Sunday, March 29, 2015

Chapter 1 from "The Lace Makers"

     As I slowly make my way through the second draft of THE LACE MAKERS, I thought I'd share the edited first chapter and introduce to you to Sapphire, who has quickly become a beloved character to write.  As the story unfolds, she's taught me how to once again see the world through a young child's perspective...one that is both enchanting and wise beyond her years.  

     As the research and fact-checking is all a part of the writing process this time around, I'm hoping to finish the first draft in a few weeks and have the novel available for digital download and in paperback on or before May 15th.  

     Please enjoy and share chapter one from THE LACE MAKERS.



Sapphire

The sun be peepin' over the old barn where I hear the cows be moanin' to get milked.  The air sharp like little pins and needles where my arms be peekin' out from my shawl.  The sky turnin' the color a egg yolks my mama like to break jest to watch 'em get runny.  She do that sometimes.  Break them egg yolks for Massa and keep on fryin' 'em 'til they be hard as shoe leather.  He don't say nothin.'  Just gobble 'em up like they be the best thing he ever et. 
Sometime he even say, "Lord, Ruby...these eggs are truly delicious." 
He know to keep his mouth shut 'round my mama 'bout eggs and such.  He be the Massa and all, but he owe my mama.  He owe her a lot.  He owe her a husband.  He owe me my daddy.      
Massa done gambled Daddy away in a poker game two year ago.  Told one a his friends that 'steada payin' him the money like he oughta, that man could take any one a his slaves in payment.  My sisters was done scared out they minds...afraid one a them be picked to be chained to that rotten man's wagon and made to stumble along behind like a dern mule as Mr. Rotten drive back to his plantation. 
They be older than me...my sisters, Pearl and Opal.  When my daddy got taken away, I be only six.  They was twelve and fourteen back then.  Big girls.  Now they has husbands and the oldest, Pearl, she be havin' a baby a her own come summertime.  Opal, she say a baby be comin' over her dead body, but I don't know what that mean.  She gone kill herself when the baby come?  Or she not want any babies at all?  I hear tell that some slaves kill they own babies, but I cain't 'magine such a thing.
I know I don't want no babies a my own 'cause I know they ain't gone be mine anyway.  They be Massa's.  Anything we got, it be his first. 
When I tell Opal that, she say, "Sapphire, you is smart!  I be chewin' my cotton root ever single day since Hale and I jumped the broom and you ain't gone find no baby in my belly, no suh.  Nuh-huh.  Hale and me say that one day, when we be free, we can try and has babies then."
"When we gone be free?" I ask. 
I been a slave since I took my first breath.  Since Mama put knittin' needles in my hands when I be only three year old and say, "Play with 'em, Sapphire, and you soon be makin' hats for Massa's chil'ren."  She say she done teach me how to sew and make lace and all them fancy things so I can stay with her in the big house.  Not like my sisters who gots to work in the fields and such. 
My sisters be call'd Pearl and Opal and I call'd Sapphire 'cause Daddy say he got him a bunch a precious jewels livin' under his roof, such as it be.  I's born on a night when the sky be as blue as a sapphire.  That how I got my name, even though my eyes be green. 
Green jest like Massa's. 
I figure I gone be his property 'til the day I die...or 'til he do.  But Opal say the war that be ragin' all over the country be 'bout settin' us all free.  That one day, slavery be a thing a the past.
I seen both Pearl and Opal standin' near the barn when Mr. Rotten, that friend a Massa's, stumble down to the blacksmith place, the place where my daddy do his work.  Mr. Rotten not be his real name, but I calls him that under my breath whenever he come on Massa's land.  His real name be Mr. Birch like them trees growin' in the back a our shack.  But the only thing white 'bout Mr. Rotten is his skin 'cause his words be black as tar and his soul be dark as the bottom of the well where I pull up buckets a water to tote to the big house. 
 When Mr. Rotten see Opal and Pearl, I hears him yellin,' "You niggers get back to work!"
Daddy look up from the anvil where he been bangin' on a piece a iron.  He be the best horseshoe maker in the county.  Or leas' he was.  Now he dead, so I imagine him in heaven doin' God's biddin'.  I wonder if the Lord Almighty gots horses and oxes and such that need shoein.'  If He do, then I knows my daddy gone take care a them like they be his own.  I knows 'cause he done took good care a me and my sisters.  One day I gone see him 'gain...maybe that how I can finally be free.
On that horrible day Mama be in the house with me.  She be cookin' supper while I sat at the wood table near the open window so's I could hear what be goin' on outside.  I was pullin' a mistake from a lace cap I been workin' on for near a month.  Mama always say I has a gift.  A gift from the Father God Almighty.  She say I make lace an angel be proud to wear.  When she say that, I feel my chest puff up and my heart grow wings.
But not on the day Daddy got taken 'way from me. 
Mr. Rotten point his shaky finger at my daddy.  "He's uglier than sin," he snarl.  "But he'll do just fine."
Mama come stand next to me and we seen Mr. Rotten and Massa head toward the barn.  She know somethin' bad gone happen, and she always right 'bout things like that.
"You has the gift a lace-making, Sapphire," she tole me one time.  "But you also has the gift a insight, jest like I has it and my mama and her mama 'fore her.  All us women-folk has it."
"What insight?" I ask, twisting one a my braids until it nearly cut the blood from my finger.
"Knowin' when things gone happen," she say.  "Like a prophecy."
I look at her like I still confuse.  I knows 'bout prophets from the Bible, but I ain't sure people nowadays be makin' miracles and such.
"Don't worry, baby girl," Mama say.  "You gone learn how it feel soon enough."
And ain't it the truth if I do. 
That day when Mama ran to the barn after Massa and Mr. Rotten, I feel a little corn muffin I jest et start to curl up in my stomach and threaten to pop right back out.  It don't though.  Jest ride up my throat a little, but I swallows it back down.  I seen them two mens walkin' to the barn and knows they got too much whiskey in 'em, and I knows somethin' real bad gone happen.  When Massa drink too much a that stuff, bad things always be happenin.'
"Massa Sam!" I hear Mama cry.  "Please Massa Sam...please don't let him take my babies!"  She run like her feet on fire.  By the time she reach Massa, she shakin' she so upset.  Angry and scared both.  I ain't never seen her like that. 
She pull on his sleeve, "Please Massa Sam...don't take my Pearl or Opal!  I beggin' you!  I do anything you want.  Please!"
Massa look at Mama and a strange look cross his face.  He never hit none a us.  Run a clean plantation where the slaves be happy to work -- or at leas' that how he tell it.  He be the boss, the overseer, and the owner all in one.  Not like some a them plantations we hear 'bout from Earle, the slave who sometime ride along with Mr. Rotten when they make delivery a they dry goods to the big house.  Earle say some slaves get whipped.  Get hung 'til they nearly dead.  Get raped, 'cept I don't know what that mean.  When I ask Mama, she say I be too young to understand and to hush up about it.
Massa ain't never been mean to none a us.  Leas' not that I seen.  When he be drinkin,' it always be Missus he take his anger out on and I feel right sorry for her.  But when Mama beg Massa, I knows she done embarrass him in front a his friend. 
Maybe he gone hit her now, I think. 
I ain't never seen no whippin' on Settler's Place.  No hangin' neither.  There been slaves livin' here since Massa Settler's daddy built this place fifty year ago.  Long 'fore I was born.  Long 'fore my daddy's daddy was sold at an auction in Fayetteville and brought here along with six other mens to work the farm.  We been livin' in the heart a Lincoln County for more'n three gen'rations to hear my daddy tell it, but ain't a one a us ever be tellin' Massa what to do. 
'Til now.
When Mama think Pearl and Opal gone be taken away, she screech like the devil and pull on Massa's sleeve.  She scream.  She cry.  She beg somethin' fierce.
"You got yerself one righteous nigger, Samuel," Mr. Rotten say, his voice all mean-like.  "You goin' to let her tell you what's what?"
Massa look at Mama and take her hand from his sleeve real gentle-like.  "I'm not going to give Pearl and Opal away, Ruby.  You have my word."
Mama fall at his feet and start to cry.  "Thank You, Jesus," she wail.  "Thank you, Sam!"
But when she dry her eyes 'nuf to look up, she see my daddy be talkin' to Massa and Mr. Rotten.  Daddy's eyes be fillin' up.  He bite his lip.  His shoulders shake. 
"Mas-sa," I hear him say, the word stickin' in his throat.  "Massa...I do anything you wants...but please don't do this.  I do anything.  Work like a dog all winter long.  You can hire me out to Massa Birch here...I go to his place to work and then come back and be with my family...with my chil'ren."
Massa Settler shake his head, and I know this be the end.  And I know Massa feel he gone owe my mama plenty for what he jest done.
Daddy don't fight.  He don't do nothing but hug Mama.  Hug Pearl.  Hug Opal.  Hug me.
He whisper in my ear, "Baby girl, you and I gone see each other 'gain.  We is...I promise.  I gone get free and we all goin' up north once this war be done.  I gone come back for all ya."
I hug my daddy like I tryin' to mem'rize the way he feel.  His face be covered in stubbly hair.  His muscle be tight.  His skin covered in sweat.  He been workin' hard, but I know this sweat be from fear.  I be too young to know what of, but I learn soon 'nuf.
Daddy try to get free too soon.
He run away once.  Get his back whip somethin' awful. 
He run away 'gain.  Get hung from a rope 'til his tongue turn black. 
The third time he try to run and come back to us, Mr. Rotten say he done had enough a my daddy and hang him 'til he dead.
Earle say Daddy done his best to get back to us and now he in heaven watchin' over us ever day.  "Him and Jesus both," he tell me while he dryin' my eyes.
I hear Earle done got whipped for cryin' when Mr. Rotten kilt my daddy.  I hear it right from the dern horse's mouth.  Mr. Rotten brag 'bout it to Massa.  He say any slave who spill a tear for another one done deserve to suffer a little, too.
I think Mr. Rotten be the devil right here on earth and he gone suffer plenty on the other side when hell be the only place wicked enough to hold him.

Now the sun rise higher over the barn and I hears the shrill sound of a train whistlin' in the distance.  Shiverin' in my shawl, I head to the big house where my Mama be waitin' on me to help cook breakfast.  It be early April, 1865 - or so Missus Settler say.  She oughta know.  Got her nose stuck in books and calendars all day long.  She teach me all kinds a things. 
Like I knows it be the day after Palm Sunday and that be the celebration of Lord Jesus when he come to Jerusalem and all a them folks be wavin' palm branches and yellin' stuff like, "Hosanna!" and "Blessed is He who come in the name of the Lord."  I read all 'bout that in the Massa's big Bible.
I can read and write good as his kids, even though that illegal.  Missus Settler could get a heap a trouble on her if anyone find out, so I keep my mouth shut and my eyes busy whenever she hand me a book. Massa and Missus' kids, Little Sam and Marybelle, be around the same age as me and we all learn together.  Marybelle be faster at learnin' figures, but Little Sam and me be quick as lighten' with new words.
Missus nice to me and all, but I knows my place in the order a things 'round here.  Ever time after my lessons be done, Missus say, "Now Sapphire, please go fetch me a cup of tea." 
I notice she ain't never ask her kids to do nothin' but put they books back on the shelf 'fore they go outside to play.  It be then I come back to what Mama call reality.  I may be Missus Settler's student, but I always gone be her slave first.  No matter how smart I is, I still gone be colored 'til the day I die. 
But Mama say not to worry 'bout such things.  "You cain't change nobody's mind but your own," she tell me.  "So keep readin' and learnin' so you can keep on changin' for the better."
So I do.
Jest last night I finish readin' the second McGuffey Reader. I read all 'bout Jimmy gettin' up in the mornin.'  "The sun is just peeping up over the hills in the east," it say.  I memorize them words so I can repeat back to myself while I knit or sew or dust or sweep.  "Never forget, before you leave your room, to thank God for His kindness.  He is indeed kinder to us than any earthy parent."
This mornin' as the sun be risin,' I say my prayers and thank the Lord for all the things I done love.    My mama and my sisters.  My lace makin' and my readin' and all the things I be learnin.'  And like always, I thank Him for it bein' one day closer to the day I gone see my daddy.

Then I walk to the kitchen where I know Mama gone be breakin' Massa's egg yolks and he gone be eatin' 'em like they fit for God Hisself.






Thursday, March 19, 2015

A new children's book...hot off the presses!

     Almost a year ago I started the third in a series of children's books to celebrate my naughty kitten's addition to our home.  This afternoon I finished the last touches on Aditi is a Sweetie and you can preview it here...along with Forest and Jhoti's books.

     There's no profit for me other than the joy of sharing my love of cats, children, yoga, and writing with you, your family, and friends, so please share this blog with whomever might like to enjoy the adventures of Forest, Jhoti and my sweetie, Aditi!






My silly and sweet cat, Aditi

Friday, March 13, 2015

180

Recently a video has been resurfacing on the internet and several friends have sent it my way.  It shows the incredible transformation of a partially disabled veteran who discovered yoga as a tool for healing.  To watch Arthur Boorman slowly evolve from precariously walking with crutches to energetically sprinting is nothing short of extraordinary.  Still, it's not a miracle per se, but a man dedicated to changing his life, step by step, moment by moment.
I know the commitment it takes to turn a life around, and it's not simple, nor is it fast and easy.  For more than twenty years I've been making choices one by one which have allowed me to shed the skin of who I used to be in order to become more of who I am meant to be.  Some say it began when I discovered yoga shortly after my thirtieth birthday, but I know the practice found me after I had already catapulted myself out of the rut in which I had been living and onto an unknown and unclear path.
In my early twenties, I was following all of the rules:  I finished college, got a job, bought a house, fixed it up, went to church on Sundays, and volunteered most every other day of the week.  I was being a good girl, or so I thought.  I worked hard and focused on creating that which I had been taught to want, but all I created was a host of illnesses and anxieties because I could not measure up to what I thought I was supposed to be.   Yes, I was being a good girl, but I had no idea what it meant to be a healthy woman, so I threw away the yardstick and started making vastly different choices, ones that would take me 180 degrees away from where I was living in depression and grief, but also repressing it because I could not make peace with myself. 
Enter meditation and yoga and Rolfing and a host of other healing modalities that would peel off the layers of my past and allow me to integrate them in ways I had never known were possible.  I spent endless hours hiking alone at the park or working in my garden to become more grounded and whole.  I spent more time listening to my body's messages and answering them with a healthier diet and sleeping schedule. 
Most importantly, I stopped listening to the incessant messages from the outer world and tuned more deeply into my inner muse which intuitively knows the way through the darker forests of my imagination and always leads me to a bright, beautiful awakening on the other side. 

When I'm working on a novel, there's always a space in time where I start to lose my foothold on sanity...just a bit.  My mind splits open as I delve into the character development and leave behind the notes and outlines on my desk.  This past week I've had late nights working on THE LACE MAKERS and find that whenever I try to stick to the script, the story gets jammed.  But when I allow images to flow through my mind's eye, writing is nearly effortless. 
Just last night I abandoned my plans for one of the main character's story and just went with what I saw unfolding as the words spilled out onto the page.  I'm not at all sure what I'm doing or where it's going, but to get to this point in the process allows me to know that I'm on a better path than the one I had originally planned.  It's not a complete 180, but it'll do for now until I can move through the darkness of the mystery as it leads me to the light of revelation.  It happens with every manuscript, so I'm used to this space of uncertainty and trust it more than I trust the pile of notes cluttering my desk.  Having faith in the process is a choice I continually make, especially when I'm feeling stuck or unsure of what will happen next.
It's a choice I've learned to actively weave into other areas of my life as well. 

Last summer my Rolfer invited me to speak to a panel of students in his advanced class.  Tony wanted me to talk about my incredible transformation over the past sixteen years that I've spent working with him to evolve my physical body, which in turn has evolved me in ways both tangible and intangible.   As I was sitting in his waiting room waiting to be invited into the session, I could hear Tony talk about a patient who needed extensive work in the head, neck, and jaw and how his new technique was proving to be incredibly effective. 
He was showing photos of this client as well and I heard one of the students say, "You wouldn't even know it's the same person."  As I entered the room, I was surprised to see before and after pictures of me on the screen.  Then I saw one of the Rolfers  Tony had trained more than ten years previous who had practiced a five-series on me in the summer of 2000.
"Katie!" Kim beamed.  "I didn't even recognize you!"
I gave her hug and said, "You were a big part of this change."
She nodded.  "Yes, but you've kept it going."
As I sat and chatted with the students, Tony referred to my photographs.  "What do you think would have happened to that girl on the left if she didn't have intervention?" he asked.
I looked up at the shot of me at twenty years old and smiled sadly.  "She would still be circling the drain," I replied quietly.  "Living a miserable life and never knowing what could be possible."
Tony then nodded toward the shot of me taken around my forty-second birthday.  "And what about that woman?"
I lifted a finger and spiraled it upward.  "There's no end to her healing and evolution," I smiled.  "She's learned how to keep moving up...and I never want it to end."

Yesterday my longtime friend, Nancy, sent me the video of Arthur's story, and to thank her, I shared the before and after photos with her, writing, What a difference getting healthy can make. 
She wrote back, I remember you (then); what I remember most is your unhappiness.  180 degrees, my friend!
Occasionally, I think about my life twenty years ago when I first began to unravel who I thought I was supposed to be in search of someone for whom I had no tangible roadmap.  I know I'll never be finished and what a blessing that is...to have faith that I can always turn my life around by making a different choice.  And then another one...and another one.

For I've learned there are endless second chances to begin anew.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Get up off of that thing

Don't you just love that March is the only month that's a verb?  I do.  This time of year I need a little jolt to get me out of the doldrums of winter and catapult me toward springtime.  Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon opening up my sun porch and even though it's still a bit chilly, the bright sunlight and melting snow are harbingers of warmer weather. 
It's about time.
Every year I hit a low point at the beginning of March.  I'm tired, frustrated, grouchy, and basically need to spend more time on my own.  (I've often said my alone time is for others' safety, especially when coasting toward the vernal equinox.)  It's more than cabin fever.  More than itching to ride my bike or hike the trails at the park without fear of slipping on the ice.  It seems this time of year usually provides the culminating lesson of everything that's come in the twelve months before, and in the light of brighter sunshine, I find myself sifting and sorting through baggage that's been hanging around in the darker recesses of my psyche.
 It's time once again to clean out the closets - and in more ways than one.

While running errands over the weekend I was standing in line at Target while a mother and daughter were talking behind me.  The mother asked her child to bring her a gardening magazine from the rack nearby. 
"Aren't these beautiful?" the mother said, pointing to the cover.
The young girl grimaced.  "Ick...I don't like those."
Then mother gently replied, "You don't have to like them to think they're beautiful."
Their conversation sparked my curiosity, so I asked, " What are you looking at?"
The mother showed me a lovely basket of colorful tomatoes and peppers in all different shapes and sizes. 
I smiled.  "They are gorgeous, aren't they?"
The girl wrinkled her nose. 
"I don't really like peppers," I said.  "But I can appreciate their texture and how they accent the other vegetables."
"It's really a work of art," the mother said.  "This helps tide me over until I can get outside."
"Are you a gardener, too?" I asked.
"I try," she replied.  "I'm not sure how good I am at it, but I like to see what will happen."
"I hear you," I nodded.  "I can't wait to get my hands back in the dirt."
That's more true than ever, for this winter I've been digging around in my internal dirt way too long and it's time to take that energy elsewhere.

Last year my friend, Sue, gave me a bunch of cacti.  I've never grown them before, so it's been an adventure keeping the prickly plants alive all winter long.  I can't seem to find the right feeding schedule, but they're forgiving and keep growing, so I can't complain.  They don't either.  Plus they've taught me the very valuable lesson of keeping my fingers where they belong whenever I approach them with a watering can. 
When I lived in Big Sur, stinging nettle plants grew in nearly every garden bed at Esalen.  Pulling them up one by one was a task no one wanted to do, especially without gloves.  But like the stalwart I am - sometimes to my own detriment - one afternoon I attacked a whole bed of them (sans canvas protection) and spent the next few days suffering in agony with swollen fingers and palms. I will never forget the experience of trying to pick up a fork to feed myself with a hand the size of a small baseball glove.  Still, I was well aware of what I was doing at the time, and looking back on it, I realize I was unconsciously punishing myself for staying in a situation much longer than was healthy.  Pulling up every single one of those stinging nettles brought me back to reality - fast.  It was a not-so-hidden way of getting my attention...and thankfully, the lesson stuck.
Nowadays when I find myself entrenched in a situation in which I want to grow, but the other person or the circumstance wants to keep me small, I think back on that afternoon in Big Sur and ask myself, "Is the torture of sitting on that cactus worth holding on to what little you have?"
Ultimately, the answer is always a resounding, "No."
In the end, I get up off of that thing and move forward.

This month as I march onward, I find myself recognizing metaphoric cacti in every aspect of my life.  The niggling passive-aggressive behavior of others.  The upcoming significant changes that will directly affect my home and neighborhood.  The nagging pain in my lower back.  The nagging voices in my head.  And yet, I don't have to like any of these things to know they are serving a purpose, even if I can't see it right now.  I can appreciate the texture of my ever-changing feelings and thoughts on my way to higher understanding.  The anger, the frustration, the unrequited desire for closure can all be set aside as I learn to let go of that which I cannot change.
For I've also learned to shake off the sorrow by going upstairs to my yoga studio and dancing.
There's a recent study which reveals that dancing reduces stress and depression.  It increases energy and serotonin levels.  Dancing improves flexibility, strength, and endurance.  It increases mental capacity and allows new neural pathways to form in the brain.  In fact, dancing has been proven to be the leading form of exercise in terms of creating overall physical, mental, and emotional health and vitality.  And most of all, it's a heck of a lot of fun. 
I, for one, know James Brown was right when he encouraged all of us to "get up offa that thing...and dance 'til you feel better."   I'm not sure how good I am at dancing, but it doesn't really matter...because I'm always curious to see what will happen afterwards when I groove back into my life.



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Gumdrop Toes

Happy Full Moon Day!  Today's also a very special day for a young woman I've loved since before she was born.  Last night I had a dream in which I re-lived the first moment we met.  Tonight I thought I'd share a snapshot from a chapter in Open Road: a life worth waiting for which reveals a little magic that happened twenty-three years ago on a Thursday in early March.
Happy Birthday, sweet Elise...your heart is as big as the full moon that's shining down on your birthday celebration.

"Gumdrop Toes"

It’s nearly eight o’clock in the evening and I’m dressed in a long, flannel nightgown, reading Little Critter books to dozens of kids at Greenwood.  To celebrate Right to Read Week we’re having a Pajama Night in which all of the students and their families came back to school dressed in their jammies for an evening of storytelling.  On the primary level they can choose from Clifford and Berenstain Bears and Little Critter.  Older kids can choose from ghost stories or chapters read from Road Dahl's novels.  It’s a wonderful night and the kids are having a great time.
But all I want to do is go home.
My sister is in labor.  Mom and Dad called this afternoon and told me that Patricia was being admitted to the hospital.  They were already on their way down to Columbus so they could be there for the birth.  It’s been a long, trying pregnancy, not only for my sister, but for those of us who have had to listen the incessant complaints about her sore feet, heartburn, and backache. 
Still, I can’t wait to meet my new little niece or nephew.  A few months ago Greta and I hosted a baby shower for Patricia at my house.  I’d only lived there since September and worried about how I was going to pay for all the food, decorations, and beverages as well as a shower gift.  Last Christmas Eve I had sat at the dining room table in tears with a $350.00 gas bill, a $750.00 credit card bill, a looming mortgage payment, and only $9.00 in my checking account.  God knows I've been barely making ends meet as it is.
Mom helped out and that was a blessing.  All the ladies from Eastwick came and I was happy to see them again.  Friends of Patricia’s were there as well, and she received some wonderful gifts.  I’ve seen pictures of the farm-themed nursery and it’s really adorable. 
I can’t wait to decorate a baby’s room of my own. 
I can’t wait for my real life to begin.
In-between storytelling sessions, I dart to the office and call Greta to see if there’s been any progress.  There hasn’t. 
“Mom says she’s going to have to push for a while,” Greta tells me. 
“Can you still go down tomorrow after work?” I ask her.
“Yep…we can drive together.”
She and I both want to see the baby as soon as possible…this newest generation of our family.
I come home around nine and, too keyed up to go to bed, watch a little television. At the end of “LA Law,” the phone rings. 
“She’s here…Elise Anne!” Mom chimes.  She gives me the details…length, weight, birth time, etc.
I ask questions about the delivery, about my new niece, about the directions to the hospital.  Mom gives me detailed instructions and reminds me not to speed, that Elise will still be there when we arrive.
I don’t sleep well that night, anticipating holding Elise in my arms.  I’ve held countless babies before, but she’s different.
Elise is ours.

The next afternoon Greta and I make the trip to Columbus in record time, arriving at the hospital around eight.  It’s after dark though, so we have a hard time finding a parking spot.  Still, we’re both giddy with expectancy.
As we hurry into Patricia’s room, I hear the tiny cooing sounds of a baby.  I didn't know newborns mewed like kittens.  We say our hellos, but Greta and I are anxious to hold our little niece.  I sit in one of the empty chairs and Mom hands her to me.
Elise’s skin is rosy.  Her eyes are cobalt blue, her little head, hairless.  Her fingernails are milky white and translucent.  As I kiss her cheek, I notice the slight blush of color.  Wrapped in a light cotton blanket, Elise wiggles and worms her feet out from their constraints.  It’s then that I notice the flex and curl of her tiny, gumdrop toes.
Instantly, I fall in love with this incredible miracle.  A piece of heaven brought down to earth.  A little angel for all of us to cherish.

***
When Elise was born and I held her for the first time, something profound shifted inside of me.  The reality of life became more primal as I cradled her in my arms.  Even though she wasn't my own daughter, I instantly loved her as if she were.
A few months later when Elise was christened, I remember lying on the pullout couch in Patricia’s basement, long after the party had ended, wondering what she would be like at three, at five, at seven, at nine, or even at nineteen.  I wondered what her personality would be like, who she would resemble, where the future would take her.
The summer after Elise's second birthday, I traveled to Columbus to visit her and do some school shopping.  While there, Patricia, Elise, and I went to a toy store and I bought a new Snow White lunch box, complete with a plastic thermos.  Elise had fun uncapping and capping the little cup, opening and closing the latch on the box.  For hours we would play tea party and pretend to eat our lunch on her bedroom floor, sharing pink-frosted animal crackers.
“These are my favorites,” I told her.  “Yum, yum, yum!”
“Aunt Tee-tee like tookies?” Elise asked. “Want more?”
I shook my head.  “I’ve had enough for now…maybe later.”  
Elise nodded and pretended to feed her doll a cup of tea.  “Later,” she murmured.
The next day, while packing to leave, I put the lunch box into my suitcase and heard something rattle.  Confused, I opened the box and saw nothing.  Then I picked up the thermos and unscrewed the lid.  As a surprise, Elise had filled it with animal crackers.
“You like ‘em?” Elise smiled in the doorway.
I gave her a big hug.  “I love ‘em…and you, too!”
“Me, too!” she beamed.
 Elise was a magical little girl who won the Tender Heart Award in preschool for always thinking of others.  When I took her on long twilight walks in my mother’s neighborhood, she loved for me to lift her up so that she could better see the moon.
“Why can I not touch it, Aunt Tee-tee?” she asked.
“It’s very far away…way too high to touch,” I replied.
When I set her down, she clutched my fingers.  “Maybe one day you and I will be bigger and we can fly up there and touch the moon.”
I smiled down at her.  “Maybe...someday.”

Whenever I think of Elise now, I remember our tea parties and our afternoons playing in the sun.  I remember the animal crackers she gave me, the cross-stitched sampler I made for her when she was born.  I remember her Lion King birthday party and the children’s book we wrote together.  I remember Elise’s liveliness and her sense of humor, her sensitivity, and her grace. 
But most of all, I remember holding Elise the day after she was born when time seemed to stop.  When the flex and curl of her little gumdrop toes, the cobalt blue of her eyes, and the softness of her rosy skin were in that moment...my whole world. 





Tuesday, March 3, 2015

More than a few good men

          It's a chilly, icy day here in Toledo, Ohio.  A plethora of schools have closed and it's a good time to stay inside with a warm cup of something and a wooly sweater at the ready.  As for me I'm more than ready for warmer weather, but aren't we all?  Still, this time of year reminds me that there's still a lot of work afoot beneath the surface of the soil and I need to wait out the last month of winter before new growth in my garden - and otherwise - is ready to rise in the spring.
          Last week I was just hitting my stride in writing The Lace Makers, having reached the eighty-page mark on Thursday after a long day in my office.  It always takes me quite a while before the locomotor of my writing train gets up enough steam to leave the station and move out onto the open rails.  This time around, it's taken more than a month for me to feel as if I'm on the right path to telling a story that's been percolating in my creative consciousness since last summer. 
          On Thursday I realized a necessary change needed to be made as no female prisoners were present at the liberation of Buchenwald.  They had been shipped or marched to other concentration camps in the weeks before the liberation, so it was back to the research to find another destination in which to place one of my main characters.  Luckily I had read and recorded much about Bergen Belsen.   The HBO special "Night Will  Fall" was at my fingertips, so once again I watched the harrowing footage of the camp's liberation in April, 1945.  It's always been important to me to be historically correct, so upon hearing what the British announced on the way into the camp, I scribbled their words on a sticky note and tacked it to my computer's monitor: 

Be calm...be calm.  Stay where you are.  Help is on the way.

          That night I went to bed well after midnight, having written for the better part of ten hours, but energized by the story that was now flowing through my imagination onto the computer screen.  The next morning I woke up ready to write and while still in my pajamas, went into the office and turned on the computer...only to be met with a monitor which read:  "No signal...no signal...no signal."
          The tower would power up initially, then immediately stop.  The fans whirled, but the hard drive would not initiate the start up menu. Again and again and again I was met with a blank screen.  No matter how many times I tried to reboot, hit "control, alt., delete" or "escape," I could not escape the fact that my computer might have crashed.
          I spent several unnerving hours sweating out phone calls, Google searches on my NOOK, and time wasted in waiting for help from a customer service rep that always ended with, "We're experiencing higher than usual call volumes.  You may need to wait for up to thirty minutes for assistance." 
          A friend stopped by and stayed for a short visit.  After I explained my computer dilemma, Kim said, "My husband works with I.T.  Maybe he could help you." 
          "I already emailed my friend, Ramsey," I replied.  "He knows computers, too, and says he can stop by tomorrow morning."
          She nodded.  "I'll tell John what's going on and see if he has any suggestions.  If it's a quick fix, maybe you can do it yourself."
          "That would be great!" I said, thankful for the help. 
          I had already spent the better part of the morning fretting about the cost of repairs, or worse yet, the cost of a new tower.  Luckily, I had backed up all of my novels, including The Lace Makers.  Everything I needed to eventually upload or edit was stored on a thumbdrive or sent to friends who are helping me catch typos and the like.  I had even translated the manuscript from a web doc into a Word doc for my friend, Joyce, who - like me - prefers to read drafts as they would appear in print. 
           But...I hadn't backed up the pile of pictures or videos that were tucked into folders on the motherboard.  Years of photos of Satish and Danta and their family would be lost as would Aditi's entire kittenhood and all of my garden photos from 2011 until the present.  It was heartbreaking to think that in less than twelve hours I had gone from hitting my stride to being derailed at the most inopportune moment. 

          It had happened once before back in 2007 when I edged toward the finish line while writing A Tapestry of Truth.  Fifteen years of work was nearly completed when the laptop I had been using at the time decided it had had enough and refused to start.  The warranty had just expired (naturally) and I was at my wit's end while on the phone with a Dell rep who told me the motherboard was probably shot. 
          "Bring it to the store tomorrow and we'll take a look," he said.  "But if it's what I think it is, you're going to lose all of your memory.  You backed up, right?"
          "What?"
          "You backed up your hard drive, right?"
          "I saved my work on a disc."
          "What about your other files?"
          "No."
          The silence between us let me know that I was about to learn the very hard lesson that Carrie Brawshaw experienced in the Sex and the City episode, "My Motherboard, Myself."  I didn't have a "sad Mac" like she did, but I sure had a sad night lying in bed wondering how I was ever going to afford a new computer.
          The next morning on my way to the Dell store, I stopped by a friend's house.  Sandy asked, "What's wrong with your computer?"
          "I'll show you," I replied, pulling the laptop from my briefcase. 
          As I pushed the button, a look of amazement crossed my face, for there on the screen was the initial prompt that let me know the hard drive was indeed working and the start up menu would soon appear.
          "How did that happen?" I asked Sandy.
          She shrugged. 
          "Must be gremlins in the circuitry," I replied.
          And ever since, when I fire up the old Dell to use while teaching workshops, she starts right up, albeit a lot slower than my desktop, but with enough stamina to just keep going.   

          Alas, I didn't have the same luck with my HP.  All day Friday I fretted and fussed over the computer until I talked to Kim's husband later in the afternoon.  John suggested I clean out the tower as it was in need of some serious dusting.  After carefully swiping all of the circuits with a paintbrush, I tried to start it again, but to no avail.
          I drove to Home Depot after dark in search of canned air to blow any stray dust bunnies from the wires and bought the very last one, thanks to a truly nice man who understood my plight.  But that didn't work either.
          Later that night, I called John again and he very patiently taught me how to locate the battery and replace it.  "You can find one at Walgreens...no problem," John explained.
          Our local Walgreens is open twenty-four hour and as I wasn't getting much sleep anyway, I got up at 4:30 on Saturday morning and drove in the bitter cold to buy a new lithium battery.  After installing it properly, the computer burst to life, then immediately died again. 
          By the time Ramsey arrived like a knight in shining sneakers after my Saturday morning yoga class, I was resigned to the fact that whatever would be would be.  I couldn't change what was happening, but I could change my response to it.
          All through the day before and that morning of hopeful anticipation, I kept reading the little sticky note on my monitor:

Be calm...be calm.  Stay where you are.  Help is on the way.

          And sure enough, it was. 
          In no time Ramsey discovered a cord that didn't need to be connected to the tower.  "Let's try to start it up without this one."
          Like magic, the screen filled with color, the tower emitted the whirls and clicks I've come to hear as music to my ears.
          I burst into laughter.  "How did you do that?"
          Ramsey shrugged.  "You saw what I did...and most of the time I don't really know what I'm doing."
          "That's what I keep saying to my yoga students...," I smiled.  "...to just follow their bodies' messages and if they don't know what they're doing, then it's all the better in the long run."
          I practice what I preach, for I had no clue what I was going to do if my computer totally died.  I didn't know how to recover files or how I was going to pay for a new tower.  I was frustrated that, for the second time in my writing life, the most vital tool I needed was taken from me right when I needed it the most.
          And then I thought of the prisoners in the concentration camps who had everything stripped from them upon arrival.  Their belongings, their papers, their clothing, even their hair.  They lost their loved ones, their homes, and their identities.  And yet many of them survived all of these losses to start a new life on the other side of their suffering.
          My suffering could not begin to compare to theirs, but I found peace in repeating the words they heard on the day of their liberation.  I tried to remain calm.  I made myself stay in a place of uncertainly and wait.  I trusted that help was on the way.
          More than a few good men arrived at the gates of Bergen Belsen in mid-April, 1945.  And more than a few good men arrived in my life last week to teach me that to ask for help is not a weakness, but a strength.  To trust in the wisdom and experience of another allows me to know that I'm not alone in my experience.  How blessed am I to have people in my life who love and support me, no matter how frazzled or frightened I might be.
          Even in the middle of a dark night or in the middle of a difficult experience, the unseen work of what's happening behind the scenes...or beneath the ground...or in another person's hands...reminds me that new growth is always imminent.  So on a day when the world outside my window looks frozen and immobile, I am back to work, writing and reading and researching.  My fear has melted into the faith that no matter where this writing journey might take me, I am never alone.
          I can keep calm.
          I can find peace wherever I am.
          And if I need it, help will always be on the way.