Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I have never been very good at making friends.  Part of the problem is my natural shyness and a difficulty warming up in new situations.  I don't have old friends my hometown or college.  My oldest friend is my ex-neighbor Mary Lou.

Mary Lou and I lived on the same street in West Seattle.  We met when she came collecting for the Red Cross with her tow-headed twins.  Her daughters are a year older than my oldest daughter.  She and I struck up a conversation and have been talking ever since.  Numberous cups of coffee have been drank together while we watched the children grow.  We took ESL and guitar lessons together.  We have gone to parks and plays.  We even played volleyball on a church league together.  It was a total fiasco and our name, Luther's Losers, was very appropriate.

I moved away when the twins were nine, but we have kept in touch.  Some years it has only been a Christmas card, but whenever I came back to Seattle I made a date with Mary Lou.  Since I have moved back I try to see her several times a year.  She lives in the same house as when our children were small.  I have moved five times since then.  She is married to the same man for nearly forty years and I am recently divorced.  Her life is always so serene and upbeat.  Mine is always frenetic and stress filled, but she puts up with me for reasons I don't fully understand. Our lives are very different but the friendship remains. The connection is always there.

Mary Lou and I had dinner together last night.  Two of our daughters are now mothers and we get to share pictures of the grandchildren.  We discuss what a wonderful world this would be if we were in charge.  We share a love of books and our travel stories.  We ate Chinese and laughed.  We were the last people to leave the resturant.

Many years ago after I had moved from our little neighborhood, I had a dream.  In the dream I was lost and so alone.  I dispaired of finding anyone in that dark and lonely place.  I rounded a corner and found Mary Lou.  She was dressed in white and she was surrounded by a radiant glow.  She is a large, soft woman and as she took me in her arms I was enveloped in her love. 

Mary Lou is a true friend.  We don't share a lot in life except for that love of books, motherhood, and now grandmotherhood, but there is always that connection.  I feel as warmed by her now as I felt when I woke from that marvelous dream.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Yesterday I received an email from a friend.  I had posted 100 pages of my memior to several friends in an attempt to see if I was writing something of value or it was just self-serving schlock better saved for my kids to read when I am no longer here.

I had received one back from my friend Chassily Wakefield who pointed out my typos and grammatical errors.  She always likes what I write and other than my choppy first page she seems to like what I am doing.  An old friend from medical school said it brought back a lot of memories of our time together there.  She criticized my use of explatives but when I read some of it through they are appropriate.  I was very angry at those points in the story. 

Other people I sent it to have not responded.  I don't know if that is because they didn't like it, or they are just too busy in their lives to sit down and read anything.  I hope it is the latter.

But when I got Jen's note it gave me a warm feeling.  Jen is a graduate student in library science in Boston.  She reads a lot!  I value her opinion. This is what she said:

"I just had to let you know that I hadn't had a chance to start reading your manuscript, but then today at work, while waiting for a report to run, I thought it would be a good time to take a few minutes and read a few pages. Well, I got so pulled into it that I completely forgot that I was at work and before I knew it, I was on page 46! When I realized how long I'd spent not doing a single bit of work, I forced myself to close the document and refocus, but wow! I did spot some little things here and there - typos and such - that I'll make note of and send back to you, but I just had to let you know that overall, you've really got a gripping story here. I know you've mentioned bits and pieces of it to us before, but I just had no idea of the extent of what you went through. It makes me want to come give you a big hug (which I intend to do at LeakyCon!) and tell you how amazing you are and how proud I am to see where you are today and how far you've come from the incidents you're describing in this book. I cannot wait to finish reading it - I intend to use that as my motivation and bribery to myself to finish my school reading as quickly as possible so I can get back to it."

Thank you Jen for restoring my faith in this project.  I am going to work on that choppy first page and a query letter today and get it sent off. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I haven't given much thought to money in the past decade or so.  My ex-husband and I were resonably well off.  We had a two income household, a modest housepayment and the cars were paid off.  We were frugal and didn't buy a thing unless we had the money in our pocket to pay for it.

Somewhere along the line, money got out of hand.  I don't know whether it was the recession or that my income has stayed static for the past ten years while inflation has zoomed out of control.  I think our divorce had something to do with it but I can't imagine what since my ex had not shared in the household expenses for a long time. I think a major culprit is an adult daughter and her family who always seem to need something and never have the money to buy it, inspite of their expensive cell phones and big screen TVs.

Irregardless of the the cause, I find myself waking up at night worrying about money.  Twelve years ago when I became a doctor I was making good money.  When I left that office four years ago to set up my own, I took a paycut to get the practice started and it was enough for just the ex and I and everything was fine.  But this year, the bottom fell out.  Income is down 15% from last year.  I have given myself yet another paycut to make ends meet at the office, but now my household is cut to the bare bones.

I am back to when I was first married, counting every penny and hoping I will have enough to buy lunch tomorrow, while still carrying the burden of my daughter and her three children.  I have a lot of money in savings, but I am afraid to dip into it because that is there for when I retire.  And my novel is nowhere near to being sold for that big six figure advance. 

So what to do?  I suppose I could sell my practice to a big box medical group, but then I would be forced to march to the tune of someone else's drummer, something I am very bad at doing.  I suppose I could let my daughter go from her receptionist posisition but that would only backfire on me even more because then I would be picking up more of their expenses.  I suppose I can tighten my belt even further and forgo my lunches out and make my ten year old car run for another thirty thousand miles.  Or I could get a weekend job at Walmart or McDonalds to supplement my income.

It really made me angry yesterday when it was reported that the recession is over.  For whom?  The Wall Street bigwigs that created this problem or the CEO's of insurance companies who keep raising premeiums but haven't increased reimbursement for services in ten years. I don't get it, but I can't waste the energy trying to change that which I have no control over.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I will go back to square one and start by changing myself.  Goodbye lunch out and Hello sack lunches.  Goodbye theater and concerts and Hello Red Box.  Sorry Ky cat, but it is little Friskies for you.  And daughter and grandkids, no, just no.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


The new project for my story circle group has to do with beginnings.  This is a difficult assignment for me.  I don't remember the first day of school or getting my first paycheck.  Even my birthdays are just non-events.

I remember my wedding and the birth of my children.  I remember a fall I took on the family farm which changed the way I look at life and death.  I remember the phone call telling me I was accepted to medical school, but the first day is a blur.

Some images of my life are so painfully acute that they are difficult to unbandage and take a good look at.
Other aspects of my life are clouded in mystery.  My own birth is clouded in speculation. I remember things which my mother always told me didn't happen or that I could not have remembered.  And since memories are always tainted by the experiences of the rememberer, it is impossible to know what is truth.

I found a quote in a book yesterday.  It summed up how I felt when I left the group with this new project looming.  It is from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and is attributed to her character Vida Winter.

"All children mythologize their birth.  It is a universal trait.  You want to know someone?  Heart, mind and soul?  Ask him to tell you about when he was born.  What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story.  And nothing is more telling than a story."

So I will chose to do a portait of my mother, as I remember her.  Because in telling that story, I will tell you the mythology of mine.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Life Hiking

At twenty years old I stood at a crossroads. I was attending a college in Southern Idaho, a place I did not want to be. In the past year I had changed my major three times. I had just ended a two year romance which I was glad to see finished, although I was lonely and unsure of when another would come my way. To my right was a verdant path lined with ferns which twisted into a canopy of ancient cedar forest. To my left, a steep, slippery shale slope, virtually impassable without the proper climbing equipment.

I stood at the base of that cliff armed with a rucksack and a couple of tattered maps. I wanted to take the path which scaled that rocky crag, but my mother barred the way up. That dream was too lofty for her imagination. She believed that women could only travel gentle trails and then only with a male companion. I looked down the undemanding the needle-soft wooded path she preferred and then craned my neck up in an attempt to imagine what I might find at the top of the precipice. I knew I could only climb that incline with help, but I was alone.

Grieving for what was lost, I shouldered my rucksack and started down the easier path. After a couple of turns I could no longer see the peak. I found a man sitting by the side of the trail. He asked me to join him on his quest. I gave up on my maps and followed his. Soon, the once friendly, welcoming trail became steeper. The bed of needles gave way to ruts. Sharp rocks jutted out catching the toes of my well worn boots. I wore a blister on my heel. I reached for my husband’s hand, but he batted it away, and scolded me. “Keep up,” he said and I soldiered on trying to emulate his steps.

Years passed and I stumbled more. The weight of the two children I now carried in my pack bent my shoulders. My head ached with the effort to stay on the trail. I trudged, eyes down, not watching where I was headed until, horrified, I realized the once friendly path was now carrying me toward the edge of an abyss.

I clambered back from the edge. “I thought this was the easy path,” I cried and feeling lost, I pulled out my maps. I found the place where I sat trembling and followed a dotted line back to where I had really wanted to go. Now it didn’t really seem that far. I stood up and squared my shoulders. I felt stronger now. My climbing skills had improved. I realized I had picked up some ropes and climbing tools along my hike. I had to try.

I turned back toward that shale slope, my husband running behind me. “I will climb this slope and you will help,” I called out to him. I placed my foot on the first slippery step, and slowly, I began to ascend. Over the next few years, there were tumbles and more than a few skinned knees, but I kept the top of the peak in my sights. I didn’t let ill weather or rock falls deter me. I moved upward, one difficult step at a time.

When at last I crested the summit, I stood amazed at the new vistas which presented themselves. I looked down into the verdant valley where I had started. And at forty years old I stood at a crossroads.


I wrote this for my women's story circle group.  The topic was what you were like at a certain decade of life.  While I was thinking about this I realized I couldn't address myself at 10.  Thirty was an age of discovery about my true roots.  And now at 50 I am still making choices about my future.  Life is full of crossroads and how we navigate them depends on the experiences of the past.

Monday, September 6, 2010


One of the things I never learned in my family of origin was how to have a disagreement.  I have some ideas about why that was.  Possibly it had something to do with being an only child and not having those exasperating sibling rivalry things which I truly believe hone one's skills at disagreement.  The other I believe has to do with my parents, Silent Bob and The Queen of Denial.  Dad never had much to say about anything and my mother's point of view was the only one which mattered so there wasn't much conflict in our household.

I think it also stems from my personality.  I am slow to warm up, and when people do or say things with which I disagree, it takes me a while to process that.  So when someone is rude, I don't have a quick comeback.  I stand there flatfooted wondering what is the right thing to say.  In fact I had a recurring experience with a patient who left me so dumbfounded with her negative pronouncements, that I finally put a notecard in her chart so that the next time it happened I would be prepared with a snappy come back.  I did a simular thing with my ex-mother-in-law whose backhanded "compliments" left me baffled for nearly 25 years.

The reason I am even talking about this is because last night a good friend of mine hurt my feelings.  I was so shocked that he would do such a thing.  Especially since he had asked me for the information I was trying to give him. I shut my mouth and gave him back monosyllables for the rest of our conversation.  I don't think he even noticed.  I fumed about it all evening and this morning sent him off an email about it.  Even then I couldn't put into words how hurt, embarrassed, and bewildered I was at his actions.

This morning someone had shared on Facebook this video of Dane Cook talking about relationships.
I remember the first time I saw it how much I laughed.  I wish I could be that "brain ninja" that he talks about.  I do the foot plant. I start to agree with everything that is said. I do the thing with the hand and then ... nothing.  No timebomb set to go off in my opponent's mind.

I wonder if this is a skill which can be learned.  Snappy Comebacks 101.  I would sign up immediately.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sharing my writing

Yesterday I took a very brave step.  While I have sent pages from my novel to a number of agents, each time shaking as I slipped them into the mail slot, I have not shared my writing with friends or relatives.

Yesterday I emailed the first 100 pages of my memior to trusted relatives and friends.  I wanted to know from them if they felt it was ready to share with an agent who showed some interest in my project.

In the past have been reluctant to share my writing.  It was away to put feelings in a safe place.  Hidden away from prying eyes.  My feelings were not respected when I was growing up.  I was told not to believe my own senses and experiences, so writing became a way to make them solid and real.  Writing for me became so personal that it is difficult to share it with others. 

As I was writing the female protagonist for my novel, so many of Rhiannon's thoughts and experiences are my own (with the exception of the great love affair).  Even writing this fictional character was cathartic for me.  It helped me see the inadequacies of my own life, and helped me move forward toward resolving those issues.

I am finding the composing of this memior to be less healing.  I have lived that part of my life.  The stories within its pages I have told many times.  The conflicts are resolved and the goal has been reached.  I think this memior's purpose is to instuct and hopefully inspire. But to do that, others will have to read it.

I took that first step yesterday and I will be doing more of it with my women's writing group.  I am a storyteller.  So the stories must move from my head to the page.  So off to write!