Down the Rabbit Hole – a poem about finding hope

     Last night, was my last grief group. Apparently, sanctioned grief is only supposed to last for 18 months…at least that’s what the experts say. And the experts aren’t necessarily wrong… although the grief continues… it just changes course. Joining a grief group was one of the best things I did because it enabled me to meet people who were on a very similar journey, it allowed me to open up my heart to strangers who understood, it allowed me company as I navigated  uncharted territory. Every other week for 18 months, we would close each grief group with a poem. A random grief poem…some good, some not so good. And I, naturally, after twenty odd poems thought “I can do better”. So, I did. I wrote this poem… for the survivors. For the 8 people I spent the last 18 months with. For the random strangers who are now steadfast friends.


(a poem for Adina, Sarah, Kim, Sherrie, Doug, Jennifer, Pam & Sheryl)

Like an earthquake, Grief shakes you when you least expect it; throwing you off center and rattling the core of your very being.

Like a tsunami, grief washes over you; flooding your entire body and soaking you both inside and out.

Like a hurricane, Grief blows you so far off course so that you’re barely hanging on by the tips of your fingers.

Grief is the biggest disaster of all because FEMA can’t come in and clean it up.

Grief trumps earthquakes because you will feel its aftershocks your entire life. You don’t know when they’re coming and they are both paralytic and terrifying.

alice02aGrief drops more rainfall than tsunamis because once the floodgates have been opened, the tears refuse to stop falling.

And unlike global warming, they are triggered by something as simple as a smell, a word, a song.

Grief blows harder than a hurricane because you will never quite find your center again. There is now a piece of you which is missing and no matter how much you try to over compensate, you will always have a limp in your heart.

Once you go down the rabbit hole of grief, you have no idea how and when you will get out. It is a destination in which you can’t use a compass. It is a place you can’t lookup on Google Maps.

It is off the grid.

Yet, unlike Alice, you are not alone. Others are also falling, and together, you will learn to navigate the course.

You will discover the nooks and crannies.

You will become cartographers of the uncharted territory.

You will find the others. The others who feel your pain and cry your tears. The others whose hearts hurt. Because they know.

They’ve been shaken by that same cataclysmic earthquake.

They’ve been drenched by that same devastating tsunami.

They’ve been blown off kilter by that same destructive hurricane

And like you, they will survive.

                                                                       -Colette Freedman


(note. “Grief management” liked the poem so much, it’s now officially in their repertoire)

Food Porn – The Grilled Cheese Sandwich

grilled-cheese-closeupEveryone eats turkey on Thanksgiving, why? In my humble opinion, it’s a weird choice. Sure, it’s a native bird of North America and an incredibly “convenient” option…except for the turkey, but there are so many other options to choose from these days: roast beef, lamb, chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, grilled cheese sandwiches. Because Thanksgiving is a day we are to give thanks. It is a day we are to be grateful. And while we are generally grateful for family and friends, personally, I am grateful for bread and cheese – because they are perfect foods.

In our overly deconstructed food world, everyone and their daughter is on some sort of limited meal plan: Paleo, Gluten free, Dairy Free, Mayo Clinic, Mediterranean, Volumetrics, Anti-Inflammatory, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig…the list of both well known and obscure eating plans goes on and on. And on and on. And on and on. And they all have one thing in common. They hate bread and cheese.

Can a food plan be called racist? Exclusionary? Rude?

Because both carbs and dairy are the first two categories to be thrown under the bus and kicked to the curb. Poor things. I feel that it is my responsibility to stand up for them. Become the champion for the rights of carbs and dairy. Bread alone and cheese alone are fine, quasi interesting and mildly satisfying. But, combining them into a grilled sensation…there is nothing quite like it.

The key to the perfect grilled cheese sandwich is patience. Pick a bread, any bread…though sourdough has the ideal consistency. Butter it on both sides and let the first side grill for a minute in the frying pan (yes, the double butter grill is a secret ingredient we grilled cheese chefs use to make sure the bread is perfectly grilled through and through). Then flip the bread. If you like mustard, spreading a thin layer of dijon on the exposed bread will give the sandwich another layer of flavor and a punch of spice. Next, layer on the cheese… this is an extremely personal choice; however, if you can’t decide, use a few. I’m a big fan of hard cheddar and spicy jack. Next, put a second pot on top the first frying pan to seal in the heat and to let the cheese melt. In the meantime, grill some onions and have them ready to pepper on top of the melted cheese. Once the cheese has started to melt, put the two sides together and put the pan back on top. You are now cooking your grilled cheese sandwich from both the inside out and the outside in. This is the delicate part as the bottom piece of bread can burn fairly easily…so keep an eye on it. Then, take it out, plate it and eat it.

What is a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than with the food you grew up on, the food that comforted you and the food that is guaranteed to taste better than an overcooked dry turkey.

Live a little. It’s okay to break tradition.

I went to a doughnut wedding and…

Image 5 I went to a doughnut wedding.

I went to a doughnut wedding and I’m on a super intense, discipline driven boot camp program where I’m not supposed to eat carbs. Now, let’s get something straight…I love carbs. I love carbs so much that I could marry carbs. But I wouldn’t have a doughnut wedding, I would have a pizza wedding. In fact, I would get married to a pizza. An Anchovy and Garlic pizza and I would cheat on it a few times a week with lightly toasted onion bagels, cream cheese and lox. I’d be a huge food adulterer as I pretty much love anything with flour, sugar, cheese and, of course,  wine.

Wine would definitely be my mistress. Or Macaroni and Cheese. Or doughnuts.

Because I love doughnuts. For better or for worse. Til death do us part. I’m not even a hoity toity Krispy Kreme girl, I’ll take Entenmanns, Little Debbies, Hostess. I’ll even go into Albertson’s and buy a single doughnut for $1.39.

My last book, The Affair, started with the heroine eating an entire bag of doughnettes as she wrote Xmas Cards. That heroine was me. Is me. I have actually spent 45 minutes at Dunkin’ Doughnuts choosing the perfect bakers dozen to take home. I usually end up with three old fashioned, two chocolate glazed, two jelly, one sugar, one Boston Creme, one sprinkles and three crullers. Forget the fact that doughnuts have between 300 and 400 calories. I could EASILY polish off two or three at a time.

And don’t even get me started on doughnut holes…. doughnuts

So, I went to a doughnut wedding and I couldn’t eat the doughnuts. There were piles of them. Colorful piles of freshly fried dough, beckoning to me, whispering under their breath, “Eat me. C’mon. Just do it. You know you want to.” And I did. I did want to. But I also wanted to prove to myself that I could stick with this godforsaken program. And I didn’t want to disappoint the world’s best trainer as I have major “gotta be the best one on the team” issues from years of playing highly competitive high school and college sports.

And on this particular team, doughnuts are listed in the “NO” column. Trust me, the “NO” column is filled with fun things I’d like to marry. The “YES” column is not fun, is not sexy, is not who you want to spend the rest of your life with. But it is, admittedly, a whole lot healthier than the “NO” column.

So, instead of eating the doughnuts, I took pictures of them. My sick, masochistic way of vicariously enjoying others getting to eat the doughnuts. Sure, I was bitter. But when you’re eating 1,200 calories a day, exercising your butt off and not allowed to eat anchovy and garlic pizza, onion bagels cream cheese and lox, macaroni and cheese… and doughnuts, you’re allowed to be bitter.Image 6

After all, it’s calorie free.

I am losing my war with running

rocky-1024x812Apparently, every other Monday is running day at bootcamp. Had I known this, I might have played hooky today…in the way that I always “conveniently” managed to be in the nurse’s office when our physics teacher gave a pop quiz.

Here’s the problem with running. It doesn’t work unless you have three good things: A good running bra, a pair of good running shoes and a good playlist. My running bra is six years old, my running shoes are two years old and my playlist is non existent. I don’t know ‘what the kids listen to these days’ and I’m not quite sure I’d find Jay-Z inspiring. Although it’s fairly inspiring that I even know who Jay-Z is.

When I used to run….back in the days of the good sports bra, the good running shoes and the decent playlist, I listened to… wait for it as I am truly dating myself: Highway to the Danger Zone from Top Gun, I Need a Hero from Footloose, Eye of the Tiger from the Rocky III training montage and Hearts on Fire from the Rocky IV training montage.

Yes, I was a Rocky obsessed soundtrack slut.

My entire music collection was from 1980’s movies: Footloose, Flashdance, Fame, Top Gun, The Lost Boys, The Big Chill, Pretty in Pink, Dirty Dancing…and, of course, Rocky’s 3 & 4. I still want to be Maverick feeling the need for speed. I would love to be Rocky racing Apollo Creed on the beach or facing a dope injected Dolph Lundgren in the tundra; instead, I’m just a terribly out of shape ex-jock with a bad bra who can barely run a timed mile without puking.

My trainer, who may be the coolest chick on the planet since Jillian Michaels, said it’s all about a good playlist. So, even though my playlist dates back to 1983, I’m going to attempt to follow her advice. Look, I have no desire to be a runner, it is not in my wheelhouse; however, I do want to be strong and in shape and healthy…and if running happens to be one of those unbelievably annoying means to that end…I suppose I should give it a chance and not have such a terrible attitude about it and absolutely everything on this planet it represents. Hmmm….hard to keep my bitterness from seeping through on this one. Still, I’m downloading my four songs and I’ll see where that takes me.  I’m not planning to run a marathon (mainly because I don’t know how to train without eating my daily box of macaroni and cheese…and, APPARENTLY, that’s not on my prescribed eating allowance) My goal is simply to  get my mile down from its embarrassing double digits.

So, really, I just need 7:30 to 9:30 worth of music, depending on how seriously I take my need for speed. And my new super duper eighties playlist has twelve minutes of suitably dated music.

I wonder what Jay-Z listens to when he runs…

Running Sucks

out of shape runnerThere is no other way to say it. Running sucks. I seriously don’t understand the concept of a runner’s high or the euphoria of the ten mile run. When friends run, they go to other places in their mind, places of peace and joy.

I find joy in a bottle of wine and macaroni & cheese.

When most people run, they find rainbows and unicorns. I only find bitterness. The last time I ran, actually ran full out was a decade and a half ago. It was the AIDS marathon which I didn’t train for (pretty much lets you into the mindset of this non runner) I did it because I wanted a free trip to Hawaii. So, I raised the money and ran. I ran, run being the operative word, for the first 14 miles… until my body simply stopped and turned on me, confused why I was asking it to do something completely out of its comfort zone. I crawled the last 12.2 miles and never ran again.  Sure, I biked and swam and walked…fast. But never again did I properly run. Even the triathlons I’ve done were bike-swim-walks.

Which brings me to this week.Which brings me to today. Which brings me to this moment.

This moment of red faced, can’t catch my breath, exhaustion and disgust. After nearly a year and a half of grief, apathy, lethargy and food and alcohol overindulgence, I’ve had a check in with myself. A reevaluation of sorts. Work- check. Social life- check. Health…. well, um, you see, it’s like….. and after as many excuses as I could find on, I couldn’t find a viable reason why I was so unhealthy. So, I did the hardest thing one could do…I joined a bootcamp with a trainer. It means I’m now sharing the burden of my improbable journey to fitness with someone else. Disbursing some of the responsibility. Having a partner in this ridiculous quest for better health. Because, the fact is…I cannot go it alone. I simply don’t have the willpower which immediately caves in the second someone opens a 1997 brunello or I smell grilled onions on a grilled cheese sandwich.

So, the girl who devotedly watches The Biggest Loser with either a entire box of macaroni and cheese and a six pack, or an entire anchovy pizza and a bottle of wine, is reforming. Is trying to reform. Is making the attempt at reformation.

The bootcamp is four days a week, and I’m not entirely sure I would have signed up if I knew running was involved. My best friend, a marathoner, chided me. “Of course, running is involved. It’s the ultimate form of exercise. It’s the fastest way to burn calories, the most efficient way to get in your cardio, blah, blah, blah.” And it did sound like blah blah blah, because the minute someone mentions running, I tune out and they suddenly turn into the Charlie Brown teacher.  Which is ironic because I CANNOT TUNE OUT when I run. The trainer said, “go to a happy place”. However, when I run, I go to every unhappy place I’ve ever been. My mind is not a pretty place when I’m running, or trying to run, or faking running by walking quickly and moving my hands back and forth so it looks like I’m running. There are no happy places in my mind when I run. Experts say the things you hate are often the best things for you: kale, cardio, running. Who knows, maybe….as I track my progress, I’ll agree with the experts and grow to love to run….perhaps I’ll even make an entire mile without walking and/or throwing up.

All I know, as I embark on my physical and emotional journey to better health…running sucks.

Searching for Doris Schwartz

Today I met my childhood doppelgänger.  Granted, it was three decades after the fact, but it was well worth the wait. Growing up a chubby Jewish kid with frizzy hair who wanted nothing more than to sing and dance and act…there was no better role model for me than Doris Schwartz; the heart of TV’s 1982-1987 series FAME.

Like Doris, I wanted to live for ever. I wanted to learn how to fly. High. I felt it coming together. People would see me and cry…FAME.

Except…they never did.

Mostly because the only thing Doris and I really had in common was our passion and our frizzy hair. I couldn’t sing or dance. I didn’t go to the High School of Performing Arts, I went to Beth Tfiloh Day School. I certainly didn’t have an awkwardly cool clique like Montgomery, Bruno, Leroy, and Coco.  My best friend wasn’t Danny Amatullo, a comedian who dallied with uppers and had  father issues. My best friend was Becky Eisenberg, a beautiful, gifted brain who loved to read and could sail.

So Doris and I went our separate ways. I played lacrosse and field hockey and got two fairly useless academic degrees while Valerie Landsburg went on to have a successful career, becoming a quadruple threat. While she was Acting, Writing, Directing and Producing… I was busy spending a LOT of money at CVS and Walgreens trying to find the perfect product to tame my frizzy JewFro.

But her spunk and talent never left me. She helped me through those incredibly awkward years along with Judy Blume and a lot of Macaroni and Cheese. When I became a writer, I channeled Doris. A lot of my funny flawed female characters are based on a healthy combination of me and Doris.

There has always been a built in aspirational level on shows set in manufactured high schools. 90210, Degrassi, Buffy, Freaks and Geeks, Pretty Little Liars, Glee, Gossip Girl, My So Called Life,  Saved by the Bell, Veronica Mars... and I’ve seen them all. And other than the fact that clearly I watch too much television, is the realization that most of teenage angst is manufactured. It is put on. It is fake. Claire Danes’s  Angela Chase is one of the two exceptions to that rule. The second is Valerie Landsburg’s Doris Schwartz. Because, to me, she was real. Landsburg’s commitment and vulnerability made Doris Schwartz a fully fleshed out character. She felt what I felt. She looked like I looked. I felt her pain and pathos and hunger and drive. I got her jokes and appreciated her chutzpah. She was both flawed and likable.

Yesterday, after a long hike in Topanga Canyon, I stopped for lunch at a local eatery. And which singer-songwriter-musician was entertaining the laid back crowd….none other than Valerie Landsburg. Her voice was just as strong and she played a melange of instruments, proving the fact that one only gets more talented as she gets older. Doris Schwartz certainly has.

And don’t even get me started on the genius of Carol Mayo Jenkins.

Another op’ning, another show…

Voted “Baltimore’s Best Bookstore” by Baltimore Magazine and Baltimore City Paper, the Ivy Bookshop epitomizes everything which is good about independent booksellers. Unlike Big Box stores, the Ivy Bookshop is run by husband and wife owners Ed and Ann Berlin, who are ever present in the store and incredibly knowledgable about their enormous stock of books.

I absolutely love doing book signings in indie stores and the Ivy Bookshop did not disappoint. A Baltimore native, I was thrilled that not only members of the community came out to support the well publicized event…but also old friends, coaches, teachers, relatives and family friends.   It was slightly surreal to read aloud from The Affair and The Consequences as both my high school and college lacrosse coaches were there as well as my journalism teacher, Hebrew School teacher and my fourth grade best friend. 

I love books. Ever since I learned how to read and was able to pick out a dozen books at the library each week, books have been my treasures, offering me a wealth of adventure, companions and ideas. As soon as I read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I wanted to sleep at the Met. When I read The Secret World of Og, I was determined that there were cities of people who lived underneath the ground. And after devouring the Narnia series…well, let’s just say I spent a lot of time looking for portals in closets. I love books and I love independent booksellers who take the time to talk to their customers and engage in literary conversations with them, determining exactly which adventure is right for them.

The Ivy Bookshop is one of those wonderful and, dare I say, magical  places.  Next time you are in Baltimore Maryland….enter it,  and the adventure will soon begin. 6080 Falls Road Baltimore, MD 21209

Wax On, Wax Off

Remember the Karate Kid? Not the tricked out Jaden Smith one, but the 1984 Ralph Macchio classic? At one of the film’s pivotal moments, Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-san zen basics by instructing him to “wax on, wax off”. Recently, I’ve been trying to embrace the simplicity of life by culling it down to the basics. And one of my worst basic skills is washing dishes. Actually, let’s make that my absolutely worst skill. I am simply not good at it. So much so, that I have been asked at dinner parties NOT to help wash dishes. So…dishes tend to stack up in my house. And I grumble and moan and eventually, bitterly wash them. It is never a pleasant experience.

So, I thought, why not introduce zen to the art of washing dishes? I rolled up my sleeves, plastered a smile on my face and rather than starting the ordeal with a moan and a whinge, I turned on Pandora and took a deep breath.

First, the Indigo Girls Galileo came on. I grabbed my smiling face sponge Scrub Daddy I bought after watching an episode of Shark Tank and got to work.

It took me the entire song to wash and dry one wine glass, giving it a restaurant quality shine. I was still a bit bitter, and still grumbling a bit. The Zen hadn’t flooded my body and my hands felt raw and chapped.

A few dishes later and a few songs later, time somehow slipped away and I felt myself simultaneously washing and bawling to the Beatles Here Comes the Sun.

Even though I had heard the song innumerable times in my life, the lyrics suddenly resonated. Perhaps it was the combination of washing and drying, but the words imprinted.

“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here. Here comes the sun, here comes the sun And I say it’s all right.”

The lyrics and the melody were so…simple. I was suddenly transformed. I felt… zen. I was totally in the moment. Maybe it only lasted for the three minutes of the song, but I felt it.

For the first time in my life, I felt it.

And, when all was said and done…I had an empty sink.

Moral of the story, if you are searching for Zen…. forget the Gregorian chants and Ravi Shankar on the sitar….just look for Paul, George, John and Ringo.

Pre pub day jitters

I just cleaned my house.

And I am not a good cleaner. In fact, I’m a terrible cleaner. But, I’m a bundle of nerves and excitement and cleaning calms me down.

I remember watching Monica’s neuroses on Friends when she’d clean to calm herself down. And while I thought it was a terrific character trait, it was never applicable to me.

Until now.

With The Consequences coming out tomorrow, I feel a nervous excitement like I am on stage just as the curtain is about to go up.  I feel like I am on the lacrosse field waiting for the first blow of the ref’s whistle. I feel like….. I am waiting at home for The Consequences to be published.  This is my fourth book, eighth if you count several of my pieces which have been published solely as ebooks, and the excitement has never once waned.

Call me a hopeless romantic…imagining that when the clock strikes 12:01 tomorrow, lines will form outside Barnes and Noble stores and/or people will be eagerly sitting at their computers buying the book on Amazon and Books a Million. I think it’s the element of the unknown. Maybe people will buy the book, maybe they won’t. One can only hope.

When I went to Italy last year to see the play version of The Affair and The Consequences, I nearly threw up in my seat as the curtain rose. Would the audience respond to this story of infidelity? In Italian no less. But once Robert, Stephanie and Kathy gave their opening monologues, I relaxed into my seat. They were taking the audience on a journey and I stopped being the neurotic writer and allowed myself to let go and simply be an appreciative audience member.

Tomorrow, when The Consequences comes out, I will try to let go and be an excited member of the public who will go buy the book. Or maybe I’ll clean some more.

Sometimes, the fun is in the not knowing.


The Consequences of friends and the celebration of friends of consequence

I just read an article in one of those magazines, which suckers like me are always buying in the supermarket checkout line. You know the ones…where happy, peppy models pretending to be ‘real people’ promise that it is possible to lose 20 pounds in two weeks. I invariably buy the magazine and without exception read about the diet as I am enjoying a big bowl of macaroni and cheese and washing it down with a nice Cabernet.

In the most recent rag–featuring a toothy woman named Kelly who is eating Chinese food and promising to lower my obesity risk by 300%,  I discovered an interesting tidbit on page 14: “Having a few loving friends you can lean on when times are tough reduces the risk of breast cancer as much as 25%.”

As Suzanne Collins’ President Snow would say, “May the odds be ever in your favor.

I have recently come against tough times and I have been incredibly lucky to have friends of consequence when my life was irrevocably changed by a death this year. The Consequences of this were that the bedrock of my foundation was deeply cracked. Yet, I still managed to write. Suffocating in grief, I still wrote because that’s what writers do. Mechanics still fix cars, teachers still teach, politicians still lie….we go on. And so The Affair  became The Consequences. And while this pub day will be missing an extremely important supporter, other supporters have filled in the hole. New friends of consequence have stepped up and old friends have stepped up more. Therefore, rather than winge and whine and have a lot of wine, I celebrate my release.

Because I’m celebrating my friends.

Each one of my friends in the book’s acknowledgements helped get me through my pain and, for that, I am extremely grateful. Others, who were not mentioned, were invaluable as well. I know writing is a solitary life. It is a lonely life and an introspective one. However, I could not be a writer without my community of friends: my unbelievable support system who either pick me up when I fall or sit down on the ground with me, patiently waiting for me to get up.

The definition of Consequences is twofold: Something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions and Importance or value. Both definitions have had major significance between last year’s publication of The Affair and this Tuesday’s publication of The Consequences.

The Consequences of death is grief. The Consequences of an Affair is a great deal of tsuris and pain. The two are not terribly dissimilar. However, the Consequences of having a strong support system of friends… is priceless.