we could all die any day

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (65)

It’s been seven days since the news broke and I’m still listening to Prince at top volume in the car, still singing at the top of my lungs about doves crying and horses running free. I’ve exhausted my inventory of appropriate-for-work purple clothing.

My kids are somewhat perplexed at this behavior. “So, when did you become so crazy about Prince?” they half-sneer, their teenage mortification on full display.

We see this attitude frequently, The Husband and I, whenever we give off any indication that we are … well, human.  The eye-rolls when we kiss goodbye in the morning for a few seconds longer than usual with a sly slip of tongue or when we dance in the kitchen when our wedding song shuffles into queue on Spotify. To our offspring, we have no life besides folding laundry and cooking dinner, and despite our assurances to the contrary, we never did. And we certainly have no idea what it’s like to be a teenager. Never were we caught up in the adolescent malestrom of emotions and hormones and young jungle love.

My attempts at explaining my sudden Prince obsession fall flat with my kids.  Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a passionate Prince fan, I have an appreciation of his music and his artistry.  And, like all of us who came of age in the mid-’80s, Prince’s music is an indelible part of the mixtape of my life.

Which is why, like everyone else, I was shocked upon hearing Prince had died.  Thursday was a surreal day; I wasn’t feeling well and took a sick day from work. By mid-afternoon, I felt well enough to pick up my son from school for a previously-scheduled doctor’s appointment. We were early, for once, with enough time to stop home so I could throw dinner in the crockpot.

“I texted you,” my husband said, greeting me as we walked in the house.  “Prince is dead. Flu-like symptoms, they’re saying.”

I stopped in my tracks.  If anyone knows how possible it is to drop dead of the flu in one’s prime, it’s my family. In 1985, my dad was a relatively healthy father of two teenagers when he got the flu.  Unbeknownst to any of us, the virus was silently and quickly attacking his heart and at 44, he became fourth in line on the transplant list at Philadelphia’s best hospital for when your heart breaks. He died several hours later, having been sick for less than a week.

We could all die any day. 

The aftermath of my father’s death ushered in several confusing and sad years for me.  In college, it was easy to party like it was 1999 because that represented a life we couldn’t fathom from our dorm rooms — Christ, we would be goddamned geriatrics when we turned the century, forty fucking years old.  It felt impossible, far in the future. We made a solemn, beer-buzzed pact: no matter what happened in this life, we’d be together on New Year’s Eve 1999, dancing our lives away.

We weren’t, of course. We became scattered and unknown to each other. Close friends we thought would be in our lives forever went missing, our long conversations now silent.  Instead of partying like it was 1999, we became adults, on edge and hunkered down with emergency cash from the ATM, cases of water and canned goods and duct tape, backups of our financial lives at the ready for Y2K, a moniker that could have been ripped from a Prince album.

Now on this side of 1999, in this strange year when nostalgia becomes more and more clouded with sadness and when we face our own medical crises and wonder just how much of our time and minds are left, our own Judgment Day feels closer than ever. Prince was right; two thousand zero zero really did mean we would be out of time or damn close to it.

I can’t convey all this to my wiser-than-their-years kids when they ask why I’m blasting Prince’s Little Red Corvette in my decidedly uncool red Chevy HHR as I shuttle them around town.  And part of me doesn’t want to.

Let them believe they have all the time in the world.


Book Review: Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now, edited by Ann Imig

Listen to Your MotherListen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now
edited by Ann Imig 
G.P. Putnam’s Sons 
246 pages 

Are you tired of me talking about Listen to Your Mother yet? Well … there may only be eight days left until our LTYM Pittsburgh show (you’ve gotten your tickets, right?but this will consume me for awhile. Being part of this show means so much to me. So very much. It’s an incredible honor and one of the bravest things I’ve done in my entire life. It’s a really big freaking deal to be included alongside so many talented voices.

In addition to being a live reading performance happening in 41 cities, Listen to Your Mother is also a book. In this anthology, Listen to Your Mother founder and national director Ann Imig has gathered some of the best stories since the show’s inception six years ago.  While there are some names you may recognize (authors Jennifer Weiner and Jenny Lawson are two notable ones), most contributors are everyday people who have a story to share about some aspect of motherhood. Just like the show itself.

And just like the show, this collection delivers every emotion — from heartbreaking to hilarious and everything in between. (The book jacket accurately describes the stories within as being “devastatingly funny, refreshingly edgy, and deeply thought-provoking.”)

I really enjoyed reading these essays, most of which are only a few pages long. I would have liked this even if I wasn’t in the show because, ironically, motherhood has been kicking my ass bigtime. These stories made me feel a little less alone and reassured that others understand the many challenges with this whole parenting craziness.

Included in this anthology is:
“Matryoshka Dolls” by Mary Jo Pehl
“What Matters Most” by Zach Wahls
“The Meat Grinder” by Jen Rubin
“It’s Always Bad News” by Marinka
“Felt Like Something” by Megan Stielstra (my review of Megan’s essay collection Once I Was Cool is here)
“A Year at the Lake” by Jenny Fiore
“The Broken Bowl” by Jennifer Ball
“No Betta Mama” by Tasneem Grace Tewogbola
“The Reach of a Small Moment” by Alexandra Rosas
“Becoming Invisible” by Lea Grover
“Motherhood Off the Beaten Path” by Margaret Smith
“The Job of Motherhood” by Wendi Aarons
“Not a Princess” by Vikki Reich
“Threads” by Stacey Conner
“She Knew It” by Natalie Cheung Hall
“Peanut Butter and Jelly” by Taya Dunn Johnson
“The Good-Bye App” by Kate St. Vincent Vogl
“More Than an Aunt, Less Than a Mom” by Jerry Mahoney
“The Confession Jar” by Jenny Forrester
“Unspeakable Sacrifice” by Angie Miller
“Shy” by Haddayr Copley-Woods
“Mothering You, My Son: In Six Chapters” by Ann Breidenbach
“What If” by Lisa Page Rosenberg
“Swimsuit Edition” by Jennifer Sutton
“The Cookie Jar” by Patty Chang Anker
“My Mother The Protector” by Eddy Jordan
“Cocktail Playdate Dropout” by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
“The Mother of All Fathers” by Robert Shaffron
“A Much Needed Slap in the Face” by Yoon Park
“Idiopathic” by Amy Wilson
“Nick’s Story” by Nadine C. Warner
“Prepare to Be Judged. And Possibly Stabbed.” by Jenny Lawson
“Monkey, Speak” by Robyn Rasberry
“The Wondering” by Greta Funk
“Be Happy, Have a Good Life, Remember Me” by Ann Stewart Zachwieja
“My Mom Fought the Nazis and Won” by Brian Lavendel
“I Want to Be a Nothing” by Jenifer Joy Madden
“Mother: A Multiplication Lesson” by Dana Maya
“All You Need is Lovey” by Katie Wise
“The Upside to Down” by Mery Smith
“Artichokes” by Kathy Curto
“Does Your Mom Play Drums?” by Michelle Cruz Gonzales
“Steam Power” by Helen Reese
“In Praise of the Other Mother” by Nancy David Kho
“Three Little Letters” by Lisa Allen
“The Tiny Bridge-Maker” by Jennifer Newcomb Marine
“Bottle Caps, Apple Trees, and Hope” by Sheila Quirke
“Pregnant Again” by Edward McCann
“Becoming Da Mommy” by M. Penny Mason
“Mothering Through the Storm” by Rebecca Anderson-Brown
“Waiting for My Kids to Wish Me a Happy Mother’s Day” by Meggan Sommerville
“The Children Ate My Gratitude” by Ann Imig
“Raised by Lesbians: On My Makeup-Free Mom, My Fashion-Challenged Moments, and Raising a Disney Daughter in a Feminist World” by Jennifer Weiner
“Orbit” by Ruth Pennebaker
“Leaps and Bounds” by Barbara Patrick
“Hummingbird: A Love Letter to the Mothers at Church” by Liz Joynt Sandberg

sunday salon/ currently … to the limit

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“So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time ….” 

“Take It to the Limit” ~ Eagles  (written by Don Henley, Randy Meisner, and Glenn Frey)

According to the reminder sent from the place that keeps our family Facebooking and blogging and YouTubing and Netflixing and Spotifying, we’ve been taking our allotted Internet consumption to the limit.  Give or take a few more bytes, bits or however one measures such things, and we’ll tumble over the edge of Way Too Much.

This happens every so often in our house — actually, it happens a lot, more often than is probably healthy.  A sign of modern times, perhaps, but also a sign to unplug, pull back, take a walk around the neighborhood, shoot a few hoops in the driveway, do some actual writing, talk, play a game, listen to the birds, read a book, cook some meals, clean the house.

OK, maybe not that last one.

This Is the Story of YouIt’s a gorgeous Sunday, one made for relaxing on the deck with a book. I’m eager to finish This Is the Story of You, my friend Beth Kephart’s gripping new novel set on the Jersey shore that we both love.  (If I can’t be there in person, Beth’s words can take me there.)

I started this a few nights ago and then, an hour after falling asleep I was awoken by a coughing fit. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop. So I made myself a cup of tea and sat in the kitchen reading for another hour. If I didn’t have to go to work the next day I would have stayed up longer to finish it because right when I felt ready to go back to bed I hit one of the most dramatic points of the story.


Yesterday was a rehearsal for Pittsburgh’s Listen to Your Mother show, which is less than three weeks away (!!!!) and which you all know I’m in. If you’re able, I would love for you to come see the show. (Ticket information is here.)  Having heard these stories a second time, this is going to be something special that you won’t want to miss. It’s so, so good.

OK, I’ve been on here long enough for this beautiful day that seems to know no limits.


sunday salon/currently … wishing for spring and channeling my inner leslie knope

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To borrow my friend Tiffany’s phrase, it’s been full on sloth mode for me this weekend.  I’ll blame it on the weather, which has been decidedly unspringlike. We woke up to snow Friday and Saturday morning, just enough to be a nuisance and to kill my poor daffodils.

Daffodils in snow 4-9-2016 - 2 Daffodils in snow 4-9-2016

Ugh, so depressing.

Aside from taking The Boy to an appointment, grocery shopping, and cooking dinner, I didn’t do much of anything yesterday. I’d planned to clean the house but only managed to wipe down the kitchen counter and table. Today’s adventure was a trip to Target, as The Girl needed some things for school. It snowed on the 10 minutes it took us to get there.  Of course it did.

At long last, I’ve finally started watching Parks and Recreation.  A lot of people have been telling me that I would like this show and they were right. The tipping point was this clip, which a coworker shared with me after I unknowingly was all Leslie Knope-fangirling about Joe Biden, who not only was visiting Pittsburgh this week, but who was speaking mere blocks from our office.

I’ve successfully gotten The Husband and The Girl into Parks and Rec, too (probably because they were annoyed at me laughing nonstop with my headphones on).  This was much-needed humor relief for all of us after yet another stressful week on the home front.

Hoping to finish Scorpion Tongues today.  I think I’ve gotten my reading mojo back.  Jane Mendelsohn has a new book out called Burning Down the House which I snagged a copy of from the library and I’m looking forward to starting this one.  I loved her debut novel I Was Amelia Earhart  and American Music (see my reviews here and here).

More Things I Loved Reading This Week …
Elizabeth Mosier announces and reflects on a new anthology, Fifty Women Over 50.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the music of John Prine. This piece in the New York Times (John Prine Endures, With a Half-Smile and a Song) explains why.

Still listening to a lot of Spotify, especially in the car. I’m a big fan of their Discover Weekly selections. Their algorithms are clearly under the impression that, musically, I’m back in 1977.  I’m loving Spotify because I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of artists who most people have been listening to for years.

I seem to have a bit of a consumption problem, though: when I discover someone I like, I need to download every note they’ve ever performed. Like, I need to have their entire oeuvre at my fingertips. Eventually some songs may be weeded out from my collection (I’ve deleted two in the course of writing this post) but only after I listen to them first. Similarly, I need to tell myself that just because I love a band or a particular artist, it’s really okay if I don’t like every single one of their songs. I mean, it’s not like their feelings will be hurt if I ax something from the rotation.

Next weekend is our second rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother.  (You’ve gotten your tickets, right? From what I understand, they’re going fast.)  I can’t wait to see these ladies again.  This is such a fantastic group. Our producers have been featuring profiles of the 2016 cast on the LTYM Pittsburgh website, which you can check out here.

Oh, and we got our official headshots back.  Here I am:


I usually hate most pictures of me, but I love this.  Photo was done by the lovely Ashley of Ashley Mikula Photography. She was great to work with for this.

Inspired by fellow Pittsburgh Blogger Alex’s #PghGBE post on Eat with Emily, I’m trying a new approach to meal planning. I’m creating a spreadsheet of dinners that meet with everyone’s approval in this house. As one might imagine, it’s a very short list. I’m also adding meals that I think might work for our family — things I’d like to try. The idea is that when I’m at a loss for dinner ideas, I can consult the list and add it to the menu lineup for that week. We’ll see how this goes.

That all being said, I should probably end this post and figure out what we’re having for dinner tonight ….

Review of Whiskey, Etc. by Sherrie Flick

Whiskey, Etc.Whiskey, Etc.
short (short) stories 
by Sherrie Flick 
Queen’s Ferry Press 
211 pages

Life has gotten in the way of my reading these days. Either I’ve had little to no ability to concentrate or I’ve been so damn exhausted that I’m zonked out within a few pages. Neither has anything to do with my choice of writing material or the author’s talent — it’s all me. As someone who tends to read a book per week, on average, this snail’s pace is a bit maddening. As with all things, though, I know this phase will pass and in the meantime, I turn to shorter works for my preferred literary libations.

Whiskey, Etc., Sherrie Flick’s new collection of “short (short) stories,” has proven to be an effective tonic for my current literary malaise. Divided into eight sections (Songs; Pets; Coffee, Tea; Dessert; Art; Cars and Canoes — the strongest section, in my opinion — Soap; and Whiskey), most of these stories are no longer than a few pages; some are only a paragraph, if that. (I’ll admit to having a preference for the longer works in this collection.)

Flick’s sentences are succinct, tight, telling the reader all that’s needed to know (His divorce settlement reads like an episode of Dallas), using food as simile (Snow covered the ground like a thick milkshake) and hooking the reader with more memorable opening lines than a frat boy.

I called the front desk to request a coffeemaker and some of those E-Z packets you can just plop right in, no mess. I was trying to remain on task and organized. “Mr. Smith? We don’t do that kind of shit here,” a woman’s voice purred at me. (from “Learning to Drink Coffee in Idaho”

I’m the squash soup. Chopped up and muddled, glowing orange here on the sofa. The soup itself bubbles for real on the stove. But I’m angry, so its simmering seems like a gaping mouth. The soup froths. Me, on the stove. (from “Family Dinner”)

With flash fiction, there’s the assumption that it’s easy to write. Dash off a few sentences, a handful of paragraphs, and a story miraculously appears. But the brevity actually can be deceptive. As Flick accomplishes so successfully with many of the stories in this collection, the reader needs enough details in a brief fragment of time to make a story feel complete while still eliciting the reader’s curiosity about what happens next, or about the backstory that led up to the situation.

Was it Indiana? Iowa? This was before Rob was gay. Before Christina’s mom couldn’t remember her name. Before I stopped eating. Before James’s last postcard. (from “Road Trip”)

Lisa leans in to give him a slow, silent, twenty-years-absent hug. He grabs her shoulder and says, “I’m sorry, Lisa. Read about it in the paper. Figured you be here.”  …. Back in high school Joe could put together car engines, and later on, in one of those car’s backseats, he could fix a girl so she felt brand new.  (from “After”)

In Whiskey, Etc., most of those details and similes involve food and drink, especially coffee. Knowing of Flick’s background as a food writer and essayist, this is almost expected.  (A Pittsburgh writer, she teaches in Chatham University’s MFA and Food Studies programs.) More than just a prop, in most cases the coffee or the tofu dinner or the pecan roll is as essential to the story as a main character.

It’s tempting to binge one’s way through these stories, but don’t.

Savor them, like a fine meal. 

An occasional feature on melissafirman.com celebrating all things literary as it relates to Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. Here, I talk ‘Burgh-focused books (and review them), literary events, upcoming readings, author interviews and profiles, new releases …n’at.

sunday salon/currently … 47

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Busier than usual weekend.  I had a work event on Friday night so I didn’t get home until 10 p.m. Yesterday, The Girl and I went to Panera for lunch and then to the library where she hung out with some friends (they enjoy a monthly teen Anime Club program at the library). I tried to do some writing during those few hours, but my concentration was shot.  I did write part of a book review and I caught up on some blog reading (and regular reading) so that’s something.

The library program doesn’t end until 5 p.m., so we picked up Jason’s Deli as a quick dinner. They opened their first store in the Pittsburgh area a month ago and this was our first time trying their food, which was … okay.  The kids and The Husband liked the pasta alfredo; I wasn’t too crazy about the Super Salmon Slaw Salad (had too much of a “kick” to it for my taste) or the vegetable soup (too bland). We’ll give it another try at some point, though.

And here we are at Sunday evening. Today happens to be my birthday, so … yay, 47.  This isn’t much different than any other typical Sunday.  I woke up with yet another weekend sinus headache, probably due to the crazy weather we had last night that resulted in this unwelcome gift from Mother Nature:

Snow - 4-3-2016That’s approximately a half inch of snow on the ground, as seen from our back deck. It’s all gone now, but the cold lingered the whole day.  (Fortunately, a 2 hour nap helped relieve my headache so I could salvage some of this birthday.)

Scorpion Tongues

Still reading and enjoying Scorpion Tongues: The Irresistible History of Gossip in American Politics by Gail Collins. So entertaining … and some of these stories about past presidential campaigns make the current one look downright boring. This is absolutely fascinating.

And with that, another weekend and birthday comes to a close. Hope you’ve had a great weekend!


I Am Not a Writer

Pittsburgh Bloggers Guest Blogger Event 2016

Today’s post comes from my friend Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers.  For April Fools, local bloggers are having some fun by showing up on other blogs with guest posts. You can see my post over on my friend Emily Levenson’s new blog harvest + bloom, where I talk about how a potential freelancing opportunity allowed me to see the value of time in a new way. 

And now, without further ado, please welcome Sue Kerr!

I am not a writer. There’s no unfinished manuscript in my life, nor any lingering regret about not pursuing a career as a journalist. I don’t write poetry and I’ve never kept a journal in my entire life.

In 2005, I began blogging as a community organizing tool (I’m a social worker, not a writer.) I never expected to still be at it in the year 2016. Didn’t expect to write – WRITE – over 2,000 blog posts. Didn’t see it coming that my blog would be the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania (yep, the whole darn Commonwealth) nor did I imagine being asked to write things for other people’s sites. Sometimes, they pay me. Who knew?

I should also tell you that I am not an artist. But somehow I find myself now managing a multi-year community art project on my blog. I’m a blogger artist attached to a gallery and funded by a major foundation. How did that happen?

Blogging. Blogging happened and now I am fortunate enough to be curating a project called AMPLIFY which explores the everyday ‘lived experiences’ of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) neighbors in Western Pennsylvania. I collect their stories using an online form and publish them in a Q&A format without editing or modifying their words.

Blogging allows for many things. It allows me to publish without concerns for grammar or spelling overruling someone’s authentic voice. It allows me to modify the questions as we move through the project. I have the flexibility to use pseudonyms to protect identities. And I have the privilege of using my own voice via my original content to continue drawing people’s attention to this curated archive of their neighbor’s experiences.

We started in January 2015 and now find ourselves with more than 125 contributions from people with ties to 18 of the 26 Western PA counties in our cachement area. They range from 18 – 71 and run the gamut of identity, gender, race, religion, family status and so forth. Their stories are profound and ordinary; I’m sure you would find at least one anecdote that rings true for you, no matter who you are.

There are three reasons why I am doing this. First, I believe that the power of sharing one’s story is a positive experience and want to create a safe space for my LGBTQ siblings and neighbors to be able to do that on their own terms. Second, there is also power in having access to an archive of people’s stories that mirror your own experiences. A blog archive can be accessed anywhere in the world where there is Internet access. It serves both as a unifying experience now for today’s neighbors and a permanent record of what life is like in the mid 2010’s for LGBTQ residents in Pennsylvania, a state with marriage equality but no statewide non-discrimination protections. And, finally, I know that the act of being more visible is a dynamic force that creates change.

AMPLIFY will continue throughout 2017 so we have the opportunity to reach out and connect with people in the outlying counties, to gain their trust and invite their participation. After that, who knows what is next? I am working with the Senator John Heinz History Center to ensure that AMPLIFY’s archive is accessible.

In the meantime, I am publishing an AMPLIFY zine series and working with a local playwright to create a staged version of the blog posts. I just submitted a forum piece to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And there are three partially completed grant proposals in my inbox.

Clearly, this not a writer thing hasn’t worked out for me. And I couldn’t be happier.

Established in 2005, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents is the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania. Editor Sue Kerr is a social worker, social media consultant and avidly shares pet pics to her Instagram account. She is currently a Resident Artist with Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery where she created the #AMPLIFY project. You can find her on Twitter at @pghlesbian24 and Instagram @pghlesbian

Thanks, Sue!  For more April Fools fun, visit the other participating Pittsburgh Bloggers listed below.  

Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Goodness Madness // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman