Bone Structure

The Mill, by Andrew Wyeth, 1959 

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."

— Andrew Wyeth 
The Art of Andrew Wyeth 

Opal died today. Unexpected. 

It’s always a surprise to me, though we are in a nursing home and nearly everyone is ill and elderly. 

There's not much talk, as if it is routine, and of course it is. And yet, even when expected, every passing feels fresh and unexpected. I haven't found words for this startle and weight — something like sadness but with a puncture that lodges in remote crevices of body and mind.  

While hanging the memorial announcement, Ada watches my every move, watches me hang the board, watches me straighten the frame. She does not speak, never speaks. But today, her eyes are steady and from her wheelchair, she reaches for my hand. I bend close and talk quietly.

“Your hair looks nice,” I say. She stares at me, eyes soft.

I try again, “You look good in pink.”

She murmurs, her eyes fixed on mine, as if to speak. But we do not talk, just look into eyes, back and forth, with some tender wordless exchange. 

I say goodbye, I’ll see her again, because this is what you say. Because I say it again and again to the old and confused, to the dying. We are accustom to goodbyes and yet, and yet, it always jolts. Maybe I’m not alone in this. Maybe Ada is with me, reaching out to mark a moment, saying every death deserves a pause.  

I've started a file: Things to say after a death. There's been so many, I've run out of words. 

In the writing group, we pen letters to ourselves:

Dear Younger Me, writes Betty, I wish I could go back and appreciate life more

“Can I get you anything?” I ask Lucy, who is sitting alone, yawning.

We exchange hellos and she smiles wanly, a sign of her decline. Once buoyant and cheery, she now speaks slowly, if at all, and with much effort. 

“There’s no getting,” she says with a half smile, and I think she knows, more than any of us, about these ends.  


* Names have been changed to protect privacy.


With resolve

swift — a blackout poem by drew myron

In this new year, let's not make plans, projects or promises.

Let's start here, now, with small measures like this: 

Be swift to be kind.

Isn't this everything and enough? 



Good Books of 2018

Ahhh, don't you love these languid days between Christmas and New Year? 

For readers and writers and those who enjoy soft unstructured time, it's an excuse to sink into books without distraction or guilt. And a chance to look back with gratitude at books that have entertained, elevated and sustained. 

Here are some of my favorite books I read this year (not necessarily books published in 2018):


The Great Believers
by Rebecca Makkai

I have just a few chapters left in this page-turner and it just may be my favorite novel of 2018. It's a wrenching and real character study of shame and despair of AIDS in the 1980s. 


Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng

A slow-burning story about a small town thrown into disarray by a court dispute, with a simmering plot on the complicated angst of family love.


by Ian McEwan 

A classic tale of murder and betrayal, and such an odd, delightful, unexpected novel.


The Italian Teacher

by Tom Rachman

A novel with a slow start but phenomenal build, with unexpected twists and a nicely wistful conclusion. (My favorite of his novels is The Imperfectionists).




by David Sedaris

Here's my new discovery: David Sedaris is best enjoyed by audiobook. An animated performer, Sedaris tells a story with vivid voice and comedic timing that leaves me laughing out loud. I'll never "read" him again. (My favorite of his audiobooks is Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls)


My Misspent Youth: Essays

by Megan Daum

I'm late to the party on this one but glad I caught up. I lived briefly in New York, and while not usually nostalgic, this collection of sharp and honest essays brought back the wonder and ache of those Manhattan days. 



Notes from a No Man's Land: American Essays 
by Eula Bliss 

I'm still not sure if I like this book but months later I keep thinking about it so it definitely stirred me — and isn't that the best kind of reading experience? Reviewer Robert Polito sums my sentiment:  " . . . a mix of insistence and quandary, as though she is despairing and pressing on simultaneously." 

Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give
by Ada Calhoun 

On our first date I told my now-husband that I didn't believe in the institution of marriage. And so, this collection, both sharp and tender, hits me where I live and love. "By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole," she writes. "To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being — what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift."



The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use if for Life
by Twyla Tharp 

From the renowned choreographer, an excellent, practical guide to fostering creativity.

A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves
by Jane Gross

A daunting but valuable first-person account from a New York Times columnist navigating the labyrinth of health care and housing choices for her mother.  "Wherever I was, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing . . . The car was my sanctuary. Before heading home from the Meadowview, with my mother snug in bed, I slumped over the steering wheel, sobbing. Across America, in parking lots like this one, middle-aged daughters do this all the time. I never noticed until I became one of them."



You Think It, I'll Say It
by Curtis Sittenfeld

Months after tearing through this collection, I'm still pierced by the sharp and poignant ways we love and hurt one another. With echoes of Ann Beattie and Lorrie Moore, Sittenfeld, known primarily as a novelist, shines in the short form too. 



Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting
by Kevin Powers

I wasn't looking for poetry when I stumbled across this book, and that makes the discovery all the better. Iraq war veteran Kevin Powers has created a deeply affecting portrait of a life shaped by war — and, frankly, it's a voice of experience I haven't read nearly enough. Read the title poem here

Believing is Not the Same as Being Saved
by Lisa Martin 

It's not a perfect book of poetry, uneven in spots and needing an editor to tighten the gems. But there are stunners in this collection that make my heart lurch with recognition.

Remind me, is this how it always goes?

There’s a way of speaking as if the difference

matters, as if the road home is finite—everything

begins and ends somewhere, like your hand

in mine . . .  The mind

seeks a place where it can learn to lie down.


— from Map For the Road Home


Your Turn: What books stirred and stayed with you this year?


Good Books of 2017

Good Books of 2016

Good Books of 2015

Good Books of 2014

Good Books of 2013

Good Books of 2012

Good Books of 2011



Thankful Thursday: Sometimes 

sometimes when, by drew myron

Because attention attracts gratitude and gratitude expands joy, it's time for Thankful Thursday.

From the small to the immense, from the puny to the profound, what are you thankful for today?

Sometimes when 

the light is just right

like today, I come to

a quiet place and sit

at a wood table where

the slant of sun shines

and for a moment, or

even minutes, I am

exactly where I should

be, doing exactly what

is good and true:

with gratitude,

thinking of you.

— Drew Myron 



Don't tell me your dream

Art by Susannah Liguori 

No one wants to hear about your dream. How vivid and compelling. How it shakes you still, that image, this morning over coffee and conversation. This conversation is over; let's talk about me. 

I had a dream of frogs in my house. I told no one, but Google says frogs mean fortune or fear. Just like everything in life.

Confession: In a book or poem, when I come upon a dream sequence I always skip ahead. 

Don't tell me your dream. I'll have to feign interest and that wears us both. Well, not you. You look perky, and I just wanna go back to bed. 

In the year since my mother died, I've dreamed of her just once. I woke up reassured. But I did not write the dream down and now she's gone again. 

Dreams are vague and real, foreboding and foretelling. Dreams mean nothing. And everything. 

Yesterday an old man with sad eyes told me his dream:

He and his dying wife return to the island where they honeymooned 60 years ago. They are happy, she is healthy and young. "She is just like she used to be," he says, with a strained smile and tears.  

Hushed and slow, like a prayer or a plea, he offers his vision and I accept the gift.  

Okay, I say, tell me more.