My Top Ten New Year's Resolutions and My Look Back at 2009

My 2009 had so many ups and downs I am dizzy just rethinking it. There were some incredibly joyous times that stand out. My son’s college graduation, my stepson’s wedding, finishing and having published Replacement Child–the book that I had always wanted to write. The financial meltdown was no fun for anyone.

But my most intense sadness came this summer when my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer and died quickly, in less than two weeks.  It was a shock to us all.  Her daughters and I watched in disbelief as her condition went swiftly from bad to worse. It was impossible to grasp that she had to be intubated shortly after being admitted to the hospital. And, then the final moments when something went wrong as they cleared her airway and she gasped for breath were unbearable. She died as I was in the midst of the last edit of Replacement Child, and choosing the cover art. Gratefully, I thought to bring those mock-ups to the hospital and my sister pointed immediately to the one that now graces the front cover of the book.

Since then, I have busied myself with a book tour and promotion and learning the ropes of the new world of a published author. The nuances of book marketing sometimes make me absolutely nauseous–knowing there is something always left undone, more to do, more to learn. I know that the tumult I created was mostly to help me deal with the hole in my heart. Sometimes I just wanted everyone to stop  breathing to mourn my big sister. And, at times it still enrages me how we all go on without her. I won’t make a resolution to be over this grief, I believe that is here with me for the long haul. But, there are things I do want to get on with.

That brings me to my Top Ten Resolutions for 2010:

1. Clean my damn office. I know I lost a terrific idea, and a Ring Ding, under the stack of papers on my desk.

2. Embrace the marketing of Replacement Child as a second job. (You think it’s easy? It’s not!)

3. Start a new writing project. That does not include “thinking” about starting a new project, or “researching new ideas” or “brainstorming with colleagues.” It only counts to put my butt in my desk chair and start writing again 4 hours a day.

4. Get comfortable with the fact that my 21-year-old son no longer lives in my home. You’d think I’d get that when he moved all his clothes, his bike and changed his mailing address–but I still kind of expect him home for dinner. He is not coming–he lives in another state! Get over it!

5. Diet and exercise are a given. Start over, be diligent, lift more weights, eat less bread. (Ok, maybe I have to cut out the M&M’s too.)

6. RE: #5, plan more active recreational activities and drag my husband along to keep him in shape too. Nothing strenuous–but some walking and bike riding in good weather couldn’t hurt.

7. Learn some new songs to play on my guitar, and keep playing the old ones. The new ones aren’t really as good.

8. Try writing songs again, even if they all sound the same.

9. Take more time with my good friends. We really don’t know how much time we have to be together.

10. Make sure my loved ones always know they are loved deeply by me and appreciated for just being themselves.

American Airlines Crash

It is always chilling for me to read about yet another plane crash, and even more so when it’s American Airlines–the same carrier that crashed into my family’s home.  Thankfully there were no fatalities from this crash in Kingston, Jamaica.  You can be sure though that those passengers will be changed by the event. They may think about the flight they almost took, or missed by a few minutes–or how they raced to catch this one. Some may have been convinced to take the trip by others, or talked out of another one.  Details are always telling–and sometimes chilling.

In Replacement Child, some of the people on the ground escaped the plane crash and death by a twist of fate, or a last minute decision. A teacher who kept his class late, a rehearsal cut short. And, then again, the fateful decision of my sister Donna to come home early from school that day. I think often of how small decisions have a ripple effect and it makes me hesitate to suggest a certain flight, a specific mode of transportation for my loved ones. What if I push them to the one that crashes and burns?  No, I let them make those decisions themselves and back away from that particular responsibility.

Every time I hear of another plane crash it reinforces one of the main tenets of my personal philosophy: Anything can happen. We are held here by a mere twist tie, at the mercy of the forces of nature and every decision of every other human on the planet. It isn’t an easy philosophy to carry–but it does make me grateful for each and every day.

Michael Brewer on the Road to Recovery

I was so glad to see that Michael Brewer is being released from the hospital in time for Christmas with his family. He is the 15-year-old who was burned over 60% of his body when a group of kids surrounded him, doused him with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire this past October.  Michael’s courage is obvious when you watch the video of him during rehab on the Today Show, and at CNN.com.

I remember my sister telling me about how she used to be lowered into a water tank for hydro therapy because she couldn’t tolerate rehab exercises any other way after some of her reconstructive surgeries.  Her surgeries went on for some 20 years after the plane crash and fire that critically burned her over 80% of her body.  Like Michael, they didn’t know if she would make it.  And, like Michael, she pulled through because of sheer determination.  I was so moved to see Michael attacking his exercises with such focus.  Hearing his mother talk about reserving her positive energy made me think of my mom too,  throughout all of my sister’s hospitalizations. Always looking to recovery and the positive result of each surgery.  These mothers share the knowledge that their children need their undivided positive cheerleading. Michael’s mother sees that she can’t waste her time or energy on negativity. Her son’s survival depends in part on her encouragement and support.

My heart goes to Michael Brewer and his family with prayers for his continued recovery, and a joyous holiday together.

Open Letter to Mary Karr – Another Replacement Child

I just finished Lit, Mary Karr’s new masterpiece of a memoir.  It was her first memoir, The Liars’ Club, that inspired me to begin writing my book Replacement Child, so I impatiently waited for Lit to appear in my bookstore.

Besides being side-swiped by Karr’s incredible poetics and hard-hitting truisms throughout her new book, I found that we were both replacement children. In her story, she tells of how her mother sought to replace the babies that were taken from her by their father, and she traces the seeds of her mother’s craziness to that loss. Her replacement status was surely a main ingredient in Karr’s particular struggle for her own identity throughout her life.

We had other similarities in our lives too.  When I saw pictures of Karr with her son Dev, and learned how having her child brought her to face the stark reality of her alcoholism, it struck a chord. Though she credits prayer with saving her, I see motherhood as her catalyst, as it was my own. Mary Karr’s prose and poetic phrasing never cease to mesmerize me. What a beautiful book.

Replacement Aunt?

Heading off to Florida today for a book signing event at the Palm Beach Bookstore tomorrow, Dec. 5th at 1:30.  My heart is conflicted in making this trip.  My nieces, my sister’s daughters, are there and I am truly happy to be seeing them both–as well as my sister’s grandsons.  They have planned a reception of friends to welcome my Florida book event–and that touches me very deeply. The last time I was in Florida this summer, though, I witnessed my sister’s last breath and said goodbye to my first best friend. When we were growing up and would have the inevitable fights and slamming of doors that all sisters have, my mother would break in with “when I’m gone, you’ll have each other–now make up!” She had promised that. We did have each other to lean on through our parents’ deaths, just five years ago.  But, I wasn’t prepared to have lost my sister so soon–and now to have lost them all.  Maybe we are never prepared for that. Packing for this trip, where I know the the weather will be warm and I won’t need my New England sweaters, I find myself reaching for a bundle of responsibility from my bottom dresser drawer and tucking it into the side pocket of my suitcase. I can’t wait to hug my nieces, to hug them for my sister, and to feel her with me through them.