And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This afternoon, I was actually sitting in my Starbucks, rather than just driving through. I was meeting a wonderful student who I’ve known for a number of years. While I was waiting for her arrival, I noticed a car pull slowly into the handicapped space. A man, I guessed in his early eighties, got out and walked to the passenger side. He opened the door, offered his arm, and helped a woman out.

I can’t tell for sure, of course, but I think she was his wife. She continued to lean on his arm and they walked in together, side by side, heads turned toward each other, talking. Both were smiling. He helped her up the curb, held the door for her, and then they came inside.

I continued to watch. He was so solicitous! He helped her off with her coat, draping it carefully over the shoulders of her chair before he pulled the chair out for her as well. Only when she was settled did he take off his own coat and then he approached the counter and placed their order. He had a black coffee, she had tea, and he ordered some cookies.

“Two,” he requested, and then he pointed to exactly which ones. “On a plate. Please.”

He set up a little picnic for them. Napkins neatly at their right elbows, stir sticks on the napkins, the cookies on their plate neatly centered between them. When he brought their drinks, he waited patiently as she dunked a teabag for what felt like a certain well-known amount of times. Then he wrapped the dripping bag in a napkin and held it while he opened three packets of sugar and poured it into her cup. He took the garbage to the bin while she stirred. Again, I felt like it was a prescribed number of times. She smiled in his direction the whole time she stirred. He smiled at her as he walked slowly back to her.

And then the best thing. Before he sat down, he stood next to her, put his arm around her shoulders, and rested his cheek against the top of her head. I have no idea if they said anything. If they did, they didn’t have to. What they were saying was clear to me. It was clear to the entire world.

And I thought, I am seeing the actual definition of tender. The actual definition of devotion.

When he sat down, he held her hand. They used their free hands to each lift a cookie, bite, set it down, sip their coffee or tea, and then repeat.

A prescribed number of times. For what I’m sure was a routine for many, many years. And while it was routine, while it was everyday, they could probably do it all with their eyes closed, they kept their eyes open. And on each other. The routine was savored. And they were each treasured.

My student arrived soon after and as I fell into conversation, my attention shifted and I stopped noticing the couple. I never saw them leave, but I’m sure they were arm in arm the whole way. I’m sure he opened the café door for her, the car door, and made sure she was comfortable and safely belted in before he got behind the steering wheel. But I thought about them for the rest of the afternoon. They made me smile.

Tenderness. Devotion.

Earlier this week, in a discussion of the Academy Awards, I said that I wanted to be just like Meryl Streep when I get to be her age. I said I wanted to be like Helen Mirren. I said I wanted to be like Dame Judy Dench.

Today, I want to be like that lovely woman in Starbucks. And I’m going to hug Michael extra-hard when he gets home.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Our engagement photo. From 1997.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

My grandbaby Maya Mae is experiencing her first loss at the tender age of 5. When she walked into school on Monday, she discovered that her best friend, her very first best friend as she just started school this past fall in 4-K, was gone. Moved to Texas, which, to a 5-year old who doesn’t really have a sense of the largeness of the world, must feel like outer space. It’s a place with a name, but she has no idea of where it is, what it looks like. Peyton, her best friend, has been sucked down a black hole.

I picked Maya up from school that day. Maya’s mama messaged me earlier to warn me that Maya was sad.

We’ve all gone through the loss of a friend. Throughout school years, friends move away or we move away, I attended kindergarten in Berkeley, Missouri, first through fifth grades in Esko, Minnesota, sixth through tenth grades in Stoughton, Wisconsin, first semester of junior year in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and the rest of junior year and senior year here in Waukesha. I lost friends left and right. Maya’s sadness felt like an echo.

I also recently lost my own best friend of twelve years through horrible circumstances. I am still recovering. My heart hurt for Maya.

When I picked her up, she came flying down the school stairs and ran to me with widestretched arms. As soon as I asked her what she did in school that day, she began to talk about Peyton.

“I dwew a picture for Peyton. I am going to give it to her when I see her in Tesas.” X’s are difficult in a five-year old mouth.

“I heard Peyton moved away,” I said. “I’m so sorry, Maya.”

“Yeah, I’m going to go to Tesas. I’m going to see Peyton. We will stay in a hotel. It’s okay if there’s only one bed. I have a sweeping bag.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said, “but you know that Texas is a far way away, right?”

“Yes.” Her head bobbed in my rearview mirror. “But we will go on vacation. Daddy gets vacation. He woves to dwive. We will go in the Kia Soul.”

My son is a road geek and I’m sure he would take her to Texas in a heartbeat. “Why did Peyton move, Maya?”

“Because Fwiday was her wast day.”

That’s pretty much when I melted. But then she looked me straight in the eyes via the rearview mirror. “Gamma Kaffee,” she said, “if I don’t go to Tesas wight away, how will we know each other?”

Oh, baby girl. At five years old, she realized how quickly we are encouraged to allow loss to fall off our radar. We lose someone and we’re told to look at those we have left. I’m pretty sure Maya was already told, “Yes, honey, you lost your best friend, but look! You have Mackenzie! You have Grayson! You have Logan! You have this and this and this!”

But…she lost Peyton. She lost This Special Person. And what she needed to be right then was sad.

I thought how I haven’t talked to my own best friend since January 11th. And how I would very much like to call his number, just to hear the voicemail recording and the voice I heard every day for years.

“Maya Mae,” I said. “Keep drawing pictures for Peyton and save them in a special place for when you see her again. And you know what? You can take one of your dolls and you can name her Peyton and you can talk to her like you did with Peyton. And you know what else? You can be sad. It’s okay to be sad. And then, little by little, the sad will go away. It will.”

Just like that, those little lips turned down and the eyes filled. She played very quietly for the rest of the afternoon.

So why is a sad granddaughter my Moment? Because she’s a brave little girl who won’t let her rightful sadness be brushed away under that rug where we’re all encouraged to put emotions that are seen as negative. She won’t let herself be taught that friendship can be lost and immediately replaced, but it can be lost, mourned, and finally recovered from.

In a parallel way, separated by 52 years, Maya and I are going through the same thing. And the Moment Of Happiness she gave me is that Moments Of Sadness are okay too. I hope that the Moment Of Happiness I gave her was that Moments Of Sadness are okay, but we will get through. They are, after all, Moments, not Lifetimes.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Maya Mae. 5 years old!


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news (which I nearly forgot!).

This past Saturday, two momentous things happened. One, my daughter Olivia interviewed for and landed her first job. And two, my granddaughter. Maya Mae, posed for her fifth birthday portrait.

In both cases, I saw two little girls, years apart from each other, growing up fast. And while I missed the little ones they used to be, I love who they are and who they’re becoming.

My daughter is 17 years old. When she was three, we were told she was autistic and that she might never speak. A few days before she was hired for this job, she sat in my office and had a phone interview. Every answer was calmly and professionally given. She was polite. She was adult. She was adult! And then she hung up the phone and squealed. Okay, maybe not so adult.

On the way home from her interview, I asked how it went. She said fine. I asked if she got the job. “Well,” she said, “they said they’re going to be calling me tomorrow or the next day to set up orientation.”

“Olivia!” I said. “That means you got the job!”

“I did?” She sat up straighter. Her shoulders went back. “I did?” She beamed.

She did.

The silent girl has become a confident, well-spoken, thoughtful and compassionate adult. Who talks constantly.

Then it was time for Maya Mae’s portrait. She and her father, my son, showed up at the condo and we added Olivia to our little group and off we went to the portrait studio.

Which was running very, very late.

Maya just turned five. Five-year olds are not patient. Many five-year olds and under were shrieking in the waiting room. But Maya, after we changed her into her beautiful new dress, spent most of her time practicing her curtsey and talking to Grumpy Cat, her best friend. When her picture time finally came, almost an hour late, she graciously walked into the room and did everything the photographer told her to. She jumped. She said, “Turkey.” She said, “Hot dog.” She stood and looked coyly over her shoulder, she stretched out on her belly, she sat on stools and boxes and a turned-over bucket. And through it all, she spoke calmly, confidently, and politely.

There was only one momentary bobble. There was a prop, a gigantic crown, used typically for babies and toddlers to pose within its circle. Maya saw it and lit up, but she was too big to sit inside it.

“What do you want to do with it, Maya?” the photographer asked.

Maya grasped the giant crown in her two hands and hefted it over her head like a sumo wrestler in a dainty flowered dress.

This girl, I thought, will not be satisfied with any crown. This girl will hold up the entire world.

The photographer snapped and snapped. Maya’s arms sunk, but then she thrust the crown up again. And she smiled and smiled.

It was when she set the crown down that the bobble happened. I saw it first, her little mouth turning down. Her eyes filled, but she did not cry. “What, Maya?” I said. “What’s wrong?”

She rubbed her arms. “It was heavy.”

But she wanted that crown. She wanted that photo. And even though it hurt, she held it up and she smiled.

That determination? That insistence on reaching a goal? Oh, she’s going to do well.

Kind of like the silent girl who was told she would never speak, but who now never stops speaking, has a job, plays the violin, is an accomplished artist and writer, maintains a 4.0 GPA, and plans to go on to college to be an art therapist and a writer.

And now for a moment of sheer obnoxiousness. Ready?

Yes, I know who they take after.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

And she faces the world with a level gaze now.
(junior year)
Yep. Just the right size.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Boy, does that traditional opening line resonate today. Despite the news. It’s very, very hard to write about a Moment on the day after a school massacre, leaving 17 dead. All the Moments I’ve been sifting through, choosing between, suddenly seem trite and simplistic, next to the enormity of this newest tragedy.

But they aren’t, and I know this, even as I struggle to write it. One of the things I learned in the year of writing Today’s Moment every single day is that it’s sometimes the little things that give us something to hold on to. You know those rock-climbing walls? Those tall, sheer structures you struggle up handhold by foothold, and the whole goal is to get to the top? I’d never be caught dead on one of those, but when you look at them, it’s the handholds that make a difference. One grip at a time, you make it to the top.

So. This is my grip for the week. A handhold.

Last weekend, Michael and I traveled to Wausau, Wisconsin. The trip was Michael’s birthday present: tickets to a live performance of a radio drama by Wisconsin Public Radio, a stay in a nice hotel, and a chance to see a town in Wisconsin he’d never visited before. The hotel was indeed lovely, and on the first floor, it housed several small shops. I had a little time before the radio show, so I wandered through to see what was there. And I found a consignment shop.

You put me before a store that sells used ANYTHING, and I’m a happy camper. Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul, flea markets, antique malls, consignment shops…happy, happy, happy. For me, it’s not just about finding a treasure that is also a bargain. It’s about saving an orphan. I always see these items as being abandoned, and so I give them a new home. My condo is filled with orphans.

I only had a few minutes, but in that time, I found a great pair of earrings. I bought them and told the owner I’d be back the next day. Which I was.

As Michael and I walked in on Saturday, there, front and center, was a woman looking at herself in a mirror. She was in a gorgeous floor-length dress, bronze, beaded and glittered. It was form-fitting and it followed every curve on this woman the way a river follows its bends. She stood there in that classic “I am Woman!” pose, one hand on a cocked hip, the other draped oh so casually on her thigh. She was beautiful. But her face…her face wasn’t sure. Her mouth was scrooched to one side and she frowned. Her body showed confidence; her face showed excruciating doubt.

Without even thinking about it, I cried out, “You look stunning!”

She startled, then turned to me, that doubt-face in full bloom. “Really?” she said.

“Ohmygod,” I said. “Whoever made that dress was thinking of you. Look at you! It’s beautiful!”

There is no other word for it. She BEAMED.

“Thank you,” she said, and then she turned to the shop owner. “Sold!”

When we walked out of the store later, Michael said to me, “That was a nice thing you did.”


“Telling that woman how great she looked. She just lit up. Did you see her light up?”

Well, then it was my turn to beam. I’ve been thinking about this all week.

I’ve been reading many articles and stories and such lately about how we should tell our daughters that they’re smart instead of beautiful. It’s the “instead of” that bothers me. I tell my daughters they’re smart. They are. I tell them they’re beautiful. They are. For that matter, I tell my sons the same thing.

There are times that we just want to be beautiful. To ourselves. And to the world. Every creature in Nature preens. So do we. So glory in it. Beam.

I hope that the woman in the consignment shop wears that dress often. And I hope her face is never scrooched in doubt again. I hope every time she wears that dress, she hears my voice saying, “You look stunning!” And I hope she hears her voice saying it too.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia modeling the sweet dress I bought for her at this little consignment shop.
The back.



And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It was a difficult week, this first week without the dogs. Michael and I both realized that, with the exception of short stints in apartments during young adulthood, neither of us has ever been without a dog before. And our daughter, at 17 years of age, has always had a dog in the house. For the last 11 years of her life, there have been two. Blossom and Penny. And then Blossom and Donnie.

And now there are none.

I wasn’t aware how much noise the dogs created in our household. Or how much visual effect. The condo no longer jingles with the tags on their collars. Donnie’s tag was blue and treat-shaped and was engraved with his name. Blossom’s was pink and heart-shaped, and besides her name, also held the word Princess. Their toenails clicked on our concrete floors. Donnie talked constantly, emitting barnyard and zoo sounds out of his beagle mouth. They jumped up and down off the furniture. Sightwise, whenever I walked down the steps from the third to the second floor, my eyes automatically went over the banister to the couch in the living room, where two beagle heads lifted their noses toward me. Donnie usually jumped down and ran to me; Blossom winked or wagged a regal tail. They were at the door when we came in. They were at the door when we went out. Donnie’s nose was immediately there whenever anything opened: closets, cupboards, dishwasher.

This morning, when I took my box of cereal from the cabinet, I automatically closed the door, forgetting that I no longer had to. The cupboard can now stay open until I put the box away. There is no one to stuff his face inside, looking for crumbs.

It’s been a sad week.

The day the dogs died, I went to the humane society and made a donation in their names, arranging to have a plaque created for them which will be on a wall in the doggie kennel. This felt good, but it wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like they’d been acknowledged enough. Memorialized enough. We are having the dogs cremated and their ashes aren’t home yet, so I told myself I would feel better when the urns were here. But I was still bugged, poked, kinda like Donnie’s persistent nose on my calf when he was trying to get me to go faster (usually to the treat jar).

Sometimes, when we grieve, we feel driven to do unusual things. And mostly, we talk ourselves out of it. It’s not the proper way to grieve, we think. Olivia keeps asking me if she’s grieving “normally”, and I keep telling her that however you grieve is the right way. A couple days ago, as I said it to her, I heard it for myself.

The dogs’ collars have been sitting on our kitchen island. I was figuring on wrapping them around the urns, but in the meantime, there they were, misplaced, empty, sitting where the dogs were never allowed. And every day since their death, coming downstairs, I’ve faced that big empty couch. Donnie’s spot, on the left. Blossom’s, on the right. We’ve had that couch for years and I don’t know that I’ve ever sat on it. It’s where the dogs go.

Yesterday, I stood at the island and stared at the empty couch. It was my first day home alone without the dogs. Olivia was sick this week and was home on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was just me and the cats. And the collars and the empty couch.

And I felt the unusual urge. Any way you grieve is the right way to grieve.

I picked up the collars and took them to the couch. Donnie’s collar, blue treat-shape lying flat and his name in full view, went on the left pillow. Blossom’s collar, heart out, name shining, went on the right.

The dogs were in their places. And I was able to breathe. In my mind, I heard the jingle. I saw Blossom’s wink. I heard Donnie’s donkey-call, my favorite of his vocabulary. I saw them both wagging their tails, Donnie’s in his odd happy twirly circle, Blossom’s in her regal queen wave.

I was forgiven for making the decision that had to be made.

And now, several times, I’ve been able to walk by the couch, pat the pillows, and say hello to the each of them. The couch is not empty. It’s full of memories. It’s full of them.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

In their places.
Donnie on his pillow.
Blossom on her pillow (and then some).
The empty couch.
Donnie’s pillow with his collar.
Blossom’s pillow with her collar.


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

And no, it has nothing to do with the Superbowl, Justin Timberlake, or holograms of Prince.

Last week, Today’s Moment reached its one-year anniversary and I said I would announce on this day what the future of Today’s Moment will be. But first…the Moment itself.

Well, the Moment IS the Moment, really. I spent a lot of time today, both in meditation and just in general, considering the Moment. What started out as a desperate whim (I’m overwhelmed, so I’m going to post one moment a day that made me happy on Facebook) became something much bigger. From a single sentence at the beginning to what I would now call quiet, unedited essays, I kept at it, writing just what came to mind. I was determined to not make the Moment a professional endeavor. I wasn’t writing for publication, I wasn’t writing for an audience. I wanted to keep it at a Moment that made me happy and examine why. That was a struggle for me as I became aware that there was indeed an audience – an audience that caused my website to crash several times because of traffic! I’m a professional writer, I tend to even edit my thoughts and whatever I say before I say it, not to mention edit everything I read, from news articles to books to comic strips. But I wasn’t going to edit, I wasn’t going to improve the pieces – in a sense, Today’s Moment is Kathie Giorgio – Unplugged.

I’ve learned so much from writing the Today’s Moments. I learned, first of all, that there is at least one Moment in almost every day. Even on dark days. I might have to look for it, but it’s there. And that was a lesson unto itself – happiness is an active endeavor. It isn’t something that just comes along and happens to you. Sometimes you have to look for it.

So I’ve learned to look.

But alternatively, I’ve also learned to honor sadness and anger and fear. I couldn’t chase these away by writing about a Moment of Happiness. I couldn’t chase them away by becoming aware of a Moment either. A Moment isn’t a pill I could take to chase these negative emotions away. There is no pill, no prose, no prettiness that will keep a person happy one-hundred percent of the time. Today’s Moment allowed me to release a very unrealistic expectation – that if I could just find One Big Thing to make me Happy, I would never ever be unhappy again.

But finding that One Moment helped me to navigate through some pretty dark times. It gave me the one good thing to hang onto. Some days, that was like holding onto a rope while dangling off a cliff.

One of my favorite Moments is the one where I was told I didn’t have to be strong all the time while I was going through breast cancer. That I could be scared, that I could be sad, that I could be weak. That illustrates what I’m trying to say about the unrealistic expectation. I know now to look for the Moment of Happiness, but not to expect that finding it means I’m going to waltz down whatever path opens before me next.

But the Today’s Moment does keep me looking ahead and looking up. My favorite quote from literature, which is engraved into a ring I wear every day, is from John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampsire: “Keep walking past the open windows.” I’ve now edited it a bit, to “Keep looking for Today’s Moment.”

So what’s going to happen to Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News, now that I’ve reached my goal of one solid year?

It’s not going away, but it is changing. It’s going to become This Week’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News. I will only post it one day a week, and I’ve chosen Thursdays, at least to start. There has been no small amount of pressure, trying to come up with something every day. I’m looking to relieve that pressure, but also to expand my vision and understanding. I think that by having to sort through many moments every week to pick out just one to share, I will become further aware of just how many Moments there are in this world and in every life. I’ll give it a shot.

If you are worried that you might forget to check my website on a Thursday, then just click on the button that says “subscribe” on the upper right of this page . Then you’ll receive a notification when each new Moment appears.

When I look back on this year, I could be focused on the many bad things that happened. I had to deal with an assault, my daughter’s being bullied, my husband’s job losses, and above all, breast cancer. But what I focus on instead is the amazing coincidence (if you believe in coincidences) of my starting Today’s Moment at a time when it would turn out that I needed it most. It got me through. And everyone involved, by reading the Moments, by commenting on them and discussing them, got me through too.


And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

(Look for the next Moment on Thursday! )

A new year – a new title.

8/7/17 – Today’s Moment of Happiness Despite the News

*Amendment to this post: Today’s Moment’s of Happiness Despite the News has been taken down but will be available in September of 2018 in book form! The below unaltered text is a peek at what you’ll find in the upcoming book.

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

So here’s something you might not know about recovering from breast cancer. It’s something I didn’t know until recently.

When you have a lumpectomy, as I did, you expect to feel some pain. You expect there to be incisions. You probably expect there to be some bruising. You might even expect there to be itching as it heals (though I swear, with the itching I have, I think someone implanted fleas below my skin’s surface).

What you might not expect is that the breast feels heavy. And I mean HEAVY.

I was told that I would likely feel most comfortable wearing a bra around the clock after surgery, at least for a few weeks. I did for a while (I’m two weeks out), though when I sleep now, I’m back to free and easy. But during the day…the bra is very necessary. And I am constantly aware of the weightiness of my right breast. Unlike some women, I don’t name my breasts. I don’t call them the girls. But I have, in the last few days, referred to the right breast as PudgePocket, the Continental Soldier (after the girls’ locker room version of Do Your Ears Hang Low: Do your boobs hang low, do they wobble to and fro, can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow, can you throw them over your shoulder like a Continental Soldier…) and YankEmUp. It feels very strange because I’m used to the two of them being in balance. But I am definitely listing to the right.

I was aware, and I wasn’t, that I’ve begun helping out the bra by supporting my right breast in my hand.  Some people walk with their hand in their pocket or they jingle their keys or some other mannerism. Right now, I hold my breast in the palm of my hand.

Which is fine, around the house, donchaknow.

Today, I went to the bank. I had to stand in line in the cow corral for quite a while. So I glazed a bit. Finally, I made it to the next available teller’s window. It was Sheri, my favorite teller, someone I’ve known now for 12 years. She helped me with the very first deposit into my business account and she’s watched the business grow with almost as much joy as I have. She’s also cheered every book release. In my new novel, In Grace’s Time, a bank teller plays a minor role. I named her Sheri.

Sheri is also aware of the breast cancer. She is a soft-hearted and quiet support.

So I stepped up today with a smile on my face and my bank bag ready to go. Sheri leaned forward. “Kathie!” she whispered. “Let it go!”

I was puzzled. “Let what go?”

She did a fast series of eye push-ups, up, down, up, down, up, down, from my face to my…right breast.

Which was held firmly and lovingly in my right hand.

“Shit!” I said, probably loudly enough to be heard. And then I howled. So did Sheri. So did the other tellers. The people in line and at the other windows, well, they weren’t quite sure what to do. I mean, there was this strange woman groping her own breast in line at the bank.

When I could stand upright again, I let poor Pudgepocket go. And I turned to face the other customers. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. See, she’s in recovery. I had surgery two weeks ago for breast cancer. She’s still limping a bit, and I sometimes have to give her a lift.”

Lights of realization went off in everyone’s faces. Some more than others, among the women. And I turned, smiling, back to Cheri.

I hope I’ve paved the way for other women, holding, supporting their own recovering breasts.

Last week, I found myself scratching the impossible flea-under-the-skin itch while I was in Starbucks. But we’re not going to talk about that.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Hands on breast.


*Amendment to this post: Today’s Moment’s of Happiness Despite the News has been taken down but will be available in September of 2018 in book form! The below unaltered text is a peek at what you’ll find in the upcoming book.

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

Today, I brought my husband alarm clock shopping.

Yes, my life is one exciting event after another.

But here, I really was excited. My husband has had the same digital alarm clock since he was in eighth grade. Michael is fifty-two years old. He received the clock as a gift for Christmas in 1977. From “Santa”. That would make 40 years with this clock when we hit Christmas this year.

So first off, yes, I’m a bit weirded out about the fact that Michael was in eighth grade the year I graduated from high school (he got the clock in December 1977 – I graduated six months later in June 1978). I feel a little bit dirty now. Geez.

And second, yes, I wonder about an eighth grade boy who still believed in Santa. But this is Michael, after all.

But really. A 40-year old alarm clock?

He has a name for it. He calls it Clocky.

And it really doesn’t work all that well. He’s missing the plastic window in front of the numbers. His buttons are worn and half pushed in. Michael constantly thinks that he set Clocky, but it doesn’t take. Which means this slow-waking man suddenly has to come zip into consciousness on some mornings and charge off to work. Michael is not a charger. He’s also very used to the truly obnoxious noise Clocky vomits when he goes off. It’s not a clock radio – there is only this very alarming (hence the word “alarm”, I suppose) buzz/shriek/air raid siren that still makes me, after seventeen years of marriage, sometimes startle straight up in bed. But Michael sleeps through it. He automatically hits snooze without even really hearing it. He tells me he only does it a certain number of times, and he tells me this when that certain number of times is long gone.

I’m sure Clocky was a good clock. But he needs to be retired. He’s put in forty years with a boy turned adolescent turned college student turned young man turned adult turned husband and stepfather turned father turned grandfather…the clock has had a good long run. He’s tired. He doesn’t want to wake up in the mornings anymore. He wants a life without snoozes.

And I really, really don’t like the damn thing.

So today, I dragged Michael to Bed, Bath and Beyond. I told him to pick out whatever alarm clock he wanted. He chose one that looks like a big globe that changes colors. You can program it to pulse light according to music or just gently change color to color as you fall asleep. The lights will come on gradually as you wake up. It plays music. You can charge your phone with it. If it made a cup of coffee and had it piping hot and at your bedside upon waking, I would have bought two of them.

I don’t think it has a name yet. And I know Michael will be a little bit sad when he plugs it in and sets it up tonight.

So I’ve encouraged him to leave Clocky plugged in and resting on the corner of the bedside table, next to the photo of Michael and his father when Michael was just a toddler. Clocky can still beam the time out in bright red digital letters and Michael can still see him every night, every morning.

Just like he can see me every night and every morning.

Just don’t turn Clocky on.

That doesn’t apply to me.

It’s a compromise, the guiding light of all good solid marriages. And frankly, if Michael can hold on to a clock for forty years, even after it’s not working so well, I figure he’ll hold on to me too.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.


On Left, Right, and In the Middle (Nope, Not Political)

Rise From the River Cover

Tonight, despite having a lot of work to finish, I set it all down and went for a walk on Waukesha’s Riverwalk. I was restless, tired and keyed-up at the same time, and overcome by too many emotions to sort out. So I let the propulsion of the emotion fling me outside and down the alternately cobblestoned and asphalt path of the 3-mile loop. It’s formally called the Riverwalk. I call it the Respite.

On my Facebook page and a few other places, I refer to myself a living breathing rollercoaster. I mean it. I loopdeloop through emotions like a heavily engineered amusement park nightmare. For the most part, I deal with it. But this last week was a series of hairpin turns, upside-downs, and fifty-story drops.

As I set off down the path, I decided to construct my steps to my thoughts. When I was thinking of the happy, exciting things happening now, I’d walk on the left. When my thoughts churned over to the sadness and anger that bullied me out of the happy, I’d walk on the right. I hoped that by putting the physical to the emotional, I could get a grip on the steering wheel of the runaway coaster and maybe tame it down to a kiddie ride. I like merry-go-rounds.

The things that sent me to the left:

*Tandem book debut in one week. Books five and six, one a collection of some of my stories published in literary magazines and one my first poetry chapbook, released at the same time, and in an event to raise funds for a cause I love – the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books.

*Both books are in my hands now, with a delivery from the nice guy in the brown truck today. Holding books five and six is just as exciting as holding book one. And two. And three and four.

*An interview with a reviewer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is on tap for tomorrow, and an interview with Milwaukee’s NPR is slated for Monday.

*The AllWriters’ Annual Retreat is in two weeks. 23 writers under one roof. Representing 9 states and 2 countries. And it’s been sold out since January.

*In a little over a month, I’ll be teaching in a prison in Pendleton, Oregon. The prison is the site of the last clock school in the United States. 25 inmates are reading The Home For Wayward Clocks, and we’ll be discussing it, and then I’ll be leading a writing exercise. My husband Michael cringes every time I say I’m going to prison.

*And then I’ll be heading to the Oregon coast and walking beside my friend, the Pacific Ocean. And writing. All day, for two weeks.

It all makes me giddy.

But then there’s the right side of the path.

*Brock Turner.

*Brock Turner.

*Brock Turner.

*His father. His father’s letter.

*The judge. The phenomenally ridiculous sentence because Brock is a Stanford student and “a really, really good swimmer.”

*The persistently silent mother.

*The friend from school, a girl, who is quoted as saying that not all rapes are caused by rapists, and tried to blame the rape on the victim.

*And the victim herself. Where is she? How is she?

*They say a rape is defined when the victim says no and the rapist doesn’t take no for an answer. But in this case, she didn’t even have the option to say no. She was unconscious. She woke up raped.

I’ve been posting about this on my Facebook page most of the week. I signed the petitions demanding the judge step down, asking President Obama to make a statement. And I’ve watched the comments that have shown up on my Facebook page and on the news articles. The rage and the sadness, I truly understand. The incredulity. But there’s also the eye for an eye demands. Those crying out for the rape of Brock Turner.

Do I believe in an eye for an eye?


No one deserves to be raped.

Not the victims.

Not the rapists.

No one.

So then what do I think? Where does my rage take me?

Do I think Brock Turner needs to be punished?


Do I think the father’s letter dismissing the rape as “20 minutes of action out of Brock’s whole life”, and the mother’s continued silence give a pretty good picture of what the Turner homelife must be like?


Do I think this justifies what Brock did?

No. No. Of course not.

One of the nightmarish things I keep returning to is the fact that Brock, besides repeatedly raping this girl who was unconscious, filled her vagina with leaves and twigs.

Imagine that. Imagine what it must have been like for her with the rape kit in the emergency room. Imagine what it must have been like for her to watch, to feel, in every sense of that word, as the ER staff tried to clean her wounds, to remove the detritus.

What was Brock Turner thinking? Did he think it would hide the evidence? Or was he turning her into compost? What was he thinking?

Thinking about what he was thinking has been turning my thinking ever darker. And ever sadder.

And of course, being me, being the author of “Rise From The River”, my thoughts also go to the question, Was she on birth control? If not, was she given the morning after pill? Or is it possible that a child was conceived? Conceived in a bramble of rape and leaves and twigs.

Oh, imagine that.

On my walk on the three mile loop, on the Respite, I veered to the left, stayed a while, veered to the right, stayed a while longer, veered to the left, but looked sidelong at the right.

For the last half mile or so, I forced myself to walk down the middle. Straight down the middle. Where I could reach out and touch the left and smile. Where I could look at the right, lift it up, examine it, and then put it back down. Put it back down. Put it back down.

Though I know I won’t put it down for long.

In a student’s story tonight, when I got back to work after my 3-mile Respite of left, right, middle of the road, she wrote, “Jesus calls us to take God’s love outside our walls, to the hurting world.”

I am not a religious person.

But boy, did “hurting world” ever resonate with me.

That’s why I wrote “Rise From The River”.

And that’s why I won’t put the right side of the path down for long.

Michael said to me last night, “Why do they keep trying to say that the rape victim could be your wife or your mother or your sister or your daughter? Why can’t they just say that the victim is a person, why can’t that be enough?”

I said because “they” are trying to make it personal. They’re trying to make it real.

And I wanted to say, “Because you don’t know. You don’t know what it’s like. And to make a difference, you have to know what it’s like.”

And that’s why “Rise From The River”. I tried to bring knowledge and experience to a hurting world.

Brock Turner is evidence of our hurting world. His father is evidence. His silent mother is evidence. The judge…so much evidence.

And the girl. The girl with the twigs and the leaves. She’s hurting the most of all. Where is she? Is she all right?

And I’m hurting too.

I don’t want to be. I want to be walking firmly on the left side of the path. I want to be dancing on it. But Brock Turner et al won’t let me.

So for now, I’m going to settle for striding down the middle. I’m going to enjoy the excitement I have coming, what I’ve worked so hard for. I need to do this.

But I’ll keep an eye on the right. On Brock Turner. And on trying to figure out how best to help this hurting world.


The End (Not Yet)

“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.”

–          Colloquialism


And I’m not singing.  Not yet.

On Monday, I finished the fifth draft of my new novel, “Rise From The River,” due out by Main Street Rag Publishing Company on March 1st.  Four readers were diligently reading the fourth draft while I worked on the fifth.  Two readers are done; one did nothing but sing my praises (he won’t be asked to be a reader again – there’s always something to find) and one found an age discrepancy.  I had two characters who were four years apart in age celebrating first communion together when they were both supposed to be eight.  Oops.  The two others are still working their way through.

The fifth draft didn’t take me long.  One day short of a month.  It helped that I had a week off from teaching when I was on book club tour with “Learning To Tell (A Life)Time,” and had a lot of time to sit in my hotel room and work.  The new draft also only grew by 26 words.  This is a sign to me that I’m just about done.  To some, it would be a sign that it is done, but…not quite yet.  If I’m still adding words, it means I haven’t finished saying what I have to say. When I was twenty pages away from the end, I also realized there was another scene I wanted to add.  The persnickety in me won’t allow me to just go back and add it in.  There’s that ripple effect to deal with – putting a scene in might throw another one just a bit out of whack. So it’s back to the beginning again on Monday (I always start new projects or new drafts on a Monday) and we go through it again. And again, at least a few more times. I also need to hear what the last two readers have to say.

It took me three years to write “The Home For Wayward Clocks”.  “Enlarged Hearts” took two, and “Learning To Tell (A Life)Time” took just over two.  And then there’s this book. Oh, this book.

The very first full draft of this book was completed in 2006. But the book actually began back in 1998.  I started it. I stopped.  I started it.  I stopped. It’s had several different metamorphoses, several starting points, several characters.  The only character who has remained constant is the main one, Rainey.

All novels are hard to write.  They are the ultimate marathon in the fiction writer’s world.  You have to live with these characters in your brain all the time. They don’t, or won’t, go away.  You take a shower, you think about them.  You drive to the grocery store, you think about them.  You go to sleep, you think about them.  You work, you live, you interact, you watch television, you read books, you walk your dog, you watch your son get married, you bury your mother…you think about them.

And in my case, I also write stories, I write poetry, I write other books…and I think about them.  This novel has never been far beneath my surface, although I’ve pushed it back down at least a dozen times.

And then, in March of 2013, I drew it out of my surface, fully into my heart, threw it on the screen, and began to work in earnest.  This time, I didn’t back down.  And let me tell you, this book has made me SWEAT.  The original first completed draft, written back in 2006, was 82,003 words.  The fifth draft, finished last Monday, weighed in at 118,451 words.  That’s a lot of growth.

Of all the emotions that we humans can feel, the one I have the hardest time with is anger. I don’t like anger.  I would rather feel sad than angry. Anger in my personal life makes me turn and walk away, find someplace quiet where I can sit and wait to feel calm and in control again. Even little anger – anger at an unfair speeding ticket, anger at a bill that is incorrect – is hard for me to deal with.  When I try to face off with whoever or whatever it is that is making me angry, I cry.  Which makes me angrier.  This is why, when there is a wrongful bill or something similar that has to be dealt with, especially on the phone, I let my husband do it.  When I most want to yell, I weep.

This book was born in 1998 out of anger.  Stillborn, really, because I kept snuffing out its life.  I kept walking away.  When I fully embraced this book in 2013, the anger was still there, and throughout the time I’ve worked on the book, the anger has grown.  Things in the news that relate to what I’m writing about left me thoroughly wrung out.  But this time, I didn’t walk away.  My writing muscles, much more matured than they were in 1998, are in control.  My anger feels channeled, not flinging in all directions.  Rather than encompassing the work, the anger fuels it.  It’s a solid hum that keeps me moving forward.

There’s a joy in knowing what I want to say. What I want to show.

So what’s different now, than in 1998?  Why am I able to write this book now?  Knowledgeable anger.  I think that’s the change.  When I started this book in 1998, it was a rant.  I was run over with rage.  What I wrote at that time was absolute emotion, to the point of being incomprehensible.  Just as I dissolve on the phone, I dissolved on the page, and all that was left was a mess that didn’t do anyone any good.

But for me, writing is about doing someone, maybe everyone, good.  It’s about bringing change and addressing issues and solving problems.  I couldn’t solve a problem when I was that overwrought with anger.  I couldn’t solve a problem when I had to walk away and be quiet in order to feel in control of my own self again.

And now, I know what I’m doing.  Besides feeling an emotion, I’ve supplied myself with knowledge.  There’s been research and discussions and questions and answers. It’s no longer just about the anger, it’s about seeing an issue in its totality, from all sides, and showing it with a new translucence so that others can see it from all sides too.

I know some would say to me that I must have been angry when I wrote Clocks and Lifetime too. After all, those books are about abuse, and abuse should make me angry.  Well, yes and no.  Those books were written out of a huge sense of concern and absolute amazement that such things could go on, and have gone on, and will go on unless we do something about it. Those books were written out of a sense of amazement that we could sit on this earth and live with each other and deny that we knew abuse was happening to our neighbor, our classmate, our brother, our friend.  Deny that we could have done anything about it.  And then we could point at the abuser and call him or her evil, which further removes us from our responsibility to each other.

What we claim we don’t know, we can’t do anything about.

So that’s why I wrote Clocks and Lifetime.  But this book…oh, this new book.  I’ve incorporated science.  And facts and figures.  Pros and cons.  And stark in-your-face reality.  Not Lifetime tv reality.  Not glossed-over politically correct verbiage.  No fun house mirrors, no twists on the truth.

Just the truth.

Draft Six starts on Monday.  With Draft Six, I am humming, and as I go through it, and the draft after, I know that hum will become progressively louder.  I’m filling my lungs this whole while.

And then I’m gonna sing.