Relevance

In the midst of a pandemic I get my first book contract and let the cognitive dissonance settle in.  I am elated!  It is meaningless! By the time the book is published, will the words I’ve written even matter?  In a world full of sickness and chaos, is art even relevant?

My husband and I go away to celebrate our 33rd anniversary.  He is reluctant in these times, but I’ve found us a private spot on Cape Cod, we pack a bag, some food, and we go.  On the drive down I am describing the adorable guest house I have secured for us. I am happy to escape the everydayness of our lives, the news, the impertinence of my writing.  It is called the Sweetest Little Suite, I tell him.

It has probably been renamed The Covid Cabin, he quips.

Don’t make me laugh, I say. There is nowhere to pee.

I know the state of the country, the world for God’s sake, is not funny right now.  It is dark and uncertain, but we need to laugh when we can because the crying will come too, if not for ourselves, for others.

It is freakishly warm for the middle of November, but we don’t see anyone else at the seashore except for maybe a few people sitting so far down the beach they are like large grains of sand, their movement almost imperceptible.

It starts off as a dare, me tempting my husband to jump into the crashing waves, and it ends with both of us running into the ocean, going under.  He disappears first and when he pops up he is shouting for me to hurry before the next wave drags me violently across the sand.  Shrieking, I dive in, my timing more a reflex of panic than any kind of strategy.

When you’ve been married this long, there aren’t many firsts you haven’t met; first home, first child, first move, job loss, illness. We’ve had them all.  But this- today- swimming in the ocean  in the middle of fall- for our November anniversary- this is a new first.

I emerge from the cold, invigorated. The sun warms my skin as it creates glitter across the water.  The reflection is spectacular; there is so much light.  I am insignificant, but at the same time connected to the brilliance of God’s creativity.

Fully present, mind and body in harmony, I take it all in. I see and feel the ocean, the world, as the most amazing work of art.

In this moment, the art is everything.

Writing Through Insomnia

 Another night like this, suddenly wide awake. I don’t exactly feel panicked, my heart is not racing, but I am on high alert. What I am waiting for, I am not sure.

I’ve done all the things: no coffee after 10am. No wine. No electronics in the bedroom.  Exercise. Mediation even. Yet most nights it is the same lately. I can predict before opening my eyes that the clock will read 1:30a.m.  Sometimes 1:20.

My husband reaches out and touches my leg.  He is letting me know he is awake now too. Was I tossing and turning? A middle of the night rendezvous; I resist the urge to speak. He will fall back asleep and there is nothing specific to say, to be anxious about. Well there is, actually. I mean the whole world is anxious now. Shouldn’t it be? I run through my list.  Who shall I focus on this night? Family? The country? Humanity?

I do my yogic breathing. I decide not to waste this time on trying to assign a subject to my insomnia.  Instead, I grab a pillow and notebook and go downstairs to settle on the couch. I may as well write something. Nothing will interrupt me at this hour, nothing outside my own head. The world is asleep, even as it is falling apart.

Not even my to-do list is calling me now. Phone calls to make, writing deadlines, laundry to do. Those are the affairs of daylight and I won’t engage such thoughts. I’ve been invited, against my wishes, but I’m here nonetheless, to do whatever I want in this dark hour. I figure something will happen if I put pen to paper, something to loosen this grip around my heart that is alerting me to I’m -not- sure- what.  I am ready, so ready for whatever is going to happen, even if it is only on the page.

The windows are shut down here and I’m too tired to get up and open them, too busy writing. I am hot as hell now. My hair is getting long – I am not yet ready to venture into a hair salon, even with all the precautions in place. I’ve been snipping the ends of my unruly hair, one curl at a time, with the professional scissors I bought online.  I pull it up on top of my head with the elastic around my wrist.

I’m so hot and so tired, I’m starting to feel nauseous. Tomorrow- which is today, technically- I will see what I’ve written, and if there’s anything worth saving.

I hear my husband upstairs, stirring. He is in the cool air-conditioned room and all of it is suddenly calling me now- the cool room, the soft bed, the husband.

I put down my pen and notebook and leave them on the couch next to the pillow.  I will be back tomorrow night, same time, same place.

__

This essay was originally published on Brevity’s nonfiction blog: via Writing Through Insomnia

 

 

Writing Matters

I’ve recently made significant revisions to my book The Uncluttered Mother and it is being review by two publishers. So fingers crossed, I will find its home soon.  In the interest of walking my talk, I finally did some long overdue digital housecleaning. This is the only decluttering chore that I have truly dreaded, and it felt great to get it done. 

Now that I am lighter and less distracted by digital clutter, and my first book is out of my hands (for now), I have turned my attention back to my memoir. I’ve grappled with the title for months (years?) and have settled on Alienated; of all the themes a reader could glean from this book, I think that alienation is the most significant. Personally, I was alienated from my mother after my parents’ divorce when I was four years old; perhaps only a small fraction of readers will relate to this particular trauma. But of a more universal motif is the alienation  from myself that I struggled to overcome after such a loss. So although it reads like a poignant memoir, it is my intention that it offers hope of wholeness and healing for anyone with a tough childhood, one that left them disconnected from their own power. 

How do I marry my two books, one narrative nonfiction and the other memoir? Where is the connection?  Well, if there is too much inner and outer extraneous matter, if we are too distracted,  we will avoid – or never find- the path back to Self.  On the contrary, it is hard to be uncluttered and remain alienated because in the open spaces, the way is revealed.

Where’d You Go, Creativity?

It is no accident that I am writing about the challenge of carving out a creative life when it’s been so long since I’ve written anything here.

Why is it so challenging to carve out a creative life that stays consistent?

Allow me to state the obvious:  Creative projects are often  solo pursuits in which we have to give ourselves permission, accountability, boundaries around our time and the will to keep going when it is just so easy to let it go among everything else competing for our time and attention.

And in addition to a creative life requiring time to create, it also requires time to just be. Writers and other creatives need alone time like they need air and water.  So if we need quiet time to prime the pump and quiet time to create, and we live in a time that practically insists – or at least expects – us to be hyper focused on the outside world, much more so than on our inner selves,  then of course it takes more than a little effort to protect a creative life.

Essentially though, I know I am capable of doing better, of doing more. Life is full of choices and I think I am running out of excuses.

Recently, I saw the movie Where’d You Go, Bernadette, based on the bestselling novel. Bernadette, so far removed from her former artistic career, has become anxious, destructive and unhappy.

It’s not so difficult to imagine a bout of writer’s block that goes on far too long resulting in my own demise. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but the longer I leave a written book gathering dust, an essay unwritten, or new ideas to die on the vine, the more intimidating it feels to crack open the door to the work. It’s as though I cannot bear to face what I have neglected.

Good things, life affirming things, happen during a creative spell that are hard to replicate. When engaged in a creative pursuit, we are in the flow of a higher consciousness. In the act of creation we feel energized,  joyful, at peace, and expanded.

We don’t think and feel in the same way. Those neural networks our survival thinking had wired are turned off …we see new possibilities. We are now quantum observers of a new destiny. And that release heals the body and frees the mind”.

 ­- Dr. Joe Dispenza, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.

In short, we are better when we are creating! We are happier, calmer and freer. Who doesn’t want that, for themselves and every creative person they love?

***

I could write about how to fight the good fight and maintain consistency in creativity, but clearly after such a dry spell, I am not the one to give such advice. Besides, it’s been spelled out already in some fabulous books such as The War of Art and Big Magic.

But speaking of magic, I occasionally get some good insights in my dreams and recently I awoke with these words in my head:  Just do a little bit each day.  The message was that simple and that clear.

So there you have it. This was my little bit for today.

 

HALF THE CHILD author reading

 

 

Please join us for a book discussion on Saturday, April 27th

1:00pm to 3:30pm at the Holliston, MA public library

752 Washington Street, Holliston, MA

Questions?  You can email Dana:  danalaq@gmail.com

*RSVP helpful but not required

HALF THE CHILD takes place over four consecutive summers in the lives of Michael Mullen and his son Benjamin, who ages from 2½ to 5½. The novel chronicles the separation, divorce, custody battle, and abduction that threaten to tear apart father and son. For Mike, an air traffic controller at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, the cost of asserting his rights as a father and Ben’s rights as a son continues to escalate and negatively affects Mike’s career, education, financial state, friendships, romantic life, physical health, and emotional well-being. Yet he steadfastly refuses to consider a life that consists of him living apart from Ben. Ultimately, they will write their own love story. HALF THE CHILD was a semi-finalist in both the James Jones First Novel Competition and the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition.

William J. McGee is a journalist, teacher, and consumer advocate. He also is the author of ATTENTION ALL PASSENGERS, a nonfiction exposé of the airline industry. He lives in Connecticut.

*A brief clip of the documentary, ERASING FAMILY will be shown at the closing of this event.

The Wolf at the Door

October 31

My husband receives a call from the doctor who has his biopsy results. The small lump at his jawline is not uncommon- the doctor has been optimistic- cavalier even- but it turns out that his is not benign at all. It is a rare cancer of the parotid gland.

We are about to find out that getting a cancer diagnosis causes one to enter the stages of grief. First stop: denial. How can this be? He is healthy. His medical reports have always been perfect. He is active, a young fifty-five and never felt better.

***

I’ve forgotten all about Halloween and now it’s getting dark, the time that little ones will start showing up at our door, looking for treats. We have no candy and are in no mood for visitors. We turn out most of the lights and sit in the near-dark living room, allowing this new reality to sit with usWe’ve kept the trick-or-treaters at bay, but we are not alone. There is a wolf at the door, and it is Cancer.

I call our daughters and deliver the news.

My husband is very concerned about disrupting mine and the girls’ lives. Always confident, capable and available, he feels he is failing us with this new and shocking title: cancer patient. Usually such a logical man, this makes little sense. Of course he did not choose this, no one does, and all we care about is him getting better. But the love and protection he has always given us, above and beyond what is expected, is one of the things I love about him. And now I want to protect him, to cure him, to save him. I am simultaneously aware of my inner strength and my mortal limitations.

November 8

It is our 31st wedding anniversary and also the day of my husband’s surgery. The surgeon removes the tumor as well as many lymph nodes in his neck. The doctors call it a neck dissection, but my husband prefers to call it a neck fillet. Even in his current state, he maintains a bit of his sense of humor. I am relieved. The past week has been emotionally rough to say the least, but we find reasons to laugh too.

November 22

We follow through on our plans to host Thanksgiving dinner at our home. It is a day of family and food and also of forgetting, for a few minutes at a time, that we are awaiting the next day’s pathology report.

November 24

We stop at the second floor of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We are fortunate to be just an hour drive away from such a reputable treatment center. We ride the elevator to the second floor. “Welcome to the land of the fucked”, my husband says as he looks around.

The oncologist is impeccably groomed and impossibly thin. He’s also friendly and kind but maintains the necessary level of detachment. He delivers the pathology report. It has been a successful surgery. No facial nerves were damaged. But cancer was found in one of the thirty-one lymph nodes that were removed. We discuss treatment options.

November 25

I gather books and food; I read and cook and freeze and clean. My husband makes calls and fills out paperwork. He deals with insurance details and prepares for his leave of absence from work. He is a pilot and I wonder if the radiation from the cockpit has contributed to this misfortune. Friendly skies my ass. I make a mental note to research this.

We update the people closest to us. We are grateful for their kindness, and for the resources that we have to get through this great challenge as best we can.

December 14

Treatment begins. There will be six weeks of daily radiotherapy and weekly chemotherapy. We have had every discussion, imagined every scenario, asked every question.

The technician brings me back to the room with my husband so I can see the radiotherapy equipment. They place the custom-made mask on his face and lay him down on the table. A giant machine looms above, like something out of Star Trek. The technician is explaining things to me, being both thoughtful and clinical, just like the oncologist. I glance over at the table again, at my husband strapped down now, and my eyes start to fill. I silently demand of myself not to cry before I look back at the man who has been giving me the low- down on radiation. I cannot make his job harder, I think. I cannot make any of this any harder.

December 25

Our daughters, sons-in-law and baby granddaughters are all gathered at our home. We are genuinely happy, our hearts full. My husband has a few days off from treatment, which feels like a gift.

January 1

One more month of treatment. It will get progressively more painful from here, affecting his teeth, his mouth, his swallowing. I was made for hard things, but watching a loved one suffer is not one of them. I want to curl up in the fetal position at the thought of his pain, but mostly because of the shadow of uncertainty that Cancer has cast upon his life. I gather my strength though, doing my best to stay in each moment. I recall words from Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now: “Whatever your present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”

Cancer arrived at the end of 2018, unannounced and unwelcome, an intruder in our lives. With all the love and strength and hope we can muster, along with all that modern medicine can offer, I believe we will send Cancer away. I picture my husband and myself, our amazing family, thoughtful friends, and the team of medical personnel, leaning on the door, all of us with all our might. We lock the door.

The new year brings healing, life, and glorious days. I will welcome those moments, those days, eagerly as if I had chosen them, and God knows I have.jonas-jacobsson-344604-unsplash

Thinking Inside the Box

20180623_124724Long before I ever had a laptop, back in the day when I was tapping at keys on a typewriter, I kept various writing notes in a decorative box, the kind you find at a craft store for keeping photos or other treasures in.  While I was raising young children and my writing time was limited, it got my creative juices flowing just to take the box out and hold in.  I always knew I’d get back to my work-in-progress when I could steal time again and often that was enough to keep me satisfied.

My daughters have grown and moved out, and like Virginia Woolf, I now have A Room of My Own in which to muse and write and pile up essays and book chapters on my laptop. But despite the space and all the technology available to me today, I have not outgrown The Box.

My box has changed in size and type only, having now upgraded to one I found at Staples that fits my 4×6 index cards full of notes, quotes, and ideas. It comes with matching dividers and an adjustable follow block, keeping all cards upright and orderly. If one can fall in love with a box, I surely have.

I store essay and blog ideas, memorable quotes, notes from books I’ve read, and anything else that may inform my writing.  For jotting down notes away from home, I simply carry a little green index card holder, one that easily fits into a purse or a book bag. Notes from this can be transferred into the box later. 20180626_105010

Why not just store all these notes digitally? Because I often read in bed and want to be able to write on a 4×6 card rather than record info onto my laptop. But mostly because, whether working on an essay, blog or book, I want to be able to move the cards around, rearrange them while I am referring to them, build the piece I am working on.  Having so many tangible ‘moving pieces’ to work with gets me to the finished product, the whole thing, in a way that feels so satisfying to me. It’s all part of the creative process.

I see my oldest daughter, now a mother of two babies, struggle to find time to create.  I recently reminded her of her art journal, of the importance of getting her ideas down on paper, of not letting them fade away like a poignant dream that can no longer be recalled.  Whether in a box, a journal, or digitally, capturing our ideas in a way that we can easily refer to later, is half the fun and half the progress.20180626_145743

Place holders of inspiration. Nuggets of information. Parts of the whole, pieces of projects, even with small pockets of time, bit by bit will bring the dream into focus.

 

 

Childhood Trauma and Adult Health

pexels-photo-264889.jpegChildhood trauma, if not healed and released, is very likely to lead to significant health issues in adulthood.  It is time to call BS on the beliefs that keep us from healing, such as:

Time heals all wounds.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

Leave the past in the past.

The past can’t hurt you anymore.

Groundbreaking research in neuroscience, psychology and medicine tells us that childhood trauma shapes our biology– our brains and our immune system- in ways that predetermine our adult health. The more adverse experiences, the higher our chances of developing heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, alcoholism, depression, etc.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences quiz consists of ten questions regarding childhood traumas such as:
*Being verbally put down & humiliated

*Being emotionally or physically neglected

*Being physically or sexually abused

*Witnessing one’s mother being abused

*Living w/ a parent who is depressed, mentally ill or addicted to alcohol or other substance

*Losing a parent to separation or divorce

You can find the quiz here:  ACE quiz

The higher one’s ACE score, the greater the risk of disease. According to research, scoring 4 or higher can shorten your life span by 20 years!

 How Do We Heal?

Education:

Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Running on Empty by Jonice Webb, PhD

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Trauma Release Process by David Berceli

Mind & Body:

Healthy Diet

Exercise (including Trauma Release Exercises)

Yoga

Energy Healing

Meditation

Mindfulness

Expressing and Connecting:

Talk therapy, speak about the secrets, tell your story

Write, draw, art therapy

Eventual forgiveness

Awareness and education are the first steps along the path to healing. No one wants to live in the past, but the truth is that the past is living within us.  Until we address our histories and then commit to healing trauma, we are essentially neglecting ourselves, mind, body, and spirit. Time does not heal all wounds. But courage does.

 

 

 

 

Memoir Excerpt

This excerpt of my memoir-in-progress was published in Mothers Always Write this week.  I told this story at a Boston Moth live storytelling event and after taking first place, I went on to perform it at the Moth GrandSlam the following year. It is the story of reconnecting with my alienated mother. The Stranger I Call Mother

Parental Alienation is a form of pathology in which one parent alienates the child from the other parent, typically after a divorce. I have been writing and speaking on this topic as a way to spread awareness and education and to be a voice for the alienated child.

More information on Parental Alienation can be found here:  Dr. Craig Childress blog and here: Dr. Childress on Parental Alienation Dynamics

 

 

 

Decluttering Christmas

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I hope I reached you before the frenzy swept you away. Chances are, the holiday madness doesn’t have you in its grip quite yet. And just what is The Madness? It is Everything You Must Do in order to have a great holiday. It is fulfilling grand expectations, your own or those of someone else.  Does the thought of that grab you at the sternum and trickle down to your gut? Does it excite you or hit you with a twinge of dread?

If you are anything like me, you are plenty stimulated without the extra holiday hoopla, thank you very much. Here’s my suggestion: Change the goal from having a fabulous holiday to having a mediocre one. Mediocre holidays are much gentler on the psyche. Declutter your Christmas. You know the saying, what goes up must come down?  The holiday mood- anticipation, excitement, chaos. It all has to come from somewhere and it has to go somewhere when it’s over! The time, money, and energy it takes to create an amazing holiday is likely siphoned out of your daily life, leading up to the festivities. Afterwards, the crash.
What if you decided not to steal from  whatever it is that makes your daily life good?  Your exercise routine, time with loved ones, alone time, your creative endeavor – whatever it is that keeps you sane and happy- you could guard with your life. Because every ordinary day IS your life.
Here are just a few things I am not doing in preparation for Christmas:
          Baking
          Sending out cards
          Going to a mall
     Here is what I am doing:
          Downsizing my tree to a mini one
          Making a simplified shopping list and sticking to it
         Going to yoga class
         Writing
Women have been complaining loud and clear about the mental and emotional clutter we carry that is causing all sorts of stress and fatigue. Then when the holidays come, we take on more. I don’t see many men stressing over decking the halls, do you?
Stop.
Simplify.
Rejoice.
Which brings me to this: Maybe you welcome the chaos.  Maybe you prefer not to simplify your holidays, and you make that choice with a happy heart, and skillfully, too. If that’s the case, then I think you are amazing. I bet you are one of those people who multitask with ease. That is not me. While writing, I might forget to take the pumpkin pie out of the oven. If I am deep enough in thought, I may or may not notice if the smoke alarm goes off. I really shouldn’t do two things at once. But the upside of that is, I can be really present for the one thing I am doing.
I look forward to strategically placing a few holiday decorations in my home. I love candles and clear Christmas lights and fern across my mantel. I want to be with family, with some good food and a few presents. I want to enjoy them before the holidays too, though. And after. No rushing, no stress, no frenzy, no crash.  There’s something to be said for being a holiday underachiever.  I’m saying No to the high of an amazing holiday season, and yes to the peace of a simpler one.
Merry Christmas!
Happy Holidays!
Peace.