Feb 11 2013

“You love until you don’t / You try until you can’t”

A few weeks ago I filled in at two Ultimate games for a friend of mine who couldn’t make it.  Several other people picked up like me, subbing for a handful of absent team members.

One of the other pick-ups, Erik*, went through a divorce around roughly the same time that I did.  I’ve known him for a long time through the Frisbee circle, but we’ve never been close enough for me to know any of the particulars about his relationship first-hand.  Any details that I knew about the end of his marriage were gleaned, admittedly, through Facebook and rumor.

I didn’t remember until halftime that one of the guys playing with us was now dating Erik’s ex-wife.  And that they purportedly started seeing each other in the midst of the divorce.  I also knew Jeremy* before any of this drama unfolded, and, similarly, considered him a friendly acquaintance.

The Ultimate community is a small one, and people talk.  There’s been speculation that Jeremy started seeing Erik’s wife while they were still married, and that their relationship may have contributed to the divorce.  There’s been plenty of discussion regarding the other finer points of the marriage, divorce, and subsequent relationship.  I wish that I were above having talked about it myself.  I’m not.  It isn’t a major topic of conversation for me, but I’ve wondered and chatted and – yes, gasped – here and there.

But now that I’ve put all of that out there, I want to say acknowledge a few other things I’ve learned – or confirmed – over the last couple years:


No one ever really knows what goes on inside someone else’s relationship.

When I was separating from my ex-husband, I sought advice from a trusted friend.  She told me that she loves me and was going to support me regardless, and she gave me her honest opinion as I’d requested.  But she also prefaced it by saying, “No one ever really knows what goes on inside someone else’s relationship.”

And I couldn’t agree more with that statement.  Sometimes even the people in the relationship don’t know.  I certainly didn’t have a handle on my marriage for a long time.  It took me years of questioning and searching and crying and struggling to figure it out.  Sometimes things break, and we don’t know how to fix them.  Sometimes we don’t want to fix them.  And sometimes we just get a lemon:  A clunker that should work, and appears to function for a time, but in the end just…falls apart.  And we can’t always understand it or explain it.  I know that I couldn’t.  It’s still sometimes hard to make sense of what was wrong in my marriage, to be honest.

So while we all might be prone to getting wrapped up in assumption and gossip and voyeuristic guess-work, the reality is that what happens between two people is far too complex – and far too untidy, at times – for other people to figure it out.  We’d like for there to be foolproof advice, firm boundaries, and definitive rules for how to give and receive love.  And sure, there are helpful techniques and strategies.

But there are no absolutes.  Ever.


Divorce sucks.  For everyone.

I sympathize with Erik, knowing at least that he was desperately sad to see his marriage end.  But I’m unwilling to vilify his ex.  I don’t know her.  I’ve certainly never heard her perspective.  I’m willing to bet that she had a difficult road, too.  And I’d like to believe that she came to the decision to divorce with reason, over time, and with a significant amount of sadness.

I’m sure that there are people who assume my divorce was easier for me than for my ex-husband.  There are probably people who wonder about my reasons, speculate about my commitment, and criticize my decision-making process.  If there are sides to choose, I understand that people might not choose mine.  And even if that sometimes hurts, it’s to be expected.  It’s reasonable.  I was the one who initiated the separation; the one who eventually filed; the one who expressed discontent.

But I was also the one who found the counselor, filled journal after journal with fear and worry, cried in the shower every morning, and lost an unhealthy amount of weight.  I was also the one who deeply, desperately wanted BOTH of us to be happy and fulfilled in life, for the rest of our lives.  And I wanted to fight for that.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who “chooses” the divorce.  It’s agonizing.  It’s painful.  It’s challenging and confusing and life-altering.  It does crazy things to people.  I look back on that time with a certain amount of regret, because it was so so hard, and I’m not proud of how I handled it all the time.  But that was part of my story; my road to where I am now.  I did the best I could at the time.

So when I think about the circumstances between Erik and Jeremy, I remember that I believe in love, and I believe in people choosing to be happy.  Sure, I also believe in respect, and compassion, and fairness.  And my heart aches when someone is hurt, or when love dies.  But if I assume the worst about any of the people involved, I over-simplify their lives and their feelings in unfair ways.


Change is revelatory.

In the darker corners of love and loss, I learned worlds about myself.  I grew and changed through my marriage, separation, and divorce.  It’s even possible that that growth actually contributed to the eventual end of the relationship.  But I know that I love myself more now than I did then.  I know more about what I need to be happy, both inside myself, in my community, and in a partner.

That experience, and the observation of my friends’ break-ups, divorces, and heartbreaks, has shown me how transition and struggle inevitably forces a personal expansion and revolution.  It isn’t always pretty, but it’s powerful.  We learn what’s really important – to us and in the world – and what it takes to survive and thrive.  We become more layered, more beautiful, more resilient.  We become fully-realized individuals.  Through pain comes discovery.


The games that day were fun, and I don’t think that anyone who didn’t know this back-story would have suspected anything salacious   Certainly neither of the guys brought it up, and they seemed civil and comfortable.  (Had I been watching more closely, I supposed I might have noticed something.  I wasn’t.)  From what I understand, there was some fallout after the forced togetherness, but it happened off the field.

At the end of the day, relationships are complicated.  Love is messy and terrifying and glorious and surprising.  Sometimes it devastates and sometimes it inspires.  It can lift you up and tear you apart.  Sometimes it lasts forever, sometimes it sparks and burns out, and sometimes it slowly whittles away.  No matter how hard we try, we hurt each other and we get hurt ourselves.  As Regina Spektor says, “You love until you don’t / You try until you can’t.”

Love isn’t always predictable, but it’s never productive to judge it.  Love simply is.

Or it isn’t.

Jan 29 2013

A Love(?) Letter

Dear 2012,


I know, I know, it’s hard to say goodbye.  I don’t want you to feel slighted, now that I’m welcoming 2013 so warmly.  After all, you and I certainly had some good times.

2011 was like a bad relationship:  Dramatically fun, terrifically dangerous, and all-consuming.  That year was wrought with change and loneliness, and it presented the crippling task of facing some hard truths in my life.  I loved it in many ways and for many reasons, and I rode that wave with everything that I had.  But it’s a miracle that I made it through alive.

So you were a healthy change of pace, 2012.  If you were a novel, your theme would be “recovery”.  If you were a song, your tempo would be gentle and light.  If you were a painting, you’d be filled with frothy purples and creamy yellows.

You brought me to a new house in a thriving part of Austin.  You gave me a new roommate – another writer/divorcee/teacher whose talent in the kitchen has helped me pack (back) on a couple of those pounds that I’d lost, and whose thoughtful conversation has provided yet more insight into my life and the world.  You carried me into my second year at a new school, where I found my groove and set the tone in my classroom.  A dear friend moved away this year.  Others had babies and got married.  Some reinvented themselves, while others still searched for answers that may or may not exist.

Alas, your even-handedness led to some pretty considerable writer’s block.  There’s truth, in my case, that the poet needs the pain, and my pain was far less acute for the twelve months we had together.  But as December drew to a close, I started to work through that.  I found the inspiration you were subtly, quietly granting me.  So you and I finished on a creative high note.

2012, You offered me a new love.  And without getting into the mushy details there, let me just say – Thank you.  Like, a whole lot.  I’m taking him with me to meet 2013, FYI.

You provided me with the opportunity to breathe again; to assess and reset and settle into a newly-renovated life; to apply the lessons I’d learned (albeit messily) in 2011.  You weren’t free of conflict and struggle, but I came to you older and wiser.  I wasn’t the Colleen of 2010 or 2011.  I was changed, and I think for the better.

So cheers, 2012.  You were pretty great, and I’m sorry to see you go.  Thanks for the memories.




Jan 18 2013

Layovers and Standbyes

I was halfway to the airport in Boston, on my last day of Winter Break, when I realized that I’d screwed up the flight time.  I was going to miss it by minutes.

It was entirely my own fault.  I just hadn’t paid close enough attention.  I’d been on vacation for two weeks, and forgot what it was like to be on a schedule.  To have to worry about things like, I don’t know, time and responsibilites.

So it was that I found myself stuck in Logan International Airport, on standby, unsure when I’d be back in Austin.  I found a quiet spot to set down my dog (yes, the poor pup was traveling with me), dug my cell phone out of my bag, and tried to slow my breathing.

I could have spent the day beating myself up, wallowing in teary-eyed boredom.  And in all honesty, I almost did.  I started out with some very watery minutes on the phone with my boyfriend.  After all, I look forward to things with such fervor and enthusiasm, and the letdown when they’re over can be pretty devastating for me.  I always have to fight against a sinking feeling of loss, as if I should have somehow bottled the moments of carol-singing and fireside-sitting.  Like now that they’re over, they never existed.  Like they were only a sepia-toned, nostalgic series of good dreams.

Missing a flight on my last day on the east coast certainly didn’t help take the sting out of my looming sadness.  But Bonesaw encouraged me not to be too hard on myself.

After all, I’d just spent two full weeks on blissful vacation.  I ate well.  Drank too much.  Watched movies and sipped tea by the fire.  Went sledding (SLEDDING!) during a perfect, gentle snowstorm.  I took a walk around a frosty horse farm.  Did yoga with my very first instructor.  Worked out with my mom.  Went out to my favorite hometown restaurant.  Took photos with Santa and rode on a train through twinkly lights.  Made new friends and connected with old.

This trip was as close to perfect as it could get.  If a few long hours in a chilly airport are the worst of my problems, I have it shamefully good.

Soothed by the sound of Bonesaw’s voice, I bought a coffee and a pastry.  Settling back into my chair, I tackled the next obstacle:  How would I get to my house in Austin?  There was no telling when I’d arrive back in Texas.  It’s Friday night, I lamented silently.  Surely people will have plans!  Who’ll be available to wait around and then pick me up at a moment’s notice?

So I put out a frantic call to half a dozen friends, who responded with universal support and reassurance.  It became utterly clear that I wouldn’t be stranded at the airport after a grueling day of travel.  They’d take care of me; make the drive so that my poor dog and I could get home.  I started to feel guilty, in fact, for asking all of them in such a panic.  But I also felt overwhelmingly loved and buoyed by their replies…which caused a mild round of weepy gratitude.  Abby even reminded me that “Alcoholic drinks at airport bars often help with travel stress,” prompting a much-needed laugh.

Over the next few hours I wrote a letter to Bonesaw and scribbled away in my journal.  I touched base with a few close friends in a series of random Friday-morning text messages.  I plugged in my headphones and watched Netflix Streaming on my iPhone, contentedly whittling away the time.

The minutes passed quickly, and then I was going through security, hoping to catch a flight on standby.  Once again, I took stock:  I have a great job and even better friends.  I have a boyfriend I adore.  I have the resources, the skills, and the means to get myself out of difficult situations.  I have love in my life beyond measure.

I didn’t know if I’d make that first flight.  But I knew that the flight was a minor detail; a variable; an inconsequential matter.  The significant was rarely more clear.

Jan 11 2013

…And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have a bit of an addiction.  To Christmas.

(Yeah, yeah…I realize that I’m a few weeks late on this post, but cut me a break.  I was busy celebrating!)

It isn’t just about the specific Christian holiday for me – it’s about the season altogether.  I was raised in a Norman-Rockwell postcard-perfect New England town, and my college was much the same.  For me, December has always meant warmth and togetherness and love.  I make potato latkes, homey soups and stews, trade gifts with friends, and avidly decorate my house.  I start planning my Christmas Day meal in October.  I’m just as happy to curl up by the fire on New Year’s Eve as I am to party in downtown Boston (or Austin, depending on the year).

This year, I was happy to make it back to Amherst for the kind of holiday that I remember with my family.  I spent one of my days in New England traveling to Connecticut, where I met some new family members.  The afternoon was filled with festive foods, games, sock puppet construction, mischievous dogs, and carol-singing.  It was my idea of the perfect Christmas party in so many ways.

That crew sang a raucous version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” … which got me thinking about all of the many things that I love about the holidays.  Some of those things are personal and specific to me.  Others are traditions for other families, too.  In honor of that song, here are just twelve of my favorite holiday traditions:

#1:  Working out with my mom

When I come home from Austin, I’m thrown off my fitness routine.  What to do without a gym membership?  My yoga studio?  Texas temperatures?  My boyfriend’s backyard weights?  My ultimate games?  But in truth, I often get a better workout back in Massachusetts, going to my mom’s gym for her intervals and cardio classes.  I always look around at the post-menopausal group and think, with no small amount of hubris, “I got this.”  And without fail, I’m dead wrong.  So wrong that I find myself bent over now and then, hands on my knees, struggling to catch my breath, feeling my groin muscles scream at me during squat after squat.

My mom is a true athlete.  She’s a rock star.  I should know better than to underestimate her fitness – and that of her friends.  But most of all, I love the example that she sets and the togetherness that these workouts provide.  Sure, I still go for runs alone, hit up my old yoga instructor for a class or two, and head to the Amherst College gym with my dad.  But there’s something fun and special about those morning classes with my mom.

#2:  Watching my younger brother open presents

I’ve heard parents say that they get to experience the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of their young children.  My family has much the same experience with my 28-year-old brother, Brendan.

Brendan was born with a rare syndrome that’s made him developmentally disabled.  He’s intelligent and social, humorous and fun, but he still maintains some of the innocence and joy that we usually only see in kids.  Brendan doesn’t care what’s inside the gifts; he just wants the experience of tearing into the paper.  He laughs out loud, signing “more” immediately after he’s finished tossing each box aside.  (This inevitably leads to all of us allowing him to open our remaining presents.)

It was the same deal this year when my parents and I took Brendan to a local park to see a display of model trains, visit Santa and Mrs. Claus, and ride on a real train that drove us through holiday lights set up along the  grounds.  The four of us linked arms against the cold, sang along with the Christmas music playing on the ride, and watched B light up just as much as the displays.

#3:  Yankee Candles

It’s a store where it’s Christmas year-round!  And they have candles with scents like “Cookies for Santa” and “Home for the Holidays” and “Christmas Eve”!

‘Nuff said.

#4 & #5:  Twilight Runs and Twinkly Lights

On Christmas day, I took a light run around my parents’ neighborhood at twilight.  My family was waiting on me to watch a movie, and the darkness was rapidly encroaching on the faux Victorians.  There was no time to spare.

After the presents and breakfast, I’d spent most of the day preparing dinner items, talking to my family, and napping by the fire.  So far, it had been perfect.  And that trend continued as I realized that twilight was actually the perfect time for some private moments of activity.  The lights were coming on in the neighborhood houses, making the snow and ice on the trees sparkle with a pre-sunset glow.  The air was chilly without being freezing.  I passed a few people, but for the most part it was a quiet, peaceful thirty (okay, twenty) minutes of alone time.  Just me, my iPod, and my thoughts.  I felt fast and healthy.  I watched my breath billow out in front of me.  I soaked in the brisk Christmas spirit amidst the growing dusk, the temperature, and the calm.

# 6, #7, and #8:  Sleeping in, Waking up early, and Naps by the Fire

I’m a teacher.  We work long hours for little pay and even less thanks and understanding.  My school begins its day extra-early, so most of us wake before 6:00am and stay up late grading papers.

Despite the difficult hours, I really love my job.  But when it’s winter break, and the hours stretch into days, and I have two weeks to visit my family…I’m even more thankful for what I do.  Because during those days, I can sleep in with my puppy, or lie in bed with my book until noon.  I can wake up early (like I did on Christmas) to make the dough for the dinner rolls.  I can stay up late watching movies or writing blog posts, knowing that there’s always time for an afternoon nap by the fire.

I wouldn’t want to go without a schedule all the time.  But during the days of Christmas break, I relish the lack of structure.

#9:  FOOD

I’m a pretty healthy person.  I try to practice portion control, and I really do love fruits and veggies.  I rarely touch fried food, and although I love cheese I’m attempting to cut back.  I love to cook, but I make an effort to balance my diet with exercise.

So when I do indulge, I go big.

At my house on Christmas, I make the dessert.  This year it was pumpkin pie and chocolate bourbon pecan.

On Christmas morning, my family eats a sausage-egg casserole that my mom prepares the night before.  We usually open our presents while it bakes, sipping coffee and listening to our growling stomachs.

Around ten years ago, we lost a good friend to cancer.  We spent many holidays with her, and she always made the best rolls.  Before she died, I got the recipe.  Ever since, Betsy’s rolls have been an important contribution to my Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.

This year we made turkey, but there’s also been ham and roast beef in the past.  My dad insists on mashed potatoes, and my brother usually eats a plate-load of stuffing.  If we can manage, we take a cold walk post-dinner to try and work off our food baby bellies.

#10:  Crowded Churches

I admit, this one is a little silly.

My family is notoriously late.  To everything.  It’s, like, a thing with us.  And we all know that Christmas Eve mass is popular and generally packed.  Add to that the fact that my brother is in a wheelchair and limited to where he sits, and you have a recipe for family grumpiness, frustration, and (inevitably) standing in the aisle rather than sitting comfortably through the service.  One year my middle brother and I even played hookie and got a drink at the bar down the street to avoid standing for 90 minutes in the choir loft.  (Not my proudest moment, but it was pretty damn fun.)

So as much as the whole will-we-get-a-seat thing can cause stress, it also brings us together in some kind of dysfunctional way.  We squeeze in close to each other; help with everyone’s jackets; whisper a little to loudly; critique the sermon; pick up Chinese food afterward.  It isn’t always pretty, and sometimes one of us gets a little impatient or short-tempered with the rest, but it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it.

#11 and #12:  Cookie Parties and Gift Exchanges

Growing up, I watched my mom come home from cookie parties with her friends all through December.  She’d come through the door with a tray covered in treats: chocolate mint squares and molasses chews; pumpkin bars and peanut brittle; jam thumbprints and peanut butter drops.

So what was I to do but start my own tradition when I got to college?

I started hosting my own cookie exchanges with my field hockey teammates around junior year, when we all got apartments and actually had working kitchens.  The gatherings were a hit.  (I still dream about Kelly’s 7-Layer bars and compare my own snowball cookies to Megan’s.)  Now that I’m in Austin, I’ve taken the tradition with me and added a gift exchange to the mix.  This year we had almost thirty people packed into Amanda’s kitchen, and we filled the house with the smell of mulled cider.  For the first time, we had the next generation there when Molly brought her daughter, Adelaide.  The five-year-old squealed (nay, screamed) with delight when she – quite miraculously – selected a gift that included a Dora the Explorer Santa hat.

I occasionally share the spoils with my students, but it isn’t even about the sweets anymore.  Now it’s a tradition that simply rings of friendship and urban family, and helps make Austin feel like home…even if it doesn’t have snow.

Nov 20 2012

Last Year’s Thanks, This Year’s Gratitude

On Thanksgiving 2011, I found myself at the home of a new friend, surrounded by my two roommates and an assortment of boyfriends, girlfriends, recent Austin transplants, and other “homeless” pseudo-grown-ups without a place to be.  My life was a bit out of sorts that week – that year, really – and I was throwing myself into the holiday with vigor.

Bobby bought a fantastic local turkey that I prepared (being the only one with any experience in that area, not to mention the only one with a roaster).  Everyone contributed a dish or two.  Holly made queso that we all scooped straight from the crockpot in the hours leading up to the meal.  Hannah talked about the addition of white wine to her gravy.  We had more than enough food, but naturally that was the least important factor anyway.

Once the turkey was adequately roasting, I took an afternoon run through Bobby’s neighborhood and then rinsed off in his shower.  As I was getting dressed again, I heard multiple eruptions of laughter from downstairs and realized that Fran and Leslie had begun “icing” people.  The rules of that particular game are simple:  If you find a hidden Smirnoff Ice, you must drink it all.  Immediately.  Completely.  What better way to liven up Thanksgiving?  People found the bottles in the spice cabinet, the silverware drawer, the microwave, the chip bowl…

I don’t remember what Fran and Leslie made for the meal, but that’s probably because I’d fallen victim to their particular version of hide-and-seek too many times.

After dinner, our bellies full, we all snuggled up on Bobby’s couch with the many dogs we’d brought to the celebration.  I fell asleep on the floor in front of the TV, curled under a warm blanket with Marley.  I woke up to the sound of Dana insisting to Leslie that I was, indeed, alive.

At a time when my sense of family was shifting, and my ‘real’ kin was far away in Massachusetts, I felt at home in Bobby’s cozy house among friends.  When I called my parents from the back patio, I blubbered on deliriously about the food, the alcohol, the football.  But mostly I was giddy with gratitude for the sense of belonging and the fun.  I’d needed lightness and laughter more than ever that year, and I’d found it.


This year is very different.  I have a newly-adopted family coming into town, and I’ll be spending the holiday with them.  The size of the crowd will be similar, I think.  But whereas last year was about singletons – an urban assembly of young people – this year will have a range of ages and life circumstances.  There will be musicians and teachers; writers and artists; doctors and nurses; chefs and lawyers and bankers.  A literal amalgam spanning four different generations.  I’m equally grateful for this gathering, and for the introduction of these new people to my life.  I anticipate a warm, indulgent kickoff to the holiday season.

Part of me is a little sad that last year’s party won’t be repeated.  But I also know that it can’t be.  We wouldn’t be able to recreate it, even if we tried.  It was proof that sometimes the universe gives you just what you need, right when you need it.  And in truth, that isn’t what I need this year anyway.  This year I feel secure and content; there’s something fitting and perfect about spending the holiday quietly, comfortably, with a welcoming cluster of relatives.

And so, with hours to go until I’m truly on Thanksgiving Break, I’m thankful for last year’s transitional, hodgepodge crew and this year’s merged lineup of friendly faces.

Even if this Thursday doesn’t include any Icings.

Nov 9 2012

The First Day of Fall

Naja died on the first day of fall.

It was still relatively warm in Texas, and the mosquitos continued to pepper my legs with bites.  My roommate’s cat, Naja, had been in self-isolation in Jeff’s closet for almost a week, and we’d been worrying over his lack of appetite and resistance to come outside.  I came home from work on the last day of spring and didn’t see Naja – or my roommate – anywhere.

Jeff arrived from the vet soon after, with Naja in hand.  The cat wouldn’t come out of his crate.

“He’s dying,” my roommate told me sagely, his voice tight.

My dachshund danced around Jeff’s feet in a frenzy, whimpering and crying, urging him to put down the fifth member of our menagerie.  But when he gently laid the carrier on the wood floor, Naja wouldn’t come out.  He lay still and weak.  My pup quietly crawled in to find him.

Naja made it through the night, with Jeff curled up on the floor next to him.  But he passed the next afternoon.

It was a year of transition, loss, and goodbyes for both me and Jeff.  We became roommates on the heels of our respective divorces, when we were both wrestling with any number of changing relationships.  I know that Jeff is still unpacking his figurative baggage and making a home for it in his newly-changed life.

As I watched him grieve this next loss, I imagined that letting go of Naja after twelve years must have felt like yet another ending; like another page being turned in the story of his divorce.  Naja was, in many ways, a part of Jeff’s marriage.  Heart-wrenching though it may be, saying goodbye to his pet could be seen as another step toward freedom and a fresh start.

Naja did his job, and he did it well.  The cat saw Jeff through some of the hardest times of his life.  He was a good friend and a warm comfort in a cold bed.  He was there in the rubble when the destruction was done.  He was a constant.  A grounding force when the earth shook.

Jeff and I sat in the living room, crowded around the closet, crying and talking as Naja passed.  And once he did, good friends came over to celebrate his life.  We pressed his painted paw on to a stone from the backyard; made chocolate chip cookies; ordered pizza and drank wine and talked around our tiny kitchen table.

We buried Naja at sunset in a shady spot marked with stones and flowers.  Jeff’s French Mastiff laid down on the fresh soil, looking at us with an open, candid expression.  Jeff took a picture.

The air was warm and sultry like summer, but it felt like fall.

Oct 30 2012

Texas Book Festival: A Retrospective

Fall 2009:

I sit on a bench, draped in scattered sunshine and shade, outside the Texas State Capital.  I call my mom, because that’s what you do at pivotal moments in your life.  Or, at least, that’s what I do.

I tell her about the stunning fall weekend in Austin and the authors I’ve seen and heard at the Texas Book Festival.  Jill S. Alexander, in particular, struck a chord with me with her story about a small-town Texas girl.  I’ll soon read The Sweetheart of Prosper County and have her sign a copy for me that summer.

I’ve been unhappy.  I’ve been looking for purpose and peace and sense of self.  I find a few stolen moments of those things at this event, surrounded by strangers and literati, books and bibliophiles.  I’ll soon join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and come out of the Writing Closet.

I’m thirty.  Not young, not old, but somewhere in between.  I’ve lost a little bit of myself, and I’m not sure how to get her back.  She’s peeking out at me from the pages of my journal, tucked firmly under my arm as I traverse Congress and Lavaca, shifting from panel to panel.  She’s sitting next to me at this quiet spot on the Capital grounds.


Fall 2010:

Something has altered.  Subtly, gently, bit-by-bit I’ve re-claimed the girl that I was.  I’ve rooted back into myself, explored the shadows, and found strength.  It’s been a year since I perched on that bench, and I’ve done a year’s worth of self-work.

But this new-old person doesn’t fit into the life that I’ve built.  She’s an alien.  An outsider.  An unwilling transplant who’s figuring out how to get home.  I brought her here, but now that she and I are re-acquainted I realize that she doesn’t have a seat at my table.

Back at the festival, I stalk Holly Black to the signing tent.  She’s dark and whip-smart and a little cold (perhaps uncomfortable with my extreme FanGirlhood).  I’m distracted by the fact that she lives in my hometown.  She signs White Cat for me, and I devour it.

I call myself a writer now – the first step toward being me again – and talk to people with a certain level of confidence about my WIPs and my manuscripts.  Like they’re real things.  (Probably because they are real now, even to me.)  But these tangible and legitimate things also take me away from My Life as it is, as I’ve constructed it, and I don’t know if the pieces all fit together after all.


Fall 2011:

Everything has changed.   And it isn’t subtle or gentle at all.

I’m on the way to a divorce.  I live in a different house.  I teach at a different school (following a brief brush with full-time writer status).  I have a new short story and a host of new blog posts.  I’ve filled three times the journals that I did last year.  I have my old friends close by, and a host of new friends and colleagues.  I’m laying the foundation for a new life that looks so much like the one I had before I had a husband.

I know that it’s my fault, and that I let this better, stronger, more authentic version of myself and this life disappear like the smoke on a blown-out match.  I know that I’m responsible for the rise and fall of this relationship – the one that I have with myself as well as the one that I built within my marriage.  So it’s up to me to step up; to own it; to fix it the only way possible.

The Festival is a bit of a blur, but I remember Rebecca Stead and Kate DiCamillo, and talking to a delightful student and her mom in line to have our books signed.  I feel healthy and alive.  I’m owning being a writer; I’ve converted the inner transformation of the past year into an external life.  I’ve taken control of my happiness, and I believe that it shows.  Every day is bright and promising.

But despite my fresh perspective, I wrestle with how to talk and write about this.  I feel responsible for this change and guilty for this surge of relief; this infusion of joy.  Common wisdom is that it’s dangerous to be close to a writer, because she’ll inevitably use you for material.  I don’t want to do that – to throw people into the writing fire – so instead I’m vague and inspecific.  My blog is packed with veiled references to my tumultuous life.  I know that, eventually, I’ll let it rip.  That I’ll have to.  That I’ll want to.


Fall 2012:

I take stock now, during fall’s last gasp, as I listen to Paolo Bacigalupi and Maggie Stiefvater and Naomi Wolf.  I scribble away in my notebook and hope to absorb a fraction of their genius.  This isn’t only about writing, of course.  This is about my identity.

When I reclaimed my writing, and my Writer Self, I became more honest.  I found a lot of Truth in my pen.  I was looking for something when I first arrived at this even four years ago.  I wanted answers, and I found them.  I just couldn’t de-code them yet.

The answer is that I adopted a life that wasn’t mine, with a person who wasn’t my match.  And eventually, I couldn’t do it anymore.  When I found my heart and my spirit again, they read the words that I could barely write.

Every day doesn’t burst with wonder.  I have fear and worry.  I cry and lose sleep.  If last fall was about celebrating a new world opening up to me, and a second chance, this fall is about settling in.  Seeing this reality for what it is and accepting it.

So here I am, deep into revisions on my primary manuscript.  Deep into the PLAY of the festival once again.  Deep into a relationship with a musician who is my challenger and my partner.  I’m Dorothy having landed in Oz – so familiar, but so different.  I’m Alice, emerging from the rabbit hole.  I’m Katniss, post-revolution:  broken, perhaps, but deep into the process of reconstruction.

But here, amidst people of words and letters, it feels the same.  I feel the same.  I felt like myself here all those years ago, and I feel like myself again now.  As the variables are modified in this experiment of a life, the words – my pen, my journal – have been the Always.  The Me.

And maybe that is the true key to my happiness.  If I have a soulmate, it’s the person who sees that.  Who reads my words for what they mean.  Or maybe that person is me.

Oct 4 2012

The Necessary Bug

“It’s hard for you to throttle down,” Jeff recently told me during one of our many Roommate Kitchen Talks.

And he’s absolutely right.

If I’m not teaching, I’m writing.  If I’m not writing, I’m playing (or coaching or captaining) Ultimate.  If I’m not playing Ultimate, I’m doing yoga or lifting weights or going for a run.  If I’m not doing one of those things, I’m having a drink with a friend or tea with my boyfriend.  And if I’m not doing any of those things?  Well, I guess I actually sleep now and then.

I often have to give myself permission to relax.  I plan my down time.  “R&R” isn’t high on my list of priorities.  I’m always running from one thing to the next at warp speed. And that’s usually okay.  In fact, I thrive under those conditions.  I’m more energetic; more productive; happier.

But that isn’t to say that it doesn’t catch up to me.

This time around, my body took control of the situation.  It had been an especially stressful couple of weeks.  As usual, I wasn’t sleeping enough, or getting quite enough fuel.  I was emotionally drained, trying to work through some personal stuff that was keeping me up at night.  My calendar was packed with meetings and practices and grading and social activities.

And so, following a four-hour Ultimate practice on a Texas Summer Saturday Morning, I crashed.  My body worked with me through the grueling heat and physical strain.  It cooperated.  But afterward…it just powered down.

Reality hit:  I was sick.

My throat started to hurt and my nose grew increasingly congested.  My energy plummeted.  Food tasted unsatisfying (which is really saying something for me).  I skipped a visit from an old friend, missed a baby shower, and bailed on a party that I really wanted to attend.  I fell asleep, fully clothed, lights on, surrounded by random items on the bed at 9:00pm.  And I slept until 8:00am the next morning.

I managed to get up for breakfast on Sunday morning.  But then I lay down again and slept away most of the morning, my laptop quietly glowing with reruns of 30 Rock on Netflix.

I did little else on Sunday.  I rallied and made some vegetable soup; I read a few chapters in my book; I think I may have talked on the phone.  But I went to sleep early again that night and slept through until my early-Monday wakeup.

It’s extremely rare that I let a weekend pass with so little activity.  I don’t generally sleep in very late, and even when I intend to go to sleep early I rarely accomplish the feat.  But this time I just didn’t have a choice.  It was out of my hands.  My body had surrendered and thrown my mind into auto-pilot.

Miraculously – and logically – I felt better on Monday and Tuesday.  The cold that had knocked me on my ass was rapidly retreating.  And my own fear of illness had pushed me to take better care of myself; to let a few days pass without a workout; to get sufficient sleep; to make plans for my meals.

I hate being sick.  But in some twisted way I needed to get this cold, with its snot and its scratchy throat and its headaches.  I hated it, but I’m kinda thankful for it, too.

Sep 3 2012

A Motivational One-Two-Three Punch

There’s something painfully poetic about the way that, when I most need a workout, I’m least motivated.  I’m at my most tired, my most lazy, my most depleted.

Without getting into the ugly details, August was a bit mercurial.  It began with a sweeping coast-to-coast vacation, and ended with a return to work and a swift and brutal blow in my personal life. 

Last night, the final day of the month, my roommate joked that I was “overdue for my monthly night off”.  And he was right.  I tend to run at high speed virtually the time, but I’d been racing every single day since July.  It’s hard to tackle the emotional and literal tasks at hand when you never slow down. 

So when Friday arrived and I didn’t have anything on the books (save a short and sweet work happy hour), I embraced the thought of a night in.  The first week with students is always exhausting, no matter how prepared you feel, and I was ready to let the bedraggled drip off of me.  A movie.  Some dinner.  A run.  My laptop.  All of these prospects welcomed me like reliable old friends.

But then I got home.  And sat down. 

I needed the cleanse of endorphines.  I wanted to sweat out the school stress, the lingering sadness, the insomnia and restlessness that had been plaguing me for thirteen days.  I knew that the workout would be the right step toward taking care of myself.  But the sun was rapidly setting, throwing gentle shadows across my living room.  Friends was on.  My dachshund settled into my lap, and my comfy chair began to claim me.

What’s a girl to do?

Good judgment be damned, I logged on to Facebook.  This is usually a bad call, but fate was on my side.  In a surprisingly lucky turn, I came across a post from a new virtual friend:

Adventure Amber’s Character Building:  “What I Think About While Trail Running…”

Amber and I were recently introduced on the WWW through a trusted mutual contact.  As a fellow blogger/exercise enthusiast, she’s clearly a kindred spirit.  Though we’ve never actually met in Real Life, her combination of art and activity catapulted me out of the lull of my squishy chair and early-evening sitcoms…and into my brand-new Happy Hour uniform.

Which brings me to Punch Number Two.

 My ultimate team’s new threads arrived on my doorstep this week, and they look good, if I do say so myself:




















So it didn’t hurt that I knew I could shimmy into my shiny black shorts and reversible basketball jersey (with signature logo), all flashy and new, for this workout.  We ordered the reversible just for fun – not for competition – and although it wasn’t my idea I’m already in love with them.  Who doesn’t love a retro pinnie?  It makes me feel like I’m in high school all over again.  Which doesn’t hurt when you’re desperately trying to maintain the athleticism of your youth.

I’m so lucky to have a team.  Happy Hour pushes me at practice in ways that I would never push myself alone.  This group of women reminds me that I’m working toward something bigger than myself.  Sure, I like to be in shape for me.  And that’s personal.  But I also want to be there for them; I want to be ready for competition; I want to be fit and fast and strong for them.  I have my own individual goals, but the team has even loftier ambitions, and we’ve made a commitment to each other to reach for them.  We play, we fight, we compete, and we laugh with each other.  What’s better than that?  Putting on the uniform was a true reminder of that relationship and that responsibility, and it energized me still more.  I was alone…but not.

All geared up, with Amber’s words in my mind and new clothes on my body, I yanked my iPod out of my gym bag.  I plugged in the earbuds and pressed PLAY, without worrying about the track.

 Carried Underwood:  “Cowboy Casanova”

Okay, I know.  “Cowboy Casanova” is cheesey and manufactured.  My rock boyfriend would probably argue that it features “The Riff” (which I admit I can’t recognize myself, so who really knows), and point out the studio production of the song.  But whatevs.  I love it.  I relish the heavy downbeat that aligns with my heel hitting the pavement and the chorus of male voices backing up Carrie Underwood’s undeniable pipes.  It’s a Girl-Power, self-righteous, danceable, pump-your-fist-and-play-it-loud tune.  (And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve covered it with my ultimate players/occasional musicians band, so I can imagine myself behind the mic doing my best Carrie impression.)  Plus, I can’t lie:  I wish I could dance around in a brothel/speakeasy wearing a bustle/corset combo myself.

Needless to say, I went for my run.  It wasn’t a trail run like Amber’s, and I confess that I’m sure I’m not the runner that she is anyway.  I probably could have gone farther.  I’ve gone faster before, too, although I was spurred on by having recently watched the ghostly slaughter opening scene of Game of Thrones.  (I spent much of the neighborhood run imagining something supernatural and lethal emerging from the darkness.) 

But the point is that I got home sweating, and immediately shed my new jersey so that I could do my core workout sprawled shirtless on the floor.  It wasn’t my best workout.  Not my hardest, or longest, or most fun.  It wasn’t followed by a rejuvenating trip to Barton Springs or a gratifying meal, and it surely didn’t burn as many calories as I perhaps needed to.  But on a quiet, solitary Friday night, at the end of a distinctly challenging week, it was enough.

Jul 21 2012

Revisionist Summer

I have Writer’s Block.

I know it’s a cliché, but call it whatever you want.  It applies.

I’m typically one of those writers who prefers to spit out word after word and never look back.  I kinda hate editing and revising.  I like to stir up new ideas, attack my keyboard voraciously, and then sigh with frustrated discontent when I realize that it needs – you know – more work.  I’d so much rather just write something new!  So I usually do.

A friend once called me “prolific”.  Well, not right now. 

As a teacher/writer, I generally savor the long days of summer because they mean a wealth of Writing Time that I don’t get during the school year.  Alas, this summer has been dry.  (And I can’t help but observe that Austin’s been seeing a lot of rain lately.  How obnoxiously ironic.) 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been trying.  A lot.  A few weeks ago I disregarded my Friday night plans to stay in and “finish a chapter” that I’d been working on.  And I did!  I stayed in…and tried…and deleted word after stunted word.  I’ve begun countless blog posts, only to find that everything feels self-indulgent and trite.  (A lot like this, actually.)  I have plenty of maybe-good ideas, but nothing is what I want it to be.  It comes across simple and lame; disconnected and meandering.  Half-baked.

And again, that’s unusual for me.  I generally weave stories without judgment or reason.  I just GO. 

So I’ve spent the better part of my summer, instead, on the “work” part of being a writer.  (Some writers may disagree with me, arguing that editing and revision aren’t work; or that the act of creation is just as challenging.  That’s fine.  That’s fair.  Not the case for me.)

So what was I saying?  Oh yeah.  Work.  Blech.

I’ve been pouring over words that I wrote years ago, digging back into them with new eyes.  I’ve been outlining and planning.  I’ve been picking apart paragraphs, rearranging, taking stock.  I’ve written a couple query letters and researched editors.  I’ve been the businesswoman.  I’ve even dug into my true teacher-writer brain to draft a reading guide for a friend’s anthology.

I’m not sure about the cause of this Writing Desert.  Maybe it’s because I live down the street from the park and I want to play all the time.  Or my roommate and his excellent conversation skills.  Or the new boyfriend I just want to kiss every second, or the Ultimate team I captain and play for, or having cable TV again, or the new cookbook that I’ve been tabbing through page-by-page…

But here I am.  What would normally be a productive, idea-heavy, wordcounting few months for me have actually resulted in more paring down.  More revision and criticism.  More cutting, pasting, and re-working. 

Which isn’t what I’d expected, but it’s okay.  I guess.  I mean, there’s always winter break … Right?