And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This morning, when my alarm went off, I rolled onto my back, stretched, and stared at the ceiling. Which is what I do most mornings. Usually, in my new breast-cancer-usuallyness, I immediately do the math that allows me to know just how many hours it is before I can fall asleep again. But today, I didn’t.

I looked up and thought, Huh – I feel pretty awake today.

Yesterday, when I finally settled down to meditate at about five o’clock, I realized I just spent the afternoon with my daughter, walking through a mall, trying on clothes, having lunch, having coffee, and I didn’t feel that tug to be home, to be in bed, to take a nap. When I meditated, I didn’t fall asleep.


On Wednesday, as a student was on her way out the door, she turned and said, “I have to say this…it’s so good to have you back.”

Have me back. I haven’t been gone. But…I understood what she meant. I was fully there, in that classroom.

And again, back to this morning. When my phone rang at 10:00 with my first client, we greeted each other and she said, “You sound really awake this morning!”

Which, on the one hand, makes me think, Good lord, how tired was I? How much did I let show?

And on the other hand, it makes me think that maybe the fatigue is finally going away. Maybe I’m fully back in my skin, my body, my mind, my heart, my soul.

Let me tell you, that one hand, and then the other hand, well, they started clapping.

This afternoon, I sat down in front of my computer and opened the file for my novel-in-progress. My novel-abandoned. Left behind in the blur and grief and pain and fatigue that was recovery from surgery followed by radiation treatment. I didn’t think I’d ever work on this book again. I thought I was done. Literally. The End.

Because, honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d be around long enough to finish it.

Writing is who I am. Writing is what puts iron in my blood.

And so I lost myself for a while.

But now… “It’s so good to have you back.”

Days in a row without naps.

Meditation that is really meditation and not unconsciousness.

Waking up, looking at the ceiling and making a mental list of what I need to get accomplished that day, not a list of hours before I can sleep again.

And writing. Writing!

I opened the novel-in-progress file and I decided, instead of starting where I left off, to go back to page one. Start moving through it again with what I knew then…and what I know now.

That novel looked right back at me and it ROARED.

Throughout this whole ordeal, beginning on June 20, I have been obsessively playing Linkin Park’s new CD, One More Light. And the one line that has gone through and through and through my head for months now is “I wanna fall wide awake.” I didn’t know, when I first began to listen, when I first began to hear, how much I was going to feel that line. What all it was going to mean to me.

Well, now, I’ve fallen wide awake. And I am so grateful to those who pointed it out to me. I’m always so busy looking out that I sometimes don’t notice what’s going on in here. But I greeted the ceiling this morning. And I felt ready to get up.

Hello. I’m here.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The song:



And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Yesterday, when I picked Olivia up from school, I told her how I’d just heard the song Red, Red Wine performed by the group UB40. That song always makes me smile because it was the first song that my oldest child, Christopher, went whacko for. When he was 4 years old. Imagine a 4-year old sitting in the back seat of your car, singing in a piping young voice:

Red, red wine

Stay close to me

Don’t let me be alone

It’s tearin’ apart

My blue, blue heart

That boy will be 34 soon, and he grew up to be someone who rarely ever has a drink. I think he’s the only one I know to get his degree at UW – Madison without ever going once to a let’s-get-totally-plastered party at that famous-for-drinking school. He certainly didn’t follow his mother’s example.

Olivia laughed and asked what song she went crazy over. “Gloria,” I said. “Laura Branigan.” Again, little voice in the back seat, this time of a convertible, singing at full volume:

Gloria, how’s it gonna go down?

Will you meet him on the main line, or will you catch him on the rebound?

Will you marry for the money, take a lover in the afternoon?

Feel your innocence slipping away, don’t believe it’s comin’ back soon.

Olivia laughed again and then said, “Do you miss me as a little girl, Mama?”

I didn’t even stop to think about it. I said, “No.”

Well, of course I do. I miss all my babies. I had my first three within four years, when I was very young – 24, 26, and 27. I had Olivia 13 years later, when I turned 40. With the kids currently at 33, 31, 30 and 17, I’ve now reached a time when I interact with my kids as adults. And I find it amazing. They aren’t just my babies, though I see those baby faces as I look at them now. I hear those voices. I remember the exuberant hugs, the little hands that held mine, I remember all of it. But they’re PEOPLE now. And I think I’m PEOPLE to them now too.

Today, I had lunch with my 30-year old, my daughter, Katie. She’s almost done with earning her PhD in math from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Among the things we talked about:

*the new (horrible) proposed tax bill

*the orange Asshat

*the next election

*breast cancer

*her relationship

*my relationship

*how to raise a girl

*boots (ohmygod, we love’em)


And more. But see? If she was still my little girl, which she is, which she will always be, we wouldn’t have had any of those discussions. Well maybe boots. And while I have always looked on her with pride, it wasn’t like the pride I felt today, looking across the table at her, hearing her intelligence, witnessing her open and gracious mind, seeing the incredible woman I always knew she’d be. While at the same time remembering the intense little girl that parked herself directly in front of her dance teacher’s feet so she could watch every move. Who wanted to learn everything rightnowthisverysecond. And who loved a stuffed sheepdog named Bowser.

See, it’s all so FULL now. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. I can still see and hear my little ones, but there’s also the glory of having them standing side by side with me now.   Of their being PEOPLE.

And besides, I get my young’un-fix with Grandbaby Maya Mae.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My daughter Katie, having Starbucks with me today.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I have absolutely no sense of direction. If people tell me to go north or south, I have to ask them to please use left or right. I just have no clue. I’ve never used the GPS on my phone – it’s too hard to see the screen. So despite these things now being at a tap of a phone screen, I still use a separate GPS monitor.

So imagine my horror this morning when I realized that I had to drive Michael from Waukesha to Whitewater to teach at a high school creative writing festival – about a 45 minute drive – and Naggie, my GPS, is sitting in Hemi at the car shop. Still.

Yes, I’d made the drive several times before. That doesn’t mean I know where I’m going!

When you go to bed at four and then have to be on the road by eight, there’s already the issue of grogginess. But fear works really well, along with caffeine. Michael used his phone to guide my way to UW – Whitewater’s Visitor’s Center, where I let him off for the day. I figured I’d only have to backtrack the way I came. I took Highway 59 to Second Street to Starin to Prairie. Easy.


I was facing the wrong way on Prairie to get back to Starin. There were school buses everywhere, and cars pulling into parking lots and college kids who felt sufficiently safe that those yellow “people crossing” signs would protect them from getting hit, so they streamed across the street without looking. And there were so many! At 9:00 in the morning! When I was in college, I learned quickly to not schedule anything before 10:00, or I’d sleep right through it. What were they all doing awake?

Eventually, through a couple right turns, I found myself back on Starin. I congratulated myself as I crossed back over Prairie. Things looked familiar. There was the old farmhouse with the lavish porch I commented on. There was the field with newly turned soil that Michael cried out in his early-morning-yapper way, “Look how rich that soil looks!” before turning to me and asking, “That is what I’m supposed to be saying, right?” There were cows.

And then…I was in an industrial park. Starin ended and there’d been no Second Street. It disappeared, along with the cows and rich soil. Instead there were streets like Enterprise and Technology.

What the hell?

In a panic, I made a few turns, hoping to find Second Street, or at least a numbered street that would bring me back. Eventually, I just pulled over. Now what? I didn’t have Naggie. I had no one to call. I looked at my phone.

Now bear in mind that I also have no idea how to navigate technology, just as I have no sense of direction. My phone is basically for calls, texting, and checking email. I have apps, but I don’t know what they are. My phone is new from last week, so I’m amazed I know how to turn the damn thing on. I scrolled through apps until I found one that looked like it had Google stuff in it. I tapped on it and found, among other things, Google Maps. So I tapped on that.

Lo and behold, magic of all magic, this little blue dot appeared that was supposed to be me, and it was on a map with streets that matched where I was, and if I turned left, I would run right into Highway 59.

The blue dot and I turned left. Highway 59! Highway 59 West was to my left. Highway 59 East was to my right. Wasn’t Lake Michigan east? Maybe?

I turned right. And I found my way home. I felt like I was planting my flag on the moon. I was never so happy to be a little blue dot on a Google map.

(And it made me feel good that when my son went to pick up Michael later in the day, he got lost too.)

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Maybe I shoulda stopped?



And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Oh, it was just one of those days. THOSE days. Those days where you want to rip your hair out and shriek about a dozen different times before noon. When, if you were five years old, you would have stomped your feet and held your breath until you turned blue, but you’re fifty-seven, and then you decide to hell with it and stomp your feet anyway, but you don’t hold your breath because you’re asthmatic. Oooooooooh…one of THOSE days.

At first, it was just interruptions. Everything that I wanted and needed to get done didn’t get done because more stuff got added that needed to be done too, even though next to nothing was stuff that involved my job – running AllWriters’. One or two things, fine. Ten, eleven, twelve, and I start to get a bit huffy.

But then came the big one.

My phone rang and it was my car place. Which still has Hemi. They’d already called me earlier in the day and said that because they are doing so many big jobs, they wondered if I was okay with staying in the rental until tomorrow. Well, Zizzy and I are doing fine now, so I said sure. And now here they were again, and I thought maybe it was, Surprise! We got your car done!

Well, it was Surprise!, but not that. They’d found that my car’s catalytic converters (Hemi has two) had cracked pipes and needed replacing. It wasn’t covered by the extended warranty because it was the result of rust. And so my bill, which was $0, went to $1400.

$1400. About the same cost as one month of our health insurance. About the same cost as our mortgage. So, essentially, it will be like we paid our mortgage three times this month.

That number, 1400, is the bane of my existence.

My car lady said, when she told me about the warranty, “When I called them, they said that the repairs we’re doing already shouldn’t have been covered either. The person that gave the okay made a mistake. But they’re honoring it because you were already told, we already agreed, and the work is being done. So consider that a Christmas present.”

Merry Christmas.

So…the work is being done. And I won’t have the car until Friday.

I stewed until it was time to cook dinner. I don’t cook. The only things I know how to cook are spaghetti and meatloaf and baked potatoes and lasagna. But with Michael working these crazy hours at the grocery store, sometimes the cooking is now falling on me. He didn’t leave me spaghetti or meatloaf and baked potatoes or lasagna to cook. He left me La Choy Chow Mein. I’m sure he thought it was easy. Cook the rice, open the two cans, heat them up. Sure.

Those two cans. One stuck on top of the other with some kind of blue tape that would keep any bank vault safe from entry. I attacked it with my fingernails. I attacked it with scissors. Then my sharpest knife. I hit the damn thing with a hammer. Then I lost total control and screamed like a banshee as I walloped the can over and over against my countertop.

Nothing. It’s still together.

So I threw it back in the cupboard and I cried. Total waste of about five minutes.

When I pulled myself together, I poked my head in to Olivia. “I’m going to get McDonalds,” I said. “I’ve been defeated by chow mein.”

She was wise not to say anything.

As I gathered together my purse and keys and my equilibrium, I saw an envelope from the mail the day before. It was addressed to me and I forgot to open it. It was much easier to open than the chow mein. No blue tape here. I popped the opening and out slid a car decal that I’d forgotten I ordered.

Just Breathe, it said, in sky blue curly cursive

Ooooooooooh, what exquisite timing. I laughed. And then I took a deep breath. And another.

Well played, Universe.  Well played.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My car decal. Interesting how the photo looks like it has headlights in it.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Hemi, my Chrysler 300C Hemi, is still in intensive care at the car shop, receiving a muffler and assorted connected parts transplant and an oil transfusion. When they called me today to give me an update, I was tempted to ask if I could come visit him. But even I figured that might be going too far.

Because I have an extended warranty, I get a rental to drive in while Hemi is gone. Last time, they gave me a burly Dodge Charger, which seduced me. This time, I have a Hyundai Accent. I was in too much of a hurry on Friday to shriek, “You’re giving me a WHAT?” So she and I drove off the lot together.

Yes, she. On Saturday, when Michael, Olivia and I walked to the car to go out to dinner, I said something like, “She’s in the back.”

In unison, Michael and Olivia screeched to a halt. In unison, they said, “SHE?”

I drive boy cars.

Almost all of my cars have been male. And named.

1969 Chrysler Newport 4-door sedan. (Chrys)

Plymouth Volare (Sergio)

Original Toyota minivan. (Toycar)

Dodge Neon (NEEEEEon)

Chrylser LeBaron convertible (LeB)

Nissan Frontier crew cab pick-up (Fronty)

Chrysler Sebring convertible (SeB)

Chrysler 300C Hemi (Hemi)

Chrysler 200 convertible (Semi)

There was a female vehicle before Fronty. It was a Dodge Windstar minivan. Named Windy. When Michael and I were pregnant with Olivia, we realized that NEEEEEon was not going to work with two adults, three teenagers, and a baby. So we bought a mom-mobile. I hated her.

And now…this temporary Accent. “Yes,” I said. “A girl.”

“Why?” Michael and Olivia said, again in unison.

I shrugged. I don’t know why. She’s petite. She’s curvy, where my boys have sleek straight lines. She doesn’t roar. She has a very nice purr.

“Her name is Zizzy,” I said. Before they could ask, I said, “The last three letters on her license plate are ZZY.”

So I’ve been driving this little girl. And missing Hemi. Hemi is my bodyguard. He’s big and strong. The Hemi engine tends to make people jump away. He has memory seats, so he puts me in the right place every time. He has a thermostat and keeps the interior at a steady 78 degrees. He has heated seats too. He tells me when a tire is low and he tells me which one. And he has a great sound system. I swear he sings with me.

This little girl car…not so much. I sigh every time I look at her.

But this morning, everything was wet. There’d been a heavy fog and a little snow and freezing temperatures. I didn’t know it yet, but there was black ice. As Zizzy and I pulled out, she sang a little chime. A bright light came on in her dashboard. It looked like a two-lane road, with an X at the beginning.

Not recognizing that light, I pulled over and dug out her manual.

“The roads are icy,” Zizzy told me. “Drive carefully.”


“Thank you, Zizzy,” I said. I patted her wheel. I felt cared for. Watched over.

All of my CDs are in Hemi, so I put on the radio and fumbled around until I found a decent station. And then I began to sing. I think Zizzy did too. And we drove very carefully.

She doesn’t have heated seats, but she kept me warm.

Hemi should be home tomorrow. In the meantime, this little girl and I will be BFFs.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

This is Zizzy.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

The last 24 hours were really all about reflection and introspection. Realizing that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the assault hit me pretty hard. I’ve been so focused on the latest assault, the breast cancer, that I’d relegated that event to the back of my mind, even as tendrils of that attack still worked their way through my mind, through my body. There they were, the assault by the man in the Make America Great Again hat and the aftermath, and breast cancer and its aftermath, side by side. Both assaults. Both attacks. One external. One internal.

In both cases, I’ve said to people, “I didn’t expect the aftermath to be as hard as the {assault}{breast cancer}.”

But it was. In both cases.

Last night, middle of the night, I felt the impact of both. And it wasn’t inconsiderable.

I was told last week by a friend that I’d “overstated” the impact breast cancer has had on me.

Well, you know what? I don’t agree.

This whole year, these two assaults have had a huge impact on me. Inside and out.

Every day, on Facebook, you get a reminder of what has happened on that day in the years before. I looked at it today, and so much of it held responses to what happened to me on that sidewalk. There was so much support, so much incredulous disbelief (not that it happened, but that it COULD happen) and so many offers of help. From people I knew. From strangers. Yes, there were those that threatened me. But there were so many more that lifted me up.

And then there was one of my own statuses, from that day after:

NOVEMBER 12, 2016 8:02 p.m.

He said I needed to be put back into my place.

His definition, of course.

But I am already in my place.

And it’s my definition that matters.

I’ve worked very hard to get here.

Word by word by word.

There is no “putting back”.

There is only moving forward.

And that is what I will do.

Word by word by word.

And that is exactly what I did, isn’t it. I moved forward, word by word. Writing these Moments. Writing my own creative work. Teaching others. Word by word by word.

I did not “overstate” the impact. It is my definition that matters.

And I’ve recovered.

I did it.

My Moment today: Reading this status, from just over 24 hours after the assault, and seeing that I had every intention of surviving. And realizing today, that I have.

I’m taking on the title of survivor. I am not just in recovery. I am fully here.


And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Moving forward.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

One year ago today.

One year ago today was the start of what was to be a very difficult year. One year ago today, I was assaulted as I walked my dogs around the block for their just-after-lunch outing. It was something I’d done every day for ten years. It was such an everyday activity that I didn’t even think about it as I did it. But that day, things ended up very differently.

A man came toward me and I tried to pull my dogs off the sidewalk. They didn’t move fast enough and he swung his leg back to kick my oldest dog, who is very frail with advanced kidney disease. I put myself between him and Blossom and he kicked me instead. Then he grabbed my shoulders and threw me off the sidewalk. When I looked up from the grass, he said, “You need to get in your place now, woman.” And then he walked away.

It was three days after the election. I can still hear his voice, still hear those words.

I got up, gathered the dogs and we walked home. I don’t remember being afraid.  I only remember thinking that I had to get home and I had to do the next thing on my list. I gave the dogs their treat, poured myself a glass of water. I can see myself doing this, as if I’m watching from a distance. Then I went to my computer, posted what happened on Facebook and was told that I was in shock and should call the police. So I did as I was told. It was when I showed the police officer the bruise that was turning a deep purple on my calf that I began to shake.

The aftermath was worse than the assault. It was soon all over the media and I received death threats. My family received death threats. They came from all over the country, via Facebook private messages, or posted directly on my page, or through Twitter. I was told I should die. I was told I should go to jail. I was told I should be raped and beaten.


Because I reported that the man wore a red Make America Great Again hat.

I tried to explain several times that if he’d been wearing a Hillary hat, I would have reported it. A Badgers hat, a Packers hat, whatever kind of hat he wore, I would have reported it. It wasn’t just a red baseball cap. It had gold letters that said Make America Great Again.

On one hate-talk radio show, I was discussed. I tuned in just in time to hear them say, “Well, she writes fiction. So she’s probably lying about this too.” When I called in, they wouldn’t let me speak.

What followed was months of being afraid to walk my dogs. Months of walking them with a cell phone pressed to my ear, my husband talking to me as we went. Months of locking my classroom door as soon as I knew all my students were present. Months of jumping and shaking at every loud noise, at the phone ringing, and the doorbell. Months of being irrationally afraid to travel.

My post on Facebook that day was passed around to extreme proportions. 1.3 thousand reactions. Over 1 thousand shares.

Today, it’s one year ago. So why is this day, with this awful memory, my moment of happiness?

Because I’m still here. Because I’m traveling again. Because I can walk the dogs without fear, though I do still try to impossibly look around the corner before I turn it.

And because I’ve learned, over and over again, as this dreadful year continued, that there are more kind and compassionate people out there than there are mean, angry, hateful ones. Because I’ve learned that when something bad happens, there are wonderful people who sweep in to restore the good. To more than restore it. To double, triple, quadruple it.

Today’s Moment Of Happiness: I’m just fine. And I’m here.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The Facebook post from 11/11/16.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Today, I had to bring my beloved car, Hemi, a 2006 Chrysler 300C Hemi, in for service. It was time for an oil transfusion, and in the last week or so, his powerful engine was being overpowered by a loud noise of another sort. So in we went.

I may be the only person in the world that looks forward to having her car serviced. I am always treated well there. They know who I am and they know I’m coming, so they set up a private cubicle out on the sales floor where I can set up my computer and work in peace. They bring me fresh hot coffee. And they call my cars by their names: Hemi and Semi.

My little cubicle is in a back corner. Unless the sales team comes swinging back there, they don’t know I’m there. I sat there today, my coffee to my right, steaming (they made it fresh right after I got there), a package of oatmeal raisin cookies to my left, my new story up on my computer screen, and I was just happy. There was nothing here to interrupt me, except for the occasional update on my car. I was conscious that there was music playing over the store’s speakers. And I heard the deep voices of the salesmen as they joked and talked with each other, punctuated at times by a saleswoman. But I didn’t really pay any attention to it. I was deep into my own words.

Then the Righteous Brothers and “Lost That Loving Feeling” came on.

From the sales floor, a voice joined in.

You lost that lovin’ feelin’

Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’

You lost that lovin’ feelin’

Now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh-oh.

Another voice jumped in and I looked up from my screen. I couldn’t see the salesmen, and they couldn’t see me, but oh, could I hear them!

Baby, baby, I’d get down on my knees for you

If you would only love me like you used to do,

(love me, love me)

More voices, more voices, and soon it seemed the entire salesmen staff became a chorus. A boy band with deep and expressive voices. They sang with gusto. They sang with grace. They harmonized. And emotion blended easily through their lyrics.

We had a love, a love, a love you don’t find everyday

So don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t let it slip away  

Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! In my seat, I began to sway with the rhythm. When they got to this part:

Baby (baby!), baby, (baby!!!)

I beg you please (please!), please (please!!!)

I need your love (I need your love)

I need your love (I need your love)

So bring it on back, so bring it on back

Bring it on back, bring it on back!

Bring it on back! I wanted to leap up and sing with them. In the middle of this snowy gray November afternoon, in a car dealership in Waukesha, Wisconsin, I wanted to wail the heat of the song and blend my voice and heart with theirs and feel the rhythm join us and the music move us…

…but I didn’t want to ruin this. Their glorious, un-self conscious performance they thought was only in front of each other and the cars lucky enough to be inside the showroom.

So I hummed. And enjoyed. Bring back…that lovin’ feeling!

When the song was over, they went back to talking and I went back to writing in my hidden-away corner, and it was as if nothing ever happened.

But my humming, “Whoa, that loving feeling…” as I walked out the door to my rental (Hemi is being held over for new muffler-related parts on Monday) and my humming it still, swaying in my chair here at home, shows that it really, really did.

Love me! Love me!

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.      

Want to hear the song?    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEkB-VQviLI

My cubbie at my car place.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

What are the most terrifying words a homeowner can hear? I think “Your roof needs replacing” or “Your furnace is shot” are right up there.

Add the fact that one of the homeowners was recently let go from his job, and man, do you up the terror.

Our furnace wasn’t working. And the temperatures were steadily dropping.

In the last month, three furnaces in our condo complex have been replaced. We only have nine units. The complex is now eleven years old. All appliances have hit and/or passed that dreaded ten-year mark. We’ve replaced, thus far, our washer and dryer, our refrigerator and our dishwasher. Our garbage disposal too, if that counts – we’ve done that twice.

But a furnace…oh, a furnace is a BIG ticket item.

And so terror descended. I called our favorite heating/cooling company and asked them to stop in for a visit. And then I began a steady internal mantra of “Please, please, please, please…”

Our condos were built oddly. We have two furnaces, one for the studio on the first floor and one for the living space on the second and third floor. It was the living space furnace that was fritzing. Our furnaces were built into closets, one on the second floor, one on the third. The one on the third is a closet within our closet. We have to empty out Michael’s clothes closet to get to the door, and then squeeze our way to the back corner, open the secret door, and there’s the furnace. The little closet it’s in isn’t insulated and it’s vented right to the outside, so you’re essentially hanging over the parking lot when you get to it.

And the kicker – the furnace was put in before our closets were built. Why? Because we couldn’t have gotten the furnace in AFTER the closet was built. So when our furnace is replaced, the closets will have to be torn down, the new furnace put in, and then the closets rebuilt.

“Please, please, please, please…”

My friendly furnace guy showed up – they’re all friendly. I love this company. But it was one who hadn’t been here before. His eyes widened as I showed him the path he would have to take. “Oh, boy,” he said.

“Oh, boy,” is kind of like hearing “oops” when you’re at the hair salon.

For the next ten minutes, he wandered from the furnace to the second floor where the thermostat is, to the furnace, to his truck, to the thermostat, and my internal mantra began to ramp its amps.

“Please, please, please, please…”

Eventually, he parked himself in front of my desk. “Who installed that thermostat?” he asked.

“My husband did,” I said. “Last summer, when the a/c wouldn’t turn on. I bought the thermostat and he put it in.”

“Ah,” he said. “He didn’t put the wires in the right place. He did the cooling one right. But the heating one wasn’t where it was supposed to be. So the furnace wasn’t getting any signal to start.”

I sat quietly for a moment. “So…” I said cautiously, “the furnace is okay?”

“It is. You’ve taken very good care of it. All the components are just fine.”

“So…this is all my husband’s fault?”

His immediate grin lit my entire office. “Yes,” he said. “But I won’t put that in writing. For his protection.”

Oh, the relief. I only had to pay for diagnostics and for the service call.

Michael made a mistake. The furnace is just fine. Tonight, the house is warm. Outside, we’re reaching new lows.

This may be the only time ever that my husband making a mistake becomes my Today’s Moment Of Happiness. As soon as he comes upstairs from teaching, I am going to hug the stuffing out of him.


Now tomorrow, I have to bring Hemi in for service. He’s making a banging noise. Michael hasn’t touched him.

Please, please, please, please…

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Michael’s closet door. Looks innocent enough.
But wait…go inside, and what’s that in the dark back corner? Another closet?
With a furnace in it!


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Over the last week, discussions of titles have been happening all around me, and today, it popped up three separate times.

This morning, a client told me that the title she loves for her book, a title I love too and one that she’s used since I started working with her, was put down by someone who she loves and respects. And now she’s second-guessing. To the point where I saw tears in her eyes.

This afternoon, in class, two different titles for two different student works were questioned. One, the writer wasn’t sold on. One, the writer was.

A few nights ago, over a dinnertime discussion with friends, students and faculty members, someone said to me, “You have the best titles!”

I can remember only twice being contentious over a title. The first was eons ago, before I was even Kathie Giorgio, and it was over a short story published in Wisconsin Magazine, which used to appear in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal. They didn’t publish much fiction, but they published mine. This story, about a woman who loses a massive amount of weight, was titled “Fits Like Silk”. The day the story came out, I sat down in the morning with my then-husband and reverently opened the magazine, paging through to find my story. It really looked lovely, complete with an original illustration. But they didn’t use my title. What did they use?


Blech. I was horrified. Scratch that. I still am horrified.

Years later, my third book was about to be published. It’s a novel called Learning To Tell (A Life)Time. The phrase “learning to tell time” is important, but so is “a lifetime”, and there is a reason for the parenthesis. Every time I exchanged correspondence with my publisher, he identified the book as  “Learning To Tell Time”. I finally reminded him of the (A Life). He didn’t like it, he said. But because it was my third book, he was willing to let me use it. Later, when I saw the first attempt at a cover, the words (A Life) were in teeny tiny letters, compared to the rest. I complained. Eventually, we reached an agreement. It was done my way.

Last week, I got into a discussion with a friend over how I tend to think of myself in what are essentially titles too. Kathie Giorgio, Author. Kathie Giorgio, Teacher. Kathie Giorgio, Small Business Owner. And so on, to the newest, most reluctant title: Kathie Giorgio, Breast Cancer Recoverer. Reluctant, because it was never a dream or a goal to be this. And Recoverer, because I am not yet comfortable with calling myself a Survivor. As more time moves behind me, I’m sure I will take that title on. But not now.

Titles are like the names we give our babies. We struggle over identifying personality, meaning, definition. What we call our children doesn’t come without a struggle. Neither does what we call our poems, our stories, our novels, memoirs, essays. These are our babies too.

Neither does what we call ourselves, giving great thought over identifying personality, meaning, and definition.

Going back to my client from this morning, I want to tell her to keep her title for her book. Her name for her baby. She struggled through writing the book, and she struggled to find the right name. She wrote it. She found it.

It’s her baby. And it’s an expression of who she is.

That’s what titles are all about, Charlie Brown.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The original proposed cover.
The actual cover.