Category: Life Now

Essays I Admire: Part Two

I told a story about meeting my husband and establishing roots in the Adirondacks for a local story slam competition. I was high from my second-place win a couple of months earlier and worked hard on the narrative about our history together. A lot of it was about how I didn’t want to live in the mountains and his sincere desire to do so…and then, how we’ve made it work, how much we’ve put into our house and property to make it an idyllic home to share with each other and those we love.  I didn’t even place. The winner, hands-down, was an English teacher from Northwood School in Lake Placid. NC’s story about having her “cancer baby” or a teratoma (look it up!!!) at 23 and talking her way into a job she wasn’t qualified for in Tanzania (she couldn’t speak a word of Swahili) wiped everyone else off the board. NC went on to win the regional story slam competition with another captivating and devastating tale of her life in Africa in December that year. Anyway… When I found this moving essay by Therese Beale, I found someone speaking the same language I’d use about the inner life of my marriage: http://talkingwriting.com/little-something-effort

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Essays I Admire: Part One

I used to write and publish frequently, mostly in regional magazines that were printed on glossy paper or in a newspaper delivered to your doorstep. I stopped around 2016 and then, trying to re-enter the freelance scene required a new set of skills. I was so rusty. Another writer in the family introduced me to Submittable. Yup, seriously rusty. Now I know about Duotrope, too. The lit-mag landscape blew up and I had no idea. It can be both overwhelming and incredibly engaging.  While grief fuels a lot of my creative nonfiction and personal essays now, there are plenty of other themes I’ve played around with over the years. When I poke around for hours online, trying to find homes for my creative work, I come across so many lyrical and deeply gratifying portraits of life and love crafted by others. Here’s a gem from the masterful Michelle Gurule in the magazine Drunk Monkeys: Gummy Bear

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The Shakespeare Requirement

I started Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief this summer. I read the first two chapters and set it aside. I couldn’t do it. Not yet. Soon. The grief books are piling up. That’s a good thing. The landscape for talking—embracing—the topics of death, grief, loss has certainly shifted in the last thirty years. I am grateful. What I needed was a break from grief and loss, a break from kid lit for lesson planning. I needed comedy. Adult comedy. The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher fit the bill. Payne University! The blue, buck-toothed mascot!  This review by Washington Post critic Ron Charles does the book justice and includes some comments from the author:  Campus Comedy – Shakespeare Requirement The whole thing is hilarious—every single page. Laugh on.

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The Octopus

An octopus has trailed me this summer. Let me explain. 1. Lately, I’ve been inundated with an image of what it’s like to miss something so enormous, like your son’s mental health struggles in the aftermath of suicide. That image just happens to be an octopus cowboy riding an elephant. A purple octopus, no less. A lot of crisis counselors say this to survivors: “You did the best you could with the information you had at the time.”  I despise this line. It was used on me several times. The statement grates on me because it’s both accurate and annoying. Terrible and true. With time and distance, I have the ability to see my younger son’s last two years of life with much more clarity. It feels like I missed the octopus galloping and yee-hawing in the front yard. It was right there.  I have to forgive myself. And the professionals and educators in the tragic circle. Maybe that’s why the octopus took off the chaps, put aside the lasso, and stashed the cowboy hat to emerge in later weeks, in different iterations, for me to see. 2. When school let out, I picked up a box of 100 postcards of animals by 10 different artists at my local thrift store. I have a trusty pen pal (Bren!!) and have made an effort to write regularly to a student involved in a bike crash earlier in the summer. That student loves dogs (mainly the family dog, but still) and there…

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Learning & Lesson Plans

Although there’s still some summer left, I am turning my attention to the classroom. That means lesson planning. I’m in the middle of an online class with the Stern Center for Language and Learning. With that course (When Writing is Hard), the mini-workshops with Julia Torres in the spring, and the curriculum maps I worked on during the school year, things are in pretty decent shape for September. I won’t lie. I’m slowly filling in the template I created with my plans for activities and projects. Slowly is the operative word. I get sidetracked, especially when there’s so much to read. Last year’s class loved The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm. I was so pleased that her follow-up, The Third Mushroom, expands on the grief theme that only got a passing mention in Goldfish. I’m slowly building a lesson plan around this book, as well as WINK. I’m waiting to pick up Michelle Cuevas’s Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jaques Papier and The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson at my local library.       

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Out of the Darkness Walk September 19, 2021

Join me for the Out of Darkness Community Walk  on Sunday, September 19 from 11:30am – 3:00pm in Lake Placid, NY. The event is one of many initiatives by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  I plan to sell jewelry and other art from the Adirondacks at the walk. All proceeds to benefit AFSP. I’ll also be on hand to share information about my Grief & Growth Notebook class that’s slated for October 23rd at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. That’s a free event for adults. More on that in a future post. Can’t make the event? Donate here: AFSP Donation Page

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Graduate School of Grief

I’ve always been a straight-A student. Ok, well, there was that ONE time I got a 79 on my New York State Chemistry Regents exam. I’d worked hard with my eleventh grade teacher to study for that end-of-the-year torture. He was a wonderful tutor. We were both relieved that I’d passed. Other than that, though, there’s only one other poor mark on my record. I earned a “C” in a class on religious studies in college.  Death, grief, and loss had entered my life prior to the death of my teen son, but not on the same scale. The intensity and exhaustion I felt losing my beloved boy was overpowering. I knew I needed to  study everything I could about how to get back up after that devastating and complex blow. I was drowning. I needed to practice new skills and tools so I could reach the surface and stay afloat. I also knew I had it “easy” or could be considered “lucky”: my trauma was limited to a single event, not a compilation of horrible things up to that dramatic point in my life. I have other protective factors that make my grief process ripe for resilience: a loving partner, freedom from elder and child care responsibilities, a supportive working environment, and I live in a beautiful, peaceful place.  I want to be clear, though, that I wasn’t looking to wipe away or fix my sorrow and sadness. I was searching for ways to file down the jagged edges,…

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Down to Earth & the Greater Good Science Center

Michelle Cuevas’s powerful children’s book, The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole, features prominently in my essay about navigating grief while preparing for my new role as an English teacher at North Country School.  Independent School Magazine passed on my work with a personalized rejection and a website for school counselors ignored me altogether, so I pitched the piece to the Greater Good Science Center based at UC Berkeley.  I’d been a huge fan of Greater Good for years before I attended their weeklong Summer Institute for Educators in 2015. Shout out to Family #11!! That experience transformed my personal and professional life. The organization’s articles, courses, and resources continue to help me shape my goals inside and outside the classroom. You can read the essay here: What a Children’s Book Taught Me (and My Students)

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What’s Your Grief – Books & Broken Hearts

The website What’s Your Grief published a piece I wrote this summer. It highlights three contemporary middle-grade books that are ideal for facilitating meaningful conversations and classroom activities about trauma, grief, and loss with students. I’ll admit I was drawn to Rob Harrell’s book, Wink, because of the cover. The orange pops and the simple illustration is eye-catching (pun intended). The fictional story of Ross Maloy is based on Harrell’s real-life trials of going through middle school with a rare eye cancer. As I do with most books I preview for sharing with students, I listened to this book and then checked out the physical copy from my school’s library. One of Harrell’s masterful lines resonated with me each time: Eventually, the day got dark and ran out the way even the worst days do.     Rajani LaRocca’s debut is all about duality: family traditions and fitting in, gains and losses, life and death. An art teacher at North Country School recommended the work to me and its lyrical prose did not disappoint. Reha is the main character, an Indian-American teen in the mid-1980s, who tells her story in one powerful stanza after another. In addition to working as a writer, LaRocca is also a medical doctor. I can’t say enough about Michelle Cuevas’s sweet book, complete with whimsical illustrations, about young Stella and her black hole, Larry. This story includes so much about grief (Stella’s dad died) and growth (navigating out of the black hole) in real and…

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Bottoms Up

When I was in grad school, I wore what I thought was a wide variety of outfits; however, a classmate made an observation that gave me pause (sketch 1). Not long after that, I worked at The Crisis Center and the executive director smiled cheerfully when I walked in after the weekend (sketch 2).  I ditched a lot of vests and miss some of them now. Once I started knitting, I became a fan of scarves and wear them pretty religiously. Students have pointed out that I have a lot of scarves, but I no longer feel embarrassed or weird about my clothing choices. I’ve aged into a comfortable style that’s all my own. My younger son and I shared lots of clothing and footwear for a short period of time. That crossover was special. He loved vibrant colors and patterns, but didn’t really like to shop. I scoured thrift stores and retail outlets for the rich hues and textures he requested. I embraced those missions with gusto, knowing whatever fit me well would likely work on him, and I loved sharing the treasures I’d discovered. While I was away at a conference, I found purple pull-on shoes on the sale rack at a sporting goods store downtown. He happily donned them to complement his pink and red attire for the school’s Valentine’s Day dance that year. One winter vacation, we all piled into the car to spend a day in Burlington, Vermont together. We hunted for the pale green…

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