Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fun Resolve

How's this for a New Year's resolution?

I resolve to review, edit and republish Surfacing, and to write its sequel for publication by July, 2013. And have fun doing it.
Right? Very simple. To the point. No chance of me being able to wriggle out of it by using vague language. Like "Write a book" or "Write".

I thought so.

A long time coming, I think.

I have this habit of straying from the things I love to write in order to write the things I think I should write.

I had forgotten the ease with which Surfacing was written, relatively speaking. It was fun. It flowed nicely from conception to finished piece. But then, afterwards, I vanished. I got myself into this spiral, creatively. I considered Surfacing to be a "test" of my resolve. I told myself If I write it, then publish it, I will have proven that I can be a serious writer.

On a subconscious level I was telling myself "Write the kids book to prove I can write, and then go on to write serious novels."

What I missed was that the entire point of writing in the first place was to enjoy it. To have fun. Surfacing was fun

Rewriting it will be even more fun. It will clean up problems found in the first printing, and make it a better springboard for its sequel.

I can't wait for 2013 to start. 

I can't wait to have fun again writing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


For some time now, we've been sharing our home with two new siblings. Well, they're not new siblings to each other, of course. They're new to us.

They are a sister and a brother who face the extinction of their family. The dismantling of what they have come to know as their family, anyway: a fractured thing, broken to pieces by the carelessness of those who call themselves parents.

I won't be judgmental, though. It's not my place. I'm sure - in fact I know - that this is painful for everyone and that they are fully aware of what they've done. I need not go on about it.

We're not sure where this is headed. We're not sure where we've come from, either. We've endured six months of disorienting confusion as if being led around a carnival fun house with blindfolds. If this were a staged drama, it would resemble Six Characters In Search of an Author.

The expurgated synopsis (sorry theater folks for having to do this) goes something like this: six strangers show up at the rehearsal of a play in search of an author to finish their stories after having been abandoned by their previous author and left incomplete. In a nutshell, it's a wonky story about abandonment, the ego and the nature of reality. The kind of play they'd have you dissect in high school English that would force you to hate theater forever.

The story of our current sibling visitors is precisely that: a wonky story about abandonment, the ego and the nature of reality. The stage being the Maine courts, our house, DHHS offices. The characters being innocent children, well-meaning bureaucrats, duplicitous biological family members, and a couple of crazy folks. You can guess which roles Corrine and I landed.

It's almost a tragicomedy. It would be a full-out farce if children's lives weren't the center of the plot.

So we're waiting. In a week or so a judge will decided how this stage of the children's lives will end, and in which direction their new story will take. Will he decide to send them back to their original author, or to someone else?

We don't know. We have no read on this at all. And no say.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Biggest Bitch I Know

I'm not really one you'll find expounding on the problems in my life. Not without a heavy dose of exaggeration and humor and self-effacing wit. To be honest, I'd rather not have everyone know about the true nature of how I'm feeling at a given moment. I'd much prefer that everyone know I'm doing great.

I am doing great, to be sure. I have a multitude of blessings, in fact: starting with a partner who is just the right combination of June "Ward, I'm very worried about the Beaver" Cleaver and Gunnery Sergeant "You had best un-fuck yourself!" Hartman. She coddles me and dotes on me when I don't deserve it; she will grab me by the balls and kick my ass when I need it. She takes in stray horses and abandoned children and somehow makes it all work.

There are my younger children, who are a bundle of high-octane joy; and there are my older children who have somehow managed to thrive despite being asked to live with some not-so-great situations.

Both of my parents, and my in-laws, are alive and healthy, something I cannot say for my two best friends, who have seen their mothers pass away within the last few years. I can't imagine the grief and emptiness they had to confront in order to soldier on the way they have.

My siblings are alive, and happy, and living their lives - like me - vicariously through their children.

And just this weekend I reconnected with friends I've had for the past 15 years.

Life really, truthfully, is good for me. I can't complain. And I won't.

But I'll be damned if I'm not having to deal with something that scares the hell out of me.

Here's the set up: A year ago I woke up in the middle of the night with your garden-variety winter cold: congestion with a little bit of a rattle in my chest. Nothing anyone hasn't experienced a hundred times in their life, right? Except, as it turns out, the blocked sinuses triggered a dream in which I was suffocating. I woke up with a racing heart, sweaty palms, and this overwhelming fear that I could not catch my breath.

I sat up immediately, which woke up Corrine. I mumbled something about being okay when she asked, and I hurriedly put on clothes while trying to catch my breath. Breathing in deeply - I was filling my lungs with air, I could tell - but still feeling like that wasn't enough.

If you've ever had an anxiety attack, you know what comes next, don't you? Feelings of terror. Of dying. Of your heart exploding or your lungs collapsing. Each bad image followed by something worse, yet in the back of your mind you know you're in the grips of something irrational.

Wait. I'm healthy. I don't have a heart condition.

Yet, you can't possibly countermand the overwhelming power of fear, not when it's the first time you've ever experienced something like this.

Well, no, you don't have a heart condition...THAT YOU KNOW OF.

I couldn't get my heart rate down, I couldn't catch my breath. I couldn't stop from shaking or pacing or feeling like I was about to pass out.

Corrine knew what was happening, and her voice helped to settle me a little. Just enough.

I won't enumerate the various steps I went through that night - including an embarrassing  trip to the emergency room where they told me I was fine. I was fine, just experiencing an anxiety attack (a first for me) brought on by asthma (another first).

What anxiety did to me was nearly crippling. It adversely affected my college class work (I missed two finals, a final paper, and lots of class time); I couldn't eat; I slept in a recliner fretfully for two weeks, waking up every hour or so to drink hot tea; and I slipped into probably the worst bout of depression I've ever experienced. I thought of the end of my life, of death, of despair. I couldn't watch sad movies, or movies with death in them. I was short with Corrine and the kids.

I went to the doctor, who knew right away what was happening, of course, and prescribed some medicine to help cope with the anxiety, inhalers for the asthma, etc. It helped, and after a month or so I can say I was back to "normal."

Until this past week.

I experienced another near-crippling anxiety attack during yet another average winter cold. All over again. Well, to a degree. Having lived through it once, this time I knew what to expect. There was no heart-racing, palm-sweating episode this time. Just the gut-punch of terror, and now the depression.

The added twist this time is jaw-clenching at night, which seems to have triggered a bout of TMJ. TMJ being when you overwork the muscle that connects your lower jaw to your skull so much that it feels like you've been chewing on a shoe for a week. It feels tight and I'm incapable of opening my mouth as wide as normal without feeling pain. And of course, someone who has a fear of suffocation will naturally hit the panic button if he can't open his mouth to breathe. Hey, like I said, fear is irrational. When does anyone need to open their mouth that wide to breathe??

But it's there. The fear. Regardless. And the accompanying anxiety, which has finally, mercifully, subsided. Now the depression has hit, like the tsunami that it is: wiping out everything in its path, sucking the debris of goodness and joy out to some mental sea.

I put on a brave face, of course. I bet this weekend our friends in Vermont didn't notice how I had to basically puree my food because chewing kills me. Or that I was not my usually jovial self. How, at one moment, while watching their extremely lovely young daughter read to my wife, the bottom fell out and the blood drained from my face. Suddenly all I could focus on was what my own daughter's life would be if I was gone. How would she cope. That's depression for you, folks.

It is the biggest bitch I know.

I did have a great time, getting out with Corrine, alone, to see some great people. Actually, it was great therapy. Enormously therapeutic. That's what you do when you deal with depression. You have these wicked swings, you breathe through them, and try to even your emotional keel.

And I will work back to normalcy like I did a year ago, after some time. I know it. I have way too much goodness in my life to be throttled like this, to be captured and held down. That's what I bring my mind back to when I feel desperation.

Anxiety is a funny thing. Funny in a "queer" sort of way, of course. It's a lesson in the power of the mind, in the mysterious way the brain works - or doesn't work, I suppose. But also, a lesson in the value of the blessings in one's life. I shudder to think what my life would be like having to face this without them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fruit for Thought

As I was perusing my old philosophy notebooks recently (as I'm often found to be doing, now that I'm on a mini college hiatus and yearning to go back) one particular quote attributed to Aristotle popped out at me. It vibrated in the margins of my notes  the same way a solitary birch can shimmer in a forest of firs and elms.

Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit

There are countless platitudinous throw-aways to friendship out there. You see them all over Facebook. Those infernal placards posted by your friends dripping with Leo Buscaglia, and as trite as a Hallmark movie featuring a child sitting in a field of dandelions on a sunny day in August while drinking lemonade with her grandmother.


I like Aristotle's take on it. A very simple statement. Uncluttered. Unadorned by sickly sweetness. He puts it right out there: getting friends is a hell of a lot easier than keeping them.

Like you, I count many people in my life as "friends", when applying a very broad definition. But I can truthfully say that really only a few fall into Aristotle's ripe variety. A friend that has been around for awhile, whose friendship has lasted on the vine, so to speak without falling away.

I think the Big A was suggesting that it's natural that we humans desire the closeness of a companion, but that we hazard failure if we don't make the time and effort to let it mature. And really, how many friendships can you recall that have been long lost to inattention? To "life" sweeping us away from them? When the graduations and the marriages and the births and the promotions far outweigh (so we believe) the diligence necessary to maintain friends.

Like the viticulturist who nurses his vineyard, the work is daunting and time-consuming, in a world where slamming down 30 bucks for a bottle of wine is a hell of a lot more convenient than doing the work itself. The implicit attitude here being "Why would I work so hard at something that I can get so easily at my local grocery store?"

I've certainly made quick work of my share of friendships, so understand that I'm not throwing green apples at glass houses here.

I do have a couple of good, ripe friendships to my credit. Friends I've known now for many years and whose company - regardless of the distance between us - I savor. So naturally I've wondered why they've stood the test of time and not all those others, and the answer actually just now came to me as I write this.

In those few instances they - like me - worked to cultivate the friendship, not the friend. It's a subtle difference, but it's an important one. They didn't want me to ripen ("get better with change") they wanted the friendship to.

Friday, March 30, 2012

These Damn Yankees Are for You

Right around the time I turned 30 I was living in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. On a whim, one evening after work, I rode with a coworker to the auditions for a community production of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker (the Broadway hit that was eventually turned into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn.)

I'm not sure why I decided, that night, to swallow my fear and to audition. I suppose it probably had to do with this latent desire to perform on stage, to tap into that long-lost-but-never-forgotton childish of all childish behavior: playing pretend.

 I'd been in one production in my life before then, a small stint in the musical The Music Man staged at my local high school when I was 18. I had no lines and therefore nothing to risk or to lose (except a friend or two who thought theater was for ... those who were confused, let's say).

I never got up the urge to do it again, though. Not until The Rainmaker that is.

Fast forward to St. J some twelve years later, and to the old creaky boards of the Lyndon Town Hall stage. I was hooked that first night of rehearsal and have been in a number of community productions since.

Tonight, Damn Yankees  will open on the same stage where The Music Man and some 18 other community musicals have been played.

I have to say, I'm proud to be a part of this one. There is simply nothing at all like the gathering of local talent to put on a few nights of entertainment. The sacrifice of time is probably the hardest. Students in the cast (the backbone of every community show) have had to sit in the back hall doing homework between scenes; the adults: well, we've had to scurry from work three nights a week, forsaking our families at home. My own sacrifice includes leaving my wife to fend for herself in a house with four small children while I get to go play pretend. I owe her a medal. And a back rub.

But we who do this understand that sacrifice, and so do our families. Otherwise, we wouldn't do it.

To the community, these people are giving a gift. Of time, energy and talent. For the cost of a movie ticket, folks can see homegrown pretend-players; budding stars and aging veterans like myself; musicians; directors and stage hands, all of whom live right next door to you.

Where else but in your local community theater productions can you enjoy this kind of experience? I can't think of one.

For selfish reasons I want my friends there, to feed off your energy. But I want the friends of my cast members and crew there as well, especially those of the high school kids in the show. So that they will be inspired to keep doing this, and not wait until they're 30.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Werewolf Zombie Vampire Love

I'm going to write the next best-selling series that will then be made into the biggest box office series ever.

Here's the premise: teenagers bitten by werewolves become zombies, but only - you guessed it - during a full moon. If they survive and feed on 10 other teenagers, they become vampires who cannot be killed without - you guessed it - a wooden stake to the brain.

The only cure?

You guessed it.

A mother's love.

Or blood sausage.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Educate Me

We have two children graduating from high school this June.



Both are highly ranked in their class, have worked very hard, have diligently attended to their scholarship throughout the last 12 years of their lives. We couldn't be more proud or more profoundly awestruck by their intelligence and their talents.

Both applied to an assortment of colleges and have worked since the beginning of this school year at getting applications filed, forms filled out, essays written, guidance counselors met with, visits conducted. Now, after a flood of acceptances, reality is sinking in fast.

My wife and I did not sleep much last night, burdened by the realization that our children are now facing their first, real, cold, hard test of life: money does indeed make the world go 'round.

Here is the infernal reality that all parents of college-bound students have had to face that we now, ourselves, are facing: despite the straight-As, the extracurricular activities and the participation in year-round sports; despite doing "all the right things" that colleges tell their students they "must" do if they want to be accepted to their school, it really all comes down to who has the money to afford it.

If our daughter, to use an example, were to go to her top school, she would need to come up with about $49,000.

A year.

If she were to work a full-time job while attending - which many, many people have been forced to do - she could make roughly 20 grand. That's a 10-dollar-an-hour job, or roughly the average that college students make. So, that would leave a balance due of $29,000.

So, you might be asking, "Why the hell does she have to go to her top school? Why can't she go to a cheaper school? Maybe her priorities are not in the right place?"

My response?

Why the hell does my child have to settle in the wealthiest fucking country in the world, a country in which upwards of $700 billion is spent on defense but a paltry 3 percent is given to educate its children?

My children have worked as hard as any. They've made the grade. They've proven themselves to be bright and willing to do what it takes to get into the best schools. And they're being told they can't go because, well, they just don't have the green.

Never mind. My countrymen are much more interested in what the Kardashians are wearing for a bra size.

My apologies.