Category Archives: Friends

currently … wrapping up christmas

Christmas Eve - presents

Christmas Eve, 2015

Currently
It’s our last night of our Christmas vacation in Philly. We’ve been here just shy of a week, enjoying a nice balance of seeing family and friends (usually over brunch or dinner) while also having some downtime (usually spent reading or writing).  It’s always impossible to fit in everyone who we’d like to see and all we’d like to do, but I think it worked out well this time.

Tomorrow’s a travel day back to the “Burgh, then I’m off on Tuesday. Whenever possible, I try to give myself a “re-entry day” on the tail end of these trips. It’s back to work on Wednesday — along with one final dentist appointment this year to use up some insurance dollars — before another few remaining vacation days segue into a long weekend.

Christmas Reading

Like FamilyRDear Mr. You

I admit, I’m scrambling to meet my goal of 52 books read in 2015.  Right now, my tally is 47 (much lower than previous years).  This may be attainable if I stick to shorter books, but I’m not sure.

Reading short books was my strategy for this trip.  So far on this vacation, I’ve read one —Like Family by Paolo Giordano. I was so excited to see this one at the library because I loved (but, sadly, didn’t review) his previous novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers.  I really liked this new one, which I breezed through in a few hours (if that). Told in flashback and set in Italy, it’s about a couple who hire a housekeeper, Mrs. A., to help out during a difficult pregnancy and who stays on as a nanny for several years. After Mrs. A. is diagnosed with cancer, she decides to leave the household abruptly. The book, then, is about how she has changed the course of the couple’s marriage and their lives.

Right now I’m reading Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, which is incredibly well-written and very likely to be on my favorites list. This exactly the reason why I usually don’t post my best-of lists before year’s end; this time of year often brings more opportunities than usual to read and more often than not, something I read while we finish up this trip around the sun surprises and delights me.  Dear Mr. You is going to be that book. The concept is fantastic: it’s structured as a collection of letters that Ms. Parker has written to each of the significant men in her life.

Christmas Not Reading …
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed spending part of Christmas week with a holiday-themed story. The timing of this needs to be carefully considered and calibrated; I don’t like to start this particular book much before Christmas Eve and I like to be finished by the day after Christmas. This started in 2011 when I reviewed A Clockwork Christmas, a collection of four steampunk tales.

A Christmas Carol was my 2012 selection, followed by The Chimes last year. (I’m not sure what happened in 2013. Maybe A Christmas Carol again, I don’t know.)  I wasn’t impressed with The Chimes, and I was even less enamored with this year’s selection, The Cricket on the Hearth. Slightly less than halfway through this one, there was still no sign of Christmas in Dickens’ long-winded and discombobulated narrative.  This happened to be one of my Classics Club selections, too (although not the one for this most recent spin), so I’ll probably replace it with something.

Christmas Listening …
Between wrapping gifts and a few bouts of insomnia, I’ve been listening to more podcasts than usual. Here are some of the best:

The Writer’s Almanac: “The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (12/25/2015)
Such a perfect poem for Christmas when you’re missing someone special.

Burnt Toast: “Someone Put a Diaper on the Turkey” (12/17/2015)
Listeners’ stories of hilarious holiday disasters involving food.

New Yorker Poetry: Ellen Bass Reads Adam Zagajewski (12/16/2015)
Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with me.

On Being: Martin Sheen: Spirituality of Imagination (12/16/2015)
Fantastic interview with actor and activist Martin Sheen about his spirituality.

“Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. And we become enviable joyful. And then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them.” – Martin Sheen

The Moth Podcast: Eve Plumb and The Pittsburgh StorySLAM (12/15/2015) 
Eve Plumb (you know her as Jan Brady) is hilarious in this episode of The Moth where she shares stories about her childhood on and off the set of The Brady Bunch, and her relationship with her mother. In another story (not involving Eve Plumb or Jan Brady), a slideshow of photos intended for an audience of two winds up being shown at a family gathering.

Christmas Shopping …
The Husband, The Girl, and I all received some great books for Christmas — and The Girl and I went on a little bit of a shopping spree (thanks to her Christmas cash burning a hole in her pocket) at two local independent bookstores.  I need to wrap up this post, though, and get to bed, so I’ll plan on doing that recap separately.

Anticipating … 
I can’t believe this is the last Sunday Salon/Currently for 2015!  I really like doing these posts (even though they tend to take me forever) and in looking back over my blogging this year, oftentimes they’ve been the only posts I’ve written in a particular week.  I’m hoping to remedy that in 2016.

In addition to the book haul from this week, I have a few other fun posts planned.  Hope your holidays were good ones and that you have a great last week of 2015!

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and i do come home at christmas

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday–the longer, the better–from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!

Away into the winter prospect. There are many such upon the tree! On, by low-lying, misty grounds, through fens and fogs, up long hills, winding dark as caverns between thick plantations, almost shutting out the sparkling stars; so, out on broad heights, until we stop at last ….” ~ Charles Dickens

We traveled across the state, over low-lying, misty, foggy hills. Into a brief blue of dawn and the brume of day.

There are sugar cookies waiting. Books for reading.  Dinner plans with friends who are like family. Who are our family.

It is good to be home.

 

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finish line

Clouds - Pittsburgh 12-2-2015One of my college friends died suddenly last night.

Amidst the maelstrom of emotions still swirling since The Husband’s medical situation on Thanksgiving, this loss has me shaken. There are too many similarities. The timing of this. It’s too close.

We hadn’t been in touch for years but that’s the thing with our college — it doesn’t matter if you last spoke to someone yesterday or 25 years ago.  We were there at a time when our school was small enough to know everyone. You became family.

I kept up with him through his twin brother.  After all, if you knew one twin, you knew the other. They were inseparable, always together. They were legendary on a campus where we were so close-knit, connected like family. We all felt like they were our brothers. They just had that way about them.

And now? Well, now it’s impossible to think of a world where they’re not together, confusing the hell out of everyone because they looked and acted so much alike. Jokesters.  Always ready with a smile, a laugh.

They were cross-country runners and in a way, that’s what makes this such a shock. Because it doesn’t seem possible that someone with that kind of endurance, who was a champion competitor, could be taken so quickly and unexpectedly.

Somewhere, there’s a picture of both of them in my high school yearbook, in the background during an invitational meet that my school hosted every autumn.  We would discover this coincidence a few years later. There we are, my friend said, pointing out himself and his brother in grainy black and white. A snapshot in time.

My memories of that time can sometimes seem like that.  An image, a moment, a visage of what we were and hoped to be. A random capture, like the photo I snapped today of the changing clouds that greeted me upon leaving work at the end of this heavy day. A burst of yellow light, a streak of pink. A feathery wisp.

More and more often, that’s what this life seems to be like sometimes.  Fleeting. A flash and a blur. Our finish line around the corner, always just out of sight.

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write the hell out of this life

Daffodil in rain

When it came to writing, Ryan Mooney was among the best.

I wrote about my friend Ryan here, a few days ago in the midst of the unknowing. There are some answers now with the finality that his death brings, but the big question of why will linger always in the chasm that remains with this loss.

Maybe if I had paid more attention to what I didn’t see. Maybe if I had somehow known to reach out at precisely the right moment.

I am not the only one haunted by the what-if’s. I am not the only one who will always wonder why.

Since getting the devastating news earlier this week, I’ve tried – to no avail – to find some Facebook conversations Ryan and I shared, probably a year or so ago. The fluidity of time is a bitch to the psyche; in an online world where everything remains for posterity, the messages we exchanged seem to be gone, vanished – yet I remember them and I will treasure the heartfelt connection they held. We’ve all been in that dark place of betrayal by people who we loved and who we thought loved us.  In our emails back then, I wanted Ryan to understand that I knew exactly where he had been at that low point.

I only wish that I knew where he was in this most recent emotional place.

Most of our all-too-few conversations, though, were about writing. Nearly four years ago, I decided to attend a meeting of the Pittsburgh South Writers Group. It was about 45 minutes from my home and I didn’t know anyone there. I could count on one hand the number of people I knew in Pittsburgh (and that included my husband and two kids). I didn’t have anyone here – besides The Husband – who I would characterize as a friend. All I knew was that, in this new town of mine, more than 325 miles away from Philadelphia and everyone and everything that was familiar to me, I needed to connect with people who appreciated good writing and were dedicated to creating it.

There were some very good writers in the Pittsburgh South Writers Group. Still are. But right away, Ryan stood out to me and several of our peers.  I can’t remember the first piece of his that I read, but I knew immediately he was tremendously talented and a unique voice with incredible potential.  I could see that out of some deep pain came some of the funniest, daring, and amazingly real writing I’d ever read. He was serious about his writing and it showed.

Since his passing, I’ve become friendly with one of Ryan’s friends from the online writing community, LitReactor. Holly captured Ryan’s writing so well with this words in her post, “Gone But Never Forgotten”:

Ryan guarded himself with the fortress of his stories. His narrative was gritty and raw—a badge of honor having survived years of addiction and depression. He protected the chasm of his heart with characters that were as complex as he was. Ryan’s unabashed personality and unflinching honesty about his life revealed itself in every story he crafted. But nestled within sentences was a vulnerability, a tenderness that lived in the marrow of the skeleton of his plots. Ryan’s need for acceptance lived within the viscera of immaculate mechanics and tendons of run-on sentences he loved to use, yet his yearning for self-acceptance was an ending that would never reach fruition. Like an eclipse, such self-doubt shadowed Ryan’s limitless potential as a writer and often obscured his ability to see the effect his writing had on those fortunate enough to read his work.

Ryan was among those who I trusted to provide feedback on my current work-in-progress, a story that I’ve described as being one that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. Currently a novel, it might become a memoir or a collection of linked stories. Ryan knew how deeply personal this story was to me, how potentially controversial, and he treated it with the utmost respect, providing such helpful critiques.

Like Holly, I’ve been thinking also about what words Ryan and I would have shared if we’d had the chance to have another conversation about writing. Out of nowhere, a phrase came to me the other day. An urgent whisper, perhaps.

Write the hell out of this life.

Maybe it’s original, maybe it’s not. Whatever it is, I’d like to think it is some sort of lesson that can be taken from Ryan’s life and his approach to the written word. Because that’s exactly what he did, in every sense. He wrote the hell out of life by writing hard. He put in the time and did the work. He was committed. And with his passing, I think he would expect – no, demand – that his writer friends do the same. To re-commit to our work. To be as good as we possibly can be. And most importantly, to be that friend that others may not always know they need. Perhaps that’s the takeaway I’m looking for. Perhaps it’s part of the solace I need.

Because like so many others,I am heartbroken that Ryan’s story ended the way it did. I’m angry and devastated that we’ll never learn what the next chapter held. He had so much more to give. Speaking for myself, I had so much more to learn from him and so much more feedback I would have loved to have had from him, one of the best critics I knew.

In the wake of his death, I give you “Hardboiled Hell,” one of Ryan’s short stories. It’s classic Ryan, full of edge and the sly wordplay those of us who were privileged to read his work loved and knew so well, and which delighted and surprised us, again and again and again. I hope you will take a minute to read it and think about it. (It’s not quite what it might seem.)

As I re-read his story again a few nights ago, I was struck by the reference to the song “Meet Me In Heaven” by Johnny Cash and written by Roseanne Cash.I don’t know the song, so of course I turned to Google and found this:

We saw houses falling from the sky
Where the mountains lean down to the sand
We saw blackbirds circling ’round an old castle keep
And I stood on the cliff and held your hand
We walked troubles brooding wind swept hills
And we loved and we laughed the pain away
At the end of the journey, when our last song is sung
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
[Chorus] Can’t be sure of how’s it’s going to be
When we walk into the light across the bar
But I’ll know you and you’ll know me
Out there beyond the stars
We’ve seen the secret things revealed by God
And we heard what the angels had to say
Should you go first, or if you follow me
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
Living in a mansion on the streets of gold
At the corner of Grace and Rapture Way
In sweet ecstasy while the ages roll
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
In sweet ecstasy while the ages roll
Will you meet me in Heaven someday

See you there, my friend.

With heartfelt thanks to Holly Bella Toschi for permission to share her words and to Ryan’s mom for allowing me to share her son with you.

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you’re missing

Longwood Gardens (2)

photo credit: melissa firman, may 31, 2010 longwood gardens, kennett square, pa

“Everything is everything, but you’re missing.”
~ “You’re Missing,” by Bruce Springsteen

My friend is missing.

I feel justified in calling him a friend, although others more rightfully own claim to that title by virtue of knowing him better than I do. Truth is, I don’t feel like much of a friend in these circumstances.

Not because I lack the details and the history and the memories that come with such a friendship. It’s true, I don’t have those.  When you get right down to it and become technical, he and I are somewhere between a casual acquaintance and friend. If there’s a definition for that thing for people who have talked writing – Jesus, his phenomenal, amazing, creative, kickin’ some serious ass and taking names kind of writing – and who have talked messy relationship breakups, and who have shared a table at Eat’n Park with a group of other like-minded souls … well, then we are that.

He has been missing for three weeks.

And in that time, there has been the deafening silence, the kind that gnaws with its unknowing as I hit refresh, refresh, refresh on the news sites. What a hell of a news week this has been and I get that, I do, I really do. Others, gone, both here and everywhere: an octogenarian, a 2 year old, nine people in a church, a six week old. It is easy for news stories to vanish, too, because there will be another to replace it. Others more sensational than one grown man gone missing.

Missing takes different forms, I realize, and I begin to think of others slipped away, gone silent. It occurs to me that I haven’t heard from that other friend for awhile; his mother recently died and I wonder how he is doing; Facebook tells me his account has been deactivated and so, thus, there goes another.

A friend’s son is gone and I send a message:  you’ve been on my mind, I say, and that is all. Just love. Just that.

I vow to pay better attention, to notice who has gone silent, who has dropped off the grid. To step in before it is too late and to hold you and you and you and, yes, even you – all of you who I love, all at once, both collectively and singly, because this is what I know of this crazy world: it is a fragile one which has the power to make all of us disappear, poof. And then, sometimes it takes too much time to realize it and then, we are just as lost because they are gone. And we don’t know what this emptiness is like until it makes its presence known, stamping its feet in a tantrum, screaming maybe if I was more cognizant of the missing more often, maybe then I could have said something, maybe a comment would have made the difference, maybe I could have caught us at just the one right, perfect moment.

 

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On National Adoption Day, Baby G. Still Waits

Daffodils in snow 4

Baby G. just turned 4.

You remember Baby G., don’t you?

If you’re a new reader to my blog, these posts might help fill you in. If the name Baby G. sounds familiar, these posts might help jog your memory about a little girl who is still waiting for a home.

A four year old girl who has all but been forgotten by the Wisconsin judicial system, including the Wisconsin Supreme Court which accepted G’s case on this matter – and then, inexplicably, dismissed it outright without a hearing.

A four year old girl who has been ignored by every Wisconsin child services agency and professional whose job it was to protect her legal rights.

A four year old girl whom a judge has bounced from one, two, three foster homes in her four years – and taken away crying from the adoptive parents who loved her in their home (that’s four!).

A four year old girl who knows the meaning of the words “court,” “judge” and “hearing.”

A four year old girl who wonders EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. if tomorrow is the day when she will go home to “her Mommy and Daddy” – the adoptive parents chosen by a birthmother four years ago to love her forever.

The adoptive parents who have, unlike a Wisconsin judge and a trial jury who voted for foster care without receiving all the facts about the adoption case,  not forgotten about G.

Not for one day, one hour, one minute.

The adoptive parents who have exhausted every dime of their savings, sold a car, tapped into retirement funds, held fundraisers, went through parenting classes, got certified as foster parents (although they are currently not G.’s foster parents), launched a crowdfunding campaign, borrowed from family and friends, reserved a spot in the best school district and, oh, after all that? Remodeled their home to not only accommodate G., but G’s TWO BIOLOGICAL BROTHERS AS WELL so that they could ADOPT ALL THREE SIBLINGS TOGETHER.

And still, on this National Adoption Day, when we’re bombarded by media images of celebrities telling us how blissful adoption is (and make no mistake, adoption is absolutely a wonderful thing when a system does its goddamn job and works as it should), there are three children among the more than 100,000 children in foster care who are waiting for permanent and loving families.

But here’s what makes these three different.

Here’s the soundbite of this blog post.

These three children in Wisconsin?

They have adoptive parents who are approved. Who are certified.  Who want them desperately.  All three of them.

These children? Their long wait can be over tomorrow.

Their adoptive parents will get in their car right now and start driving, all night long.

The hold up is a Wisconsin court that is woefully out of compliance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), enacted into law by President Bill Clinton and which requires that States move to terminate parental rights for children who have been in foster Care for 15 out of the last 22 months.

G. and her brothers have been in foster care for much longer than that.

Much longer.

That’s a violation of ASFA. Wisconsin has also not documented why parental termination is not in G.’s best interest.  Another violation of ASFA.

(Her birthfather is a convicted felon, serving a five year sentence. Her birthmother has never spent any unsupervised time with G.  Oh, and if you’re a taxpayer in Wisconsin? Your hard earned tax dollars were spent defending these birthparents in court for the past three years while the adoptive parents have sacrificed everything.)

The adoptive parents sent a letter to the ACLU of Wisconsin. That was on September 12, and still no reply.

Meanwhile, National Adoption Day ends and it is bedtime in Wisconsin.

And three children are going to sleep wondering why a judge still hasn’t said they can be adopted by the parents that have loved them for three years.

 

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hollywood nights

Hollywood.bombThis business of being-a-writer-while-one-has-a-full-time-job and parenting kids is … well, it can be a lot of things.

It can be a strange existence as moments from our nights and weekends are eked out and surrendered to our laptops in this too-solitary pursuit.  (Case in point: I’m writing this blog post at 11:30 p.m. on a weeknight, when I have a fairly busy day tomorrow.)

Still, we do the writing anyway because of … what, and why, exactly?

For the love of it, mostly. And because we believe in our story and want to share it with others.  Otherwise, we might as well just do something else – and get a hell of lot more sleep while we’re at it.

My friend Jason Cole sent me a message a few weeks back, announcing the debut of his first novel, Hollywood.bomb. He is married to my longtime friend Rachel, and together they are two of the most ridiculously generous people I’ve ever known. They also have a lot of wicked smaht thoughts, to imitate their Boston accents and the name of Jason’s blog.

Unbeknownst to me, for the past 10 years Jason had been working on a novel about the crazy world of software development. The adage “write what you know” applies here; Jason has worked in this industry for more than 15 years, so the man knows this terrain “full of intelligent, quirky, and painfully honest people who are more interested in solving problems than making anyone feel good about them.”

I admit, I haven’t had a chance to read Hollywood.bomb yet in order to give it a proper review (a couple of interesting things are happening with my own writing projects) . What I can do is tell you that this satirical look at the software development and entertainment industries is .99 on Amazon for only one more day – and even after that it becomes an affordable $2.99. 

While the writing of the book was a serious venture for Jason, Hollywood.bomb itself doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. It’s meant to be a fun read, says Jason.

“I know that there’s some stigma associated with self-published books, and I’ve read enough of them to know why,” he says. “I don’t know whether my book is good enough to rise above the noise, and in some ways I don’t care.  All I want is for people to read it, to share in a story that has kept me and my close friends and family entertained for years.  I want to share it, with the hope that it will entertain, that readers will laugh a little.”

Just like Hollywood itself.

Congratulations, Jason.

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