An Actual Query For Assistance…


So I’ve been on this “fictionalized memoir” stance for a bit; thinking that it would be easier and cleaner within my family to go with a sanitized quasi-fake version of the story of my parents, my family and my life.

Then I realized that while I can do that, sort of, I’m really struggling with the aspect of falsity. I grew up in a world where duplicity seemingly flowed like water (and shaped my world and appreciation of truth); where obfuscation and deflection were abundant; and where gaslighting was the norm.

“How can I write my truths while filtering in fiction? How do I reconcile this?”

So I stopped. I had to. The content I’d created was good; I have no doubt it’s quality writing and is entertaining. That sounds arrogant — but you have to trust me: my source material is SO GOOD that I had an easy task: tell someone else’s story and let it go from there.

So I took a few weeks off — COVID19 and other issues — and then sat down last week and started again. Instead, though, this time: I was tearing off the band-aid. I was going to tell my version of my stories and that was that.

That in the beginning, I’d have to tell what were shared stories (those of my parents and I want to be careful with this because I am not an only child), and I was going to be very clear about how I am re-telling these stories as they were told to me and how I observed them as I aged.

Then, as I grew up, I’d naturally depart into my own stories of my own life and the family tree I’d planted with my husband. Then I’d have to be careful so as to not disturb and not betray the stories of my children. I have this strange ethos that makes writing a memoir almost impossible.

So I share these issues and conflicts and challenges with my therapist who has become part-time cheerleader and part-time head-clearer. I’ve gotten back into EMDR for some of the memories that are coming up because of the writing. She assures me this is natural and normal.

She tells me: keep going. Remember: you have the option of not releasing ANY of this for publication, ever. That said, she continues, your story is rich, and I know you will tell it brilliantly. (I gush.)

So I continue from my left turn at Albuquerque (I hope there are some Bugs Bunny fans amongst you) and decide to let what I’ve started sit idly by.

I go back to my new idea of starting a whole new book. This time from my perspective. No longer any “3rd person” narrative and trying to thread out who said what and where it went and the details of names, places, fake cities and whatnot. I was just going to start with my story. But my story has to begin with my parents otherwise, there is just me — and I didn’t spring from a flower in a garden or meadow, despite what you all might think. ;o)

So we go from there… and I’m humming along, really writing some heartfelt and authentic stuff. I am fair, but real. I am kind, but sincere.

A couple days go by and I decide to go through a box in my office. I have COVID19 to thank for this, I suppose: if I weren’t teaching yoga from home via Zoom, then I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about my “studio” and I wouldn’t have decided to take down a big yellow box emblazoned with my initials from my shelves. In that box were some keepsakes from my parents’ home that I’d sold just over a year ago.

In that box you guys, are love letters to my mom from the beau immediately preceding my father. So many letters — maybe 30. And we are talking marriage-level conversations. The phrase “when we marry” or “in our marriage” are actually stated. Also in that box were letters Mom wrote to me, that I’d never seen. Letters about growing up, being a good woman, being true to myself. Things that I never heard her say to me in person. Things that — who knows? — might’ve made the difference between a shitty choice and a safe choice in my behavior.

I never felt she was “there” for me, so I behaved as though I didn’t really have anyone cheering for me. My mother was an alcoholic and addicted to Xanax and other prescription pills. Way back when, I thought she was weak but what I know about Xanax now — holy cow, that is some awful stuff. Don’t take it regularly if you can avoid it. Truly limit your use to occasional and not more than three days in a row if you must.

Also included in that box was a journal of hers from 1987 when she suffered a gran mal seizure. At the time, my father told me that she was trying to self-detox from alcohol. The diary tells me it’s a lie: that she had overdosed on Xanax. Her doctor, Dr. Moon (my mom had such a great sense of humor — she called him Dr. Half Moon — lol) said to her, and she wrote it twice in the journal: “I am not surprised you overdosed. Your husband is an irrational man.”

None of that surprised me — other than that it was Xanax and not booze — my father was a highly irrational man. He died an irrational man. Hospice did NOT quiet or soothe his inner savage. What I’m realizing and remembering now is that Mom never said it was booze; she never really referred to it as a withdrawal from anything. Only my father did that — he was the master of spin for the family because any negative spin about Mom’s health made him look bad as a spouse — that whole “in sickness and in health” thing. Dad ALWAYS depicted Mom’s seizure as stemming from self-administered alcohol withdrawal. But he knew better. Mom overdosed on Xanax.

Now I can wonder and speculate all I want. I can play Colombo all I want. But I will never know. My gut is telling me that Mom was so sad that she wanted to end her life. She had threatened it many times when I was a child and a young adult. Often I would come home from school wondering if she was ok. That’s not ok.

And later, in 2009: she tried again. That is what spawned my first book, that is so far, unpublished. It was a known that Mom had overdosed on Xanax in 2009 — that shit is HARD to get off of; it messes with your brain, your senses, your intellect and your metabolism,

So I have all these letters now. I have her proof that her young man in law school loved her and planned to marry her. And that these letters explain SO MUCH of her continued mooning over him and wondering and when she was intoxicated why she asked — the ether — so much about him …

What do I, her daughter with a story to tell about my own life but that demands the backstory, do… ?

She’s not really a villain anymore. These letters are like gifts from the grave. I sympathize with her. My father was NOT her ideal match. But she was an adult. She chose to basically destroy my childhood. I’m not kidding. I could get hammered every day and ignore my kids, but that’s not my style.

The work I’ve done to get a sense of normalcy was hard and it continues to be hard. It’s ok though — because I’m breaking cycles. But what do I do? I want to be fair — and I want so much to write and get this off my chest and share how beautiful she was and how smart they both were… but I also don’t want to turn this into another Bridges of Madison County (despite the similarities).

I feel strongly that my mother died with (not of) a broken heart.

Any help would be really appreciated.

Thanks for reading. Xo

We Have to Change


I was just watching Goodfellas with my son and husband. Then when it was over, I went upstairs to wash my face.

It occurred to me that unless we see this pandemic crisis as a life-altering moment, all is lost.

What matters is that we change. If we don’t change, the same things will continue to recur. We will go back to being unwell.

My parents were both addicts. My father to his pride and my mother to her escapes.

They did not change. They faced numerous crises. Nothing changed.

I have relatives and friends, who think that things should be different — but by the hand of others — when this is all over.

Nothing will change with us unless we change.

I do not need the J.Crew sweaters. I do not need the Coach leather. I never did.

My mother had literally 120 vintage Coach leather purses, handbags, and briefcases when I gutted their house last year. Most of them never saw the light of day and they were scooped up for pennies on the dollar at an estate sale.

I do not need the cheap crap made in China. I do not need the cheap crap made anywhere. I have enough cheap crap. Do you need your cheap crap? Really need it?

Yesterday, I colored sections of my hair blue. I decided I was bored. That I needed a change and what the hell did it matter anyway — even if I had to go in for a job interview, it wouldn’t happen for the next six weeks at the earliest anyway. I wanted to live a little of the childhood I didn’t get to live.

That’s not a tail; it’s a hose. 😏

As a child, I was the grown up. I had to take care of my mother. I had to pack for my father to leave for his big job and I made arrangements with him and his secretary to pay the bills because my mother was emotionally and tactically unavailable. I’d ride my bike up to the bank around the corner with signed checks and the utility bills in my messenger bag.

I’d get off my bike, park it outside the branch office and walk in with all the papers I’d need — the statement , the check, the proof of residency — to make sure our power, or our water, or our phone, or our heat wasn’t cut off. I would face the teller behind the 1” of bullet-proof glass and slide my papers into to welled tray at her window. She would take the papers, verify the funds, use her rubber stamp here and there, sign or initial various papers with her teller number and then slide them back to me under the glass. I’d ride back home and call the utilities with the verifying information and hope we were safe for that month.

After a while, I realized that I needed a system. The haphazard approach was not efficient or emotionally stabilizing. Sometimes it didn’t work, sometimes I was late with the payment. So I devised a plan. After talking with my father, we had agreed that a consistent time each month would be best.

I had created a standing appointment: the 24th of each month or the Friday closest to that date. In the morning, I’d quietly go to my father at his bedside and ask him to sign the checks I’d made out to whomever was due the payment. I was 14. This went on for years. Sometimes I’d make the deadline, sometimes I wouldn’t. The reactivation fees for the service we’d exploited was often 1/3 the cost of the monthly fee and my father greatly resented having to give them more of his money to get back what we had before. Sometimes a few days would go by.

But he knew he had to pay it. He was a father. So he’d pay the reinstatement fee. We’d pay the overage for them to simply flip a switch and turn things back on. Even though I know now I wasn’t responsible for any of this, I felt I was. If we missed the deadline, it was my fault. If we went without water service, it was my fault. If we went without power, it was my fault. No one ever said that it was or it wasn’t my fault, but I knew that if I’d only gotten things arranged sooner or earlier, than it wouldn’t be my fault.

This went on for years, well beyond the time I thought it would transition back to being his responsibility. And it wasn’t an issue of not having the money. It was that he lacked the executive functioning skills to properly deal with it or simply chose to abdicate onto a child. After all, it’s so much easier to not deal with bills… At the time I felt it was an honor to serve the family this way. I felt as though I was like a partner.

I realized many years later that I was only band-aiding the situation. My father and mother were not going to change unless something catastrophic happened to them. In time I came to realize that their catastrophes could be out-catastrophed and nothing ever changed. They continued to calcify and corrode their relationship and our wellbeing.

There was never enough gravitas in any situation to get them to change.

So, as an adult, with my parents long gone, I see clearly now, that COVID19 makes me feel like I’m 14 all over again. Except it’s everyone who has something to lose now.

If we don’t change, this will happen again. We will be confronted with huge choices.

Can we stop our compulsive and mindless behavior?

Can we sit with “now”?
Can we be OK with not being OK? Can we pause? Can we decide we don’t need it?

Do we need the vacations on the massive cruise liners? I know a friend who booked a cruise on a smaller vessel that is environmentally aware and doesn’t dump its garbage into the sea.

Do we need the waste and soulless existence in empty experiences? I get the need for a break and a shift in perspective but we can do more. We can grow.

What are we running from?
Can we confront it? (I assure you it’s not that scary.)

About mindless consumption: This isn’t a matter of choosing the better brand. It’s a matter of looking in our closets and realizing we have enough. It’s a matter of looking inside our medicine cabinets and knowing we don’t need another kind of lotion or to try another anti-aging cream or yet another fabulous mascara. We are enough.

Eventually we will die. The crap we will leave behind is overwhelming to consider. I had to sell my parents’ homes and one of them — oh my lord! — was a museum to a sea of unused anything, unopened that, collections of this and waste.

Would any of us look at the person who may be on a ventilator in an ICU and say to them, “You really should have done that addition to the house”? Does it take people dying to realize that none of what we fret over doesn’t matter and that everything we avoid does matter?

Who will we be when we come out of this experience?

Let’s live responsibly and with presence. What are we so afraid of? Share love. Share compassion. Unload your burdens. Create space in your heart. Let shit go.

Thanks for reading.

Task List — For Our Mental Health


I was on a telesession with my therapist today.

We both reflected on how everything — EVERYTHING — is different now, since undergoing a state-mandated semi-lockdown. Where I live only essential businesses, and the employees therein, are permitted to function as though business is normal.

For the facilities where I lead yoga practices, we are learning new ways, just as you likely are, to function in the world. Lots of FaceBook Live yoga classes and Zoom yoga classes. In that vein, she and I had our session over screens. Only my camera didn’t turn on and she was forced to listen to me but not see me.

We spoke about how we are both coping with all of this. Overall, I am ok; I do feel though that the two-weeksness of this is starting to get to me. That I miss my friends and hugs and seeing people I’m accustomed to seeing. I’m not sleeping terribly well, but I’m working on addressing my sleep hygiene routine.

Last night I was up later than I’d like.

I let someone get to me online. I let it continue for days. This person is not unknown to me, we have known each other all my life. Nothing this person does surprises me. The flair for coarseness, attack, and cruelty is common, nothing special; but it still makes me mad. So last night, I had decided I’d had enough and I opened a can of whoopass. I let it out — the anger I’d felt at being treated the way I was treated –for no good reason other than spite and smallness– a few months ago when I needed help. Even during that time of need, it was absurd of me to think the entrenched behavior would suddenly change — this person is pretty sick. I was not let down.

So I told her that I was disappointed in myself; that I wasn’t more like Jesus. That I wasn’t walking my talk of calmness and stillness in this time of global suffering, fear, and pain. “I was insulted, attacked personally — but that’s par for the course with this person. Linear conversations are impossible; it’s all reactivity. Once backed into a corner, then out comes the puffadder and it’s all hiss and spit,” I said.

“Did you ‘kick dirt’ on the viper? Did you defend yourself against the attacks and insults?” She asked.

“Yes. I won’t be intimidated. This person literally means nothing to me. There is no ‘there’ there,” I said to her. “I just don’t like that I wasn’t being more…. ”

“Yogic?” she asked.

“Yes. That I didn’t …”

“Let yourself be insulted and treated like crap? Take the abuse?” she added.

“Yes. That.” I realized where she was going. I remembered that I wasn’t on a yoga mat. I wasn’t giving yoga. I was practicing discernment. I won’t be intimidated.

“Then you took care of yourself.” She said. “Look. What you do to protect yourself is perfectly within boundaries of self-care and within the boundaries of intelligent living. When someone acts like a jerk, then you are forced to respond in kind. Likely, it’s probably the only way this person knows how to communicate. There’s likely a lot of rage inside…”

Then I recalled the best phrase regarding irrational behavior by angry people: “You can’t provoke a rabid dog.” I heard it from … wait for it … “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” stated by cast member Margaret Josephs.  I saw my therapist’s reaction: raised eyebrows and a nod of agreement. She laughed softly when she heard where I heard it.

Don’t judge. We’re in a pandemic.

So we continued in our session, leaving that stuff behind. “This pandemic is going to show everyone what they are truly made of. If someone has been a decent person all their life, this pandemic will highlight that. If someone has been irrational, erratic and unstable all their life, this pandemic will highlight that. There will be no ‘gray zones’ here. It’s important to everyone that we heed the messages people show us and that can help us live better.”

She is very concerned about her clients’ ability to feel normal during these days. She said she has a task list that everyone should know and do every day:

  1. Wake by 8:30am.
  2. Leave bed by 9:00.
  3. Shower sometime after waking.
  4. If you don’t shower, at least change your clothes.
  5. Limit the time you spend looking at the news to 30 minutes and do it only once a day, at least two hours before bedtime. Why? The news is not radically changing every day  — it’s important to be informed, just don’t be obsessed; it’s not good for you.
  6. Be creative (or do things that activate your left brain) for an hour: read a book or magazine, listen to music, meditate, garden, look at Pinterest, make cookies, make your bed, organize your closet, plan your dinner.
  7. Practice gratitude: the grocers (truckers, stockers, cashiers, farmers, food producers), pharmacists, first-responders, front-line physicians and medical staff are working hard to help us. We are NOT in this alone.
  8. Do something active for at least 30 minutes: get up, stretch, go for a bike ride, walk, dance, garden, walk your pet or walk your neighbor’s pet, practice yoga,
  9. Do something social: pick up your phone and make a phone call. Or FaceTime or Skype someone. Better yet, if you can call someone you’ve known for a long time, but haven’t spoken to in a while, so much the better: that time together will remind you that your life hasn’t spun out of control, that you still have people who bring you back to yourself.
  10. Treat yourself like your own best friend.

How are you doing? Have you noticed how people in your life or their treatment of you has changed since COVID-19 has unleashed itself?

Thanks for reading.

So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

The vertigo has been helpful, or at least it has pushed me into the direction I mean to head. I have been taking prednisone for it. On Tuesday (three days ago) I got an 80mg shot of it in my ass. From my understanding, that’s a strong dose. My doctor said, as she was seated on one of those round leatherette-upholstered low stools that roll around the linoleum while glancing between me and her computer, “Hmm. Should we just go for it and give you the 80? That would likely do the job… we may as well while we are here…” and she ordered it.

I don’t claim to know the difference between 2mg of prednisone and 100mg of it*.

*“Of it.” That was such a Doug Turnerism. He would say “of it” at the end of sentences… after the sentence had paused, even and we were ready to move on. And he’d just say “of it.” Like an old man. And I guess it’s because he was an old man… but it was like this all-encompassing tie off, so to speak, of what he was expressing… so that I suppose, to him … maybe it was a complete thought? That none of us would wonder if he were done? Or if he’d heard himself? Hard to say. Of it.

Anyway, the prednisone has kept me awake longer — and when I say “awake” I mean staring-at-the-ceiling-maybe-I-should-just-go-do-some-laundry-or-walk-the-dogs-in-the-cold-dark-night-alone-or-join-a-neighborhood-watch-patrol-do-they-even-have-those-anymore-maybe-we-should-get-a-ring-doorbell-but-that’s-an-Amazon-thing-no-better-not-do-that-but-what-will-help-us-stay-safe awake… in other words awake and stupid.

But I was also awake and aware enough to shift gears from thinking about letting Jeff Bezos have any more of my money for things than I’m comfortable with to figure out what to do about my writing at least for now and whereas Miriam, (a reference to my first book) is concerned.

I’m going to keep that manuscript and keep writing for the Unpulled Pin (fiction based on real shit) to flesh that out and because it’s so helpful to me emotionally, and it’s sort of essential to set the framework of her origin story. Then I’d launch into Miriam with a new beginning basically being me:

Miriam wanted to be a writer; and she was good at it, plus there was no getting away from it: it was in her blood for many generations and she sees it in her own children as well. She also wanted to be a good person. She also grew up with some really weird shit going on in her home. While some of it resembled Running with Scissors and it wasn’t as thoroughly dark as August: Osage County, it was haunting like Long Day’s Journey Into Night it was true that it ended ok, because Here She Was.

She knew her story was good enough to fill some pages, especially because she was healthier now, after, during and because of her therapy, yoga and having a family of her own, but she also knew that “tell alls” are for presidents and their lovers.

But this wasn’t going to be a “tell all” — she’s not out for blood anymore; that ship has sailed, but Miriam knew her story was interesting enough to share and be helpful for people who thought they were alone: upper middle class, adult children of well-educated, connected and upwardly mobile alcoholics.

So Miriam was at a crossroads: she could write her book about her story, but she’d have to tell the truth and to her, that “truth” part was at odds with being a good person. People who loved her parents didn’t really KNOW her parents, and while her parents were pretty fucked up people, they also deserved some dignity. But then she recalled what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird,

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Sounds good.

So there’s that. It’s going to be a story about a story. Funny, now that I reflect on the last few days — I’ve been humming “Paperback Writer” to myself, especially the lines “It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear, and I need a job so I want to be a paperback writer…” What I’m doing is a story about a writer who wants to write a book. Pretty meta.

So I have determined that I will channel Miriam with me as my muse and maybe sass it up a bit from time to time to make things seem super outrageous so that people won’t know up from down? I’m not going to sweat the details right now — that’s a way to keep from writing. I’m just going to get going.

In the meantime, Mary Oliver beckons: