Thursday, August 25, 2016

Emotional Attachments

Talia walked into my bedroom with tears running down her face.

"Is it normal to be so emotionally attached to a fictional character that you care about what happens to them?"

After having just finished an episode of Sherlock, she'd woken me up. I don't know why she felt the need to risk my wrath by waking me up. Maybe she was worried about herself. Maybe she just felt like coming to see me. Maybe she needed comfort; most people don't like crying alone. Or maybe, based on her question, she wanted validation that she was normal.

But I can't say that she is.

I can say that she inherited this particular abnormality from me. Her reaction to Sherlock is the same one I get when I read a particularly well-written and engrossing novel. The books that I'll pick up a second time, the ones that I bawl my eyes out over and want to know what happens to the characters. Talia's reaction is what I hope to cause in someone else each time I finish a story and what I think every writer should strive for each time they put words on the paper.

That's a huge goal to reach for, and one I'll be having trouble finding time to work on these next few months.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Means to an End

Every August, I print out my class lists, copy my class expectations, and throw paper into my binders. I post information online and clean out my bag. Make sure I have room keys and Scantron forms and pencils and dry erase markers. Every August, I find myself a teeny bit excited to be back in the classroom. Sometimes, that excitement carries me through the entire semester.

This year, the excitement lasted until yesterday morning at 10:07 a.m. Which, as many of you know, was the SECOND day of classes.

I can't pinpoint why that moment my house of cards came crashing down, but considering all of my courses (five total this semester) haven't even met for the first time yet, I'm worried. Yesterday afternoon, I actually caught myself counting down the days until December. (As an aside, do you want to know how many more "classes" I have to teach? I'll tell you. That number stands right now at 93. Yes, I have to dispense information 93 more times before the end of the year. Yikes.)

But since I tend to dwell on the positive (or at least I try to), I'm looking at this semester as a means to an end: I have 93 more chances to gather the most effective and amusing anecdotes for future Dear Student letters.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oh What a Life

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
~Roger Caras

I remember the sunny summer day in 2007 that the five of us--this was in the pre-Melina days--visited my folks in Michigan. We hadn't been in the house long when my dad said, "Do you know anyone who wants a dog?"

Anyone? Anyone? How about me? "Uh, yeah. I want a dog. What kind is it?"

"A Golden Retriever."

It didn't take but a few phone calls for us to schedule a visit to meet this Golden Retriever. His owners sought a home for him because he stayed alone for over 12 hours a day. "It's not fair to the dog," they said. "We'd love to find him a great place to stay. His name is Shadow."

We rolled up the driveway in our minivan, three excited kids strapped into their car seats. As we all got out of the car, I felt a fleeting moment of uncertainty: what I hoped to find and what I might find could very well be two different things. But within an instant, a large, reddish bolt of fur zoomed our way. His face held soft brown eyes and an enormous smile. His tailed wagged so much I thought it would fall off. The five of us fell in love that day, and a few weeks later, Tim drove back up to Michigan for the sole purpose of bringing Shadow home to Ohio.

Here we are nine years on, in the summer of 2016, and Shadow is on this side of old. According to Totally Goldens (and most other sites I could find) , the average life span of a Golden  Retriever is 10-12 years. Some lucky dogs live to see 14, but most do not. Last summer, just after his 11th birthday, we faced Shadow's possible demise with our hemangioma scare, but after a successful surgery, we were granted a (slight) reprieve. Since that time, I've known the end was in sight. However, I have tried not to concentrate on the fact that our friend would be leaving us within a few years.

But about a month ago, I noticed Shadow hadn't been eating well and then he suffered a bout of diarrhea. We took him in for a workup, which led to an ultrasound and aspiration of lumps in his liver, which led to an inconclusive diagnosis of those liver masses. These masses could belong to one of two groups. 1. sarcoma (cancer) or 2. adenoma (benign).

Here's the problem, though, with that information. In order to find out if the lumps are cancer or not, we need to have a biopsy done. At Shadow's age (he's now 12) and with the possibility of fluid in the masses, that procedure comes with some risks. Furthermore, if we confirm that the lumps are cancerous, the normal route would be to consider chemotherapy, which is costly and would only gain us about six months of time.

But, you might say, what if the biopsy shows that the masses are benign? There's a problem there as well: his liver simply houses too many masses to do anything. Surgery to take the buggers out isn't feasible because it would be like trying to work on a minefield. And unlike with the splenectomy of last year, Shadow cannot live without a liver.

So now, we wait. We make Shadow as comfortable as we can, and we coax him into eating with boiled eggs, sweet potatoes, chicken, and dog treats. He's still the lovable old guy he's always been. He runs to the door when we return from wherever we've gone. He salivates over salami and pizza and sliced turkey. He stares at the cats like they're crazy and he appreciates the cuddles and tickles he gets from everyone. He races to the gate to say good morning to the neighbor dog, Cody, and when people arrive (like the carpet guy the other day), he doesn't leave them alone until they scratch his chin or ears to his satisfaction. Until that normal behavior starts to wane, I'm holding onto him with a tight grip.

But I cannot imagine having to take him to the vet to say goodbye. If I stop to think about that scenario, which will come sooner now rather than later, I find myself overwhelmed with tears and sorrow. I will miss this dog horribly. On days that the four kids made me crazy, he was often my saving grace. He served as Aaron's playmate when Aaron was too young to go to school but too old for a nap and as Melina's guardian when she was a baby. Anyone who walks in the door, whether or not they like dogs, eventually turns to me and says, "You have a special dog there, you know."

Oh, how I know. I have never, in my life, encountered a dog like Shadow and I don't expect to find another canine friend like him. I can only hope that once he's passed on from this world, that he's as happy as he has made us.

So please excuse me if I remove myself from some of my social obligations in the next few months. Pardon me if you don't see me anywhere but at home, work, or the grocery store. Forgive me if I stumble with my words or tear up in the vicinity of your pet. I'll likely be thinking about this boy of ours and trying to spend as much time with him as I can before his sand is used up.

Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished. 
~Dean Koontz

Friday, August 19, 2016

Under the Big Top, II

I love the saying, "Not my circus, not my monkeys." It's supposedly translated from Polish and basically means--if you can't figure it out yourself--that whatever you're talking about isn't your problem and there's no need for you to be dragged under the muck that is the problem.

But sometimes, it is your circus and they are your monkeys, and let me tell you, my friends, when you realize that you're living that life, there's not much you can do but laugh.

And try to shovel out of the deep layers of excrement you have piled around you.

Wise words for a Friday, I know.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


At the beginning of the summer, I decided that one of my writing goals would involve my current WIP, After We've Fallen. Although I'd received feedback from my writing group back in April, I hadn't done anything with that feedback except think about it. Knowing my writing time would be very limited, I said to myself, "Revise the bad boy and be done with it by the end of summer." But in order to revise, I had to go see a priest.

If you keep up with this blog, you'll know that I didn't bother to see the priest until mid-July. (Okay, it wasn't that I didn't bother, it's that I was busy. You know how that goes). What had I done between the start of summer (May 23rd or so) and mid-July? I'd gone through each marked-up copy (I had six of them) and made the tiny corrections suggested by my writing group. All the little things had been marked off the list. After seeing the priest, I tackled the larger issues. Sure, I only had about a month to go before summer ended. That timing mattered not to me: sometimes I work well under deadlines.

Well, yesterday, my summer officially ended. The kids left the house, the last one at 8:30 a.m. And I'm happy to report that I read the last page of After We've Fallen, made the final revision, and sent a copy to my sisters at 9:42 a.m. The only thing better than that would be if I'd shipped the manuscript off to my agent.

Maybe next year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Year

Last night, I set the alarm for 5:00 a.m. I'm not sure why I bothered. With the first day of school for the kids being today, I knew I'd be up and ready. Not because I'm at the end of my tether and willing to sell my kids to the lowest bidder. No, it's more of a quiet nervousness that exists for at least three of my four kids.

The older two head off to high school and the boy starts middle school. Only the youngest is at the same school as last year. And since we already know (and love) her teacher, we don't expect too many surprises.

But I found myself asking so many questions this morning that shut-eye remained elusive. And I'm not even the one going to school.

I could bore you with those questions, but I won't. Deep down, I know that Zoe and Talia, while nervous, will find their way (literally and figuratively) through the high school. I know that Aaron won't forget his lunch every day nor will he go to one class instead of the one written on his schedule. And Melina? Shoot, I know for sure she'll ask to use the toilet in a British accent and make her teacher laugh.

It will be a good day. It will be a good week. It will be a good year.

I just need to keep telling myself that.