Blog

Writer’s Life: Cathy Zane

The current stop-the-world era prompts a lot of big feelings. Anxiety. Generosity. Even creativity. This is a time I do not wish to look back upon and regret spending too much time freaking out (a certain amount of freaking is required), and too little time creating and giving. It’s the latter two that have prompted the renewal of the “Writer’s Life” feature, to help readers and writers find each other.

What better time to introduce author Cathy Zane, whose generosity comes across in her tweets, and whose novel, Better Than This, will be featured for 99 cents on BookBub this week, beginning April 14. Meet Cathy:


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

As a parent, I learned to provide structure and discipline, but also to “go with the flow” and be flexible – and I think both of these apply to writing. “Seat in chair” is the structure for me – but I also pay attention to when I need to take a break, put the writing project on the shelf and come back to it later.

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

I have two places that I write. The first is a small library/office that looks out on a wooded hill. It’s great when I feel like being “cocooned.” But when I need to feel more spaciousness, I write at my glass topped dining room table.

3.      If you had a motto, what would it be?

Kindness first – or as I held it in my head as a child – “follow the Golden Rule.”

4.      Who inspires you?

Nearly everyone – from great leaders to everyday people. I think it would be easier to answer what inspires me – and that would be acts of kindness, compassion and generosity.

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

Literacy – the desire for everyone to have the opportunity to learn to read and have access to books and other reading materials.

6.      What are you reading now?

Reading is my favorite thing to do – so the answer to this question changes nearly daily! I typically read at least a couple books a week, often in tandem. I just finished The Dali Lama’s Cat by David Michie (very relaxing and comforting book in these current challenging times!) and I’m nearly through The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle.

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

I love the process of writing – I lose time when I’m in that flow and it’s exciting to see where the characters will take me and where the story will go. I also feel gratified when readers express that my writing has been comforting or supportive to them in some way. The least enjoyable aspect for me is the marketing and self-promotion – which I know is common answer for many writers!

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

Well, I’ve been a nurse and a therapist, but if I missed any “calling” in life, it would have been to be a teacher. I think teaching and guiding and supporting others has always been my core sense of purpose in life.

 

Cathy Zane is a former nurse and psychotherapist who draws on experience in both her careers, as well as in her own life, to create narratives of growth, healing, and empowerment. A lifelong reader, she believes in the power of fiction to comfort, inspire, and connect us to our shared humanity. Her award-winning novel, Better Than This, will be BookBub’s Featured eBook deal for $0.99 on April 14. Visit her at www.cathyzane.com

Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Bright spots (you must read to the end)

Hello friends,

Well, I am one week into my hardcore understanding that “social distance” means do not breathe on anyone with whom I do not live. Maybe you’ve just arrived at that understanding right this second, or maybe you’ve been there longer. For me, it’s about a week, the same one week since our freshman came home from college, and our 9th grader’s school closed its doors. My kids do miss their friends. But they love their grandparents, so they get the point and (mostly) do not complain about these extreme measures. To paraphrase my friend Monica, it’s only extreme if you’re willing to cull the elderly and immune-compromised population.

Let’s move on to the bright spots. And do please continue to the end.

1. Exercise with my kids. I credit Boredom for two milestone events: First, Aaron said yes to a sunset walk with me yesterday, just us. Second, this morning, Emmett joined me for a 20 minute yoga video. (We did Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube, it’s free. Adrienne is calming, not “precious,” and can start very slowly for beginners. Or try your local yoga studio and pay them so they can pay their teachers.)

2. Create. Writing to you now. Working on my work in progress. Planning a virtual book club for our community for Palisades Reads 2020. And made a dance video for pre-schoolers. (Will share when that link goes live, my dears.)

3. Play. My friend created an obstacle course in her backyard. We went to the beach with a football (only among family!) and will steal that obstacle course idea.

4. Connect. Zoomed coffee with friends. Zoomed with a gaggle of cousins (and learned we need a moderator for such a large group.)

Am hoping for a Zoom dance party, game night and, of course, a Zoom Seder. Will teach my mom to Zoom today. And I old-school called my cousin I haven’t seen in too long.

And, now, your payoff: my most Zen moment of the week: Watching my friend feed his baby on Facebook Live.

Be well and love the ones you’re with.

Laura

 

Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Fear and Comedy

Toilet paper rolls in the hall used as buffers against the rolling ping pong ball that is coming down the pike, aimed at the dominoes set up to fall. Toilet paper?! They are using toilet paper?!?! But I don’t get mad, because they are playing and laughing and together and happy for now, when what they really want is to be outside, or with friends. (And because these will be their rolls when they’re done.)

This is who we are now. “Five, four, three, two, one!” comes the countdown, and the ping pong ball comes sliding down the tape-measure-slide from the top of the stairs, and bouncing just shy of the dominoes again. “Nooo! Okay, Five, four, three, two, one.” Again. We’ve got nothing but time to get this right.

Is this for real? Are we doing this? I have to ask myself every time I remember why we are here.

I’m in the other room doing a yoga video on YouTube, Yoga with Adrienne. It’s only my second time doing this. She’s outside by a lake, and I’m on a mat in the living room, taking advantage of the dogs being out on a walk and not licking my face when I’m in downward dog, and I’m breathing, trying to breathe, trying to stretch and feel.

And trying not to feel — anxious and cooped up. Trying not to feel afraid. Also trying to feel afraid enough, because nothing looks different and yet we have to act as though everything is different.

I thought I had coronavirus the other day. I sneezed twice in the morning, and felt tired enough to stay home from the trip to the airport to pick up Aaron from college. “Better play it safe,” Christopher agreed. Be cautious, heed the advice, “if you’re not sure, stay home, stay home, stay home.” In bed in my bathrobe, under the blankets, maybe feeling a tad warm, but maybe that was from the blankets and the bathrobe?  I coughed twice, and it was dry, and my worry deepened, but I applauded my decision to stay in bed. Aaron came home, and I heard his voice, “DOGGIES!” call out like a little boy, heard the dogs scramble to the front door, their nails sliding on the wood floors. This was the longest he’d ever been away from home, two months. Longer than the fall quarter, with its Parents Weekend and Thanksgiving break. I was afraid to hug him. Afraid that if I was sick, I would give it to him. I did not hug my son who came home from college. “Let’s just wait until tomorrow,” I said, “I’m sorry. I want to see if I’m sick. I don’t know.”

I don’t know. No one knows anything. “Asymptomatic” is our new vocabulary word – maybe you’re walking around with this disease, and maybe you’re not. Will I kill my parents just by looking at them?

The next morning, I woke up. Still alive, not sneezing, not coughing. I went downstairs in my warm bathrobe. The coffee was made and I poured myself a mug, thought about wiping down the carafe afterward, just in case. Aaron came downstairs in his pajama pants and a sweatshirt that said Humble. I smiled at him, said “I don’t have coronavirus,” and I wrapped my arms around his waist. He let me squeeze him tight. I squeezed the air right out of him.

The kids have taken a break from the dominoes project, and we all tiptoe around it in the hall. Even the dogs haven’t knocked it down. As I write, I can hear the voices of my family doing their activities. Maria is on her computer, saying “Wow” to one of her pre-school students. Emmett has his earbuds in, talking to a friend between online classes. Aaron is making the best of his Spring break, toggling between group chats with his college friends and an online game against his best friend, who is also locked in only a couple of miles away.

I feel sad for the kids with milestone years, the seniors in high school and in college — the athletes not getting to play their last seasons, the actors not getting to do their last musicals. In this stage of my life there is less loss. I work from home, I get to have the company of my kids, who are old enough to handle online school on their own (so feeling for this mom). I worry more than normal, but not more than the new normal.

Nothing is normal now. Maybe we’ll all become new people when this is done. Maybe my dad will take up skydiving. Maybe my mom will learn to knit. Maybe I will shave my head. I scoffed when I first read that Spain let the hair salons stay open, but now I get it. I see the grays increasing, not just roots, but everywhere, exponential, like the virus.

My parents ask who will drive the other crazy first. “Help, she’s keeping me hostage” my dad jokes, “call the police.” It takes us all a long time to compute that stay home means stay home. I hadn’t realized what pack animals we humans are. The sheer volume of things to cancel! Not just sports and concerts, but the meetings, the book clubs, the writing groups, the dance classes and walks and drinks and goings for coffee, the shiva. Our Cantor FaceTimes us to say Kaddish, and even in that setting, we cry.

We did Torah study online today. All of us, mostly older folks, figured out how to use computers to hear and see each other and our Rabbi. And what was today’s parshah about? Building sacred community, by bringing forth gifts from the heart. Exactly what we are figuring out to do now. Artists and musicians and dancers and yoga instructors and regular people giving from their hearts, posting music and jokes and even lunch with their baby. My friend Mary said it in my favorite way so far, and so I’ll leave you with this:

Nature is not canceled. Laughter is not canceled. Singing is not canceled. Writing is not canceled. Relationships are not canceled.

This happened yesterday.

I add to that, building dominoes is not canceled. Fighting with your brother and wrestling and calling him “dumb@%%” is not canceled.

And dancing is not canceled. Virtual dance party anyone? Let me know. I’ll send the invitations. Black tie quite optional.

With love,

Laura

Stay safe, and a couple of jokes.

Well, hello, it’s been a while. How’s by you?

Helluva month it’s been. And by “month” I mean two days. Over the weekend, little by little, the dawning realization struck me — “social distancing” is a polite but ineffective way of saying “STAY THE F- AWAY.” It’s simple math, right? The chance of passing or catching a virus is zero if you have zero contact with other people. The more contacts, the higher the chance of contagion. Forget limiting gatherings to 250, or 50, or 10. “Approaching zero” finally has real life meaning.

Like many of us, I’ve been slow to catch on. We sent the kids to school last week, now they’re home; we allowed a couple friends to come over during the weekend, now we’re locked down, as these conversations from this morning illustrate:

“Can I go to Chick-Fil-A?” “No.”

“Can I go to Sammy’s house?” “No.”

“Can he come here?” “No.”

“Can I—?” “Can you vacuum? Why, yes you can!”

We have silver linings: Our pantry has never been more full! We have ice cream in the freezer! Two kinds! We read more, watch movies more, talk more, and cook more (all that food I bought before it goes bad). Chicken soup and turkey chili and teriyaki bowls, and other meals combining chicken and broth and rice and leftover chili (put it on chips, throw some cheese on it and it’s nachos!). Maybe, just maybe, if this lasts long enough, there will be arts and crafts.

We are lucky. For Christopher and me, who already work from home, little has changed, other than more time with our kids and a lot more hand washing. We walk the dogs, walk to the bluffs and look out at the ocean, and wave to neighbors (who now cross the street to avoid us). I work on writing projects and he learns code.

But. This is weird. And. It will not last forever (though some hours it may feel like it.) It can be lonely, especially if you do not have a house full of young adults. If the hermetic life does not suit you, or if you are going crazy being locked up with too many near and dear ones, reach out. Phone a friend. Connect over group chats, and WhatsApp, and Zoom. Try a yoga video (or see if your local yoga studio is livestreaming classes so they can pay their teachers) like these livestreamed dance classes. If you have K-6 kids, Scholastic offers this homeschool help for you.

And let’s aim to keep our patience, our kindness, and our sense of humor. To that end, here are two jokes from Laughfactory.com/jokes, one G-rated and one a little spicier:

G-rated:

“My friend thinks he is so smart. He told me an onion is the only food that makes you cry. So I threw a coconut at his face.” [that slays me!]

PG-rated (for language, or perhaps violence, if you are a member of PETA):

“A man kills a deer and takes it home to cook for dinner. Both he and his wife decide that they won’t tell the kids what kind of meat it is, but will give them a clue and let them guess. The dad said, ‘Well it’s what Mommy calls me sometimes.’ The little girl screamed to her brother, ‘Don’t eat it. Its an asshole!'”

Stay safe out there, people.

Love, Laura

 

 

 

 

The 2019 Recap, and 2020 Wishes

On the last day of the year, I sit to think about the gifts of the previous 365 days. Late December always lulls me into a sense of slowing toward closure, but then January appears with the same speedy progression as every other day, and I feel like I’m behind before things even get started.

This year I’m trying to be ready for January’s pace: I’ve got goals – finish a book by February (at least a solid second draft). Toggle back to law. You know, small things. I’m also reminding myself that it’s okay for plans not to work out on schedule.

And now, to the recap.

2019 held major milestones for our family.

  • Two graduations – middle and high school. Two freshman – Pali High (Go Dolphins!) and U of Oregon (‘Sko Ducks!). Both boys are taller than us. They make me laugh, and they make me proud – in the way they encounter new people with kindness, and new ideas with curiosity. They love to watch and play and talk a lot about basketball and football. They sometimes play Sunday morning football with my dad, and have recruited friends to the game. Emmett started Junior Lifeguards this summer, and continues Jiu Jitsu. Aaron coached kids’ basketball teams at the park, coached basketball all summer at sleepaway camp, and coaches at the Eugene, Oregon YMCA. I still can not pay either of them enough to go to a museum.
  • In a week we will mark five years since Maria moved in with our family. This year she completed her first year as a pre-school teacher, and began her second. She is beloved by every child who has had the pleasure of being in her class, and has fielded at least one marriage proposal from a four-year-old. She is a modern Mary Poppins. After teaching all day, she goes to college to work toward her degree.
  • Christopher, in addition to brilliantly steering his educational software company into its second decade, is both the light and the rock of our whole family. He is the person called upon to fix all technical and mechanical issues (equally handy with a hard drive and a plunger), and who keeps everyone laughing and moving. In 2019, he hiked the Grand Canyon from north rim to south, with my cousin Mitch. This year they’re going to do it again, doubled.
  • As for my 2019 highlights: I signed with my first literary agent, who sold the audiobook for my novel Shelter Us, which was the inaugural “Palisades Reads” selection. Wearing my lawyer hat, I represented young immigrants in their path to legal status in the U.S. and worked on a team enforcing a consent decree protecting detained immigrant youth. In the early morning of the day my son graduated from high school, I secured the release of a grieving mom from immigrant detention. That was a very good day. In September, I left my job to concentrate on completing a book, and to spend more time with my boys as they transitioned to new stages. I’m considering how to make the world better in 2020. Voting rights, immigrant rights…ideas welcome.  

Our family started the year with a beautiful trip to Costa Rica with the Heisens, and in summer had an awesome vacation in Wyoming with the Diamonds (where we took the photos below). We close the year with the Heisens in Washington Crossing (where we do not discuss politics, no matter how our boys try to goad us).

Tomorrow, on the first day of 2020, we will watch the sun rise in the East, through the plexiglass window of a NJ Transit train bound for Newark Airport. We will fly ahead of the sun, arriving in time to watch the Oregon Ducks play in the Rose Bowl, and will watch the day melt into the Pacific from the bluffs where I have been watching sunsets all my life. An auspicious start to any year.

For 2020 I resolve:

To take a few deep breaths every morning, giving thanks for the day to come.

To give thanks every night, as I close my eyes, for everything I can possibly think of to be thankful for.

To remember that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

Wishing peace and abundance of love to all of you.

Laura

IMG_2795LC-JOE-430PM-AUG1-8

 

 

 

How to Save the World, One Life at a Time

I’m no wiser than the next person, but maybe this how the healing happens: town by town, in library community rooms, chairs filled by neighbors, caring people who gather to listen to each other, to inspire each other to bold acts of kindness, to step up and participate.

This week, as part of Palisades Reads, five people who have stepped up boldly, shared their thoughts on a fundamental question asked in the novel Shelter Us:

What compels us to move beyond our comfort zone to help someone in need?
The answers we discerned:
  • The depth of the need
  • An internal moral compass pointing at compassion
  • The relatability of the suffering, whether from experience (“I have been there, too”) or imagination (“there but for the grace of God go I”)
  • The urgent desire to make something beautiful from tragedy
  • The Golden Rule

But how do we overcome a sense of helplessness, or not knowing where to start, to activate these ideals?

One common answer united our disparate group of panelists:

FEARLESSNESS.

Fearless people run headlong into challenges that make others cower. They are willing to try something they’ve never done before. They do not need a recipe, a checklist, or a role model. Fearless people give themselves permission to try something new.

  • Fearlessness allowed husband and wife volunteers to welcome homeless youth to live in their home, get to know them as real people, and treat them like family.
  • Fearlessness allowed a grieving mother to create a comprehensive resource with worldwide reach for people grieving loss of a loved one.
  • Fearlessness allowed a community member to join with his neighbors to take concrete steps to help over 100 homeless individuals actually become housed.
  • Fearlessness allowed a woman who was shocked the first time she saw so many homeless kids on Venice Beach, to start taking care of them, doing what was needed — first handing out hygiene kits, now running a vibrant non-profit with massive community support that is helping these kids create their futures.   

Where does fearlessness come from?

Some people are born with it, though I think they are the exceptions.

Sometimes fearlessness comes from circumstance. Take Susan Whitmore, founder of griefHaven.org. Before the death of her only child, she was a spreadsheet-driven, meticulous, thriving-on-order law firm administrator. After tragedy knocked her to her knees, a middle-of-the-night epiphany that others were suffering like she was, transformed her. The urgent determination to create griefHaven had no room for fear.

Fearlessness finds us when we become passionately committed to any goal. When we get excited about something — usually bigger than ourselves — we make things happen. We get others involved. We live bigger and change the world.

Working with such vulnerable people, I imagine that you may sometimes feel despair. How do you deal with the heaviness of what you do?

Rachel Stich, Deputy Director of Safe Place for Youth, challenged the premise of my question, flipping it on its head. For her, being involved with an organization like Safe Place for Youth, where so many people united to help kids, was uplifting and filled her with hope.

But what about when the situation feels hopeless? Volunteer Marlene Rapkin described her mindset as a CASA volunteer for kids in foster care. “I don’t focus on the outcome. I focus on being with them in that moment, letting them know that someone really cares about them.”

Sometimes all you can offer is companionship. To someone who feels alone, that can feel like the whole world.

The closing question came as an eloquent lamentation about the times in which we live: How does anything get better in the midst of complacency? 

Who am I to say? I have had this same lament. I feel helpless and hopeless at times. And we are no different than our ancestors. So I turned back to the theme of the night, borrowed from Talmud and other traditions: when you save one life, it is as if you have saved the whole world.

We are each just one person. We do not need to set out to solve all the world’s problems. We can do what is in right front of us.

But first we must see what is right in front of us.

We cannot succumb to the temptation to close off, to retreat to the safety of our creature comforts, to let the scope of problems callous the surface of our hearts, though it hurts to be open to the pain in the world. Only with an open heart will we see what — or who — is right in front of us, will we see the person on the sidewalk as someone’s child, not something to step over or hurry past, averting our eyes.

It is enough to save one life.

And…you never know which act of kindness might be the one that sparks a conflagration. Just ask Rosa Parks, or young Greta Thunberg.

#saveonelifesavetheworld #everydayheroes #kindness #kindnessmatters

Everyday Heroes: Westside Food Bank volunteer Bruce Rosen

Too many kids go to bed hungry. Too many moms reluctantly pour half a glass of milk at dinner to make sure there is some left for breakfast, and too many dads apologetically ask their kids to hang on until breakfast at school.

So today I give thanks for the everyday heroes who fill our food banks. One shining example is my friend Bruce Rosen, a Board member of the Westside Food Bank, who not only works tirelessly to alleviate hunger, but has created an incredible opportunity for the community to participate.

0559

Take the innovative “fruit for a cause” program he spearheaded at the food bank, which invites you to replace floral displays and table centerpieces with beautiful and meaningful displays of fruit that are later donated to the food bank. Not only does this program offer a chance to do something essential, but Bruce does all the legwork — buys the fruit, sets it up, and whisks it to the food bank to be distributed that week. (That clinched it for our kids’ B’Nei Mitzvah!)

Although it has grown to include dozens of congregations, the idea started with one, at our synagogue Kehillat Israel. Over twenty years, Bruce estimates that the program (averaging 100 displays a year, with 150 pounds of fruit in each display) has yielded about 300,000 pounds of fruit since its inception. That’s 300,000 pounds of healthy nourishment that would not have happened.

Maybe you want to try fruit instead of flowers at your celebration. Maybe you want to start building your area’s own “fruit for a cause,” one celebration at a time. Bruce said he would love to talk to you. His contact info is here.

0371
Nourishing beauty
fruitforacause

#everydayheroes #kindnessmatters #kindness #saveonelifesavetheworld

Audiobooks and Appreciations

Thank you to everyone who has read, commented on, reviewed, shared your thoughts. It is so appreciated, and I promise I am at work on new material that I hope you will also enjoy.
I wrote SHELTER US to open a window into the intertwined lives of two women whose brokenness is mostly unseen, and who become each other’s heroes in their own ways, modeling in profound ways that kindness matters.
Synopsis:

usSince the death of her newborn baby, lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mom Sarah Shaw has been struggling to keep it together for her law professor husband and two young sons. With her husband burying himself in his career and her friendships all having withered, she is lost in a private world of grief. Then one day, walking in LA, Sarah s heart catches at the sight of a young homeless woman pushing a baby in a stroller and saving them becomes her mission. An unlikely bond grows between Sarah and the mother, Josie, whose pride and strained relationship with her own mother prevent her from going home to Oakland. Through her friendship with Josie, Sarah slowly learns that those we love are never far, even in death and that sometimes it is the people we set out to save who save us.

Thank you for your support, recommendations, and shares. And for all of your acts of kindness that make the world better.

Everyday Heroes: Foster-Adoptive Parents, Like Author Rene Denfeld

Today I want to lift up the everyday heroism of foster parents and foster-adoptive parents.

What better way to do so than in the words of one of them. Best-selling, award-winning author Rene Denfeld described the experience of becoming a foster-adoptive mother of three in her illuminating New York Times Modern Love essay — “Four Castaways Make a Family.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rene last week at Diesel Bookstore, where she read from her new novel, The Butterfly Girl, a sequel to The Child Finder. The novels feature a private detective whose own traumatic history draws her to find lost children. (It is an Indie Next Pick for October, Amazon Best Book of the Month, and has received effusive praise from Margaret Atwood and Cheryl Strayed.)

Rene’s lyrical, compelling depictions of characters who, like her, survived trauma-filled childhoods to make lives of beauty and value make her even more of a hero. The New York Times agreed, including her in a list of everday heroes in 2017.

Thank you to all of the foster parents and foster-adoptive parents who day-by-day, through patience and love, are saving the world one life at a time.

Warmly,

Laura

#everydayhereoes #kindness #kindnessmatters #saveonelifesavetheworld

Everyday Heroes: You

Here are a few of the “everyday heroes” you told me about in response to the Shelter Us audiobook giveaway:

–  The family and friends of a man with spinabifida who relies on them for care.

– A friend who faces daunting health challenges, including lupus and blindness, but who ends each conversation with laughter and an ‘I love you.’

–  A husband who supports his family and makes them all feel loved, special, and cared for.

–  Teachers. Teachers. Teachers.

Thank you for these beautiful tributes, reminders that heroes are all around us, quietly going about their lives, showing up for us and each other, asking for no recognition while making our world a better place.

Warmly,

Laura

#everydayheroes #kindness #kindnessmatters #saveonelifesavetheworld