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You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Updated: 2017-11-23T06:48:59.185-08:00


WHAT WE INHERIT: Dealing with the loss of a parent


.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } dad's watch, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. My mother never wanted to sell the house, though it sat unoccupied for nearly three years. Mold etched yellow flower-like splotches on the roof, a wilderness encroached in the back yard, vines loosened the shingles as they pressed their feral invasion.But inside, the house was as it always had been: my father's workshop in the basement in fastidious order, his swivel chair turned toward the slider where he often contemplated his garden or the birds that nested in a bush outside the door, the cupboards and china cabinets overflowing as if the couple who had found such joy in entertaining might return for one more party. Even Louis Armstrong waited on the CD player, poised to belt out Wonderful World on commandIt was foolish to keep the place, everyone said, foolish to allow my mother, whose judgment was impaired by her disease, to make the decision, as the prices of homes plummeted and the neighbors complained about the high grass. But she wept whenever I brought up the subject. "We were so happy there," she said. "Maybe someday I will go back."I never had the heart to tell her there was no chance of that.It wasn't until her final illness that I put the house on the market. She died on April 7th and her home sold just a few days later. In the end, the house was emptied in one frenetic weekend. My kids took what they wanted before various local charities came to pick over what remained; clothes, unworn for a decade, were finally bundled up for the Goodwill.It pained me to see anything go: my father’s old work shirt, his name stitched on the pocket which my mother had worn for weeks after his death--the only thing that kept her warm, she said--a lone piece of speckled plastic dishware from my childhood, a smudged pair of the reading glasses my parents shared. I tried them on, surprised how I had grown into them. I knew I had to be merciless with the past or it would consume my house just as it threatened to do with my psyche. Some of what I chose to keep was obvious: the objects that had come down through the generations, my mother’s beautiful rugs. While the ruthless trash bags trailed me through the house, I grabbed stacks of photo albums, including a book of crumbling black paper put together by a great-great aunt nearly a century ago. I had no idea who most of the faces were, but I couldn’t throw away their mugging grins for the camera, the photos sent home from World War I, the solemn love of an unknown mother and child. When I got home, I found I had also grabbed a disproportionate number of time pieces. clocks that marked birthdays and anniversaries, watches that reflected the fashion of the decades in which they were worn. All of them had stopped at different hours, leaving me to wonder what had been going on when they finally wore down. Common moments then. Forever irretrievable now. After I gathered my clocks and watches together, I took a look at my inheritance: time of an indeterminate amount. The truth is that the living know only two things about the time that remains: 1) It feels endless, long enough to squander on a thousand vanities, useless arguments and distractions and 2) It is not. If death teaches anything, and I believe it instructs us in far more than we can ever absorb, one of its lessons is that time is not just an esoteric marker that is ticked away on clocks, numbered in heartbeats. It is also a hard, immutable wall that falls when it will. On this side of the wall, you can embrace, tell, forgive, ask for forgiveness, touch, share ice-cream, argue and cede the argument---as if forever. And on the other side, there is only a room full of old clocks and watches, silent and frozen. And a question. What does it mean?When I lost my father, i set his watch at the hour of his death and hung it in my office. Ten years later it became like so much else--something I l[...]



The other day my weekly newsletter from the always luminous and thought-provoking Fiona Robyn arrived in my in-box. A Confession, Fiona called this week’s message. After sharing some particularly candid insights on the subject of malice, she left her readers with this question:What kinds of malice and cunning do you use? How does it feel to admit them to yourself or to others?I immeiately wrote back to say that I planned to blog the answer. But then, I plan to do a lot of things. Fiona wished me luck. As I’ve said before, procrastination is bad, but it isn’t ALL bad--particularly for a writer. While I put off writing about the forms malice takes in my life, I had a few days to observe them. Sunday, in the happy aisles of Trader Joe’s, I had an unlikely encounter with my own meanness. The store is always crowded on weekends, but this week, the small space was clotted with an army of desperate lovers seeking pink gerber daisies, scentless roses and Belgian chocolate. Access to the few food items I wanted, not to mention movement, was blocked at every turn by a crush of carts, organic food lovers, and miserable valentines who were obviously infuriated that everyone else was in THEIR way.Me, too. Infuriated--particularly at the guy who pushed his way in front of me repeatedly and then gave me a scornful look for his trouble. Oh, I know all about people like you, I thought, huffily. People who think they have a divine right to be FIRST wherever they go. So I glared and I grumbled and I thought a lot of crappy thoughts about how arrogant and selfish the rest of the human race was. And then I stopped. Right there in the frozen food aisle where I’d been jockeying for position near the veggie burritos. I brought my cart to a halt ( I know, almost a crime against humanity in that situation) and took a look at myself. What was I doing? What kind of thoughts had I invited into my brain? When someone gave me a not so gentle nudge, I moved along--but in an entirely different direction of mind. I made a conscious effort to smile at my fellow grumblers, to compliment them on the flowers spilling from their cart, or their brightly colored scarves. A couple of them shared some satisfying complaints about the madness in the aisles. I couldn’t believe how congenial they all were, how like me! I even smiled at the man with the Divine Right--though that seemed to annoy him even more than my desire to get to the avodcados. Nice story, right? Particularly the latter part where I come off sounding pretty wise and cool. A regular yogini. But Fiona’s question deserves a more honest response, and the truth is I don’t stop and pivot nearly enough. In fact, the first part of the story probably tells a deeper truth. When I feel malice, I do a lot of talking, both internally and externally. If someone does something I don’t like, I tell them about it--otherwise known as complaining and criticizing. And if that doesn’t work (which it almost ever does) I escalate the volume or the meanness--or both (even less effective.)And then, when the world refuses to change at my behest, I make my head into an echo chamber. I walk through the house or the hours of my life, carrying on a running monologue about my grievances. I treat my life like the overcrowded aisle of a supermarket where lots of (mostly imaginary) people and things are in my way. Pretty futile, I admit. I mean, would the man with the Divine Right to be First have changed if I rammed my cart into his posterior and pointed out that he was an arrogant jerk? Or if I walked around thinking about it for a week? Or if I told all of YOU? No, he wouldn’t and he wouldn’t suffer either. Not a whit. But I would--which is what I do with most of my malice. I turn it on myself. Or on those who love me enough to listen. Which brings me to the second part of Fiona’s question: How does it feel to admit that?Well, the honest answer is not good. Not good at all. But it also feels just a little bit hopeful. Because if I can say it out loud. If I can wri[...]



When I was growing up, I went to bed every night clutching the pink, child-sized rosary I’d been given for First Communion, and prayed for a sibling. I secretly hoped for a girl like my cousin Alison whose sparkle was so bright that it lingered among the dust motes for days after she packed her dolls into their patent leather case and went home. My phantom sister would play jump rope with me in the basement on rainy days, sing along with the Beatles in the car, and let me paint her nails tangerine. But believing it wasn’t a good idea to tell God what to do, I was quick to add that a brother would be fine, too. Most of all, I yearned for another voice in the dark on the many nights when my parents’ marriage erupted into confusing accusations and teary counter-attacks , when my father’s ancient hurts rocked our five room ranch until I was sure it would explode. As a small child, I envisioned my imaginary sibling holding my hand when I impulsively rushed out to defend my mother--invariably, ratcheting up the conflict. As teenagers, my sister or brother and I would roll our eyes with uncanny synchronicity and turn up the radio. Why don’t they just get a divorce? we’d say. Only later when I'd grown up and taken up the challenge of my own relationships would I understand that my parents' union was more complex than I understood, that there were no clear villains, and as in most quarrels, both parties played thier roles. By then I understand that our parents hadn’t so much battled each other, as they’d waged a long and valiant war against my father’s demons. And what’s more, they’d won. The arguments would fade to a silent pantomime. Their love--fierce and affectionate till the end--would leave mw in awe. Despite my endless Hail Marys, I remained an only child. My father, a classic extrovert, had a thousand friends “who were like brothers to him, ” but he was frequently moody and morose at home, especially when my mother was at work. I listened avidly for the sound of a car crunching gravel, signaling that she was home. The wisest and most loving of parents, she was also the sister to whom I could tell everything, and the friend who listened seriously to my music when adolescence blew through our shaky walls like a tornado. . I remember her taking particular exception to Bob Dylan, especially the line in The Times they are a Changin that exhorted parents to “get out of the new world if you can’t lend a hand.” So what does he want us to do--just go die somewhere? she said, standing, hands on hips, in the doorway of my room. But the next day I heard her singing Blowing in the Wind. Now that’s a beautiful song, she said. In one of our most memorable games from my younger years, she would emerge in an impromptu costume, her voice comically altered, and ask, “Did you think I was your mother?” Sometimes she played a character from my beloved books; she was Jo in Little Women, Nancy Drew’s boyish best friend, George, or Amelia Aerheart. But it was her villains who made me shriek with delight. She played the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz, or one of Cinderella’s harpy stepsisters; she pulled the covers up to her chin and cackled like the wolf who’d stolen Grandma. I loved the game, but the best part was when she pulled off her disguise, and returned my mother to me: wide smile, lilting voice, the Elizabeth Arden scented hug that made everything all right.Now that my mother has Alzheimer’s and I have become her caregiver, it seems as if we play a cruel variation of that game every day. I hear her asking, "Did you think I was your mother?" when she curses her aides with words I never thought she knew or tells them that they’re “fired,” when she accuses me of stealing a coat she hasn’t owned in thirty years. She eyes me warily--the thief who hijacked not only a long forgotten items of clothing, but her life--as if to make sure I don’t make off with anything else. She’s supposed to be the mother, and I the [...]




The other day over lunch, a friend recalled an old Irish priest who often gave the above advice to troubled parishioners. That would put their problems in perspective, he said. Everyone at the table laughed, but I found myself gazing out the window of the restaurant at the brisk December day. I shivered imperceptibly as I imagined a harsh wind cutting across the open field of stones, and the relentlessness of a grey sky.

Maybe it’s my Irish blood, but the idea has its appeal for me. In fact, a couple of my fictional characters spend an inordinate amount of time doing just that. The first is a child who worries that his dead mother is out alone in the cold and rain. He goes to the cemetery, not so much to reflect or even to mourn, but to feel the chill and storm, the life that can no longer touch her. The second character, who broods over the love she lost decades earlier, probably has more in common with those the priest dispensed to the grave yard with an Old Testament style flourish. It might be--and probably was--a heartless prescription for many. But my character finds a heightened awareness, freedom from the non-stop lies the ego tells, and yes, a kind of courage there; and I'm sure that some of the priest's parishioners did, too.

I have also been rereading Montaigne’s essays, and one of his great questions--arguably his only question-- is how to deal with the fear of death. Montaigne found his version of the folding chair in the written pieces he first named “essays, or essais in French.” I suspect he called them “tries” that because he wasn’t expecting to get them right the first time, or perhaps ever. Montaigne accepted the limitations of seeing through a glass darkly, though it never stopped him from taking out his pen and writing toward the light. One of the most dogged revisers in history, he worked on the same collection for the rest of his life, adding to the essays as he expanded his knowledge of the world and more particularly, himself.

Then on Saturday, an unlikely person entered the discussion I was having with Montaigne and the priest. Someone in my household turned on a televised biography about Adam Lambert and as always, I was drawn to his voice. During the few minutes I watched, the narrator was saying that one of the the singer’s great gifts is that he doesn’t fear the stage. It’s something all of his fans know, but this time I heard it differently.

This time it seemed like the kind of secret you might hear if you sat on a folding chair in the cemetery long enough, or if you spent a significant portion your days in your writing tower trying to expand your knowledge and skill at life: Your time is brief. Give it. Risk it. And do it now. Don’t fear death; don’t fear the stage.

RISE UP SINGING: 9 Ways to Subtly Change Your Consciousness


.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } DSCN1915, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. This is something I've experimented with for a while. For it to work, you have to do all nine in the first hour after you wake up. If that sounds onerous, it's not. Most of these can be accomplished in a minute or less, and I personally guarantee that if you practice them, they will change the quality of your day. 1. Express gratitude. Whether to God or to the universe, to the person waking up beside you in the bed, or to the sun that has graciously agreed to light another day, let your first words be "Thank you." And if things haven't exactly been going your way, and gratitude feels strained, say it twice. Say it louder.2. Don't just avoid toxic people who diminish and deplete. Be the antidote. Say something honestly affirming to everyone you encounter in your first waking hour. 3. Organize something. It doesn't have to be much. This morning, I picked up the shoes that had been scattered in the family room and made my bed. My "random act of order" took about three minutes, but it made me feel like an organized person. The sub-conscious mind took note, and looked for little ways to create order all day. 4. Do a one minute workout. Set a kitchen timer and do one minute of crunches or pushups or bicep curls. Will it change your body significantly? Probably not. But it will change it a little. And like the organization thing, it communicates to your sub-conscious that you are a person who is committed to fitness. 5. Make a promise to yourself. Vow not to say a single unkind thing all day, or to do a good deed without taking credit for it, or to keep working on something you care about for fifteen minutes after you want to quit or to avoid your favorite junk food. The only rule is you have to change the promise every day. Otherwise, it quickly turns into an empty "resolution," and we all know what happens to those.6. Beautify something. Put a table cloth on your table or a pick some flowers and fill a vase. Get out of your sweats (if you work at home like me) and dress like you're about to have a very important day. And if you can't think of anything else, you can always smile. Voila! Instant beauty.7. Be awed by something. Take in the florid sunrise if you get up early enough, or the shape of the cumulus clouds overhead or the chirping happy sound of a child's voice. The truth is there aren't seven wonders in the world; there are an infinite number of them. If you can live through a single hour without feeling amazed, you're only half awake.8. Practice Mountain Pose for thirty seconds. Or as your mother used to say, stand up straight--preferably before a mirror. Get your body into perfect, regal alignment for a minute, and experience how balanced and sleek and wonderful it feels. You will probably forget and fall into your habitual slouch later, and that's okay. Slowly, slyly, you just may teach your body a new way to be. 9. Take one small step toward a long term goal. Maybe you have to go to work, or you need to get seven children dressed for school, or the dog ate your homework, but if you ever want to run that marathon, or write that novel, learn to fly a plane or speak Chinese, you need to set yourself on course by doing one small thing toward that goal every single day. First thing. Take out your running shoes and set them by the door for later. Look over what you wrote the day before while you're having your coffee...practice your aria in the shower.[...]



any kind of day, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

I was walking on a quiet road yesterday when a van barreled out of nowhere and came within inches of hitting me. The driver tossed me an obscenity and sped on his way.

How easily my habit of walking and thinking about a thousand different things, combined with the obscuring noise of a lawnmower might have put me more directly in his path.

He reminded me that I need to pay attention, that the ordinary world is never as benign or familiar as it seems, and that others, too, are distracted by many things.

I turned a corner and met a stooped old man, bleached white with age, carrying a step ladder across the street. When I offered to help, he thanked me, but declined, saying that it was important for him to do what he can for himself.

Worried that the angry person in the van might return, I watched the old man until he'd safely navigated the street.

"Nice day!" I said, exhaling relief when he reached the other side.

He stopped deliberately, set down his ladder with satisfaction, and looked up in the sky as if to check.

"Yes, it is, but I'm happy to take any kind of day," he said, smiling broadly. "How about you?"

"Me, too," I said, touching my face where the gravel kicked up by the van had grazed my skin. Me, too.

*Meanwhile, has anyone seen my blogroll? It disappeared mysteriously a few weeks back. I hope to get an updated version up soon.



73504902.JPG, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

Imagine you had the power to name a holiday, one that celebrated rising, tenacity, the resilience and generosity of the human spirit.

What might you call it?

How about Up From the Blue Day? On that day, just for one twenty-four hour period, everyone would rise out of whatever blue mood, or blue music or blue funk that might engulf them and celebrate. The next day, if you want to go back to being miserable, or if you need to--well, I understand. But just for one day, the blues of all kinds would be banished.

People would sing. And shimmy. Maybe drink blue martinis in cool bars in New York. Or wine in blue glasses on their decks on Cape Cod. Or wherever they might be. On Up from the Blue Day, no one would listen to the scary old news, or give in to envy or utter a single mean word about anyone.

I know it sounds tough, but come on. It's a holiday! Get into the spirit.

As it turns out, three lovely friends beat me to it. Jessica Keener, Tish Cohen, and Robin Slick already named this day in honor of Susan Henderson's debut novel of the same title.

I haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet, but I've seen the reviews, and people I trust have been raving about UP FROM THE BLUE since the early drafts.

But what really makes me eager to read this novel is my belief that wise, generous people produce wise generous work. It just a law of nature. And I've read enough of Susan's short fiction, to know she proves the law.

If you've been here before, you might remember a couple of years when I blogged about little besides IV poles, and johnnies, and endless waits for lab results. Two ugly words that seemed flash constantly in red neon before my eyes, no matter how hard I tried to escape them: aggressive cancer.

It was the most difficult time in my life, but right there in the middle of it, someone created a holiday just for me. It was a day when I wept almost all day--not from fear, not from grief, not even from happiness, but from sheer awe at the goodness of people. The kindness of my fellow writers and bloggers. A lot of amazing friends were involved and I will always be grateful to each and every one of them, but Sue was the driving force behind The Liar's Diary blog day.

So you know I don't often sell stuff here. I don't even push my own work (much to the chagrin of publishers and agent.) But if you like good fiction, today would be a great day to buy Up From the Blue.

And if not, then go out and something for someone else. It's what Susan would want you to do.

That's just the kind of person she is.

P.S. Since the procrastinator is getting this up kind of late in the day, we just might have to extend the holiday into tomorrow.



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } 6th annual literary blues pie, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. Take a good look at this pie. This is what procrastination looks like. My friend Susan Messer and I planned to bake our annual pie in honor of the muse back in July. Wasting no time, Susan produced her usual superb pie and an equally superb blog post about the process. I promised to do the same, and of course, I meant it! I even planned to do it right this time--just like Susan does--with organic locally grown blueberries and a buttery home made crust. This particular promise/delusion and its inevitable failure has been repeated so many times that it's become part of the tradition.It was mid-August before I found myself staring guiltily at the chemically laced blueberries at Stop and Shop, and I didn't actually bake the pie until a week later, when around 1 a.m., I looked at the slightly shriveled berries and realized it was now or never. Now, sigh, it's September--okay, late September, and I'm completing the process. (A photograph of the pie posted on Facebook, however, did bring Diana Guerrero and her amazing writing group, and Karen DeGroot Carter on board.)(The judges decided it was still good.)So yes, I admit it. My name is Patry and I am a procrastinator. Big time. In my defense, let me say two things: 1. I was born this way.2. I'm beginning to think it works for me. See, while I'm putting off what I should do, I'm sometimes dreaming, percolating, or just allowing the muse to do her mysterious subconscious work. Or maybe that's just an excuse. I don't know. These days most writers tend to name their muse Hard Work. The airy fairy in her gossamer gown who provides inspiration when she will has been kicked to the curb and replaced by the goddess of self-discipline by most productive writers. I admire them more than I can say. But as hard as I try, I'm not one of them. Sure, I can put on my work boots, pack my lunch and write every day. Same place. Same time. I can set page quotas, word quotas and time quotas, and yeah, I can produce. But if the airy fairy hasn't spoken, if the story isn't ready to tell itself through me, or whatever the process is, then one morning, I wake up and realize, I've run a hundred mile marathon--in the wrong direction. Sometimes that's good. It gives you something to work with, as the conventional wisdom goes. But other times, it's just a long way back, there's a whole lot of mud on my shoes, and I'm exhausted. Meanwhile, as I've put off making pies and writing about them and countless other things, a group of characters have been whispering to me, and then speaking loudly and finally shouting: This way! This way! Sometimes I think they are the muse, these mysterious "people" who appear from nowhere and demand to be heard, demand to be felt. Other times, it seems that time itself is the muse, and that the procrastination and endless daydreaming I've been fighting all my life just might serve a productive purpose.So yes, I believe that hard work may be the muse's best friend, but at least for me, it's not the thing itself. For that reason, I will continue to bake my imperfect, belated pies, and sing the praises of capricious fairies everywhere.[...]



Gulf Oil Spill, originally uploaded by Trog1.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Outraged. Frustrated. Saddened beyond measure.

It isn't much, but today all I can think to do is to say the words, acknowledge the ongoing catastrophic loss, express the anger.

I don't know how to organize marches or inspire crowds or change an increasingly intractable system that values profits over people, animals, ecosystems, the small blue marble we all live on. But I don't think I could write another word or kiss a child or sit in my backyard enjoying the sound of birds chanting to each other at dusk without bearing witness to this tragedy. Without saying the words.

Outraged. Frustrated. Saddened beyond measure.



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } JADE, guarding the house on the last day of her life 8/24/09, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. With all my responsibilities here, I don't get very far from home these days, but that doesn't mean I don't travel. The other day I set my timer and went for a walk.I saw an overweight man on a too-small bike, dressed in floral shorts and a tank top. He looked at me darkly as he passed. Did he know it was forty degrees outside? Did he know I was wondering if he might be dangerous? Feeling ashamed, I looked away. I saw the white faced golden retriever who always stumbles off her stoop to warn us off when we pass. This time the owner came out to apologize. “No, no!” I said, stopping her. “I love that dog! He reminds me of the old dogs who have passed through my life, proud protectors to the end." Then I told her about Jade who protected us until she couldn't walk. No, longer. By the time I walked away, we both had tears in our eyes--me for what was, her for what was to come.I saw the tallest pine tree in the neighborhood standing against a grey sky, and I heard Sebastian’s voice. “Big tree!” he says and points when he rolls by it in his stroller. Before Sebastian, I passed that tree hundreds of times but never really looked at it. Now I marvel. Big tree!I saw empty houses, dressed up to create the impression they were still occupied. Shades closed, a telltale light in the window that never goes out. I wonder if they’re foreclosures; I wonder where the occupants went; and I wonder who will come to live in them. I saw a cool pattern made by pine cones and needles and curly beach grass on the gournd. I studied it for a while until I spotted someone behind the shades watching me. She was looking at me the way I looked at the heavy man on the little bike. I waved and moved along.I passed the house where a man committed suicide a decade ago. Though I don’t know the family, we heard that he hung himself in the garden shed when his wife filed for divorce. As I passed, I looked at the shed--an innocuous structure like so many in the neibhorhood. Like my own. There was a man raking leaves in the front yard. He smiled and said hello, And then a woman called out to him from the side porch where she was smoking a cigarette. She greeted me, too, though somewhat warily. I saw a teenaged boy in a Volkswagen who waved and gave me a smile that can only be described as sweet. Repaying the debt, I waved enthusiastically at the next two cars that passed. One waved back--returning my ebullience in kind. The other driver looked as if I’d caught him off guard. Maybe he waved at the next person.I thought about not taking the wooded path Star loves on the way home. Maybe I’d encounter the man on the bike again. I wondered how loud I’d have to scream to be heard. I took the path anyway, silently apologizing to the man in the floral shorts for my assumptions. Emerging from the woods, I passed the house where a good friend once lived. Several years before he developed pancreatic cancer, I saw an ambulance approaching his house, and I raced down the street, heart thumping. A moment later, my friend emerged to redirect the ambulance and to reassure me. Wrong address! We both laughed as if it were a great joke. As if it would always be so. The school bus pulled and a girl who used to stop to talk and pet the dog when she was younger decamped. I remembered the time she came to the door and asked if she could make a chalk hopscotch in front of our house. I went outside and played with her, recovering my old joy in the game. Now fourteen, weighed down with her heavy backpack and the even more burdensome weight of [...]



doorway, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

If you're a writer and you haven't read the 10 Rules for Writing Fiction series on the Guardian, then get yourself over there and suck up a powerful dose of inspiration, practical advice and writerly wisdom.

Since the masters covered that subject quite thoroughly, I decided to post my ten rules for life:

1. Develop a healthy respect for everything you don't know. It's a lot.

2. Don't allow yourself to be bored. It's an insult to life, and rumor has it, life doesn't tolerate insults. As Elmore Leonard's famously advised writers, "Leave out the part that people skip."

3. Don't sit down too much. That could increase your mortality, too. If you're not moving, mentally, spiritually, or physically, your body just might think you're already dead.

4. Who was the guy who limited his rules to 3: KINDNESS, KINDNESS, KINDNESS? Whoever he was, he was right. And the guy who said, "Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle?" He was pretty smart, too.

5. Do the work that's in front of you every day as if it mattered--whether it's painting a picture or washing the floor, or caring for a difficult elderly person. It does.

6. If you were lazy or unkind, dishonest or impatient--don't languish in guilt, but don't accept it as the best you can do either. Find creative ways to make amends to whomever endured your lesser self (even if it's yourself.)

7. Remind the people around you and the trees and your own cells that life is good: sing, dance, praise, and laugh as often as you can. And when you can't, be silent.

8. This is something my grandfather's generation knew well: get some fresh air every day. Open windows, breathe deep, and stand up straight while you're at it.

9. Mind your own business. It's more profound than you think.

10. Follow your own rules. Ah, now that's the hard one, isn't it?



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } beach chairs in winter, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. It all started when a tooth was broken nearly to the root by an anesthesia tube during surgery. Since I'd been avoiding my dentist for something like five years, I considered us officially broken-up and chose a new one from the phone book. He insisted on a full set of X-rays. After studying them, my new dentist regarded me grimly. "What we have here is a pattern of neglect," he said, and paused dramatically. "If something doesn't change, you're going to face some serious consequences."While I was pondering the profundity of that, he added the clincher: "Problems don't fix themselves, you know. Something has to be done." "A pattern of neglect?" I repeated. "Really?" Suddenly I felt as if I were talking to a therapist instead of a dentist. It was as if he'd peered into my disorganized closets, passed the house with the neglected garden, and the trim that needs painting. Then he looked deeper and saw my unfinished algebra assignments from eighth grade, the college papers cranked out during frenzied all-nighters the day after they were due, the sinful number of cantaloupes and grapefruits I bought at the supermarket, and forgot to eat. And what about all the mounted of good intentions I never quite acted upon? Clearly, the pattern of neglect stretched back to elementary school and probably beyond. In diapers, I was probably vowing to quit the pacifier and be more outgoing...tomorrow. . Of course, I had all kinds of sound reasons why I've avoided the dentist: no dental insurance...serious health issues that took precedence...the daunting cost of all the root canals and crowns my ex- dentist told me I needed all those years ago...genetically bad teeth from my father's side of the family... And did I mention my lack of dental insurance?"It's up to you," he said. Then he shrugged and left the room. Apparently, he'd seen my type before.But I left the office with a commitment to do something this time, and a phrase buzzing in my ear: pattern of neglect, pattern of neglect, pattern of neglect. I raced home and called my best friend, and then my cousin and my daughter, and told them excitedly that my dentist had just diagnosed what's wrong with my life: It's a chronic condition called Pattern of Neglect. And what's more, there's a cure: Give up the delusional concept that problems solve themselves and do something!Since none of the people I called happen to suffer from my condition this revelation didn't have the same impact on them as it did on me. In spite of my friends' and family's doubts, I insisted there was hope for me. I could stop thinking, pondering and dreaming so much and become a master of problem solving, however belatedly. A woman of action!Well, that was six months ago, and this week, I finally have an appointment to see an oral surgeon about an implant to replace my broken tooth. The twenty thousand dollar treatment plan outlined by the dentist has still not been implemented, and my closet still needs to be cleaned, but not one cantaloupe has died in my crisper in months, the revisions to my new novel are just about complete....and so far nothing hurts in my mouth. Who knows? Maybe problems do solve themselves.[...]



welcome, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

Most of the resolutions I've made in the past haven't mattered much. While it's good to work out or eat well, to write a certain amount of words or meditate daily, and it's salutary to get up early in the morning (a resolution I've made repeatedly, but never mastered) none of those are essential to a successful life as a human being.

Good will is something else. If I sold a zillion books or ran marathons till I was ninety-five, what would it matter if I failed at good will? It seems to come naturally to a few effortlessly benevolent souls I've known. The rest of us have to rise to it, wake up to it, to realize all the stuff that blocks it--envy, fear, ego--is a lie, plain and simple. Lately, I've begun to fear that I might be ash and cinder before I get there.

So that's my one resolution: good will.

Good will in the sense of wishing the best for others. All of them. The ones I love and the ones I don't understand, the ones who agree with my most cherished beliefs and opinions, and the ones who violently oppose them.

Good will to those who extend the same to me.

And good will to those who don't.

I also mean to work on the other kind of good will. The kind Kant described, which is more like determining to do what's right in all circumstances. He uses a word I haven't always liked, but now am inclined to embrace: DUTY.

Good will to get up and do the work that is before me that day, no matter what it may be.

Without excuses. Without grumbling. Without delay.

Happy New Year.

On Memory


(The view from my daughter's rented condo)

For years, my mother has been telling us about a movie that had a great impact on her in high school. Her older sister saw it first; and when she got home, she crawled into bed with my mother and spilled the entire story, bringing it to vivid life in the darkness. Somehow it encapsulated all the fears, the fragile dreams, and the dazzling romance they must have felt coming of age in a time of war.

The older sister was gorgeous and confident; my mother was shy and unaware of her own emerging beauty. She didn't care that her sister had spoiled the ending. Mom scraped together the money for a bus ticket to Boston to see the movie the very next day.

With the advent of DVDs, my mother has often asked if anyone could find Waterloo Bridge. Every now and then I check the SAVED section of my queue on Netflix to see if it's available, but the release date always remains tantalizingly unknown. Just out of reach. Sort of like the past itself.

Then, this month for my mother's birthday, my incredibly thoughtful daughter tracked down the video. The first week Mom watched it twice a day.

However, privately she confessed disappointment. She still loved the story and Vivien Leigh; Robert Taylor was as handsome as he ever was; but the movie didn't have the same resonance it had when she'd first seen it at sixteen.

"I just don't feel things the way I used to," she said, looking stunned by the discovery.

But that didn't keep her from slipping into her room, pulling down the shades and lying on her bed to watch it one more time. And it didn't keep her from repeating the story about her sister every time she emerged from her private theatre.

Of course, I eventually realized it wasn't the movie she loved so much. It was the memory of a sister's attention; it was their shared youthful longings captured in tangible celluloid.

And I also realized how important it is to make an effort to listen with respect and interest to my mother's repetitive stories. Not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it's also the smart thing to do.

When I do, I occasionally see the forest gleaming through the trees. And sometimes I even see my own life a little more clearly. Just today I was wondering if I feel things as vividly as I used to.

The answer, of course, is no.

And yes.

And even more vividly than ever.

Just as it is for my mother.



This is how huge home is: it's deep enough to contain cats with shimmering eyes, a wild array of colors, invisible mountains of mistakes, and even higher peaks of grace, flowers, music, an amazingly comfortable bed (unlike my twisted plank of misery in the hospital) the laptop where I dream my crazy dreams--and yes, miracle of miracles, my family.

Two days ago, I was discharged after my seventh major surgery in two years. It seems incredible and I don't want to shout too loudly and risk offending the gods, but this time, I believe it's really over. Yep. O.V.E.R.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder how I got through it all. But then I turn to my side and the answer becomes clear. I absolutely couldn't have done it without THIS man (seen with grandson Sebastian.)


Mine was the kind of experience that tries love in myriad ways, often shattering it, sometimes strengthening it, but always altering it. In my case, well, let me offer this story: Last night when I was falling asleep in my room 9in my amazingly comfy bed) Ted slipped in beside me, and handed me one of the earbuds to his Ipod. Then he popped the other in his own ear and played this song while the darkness spun around us. For us, it wasn't so much about "taking our blue jeans off"--at least not now--but about about facing, and ultimately savoring the night.

Now I don't want to brag. (After all, I've already a risked offending the capricious gods of fate once in this post.) But tonight I'm feeling like the luckiest woman alive.

Love and blessings to all of you who have supported me through this long ordeal.



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } the gift, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. The other night we watched DOUBT, a movie that was far too ambiguous for my taste. Not that ambiguity doesn't have an important place in serious art, but when you're talking about the sexual abuse of a child, there's not much grey area. It either happened or it didn't. In this film, I didn't know who to believe; and worse, I didn't think the writers or the director knew either. Maybe that was the point, but if so, I wasn't buying. Still, I found some of the sermons delivered by Philip Seymour Hoffman's character interesting--especially the one in which he resigns his position. Though life often feels static, though we imagine our world as solid and reliable, he says, there is a great wind behind us invisibly pushing us forward. Whether we know it or not, whether we like it not, our lives are all about moving, leaving, changing. The great wind has propelled me into many startling places in the last couple of years--some that I call good, and some that I label bad. But unlike the moral quesions in Doubt, most of them are neither. They just are; and they must be met accordingly. After my sixth major surgery last August, I found recovery elusive. Cleaning the kitchen, taking a short walk exhausted me or left me in pain. My surgeon recently told me this was normal. The disease and the treatment I had were a full out assault on my body. I needed to be patient with myself and with the Great Wind. (Okay, she didn't say that exactly, but that was what I heard.) Meanwhile, the Great Wind brought other changes, too. Babies arrived and stretched my heart in ways I never imagined. My mother experienced a precipitous mental decline and was forced to move in with us. Children came home and left and came home again. I fell in love with a group of characters in my new novel, and wept over the fates that I held in my hand, but could not change. Not if I were to tell the kind of truth that's so important in fiction. The other day my beautiful, strong, intelligent mother leaned a fragile frame on her walker, and wept because for the first time ever, she was confused about who I was. What could I do but hug her, and cry with her, and tell her that it was okay? That we had no choice but to go with it, wherever it was leading us. So far that's what we're doing. It's a ragged journey, a hidden path, but we're trying to follow it as best we can. And meanwhile I continue to sing badly and often. I sing in the morning, and I sing in the dark when I have insomnia (which is often.) I sing to my year-old grandson, Sebastian, who seems to regard my much maligned voice and the many melodies I've collected as some kind of miracle. In the past month, I've looked up and sung ALL the songs that you suggested--from The Log Roller's Waltz to Amazing Grace. Sebastian loves them all, but his favorite is still "The Hokey Pokey."This week I started singing In the Sun which Chris Martin from Coldplay and Michael Stipe from R.E.M recorded for Hurricane Katrina Relief. But I prefer the original version, performed by the the man who wrote it, Joseph Arthur. "It's too religious," my kids say when they hear me belting it out as I clean the kitchen or come in from a walk (both of which I now do on a regular basis.) But to me, it's an ode to simple good will, the best and truest religion of all. In Friend News:Susan Hendersonn of LitPark, one of the most generous writers and human beings I've ever met, proved the power of good karma, not [...]



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } erased, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. This weekend Ted and started Andrew Weil's EIGHT WEEKS TO OPTIMUM HEALTH. We've been interested in the program for a long time, but weren't inspired to actually DO till it was recommended on Tim Ferris's (always interesting) blog. Week one is pretty simple. You eat broccoli and fish once during the week (which we do anyway), walk five times (ditto) and breathe consciously, i.e. meditate, for five minutes a day (Now that's an area I need to work on). Oh, and you also buy yourself flowers. Not too onerous, even for a habitual resolution breaker like me. Keeping with the program, we' d started off on an energetic hike through the woods when we wandered into an old cemetery. Well, that was it for the walk. How could we not be stopped by history, by the stories cut in stone, and the infinite mystery they left behind? At times, those who occupied "our" world n seem like a distant rumor, but in the cemetery, they reclaim their names, their sacred alliances and beliefs , the tragedies that swept through their lives, and their own own ultimate release from them. In the shaded serenity of the cemetery, I was reminded of something I'd recently read by Anthony de Mello: "All mystics, no matter what their theology, are unanimous on one point: that all is well, all is well." Though the oldest "occupants" were born in the eighteenth century, the first stone we came upon was that of FLORA, AGE 3. Flora as been dead long enough that lichen and decay have begun to erode the three-word biography recorded on her stone, but not so long ago that some living person doesn't still remember her or at least her story. I paused for a minute to wonder who. We found soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the graves of young women (who had presumably died in childbirth) and were buried with their infants, and far too many markers for young children. Though their lives ended long ago, my heart still clenched when I encountered JOSEPH who lived for one year, four months, and eleven days, and for the family who numbered his days. However, I was also surprised by the number of nonagenarians the cemetery contained. It seemed that those who survived the perils of youth-- war and childbearing, and lived long enough to build up an immunity to the contagious diseases that claimed so many frequently achieved a ripe old age. Then again, neither the soldier and Christian patriarch above, nor the Temperance advocate below could have imagined a time when fish were less than abundant off the coast of Cape Cod, or when concerns about mercury or other contaminants made people afraid to eat them. Natural wholesome food, a life of vigorous activity, strong community and spirituality weren't something you had to read a book or make a resolution to acquire. In addition to walking and eating broccoli and breathing (always a plus) I've been trying to learn a new song every week. As I've said here before, my voice has been known to scare cats and startle babies, but I still think Pete Seeger was right when he emphasized the importance of singing. For everyone. Even off-key divas like me.He said it better than I can:"Songs are funny things. They can slip across borders. Proliferate in prisons. Penetrate hard shells. I always believed that the right song at the right moment could change history."To that end, I have begun my quest for the right song. This week it was this one. Sing it and remember th[...]



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } cotuit, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. “The world belongs to the energetic.” For several years, I had this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson taped inside a cabinet door. It didn’t say much about the kind of person I am (the kind who plans to undertake all kinds of ambitious projects...right after I have a cup of tea and think about it.) But it spoke volumes about the kind I’ve always wanted to be. (In high school, they’re described as “vivacious.”) Eventually the quote inside my cabinet yellowed and the tape curled and disinegrated, but my optimism remained undaunted. One of these days, I would live the Emersonian ideal. I would stop reading books about how to stop procrastinating, and become a woman of action. I would spend less time reading poetry and more time cleaning the closet! Directing my own films! Opening a soup kitchen! The dreams varied, but the battle cry remained the same. I would!Then a couple of weeks ago, I was reading the “Vows” column in the New York Times (a wedding column that doesn’t tell doesn’t focus on the the ceremony or the accomplishments of the couple but on their story.) In this particular installment, the new husband described his wife as someone who was “firing on all twelve cylinders.” The phrase hit the same “inspiration nerve” that Emerson had touched years ago. Immediately, I leaped up from the couch and began to sprint around the house like the bride in “Vows” would have done if she suddenly found herself inhabiting my life.“What’s wrong with Mom?” my son, Jake, wondered. “Don’t worry; she’ll get over it soon,” Ted said confidently.Hmmph...I snorted, attacking the closet. I’d show him. Shortly thereafter, my body reminded me of its problems (those complications from complications I wrote about earlier) and I collapsed on the couch. Time for a cup of tea to contemplate the 12 cylinder lifestyle I would soon adopt...I might be a lttle tired today, but tomorrow? I would get up at five. I would channel the vivacious girls from high school and the souped-up bride from "Vows"...I could already hear those cylinders gearing up in the distance. If we’re limited by the past or by fate or the more mysterious aspects of our DNA, I I guess that means I’ll always a four-cylinder economy vehicle, never the muscle car that owns the road (and according to Emerson, the world.) But I haven’t quite accepted that yet. So about a month ago, I somehow wandered into a blog called Thirty Minutes A Day on Foot in which the writer chronicles his daily walks. What inspired me was that he didn’t just walk, he explored. I leaped off the couch (yes, I do that regularly) but only after I’d left a comment, proclaiming myself his first disciple. Now I suppose if I were firing on all 12 cylinders, the next step would have involved putting on my shoes, or something radical like that. But instead, I spent a month thinking of the places I would explore, the friends, family members and animals who might accompany me. Should I buy a pedometer first? A birding book maybe? Obviously, this wasn’t something I could jump into without some serious planning. (Cue the tea kettle.)It took a month, but yesterday my daughter and the hint-of-spring weather, inspired me to make good on the plan. I went at my own pace, allowing my daughter and the dog to alternately walk and jog ahead of me at theirs, and I spent 32 minutes on foot expl[...]



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Great Depression Image 15, originally uploaded by Don Iannone. A few years ago, my son Gabe gave me a book about the Great Depression by Robert Mcelvaine. I enjoy history, but there was something, well, depressing, about the photograph on the cover. Several times I put it on my bedside table, intending to read it, but inevitably it drifted to the bottom of the stack. Fiction felt more compelling, more relevant. Hah.Then we started hearing the threats from the politicians, the talk show radio show dudes (both the reasonably sane and the completely off the rails.) If we didn't do this or that, we wouldn't just face something like that depressing photograph depicted. We'd find ourselves in midst of something far worse. Imaginations ran rampant--at least, mine did. I picked up the book with the grainy photograph on the cover and read, transfixed. Last November, the Boston Globe ran a story about what Depression 2 might look like. In their vision of the economic apocalypse, unemployed familes would move into overcrowded houses where the unemployed multitude would spend their days huddled up behind the blue light of the TV screen eating cheap processed food. It sounded kind of like staying home from school sick in the sixties. I could almost picture the folding TV trays and taste the chicken noodle soup. It was both a comforting scenario, and well--depressing. (Couldn't they at least have envisioned us reading?) Surprisingly, lot of readers reacted with outrage: A respected newspaper openly speculating on how the economic crisis might play out? How tacky! Are they trying to ruin our day? Create panic maybe? Depress consumerism?I, for one, think we should talk about it. In fact, there has never been a more important time to share our fears (generally they lose power when brought into the open air) to share our ideas...and especially to share our HOPE. So here's my dos pesos:I think President Obama is grappling seriously and thoughtfully with the problem, and I'm thankful to have such an intelligent, steady leader...but I also believe that this train left the station a long time ago. The best we can do now is to slow it down, hope the damage isn't as bad as it looks like it might be, and get as many people off the tracks as possible. I believe the way we live our lives is going to change--maybe in small, temporary ways, but more likely, the transformation will test us in ways we've never been tried before. I believe that almost nothing is all bad or all good and I don't say that glibly. I believe that sometimes, the deeper you have to dig to find the bliss, the stronger you grow. I believe that we'll stop being simply consumers, and start becoming citizens; that one day soon, we'll walk outside and see, really see the neighbors we've been ignoring all these years. I believe that we'll plant more vegetables and less grass. And yes, I believe that absent more expensive entertainment, people will READ more. Don't get me wrong; I don't romanticize poverty. I've been poor myself, but I have no illusions: being poor in good times is a helluva lot different than it is in the not so good ones. The suffering that's already begun for many families and individuals is real and immense. My mother grew up in a large family in the Great Depression. Though her father always retained a job, they still lost their house, and were forced to cram into a tenement apartment, to help out unem[...]

GRATITUDE...SARDINES...AND a health update


sardine bento(u), originally uploaded by chotda.

What happened to my blog? I wanted to write...I thought about writing. Almost every day I thought about writing. But instead I lurked on other blogs...I took naps...I read exalted literature and watched trashy TV shows...I told myself I would do it tomorrow...Maybe. There were so many good things to read elsewhere and I had no story to tell. I drifted back to sleep.

But in the end, or in the middle, where we are now, there was no way I could leave my blog frozen forever on the Horrible and the Miserable. After five months of looking at that dispiriting title, I figured it was about time to change the subject. I could talk about something else. Anything else. Sardines, for instance.

But before we get to that, the health update. The good news is that, nurtured by family and friends, by those of you who were kind enough to check in on me, by exalted reading and trashy TV (and sometimes the reverse) I’m still here. Since my surgery, every (Horrible Miserable) week I’ve spent waitng for a biopsy report ended in the blissful words we cancer survivors live for (often literally): benign, clean, negative. (Who ever thought negative could be such a beautiful word?)

The bad news is that even in an first-rate hospital, with a well-regarded surgeon, I suffered some egregious complications during my cancer surgery. Complications that have led to five more major operations. A year of johnnies, and IVs, and far too much jello--which I never liked, even when I was five. And in the end, or in the middle, where I am now, nothing worked. In the end, each surgery left me little more screwed-up than I was before.

The motto of my story? Stay out of hospitals... Unless they wrap up a sweet smelling baby and hand it to you when you leave...which used to be the reason I visited those institutions...Or you need them to save your life...which I did this time.

So okay, maybe there is no motto. Or maybe the motto is just BE GRATEFUL. I am. Every single day.

Now for the change of subject: sardines! Sardines in salad and sardines mixed with chili sauce. Sardines on rye with mustard or sardines mashed with avocado and garlic...I spent my life saying NO to the little bony omega 3 laden fish, only to find out that I love them.

What have you learned to love recently?



I’m not a person who remembers a lot of movie quotes, but Woody Allen’s famous one from Annie Hall struck a chord with me, maybe because I shared his neurotic fear of the various abominations that could abruptly intrude on your party:"Life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. The horrible would be terminal cases, blind people, cripples. The miserable is everyone else. When you go through life you should be thankful that you're miserable."When I first heard that quote, I was young enough to wake up every day feeling immortal, young enough that I understood Woody’s “misery” well. Misery was a boyfriend who didn’t call, a roommate who ate my leftover lasagna, or a B on a paper, when dammit, I deserved an A. The horrible--those unspeakable tragedies and illnesses that happened to other people--terrified me so much I tried not to think of them. Thus, Woody’s quote made me laugh nervously and nod inwardly. Now it feels both insensitive and untrue. We're all terminal cases, and nearly every mistake we make in life, every unkindness we do, every squandered moment can be traced to the unspoken belief that we are the Great Exception.In the first two days after my surgery, I cried more than I have in months--and not from pain. No, I had become the proverbial person who cries at the Hallmark card commercial. I felt an intense solidarity with suffering people everywhere. Their stories weren’t just sad pieces on the news; they felt visceral; they were my story. When two kids from the Cape died in Iraq and Afghanistan died within two days, I cried as if they’d been family. I wept for my cousin’s husband who has been in a hospital in Kuwait for three months suffering from multiple myeloma. Once a marathon runner who kept himself in perfect shape, he has wasted to nothing, but still possesses an epic will to live. Unable to get comfortable on my bed no matter what position I assumed, I thought of his bed sores and the ache that never leaves his bones, and I wept. I had to turn off a television special about the suffering of Afghan women because their lives invaded my heart, and spilled into my restless dreams that night. But what troubled me most of all was a report about a local injured soldier. I thought of the surgeries, the weeks in hospital beds. Though the reports of poor care at Walter Reed had enraged me when I first heard them, when I thought of them in my post-surgical state, they left me shaking and sobbing. Are you okay? my nurse said, standing in the doorway.How could I explain that yes, I was okay, but some crucial filter had broken down? That I had gone over to the side of Woody’s “horrible” category and I couldn’t escape the view?At around three in the morning, when it was obvious we were both awake, the roommate I hadn’t felt well enough to speak to yet pushed open the curtain that separated us and appraised me. “So who are you over there?”I told her my name. “You sure cry a lot,” she said, with the humor and honesty that would go far to transform my hospital stay. “I guess I do,” I said. I loved that she didn’t ask why. Nor did I feel a need to explain myself.In the next few days, we would talk a lot and joke even more, especially deep in the endless hospital nights. She had already been in the hospital for twelve days when I arrived and during that time, she’d missed her daughter’s wedding and the birth of her son’s first child. When the nurse checked in on us, she asked her to pass me some photographs from both[...]



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Happy!, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. No one particularly likes a sponge bath, but at the hospital where I underwent my first five surgeries, they made it as pleasant as possible. There was a sweet smelling foamy basin, a soothing back rub with baby lotion, and if I wanted it, that ultimate luxury: a shampoo. A the end of the process, I felt pampered and refreshed.Thus, I was shocked when an unsmiling aide I’ll call S. showed up to administer my “bath” at my new hospital (a first class institution.) The curtain surrounding my bed still open, she tossed me a wet face cloth, and ordered: “Wash!” A request that she pull the curtain clearly annoyed her, and when that asked for still more, it put her over the edge. “Soap?” she repeated, as if it were a new concept in bathing. She shuffled out of the room, shaking her head. I tried to engage S. in conversation, to somehow remind her we were both human, that I understood she hated her job. I, in fact, wasn’t thrilled with my role either. Couldn’t we maybe just be kind to one another?But S. answered my questions with a grunt, and refused eye contact. After I used her profferred towel, she disappeared without a word. When Ted came in, he noticed how shoddy her care was even before I mentioned it. She emptied the contents of the foley catheter on top of the bed, and neglected to wear gloves as she moved from one patient to another. The simplest request was met with a glower. Still, S. and I might have survived each other if I didn’t develop a problem with my pain pump on my second day. When it ceased working, the pain level was intolerable. I pressed my call light, but that wasn’t working either, and my roommmate was out of the room. When S. ambled into the room with her usual scowl, I was thrilled at the sight of her.However, when I told her about my pain and asked her to get my nurse, S. continued to go about her business as if she hadn’t heard me. “Use your call light,” she said at last, turning her back.I explained that it wasn’t working, and S. gave it a hasty look. “Try again,” she said, and again turned her back.As S. moved in and out of the room, I continued to plead my case: the call light wasn’t working; and my pain was nearly unbearable. Could she PLEASE go to the desk and alert my nurse? The woman, however, was resolute. “There’s nothing wrong with your call light,” she said, as she begrudingly shuffled through the tasks tasks she clearly abhorred.When my roommate and her nurse returned, S. slithered out of the room before the nurse saw my distress, and confirmed that the light and pain pump were not functioning. She quickly volunteered to get my nurse--but first, she stormed after S. Though I didn’t tell anyone what had happened with my callous aide., no one seemed surprised the next day when I requested another caregiver. S. was never assigned to me again.However, I did encounter her in the hallway--and this time, she was the one eager to make eye contact. Now I’m usually a pretty forgiving person, but I wasn’t about to let a woman who’d knowingly left me in pain for over an hour off the hook so easily. Now it was my turn to look away, to refuse to relieve her anxiety. Obviously, she was worried that a complaint that might lead to her termination.A couple of days l[...]



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } the right way to make a pie crust, originally uploaded by patryfrancis. By now, most of you know the story. You know how my friend, Susan Messer, and I bonded over a pie one August. But for those who don't, here's the short version: I'd written about a particularly wonderful blueberry affair I'd been served by no less the writer Marilyn Robinson. Susan contacted me to say she was sure she had the recipe.Through e-mail, we came to know each other, two aspiring novelists who had placed short stories in literary publications, and won contests who worried that our dream of a novel would forever be elusive. We knew how fierce the competition was. We packed up our queries and our manuscripts hopefully. Agents wrote back to say they were sorry; but they just didn't love it. (Writers, you know how those lines've memorized them, and probably taken them more personally than you should have. Not lovable? ME?...I knew it! Editors, already facing daunting stacks of agented work, would not even take a look. It seemed a vicious spiral. So did Susan and I despair? Well, maybe for the odd day or two. But stop writing? Never. Every August, no matter what, we resolved we would bake the magical blueberry pie for our muse. And we would believe! (We would also have happy palates and famileis because this is a particularly delicious pie.)This year, however, when blueberry season rolled around, Susan was worried. My health wasn't good and I was spending most of my days on the couch: how could I ever bake a pie? I WOULD, I insisted. This, after all was a very important year, and I was going to recognize the muses if it killed me! This was the year when Susan had sold her novel! I spotted the announcement in Publishers' Marketplace even before Susan did, and quickly zapped her an e-mail."Susan Messer's REMNANTS, Like Dust in Pocket Seams, exploring the human face of class, race, and ethnic frictions taking place in Detroit in 1967, the summer of the riots, to Christopher Hebert at the University of Michigan Press, for publication in Spring 2009, by Colleen Mohyde at the Doe Coover Agency (World)." I'll always remember her response. "Wow, that sounds like a very serious book."And it is. Serious and beautiful and filled with characters you will never forget. I bought berries and cream, then urged my family to eat them before they went bad. I wasn't up to making a pie. Then I bought some more, and did the same thing.But the third time, the blueberries (organics from Vermont) were particularly plump and sweet, and I was scheduled for surgery the next day. It was now or never! My son Theo dragged a stool into the kitchen so I could sit as I cooked...and behold, the muse was pleased. The pie was my best effort ever. I asked Susan if she wanted to share something about our joint effort here, and she wrote back:"I guess the main thing I want to say is what a pleasure it's been to share this tradition with you for lo these many years. And as for writing metaphors . . . something I noticed this year . . . there's a point in the process when (regardless of past success) I'm filled with doubts. It's that step when you put the berries in a pot with the sugar and corn starch and lemon juice. You turn on the heat, and the instructions say to cook until the liquid thickens and the berri[...]



.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Pollyanna - The Glad Game, originally uploaded by Mamluke. You probably know why some of my friends call me Pollyanna--and not always in admiration. I understand; I really do. Sometimes optimism can be grating. When you're in the middle of a divorce or a twenty-four hour flu, you don't need your friend to tell you to take two ounces of bliss and call her in the morning. Or that even even the most dire circumstances might contain a secret gift. Sometimes, you just need someone to give you a huge hug and say, "You're right. This sucks."Two days post-surgical and stilll unable to get my pain under control(I still think that my pump apparatus wasn't working though no one believed me) I learned something revelatory about the human condition: suffering isn't fun. I also learned something about myself: I'm not very good at it. I'm not good at being lying in a bed in an uncomfortable positiion, unable to sleep or eat or enjoy the presence of my family because pain owns me.I didn't want flowers. I didn't want to talk to anyone. It was a beautiful day outside. Really? Close the curtains, please.I counteracted it with prayer, meditation, two ounces of bliss, but I gotta tell you, physical suffering is a pretty daunting opponent. If I looked in the mirror and saw my old Pollyanna self, I would have pitied her. Poor naive fool; she just didn't know...Then, determined to exacerbate my misery, my nurse announced I had to walk to the solarium at the end of the hall. I steadied myself on my IV pole, and went, trying to smile at my nurse, but inwardly I was walking to the "this sucks" beat. Cha-cha-cha.I thought about my old friend, Marie, who while suffering from stomach cancer, a broken hip, and a stroke, gave me her usual luminous smile and promised it wasn't so bad. She lied, I thought."I'll leave you here for a while to enjoy the view," the nurse said, settling me in what looked like a giant highchair. (The indignities never end.)Of course, I wasn't happy with that either. I wanted to get back to my personal torture wrack where I could moan and twist with abandon. But being the people pleaser to the end, I agreed.The view from the solarium was indeed a lovely portrait of Boston on a late summer day. It looked directly on Simmons College, where they were working on the soccer fields to get them ready for the fall. There was a cosp of trees in the background, and that intangible excitement of people walking through the city, students heading for the hospital to study medicine, skateboarders flipping dangerously between sidewalk and street, business people walking with the high purpose of Napoleon. I wasn't a bit interested. I felt bad, lousy, miserable...well, you get the idea.A woman sitting in a similar highchair greeted me. "How you doin?"she asked."Good!" chirped the automatic Pollyanna. (Well, nobody wants to hear the bad, lousy,miserable line anyway...) Especially not one who could have surely spouted her own litany.Then we started to talk. She'd had some extensive surgery the same day I did, came from one of the city's poorer neighborhood, and appeared to be quite alone. But she radiated the kind of happiness Pollyanna would have recognized.When she heard I came from the Cape, she glowed. "I go down there a few times every summer," she [...]

RED SHOES...and other news


The Fashionistas with their grandfatherI'm not much of a footwear person, but about a month ago, I got an irresistible urge for a new pair of shoes. Not just any shoes either. I wanted some tall razzle dazzle hot heels. After a lifetime of flat shoes, I was done with the laid back life. I wanted the kind of shoes that would inspire me to walk somewhere I've never been before. But since I don't shop much, I called my two favorite fashion consultants (aka granddaughters). They were all over this mission.Together, the three of us clunked and strutted around every shoe department in town, doing our best not to sprain an ankle as we feigned sophistication. I felt like we were walking through the eras as we tried on slingbacks and platforms, skinny pointed stilettos and sexy oxfords like my grandmother wore, but with five inch killer heels. I couln't help admire the consultants' aplomb as they crossed their legs and requested another pair of shoes from an annoyed sales clerk "Yes, I realize those shoes aren't for children," the oldest and official spokesgirl said, "But could you please bring out two pairs in the smallest size." (I'm telling you, if I only had half this girl's poise and confidence...)When the clerks glared at me, I just threw up my hands, and winced apologetically."Do you think they could just try a couple more pairs?" With my own children, I never would have allowed such shenanigans, but with the consultants, I'm putty.And then I found them. They were wine red. Open toed. Retro. And oh so high. After I buckled them, I stood up, put my hands on my hips and looked my 6'1" tall husband square in the eyes. "How do you like me now, baby?"The consultants gasped in unison. "Those are the ones!""The Ones"So where have I gone in my wine red, mile high hot shoes? Well, nowhere. Instead, I've spent most of my time barefoot and on the couch. It's a life that would drive any normal person mad, but is usually quite fine with me. It's a comfortable couch for one thing, with lots of bright light, my animals around me, and a lovely family coming and going.My magic carpetBut mainly my enforced exile from life has been fine because I've been working on a new novel. And while I've been sitting on the couch, my characters have been doing things like falling in love and traveling to Portugal and performing surgery, not to mention dealing with unbelievable treachery. And I've been doing it with them. How could I ever be bored?But sometimes when I'm tired or not feeling well, I go to the closet and take out my glamourous shoes. And I think that anyone who owns a pair of shoes like that must have some fabulous destinations in her future. I imagine how the consultants will smile when they see me wearing them. Then they'll claim credit for making the woman I've become. And of course, they (along with the rest of my family) will be right. ***************************************************************************************************************************IN OTHER NEWS:* I haven't forgotten blueberry season. My friend Susan Messer and I have both baked our Literary Blues Pies, as has Diana Guerero and the Fawnskin Writers. I'll be posting on that soon, as well as on Susan's marvelous news. (Hint: the muse clearly rewards those who honor her with perfect blue pies.)*And speaking of writers with brilliant muses, two people who I'm privileged to call friends saw new novels published[...]