Plague Diaries #3

Yesterday I talked about all the things I worried about. And I talked myself right into a lovely little panic attack. So today I am taking new measures to stop the anxiety from ratcheting up exponentially.

  1. I am going to stop checking the state numbers obsessively. The Florida Department of Health reports the increase in positive cases twice daily. Up until now I was online at 11 am and 6 pm to see how much we had increased. It was making me crazy.
  2. I am going to limit my exposure to the news and Facebook to once a day, and then only spend a very short amount of time reviewing.
  3. I am going to find activities that are comforting to me. For example, reading old favorite books that are like home to me. I’m going to rewatch the Great British Baking Show from the beginning. Even though I’m a low-carb, no sugar girl, it is still satisfying to see friendly people making cakes and biscuits and bread.
  4. I’m going to find reasons to laugh. Watching the British comedy shows like Would I Lie to You and QI always take me out of my head for a while.
  5. I’m going to stop judging other people for their inability to take self-distancing seriously. I’m taking care of me and mine and that’s all I can do.
  6. And if I still feel like I have a kaleidoscope of rabid butterflies in my stomach, I have anxiety medication (used sparingly) that can help me settle down.

My husband and I had a conversation yesterday about being brave. We do need to go forward with the attitude that everything is going to work out. And if it doesn’t we have to face the worst without falling apart. I’m not equating courage with stupidity–I’m still practicing self-isolation. But we need to put on a brave face and not let our fear overwhelm us. This is a war. And I am not going to go quietly to death.

Take care of yourselves. Check in with each other. Practice kindness.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Love, Anna

Plague Diaries #2

This is our fifth day of self-isolation. Although I went to the grocery store yesterday, so it didn’t feel like a quarantine. The store was pretty well stocked and we got what we needed for the week. Today we plan to stay at home and go for a walk, but that’s all.

I am scared. There are lots of things to be scared about: getting sick is the top one on the list, but there are many other things pressing on my mind right now.

How many people are going to die?

The numbers are reported for the state of Florida every day at 11 a.m., and 6 p.m. For the past two days we have been adding 200+ cases every 24 hours. My county has 39 cases. That may not seem like much but testing has been scant. They started getting more aggressive last week when the private labs and hospital started testing too. But if test results take 5-7 days to come in, then we haven’t seen the real spike in the number of cases yet. Maybe in a few more days we’ll see more numbers reflective of how we really are.

What is going to happen to the economy?

It’s in a free fall right now and I don’t see anything stopping it. The stimulus package that the senate is fighting over might help, but I don’t have a lot of confidence they will reach an agreement. Bipartisan fighting is tearing us apart when we need our elected officials to band together now more than ever. I don’t see the senate standing on the steps of the Capitol singing “God Bless America” like they did after 9/11.

I’m not going to comment on who is right and who is wrong in this scenario because that is exactly my point. If Democrats and Republicans can’t come to an agreement now, when the world is collapsing, then we might be doomed.

What is going to happen to everyone who is suddenly out of work? 

I almost can’t sleep at night because I’m worried about friends who have lost their jobs. I realize the importance of shutting things down and agree this is the only way forward to lessen the number of deaths. There is a human life attached to every one of those numbers you see posted every day.

But what about the people who worked in restaurants? That is a livelihood that is already tenuous–a tiny wage with the majority of money made in tips. And when the job is gone, so is the health insurance. (At least that’s so in the USA.) What happens if they get sick and need to be hospitalized? How are they going to pay for that?

Why are some people still not taking this seriously?

My husband and I have been going for daily walks. We practice social distancing, where if someone is headed towards us on the sidewalk, we step out into the street to keep a safe distance from others.

We wash our hands. If we are forced to go out (like to the grocery store) we shower when we come home. And some people, I am sure, will say we’re being extreme. Are we? Or are we making sure we stay well?

On our walk we pass by the Lakewood Public Golf Course. The parking lot is still packed every day. Most of the license plates are out of state. So apparently the snowbirds that are with us every winter still feel that playing their 18 holes is more important than stopping the spread of disease.

Of course, it is a sport with very little contact. You’re out of doors, staying away from each other, and generally getting exercise. But who is sanitizing the golf carts? Who is practicing social distancing in the club house? I see clumps of people standing around and talking as we walk by. And it makes me angry.

But!

I also am reminding myself daily of the things I am grateful for. There is a lot. My husband, my father, and I are all healthy as of this writing. I have a job which I am damn grateful for. I have health insurance. We own our condominium outright and have no mortgage payment. We have plenty of food and enough toilet paper for a month. No one I know has the disease as of yet, although one family member was tested yesterday.

Above all, I am grateful for every day I have that I remain healthy. I can go for long walks. I can watch movies with my husband. I can keep in touch with friends and family that I love dearly.

Watch out for each other. Check in. Spread some laughter in this dark time. And stay away from each other as much as you possibly can.

See you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #1

This is the weirdest, scariest thing that has ever happened in my lifetime.  Life has become surreal and I am pretty sure we’re going to keep on down this Dali-esque path for some time.

First off, I am fine. My husband is fine, my Dad is fine.  We are taking precautions, washing our hands, practicing social distancing and trying not to go crazy being cooped up. But as one person on Facebook said, “Your grandparents were called to war. You are called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

I am not working right now. The library where I work has closed its doors to the public, although staff are still expected to report in every day. I asked if I could work from home and was told no. Since I am lucky enough to have four weeks of vacation to spend, I am doing just that. I’d rather have a healthy family more than I’d like my vacation time.

It was and wasn’t a hard decision to make. It was easy in that I care what happens to my very small family.  My father is 73 and my husband is 63. Since everything went sideways I am keeping them out of public as much as I can. And me going to work every day and potentially being exposed was too much of a risk. I’m not going to put their lives in jeopardy for my job.

But it was hard because I feel like I need to be doing something to help. I feel bad that my coworkers are still putting together online story times and other forms of digital entertainment for our patrons. I would like to help but at the moment it isn’t possible. Perhaps I can work from home soon. I have plenty of projects to keep me busy.

Yesterday the governor of Florida closed all restaurant dining rooms, letting places offer takeout only. And I read an article this morning about how so many places have been forced to lay off the majority of their staff. I am terrified for the waitstaff at my local places. How are they going to survive? What happens if they get sick and they have no health insurance?

Our favorite restaurant, Cafe Gourmand, is still serving up takeout from 9-12 every day.  We went down there this morning and got our usual quiche to go. I will do everything I can to support our local businesses through this frightening time until I no longer can go out of the house. As I write this, New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Nevada are all on lock down. I think within a week the rest of the nation will be as well.

Florida, as a state, has been dragging its heels. It wasn’t until Thursday that our city and county closed our beaches. South Beach in Miami closed last weekend and our county sheriff said that all the spring breakers were driving the 100 miles to Naples to party here. It’s true. On St. Patrick’s Day Kosta and I went for a drive (just to get out of the house). On 5th Ave, where all the fancy restaurants are, we found people everywhere. Every table was filled, every parking spot taken, every sidewalk packed with people.

These are not people who live here year round, I suspect. These are people who are continuing their vacations in direct defiance of the warnings issued by the CDC.

Yesterday was my first day of “vacation” and I did very little. I went for a nice long walk with my husband and braved the markets to do my Dad’s grocery shopping. I had to go to 4 stores, but I got everything on his list. In the afternoon I took a nap and we got takeout from the Yard House for dinner, which we ate with my Dad. We then watched TV for a while. Pretty basic.

I did almost have an incident in Publix, however. It was packed and I was trying to maneuver my shopping cart around someone who had stopped in the produce section when this man in a face mask comes barreling through and nearly knocked me over. I locked eyes with him for a moment and gave him a challenging look. I think I must have intimated what I was thinking, which was, “No, no, you go first, asshole.” I could see the rage flare in his eyes and I am pretty sure he almost turned around to start yelling at me, but fortunately he chose to keep going.

I have to remind myself daily to take a deep breath. I am doing everything I can to protect my family.  I am checking in on extended family and friends. I am still exercising and eating healthy. I am still getting paid and have health insurance and damn grateful for it.

Things are going to get weirder. I hope you all are keeping your heads up.

See you on the other side,

Anna

I’m Listening…

I have a strange relationship with music. At least, I think I do. It’s possible you’re all like me but I’ve never really discussed this in depth with anyone except for my husband and he has a strange relationship with music so I can’t compare.

Music is amazing, isn’t it? Melodies and harmonies, all tangled with poetry to make something that speaks to us on an elemental level. It spans the breadth of human emotion from our fist-pumping highs of pure elation, to the kind of despair where you sit in the closet eating your hair, weeping softly.

That’s pretty normal, right? What’s so weird about me then?

For instance, I can’t stand live shows. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Live shows can be awesome, but the stir up an odd and uncomfortable feeling in me. When I really love a band or an album and listen to it obsessively it synthesizes into my very personality. It’s like I have an inside track to the songwriter’s intimate inner world. And then when I see the band perform live I am struck by how so many other people are intruding on that intimacy. Like I’m standing there naked and exposed. And the reality that it’s all in my head comes crashing down on me and I’m devastated.

I told Kosta about this and he paused and then said, “Yeah, that’s weird.”

Last September I went to Universal Studios in Orlando. They have a roller coaster there called the Rip Ride Rockit. It’s not for the faint of heart. The highest drop is 167 feet and it is more than straight down. But the brilliant part is you can pick your own heart-stopping song to be piped into your headrest and have a uniquely terrifying experience. It’s awesome.

I’ve only ridden it once. I listened to “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Cruë. Don’t judge me. I grew up in the 80’s and developed a taste for hair bands in my teens. (I never claimed it was good taste.) The combination of the roller coaster and the song was epic. The thudding of the drums beating in staccato time with my heart, the anticipation of the crunch of the guitars kicking in and finally that drop timed perfectly with Vince Neil’s first wail all worked together to give me a breathless almost two minutes of clean exhilaration that I have not experienced since.

That doesn’t sound so weird, does it? It’s not, since everyone who dares can experience it and have it suited to their own musical taste. Kind of genius, really.

But I have an on-again, off-again relationship with music. When I was in my teens and twenties, music was a huge part of my everyday life for one reason: the car. I would listen to the radio (when there was a station available that I like), I would listen to tapes and later CDs. When I was a senior in high school I listened to Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusions I&II over and over, almost exclusively. And at top volume. But then teenagers have that affinity for loud music because of their own adolescent howl that is tucked behind their breastbones.

The car sustained me through my twenties and thirties as well, although when I moved to Florida I was suddenly bereft of any radio station that suited my tastes. And I admit that was when music fell away from me. I listened to old stuff but did not seek any new, and worse yet, I listened to NPR like an old fuddy-duddy.

And after I got married and we shared a car the CDs left me too. My lifestyle changed to one that was a desiccated wasteland where no music was ever played. And I let it happen without thinking about it much. Did I miss it? Not at the time, but I can tell you it has made in impact on my life because of that loss.

Until I went to the gym and realized that working out to a beat was way better than huffing along to the rhythm of my thoughts. (Trust me, the brain train jumps the track all the time and never in time.) I pulled up my iTunes and made a playlist of 90’s hard rock to take to my workouts. It did the trick for a long time until suddenly I was thoroughly sick of The Offspring and Blink-182.

Since I now have access to things like Apple Music and Amazon Prime I have whole catalogs at my disposal and I’m afraid I’m a little overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin or who to listen to. I’m not afraid of new music, but so much of what’s popular today really hasn’t changed from the pop I listened to when I was twelve. It’s a lot of bad poetry set to mediocre melodies that all sound too similar.

As Pink Floyd sang: “Hey you, out there on the road, always doing that you’re told, can you help me?

I feel it’s time. I want to bring music back to life in my soul. It’s been thirsty for a long time and I need your help. Since mixtapes are no longer a thing (and I am sad this is the case. I adored the hand written track lists that made them so unique), build me a playlist of three songs that have meant something to you in the last year. It can be any genre, it doesn’t have to be something you think I would like.  In fact, I’m more than ready to be open to new experiences.

Thanks in advance. I also wouldn’t object to carefully curated playlists complete with liner notes and cover art. (Oh, the tragedy of that disappearance!) But I understand that’s a labor of love and some of you might not love me… yet.

Hit me with your best shot. I’m listening.

Looking Forward

It’s the end of the decade and the beginning of the twenties. I wonder if these will roar as loudly as the previous twenties did. And if not, what will they do? Are we about to enter the Exploding Twenties? The Whimpering Twenties? We’ve just been through the Dumpster Fire Teens, at least where politics is concerned.

Ahem. No politics, Anna.

This is a time of year, that nebulous, hazy time between Christmas and New Year’s, when people take stock of things. What have I accomplished in the past year? In the past decade? In my life? What do I want to do next?

I am of two minds about this practice. While I always think it is a good idea to write down your goals–it makes them permanent–I’m not always sure doing it this time of year is the best. We go into January with giant expectations of ourselves. For instance, I could say that I want to lose fifty pounds, learn Greek and Norwegian, start and Etsy business, Marie Kondo my house, and land myself a literary agent.

But I am sure I would only end up in a tepid teacup of bitter disappointment. The expectations we place on ourselves probably aren’t unattainable. I mean, I could do all those things above, but would it make me happy?

Probably not. Sure, I would have a huge sense of accomplishment, but I think I’m starting from the wrong angle. Instead of thinking about correcting my deficiencies (for example, my shameful monolingual-ism or my cluttered bedroom), maybe I should think of things that I know would make me happy and start there, working backwards to it.

Maybe we need to focus less on what we should be doing, and concentrate on the things that make us happy. Unless you’re a serial killer, of course.

On March 31, 2010, at approximately 4:45 pm I was hit with the bolt of inspiration that led me to write my first novel. I’d always thought of myself as a “writer” before then, even though I had only written a few short stories and some terrible poetry in college. But that day I was researching Greek mythology and I came up with the idea of writing a modern day take on the muses.

I confess, I might have been doing this at the end of my work day (Shame! Shame!) But at 5 pm I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go with the story and I roughed it out with my husband as we went for a walk after work. I was frolicking in circles around him, I was so excited.

I wrote the first draft in twelve weeks. I remember bursting into tears right after writing “the end” at the bottom of the page. Even though I wasn’t published, I had the chops to finish a novel! I really was a writer.

Since then I have worked very hard at my writing. I did my homework about the publishing industry and sent out queries to literary agents. I slaved over that first query letter. Every word was lovingly selected and combined into what I thought was a sculpted thing of beauty. I got a few nibbles, agents asking to see more than the initial pages I had sent out. But no one took the worm and pulled.

I did not give up. I thought the first novel might work better as a young adult story so I rewrote it completely. I queried again. Several agents asked to see the whole thing, but ultimately, I once again did not find someone to represent me.

I did not give up. I wrote a new book. This one was a young adult historical thriller set in Tudor England that is very dear to me. My wonderful husband, who is also my first-line editor, worked with me every night after work to hone that manuscript until it sparkled like a gem. (Let’s go with rubies, I really love rubies.)

I sent it out to agents starting in February of 2015. I got lots of positive responses, but still no takers. But then, after about 140 rejections, at the end of July, a brand-new agent from a huge agency in New York wrote to me to say he was head-over-heels in love with my book. I remember opening that email. It was on a Friday afternoon that I was off work.

I shrieked. My husband came running in from the other room. All I could do was put a hand over my mouth and point at the screen. I moved so he could sit and read. By the time he was done I was on the floor, on my hands and knees, and pounding the rug. (This is not a euphemism.) I was screaming and crying and filled with joy.

I had found an agent! Within a couple weeks I signed a contract and we started getting the manuscript in shape to send it to editors.

EDITORS. People who publish books. I had made the next rung on the ladder!

We queried editors until Christmas. Many were extremely favorable about the book but ultimately it came down to one thing: young adult historical is extremely hard to get past a sales team. I had many interested, but no takers.

And if you think that it stings less when an editor says no, you’re so wrong. It hurts like a motherfucker.

Finally, my agent had to break it to me that we had to shelve this book because there was no one left to send it to. I was devastated. I loved that book with everything I had.

I did not give up. I did my homework. I went out and grabbed up YA historical new releases and gobbled them down. It seemed that all the YA historical fiction that was being published (and still is) has some sort of fantasy element to it.

I wrote my third novel, another YA historical thriller with a fantasy element. I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it. My agent said he was very excited to take it out to the editors. We sent it out. And once again we did not succeed in snaring an editor’s attention. The reason? There were too many YA fantasies out there right now and mine would just get lost in the mix.

I pounded my head on my desk. I wept. I felt like shit for quite a while.

In fact, about this time my mother’s health began to fail in earnest and 2018 was filled with me watching her die and then grieving for her. I did not write. I didn’t even read. I couldn’t. But there was that spark in me, that one that loved the process of crafting stories that wouldn’t be quenched.

But my contract with my agent expired and he did not offer to renew. I was heartbroken that I hadn’t had success when it had been at the tips of my fingers.

I did not give up.

In 2019 I started to come out of the well. I started by writing some flash fiction. I wrote a few short stories. I wrote a non-fiction piece about anxiety. And lo, when I sent some of these out, they were published! I had a flash piece called “Teeth” in Everyday Fiction. My essay on anxiety ended up in Vamp Cat Magazine. And two more flash pieces ended up printed in The Mangrove Review.

I went to The Mangrove Review launch party. I gave a reading. I LOVED it. I’m not just a writer, it turns out I’m an excellent public speaker too. I read with inflection. I crack jokes. Dammit, I’m witty.

I went back to a novel I had been thinking about since I was an undergrad taking art history. There is a famous Renaissance painter named Fra Filippo Lippi who was a monk. He used a young nun as a model for the Virgin Mary and ended up falling in love with her kidnapping her, and spiriting her away from the convent. You can’t make that shit up.

Or can you? I took that seed of an idea and started working on my fourth novel: a paranormal thriller set in Italy in the 1400s and present day. This one is for the adult market. I have it on good authority that the adult historical fiction market is hot.

While I’ve been working on this novel I’ve built an acquaintance with a literary agent. He has been very kind and given me good advice.  I sent him my second novel at the end of October and he responded with delight. He is a great agent: he started as an editor and now has a cadre of talent all over the spectrum. He’s seen all sides of the industry and really knows his stuff.

I know there’s no guarantee he’s going to take me. It isn’t his job to take me on because he likes me. He has to love my writing. But I have the talent and the drive. If he doesn’t take me I’ll keep going until I find someone that will.

I will not give up.

So to go back to the beginning, what am I expecting of myself in 2020 and beyond? I’m going to say “fuck you” to the resolutions and keep doing what makes me happy. That is writing. And even if I never get anything published, I will have had a satisfactory career as a writer. Because I love it.

My Mother’s China

My mama died just over a year ago. Born in 1950, she was a child of the Baby Boom. As children, she and her sister were given a sterling silver teaspoon, fork or knife for Christmas, birthdays, and other occasions from a couple of well-meaning aunts. When they were both young ladies of marriageable age they each had a full service of silver for their hope chests.

Hope chests were a thing back then. A young woman or girl would have a cedar chest or something similar where she would keep her silver service, embroidered linens, crocheted bedspreads, and handmade lace for her wedding gown. All the women in her family would help her to fill it so she could take it to her new life with her husband, a replacement for the even more archaic concept of a dowry.

As a Gen X-er I had no such thing. The women’s lib movement freed me from the burden of hope that I might be married and settled as soon as possible. There wasn’t an expectation on me to subjugate myself and make a home and family when I got out of school. I did not marry at eighteen like my mother. I was thirty-four and already had a household of my own when my husband and I joined forces.

I have inherited a lot of stuff from my mother: a Bavarian china service for twelve, etched water goblets, various pieces of Belleek, and other bits of china. I am in possession of her sterling flatware set and a Victorian-era Prussian chocolate set. They are all beautiful and represent my mother in ways that warm my heart. Every time I look at them I can feel how much she prided herself in them, how they meant something to her.

From her generation and generations before her, things like china and silver and crystal were a status symbol. They were objects that lifted them above the poverty of their ancestors, stating that they had arrived enough in the middle class to be able to afford and keep such costly and beautiful things meant only for special occasions. She treasured these, and the things she had inherited from women before her. 

Now the second hand of time is sweeping faster and attitudes are changing. I married, yes, but I chose not to have children (which is a whole other messy topic). It does make me sad at times to recognize I shall not have anyone to whom I can pass the good fortunes of my life, my mother’s life,  and her mother’s before her. The collection of status symbols from generations past that I now own are as antiquated as the millstone I have tied to my neck.

That’s right. I don’t want them. I might be saturated with guilt about it, but I cannot deny I will never use them. I don’t throw lavish dinner parties or hen parties that require these ornamental items now gathering dust in my house. Am I to be bound to these things until I die? Shall I shunt them from house to house, packing and unpacking them? It would be the only time I ever handle them or even think about them.

I thought of selling them online. I browsed through listings and found a glut of the very pieces I own. Two things became apparent: first, I do not have a china cabinet full of valuable rarities. Secondly, I am not the only woman my age who feels laden with the responsibility of her mother’s china. In most instances the pieces are being sold at rock-bottom prices which further adds to my suspicion that the kind of buyer for this type of item is vanishing. There is no one left who craves to possess the hand-painted luncheon set, the hob-nailed glass dessert plates, or the leaded crystal lemonade pitchers with matching glasses.

In the next few months I am going to be moving from a house of 1450 square feet to a condominium of 900 square feet. My husband and I are purging the excess possessions of our life together to make ourselves fit. There is a certain liberation in bringing bags of clothing and boxes of books to the Goodwill. It makes me lighter, exhilarated. Don’t mistake me–I love and cherish my books but there are many that I shall never read again and would love to pass on to someone who can enjoy them.

But the china and the crystal and the silver: they aren’t as easy to dump at the Goodwill. For one thing, someone in the past spent a great deal of hard-earned money on them. They were chosen with care and kept safe behind the glass of a china cabinet, some for a hundred years or more. I am having a hard time finding my way free of them without shattering my heart like fine porcelain. I know I don’t have the room to take it all with me. And yet I don’t want to send them off into the world without knowing that someone will take care of them, love them, wash them by hand and protect them from dust.

It is only pure guilt that keeps me from parting with them. But in another way I feel like I am giving away a piece of me, a little shard of my heart, my heritage, my identity. I wonder what Mama would say if she could read this. It gives me a thrill of dread to think about it. She was the sweetest, gentlest soul I had the privilege to know, but she was fierce about her stuff.

For instance, when Hurricane Irma was bearing down upon Naples (we scored a direct hit–the eye of the storm passed over our house) my parents came to stay with us. Mom wanted to bring a “few things” with her because they didn’t have hurricane shutters for the place where  they were living. “A few things” turned into four boxes of books and all her scrapbooking supplies. My poor father nearly stroked out moving it all. (If I had known what he was doing would I have helped him, or scolded my mother for being so materialistic? Probably the former. Mom had a lot of health problems and it was tough to say no to her on anything.)

I know this is a first world problem. It’s about stuff that I don’t need or want. But when an object is a piece of your past, all tangled in your heartstrings and guts, it’s still a painful conundrum. I am grateful for all I have. I want to live with less. It’s an awkward spot, to be moving towards the excitement of the future and progress for women and be clamped by the ankle to the weight of something as ridiculous as dinnerware. I recognize the dichotomy completely and see myself almost a fool for caring so much. And yet, my mother was one of my best friends and I want to honor her. I don’t want to dispose of everything she held dear with a flippant drop-off at the local thrift store. It would be tantamount to dumping her ashes on the curb. See ya, Mom. Hope someone will take care of you.

I don’t see men with this problem either. Why is it that women are so much more fixated on keeping mementos from the past? When my father and I went through my mother’s things she had dozens of envelopes of ephemera she meant to use in scrapbooking but never had the chance. My father requires very little by way of possessions. It was my mother who really hung onto everything like she would drown without it.

In the meantime, all that stuff is now drowning me.

There is no easy answer to this question. I need to find a way to release my guilt over my mother’s things. I must decide something quickly or start renting a storage space. They are popping up all over the place in my town: a testament that the middle class can’t let go of their shit. I am on the tipping point. 

Please let me fall soon.

In a pig’s eye

I awoke this morning to an eye that was half swollen shut. Turns out I have a stye underneath my eyelid. It hurts like hell and makes me look like Popeye.

A trip to the eye doctor confirmed it and now I have drops to put in 4 times a day. I hope it works fast because I’m miserable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go lie down and ooze.

New Year, New Me?

It’s the second week of the new year and I was hoping for some magical transformation. Like I would suddenly be satisfied with my job and editors would start sending me acceptances for the short fiction pieces I’ve written and submitted in the past few months. Life would lighten and I would be able to breathe and look forward to the future.

In short, I was looking for a miracle.

It seems like so long since anything has gone right in my life that I am despairing a little that I will never catch a break. My mother has been gone for seven months now and Christmas was a bugger to get through. I did, and am relieved it is over. The day itself wasn’t as bad as the lead up to it. Everywhere I looked and saw the decorations and heard the music I would think of her and how much she loved it.

There are good things to look forward to. We will be moving into the condo we own at the end of March. That is going to save us a significant amount of money a year in rent. We’ll be able to pay off debt, and maybe even squeeze in a trip to Greece this September.

We are currently downsizing, as we are lopping off 550 square feet to our living space. Many books, furniture, old clothes and other odds and ends are going away. I am starting to feel lighter with the purging we have already done. Come March I want our place to be positively Spartan so when we move we will fit. That feels good.

But I feel like my writing career is dead. I’ve tried so hard, worked tirelessly, and it seems that the world doesn’t want to read my stories. I’m weary with the sting of rejection. But I love writing. So what do I do? Just write for myself and not try to pawn my words on anyone? Perhaps, but that makes me feel like a failure.

So there are good things and bad things happening. I suppose that is life. I just feel like I’ve been down so long that there is no climbing out of this well. When will I catch a break? I’m putting it out there: I want transformation. I will work hard for it if I just had a hint that something good was coming. Because I’m getting tired. I’m losing faith that everything will turn out all right.

Sorry to be such a downer. Life has been kicking me in the teeth and I don’t have many left. Maybe dentures are in order? At least I’d have my smile back.

My Mom: Jan Nelson

With my mother’s memorial service coming up a week from Friday, I was asked to put together a few words about her for my pastor. Of course, I wrote three pages. But I wanted to share them with you, along with some of the pictures I put together for a photo slideshow which will be shown at the church. Here she is in my own words:

My mama was the sweetest, most gentle heart I’ve ever known. She got that from her mother, Marcy, and her generosity of spirit from her father, Wally. Mom was kind and loving and so accepting of others. It took a lot to make her angry, and when she did get angry it was over pretty quickly.

Underneath that sweet exterior lurked a quick and wicked sense of humor. It’s one of the reasons she loved my father so much, because they were well matched. (Obviously, there were other, major reasons as well, but the fact that they laughed together, even in serious situations, was a gift to their marriage.) She and her friends Pat and Marie could laugh themselves into fits of hysterics and often did when they got together.

Mom loved to travel. The two of us went to London for a week in 1997 – the one and only time she went overseas. She loved every minute of it. We walked everywhere and had aching feet at the end of each day, but we saw so much. We even took day trips to Oxford and Windsor Castle. She made three consecutive scrapbooks to detail our trip.

My parents and I always did a two week vacation in the summer when I was a kid. We would usually go camping somewhere out west and we were fond of the National Parks. Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Death Valley, Lassen, Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Parks all saw us at least once, but we revisited our favorites many times. We also explored the beauty of the Canadian Rockies by visiting Banff, Lake Louise, and Waterton Lakes. Even though camping wasn’t her favorite (she didn’t like bugs or wild animals), she went along with it in good humor because it got her out to see the world.

Unfortunately, bugs and wild animals seemed to like her. Mosquitoes flocked to her arms and legs and one time when a June bug flew at her and hit her in the face she literally jumped out of her sandals. And while in Mesa Verde in Colorado, two inquisitive mule deer quietly came up behind her to investigate our campsite while we were washing up after supper. They drove Mom to the safety of the car while they innocently nosed the frying pan.

Mom also loved the North Shore of Lake Superior. She went many times as a kid, usually staying with her family in Halcyon Harbor. But we made quite a few trips ourselves when I was a child. I remember sitting on the rocky shore with her and arguing over who got to read our only copy of Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. She loved Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, and wandering through the many gift shops that line old Highway 61, plus eating at Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais, and Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors.

She and Dad had an absolute blast traveling around in their RV. Unfortunately, her health problems made them have to stop after just a year on the road. Her goal was to see all 50 states, and she made 47 of them, missing only Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia. She also collected pictures of state capitols and wrote a newsletter called the Roads Scholars that she sent out to family and friends.

She did have a multitude of health problems, but she never complained about them. She bore everything on her small shoulders with grace and fortitude. She had quiet strength that could withstand the most difficult situations. She had a fiercely strong spirit and was determined to beat the odds. In the end, her lungs gave out on her, but she fought all the way. She said she didn’t want to die because she had so many things she still wanted to do.

Mom was gifted with all creative pursuits. She decorated our home beautifully, but also loved scrapbooking, painting, cross stitch, sewing, and needlework of all kinds. Scrapbooking was a particular passion in later years, and she would spend hours slaving over pages of memories. She made two books chronicling my life, one for her sister, one for her best friends Pat and Marie, one for her mother-in-law Eileen, one for Disney, even one specifically for pictures of people wearing silly hats at Disney World. (Yes, she really had enough pictures.) She delighted in putting together colors, layout, pictures and words to create something truly eye-catching and special.

Mom had a few obsessions. Some of these included Disney, picture frames, Disney, soap dishes, Disney, scrapbooking, Disney, Department 56 houses, Disney, Christmas, Disney and Disney. She worked at Disney World for a period of several years and got to indulge that obsession as much as she wanted. She collected pins, Lilo and Stitch memorabilia and quite a few pieces of art from the local artists who worked with her at the Art of Disney. Her time spent at the Art of Disney, a high end art store where you could buy anything from a $5 keychain to a $40,000 painting she discovered she really liked helping people choose the perfect treasure and had a knack for selling.

Mom was really smart. She got very good grades in high school and had an amazing memory and was a quick learner. She loved to read and devoured books voraciously. If she wasn’t occupied with one of her obsessions, you can bet she had a book in her hand. She adored mysteries, fiction, biographies and Harry Potter. She instilled a love of reading in me, leading by example.

She loved art, especially the Impressionists, and loved museums. She liked to write and was quite accomplished at it. She always thought she would have made a good librarian, and was so pleased when I made that my career. She was a bookkeeper and would have made a fantastic accountant if she’d had the chance to go to college. She loved learning of all kinds and was always looking for ways to expand her knowledge of the world, whether it be through books or travel.

In addition to art, she loved music too. Every Easter she got excited because our church service usually ended with the Hallelujah Chorus, in which she loved to participate, and Lorie Line was her go-to Christmas music. We saw her several times in concert. She loved singing in Mount Calvary choir and joined the Disney employee choir which sang at the EPCOT Candlelight Processional. She got to be on stage with Neil Patrick Harris, John Stamos, Eartha Kitt and Phylicia Rashad.

And she was always playing music in the car. When I was still in a car seat, she would strap me in and subject me to large doses of Barry Manilow. I, being an extremely good daughter, took her to see him in Fort Myers a couple of years ago, and was surprised that I knew the words to all but one of the songs, which was in itself a little frightening. But it made her so dang happy it was hard not to enjoy it.

She loved her family. On her father’s side she was the youngest of 25 first cousins. She adored her sister, all her nieces and nephews and their children, and had a special friendship with her cousin Kay. She was proud of her Swedish and Norwegian heritage. She loved her parents fiercely and was devastated when she lost them just six months apart. Being only seven at the time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of her loss. But now I have a very keen understanding of what she went through at just thirty two years of age.

She loved animals. From her collie Chloe, when she was a girl, to my cats Shady and Fingers now, she lavished as much attention on them as they would let her. She loved the softness of fur and animals recognized the gentle spirit that lay within her, and loved her back.

Most of all, I think, she loved my Dad and me. When my husband Kosta joined the family, she gathered him right in and loved him too. We were a tight unit with inside jokes and a rubber chicken that used to get passed to unsuspecting recipients at Christmas. No one has a perfect marriage but as the years passed Mom and Dad settled into the comfortable roles of best friends and soul mates. And yet, they included me in their love so that I never doubted it for a moment.

Mom left us too soon. She didn’t want to go, she wanted to make her 50th wedding anniversary in 2019, and see me be a published author. She wanted to visit Disney again and go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. She had books to read, and scrapbooks to finish and so much living to do and most of all: people to love. And even though her spirit was strong, her body crumbled away before our horrified eyes. She has left such a large hole in our hearts and knowing that I may have to live half of my life without her is almost too much to bear sometimes. I’ll never see her beautiful eyes again, or feel her soft hand touch my cheek. She was one of my best friends. I’ll never stop missing her and will remember her daily for the rest of my life.

Avert your eyes

I’ve been sick with bronchitis for the past week. All of the stress I’ve been under made mincemeat of my immune system and I was struck hard last Thursday night with it. I even got some excellent cough syrup with hydrocodone in it.  It helped me sleep and helped me not to cough so much.

But this morning I was still not feeling better so I called the doctor and got a second appointment. And as I was driving over it happened. A mama duck started bustling her brood across the busy four-lane road. The truck in front of me didn’t even stop and mowed over them, killing two of them. I slammed on my brakes in horror as the mama duck ran back into traffic. If my windows had been rolled down I am sure I would have heard her screams of terror.

My own mouth opened wide as well, though no sound came out. My eyes screwed shut and I could not see for the tears that poured forth. The violent death of the ducklings and the anguished horror of their mama triggered a full-blown panic attack in me. Behind the wheel. I could not breathe, nor see, nor, it seemed, able to do anything useful at all. Somehow I managed to pull off the road and sat in the parking lot of a church and remained quite hysterical for at least fifteen minutes.

Obviously I was not crying about the ducks.

If you’re sick of reading about my grief, I’m sorry. But this is a place I am going to sit for a while. Please skip over me if it bothers or annoys you.

I mean this sincerely.

There are some interesting things I have learned about grief and death in America in the past few weeks.

The first is that most people are uncomfortable with it. It is something they don’t understand and something they fear, therefore they avoid it. We are expected to cry at the funeral and then go on with our lives, doing more damage to our psyches than we realize.

When we have had a profound loss in our life it is quite natural to get hysterical from time to time. It is the body’s way of releasing the pressure we build inside ourselves.

The second thing I learned was something a wise man told me. He said that grief is like playing in the surf. If you stand hard against the waves it will knock you down and fill your mouth full of water and sand. But if you let the wave wash over you, you will go down, but you will bob right back up again. Best not to fight it when it comes.

So when it comes I am going to let it consume me. I will cry ugly. I will probably choke on my own snot and cough so hard I pee my pants a little. But I will not stand against the grief. I will embrace it and ride it out to the other side. Because that is the only way I am going to get through this.

And I will understand if you need to avert your eyes.