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Crying While Watching Morning Joe

I don’t usually cry watching Morning Joe. Well, that’s not quite true. The horrifying images of the inhumane and immoral treatment of immigrants at our borders have certainly brought me to tears. But yesterday, I cried about something good, something inspiring, the story Mike Barnicle told about Joe Biden’s generous outpouring of emotional support for his brother Pete when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. When Biden learned about what Pete was going through, he flew to Boston to spend the day with him. After that, he called him every single week until his death. Biden is a busy guy, but this is only one of many stories folks have told about his taking time to support and console others, especially those dealing with adversity and loss. Rather than folding his tent after the devastating loss of his first wife and infant daughter in an auto accident and more recently, the death of his son Beau, Biden has devoted his life to public service. He is one tough, resilient guy, a genuine survivor of unspeakable tragedy. But he also demonstrates and models empathy, a quality so sorely lacking in many of our current political leaders. To me, this is a big deal. Character counts. Resilience matters, toughness matters, and empathy really matters. Our children are watching. The world is watching. But the importance of character, especially empathy, goes way beyond the impression we’re leaving around the world or with our kids. Without the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s [...]

By |2019-07-17T11:59:59-04:00July 17th, 2019|Empathy|0 Comments

When an Elderly Parent Dies

My husband and I are at that age where if parents of our contemporaries haven’t yet passed away, they’re dying now. This past year, our sister-in-law’s parents both died, as did a dear friend’s mother. Saturday night, it was our turn. At age 93, my mother-in-law passed away. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. She’d been in ill health and suffered from severe dementia. By the time she died, I’m not even sure she knew who my husband was. Watching my husband grieve has reminded me that when a parent dies who’s in awful shape, feelings of love and loss comingle with relief. At last, the parent is no longer suffering or living with a dramatically diminished quality of life. But when a parent-child relationship has been complicated, as theirs was, the emotional head winds are even fiercer. My mother-in-law did not like children, and she had four of them. She came of age when that’s what women did—they got married and had children, whether or not they were brilliant students (as she was) and whether or not they would have preferred to pursue a professional career and be child-free. I know that my mother-in-law wanted to connect with her children and later her grandchildren, but she simply couldn’t. As my husband’s younger sister said, her message was, “I love you. Now can you get out of here?” I grieve for her woundedness that made her incapable of communicating warmth and unconditional love and acceptance to her children. I grieve for the [...]

By |2019-07-10T13:40:08-04:00July 10th, 2019|Death and Dying|1 Comment

Writing Out of Our Comfort Zone

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford My late writer friend Thelma Wyland used to tell me, “I was born without the poetry gene.” Of course, I knew that wasn’t really true. Despite her preference for short story writing, she created such evocative Haiku that musician and composer Frank Richmond was inspired to create a deeply moving original composition. Still, I’ve always felt I lacked the “short story gene.” Ever since I’d written “Woman in the Dugout” in seventh grade, all my ideas for fiction seemed to naturally gravitate toward novel length. So when Beth Schmelzer, who was kind enough to adopt me at my first Malice Domestic convention this spring, invited me to join with middle grade author Cynthia Surrisi and her in working on short stories to be considered for an upcoming Malice Domestic anthology, my initial thought was “No way! I’m not a short story writer—I write novels for young adults.” Of course, the theme of “Mystery Most Theatrical” intrigued me, since my background is in dance. And then an idea lodged its way into my pea brain, and I actually wrote a rough draft of a short story. It needs tons of work, but I know I’ll get helpful critical feedback for revision from Beth and Cynthia. Plus, I get to read their stories (which are really good) and enjoy this emerging tiny online writing community. Writing short forced me to be economical in a way that’s different from [...]

By |2019-07-04T09:42:48-04:00July 4th, 2019|The Writing Life|1 Comment

Hating the Endings of Otherwise Wonderful Books

This past week, I read two beautifully written young adult novels. Both feature a Romeo and Juliet trope which I also explore in my third YA novel, Leisha’s Song. Interestingly, both books star Hasidic heroines who live in Crown Heights, New York. In Like No Other by Una LaMarche, Devorah, described as “a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing,” gets stuck on an elevator during a hurricane with Jaxon, a boy whose family hails from the West Indies. The two fall for one another and begin meeting secretly. Told in alternating viewpoints, the novel movingly depicts the intensity and beauty of their relationship. Of course, all hell breaks loose when her family discovers their strictly forbidden relationship. Jaxon is brutally beaten up by Devorah’s brother-in-law and his friends, and Devorah is sent away to Hasidic “rehab” while her family plots to arrange an appropriate marriage for her. It’s impossible not to root for these star-crossed lovers, but at the end, Devorah can’t bring herself to leave her family and community. She dumps Jaxon and her consolation prize is to be “allowed” to go to college and postpone marriage. Likewise, in Eva Wiseman’s The World Outside, seventeen-year old Chanie is expected to marry as soon as she graduates from high school. She dreams of becoming a singer, a forbidden career. But when she meets David, a boy outside her tight knit community, he encourages her to pursue her dreams and helps her arrange [...]

By |2019-06-26T11:12:29-04:00June 26th, 2019|The Courage to Change, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Love, not Labelling

Friday night, I marched with a contingent from my Unitarian church in the Gay Pride parade in Louisville. This annual event is very special to me. It’s not only because it expresses my deepest values that we all have the right to be accepted and celebrated for who we are and whom we love. It’s also because it’s just such a “feel-good” occasion! There is something quite magical about folks of diverse ages, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities coming together to celebrate love in a hug-filled, colorful way. For a few hours, I feel as though I’ve stepped into a judgment-free zone. We are who we are—gay, straight, neither—and all have seats (well, make that floats) at the table. I couldn’t help but compare this experience to the one my husband and I had the week before when we attended an evening of cutting edge performances by artists who’d spent a year in a special mentoring program. The program’s theme was “Dis/Comfort Zones.” We’d come to support a former modern dance colleague, Theresa Bautista, who performed her brilliant solo, “I am a pretty girl.” Afterward, we wandered over to the art gallery where viewers were invited to add comments to white boards on what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable. My husband, probably the least sexist, traditional white male I know, not to mention being a strong supporter of gay rights, visibly drew back when he read some of the comments. One person wrote that what makes him/her/they uncomfortable is [...]

By |2019-06-19T10:57:32-04:00June 19th, 2019|Uncategorized|1 Comment

A Life-Changing Friendship

In what seems like a lifetime ago (well, several decades), I left my first husband, a really nice, well-to-do man. At the time, I had a young son and a job dancing with a small modern dance company that barely paid the bills. To say that my family members were appalled is an understatement. I was the one who’d managed to “marry well.” How could I ruin my life this way? And my little boy’s life? What kind of a person does something like this? Their judgements added plenty of fuel to the flames of my own guilt. Throughout one of the lowest times of my life, however, I had an amazing blessing—my dear friend and fellow dancer Connie. As we spent hours together each day commuting to the dance company we performed with, she listened, comforted, and never judged me. To this day, I think she saved my life. I’m incredibly grateful to her and feel such gratitude for our enduring friendship. Despite living in different cities during our post-dance company days, we’ve remained close and have supported one another through painful losses and celebrated together when we experienced terrific joy. (Our grandkids top that list!) We’ve cried together and laughed together. And as I grow older, I appreciate the blessing of our friendship more and more. The other day, I drove to Cincinnati to see Connie. Her beautiful debut picture book, From A to Z with Energy! recently came out. We lunched at our favorite bookstore, Joseph- Beth, [...]

By |2019-06-10T11:13:59-04:00June 10th, 2019|Friendship|1 Comment

Never Too Late

The genetic predisposition toward alcoholism and depression has threaded its way through generations of my family tree. While I have struggled with depression throughout my life, I was lucky to escape the disease of alcoholism. One of my sisters was not so lucky. But that’s not the end of the story—it’s only the beginning. This coming December, I’ll be traveling to California to celebrate a very special occasion, my sister’s 35 years of sobriety. She is one of my heroes, someone who literally hit rock bottom and turned her life around—in her forties no less. After 22 years as a raging alcoholic who endured everything that entails—troubled relationships, career derailments, financial struggles—she decided to do the scary thing. She changed her entire way of being and doing life. After many failed attempts to stop on her own, she surrendered and did her best to follow AA’s twelve steps. With strong support from the program, she’s not only maintained her sobriety but has built a successful professional career and this summer, will celebrate her twentieth year of marriage to a wonderful man. Recovery hasn’t been easy, but she’s done it. And I am in awe. Moreover, a second miracle recently occurred. After decades of struggling with this disease, one of her daughters, my beautiful niece, decided she’d had enough and joined AA. Her journey, like her mom’s, will be long and hard. But so far, so good. My sister reports that her daughter often tells her, “I can’t believe how much [...]

By |2019-06-04T13:03:02-04:00June 4th, 2019|The Courage to Change|2 Comments

Mother-Daughter Turbulence in the Early Teen Years

A few weeks ago, I was welcoming students to an overnight for a middle school comprehensive sexuality class when a mother dashed in without her thirteen-year-old daughter. “Sarah won’t be here for a while,” she said. “I kicked her out of the car and told her to walk the rest of the way.” She went on to explain her daughter had been outrageously disrespectful and hateful on the drive over, and she’d finally had “enough.” Seemingly overnight, her sweet child had turned into this moody, sullen, hypercritical stranger. I admit I’ve never directly experienced this phenomenon. I didn’t acquire an on-site mother until age twelve when my dad remarried. I was so thrilled to have a mom that I had zero interest in mouthing off to her. Besides, I raised sons, not daughters. Sure, at thirteen, they kept their distance from me in public. Who wants to run into a kid from school at the grocery store and be seen with your mother? Best to walk several paces ahead or behind to stave off the potential embarrassment. And sure, we had plenty of disagreements. But since I was not a guy, I don’t think my sons had the same need to disparage my every thought and action along the way to carving out their own identities. If I’ve never personally experienced mother-daughter turbulence in the early teen years, however, I sure have been a frequent witness. I still remember one single parent friend lamenting the change in her newly adolescent [...]

By |2019-05-27T13:03:50-04:00May 27th, 2019|Family|0 Comments

Still Dancing

I was asked to write an "artist's statement" for my upcoming college reunion. I've always been uncomfortable with this whole "artist" thing-- I've spent my life doing creative work, but somehow, I never think of myself as an artist! But I was inspired by dancing with my grandson, so here's what I had to say: “Alexa, play Run-Around Sue,” my four-year-old grandson commands. He slides off the counter stool, eager to be done with lunch. “Dance party, Mee-Ma!” he cries. “I’ll start.” He launches into a series of twirls. He jumps, gyrates, and slides in and out of the floor. He freezes in a dramatic upside down shape with one leg thrust toward the ceiling. I clap my hands in delight. Time falls away. I’m not only watching my beloved grandson in ecstasy as he dances—I am also gazing at myself all those decades ago in my own childhood living room. Music was a constant presence in our house. I cannot remember a time when I could hear music without itching to move, to dance. Truthfully, I couldn’t not dance. And so, despite parental pressure to pursue anything other than a career in the arts, and despite my strong interest in sociology, I ultimately left my doctoral program and became a modern dancer, choreographer, and dance educator. Looking back, I feel incredibly blessed that I made that choice. To me, dance has always been a life-affirming, ecstatic experience—the marriage of physical, spiritual, musical, and emotional expressiveness. The choice to pursue [...]

By |2019-04-19T15:53:22-04:00April 19th, 2019|Dancing, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Celebrating One Year Book Anniversary!

It’s hard to believe that it was one year ago today that my YA novel, It Should Have Been You, was released by Page Street! What a journey this has been. I’ve done readings at Flying Out Loud and as part of a SWAN (“Support Women Artists Now”) celebration, signed books at Barnes and Noble, the MidSouth SCBWI conference, Seton Hill, and at the Kentucky Festival Book Fair where I was thrilled to be a panelist on “Fierce Females in YA Literature.” This spring, I’ll be a participating author at the SOKY Book Festival and Malice Domestic.          Absolutely the best part of this experience has been the love, encouragement, and support I’ve received from readers, family, friends, and fellow writers, especially Ellen Birkett Morris and Mary Lou Northern and the Derby Rotten Scoundrels, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Like so many authors, I’ve encountered my share of bumps on the writing road this past year as well, but I never forget how fortunate I am to be able to go to my public library and see my book on the shelf. Books have meant so much to me all my life, and it’s a thrill to have actually sent books I’ve written out into the world. I look forward to another year of writing, teaching, and savoring the work I get to do!    

By |2019-01-30T14:18:55-04:00January 30th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments