Monday, March 27, 2017

Coming of Age: The Music That Moved Us

When I am silent, I fall into the place where everything is music. ~ Rumi

Both my forthcoming book THIS I KNOW and my current work-in-progress take place during the turbulent 1960's and 70's. One of my creative tricks has been to immerse myself into the setting by listening to music from that iconic era while I write. From Dylan to Baez to The Beatles to CSNY the music is not just about nostalgia, it represents a time when a nation of people pushed back against the wrongs of our government. Kind of like now. My novels are not political but change doesn't happen in a vacuum so my characters often find themselves brushing up against events of the day. For me, listening to the music is like slipping between the pages of Life Magazine during the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war and the counter-culture movement I missed by a few scant years. 

I've always considered myself a left-behind flower child. Kennedy was assassinated when I was just four years old. I was in the fourth grade when Woodstock happened. The Vietnam war had ended by the time I reached my teens. But that didn't stop me from knowing from a very young age that I was an idealist, a free spirit who just happened to have been born a few years too late to march with Dr. King, chant with Hare Krishnas or move to Haight-Ashbury to be with my tribe. Having grown up in a conservative Christian household, we weren't supposed to listen to rock-n-roll but of course we did. I did, anyway. I clearly remember being called upon by a history teacher having no idea of the question because I was (quite ironically) lost in the song, Drift Away playing on an earphone threaded from a small radio in my purse up the back of my blouse to my ear. 

Many of those utopian songs of freedom and change have etched themselves permanently into my being. Fortunately the music plays on and in my mind I'm there; dancing naked at an outdoor concert, placing flowers in rifles at Kent State, riding on the Marakesh Express to find truth and meaning from gurus draped in white sheets of wisdom. It would be difficult to pick a favorite but as I play though my lists on Pandora, a few songs reach me in places that send me back to that barefoot girl with a guitar on her back and bohemian dreams in her heart. Or like today, curled up with my coffee and a notepad as I plot my main character's next move and suddenly I'm rolling down the highway in a semi-truck, windshield wipers slappin' time as we pull into Salinas...

What about you? What song stands out from your coming-of-age years, when you thought every song was either written for you or about you?

#1960's #1970's #comingofage #counterculture #hippies #music

Monday, February 27, 2017

Today Will Always Be Better Than Tomorrow

"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." --Allen Saunders

If you're having a sucky day you might not believe the title of this post but the fact that you're having a sucky day and thinking about tomorrow is kind of my point. Don't believe me? Well take a gander at the number of people (over 100,000 as I write this) currently viewing this Giraffe who is about to give birth. I'll wait. That was probably a stupid suggestion because I just lost most of you, who will now be more interested in waiting for the magic moment those two baby-sized hooves appear (well, as baby-sized as a 150-pound giraffe can be) before mamma April gives birth. I know this because I've spent way too many hours over the past four days watching said giraffe and her bae Oliver as they count down to the big splash. Sorry I know that sounds gross but after three days of waiting I finally just started watching giraffe birth videos and that's kind of what it's like when they hit the ground. Sploosh is probably a better word.

The thing is I realized that the more I watched the giraffe the more impatient I got. And the more invested I became. I'd already wasted all this time and I didn't want it to be for nothing. Come on already, I thought. Time to get this show on the road! It's kind of how I feel when I'm writing a book or waiting for said book to release. I get so focused on the next thing that I forget to revel in the beauty of current thing. Ram Dass wrote a whole book about this titled Be Here Now. I think as humans we intrinsically know that we should be more present in the smallest moments but we get addicted to the adrenal charge of the big moments. The births, the weddings, the birthdays, the moves, the job promotions, the book releases and yes, even the deaths. We get so caught up in the preamble we forget to marvel at the process. And quite often, we rush the thing that's not ready to be born.

One of the most exciting aspects of a publishing a book is also one of the most challenging. Your agent sold the book (YAY!) but then you realize it takes an average of two years before it will hit the shelves. Two. Years. Why? Well, partly because there are other books ahead of yours in the queue but also because your book is not ready. It takes time for the edits and revisions and meetings with publicity department and cover art and press releases and reviewers and blah, blah blah. And while you're waiting, or let's be honest here, while I'm waiting, I need to stay focused on writing the next book. Because the magic moment isn't publishing the book, it's writing it. And just like our adorable baby giraffe, gestation takes time. The finished product is indeed a miracle but the making of the miracle is where the magic happens. Taking a single sentence and turning into one that makes you stop for a moment and wonder at the way those words lined up to form a cogent thought is not a waste of time, it's the reason time exists. If I had skipped over that sentence because I was anxious to get to the next sentence, the next chapter, the final scene, I'd never have fully enjoyed that moment.

Or this one right here, where some of you are having a sucky day and I'm here to tell you that even
pain can be exquisite if you think about it. It's our measure of bliss, isn't it? How else would we know how good something feels if we haven't experienced suffering? How lucky are we to be extended the grace of these moments-in-waiting? Just look at those giraffes. How amazing are they with their long necks, crazy patterns, and goofy little horns? It's not about the baby, folks, it's about enjoying each moment with these awesome creatures. Otherwise life would be like reading the last page without ever getting to ride the roller coaster of emotions that led to the finale. So go ahead, look forward to the next thing but for crying out loud don't forget to enjoy the this one.

So tell me, what are you waiting for? And what moment are you reveling in RIGHT NOW? I'd love to read your comments.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Big Picture

"They bought a house on the hillside, where little feet soon would run. From small things, mama, big things one day come."  --Bruce Springsteen, From Small Things

We saw Twentieth Century Women at the local theater tonight and somewhere during the film the question was asked, “What is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to you?” And it got me to thinking. The biggest thing is always relative to the last biggest thing, isn’t it? When I got married at sixteen that was huge. Until I had a baby at eighteen and creating a human being became the biggest thing. But then her dad and I divorced and raising a child on my own when I was barely more than a child myself, well, you can imagine how big that felt. The next time I got married it wasn’t as big a thing because I’d done it before. Same for the next two babies and the second divorce. But getting my real estate license was big. As was the day I left real estate to open my first massage practice.

If you asked me the biggest thing in my life when I was thirty one I would have told you it was watching my mother take her last breath. Moving to California at thirty-seven soon eclipsed that passage. Not bigger, but different in size and scope for sure. Fast forward thirteen years when I donated a kidney to a complete stranger. Now that was a big thing, bigger than me, bigger than I ever expected in terms of how it affected my life in so many beautiful ways. Still does. And although I was overwhelmed by the impact of donating a kidney, taking part in a documentary and then giving birth to the memoir that followed my donation journey consumed my life in a big way for several very exciting and busy years.

Writing the memoir gave me the confidence to finish a novel and then I signed with an agent and I suddenly felt like a big fucking deal. I had an agent! An even bigger deal when she sold the book to a publisher. "This I Know" will be released next spring. Will this novel be the biggest big thing? Maybe. Maybe it will be the book after that, the one already taking up most of the space in my head as I clickety-clack away on my keyboard.  Or maybe, the writing itself is the big thing, eh?

Between my childhood wedding and selling my book, there were lots of smaller things, although many left a big impression. Things like seeing my youngest go off to college, moving to the ocean, finding and losing love (and finding it anew). I won’t marry again but I’ll probably write more books. I’ll undoubtedly lose more dear friends to cancer. My fifteen year-old dog will die. My kid’s kids will have kids. And so on and so on but frankly, I think my biggest thing will have already passed by that time. Maybe when I’m seventy or eighty I’ll be able to tell you which one of those was the biggest. Or maybe the biggest thing will be my death, when I finally find out if there is anything after this. Now that would be huge, given my agnosticism.  
The thing is I think we’re too focused on the big things. It’s those little things I most remember. The vibration of clunky roller skates under my feet on a bumpy sidewalk. The smell of sheets breeze-dried on my mother’s clothesline. The feel of knotted muscles under my hands as I kneaded them into submission. Baby toes. Carrot cake. My lover’s breath on the back of my neck. The scent of books and the sound of a page turned.  Dirt crunching beneath my boots. A fan on a hot summer day. Movie popcorn. All of it. 

So tell me, what is the biggest thing that's ever happened to you? What is your smallest biggest thing? The next biggest thing?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

To Live in This World

I'm not someone who pays a lot of attention to holidays. I don't buy Christmas gifts nor do I indulge in the awkwardness of Valentines Day, a date designed to  make single people feel awful and for couples to pretend romance should be a priority just one day of the year. I think most holidays started out honorably but they've been hijacked by greedy corporations and marketing gurus.

I was in bed before midnight on New Year's Eve but I'd already celebrated Winter Solstice because for me, it the single most important benchmark on the calendar. December 21 marks the beginning of a new beginning, of more light, and of a promise of spring. For many of us the new year is a time we reflect on the past twelve months. What did we accomplish? How well did we achieve our goals? We look back to celebrate joys and to grieve our losses or missteps. Ideally we learn from our mistakes and resolve to transform blunders into blessings. We say goodbye but mostly, we say Hello.

2016 was a mixed bag for me. Personally, there was a lot to celebrate. I signed with an agent who negotiated a two-book publishing contract with an amazing editor at Kensington. My essay "Body Language: The Naked Truth" was selected for inclusion in a well-time anthology titled Equality: What Do You Think About When You Think of Equality? (Releases Jan 15th). I enjoyed a visit from my lovely daughter and beautiful, feisty granddaughter who live thousands of miles away. I bought a sweet little 1957 vintage camper and transformed it into a writing studio where I revised the first book and began the second one. And I got to spend another year living the dream life in a cottage overlooking the sea with my beloved.

But it was also a very difficult year on an existential level. I saw people at their very worst, spewing hatred, bigotry and mean-spirited insults at their fellow human beings. I watched as a man who stands for everything I was raised to reject was lifted into a position of power. I wept for those who will be marginalized by a nation divided, the same people I was taught from a very young age to fiercely love and protect. I felt afraid for a future where billionaires and corporations are in charge of the people and things meant to serve us, but will mostly serve the rich. And I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't devastated. I was.

If there's one thing I've learned from reflecting on the past it's that we humans are resilient. When the world is ugly we find ways to create beauty and hope. We lift each other up. We advocate for the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, and the weak. We fight for the environment, this beautiful planet and all her creatures--starting with our individual communities. We celebrate ourselves, our individuality and all the goodness each one of us is capable of contributing to the world. This is not the time to crawl into a hole and hope for the best. The new year is an opportunity to shed the cocoon and emerge as a butterfly with fresh wings, ready to ascend. I hope to meet you at the skyline.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this poem from Mary Oliver.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go
 I welcome your comments but please, no political vitriol. What are your Goodbyes? Your Hellos?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Be The Ripple

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ~~Jane Goodall
For all of you who are wondering what you can do to make the world better or to make yourself feel better or just focus on anything besides all the crazy stuff happening in the world, I give you Jenna. Like 99,166 others in the US today, Jenna needs a kidney. But this isn't just about a 31 year-old artist and writer who desperately needs an organ, it's about all the people whose lives will be changed as a result of her receiving a kidney. Her mom Karol, for one, who has been a fierce warrior championing on behalf of her daughter while at the same time celebrating all those who get what she still doesn't have: a healthier daughter. 

A rare urological defect destroyed Jenna's kidneys when she was young. Finding a match for Jenna is especially difficult because she has high antibodies. Because of this, it is necessary to find a pool of eligible living donors to increase the odds of finding a match. Jenna has blood type O, but even if a willing donor does not match her, she can still receive a kidney through paired donation, which is a “swap” between two incompatible couples. By donating a kidney to another patient on Jenna
s behalf, that donor allows Jenna in turn to receive the other patients donors kidney. Although Jenna lives in California, her donor can live in any state, and all donor medical costs are covered by her insurance.

When we help someone we often think in terms of our actions as being limited to what we can see in front of us, but what we give to one person, we give to the world. Each kidney recipient—not to mention their extended families and coworkers and friends—are affected by their loved one receiving a kidney. By helping one person, you help the collective. Each of our deeds, good or bad, creates a ripple. Beyond one’s belief in a higher power, all we have to sustain our hope is the grace of our fellow human beings to help us through our struggles. I don't have any more spare kidneys to give away, but I plan to keep throwing stones into the pool until that waiting list is at zero.

For more information about being tested to see if you are a match for Jenna, please visit the UCLA Living Donor Intake page. You can learn more about Jenna by clicking on her video, "Are You My Type?" or follow her journey by going to her Facebook page. In addition, if you would like to contact Jenna personally, you may send her an email. And you can SHARE this post because somebody out there is a match for Jenna. 

Now let's do this.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What Are You Reading?

You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.  –Paul Sweeney

I grew up where it got cold in the winter. Dreadfully cold. Blue lips and frozen snot cold. I no longer suffer through long months of dreary weather but even here, where winter means the occasional stormy rainfall, it changes you. I notice the low light first, as if drawn from a corner of the sky rather than parading above my head like a prom queen. Then comes the cooler temps and the desire to burrow in with a good book in the early evening or bring one back to bed with my coffee in the morning. Snuggled under a warm blanket and sipping espresso,I discover new worlds to carry me through the longer dark of winter.

The more I write, the more I read. The more I read, the more I make friends with new books and authors. I used to tend to stick with my favorites like Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Berg and others. Although I still enjoy their books, I'm currently delighting in the discovery of new writers, new voices, new things to say. Or maybe not new things but new ways of saying them. In any case, I'm swimming in a sea of sentences neatly woven together to create a wave of wonderful stories. 

I'm halfway through Donna Everhart's "The Education of Dixie Dupree" and realizing our young protagonists would probably have made good friends. My coming-of-age book set in the same time period won't be released until Spring of 2018, but I can see why the author and I share the same publisher. Our stories highlight the challenges of square-pegged girls who don't fit in neat, round slots. Miss Dixie is feisty but resilient in a world she can't control. Much like I feel about our greater world these days. But don't take my word for it, get your hands on a copy for yourself. (FYI: Contains difficult subject matter but life is difficult, isn't it?)

On my to-be-read list is "Lift and Separate" by Marilyn Simon Rothstein. I chose this book for it's lighthearted humor and relatability. Not the 32-DD lingerie model part but the sudden realization that the life you imagined turns out to be just that--imagined. The real one starts where the mirage leaves off. I've only read the sample and I laughed out loud, the true sign of a book that I will most certainly enjoy. 

I have a road-trip in my near future and have chosen the book "Everything We Keep" by Kerry Lonsdale to keep me company for endless hours on the I-5. Described as a page-turner, it's exactly what I need when I want to keep from banging my head on the steering will as the seconds drag by. I've also ordered Lonsdale's newly-released "All The Breaking Waves" because the daughter has psychic qualities--another mirrored theme in my debut novel. I'm looking forward to reading both.

And finally, I've just ordered "Secrets of Worry Dolls" by Amy Impellizzeri. I'm a sucker for mother-daughter relationship stories. Throw in a little magical realism and you've got me for sure. I could use a worry doll about now, given the outcome of the recent election. Possibly a slew of them. In any case, I can't wait to hunker down with this book. 

What about you? What are you reading? Feel free to include links to Goodreads or the author's website but no sales links please. And if you like a book please do the author the favor of leaving a review. It helps us. Not just our egos, but it helps the book get more exposure. This is especially important for debut authors and newly-released books. Now pass the creamer and shhhh...I'm reading over here.

Note: This is a non-monetized blog. If you enjoy this blog please consider purchasing LOST IN TRANSPLANTATION for yourself or a friend and share these posts across social media. Thank you!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Counting Cars on US 31

A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves — a special kind of double. --Toni Morrison

The Internet went down today, which is a bummer for people doing important things like procrastinating on eBay, as I am wont to do when working on my novel. At least half my closet is filled with great finds purchased on eBay while avoiding the page. The items that didn't fit or that I liked on a Wednesday but found ugly on a Saturday now fill a bag in my car on its way to the thrift store. I suppose some of those clothes will end up on eBay again in the not-too-distant future. I'm not sure if you'd call that irony or synchronicity, but I like the full-circle aspect of it. 

I spend a lot of time on eBay but in all these years, I've yet to find the one item I wish I could retrieve from my childhood. Made of cherry wood with grape leaves carved into the sides, the bowl sat on a base and came with a tiny key that, when cranked, played music while it turned in circles. Our family called it the Singing Bowl. On summer nights when my sisters and I camped out in the back yard, we'd fill the bowl with popcorn before tip-toeing out of the house like tiny ghosts in our hand-made night gowns. The air was pregnant with Lake Michigan's humidity and our nighties clung to us like gum to a school desk as we huddled inside our makeshift tent, a mish-mash of blankets thrown over a rusty swing set frame. Nita, the oldest of the three youngest, took command over the one flashlight we were allotted. She used it sparingly, knowing full well the power of ownership that light gave her over my sister Vonny and me.

Under the magical spell of overhead stars, the three of us told stories, laughed, and plucked popcorn from the Singing Bowl as it turned in front of our six scabby knees. When our bellies were full, we'd sneak the two blocks into town where we'd sit on the curb in our bare feet and count the minutes between passing cars on U.S. 31. Eventually we'd tire and make our way back home. "Step on a crack, break your mother's back" we'd chant, taking giant leaps from one sidewalk square to the next.
Our goal was always to stay up until midnight, the hour when all scary things happen, although nothing ever happened. When the second hand ticked by twelve on Nita's watch, she'd hold the flashlight under her face and say, "Boo!" We'd squeal, then fall giggling onto our musty-smelling bedrolls. One last crink-crink of the wind-up bowl and we'd fall asleep with lilting notes that filled the sticky night, trying to forget that our mother's back was already broken.
What I wouldn't give to eat popcorn from that Singing Bowl again. To look into the innocent faces of my sisters when we didn't yet know the value of simple moments that get lost like a haunting melody you can't quite remember but permeates your dreams. To trace the carved-out leaves while tracing my way back to the joy of telling stories, much like the tale I meant to write when I got sidetracked by this one. But you know what? I don't need no stinking bowl to remind me that when the Internet goes down, it allows us to go deeper. So neener neener to whoever is responsible for the DNS attack today. You actually did some of us a favor.

What about you? Do you have a favorite memory of your sister(s)? If you didn't have Internet right now, what would you be doing instead?