Thirteen Moons.

Thirteen MoonsThirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cried for 20 minutes when I finished Cold Mountain on my back porch at my shitty apartment back on Dooley Avenue in Richmond, VA. First, because I had finished the book and didn’t want it to end. Second, because I couldn’t believe it ended the way it did. Third, because I had never read such a deeply heartfelt love story in my young life. I felt like this man had grown up as a part of my family, researched my family tree, somehow acquired their voices, and then written a book about them.

Upon finishing Thirteen Moons I cried again. Not as melodramatically (anyone passing Dooley Avenue the day I finished Cold Mountain would’ve thought someone had died) but just as achingly. I opened the back flap of the book and stared long and hard at this man. At this artist who had created this novel. And I hated him. And I loved him. I work like hell to be a writer, and in my wildest dreams, the ones I have at night when you lie awake and just let your mind wander and think sure, that could happen, I think maybe I could be a great writer. A great writer like my favorite author William Kennedy. Someone who creates stories about people who lived. People who loved and hated and died and struggled and people you care about and connect to.

But I hated Mr. Frazier. The jealousy I feel when I read his words knows no bounds. Because I know no matter how hard I work I’ll never be able to write like him. Not only does he create kick ass stories, but he does it with a poet’s heart and sensibility. Imagine Hemingway as a poet. Every word has its place. Every sentence is its own music. Not only is this an astounding story, one that pulls you in from its very first pages, it is a musical story, one I feel might even be more profound if read aloud. I kept hearing Kevin Spacey’s voice as I was reading, lilting over every syllable, slowly drawing out the story as if he was rocking in a chair on a porch and had all the time in the world to tell it to you. God it’s beautiful.

As for the story itself? I loved it even more than Cold Mountain. There is a love story here, but it’s only a part. Will Cooper is an old man when the book begins, and he spends the rest of the novel telling you the adventures he’s lived through. How he was orphaned then indentured to a store owner in the Wilderness of the North Carolina mountains in the early 1800’s. How a Cherokee tribe adopted him as their own son. How he fought for them, for his adopted family, for the right to their land when the US Government ordered them to leave. And all the adventures in between. Who cares if most of it is fiction. It’s a great fucking story.

I’ll admit I’m biased. I love reading books like this – long, meandering sagas told by a single narrator who has lived a LIFE and has a story to tell. It’s probably because I love meeting and knowing people like this. It’s probably because I want to write books like this. But damn you Charles Frazier I wish I could just mind meld with you for 30 seconds so maybe some of that ability to knit an incredible yarn while at the same time weaving poetry all through it would sink into my psyche somehow. Please write another book. Take your time. I’ll wait as long as it takes. And thank you for lifting me up with your words. My life is better because of it. My ambition to write is larger because of it.*

*Yeah, I know this review is kiss-ass adulation to the nth power. Don’t give a shit. The guy fucking rocks. And I don’t think I’ll ever look at the full moon in the same way again. In fact, I’m going to buy some sort of “Moon Calendar” so I know which one is shining. THAT is the effect this book had on me.

View all my reviews

Derick Van Milford.

On this day 26 years ago we lost someone truly special. Derick, the world is less without you in it.

When I was 20 years old I moved in with a couple of friends I’d made at a party on Monument Avenue. I’d gone with a friend of mine who was my sister’s boss, and I remember feeling nervous and scared because I didn’t know anyone there. No worries though because everyone at the gathering was friendly, outgoing, and raucously funny. Most of them were gay and all of them were drinking. It was a fabulous time. I started talking with Graham, found out it was his and his boyfriend David’s apartment, and they needed a roommate. I jumped at the chance since I’d recently moved back home after a truly awful breakup.

The next week I moved in the few things I owned and explored where I’d be living. I noticed a framed snapshot of David on their mantle and was overjoyed to also recognize a good friend, Derick Van Milford. Derick and I had gone to high school together. He always called himself “Van” Milford but to this day I don’t know if that was his name or an affectation. It suited him though. He was wonderful, totally gregarious, friendly, over the top funny and charming. He was also the star of most of our high school productions, the official ones, as well as the non-official ones he persuaded the school higher-ups to allow him to perform. He was two grades ahead of me and I loved him, not only for his humor and grace but because I envied his courage. He was fearless, loud, and popular. Everything I wanted to be. Holding the photograph and smiling to myself, I casually mentioned to David that I knew Derick and asked about his whereabouts. “He’s a good friend. But he died last year. Car accident.”

I was stunned. I actually remember a sharp pain entering my heart right then like a stab. Imagine the soaring hope of being connected with an old friend you adore followed by the frightening crash of learning you’ll never see him again all in the same moment. I got spots in front of my eyes and felt faint. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. That someone so vibrant, vital, and with so much energy and passion for their art would be snatched away like that.

Back in high school I loved theater and movies and wanted more than anything to be an actress. Just one problem. I was painfully shy and suffered from severe social anxiety. Just the thought of speaking aloud in front of a group of people made me want to puke. Or stab myself in the eye. Or puke. We performed the musical Carnival in my sophomore year, and I hid in the chorus as always. It was only when Derick, who was acting as Assistant Director to our Theater teacher Miss Sanchez, announced he needed someone to play a puppet in a key scene with him, that I saw my chance. Here was my opportunity! I could play a major character, an actual speaking role with lines. And those lines could be spoken BEHIND A WALL. I’d never be seen. It was ideal.

Except it wasn’t. In practice I failed time and again. And each time I stumbled I feared replacement. If you’ve ever acted in live theater you know projection to the back of the room is important. Now imagine doing that behind a puppet theater. Now imagine doing it with severe social anxiety. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I was flummoxed. No matter what I did I wasn’t loud enough. I wasn’t boisterous enough. My opera singing wasn’t up to par. The character was supposed to be an opera singer who sings REALLY badly but who thinks she sings great. I was accomplishing neither. Instead of being a cartoon, my character came off as a half-ass robot.

Thankfully Derick possessed major amounts of patience as well as talent. As the other puppet in the scene of course he was flawless. After hours and hours of practice under his direction I began to notice slight changes in my voice. I got louder. My voice got more rounds and edges to it. It got fuller. And under his direction I really learned to let go. I allowed myself to make mistakes in the opera singing and then to amplify them times ten. To let go of the fear of not being perfect that always prevented me from speaking up. To really belt it out and to do it badly. On purpose. To say fuck it and just go for it.

Acting with him was something I’ll never ever forget. We played off each other’s lines so well the audience was howling. It was and is the best role I ever had, not just because we made the audience laugh, but because he taught me it’s okay to speak up even if it makes you look like an ass. It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact it’s a good thing. It’s only by biting the bullet and actually TRYING that you find out what works and what doesn’t. In teaching me to be a puppet, he also taught me to find my life’s voice. Now? You can’t shut me up if you tried. And for that I’m grateful.

It’s hard to describe but often now I’ll find myself in a social situation where I’m scared beyond belief, but instead of hiding I’ll just bust out in a really loud, gregarious and hopefully funny comment to mask my fear. Nine times out of 10 it works. And when it doesn’t? Eh, fuck ‘em. Just keep going to the next line in the play. Maybe they’ll catch up. Derick taught me that.

Michael Veazey.

Rest in peace. Rockin’ that bowtie. Elsa Klensch is so proud.

I’m supposed to be writing. An article about hot dogs of all things for a local weekly. Then there’s my novel, which is in pieces, and my semi-workable treatment for a nonfiction book. Instead I’m looking through old photo albums and listening to cassette tapes full of abominably bad dance music from 1987. Because my friend Mike died. He up and died suddenly, tragically, without so much as a whisper. The one in our group who looked forever 15, without a wrinkle or shadow of age upon him. Just a glimmer of grey at the temples to remind us he WAS there back then, and not just born in 1996.

Incredulous, I didn’t find ONE picture of us. All those years spent as friends, roommates for Chrissakes, and not one picture? Sadly realizing this was a reminder of just how much partying I really had done. But on further reflection, I cracked up laughing. We must’ve had a pretty good time to forget to record it.

It seems only yesterday I was writing about a reunion my friend David put on which brought us all together again. Now I’m writing about one of us dying. I’m starting to feel like Ender in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead because every time someone I love passes away I sit down and eulogize. Which can be good and bad. When you eulogize you forget the reality and paint over everything with a rose-colored gloss. The person might have been a total asshole, but if you cared about them at all the eulogy becomes a glowing A+ report card of all their best qualities.

But with Mike this is the truth. He truly was a great guy. You hear that a lot, but seriously, I have never met anyone who ever had a bad word to say about him. Ever.

He was quiet, well-dressed, always a part of the conversation and yet just a “skoche” off to the side. Mike seemed to prefer the outer edges to the raucous middle where all the action lives. I got that so well and often joined him. Speaker of dry humor, lover of fashion. The eye roll, the head tilt. His “What are ya gonna do, that’s just how it is,” shrug of the shoulders. In his black plaid Willi Smith blazer. That’s how I’ll remember him eternally – he wore that jacket everywhere.

Through the years I’d run into Mike every so often. I found it wonderful that even though he was alone, he always seemed content. And now he has gone and there are almost 200 people on Facebook wishing him well. So he wasn’t really ever alone. Not really.

I kind of can’t believe I won’t ever hear his voice again because I still hear it in my head, the way it would lift and fall, the way he drew out his vowels. I loved it so. Musical and lilting like he was always on the verge of saying something scathing, sharp, and dry. But not quite yet just to keep you in suspense. It was lovely.

Mike was a guarded person, very private. But the neat thing about him was in every conversation he made you feel like a confidante. Like the two of you shared secrets. Like you’d known him for decades even if you only just met. Like it hadn’t been 15 years since you’d seen him last, but only a few days. He made you forget you really knew very little of his past life. Unlike me, who tends to go on and on about every little injustice done in her childhood should the moment present itself, Mike rarely did that. He was very present. In that moment, with you, right then.

There’ll be a lot of compliments thrown around at the memorial next weekend, a lot of fuss. He’d hate that I think. He’d be so embarrassed at all those accolades. “Y’all! (drawn out like taffy) It’s just me!” he’d say, hands on hips with a little laugh. And then give you his signature look of feigned pissed-offed-ness, that one eyebrow raised in mock anger. Classic Mike.

Thinking about it all makes me tired. And so sad. I thought there would be time. I thought there would be time for all the plans we’d made, the cocktail lunches, the antiquing trips. Mojitos on the porch when we were both old. Fuck, we’re old now. I was looking forward to seeing Mike again, in Carytown, or at parties. I was always looking forward to seeing Mike again. He put you at ease that way. He made you feel like the conversation you were having right now was great, but the one you’d have over lunch……someday……would be even better. He left you with a bubble of hope.

Eulogies exaggerate. But there aren’t many people I would venture into hyperbole for. There just aren’t that many people whose passing would or will affect me the way his has. And I’m not even sure why. We were friends. Friends who’d lost touch, but hadn’t. Friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while, but in some weird way, were still in each other’s lives, if only in our thoughts. We will miss you Noodle. You hated that nickname, but there’s something I never got to tell you. And I wish I had. Only the most beloved friends get nicknames. Peace and much love, Jenée.

Meme for 2010.

A great meme I found a few years back. Something about stopping to reflect at the turn of a new year feels very right to me.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
Thanks to Leni Sorensen, I learned canning, and successfully put up 4 jars of tomatoes and 8 jars of hot peppers. Could feel my grandmothers smiling down at me as I worked.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I’ve decided the only resolution I ever need to make is to find balance. Continually seek balance, strive for balance, and be happy when I find moments of balance. Easier said than done.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friend Angie gave birth to Annabelle Claire. :0)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?
In 2010, none. But in late 2009 I had the great good fortune to visit Mexico for a wedding. Fell in love with the coastline, the people, the cuisine, and the tequila. Came home with a promise to myself to learn Spanish, and to learn how to make tamales.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
Friends that live in the same town. All my friends seem to live someplace else. More discipline for my writing and my meditation, and my exercise.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
July 9th. That was the day I finally decided to dedicate all my strength and being to writing.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finally facing the fact I’m a writer, and nothing else. I finally began the steps, the growth that I needed to become an actualized person, a dedicated writer, a contented human being. I stopped lying to myself and to others – to get them to like me. I finally started learning who I am and who I want to be. Being honest like this, after a lifetime of going along to get along is so difficult, but so necessary.

9. What was your biggest failure?
There were so many times I was angry. And even though I know anger can be a signal of growth and change, I still have a hard time not seeing it as failure. Want to learn to face difficult situations with love and acceptance and surrender and peace.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes, a chronic issue with my back that I’m learning to accept and love and not be angry or frustrated about. It’s very challenging to accept pain and to accept growing older.

11. What was the best thing someone bought you?
My husband bought us a week in OBX. Even though it was cut short, it was the most fun, peaceful, incredible 4 days of this year. Later on at Christmas, he bought me a book of Leonard Cohen’s poetry. Lovely lovely lovely.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Congress. For finally getting rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
There’s so much hate and anger on the news. I wish they’d make more of an effort to share uplifting stories instead of all the scare tactics they love to use to build up ratings.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Toward bills, student loans. But I’m trying to set aside small amounts for small presents to myself that don’t cost very much. Trinkets from Etsy, soaps, makeup, a pair of gloves, some watercolors. Little things to cheer me up when I’m sad or frustrated.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing Leonard Cohen’s last concert in Las Vegas, December 11, 2010. It was stunning. To quote another writer, “I’d like to describe the concert, but how do you describe a religious experience?”

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
“A Thousand Kisses Deep” by Leonard Cohen. It was definitely his music that colored my entire year. And in this year of internal growth and change, this song described my state of mind the best.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
– Fatter or thinner?
Fatter. Damn desk job. Damn slow metabolism. Spanx have become my best friend, and I’m trying to be on speaking terms with “Esther Roll” (Wanda Sykes’s name for her belly).

– Happier or sadder?
Happier. Infinitely happier because I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m so grateful to be writing. I’m so grateful for everything that is my life.

– Richer or poorer?
Poorer. The paycheck isn’t steady when you freelance, but no matter. I’m infinitely happier.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Running. Yoga. The only things that seem to calm my anxieties and fears. I seem to say this at the end of every year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying. Being afraid. Punishing myself with unhealthy foods and drink to push down or mask the fear and worry. It’s better to move through the worry, the fear, and reward yourself with foods that make your body feel good. Easier said than done when you’re “in it”.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Hubby and I visited my family Christmas Eve. We sat and talked, ate ham biscuits and takeout Vietnamese food. Opened presents. There was no yelling or drama. It was wonderful.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
I’ve been in love since the day I met my husband in 1999.

22. How many one night stands?
Not since I fell in love, and not much before.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Mad Men. Nothing else comes close and here’s why.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is such a strong word for someone who tries to meditate and practice yoga. There are definitely people whose choices I really can’t understand.

25. What was the best book you read?
Duma Key, by Stephen King. Read aloud by John Slattery (Roger Sterling on Mad Men). It took me months to get through this book. I loved it, not only for the scary escapism, but Slattery’s voice is commanding and comforting at the same time. He becomes the characters. During my months of high drama, when I was quitting regularly-paid work and striking out on my own, it was comforting to know I’d hear his voice once I got in my car.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Really dove into old-school hip-hop this year. EPMD, Snoop, Wyclef Jean, Notorious BIG. Jay-Z got me up some humongous hills when I was struggling to run.

27. What did you want and get?
I grew my own Swiss Chard in pots this year. And sunflowers. After years of talking about it, I finally did it.

28. What did you want and not get?
Really wanted to win that Foodbuzz blogging contest, for the exposure, and also so I could give some of the prize money back to my community. No worries though, my blog is better by leaps and bounds because of the experience.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Two. Both DVR’d. “Elegy”, starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Probably the most beautiful love story I’ve ever seen. So real. I cried for 20 minutes when it was over. And  “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” an historical drama based on true events. All about the British massacre of the Irish in the 1920’s. Painful to watch, yet so powerful. I was thinking about this film for days afterward.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 43. But for the life of me I can’t remember what we did. Probably went out for a nice meal somewhere. Sure sucks getting old…

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
To have had close friends in the same city as me. So when I was going through major periods of frustration, growth, and change, I could call on them for support. Or at least go out for drinks.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
I decided most of my clothes either didn’t fit, or were too “old”. I cut all my hair off and started dressing the way I WANT to dress, not the way I think people want me to dress. I also realized a uniform of jeans, a cute top, and heeled boots isn’t necessarily tired if you always look good in it.

33. What kept you sane?
My husband, my dog, and music. Running. Watching the sunsets out my kitchen window. Listening to mooing cows at sunrise. Meditating to the cicadas and the crickets in the summer.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Javier Bardem in Eat, Pray, Love. And Leonard Cohen 🙂

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Gay marriage. People need to relax and let people, all people, find love where they can find it.

36. Who do you miss?
I missed my Nana a lot this year. Just had many experiences where I found myself thinking, “Nana would’ve loved this.”

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Two people. Leni Sorensen, food historian and all around awesome broad. She taught me how to can tomatoes. I’m grateful to be her friend, and so glad to be called a “student” in her kitchen. Allison Tyler, on a trip I took with my friend Melissa to NYC. So damn creative. Wish I could be more like her.

38. What was the best thing you ate?
The chicken and waffles at Bouchon in Las Vegas. Thomas Keller is an effing genius.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010?
No food, drink, or pill can take away your anxiety or fear. It only blankets it.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
It was a tumultuous year for me. One of growth and change. I’d get four steps forward then drop two steps back. Just when I’d think I’d learned a lesson, something would show up to tell me that I hadn’t. This song sums it up perfectly.

A Thousand Kisses Deep

by Leonard Cohen

The ponies run, the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat.
You win a while, and then it’s done –
Your little winning streak.
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat,
You live your life as if it’s real,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.
You lose your grip, and then you slip
Into the Masterpiece.
And maybe I had miles to drive,
And promises to keep:
You ditch it all to stay alive,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Confined to sex, we pressed against
The limits of the sea:
I saw there were no oceans left
For scavengers like me.
I made it to the forward deck.
I blessed our remnant fleet –
And then consented to be wrecked,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.
I guess they won’t exchange the gifts
That you were meant to keep.
And quiet is the thought of you,
The file on you complete,
Except what we forgot to do,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Running Realizations.

I hate running. Really hate it. It feels alien to my body and I’m always short of breath. At the same time I love it. I forget how great it makes me feel afterward. Like my husband says it feels so good when you stop. I also forget the realizations you have while running. Your body, your breath is struggling, your mind is focused on the struggle so it frees itself and all these realizations come rushing in.

I love those realizations, but fear them too, because usually they pick me up out of my complacent little slot in the world and throw me somewhere else. Inevitably after a run I’ll have to actually DO some major life-altering thing because while I was chuffing along I realized no, I actually didn’t want to have kids. So what now?

I’ll never forget that cold, foggy morning in Pittsburgh running around the reservoir near the zoo, listening to the lions roar their disapproval in the dawn and realizing that no, I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore. That Vietnam-humid summer morning when I realized I hated my job in fundraising. I wanted to write. That other morning when the first warm breath of Spring was in the air and the first green buds appeared when I realized how very much I loved my husband, my dog, my life. Tears rolled down in gratitude when I also realized I didn’t have to do anything with that realization. I just had to feel it for awhile. Then remember what it felt like when times were bad.

This afternoon as the sun set and the last of the trees hit their fire-red peak while others gently let go of their leaves without a sound, I realized much to my horror that I was living my mother’s life. All my life I’ve fought against it. When she wanted me to be a ballerina I balked. When she wanted me to keep studying violin I yelled. I hated cooking. And I absolutly HATED……….running. She ran marathons. I cheered her on from the sidelines. She urged me to run and I complained. I would NEVER run. I’m fifteen dammit! I know everything!

Now at 43, I’m learning to love running. And I’m a freelance food writer which means I cook a great deal. I bake a great deal. And I love it. The realization, the irony of it all was not lost as I tried in vain to make it up our neighborhood’s giant hill. But as I ran down the other side I also realized, if I was living Momma’s life, did that also mean I had to live all of it?

While I’ve been struggling with my identity the past year, what it means to be a writer, to finally do what I’m supposed to do, what it means to not have kids, what it means to be this person I find myself to be, I’ve also been struggling with an unknown, un-named fear. It lurks off to the side and I find myself preparing for it. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll be ready for it when it gets here. I lift weights, I run. I meditate. I pray. I write. All in an effort to get strong for whatever this fear could be.

My mother, in her 40’s, was violently attacked in her home. They never found the guy and even though we all urged her to get counseling she never did. She insisted she was strong enough. She kept running. But she also started drinking. And at 49 she crashed her car into a tree. Ten years of brain trauma followed, until at 59 she died within 3 months of being diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Now certainly there were happy memories in those years, and I don’t mean to come off all Anne Sexton-confessional, but this was my realization today. I don’t fear living my mother’s life. But I do fear that part of it. If I’m living my mother’s life, does it mean I have to live it all? Facing that kind of mountain makes me very afraid indeed.

I can hear my mother insisting that I’m silly, this is my life. Not hers. Of course I can make different choices. All I know is this running realization rushing in to my brain today stopped me cold. It made me cry. And I swear to God if I make it to 50 with all my body parts and my mental faculties intact I’ll be very grateful indeed. Hell, I’m grateful right now. For a lot of things. But today mostly for running. Because with every step I’m letting shit go.

Running to me is “selah” meaning I stop. And I listen.

I’m a Writer.

In high school, I was on the editorial committee that decided which poems and stories would make it into our literary magazine. Every submission was anonymous, and the committee would first have someone read the piece aloud, then the rest would comment. My junior year I submitted a poem, one I was proud of because it stated my deepest longings, my most deep-seated fears, my hopes, my wishes. It was angst-ridden. My cry for help. After it was read aloud, the committee frowned. “It’s pretty obscure,” someone commented – the nicest comment of the ones that followed. For what seemed like an eternity the group tore apart my poem, line by line. The criticism was not constructive, but cruel. They gorged like lions at a fresh kill while our teacher looked on, silent. I never submitted another piece again, and from that point on, I kept my writing hidden from the world.

Writing was my life, my reason for living, but I pushed it down, pushed it away, because obviously I sucked at it. It didn’t help my parents never encouraged my writing, but instead pushed me into music, art, dance, anything else. After high school, I pursued a degree in illustration, which pleased my mother to no end. When that didn’t work out, I tried every other job imaginable: store manager, barista, bartender, receptionist, typist, copy editor, proposal writer, newsletter editor, English teacher. You’ll notice those last few jobs incorporate writing. I like to think of them as “writing adjacent”. Even though I feared writing, my gut couldn’t get away from it, and so I took jobs to get NEXT to writing without actually touching it.

Even if the job didn’t involve actual writing, I made damn sure it involved my time. I said yes to every project, forged ahead with every new plan and proposal and development at whatever job I happened to have. I wanted my entire day (and sometimes night) FULL, so unconsciously I didn’t have to think about the fact I wasn’t writing. For a time, I even worked two jobs, 16-hour days, which only left me enough time to come home and drink myself into a blackout stupor before starting the whole merry-go-round of denial once again.

But recently, I endured what I like to think of as an existential crisis of conscience. My last job involved some writing, so it was “writing adjacent” but it took up so much of my time. Not only that, the circumstances of the job were so stress-inducing I often found myself lying awake at night – ALL NIGHT – trying to think of ways to make the job better. How could I get up in the morning, go to this job, and not go into the bathroom stall and cry every day? How could I make it more endurable? When you’re describing your job as “endurable” it’s probably not a good thing. Not at all. I had buried my fear, my desire to write so deeply that here I was trying to figure out how to turn a job I hated into one I could at least endure another day. It was a breaking point for me.

I quit. I had to. I was so deep within it, I couldn’t see I was pushing my desire to write away, allowing my fear to act as a wall against it. I would rather die of stress at this job, constantly fighting to make it better, constantly denying my love of writing to sneak into my psyche, rather than just letting it all go. It took a good friend to show me what was going on – to take me by the hand, pull me outside of myself, and show me the scene as it was playing out. She was like the Ghost of Christmas Present in that Dickens tale, her hand around my shoulder, showing me the scene. “Do you see what you’re doing to yourself? Why are you fighting so hard?” Isn’t it funny how someone outside can see the solution so easily when you’ve been banging your head against the wall for years? I remain grateful for her insight, and her swift kick in my ass.

So I cut all ties to that job. Now I was unemployed, untethered, like a balloon set aloft except there’s no wind to carry it anywhere. It’s just there, floating, waiting for someone to blow on it. Waiting for direction. It’s incredibly frightening to feel like that, but exciting-frightening. The anticipation, the faith you have in yourself while you’re untethered is what keeps you aloft.

Elizabeth Gilbert said when you begin a major life journey, when you finally let go and do things differently for the first time, heading into a direction you’ve never been in, you have to have faith the truth will be revealed. And everyone you meet on your journey is a possible teacher.*

This is the truth I keep coming back to. My truth. I have no idea where to go or what to do next. But I keep reminding myself the truth will be revealed. I have been listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” again on audio. It’s amazing how her journey for balance parallels mine for purpose. Because that’s what I’m looking for – purpose. What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to be? In Chapter 30, when Liz finally decides not to become a mother she asks herself, “Okay, so who am I now?” It was like an arrow of light went right into my heart. Because that is me. That is so me it hurts. I say “arrow of light” because it was so validating to HEAR another woman state what I was feeling. I had read these words two years ago, but hearing them now, it really sunk in. I heard it with my heart, not my head.

My husband and I tried to have children, and then when it didn’t work out easily, we decided not to pursue it. We are happy as we are. And even though we didn’t really talk about why, now I know. Both of us, having had happy childhoods, also still possess a huge amount of painful memories and demons we’re still working through. It would be so unfair to bring up a child, the hardest job of all, without having worked through this. Without letting this go. While I might not know my purpose, I do know we were brought together to take care of each other in this life. And that’s more than enough purpose. Except it isn’t, is it? Taking care of my husband is so easy, and my greatest joy. I’m still left with the question, “What now?”

Recently, someone asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a writer,” I replied. The words felt awful in my mouth, like I had just decided to find out what rocks taste like. They rolled around on my tongue like maggots and it took all my force of will to get the words out. I wear a bite guard at night, and frequently I have dreams where I’m trying to speak, but because the guard is blocking my talk the only thing that comes out are squeaks and inhuman noises. This felt just like that. I was like Helen Keller discovering water, except I heard the words and I didn’t believe them.

For the longest time I was a quiet mousy girl, but because of all the shit I’ve gone through in my life I blossomed into a mouthy broad. You can’t shut me up now, and you better not even try unless you want your ass kicked. Now I just need to learn to open my mouth on the page. To get to the point where writing is as easy as talking. So for the time being I’m an untethered balloon. Floating and silent, but emitting a squeak here and there. And that’s fine for now. I have faith.

*I’m paraphrasing, can anyone find this quote for me? I gave my copy of the book to a friend who really needed it.

My Nostalgia Shield.

“You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is – working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows.” —Pema Chodron

This quote is me. At Thanksgiving. At any holiday really. Struggling, fighting, throwing an emotional temper tantrum because things aren’t going my way. Because what I see isn’t what I want to see. People have changed. I’ve changed. But I want things to be as they were. As they were all those years ago when Thanksgiving was perfect, the potato rolls were on the table, the country ham was never too salty and the turkey was never too dry. When all your loved ones were still with you, and the only stress you had was whether or not you’d have room for Nana’s perfect pecan pie.

The memory you have in your heart is always perfect. Unblemished. All year long I eagerly await Thanksgiving because I crave the closeness and the gratitude and the peace that comes from family. Okay, I just wrote that and re-reading it microseconds later I don’t even believe it myself. If family=peace Hollywood movie writers wouldn’t have any material. But somehow in my mind I equate Thanksgiving with all the happy memories I have of that time when I was a child. It’s like a perfect portrait of nostalgia. Not saccharin like Norman Rockwell, but certainly something close to it.

Except that picture doesn’t even exist. Life isn’t a stagnant oil painting. We grow up. Loved ones die. People move away. Things change. And the picture is a lie anyway. It doesn’t show everything. It only shows the happy, pretty surface, not all the pain, baggage, and crap the kids in the picture carried into their adulthood. Carried with them like a second skin, refusing to ever let go. You can’t see that in the picture. In the picture all is well. It’s this perfect, unrealistic picture I’m carrying around with me, constantly trying to recreate. Struggling to recapture in vain. Not ever looking past the pretty surface, hoping to forget the painful shadows and only see the pretty highlights.

In my head this is how Thanksgiving is SUPPOSED to be. Happy happy. Pretty pretty. Perfect. And so every Thanksgiving rather than accepting what is, surrendering to what I am and what I have, and what I can handle, I fight against what I think it should be. What definitely ISN’T there, but what in my mind SHOULD be there. Instead of living in gratitude, I’m struggling and fighting.

I haven’t accepted change and so I use nostalgia and memories as shields – to guard against the very real fact things are different. We don’t get together as a family anymore, I don’t have children, and things are never again going to be the way they were. And that’s okay. I can’t live in the past. It’s getting tiring. I am grateful for Pema’s words, because in reading them it’s helping me to be aware. I might not be ready to surrender my shield just yet, but she promises that maybe relief from all this fighting is in sight….awareness is the first step.

Trouble is, this whole blog is about remembering. Recording and remembering for when I can no longer. How do you record and remember without totally getting lost in the past? And how do you accept change and begin to move through the holidays without losing yourself in nostalgia? Without fighting. Accepting and moving on. Being truly grateful for what you have instead of spinning and spinning in this longing for what you think you’ve lost. Creating new memories rather than longing to bring back the old ones. They wouldn’t be as great as you remember anyway, would they? If hindsight is 20/20 then nostalgia is Blu-Ray…