Friday, September 25, 2009

Hope Is That Thing with Feathers--Also...

Hope is Like a Skateboard

Hope is like the grip tape on my
skateboard that’s barely holding on
because its been used too many times.

Hope is the glue that puts the
new neon green grip tape on so it
can make it.

Hope is the wheels on my board that
go through dirt and cracks but never
stop moving.

Hope is the way my board will
let me do a 360 nose grind tray flip
and not crack from the pressure.

Hope is the power of the board
that doesn’t show.

Hope is the magic of the board
that will take you anywhere you want.

Hope is all in a ordinary, special,
beat up, prize winning, board, just
like its in you.

This poem was written by Destiny, one of the juvenile offenders in this summer's writing workshop at the Indiana School for Girls sponsored by the Writers' Center of Indiana and Very Special Arts.

She was recently released, and I hope she is on her skateboard right now! I also really hope she keeps writing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


At 5:18 this morning, it was still summer; at 5:19, it was fall. Who said? I mean, why not 5:25 a.m. or 9:53 p.m. or yesterday or tomorrow? Next week? The whole concept of time seriously confuses me. A friend of mine once explained it this way: “Time exists so everything doesn’t happen at once. ” So far, it’s the only thing that makes any sense to me.

I live—or feel like I’m living—in dozens, probably hundreds, of times on any given day. An old song comes on the radio and, suddenly, I’m the person I was when the song was popular. Lifting into downward dog in yoga class, I’m roller-skating in Central Park. Right now, typing, I’m ten, walking home from school. Which is real?

Then there's that disconcerting Chutes and Ladders sensation, in which my granddaughter Heidi went from being a baby to Saturday, her ninth birthday. Where did that time go?

Right now, I’m sitting in the waiting room of the hospital, anxious for news that her Caesarian birth went okay. Now the nurse comes to say she’s here! We can see her!

Now all of us hurrying down the hospital corridor—Kate said, later, we sounded like a herd of elephants coming.

Now holding her for the first time, feeling the grip of her tiny fingers around mine.

Friday, September 18, 2009


A young friend of mine's husband died after a bicycling accident last week, and since then she has been much on my mind. A good marriage is a rare and wonderful thing, and she had one. Her husband clearly adored her and they both adored their two small boys. Now, suddenly, that life is over. It hurts my heart to think of it.

It also takes me back to my own husband's nearly fatal accident more than twenty years ago. He had to have open heart surgery to repair the outer layers of his aorta that had been shredded by the impact and surgery to repair the arm he'd nearly torn off. Nearly every bone in his chest was broken, his urethra was punctured. The situation was so dire that the doctors didn't discover that he had a broken ankle till a week after the accident.

I remember looking at Steve in the hospital bed, unconscious, on a respirator, hooked up to a half-dozen different machines and thinking that he was the one I needed to talk to about this incomprehensible turn of events. Months after I knew he was going to be okay, I saw a guy walking down the street who was sturdy, like Steve is, and who had the same springy gait and Steve's had the same kind of springy gate and was sucker-punched by such a weird mix of gratitude and grief that I had to pull over to the side of the road and sit a while. I hadn't lost my husband, but in that moment I understood a little bit of what it would have felt like if I had.

These past few days, I've thought a lot about my sister, Jackie, too--how suddenly and completely the life she knew changed with the diagnosis of inoperable brain cancer and the disability that came with it. How, in the long months between the diagnosis and her death, she so often said that she wished she could just wash the dishes or vacuum or go to the gym. The large things—the tumor itself, the prospect of dying—were, I think, incomprehensible or maybe just too terrifying to consider. It was the small losses, the shock of them, that undid her.

One day, not long after she got home from the hospital, she decided she’d check her e-mail at the bank. I helped her to the chair at the computer table in the living room. She pulled up the site, pecking with her left hand, frustrated at the slowness. Then—I could see it happening, but couldn’t get there fast enough—she tipped sideways off the chair onto the floor. She sobbed and sobbed afterwards, for…everything. I felt helpless, heartbroken, as I did every time I was with her—as much for this loss of the day-to-dayness that had been her life as for the knowledge that her death was inevitable.

Our routines, whatever they are, joyful or annoying, are in great part the fabric of our lives. The loss of them that inevitably comes with the terrible, profound loss that death or incurable illness brings makes the heartbreak all that much difficult to bear. For my sister, they were things like the drive to work every morning with a good friend, lunch downtown, the bald spot on her head from radiation—just when she’d grown her hair out, missing a parent-teacher conference, fixing herself a snack when she was hungry, walking up and down the stairs.

Grief creates a kind of fog in our lives; it’s there, in the gray air we breathe, in the numbness we feel doing what we have to do, in the flatness of color and intensity of all that used to bring delight. It’s suddenly, repeatedly plunging through the holes in our routine made by the loss of small things bring us to our knees, make the large, unimaginable loss visceral and real.

I grieve for for my friend her two small boys—for the loss of the man they adored and who adored them and for the smaller losses of their day-to-day routine with him that I know will break their hearts again and again as they try to find their way in the world without him.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


As in:

I am a better, happier person when I write every day.

And the only way I’m going to write every day is to go directly to my writing room (with computer sans internet) after taking Louise out to do her duty and fixing myself a cup of coffee.

Even if I only have an hour to write before the day officially starts, I feel grounded, whole. I don’t second-guess myself.

Is the novel any good? Even if it’s fabulous, what are the odds of being able to sell it? Even if it sells, it’s just going to get tossed out there with a million other books to sink or swim--and it’ll sink.

I don’t think the fate of my novel in the world when I’m actually writing it. Living inside it is enough. And I need being inside a world completely my own at least part of every day to be able to live in the real world with some measure of balance and grace.

So why do I let myself get overwhelmed by real-world obligations to the extent that I say to myself, okay, I absolutely have to get…whatever…done. I’ll write tomorrow.

And keep on saying it, sometimes for weeks at a time, until I get so whacked out that I finally go to my writing room and write.

Like I did this morning. Finally.

After which, everything seemed possible.