The Man I Love

“What is your book about?”

Amazing how many times I’ve gotten that question over the past [insert ridiculous number here] years and how I’ve squirmed my way out of answering it.  For a long time it was because I didn’t know what it was about.  Truthfully it was a 500-page character analysis with no discernible storyline.  I had a universe of characters and I wrote fan fiction.

Then I found the story.  And it was written from the point of view of my lead female character because much of the story was rooted in personal experience and a female viewpoint was logical to me.  I wrote a few chapters from the lead male’s view, but really just to provide some backstory.

Still, the novel wasn’t going anywhere.  I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Then I sent the chapters to my friend Ami, a voracious reader and smart cookie.  She grouped together the many chapters from Daisy’s point of view and said, “These are good.”  She grouped together a few chapters told by other characters and said, “These are a distraction.”  And then she took the smallest grouping, the chapters told from Erik’s perspective and said, “These are the story.”

I was stunned. Write the novel from Erik’s point of view?  That made no sense.  But I tend to trust Miss Ami when it comes to books so I isolated those chapters.  I read through them.  And it hit me.  Ami was right.  The story was Erik’s.  He had the evolution, not Daisy.

And then the world caught on fire.

“What is the book about?”  Even with my protagonist fixed and my story in place, I was still reluctant to give people the nutshell version.  The elevator pitch.  The plot summary.  Why?  Probably fear.  I’m writing a book.  [Insert hysterical laughter here].  Seriously.  Who the hell do I think I am?  Right.  A book.  And this book is about…?

Well, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this.  And it’s time to stop fucking around.  So here it is, the blurb for “The Man I Love”:

Some seek the limelight and some hold the light in place.

Nineteen-year-old Erik Fiskare is drawn to the world of theater but prefers backstage to center stage.  The moment he lays eyes on a beautiful, accomplished dancer named Daisy Bianco, his atoms rearrange themselves and he is drawn into a romance both youthfully passionate and maturely soulful.  Their affinity is both quiet and complex, marked by deep understanding and intense sexuality.  Until it is shattered by a shocking incident of violence on their college campus.  A crime of passion which leaves Daisy seriously injured and Erik emotionally traumatized. With their world shaken to the core, the lovers strive to find their footing again.  But a devastating betrayal drives Erik to a desperate flight from school, from the past and from Daisy.

“The Man I Love” follows Erik from college through his young adult years and into his thirties as he battles the long-lasting effects of post-traumatic stress and the consequences of unfinished business.  Despite his unrelenting estrangement from Daisy, he continues to recall their uniquely cellular bond and mourns his inability to find it anywhere else.  Slowly Erik heals the most wounded parts of himself, and comes to learn how the un-grieved grief of youth shapes adulthood.  And learns that leaving is not always the end of loving.

20140212-190027.jpg

Advertisements

Hustle and (No) Flow

So I’m writing a book.

Actually, I’ve written a book.  It’s done.  Mostly done.  Three-quarters done.  The done part is in second draft, and the remaining quarter is a fucking mess.

I’m trying to enjoy it.

Sometimes wordsSeriously.  I am so stuck.  I wrote like a demon since November, in the groove and full of Flow.  Now I’m busy with a section that is so central to the novel, it’s kind of horrifying I paid so little attention to it.  I’ve already written myself a stern note for the next novel:  Dumbass, if your story includes a crime, have the perpetrator and their motive completely planned out FIRST.  It sucks trying to work it in effectively after the fact.

Sounds pretty textbook, right?  I wonder why I didn’t think of it.  Actually I know why:  I wasn’t writing to publish before.  I was just tinkering.  Now I’m writing with intention.  I’m writing with a goal.  I’m writing to fucking finish this thing, get the story out of my head and out of my stomach and channeled somewhere where it might do some good.  I have to write this section.  I have to write it well.  I have to do this.

This is hard.  Really hard.  I sent the section to my editor, who takes no prisoners, and a few days later I realized I’d given her a galley ship of prisoners.  I hauled it back into port.  “It’s not working for me.  I’m not sure what it is, but this isn’t it.”

Snoopy editing

I’m writing every day.  I put that hour in, no matter what.  But Flow is in short supply right now.  It’s a fight for every sentence.  Sometimes for every word.  I’m writing by hand a lot, just to shake things up.  I’m pacing around, doing a lot of Zentangles just to keep my mind open.

I’m trying to enjoy it.

Why?  Because this is me stuck.  This is me having a hard time.  I’m trying to stop and pay attention to what this is like.  Not fight it.  If I’m going to be a writer, this is going to happen.  I already know what I’m like when the Flow is flowing and I’m writing easily.  This is me struggling.  This is me having to write, or there will be no book.  This counts.  Just like the two thousand words written in half an hour counts, the paltry two sentences covered in blood count.  This all counts.  This is all part of it.

I will write this.

It will be really really hard to write this.

It will kick ass.

This sucks.

I’m trying to enjoy it.

snoopy

Small Gifts, or “The Dude Abides”

It started when an old friend from high school invited me to like her new Facebook page, “Create Your Career from the Inside Out”.  I saw she had put up a link to this book:  E-squared by Pam Grout.  It looked very akin to The Secret which I had yawned and rolled my eyes through – although there were some good takeaways, the delivery was just too cheesy.  But Grout’s book captured my interest, I’m not sure why, and since it was only $3.99 on iBooks, I downloaded it.  Right away I preferred her delivery – a little more humorous,  tongue-in-cheek, even slightly skeptical.  And it was more a lab manual with experiments to prove the Universe is  malleable and can be shaped with the power of thought.

thedudeShe kicks you off with Experiment #1, based on “The Dude Abides” Principle.  Simply put, if there truly is a 24/7 energy force equally available to everyone, I can access it at any time simply by paying attention.  Furthermore, if I ask the force for a blessing, giving it a specific time frame and clear instructions, it’ll send me a gift and say, “My pleasure.”  

So that’s the exercise.  The approach is:  Universe, I’m giving you exactly 48 hours to make your presence known.  I want a thumbs-up, a clear sign, something that cannot be written off as coincidence.

I took it a step further and decided to crowd-source:

experiment

So, here it is nearly 11:00 on Thursday, 48 hours later.  Did I get my gift?  Did I receive a blessing?  A sign?  A incontrovertible “Holy SHIT!” moment where there was no question that The Dude Abides?

No.

Or did I?

In 48 hours, here are some things that happened:

**Last week Redman came home from his baseball game in tears, having struck out every at bat.  He asked Jeeps to take him to work with a batting coach.  He’s had two sessions at a local sports academy since then.  Tuesday night, he stepped up to the plate and hit a double.  And I was there to see it.  The look on his face when that aluminum bat made contact with that *clink*, and that ball went sailing over the head of the second baseman, out to centerfield…that expression was priceless, that moment was unsurpassable.  A blessing from the Universe?  Well, if he hadn’t gone to work with a coach I would have said yes, wow, a miracle.  But I’m more inclined to feel that Redman made that happen himself.  He could have quit after last week’s game, but he chose instead to fight.  Is this a gift of seeing what awesome stuff my boy is made of?  I guess.  But I already knew that.

**At the same game, I had a really great, uplifting, validating conversation with three friends, about parenthood and school and cooking and a whole bunch of other things.  It was a very nice time and I would expect no less from the company I was in.  Was it miraculous or cosmic?  Not really.

**Wednesday morning I had a really deep, insightful session with my therapist.  She is amazing when it comes to dream analysis and as we deconstructed two dreams I’d had recently, I was left with my jaw on the floor.  I also left her office realizing that after a long, dark interlude (which is a whole other post), I finally was feeling better, feeling myself again.  Things are going well.  Very well…considering there was a short period of time during the spring, when I was sure I was dying.  I drove home realizing that awful, foggy, depressed film had lifted from my brain, kind of like the Claritin commerical.  But again, was that an out-of-the-blue gift from the Universe, or something I made happen?   Under the circumstances, I take very fierce ownership of that process, thanks very much.

**Wednesday afternoon I took Panda for her sports physical, and it seems that in the past year she has developed a slight case of scoliosis.  Nothing that requires action, merely observation, but it’s upset her.  And I’m upset at seeing her upset.  Is this a backhanded gift of perspective:  it’s a slight case of scoliosis, not a slight case of cancer.  This is a small imperfection, not Deenie.  Anyway, I took her and Redman to the local diner afterwards.  She picked at a tuna melt and I let her be.  After a while, I started talking about the story I’d heard on NPR, about the recent death of Nadezhda Popova, one of the infamous “Night Witches”, an all-female regiment of Soviet pilots who flew over 23,000 sorties and dropped 3,000 tons of bombs on Germany.  Panda looked up.  “All women?” she said.  Then somehow Eisenhower came up, and I told another story I’d heard once, about how, during the Allied German Occupation, Eisenhower came into HQ, accompanied by his female driver Johnnie Phelps.  The esteemed General said to the secretary that he’d heard there were lesbians in the barracks, and he wanted a list of their names so they could be gotten rid of.  Phelps turned to her boss and informed him her own name would have to be at the top of the list.  The secretary looked up indignantly and said since she was typing up the list, then her name would be at the top of it.  Eisenhower looked from one to the other, and after a moment said, “Forget about it,” and walked out.  I love that story.

Then Panda asked if Eisenhower was married and this led to Mamie, which in turn led to the book and TV mini-series Backstairs at the White House, and I re-enacted for her a bunch of wonderful little moments that can still make me choke up (“Tell Mrs. Jaffray that Maggie is never to be on her knees again”).   Point being that Panda cheered up and was interested, and she said, “You tell good stories, Mom,” and we all had a good time.  A miracle?  Or my own doing?

**Wednesday evening, the fall schedule arrived from Panda’s dance studio.  Bad news:  none of the classes she’s supposed to be in are at an attractive time during the week.  It’s going to be Juggle City.  Good news:  none of the classes are on Tuesdays, which leaves me free to go to that Pilates-Jazz class I never could before.  Is this a gift of “a window closes and a door opens”?

What else? 

**The yellow paint that looked good in Home Depot but looked appalling on my bathroom walls, ended up looking good in my laundry room.  A gift?  I think I’m pushing it…

So what is a blessing?  To everyone who participated in the experiment – what were you expecting to receive and what did you receive?  Are gifts from the Universe subtle, to the point of being subliminal?  Or are they in-your-face and unmistakable?  Do you attract a certain kind of gift based on who you are or where you are?  48 hours later, are you filled with a petulant disappointment of “I didn’t get my present!” or a philosophical, “well, I’m no worse off than I was two days ago, and really do I need anything right now?”  For me, honestly I have to say it’s a mix of the two; I really was looking for a “WOW” moment, but at the same time, I am grateful for what I have and proud of what I have done.  They are no small things.

My takeaway is that when your life is already blessed, the Universe works in smaller, subtler ways.  The gift I received was being more aware of the little things, the tiny, non-tangible miracles that make up a life, and noticing how many of them you actually make happen yourself.

Still, it would’ve been nice to win that $10,000 Arbitron sweepstakes or score a free Macbook Pro…

Update:  just as I finished this piece, with 8 minutes left in the 48-hour period, my friend Julia texted me, saying she was in the area, could we possibly get together.  We’ve been trying to get together for over a year now and it just never seems to work out.  But in the course of just a dozen texts, we found a mutually free night during this week, and made a plan.  A miracle?  A blessing?  A mitzvah?  A sign?  I’ll take it. Thank you.  Dude, you abide, and furthermore, you rock in small ways.

Update #2:  Although I’ve found out that the story about Johnnie Phelps and General Eisenhower was subsequently disproved or debunked, I still love it.

The Truth About Mousse

My friend Ami posted this link to an article in Huffington Post about how social media can seriously stress you out.  Things we pin on Pinterest and things we choose to Facebook and Tweet can easily blur the line between what is real and what is perceived as real.  Someone’s picture or post that captures a seemingly perfect little moment of life can either genuinely move you, or leave you with the feeling that no matter what you do, someone else is doing it cooler.  Someone is more organized, more creative with their solutions, more environmentally responsible…they make more nutritious meals, they have more patience, less anxiety.  They just do it better…

They don’t.

Life on social media is a cleverly crafted illusion.  A web of avatars.  What is put forth is chosen to be put forth and what is kept behind is sacrosanct and a mystery.  But the truth does exist amongst the pins, posts and pictures.  What you put aside with “someday I’ll do that,” can be done today.  I’m here to help.

Who hasn’t seen this little meme circulating around:

fruitpop2

Homemade fruit pops.  Good, and good for you.  You pin it.  You’ll say you’ll do it someday.  But is it real?  Do they actually work?

They do.  I did it.  You don’t need a recipe, you just need common sense.  If you have fruit, pop molds and a food processor or blender, you can do it.  If I can do it, you can do it:

20130521-123902.jpg  20130521-123958.jpg

20130521-124016.jpg  fruitpop

They work.  These are truth.  If you want to sub greek yogurt for the pureed watermelon, they will also work and be truthful.

20130521-123456.jpg

rasperry mousseNow.  Has anyone seen this going around?  Coconut and raspberry mousse.  Doesn’t that look amazing?  Can’t you just taste it?  I mean seriously, you only have to look at that mass of fuscia goodness and your mouth just waters.  In the article, the author describes how she barely got a spoonful out of the blender before the entire family fought over it on the kitchen floor!  And you can totally believe that this is something worth fighting for.  You’ll whip yourself up an entire blender-ful after the kids are asleep and eat it all yourself, right?

Wrong.

Lies.

Propoganda.

I am here to tell you the truth.

20130521-123301.jpgThe recipe seems innocent enough:  1 avocado, 1 frozen banana, 1 cup of frozen raspberries, and 1 heaping tablespoon of coconut milk.  Blend and serve.  That’s it.  Simple.  Brilliant.  And beautiful and pink and yum.  Right?

Wrong.

Now I do admit I used strawberries here but I didn’t think it was going to be a game-changer.  And I wondered what “heaping tablespoon” of coconut milk actually meant but I figured it meant you pour over the food processor and let it spill over the sides of the tablespoon for like two seconds.  How scientific does this need to be?

Ah, but science will get you in the end.  An avocado is green.  A frozen banana is tan.  You’re already two strikes down and no amount of red berries will overcome the natural free-flowing tendency of these two already dun-colored fruits to turn brown when exposed to air.

Behold:

20130521-124322.jpg

Let’s see those two shots side-by-side, shall we?

Theirs

Illusion

Truth

Truth

As for taste?  It was thoroughly okay.  Texture was nice.  The coconut was totally lost.  I certainly wouldn’t fight for it on the kitchen floor.  I poured some of it into pop molds and the rest went onto the compost.

20130521-124030.jpgIn life there is no right or wrong, no winners and losers.  Nobody’s cooler than you, nobody’s better than you, everyone is making it up.  All you have is the truth about who you are and what you feel.  Live the truth.  And then strain some of that watermelon puree into a glass, add a shot of vodka, and just be.

Dreams of Dinner Parties (Italian Dinner 101)

20130416-170939.jpgI made Italian Dinner 101 the other night. You know what I mean: pasta (whatever you have), sauce (homemade, bottled, with or without meatballs), garlic bread (mandatory) and salad (optional). It’s a no-brainer, you can make it in your sleep, yet it’s a meal that for so many of us is laden with context and dripping with meaning and memory. This is often your maiden voyage in the kitchen, the meal you cut your teeth on as an adult cook, the Sure Thing whipped up for first dates at your first apartment. ID101 is the stuff young dinner parties are made of.

For me, ID101 will always conjure up a summer evening of 1983. I was fifteen, my parents were away somewhere, and my brother, his friend Jim, and Jim’s girlfriend Anna were making spaghetti. There they were, these three adults, and I laugh writing that because they seemed unequivocally adult to me, but their average age couldn’t have been more than 20. With blithe, chatty confidence they were in my mother’s kitchen, putting water on to boil, chopping onions and garlic, concocting sauce, slathering Italian bread with butter and garlic powder and wrapping it in foil to put in the oven, washing lettuce for a salad. They were making dinner. They were having a party.

And I was invited.

To me, this was not only the coolest thing ever, but it became all I wanted to do someday: have a few friends over and make a pasta dinner on a summer night. I remember tearing apart my dresser and closet because Anna had on a sundress, Jim was wearing aftershave, and my brother was in the shower: clearly, this was an occasion. I’d been let behind the velvet rope and I wanted to look nice. What I came up with probably involved a peasant skirt, and definitely there was a lot of mousse and eyeliner and drugstore perfume, but I walked into the kitchen as Anna was breaking a fistful of spaghetti into the pot, and she glanced at me…thirty years later I can still see her at the stove and hear the way she said, “Oh don’t you look nice?”

She asked if I could find candles for the table and light them. I scurried off. There was no salad dressing but have no fear, Little Sister is here: my Mom had taught me to make dressing when I was like six, so I got out the cruet and the vinegar, mustard, dried oregano, worcestershire and oil, and the salad was dressed. When Anna needed a bread knife, a colander, a grater for the cheese, I reached into drawers and cabinets to procure immediately. When Jim couldn’t find the corkscrew, I knew where it was. When my brother came out with two shirts and asked “This one? Or that one?” I said that one and Anna nodded, yes, definitely that one. Jim said, “We need music,” and I fetched my tapedeck from my room and tuned it to the radio. There was no A/C in our house in that day, the boiling water and the heated oven made the little kitchen into a sauna. We opened windows and sliding doors and turned on fans. The cat got underfoot. Anna and Jim canoodled and I amended my visions of the future to include a boyfriend, preferably one who could cook, but I’d settle for one who’d kiss my neck while I was cooking and I’d playfully shoo him out of the way as Anna was doing. Exactly the way Anna was doing, that was going to be me someday.

Toast2Finally, we sat down at our round dining room table to feast. Anna sat in my mother’s usual place, plating up and passing. Jim poured wine, including some for me. I took a sip and it was awful, but I would’ve sooner died than go get myself a 7-Up. Jim held up his glass and made a toast and I clinked mine with theirs. I sat in candlelight, in the company of the elect, eating and talking and included. I was perfectly happy. I needed nothing more, except to grow up and be this, do this, have this. It was one of the top five dinners of my life.

At some point in the evening, I had enough wherewithal to scram and leave the young adults in peace. I went up in my loft and read or wrote in my journal. My bedroom window looked out over the patio, and through the screen wafted the faint smell of cigarette smoke, muffled conversation and laughter and the clink of beer bottles. I fell asleep, dreaming of pasta, garlic bread, salad, the company of friends and romance in the kitchen.

Was it any wonder that some years later, when I was in college, my novel-in-progress contained a seduction scene that revolved around Italian Dinner 101? I had Julie, my ballerina heroine; I had Buddy, who loved her but she didn’t return that love. Buddy needed a girlfriend, somebody really cool, he deserved it. Meanwhile, there was this girl Lucy two rooms down and she was cool, and she too deserved someone, but how could I get her and Buddy together?

Turns out Lucy was no idiot, she knew exactly how to do it: she just made dinner and looked like dessert.

It’s Just a Mission Statement

CouplereadingJeeps isn’t a reader, and when he does pick up a book it’s usually non-fiction about business or branding or the like.  But a little while ago he asked me to read something for him.  Literally.  Not read a book together, but read it for him and report back with a synopsis, because “you read faster than I do, you could get through this in one night.”  Normally I’d ignore that kind of thing but this particular book happened to be about something we’d been struggling with.  Namely:  we’re raising a family, but really, what the fuck are we doing?!

Patrick Lencioni, founder and president of The Table Group, has authored several books about strategies for business health and success.  But in The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, he turns those strategies and principles around to the one of the most important organizations in life:  the family.  He observes that even successful people who apply strategies and long-term thinking at work do not implement plans and goals for their own household.  We accept family chaos as status quo, and put up with levels of confusion and disorganization and craziness at home that would not be tolerated at work.

OrderChaosSo I read it.  I didn’t care for the fictionalized account of the imaginary family’s journey to find its core principles, rather I preferred Lencioni’s own voice in the last 30 pages or so, which was when I found myself taking notes.  Treating the whole thing like a business project, I downloaded the book onto Jeeps’ iPad and highlighted the key passages.  As he left for the train station, I tucked my notes (re-copied onto one sheet of paper) into his jacket pocket.  “Do your homework on the train,” I cooed, “there’ll be a meeting after dinner tonight.”

So after we were done eating, we opened a bottle of wine, ignored the dishes, ignored the kids, and compared answers to the Three Big Questions.  Basically what these do is help you find some context for your family life, something to address that nagging, larger question of “What the fuck are we doing?!”  Which, admittedly, most of us don’t do.

“Even the leaders of most mediocre companies sit down and try to figure out what their priorities are, how they differ from their competition, and what their unique advantages or disadvantages might be.  They don’t just wing it…And yet most of us go about leading and managing our families with almost no formal context.  We don’t take time to explicitly decide who we are, what we stand for, what we want, and how we’re going to go about succeeding and thriving as a family.  Why don’t we?  We go on living context-free lives, taking on every decision and issue in a relatively isolated way, as though it weren’t part of a larger situation.  And then we wonder why each day feels like a disconnected, reactive game of survival, a grind without the purposeful progress we all crave.”

Sound familiar?

FamilyBubbles

The three questions are:

1) What makes your family unique?  The answer to this question is going to be largely shaped by your core values, things that drew you to your life partner in the first place, fundamental and positive qualities about your family, things you could not stop or suppress even if you wanted to. 

2) What is your family’s top priority, or rallying cry, right now?  This is not your family credo forever and ever amen.  This is a project or priority to rally around and address in the next 2-6 months, after which time, you come up with another one. 

3) How do you talk about and use the answers to questions #1 and 2?  In other words, how do you keep the context alive?

Family GuyJeeps and I compared our lists of core values and unique attributes and right off the bat, we noticed that “humor” was at the top of both our lists.  We laugh a lot around here.  And not dry, witty humor although that’s my preferred kind.  No, it’s strictly Mel Brooks style, farts and butts and bathroom humor to get us through the unpleasant things in life.  And at this point in the pow-wow, Redman wandered over, wanting to know what we were doing.

“We’re having a meeting,” Jeeps said.

“Hey, Red, what makes our family special?” I asked, curious as to what he would say.

He thought for exactly three seconds and answered, “We make a lot of fart jokes.”

Jeeps and I exchanged impressed glances.  Then Panda walked by.  “What makes our family unique?” Jeeps called over to her.

No hesitation or thought.  “Oh, we’re hilarious,” she said.

Feeling extremely validated, we went on with our list of things we held dear, being careful to not confuse core values with “permission to play” ones.  I mean, things like honesty, kindness and fairness sound like they should be core values, when really they are bare-minimum expections of civilized behavior.

In the end, our mission statement of uniqueness looked like this:

“We value humor, knowledge, self-sufficiency, a strong family narrative, and hospitality.  We feel opening our home and our experiences to others creates greater understanding.”

That’s it.  There it is.  Not very elegant, not very profound, not very long, but it’s just a mission statement.  It’s us.  It’s ours.  It’s context.

We went on to put together our rallying cry du jour, and our strategy to achieve it, which I won’t go into because already this is getting long.  But honestly just sitting down and putting together this kind of statement was an eye-opening experience.  There was something very gratifying about it.  And right when we were done our friend Cheryl came by to pick up her daughter.  We showed her what we were doing, she sat down at the table, and we ended up having a really good conversation about family life and parenting and other things.

Opening our home and our experience to others creates greater understanding.

Weird.  Right?

What’s your mission statement?

Passages from “The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity To The Most Important Organization In Your Life” by Patrick Lencioni.  Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1988

Portrait of a Young Lady and Things Unsaid

JulieThis post is sticky and gooey and soppy and I’m so proud of my daughter that my throat aches.  With parenting you always worry you’re doing it wrong, you’re not doing enough, but then you realize, no, you’re doing fine, you’re doing GREAT actually.  I needed this today, and I’m crying over it and I’m sharing.  Fair warning.   

Today I was supposed to have a block of parent-teacher conferences for Julie (I’m using her real name today), but with one thing or another going on at work, I couldn’t get over to the school.  So I sent an email to each teacher explaining the schedule conflict, that I had looked at her report card and was pleased with her grades and how she was managing schoolwork and sports and activities and social life – all of which I consider to be the true test of middle school.  If there was nothing they felt was pressing to discuss, I was happy to call it a “no news is good news” conference and hopefully we could chat another time.  But by all means, feel free to call myself or my husband if there was anything they needed to discuss.  Yours very truly in Christ, blah blah blah and send.

At the end of the email to Julie’s social studies and english teacher, I tagged on something a little more personal:  the memory of how the two of them had come up to us as we were waiting on line at the funeral home in October, at the wake of the two boys so tragically killed during Hurrican Sandy.  I recalled to them how they had both hugged Julie so tight, spoke to her so kindly, and how I had nearly been undone by their warmth and compassion.  “It’s something I’ve never forgotten, will never forget,” I finished.  “Life is so fleeting, and too often things go unsaid, and I just felt it was important to share this memory and let you know what it meant to me, to all of us.”

Over the next hour, a barrage of teacher emails came flooding back, and none of them had to do with grades:

“Thank you so much for your kind words, now I know where Julie gets her kindness from.  She certainly is one of the sweetest, most sincere young ladies I know.”

“She’s a real delight in the classroom, I’m glad to get to know her better this year”

“You’re right, life is precious, and we’re a family here in North Salem.  I’m so glad that you could feel that genuine love and concern for our students, and I’m touched that you would share that back with me.”

“Julie is such a wonderful young lady.”

“Your email made my day.”

“Julie always walks in and leaves with a smile on her face.”

“No news is good news indeed – Julie is a wonderful young lady who does everything you could ask with a smile.”

“Thank you, I love a “no news is good news” conference, the cancellation was no trouble at all, it let me get a cup of coffee!”

“Thank you!”

“Thank you so much, this made my day.”

The only personal conference I had was a phone call with her math teacher, because math is the bane of the existence around here.  Math is the 70 in the bouquet of 90-somethings.  Math sucks.  And it sucked for me in middle school, I totally sympathize.  But again, the phone call was less about the grade, and more about the attitude.  “She is always smiling,” Dr. F said, “and I can see it’s hard for her and I can see the struggle, but she is all right with it being hard for her.  She sees the bigger picture.  And I’m telling you, you can’t teach that.  That comes from her home life.”

I very openly told her how sometimes, if a math problem has me stumped, I’ll get on Facebook and put the problem out to my own friends.  I didn’t think that would be well-received but she laughed.  “Look at what you’re teaching her though!  You don’t sit and tear your hair out – you show her that you will go anywhere and do anything to find the answer.  We live in a world of innumerable resources, there’s no reason to suffer through it alone.  You think outside the box, you think communally, and she sees that.  She’s a great kid and she’s going to be fine.  I have a few strategies here to help her out….”

Julie2I printed out all the emails, highlighting the good parts in pink, and I left them on Julie’s bed for her to find.  And now a certain young lady is standing up just a wee bit straighter today.

As is her mother.

Life is short and too often things go unsaid.  If someone made a difference in your life – however big, however small – tell them.  If you have a memory of someone that touches you to this day – tell them.  If something random makes you think of someone – tell them.  Tell them.  It’s so simple, it’s such a little thing, but it makes so much difference.  It can make their day.

And if something is hard for you, let it be hard.  Don’t suffer alone – we live in a world of innumerable resources.  Look for answers outside the box, look to your community, do it together.

You’re going to be fine.