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A Pair of Us

Gratitude is a word I have neglected these past few weeks. Not entirely. That’s not my nature, but I haven’t felt much like being mindfully grateful. Police brutality, racial injustice, and a nasty virus that won’t go away have given all of us good reasons to feel sour. That’s putting it mildly.

But this morning, I woke up. I walked my new puppy, Birdie. I unrolled my yoga mat and did some stretches. In a bit my oldest daughter will drop by and we’ll go for a hike. I had breakfast. I’ll have lunch and dinner, too. I will not insult you with platitudes here. I’m so sick of hearing We’re all in this together I could scream. We are not together! I want to shout at the television. We are apart, and that’s the problem. This is coming from an introvert, no less. A true INFJ if you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test.

The truth is I miss people. I miss sitting around a table with friends and eating chicken salad sandwiches. I miss the good feeling of coming home to my quiet, relatively calm (pre-puppy at least) house after being someplace noisy. There is no transition, you see, no clear distinction between one day and the next. It’s an issue of balance, I suppose.

Lately, I’ve been reciting Emily Dickinson poems in my head, specifically, the poem I’m Nobody! (260).

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise — you know!
How dreary — to be Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!

There is something about the line “Then there’s a pair of us!” that feels like a meeting of minds, a kindred spirit, a partner in crime. “A pair of us” means we’re not alone. Why is Emily coming to me now? Why is she the resident poet in my head these days?

My seemingly incongruous thoughts usually correlate in some way if I bother to sit down and write about them. We’re all in this together is a paradox for Covid and quarantine and social distancing perhaps, but it’s quite literal when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement: We are all in this together.

Some will march and protest and stand at the head of the line, holding the lantern and leading our way. Others will go along, albeit begrudgingly, and a few will be dragged, kicking and screaming (and probably not wearing masks), but maybe they will get there, too. Maybe. Change is coming, however. Change is inevitable.

What difference can a White woman in her fifties make in the Black Lives Matter movement? And who cares what I have to say about these struggles anyway? As I type, I question this myself. All I can tell you is silence on the issue of Black Lives Matter feels cowardly and dastardly. Not to speak is to condone violence. Yes, that means you, nice White lady. It means me. It means all of us White ladies and girls and women have to speak up. Why? Because our silence and “politeness” and “good girlness” are part of the problem. We have to examine our own biases. We have to look at systemic racism and consider our complicity in its ugliness. We must educate ourselves, and then instead of feeling smug and holier than thou, we have to go out and have difficult conversations with difficult White people. And when Black people post their stories or write about their experiences or call us out on things that make us uncomfortable, we must listen with a growth mindset. 


To brush aside the anguish of our fellow Americans, Americans who truly made this country what it is today, is its own brand of violence, and it is particularly cruel. Have I been guilty of just wanting everyone to get along? Yes. Have I felt too tired to listen to protests or watch horrific images on the news? Yep. Have I naively thought none of it had anything much to do with me? Lord help me, but yes.

Posting a black square on Instagram was too small an effort on my part. Reposting the thoughtful messages of others borders on plagiarism. I must use my own voice, too. If you’re unfriending/unfollowing/snoozing, then maybe you especially need to hear this message. I am writing this post because I need to hear this message.

Black Lives Matter.

Beyond this, I’m giving myself some reading assignments. After listening to Professor Brittney Cooper’s (pictured below) recent talk on Instagram, I ordered a few books, and I’m going to read said books. 

In the coming weeks, I’m committing myself to difficult conversations and personal reflection. I’m going to do better. I’m going to show up. I’m going to listen. I’m going to learn. I’ve attached Dr. Cooper’s Instagram link if you’d like to check out her account.

Maybe Emily managed to get her message through to me loud and clear, after all. There’s a pair of us, you know. If you’ve read this far, it means we’re in this together (I swear that’s the last time I’ll ever use that catchphrase). Even if we’re White women in our fifties or sixties or seventies or eighties, we must do our part to understand and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Finally, I strongly encourage you to listen to Dr. Cooper’s talk on Instagram (the link is below). I’ve also posted her book recommendations and highlighted the ones I’ve already ordered.


  1. Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
  2. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  3. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister
  4. Sula by Toni Morrison
  5. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
  6. Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  7. So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  8. Dressed in Dreams by Tanisha C. Ford
  9. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  10. The End of White Politics by Zerlina Maxwell

And if you’re feeling weary as a White person, know this. You are not as weary as the Black people in this country. It’s time for us to help carry this burden. It’s time for White people to do better. No excuses, nice White ladies.



It’s My Dash

Gratitude is pecking at my window in the form a female cardinal. She is so dignified with her red crest and tail and beak, even if I do sense her judgment. It’s nearly noon. I’ve been writing since early this morning, and I’m still in my bathrobe. Our dog, Iris, sleeps in a puddle of sunshine, a respite after having surgery just a few days ago. She is also doped up on pain meds, her last vial of the stuff emptied as of this morning. Upstairs, middle daughter is home from college to rest off a bad cold. It’s winter, but already I can feel the season losing its grip. Not that it had much of one. We’ve had no snow to speak of.

The last few months have been the strangest and the best. I’ve left teaching for the first time in years, and now I have time to write. Not time to merely squeeze it in. Not time to neglect so many other things, like my husband and children, and try not to feel guilty about writing. But actual writing time.

Like the fussy steward of some historic structure, I am quite protective of this new stage. I will not squander it. Every single day, you’ll find me here on my sofa or at the dining room table, plunging into unknown territory. With this new novel, I’ve researched and interviewed. I’m planning trips to do more research and interviews. There’s a pile of books I’ve read and annotated and more I still need to read and annotate. I’ve devoured page after page of archives. This is how I spend my time now.

I can honestly say that out of all the books I’ve written (far more than are published) this new topic has consumed me to an extreme. It has me in its grip. It has angered me. It has brought me to tears. If you’re a writer, you understand this is a very good thing. Otherwise, how can you possibly tether yourself to a computer for hours on end?

Sometimes I marvel at this calling, this obsession, this addiction, this strangeness that comes with being a writer. Here I sit, having set aside a long-time career I loved, one that came with a title and a steady paycheck, to hang out in my bathrobe and, forgive the strong language, please clutch your pearls, make shit up.

A few days ago, I chatted with an old friend who is trying to decide what’s next in terms of her professional life. Often she is asked this question: What do you do? Her response is usually to hem and haw and say things like, “Oh, this and that.” To tell the truth of it, however, my friend has given up a job she enjoyed to look after her dying father, made a major move from one country to another, and rehabbed a house long-neglected. More recently, she moved her aging mother (and elderly dog) to a condo nearby so she can take care of them both. This and that? Really?

While talking on the phone, as we usually do once a week, my friend and I mulled over her situation and discussed the dreaded question: What do you do? She decided her response should now be this: “I clean up dog shit and take care of my mother.” If that’s the case for my friend, then my answer would have to be, “I sit in my bathrobe until noon and make shit up.”

There is a lot of shit in this post, but I’m striving for honesty here.

A few weeks ago, I went to a memorial service for someone I don’t know. He was a childhood friend of my husband’s. It was at a nice club and on a Friday night. Normally, I would’ve told my husband to go without me, but we figured we’d head out to dinner afterward. And, also, I find that memorial services for folks I don’t know can be interesting. Obviously, I don’t go browsing the obits in search of such events, but when, on occasion, I’ve done this sort of thing, it has proved oddly inspiring.

At the service, another childhood friend of the deceased got up to read a poem called The Dash. I’ve since Googled it. The writer is Linda Ellis, and you can see the poem here if you’re so inclined (or slated to speak at a funeral). To sum it up, the poem maintains it’s the dash that really matters. That tiny mark of punctuation in between the dates of our birth and death. You know, what we do with our time while on this planet.

Last week I had a not so good mammogram and was called back for another one, plus an ultrasound. The second mammogram didn’t go any better. A biopsy was scheduled. Let me stop right here and say, I’m a total wimp. I hate needles. I hate going to the doctor. I have two recurring nightmares: my teeth fall out OR I’m being jabbed with needles. You can imagine why I’m so scrupulous when it comes to brushing and flossing.

Like the neurotic writer I am, I spent the night before the procedure looking at gruesome YouTube videos. As much as I hate needles, I hate surprises about such things even more. Alas, I arrived at the facility sleep-deprived and on the verge of what Oprah calls ugly crying. I’m just barely holding it together as the radiologist initials my right boob with a Sharpie, and I take my arm from the sleeve of the gown. The tech, a soft-spoken, young woman with a nose ring, begins gnashing my breast with the ultrasound probe.

It’s freezing in this room, and I’m scared and now quivering. Quivering is probably not a good idea when needles are about to go into one’s breast, I decide, so I close my eyes. I take deep breaths. I try not to envision all the gray hair I’ve just gone through the trouble of growing out falling out. There is the soft murmur of voices, shop talk between the tech and radiologist. I will myself not to hear a word of it. It’ll be over in a few minutes. Celebrities who are long-term survivors of breast cancer go through my mind—Melissa Etheridge, Robin Roberts, Sheryl Crow, Christina Applegate, Wanda Sykes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The radiologist, a pretty fifty-something woman with thick-rimmed glasses and bright green eyes, grips my hand, leans in close, and says, “We’re not doing the biopsy. It shrunk since last week. There’s not enough for me to grab with the needle.” Hearing this, I’m slightly disbelieving. But it’s true, so I get dressed and meet the pretty green-eyed doctor in her office where my breast is quite large on the dark screen. “Cancer doesn’t shrink. It gets bigger,” she tells me, though she insists we keep a close eye on things. I am reassured, but also curiously in limbo.

My husband and I collapse onto a bench out in the lobby. As we sit wedged between two plants, quietly talking, a woman in a wheel chair is pushed past us. She’s in a surgical gown and cap. Clearly, she is having some procedure far more complicated than the one I just evaded. For now, I still have my dash. I still can DO things. But what about hers? Is her dash shrinking or growing larger? I say a silent prayer for this stranger.

Rewind to the early morning of my biopsy. I’m about to head down the stairs, but I pause on the landing. A question is nagging me: Is writing full-time what you want to be doing? If this is it, is this it? Hard questions for a hard day, but I nod and go make toast.

For now, I’m stepping away from my computer. I’m going to go do something else— get dressed and eat lunch. Later this afternoon, maybe I’ll go for a walk in the winter sunshine and forest bathe down by a stream near our house. Believe it or not, this is also part of being a writer. Getting outside and breathing. Holding the ailing dog close and whispering, “You’re such a good girl.”

After all, it’s my dash, and I can do whatever I want with it.




Never Give Up

Thinking of quitting? Think again. I’ve often wondered why I was cursed/blessed with the obsession of storytelling. Why can’t I just go to a cocktail party or a wedding or the pawn shop like a “normal” person? Why am I endlessly thinking about stories, those I’ve written and the ones I’ve read? What is the point of such longing anyway? The truth is I don’t know. What I do know is this obsession has only intensified with age.

When we first moved into our current home, I stuck this magnet to the washing machine. Probably because the laundry was daunting back then. Now my two daughters who are still at home (some of the time) do their own laundry, as does my husband. Still, I keep this magnet because when I’m looking for a sign, here it is. If you’re looking for a sign, here it is.

“Never, never, never give up.” Cliché? Yeah, I suppose. But somebody will get the higher grade or win the contest or publish the book or sign a record deal. Somebody will get the job or the promotion or reach a million followers on Twitter. The question is this: Why not you? 

Owning, announcing, broadcasting, embracing the fact that you are trying to achieve this thing is scary because your little secret is out. The world knows what you’re up to, and the powers that be may not give it to you. They may put up roadblocks. People might laugh or roll their eyes. Folks may say you aren’t a serious person. Even worse, maybe you aren’t young enough, old enough, smart enough, good enough.  

It is quite possible the universe might not give us what we want. In all my years of writing, I’ve learned this: I’m a writer. Yes, I’ve published three novels, but that is not what makes me a writer. I’ve written so many more unpublished novels. I have failed at publishing again and again, but I have not failed at being a writer. In fact, I would argue I’m a highly successful writer because in the midst of failing at publishing, I’ve still been writing. And it feels better, wiser, stronger, truer to keep going because that’s who I am and what I do. 

If today was the day you went looking for a sign, it’s here, stuck to my washing machine, next to some wet bathing suits.

Now go do whatever it is you’re dreaming of and tell at least one person what you’re up to. If they roll their eyes or scoff or list countless reasons why you’re likely to fail, think of it as fuel for your determined tank and just keep swimming. 


Never Give Up Magnet