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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The years, they fly by

In 1982, I turned eighteen, graduated from high school, got married, and had my first baby, all between March and December.

In 1985, I turned twenty-one, lost my husband in a motorcycle accident, and had my second child, all between March and December.

In 1988, I went on my first date after my husband’s death, fell in love, got married, and lost a baby, all between June and November.

Life comes at me in rather large and speedy chunks, hurled like snowballs I can’t always dodge. I’ve had precious few completely smooth years in my life. There have been. The first five of our Country Farm years. It was like a dream I still take out and relive now and again. Moving to the house on the river, until Christofer’s accident (2003-2006.) After Chris’ accident, life revolved around his recovery, or lack thereof, but they were also good years–just not smooth and carefree. Jamie and Joshua got married in 2007, ah, the joy! Outside of the regular stuff like graduations and high school musicals, I can’t remember anything especially momentous or dire. 2008-2010, aside from ongoing procedures for Chris, were very good years. He was at his best, and that allowed all of us to breathe easier. To hope. To heal along with him.

In 2010, I sold my first book, and found out my son was using heroin. It’s been a fair bit of chaos shot through with absolute joy ever since. The births of my grandchildren. Christofer’s ongoing struggle with pain, addiction, and anxiety. Gracie’s deepening sense of invisibility. The more horrendous my family life, the more momentous became my writing career. And then in 2015, we lost our son. The tailspin experienced by my family took a good couple of years to pull out of, but here in 2017, we’re all breathing a little easier. Hoping. Healing.

This year, I sold A Thousand Different Ways to William Morrow, as well as to Bastei Lubbe (German translation,) and my husband lost his job of eighteen years. Phased out. At sixty-seven years old. The up. The down. It’s a bit dizzying. Maybe it’s true for everyone. I could wish for a little boredom now and then.

Twenty-nine years ago today, Frankie D and I got engaged. We already knew we were getting married, but weren’t doing the engagement ring thing. In an impetuous moment while stuck in traffic, Frankie D saw a jewelry store in a strip mall on the highway. He pulled in. “I’m buying you a ring!”

If my future self came to me, back when I was eighteen, or even twenty-four, and told me, “This is the path of your life; do you want to change it?” Wipe away all the bad? Does that mean I also wipe away my kids? My grandkids? Brian and Frank? My career? Of course, future self could never answer those questions. That’s why I’d probably have to punch her in the face, because who does that to a person?

The years fly so fast. Another summer is coming to a close. August begins my favorite time of year–crickets and cooler weather; Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas; Scottie coming home for a visit. There’s no way to know what joys and sorrows I’ll find on my path. I just know they’re there, waiting.

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Beach Philosophy

On the beach with my brother, talking in social debate as we do, he posed a series of questions concerning how much of a person has to remain for love to continue. A debilitating accident–do you still love him? Of course. No arms, no legs? Don’t be silly. More debilitating events–being mauled by a bear and such, and now he’s just a head, kept talking and feeling and thinking by science–do you still? Yes, absolutely. More misfortune; he’s just a brain, hooked up to a computer that lets him communicate and think and love. My answer is the same–yes, yes, yes.

Okay, my brother says, now the brain has deteriorated, and the entire essence of the man I love is put onto a flash-drive. He can still communicate with me. I can carry him around, plug him into this device or that, and we can talk, reminisce, experience, love. Do I still love him? Yes! But, he asks, do you love the flash drive?

I pause. Good question. I answer with a hesitant but definite, yes. He poses his final question–The flash drive is corrupted. You can no longer communicate. The essence is still in there, but no longer accessible to you. Now do you love the flash drive?

No, I had to admit. I don’t love the flash drive. I said it better on the beach, and wish I could remember my words, but the essence was: Once the vessel no longer services the being, the vessel becomes obsolete. I don’t love the flash drive that no longer houses my love.

This is what I love about conversations with my little brother; we rarely agree, but we always find some common ground (though he’s stubborn and doesn’t think I see his point of view. I always do. Seeing his point and agreeing with it are entirely different things.) Because we don’t agree, I think about the things we discuss long after we’ve parted ways. I pondered this conversation, on and off, the rest of the day. While still on the beach, my brother sleeping in the sun about ten feet to my left, I texted him the above words about the vessel and the being. “Thoughts are forming. I’m going to write something about this.”

After losing arms and legs and body, in bear attacks and horrendous events, the basic question, for me, was this–do I love the physical vessel once it is no longer servicing the person I love. Husband, parent, child, sibling, friend? No. I don’t. How could I bury a husband? Cremate a son? If I still held attachment to the vessel that once housed them. But do I love them still? Every minute of every day.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what my brother was getting at. It was more rhetorical, about how much of a person can one lose and still remain “in love” with that person. But, like I said, conversations with him always make me think, and this conversation was like a firecracker under my chair.

As all things do, these days, it comes back to Chris. His vessel was no longer serving him. It became obsolete. It was never the physical son I loved, but the being he is. The essence he will always be, no matter what form that essence takes. I will forever mourn the loss of his smile, his hugs, all the things he never got to do, that life was so hard for him. So painful. These are the physical things that matter for such a short time in the span of forever. I know that. I’ve always known. But this conversation with my brother brought it into sharper focus. It made me cry in every way there is to cry, right there on the beach.

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Conversating

Your name rolls through my head, thunder

and wind; the gentle downpour after

My boy. My boy. My beautiful son.

Why did you…why didn’t you…?

I didn’t mean to go; I just didn’t want to stay.

‘Why’ is your name, without the gentle rain.

*

I fought too much

I fought too hard

I fought futile battles time would never ease.

You could have. You did. Over and over again.

You were stronger.

No. I wasn’t. And that’s the fact you can’t–

Won’t grasp. You hold up my mirror to those few

ideal years. Golden boy. King of the world. Anything

mine for the asking. The taking.

But it was a lie. The one you wanted to believe

I did too. I swear. But the other me was real. The one who thought.

The one who knew. The one who hid his fight behind a

smile. The one who fought for others

because the fight inside raged on. He was the one you wanted me to be,

And that made it all the worse.

It isn’t true. I wanted you. I wanted the best

version of you, whatever that was. You had so much to give–

I had nothing left…

You were only twenty-five!

And ancient beyond counting years.

Pain wears a body down. Exhausts the mind.

I know! I know! Don’t you think I know?

I watched you, every day. I took you to doctors.

I rubbed your leg. I dissected every cue into

every possibility. Until I didn’t.

And that should tell you something, shouldn’t it?

I don’t like what it says.

*

I didn’t mean to go. I just couldn’t stay.

When given my choice, I left everything behind 

including you. Your worry. Your tears. Your love.

The bad, and the good. Sweet dreams, Turtle.

Sweet dreams.

*

I dreamed my eldest daughter

was a teenager again,

tasked with buying cookies for a party. She chose

lemon, and lime, tomato and basil flavored,

in the box store where dinosaurs wrought havoc

among the patrons.

There had been a bridge, and a gate

between their world and ours.

Someone had opened the gate. download

Someone had let them in.

While my daughter and I bought cookies

in a past that never was.

~TLD

 

 

 

 

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Escarole and beans

  • A friend and I went to the farmer’s market last weekend. I found the most glorious head of escarole. I remember my Gramma Grace making ‘scarole’ back in the day. You’d never  have gotten me to touch it. But, seeing that gorgeous head of escarole made me want to try making Gracie’s old recipe.

I had absolutely no idea what was in it, but I do remember how it smelled. Lots of garlic. I trusted my inner palate and, whoa, Nellie! It was divine.

Very simple: sauté a chopped onion in olive oil. Once it’s translucent, add a head of escarole. Once it’s all wilted and soft (about three or so minutes) take it off the heat. In another pan, sauté a can of white beans (any kind) along with the starchy water in olive oil, add garlic (lots) a tbsp of chicken base paste. Once that’s heated through and sticky, add the escarole into the pan of beans. Let it all meld together about five minutes on a low simmer. Take it off the heat, add a splash of lemon and a good fistful of grated cheese. Done! Filling, nutritious and inexpensive. Not to mention yuuuuum.

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