Dear Diary, Dear Pen

Dear Diary, Dear Pen

I knew it was only a matter of time.

I knew, after committing to writing a blog post every week, that there would be a week where I had nothing.

Nothing to say that hadn’t been said a million times before and way better.

My life? Snore.

Parenting? Whatever.

Writing, aging, personal growth, marriage, friendship– I scrolled through my mental Pinterest board of all the usual topics, and came up empty this week.

Hearing the scrawny bastard critic in the corner sneering, “See? You’ve got nothing to say. Leave it to the professionals, won’t you?” I sat and took a breath.

That shut him up.

Then I looked right in front of me, because someone told me, or I read, or I made up, that you can just write about what you see. The first thing I saw was my journal, the second, my pen.

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was in second or third grade. Sometimes they were picture journals, where I would draw ads for movies I’d seen, or practice my fancy autograph with different last names, depending on my latest celebrity crush.

Maggie Cassidy,

Maggie Osmond,

Maggie Gibb.

It was kind of a scrapbook, really. Since then my personal writing has evolved to serve all kinds of purposes, from list making, to venting, to meditation. I can’t imagine ever stopping.

And so, dear reader, I submit to you a blog post about the humble journal.

I am not an expert on anything, but after nearly forty years of pouring my thoughts onto private pages, I feel like I know a thing or two about what makes a good journal, so how about I share those with you now? Actually, life is short, and you’re busy. I’ll just tell you the best journal and you’ll have to trust me on this.

The best journal is this one, by Plumb Notebooks.81Sj8uFekAL._SX466_ I make no disclaimers, because I really think it is the best and here’s why:

This journal will set you back around $22.00, but I think it’s worth it. It is a beautiful color, with unlined paper that’s heavy enough so ink doesn’t bleed through, and shaggy edges that will make you feel very classy. Also, it’s bound in such a way that it lies flat when it’s open. You don’t have to put your coffee cup on it to hold it open when you write, which is lovely.

One of my favorite writers on writing, Natalie Goldberg, says you should use cheap spiral notebooks for journaling and what I call Writerly Diddling. The idea is that, if you write in a plain cheapo notebook, you won’t be so precious about your writing and the pressure will ease up.

First of all, journaling doesn’t involve any pressure, unless you’re hoping to unearth a memoir or something like that. And, even if you are using your journal as a kind of compost bin for other writing (a great idea, by the way), writing in those sad schoolish notebooks just isn’t as much fun. Maybe it’s the flashbacks from seventh grade, or the way the wire thingy comes uncurled and snags my sweater, but I like a journal that in no way reminds me of Geometry homework.

This one is chunky enough to feel important, and squat enough that it can fit into my purse. (PS: If you find that this journal is too big for your purse, just get a different purse. Someone told me that a big purse makes your ass look smaller, so it’s a win-win!)

I’m a little scared of how I’ll feel when this particular journal goes out of print. I’ve bought a few extra, which should get me through the next year and a half, but that doesn’t do much to calm my nerves around the possibility of having to find a new favorite. For now, I’m just trying to live in the moment.

Since we’re on the subject, and since I’m on a roll and seem to be, if I am not mistaken, actually writing a blog post, which only fifteen minutes ago I thought was completely impossible, let’s talk about the pen.

What’s the best pen?

You might have your own opinions, and if you do, please share them in the comments. Unlike my deep and stedfast attachment to my journal, I’m not completely sure I’ve found the perfect pen. I have, however, found a really great one:

Papermate Ink Joy

55008e8817716-paper-mate-inkjoy-700-rt-ballpoint-retractable-xlI’ve been a big fan of the unfortunately named “Uniball” for a really long time, but they’re a little spendy, and sometimes they smudge or leak onto the seat of my car. I liked the Sharpee pens for a while because they were waterproof and pretty cheap, but they had a drag on them and slowed me down. The Papermate Ink Joy is, in many ways, a regular old ballpoint which of course I love, but it has the smooth speed of a more expensive pen.

So, clearly this is not a post that will change the world. But I do believe that writing at least helps the world, whether it’s a novel, a news story or just a page in a journal.

Not that I go back and read them that often, which makes some non-journaling friends ask, “Then what’s the point?”

Good question, and a good question usually has more than one answer.

I do it because it helps me remember.

And because it helps me forget.

An argument with my husband, scrawled out as fast as I can, pressing down on the front and back of as many pages as it takes is then, like a paper boat, set sail downstream. Most of the time, I never see it again.


(I believe skillful forgetting is a really good thing in a marriage.)

And as for remembering…

I turn to a page written when we were in Hawaii last summer, and it’s there. The night we went swimming in the pool, my boys and I, and took turns holding each other on our backs, floating around in the moonlight. The stars are there, and also the sweetness of my twelve year old son towing me gently around the pool, his palms on my back. It’s written there, that I felt the tables turn for the first time.

My memory leaks like a cheap ballpoint, and I’m so grateful to my journal for capturing and preserving that moment.

So, that’s what’s right in front of me. What’s in front of you?

Write about it 🙂



 What My Best Friend Taught Me, Forty Years In


As William Wordsworth once said, “To begin, begin.”

I have a long scar across the palm of my left hand. The story is that, when I was a baby, I fell on my glass bottle running after my mother, as she was walking out the door. I had good reason to be anxious. When either one of my parents left, it was never certain that they would come back. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. As I got older, sometimes they answered when I called, sometimes the number had been changed. My friend JoDee was the first person who’s presence I had the luxury of taking for granted; I never had to run after her because she never left.

We met in 4th grade, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when we lost our balance, like all middle schoolers do, that we were pulled into each other’s orbit. We both faked our laps in P.E., loved meatloaf day in the cafeteria, WMAK radio, and Queen. Lying on the grass, making clover chains in the heat of our adolescence, we shared stories about our lives (her father, strange and occasionally missing, and me, left on my own at thirteen) until, over time, the stories piled up, undisturbed, and our friendship took root.

By eighth grade, I had a botched home perm and a revolving door of temporary care givers. Like those random pieces of junk that turn up when you’re packing for a move, I belonged somewhere, but no one could quite figure out where, or with whom.

They had places to be, so they left.

I wish I could say I weathered this all with grace, but the truth is that I was beyond angry. I was a mean little eye-roller, and not up for loving anyone. Basically, I was a real pain in the ass.

For a while, I loved the empty apartment, where I could sing show tunes as loud as I wanted. But eventually, though I never would have admitted it, I got lonely. JoDee and I cracked each other up, and her house had an open door policy, so that’s where I found myself. Literally.

JoDee’s mother, Dee, took me in. She was a kindergarten teacher raising three kids, but  didn’t mind that I walked through their front door without knocking and went straight to the fridge for onion dip and Tab. She didn’t mind when I called her Mom, and best of all, she usually answered. I wonder how that must have felt to JoDee, to have the finite resource of her single mother’s attention stretched to nourish a kid as hungry as I was.

I didn’t think about that. Instead, I made myself comfortable on one side of JoDee’s queen size bed and plunked my toothbrush down by the small bathroom sink.

For years I gave JoDee’s mom all the credit for this arrangement and how it changed my life, but even though I still am deeply grateful to Dee, now that I have kids almost the age that JoDee and I were then, I realize I need to share that gratitude with my friend, too.

In a pattern that would repeat for decades, JoDee made room for me when I needed it.

How long did I live with her in high school, what was it, weeks? Months? I can’t remember. It seems like a lot of my Freshman and Sophomore year was spent at her house, piled together on the La-Z Boy watching MTV, or lying on her bed staring at Sting plastered to the walls of her room.

It wasn’t a perfect world. We got up to a lot of teenage shenanigans (sorry, gotta leave that part out in case her kids read this), but at JoDee’s house I didn’t have to jump when an adult entered the room, and I relaxed into not being afraid.
This was great for me, but again, I wonder how it was for her. She was the first one I’d call when a boyfriend dumped me, or when I needed a roommate, a car, an alibi, a pep talk, a date, a meal. She saw every terrible play I was in and stayed awake during most of them. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.

JoDee thinks of herself as a fixer in remission. She’s come a long way and works very hard now on not taking on people’s problems and not feeling like she has to rescue every stray person who lands on her doorstep. I hear her struggle with that, and cheer her on when she manages to let people handle their own shit, but the truth is, if she had been a little less of a fixer, I most certainly would have stayed broken.

I would love it if she had a list this long of the ways I helped her through the first half of her life. I could say that I plan to help her just as much during the next half but, thankfully, neither of us need that kind of help anymore. She is the most grounded, big-hearted person I know. She has a wonderful husband and kids, a job she’s good at and a community of friends who know, just as I do, how special she is.  She’s all good.

I have to accept that our friendship wasn’t always even-steven, and guess what? No one is keeping score. When I see the memes and read the popular advice that you should “only surround yourself with positive people!”, I thank my lucky stars that JoDee didn’t do that, back in the day.

One of the great things about reaching middle-age is that I can see trouble coming a mile away, and I make a sharp turn to avoid it. When I see someone whose life is full of a suspicious amount of drama, I make myself scarce. (Oh the irony.) A friend told me recently that she admires the fact that I “do not suffer fools.” I think she’s probably right, and even though I’m glad that I’m not surrounded by people who drain me, or come attached to their own personal dark cloud, I wonder if I’ve missed some lovely friendships just for sheer lack of patience.

JoDee, I’m grateful that you suffered at least one fool, and that was me. I may not be able to change my tendency toward self-preservation at all costs, but, just like I did years ago when I crashed your family, I can experiment with not being afraid. I can try to have just a little more courage and make a little more room for foolishness. Who knows what could happen?

So while you may not have been able to teach me how to drive a stick shift, or talk me out of bringing that guy back from Paris, see?

I’m still learning from you.

(don’t) Burn This


I’m stuck on this thing I’ve been writing.

That’s not an excuse, it’s just the way it is. It’s a piece of fiction, drawn heavily from my own experience, and I’ve been chipping away at it for so long that I’m embarrassed to say.

Ok, fifteen years. Fifteen years, you guys!

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long. I had a few kids, moved a few times, wrote other things, painted a little, mostly to avoid writing. Mixed in there was work and a few deaths and…well, I have my reasons. But lately I’ve been back at work on it, only, after so long, it barely makes sense to me anymore. Although I’m attached to the characters, and I like some of the story, I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, and that’s driving me nuts. A mentor of mine keeps saying not to worry about that, but I can’t help it.

OK, I’ll only admit this here: I want a guarantee that it will be at least a little good. No one gets that guarantee, of course, and that’s what has made me leave it in a drawer for long stretches of time, sometimes years. After reading that crazy tidying-up book, I went on a binging binge. I found the files on my computer labelled STORY, and dragged them into the trash. I took the box of notes, handwritten pages and chapters I’d printed out, and dumped them in the compost. Then I pulled them out. Finally, I left them, smeared with coffee grounds, on the floor under my desk and waited for the nerve to cut the cord (and my losses) and move on.

Then this happened:

My friend Wendy asked if I could come over and help make some decorations for a big event at our UU church. I said sure, and was looking forward to spending an afternoon crafting it up, cutting and stringing and doing whatever else she told me to do. A few other women would be there, and the three of them would most certainly be on to something amazing, I thought. These three together remind me of those witches from Sleeping Beauty, only more badass, with power tools and oil paint. They are artists. Magicians, in a way, or at least that’s how I think of them. They just seem to know how to make the ordinary beautiful. I was happy to be their lowly helper for the afternoon, in whatever they were cooking up.

I was a little surprised when I got there and in her driveway was, to use an expression that I really hate but sometimes fits the bill— a hot mess. There were huge pieces of paper, recycled something or other, splashed with opaque watercolors and smeared, preschool style, with some glitter thrown in there. My friends were circling their work with brows furrowed, swooshing brushes over it in wide arcs. Wendy got an idea and came back from the depths of her garage with a big box of still more paper—patterns, mismatched, some awesome and retro, some downright hideous. The other two brightened.

“Should we splash those too?”

“Yes. Uniformity!” They began the same process with the paint, the splattering and laughing. When the wind began to blow them away, Wendy insisted we could just chase them down when we were all done, but then ran away and came back with an armful of gigantic homemade hula hoops, to weigh the papers down. (Duh.)

“Who set their paint bottle down here?” Jill asked. It’s true, someone had left  dark purple ring on the paper. Uh-oh, I thought, that can’t be good.

“Oh, that was me,” Dena answered, sweeping her brush over a puddle of fuchsia.

Jill smiled wide. “I like it!”

When the wind died down, we stopped and hula hooped for a spell. You know, like you do. We worked up a good sweat.

After the paper dried, we went inside and tried to un-purple our hands, but it was no use. A few ginger snaps later, we sat at the kitchen table and we cut. We folded. We talked about politics and sex and movies. Looking around, I saw our mess evolving into something, not exactly great, but not so bad, either. And then, gradually, into something pretty, with hints of fucking brilliance! How did it happen?

“If I had been doing this by myself, I would have given up a long time ago,” I said, folding and snipping the painted paper, careful to sweep scraps into a bag by my feet. “I would have burned it in the driveway, when it was so ugly.”

“No, that’s when you have to keep going,” Jill said, looking over her glasses at me. The other two laughed a little (laughter might be their secret ingredient), and kept snipping.

“I want to burn everything I make at least once in the process,” Wendy added.

“Really??” This, I couldn’t believe. Even though I’d only seen her finished products, the drawings, decorated cakes, jewelry, clothes, rugs, gardens, and meals, art just seemed to grow around Wendy like weeds, uncultivated and effortless.

Dena pointed her rusty scissors in my direction. “It doesn’t matter what you’re working on, at some point you’ll think it’s shit. But you keep layering. Or taking away. Or whatever. Eventually it takes shape.”

They nodded, knowing just what she meant, and went on to talk about something else.

Over the course of a few hours, that pile of trash in the driveway became something more. Something beautiful and useful. A gift. And those women, who I had decided belonged to a coven of the gifted and talented, revealed themselves to be, also, much more: They were hard working makers, who had the same doubts as me, but trusted the process more.

I got the message.

On my way out, that afternoon, Wendy called to me, “Take a hula hoop with you!” I did, of course. But she gave me else. She gave me a blessing, without even knowing it, and it was this: You’ll want to burn it, we all do. Don’t. Take a breath and a hula-hoop break. Get messy, use your mistakes, and above all, keep on going.


Happy New Year! Starting out the year right, I want to thank you for taking the time to check in here on my very humble blog, and especially if you’ve subscribed and allowed me to join the cascade of reading material that fills your inbox. Seriously, thank you.

In the past, I’ve found there to be a a problem with personal blogs, and that was that every time I found one I liked, I would read it for a while, becoming more involved in the author’s daily life, the family problems, goals, setbacks, and I’d end up getting a little annoyed. Familiarity would eventually breed contempt, but mainly because it felt so one-sided. I knew so much about her (the blogs I read are almost always written by women. I don’t know why), but she knew absolutely nothing about me. And pretty soon I’d stop reading.

So, when I decided to try writing a blog, I knew I wanted to make sure that my readers didn’t feel this way. I wanted to avoid the trap of just unloading my everyday life on you, first of all because you already have a life, why would you want mine, and second, because I want you to keep reading.

To state the obvious, there is a whole lot I don’t know about blogging. For some reason I thought I could learn by doing, which I still believe is the best and only way to become a better writer, but the blog thing is different. You’re publishing yourself. You’re saying, “Here. I made this. I worked on it and I hope you like it.” It’s scary, you guys!

When I first started, several friends told me how much they admired my courage. I didn’t exactly get it, but now I do. It’s not the risk of writing about my childhood or high school crushes, it’s the risk of saying that this is the best I have to offer. I write and then rewrite. I think about it and, a day or two later, look it over again. I don’t just press “publish.” My finger hovers there a minute while I think about the grammar and spelling errors, the rambling lack of structure, the cliches and the corny endings. Don’t get me started on the formatting bugs and glitchy links, it’s all there. It feels like the dream where you are grocery shopping naked (what, you don’t have that one?). imagesEveryone will now see my cellulite, cesarian scar and the fact that I never went to college.

Yeah, that last one’s a bitch.

Anyhoo… Back to 2016 and a new way of doing things! In this version, I’m going to give myself permission to find out what this blog wants to be. I’m never going to find out by only writing posts that I think will appeal to a lot of people. I hope that, if you’ve read this far, then maybe you’re a little interested in the creative process and will want to read more. I will write more consistently, which means that, even though I will do my best, I will not fret over each post. I probably won’t rewrite. I’m shipping, as Seth Godin says, and I’m really excited about finding out what that’s like. I hope I’ll surprise myself. I also hope I’ll surprise you.

So, thanks again. And here’s to a year of learning as we go, scars and all.

Ten Guidelines For Starting Your Own Writing Group

Writers need other writers. It’s good for us to get together for feedback, encouragement and, for some of us, accountability. When I was ready to get back to writing after a long dry spell I’d like to blame on motherhood but probably can’t, I knew that some kind of writing group was a must, but I just wasn’t up for shelling out the bucks for a class. I tend not to be much of a DIY-er. If I have the money and can throw it at a problem, I usually will. Is this my finest quality? Hardly, but if there is a silver lining to aging, it’s that I finally know who I am. In this case, however, my desire to save money and accommodate a busy schedule won out over my tendency toward sloth, and I put together my own writing group. I’ve been in several of these through the years, some were successful and some fell apart almost immediately, and so I’ve learned a few things. Of course, as in any relationship, there’s an element of timing and chemistry, but it’s not all luck. If you think meeting regularly with a group of writers sounds like something that would nurture you creatively and get you to finally finish that novel, then here are a few tips to help you make it happen.

1) Like the members of your group, but not too much. If you like them too much you’ll spend your time talking smack and not writing. Choose smart people you know want to write, and who you can enjoy being with for a few hours at a time.

2) The group should be more than three people and less than eight. Too few and you fall apart when someone get’s a little busy and can’t make it, too many and meetings run long without enough time for everyone’s work. Personally, I’d shoot for six members.

3) If you can, have a mixed gender group. It spices things up. But remember…

4) Do not hook up with anyone in your writing group. I’ve been married for a while so this hasn’t been an issue, but back in the day it was a sure way to wreck a good thing. There are many reasons for this, but since we’re all adults here, I’m sure you know what I mean.

5) Speaking of us being all adults, let’s keep it that way, shall we? I’m a mom, I know it can be hard to get away from the kids to meet with a group of writers, but you’re just going to have to McGiver some form of childcare and spend a few hours on your work. Kids make us clean up our language and force us to behave. Neither of those has any place in your writing group.

6) This one hurts me more than it hurts you, but I don’t think you should drink any alcohol during your meeting. It increases the chance that you will spend your precious three hours sharing hair removal tips and posting pictures of your group on Instagram. Gather for happy hour to celebrate each other’s success and hard work, but stick to tea for your meetings.

7) Write a little bit, every time you meet. I don’t know why this matters, but it does. Think of it as the virgin sacrifice you make to your muses. When you start the group with a quick writing exercise (even ten minutes will do), you show the Universe you mean business.

8) Be gentle in your critique, but don’t bullshit. You have all set aside time, fought traffic, found childcare and declined all manner of fun social engagements to come together and get and give feedback that will make your work better. Assuming none of the members of your group are jerks, they want to hear your honest thoughts and you should want to hear theirs. You know the drill, “do unto others…”

9) Meet at least once a month. Once a week is the best, but not realistic for everyone, so do what you can. Consistency is key. Every week, every other week, whenever, but make it the same time and day and stick to it. I’m not kidding about this. The muses get real vindictive when you flake on your meetings, so show up.

10) Sharing your work with others can be the scariest thing in the world, which is why you shouldn’t forget your sense of humor. Be willing to laugh at yourself; how your hands shake when you read aloud, your adverb-y prose and your attempt to write your mommy-blog in the style of Junot Diaz. Writing is hard, and while you want to honor your efforts with serious attention, as Anne LaMott says, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” If we can laugh together it lights our path so, you know, we don’t step on a slug or something.

(PS: If I had read this to my group before posting, they would have told me to cut that line about the slug. See? We all need a fresh eye.)

Now go forth, find a handful of people who want to write and start your group. It may last a month or a decade, but no matter, you will be a better writer for it. Stories are meant to be shared, and until those offers from agents start pouring in, you’ve got each other.

An Orange For You To Peel

   When my oldest son was about eighteen months old, I would occasionally try to put words down on paper. It usually didn’t go very well, partly because my oldest son was about eighteen months old, and partly because I was fully immersed in mothering and had forgotten nearly everything else. But one day, I felt like trying again. Every time I started to type, T would come up and tug at my shirt, or push a block across my lap making vroom-vroom noises. Finally, I handed him an orange and showed him how to peel it with his fingers. He peeled and I wrote and I felt like I had figured out the secret to everything. For about twenty minutes.

     So here I am, a decade later, still working on making time for writing. I started a blog, in part, to give myself a reason to write and a weekly deadline. Originally, my goal was to post here at least once a week, which seemed realistic and still does, except for during summer vacation, when the kids aren’t in classes and everything just basically goes to hell in a hand basket, schedule-wise. With the time I have had to write, I’ve been exploring ideas that are so half baked as to be not baked at all, meaning that I don’t want to post that stuff, at least no today.

     Enter, the orange.

     Maybe I can give you something to read while I fool around with these other not-baked-at-all ideas. Something to keep you busy until I can manage. I opened my Big Fat File of snippets and pieces, looking for something that might be of interest, and below you will find the very first story I saw. I wrote it quite a while ago, read it out once to a group, stuck it in the BFF and there it stayed. At one point a friend of mine, who is a brilliant illustrator, sketched some ideas for the main characters, but somewhere along the line it was forgotten. It’s meant to be read out loud, so try that and let me know how it goes.

                                            Far West

Far, far west they went, Gorgeous George and Wendy Best, slight and sunny in their sixteenth year. Gorgeous George, with two left feet and three missing toes, walked in a circle, forever arriving at the place he just left. Around and around and around he went, until one day he met Wendy Best. Sweet Miss Best. The very best dressed of the three Best sisters who lived in a house on Lilac Lane, surrounded by roses bread for their prickles (the roses I mean), on Lilac Lane where the three girls three lived a charmingly charmed life.

Each of the girls was neat as a pretty pin, a perfectly pert little lollipop. But Missy (the baby), was her father’s eye’s apple, all satin and slickery slips, and Rose (the eldest), was a help to her mother, handy and happy and healthy as a bear.

But dear Wendy was planted in the prickliest of places (you’ve heard of it, surely?), the middle. In church folks whispered, “What an oddball”, “She’s a mystery,” and other things too could be heard from the pew, like “psssst!” and “shshshshs!” and “hmmmm” and “ooooooh!”

Wendy’s mother, at night, stroked her hair, her wild ringlets, saying, “Pay them no mind. They are just jealous schoolgirls.” And schoolgirls they were, with a lesson or two to learn about life. But that’s another tale completely.

In this particular story I’m telling, Miss Wendy Best, in her bright sky blue dress, and Gorgeous George, with three toes too few, set off hand in hand on a quest for WEST on Wendy’s Great grandfather’s map— yes, a map! There must be a map when heading out west, so said Wendy Best, eating pickles and peanuts by the glow of the slow sinking sun.

George spread the map all flat on his lap and they studied the front and they studied the back. They studied the upside and even the down, every which way they flipped it and turned it around, but they just couldn’t find it, that WEST that they wanted. Where was it? Where’s WEST, wondered George and Miss Best.

They sat under a tree, a sad sobbing willow, and the sun changed from orange to yellow to red, then a worm drilled a hole through the bark of the willow. (Did you know worms can drill? With the right tools they’re impressive!) The worm drilled a hole and then stuck out his head, a head no bigger than a wee seed of sesame, but even with that, he was smart. How smart? He knew math and mathematics, language and linguistics and inside that head, that miniscule melon, he stored volumes and volumes of historical history, hysterical history and, well, you see where I’m headed— smart worm!

“Follow the sun, for it’s going your way!” He hollered so loud that the willow stopped sobbing, wiping its eyes with its very own leaves.

The worm yelled so loud that the brook stopped babbling, stopped dead in its tracks, no rippling or wrinkling. The fish stopped too, when they heard the worm scream, stopped blowing their bubbles and just held their breath. Gorgeous George looked up from the map in his lap, and Wendy Best sat still, licking salt from her lips, and they thought. And they thought. They thought pitter pat thoughts, twinkle-twinkle twitter thoughts, itsy-bitsy grizzly growly gnarly hardly anywhere thoughts.

“Don’t wait!” Wolfed the worm. “Can’t you see? Don’t you know? West is the direction you both want to go, so follow the sun, you’ll get there alright, but you’ll both miss your chance if you wait ‘til it’s night!”

Then the worm disappeared deep into the tree, back down to the roots far below. Below the below, for that matter, which is much too far down in the ground, past the darkest-of-dark-tree-bark-funky-dark for us to discuss, so we won’t.

Let me just say that by the time the worm had burrowed back in a mere inch, Gorgeous George and Wendy Best had forgotten the map, the peanuts, the pickles and the blue-in-the-face fish holding their breath in the brook. Sniffling a sniff, the willow waved so-long to the sweethearts shrinking on the violet horizon, chasing the sun like the worm (what a brain!) had intelligently told them to do.

“But wait,” weeped the willow, who choked and then broke into sobs, long sobs, huge wails big as whales! The willows tears trickled down, drip drop, to the ground, watering it’s own roots (which is unusual for a tree and not very healthy, to be sure.)

“Don’t you know,” the tree whimpered, “the sun never stops. It never gets there. Wherever you’re going, this WEST that you seek, you’ll never arrive in a day or a week or a year or a decade or however long. The sun’s always setting, the worm, he was wrong!!”

So the willow, it seems, was right on the money, but try to tell that to two misfits in love and I say, so what??? Some people love seeking and that’s what they seek. While seeking they smile and they laugh and they weep tears of joy that roll right down their sweet apple cheeks. They seek just for the thrill of seeking to seek, living happily alone or in pairs.

So the schoolgirls will learn, and the worm will drill holes, and the willow will weep and the fish will breathe deep and Gorgeous George and Wendy Best will never find WEST, and I think that’s just fine by them.

                                             The End

Happy Father’s Day, In Two Memories

Happy Father’s Day, In Two Memories

 And why should I expect anyone to be interested in this piece of writing, when we all have memories of our own, plenty to keep us busy for a lifetime? I shouldn’t. And I don’t. But if I let that question stop me, I wouldn’t have this blog at all. This is, after all, a practice in not stopping… xo

My father was a funny guy. When I think of him, it is with a Camel unfiltered cigarette in his mouth, and auburn hair falling across his forehead.

In what was a typical 1970s custody arrangement, my sisters and I lived with our mother and spent Sundays with Daddy. Sometimes he’d take us to Moon’s Drugstore for hamburgers and sometimes to visit my sister’s horse, at a small family farm way out Hwy 70. The farm was in the country and, while my older sister rode, I wandered the property, smelling the hay and oats, tasting the salt lick and whistling the way Daddy taught me, by blowing through sharp blades of grass I held between my thumbs.

There was a big shady tree on the property, and one Sunday I noticed it was covered in what looked like a bristling black carpet. Holding my hand up to the tree, I let one of what turned out to be thousands of caterpillars crawl onto my palm, where I pet it with one finger. I played with the little thing the rest of the afternoon, letting it explore my hand and wrist, venture up my arm and, when it was time to leave, I kept it because it was just so dear, and in need of love.

Daddy drove us home at the end of the day and as I stepped out of the car, he told me to put the caterpillar down on the ground outside, to set him free. I stared at my father and then at the tiny creature in my hand, realizing what I had done by removing it from it’s home, knowing that I could not, as my father had suggested, just “put him in the grass.”

“He won’t know where he is,” I said. “He’ll be all alone.” But even though I was only six or seven at the time, life with my mother had already taught me the survival skills needed in my particular habitat: Do not ask for anything. Do not inconvenience anyone. Do not, under any circumstances, upset the grown-ups.

Still, I couldn’t stop my eyes from filling with tears. And then somehow, looking down at my muddy white sandals, I managed to ask, “Can we take him back where he came from?”

Daddy started the engine. In utter shock that he had agreed, I slid into the front seat next to him and together we drove in awkward silence back to the tree. I don’t think we had ever been alone before and the silence was scary, only because it was new. Daddy unrolled the window and we listened to Mac Davis on the radio until our wheels hit the gravel road leading to the dirt driveway and, finally, to the wet grass by the tree. In the pitch black, he lit a cigarette and walked with me, as I felt a scratchy tickle between the palms of my cupped hands. When we reached the tree, I returned the caterpillar to where it belonged, to its rightful place among the other caterpillars, to its family and friends and the daily toil of the insect kingdom.

On the way back to my mother’s apartment, we were silent again. Daddy wasn’t a big talker and I was shy around grown-ups, even the ones I loved. He parked and, before I stepped out of the car, our eyes met. “You’re a good egg, Moonbeam,” he said, patting my knee.

“You too,” was my response.

My mother would be awake and waiting, he knew this. She would be angry that we had taken so long. He knew that too. And he knew that she may be drinking, or packing to leave, screaming as she tossed nighties into a suitcase. Then he did the thing that he did every Sunday. The thing that I understand now, a little, but didn’t then, at all. He opened his cupped hands, and left me in the grass, alone.


Years later, when I was a junior in high school, my father and I lived together in an oddly shaped condominium, up a steep flight of stairs. It was actually part of a larger place where my mother, sisters and I had lived until I was thirteen, at which point everyone, for their own reasons, hit the road but me. After that, a wall was built while I was at school one day, separating the condo back into the original two units, one to be sold and one to house the leftover person, me.

Eventually, my father moved in and by eventually, I mean that what happened in the years after my mother left and before he moved in is a whole other story, but this is about my father, not about being left behind. This is about my father who, eventually, moved in with me at a time when I wanted nothing to do with him.

We rarely saw each other. We left notes: Daddy, I have rehearsal tonight. Be home at 10:00. Mag, I have a meeting tonight, D. We shared chores and grocery shopping, living on Kroger’s chicken salad, peanut butter and pickles. He was a plastic surgeon, one of the first to practice in Nashville, but there never seemed to be much money. I was a kid who grew up drinking powdered milk, but going to private school. I don’t know why we lived the way we did, and even after my father died and my sisters and I got a look at all the history and paperwork, it never added up. This isn’t about that, either.

There wasn’t much furniture in our place, but there was a low round coffee table in front of the television, where the two of us ate dinner off paper plates and left our scribbled correspondence. On the table, next to an overflowing ashtray, there was also a Folger’s coffee can filled with scissors, pens and surgical instruments he sometimes used for what he called “chores around the house.”

My junior year, the year Daddy moved in, I had a steady boyfriend, Steve. Daddy knew Steve, but not well because I never let friends up the dark wooden stairs to where we lived. I was embarrassed of the used office furniture, the old linoleum and the smoke stained walls, but the bigger reason was that I didn’t want to give my father even the slightest glimpse into my life. Daddy was all I had, so I was afraid to be angry with him but, at sixteen, I was also afraid not to be. So on Friday and Saturday nights, I would stand watch for Steve at my bedroom window, running down to meet him when his VW bug pulled into the parking lot.

On prom night that year, I got dressed in the tuxedo I had rented for the evening, black tie and tails, to match Steve’s. I was late and groping around under my bed for the high heels I’d borrowed from a friend, when I heard my boyfriend bounding up the stairs. I put on red lipstick, ran a comb through my shoulder length hair and raced out to catch my worlds colliding.

In the hallway, near the wall (yes, that wall), Steve and my father had already said hello. My date, a boy well loved and impeccably coached by his mother, had brought a corsage for me, a cluster of white sweetheart roses that he tried, and failed, to pin on the lapel of my jacket.

“Want me to give that a shot?” My father asked.

Steve might have been embarrassed, but I don’t think so. Daddy had a way of putting himself in your shoes, of offering help without judging you for needing it.

And then my father did the best thing. He went to the coffee can and got his magnifying headset with the light, the one he used for operating, taking out stitches and checking incisions. Lowering the magnifying visor over his eyes, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he pinned the flower in the proper spot, on the tuxedo jacket of his sixteen-year old daughter. I stood rooted, enduring the confusing wave of emotions, blushing beneath my collar and tie.

We made it through the moment, and with a quick hug, said good-bye. I imagine Daddy sitting down afterwards, at the coffee table, to have a peanut butter sandwich that he cuts in half with a scalpel.

That scene in the hallway with the corsage was the corniest moment in my life, and though at the time I would have denied it, I was a girl sorely in need of corny moments. My Dad needed them too, I think. And while it’s true that my relationship with him continued to exist in the realm of the painfully awkward until his death, when I was thirty-three, there are a few memories, like the corsage and the tree of caterpillars, that I have held onto for years. I’m putting them down, not in the grass alone, but here, with others like them, because they are so dear, and in need of love.

He accepted the daily drudge of writing…

In her book Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg writes about a poetry reading she went to where one of the poets, Peter Orlovsky, instead of performing a finished work of poetry, simply read aloud from his own personal journal. In doing so, Natalie said that he showed the audience of writers that “he accepted the unacceptable, the daily drudge of writing.” And while she shared that his standing up there, reading from his journal while the other poets, like Allen Ginsgerg, read their best works, had pissed her off at the time, it had also impressed her. Years later, she says it is the only reading of that night that she remembers at all.

Maybe it made such an impact because Orlovsky got up there and had the nerve to pull back the curtain and expose what goes into making art. Not the drugs, traumatic memories or the bed-wetting, but the plain old drudgery, the grind of doing The Thing. I am saying that just anyone should be getting up and reading from his journal and calling it art. My journal, for example, is filled with a lot of lists of things I want to accomplish, musings on the nature of God and a lot of whining about how I need to get off Facebook.

But, whereas I used to have a standing promise from my friend JoDee that, upon my death, she would get a hold of all my journals and dispose of them immediately, now I’m ok with them being saved and passed on. In fact, I demand that they be passed on and, not only that, but I want my kids to read those bad boys, if for no other reason than I’d like at least two witnesses to the drudgery that went into me trying to say something interesting. It is hard, and clumsy and I am aware that in the end, I will probably fail, but I Gave It My Best Shot and, hey, if that went on my tombstone tomorrow, I’d be ok with it.

And now, poor you, you are an audience to my journey when I’m sure have your own drudgery to contend with. Is it the daily grind of feigning interest in your girlfriend’s Arbonne business? Is it the drag of kicking the habit of drinking wine while you make dinner every night, although now you’re drinking the whole bottle before you sit down with the kids? That’s some drudgery right there. (And maybe some art, too, underneath, or way down in the cracks and around the edges. Especially, the edges).

When I read Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, one reason I loved it so much is that I felt like I got a window into her creative process or, more accurately, her process of becoming an artist. Don’t we all want to know how a person finds her voice? Or maybe it’s just me.

(It’s never just me.)

So, although I don’t pretend to have any followers (actually, I have four! Four whole people who want to know when I post something! Hi guys—you rule!) I would love it so much if you, whoever is reading this, would just post a line or two from your journal, if you keep one. Open to any page and give it a go.

Look, it’s easy:

Oct. 17 2015. Am I having difficulty creatively because I won’t write about the hard things? Because I waste so much time? Because I can’t spell or use commas correctly. I can’t do a cartwheel and I can’t dance in pointe shoes. The list of what I can’t do is endless.

Give me a little taste of your own personal drudgery. Not everything has to be a Vanity Fair cover, you know. If I get no responses, which is entirely possible, it’s ok. Sometimes I imagine that my friends worry about me, with this blog. They worry about the haters (kisses, haters!) and, worse, the silence, that might echo through my computer screen as I stare at it in the dark.

I can take it.

I have performed for audiences of two, while acting (badly) in Chicago, delivered a singing telegram in a sausage factory, and loved someone who didn’t love me back. I eat silence for breakfast.

Why keep pretending that what we create just blooms from thin air like a magical flower, while we demure, “What? This old thing?” Even the loveliest flower has to first fight it’s way through the plain old dirt of planet Earth. That’s the pure drudgery of becoming.

Man Power

(Another piece of fiction here. Five bucks for anyone who can suggest a name for this character. Has that ever happened to you? Where you can imagine all kinds of things about a person you’ve made up, but can’t come up with the right name?? Anyway, five bucks is five bucks!)



Marcia Trimble is still missing. It’s Saturday and I’m at The Hair Loom with Mama, getting her perm and frosted tips. I read all about Marcia Trimble in one of those magazines they have. The lady who sweeps up the hair told me I didn’t want to read that trash and tried to give me a puzzle book for babies instead, but I said I like trash and could I have another one of their Krispy Kremes please.

Nashville Magazine says Marcia Trimble’s parents put posters up like crazy and have even quit their jobs to spend all day and night looking for her because they only have one daughter and “she was so full of life.” In the middle of the page is her fourth grade picture where she has pierced ears.

Marcia Trimble is a Girl Scout, like me, so I have been hearing a lot about the tragic thing of her being missing and how they all blame it on her selling cookies door to door. But the story in the magazine isn’t just about her. It’s about unsolved crimes around town and how a whole bunch of kids and people have disappeared and no one has ever figured out what happened to them.

Also, it seems like lots of people’s heads have been chopped off. One girl was killed with a fork while she slept and the police still don’t know who did it. Every page has a picture of a regular person, smiling away like Christmas, and then you read about whatever terrible thing happened to them, like murder by strangulation, and you just can’t believe it! The magazine says they just don’t have “the man power” to solve every case.

Mama smiles all the way home from the beauty parlor, which is always a relief. On the way, we stop at the liquor store and I lie down on the back seat, watch the giant mechanical horse in the parking lot lift his hoof over and over and wonder about all the stranglers and fork killers running around out there. One of Nashville’s many criminals could reach in this car any minute and grab me and I would never be seen again. My class picture would go in the paper, the one where my bangs are too short. Mama would never pay the money to get all those posters made though, and it would probably just end right there.

I don’t know why I think about things like blood and mysteries as much as I do. It seems like the trashier something is, the more I want to know about it.

Driving home, Mama talks to herself and has the radio tuned to the WMAK news. “The state supreme court ruled today that paddling of unruly students is acceptable under the law.” I wonder if Marcia Trimble was unruly. I also wonder how come she got to have her ears pierced and I have to wait until I’m thirteen, which, in a town full of crazed maniacs, I may never live to see.

Sometimes, you get an idea.

When we get home, I go straight to my room and get my Girl Scout jumper with the white shirt for underneath and the green socks that match but are so tight you like to die. I put it all on, along with the sash that has my cooking badge glued on with Elmer’s and the beanie, which takes me forever to find. In the mirror, I am Pepper Anderson from Police Woman. I will trap Girl Scout killers by posing undercover, screaming my head off until the police come with man power to catch them.

Mama’s asleep in front of the television. Before I leave, I take the cigarette from between her fingers and run some water on it over the sink so we don’t burn to death, for crying out loud.

Slowly, I walk through all the front yards on our street, trying to look “full of life.” That is something kidnappers and murderers can’t get enough of. There’s a bus stop on Central Avenue where I think I’ll sit for a minute because another thing they love is to give people rides. A lady with a sequin jacket sits next to me and makes clicking sounds with her tongue until I’m ready for the funny farm, as Mama always says. I leave there and walk all by myself toward the highway, which, as everyone knows, is practically like begging to be kidnapped. I stand in the gravel and smile as cars whiz by. No one even looks, so I stick my thumb out.

On TV, Pepper, who is actually an actress named Angie Dickinson, never has to wait very long to trap killers. That’s how you can tell it’s fake because, in real life, it’s the most boring thing in the world and you could walk around ‘til you’re a hundred getting blisters and never seeing one maniac. The police were right— we just don’t have the man power.

I’m burning up in my stupid jumper. I get a rocket pop and sit in the ditch by Rose’s Department Store, watching all the people lined up in the parking lot to see the sperm whale. You pay fifty cents and they let you go into this air-conditioned trailer that’s longer than a school bus, where they have him frozen in a gigantic block of ice. The whale has only been parked here a week, but I’ve seen it twice. The first time I stayed in the trailer so long my lips turned blue and I had bad dreams after. The trick is to just look at it just long enough to get your fifty cents worth, but not so long that you start thinking about what it’s like for the whale.

Rose’s is closed, but I can see from across the highway that there’s still some people waiting by the trailer. Here’s a rule I just made up: when I find a four-leaf clover, I can go home. Sometimes, I make rules like this up for fun, but just as often they end up not being fun at all. Like now— I’ve found a million four leaf clovers here before, but tonight I haven’t seen one and it’s getting darker and I need to hurry. Murray’s law, as they say.

I pick through clovers, three, three, three, four! No, three, three… I wonder how they got that whale to sit still long enough to freeze it? Three, three…

A truck pulls up to the curb in front of where I’m sitting in the ditch, hits the curb and keeps rolling. It’s a blue truck. Loud, with black smoke coming out the tailpipe. There’s a man inside with a baseball cap on. I wish I’d find that clover, I really do, but they only show up when you’re not looking. The man in the cap yells something from the open window of his truck.

“What?” I say, looking up at him. He doesn’t have a shirt on.

“Come over here so you can hear me, darlin’ “ He’s smiling and when I get up, brushing the grass from my knees, something hanging from his mirror catches my eye. It looks like yellow feathers and something shiny, like a hook.

“Where’s Rose’s Department Store?” I think I hear him ask. No other cars are passing. I’m standing in his black cloud thinking he must be blind. I point past him, over to the shopping center.

“It’s right there!” I have to yell over the rattle of locusts and his truck engine and the quiet of Hwy 70, at dinner time.

“How’s that? Now come on, I ain’t fixin to bite. Come close so I can hear.” He’s smiling a chipped tooth at me.

When I move closer, I see his hand in his lap. At first I figure he’s got shorts on, but then I get that he does not have shorts on, or anything at all. It feels like being stuck under water, when you don’t hear anything except the blood in your heart, pumping. His hand, in a fist, is holding his thing and moving so fast the hook on the mirror is shaking, catching orange from the sky.

“You getting’ in?” He says, smiling away but not stopping what he’s doing down there, not stopping at all. A car zooms by, not stopping, and I start to feel like the whole world is never going to stop for me, even if I scream and scream.

I back away, through the gravel and clover until I feel the line snap between us, and I’m free. I turn and run faster than anything, across Hwy 70, through the church parking lot and all the back yards with their clotheslines and chained up dogs. My heart is like a cartoon in my chest and my whole body is on fire when I make it home. The back screen door is open and I dive inside, where it’s blue from the television and Mama’s still asleep.

I make up another rule: I will never tell a living soul what happened to me tonight. I will freeze it in a solid block of ice, and only people who stand in line and pay will hear the story of the man with the chipped tooth, and the hook, and the trap that I set.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Getting a dog was a huge mistake.

My husband knew it and was adamant that he wanted nothing to do with this latest obsession of mine.

“Listen to me,” he said, one night in bed. “I do not want a dog. Never.”

My eyes were glued to a dog rescue website on my laptop. So many adorable little creatures, some wearing little bandanas! “I know, sweetie,” I replied, in my husband’s general direction.

“Are you hearing me? I won’t change my mind. I don’t want any part of this.”

“Uh-huh.” I had moved on to the puppies section, furry darlings staring from playpens and the laps of volunteers.

I was warned. The woman who was helping me design a drought tolerant landscape in our front yard tried to talk some sense into me. She pointed out the time and care a dog requires and, when I changed the subject to perhaps getting a flock of chickens, she was decidedly against that, too.

“Don’t do it,” she declared, shoving a razor sharp agave plant into the dirt. “You’ll have crap everywhere. A mess. You’ll hate it.”

I took the advice to heart, at least when it came to the chickens.

But a dog was different, I reasoned to myself. Looking around my urban neighborhood, it seemed like everyone had a dog and, judging from the number of dog parks, dog boutiques and even dog bakeries that were cropping up all around the San Fernando Valley, they downright worshiped them.

I remember a friend of mine confiding to me that, as she was desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, she began to see pregnant women everywhere, imagining their lives to be perfect and her own to be sorely lacking. I experienced a less painful, but vaguely similar feeling. Those people with dogs must be more loving, more laid back (bring on the crap!) and just plain happier, in general.

Of course, there was also the matter of my two young sons who, if I didn’t do something quick, would miss out on the requisite “boy and his dog” experience.Though most of my friends smiled and agreed when I suggested my kids would love a dog, they cautioned me about my expectations.

“You’ll end up being the only one who walks it,” they said.

“I’m ok with that. I could use the exercise anyway,” I countered.

“Your kids will be grown and gone and you’ll still have to take care of that animal.”

“I’m not getting it for the kids. This will be my dog,” I assured them.

“It’s like having another child.”

Ok, I had to give this last one some thought. My kids were just getting to the point where they could do for themselves a little more and I’ll admit, I was loving it.

Eventually, I shook it off. “If it was that hard, no one would do it! Everyone I know has a dog, so it can’t be that much of a pain in the ass.”

Oh, the hubris.

It turned out that having a dog was a gigantic pain in the ass and that everything I had been told was true. It was also true that my dear husband, always so willing to do his part with the house and the kids, really meant it when he said he wanted zero part of my grand plan to become a dog owner. On this issue, he was crystal clear. I was on my own.

Except now, I had company. Constant company.

During our first week, Jackson, our new two year old terrier mix, followed me everywhere, and when he couldn’t follow me (on the advice of the trainer at Pet Orphans, we were crate training the little darling), his oddly human-ish eyes were pinned on me with a kind of psychic Velcro. I was reminded of those early days of parenting when all my senses were heightened in response to my baby’s needs. But whereas that had been a fulfilling and exciting time, aided by bonding hormones and the knowledge that I was doing an important job that would one day result in a grown up who might, god willing, at least take me to lunch, caring for this dog, this “orphan”, drained me.

Within the first few days, I noticed that I smelled like dog. I asked my husband if he noticed and he said yes, in fact our whole house now smelled like dog. He wasn’t happy about it and, predictably, this made me feel guilty since, through no fault of his own, he was now forced to live my nightmare. I bought lavender candles and opened the windows as often as possible.

Although quiet during the day, Jackson barked all night long. All. Night. Long. I moved the crate next to my bed and that did the trick but then, instead of the barking, we had what amounted to an elderly fat man with an adenoid problem sleeping with us. My husband moved into the guest room and told me he’d return when I “figured everything out.”

We relocated the crate into my son’s room, who willingly agreed to keep the pooch company during the night. I thought this very sweet, especially since Jackson had taken to “hearding” my boy through the house, nipping at his backside and staring him down. This sleeping arrangement worked at first, but eventually he started having nightmares, waking in tears and asking to sleep with us. I’m referring to the dog, of course.

Finally, after a few weeks of my sleeping on the couch nearby, Jackson acclimated to the family room and I cheerfully remarked to my husband, over a third cup of coffee (I wasn’t yet used to the six a.m. wake up that was to be my new normal), how great it is that dogs sleep at night, unlike cats, who prowl around and walk on your head.

“And it’s so sweet how he just goes right to bed at night, just like a little person!” I intoned, adding up all the ways I could think of that dog ownership didn’t suck. “Also, he really seems to want to please me. Cats don’t care what you think,” I heard myself say. This was a pro-canine argument I had long heard dog people make, and the minute I said it I looked at my husband, sipping his coffee under the ever-watchful eye of Jackson. Did I detect a look of betrayal?

Chris and I were cat people when we met. We each brought two with us when we moved in together and one, at twenty years old and counting, was still hanging on.

“I think there’s something in a dog person that needs to be adored,” he would say, on those lazy Sundays early in our relationship.

“I think all people like to be adored.” Sometimes I just liked to be contrary. The truth was, I thought he had a point.

“But there is a personality type that needs someone waiting for them when they get home. That needs all the slobbering and tail wagging.” I’d nod in agreement as our black cat walked over the morning paper, situating himself dead center on the Style section.

So there I sat, fourteen years later, with a new dog I desperately wished I had never brought home.

Though I loved the exercise I was getting on our twice daily walks, I soon developed plantar fasciitis and a bunion. And no one warned me about the cost of grooming, food, vet bills and, if you planned on having any life whatsoever, occasional doggy daycare. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had, of course. I was hell bent on trying it out for myself and would never have listened.

Late one night, I found myself trolling the internet looking for how I might deactivate his chip, the little homing device that all rescue places insist on putting in your animal before you take them home, so that I could bring him to a shelter anonymously. It had been a month at that point, I was exhausted and depressed and had come to the conclusion that a royal mistake had been made. I wanted to turn back the clock and take it all back. The memory of my life before Jackson had a rosy glow about it: the mornings spent making pancakes with my boys instead of tying on running shoes and being pulled out the front door with a fist full of biodegradable poop bags ($5.00 for a box of thirty), the long days at the beach without dashing home in the hope that he hadn’t, once again, peed on our bedroom curtains. God, the simplicity of it all!

A word of warning to anyone who recognizes themselves in my story. Do not go online and say that you want to get rid of your dog. Forget flaming, you will be incinerated. Just an innocent question about, say, finding your dog a new home will bring down onto you such holy hell as cannot be described here.

Pet Orphans, agrees to take any animal you adopt from them back, no questions asked and I considered doing it, telling the kids that he bolted away from me on our walk (never mind that he wouldn’t let me out of his sight for even a minute, much less take off on his own), but I couldn’t imagine the shame of returning him to the disapproving volunteer, tail between my legs, so to speak. Besides how is one, in this day of Social Media (status update: introducing the newest member of the family!!! J 63 Likes) supposed to explain to friends and relatives that no, there was nothing technically wrong with the dog, other than his being one? No one would understand. I would have not a friend in the world.

“Just do it. Who cares what people think?” My best friend JoDee lives a thousand miles away, but because the dog walks were long and boring I started calling her to chat twice a day.

“I can’t. I’ll feel terrible,” I admitted. “Can’t I get someone to do it for me?” I thought of all the people I knew who might like to earn fifty bucks for a half hour of work.

“You could totally pay someone to take him back for you. Get a teenager to do it. Just don’t let the boys find out.”

I thought of my boys and how Jackson licked them head to toe as we snuggled on the couch to read at night. My own mother had a habit of bringing animals home and then giving up on them, sending them “to the farm,” or sometimes just cutting to the chase and releasing them into the night. Most of these animals weren’t around long enough for me to feel close to and, as you can probably guess, I’ve never been a real animal person, exactly. But still, those are sad memories and I refused to recreate those in the minds and hearts of my own kids.

And my husband— would I have to lie about it to him too? As much as he maintained his position on my decision to get a dog, I knew he was a softie at heart. He was the one always putting ice cubes in the cat’s water. The one who insisted on keeping the porch light off when we discovered a bird’s nest on top, with three little blue eggs inside. He talked a good game, but he would never look at me the same if I gave Jackson back and made him an orphan again.

In her TED talk on regret, Kathryn Schulz said, “the point isn’t to live without any regrets. The point is to not hate ourselves for having them.”

If I could turn back time and, as with he chickens, heed the warnings of friends and not get a dog, would I? Absolutely. Jackson is now four years old and, thanks to a few sessions with a trainer ($50.00 an hour x2), he no longer snaps at my son’s rear, but he’s developed a neurotic habit of licking our couch and we will have to order new bedroom curtains soon. Nothing about this experience turned out like I’d planned, but seeing as how we’ve all made it through four years at this point, it’s safe to say that Jackson will live out his days as a permanent member of our family.

Tonight I’ll take him for a long walk he loves down the block with the purple Jacarandas and the white cat who sneers at us as we pass her yard. I’m almost fifty years old, and I’ve never dreamed of living my life free of screw-ups. I do dream of owning my mistakes with humor and, if I can manage it, compassion. The cat’s tail doubles in size and she lets out a hiss. “Come on, buddy,” I say, Jackson strains at his leash, always ready to make a friend. “You’ll never win her over.”

Maybe not but, just like a dog, that won’t stop him from trying.