How to survive the first day of school blues.

Today is the first day of high school for my baby, the one who proclaimed after dropping out of pre-school that he was never going back to school. The end of summer always drops on his head like an avalanche.

I find myself wishing that he had the same positive anticipation of the first day of school that I used to have, instead of the pinching anxiety. Then I wonder — am I remembering it wrong through the haze of decades?

In my recollection, at least in elementary school, first days meant all good things — bringing new school supplies and wearing a new outfit; finding my name written in the teacher’s neat printing on a crisply folded cardstock; seeing which friends would be in my class.

But if I roll the tape to middle and high school, the picture changes – I remember that sudden squeezing stress of a Sunday afternoon, and I understand him better.

I do recall one coping strategy I tried in my Senior year in high school, the same institution that now holds my child. The first day of school, I decided to try to hold onto the summer feeling as long as I could, to trick myself into believing that it was still summer, the only difference was that during the day I was hanging out with my friends at school and not the beach. The trick didn’t last the week.

Now our kids go back to school when it actually is still summer! No wonder it hurts.

Not just that, but as he zipped his backpack, there was this question, the question: Do you think my school is safe? As if his meaning weren’t clear enough he added, There have been shootings in California, you know. We have drills once a month.

I made a split second decision to make up a statistic about lightning striking, because what the hell else could I say in that moment. Then I hugged him and handed him his lunch bag. Time to go.

As I drove him to school, he took a few slow deep breaths, settling and soothing himself in preparation for the onslaught of six new teachers and their expectations. As I wait for him to come home this afternoon, I realize that I’d better do the same.

All of this makes me wonder, what does “normal stress” for a teenager look and feel and sound like? What are your memories of back-to-school — the blues or blue skies? How do your kids anticipate the first day of school? What eases the transition?  All funny comments get extra points!

 

Writer’s Life: Jane Green is Back!

In anticipation of the June 4 publication of Jane Green’s new novel, The Friends We Keep, I am happy to share the Writer’s Life Interview on the occasion of her previous novel’s publication (Falling). She shares her motto (something aspire to live by it, though it’s not always easy), and tells about where she likes to write, and why. But first, a bit about The Friends We Keep:

Evvie, Maggie, and Topher have known each other since university. Their friendship was something they swore would last forever. Now years have passed, the friends have drifted apart, and none of them ever found the lives they wanted – the lives they dreamed of when they were young and everything seemed possible.
Evvie starved herself to become a supermodel but derailed her career by sleeping with a married man.
Maggie married Ben, the boy she fell in love with at university, never imagining the heartbreak his drinking would cause.
Topher became a successful actor but the shame of a childhood secret shut him off from real intimacy.
By their thirtieth reunion, these old friends have lost touch with each other and with the people they dreamed of becoming. Together again, they have a second chance at happiness… until a dark secret is revealed that changes everything.
The Friends We Keep is about how despite disappointments we’ve had or mistakes we’ve made, it’s never too late to find a place to call home.
The Friends We keep by Jane Green is out June 4th, but available for pre-order now at the following links:
Jane Green photo credit Ian Warburg (004)

Jane Green (credit: Ian Warburg)

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I was very much an invisible child, and always say I became a writer because I was a reader; I found my solace and joy within the pages of books. Invisibility as a child can manifest as an adult who needs to be seen. I don’t know that I write for attention, but it is the way I can best express myself, and the way I am seen.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I have a little office in the bowels of the Westport Country Playhouse. I get too distracted at home, and suspect that renting an office would be too isolated. I need to be surrounded by people and feel in and of the world, whilst still having enough privacy to write.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Do As You Would Be Done By.

Who inspires you?

Strong women who understand who they are and make no apology for it.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

The MRA, Melanoma Research Alliance, for funding research and drug development that has completely changed the prognosis of stage IV melanoma.

 


Jane Green is the author of 16 New York Times bestselling novels, and a regular contributor on radio and TV, including Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart show, and The Today Show. When Jane is not writing, cooking, gardening, filling her house with friends and herding chickens, she is usually thanking the Lord for caffeine-filled energy drinks. A cancer survivor – she has overcome Malignant Melanoma, she also lives with Chronic Lyme Disease, and believes gratitude and focusing on the good in life is the secret to happiness. Jane lives with her husband and blended family in Westport, Connecticut. (From http://www.janegreen.com).

Learn more about Jane on her websiteFacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest

Birthday love.

Today is my birthday. I spent a beautiful spa day with my mom, who really did all the work, so it seemed appropriate.

This is a big year, the big Five-Oh. My grandmother would have thought 50 sounded so young. And yet she never told her birthday to anyone. (When she had to tell a doctor, she also threatened that she would then have to kill him.)

Last year, when we visited her graveside to mark the passage of one year without her, my cousin Greg shared how, at the end of the day on his last birthday, he felt like something was off. Something was missing. He realized he had not gotten “the call,” the phone call from our grandmother that could fill airwaves and miles with a force of grandmotherly love that could never be contained nor measured nor replicated.

A few years ago, I saved one of her birthday messages on my phone. I played it to myself last year, and again today:

“I wanna wish you a really, really, really, really happy, happy, happy, happy birthday.”

Oh, grandma, did I ever have a happy birthday. Let me tell you about it. It was filled with blessings —  handwritten sweet notes and flowers from those delicious boys, a love-filled card from Maria, notes from friends near and far, and a special photo montage made by Christopher, whose kindness and love are as bountiful as anyone could want.

I must have been really, really, really, really good in my last life.

With gratitude abounding.

Laura

Laura Lilli champagne

 

 

How to Dance in the Rain: Another Lesson from My Grandmother

I wake Friday morning. Think: Another day. Another gift.

Full from Thanksgiving, I dress for a jog, or maybe the YMCA. Whim will decide.

A jog would mean fresh air and sunshine and — the big payoff — an expansive ocean view. The gym would mean maybe I pick up some weights, challenge my muscles. That’s important for a woman my age, I hear. I jog toward the gym.

I choose an elliptical at the end of the row, to put some space between me and the other post-indulgence machine-runners. It asks my weight and my age so it can choose how hard I should work. I lie about my age. By a lot. It’s not vanity; this machine doesn’t know how strong 49 can be.

My view from this machine is split: on the right, through the open double doors, I see the elementary school across the street. I am looking directly at the windows of Aaron’s first-grade classroom. I play a trick on myself; I time travel. “Imagine it is 11 years ago,” I tell my brain, “and Aaron is 6 and learning double-digit addition and subtraction, using the newspaper’s box scores to add each quarter of the basketball games.”

The trick makes me nauseous. I can’t sustain it for a second. That little boy is almost 18, graduates high school in months, then will leave for college. Fuck!

It goes so fast.

On the left side, my view is of televisions mounted to the wall. They are there to distract us, keep us pedaling, jogging, climbing, longer. Trying to stay healthy, longer. Trying to make our time here longer. On one TV is a college basketball game, all eyes on the coach. I time travel again, forward this time, and imagine that coach is Aaron, and I am on this same elliptical machine watching him live his dream. I believe in his dream. I smile. Thinking about the future doesn’t make me nauseous like returning to the past did.

The hardest challenge is being right here, now. I once wrote on a rock, “Be here now,” trying to create a reminder to help me stay present. Emmett found my rock and poked fun at my solemnity, writing on the back, “Where? HA! HA!” I found it on my desk. It was so Emmett, I had to laugh. I can take myself too seriously.

At the Y, a man I’ve known all my life walks in. We went to kindergarten together at that school across the street. Then his daughter and Aaron went to kindergarten together there. She’s also on the edge of what’s next. “How’s the college stuff going?” he asks. This can’t be happening, I want to say. They are only five, I want to say. Hell, WE are only five! “Great,” I say.

It goes so fast.

I walk home, it’s time to get ready to leave for the unveiling of my grandmother’s gravestone,. It has been a little more than a year since she died, and her name has been added to join my grandfather’s. We chose Thanksgiving weekend so all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could be present.

We gather under a white canopy on a picture perfect fall day in Los Angeles. We have no clergy, we only need ourselves. Our memories. Where to beginThere are so many, my sister says. This is not the end of telling stories, my mom reminds us. My aunt shares, “Some people wait for the storm to end, and some people dance in the rain.” Lilli danced in the rain. My cousins tell of the evil eye she gave to anyone who asked her age, including her kids. We laugh. And on we go.

I have brought my “Be here now”/”Where? HA! HA!” rock to leave on her gravestone. I love how it marries her occasional word of wisdom with her abiding need to crack herself up. I have spent hours telling her stories about things my boys had done, hoping to give her a laugh, perhaps a funny anecdote she could retell herself when she needed something to cheer her. I tell my family the story of the rock, from my intention to Emmett’s rewriting. We crack up. It is perfect.

I try to be present now, to cover my ears to the siren call of future and past. I give thanks for a family that holds these memories with and for me, a family connected by shared love and history, by reminders to dance in the rain, and laugh as hard and as often as we can.

We all put rocks on the gravestone. They are decorated and glittered and painted, some with words evoking Lilli, like LOVE and FAMILY and BROOKLYN. We cover every space, we make that gravestone look like a party, the best party you ever went to. We ask each other what will happen to the rocks, noticing that all of the others around here are bare. There is talk of returning with Gorilla Glue, perhaps adding a new story to the canon.

Writer’s Life: Kathryn Taylor

Sometimes a story can save us. Kathryn Taylor’s world turned upside down when her second husband abandoned her. So she did what a born storyteller must do: she wrote about it. Describing her prose as “truthful, dignified, and pragmatic” and “elegantly descriptive and effortlessly precise,” Kirkus Reviews says Taylor’s memoir “speaks tenderly and directly to her readers: ‘You, too, have the ability to regain your confidence, abandon your hopelessness, and realize that you are not a woman to be tossed aside and forgotten.”” Two Minus One: A Memoir is available November 6, 2018.

Midwest Review

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

When my first marriage ended, I had two young daughters to raise on my own. After selecting Virginia from an atlas provided to them, the girls and I boarded a plane in California to begin a new life on the East Coast where we knew no one. I was terrified, but of course did not want my daughters to know that. What I did want them to know, and what I worked hard to instill in them, were two basic things: they were loved unconditionally, and they could be fearless. Life held endless opportunities to be explored and fear would only keep them from tasting all that it had to offer. I had to be fearless in writing my story – in an honest and open way – and was confident in the knowledge that whatever the outcome, I had the unconditional love of my family and friends.

Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

My writing came directly from journals and scribbled notes which were often written at the beach or scattered throughout the house. For the most part, I am fortunate to have an office where I can pull those random thoughts together into an orderly and sequential – and publishable – product. The most difficult part of writing for me is sitting! As a retired elementary school teacher, I rarely had a moment to sit!

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Never give up!

Who inspires you?

My daughters are my biggest inspiration! They are strong, intelligent, and resilient women unafraid to face life’s challenges and willing to embrace its opportunities. I try always to think of them when I am faced with doubt or adversity. Just the thought of them provides the courage and strength for me to move forward.

Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?

As a retired elementary teacher, I am passionate about early literacy. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and its local affiliates – in my area, it is Begin with Books – is important to me. I try to donate my time – and my finances – whenever possible.

What are you reading now (or recently) and/or what book do you recommend?

I have read several great books recently including: Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than We Think, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdad’s Sing, and T. Greenwood’s Rust and Stardust.

What is the most satisfying part of being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The most satisfying part about being an author for me is connecting with other people through my story. I have met so many wonderful and collaborative authors, readers, and supporters because of putting my experience on paper. I have been exposed to a world I had only imagined and have a far deeper appreciation for the efforts an author puts into polishing, perfecting, and marketing their work.

The least enjoyable – or at least the most challenging for me – is the technology – especially the social media! It was all completely foreign to me, and I still often feel overwhelmed by the demands. Ironically, those challenges have provided some of the most inspiring connections and deepest rewards.

If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

I retired from my “calling” and teaching career to relocate in support of my second husband. I had adjusted to that retirement when without explanation, he announced he was done with the marriage. I wrote Two Minus One: A Memoir to heal from the unexpected loss and abandonment. If I was not writing, I would return to unstructured retirement days filled with reading lots of wonderful books, friends, travel, and sunshine and sand at the beach.

Follow Kathryn on Facebook and Twitter, and on her website kathryntaylorbooks.com


Kathryn Taylor headshot-grey background_previewKathryn Taylor was born at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, Illinois and spent much of her life in the Chicagoland area.  She is a retired teacher and had taught in the schools of Illinois, California, and Virginia before her retirement and relocation to South Carolina. It was there where she wrote her book, Two Minus One: A Memoir, following the unexpected abandonment by her second husband. An avid reader, enthusiastic traveler, and incurable beach lover, she resides outside of Charleston, SC, which affords her the opportunity to enjoy all three of her favorite past times. Two Minus One: A Memoir is her first book. She can be found at https://kathryntaylorbooks.com

 

Where to find a muse? Look right in front of you.

Muse. (v) To wonder; (n) A mythical source of creative inspiration.

For years motherhood was all I could feel, think, or write about. It drenched me (though sometimes it felt more like drowning) and consumed me. From the first days of feeding, changing, and tally-marking pees and poops (must make sure the pipes work), to driving tests and college applications, motherhood has been a 100% all-in operation.

But the intensity and shock do give way. We do settle into our skin. We do find a new normal. This is not a bad thing for humans, but not optimal for writers. Faded along with the initial shock and the keeping my head above water, went my muse.

I have been in the market for a new muse. While I wait, I write what’s in my heart. My grandmother’s story has a lot to say. She keeps me company — part guardian angel, part gossip partner. I’ve written about her here, here, and here; I’m sure I will write more.

And then there is Maria, who joined our family almost four years ago, just after her 18th birthday. Her story, and our joined stories, lately command my mind. She is a refugee and a role model. A college student and a pre-school teacher. She is like a sister and daughter, a cousin, niece and granddaughter; yet she belongs fully to another family. She is a confidante and a sage, a knowledge-sponge and a striver. She is vulnerable and strong, disciplined and determined, and an empathy-conduit between the worlds she straddles. She is a laughing, living, longing reminder that politics is always about real people.

Feels like the motherhood muse may have a new chapter…

 

 

Writer’s Life: Heather Cumiskey

I’m pleased to introduce you to award-winning author Heather Cumiskey, whose novel I Like You Like This was a Finalist in the 2017 USA Best Book Awards and 2018 International Book Awards. Publisher’s Weekly says the main characters’ “unpredictable melting pot of emotions and attempts to find their place resonates.” The novel is the first of two in a YA duology about addiction, sexuality, peer pressure, and first love. Its sequel, I Love You Like That, arrives August 20, 2019. Meet Heather:

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What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

When you’re a new mother, it’s easy to feel under confident and constantly question whether you’re doing the right thing for your child. It’s also tempting to be swayed by other people’s opinions. Then you realize everyone mothers differently and it’s okay if your parenting style is unique. Your kid probably is, too. It’s the same with writing and learning to trust what you’re creating. There’s no perfect formula for either one—which is a good thing.

Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

I write in the solitude of my home office. Working alone used to bother me because I missed the energy of others and bouncing ideas off of them. Now I prefer the quiet. It helps me hear my characters’ voices.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Leave people and places better off than you found them.

Who inspires you?

All types of artists inspire me, from parents who fit in their craft while their kids are at school and lose out on sleep to meet a deadline, to teens who catch their creative fire early and diligently hone it. Their love for what they do is contagious and a joy to witness.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I love volunteering with Athletes Serving Athletes, an organization based in Maryland. Its motto: Together We Finish. We train and help special needs athletes to compete in mainstream races, in the process becoming close to the athletes and their families. The group embodies the best of the human spirit and the joy in helping others.

What are you reading now (or recently) and/or what book do you recommend?

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. I enjoy stories about characters who aren’t as they seem, especially ones whom others have prejudged and discarded. I like seeing a good backstory unfold. Everyone has one that deserves to be told.

What is the most satisfying part of being an author? 

When readers share with me that a character(s) resonated with them. To me, that’s the ultimate compliment. It encourages me to keep going.

If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

A painter. I love color. I’d be a messy painter. The fun would be in the creating, not necessarily the end result.

Are there moments in writing when you feel like a fraud?

Sometimes. I think that fear lingers in most artists. I use it to work that much harder. I  quiet the inner voice by setting out to play, not to write when I work. It’s a different mindset and it helps me relax and have fun going anywhere with any character I choose.

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Heather Cumiskey is a freelance writer, editor, and author. I Like You Like This is the first book in a poignant YA duology about addiction, sexuality, peer pressure, and first love. It is a bronze recipient of the 2017 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and a Finalist in both the 2017 USA Best Book Awards and 2018 International Book Awards. She resides in Maryland with her husband and three sons. Visit her at heathercumiskey.com.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest: @HeatherCumiskey

 

Where a Mind Wanders

I am lying prone in the middle of the floor in yoga pants, and yoga socks, on a yoga mat. I am surrounded by friends on their yoga mats, with our life-filled, pony-tailed teacher in front of us. We are in Savasana, “corpse pose,” which means we have made it through to the other side of the rigorous class. Our minds and bodies can rest and be reborn.

It’s hard to quiet my mind, and it goes to you, Grandma, as it does so often. It goes to how I’m ever going to say what needs to be said about you?

My mind goes to how I feel your presence so often, but mostly when I’m at dance class, and how I sometimes feel as if I’m dancing for you, too, as if you have passed a baton and I’m grasping tight.

My mind goes to how I say Kaddish for you, Grandma, saying “Thank you, THANK YOU for this grandmother! Praise whatever power who gave me her!!!!”

My mind goes to my cousins, aunt, uncle, sister and parents, and how the most important thing in the world to you was family. How the most important tribute to you will be us sticking together.

And my mind goes to three weeks after you died, when my baby texted me from a friend’s Bar Mitzvah party. I was certain he would be saying “pick me up, I want to go home,” but instead he sent a photo, an airbrush design he had just requested be painted onto a baseball cap. The kids could ask for anything at all, a favorite team, a logo, their name. I stared at the photo, breathless at what he’d commissioned for his hat: “The Spirit of L.D.”

My mind goes to how I am not the only one with you on my mind.

Writer’s Life: Ellen Notbohm

Ellen Notbohm_09 17

I am delighted to introduce you to  Ellen Notbohm, author of The River by Starlight.

An internationally renowned author, Ellen Notbohm’s work has informed, inspired, and delighted millions in more than twenty languages. In addition to her perennially popular books on autism and her award-winning novel The River by Starlight, her articles and columns on such diverse subjects as history, genealogy, baseball, writing and community affairs have appeared in major publications and captured audiences on every continent.

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

To heed the parable that likens words to breaking open a feather pillow on a windy hill—once they’re out there, you can never gather them back in. To understand that we all do and should change as we move through the phases of life, but to carefully consider the permanence of how our words affect others and how that reflects on ourselves.

Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

My best writing is done pre-dawn, curled up on the bed in our guest room, preferably in nasty weather. It’s cozy, distraction-free and nurtures the muse. Later in the day, I move to my office, which has a lovely view of our towering rhododendrons and outdoor art, but is Distraction Central, where the necessary-tedium business end of being a writer too often dominates.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

A combo of my mother’s 20th century mantra, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” and my 21st century maxim, “Technology is great until it isn’t.” Something like: “Always have Plan B.”

Who inspires you?

People who continue to embody love, humility, generosity, and respect even in the face of adversity and unfairness.

Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?

In an ideal world I’d have the money to support every humanitarian and artistic endeavor I feel passionate about but since that’s not the case, I focus on the root of all of it—access to food. Without that, nothing more can happen. I support our local food bank, Meals on Wheels, summer lunch programs, and a grassroots organization here called Potluck in the Park that serves an all-donated array of food to our homeless citizens every Sunday, rain or shine, no questions asked. I’ve been involved for 25 years. One year they told me it wouldn’t be Christmas without my ginger cookies. That ensured that I’ll go on another 25 years.

What are you reading now (or recently) and/or what book do you recommend?

My reading sutra is something older, something newer, something foreign, something classic. This rotation helps me read broadly, not just deeply. It makes me a better writer and a more expansive person. Most of the books on my nightstand are by authors I haven’t read before. Right now I’m reading Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg. It’s a three-fer: older book, translated from Danish, author new to me. And it’s a wow—I knew ten pages in that I would give it seven stars on a scale of one-to-five.

What is the most satisfying part of being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I never fail to be deeply humbled by readers who reach out to me from cultures and living conditions all over the world to tell me how my books have touched them. I can’t imagine many rewards greater than knowing you’ve changed lives for the better. You can’t put a price on that, but we all have to pay the bills, so it grinds me no end the extent to which writers and other artists are expected to be grateful for opportunities to work for free because “it’s good publicity” or “exposure.” I’ve learned to cheerfully explain that, gosh darn it, I offered “book plugs” as currency to my mortgage holder, grocery store, and gas station but they insisted on real money. Imagine!

If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

I would still be a person who looks at how to bring together the opportunities available to me at any given time, the responsibilities I must fulfill, and the abilities I have, and the dreams and challenges that matter to me. It’s worked splendidly so far!

 

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For more, visit  www.ellennotbohm.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn

Upcoming appearances:

July 29:  The Book Stall, Winnetka IL
July 31:  RoscoeBooks, Chicago IL
September 27-30:  Montana Festival of Books, Missoula
October 11:  Bloomsbury Books, Ashland OR
November 10: Cannon Beach Library, Cannon Beach OR