Saturday, January 1, 2011

We are all...

Life has never been clear to me. I stumble forward rather than walk with purpose. I rarely have great moments of clarity like people do in books and movies, lucky bastards.

But...

every once in a blue moon I can look at myself from the outside and see where I fit into the world. Here's an example.

I just watched video of when I was in labor with my third child. Now, in that moment, I was exhausted, afraid, worried, expectant (both literally AND figuratively). I remember thinking so many different things while walking up and down the hallways, wheeling the long metal IV pole and willing that baby to move lower, lower, lower dammit! What middle names were my husband and I going to choose? Were my two kids OK with their Aunt? Would I be able to do the epidural-free birth like I wanted? Did I look like a floating whale walking the halls in that horrid white gown?

But,

the wonder of going into labor (and yes there are good things) was that my body, my physical being, pulled my thoughts away from their normal neurotic path of questions and concerns and brought them directly into the moment. Actually, the more "in the moment" I was, the less I thought. I breathed. I felt. I was. There was no future, past, just each moment, passing like clouds. And in the case of my labor, there was very...slow...progress.

My Dad was a Zen Buddhist and he always talked about being in the now, which I never understood, partly because as a teenager I ignored much of what he said and also because my brain doesn't work that way. I don't think many people's brains work that way. I think too much and it's never about what I'm doing at that moment, except, when my body demands it. So there I was, forty weeks pregnant. Round, full and waiting.

I watched this video and was amazed at how beautiful I looked. And believe me, beautiful is not a term I use loosely when talking about myself. Actually, I don't use the term at ALL when talking about myself. But I was I tell you and I know why. There was no ego, no self-editing, no criticism, no self awareness. I just was. When I say I was beautiful, I don't mean like an actress on the cover of Parenting magazine modeling the latest maternity trends. I mean I was beautifully connected to life. I fit into a scheme I never knew existed. I think I know what my Dad was talking about now. In those moments we are all our most beautiful.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Everybody is...

I pulled into the parking space as a silver BMW sped behind me, the driver giving me an annoyed look. I guess I wasn't fast enough. I want to hurry back home to my family for dinner, but I have one more stop. As I walk to the shop a very small, very old woman approaches the entrance at the same time as me. I'm distracted not only by her size and the number of plastic bags she's carrying, but also by the large, brown wrinkled growth on the side of her mouth. I know the annoyed BMW guy is right behind me with a woman, his wife/girlfriend I assume. I open the door for the old woman. "Thank you," she says.

Inside the store is crowded and busy. Two young girls behind the counter see the old woman and start laughing, then try to hide their faces. I can feel the BMW couple behind me urging me forward with their impatient air. The old woman is ahead of me. I wonder if she notices the girls laughing. Looking at her face all thoughts of dinner leave my mind and I silently berate myself for not being kinder. As I tell myself how to behave I simultaneously want to slap the girls behind the counter, yell at the couple behind me to "Slow down, gimme a second here," and cry for the old woman who has to carry all those plastic bags around.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Can't get a word in edgewise.

I'm amazed at how quickly I start putting myself down as soon as I begin writing. I barely get a sentence out and voices are screaming in my head. It goes something like this.

"EVERYONE'S HEARD THIS STORY ALREADY."

"YOU'LL NEVER WIN AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY."

"SOMEONE ELSE CAN SAY IT SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU."

There's one small voice barely audible over the cacophony which responds:

"It's OK if it's a story someone's heard before. Make it interesting."

"Who says I want to win an Oscar?"

"Give it time and I might come up with something good."

Honestly, how the hell am I supposed to write anything with this racket?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thanks, Spring.

I've been on this planet for thirty-six years. That's thirty-six Falls, Winters, Springs and Summers. Yet, I'm still amazed every Spring when life literally sprouts from the earth. What isn't there suddenly is. Branches that were so bare and barren are hairy with baby leaves. It's just plain old miraculous really. I know the science of it (barely) so I understand why plants lay dormant in the winter months and then spring to life in the warmer ones, but it never fails to take my thirty-six year old breath away.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Pale Yellow Barn That Lives Inside of Me. Writing Exercise #5

Once Upon a Time…There Exercise

Describe in as many details as you can a place you spent a lot of time at in your youth—perhaps a park or a friend’s back yard, a video arcade or a neighbor’s living room. Try to include enough specific description to create a sense of the place for readers who have never been there.



Directly across the street from my childhood home is a small meadow with an even smaller dirt path running along its side. It's bordered by many trees: white birch, maples and assorted pines. On the opposite side of the meadow's path, nestled within the trees is a 1941 Plymouth pick-up, rusted a powdery red and hollowed out accept for a milk crate where the front seat used to be.

When I was a brave little girl, I'd cross the street and walk to the car, and, if I was feeling especially brave, I'd sit on the milk crate, look through the front window, through the wispy pines at the big, pale yellow barn standing at the base of the meadow. A modest fence separated the little meadow from the huge expanse of land beyond the barn. Walk down the path, look across at the dead car and come to the gate at the barn. Open the gate and you could walk forever.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Writing Exercise #4

Write a 200-word description of a place. You can use any and all sensory descriptions but sight: you can describe what it feels like, sounds like, smells like and even tastes like. Try to write the description in such a way that people will not miss the visual details.

I walk on a hot surface. It burns my bare feet. I run to cool them, but the ground is unstable. By the time I reach a cooler spot the ground is a little sturdier, but wet. There's screeching and laughing and suddenly my bag of potato chips is snatched from my hand. Then there is a cacophony of screeches and cackles. The wind is hard enough to pin my clothes to my body and even make me sway. Air, heavy with salt and cigarette's, rushes down my throat and in my eyelashes. People are talking, music playing, but nothing is as loud as the roar. Liquid chills my feet. I sink. Roar. Chill. Sink again. Sweeping my hand into the liquid I grab at something grass like, only limp and slimy. Someone yells "Throw me the ball. Oops, sorry." Someone else says, "Come on kids, pack it up. Greg, if you think I'm gonna carry all this stuff back to the car myself you're out of your mind." Far away I hear a motor. Heat on my back and shoulders sinks into my muscles and all I want to do is relax, so I sit and feel the heat from above and the heat from below while the liquid cools my burning feet.


Writing exercise courtesy of Poe War Writer's Resource Center.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Exercise #3 Write your obituary

Write your obituary. List all of your life’s accomplishments. You can write it as if you died today or fifty or more years in the future.


Genevieve died of complications from breast cancer. After a double mastectomy she took up African dance happy not to have to wear a sports bra because let's face it, they hardly stopped the bouncing.

Her greatest achievements in life were her three children and marriage. All other achievements ranked very low when compared to the pride she felt in how wonderful her children were and how smart she was for picking such a fantastic husband.

She never wrote the next great American novel. She never swam with dolphins (or sharks). She never spoke the absolute truth for fear of hurting people's feelings and she never stopped eating chocolate. She loved making people laugh even at her own expense. She was a good listener and a good friend. Her only true regret was not finding her biological father before she died. Oh well, his loss.

A service will be held at the Grossman house which Genevieve helped to create. It was a place she hoped would bring peace, love and a full belly. She is survived by her three children, husband, rabbit and cat. Her ashes will be scattered somewhere over the Catskill Mountains where she ran around barefoot as a child.

Writing exercise courtesy of Poe War Writer's Resource Center.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Writing Exercise #2



Write a story from the point-of-view of an ordinary object (for example, a rug).


Happy Holidays

I watched the family walk through the woods toward me. Two little kids dressed for the cold, a woman round with child and a tall sturdy husband, his axe gleaming in the sunlight, everyone smiling.
Thwack. Thwack. They drag me back to the car and tie me to the roof.

In the house the children giggle and throw tinsel on me. They hang homemade decorations and talk about Santa Claus. A wood stove is lit in the other room while the mother rests her feet up. Father is cooking risotto.

The wood stove's heat is sucking all the moisture from me and no one has thought to water me. My branches ache from the weight of numerous decorations and bright blinking lights.

At night while everyone is asleep the house cat sniffs my spiky needles smelling remnants of a squirrels nest. The little boy creeps down the stairs and sits by the cat, stroking her. He smiles and grabs her tail yanking her. Her claws scrape the wood floors for footing. She hisses and runs under the couch. The boy giggles and goes back upstairs to bed.

The little girl comes down next bringing her letter to Santa. She reads me the letter.

"Dearest Santa,
I can't wait for Christmas and all the presents you will bring me like the Nintendo DS and Beverly Hills Barbie Ballroom set. I've been a good girl all year except for the time I pulled Jenny Corelli's pony tail because she told on me when I threw a rock at John Cross. I'm sorry about squashing the baby turtle instead of putting it back in the stream like I was supposed to and I won't ever call mommy fat and mean again, even though she is."

She puts the letter back in its envelope and leaves it on the table before heading back upstairs.

Then Mother comes down slowly swaying from side to side with the weight of her huge belly. Her lets are swollen like the tree trunks of some of my friends. She's breathing heavy and wheezing with exertion. Her face is broken out with angry, red, blotchy pimples peppered all over her cheeks and forehead. The one beautiful thing about her, her hair, is pulled back into a long silky braid down her back. She goes to the refrigerator and stands with the door open finally choosing a beer and some cake to eat at the table next me. She studies all the Christmas cards on the wall while she chews. When the cake is done she drinks the beer in four long swallows and stands up to examine the cards more carefully. She's looking for one in particular. Then she finds it. It's of a perky blond woman smiling next to the tree at Rockefeller Center, her slender arms outstretched. "May this holiday season bring you peace and joy," Mother says in a high mocking tone.

She sees Father's work boots beside me and kicks them. She takes the candle burning at the window and delicately dances the card over the solitary flame, watching it change from glossy to brown and bubbled. Then she puts it back on the wall and goes upstairs.

Father is the last to make his way downstairs believing that his children are snuggled in bed awaiting Santa and his wife is patiently awaiting the birth of their third child. He grabs his boots and car keys not noticing how close the candle is to me.

The heat is unbearable.



(Exercise #2 courtesy of 6' Ferret Writers' Group)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hello 2010


Somehow, even though I can't stand New Years resolutions, I've decided to make one and only one.

1. Write more

Writing exercises are going to help me along until I get the old wheel turning.

Exercise #1 - Begin with the line "I remember" (or "I don't remember"), and write for fifteen minutes.


I remember Christmas Eve when I was twelve years old. My parents had just separated. My dad took me and my little sister to find a Christmas tree. In all the drama no one had remember to get a tree for Christmas. We moved from a big house in the country with delicious well water to a small apartment across the street from a bar and right next to a train station. The city water made me claustrophobic.

My dad stopped at a roadside lot with some trees still left. Unfortunately it was closed. He grabbed a small tree that reminded me of the sorry one Charlie Brown picked, and began stuffing it into the car when a cop pulled up. He asked my dad what he was doing.
"It's Christmas eve and we don't have a tree yet so I was going to take one of these and leave money." I knew he wasn't going to leave money, but it sure sounded good.

Somehow we ended up with a tree, but I'm not sure if it was that one. Did the cop make him put it back? Did we go and actually pay for one somewhere else? I don't know. I remember being so angry because the tree we did get was ugly, small, useless and wrong. Exactly how I felt at the time. I pouted in the room I shared with my mom and sister. I hated everyone and everything including that horrendous tree. It was nothing like the behemoths we'd get in our old house, giant bristly things that touched the ceiling. You could hide under and pretend to be a squirrel.

I thought of the tree Charlie Brown chose and my cranky, sad fog lifted a little. Maybe I could give this tree a chance. I left my room and stood next to it. I began to decorate it, placing every ornament on with great care. I dressed it with tinsel and forgave it for being so small. I loved it finally.

I don't remember Christmas morning, or leaving cookies for Santa. I don't remember any presents I got or gave. I don't even remember most of my family, but I remember finally loving that useless tree and it making me happy.


(ding ding ding fifteen minutes are up. Exercise #1 courtesy of The 6' Ferret Writers' Group)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not your grandmother's Jiminy Cricket

I stepped down into our dank, moldy basement to dry some clothes. I'm always on insect high alert when I'm down there because all the creepy critters start to show up when the exterminator hasn't come in a while. I walked into the laundry room which also doubles as the furnace, hot water heater, and water softener room. It's the wettest room in the house. In the summer, condensation builds up and drips everywhere. It's cool, but not the refreshing movie theater air conditioned cool. It's more like tomb or cave cool.
As I walk into the laundry room I spot it there on the floor. The ugliest, biggest, most prehistoric looking insect I've ever come in close contact with.
I should add that I'm eight months pregnant. I can feel my belly tighten just by looking at it. I wonder who's making that awful whimpering noise and realize it's me.

I devise a plan. I'll gently place a bowl big enough to cover the creature, then at least I don't have to look at it. I can figure out what to do with it later, when my husband gets home. I grab an old pink Easter basket, but instead of placing gently I shriek, throw it and maim the crickets back legs. Ok, at least this means it can't jump at me because I think my water would break on cricket-human contact.

The cricket's not moving so I run upstairs, grab the broom and long handled scoop which is my bug catching tool of choice. I go back downstairs and gingerly sweep the cricket into the scoop. It makes a thin thud as it hits the back of the scoop and I almost lose my breakfast. I make sure to hold the broom over the scoop so the crickets doesn't think it can just crawl out wherever it wants. This cricket has a one way ticket to toilet town. I walk into the basement bathroom and start the ball rolling by flushing before I dump. As the water starts its downward spiral I quickly move the broom away, turn the scoop and drop the cricket in. "See you later," I think, with an evil, relieved chuckle. I expect to see long ugly cricket legs and tentacles flailing around as this insect monstrosity gets sucked down the drain, but here's what I actually see. Nothing. Nothing at all.

Did I miss it? Was the toilet flushing too fast and it got sucked down before I could relish in my small victory? There are chills all over my body because the cricket could be anywhere. By not seeing it with my own eyes, the possibility that it's still crawling around, still alive, is horrifying. I check the scoop: nothing. I check the end of the broom: nothing. I take an imaginary shower running my hands all over my body, contorting in positions that would make my yoga instructor proud. Maybe by some freak gravitational anomaly instead of dropping down into the toilet, the cricket fell sideways latching it's spindly, crooked legs onto my clothes or worse yet, my bare leg.

I'm glad my kids aren't here to see me acting this way, although I'm tempted to call my six-year old and ask her if there's a bug on Mommy's back.

I'm going to assume it went down the toilet because otherwise I won't be able to get the clothes out of the dryer. Otherwise, I may never go down in the basement again because there is something worse than a cave cricket. The giant spider that EATS cave cricket.