Carry On

(I’m not sure why this never published; I apparently wrote it back in August. In light of my recent brain-singing comments, it seems to be time.)

You are carried on song

like winds, inexorable. I might avoid

the radio, but the music

finds me anyway. In commercials,

while at the grocery store. Snips that cling to

synapses and sparks inside my head. Playing

over and over. Bands you listened to, Songs

you loved, sometimes those you never

even heard. Songs that speak

to me of you. Starry, starry nights, the

lights to guide you home, light up your bones,

You shut up and dance, bid hello to darkness, when you’re

lost and alone, and

sinking like a stone, to join the black parade. Lyrics and

drums and guitars and keyboards, they

play nonstop. Nonstop. Non

stop.

 

Long ago, before you were the ghost always hovering,

never within reach, when it was another ghost

always hovering, never within reach,

it was the same. Music

undid me, and did me up tight. Kept me

sane. Kept the tears coming so I’d not

drown in them, held inside.

 

Music speaks. For the living, and

the dead, the young and

the old. The happy and the sad. The same words

caught inside ears, wiggling and worming into brains

interpreting every note, every word, to its own

experience.

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Clearing the writerly mind

It has been slightly over a year since I started work on Death and the Mason Jar. My writing schedule hasn’t changed much. I have a great premise, fabulous characters, and a handle on all the arcs; I know the beginning, middle, and end. Yet I’m currently writing draft eleventy bajillion, and, so far, haven’t gotten to the end. The novel vehemently opposes category, defies focus, and goes down too many dark alleys where it then gets beaten up and left for the pickpockets. A whole year of wrestling with it, and only about 50K in. For me, who can typically get through a book–outline to final draft–in about nine months, it has been unsettling. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do what I’ve always done. Get it done. Get it right. Get it published.

Until about two weeks ago.

There is no doing what I’ve always done, because this book is unlike anything I’ve ever written before. It doesn’t want a label, or a timeline. I got so bogged down in both that it was really shackling me. A couple of weeks ago, while reading Erin Morgenstern’s new (and fabulous) The Starless Sea–a book that defies category, published eight years after The Night Circus–I had a lightbulb moment. I had to let go. Of category. Of timeline. Of everything but the story. And, wouldn’t ya know, my blurry focus clarified.

If Death and the Mason Jar takes three years to write, it takes three years. Or two. Or five. I’ve had seven books published by three different publishers since 2010. It has been awesome, but I’ve never taken this leisure before. None of my favorite authors come out with a book a year, or even every two years. I don’t have to either. So there.

What happens with Death and the Mason Jar, once it’s finished, happens. Or doesn’t. I’m not going to get bogged down in that, either. I can’t. Every time I do, my brain throws a tantrum and sends my story down one of those dark alleys. In the meantime, I’m able to savor the continuing fun of The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses). The German release happens next June. The Slovakian release is sometime after that. It’s not as if nothing’s happening. I’m more fortunate than most, in this writing thing. I just have to remind myself of that now and again. And again.

th2BI5OUCH

 

 

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Germany, here comes Bar Harbor!

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) was supposed to release in September of 2018 under the title, DAS LÄCHELN FRÜHERER TAGE. Obviously, it did not. I won’t go into the whole thing, because that’s not what this entry is about. Suffice it to say, we were delayed for technical reasons, the result of which is  June 2020 release, a new title, and a new cover.

AndAtTheEndtheSea_Bar Harbor

Translates to: And In The End The Sea

Elaine, my foreign rights agent, sent me the above afraid I’d be upset by the changes. The feel is way different from the English language version. BASTEI LÜBBE (my publisher in Germany) decided on a beach read vibe, which is where Bar Harbor fell on so many lists in the summer of 2018. The cover says BEACH! And I love it. I love the poetry of the new title. I just love everything about it, including the June 2020 release date.

My writing life still orbits around The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses).  A year and a quarter after its original release date, I’m still doing book clubs, library visits, fielding the odd request for an interview. I’ve been told a book like this has about a two year active life; so far, so accurate. By the time Bar Harbor starts winding down here in the USA, it’ll be born again in Germany. I’m not anticipating the same kinds of interaction, but it is rather exciting. I’m truly, truly glad it didn’t come all at once. Savoring the experience has been bliss.

And June of 2020 doesn’t end Bar Harbor’s journey out into the world. Another contract has been signed, but until I hear from Elaine, I’m not announcing anything more than that.

Yet.

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Now I’ll Tell You the Real Story

A couple of weeks ago, I told you the story about a car, my kids, and the parking lot hill they rolled down. It’s true, every word. I did pull the car to a stop–and remember, it was a 1965 Mercury Comet Caliente, not your average light model of today. I was indeed a beast. I’m not proud of the situation that called forth my inner Hulk, but I am very proud of the fact that she appeared as needed. That, however, is not the real reason for the tattoo I got just a few days ago.

tattoo

I left it big so you could read it

While the first part of the poem speaks to me as a woman, and as a gentle human, it was the second half of it that set off gongs in my head when first I read it. It’s taken me about a year of contemplation before getting this tattoo, because it recalls one of the most heartbreaking days of my life.

When Chris dove headfirst into drugs, it never lasted long. It would be about a month in total, but a solid two weeks of horrificness once, sometimes twice a year. We didn’t know if he’d vanish or die or both. He wasn’t Chris, the sweet, gentle, kind, and brilliant giant of a man. Loving son. Beautiful boy. He was the opposite in every way. He was desperate and scared and out of control. Outside of those horrific weeks, he fought so hard.

One summer day (he was always worst in the summer, a pattern we learned to anticipate) when he was at the end of an especially horrific period, he came home with enough heroin to kill himself. That wasn’t the plan, he said. He just wanted to “use it up” and then he was quitting.

If you know anything about addicts, they don’t tell you they’re going to use. They do everything they can to hide it so you can’t stop them. Chris told us. He was that desperate for us to stop him. But the other Chris, the opposite Chris, wasn’t going down without a fight.

That was the day I unleashed every dragon, every wolf, every monster sleeping inside me. Forty-eight-year old me chased my 22 year old son through the woods, leaping over fallen trees, barreling through bramble, scrabbling over rock and rubble. I wrestled all 6’2″, 230 lbs of him to the ground. Twice. I held closed a lift-up garage door against his body-builder muscles. I ripped his jeans off his body to get the drugs and paraphernalia from his pockets. All to keep him from using. All because I knew it’s what he needed me, wanted me to do, even if he fought me. Because every time he got away, he came back.

When Opposite-Chris finally seemed to give up the fight, I went to clean myself up. We should never, ever have trusted Opposite-Chris. He got into the upstairs bathroom with his drugs. Alone. I was furious. I flew up the stairs, bashed down the bathroom door and mommy-swooped the bags of heroin from his mouth (he’d just shoved it all in) and flushed them. Then 911 was called, because there was no way to know how much he’d actually ingested.

But the calm. My god, the calm in him afterward. When it was all done. When the drugs were gone and the EMTs were taking him to the ER to feed him charcoal and dose him with Narcan. It wasn’t the drugs. I honestly don’t think he got much of it into his system. Chris was grateful. Tearful. We battled, me and Chris against Opposite-Chris, and we won.

It wasn’t the only battle I waged with him. For him. There were many. But the poem…the poem spoke to me of this battle. Again, I’m not proud of the situation that called up my inner-beast, but I’m ridiculously proud to know that dragons, wolves and monsters sleep inside this otherwise gentle human, ready to burst free when needed.

 

 

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Passage

Autumn comes–shorter days, cool and scented

with decay. Leaves without their chlorophyll. Flowers

crisp and brown-edged. The lingering hues saturated

against the surrounding fade. Pinpoints of color,

raging. The earth preparing for

the long sleep.

*

I write my way.

I write my way.

I write my way

to you.

*

Winter comes–silent, gentle–sounds muffled

by the cold. Bare branches reach. Click

against the sky. Crows call, their voices louder for

the silence. Louder for their hunger.

Need. Want. I leave bread for them. Scramble

an egg. They carry messages in return.

*

I write my way.

I write my way.

I write my way

to you.

th

 

 

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Four

Jamie, Scott, Chris and Grace.

I wrote their names, tagging a message to my kids not

an hour ago.

Jamie, Scott, Chris and Grace.

Automatic. Rote. Give me another word

that means it flew out of my brain and

to my fingers, before time could fall and

chop them off at the knuckles,

break me open and

let all the heat out of my body.

*

Four years, two months, and twelve days, give or take

a few hours, and that has never happened before.

I actually wrote his name without

meaning to. Backspace, backspace,

three more times. His name is gone, the message out.

The blank spaces where his name was, glare.

 

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NFReads Interview

This was fun!

Interview With Author Terri-Lynne DeFino

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A Gentle Human

When my two eldest children were babies, I left them in the car while I ran into the pharmacy to drop off a prescription. Scott was sick, and asleep in his car seat. Jamie was playing with her toys. It was a matter of running in, dropping it off, and running out. Thirty seconds, maybe forty-five, tops.

What an idiot.

Somehow, Scott woke up, managed to get out of his carseat, take off the emergency brake (which entailed intricate maneuvers no two-year-old should have been able to accomplish) and put the car (1965 Mercury Comet Caliente) into neutral. I came rushing out of the pharmacy to find my car no longer in the space right there at the door, but rolling downhill through the parking lot, and toward the Cedar Hill exit ramp of Route 208.

I ran after the car, yelling to the kids, “Get on the floor!” Somehow, I managed to grab the driver’s side door handle, and I started pulling. “Pleasepleaseplease.” I can still feel those words crunching in my mouth. I pulled and I hauled and I planted my feet on the asphalt and pulled even harder. Just as the car’s nose rolled into that exit ramp, I managed to pull it to a halt. Cars honked. Drivers cursed at me. My pants were around my knees because they’d fallen down while I did my impression of the Incredible Hulk, but I yanked open the door, and pulled my babies into my arms, and I sobbed.

I am a woman, born in 1964. I’ve been undervalued, overlooked, and marginalized my entire life. I didn’t march in protests. I didn’t climb a corporate ladder and crash through any glass ceilings. But I did raise four amazing humans in a society that didn’t necessarily value motherhood, even if it pretended to. I fought for, and earned my literary dreams. I overcame my own demons to adopt my motto, “Modesty is for suckers.” I survived losing a husband, a son, and still I am everything I ever wanted to be, and then some.

I am a gentle human, but I am fierce. More than fierce. I’m a beast.

 

Remember

Fire, by Nikita Gills, from her book of poetry, Wild Embers.

 

 

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On Addicts, and Addiction

(There are big picture Nurse Jackie spoilers below.)

Frank and I recently binge-watched Nurse Jackie. I have to be honest; I thought it was a hospital dramedy, and had no idea it centered around opiate addiction. I’m not sure I’d have started watching it if I had. But I did, and it was a really great show. Heartbreaking, but great. Because when she lied, manipulated. when the drugs were more important to her than her kids, her husband, her job, my reaction was what most have. I hated her. I saw her as a horrible person.

I saw my son.

Edie Falco is beyond amazing. She managed to be sympathetic and hateful, selfless and selfish at the same time. Like Chris. Nurse Jackie made me truly understand how the world outside my mother-heart saw my precious son. And how I, even in my deepest brain, saw him too.

When I mention Nurse Jackie in company, those who’ve seen the show say something along the lines of, “She’s a terrible person. I hate her.” Much like I did. But somewhere along the way, and because of my experiences, I saw the other side of the character. Jackie wasn’t a bad person. She was actually a good person with a terrible monkey on her back. A misunderstood one. A disease the world at large views as the weak character of a flawed person. Because her daughter suffers from extreme anxiety, the connection to Jackie’s inherent anxiety is made clear. She also has chronic back pain, as a result of her years of nursing, and relies on the very real excuse of that pain to use.

Much like Chris.

Jackie heals, gives hope, breaks rules to aid those who are being harmed by them. She shows her character, her core, even in the depths of her worst binges. (For those who’ve seen the show–the accident on her way to the airport. Enough said.) She also lies, cheats, steals, throws others under the bus–not to save herself, but to allow her addiction to continue unhindered. She gets clean, relapses, gets clean again, relapses again. This is the life of an addict.

This was Chris’ life.

In the throes of his worst days, he was still looking out for the misfits, for the disenfranchised. Helping them at the gym, befriending them when no one else would. All the while he was tearing his family’s hearts to shreds. I watched Nurse Jackie, watched Edie Falco deliver her lines and saw the mastery with which my son lulled me into believing him. He made things sound so rational. Addiction backed into a corner is smarter, savvier than the addict. In a person as brilliant as Chris was, I didn’t stand a chance. None of us did. Like the characters in Jackie’s life, I wanted to believe. I couldn’t  prove his lies. Not until he crashed yet again, and I was breathing life into him.

The cycle was vicious. For me. For those who loved him. And for him. Because Chris was a good person, and the addict was not. The addict did things the young man screaming and buried in opiates hated too. There is a picture he drew, packed away with his things, of what his addiction felt like. Veins inside a body, and the blood droplets screaming in agony, the needle big and plunging by an unseen hand. It’s chilling. It’s real. It breaks my heart to think about it.

When Frank and I binge-watch, we binge-watch. We finished all seven seasons of Nurse Jackie in about three weeks. It was three weeks of bad dreams for me, of old memories surfacing, but it was also enlightening in a way I might never have otherwise understood. I’m glad we watched it. I’m grateful for this insight into the world outside my mother-heart, and into my own mind. It was all there, maybe buried under the years, maybe kindly quiet. But there.

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Discomfuddled

I’m feeling a bit unsettled today,

Like there’s something I must do;

the storm inside me rages, so

I’ll write my way to you.

brainstorm

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