Love Story

I woke up shortly before midnight to the mountains calling. I slipped on my boots and jacket, and, on second thought, my sidearm, and then out the camper door with my dog.

I thought I’d go a little way out, look at the sky, and return. It had been raining earlier and there were no stars to lie under as I had said I would do. Leaves yielded gently under my feet.

Partway up the trail, on the side of the ridge, piles of detritus where the rain had washed branches and leaves to catch on half-buried boulders. Shadows leapt in the flashlight’s beam.

I switched it off and listened. The silence of nighttime woods after a rain. Cloud-dark sky.

I continued. I wondered for a moment whether I was nuts enough to go all the way to the top in the midnight dark. Then I knew that I was and that, in fact, I intended to. There was something for me to do up there.

The route to the top is, as the crow flies, slightly less than half a mile. Due to the ambling steepness of the trail and the fact that I am not a crow, to the top and back is a nearly three-mile hike. I had been re-reading The Odyssey at bedtime, in his honor, and the journey seemed appropriate.

He taught us to face our fears boldly in search of Truth. I thought nothing of the most likely catastrophe until much later: That my flashlight batteries would die and leave me in near-pitch darkness at the top of a steep ridge. It was other, less rational, fears that I stepped through: Twigs breaking to the left (bear?), rotten log under my foot (snake?), leaping shadows of the night (the long fingers of dark fae grasping after my soul, obviously).

My beam alighted on one of the thousands of quartz chunks that litter the trail, and I knew that it was for me to carry. I picked it up. Another. They went in my pocket. A third was too large for the pocket, and heavy. A weight, because my climb through the dark was otherwise too easy.

I switched off my light, thinking to make the journey yet more challenging. One step, two, three, each one taken in terror and blindness and on ten, a voice spoke to me, in my head. His? Maybe. It was wry, amused, yet gentle with love. “That’s really not necessary. Besides, you’ll miss the show.” I took ten more steps, and switched on the light.

Mountain laurels, mounting on each other in spectacular full-bloom display, appeared suddenly in the torch beam.

I smiled and trod onward.

I reached Sybil Summit unexpectedly, the night making familiar paths unfamiliar. I sought the pink ladyslipper that had bloomed there the last time, the one my aunt sent for me. It was still there, still in bloom. I laid the large crystal beside it in the leaves. My beam next fell on a gnarled long-dead tree trunk with a hollow at its base, and I knew that the other two crystals belonged there. For my grandparents.

I sat. The sky was dark overhead, but the tops of the surrounding mountains were alight with the starlike sparkle of individual mountaintop homes, and the ambient glow of distant urban areas. The ground did not shift under me. My grandparents nor my aunt spoke to me. And I knew that I was not done. This was not what I had come for.

I stood again and walked on. The highest point of our property runs along the back side, along a high ridge that borders the national forest beyond. Sybil Summit is the first point of this back ridge on one side, and a trail runs from it to the other corner, which is marked by a large wind-swept clearing where the children build fairy houses in the dirt.

It was there that I was bound, where I had a job to do.

In the day, the trail is not easy, thanks to the abundance of blackberry brambles that grow across the path. At night, starless and moonless, it is like the rocks of Phaeacia. No. Not so dangerous, nor I so cold and heart-weary as Odysseus. I did get a scratch on my arm, though.

What can I say about the rest? The task was not so difficult as routing a hall full of suitors intent on devouring my kine and bedding my wife. It was only a remembrance.

The story goes like this.

Setting: A classroom.
Characters: A roomful of students. The professor.
As told by: Kyle Crew

‘What is Romeo and Juliet about?’
A hand, who apparently knew everything there was to know, shot up. ‘Love.’
‘What is Hamlet about?’
The hand withered to silence. The hand had read Hamlet at a young age, (and was very proud of that!). But what was it about? Come on.

‘Love,’ he said. ‘They’re all about Love.’

My task was merely to tell his story, the piece of it that I know, to write it in stone as it is already written in my heart. To write it as the wind howled and the trees creaked against one another in the night. One stone at a time, I wrote it.

And when I was done, I turned to the starless sky and wept aloud, wailing my barbaric yawp into the silence and the cold and the darkness, and then I sat and then

The stars came out.

Two of them, directly in front of me, side by side like a pair of eyes watching me. Gradually, several more below them, stretching across below the eyes, a familiar half-smile.

And then I walked home and slept, straight through to morning, my first real sleep since I heard the news. Before I fell quite unconscious, though, there beside the stream drowsing, I remembered to tell him, because his daughter had asked me to: “Hey, Clarissa loves you.”

Came the wry reply, “I know.”


What Is It Like For You?

I’ll tell you what it’s like for me. It is an obsession. It is an itch that never goes away, a constant refrain that never leaves me alone, not even for a moment.

You think I like writing? Not at all. I just can’t help myself. Words whisper themselves to me in my head and they won’t leave me alone until I sit down with my computer and write them out.

If that sounds like fun to you, you haven’t seen the kinds of things that force themselves out through me. Most of it is utter crap. 80% of it never sees the light of day. There are thirty drafts sitting in the “posts” folder of this blog that will never ever be published, and three times that many in a folder on my computer, and that’s only for this blog.

I wrote a book in six months and spent the next eleven fixing the crap I made, deleting a good third of it and replacing another third with new words.

Writing is painful. I cry a lot when I’m writing. I cry for my characters, for the things I make them do against my will. It is a terrible place to live, to be constantly punishing people you love and feeling that you have no choice but knowing that you do have a choice and yet choosing to keep hurting them. Sometimes I try to undo what I’ve done but I rarely succeed.

Writing is drudgery. It’s hours in front of the screen typing out words you know you will later delete but doing it because it’s the only way to get past the crap to the good stuff, and if you stop now you may never start again. And you can’t not write.

Writing is self-punishment. It’s self-doubt and insecurity and thinking “I’m completely hopeless. This is crap. Why am I doing this?”

Writing is vulnerability, it’s amphibious permeable skin, letting all of everything through to the soft reception of your beating heart.

Some days I wish I were a psychopath. Not a sadistic one, just one who does not feel the feelings of others. I want to close off my soft heart and feel only what I feel, completely unaffected by the hearts of others. This is an impossible dream. It is why I must be alone in the woods sometimes. Trees do not intrude their feelings upon me. Rather, they seem to absorb my emotions into themselves to evaporate into the atmosphere. They siphon off the excess and leave me at peace.

Writing means paying attention, listening, and feeling. Feeling hurts.

No. I do not like writing.

I like having written.

And I think maybe that’s where the compulsion comes from. It’s a hit of dopamine like no other, having written. It’s like I imagine a heroin addiction is. You know it’s going to be bad, you know that getting the resources together to get that next hit is going to be painful hard work. You don’t want to do it but it itches you until you can’t stand it and you do it because ultimately, in the end, there’s that amazing hit.

“I did that! It’s actually quite good! I am great! People like me! I matter!”

And for a while it is good. Until the itch begins again. The edge of the high wears off and you find yourself spiraling toward the circling singularity at the edge of the black hole of addiction and you… can’t… stop… yourself.

And at the center of that black hole is the fundamental belief that you’re not good enough as you are and so you must constantly prove yourself. You must be more in order to be worthy. And that is a problem, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great to feel sure, to accept oneself as whole, as complete, as ENOUGH?

Well, yeah. Except maybe then you wouldn’t be compelled to write. And that would be a problem.

Fake_syringe_made_of_lego (1)

How My Friend Jill Kicked Cancer’s Butt

When I discovered I was pregnant with my second child, one of the first people I shared the news with was Jill. Jill had been there for the birth of my first son. She held my hand while I roared, and whispered encouragingly into my ear while I sobbed between contractions.

Now I asked her, “Will you be there for this birth too?”

“I would be honored!” she said.

Sometime during my second trimester, Jill called me.

“Will you watch the girls for me tomorrow afternoon? I have a doctor’s appointment.”

I stood in her living room that next afternoon, assuring her that everything would be fine.

“The doctor says she can’t be sure, but she thinks it’s cancer.”

Everything will be fine, I assured her.

Jill was never one who could be beaten by cancer. She was too full of life, too passionate a mother, too beautiful a person. She had too many people on her side, and too much to live for. Besides, her daughters needed her.

The doctor, it turned out, was right. Jill had breast cancer.

Jill didn’t make it to my second son’s baby shower, but not for the reason you might think. Remember, Jill won. At the time of my son’s shower, she was in Hawaii, living on the beach, where she’d always wanted to go someday. She sent back pictures:

Playing in rock pools on a sun-drenched shoreline, her girls gathered about her.
Standing with the wind in her hair, her daughter’s arms around her leg.
Reclining in the beautiful airy home they rented by the ocean.

When Jill grew too weak to walk–cancer treatments are brutal–her husband carried her to the beach in his arms every day.

By the time my son was born, Jill was in Mexico, warrioring on against cancer with an exciting new treatment. She would win, of course, and I was not worried. She sent a gift, a bowl with the Chinese characters for “birthing.” Her mother had made it. Our friends and I sat in a circle and admired the bowl and held our beautiful friend in our hearts, and she flew to California for another round of life-saving treatments.

Research shows that people with a positive attitude have better outcomes in the case of most illness, and cancer is no exception. Miraculous recoveries are the realm almost exclusively of the cheerful-minded. Jill was cheerful.

Reports began to trickle back from the West coast: Jill no longer cared for phone calls, as it took too much energy. Jill could no longer talk at all. Jill was on life support.

Then one day, Jill and her husband asked the doctors what her odds of survival were. The answer was grim. Jill asked to see her daughters one last time, and then to have the life support removed.

After the machines were turned off, Jill asked for a piece of paper and a pencil. She wrote something on it and then held her husband’s hand as she drew her last breaths. Then she died.

Cancer is brutal. Cancer doesn’t care who you are or how many people love you or whether you are needed here. It doesn’t care if you go to the beach or go to bed. The best doctors in the world, the cleanest diet, and the most loving family are not always enough to keep a person alive.

Sometimes the best people die.

But some people won’t let that defeat them. After Jill died, news traveled quickly. I was standing on the stairs of our new house when the call came. I’d just put my new baby boy to bed. I stood there, and then I sat there, and I listened and I couldn’t believe it. Not Jill. Jill was gone.

Over the coming days, more news trickled back. How the five-year-old daughter took the news. How the husband was doing. What Jill had written on that slip of paper while drawing her last breaths.

Her last words?

“It’s not the number of the days,” said that slip of paper, “but the quality of the life.”

I told you Jill kicked cancer’s butt.

There’s Something I Want to Tell You.

“Follow your passion.”

“But I’m passionate about so many things. How can I possibly focus? How can I choose?”

“Pick one and go for it. It doesn’t matter which one. You will find out as you go whether it’s good for you or not, but give it everything you’ve got. Life is long. Give it five years of your life, or ten, and then, if you like, you can pursue something else, another passion. You will amaze yourself at where you are after giving yourself for five years to one passion.”

“But I’m so tired. I don’t have time!”

“You have an hour every morning before everyone else gets up. Set your alarm. One hour a day is 7 hours per week, 365 hours a year. In five years, that is more than 1500 hours. Do you have any idea what you can accomplish in 1500 hours?”

“Wake up early? Uuuugghhhhhh…”

“Or stay up late. Or give up one show per night. Spend one hour less on Facebook. Eat ramen noodles instead of cooking a gourmet meal. Take a sandwich to work and eat it over your lunch hour while focusing on your passion. Tell someone “no” when they ask for your time. Your passion matters. Find your hour to grow the part of yourself that is dying to break through, the part that will make you what you were born to be.”

“But I still don’t know what I want to do.”

“Then spend your hour figuring it out. In five years you will, at minimum, know something you *don’t* want to do, and that is progress.”

“It all seems like a lot of work.”

“It is. It is indeed. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It is hard and it is scary, and you will hate it sometimes. You will want to quit, and sometimes you will quit, and then you will beat yourself up because you didn’t keep going. You will become convinced that you suck and that you will never amount to anything and that it is useless. If you hope to ever succeed, you’ll get back up again and try again even though you have no idea whether it even matters.”


“So don’t do it if you don’t want to. Let your life eke itself out day by dreary day, slowly trudging toward its end. Go to work, collect your paycheck, drink to forget your troubles, watch a show for the endorphin high, and then go to bed. Teach your kids to keep their heads down at school so they can follow in your footsteps.”


“Or accept that you are an amazing, unique, never-before-seen, never-again-to-exist spark of light in this world, and that you deserve to shine. That the world deserves to see you shine. That your singular spark of genius is worth working for, worth digging for, that you are worthy of an hour of your own time every day. Know that what you will contribute to the world will make a difference, and that your passion is the sign pointing to the thing you can do that no one else can do like you can.”


“Yes. You. Choose. Every day you get to choose: Ordinary or Extraordinary. It’s entirely up to you.”

Walking in the Rain

Re-posting from an old blog. Originally posted December 9, 2009.

I bundled up for a brisk walk in the chill air tonight, down coat wrapped around myself and my toddler, zipped up by my husband’s hands as we stood in the brightly lit kitchen. To my surprise, I stepped out into a warm, wetly shining night and my quick walk soon took me farther than I’d planned as I savored the warmth punctuated by a capricious breeze.

Then it began to drizzle, and then to rain, right when it was too late to go back and still a fair ways to go on.

I like walking in the rain. But sometimes I forget what I like.

Tonight, rain was not conducive to my goals. I wanted my son to fall asleep. Drizzle in his hair sparkled in lamplight, and driplets on his nose made him giggle. Besides, I hadn’t set out to walk in the rain. It had not been my intention. I hastened my steps homeward, anxious to return warm and dry.

We passed the part of the road that runs close to the lake, where my eyes naturally turned on the soothing sight. That is where I remembered to breathe. In and out. Relaxing into the moment I noticed:

Lamplight from across the lake shining through the trees and then through the mist throwing eerily gorgeous shadows across the dark surface of the water—strange, twisted shapes, changing with every slowing step I took.

Dripping rain in full and glorious surround sound—on leaves, on pavement, on branches. From the sky, from the trees, drip, drip, drop.

Soft dampness gradually accumulating, drop by drop, on cheeks and nose, the feel of it like a thousand patient kisses.

Soft breath—in and out, in and out—mine and baby’s, one slow one fast.

The serene wonder of the moment.

Then, faster than my slowed steps can account for, we were past the lake and past the moment and my mind moved on—trying to think out and puzzle through a million questions big and small.

The rain came down harder and I got worried. We might be soaked before we got home.

When did I forget how much I love the rain? When I was in my early twenties, I remember reaching out through my window on a rainy night and touching the air below the eaves, where the rain wasn’t falling. “Come quick!” I exclaimed to my roommate. “The air is soft! Feel how like a kitten it is!”

Another time, I went out to bring her home some French fries and came back soaking wet. To her astonished and concerned cries, I answered not to worry. I had simply stopped on my way to the canteen to enjoy the rain.

When did I forget?

As my coat began to soak through tonight, and the baby’s hair gradually became plastered to his head, I jogged briskly toward home, my breath coming faster and my heart pounding harder as I hastened to beat the weather. Perhaps it was the sound of my own labored breathing, or the feel of my heart pounding in my chest, that reminded me again and brought me back to myself again.

There was no lake to wow the senses now, just streetlamps and houses, but streetlamps can be holy too. The glistening of lamplight on wet pavement, punctuated by the shadows of damp leaves. Swollen drainage ditches, murky and mysterious in the transforming darkness. Again the breathing. My breath. The baby’s breath. His sudden and inexplicable exclamation of surprise and delight when I look down at his rain-moistened face. The giggle that makes up for so much.

I don’t understand why it is so hard to be present in the moment when the rewards for it are so great. As I lay in the darkness later, gradually soothing my son to sleep, I struggled to keep my straying mind from the puzzles and questions, and to focus fully on the beauty of a half-asleep baby cuddled warmly at my breast, his fingers drowsily exploring my bare belly button, slowly coming to quiet as he faded from wakefulness.

Then I rose from the bed, returned to the lighted kitchen and my life’s partner waiting patiently for me.  And finished out a delicious night of wonder by making slow, sweet love to my beloved. Actually, that last bit hasn’t happened yet and that is why this narrative stops… here. Good night.2014-01-09 09.12.09

Grandma Leaves Me Coins

When I was a little girl, I used to walk with my grandma around their cozy 1950s neighborhood in Sacramento. She and her neighbor, Betty, would look for coins left on the sun-parched sidewalks. They often boasted of their Big Finds—the one time Grandma found a whole quarter, or that day Betty found three nickels. I, too, wanted to find money on our walks, but alas–I never seemed so lucky.

Then one day, dawdling along in my search, I realized Betty and Grandma had gotten quite some distance ahead of me, and I would have to trot to catch up. That’s when I saw it. They had been going so quickly that they missed what my slow self had found: Not a single, dirty coin, but an entire dollar bill! I had outdone Grandma and Betty’s Big Finds both in one fell swoop. An entire dollar! I was so proud.

I was an adult before it occurred to me that Grandma had planted that money.

When Grandma died last November, this memory came back to me again and again. How much Grandma loved me. How much I missed her. How much I never realized she had done for me, always quietly, without expectation. How much she placed in my path for me to find.

Yesterday as I headed out to walk the dog, I looked down and saw a penny half-buried in the broken asphalt at the corner of our driveway. I walked past it.

Then I walked back.

I stared at the coin for a moment. I thought: “What if every time I find a penny, it’s actually a sign from Grandma, a little token she’s left for me to remind me she still loves me?”

I smiled at my own whimsy. The irrationality of it. Of course pennies are everywhere. People drop them all the time. There’s nothing magical or mysterious about it. It’s just a penny.

Still. I picked it up.

This morning there were coins in my bed. This too is non-miraculous. The kids like to come get in bed with us in the mornings, and often whatever is in their pockets falls out into the sheets. Still. I picked up the coins and set them with the one from the driveway. I carried one of them with me into the bathroom and set it on the counter while I showered. No particular reason. I don’t even think I realized I was doing it.

After my shower, I stood in front of the mirror and combed out my red hair, staring in the mirror at my freckled face. An image of those coins rose into my consciousness unbidden. What if… what if… No. No, not what if.

“What if” is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if Grandma is literally looking down on me, looking out for me… or not. It doesn’t really matter.

Because it *is* Grandma who places those coins for me, still. This is True.

It’s true because one day, when I was a little girl, she placed a dollar for me and, along with that dollar bill she placed the knowledge that I am Loved. She created a reality in which every time I see a penny on a sidewalk I think of her, and I think of how much she did for me. And remember that I am worth it to her.

I will never hold Grandma’s soft dry hand again. I will never see her tiny little feet on their tidy little stool, or eat eggs and bacon and toast made by her skillful hands. I will never feel that thrill of excitement upon seeing a present under the tree “from Grandma” (she always gave the best gifts).

Nevertheless, Grandma is very, very Here.

This morning I stood in the bathroom staring at my reflection, and it hit me how much of her I carry with me. She is in my genes, in my freckles, in my blue eyes, in my sense of humor, in the yearning of my heart to see others cared for. She is in my consciousness, in every memory she left for me.

One of the things that is hardest to recover from after the death of a loved one is the realization that there will be no new memories. That every day after the death is another separation, another stretch of time that is no longer shared. Shortly after Grandma’s death I strove to soothe myself by digging through memorabilia looking for photos of her, something I might have missed or mis-remembered. Something new. A new memory to share with her.

Today I realized that Grandma makes new memories with me every day, even now, still. I have not lost her just because she died. Every time I reach down to pick up a penny it is a new memory I share with her.

Standing there in the bathroom, I spotted the coin I had left on the counter. I picked it up and cupped it in my hands, an ordinary object transformed into something rich and strange. I closed my hand around it and held it to my chest. Life continues after death. This is my proof.

So don’t be surprised at my enthusiasm each time I find a coin on the sidewalk. Of course I’m excited. It’s a present from my Grandma.



“No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again and bring the dawn.” ~Maya Angelou

P.S. This entry is partly in honor of my grandma, and partly in honor of Maya Angelou, who died today. Both were great lights to the world.

The Only Way Through is Through

“All roads to success, you gotta go through pain. You gotta go through the road of pain, baby. (Yeah) You keep talking about mistakes (uh-huh), you keep talking about the past (oh yeah), you keep talking about your trials (that’s right)… I want you to know that everybody that’s ever been great, everybody, has had an obstacle to overcome (truth!)… listen to me very close, sometimes it’s going to be hard (AMEN), you’re going to look all around you and nowhere do you see success (ain’t that right), nowhere do you see anything that remotely looks like success (SO true). But you gotta embrace the fact, you gotta believe that all that’s happening right now, if you keep pressing, if you keep pushing, guess what? One day, it’s gonna be your day. You gotta look around you at nothing that looks like success and you gotta believe that one day it’s going to be MY day, but one day can’t be your day if you give up, if you quit, no day will ever be your day.”

I wish I’d had that video when I was getting started as an entrepreneur. Maybe it would have stopped me. Maybe it would have inspired me. Maybe it would have helped me all those many times that I was going to quit, get a job, turn in the towel and trade my time, my one wild and precious life, for a salary and benefits.

Maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything. I have a little secret. I’ve thought of quitting over and over and over again. One time, I went so far as to consult with my coach to build a plan for re-entering the full time work force. I had emails drawn up and ready to send to clients and my network, announcing my decision and positioning myself to become a job seeker.

And every time I’ve hit one of those moments, something has stopped me. The time described above, it was a completely unexpected check from a prior client who explained it was the deposit on a new retainer and I knew–I KNEW–it wasn’t time to stop. That it was a sign from the universe to keep going, to go. Thank you, universe. And HA. You know who you are.

And it’s never been easy, not yet. It’s been painful. I have walked through so much pain and sometimes I’ve looked around and what I’ve seen was nothing like success, nothing in sight that looked like success. And I don’t know that I’ve believed, but something in me must have believed, that someday would be my day.

I can taste it now. I think it’s coming. I can feel that day coming, so close it’s breathing on me. Or maybe it’s just a moment for me to take a breath before more pain.

No matter. The only way to success is through. And so I will carry on.

Tiny Ripples


Everything you do creates ripples. Most of the time, those ripples are tiny. That piece of gum you spit out by the roadside, for instance. Maybe it got stuck in somebody’s shoe and she wasted ten minutes trying to get it out and for the rest of the life of those shoes her foot makes a teeny little smacking sound when she walks on a hard surface.


Likewise, when you took an extra moment to push that cart into place at the grocery store, and maybe grabbed an extra one and pushed it into place too. You saved an employee a half-minute’s work, prevented a few people having to walk out of their way by half a second. Ripples.

Small, small ripples.

So maybe you think it doesn’t matter so much. So what if someone arrives at work just a touch more cranky one morning because you cut her off in traffic. What does it matter if a single homeless guy smiles for half a moment because you handed him the fifty cents you had in your pocket?

Probably not much, frankly. The ripples are real, yes, but so small as to hardly be noticeable in the great pounding and fury of the world.

But have you ever been to an old folk’s home? Because this is where it gets real. This is where the ripples come back and lap against shore.

There’s always that one cranky lady everybody laughs at because she’s so pointlessly nasty. You can’t help but feel sorry for her, too, because nobody comes to see her. She’s lonely and her life is a wreck and here it ends in this asylum where the pudding has lumps no matter how much you abuse the girl who brings it to you. This is the world she lives in, the world she created for herself.

But if you’ve spent much time around old folks, you know it goes the other way too. There’s always that beautiful lady at whose feet you are honored to sit and listen. And when that lady takes her final journey out of this world, a hundred people come to share a thousand stories of how her gentle spirit touched them.

A pebble thrown into a lake makes only the smallest of changes. But a lifetime of pebbles can dam a river or flood a village.

Every moment of your life is a pebble you hold in your hand. You get to choose where and how to use that pebble. Whatever you do with it will create ripples–maybe tiny, maybe not. You can’t control what happens once that pebble is tossed, and you can’t control the ripples caused by others. But you can decide what kind of ripples you want to create. You can choose to let them create something beautiful, though it require your whole life to do it.

And in twenty years, what will you look out and see? In forty years, what sort of world will you have made?