Saturday, June 28, 2014


I've been dealing with vertigo for about two weeks now. First come the bed spins, the whoosh in my ears and my stomach when I try to sit up, and then, once upright, the strange, loopy way of looking at the world.

I wonder, why do the trees lunge and dip for me, when I suspect they are still standing at attention for others?

Mid-way into the second week, I begin to feel so much better. Driving is okay. My balance returns.  It is a relief to feel almost like myself again, to know the vertigo is a temporary affliction that leaves me pretty much clinging to my bed during the regular end of the school year craziness-- so that's kind of a win.

In some ways, the vertigo took me back to the early days of shock and grief.

Back then, there was a real sense that the world I was looking at was a different one than others saw. I remember the leaves on the trees being so astounding clear and individualized, and the sky so alarmingly blue, that I felt extra vulnerable, as if I'd somehow stepped outside but forgotten my skin. People and things moved all around me, but felt separated from me, as if we were all running smoothly on conveyor belts, turning this way and that, like the maid in the Jetsons. I craved connection, and stability, and the way things were before.

My house and yard looked exactly the same, as did my pretty little town, but a growing awareness that something horrific had happened, right here, made it all feel seem off-kilter and sinister. The old world of school, and work, and kids, and church ceased to exist in a flash, in a moment. The new upside down one, of learning how to outlive a precious child, flashed its skewed existence at me day after day until I could begin to get my bearings.

It would take months and months of living with a profound sense of vulnerability and disorientation for me to begin to feel a little better. Of course it was a new self that emerged, standing not-quite-upright as before, but stable enough to face the challenges ahead as the future spun before me in a new, unwanted direction.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Podcast Time!

I was honored to be invited to be the lovely Sarah Bagley's guest on her podcast series, which is about trying to get rid of perfectionism and embrace living a "B+" life.

How much do you love that concept???

We had a great time chatting about a variety of topics such as raising kids with sock issues, writing, my AMAZING readers, grief, and tons of inside scoop on Rare Bird! She was such a gracious host. I was a bit nervous and interrupt-y at first, not sure how this whole podcast thing worked, but Sarah made me feel so comfortable that we soon got our groove and didn't want it to end.

I hope you'll have a chance to check it out here!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Update-- The Long Version!

I have had so much to tell you about the book, Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love, but I think I've been hesitant to go into the details, because to say it OUT LOUD will make it true, as in the train has left the station and there is no turning back. This is both exciting and nerve wracking. But here goes:

The book is finished! 

Thank you for your patience as I've muddled my way through as a first-time author. Thank you for showing up again and again, and for encouraging me that not only was I up for the challenge, but that you would read whatever I wrote.

Publishing can be a slow process, so I hope I haven't worn you out over the past year and 1/2. Here's an inside glimpse at how it all went down:

Aug 2012: Contacted via email by an agent in New York to chat about possibly writing a book. I know, REALLY. We meet up during the annual mega-blogging convention BlogHer. At 11 months in, this is at the very lowest point in my grief journey. I feel fragile and incompetent, but when I meet with her I begin to think that writing a book could be a good thing, if for nothing else than to give me a reason to write, write, write and feel, feel, feel. It was a low-key, exploratory conversation that led me to seriously consider writing a book.

Oct 2012: Commit to writing a memoir, with Convergent Books as the publisher. Convergent is an imprint of Random House, and the decision that we'd be a good fit came after several heartfelt phone conversations. They have been sensitive and supportive since Day 1! Seriously, I felt cared about and nurtured through the whole process. We both acknowledged that writing a book so soon after a tragedy could present special challenges. We knew I wouldn't have the wisdom and the distance that might come 5, 10, or maybe 15 years out, but we saw value in this as well. Since my grief was still very much unfolding as I wrote, I was able to capture a real, raw picture of what early grief is like. I am so grateful they took a chance on me.

Jan 2012-Oct 2013: After 3 months of hemming and hawing, procrastinating, Googling "How to write a book" and coming up empty, cursing the fact that I hadn't taken writing classes in college (how much have I used this French minor anyway?), I set up shop in the back corner of Panera on my days off of work. It looked like: Grab a cup or three of Earl Gray. Cruise Facebook. Write. Let things bubble up. Write some more. Cry. Try to discover what THIS book is about, hmmm...seems like it's grief and God and hope... pare down to just that. Dump everything else I wrote in a folder to look at months or years down the road. Turn in the manuscript. Wonder, is it finished, or am I just tired?

Oct 2013-Sept 2014: Wrangle, wrangle, struggle with choosing the right title for the book. Settle on my all-time favorite Rare Bird, which was Margaret's very first suggestion, in, umm, October 2012, and was the overwhelming victor in our little survey here at An Inch of Gray.  Laugh when the copy editor emails me after reading the manuscript, at that time temporarily titled Tenderness, "Um, has anyone considered titling this book Rare Bird?"

Wrangle, struggle over cover images. Fall in love with a gorgeous cover inspired by a Wonder-Filled Wednesday post about how all the stock photos in Michael's Craft Store looked just like my kids! Let the skillful editors work their magic. Ditch a couple of chapters that don't seem to fit in. Send out Advance Reader copies to people in the publishing world and to fellow bloggers who have expressed willingness to support the book through their blogs and social media. Come up with marketing and publicity strategies. Realize I should probably figure out how to use twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest... oh my!

It's interesting that one of the first things my agent, Rebecca, warned me about when we talked that day in NYC was that I'd have to be willing to still be immersed in the topic of the book years down the road, when it came time to promote it. I said, OF COURSE, because I couldn't see how a minute of my life could stray from thinking about losing Jack. Inconceivable. The truth is, a memoir is a snapshot of a particular time in a life, and by the time the book comes out in September, I won't be in the exact same place I was when I agreed to write it, when I turned in the completed manuscript, or even where I am today. It will be my pleasure to talk about it, because I feel that it represents something positive and hopefully helpful to have come out of something so awful, but not every minute of every day is consumed by grief now. Thank God.

That's interesting for me to consider. Maybe this is a little like how Angelina feels because I'm guessing she finished Maleficent a few years ago, and she and Brad have gone on to make like 18 more babies and 14 more films since then, but then she is interviewed by Vanity Fair about... the release of Maleficent. Yeah, I'm sure it's exactly like that, since my life is so very much like Brangelina's. Anyhoo....back to the book.

Where do blog readers fit in?

Well, first you MUST know this book would not have happened if it weren't for you, cheering me on and being brave enough to show up here day after day as I experienced the shock and pain of grief. Without your support, I could not have kept blogging, and therefore would never have been given the opportunity to write this book.  At my most fragile state, I was able to accept a new and frightening challenge because YOU convinced me through emails and comments that our story somehow, in some way, made a difference in your life and could do the same for others.  Thank you!

As we get closer to September, I'll let you know specific ways you can help launch the book, which will probably include: buying the book (for you and your 50 closest friends!) anywhere books are sold, telling people about the book, reading it in your wine, er, book clubs, posting a review on Amazon and Goodreads as quickly as possible, and any other ideas you/we drum up together! You'll probably be on Anna/Rare Bird overload for the month of September as we try to let as many people as possible know about the book, so thank you in advance for your patience.

A quick story:

When I first committed to writing the book, I took a look at the contract provided by the publisher, still wondering if I was strong enough to do it. The publication date listed on the contract, out of 365 possible days of the year, was March 18, Jack's birthday! I took that as a God wink and affirmation that this was a good decision.

Well, the book took longer than I thought, and the date was bumped to sometime in the fall. I recently found out the publishing date: September 9. That's just one day after the 3rd anniversary of Jack's accident. God wink? I don't know. Ugh. I hate September now. But I do know it will keep me busy at the most difficult time of the year for me, and I'll get share an awful lot about Jack!

And another:

When the boxes of Advance Reader Copies showed up on my doorstep, left by my adorable UPS man Danny, I didn't know what I was feeling. I used scissors to slowly slice through the tape of the top box, and there it was: an honest to God book with my name on the cover.

I'd heard of many authors breaking down in tears to see their work come to fruition like this. My eyes were dry. I stared into the box at the beautiful cover. I could smell that awesome new-book smell.  I picked one of the beautiful books up and put it back down quickly. Yes, I was proud. Yes, I was so grateful for the chance to write and publish a book, something far more talented and deserving writers may not have had the opportunity to do, but truthfully, I wanted  more.

I didn't want boxes of books. I wanted Jack.

Jack, who had been my sidekick for 12 years. Who understood me. Who made me a mom. I put the leash on Shadow and took her for a walk, so I could think. I knew that this book wouldn't have happened without Jack's accident. I knew I should be proud of what I'd been able to do, with God's help and your help, in my most wretched state. Deep down I knew that this book could provide something to help friends understand friends better, and for grievers to feel less alone. I knew it could give all of us a glimpse of a big, loving, mysterious God.

So, yes, I am excited about the book. And grateful. But I want Jack.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where I Lived Wednesday

The big yellow farmhouse stood on an acre, surrounded by tall oak trees. The neighboring colonials and split levels may have had garbage disposals and pink toilets, patios and barbeque pits— things our house lacked-- but we had a hundred plus years of history, three big broad porches covered by a red tin roof, and an enormous yard that made it the perfect place to play. We had dense woods in the back for building forts, and the best climbing trees in the neighborhood, inexplicably named by us, “The Titanic,” and “The Three-Double Tree.” The woods housed a small pet graveyard, where gerbils and fish and poor Squeaky the squirrel were laid to rest. There was a forsythia bush so large my sister and I could climb inside it and play undetected.

The oval gravel driveway in front of the house was for playing two square-- you just dragged your sneaker through the rocks to mark off the boundaries.  The driveway was also, to our mother’s annoyance, a favorite place to drop our bikes on the way into the house. Although raised a proper southern lady, Mom was apt to throw around “shit” and “damn” which made us giggle. Common uses were, “I almost ran over those damn bikes again,” or, “Why the shit is that cat always under my feet?” as she tried to cook in our hot, un-airconditioned kitchen, bulky glasses sliding down her nose, papers and plants and food and chaos erupting around her.

One of our big side yards had a crop of bamboo to hide in, as well as a low spot that would flood every few years during rainstorms, a perfect place for sloshing around in rubber boots on a rainy day or floating an umbrella upside down like a boat. The other was for football games and freeze tag and late summer nights throwing tennis balls in the air, daring the bats to swoop down and scare us. Beside the big holly bush was a patch of grass so smooth and silky, so different from any other spot in the yard, that I would nestle there for a long time, looking up at the sky, stroking the grass with my fingers. I tried to find pictures in the clouds, but never did.

This is where we played a game with the low hanging branch of a huge oak tree. Three or four kids would pull the branch down, as close to the ground as possible. On “three!” they all would let go except the one who would get a ride, bouncing high in the air and hanging on for dear life. It was a favorite game until my sister Liz lost her grip and fell, landing hard on the roots below. She was in traction for two weeks, during which time I showed my true colors by being jealous of all the attention and gifts she received, and Mom and Dad eventually outlawed the tree game.

Sometimes we left the house in the morning and came back in at dinner. We traveled in packs. The neighbors had various signals to get their children home. Mr. Rooney would whistle in a distinctive way, and Mrs. Shenk would stand on the metal stoop outside her kitchen door and ring a little silver triangle. Margaret, my mother, would just yell, “Kids! Dinnertime!” and we were usually close enough to hear. If not, someone else would eventually send us on our way.

It’s not like Mom wasn’t around, but she didn’t hover. When we got old enough to play on our own, she was usually in the kitchen or working on a home project to try to keep the old house from falling down around our ears. Sometimes she would nap on the couch, an open magazine face down on her sizeable chest. Her smile was quick, her heart was huge, and neighborhood kids loved her, forming relationships that lasted even after the three of us were out of the house. Kids hung out at our house, because our mother wasn’t too strict, she didn’t get upset when we made a mess, and she was easy to talk to.

I remember once when a bunch of us went to her for counsel over some neighborhood squabble. After the other kids had gone home, Mom said in frustration, “I’m glad everyone likes playing here; I just wish sometimes they’d want to go somewhere else!” I was surprised to hear her say that. I got a rare, early glimpse that living in community could be annoying or messy. When I became a mom, dealing with the complicated act of being involved in others’ lives, sometimes I too would be tempted to draw inward and just stick with family. But that’s not the way my mother rolled, and I wanted to be just like her, minus the coke bottle glasses, of course. I always thought she'd be there to welcome me home.
Our lives centered around that big old house, the elementary school across the street, and our church on the other side of town.

Life felt stable and safe.

That old house is still there.

We sold it 10 years after my mom died at age 46. I used to fantasize about raising my future children in that old house, walking them to elementary school and the pool down the street. I could picture it all so vividly. And when Jack and Margaret came along, I could put names, faces, and personalities to the fantasy.

Before our most recent move I contacted the owners, to see if they would be interested in selling, so that perhaps Margaret could go to my old high school, and fall asleep in my attic bedroom,  hearing the rain pound down on the slanted metal roof a few feet above her head. Maybe she would watch movies while soaking in the claw foot tub, the way I planned my Friday night bubble baths and Alberto V05 hot oil treatments around new episodes of Falcon Crest on a portable Black and White TV. 

The owners are staying put for the time being.

The house is now blue.

Life has been strange, unexpected, and anything but safe.

But there's still a place in the back of my mind where I can picture being there again. Not with my mom. Not with little Jack and Margaret, or with teenage Margaret, but perhaps with grandkids sitting next to me, swinging and swatting away flies, on the wide front porch.

I'm linking up with Ann Imig and others to share stories for #WhereILivedWednesday

Monday, June 2, 2014

Note to Self-ie

We talk a lot about selfies these days, and how having so much emphasis on how we look is detrimental, especially to young girls. I agree, but I must admit it's fun to turn on my phone and discover funny selfies Margaret has taken, which I DARE NOT post here. She's 12. I'm learning, learning, learning.

I was thinking back to my middle school and high school years-- you know in the days before a "tween" was a thing-- and even though we didn't have the means to take many pictures, we still managed to capture the ugh and angst of those years pretty well.

For us it began in the photo booth.

Not the cute, 5 in a row black and white photos so popular at weddings and bat mitzvahs these days. It was a Polaroid booth inside Woolworths at the mall. As in, "Have your mom drop you off and meet me at the photo booth!" You would squeeze in with one, maybe 2 of your best friends of the week, hold really still, and hope that your fluffy, center-parted hair would make it in to the picture, but the zit on your chin would not.

When we made it to high school, the Polaroid booth morphed into our own cameras, usually of the lousy Disc variety-- a short-lived experiment by Kodak that made everything look grainy, as if it were taken through cheesecloth or a window screen, long before Instagram would introduce a generation to cool filter effects.

The REALLY, REALLY good news: "sharing" our photos mean ordering doubles. At worst, one or two people would have access to a bad or embarrassing photo. A shoe box under the bed or a sticky "magnetic album" provided a level of privacy that is a foreign concept to us today. Worst case scenario was that you might wear a jaunty Liz Claiborne felt hat to school in 8th grade and it would make its way into the yearbook.  Not that I'd know anything about that.

Maybe you passed around your summer beach pics in the cafeteria once school started, showing off your baby oil tan. I'm still peeved that an ex boyfriend kept my little plastic keychain photo from Ocean City, the kind you'd look through to see the photo illuminated at the end, because now there is no proof that I ever looked decent in a bikini, even if it was for 45 fleeting seconds in 1987.

Even though my best friend Lisa and I couldn't snap with abandon like kids do these days, because we had to buy our film and pay for developing, we spent quite a few date-less Friday nights taking pictures of each other. We came up with themes and went around  my house looking for clothes that would complement what we consider to be out "artsy" tableaux.

Note the wild and rugged theme here:

I wonder if Lisa still has her banana clip. I have mine.

Or check out the romantic theme here. A teddy bear and pearls really set the stage for romance, don't you think? Gosh, I loved that haircut!

Not sure where I'm going with this trip down memory lane, but I thank The Good Lord that I was born when I was. I think girls have always wanted to pose for the camera and document good times with friends; I'm just glad I'm posting these as a 40-something who can look back on those exhilarating, hard, weird times with a smile rather than (too much of) a cringe.