Author: cosmicdriftwood

March 10, 2023


Last year this time my dad had recently died. I believed the worst of things had happened, that the rest was all just grief. I thought I’d be moving forward with life and, among other things, blogging more. Then I took my husband to the ER one July day and discovered he had cancer.

Last year no longer really exists for me. Not as a year, not as discrete periods of time filled with seasonal chores and a vacation and time spent breathing fresh air. It became months of survival mode, a whole year of it, if time had existed that way. Bad food, bad sleep, bad dreams. Bad times–there’s no reason to put a spin on it.

The part of the story that you’re wondering, I’m sure, is how things are now. My husband’s well. The odds are very much in his favor that he will stay cancer free. That didn’t come simply. From July to January he had two surgeries, one port placement, and three months of chemo. He’s got scars and the port remains for now, just in case, and we have stacks of medical supplies everywhere and every twinge of anything feels like like a potential prelude to something worse.

It’s hard, though, to say he’s cancer free at this point. The obvious reason is that it’s hard to trust he’ll remain that way. Not after the shock of going from very healthy to very not healthy so quickly, not after watching the up and down and down and down of my dad’s illness. Statistics are a way to make sense of the world, but in the end, they are belief, not certainty.

Beyond that, though, is the fact that we are currently very much not in the okay category. The idea that life goes back to normal is a fiction that serves none of us. We are dazed–he and the kids and I–we stare at one another, we spontaneously cry while walking, we remember long drives back and forth to the hospital before we knew the cancer was contained, we carry untapped grief from my dad’s death, we take every step as though the ice might give way beneath us. Now is not the okay time. Now is the  assessing and healing time.

During the winter of 2021-22 we had a single room addition to our home. Roughly 190 sq ft, it increased the size of our house substantially. It was a terrible time to build anything–costs had just shot up, we couldn’t take any chances with COVID because of my dad and would need workers in–and I was gone for much of it. As for the structure, the builder suggested putting in lots of windows. I hesitated because I worried it would be too cold in the winter months, but in the end we followed his recommendation.

This room has become the space in which we can exist. It is not cold, never, other than last month, when the power lines up our street were taken out by falling trees during a terrible storm. The power was out for thirty-six hours, during which time we pulled our mattresses off our beds and the four of us slept in this room, heating it with breath and blankets and candles (while we were awake–don’t burn candles while you sleep), a string of fairy lights wrapped around one window. This room is where we saw the storm blow in, shaking the trees all around us, and then blow on out again. It’s where we watch the barred owl sit on the bean poles I never took down in the garden, waiting for voles. It’s where the four of us play Mario Kart together, because I quit avoiding things I was bad at, and where I always come in fourth. It’s where the dog sleeps on the couch and the cat has taken over the good chair; where I have boxes of yarn and multiple knitting projects; where the Christmas tree that we never had space for before now stands in the corner, tinder dry and waiting until we’re ready to let go of it during this time when letting go has been so hard. It’s where we are together, as safe as we get to be in a very uncertain world.

It is where we work on healing.

That, in a nutshell, is where I’ve been and why I’ve been silent once again. I started this blog because I’d been told repeatedly that writers were supposed to have an online presence. I’ve stayed (holy carp, for over a decade!) because it reminds me that I’m part of the world. Because I like and care about the people I’ve met here. That doesn’t make it easier to make entries during desperate times though.* I’d like to say it will be clear sailing now and I’ll post regularly. We’ll have to see how it goes.

Aside from here (and the emails I owe people), I’ve been more productive over the last few years than I have been in a while. My silences around my work are pregnant pauses, not indefinite hibernation. Writing can be stabilizing, can be solace, can be healing, when it’s given appropriate space. I’ve craved even the tedious parts of it. There have been times when I’ve been ready to go door to door in search of anyone needing help with a manuscript.**

A bit of housekeeping: writers still are supposed to have an online presence of sorts. I quit Twitter last fall, for my sanity and in keeping with my desire to wean away from social media and its commodification of our existences. This blog, while open to the public, feels a more personal place to me, and I plan to maintain it that way. If you’d like a more regular and somewhat more writerly connection with me, you can find it in my new newsletter. Sign up and past letters are available here. Same name, yes, confusing, but I do confusing best.

I think that’s all for now, dear ones. I’ll be back.  Be well, be wild, be you. We’ll meet up again before long.


*I did write posts during desperate times, on the Caring Bridge journal I kept for my husband. If we are connected in some way, if we’re internet friends or in person friends and simply haven’t been in touch and you’d like to know more about what happened, contact me. I can invite you in.

**This is actually realistic in this area of Massachusetts. It may be harder to find people who aren’t active writers than people who are.

Feb. 8, 1939 – Feb 26, 2022

This blog has been the closest thing I’ve ever had to a diary. I don’t journal–never had, never will–but that may be because I already spend a lot of time processing my thoughts in solitude. Writing allows me to bring the internal into the world.

Stephen King talks about a writer’s one true reader–the audience a writer speaks directly to in their work.  Over time, I came to realize that for this blog, that reader was my dad. This has always been a relatively private space in the vast, noisy online world. Readers of small blogs by mostly unknown writers are few, though often loyal. Of those here, the most loyal was my dad. Every time I posted, I’d get an email from him the following day thanking me for what I’d written. Nothing more, really, just thanks. Only once did he break from that private tradition and comment here. Last year, on the only entry I made. Nothing more than keep on keeping on.

My dad died in February. I’d stopped posting over the last year. It was too painful; so much of what I thought about revolved around my dad’s suffering and the fact that he was dying. Beyond that, I didn’t want to infringe on his privacy regarding his illness. I also didn’t want to discuss the obvious: the impossibly huge loss that continued steadily toward me, toward us. So I went silent.

I think that, perhaps, my dad and I were feral in similar ways, though I far more than he. We had three speeds of communication between us: rambling monologues on things that mattered, jokes, and silence. Silence waited in the places most dear to our spirits, settling over us in a boat, or in the woods, or beside the ocean. Sometimes it meant one or both of us was pondering, but just as often we were simply in a place that we belonged and no words were necessary.

Over my life, my dad showed up for me in a thousand different ways. Many of them were practical. Coming to my house after a snowstorm when the toilet wouldn’t flush, then scaling the snowy roof to pour hot water down the vent to melt the packed snow, for example. Years later, when a blizzard again passed through town, Big Kid and I rigged a contraption of roof rake poles and a mason jar and lots of duct tape and used it to pour the hot water without having to attempt the roof. The first step was fixing the issue. The second was to text my dad pictures of what I’d built and to call and tell him how it had worked. I was in my forties and still wanted nothing more than to hear him laugh and tell me I was clever.

Last year we suffered many torrential rainstorms of the sort that flooded basements and sometimes whole houses and washed away roads. We live on a hillside. We have a high water table and a road that has been graded in such a way that much of the rain traveling down it is shunted onto our land. It was a messy time, full of sandbags and cinderblock barricades and shopvacs, but we came through much better than many places nearby. Around that time, I developed a habit of hiking the woods across the road barefoot. I liked the feel of the ground, the springiness of the interlocking rootlets and mycelium and decaying leaves and limbs. More than that, I craved connection with this spongy network that absorbed so much water, held so much soil in place, kept us so safe.

That is how I think of my dad now. As part of a network of root and life and death that holds and protects this place I love so very much.  Because that is how he would choose to be, because that is who he was to me, because he’s gone and it is so very hard to let go.

Once upon a time, long long ago, he and I would wake up in the dark and drive to wait in line to rent a boat on the reservoir so we could go fishing. He took the fishing very seriously, and I had a child’s level of patience and focus, and I would try very hard to be still and to stay interested when the fish weren’t biting. He’d make a nest of life preservers in the front for me, and feed me salami sandwiches–just bread and salami, my choice–and Snickers bars that would melt in the heat, and steadily fill the cooler with fish until he’d reached the legal limit. And then, at some point in the late afternoon or early evening, a change would come. He’d take off his hat and dip it in the water and splash me with it, and we’d turn for home, and he’d try to find the wake of other returning boats to cross because I loved riding the choppy waves.

Part of me is there, is always there, the wind blowing my hair across my face, the sound of the motor and of the water slapping the boat, the cool touch of the long shadows of the trees on the islands we passed heading home, the feel of safety and love and belonging. It’s an echo, one still sounding after fifty years, and one I expect to continue as long as I exist. Perhaps beyond. Perhaps the places in which we have been happy continue to hold joy for much longer than we imagine, just as the melancholy of places of sorrow is so slow to dissipate. In the end, the answers to those questions don’t really matter. For me, it is enough to know that that is who we were, my pop and me, once upon a time.


April 18, 2021

Still here.

That’s what we’re all waiting to hear from those we rarely speak to, isn’t it? That acquaintance we’ve shared a few transcendent or dull as hell moments with, enough that at some point during this hard hard hard year we thought of them and wondered: are they still here? Have they survived the storm? Have the people they care about survived? Have they been irreparably changed?

Shouldn’t the question be this: how have we been irreparably changed?

That’s part of the venture back into what once was and never will be again. Who are we now? It is not possible to wander untouched through a country in which over half a million people have died of a single communicable disease in a single year. Imagine that for a moment, if imagination is needed because death has passed your personal world by. Imagine those losses you have experienced in life: parent, friend, lover, spouse, coworker, sibling, auntie, cousin, child. Hold that pain for a moment. Just yours, just for a moment. Now spread it to ten people. Ten losses. Ten stories suddenly without a teller, ten jokes without a laugh, ten meals with an empty space that cannot be filled no matter how much food there is.

Now one hundred.

Now ten thousand.

Clothes boxed to give away; rooms emptied, or houses; lifetimes of I love yous folded up onto ipad screens in front of ventilators; grief cornered and spitting, kept indoors and alone with so much nourishment and so little outlet.

Ten thousand. Can you stretch that far? Often, almost always, we can’t. At some point we trip the breaker and shut down the empathy. We are, by and large, not equipped to handle our own grief, let alone that of others.

To design permaculture, we must sit with a site long enough to understand it: the shape of the land, the sweep of the sun, the pulse of water, the lives already there. It’s not about imposing  a predetermined form and function on an inert surface, but about learning to love and honor and work with the structure already there. To design a life one must love and honor and work with its materials. Even grief. Even when it insists on running through the tidy structures you’ve built on the places you insist they should be.

One hundred thousand. Empty chairs. Unwatered gardens. Unaddressable regrets. Fear that cannot be unseen. Air that can no longer be breathed.

Reach further. Open your imaginative heart, share mine if you need. Feel outstretched fingertips of hands reaching to you. Reach back. Squeeze once, like a child sending the signal along a chain of hands in the interstice between campfire and darkness. Feel it return to you, amplified by the grips of one hundred thousand grieving hands. Open open open.

Situations do exist where anxiety is a superpower. A global pandemic is one such event. By the end of February of 2020, I’d already quietly, unobtrusively stockpiled a closet full of necessities. The overactive immune system of my brain honed in on this actual foe with relief. I’ve always lived here, I wanted to say to everyone entering the metropolis of true anxiety for the first time. I can tell you where everything is. 

Sometime in March I made my last supermarket trip. The bagger kept his face tilted away from me the whole time, whispering his questions over his shoulder. He was afraid of me, I was afraid for him.

We were all sick late February into mid March. One at a time, our symptoms varied. Big Kid in a flu-like haze. A trip to the ER with Small One when she passed out in the bathroom at midnight. Severe fatigue and a hacking cough that same on suddenly and clung tight for my dear biologist. Dizziness and coughing for me. Every day Massachusetts told us we were all completely safe as long as we hadn’t been to China recently, while in truth COVID was already circulating. Maybe we had it, maybe we had flu–we will never know. Maybe we spread it further, during that time when we were told not to wear masks and to wash our hands and groceries and when testing was unobtainable. Maybe not. We will never know

Two hundred thousand. Take a piece of lined paper. Write the numbers out by hand in pen. No pencil, no erasing. See the math problem: if a train leaves Chicago full of essential workers, and another leaves L.A. carrying medical personal, how many are gone by the time the locomotives pass one another on neighboring tracks? How many empty cars reach their destinations? Show your work. No calculators. Write in someone else’s blood.

But it was not just COVID, was it? It was the swelling abscess beneath the skin of the country, pus weeping at the entry point while we fevered and screamed and wept. The fire that burned away everything around us until only bones remained. A spine fused since birth, incapable of motion in life or death. Ribs fashioned to keep the enlarged heart of supremacy safe and beating. A skull, its mouth opened to howl the truth of hunger and fear and living in cars and tents and benches and militarized hate patrolling streets that belong to the people in order to beat them down every time they rise like a wave again and again and again and despair and despair and despair, but instead its voice is stoppered by its own hands around its own throat.

How? How? How? How do you get up every morning? How do you not drown? How do you not long to drown? How do you watch Black men and women and children murdered in video after video and still believe in the possibility of justice? How do you watch the Capitol stormed and the political ringleaders unpunished and unrepentant and still believe in the possibility of democracy? How do you see  your fellow citizens spit and beat and shoot and choose hate again and again and again and still believe in the possibility of humanity?


Three hundred thousand. Imagine the lives saved by fabric and filters and separation. Imagine the lives not saved. Imagine a network of small towns, Americana, one thousand people each. Maybe a general store, hopefully a post office, a postal carrier arriving Monday to dip from mailbox to mailbox like a bumblebee to flowers. On Tuesday they find mail left uncollected in a smattering of boxes. On Wednesday still more. On Friday, all mailboxes left untouched. The entire town gone.

Now imagine three hundred towns, three hundred thousand unemptied mailboxes. Letters, cards, birthday gifts, Etsy splurges, essential prescriptions–every single one suddenly without a recipient.

My in-laws are in their nineties. My dad has stage four cancer. We built a moat between ourselves and the world last spring so we could protect ourselves, so we could protect the fragile people we love. It meant suffering friends left unhugged. Holidays spent alone. Birthdays uncelebrated. The sheer rage I’ve felt, the struggle I’ve had to find compassion for those enraptured by the cult of the individual…these things haunt my sense of who I am.

Four hundred thousand. If you listen closely, you can hear the river of voices moving past your window at night, in the breeze, in the falling snow, in the flowing river. Do you remember, do you, do… Snippets of recipes and the intake of breath at a bit of gossip; it will be okayand then I said; hush it’s time to sleep; you have your father’s eyes; when you were six; I never thought I could do it; the proudest day of my life; the worst day of my life; don’t leave me alone; I love you I love you I love you always. It will take the rest of your life to hear them all. They are there whether you plug your ears or not.

This is also a truth: this past year has included some of the most beautiful times in my life. Sitting in the garden and watching the bees in the flowers. Examining every plant twice a day, stroking their leaves and measuring their growth between my fingers. Walking the trail across the road, round and round, praying to a rosary of trees and stone. Being drunk on the presence of my children in an unexpected gift of time before they head out into the world.  How much I’ve finally wanted to be here–awake and aware for every single minute of this life.

One night: sleeping bags to keep the mosquitoes away, laying together and watching the meteored sky. Fireflies join us, bats as well. Life gives us times–a day, an afternoon, an hour, a minute or two–that will not fade, that, when we reach the place we all must step into eventually, will be waiting to step with us. This, they will say, is what you were here for. This night is one of them. This motherhood is so much of it. This gratitude that I’ve gained for being here, with these people, in this time–even in this time, even in this raw and festering country.

Five hundred thousand. Five hundred and sixty thousand. Reach into the world. Two million nine hundred ninety two thousand one hundred ninety three. Triaging a mass casualty event night after night after night. Witness. This is your job now, for the remainder of your life, whether you chose it or not. Witness the faces in a yearbook so vast that you cannot lift it.

Faces of those who ran into the fire of COVID over and over to save who they could and were finally lost in the flames;

of those who could not run anywhere, in group homes, nursing homes, prisons, every person walking into an unprotected job so they could feed and house their families while knowing no one would come to their rescue because no one ever had;

those who lived life trapped between the rails of racism and classism, homophobia and xenophobia, who survived and survived and survived and then didn’t;

those who died furious and insistent that this illness was a myth even as it rose in their lungs and clotted their blood;

those who weren’t supposed to get sick because children don’t, weren’t supposed to end up in the hospital because children don’t, weren’t supposed to fall still as the machines were turned off because children don’t;

those dreamed as passionately as you, sang in the shower as loudly as you (louder even), enjoyed the sound of laughter as much as you; hoped for something truer and better as much as you, walked through the kaleidoscopic landscape of life with as much fear and need and wonder and love as you, and now you are here and they are not.


Who do we become now? This is the place, this is the moment, this is the painful hover between known and unknown. Justice or not? Compassion or not? Community or not? Connection or not? Here we sit, on this piece of land that we love or can learn to love, and it is up to us to understand it. Here is where the trees bring shelter in the midst of summer. There is where ledge breaks through the ground like a whale surfacing for air. This thicket isn’t for clearing, it is where joy takes shelter when the weather turns to storm and birds raise their fledglings to fly.

And this place? This is where the grass parts and the water rises from the spring of our grief. This is the aquifer we all share. We must touch our hands to it, feel the damp, touch our soiled fingers to our face, and say yes, I understand. You are part of this land, you are part of me, you will run through all of us, always. Let me remember that this is consecrated land. 

I found this song last year. In a time of distance and stories of constant loss, its eight minutes of intimacy between lovers across the planet was a balm, a reminder of the joy and potential of love.

(Don’t watch if you disapprove of kissing.

Really. It’s lots of people kissing.)

From my heart to yours, dear ones.

January 4, 2020


A quick and important note: if you are the person who sent me an email through my website on New Year’s Eve, I would love to answer your questions, but your email doesn’t work. Can you resend, this time doublechecking your address? Thanks!

Welcome to the new year. We entered it here with trepidation and ice. The ice, at least, was lovely and far less destructive than we feared. After the Night Of Breaking Trees in 2008, my house has been ice-shy, and it showed in our storm prep. We had a waiting generator; plenty of crackers, bread, peanut butter, and sardines (okay, so we don’t plan the food well); fully charged headlamps, phones, and computers; and the awesome little solar/handcrank radio that my husband gave me. The radio can also be used to charge phones, and I’m tempted to only charge my phone by cranking it from now on. I’m sure that will help my computer-challenged wrists tremendously.

In any case, no trees came down and the ice was pretty. It lasted until yesterday, at which point it was warm enough to allow the trees to shake free. I know this because they shook much of the ice free onto our heads as we walked.

Picture of a branch with red berries encased in ice.

This wasn’t the first storm of the season. That honor goes to another two-day event that happened prior to the solstice and left us with two feet of snow. This volume of snow has happened often enough in the last twenty years that I was prepared for a blocked vent pipe. For future reference: pint Mason jar + duct tape + roof rake + thermos of hot water = everything you need to clear a roof pipe packed with snow without actually getting up on the roof.

There is a car under this snow! (Also lots of forsythia run amok, but ignore that.)

This was the first holiday season in years that I threw caution to the wind and baked dozens and dozens (and dozens) of cookies, which we then gave to anyone who would have them. My plan was to make dinner for my in-laws on Christmas, but plans are such fragile things. I went to the ER with gallbladder pain instead, which is less fun than you might imagine. The ER was empty though, and I did get a pass through the CT tube, so I suppose I should count it as a win.

I’ve been working on writing as well. I’m in need of a new track at the moment. I have two options. One entertains me–it’s easy to work on, has characters I enjoy, and takes place somewhere I know well. It’s also a something of a fun dare, and I need the push to try new things.

The other is something I was born to write, but requires research that I don’t want to do. Even the temptation of writing vampires cannot fully override my reluctance. The trouble with apocalyptic/post apocalyptic fiction is that you must look into the abyss to write it. Redemptive or not, loss and pain are central to it.

Writing is a conversation with the world. Sometimes that conversation is why or don’t do that, and sometimes it is I love you and I see what is beautiful in you, and often it’s complicated in the way of those found in long term relationships. The kind that even when you know it must occur, you still find it very difficult to wish to begin.

The truth is that the best relationships are never one note, and that without challenge we atrophy. We must never lose sight of the fact that sometimes we need shelter, and sometimes we provide it, and sometimes we must create shelter together and use companionship to stay warm. A solid relationship, with anything from ourselves on up to the universe itself, sits upon that bedrock. Whatever the form their work takes, writers have stories they’re meant to tell in order to hold up their end of life’s bargain.

Another truth, though, is that the world really is beautiful, and sometimes humans do get it right. I spent a morning watching flash mob videos last month. This one sticks with me, both for the music and because it reminds me that we really do all have our parts to play.

Be well and wild, dear ones.

How the light gets in

Shall I tell the story in reverse for once? Not bury the lede to draw out a bit of suspense? The news looks something like this:

Susan Van Metre at Walker Books US has bought The Space Between Loneliness and Fear by Jennifer Mason-Black(Devil and the Bluebird), a YA literary thriller about a home-bound girl who unravels the mystery of a missing local boy, while someone online is determined to keep the truth buried at any cost. Publication is set for fall 2021; Alice Speilburg at the Speilburg Agency handled the deal for world rights.

That’s it. That’s the news. Assume the rest of this post consists entirely of details. Feed the birds, if you prefer, or plot the garden for next year, or open that book you haven’t had time to read and make some time to read it.

Or, hang out here and learn a bit more about how this news came to be.

After Devil And The Bluebird came out in 2016, things were fine. Better than fine, really. I had set myself some simple targets that would define success for me. I met every one, plus some that I couldn’t have imagined. I took a bit of time from writing so I could be one with life for a bit. Things went well right up until we hit the election.

Before I continue, I need to say something about the election. The way this country is at the moment – and I choose to believe it’s a moment we can make it past if we care to try – if I say election, something toxic occurs. Conversation shatters. So let me take this outside of personalities and parties. I care passionately about the environment and about wilderness spaces. I care passionately about my fellow humans and the rights of everyone, across the board, to be safe from violence and from fear, to be fed and housed and tended to when they are sick, and to be respected on the basis of their humanity. Those are broad categories, intentionally. They include a great many things, but, as someone pointed out to me long ago, I tend to dream on a big picture screen.

Knowing that, when I say that the election broke me, it is because of exactly what we see now: destruction of the protections of land and people on a immense scale and the funneling of resources to an undeserving few. Politics, on its most basic level, is about how and why we choose to treat this world and everyone on it the way we do. It is part of the lives of every single one of us, part of every decision every day. Right now, the gulf between the principles I strive to honor and the route my country has chosen feels too close to unspannable.

The election broke me. I became more or less housebound because I lost my faith in other people. I no longer believed, for example, that if I broke down on the side of the road someone would stop to help me. Writing is a conversation with the world, and I no longer knew how to begin it, so I stopped writing as well.

At some point that changed. At least, I felt like I should write. Not that I really knew what story to tell, or how, and certainly not why. I started with a few chapters about a boy who walked out of a house one day and vanished into a snowstorm, and a girl who was afraid to connect with the world even though she desperately wanted to be a part of it. I started, and then I stopped. Writing really is a muscle, and mine was spongy with disuse. More than that, the why of writing still eluded me.

Then I gave those few chapters to my kids to read. Sharing it was a reflex, a reminder that writing is communication. They gave me a bit of feedback, and I tucked the story into bed, most likely for good. Only then my daughter said this to me: hey, you need to keep writing that story because I want to know what happens.

Writing is a reflex; parenting is a much bigger one. Had anyone else asked me, it might not have mattered, but this was my child. I had my why. The story emerged as a cicada from its nymphal skin, the fluid slowly beginning to circulate to expand the wings. Gaelen vanished without a trace, his reputation as a troubled loner making it all too easy for the world to forget him. Seven years later, Sarah retreats from the world after cyberbullying by her friends leaves her unstable and alone. The characters awaited. But, what was the story?

Life bends toward life. The lonely long for community. Gaelen and Sarah, in their own ways, were grappling with the world around them. So was I. We kept each other company, learning the lessons we shared in common and the ones we didn’t. Sarah was taken in by a group of homeschoolers and began to trust friendship again. Gaelen worked to become more than what everyone believed him to be. Blue Riley stopped by for a song or two and to remind everyone about being a hero and the moments in which we can each be just that. Two separate stories – Gaelen’s and Sarah’s – wove together more and more as past and present worked toward one another.

And then we reached the end. I knew where Gaelen and Sarah would end up from the beginning, but not the depth of the journey. I hadn’t known where it would take me either, even though the restorative power of fiction is something I’ve understood my entire life. At last I gave the book to my daughter and she told me it was everything it should be. I believed her because she doesn’t pull punches and is a devil with a red pen. I wrote it as a gift to her, and it’s been a gift to me as well, and ultimately that is more than enough.

But it will also be a book, with a great editor and a great home. It will be a bit of a wait. My daughter may very well be living somewhere other than home by the publication date, but that’s okay. It will still be ours.

That’s what I’ve been doing in life. Well, no, that’s part of what I’ve been doing. Life has so many cycles of tear down and rebuild to it. It’s part of being human, part of being alive enough to evolve. It’s what I always wish for all of you: a life in which you are fully, completely alive and growing up until it’s time to go.


July 31, 2019

Where am I these days? Somewhere, somewhere is all I can say. Sometimes life cuts the guy wires you’ve raised to hold yourself in place, and that untethered space–the one where evolution comes calling with fingertips or claws–is hard to sit with and easy to want to fight. We grow like trees though, around the rocks, toward the sky. We are made to exist this way. We too are made to grow.

I’ll have more to say before long, including some cheerful news. In the meantime, this is the piece I wish I had written. Anger can’t build. Neither can fear. Love, though, love can give us the materials of which mountains are made and then teach us how to use them.

Hold tight to your people, dear ones, and hold tight to crickets and katydids, hummingbirds and owls, foxes and rabbits, asters and trees. Watch the moon rise, slip underwater and open your eyes, lay close enough to the ground that you can smell the soil and feel the life within it. Be small in the greatness around you, be thankful for the beating hearts of the wild and the tamed. Be loving and loved, be watchful for the moments when extra hands are needed, be prepared to witness pain and grief and joy.

Be more.

With great love,

Sunday thoughts, 11/4/18

I have a sock problem. It’s not a very interesting one. I lose my socks, then I steal socks from everyone else in the house, and then I lose their socks. My husband bought me sixteen pairs of plain white sports socks over the summer. I currently have exactly none in my sock drawer.

As someone generally unable to do the fashion thing, more often than not I’ll simply find two socks of similar length and wear them as a pair. Both have stripes? Totally go together! After all, socks exist merely to keep my feet warm and happy, right?

I have a harder time with other things not matching. The big things. I want to believe that on a basic level, we long not just to be loved, but to be able to feel love, to care with passion and courage in a way that makes us open to hurt and still full of strength. I want to believe that that love brings us beyond self and into the realm of community. I want to believe that compassion can be learned by anyone, at any point in life, because no matter how much I want to believe we’ve all been given the support we need to grow into compassionate people, I know many of us haven’t yet.

I believe in science and statistics and the need to understand trends and demographics and history. But, and I know I’m repeating myself here, I think stories teach us in ways that are essential to being human. Sometimes because they expose the points we all share, but sometimes because they don’t. Because they ask us to step past the edges of our safe zones of identity and comfort. Reading is one way to do so, but voice…hearing those stories told to us…that lights the fire for our campfire selves to gather around.

I think about stories fairly often, unsurprisingly. I recently went to see First Man, largely because the part of me that still wants to be an astronaut cannot pass by anything with rockets. I have a lot of thoughts about it. It’s a beautiful, rather haunting film. One of the things that struck me, though, is the infinite number of narratives available around the Apollo missions. The Right Stuff, Hidden Figures, First Man…let’s throw Apollo Thirteen in there too–each shifts our vision, sometimes slightly, sometimes in major ways.

That’s the same with every event. That’s the same if you and I chat about childhood memories, or if world leaders meet. When we speak, we are telling our own stories, whether we realize it or not. They have shaped the lens through which we view everything. We may learn something by sharing them, or the act may simply be a shield to protect our view from anything that threatens it. When we listen, though, truly listen…that is something altogether different.

A few weeks ago I went to a local story slam, where the area finalists told their stories to compete for an annual Best Of trophy. The winner, using every part of himself, shared watching his father try to recover after sinking into a depression and losing his physical health. It moved me deeply, and has become one of those bits of life that I carry in a bundle with me, everywhere I go.

It also reminded me to listen to The Moth more. This weekend, while scrubbing all things kitchen, I listened to these two stories, which have also joined my bundle. Neither are easy. In fact, both are brutal in their own ways. I think both rest in that liminal space, at least for me; the space where our choice is to close our hearts or open them further to the world. So, I’m sharing the links here, with the reminder that they are quite painful in different ways.


Loving Grace (Warning: while War is fairly upfront about its content, Loving Grace is about experiencing an unbearable choice, not simply pregnancy and love.)

One last thing. Dear ones, at least those of you in the U.S., we have an election on Tuesday. There are a thousand things I would like to say to you, including, of course, a plea to vote how I would have you vote. I won’t. We don’t know each other in that way. I’m happy to share my campfire with you. I’d love for us learn in its circle. I’d like to do that through shared voices, though, and not in a way that that alienates any of us.

Instead, let me say this. I believe we all must vote. More than that, we all must vote for the following reason: I believe that, despite everything, our votes hold the power to create a better future for everyone. All of us. No one, anywhere, left behind. Dream big, and I’ll dream with you.

Lost and found

I am, at this point in my life, somewhat agoraphobic. I struggle to walk from one side of town to another if I have two errands to run. I have a difficult time with plans, with finding something that sounds fun to do, with asking someone to join me, and then following through. I am happy in the woods. I’m at peace around running water. I spent a few weeks this summer cutting down saplings of a variety of sizes with a small hand saw, and recreated a path into the woods from our yard. Last week I watched a doe disappear down it.

I am, at this point in my life, scared of my fellow people. At the top of my road, my neighbors have a small, discretely placed Hate Has No Home Here sign. Just down the road, painted on plywood and set up in response to a candidate sign for the coming election, is one that says Honk If You Have Sh*t For Brains. I do not pass by the hatred of the second sign untouched. Instead, I retreat a little more from the world.

I’ve been thinking about a quote from this article lately:

“To look into the eyes of a vulnerable person is to see yourself as you might be. It’s a more harrowing experience than one might readily admit. There is a version of yourself made powerless, status diminished, reliant upon the goodwill of others. One response is empathy: to shore up your reserves of charity and trust, in hopes that others will do the same. Another is denial: If you refuse to believe you could ever be in such a position — perhaps by blaming the frail for their frailty or ascribing their vulnerability to moral failure — then you never have to face such an uncomfortable episode of imagination. You come away disgusted with the weak, but content in the certainty you aren’t among them.

Or they make you feel helpless, just by dint of how little you can do to stop what’s being done to them. The temptation in that case is to look away, let it all be someone else’s problem, or deny that there’s a problem in need of resolution in the first place.” ~Elizabeth Bruenig

There’s a rather frantic desire in this American culture to avoid spaces of death, of suffering. It leads us to do terrible things. As social creatures, we’re wired to bear witness for one another. Instead, we all to often refuse that role as too hard. We make walls out of insistence that we will avoid similar fates by following rigid beliefs. The actual beliefs vary; their importance is in the future they sell.

So here we are. We’ve become an entirely reactive society. We are bluster and fury and fear all too often. Many of us choose not to feel, others of us are left to feel too much to make up the difference. We are not bound to earth, and all too often we are not bound to each other. We turn away and keep turning.

I don’t stay at home. I keep going out. I sometimes cry in parking lots. I sometimes need to call or text someone to talk me through it. I’m a magnet for dying birds, and for lost people, and for women who can’t reach the top shelf in stores. If that is my role in life, I will continue to accept it. I’ll wait for the woman walking with a cane ahead of me, because it is right, because I don’t want her to worry that I might bump her. I’ll thank people for holding the door for me, and remember to hold the door as well. I’ll choose register lanes staffed with actual people in stores, because the only souls associated with machines are those of the people surrounding them. I’ll hang onto the feeling of being a stranger so that I can remember what kindness means when you’re far from home.

We are all vulnerable. If I were to define my utopia, if I were to react less and dream forward more, that would be the one unifying principle. We all love, mourn, experience illness and disaster and joy. We are designed to be both those who strive and those who cheer the strivers on. We don’t have to spend our whole lives on one side or the other.

Witnessing is hard. It’s maybe the hardest of things. It’s looking into the hurt and the fear and the need and saying you are not alone. It’s doing it not just for people exactly like us, but for people as a whole. It’s accepting that the edges of their suffering and ours are not edges, but eddies in a current. It’s learning to receive that back, instead of building desperate fortresses against being human. It’s acknowledging the trust needed to reach that point, and seeing how much we’ve lost the ability to trust.

And then it’s weaving those experiences into your life in a way that asks everyone to join you.

I’m bad at so many things in my life. I’m a terrible housekeeper, and constantly forgetful, and easily startled, and procrastinator extraordinaire. I believe in stories though–in your story, in mine–and potential, and, as toothless as it is treated, in the possibility of love to change that which feels impossible to change. I believe in you and me and how we can find common ground in that space of vulnerability, if only we agree to meet one another there.

Along the way

We’ve just walked away from an injured gannet in the dunes. I can’t stop thinking about it. I know it will die in the night and I cannot save it. I tried to save an injured raven earlier in the week, and it died that night, in a cage in a hospital, far from everything it knew. I am with the gannet and the raven in my mind as we come over a rise in the sand and encounter a couple walking toward us.

“Further on, what is the trail like?” the man asks. His accent tells me that his trip here has been so much longer than mine.

“It curves up there and you continue along the shore,” my husband says.

“Is it like this?”

I break in. “You can go two ways up there. Over the dune and to the beach.” Where the gannet is, I am thinking. “Or along that curve.”

His wife looks at me. “The sand. Is it sand all the way?”

Ah. Now I understand. “Yes,” I say to her. “It is mostly sand, but there are easier parts.”

“Thank you,” she says, and they continue on their way.


The woman at the counter asks where we’re from. “Western part of the state,” I say. She asks for a location. I tell her the name of our small town, give her a landmark to center it.

“Oh, yeah,” she says. She names a town about forty minutes away, says that’s where she lives. I mention places I’ve been nearby. We smile at each other.

“This is the first year that the American Bald Eagle has come to live there.” She says it that way, everything capitalized with joy. “We just love watching them together out there.” She smiles even more. I imagine the eagles outside her house.


The grocery store is busy. There’s little space in the aisle, and people are jostling each other’s carts as they hurry along. The man is very old, and very frail, and dressed in a seersucker suit. He waits patiently for the people rushing by, holding the handle of his cart with both hands.

We step to the side and let him by. He pauses as he moves past, looks me in the eye and says, “Thank you.” I nod at him. A moment later he is lost in the crowd.


The salesperson in the store who’s choosing my son’s clothes for a funeral is a butterfly of a man, with his brilliant vest and tie, tiepin and cufflinks. He talks to me as we wait outside the dressing room, tells me about his wife and his church and his sons.

He is concerned that my son will not know how to tie his tie. This is likely because I have come in as the opposite of a butterfly, in jeans and old lady gray hair, and I’ve forgotten my wedding ring, which I remove when writing or kneading dough and often forget to return. I look like a tired single mother headed to a funeral with a young man who needs instruction.

“I’ve taught so many men to tie ties,” he says. “In the store, at church, on the bus. I have to do it. You see these young men and they’ve got their ties jacked up, and that’s one thing you don’t want. A jacked up tie.”

“You’re right,” I say, no idea what he means.


There is a couple on the trail along the mountain. The woman is working on playing Olympic level hockey, she tells us. “Do you know where this trail goes,” she asks. “We’re lost, and I have a game tomorrow.”

“Come with us,” we say. “We’ll show you where to go. Do you need some water?”


There is a family carrying jugs of orange soda on a path that goes seven miles along the ocean and through the woods. They are a third of the way. “Do you know how much longer this goes,” asks the mother, the skin on her nose peeling from old sunburn.

“A long way still, if you’re going all the way around,” we say.

There is an elderly man walking alone. He’s in the woods still, but not far from where we were just swimming in the ocean. “Do you know how much further it is,” he asks. “I’ve been hearing the sound of the waves again and again, and thinking I must almost be there, but it’s always the wind in the trees instead.”

“Almost there. It’s so close, and all downhill at this point,” we say.

Do you see me?

Do you know how much further it is to the trail’s end?

Do you know how hard it will be?

Will I find my way to that place?

Will something of me linger, my footsteps on the stone or sand, the sound of my voice in your ear, long after I have found my way to the end of the path?

If I give you the smallest bit of who I am, stranger, will I remain in the world that much longer?


We are traveling. I see you there, along the way. I will share my water. You will share your apple. We will remember each other, in some way, at some stop along the trail, listening to the wind in the trees.