Blogs and websites, especially mine, tend to languish in the busy season. In my world, especially lately, it's been a constant busy season.
That noted, I want to speak openly about all the support my husband and I have received since the essay in The Atlantic
was published late last summer. Thank you. Thank you for the positive notes and for sharing your own personal stories. Nine months later, I still receive at least one email weekly, and that's proving that this story did what we wanted it to do.
Since the essay ran (and my husband's most private experience was made public), his healing has been exponential. Releasing this secret--however frightening--has helped his mindset, his creativity, and his outlook.
It was, as we say in our household, a big fucking deal.
After the essay ran, the two of us hit the road on a month-long "escape the Maine winter" exploration of the Deep South. We ate biscuits every day, found bits of hidden Americana, and listened to some outstanding music. We also saw 2,700 alligators. (There was a voodoo priestess, my weight in beignets, an old plantation, a nutria rat, and a pod of dolphins, too.)
The best outcome, however, was the inspiration for my husband's latest album. As you likely know, he is a full-time professional musician. "The Roadhouse Gospel Hour"
is a direct result of Trav's healing process, and although the title suggests a level of church-based Christianity, it's really more about the spirit and sensibility of that Depression-era, Carter Family-style, Americana blues. Or, as I like to say, it's music for sinners who prefer to sleep late on Sunday mornings.
It's a 45-minute space to set your troubles down.
If you plan to be in the Cornish, Maine area on June 22 at 7 pm, you are invited to a CD Release Concert and Party at Friendly River Music.
John and Charlene have generously made their barn performance space available, and the acoustics and atmosphere are outstanding. ($5 suggested donation to benefit the Across the River Collaborative
for Maine youth, and a percentage of CD sales will benefit the Houlton Humane Society
If attending the concert isn't an option, the next best thing is the CD itself. As of June 1, The Roadhouse Gospel Hour is available via iTunes
, and Trav would be delighted to sell you a copy at any of his regular shows.
He's proud of this effort, and so am I. So very, very proud.
In the track, "Run on a long time," when he sings "what's done in the dark will be brought to the light" with such vocal force and conviction, you believe it.
Weary Hearted Hollow Moon is a phrase lifted from "Adam’s Curse," by William Butler Yeats. Sort of. I rearranged the words a little bit.
I’ve been reading Yeats lately. He is, hands down, the dead broody Irish poet I’d choose to sleep with if given the opportunity. He’s also the inspiration for 2013’s title, if I could give 2013 a title.
2013 was a rough year. I felt weary and hollow-hearted, and I stared at the moon for much of the time. We lost four pets—two dogs and two cats. Trav faced some big demons in a very brave and public way, and while the result has been good, the ripple effect is still messy, and I am angry about that. I didn’t write enough. I didn’t move my body enough. I missed my nephew’s birth by 5 minutes, and even though—as with his older brother and sister, I spent those first few hours in the hospital awake and staring at the wonder of him, I feel guilt for my late arrival. My basement pipe cracked, and my washing machine broke. Both vehicles needed new sets of tires. I spent too much time dicking around online.
I’m fatter than I was last year. I broke a toe.
But then, there’s the good, and good always wins. I’m an auntie to three children now! I bought new kitchen flooring. Brendan painted my house. Erin began landscaping my yard. I spent almost every Saturday morning, from May to October, yard saling. (Among my finds, a $6 Pottery Barn quilt, $2 for three Monroe Saltworks pieces, and $1 window treatments.) Anne visited, and we spent a good few days appreciating Maine’s beauty. I showed my niece the Farmer’s Market, and we watched a family of ducklings while we ate fresh strawberries from the carton.
I slow-danced with my husband at a friend’s mountaintop wedding reception and celebrated 40 years of life by choosing a Toller (mix) pup over a Chinese baby. There was a road trip to DC to witness another wedding, walk the monuments, and eat pie. The lady at Art’s Nails gave me excellent pedicures and painted my toenails shades that ranged from coral to candy apple.
I taught six courses and hope my students feel better equipped to express themselves with words. I learned to shuck oysters and make miso soup, too.
It was my privilege to participate in a carpool for a Burundian refugee as he worked to assimilate in the United States, establish himself, and make a life for his family’s eventual arrival.
Bret and Jeff hosted a Liberace movie screening that was made even more special by the paper dolls sent by Ruth from Australia. I also tasted a vintage absinthe cocktail, and I finished watching all the James Bond movies in order of production.
The Supreme Court’s position is that marriage equality is a good thing. My sister, niece, and I took a whirlwind field trip to Boston.
I wrote many essays about food and discovered that I don’t much enjoy writing essays about food. I read my creative work for an audience, and I confirmed that I also don’t generally enjoy reading my creative work for an audience.
I filled a jelly jar with sea glass, and I watched my niece perform in her first play.
Also, my breasts are healthy and cancer-free. Let me repeat that one: My breasts are healthy and cancer-free.
The good wins. It might take daily medication, regular therapy, a commitment to positive thinking, and a lifestyle structured with organizing principles of family, friends, and community—but good wins.
It has to. When lined up in two columns, the good side is longer and more detailed. The good side is more enduring and more robust. Darkness is a fact, but the light always returns.
On this New Year’s Eve, 2014 feels like it will be a good year, and much smoother than 2013. I have plans, Travis has plans, and I suspect those plans will yield creative, positive things.
I have hope.
“Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art, and she has built her dwelling far from the desperate field where men hang out their garments upon forked boughs to be banners of battle. O beloved daughter of Hope and Memory, be with me for a while.”
That’s Yeats, too.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"I found a lump in your breast" was almost (but not quite) as unsettling this past spring as my doctor's followup. "And I want you to have a mammogram right now." She walked me to the mammogram side of the building herself, and because it was all such new information to process, I made small talk during the walk, not really grasping the situation. "Most of these lumps are nothing to worry about," she said.
At least, at first. Now that I look back, it was all just routine procedure, but at the time? At the time, a co-worker had just been diagnosed. Two classmates of mine were survivors. Another friend wrote a book about her experience. So, when my mammogram showed a particularly obnoxious little mass, I was scared.
In the span of a week, I had my first mammogram, my second mammogram, and my first trip to the cancer treatment center for the ultrasound. Again, these experiences were mild. I don't want to diminish anyone else's actual diagnosis or treatment. I was scared for a week. In the scheme of things, that is no big deal.
But at the time? Yikes.
No matter how pleasant and soothing a cancer center is designed to be, there is some bad juju in those places. Even after being greeted by the nicest possible reception volunteer and noting both the natural light and high ceilings, I walked the length of the hallway with a sick sort of resignation.
The room was waiting for me. Top off, lie down, cover breasts with the towel were the instructions.
I looked around, and this button immediately unnerved me. It was big, paperback-sized, and reads "PUSH for HELP."
I have a very vivid imagination, and I began that strange spiral that happens when you imagine all possible scenarios for what might constitute a need for the big, red alarm button.
To calm myself from the many possibilities for emergency, I stared at the ceiling.
And then I took photos of my shoes and wondered what other people wore to their appointments. I wondered if jeans were too casual, and then tried to isolate when, exactly, women shifted into regular jeans-wearing and if there was a book available that traced the history of dungarees.
Then I took photos of myself, trying to document the emotion.
That's when the doctor walked in. I wanted to ask her about her experience with the big red panic button, and the typical dress code for breast exams, and if she could remember the first time she ever wore blue jeans, but instead when she asked how I was doing, I said, "okay."
She used this machine to get an insider's view of my breast.
The whole experience was over in less than two minutes, and as she studied the image on the screen, I braced myself for bad news. In the week leading up to this moment, I'd planned for the worst. My life, a charmed one, seemed destined for a big dip.
That's when she told me I would get the official results in the mail, but after seeing the images, she was not concerned. There was some formal language about monitoring the lump annually and watching for changes, but for now, there was nothing to worry about.
Nothing to worry about. As promised, my letter arrived in the mail the following week.
I am among the extraordinarily lucky ones. Please, ladies, get yourself checked.
In an effort to lighten the mood a bit, here is a piece about tattooing in Maine
that's been a very, very long time in the making. If I was responsible for the art direction, I would have highlighted (in addition to the fab Phuc Tran and Chris Dingwell), the work of Danielle Madore at Sanctuary Tattoo
and Tom Murphy at Tom's Terrific Tattoos.
There's some neat stuff happening in Maine's tattoo community. Click here for my Modern Love essay
that inspired my interest.Challenge:
Study your community for any unique or unusual subcultures. Resolve to learn more about them.
Because there is no clear social script for our friends and family, I offer this on my husband's behalf.
He appreciates concern, but rather than express that emotion with sympathetic hugs, well-intended notes, or your own personal story (especially when he's performing)--his hope is that you will show that love and support by adding a higher level of vigilance and commitment to protecting the little ones in your own circles.
That was his intent for sharing this aspect of his life.
And now, here is my piece for The Atlantic.
It's part of a larger dialogue about pedophilia in our culture, and it's an important discussion to have.
While I love, love, love raw oysters, I confess to an initial fear of trying them at home. I'm not sure what magical incantation or special training I thought happened at oyster bars, but there was something complex about the process, and for years, I dismissed oyster home love as too intricate for my skill level.
That changed last weekend. I saw oysters for sale at my fish store, and thought "How hard could it be, really?" (It's important to credit Kinky Friedman for that phrase. It was his campaign slogan when he ran for the Texas governor position. Think about that for a second. It's okay to laugh.)
So, I tackled oysters in steps. First, I bought knives. I bought them at LeRoux Kitchen
, home of the best balsamic vinegars in the state, and I also came away with some good advice. I'd intended to buy a protective glove, too, but it turns out, they do not recommend them for oysters. The preference is to anchor the oyster on a counter, wedged between a folded dishtowel. This improves stability and lessens the possibilty of contamination.
My knives cost about $8 each. I bought two.
Then, I bought oysters. I picked the tightest, cleanest shells I could find. Although I transported them in an ice-filled bag, I removed the ice when I got home. Oysters are living creatures, and they do just fine in a loose paper bag in the fridge.
Then I researched mignonette. Turns out, it's basically shallot, vinegar, and pepper. Sugar, too. I substituted sweet onions for shallots. Interesting fun fact: Acidic tastes, like lemon or vinegar temper salty tastes. It's why mignonette or lemon is a great oyster pairing.
And then the cocktail sauce. For this, I am a purist. Tomato ketchup and fresh horseradish. Mmm.
And then, the moment of truth. I'd like to say that I grasped oyster shucking expertly on the first try, but that's not true. It's not rocket science, but it does take a bit of practice. There's a curved side to the oyster and a flat side to the oyster. Fold a dishtowel around the oyster, with its curved side down. (This creates a little bucket to slurp from, and it gives a space for the oyster liquor.) Wrap the dishtowel tightly, so only the hinged part of the oyster is visible. Brace the wrapped oyster against the counter, insert the knife into the joint, and just start wiggling it around. It's okay if some of the shell chips.
Eventually, the oyster will open.
And then this happens.
Challenge: What sounds too difficult to tackle in your own life? Why?
It's been a few weeks, and I am still thinking about a kind gesture. A friend had been poking through an estate sale and found this, a promotional key chain advertising my father's business, circa 1976. She mailed it to me, and when it fell from the envelope into my lap, I was surprised at the aspects I noticed.
In addition to learning that Ritepoint was a US-based company, I also remembered the difficulty of breaking apart the keychain's two pieces. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old, and I lacked the finger power to press the pieces apart. I'd picked one from the box on the shop countertop, and the pieces were too stiff for my tiny hands.
I remember feeling very frustrated.
Now, I can easily detach the pieces, and as I fiddled with the two sections in my living room, snapping them together and pulling them apart, it seemed very strange to suddenly have a clear memory where moments before, there was none. But, there it was. I recalled the shop's interior--the smell of oil and the clutter of small engine parts. I remembered balancing on my knees atop a stool, and I remembered reaching for the keychains in the box. Someone, likely my mother or father, showed me how the key chain worked, but despite my best efforts, I recall the tears at not being able to do it myself.
There's a lesson here. Several, actually.
1) A random kindness can significantly alter a person's perspective.
2) Memory is a spongy, flexible thing.
3) Frustration has a way of resolving itself with time.
Challenge: Think of something unexpected and kind to do for someone. Do it. See what happens.
Public service, particularly government, ranks among the most demanding, difficult jobs. It requires focus and a certain amount of native intelligence.
So does tree cutting.
Governor LePage’s recent suggestion for Senator Troy Jackson to “go back in the woods and cut trees and let somebody with a brain come down here and do some work” offended me. It offended me because his remarks moved past balance and beyond ideological difference. His words were ignorant. The governor’s comments were not, as he explained, “politically incorrect;” His comments were insulting, ignorant, and mean. And his half-assed "apology"
was even worse. (Note: An apology means owning the mistake.)
In politics, sometimes my candidate wins, and sometimes my candidate loses. Big picture, balance makes sense. I also believe the majority of people make decisions based upon what feels right and true to them, and, ultimately, good wins.
I was born and raised in Aroostook County among family members who cut trees. Some of these family members have worked for generations in the logging industry, an industry that built Maine, both literally and figuratively. To suggest that tree cutters and their communities lack intelligence? I could make a joke that right-leaning counties like Aroostook elected
this man, but that’s an easy shot.
The bigger opportunity is using my word skill to say that when Governor LePage insulted Senator Jackson, he also insulted me. He insulted me, along with my entire Aroostook County family. In particular, he insulted my tree-cutter uncle who built his paid-for house with his own hands—hands that also fix equipment, gloveless, on the most frigid winter days. This uncle raised two good and capable sons who now choose to make their adult homes in an area famous for hemorrhaging young people. This uncle barbecued for 400 guests when I got married and, most notably, possesses a storytelling talent that I, with a terminal degree on the topic, aspire to achieve.
Governor LePage used his words to diminish a community. My community. You ever try to operate a
skidder? I bet for most of us, including Governor LePage, the answer is no.
As I told my aunt, the wife of my tree-cutter uncle, nobody of consequence--absolutely nobody who matters
—takes those comments as anything but stupid. The comments themselves can be dismissed as stupid, but the idea of them hurting the feelings of good people I care about? That pisses me off.
Rather than note a long list of Aroostook County achievers (and the list is very long—just last week, a Caribou-born astronaut
), it’s important to file this information for the next election. It will be easy to remember the governor’s Vaseline reference, but please do not let the rape metaphor’s magnitude overshadow the subtler observation that Aroostook County people lack intelligence. Please remember that, too.
In the next few weeks, our state will likely take a place in the news (again) because of our governor’s comments. People will get angry, and express that frustration with rants and head-shaking. And then they will move on.
But, I encourage voters in right-leaning counties like Aroostook to remember that when Governor LePage diminished Troy Jackson, he diminished all of Aroostook County. Do you want representation from the political party whose top state official says, in public, unapologetically, that you are stupid?
I hope the answer is no.
Those of you who "know" me, know that I generally prefer private things kept private. But when the potential for
greater good (however you define that) is bigger, getting personal in public is okay.
With that, I note with certainty that some of the scariest words ever heard during an annual exam are "I found a lump in your breast. I'd like you to have a mammogram right now."
Yeah, that. Turns out, after a couple of crazymaking days that include a followup mammogram for closeup images and anothe ultrasound appointment just to make double extra super sure--my situtation likely falls into the 80% of all abnormalities: all good.
For many women, that outcome is not as happy.
So, ladies, get checked. Start with an annual visit. Ask for a breast exam. (If my doctor didn't do one, I never would've thought to ask.) A mammogram never, ever would've been on my radar, as I have no family history, am under 40 (barely, but it counts), eat a largely plant-based diet, non-smoker, have pretty nicely shaped boobies with no weirdness, etc. etc. I'm not stupid, I know about self-exams and general health, have cancer-survivor friends--and I still
had a suspicious lump that I missed.
Gentlemen, ask your ladies if they've been checked.
I promise not to be all evangelical about this issue, but my mindset has shifted. Cost is no excuse, and I've listed some local resources here.
It's stupid not to sort this piece out early, get a baseline mammogram, and take responsibility for your health.
It's so stupid not to do this. So, do it. :-)
Two of my favorite Maine writers are Bill Roorbach and Bob Keyes. Bob writes about Maine's art and culture for out state's biggest newspaper, and this morning he wrote a piece
about Bill's new novel, Life Among Giants
. These two men offer inspiration to all writers, as well as an awareness that the writing life can look many, many different ways.
In addition to Life Among Giants
, Bill has a long career of teaching and writing. (Bill has written six books, each a preparation for the next, he notes to Bob.) One of his essays, "On Apprenticeship,"
is on my list of required reading for new writers. The central anecdote in this essay has morphed into a sort of urban legend among writer. The punch line involves an enthusiastic surgeon attending a writer's conference. Inspired by Bill, she tells him that she's been a surgeon for her entire life and is now prepared to take the next six month off to become an author. This is when Bill matches her enthusiasm and notes that is she who is the inspiration, that he has been a writer for his entire life and is now prepared to take the next six months to become a surgeon.
In addition to the (hopeful) groan of awareness, the lesson here is that writing is a process. Like any craft, it takes time to refine and perfect. The lesson is also to be patient.