Friday, December 7, 2018

About a dad.

Some of my favorite memories of my dad and life are housed here in various blog posts here, but much like the family's cozy Cape on Verdun Street, I don't visit as often as my heart and guilt thinks I should. Sure, I know a professional could life-coach me through this. There are those who could definitely prescribe better organization of the myriad life-y things that this full-time working mom of two teen athletes contends with so I could steady this Jenga tower and hell, maybe even fire up my writing or (gulp) rework my book.

Truth is, I am simply not interested in climbing Everest at the moment.

Maybe it's better to say that I am deeply aware of the value of not strong-arming and browbeating this year's fragility, but rather the value of honoring it. Especially today.

Today is the first anniversary of my dad's death. I have thought about him at least a million times since I got the call last year--its own sort of surprise attack and horrible loss landing early in the morning on the 76th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Some thoughts are devastating--particularly those associated with what I know were his brutal, brave last 24 hours.  Some are as confused as an out-of-stater at the tiny Dover traffic circle, and cause me to reprimand my mind for daring ask the questions that still remain. Mostly (and thankfully) I just think about his dimpled Cheshire grin and the zillion hilarious and heroic ways he demonstrated what being a good man and father meant.

As the end of our year of firsts without him approached, I found myself needing to speak of him more. Random memories of him flipped about like a child’s card deck shuffle gone wrong. For those who know (and put up with) this part of me, this can be painful listening. This means hearing things like frustrated anxious exhales and pauses abruptly interrupted by rambling run-ons and other seemingly disconnected thoughts. I am only slightly better suited to write and literally run-on this stuff here, but that has been its own challenge (please see paragraph 2). Thanks to recently visiting parts of his life that were humbly hidden, I have been purging my overstuffed brain to a few close souls. And strangers. I have been trying to come to terms with the nor'easter of emotion associated with the brutally cold winter of all of this.

My dad was a beautiful, unique man. Not that it mattered to him. He had this incredible, quiet IQ with a giant EQ to match. He absorbed and retained all sorts of things of interest, making him so much fun to talk to. He could swing from discussing the pros and cons of pipeline development, foreign relations, or of running a flea flicker vs. a Statue of Liberty. He worked on either the second or third stage of one of the first rockets that went to the moon (I obviously didn't inherit his ability to absorb and retain things). He coached championship football teams, hunted 10-point bucks in the Maine puckerbrush, and was almost electrocuted to death while working on a metal ladder. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, and known to most that had the pleasure of knowing him, he miraculously beat a terminal cancer diagnosis when he was in his 30's, and then beat three more diagnosis of other forms of the dreaded C (I swear just to prove he could).

Dad didn't brag about his life or beliefs, or overshare or interject much.  He was, however, a compelling storyteller. He was often both the smartest and the cheekiest person in the room. He was certainly the most lovable of wiseasses--with his best pal Reddy Levesque running a tie race with him if they shared the same room. I loved how he kept me apprised of our salty acquaintances from the summers when we worked together at the paper mill. I died at his take on the "Boston Red Flops," who would frustrate him like no other sports team could. I miss how he keeled us over with getting "stuck in the thick shit" while driving game in the bogs of Maine. His ability to laugh at himself was so damn endearing. He took self-deprecating humor to a whole new level.

One recent and very late night, I overpoured my scattered thoughts and heart's lamentations into a makeshift mind funnel and forced them out into Rob's ears (as I often do in a brilliantly poor manner when overtired). I was trying to reconcile too many things. This often happens when I speak with someone who has never had the honor of meeting my dad. How do you put all of that stuff--all his smarts and knowledge and the massive love and gratitude associated with that guy--into words? While dad's random attributes were spilling all over the conversation like keg beer from a red Solo cup, I could suddenly see it steadily: a conversation filled with beautifully curious questions and hilarious, intriguing answers. A conversation so clear, yet one that will clearly never take place. I had this very specific mental vision of Rob sitting on the couch next to my dad's recliner and the two of them speaking--one so profoundly inquisitive and the other so humbly happy to share his perspective on all the topics he was well versed in. I could see it so vividly--this thing that will never happen. I was thinking in such detail, but feeling like I was hardly articulating any of it as I tried to share it across the 1,700 miles or so between us. The sadness choked any remaining steadiness from my voice.

"I just wish you could have met my dad," I rambled. "I think you guys would have had these really cool conversations. He was so smart. So fucking funny. Hilarious. He truly was the most amazing human being. I really wish you had the chance to know him..." Just as I trail off after I fall over the avalanche of memories,  Rob swooped back into the conversation to pick me up.

"I do know him, Stacie...

...because I know you."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mother Mother

This past Mother’s Day it poured a hard, steady cartoon rain.

I spent the morning checking my email and doing my own version of a rain dance to the revolving tunes on my Pandora Frank Turner station in the hopes that Miller’s soccer game would be cancelled. While I love watching that kid play her heart out, driving an hour to trudge through ankle deep puddles and stand in bitter rain for a few hours on this particular Sunday afternoon wasn’t at the top of my wish list. It did, however, seem an appropriate offering on this singular day we celebrate mothers because it exemplified what we do each and every day of the year. We find missing game shorts and we thumb field addresses into Waze so we can hopefully avoid the police while attempting to make up the travel time lost while running back to pick up the orange slices and bug spray left at home on the counter. We lug bagged chairs and large Dunks coffees to the sideline to cheer our kids on. Rain or shine. This is especially true of soccer moms (the sideline vs. Bandcamp version.) Unlike those of us that also have kids happily leaving rained-out baseball diamonds, soccer goes on in spite of difficult weather. I've actually watched Miller play fall soccer in the middle of snow squalls. As many of the players have happily informed me on more than one occasion, "soccer players are not wimps." 

This was one day I thought we might actually get out of this game due to the weather. The temps were unusually cold and the field conditions were no doubt poor at best. This was clearly ankle turning and muscle pulling weather; however, the host team refused to cancel. This meant we would either have to play in the muddy marshes or refuse to play and forfeit the game and suffer our first “loss” of the season. That really wasn’t an option for this committed group of girls. So off we drove and out we all trudged with blankets, hats, and unfortunate umbrellas that blew sideways and did little to stop the rain.

The girls were soaked before they even started, cleats all spongy and socks squishing. It was a difficult, miserable couple of hours for most of our team, who lacked the ability to stop on the usual dime and who struggled to gain the traction and speed they were accustomed to get the job done. In spite of the challenges and stone frowns understandably chiseled on most faces, our girls won. Miller even poked in a goal to help the cause. The girls did a pretty impressive job of making the other coach pay dearly for not cancelling a game that really shouldn’t have been played for the safety and well-being of knocking knees and aggressive ankles.

On the way home, Miller peeled off the soaking layers. Shin guards, cleats that smelled of a drive by the Waste Management facility, and her knee-high socks, which she rolled down to her tiny little toes, all raw and purple and obviously aching.  While I am certain that every other girl was feeling some similar misery, I know for certain it was a bit different for Miller. She was born with distal digital hypoplasia, which the docs describe as a "vascular-mediated abnormality." It's quite unusual, seen more often in third world countries—with a similar result as people suffering intense frostbite to their extremities. Long story short, as this sweet baby was still baking, a decrease or hyper perfusion (doc speak, not mine) and hemorrhage disrupted the normal development of her toes. Both big toe bones have unfinished growth at the tip and the three typical toe bones and joints you would find in the following four toes on both feet are fused together as one, so she can’t bend them at all to grab toe traction like a typical athlete would. Because of this, her feet develop hot spots, cracks, and calluses that cause regular, serious pain—excruciating if stubbed.

And this kid chose to play soccer.

Most don’t know this about Miller. She naturally prefers to not to call any attention to it and I can so relate. As someone who was wired with social anxiety and plenty of self-shame as a kid, I hated the feeling of any attention on myself, even with all of my toenails present and in tact. I often have to hide the emotional overwhelm as I watch her enter pool parties and beach outings barefoot with beautiful, unaware confidence. She fiercely wears flip flops and has, thus far, found out what we all hope to be true: that the people that matter most in our lives won’t notice or mention or really care about our toes or any of the other perceived flaws we carry.  Her quiet bravery reminds me of how incredibly strong her soul is. It’s as though she was both physically and emotionally custom-built to handle this. And while nothing can replace the ache in my heart that shows up every time she jams her tiny toes and experiences horrifying pain, I always, eventually, land somewhere between deep reverence and incredible awe of her ability to take this challenge on.

What’s most inspiring is that she’s never once used it as an excuse to host her own pity party (and this kid loves herself a social gathering.) Instead, she’s worked incredibly hard, and with the help of her coaches (only one of whom likely knows the extent of Miller's challenges), has figured out how to properly fire a ball on goal with the best of them--her left foot particularly devastating to opponents. She pounds the basketball court and soccer fields with the intoxicating drive and aggression I somehow still recognize from my own days spent on the field hockey grass long ago. Because there are no obvious impairments as she gallops around like a gazelle and wards off opponent’s elbows (while tossing a few of her own), very few likely know the devastating pride and swallowing of emotion that quietly takes place on the sidelines every game I get to witness this kid in action—especially on that very raw and rainy Mother’s Day.

Yes, life is sometimes rough and challenging and disappointing. Some days, some weeks, and hell yes--some years, we hurt more than others. To this point, I know things may change for Miller, including her current stoic outlook about all this.We will return to the doctor in August to see how she's feeling and if she wants to consider minor surgery to adjust her tendons to alleviate some of the tightness in flexation. For now, she says no--especially if it's going to impact her ability to play fall soccer.

Life's playing field will never, ever be level for everyone. Like this amazing kid, who gives me constant reason to celebrate being a mother on *nearly* every day of the year, may we all figure out a way to rise above the associated pain and challenges we face on the field. And in those challenging times, may we somehow, eventually, find our way to grace and deep gratitude for the strength, resiliency, and the levity that allows us to stay in the game.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dissecting Generosity

Ten o'clock at night is not an optimal time for me to start writing. But since I'm only hammering out an update, I thought I would give it a go. There's a good chance I'll end up falling asleep and drowning in a drool puddle before I'm done. Thankfully, the only one here to marvel at that horrific site is the little invalid Corgi mix laying beside me looking like she's picking up Dish TV signals from her largely-coned head. 

She won't mind.

As you might guess, I'm currently house and dog sitting for a couple of days for friends who have left me their Queen size bed, bottles of wine, really excellent guacamole, Apple TV, and their washer and dryer (which might be my favorite part of this whole deal) to use to my heart's content. I had planned on writing a general update from here this weekend to fill people in on the latest fundraising efforts, etc. I'm trying to make a final push so I can take down my GoFundMe page, send off my thank yous, and just use PayPal to host any possible future contributions that might come in. This post was originally intended to talk a bit about that and the various tasks I'm tackling to prepare for the trip ahead.

Instead, I want to write a bit about what happened to me this morning and simply send out more thanks.

This morning, I woke too early to what my friend Shari so perfectly coined as "jerk birds" who were loudly announcing the sun's terrible attempt to rise. I checked in on the furry patient, hid a few pills in some prosciutto for her to secretly snarf and then flirted with my other favorite amenity--the handsome, capable Keurig.  I grabbed my phone to check my messages and right on the heels of my Daily Love email was a notification that someone had made a $1000.00 donation to my PayPal account. 

I really thought this was a mistake. I squinted. I looked again at all those zeros and thought my tired old eyes must have been foolishly adding another zero to the amount. I swiped at my phone screen to enlarge the amount and there they were. Three zeros parading behind the number one. The only thing missing was a marching band.

I've said it before, but as many of you know, that's never stopped my from repeating myself to make a point. I would not be able to participate in the Writer's Mastermind retreat without the help of others. It just couldn't and wouldn't happen. Every single donation has helped to make this possible. From the four crumpled, sweaty one dollar bills from one of Jackson's 6th grade friends, to my incredible cousin who generously donated last month's tuition payment. Every single donation has pushed me forward financially, but each and every one has truly throttled me emotionally. 

Before I fall asleep on my Dell, I want to try and make this point, even if poorly. Every single word of encouragement shared with me still echos in my ears. I have made a gorgeous visual shrine from all the cards you've sent with your generosity tucked inside. I have printed out your emails and all of the comments from my GoFundMe page and I'm bringing them all to Bali with me to share with Mastin and to inspire me to work my ass off. They have become rather necessary.

As I said to my very generous donor this morning, I am aware there are many great people and causes that could have used his incredible donation. I am beyond amazed that he chose me and completely gobsmacked by the words used to deliver his donation.

Especially in light of the fact we've never officially met (which is a story for another day, perhaps.)

I continue to be quite beside myself when I re-read the beautifully-articulated reasoning behind this donation. And all of the others for that matter. I wouldn't dare place a value on the incredible emotional impact these will have when I'm half way around the planet and homesick as hell. I'll be curling up with your words as I'm writing my own.

And I'll be forever thankful.

OK. It's 12:49 and I have to try and sleep a bit before my hour+ morning drive to watch the girlie and her pals kick around the soccer ball. I'm not even going to reread this tonight for editing before posting, so please forgive me grammar gods and punctuation princes.

And hey. Jerk birds. I'll take that 6:00 wake up call.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Since you asked...

A barely sun-kissed Saturday morning and I already have one kid's hoop win on the books, taken in from the top row behind an extra large pumpkin coffee, cream only. The other kid rainbow-loomed her way through four quarters and into another bracelet to tourniquet her wrist while I cheered (embarrassed the daughter) and thumb-wrestled with a few dreadlocks that showed up on my head sometime in the middle of the night, defeating all attempts to brush them out before game time.

After finger combing them out into a rage, I look like Questlove.

Anyway, I'm overdue to tap out an update and since I've got this tiny window between the girlie's sleepover and afternoon all-star practice, I thought I would use the time to answer a few questions I've been asked since I was offered the chance to participate in The Daily Love's Writers Mastermind retreat in November. I've had some of the most interesting, odd, heart-wrenching, mind-blowing, pass-the-Kleenex conversations since being selected for this opportunity just a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I look forward to these conversations because no matter which side of the fence y'all sit on (and trust me, there are plenty of people who have expressed dismay, concern and eyebrow-raised wise-assery about this opportunity), I am supreme-priced fueled by both my supporters and my naysayers alike. Continue to ask away.

Here are some answers to the more frequent, entertaining things I've been asked so far. Please feel free to add any additional questions and thought via email, Facebook, or in the comments below. I'm eager to ponder, answer, or get into the ring with you Lucha Libre-style.

1. "Crowdsourcing? Why?"

This question often has an additional question or comment attached:

"Don't you have a credit card?"
A shrunken apple-faced "I'm not a fan of crowdsourcing campaigns."
"Can you take out a loan?"
"What is the timeline for your campaign?"
"Do you have to earn all of your goal to keep the money you've already raised?"
"How much is GoFundMe making off your campaign?"

The quick answers, in order, are:

...because I need financial help and I want to keep it organized and legal., I don't own a credit card. Collateral damage from the divorce.
...I'm sorry you don't like crowdsourcing campaigns. It's OK. You can unpinch your face now. In the words of the late, great Leslie Nielson, "Move along. Nothing to see here."
...I am looking into loans, but right now, the outlook isn't as favorable as I would like it to be. (Please see divorce collateral damage comment above for details.) campaign doesn't have an *official* timeline, but I need to raise almost $1,800.00 a month to make my room/board/tuition payments from now until May (my last payment's due date.), I don't have to raise my entire goal in order to keep my donations. GoFundMe allows me to set a goal, but I get to keep everything raised since I didn't choose to do an "all-or-nothing" campaign.
...the GoFundMe folks (and their payment platform people) make a combined 7% of my earnings.

The short answer? I'm crowdsourcing because my financial circumstances humbly require it.

2. "How did you get selected for this opportunity?"

It really all started with my daily read of The Daily Love and an overpour of Malbec.

I had been half-eyeballing the application link in my peripheral vision while I was reading one night. Half ignoring it. I was certainly struck by the lofty idea of actually finishing my book, which sat in bits and chunks on a Mozy cloud somewhere because my computer pulled off Fred Sanford's threat and suffered the big one, Elizabeth. The Virgo in me hates unfinished business. The INFJ in me deeply desires to create things designed to help others. One thing was certain in my mind that night. If I was ever going to finish this thing, I would need specific help dealing with the messy, emotional stuff that was preventing me from getting this project done. More than Cadbury Eggs and lingering kisses where my neck and shoulder join, I craved an opportunity like this.

So I poured more wine, clicked and typed. I submitted the initial application, made it through that and the following that came along after, and ended the process with a very exciting final phone interview frantically tucked into a work lunch break where I also unknowingly chewed off both thumbnails.  I didn't think I stood a chance.

But then again, what the hell do I know?

3. "Does the world really need another memoir about divorce?"

Hell if I know. I just know that I need to write one.

I've been trying to write this thing for years without an ounce of decent discipline, a proper editor, and with a head quite complete with reasons why I shouldn't be writing this.Yet, I also have been troubled with ticking Tourette's thoughts about this; thoughts regularly reinforced by a variety of people and situations in my life.

Thankfully my muse isn't afraid to elbow her way through my resistance once in awhile. She has shown up on baseball sidelines as an acquaintance who commented on my co-parenting approach, asking for advice. Sometimes she'll show up as a friend or client wanting me to speak with someone who is struggling with divorce, an affair, or parenting. My favorite is when she arrives fisted into a beautiful compliment punching fast into my always tightly-wound chest.

"You should write a book."

So guess what? I'm writing one.

3. "Is this a scam? I'm worried this is a scam. Who is running this thing, anyway?"

At ease, skeptics. It's O.K. I'll be working with Kelly Notaras, who did editing and publishing with Harper/Collins/William Morrow, Penguin USA, and Hyperion for the past 15 years before opening her own full service book studio. I'll also be working with Patricia Verducci, who wrote and directed "True Crime" and has written screenplays for Touchstone, FX, and Disney/Pixar. Her documentaries have been on HBO and Showtime and she teaches screenwriting at UCLA's Creative Writing Program.

I will be writing and workshoping every day with these women and 29 other writers. Most importantly, I get to work directly, daily with The Daily Love's Mastin Kipp to deal with my baggage and resistance issues, which might be the biggest lure of all for my insecure, shy self.

It's legit.

4. "How much is this going to cost you in the end? Why does it cost so much? Why don't you go to (the Cape, Vermont, a cabin, some secluded hotel [Shining, anyone?], your locked bedroom, The Pavilion) and just finish this on your own?"

In my estimation, this thing will likely run me $15,000 total, with the Mastermind portion costing about $10,000 of that. This cost takes care of my room for the entire month as well as all of my meals and 28 days of individual and group mentoring. It's all-inclusive in that aspect. The rest of the associated costs will come from renewing my passport, plane fare, and the costs to run my household while I'm away on this unpaid sabbatical. It's not cheap to spend a month studying with mentors half way around the world. Once in a lifetime opportunities can be pricey. This is obviously one of those cases.

The location has been chosen for creating perfect immersion in a highly creative, healthy, spiritual cocoon. Biorhythms beware. The time zone and structure will eliminate distractions from social media and family--although withdrawals from both could easily kill me in the first 48 hours and this could be all for not. This will be very intense, accelerated, life-altering, mental shackle-breaking stuff. Stuff that I certainly can't do on my own in a week on the Cape or a cabin in Conway.

There is no doubt I will be delivered a wilting bouquet of long-stemmed regrets if I do not pursue this opportunity. So suck it, FTD florist. I'm going.

5. "How else can I help?"

I am still trying to sort through kindhearted offers for fundraisers in the form of music house parties (fun right?), a night of local music where proceeds will be donated, a Family Fun Night Out hosted by my kids and their adorable friends that will likely include some sort of auction. I'm trying to be as creative and non-annoying as possible while rallying enough inner courage and funds to make this happen without losing my mind somewhere along the way.

If you have a thought, suggestion, raffle donation, a friend with frequent flier miles to spare, a positive comment, a lottery win, a certain paranoia about online donations and you want to donate via snail mail, or should you happen upon an IRS return windfall and you believe in this opportunity and care to share? Well then. Paula Abdul and I are forever your (deeply grateful) girls.

6. "Are you scared?"

Some of the time, yes.

The last year plus has rolled out it's share of half-assed Spooky World moments including pending cancer testing results, 10 months of unemployment where I somehow made ends "sort of" meet, and varietal breakdowns of vehicles, conversations, belief systems and love. Just last week, I had a verbally secured and committed entire March Bali payment pulled out from under me. Poof. Gone. That scared me a bit. Right now the notion of leaving my kids and paycheck to fly solo half way around the world for 28 days to gut myself open for others to see and criticize makes me want to launch my feta and spinach omelet all over this keyboard.

I try not to look back too much at things that frighten me. I try. Thankfully, the rear view mirror is small and my eyesight blows. I am more forward in my fear facing. I try and look at fear with the same sociopath's stare recently demoed to me in my personal life. On occasion, I'll even flip out and "Marcus Smart" fear back into his second row seat. Sorry, you might have to Google that if you're not a SportsCenter fan.

It's also been scary to ask for help in such a public way. I've been feeling, however, that it would be a bit hypocritical not to ask--especially since I have learned that when I'm able to help others, it truly sets fire to my insides. It's why I do the work I do. It feels so good to be able to pull someone out of poverty's swamp, to walk with them through the horrible shit they're facing, and help them to GPS possible paths out. For some of my participants, it's the first time they've been given permission to dream. It's a remarkable feeling to make that kind of difference. So in theory, I guess it makes sense to be brave enough to ask for help and offer others the chance to make that kind of impact in my life and buy a share of my dream.

Finally, to the folks who have asked the question "so, what's in it for me?" I guess that's ultimately for you to decide. I mean sure, I've built in some small incentives for donations. But I can't really say what's in it for you. I know why I have personally GoFunded and KickStarted others' projects squarely in the ass. Like my welfare-to-work clients, I want others to know I believe in their artistic vision, in second chances, and in their daredevil dreams. If I had more cash, I would do it every day, all day long. If you don't happen to feel that way, especially about my particular gig, no harm, no foul.

Regardless of how you feel about this, I hope you find or participate in something that lights you up brighter than a firework barge, gives you a sense of community and belonging, and allows your heart, mind or belief system to expand in some way. I hope you submit that application, take that risk, say those words, endorse that dream. I truly hope you choose to invest in something that allows you, and perhaps another, to be a little bit more.

You can help here:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dream on.


It's been awhile since I've posted anything here.

Not that I haven't been writing. It's just that lately it has been restricted to grant applications, standard operating procedures, and pen-to-paper scribbles in my journal. It's been a little easier to stick to those particular things these days, especially since my personal computer decided to call it a day after limping through summer with apparently enough trojans to prevent teen pregnancy in the U.S. for the next three months.

This is a quick post to get me back in the game. Hopefully, consistently. Although tonight I'm currently distracted by the time and an annoying case of Reynaud's that's still bothering me even though I'm wrapped up in fingerless gloves, two pairs of socks, and an infinity scarf that's wound so tightly around my face I look like a wooly pink ninja. I'm also oddly distracted by the combination of RufusWainwright and Snoop Dogg serenading Billy Joel at the Kennedy Center Awards.

But that's a subject for another day when it's not so late and my fingers don't feel like I've been hanging in a bobhouse ice fishing for a week.

I thought it would be wise to start using my blog to update y'all on progress regarding getting myself to Bali for The Daily Love's Writers Mastermind next November. Sure, next November might seem like a long way away, but let's face it. Time flies like those crazy, shockingly-handsome adrenaline junkies that were flinging themselves off mountain tops in nothing but flying squirrel costumes on 60 Minutes tonight.

Next November will be here before you know it.

Before I tuck myself into bed, I wanted to give y'all an exciting update before I start truly lambasting you with GoFundMe promotion. I'm almost at 20% of my goal in just 10 days of starting this campaign. I know the site says I've been campaigning longer, but that stat is incorrect. While I created the template of the page at an earlier date, I didn't start to promote the site until 10 days ago. Since then, 28 people have generously tossed in almost 20% of my goal.

Unfathomable. Cartwheel material, really. Especially since, while doing hours of stone-fingered grant and scholarship research today, it has become even more apparent that this GoFundMe campaign is going to be more important than I had anticipated. As you might have gathered, this whole sabbatical will actually cost more than my GFM goal. (How many of you are laughing at this acronym right now? Raise your hand...)

Anyway, my original plan was to fund what I can, which has already included the down payment to secure my spot in class, to raise money via GFM, and to tap into art and writing scholarships to supplement the rest.

But guess what?

All NH State Council on the Arts Arts and Entrepreneurial Grants and Individual Artists Fellowships are suspended  for FY2014 due to insufficient resources.

All of them.

My heart cracked a little. Not for me, I might add. I'm actually more inspired than ever to raise the required funds. But I did feel a bit banged up when I read this.  I mean, here we are, on the verge of perceived newness--a new year lined with shiny new budgets, dreamy possibilities and an armful of Danielle Laporte-inspired goals with soul. And damn it, like a March reality check when January's resolutions fall and face-plant in the slush, there is simply no money available for a single individual artist in 2014 through the NH State Council on the Arts. Not a penny.

How the hell are we supposed to get our "Virginia Woolf" on when there's no way to afford a room of our own unless it's attached to a Section 8 application?

All I know is this. If it gets to that point , I'm putting in an application for a 4 bedroom so I can move my muse in.

Sweet dreams, dreamers.


Dream with me here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Promise of a Hero

Thursday's horrifying elementary school shooting has everyone throwing up thoughts on social media pages like an over-served pledging fraternity boy. Heavy sadness, anger, and grief hurls from guts and those of us who were fortunate enough to be able to pick up our elementary school kids from their “safely” locked building on Thursday afternoon mop up the remaining mental mess with held breath and not nearly enough Fabreezy thoughts to make this terrible thing go away.

Everything is within six degrees of Sandy Hook. Second amendment flags wave and snap too soon, stinging like locker room towels against a quarterback's behind, NRA haters flail fatality statistics, mental illness advocates tell I told-you-so stories, and the West Baptist Little House of Worship Horrors prepares for a Connecticut debut. Some angrily equate this event to the US drone strikes that have killed innocent children in other countries, while others post beautiful spit-shined, toothless school portraits and interviews of young children who were ushered and begged to shush in dark closets while Adam Lonza walked their school halls and killed 20 of their school mates and 6 beloved educators. Even the most talented of surgical hands couldn't stitch this unthinkable mess back together without leaving a scar as thick and as glaring as the one Roger Daltrey bravely dared to bare when his buttons finally bid farewell during “Love Reign O'er Me” during Wednesday's concert for that other horrible Sandy incident.

How can I even begin to explain this to my kids?

To the best of my knowledge and ability my children have not seen a single news report of this event. We've been on media lock down for the entire weekend. I chose to have a very brief discussion with them on Friday, reassuring them with a voice jacked up worse than Hepburn's that while they were very safe and sound, something unusual and terrible had happened at a school in CT and because they may hear others talking about it over the weekend, I felt I needed to mention something. I explained that before I went into any great details I was going to wait a few days for accurate information to surface and that before school on Monday I would tell them things I thought they might need to know. While I would have preferred not to have said anything, I am very well aware that every family handles news like this a bit differently, and some children have quite likely been allowed to watch news coverage along side of their horrified parents. Knowing there were basketball games to attend and kid conversations to take place all weekend long, I wanted to be a little proactive. I'm quite certain by now many children are now prepared to report a third-grader filtered version of whatever their horrified parents posted on Twitter. I decided right away that I wanted to be the one to try and address this before the playground chatter served this up through a gaggle of confused and unsettled children over Monday morning's game of snowball tag.

In true press corps fashion Miller reminded me Sunday morning that I was due for an official news briefing.

I didn't serve up more information than I was asked for, and even that felt like too much to share with my eight and ten year old children who were unfortunately growing up a little bit sooner this morning and right before my very eyes beginning to think of Monday's school day and the world very differently. They are so curious. They ask away and we talked in very general terms about the horribly perfect (and thankfully very unusual) storm caused when a mentally ill person gains unfortunate, inappropriate access to unnecessary assault weapons. We talked about the brave people who helped save so many lives. We talked about all of the ways we work to keep ourselves safe at school and at home and it wasn't long before Jackson had his fill. He is well aware of his limitations regarding things like this and decided it was time to take a personal time out. Miss Miller, however, was just getting started. She waited behind while her brother left to process things over a game of Madden '13 and knowingly shut the door behind him to protect our exiting empath who was suffering enough. She returned to sit on the edge of my unmade bed where this whole conversation was carefully unfolding like a flag before hanging. She stared at me for a good minute before saying anything at all.

“So children died?”

“Yes. Children died.”

We stare again for what feels like hours. We both are putting forth a valiant effort not to cry.

“How many died?”

I don't want to answer. I tell her so. I tell her just one is too many and that the numbers don't matter.

“Well like a hundred?!” There's a bit of panic in her voice.

No, not one hundred.

“Well how many then?”
She is not going to let this go.

I inhale deep, hold my breath like a balloon and eventually exhale a loud slow soul-deflating hiss. I really want to do the right thing here. So I'm stalling. I'm a firm believer in honesty, but I also know it shouldn't always be ultra-specific. I am tired and emotional and completely off my game. I begin to think I'm fucking this up royally. She's waiting, but her patience is running out.

“How many mom?”

I panic. I mumble the word twenty and immediately regret it.

I watch her brow furrow as she sits quietly and does some mental math. “That's like my whole class. Like almost everybody.” I imagine from the look on her face that she's thinking about her classmates, her friends, their faces, and trying to process something like this happening somewhere on her third grade wing. I am pissed that I gave her an actual number and envision pulling my hair and smacking my forehead like the late, hilarious Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney saying something like “ when elementary school was fun? And, uh, you used to only have to worry about being scared that your cranky music teacher with the very high waisted pants might yell at you? Yeah. That was so awesome.”

Miller is still staring and I'm totally failing to find my “The love you take is equal to the love you make” moment.

Cue Farley's “IDIOT! You're so STUPID!!” I want to prat fall into the empty moving boxes that still sit in my room and be done with this. Suddenly, I'm ripped from my fantasy SNL debut by Miller's voice.

“I don't want to die at school, Mom.”

I can't stand it. My eight year old child--barely a year beyond most of the children who lost their lives Thursday--now has to consider the possibility, no matter how slight, that someone could somehow figure out a way to get into her locked elementary school, bust open the door to her classroom and do the previously unthinkable. I watch a bit of innocence evaporate as she stares back into me. Life and love are so not for the faint of heart. I reach over and tighten her pony tail and we sit quietly while I search for some brave new words.

It wasn't long before Miller interrupted the silence to ask me for the impossible. She wanted some sort of promise that something bad like this wasn't going to happen again.

Using the word promise is a really big deal in my house. For me it is a sacred word and it couldn't be clearer. If I use the word promise, my children know that I am guaranteeing something. It's going to 100% abso-fucking-lutely happen. Or not happen. The end. So if I promise I will be home by 9:00 pm to kiss them goodnight, that I will sew the strap onto a dress before Tuesday, that I will not forget to pick them up from a play date, or that I will bring in Newman's lemonade juice boxes in for the holiday party, it's happening. Drink up, Johnny! A promise is a promise. They know this.

This has worked to every one's advantage. I'm no doubt still successfully pulling off this pending Santa business because no one has (likely strategically) elected to officially ask me about the big guy using the P word. No one has dared to ask “Do you prooooomise you're not Santa?” I suspect they are fully aware of the potential implications of that question, and so while they are willing to ask about my “involvement” with Santa, I'm able to act like his half-assed accomplice a la Lt. Debra Morgan and just bumble horribly through half-truths and fibbish responses until they leave me alone.

I'm suddenly well aware that Miller is using a little reverse strategy here. She is in desperate, deserved need of a promise right now. One I so very desperately and deservedly want to give her. But I can't. I mean I could lie, but I can't lie. I can't look my kid in the eye and make a promise that I can't guarantee.

For the last two nights I have barely been able to sleep thinking about the myriad of mentally ill children I have worked with over the past 20 years and how we continue to cut resources for, quickly diagnose, over and half-ass medicate, and isolate these children and families. As someone once responsible for coordinating services for some of the neediest families in our state, I simply could never in my heart promise that something horrible like this is not going to happen again because I am soberly aware that it could happen at any moment in some of the most precious and unthinkable places.

“I can't promise something like this isn't going to happen again. It hopefully won't. I think there's less chance of it happening now that we're all talking about it. I think we'll all work hard to try and make sure it doesn't ever happen again. But I can't promise something bad like this won't ever happen again. But here's something I can promise you. Principal Boodey and Mrs. K and Mr. Roux and Nurse Claudia, and your librarian and Mr. Charlie and allllll of your teachers are your Woodman Park heroes. They are there everyday to teach you and to protect you. You have a school full of superheroes on your side every single day. Teachers are heroes. That I can promise you.”

I'm just getting on a roll, back on my game, prepared to tell her a simplified version of how I can also promise her that I'm going to contact our legislators and advocate more aggressively for the elimination of assault weapons and for better mental health services. But before I can continue, she suddenly stands up.

“OK, Mom.”

She leaves, but not before grabbing the wipe board and orange dry-erase marker she propped up against the wall before we started out chat and says “Let's go, class.” You see, just before this discussion Miller was jotting the names of her stuffed animal students and playing school, as she does in literally every spare moment. My daughter longs to be a teacher. A hero.


“Are you OK, Mill?”

“Yeah. I'm OK.”

With that, she disappears from sight. And as her feet pad down the hallway carrying her very well behaved “students” back to class, I whisper the question I didn't dare to ask straight to her beautiful moonie face for fear of her answer.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Letting Go Of The Grass.

"Hey, Mom. Can we die together? Like at the same time. Or at least on the same day?"

This sudden, scratchy inquiry emerges from the eight year old snuggled under my armpit. One minute we're howling at what Miller inadvertently called Christina Aguilera's "calluses" (she meant cleavage, but noticing how rough around the edges Xtina looks tonight, I think calluses might also be a pretty accurate descriptor) and the next we're having our quarterly "Revolt Against Death" talk. Just one of several heartsick habits here.

"I really want us to die on the same day, Mom. If we can. Because I don't think I could go on without you. That would be too sad for me." Voice now quivering, she is on the verge of tears and I quickly pull her closer so she isn't hit by my falling jaw.

It's at this moment I give brief thanks for the fact I have started feverishly biting my fingernails again. Because that's likely the only thing that's currently preventing me from being able to claw into my chest cavity with my own fingers to pull out my aching heart. Cue my mental Iron and Wine montage. Geese sadly fly south over autumn's ending while I'm quietly whispering the likely sad truth my heart wants to share as beautifully as Sam Beam.

"One of us will die inside these arms
eyes wide open
naked as we came
one will spread our ashes round the yard..."

"That's not the way it works, Miller. It's not up to us. Plus, if I have my way, you are going to live many, many years beyond me into what I imagine will be your really beautiful, wonderful life." That's about all I can muster before I start biting into the east side of my mouth to defer the pain from my chest. And look! Calluses Aguilera is back from her commercial break and so it appears we can thankfully start the laugh tracks again.

"So has anyone ever tried hanging on?"

This was another couch question tossed at me a few weeks later, seemingly from left field. Well, actually from my left armpit where the always curious blondie was again snuggled deep in my side while windshield wipering the top of her lemon Italian ice with her spoon.

"Tried hanging on? Hanging on to what? And who is hanging?" I obviously have no idea what this kid is talking about right now. But if you've ever held court and conversation with an eight year old girl, you know this kind of confusion isn't uncommon.

"You know, like when you die. Has anyone ever tried to hang on to, like, the grass? Or a tree branch? You right before you die and before you're sucked up to heaven or the sky or wherever you go. Has anyone ever tried to hang on to the grass?" She musters up what I imagine is supposed to be some sort of a death face, eyes crossed and rolling up into her noggin while she pretends to grab at something.

How absolutely sweet and amazing and hilarious and wonderful. How absolutely,  annihilatingly Miller. I begin to imagine people frantically hanging onto garden gnomes and grasping flamingo necks...people white-knuckling tree branches and grasping onto fistfuls of grass and I can't help but laugh.

Thankfully, she starts laughing too.

"I don't know, Miller. I just don't think that would actually work, do you?"

She pauses to give it more consideration and smirks.

"Probably not. I mean, I don't see a lot of people hanging around. So that probably wouldn't work even if you tried, I guess." She seems a little bit sad as her raspy voice trails off a bit, but soon we both start a low-grade church giggle that thankfully lasts for the next several minutes and lightens the air.

Death and dying questions and conversations happen frequently in this house. They originate from both the boy and the girlie, who are each pretty thougthful and sensitive souls.

"Why are we even here if we just have to die and leave after? That's just really sad."

"Does everything have to die?"

"What happens when you die?"

"How many dead people do you know?"

"Have you every touched a dead person?"

Most often, when the death chatter comes, it's in response to a very overtired, melancholy voice simply stating the obvious.

"I really don't want to die."

This is probably a great time to give credit and thanks to Leo Buscalgia and Daniel, his calm, knowing leaf, for arming me with some simple, lovely language to comfort my little fretting "Freddies." Death can indeed feel very big and scary if we linger too long, molding our mental death masks.  Instead, let's acknowledge it and move on, loves. Let's try to concentrate on living our best life and doing our individual and collective jobs. Better to "experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain" and to "learn to dance and to laugh."

Because in the end, once all this wonderful living takes place, Daniel the wise, wide leaf gently reminds us, "Everything dies."

That's how it's beautifully described in Buscalgia 's book "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf."  That's the way it's ideally supposed to be.

But as we know, and are sadly reminded, that's not always the way it happens. We were reminded of this recently when a very bright, lovely, and promising 16 year old took his own life as it was seemingly just entering the starting gate.

He was extended family, the son of the cousin of my former husband on the Batchelder side of his family, which comes flanked with an unspoken "once you're in, you're in" motto. Sicilian mafia style. So regardless of things like divorce and time, our family tightly remains family and my kids saw first hand several adult hearts fracture as we all baked and fondled Kleenex and tried to grasp this magnificent loss and what it meant to all who loved him dearly and were left behind to cope.

This prompted the kids to ask some really difficult questions. Being naturally curious and slightly obsessed death themselves, they really wanted to understand why a person would feel the need to end their life. Why would someone actually choose to die?

"But why, mom?" (repeat eight million times)

There are sadly established things that can't be properly compartmentalized with words. Suicide is one. Especially when from the comfortably-seated audience you only see a successful, wonderful, hopeful motion picture playing out. So I've tried to carefully navigate this, explaining that one of the most beautiful things about teenagers is they are often boldly brave and incredibly impulsive.

However, one of the most horrible thing about teenagers is that they are often boldly brave and incredibly impulsive.

I keep telling my kids that it's OK that it doesn't make sense right now. I hug them tightly into my chest, smell their beautiful heads, and tell them how much I love them. Maybe even too much for their own good. I tell them they can, and should, keep asking me questions and that I will always try to help them find the right answers. I will also help them cope with the fact we may never find all of them.

I keep hoping that's enough.

A few weeks after the funeral, the kids randomly asked to see Cody's 16th birthday video again. We sat on the couch, arms and legs tangled, watching on the tiny screen of my phone. The chorus to Fun's "We Are Young" played and both kids began to quietly sing along. I could barely hold my 4.7 ounce phone up. "He was really handsome, Mom," Jackson remarked. I couldn't muster more than a cracked half yes from my throat, which I followed with a nod and a squeeze to his hand. I could feel Miller move her giant blues from the video to my black streaked face, which would have no doubt given Alice Cooper's a solid run for his money back in the day, and she watched and waited as I pushed my sweatshirt sleeve around to mop my face up, soaking the cuff.  She sweetly patted my back to reassure me as the video ended, and with one small, perfect sentence, this eight year old defined this horrible heartbreak better that any adult could on their most articulate day.

"I think Cody just felt like he needed to let go of the grass, Mom."