Friday, November 30, 2012

A Novel Experience

Unbelievably, I delivered the goods, rising to the NaNoWriMo challenge of committing 50,000 words to paper in thirty days. How? If you’d told me on Halloween that I’d write a novel’s worth of prose before December, I’d have laughed in your face. But there’s something about specific goals and deadlines that brings out the scrapper in me. It was infuriating to struggle against the clock, short of inspiration, bereft of ideas, with no time to research. But it worked.

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s awful, most of it, so much so that I’m afraid to look. This exercise has made me question whether I could ever actually write a book. I had to beg, borrow, cheat and steal. I bumped off a few good characters. I pitted siblings against each other. I cried. I cursed. The horse disappeared and never came back. The rest of the people who invaded my brain for the last month, well, I could care less if I ever see them again. The weren’t cooperating, anyway. I hate them, every one.

There’s a reason I went into advertising — pithy headlines, I can churn those out all day. But a novel? Maybe there are some seeds of a story in the pile of pages I produced. I honestly don’t know. I ploughed through it, though, so I’ll allow myself the luxury of following Audrey Niffenegger’s advice: “Now that it is December, I hope you will kick back, have a cup of coffee, reread your 50,000 words, ponder a bit, and then… go for a walk.” That… that, I can do.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Emptiness of Days

1. a. Holding or containing nothing.
    b. Mathematics: Having no elements or members; null: an empty set.
2. Having no occupants or inhabitants; vacant: an empty chair; empty desert.
3. Lacking force or power: an empty threat.
4. Lacking purpose or substance; meaningless: an empty life.
5. Not put to use; idle: empty hours.
6. Needing nourishment; hungry: "More fierce and more inexorable far/Than empty tigers or the roaring sea" (Shakespeare).
7. Devoid; destitute: empty of pity.

How do you depict nothing? The last couple of months have felt irremediably hollow to me, the usual platitudes offered as camouflage for grief doing nothing to assuage the emptiness of my days. The invisible losses are the hardest to overcome: the losses that hide, cavernous, behind the chaos of the quotidian. The losses that can't be described or dispelled. I've ploughed through my allotment of sympathy, I know; I'm not looking for a handout, but I have to do something.

Empty places have borders, as far as I can tell, so perhaps it's safe to assume that if you linger long enough around the edges, tossing things in, the space will eventually fill up. Nothing else seems to be working, so I'll give words a go. It's  National Novel Writing Month, with a goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. That's certainly a challenge for me. Can I do it? I don't know yet; I've never tried. But at the very least, even if they aren't brimming with meaning, my days will be full.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grandfather's Gift

Morris Pettit, my Grandfather, would have turned 94 today. I always tried to ensure delivery of his birthday gifts on the actual date because, in spite of his unfailing patience in every other aspect of his life, when it came to opening presents, he just couldn't wait. His own timing for deliveries, however, has always seemed perfect.

At the end of his memorial service last month, a member of his church came up to me as I was packing up items from a table of memorabilia and said, "I always admired your grandparents so much. I remember telling your grandmother what a marvelous example their marriage was to all of us. She told me, 'Well, it's easy if you're married to an angel!'..." I smiled, and thanked her, and she walked away.

As I returned to my task at hand, a tiny box fell out of the wad of tissue paper I was holding. I had been through all the items on the table many times in the weeks before the service, and had never seen this box. I opened it... and inside was a tiny cherub. Surely, it was a gift he had purchased for my grandmother and stowed away for safe keeping. But it landed in my lap instead, just when I most needed an angel.

To me, it's proof that the gifts will always keep coming, if you are open to receiving them...

Sunday, October 14, 2012


"The mountains are calling and I must go." — John Muir

Visualization can be a powerful tool for coping with grief, stress, anxiety, or pain. One commonly prescribed technique, if you are dealing with heavy emotions, is to visualize yourself in a place you have been: a locale where you've felt optimistic and at peace with the world. Tahoe is my happy place, it is sacred to me, and I often visit this particular vista with my mind's eyes. Imagination isn't always enough, though; sometimes a pilgrimage is in order.

Pilgrims make their journeys for any number of reasons: as a way to seek out moral or spiritual higher ground, as penance for sins (imagined or real), as a sign of devotion, or in the hopes of some relief, some cure, miraculous or otherwise. Or maybe (if you're really whacked) all of the above, all at once. Which explains my presence in this spot, at this moment.

Lake Tahoe embodies a mythically majestic landscape, borne out of the earth by tectonic plate shifts, long-extinct volcanoes, and snow; it's a place where matter and magic mix. I've felt the alchemy here: the somber weight of losing a loved one and standing on the dock, pushing off that barque towards its long journey elsewhere, the star-encrusted bliss of a love-laden kiss, the precious gold of memories. Injuries survived. Milestones. Rites of Passage. Treasure found. Joy.

Dear Universe, I no doubt have plenty of karmic comeuppances headed my way, but please, here in this moment, grant me solace and serenity. Mom would have turned 69 today; she loved this mystical mountainscape and always insisted that "believing is seeing." And though I am but a humble pilgrim, I still believe in miracles...

Friday, October 5, 2012


In June, when I wrote about folding in, I imagined a calm, controlled, and dignified process of shutting out the world's chaos. But the world, apparently, doesn't work that way. What happened instead was more of an implosion, as though someone lifted the lid of my vacuum sealed jar-of-a-life and the walls suddenly shattered into a million splintered shards. A pile of fractured hearts. A cosmic collapse.

Time to pick up the pieces, right? Or, as certain of my by-the-bootstraps friends would say, "Snap out of it." Sure, I can paste on the courageous smile and nod my head "yes" — while my heels are teetering off the edge of the big black hole behind me. I reach out into that void... and there's no one there. Sometimes, you just have to drag your own sorry self out of some of those big bad places. I know a clean sweep is in order, but I'm still fumbling in the dark for a broom.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Red Letter Day

The kids missed school to witness 
the farewell flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour. 
I think they'll remember this day...

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I lingered for what felt like eons along the banks of the Tennessee River, knowing it would be the last time for a long time. I'd gone down there with clear intent, to cast some rose petals into the slow-moving green waters as a tangible means of "letting go"... Each fistful was a different goodbye brimming with its own emotions: relief, anger, longing. We all have our own private rituals, and for me, it felt good to see those petals disperse and drift downstream. I like to know where things are going.

But then a funny thing happened. I decided to race ahead, cutting corners, to catch a glimpse of those petals floating around the bend, to reassure myself that I can see what's coming. I waited. And waited. And waited. And they never came. Finally, I had to let go of that, too.

Ever since, I've just felt brokenhearted. Looking downstream is easy; all the memories are there, the stories we share, the history we've created and can hold up for inspection. Upstream is upheaval: the unknown, the uncertain. I'd like to feel there's hope, and resolution. Instead, I'm adrift without my lifesaver, my anchor, my compass, my captain. This is loss, this is grief, and I'm sinking in it. Somebody, please, throw me a line.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gone from My Sight...

Morris Winham Pettit
October 23, 1918 – August 16, 2012

Gone from My Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of
living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

And that is dying...

Henry Van Dyke