Toad and I Are Friends

From Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel

I settled down on my bolster, folding my legs into each other and resting my hands on my thighs. My eyes were tired with sleep and pollen and a wakeful night. I closed my eyes. I breathed in and out. In and out.

Then, like a stunned rabbit, I felt the urge to jump out of my seat.

And do what?

I don’t know, but whatever it was, it would be better, I thought, than sitting here. I breathed in and out and my sleepy eyes closed.

I am doing this, I said to myself. I will meditate this morning!

The intermittent sound of tractor trailers and cars and birds and crickets drifted into my open window. My mind drifted on the sound.

And then I started making my grocery list, and chore list, and “forgot to call/email/talk” list. I drifted away on my lists.

I twitched and wiggled. I sat up straighter, aiming the crown of my head upward. I relaxed.

I was sitting now.

Then my ears picked up a rustling of rocks and gravel, so close it must be coming from my basement window well. It got louder. It stopped. It started again. I cracked open my eyes. I closed them. The rustling continued in the early morning half-light.

“What the hell is that?”

“A raccoon? A snake?”

I cracked my eyes open again.

“Oh crap! I bet it’s a damn raccoon getting in our garbage can. Or maybe more mice living near our foundation.”

I squeezed them shut.

“Stay. Here.”

The rocks knocked against each other again and I imagined whatever it was scratching its way through the window screen and getting into our house. I was verging on panic.


Like a tiny, not-quite-trained puppy.

I sat and listened to the creature. My timer went off — 10 whole minutes subjecting myself to sitting. I went to the window immediately. Spiderwebs and rocks and not much else. Then I heard the rocks knocking together again. I followed the sound to a large brownish rock amidst the piles; it moved. My raccoon, my snake, my mice, my monster — was a toad. A beautifully camouflaged toad.

I laughed at myself and my fearful mind. I smiled at the toad.

I like to think he smiled back.


Don’t Remind Me

I rolled over and turned on the light 10 minutes after I had turned it off. My left eye was swollen and oozing and felt like a grain of sand was lodged in its corner. I grabbed the book off the bedside table and left my husband sleeping.

I hadn’t read a book like this, gotten into a book like this, in a long time. It wanted me to finish it and I had nothing else to do. Sleep wasn’t coming. No one needed me, except this book. I hunched over it at the kitchen table, reading to the end and midnight. I still didn’t want to go to sleep.

Today, I logged onto Facebook and a series of algorithms started popping off, calculating what day it was, what year. They were so proud of their power to show me my memories posted from two years ago! It was a photo of my brother—slimmed down and looking almost like he had as a high school football player—dead since August 2013; I was thanking friends and others for their support in the post.

I imagine that the people/machines at Facebook think memories are a good thing to relive. Personally, I don’t want to take a trip down memory lane right now to revisit my brother’s suicide death. When a friend mentioned what I tough time I was probably having right now (right now being the day we’d left for a family beach vacation and also the anniversary of his death), I was shocked. It hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Read more:

I’ve been pretty busy lately, nursing a very sick kid for a week, then preparing for a week away, and now being sick myself. It’s been a busy summer; busier than I wanted. Call me selfish or self-absorbed. I don’t mind. The early wet, cool days on the lakes are now hot and humid. Cicadas serenade us, madly rubbing their bodies. It’s the sound track of my childhood summers; it’s the sound track of memories that I’ve been trying to forget.

I don’t care much about marking my brother’s death each year. His death, frankly, is meaningless. It was his life that mattered. The problem is that I don’t know his life. The book I finished that night? I had to get to the end. It was about a woman remembering and reclaiming her memories, and who she was, in order to move forward. For herself. For her children. And she had to do this alone: she had lost the boundaries of her life defined by her mother and father, her lover, her friend. She was alone with herself, defining what that meant. Those people, she realized, were not who she thought they were, and neither was she. I am finally realizing many of the same things, and it’s like scraping your skin off slowly with a butter knife.

I scrounge my memories some nights when I can’t sleep, conjuring images of my brother and I. Maybe they’re memories, or maybe they’re things I’ve been told. They merge in our brains and become one. I’ve been told so many things.

When I finished the book, I cried. My swollen eye was worthless; the kitchen was swimming underwater. I never came up with a memory. I never plucked one out and said, Aha! Yes! This is what it was like. This was him. I sat there, a floor below my sleeping boys, thinking that I was all I had. I was what was left of my brother. My present was the whole: my now, my past and my future. He was here, even if I couldn’t pin a memory on him. He was with me and my children. Present tense.

Maybe this is what religious people feel about angels in Heaven. Or others about good people being reincarnated as higher beings, gods. For me, it’s a simple coping mechanism, because the truth is just too bitter a pill.

After I was cried out, I settled in bed. I felt calmer because he was with me, like all good big brothers are.

On A Casse-roll

Don't separate

It is too individualistic, the main dish side dish mantra.

There is no non-duality in not touching greens to beans,

Meat to potatoes.

If you, children, can’t see the entire universe in your bowl,

Then you are not eating the casserole.

Just this morning, about nine, I filled my bowl with everything.

With the energy of burned out stars and manure from the dairy farm down the road.

Healthy way to start my day: shredded wheat and raisins and milk and toasted almonds.

Banana chunks for good luck.

I ate it all. The cows in the milk, the corn silage in the cow.

The sun and water and petroleum in the raisins, the wheat, the farmer.

Now, tell me why those things cannot touch on your plate,

Can’t inter-be, interrelate?

You may have your reasons, but I won’t enable.

I won’t buy dishes with spaces for you to separate.

Part 1: Navigator’s Plight

The last night under the floor boards of the Dutch fly boat, the swooning “Half Moon,” F. Van Cortlandt curled into that small round version of himself known to everyone else on board, especially to his commander Hendrick Hudson, and hoped to die. The water sloshed around his buckled boots and seeped into his matted fur. He sniffed and gagged on the air; his body was molding like forgotten potatoes in a damp Low Country cellar.

A dirty oil lamp swung back and forth over his head, moving in time with the black waves outside. Sound vibrations were dampened in the hold; the other sailors might be there sleeping or drunk or dead. But then, out of the muffled dark, F. Cortlandt’s head thrust up into the moldy air as concussion boomed overhead, like a crack of lightning or a cannonball crashing into a thousand wooden houses.

Seconds later, the huge ragged end of half of the ship’s upper topsail punctures the deck, opening a hole to the heavens and ending right in front of F. Cortlandt’s tiny pink quivering nose. He sniffs small sniffs, collecting himself and his dripping nose. Then, a squat, square whiskered face — familiar black beaded eyes and pointed cap — appears in the hole in the deck, squeezing around what’s left of the wet, wooden mast.

“Get yer lazy naught good selves from ‘neath the hold and up here!” he says, long front teeth glaring in the moonlight. “Nay, ye do not have all night and yer leisure to set about!”

F. Cortlandt looks around the hold, trying to make out shapes and forms, realizing finally that he is, most unfortunately, alone. And that Commander Hudson expects him to mount the remaining masts and guide what is left of this forsaken, precious “‘Half Moon” from the heaving Atlantic into a bay that no one knows, to the farthest west he or anyone has ever been.

5 Reasons Never to Shave Again

Cost analysis featured in The Compass, a style journal by Black Lapel. Money: apparently something only men care about.

1. You’re going to be damn glad for the extra layer of warmth between your skin and the frigid insides of your clothes in February when it hits a high of -10 degrees F.

2. You were born pretty much hairless, then you grew up. You grew hair. Your mom cried during your first ever Big Girl haircut. Every long straight strand and dark curly is a mark of your maturity, your wisdom. Own it. I don’t want to be 12 again, and I don’t think you want me to look like I am either.

3. You know who else I don’t look like? Barbie. Or a department store mannequin. I bet they get freakin’ cold in there when it’s February and the heat goes on the fritz in Cruise Wear.

4. I know. It’s embarrassing the first time you show up to open swim at your local YMCA in late February with your kids and remember that you haven’t shaved ANYWHERE on your body in about three months. Armpits. Bikini. Legs. But then you remember that you’re a 38-year old mom, and that no one looks at you anymore, especially the 17-year old male lifeguard and his friend. You cavort in the nearly 70-degree pool and praise God for your hairy body when you have to go back outside.

5. Women’s.Razors.Suck. And are ridiculously expensive. Why is it again that women need special razors to shave their body hair? Oh yes. My soft, curvy curves. I’m not all angles, dammit! Riddle me this: When you haven’t shaved in three months and you want to jump back in, how many passes do you think you have to make with those awful pink petal quadruple blade femmy-razors? Several. How many passes do you have to make with the husband’s old fashioned single blade safety razor? One. Uno. Oh, and need a new blade? Just change it out from your pack of a billion you bought on Amazon for $12.

6. I know, this is a sixth reason. If you’re still reading, then you probably need to read this one. Shaving is a personal thing, I know. But I’ve been a card-carrying shaver and plucker of hair since I was about 13. I’m tired. For me, it’s just one more responsibility I’ve shouldered for a long while, like birth control pills. My period keeps coming back, just like all that hair. What’s the point? Looking sexy? Young? Clean? Feeling smooth? Being desirable? Funny thing, my husband has never, ever suggested to me—not even once— that I needed to shave my this, that, or the other. We did, on the other hand, agree about the vasectomy. And his losing the beard.


“Oh, this iced coffee is luscious,” she said.

She sipped. A bead of water slipped down the sweating glass onto the table.

“You’re luscious,” he said, smiling and squinting against the sun.

Later, she judged the time of her son’s conception by the sundial shadow of their bodies.

Saying No

I posted last night and this morning I finally realized why people like social media. I saw a few Likes and Follows, and poked around on other blogs (not something I generally do, unless its got recipes). Then it jumped out at me: the sense of not being alone in a struggle that, frankly, I feel most of the time is kind of arrogant and selfish. Screw it. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

I love The Sun Magazine. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s got interviews, nonfiction, fiction, poetry, photography and a section called Readers Write. The magazine asks readers to write about topics on which they are the only authority; I assume this means life. Then you submit to the magazine and maybe it gets published. Maybe not. Writing for The Sun would be awesome. Until then, I decided that the Readers Write topics are great prompts (a.k.a, kicks in the ass). I wrote this one — on the topic ‘Saying No’ — intending to send for the May 1 deadline and missed it. But, I wrote it so I’m going to let it breathe.

Saying No

I held the phone to my ear until the line went dead. My weight sagged against the door frame of our back door; outside, the day was going on like it had before the call. Sunny and hot. The start of the end of summer.

I needed to get outside. I opened the back door then slammed it shut. I went into the cool of the garage and paced. I balled my fists and pounded them on top of my car as hard as I could.

“NoNoNoNoNoNo!” I screamed. “Fuck you!”

I pounded again, then sobbing silently and half to myself, “No.”

I slid down onto my heels. I pressed my palms into my eyes until kaleidoscopes burst inside my eyelids.

It was the start of the end of summer and my brother had hung himself.

Later, I decided never to take my wedding rings off again. I stared blankly at walls and could not muster the energy to eat or take showers. But my children, my husband—they had to eat. The living are needy.

I started saying “no.” After 37 years of fearing the wrath of inactivity, the scarlet letter of laziness — I put my “yes” on the shelf. I used it only in case of emergencies.

Yes, eat breakfast. Yes, read your son a book before bedtime. Yes, pee. Yes, do nothing.

Friends materialized at my door with fresh honey from backyard hives. It was sweeter than anything I’d ever tasted. They came and took my children away to play. They told me about their brother who had killed himself.

Months went by. I turned down writing assignments because nothing was important, not like it had been. It had been urgent to grab every opportunity for achievement. It had been important to do something with my life. Now, my life narrowed to a pinpoint.

The world went on around me, sunny and hot. I did not sleep much. I had a brutal imagination; when I closed my eyes, I’d see my brother’s body swinging, bloated and broken, from a hundred-year old tree branch.

Eventually, I stopped saying “no.” I ate. I worked. I dove back into doing, hoping I might drown in it because simply being was too hard.

My dead brother agreed, nodding silently beside me.

Blogging: Easier Than Writing

Hey, you know what’s easier than writing a short story? Writing a blog post! True. Even if said blog has been filled with virtual cobwebs for the past several years and no one reads it. Even then! Easier.

You know what else is easier than writing a short story that may or may not ever see the light of day? Writing a book! Yes! You heard me. A real-life book that a publisher approached you to write, and even though it’s maybe not the book you ever envisioned writing — BOOM! — there it is. Deadlines, then a year later, a book you can hold in your hand with your name on it. Miraculous! People are asking you to sign books for them at special events just for you! What the what?? Yup. Easy.

Easy compared to baring your partially formed soul through words that somehow have to be strung together to makes sense and evoke emotion and smells and sensations — in other people. Of course they evoke these in me, the writer. But I must somehow work Magic and Witchery and make YOU believe and feel and not say,”No one would ever say that if that happened!”

For me, it is hard. Hard because I’ve never really let myself write uncensored and sucky. And you have to write uncensored and sucky to WRITE ANYTHING WORTHWHILE. Even a freakin’ grocery list.

Speaking of groceries, there are also a lot of other things I could be doing besides writing. Like right now, I could be watching a riveting documentary on PBS about The Roosevelts. I could be snuggling with my husband on the couch talking about my day. (Kidding. Now that is something no one would ever say.) I could be writing a grocery list for tomorrow. Or, I could be scrolling Facebook, feeling more dejected with each post about her losing weight and feeling awesome, her finishing her 5th marathon after her 3rd kid, or her posting pictures of her new book cover. Wait. That’s me.

During the day, this chronic inability to immerse myself in a fictional world doesn’t seem so bad. I have things to do, remember? Kids, lunches, laundry, dentist appointments, oil changes, dinner. But lately, when the sky and the lake turn that amazing deep periwinkle as the sun is extinguished behind the ridge to our west, it breaks my heart.



I practice yoga.

I drink beer.

I make no resolution this year,

A solution to the problem of being myself.

Sealing the cracks in my psyche,

Dozing my idiosyncrasies into loose fill.

Maybe to mend someone else’s cracks, someone else’s problems.

I rake and smooth but like earth in summer with no rain,

I crack again.

Until I stop dozing and removing rocks,

Until I add instead of remove.

Until I roll in the mud instead of smooth.

This, I resolve.

You Never Miss the Water ‘Til Your Well Runs Dry

When the sun is struggling to break free from the clouds, hanging like lead balloons over the lake, it’s beautiful. There’s a faint shimmer on the water where the sun is peaking through, spotlighting the waves. It’s another windy day at the top of Seneca Lake.

Place of the stone.

You notice these things when you’re walking in the morning alongside meadow serenades and the occasional trucker on a country road. Corn stalks drying in the fields, waving maniacally in a stiff breeze, remind me of the ocean.

When I get to the top of the hill — the road that strings between lake and town, twisting in on itself forever — I stop to look back. It’s an amazing view. Open. Expansive. Farm houses and barns and silos rising up from fields on the left and right.

When I stop and take this in, I feel for the first time how empty I have been. I needed filling up. My well had run dry. Run low, ran over, run away. I suddenly feel hungry, thirsty.

I feel.

The tumbling down the hill is fast with the pushy headwind now at my back. I could fly down. I could tuck and roll. I pass my Old road and cross the busy highway because I have to get closer to the water before I go inside. I have to fill back up to the rim.

A small blue splotch opens in the the heavy clouds and it’s time for me to go home. Eat. Drink. Write. Clean. Think. Sit.

Because when you’re empty, you have nothing left to give. I make the sweeping statement: I think women are too good at emptying. We draw from our well constantly because we were taught to give and give. Don’t be selfish. Don’t love yourself too much. Don’t boast. Don’t look like you enjoy eating, drinking, sweating. Don’t make yourself the center of attention. Don’t be too loud, too big, too strong, too much. Don’t take what you need; ask. Don’t stand firm; negotiate. Don’t stand out; fit in. Don’t be the squeaky wheel; be quiet and content. This is today, the year 2014. Into the future. Forever and ever emptying.

An empty woman could get carried away with a stiff breeze; a full one stands on top of the hill like a stone, taking up space and weight and requiring heft to move.

But a rock can still roll.