowyering, chemistry, growing marijuana, beading, bodybuilding–he had to have all the right tools down to the smallest chisel or brush. All or nothing. That was Chris.

There is a negative side to everything. Both of these beloved dead ended up just that–dead, and way too young. I always thought Brian was too wild for this world, and Chris was too brilliant. Both of them were extremely sensitive souls who hurt as big as they lived.

I don’t deify the dead, as a rule, but once in a while, it feels nice. Necessary. And right.

Peace.

(Feel free to deify your beloved dead. I’d love to know them.)

 

 

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One Hundred Eighteen Beaches

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I have sand from many islands–St. Tomas and St. Maarten; Aruba and Antigua; Jamaica, and Bahamas; so many more. There’s pebbley sand from Villefranche, the fine sand of Anguilla, and sand from the bottom of the Mediterranean off the coast of Capri. Sand from Walden Pond in Massachusetts, and Muskegon on Lake Michigan.  I have sea-washed pebbles from Africa, Italy, France and Spain; Precambrian quartz from North Carolina. Sand from Ireland and Maine that you can’t tell apart without the labels on their glass containers. I have volcanic sand from Guatemala, and Hawaii. Red sand from Prince Edward Island. White sand from Fort Meyers Beach in Florida. Pink sand from Bermuda. Black sand from Maine and Washington.

And seashells. So many seashells. And prehistoric shark teeth, some the size of a baby tooth, others as big as my thumb. I have ocean-going pods called Sea Hearts, in a jar there on my shelf.

In my loft, in my log house, on the river, in the woods, I have 118 beaches, some sent or brought home to me by friends and family. They’re memories of days spent waterside. Mine. Someone else’s. Someone who sat on a beach and thought of me, who gathered a handful up in a ziploc bag or empty water bottle, and carried it home.

These little glass tubes and jars make me happier than one might imagine such things could. I look up from my computer, and there they are. Memories and love and sand.

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Modesty really is for suckers

I’ve decided it’s time for me to re-commit myself to my motto, because it recently slipped a little bit.

Modesty. Is. For. Suckers.

I won’t hide my light. Ever. I won’t concern myself with others seeing my confidence as conceit. I absolutely will not downplay the positives just in case it all goes awry.

Many of us were raised in a world where girls not only didn’t boast, they were taught to be “modest.” (Thus my choice of that particular word.) Cross your legs. Don’t speak out. Don’t make waves. If you share how good you are at something, others will think you’re conceited. Being a child of the 60’s and 70’s also made me a child of constant conflicting messages. All the old mores were being rebelled against. Hindsight shows me my own parents struggling with tradition vs. how they actually felt.

I’ve always been an optimist. The notion of not getting my hopes up in case something doesn’t pan out never seemed logical to me. If all goes well, you’ve spent time needlessly worrying. If it goes south, you spent extra time in that worry when you could have been daydreaming of better outcomes. Whether I plan for the worst or hope for the best doesn’t alter the outcome, so, for the most part, I choose to spend my energy in a more positive mindset.

But once in a while…

Last weekend, I shared a worry that strikes me now and again, but–truly–doesn’t linger. Because it’s writing related, I have uttered this worry more than once among the same people. After saying it the other day, I said to myself, “They’re going to think this is really eating at me!” And when I mentioned this connected thought to a friend just yesterday, her response was, “We’re just not used to seeing you as anything but confident.”

Well…me either! On the way home from lunch, I pondered why I keep speaking this worry aloud when I rarely even think it. Honestly? Even if the worst case scenario does become reality, it’s not going to change the way I look at myself, my writing, my anything. You know what I realized? It’s because I’m downplaying my talent, my accomplishments, so others don’t think I’m arrogant about it.

How ridiculous is that? Seriously. I am a talented writer. I’ve accomplished a lot in my years in this publishing world. Anyone who knows me, who loves me, will celebrate along with me. Having confidence doesn’t mean I never make mistakes, that I never fail. It just means I won’t wallow in doubt and despair if I do. I’m not going to ever preemptively doubt myself, because I know there is nothing I can’t do when I set my mind to it. Successfully? Maybe not, but doubt is never going to be the reason I fail.

I accept my faults, my failures, my less-than-stellar moments–whether personally or professionally–with an open heart and open eyes. I accept my confidence and all-around brilliance the same way.

It took me a long time to adopt my motto and embrace it with everything I am. I’m never going to downplay my own fabulous self because “people” might look at me askance. As the saying goes, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” It says more about them than it does me. There’s two adages for the price of one.

Modesty is for suckers, baby.

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