12/30/17

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

Hooboy. It’s been a rough 24 hours. I wrote yesterday about being at the Sybaris, a place I consider the ultimate in relaxation, in respite, in getting away from it all. I told Michael last night that the Sybaris is about the only place where I don’t mind not seeing the sun. It is that quiet, that soft, that stress-free. Or it was, until this trip.

This trip was my Christmas present. We are at the end of this year, and this year has not been the easiest to get through. When I found out that Michael’s gift was to bring me to the Sybaris, I can’t tell you how excited I was. It was like the perfect buffer between this year and the next. This year – done. Buffer – take a breath, recover, revive. New year – Let’s go! In my mind that thrives on metaphor, this was just perfect.

Well, it wasn’t.

As I left home, my daughter began to vomit. Thus began the tug of war – should we go? should we stay? should we go? should we stay? Olivia is seventeen. One of her brothers was stopping in and he agreed to bring chicken soup, jello, and crackers. We had white soda in the fridge. Our connection was never broken – my cell phone remained on throughout the Sybaris time and Olivia texted and called with writer-graphic details of what was going on. She also called in panic after she read everything on a WebMD type of website and decided she had everything but stomach flu.

Then Michael set in. Not with the flu. But his big toe, which had been bothering him, suddenly turned into a massively painful, swollen digit. He couldn’t put any weight on it, which made getting in and out of the pool interesting. If I approached him, I constantly bumped into his toe. A romantic getaway where your partner flinches every time you draw near? Oh, nice. He had trouble sleeping, because even the weight of the sheet bothered him. Again, we played tug of war. Do we stay, do we go, do we stay, do we go.

We stayed. He flinched and moaned, Olivia texted and moaned, and I cursed the universe.

After checking out, we drove straight to the Urgent Care, with twenty minutes to spare before it closed. I dropped Michael off, went to fetch myself a latte at Starbucks, and got stuck in a line that didn’t bring me back to the UC until three minutes after it closed. The doors were locked. I texted Michael that I was stuck outside and then I sat and stewed in the car until he came out – forty minutes later. Cellulitis in his toe, and he regaled me with writer-graphic details of what they did.

So now we’re home. He’s in his recliner, under my electric throw. Olivia, who is feeling just great today, sat on the arm of my recliner with me while we had dinner. I’m up here, trying to find just one moment of happiness out of all of this. I’ve already said I want a do-over of my Christmas present. I may want to go by myself. Snarl.

Then, on my Facebook page, after a status that summarized this last 24 hours, a friend, an angel named Angel, said, “This might just fall under the category of ‘nobody died’ which some days is a good day. After this year of yours, perhaps that you are here for all this glory is the gift today?”

I personally would change it to, “After this year of yours, perhaps that you are here for all this GORY is the gift today?”

But Angel is right. After this past year, the category of “nobody died” has special meaning to me now. Yesterday afternoon, soon after we arrived at the Sybaris, Michael was napping in the massage chair and I knew Olivia was sleeping at home and I was alone in that wonderful heated pool. Only the pool lights and the fireplace were on and the radio was softly playing and I was singing along. I glanced down and saw the shadows playing over me, and I couldn’t help but notice my breasts, half-submerged. This is the Sybaris, so there was no bathing suit. There was just me and the water. And there they were. There they both were. One is scarred now. The skin where the radiation plowed into me is a darker, duskier color. I can see the pit where the tumor was removed, though I’m told that only I can see it. I am also still numb in that area.

But both breasts were still there. And they looked pretty damn good. And I was there too, able to see them.

I am here to see the glory. Of even really bad days. Which is so much better than no day at all.

Thank you, Angel.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Damn straight.

12/29/17

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

When Michael and I got married 18 years ago, a group of my students from Illinois gave us a gift certificate to a private resort called the Sybaris. For years, I’d watched their commercials on television – the private swimming pool suite, hot tub, steam room. No sharing. All just for you. There was even a chalet that included a water slide from the bedroom to the pool below. It seemed completely and totally luxurious…and decadent. Over the top decadent.

I was married to my first husband for 17 years. Year after year, I begged him to go to the Sybaris. I asked for a visit for Christmas, for my birthday, for our anniversaries. I would have gotten it under the guise of giving it to him for Christmas or his birthday, but he held a super-tight hold of the finances – I was never allowed to spend a dime without his approval first. So year after year, he said no. Too expensive, he said. It’s stupid, he said. What do we need it for? he said.

Oh, we needed it.

Consequently, when Michael and I received this gift certificate, I was on the phone making reservations as soon as we got back from our honeymoon. And after our first visit, we became lifetime members.

Through our 18 years, our visits here have changed in their…intensity, let’s say. The first several years were spent in newlywed playground mode. But when I became pregnant with Olivia, a visit here was to give me almost all of the 24 hours in the pool, the buoyancy lifting the week-shy-of-ripe baby belly off my forty-year old back and giving me a wonderful break. We were here for our anniversary on October 9 and Olivia arrived three weeks early on October 17th. She’s lucky she wasn’t born here.  We also came here for our anniversary after 9/11, and it gave me a much-needed step away from my obsessiveness over the news. I couldn’t stop watching CNN. I couldn’t sleep. The first few hours here were difficult because I didn’t know what was going on OUT THERE…but then the escape saved my sanity.

Now that we are 53 and 57 (I’m older), the Sybaris isn’t the romping playground it used to be, but a respite. The room is soundproofed – the only noises we hear are what we choose to hear, if we put on the radio or the television. There is the burble of the swimming pool and hot tub jets, the hiss of the steam room, the snap of the fireplace. And our own conversation, of course.

Which is the most important part. With my dedication to the studio, working a steady 85 hours a week, with Michael’s being at work during the day and teaching at night, we are sometimes little more than waving hands as we move past each other. Here, everything comes to a screeching halt. There is no one here but us. We are re-introduced. We are still connected to the world, of course, thanks to the internet and cell phone, but by choice, those are ignored unless there is an emergency.

There are no windows here. There is no day, no night, no work, no responsibilities, nothing. I didn’t even bring student manuscripts to read (gasp!).

Just us. In a suite without any windows. But with a private pool, hot tub, massage chair, steam room, fireplace..,

No windows. Soundproofed.

Okay, maybe there’s still a little playgrounding going on.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The Sybaris. Mirrors make it look like there are two pools, but there is only one. Only! All yours!
Another angle. Yes, Starbucks on the table. Of course!

12/28/17

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

A couple weeks ago, I was contacted by a woman named Denise who works for an organization called Putting Abilities To Work. She helps those with disabilities figure out what they want to do and how to get there. She works with mostly adults, but she also sees high school kids, and that’s why she was calling me.

“I have a seventeen-year old girl who is interested in learning about writing,” she told me over the phone. “She’s very high-functioning autistic. I was wondering if you’d be willing to sit down and talk with her.”

I thought about what I do and where I’ve been. And I thought about my own seventeen-year old, who is high-functioning autistic and wants to be a writer, among other things. “Denise,” I said, “you have no idea. Bring her to me. This is a match made in heaven.”

Today, I met with the girl and with Denise. We talked first about how I got into writing, what this girl writes (poetry), and what she wants to do with her life (write). And then I asked for her first question.

“How do I get into writing as a career?” she said.

Oh boy.

I honestly do not remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. It’s been with me forever. Despite my teachers’ praise, despite being published for the first time at fifteen, and despite being allowed as a freshman into UW – Madison’s graduate level workshops, my parents told me I couldn’t major in English and that I had to leave writing as a hobby. I wasn’t good enough to succeed, they said, and it wouldn’t pay the bills. They told me the only way they would help to pay for my education was if I majored in anything else.

I tried. First, I majored in Special Ed, with an interest in working with autistic children. There’s some irony. But in my first semester, I flunked the first class I took that was specifically for my major. I begged my professor to raise the grade to a D, which he did, but I was horrified. I’d never gotten such a low grade. So then I switched my major to social work. I decided to take one semester (my fourth) without any literature or writing classes whatsoever. I wanted to see what that life would be like and if I could handle it.

I couldn’t. Halfway through that semester, I trudged up Bascom Hill to South Hall (I think) where I officially changed my major to English, with an emphasis on creative writing (that’s what they called it then). I did it without telling my parents. When I went home for Christmas break, I informed them of the change and said that if they decided to no longer support me, I would drop out of school and get a job until I could afford to come back. I quaked in my boots. But I meant it.

They supported me, financially, anyway. From that day on, when my father was asked what I majored in, he said, “Oh, she’s getting married.” I was. Years later, when I was an adult, married, with three children, my father told me that he considered my college education the biggest waste of his money in his lifetime.

I wish he could see me now. That money was not wasted. It was never ever wasted. My life continues to be enriched because of my education, because of the people I met and worked with, because of the teachers that believed in me.

So today, with this girl, that career question again. We talked honestly about how most writers don’t make enough money to live on. And then we sat down and talked about work she could do that would feed her creativity and love of writing, that would empower her, that would make her excited to hit the computer screen every chance she had. We talked about working in the publishing industry. We talked about working for arts organizations. And we talked about teaching. We came up with a battle plan. When that girl left today, she was beaming. She would be able to write all of her lifetime. And she would be able to do what she loved as well. She also left as a new student in the AllWriters’ On-Site Thursday Night Teen Writers Workshop.

Denise thanked me and said, “Do you know that you just light up when you talk about teaching?”

I do. Just like my teachers did.

Not a waste, Dad. Never ever a waste.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

College graduation photo. “I’m gonna be a writer, goddammit.”

12/27/17

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

When you have a child, you delight in all of the milestones:

*the first step!

*the first day of school!

*the first concert!

*the first sleepover!

*the first date!

And…the ever-so-momentous…

*the first time trying to eat a bowl of fancy French onion soup in a restaurant!

Today was Michael’s 53rd birthday, and to celebrate, we went to a very nice restaurant (his choice) for dinner. At my request, we were seated immediately in front of the fireplace – the lip of our table hung over the hearth. Oh, toasty after being outside in four below temps!

Olivia, at seventeen, is not a newcomer to nice restaurants. She still slips up every now and then, doing the not-so-mannerly stuff…singing out loud along with the piped-in music (especially Christmas music), using her straw to blow bubbles in her milk (which drives her dad crazy), belching and then going wide-eyed and exclaiming, “What?!” when I glare. She likes soup and usually veers toward chicken dumpling or cream of broccoli. But tonight, they didn’t have either of those and so she went for the greatest soup challenge of all…cheese-covered French onion soup. Both Michael and I were surprised. It’s not a typical Livvyonian choice.

When our soup arrived, Olivia stared at it. She poked it cautiously with her spoon. “Um…” she said. “How do I eat this?”

“Very carefully,” was of course my answer. Then I told her that the cheese melted from rim to rim of the bowl was the difficult part and the soup was hiding underneath. “Use your spoon to chop at it, to try to get bite-size pieces. You can kind of trap the cheese against the side of the bowl and then scrape the edge of your spoon against it.”

She looked dubious.

I told her that my first experience with French onion soup was in 1988, when I was 28 years old. I was in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, attending UW-Madison’s School of the Arts week-long program as a scholarship student. On the last night, my mentor, Ellen Hunnicutt, invited me to come along with the faculty to dinner. She told me to order the French onion soup. When it arrived, I must have stared at it with the same expression Olivia did, because Ellen waved her fork and knife at me. “I’m not proud,” she said. “I cut it with these before I take a bite.” So while everyone around us somehow managed to eat the soup with delicate grace, Ellen and I chopped it like a steak and then ate it that way. I still think of Ellen every time I eat French onion soup. And every time, I am tempted to use my knife and fork.

Olivia looked doubtfully at her knife and fork. But then she picked up her spoon and had at it. She ATTACKED.

She sawed the cheese with her spoon.

She smacked it.

She scooped it up, flipped it over, flung it down.

She snarled.

And finally, finally, she stabbed the cheese with the end of her spoon, lifted it away from the soup, chewed off a piece with her head hanging over the bowl, then shoved the rest to the side and spooned in some soup. She smiled in triumph.

Hey, it worked. And I have to say…I’ve done the same.

Some milestones pop up by surprise when you least expect them. And then all you can do is watch and cheer as your child finds her own way, after you tell her all of yours.

And when those firsts come with a bright memory of your own, washing you with the warmth of soup and the love of a special friend, so much the better.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia battling with cheese-covered French onion soup…and winning!

12/26/17

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

My hair was cut and colored today, and for a change, I didn’t read student manuscripts while I was under the dryer. I am on break this week and so I brought a book, a real actual book, and I sat in the heat and roasted and read. It was wonderful.

I’m currently reading Claire Messud’s novel, The Burning Girl. As I read this afternoon, I came across this sentence: “You don’t hide if you don’t need to.” Now, I think writers read differently than readers. We’re readers too, don’t get me wrong, but every now and then, when a writer reads, it’s like a pinball machine. Someone else’s words cause synapses to go off, bing, bing, bing, and your own mind starts flying and then ideas start coming. And that sentence did it to me.

I had to set the book aside for a while and let my mind go through its herky-jerky bouncy-jouncy motions – bing, bing, bing. What would make someone hide? Why would they hide? What would they do? Where would they go? What would happen? What if…what if…what if…

And then my mind bounced off a bumper and went backwards, as if the little pinball marble landed where it was supposed to, but then bounced its way back to the little spring where I shot it in the first place. I don’t know how many writers experience this, but I do. It’s taking a premise and turning it inside out. If no one hides unless they need to, then what would cause someone to hide without need? Why would a person live in the shadows? Why would they choose to, if there wasn’t a reason? Who would make that choice? Who hides who isn’t afraid? What other emotions could cause hiding?

Bing, bing, bing, bing.

Whenever I write, particularly the novels, I try to write a separate piece, usually a short story, from the antagonist’s viewpoint. That’s part of my mind moving backwards through the premise. I don’t feel like it’s fair for me to write a “bad guy” without knowing what made the bad guy bad. Consequently, I’ve written stories from a rapist’s point of view, an abuser’s point of view, a dumper’s point of view (as opposed to the dumpee, donchaknow). And when I say I write these, it’s with a sympathetic perspective. It’s about the moment that makes a person become bad. No one is born bad. At least, I don’t believe so.

These are hard stories to write. Writing from a rapist’s pov, making it sympathetic? Just about killed me. But I did it. In the end, it does something for me. I’m not sure what that is, exactly, but my shoulders relax and my  mind stops twisting. When I feel that I’ve seen a story from all sides, I just feel better about what I’m saying. And hopefully, that is for the reader’s benefit too.

But back to the bing, bing, bing of today. It took just over five minutes for all the bings and buzzes and clicks and clacks to die down and the little marble to come to rest. Then I was able to pick up the book and continue to read and get great enjoyment out of doing so. I know that the bings are still going on, but internally. You know the place where the pinball marbles are stored? Out of sight, but then the next one pops into place when it’s time to shoot it? That’s where the binging is going on right now, in the secret marble storage in my brain. I know that eventually, the “You don’t hide if you don’t need to” inspiration will come out as a short story. Or maybe the Who hides if they don’t need to? inspiration. Either way, it will come out. It might be next week. It might be months down the road, because right now, I’m shoulder-deep in a new novel. But it’ll happen.

It’s something that writers do for each other without ever intending to. We just can’t help it. We bing bing bing off each other. And I love it. Words are the ultimate turn-on in my world.

Thank you, Claire Messud.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Bing, bing, bing (photo from stock image)

12/25/17

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

One would think that with it being Christmas Day, there would be a ton of moments to choose from. And there were. But really, those moments all spun together and blended into one wonderful thing.

For several hours there, my whole family was under one roof.

When the kids were little, I never really thought about a future where they would not be a part of my everyday life. My children from my first marriage were all born within four years. My first two are 26 months apart, and then numbers two and three are 13 months apart. For pretty much every moment of every day during those years, I had someone calling my title (Mom!) or yanking at my pants leg or arm, and usually, I had at least two someones vying for attention and the third wasn’t far behind. While it was frazzling having children that close in age, I loved it. I was young as well, 24, 26 and 27 respectively when I had them, and in many ways, I feel like I grew up alongside them.

So I never pictured a future where they weren’t a part of my daily life. But then I also didn’t picture a future where I would leave their father after 17 years of marriage and reluctantly agree to joint custody and not get to be with them for half of every week. I didn’t picture meeting someone else, getting remarried at 39 and having my fourth child at 40, 13 years after the birth of my third.

There’s just so much that we don’t picture. And now, having everyone under my roof is an event, not a routine. The family has grown as well. Together today were my two boys, my two girls, one son-in-law, one daughter-in-law, and one granddaughter. I watched them all as we ate lunch, opened presents, flung balled-up wrapping paper through the air, tripped over the dogs, and talked. My kids interacted as adults, but spiced those interactions with behavior left over from childhood; the teasing, the old stories, the poking, the laughter.

Last night, on Christmas Eve, when my big kids were at their father’s, as has been the tradition since I left my first marriage in 1998, Michael, Olivia and I went to an outdoor Christmas light show. We’ve done this for years, to set up our own the-three-of-us tradition, but also to offset the sadness I feel when my big kids are missing. I very much remember that first Christmas Eve without my children. I’ve re-felt it every Christmas Eve since. As the years went by and the kids grew up, that sadness has been tempered with the anticipation of Christmas Day, when they would be with me. My oldest boy proposed to my daughter-in-law in my home on a Christmas Day. There was one hormonal Christmas where I was in menopause, my daughter-in-law was entering her ninth month of pregnancy, my oldest daughter was in full-blown young womanhood, and my youngest daughter was entering puberty. Holy cow. I’ve seen seasons pass with the growth of my children.  I mark my life with their leaps and changes.

Last night, I posted on Facebook a photo of Michael, Olivia and me at the light show. Someone left a comment, saying that I am a “strong and talented matriarch.”

And I suppose I am.

Mostly, though, I am Mommy (what my big kids called me), Mom (what they call me now) and Mama (what Olivia calls me and I hope she never ever stops). I’m a mother like so many other mothers who wait for their kids to come home.

They all did today, along with my oldest son’s wife, my oldest daughter’s husband, my oldest son’s daughter.

It was an hours-long moment of happiness.

Merry Christmas.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Last night’s Christmas Eve photo – Michael, Olivia and me.

12/24/17

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

Recently, one of my favorite baristas returned to Starbucks. He’d taken another job and after a while, found himself unhappy there. So he came back to where he was happy. When I drive through the drive-thru, he doesn’t ask the usual, “Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get started for you?” Instead, he calls, “Your usual, Kathie?” He usually says hello to whatever car I’m driving. His dream car is a Dodge Charger, and once, when Hemi was in the shop, the rental place gave me exactly that. My barista nearly fell out of the window. “NO WAY!” he shouted before I explained it was a rental.

He’s young. He’s earnest. He’s good-natured. He punctuates everything he says with, “For sure!” And he’s found his way back to Starbucks. He’s trying to find his path.

About a week ago, he told me he’d started reading. And he did, in a very impressive way, beginning with Albert Camus’ The Stranger. We talked about it for as long as we dared with a line behind me in the drive-thru. I was delighted with his enthusiasm and ambition.

Yesterday, he leaned out the window and said, “Guess what? I’m reading more books! I got a library card!” He told me that now he was reading Dickens’ Great Expectations. “It’s hard,” he said and we talked about difficult language from past eras. I suggested Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

I swear I am watching this young man’s mind unfold. The ability, the potential, has always been there. He just hasn’t tapped into it. And now he’s not tapping. He’s drilling. Not only is he digging deep into literature, he’s realizing the importance of community, of having supportive people around you, in the workplace and in your life. He’s also learning the importance of loving what you do, what it does to your psyche and your soul.

I drove home and thought about him, about someone who would decide to start reading by grabbing some pretty high-falutin’ stuff off the shelves. By the time I went to bed last night, I decided he needed to read someone who was still breathing. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading the dead guys; there isn’t. They’re an important part of our literary history. But it was time to open another fold in my barista’s brain. Let’s move into our time and into the world around us.

So when I went to fetch my latte today, I didn’t do the drive-thru. I went inside. After ordering, I went to the counter where the drinks are handed over. My barista was there, making one drink after another. “Hi, Kathie,” he said. “Did you do a mobile order today?”

“No,” I said. “I just gave my order. And I wanted to give you this.” I handed him a signed copy of The Home For Wayward Clocks.

“NO WAY!” he yelled, just like at the Dodge Charger outside his window. “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod.” He snatched the book out of my hands.

I was ohmygodding with him. Have you ever watched someone light up from the inside out, radiating warmth, brightening a face, lifting shoulders, zapping the air with electricity and amazement? I felt like I’d just given the best gift ever. “NO WAY!” he yelled again, clasping the book, and then tucking it in a safe spot on the counter.

I told him it was my first book and gave him a brief synopsis. I also told him how, before his time, there was a store copy at that Starbucks. Back then, I knew each and every barista. They counted down the days til the book was released. I gave the store a copy and it made the rounds. I don’t know where it ended up. That store was also the first place I ran into a stranger reading one of my books – this book. One of the baristas leaned out the window that day and told me someone was reading it in the café. I had to park and go look.

Oh, the importance of community. The importance of loving what you do.

“I’m going to start reading it tonight,” he declared.

So he’s setting aside Dickens for me. I’m okay with that. For sure.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The Home For Wayward Clocks. Released in 2011.

12/23/17

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

Yesterday, I found out that my dog, Donnie, has cancer. A weird form called peripheral nerve sheath cancer that causes an excess of joint fluid, which in turn causes big tumors. We’d noticed that Donnie’s front left leg was swollen, though we hadn’t yet felt the bumps. Donnie has had issues with that leg, often focused on his shoulder, so we assumed it was just acting up again. Yesterday, he came up lame in his back leg on the same side, and so we trotted off, sort of, to the vet.

I wasn’t expecting a cancer diagnosis. As I sat in the exam room, waiting for the vet to return my dog who was having blood drawn and an x-ray, I reeled. In a bizarre way, it was just too similar to my own diagnosis last summer. I went alone to my mammogram, expecting nothing, and in a hurry. Yesterday, I went alone to Donnie’s exam, expecting nothing, and in a hurry. I came out of both appointments with way more than nothing.

Donnie is approximately fourteen years old. He will be treated with steroids and painkillers until he can’t be treated anymore. We will not do chemo or radiation. I know what radiation is like. I do not wish it on my dog.

Today, I am still feeling walloped. That C-word just doesn’t seem to want to leave me alone.

As I waited for Donnie’s meds, I patted his head and realized he will be my first pet who won’t honored the way my other pets have been. Three out of four of my current animals are here with me because of another animal’s passing. I honor a pet’s memory by saving another from a shelter or rescue league. But with the experience of breast cancer and with my 57th birthday, I’ve realized that if I adopt any more animals, those animals stand a chance of outliving me and being left behind. I worked my way through college at a local humane society and I saw far too many sad animals behind bars when an owner passed away and no one in the family wanted them. I won’t do that to my own. So I will need to come up with another way to honor Donnie and the pets I have now. That was a difficult realization.

Donnie and I have had a rough relationship. He is by far the most exasperating dog I’ve owned. In the nine years he’s been with me, he’s eaten 25 pounds of dog biscuits in fifteen minutes, 21 Greenies (special biscuits for a dog’s teeth – they’re supposed to only have one a day) in 20 minutes, including the box, an entire bag of black jelly beans, an entire bag of Hershey’s miniatures, wrappers and all. He’s eaten underwear, toilet paper, and Kotex. He’s broken into our snack cabinet and plowed through everything there, and he’s forced us to put baby locks on doors again and put up safety gates as well. He’s housebroken except for when he decides he doesn’t want to be.

But he also has a constant smile. He has puppy-dog eyes. He is sweet-natured, loves to cuddle, talks in fluent every-other-animal-in-the-world (you should hear his goat), and he’s mine. I chose him. He fills my heart.

After we got home yesterday, I ran to Walgreens and bought a dog bed because he was having so much trouble getting up on the couch, even with a footstool to help him. He lay down on it and I sat on the hassock right next to him and we looked at each other. I have no doubt that he knows what’s going on. His eyes reveal it.

“I understand,” I said to him. “I know how you feel.” I scritched his head and ears and wept.

I’m writing this now because I know on the day cancer takes my dog away, I will not be able to form words. But my moment of happiness is this:

For every grief and frustration Donnie has caused me, he’s been worth it. He has many, many faults. But after nine years, he is still here. I did not have him put to sleep. I did not bring him to the shelter and turn him over. I did not give up on him. He’s right here. I’ve put up with all of his shortcomings.

Because he’s put up with mine with a large, gracious and forgiving heart. He hasn’t given up on me either.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Donnie’s adoption photo, 9 years ago, from the Milwaukee Animal Rescue.
Donnie after eating 25 pounds of dog biscuits.
Donnie with empty black jelly bean bag.
Donnie laughing with Michael.
Me and my boy.

12/22/17

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

Today, when I drove in to pick my daughter up at school, she was sitting and talking with another girl. They both came over to the car and Olivia introduced her. “She’s in my psych class,” she said, “and she’s reading your books!” The girl nodded vigorously.

“Wow!” I said. “That’s really cool!”

Then she told me that in her English class, she had to write a sestina (a sestina is a poem with six stanzas each with six lines and a final stanza with three lines. All of the stanzas have the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a pattern, and all six words appear in the closing triplet) about a book she’s reading.

“Do you know what a sestina is?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, of course you do,” she said and laughed.

(That “of course you do” made me smile. It made me think of an event earlier this week, when a high-level academic asked me, “So what do you do? Like, tutor?” I definitely like this girl more.)

She told me she wrote her sestina to Enlarged Hearts.

“Wow!” I said again. “Would you be willing to show me?”

She agreed.

Eventually, I ended up giving her a ride home. She called her mother for permission, and off we went.

Partway through the ride there, the girl said, “This is so weird!”

“What is?” I asked.

“Well, I was just reading you. And here you are!”

There I was. Grinning from one side of my face to the other. This wasn’t weird at all. It was so, so cool.

Meanwhile, the girls chatted. Turns out they knew of each other, but they weren’t friends, until today. Today, the girl was reading in class and Olivia saw my photo on the back of my book. “That’s my mom,” she said. “You’re reading one of my mom’s books.”

“Kathie Giorgio is your MOM?” the girl squealed.

So my 17-year old daughter admitted to being related to me. Bonus!

Can you just imagine what this did for my day? My spirits went up like a sudden fever. I’ve always written, in my head, to adults. I never even considered what type of impact my books would have on high schoolers.

Apparently…there’s impact.

High school was such a difficult time for me. The thought that maybe my books can help with the difficulty…that’s a new idea. And a new level of satisfaction and excitement.

Wow.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Enlarged Hearts.

12/21/17

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

Anyone who has read my poetry chapbook, True Light Falls In Many Forms, knows that I deal with, among other things, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Basically, when we get into these Wisconsin Winter months and the skies go gray and there’s snow and there’s ice and there’s cold and, for asthmatics like me, there’s very little time spent outside, I get the blues. I need sunshine and warmth. I hate the onset of winter, I hate the duration of winter, I hate the exit of winter. If there’s a hint of winter anywhere, in the lack of sun, the temperatures, even a flick of snow, I snarl. I’m supposed to sit under these big SAD lights once a day, the thought being that the light will counteract the SAD, but I tend to forget. Plus, when I sit under the SAD lights, I look outside where the natural light should be, and I sigh a lot. Sighing gets me oxygen, but it does not feel like a cure.

And please don’t suggest I move. I have a business, and moving now involves more than uprooting a family – it involves disrupting a business, which just isn’t feasible. AllWriters’ is housed in Wisconsin. So I stay in Wisconsin with it.

But I do think I’ve found new hope. It’s a strange little weather app called What The Forecast?!. And yes, the initials do spell out WTF, which is what caught my initial attention. WTF is generally my response to winter weather, though actually, WTF-ityF is more likely to come out of my mouth. And sometimes WTF-ing FFF!

WTF, when you click on it, provides a little description of the weather as well as the usual – temperature, wind speed, conditions:

“It could be worse. Your town could be infested with spiders.”

So the thing is, I’m finding myself clicking on this thing a couple dozen times a day, even though I can see what it’s doing outside. I do it because it makes me laugh.

“Your nips will become deadly weapons tonight.”

And laughing, I’ve found, is really good medicine. Easily as good as sitting under a bright light and looking out the window and sighing.

“Get ready for some testicular frostbite! Hooray!”

Ohmygod. And here’s the thing…I look forward to seeing what it tells me. And what it tells me about cold is funny. So I almost…almost…almost hope that it is cold outside so that my app will tell me something to make me laugh.

“Frak this crap. I’m crawling into my blanket cave with a hot cuppa Milo.”

I don’t even know what Milo is, other than an orange tabby cat in a movie with a pug named Otis. But you know…<giggle>.

So today, I was in and out of my home several times. Walking the dogs. Running errands. Getting the girl from school. Going to an appointment. Coming home. Starbucks. And each and every time, before I set foot into the outdoors, I looked at this app.

“It’s colder than Eskimo naughty bits.”

Each and every time, I laughed as I made my way to my car, my breath forming puffy exclamation points in the cold air.

I think I’ve found the cure to SAD. And like everything else these days, it’s an app.

“It’s friggin’ cold outside, just like it was last night. Same crap, different night.”

I can’t wait to see what it says about a blizzard.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The What The Forecast?! App. It’ll get me through the winter.