Blog Break

I am at my physical, emotional, and mental limits — and not in a good way. I’m overwhelmed in almost every capacity. I don’t think I am up to writing in this blog twice a week at this time. So I’ll be taking a blogging break. It doesn’t mean I won’t write. I might. But it might not be for a while. It definitely won’t be on my previously twice-weekly, Monday and Thursday basis. Cheers to you and your blogging endeavors!

Mini Post

I need a break from a lot of things and writing is one of them. With my magic wand, I would whisk myself away mentally to get a change of scenery.

I hung out with one of my sisters today. I drove an hour each way. The traffic was flowing well so it was an enjoyable experience. The trip wiped me out. Now it is time for bed.

I hope you’ve had a great day and that the rest of the week will be at least as good as it was today. Cheers!

A Week in the Life of an Elder Caretaker

To say the last 15 months have been difficult for my mother and the rest of the family is a gross understatement. I can’t think of anything more difficult than having to watch someone you love suffer in tremendous pain. It’s like being in one of those war movies where you are forced to watch the enemy torture and kill your best bud right in front of you.

Since August 2014, my mother has suffered with a fall, a concussion, a slashed forehead requiring stiches, a broken 5th metacarpal bone in her right hand, a partial cast that pained hand arthritis, worsening arthritis in her back, psoariatic arthritis, tooth infections that were escalated by an autoimmune drug she had been taking, dental surgery, nausea to the point where she can’t eat, physical therapy, MRIs, cat scans, XRAYS, multiple bouts of sciatica, and finally spasms that rocked her entire left leg, leaving her in excruciating pain.

We took her to the ER. That was a fucking nightmare. What she went through deserves mountains of expletives for the simple reason that a trauma occupied every single doctor for hours while my mother screamed in pain. For hours. Multiple times, I was a sobbing mess. At one point, I lost my cool and screamed into the ER for someone to please help my mother. Nope. No doctor. No pain management. All you other non-life threatening people problems can just sit and suffer. I’ve never heard of anything so atrocious. Last night, I felt an anxiety attack coming on so I took half a pill I got from my primary care. Five minutes later, I was sobbing.

Once my mom was admitted, the care was a billion times better. Four days on, she’s doing much better. My mom’s taking antispasmatics and pain meds. PT has come by and done some stretching. She’s had two MRIs, a sonogram, and an echocardiogram. From what we know so far, tightness in her hip and pelvic area is at a max and throwing her body out of alignment. She looks better even though she still has some pain. Tomorrow, she’ll probably be discharged with meds, an RX for PT, and a plan to get her out of pain. None of us know whether some of the back pains she’s been having were because of the tightening in the hip and groin that seem to have her body in a grip. We’ll see.

I moved back to my hometown a couple of years ago so we could be there for my mom when she needs us. I haven’t regretted the move for a second. I only wish she could be in less pain. Here’s to hoping that she’ll have a future with a lot less pain and more mobility.

Post Poned

For a variety of personal reasons, I am unable to write my normal post. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Hope you had a great day!

The #1 Lie I Like To Tell Myself

As a professional procrastinator, I like to put everything off until the last minute. My experience with myself is that, if I begin working, I don’t know when to stop. I have tried to compensate by telling myself that I’ll do this thing for myself now and get to the work later. As long as I’m the only one I have to worry about, this is a fine plan.

The problem is that I am not the only one that I have to worry about. We don’t have kids so this is usually the case. However, I do have an elderly parent with pain issues that seemingly Will. Not. Go. Away. My mother has spent the last 14 months in and out of an excrucating amount of pain. My family and I have dropped everything at the last minute to see that she gets the care and medication that she needs almost every single month, sometimes for a week at a time.

Due to complications from an autoimmune medication that my mother was taking, she discontinued an otherwise effective medication. We didn’t really know how effective until she had to stop taking it a month ago. The medication continued to work for a few weeks. Into our fourth week, we now clearly see that it had been working more than we realized when a highly intense form of sciatica hit.

I called her doctors and picked up a prescription. My husband worked from home today so I could take a memoir writing class this afternoon. In my place, he called 911 to advise on my mother, had the prescription filled at their instruction, made lunch for my mother, and ensured my mom took her medication that thankfully worked within the hour. I felt better that she seemed to be in less pain.

After I came home from class, I checked on mom: sleeping. I had my own dinner and then got her up to take her medication again. My husband stayed with me, helping mom with dinner, clean up, and getting around. I set up a commode on the toilet my Dad used to use because it means she doesn’t have to bend down as far.

I wrote a medication diary so I can keep track of the pain meds that she’s now taking. She had mentioned she was chilly so I took her temperature, which was raised. I gave her an additional Tylenol only. We will check her temperature as well as ensure that she eats and takes her medication on an alternating basis.

I put a lamp in her room so she doesn’t need the bright overhead light. I set her up with throat drops, her phone, and water. She drowsed and I came up upstairs to our apartment to have some lemon ginger tea and write. As I sat down, I asked myself, “When are you ever going to learn? When in doubt, write.”

Post Poned

The next time I plan to take a trip, I will be sure to write my blog post in advance. As of now, I am running out of brain power and time to give you a decent blog post.

This blog will return to its regular schedule on Monday, October 5, 2015. May you be spared hurricane rains. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Book Spotlight: Lucky by Alice Sebold

TRIGGER WARNING: Lucky by Alice Sebold deals with the issues of rape, sexual assault, battery, trials, violence, sexual oppression, abandonment, and PTSD.

Continue reading

How Bubble Tea Leads to Love

In Argo Tea on the first floor near the back of the Flatiron Building. Its nose points towards Madison Square Park near the intersection of West 23rd Street, 5th Avenue, and Broadway. The first full day of Autumn is clear, warm, and breezy. Sweetened coconut milk bubble tea chills in a domed plastic cup.

Had to troubleshoot a non-working power strip strapped in under the table. Three outlets in a row were cold. I looked underneath the other end of the table. The power button was off. Click. Power button now red. I now have juice flowing into my computer.

Ten years in IT troubleshooting pay off in real life with one, simple question: “Is this thing on?” Kind of like when you learn calculus in high school, but real world problems boil down to, “Does this add up? What can you take away – How much – and still be left with enough to give you what you need?”

Questions like these lead to interesting stories, unexpected results, and memorable experiences. A lot flows from them. Sagas. Adventures. The search for riches, whether material or spiritual. All, like those in the Hellboy series by Mike Mignola, willing to sell their souls to find their purpose in life and to play a powerful, decisive role.

Yet in their desires to destroy others, they can only destroy themselves. Unable to control or contain the raw power. The bigger the seekers become, the harder and wider they self-destruct. Only in romance stories do protagonists become larger than themselves and life all because of love.

Hate falls in upon itself utterly. Not a trace remains visible. Hate may rise again and powerfully so, only to devour itself again in the  process of its Becoming. Not so with Love.

Love inspires. Love grows. When one wants Love returned and it is not, then the Soul withers itself unto its Death. A truly Loving Soul fades away, the daisy blossoms remain white and the grassy fields, untouched.

Bumps in the Road to Writing

On March 15, I began writing every day. Some days I blogged. Some, I wrote in my novels. Others, just a page. I marked every day off on a calendar to see the X’s growing across the months. I felt really good. I managed not to procrastinate into the next day. I kept my promises to myself.

August 31, I was in the midst of a dental crisis with my mom. I completely forgot. Five and half months of an unbroken chain of writing something, anything every single day. Gone in a flash. Whatever, I started again. And then missed another day. And started again. And missed another day. I figured I must be needing a break and should just start again.

In the middle of this forgetting and restarting, my old friends Procrastination and Dread came back on the scene. I started to feel like I was dragging my heart through mud. I wanted to move forward so I pulled myself. But I resented and felt hopeless. I started feeling like I wanted to give it all up. This working on your passion thing takes forever. I’ll never get there. What’s the point?

So, yesterday, I started over. I had given up marking the calendar in the last couple of weeks. I drew lines through them like I did when I started mid-March. I began the marking again. Getting back on the wagon. Not giving up because of hopelessness. I have dealt with it in all my artistic endeavors. I don’t see it as a sign I should stop what I’m doing. I like writing. I have stories in me that I want to tell. I will tell. Am telling.

I know I am not alone in this despairing. Ask Polly recently had a column wherein the writer asks her, “Should I Just Give Up On My Writing?” Polly goes on at length as to why writer should not give up. The answer is that it is for the writer to do, not achieve.

I have been an achievement-oriented obsessed person. Everything I did was for the reward. School makes this an especially easy trap to fall into. Grades, awards, scholarships, and honor rolls. Whatever is at the end is what I usually strived for.

When it’s an art that your heart desires, things are different. Oh, maybe you want to hang your art in MoMA. How do you get there? Nothing you choose will get you in a direct path to the museum. You have to work on your art. Make mistakes. Try new things. Adapt. Change. Grow.

Changing my focus from achievement-oriented to process-oriented is the hardest thing I have ever done. My struggles to reestablish my schedule are part of that. It’s as if I cannot be proud of myself unless I achieve anything less than a perfect score, an unbroken chain. My achievements can never permanently buoy my self-esteem. Esteem must stand on its own, regardless of life’s turbulence. Any break in the chain results in an utter collapse of my inner sanctum. It’s not just a bump in the road. It’s an entire bridge swept away in the storm.

What can I do but get back up in the midst of this internal shit storm? I know no other way. I can only pick myself again. Stop listening to the internal smack down. And write.

Old Haunts, Great Friends, and New Faces

I am sitting at the Crema Cafe bar in Harvard Square while I await tonight’s book reading. Mary Karr, author of The Liars Club, will be signing and talking about her recent book The Art of Memoir. The Liars Club is a memoir; The Art of Memoir discusses Ms. Karr’s process for writing one. I’ve read memoir, but not hers. Not yet.

I recently devoured a piece of bread pudding made with cherries and bourbon. An iced chai latte keeps me company at the bar. A couple stands chatting next to their food at the bar on the other side of their chairs. Her voice comes directly at my ears, an unwelcome distraction.

I drove to Massachusetts yesterday for this event. My friends – The Bs – graciously offered to host me for two nights and a gathering of friends so I could see a whole bunch of mutual friends at once. Some friends I last saw at our own going away party; others, much longer than that. I love it when you haven’t seen friends in a while. Then you meet up. It’s like you never left. I had that last night. Thank you, dear friends!!

After breakfast, I took a leisurely half-milk walk down a shady street to Fawn Lake. I took the walking path strewn with pine needles and gnarly tree roots. The path wound near and away from the edge of the lake. Some lily pads already turned peaches and browns. One lily made its way back and forth away from the pad depending on the strength of the wind. I crouched down near the water, peering into murky depths. I thought I saw vermicelli down there.

On one side of the lake stood a small island. Mallards looped their heads under water and back again before diving up and down. After soaking their wings, they beat the surface of the water to shake them out. Tufts of feathers stretched out from them as if chicken had just been roused from their coup. A section of elm tree trunk was set up as a natural bench to rest on.

As I came around the bend, the shore came close to the geese. They stared at me like a bull in a ring. A triangle of them floated toward the shore at me in case I decided to make any sudden moves. I realized that I still held a fear of geese. I imagined myself racing away in terror as they beat at me with their wings and bit my hands. Wherever I saw a clearing, I stood and took in the sights – the tree line, the lily pads, the rippling water, and the partially cloudy skies.

Near the end of my path, I saw on a bench in the shade and closed my eyes. I let myself be lulled by the rustling of the leaves by the wind all around me. Sitting, I almost fell asleep. After I returned, I lay down for a nap before lunch. I accompanied my friend on an errand before driving myself into Cambridge MA for the book talk and singing. Tomorrow, I return home. On my way, I’ll take my 93 year old aunt out to lunch first. Who knows when I’ll get to see her again?

Why I Hate Facebook Memes

I have a confession: I haven’t always hated Facebook memes. In fact, I have been an inveterate Facebook meme sharer, mostly cats and inspirational quotes. And I have enjoyed the memes of others. I have learned new things. I have seen opposing political and cultural views that made me stop and think, even if for a moment to consider my position. I have learned which of my friends share my views and which do not. Largely, memes have been a positive vehicle.

Then I saw a Facebook friend, who I have also hung out with in real life, write a status update about disliking memes and encouraging her friends to start and have conversations. I didn’t dislike memes, but I liked her appeal. I began commenting on as many of her posts and the posts of all my friends where possible instead of simply clicking on ‘Like’. I wanted to contribute to the conversation with my friends, and I wanted the reverse to happen as well.

And then it began to happen. I began to notice just how many times, instead of sharing a Status Update, my friends posted picture memes without adding a single word. I noticed people sharing articles with opposing views that I disliked seeing, usually because they were racist, bigoted, or religious (although sharing a religious meme did not automatically earn my disapproval or cause me to hide a page).

I noticed when a single person posted eight times in a row, all memes, all without comment. And I really noticed that my entire News Feed seemed to comprise of memes, links, to articles, and happy pictures of celebrations. I don’t mind happy celebrations or pictures. However, I do mind an entire News Feed of pictures in various forms.

Suddenly, I found myself both angry and bored. I started hiding a lot of pages that my friends with extreme and opposing views share. I started skimming and skimming and skimming. I wanted to get to the ones where the posts of my friends who talk about something real actually share it. They really are too few and far between.

I don’t really care if you share your anti-welfare views or your anti-gun views, but put it in your own words for once. I want to hear what YOU think. I don’t want to hear what conservative groups think. I don’t care about them. I care about you. I want to talk to you. I want to learn from you. But if pictures with other people’s words on them are all you are going to share, then I’m going to hide them. Because, at that point, we’re all just talking at each other instead of with each other.

I’d rather talk with you. What do you prefer?

I have been putting in a concerted effort to reduce the number of memes that I share around. I want to try and keep a more conversational flavor in Facebook, but it’s quite hard to resist from sharing those kitten and puppy memes from flying around. I mean, who doesn’t like a cute kitten or puppy? I ask you!

What Makes You Feel Blessed?

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. A lot.

The good is that I keep in touch with a lot of friends that I might not otherwise. I like that I can do that because it also makes it easier for people to know what’s going on with me, even if we can’t see each other.

The one thing I have begun to notice is how many memes people send around. I must confess that I have sent around my share. I started feeling a subtle discomfort. My friend Heather has decried the use of memes and has turned her updates into conversation starters. I like that – using a Facebook status update to start a conversation instead of just telling people what you think.

After relaying a story about how seeing a bumper sticker that read BLESSED got her thinking, Heather asked:

What does it take? What makes YOU feel blessed?

I answer her question:

The fact that, despite my many surgeries and complications therefrom, I am alive. I can smell, walk, talk, hear, touch, and taste things. My mom is alive, lives near me, and loves me. I have sisters who would beat the living shit out of anyone who tried to harm me. My lovey gives me unconditional love and support. Kitty cats. The beach – the sounds, the smells, the feel of sand underneath my feet. Having a place to sleep, more than enough to eat, a tranquil home environment. Spending time with my friends. Anything with bourbon or gin in it. Going to my favorite watering hole with Mark and getting drinks made by our favorite bartenders. The sun on my face. A tall glass of iced coffee. Reading, reading, reading. The fact that I love to read that has brought me so much, for having a mother who loved to read. Those are the things I value the most. 

So now it’s my turn to ask you: What does it take? What makes YOU feel blessed? (props to Heather)

An Evening of Eddie Izzard

The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY

The first time I discovered the ultra-talented Eddie Izzard, I saw two sketches on The first was his Death Star Canteen sketch that ended his Circle tour in 2000; the second was the Cake or Death sketch that was part of the previous Dress to Kill tour. Eddie Izzard is the kind of funny where, once you saw him, you knew your life had been incomplete up until that point. That was true for me.

I learned about pre-sale tickets on Eddie Izzard’s Facebook page a couple of months prior to the show. This tour is Eddie’s second go-round for the Force Majeure tour in the United States. We saw him perform this tour for the first time at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in January 2014.

I happened to be online at the time that the notice went up. I immediately went and bought two tickets. For the first time ever, I had front row center seats to a gig for $85 a seat. You cannot get anything out of the balcony in a New York City theater for $85.00. I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Belasco Theater in New York City. We had last row seats for $66.00; front row Hedwig seats are $200 each. So to say I was pumped that we were able to afford these seats was an understatement.

Although we were close enough to get a good picture of him up close, I tried. All I got was an image of Eddie in a suit and heeled boots, his face awash in light. You could not make out any of his facial features at all. That was quite a disappointment, although the purplish lighting made for some very interesting color changes in my dress. My toenail polish should be coral and the pinks in my dress are actually yellow.

2015-08-31 21.37.10

Look, I could try and share some of the funnier moments with you. But I highly recommend that you go watch some clips. Some of my favorite punch lines and stories in the show include “Et voilà!”, a man trying to perform a burglary on a horse using dressage, Marc Antony as an urban planner with the imagined voice of a chicken, and Mr. Stevens breaking up a fight between God and Darth Vader in the Death Star Canteen with a wet tray stapled to his hand (homage to the Death Star Canteen clip that I shared above with you).

Eddie Izzard brings diverse elements to his comedy routine: religion, God and Jesus; his atheism; European, American, and English history; his experiences as a transgender person (although he previously used to call himself a transvestite); as well as every day things. He can bring the most absurd elements together and weave them into a story. Izzard makes noises and poses and dances and wriggles on the stage as he weaves his funny tales. He often refers back to earlier jokes whether they were just said or from prior tours.

During his Stripped tour, he talked about animals and religion in different ways throughout the show until they all ended up on Noah’s Ark for the final sketch. Izzard does this with each and every tour. He excels at creating different characters who then have a conversation with each other. No comedian would be good unless they brought a bit of physical humor to their show, and Izzard is no exception. At one point, he mimed moles digging a tunnel and kept it going to see how long people would keep laughing. He stops and mimes writing on his hand when the audience doesn’t laugh or laughs in weird places. All of this just goes into that brain of his. He tweaks his tours as he goes along to gauge audience reactions and build up the best set he can.

Eddie Izzard is one of my favorite comedians of all time. I highly recommend you check him out. is a great place to start.


My regularly scheduled Monday blog post will appear on Tuesday of this week. You’ll want the wait. In addition to taking care of a myriad of medical tasks related to both me and my mother, my husband and I are going to see Eddie Izzard. My post tomorrow will be about his show.

Thank you for your patience!

Book Spotlight: Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I only recently became aware of Ta-Nehisi Coates from an article on or Once my interest was piqued, I requested a copy of the book from the library. In the intervening time, I read at least two fiction novels. Delving into fictional worlds is my primary method of escapism and helps me forget a lot of things I would rather not remember. It unfortunately also includes a lot of things that I might rather remember instead, like what I liked about him that made me want to read his books.

I knew ahead of time that he had written the book as a long letter to his son, Salomi. I rather like that kind of one sided conversation that an author has with a particular reader, the most poignant being from a parent to a child or vice versa. When I first started writing in an online journal to read by my friends, thinking of them helped me frame my thoughts. Reading this book is being on the listening end of a very private and emotional conversation filled with love, fear, and hope.

What I like most is that he writes plainly and openly to his son. Coates does not soften his words because they are not cruel, simply the truth of what it is to experience life as a black man in America. He does not exaggerate to bolster a claim that lacks a solid foundation. His experience lights his truth. He does not hide his thoughts from his son or from us. His raw honesty to his son about what to expect in life gives his writing strength, depth, and insight. I also think that his honesty and unwillingness to look away from the truth comes not only from his experience as a black man, but as an atheist. He has no God or spirituality to fall back on, just the realization that life is beautiful and precious and irreplaceable because it is the only one that we have.

In the midst of reading, I saw again that there are some things that I will never understand about the black experience. Black bodies can be taken and abused, crushed, and killed at any time in way that happens much less with white bodies. Justice almost never comes. Mr. Coates’ honesty about this and his unwillingness to be anything but honest for his son’s sake form a gripping narrative interwoven with examples from his personal life, along with others.

There are some things I understand better or differently after reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Not all of these conclusions can be traced to the book. Some things that I see now or more clearly include:

  • The foundation of American commerce was built on black bodies, i.e. slavery. To call it slavery disguises reality: black bodies were controlled and put to use for the profit of their white owners.
  •  In the Civil War, the Confederate South did not want to give up their right to enslave black bodies for profit. Calling this a way of life disguises what happened to black bodies.
  • Despite the North winning the Civil War or the passage of the 15th and 19th amendments or The Voting Rights Act or The Civil Rights movement or #BlackLivesMatter, institutionalized racism exists. As long as it exists, black and brown bodies suffer disproportionately.
  • It seems that some whites are still angry that they cannot enslave black bodies and have been busy trying to punish them ever since. They do not want to give up a defeated flag. They do not want welfare. They do not want affordable health care. They want black bodies to go to work to get off welfare, but make laws that prevent people with jail time from getting hired. And they especially do not want to give up their flags or give welfare or see people covered by health insurance or hire someone if it’s going to help black bodies and hurt poor white bodies. As long it doesn’t hurt rich white bodies, anything’s on the table. They want to call it a way of life or tradition. They want to silence the truth of black bodies, voices, minds, and expression with their revisionist histories.
  • Black bodies are blamed for their violence done to their bodies as rape victims are blamed for their rapes. Blackness automatically equals a thug. Black bodies are told to “be twice as good”, as if this could save them from being beaten killed in the same way that telling a woman to be “twice as modest” wouldn’t work to prevent rape. Rape exists in the land of the burka. Death of black bodies because of institutionalized racism exists in the land of the free.
  • As long as people live in a Dream that there is such a thing as white and it has a singular ethnicity or is associated with lightness, goodness, and righteousness, black bodies will continue to live in danger for speaking too loudly, for playing music too loud, for posing like a “thug”, for wearing a hoodie, for not pulling over for a plain clothes police officer driving an unmarked vehicle in the middle of nowhere, for playing with a toy rifle at a playground.
  • The only solution to break up the systemic and institutionalized racism is to break the Dream. There is no one true white race. Racism is a physical experience for black bodies because their bodies are often not under their control to save; they cannot get or expect justice when harmed. That is the reserve of the privileged, of white bodies.

When I first read the title, it sounded similar to the phrase “between you and me” as in “this is our little secret.” However, the title signifies something much deeper and more sinister. There is a breach between the world at large and Ta-Nehisi Coates, between the world of the white bodies and black bodies. Racism and the dream of whiteness sundered the worlds of white and black bodies with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Black bodies have not been the only ones at the bottom, but they have been at the bottom of the American Dream since America’s inception.

Let’s tear that shit down. I believe that we have a much better future ahead of us, if only we’d dare. The way it is now is not sustainable or right in any sense of the word.

The Trials of Lower Back Pain

As far as I can work out, I managed to hurt my back because of a stomach ache. On my way to my writing critique group on Saturday, I started feeling discomfort in the middle of my colon. I had, in the past week, failed to take some medication that makes me comfortable. I knew the discomfort would soon pass, but I sat in writer’s group massaging my belly.

After I got up from the table, I noticed that my lower back and glutes seemed to be hurting. I had Mark carry my bags on the way home. I didn’t want anything to add to the strain in my abdominals. By evening, my stomach felt better. I went to bed hoping that I would feel better the next day.

Instead, I woke up with the same lower back and glute pain. I decided to first take a shower, not part of my normal routine. With my soaped cloth in hand, I bent down to wash my right foot. And that was it. That did it. The pain in my lower back and glutes ratched up, and I had to slowly lower my leg before I could straighten up. I had my husband dry my lower legs because I didn’t want to do any more bending.

I was in so much pain that I took Aleve and spent most of Sunday in bed. Mark helped run a bath with Epsom salts, and that seemed to help a little bit. When I woke up this morning, I took more Aleve and went to the pool at the gym and did some physical therapy exercises that I’d learned long ago. The exercises were aimed at helping my back and core, so I went back to it although with I only went as far as I was comfortable. Then I sat in the hot tub.

I’ve noticed that, whenever I have stomach pain, I end up tightening my muscles as if I could somehow steel myself against the pain. The stomach pain I had must have begun that process while I was sitting in an unfamiliar chair. When I’m in these states, I’m not paying attention to my posture or how my muscles are doing. My mind is too focused on the pain and the panic that I’m going through.

Tonight will call for some trigger point therapy and another Epsom salts bath. Even though I just had a monthly massage last week, I made another appointment for Friday. I am not going earlier because I know it will hurt way too much. I’m going to be spending time at the pool and the hot tub and in my bathtub until Friday. Let’s hope that this can be worked out this week because I’d really hate to go away for a few days next week and be in this shape.

If anyone has any good tricks or remedies to release the muscles or lessen the pain, I’d really appreciate hearing what your suggestions are.

For The Love of Libraries

When I was in elementary school, I went to the library frequently. I would take out as many books as they would let me. I’ve seen it even now. Children walk out with a pile of books in their arms as their mothers hold open the door for them. I know I’m not the only one who tried to read entire sections of the children’s library because I loved reading so much.

As I grew into middle school, I started visiting the adult section. I remember sitting upstairs on the floor while thumbing through philosophy books, such as Kant and Kierkegaard. Hidden among these stacks was where I first encountered the atheist writer Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian. I loved that library.

After I went to college, I no longer had time for recreational reading. All my spare time went to reading the subjects I studied in Business School at BU. Even when I had time off, the last thing I wanted to do was use my brain. I stopped using my home library.

After I graduated, I restarted my use of the libraries. I was at various times a member of the Boston library system, the Somerville library system, the Malden library system, and now again I’m a member of the Floral Park library system. In the early years of the millenium, I worked for a time in two libraries in Massachusetts. But working there affects your relationship with your library. It goes from provider of entertainment to a job.

Since I work from home and writing is my game, I am back to using the library frequently. I’m in there at least twice a week to pick and return the books I’m reading. I try to read something every day, other than the Internet which can only be satisfying on a gossip and time-wasting level. Like eating too much candy, my brain soon craves something more substantial.

For years, all I read was nonfiction, especially psychology, self-help, and self-improvement. I had read some stories that I found wanting, and I no longer wanted to invest or try to find fiction books that would catch my interest. My desire for personal and psychology improvement and refinement was strong enough and satisfied enough that I put fiction reading on the back burner.

I’ve been slowly getting back into reading fiction along with my nonfiction books, although the former now outweighs the latter most often. In my quest to learn about memoir writing, I have read more than a dozen. A topic I once never thought of now captivates my interest. Ditto romance novels now that I am planning one for this upcomign November NaNoWriMo.

My hometown library looks the same on the outside. Inside, it has changed. Where a wall of encyclopedias and two long wooden desks with chairs were now sits wall bookcases light on books, a huge reference desk, a few round tables with chairs, and bigger lounge-style chairs with adjustable table tops like you might see in a college auditorium. The wall bookcases with new fiction, large print, and nonfiction are the same. The front checkout desk is the same. The staff are all changed over, but are just as attentive and helpful as ever.

My life has come full circle. I am living in the upstairs apartment of my childhood home, I can walk a few minutes to get to my library, and I can walk out with a stack of books in my hand as I use my back to hit the push bar to open the door. I once again feel pride and excitment of walking home with interesting books where, once home, I will plop on the couch to read them. The other books wait patiently for their turn in my hands.

Exploring NYC: Queens Botanical Garden

After picking up friend at Port Authority, we dropped her stuff off at my home before driving to explore the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing, NY.

I loved the tree-themed entrance and the  shadow that it casts upon you as you enter.

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Immediately thereafter, a recessed stone fountain pours water under a footbridge comprised of recycled plastics.

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The creek goes around a bend and runs adjacent to the visitor and administrative building, continuing underneath the footbridge to the entrance of the gift shop.

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Behind the visitor and administrative building are the herb garden and the wedding garden. We saw a lot of the usual plants: varieties of sages and lilies, white and purple echinacea, lavendar and thyme, et. al.

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I adored this statue in the herb garden. We saw a few different sizes of lizards slithering around, eyeing us with caution. A yellow finch flew by us, as did a monarch butterfly and two moths that had similar coloring.

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The wedding garden was closed, but I here is the entrance. I assume that it really is only open to wedding so that it looks in the best possible condition for the honored guests.

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From there, we walked by the bee garden. The closest bee house had the most bees. Our presence didn’t seem to bother them at all. They left us alone.

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Across from the bee garden was a rose garden, but most of the roses were dead or dying. Even though the heat was only 82 degrees, the hot sun was brutal.

In the wetlands garden, we came upon another bubbling fountain adjacent to a tiny footbridge. One of the most interesting flowers I saw is called the magic lily (yes, that’s it’s name). Four flowers grow at the end of tall stalks with long, thin petals that glow translucent pinky purple. In the shaded, mulch-strewn path under thick, tall trees, the sunlight made them shine almost too brightly.

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As we came back around to the beginning of the gardens, we came across this striped daisy-like flower and many full bloom hibiscus. The sign next to the daisy flower said mint, but I think it meant the plant under the sign.

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For a $4 entrance fee for adults, you can’t beat walking around a botanical garden, even if it is on the small side.

Confessions of an Advice Column Addict

My addiction started early. We got the newspaper delivered daily to our house. I would read all the comics first followed by the horoscopes and both advice columns, Dear Abby and Ann Landers. I could miss reading the comics. I could miss reading the horoscopes. But, never, ever could I miss reading Dear Abby and Ann Landers. Twin sisters who were also advice columnists, they ran similar columns and gave similar advice, but I loved their no-nonsense and generally kind approach to advice giving. More often than not, they advised tolerance, forgiveness, and acceptance, three values near and dear to my heart.

When I went to college, I no longer read a daily newspaper. The Internet as we know it did not exist. Whatever online communications occurred were usually text-based chats on a command line at universities. The web with its bountiful and relevant web sites would not exist for many, many years. Between my studies and making friends online and off, I forgot all about my beloved advice columnists. If my hands happened upon a newspaper, I would skim the front page directory and go immediately to the advice section.

The return of my daily advice column reading addiction started up again once I was able to access advice columns online. For a while, I was a devoted reader of Miss Manners (answered by Judith Martin) on the Washington Post’s website. I loved her writing style in response to etiquette questions. I loved them so much I read all her prior columns. The writers may or may not have an etiquette question  per se, but Miss Manners would respond in the same formal manner as if it were an etiquette question. What is etiquette and manners but an expression of tradition and respect for others in formal and family settings? I checked for a new column more than the twice a week writing, just to ensure that I wouldn’t miss anything until they decided to throw up a pay wall. Since that was the only thing I read at Washington Post on purpose, I begrudgingly gave up reading her columns. I would have to find them somewhere else or not read them at all.

In searching for new columns, I came across Heartless Bitches International (HBI), a Canada-based, woman-run website devoted to strong women. I particularly enjoyed read their Rants section. Even though Rants was not an advice column, I learned a lot about what strong women thought about their lives and how to live them well. I also read their advice section by Auntie Dote; there’s something about the Q&A format of advice columnists that I like. The advice was hard hitting regardless of the writer’s gender, was not against using profanity to get a point across, could address more explicit topics than the Landers sisters, and seemed to be aimed at a young crowd, especially the 18-24s. However, the advice could be applicable to any life stage. The young are not the only ones who get themselves into bad situations and need to dig themselves out.

Around the same time I got into HBI, I got into reading an advice column called Tomato Nation by writer Sarah Bunting. Sarah blogs a lot about baseball, among other things, as well as dispensing advice. She varied her column contents in ways that other advice columnists did not. Readers could ask her to ask her readers for advice on things such as where to buy clothes, the best eye remover for allergenic skin, or the names of books and movies to which they only remembered a portion of the plot. I liked the variety, but I liked the traditional format more. Since the frequency was not enough to satisfy my craving for advice asking and giving.

I started reading Ask Amy, an advice column by Amy Dickinson. While Amy has her own voice and style, I liked the Landers-esque approach to advice giving – support and, for the most part, validating the writer’s right to whole, safe relationships. Not everyone was pushed to forgive. Her columns seemed more modern than the Landers, but not necessarily as young at the HBI crowd; she was as likely to address issues of young adults starting families as middle agers dealing with elderly, unruly parents and elderly parents dealing with unruly, disrespectful children and grandchildren.

In the last few years, I have been reading Dear Prudence by Emily Yoffe on Slate. Her advice column had a similar feel and style to Miss Manners, although definitely less formal. Her column also appears twice weekly, and she also answers a question via video. Although I am not a fan of watching videos, I have watched a couple of hers. The format is fun: an announcer reads through the question and Prudie answers while sitting at her desk. I’m a lover of reading more than watching videos so I don’t generally watch them. Now that I am a Slate member, I get to read all the columns on a single page. Having that privilege makes the reading even easier! I love not having to press the Next button.

In the last year, I managed to find Dear Abby listed on Yahoo’s sidebar column and picked up reading her column again. Even though the letters are now being answered by Abby’s daughter Jeanne Philips, the style, voice, and kindness in her answers are strikingly similar. It’s like I have been reconnected to my childhood where advice columns were a gateway to learning about adult life in an indirect way.

Recently, I decided that I needed more advice columns so I searched for Advice on Google. I was amused when the first listing came up as a definition of the word. Immediately following were lists of different advice columns. I found a list of advice columns on I saw Miss Manners and decided to check out the link again. Was it still behind a paywall? The answer is a big, fat, glorious no!

Back onto my list of daily advice column readings she goes! I went back and read a number of her back columns, but I’m not going to read all the way to the beginning like I did all those years ago. That might be going just a little too far. Sometimes I consider axing the advice columns from my daily reading obsessions. Then I reconsider. Why let all that great advice go to waste? Someone’s gotta read ’em. Might as well be me.

Abandoned Books and Rediscovered Authors

As part of my research for my memoir, I have been reading a variety of memoirs that come across my path. My memoir is themed around my struggles with illness since I was born and how they affected my life. Some of the titles, such as Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani, are directly relevant; this book is about how a near-death experience changed her life.

Others are tangentially about illness but not memoirs, like Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, by Susan Sontag. I was hoping to plumb the book for insight as to how metaphoric comparisons of illness might have affected how I experienced and interpreted illness, even though Sontag talks mainly about tuberculosis (TB) and cancer, and then later, AIDS.

Sontag’s writing style seemed dense and intellectual, drawing on a truly staggering number of literary references that demonstrated illness (TB and cancer) and its metaphors through fiction, such as in the operas La Traviata and La Bohème. In this manner, the book reminded me of a history tome, filled with date after date after date. Sontag also seems to repeat herself as if there was only so much that she could say about it, but her publisher made her try and stretch the thoughts way past their prime. I mentally pushed myself through about 70 pages of the book before setting it aside. I really hate doing that, but I hate torturing myself through repetitive, difficult to read books.

And in my procrastinations yesterday to avoid writing, I decided the next best thing was to read articles related to writing. This quickly lead me to the essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (DFW). I tried getting into his novels Infinite Jest and The Pale King, but I abandoned both because I could not get into the stream of consciousness that his writing seemed to be. I tried. I had read about how beloved DFW was both to his readers and critics, and I wanted to be one of his fan boys. But I had to come to the conclusion that his writing wasn’t for me.

Until now.

I was sitting at Argo Tea on a corner of 7th Avenue and West 26th Street in New York City with a writer friend. I quickly began laughing out loud and hastening my hand to cover my mouth. You know when you find something so funny that you immediately want to start making eye contact with everyone around you and telling them about it? That was me yesterday at the Argo Tea.

Here’s a little tidbit of his writing after which I had one of many outbursts:

I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet, whether the skeet shooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is. I now know the precise mixological difference between a Slippery Nipple and a Fuzzy Navel. I know what a Coco Loco is. I have in one week been the object of over 1500 professional smiles. I have burned and peeled twice. I shot skeet at sea. Is this enough? At the time it didn’t seem like enough.

It’s not just his descriptions of things that makes reading the Supposedly Fun essay such a joy. Right away, you come to understand that this essay truly reflects his actual first person thoughts and feelings, uncensored and as they are. How easy it would be for DFW to pretend to feel something that he did not and make it seem real? Very. He shares his impressions of the staff, the other people at dinner Table 64, and his struggles with semi-agoraphobia that teeter him on the edge of whether he is going out of the cabin or whether he shall avail himself of room service.

What hit me deeply in reading this essay by DFW, however, was his repeated mentions of death, despair, and loneliness. In 2008 at the age of 46, David Foster Wallace committed suicide. Pictures of him often show him with a wrap around his head, hair disheveled, and a pained expression on his face. Even in an essay that he wrote when he was sent on a cruise for pay and asked to write an article, the pain came with him. When you have major depression and anxiety, there is no holiday or cruise that you can take that will separate you from the pain. If only there were, maybe DFW would have found a way to be with us still.