Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!


This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,


We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

Happy birthday to me!

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Today I turn 57. In the last year, I had truly extraordinary times, so many joyous times, easy happiness for months on end, one deeply painful issue that still hurts and in fact hurts more than I think I can bear sometimes, and one dark period and one deep dark black period. This is long, but I have so very much to be grateful for, and you’re in here, I promise you. I learned a lot about myself this year; what a treat, that you can keep surprising yourself for so long. I kept my promise to myself this whole year in terms of eating well and mindfully, and doing near-daily yoga and meditating and walking. I celebrated our precious and happy Oliver turning 1, and the news of my darling Marnie’s pregnancy with a boy, arriving at the end of February. Two grandsons, what gifts, as I watch my family, the little family I tried so hard to make, grow into the future.

Since my last birthday I traveled a lot. I went to NYC every month, except the two months Marc came here. I went to Chicago on Mother’s Day to see Marnie and loved sitting in her booth at Zine Fest and seeing people respond to her beautiful work. Right after my birthday last year we went to Laos and Cambodia; in March I went to Colombia; in July I went to Norway and saw the midnight sun; in 13 days I return to Vietnam for the fifth time. Seeing the world, a treasure I never thought would happen to me, but it has for the last 10 years.

This year I celebrated the birthdays of my dearest daughters Katie and Marnie, and their families, and my friends. With my book club boon companions, we read books, we ate good food, we laughed so much, we went to happy hours together, we saved each other in one way or another, and our friendships deepened even more. With friends near and far, I enjoyed love and friendship and laughs and commiseration. With Traci I had two lunches each month in NYC and hours of sharing ourselves with each other, such a treasure. Dinners with Craig in New York, though not nearly enough of those, always rich in laughter and feeling seen and known. I even got to see Sherlock this year, but not my darling Peggy. Dear friends in Austin, in other states, in Europe and Canada, and even on the other side of the world, down under — all very real to me, very important, dear friends. Although I already knew this, I learned even more about how critical friends are to a full and happy life, and sometimes to life itself. My friends saved me last month in a very real way. So many walked right into that deep, dark hole and held my hands gently and brought me back into the light, friends in Austin and New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania and France and Australia, just staggering. Friends, riches beyond compare. Daughters, wealth beyond compare.

a friend interlude -- my book club women, so much love
a friend interlude — book club women, so much love. missing Dee.

kandoI have a chosen family that carries me gently and with so much love, and I feel the same. Sherlock and Craig, my brothers. Peggy and Dixie, my sisters. Don, my Jewish father. Nancy, my….no idea, just my dearly loved family. I feel like there is so much more to say there, but I don’t know the words. I’ve done without a mother for 57 years, so I guess it’ll go that way, but I have a big enough family to hold and enfold me. And then of course my birthed family, Katie and Marnie, who I simply could not do without. Their husbands, always so good to me and to my daughters. I’m so grateful for my sweet family.

Since my last birthday I read so many books, mostly for work, but some for pleasure: Did You Ever Have a Family; A Little Life; Do No Harm; four of the Karl Ove Knausgaard volumes titled  My Struggle; On the Move, Oliver Sacks’ memoir; A House in the Sky; The End of Your Life Book Club; The Empathy Exams; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; The Unspeakable; Kafka on the Shore; She Weeps Each Time You’re Born; Norwegian Wood; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Station Eleven; Dept. of Speculation; The Laughing Monsters; West of Sunset; The Children Act; The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing; Loitering; The Bone Clocks; Everything I Never Told Youand Cutting for Stone. Of these, my very favorites were the four giant Knausgaards, A Little Life, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, Station Eleven, Loiteringand Dept. of Speculation. And then there were so many I reread for the remembered pleasure, including the one I’m rereading for the 5th(?) time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That always feels like an autumn book to me for some strange reason. So many I reread, I can’t even remember. The gift of literature, my oldest and most consistent love, I guess.

Every month but one, I think, poetry group met in my house and we shared truly wonderful evenings together, nearly all of the poetry beautiful and expansive and moving. Those friends taught me so much about poetry, and I’m so grateful for their generosity. I learned some new poets to follow, like Frank Bidart, and two of my friendships in that group deepened a lot. I found new music thanks to my very dear friend Val, who sent me an album of Imagine Dragons because she thought I would enjoy it, and at just the perfect time, and added a lot of Iris Dement to my library, thanks to my beautiful Traci. Around Austin and New York, and around the world, I ate a lot of fabulous food and will be drinking a whole lot of amazing tea (thank you Sherlock and Peggy). And I cooked a lot of fabulous food too, including this buttermilk biscuit jag I’ve been on and can’t seem to stop—especially since I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and received some of Karyn’s delicious honey from her bees. Books, poetry, music, food, so many riches.

And the ordinaries, the moments throughout the days and weeks that give me peace and ease, or simple happiness, or even joy and bliss, which I am grateful to experience on a regular basis. My morning coffee routine, a deep pleasure never taken for granted. Weekly coffee breaks with Nancy, communion in the deepest, real meaning of that word. The real pleasure of my sweet little home, and the way I get to welcome people into it. Drawing, which I learned how to do this year, a regular joy and wonder. Nightly walks and stories in my ear, meditative pleasures. Sitting on my patio in the cool moments of a day, feeling the soft air on my face and the quiet joy of having my own space. My so-cozy bed, my refuge at the end of each day, crisp white sheets and a soft comforter.

Of course Facebook makes it easy for people — far-flung people — to wish you a happy birthday, but it’s always so surprising to get the emails, cards, gifts, and notes from people who remember. Like Kty in Paris, who remembered — how? how did she remember this? — that I love yellow flowers. People who remind me about Big Daddy or Mister Rogers just when I need to remember them — how do you do that? Little interpersonal touches that show me that somehow I live in the hearts of people in so many places. It doesn’t feel like there is a big enough gratitude for touches like these.

OandP090215No one ever knows what the coming year will bring, me least of all. I’ve noticed that the things I worry about most tend not to happen, and I never once imagined the dreadfulest things that happened. I guess, if it’s not too greedy, I’d like another year like this past year: daughters and their sons and husbands, friends far and wide, books, art, poetry, good food, travel, continued good health for me and Marc and everyone I know please. Gee, that looks like a whole lot to ask for. I expect and hope to travel to Chicago in February for the birth of Marnie’s and Tom’s son, and I expect I won’t get nearly my fill of my kids and grandsons, even little Oliver who lives up the road a ways.

I’m damn glad to be here and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for being here with me, and for celebrating my birthday with me if you do. Thank you for living this life with me, for the ways you keep me going, the ways you share yourself with me, and the ways you encourage me with so much love. Thank you for the times you let me love you. I’m so grateful for this past year, which was an absolutely wonderful year in almost every way. Even the dark times mattered, even though I did not like the suffering. So happy birthday to me, and many more! On to 58!

p.s. I’ll bet you knew that I cried while writing every single word. xoxoxox

on being known

As you’d rightly guess after reading this blog for a little while, being known is of value to me. I don’t want to hide myself, to keep who I am a big secret. I do have secrets, of course, and there are aspects of me that aren’t exactly secret but that are saved for only some people in my life. Still, I enjoy seeing that my people know me.

I get this one A LOT.
I get this one A LOT.

It shows up in my Facebook feed, in a silly way; the number of posts about grammar, Peeps, and Brian Williams/Alan Cumming that people put on my wall is quite amazing, and they always make me smile. I think I am most known for my undying love of the Peep. 🙂

One thing my birthday fortnight showed me is that my friends know me very well. The gifts they gave me were spectacular, and while I will thrill to wear each item, use each item, read each book, etc., it was the way they showed how closely my friends have paid attention that was the biggest blessing. “That [gift] reminded me of something you’d wear.” “I saw it and thought of you.” “I noticed you wear [x] and thought you’d like it.” I felt showered in love and affection from everyone who celebrated with me, and the specifics of it all made it feel specific to me, and that was pretty damned wonderful.

My birthday fortnight started with a card from Dixie that just delighted me to no end, and ended with a bigger-than-imagined celebration with Cindy — sushi and a bad dessert followed by a restaurant change and champagne and key lime pie. In between were all the joyful celebrations, big and small, and time with my daughters and their families and all that love, and the joy of celebrating getting to be here for all these years. In between were thoughtful gifts, big and small, each one to be cherished as a reminder of the giver. (Except for the incredibly luscious dark chocolate peanut butter cups which will be cherished until they are gone and but a memory.) In between was a polka and a waltz with my beautiful Marnie smiling at me and poor Tom, flu-sick in the wings; in between was a rainy-day sushi happy hour with Katie and Trey, and Oliver sleeping like a baby while we ate.

The funny thing about my friends and family is that with each one, there is at least one very deep way we are alike, some place we touch each other and know each other. I’m not a party person, although I can be very very happy at a party with my friends — people I know and feel comfortable with. I most value the time I get one-on-one with them, where we share ourselves and try to know each other. I love getting to know you, and I thank you for wanting to know me.


p.s. I have finished reading a couple of books, I’ll write about them shortly in case you are interested in them! xo

vibrate those wires please

not the best shot but I'm hurrying and would rather pick a goofy one of me than one that might not be someone else's best shot. My amazing, amazing friends who are also in our book club.
not the best shot but I’m hurrying and would rather pick a goofy one of me than one that might not be someone else’s best shot. My amazing, amazing friends who are also in our book club.

First: THANK YOU for what you did to help make my birthday the most special and happy one I’ve ever had. Calls, messages, emails, Facebook greetings and wishes, dinners, breakfasts, drinks, lunches, wonderful gifts and cards and smiles and hugs—the fortnight (which ends on the 11th! still celebrating!) has been absolutely magnificent so far. There will be happy birthday wishes tonight, and at least one celebration with a friend on the closing day of the fortnight (I giggle), and truly, this was the best birthday of my life. I wish the same for you on your next birthday.

that toddlin town
that toddlin town

Today I am off to Chicago for a lovely — even if way too short — visit with Marnie and Tom. I’ll go to the closing reception of a show that includes some of Marnie’s pieces AND is the release party for her latest book, we’ll eat a lot of amazing Chicago food, and we are going to a Barn Dance Apocalypse, more on that later! I’m not taking my computer so I won’t be posting again until I get home late Monday.

But before I leave I have a request. My wonderful friend Nancy has taught me a way to pray that works for me. She taught me to pray for divine harmony. I can do that! Of the many reasons I love it, one is that it helps me not act like the boss of the universe, for the truth is that I don’t know what’s best for anyone, including me necessarily! And sometimes the best has to travel a bit of a rocky road to get there, so the rocks are required.

I have a number of loved ones who are in the midst of hard and/or scary and/or painful things, so if you’d just add “Lori’s people” to your own list and keep the wires vibrating with me, I’d really appreciate it. I name them specifically in my own prayers so they’ll be covered by your shortcut. However you do it, whatever you reach out for — light, good things, divine harmony, intervention — makes no difference to me. Just add my people to your list please, and thank you.

And now, to the airport! I think it’s time to consider “the airport” my third home, don’t you?

beginning my 57th orbit

weird! I've had this exact hairstyle (and color) for a whole year. But not for long -- whole new deal at 10am today!
weird! I’ve had this exact hairstyle (and color) for a whole year. But not for long; whole new deal at 10am today!

A very happy 56th birthday today for me, because I am here to celebrate it! Hallelujah, I was born and lived and have had the most amazing life so far. Just amazing. I am grateful for my life, every little bit of it, the beautiful and horrible and sublime and ugly and ordinary. I’ve loved so many people and have cherished the love from people in my life. My heart has been broken — so glad my heart is open enough to break (and strong enough to heal). I’ve made a couple of tremendous mistakes that hurt people I loved, and I regret them, but otherwise I have no regrets. I’ve noticed sunrises and sunsets and clouds. I’ve laughed myself into tears as I drove into the desert. I’ve dearly loved books and poetry. I got to wake up. I earned my doctorate. I’ve surely been luckier than most in the friends department, especially since I am so shy. I’ve launched three people into this world who are making it a better place, and now there is another member of my family in this world. I started as Pete and I will end as Pete some day (in the far distant future, I hope!).

I’ve seen so much of this beautiful world and it often made me cry with happiness.

  • With an overfull heart, I stood in front of and inside Notre Dame, in Paris (twice!). I drove through brilliant yellow fields to see the cathedral at Chartres. I took the train through the Chunnel, and another train to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • I drank beer with friends in a pub called ‘Jude the Obscure’ in Oxford, England.
  • I slept on a boat in the middle of Halong Bay, in northern Vietnam, amid the karst pillars. They were eerily beautiful at dusk and dawn. I did Tai Chi at dawn on that little boat, and it was surreal.
  • I sat in a little boat in the middle of the Ganges in Varanasi, in India, and watched the nighttime ceremony to put the Ganges to sleep, I watched cremations, and then I watched the morning puja.
  • Standing atop Macchu Picchu, I saw a sudden and enormous flock of green parrots appear and fly right in front of me, and a heart-shaped hole open up in the clouds behind them. I panted in the thin air of Colca Canyon and watched condors glide on the air currents, and I rode a boat across Lake Titicaca.
  • I fell off a bicycle in Holland and was stared at by a stern Dutch man.
  • I ate an amazing waffle with chocolate and strawberries in the Grande Place in Brussels with Marnie in the midst of an otherwise very tense day.
  • I’ve snorkeled off the Yucatan so many times, and off Honduras a couple of times.
  • I saw gorgeous Ireland with Katie, my pretty green-eyed Irish girl. We seriously underestimated how long it would take us to drive from Derry to Belfast — on July 12.
  • In Dubrovnik, I learned how to see where the war destroyed the buildings by understanding the various colors of the tile roofs. I was happily delighted by Zagreb.
  • I spent three days in a boat gliding down the Mekong River in Vietnam and drifted among the floating market boats, guided by a man who fought as a soldier for the south — “on your side,” he told us. A tiny Hmong woman held my hand and led me over rocks in Sapa, in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border.
  • So many wonderful Lao people greeted me with sabaidee, and I learned that I love BeerLao. I fed monks in Luang Prabang, and ate enormous feasts in an alley lined with food vendors, $2 for a huge plate and a giant BeerLao. (And I will be going back in a couple of weeks!)
  • One stunningly beautiful day, under bright blue cloudless skies, I sat in a small boat going down some little river in northern Laos, among the mountains, with no idea exactly where I was. I could barely contain my laughter and tears and wonder. Me. There.
  • One Thanksgiving I stood in front of Angkor Wat waiting for the sun to come up.
  • I saw proboscis monkeys on Borneo, and a naughty macaque stole Marc’s drink.
  • In Malaysia, I ate very well in Kuching, and had the best tandoori chicken of my life in a parking lot in Melaka. All my other memories melted in the heat.
  • Standing in the great hall of the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, I cried because I never thought I’d see it. I stared up at the brilliant mosaics I’d studied in an Art History class in Alabama.
  • In Myanmar, I rode in a very quiet boat on very still water in Inle Lake among the stilted houses of Burmese people.
  • In Oaxaca I got food poisoning.
  • I bathed a pregnant elephant in a river in Sri Lanka, and chased a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean.
  • I drank some java on Java, and fought off monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, in Bali.
  • I watched the most beautiful sunsets on Santorini, learned I love Athens, and laughed with joy as I drove all over gorgeous, mountainous Crete.
Gosh how I love him.
Gosh how I love him.

I had the unbelievable privilege of bringing three beautiful people into this world, through me. I got to love and carry them before I met them, care for them, guide them as best I could, cry and fight and laugh with them, attend the weddings of my daughters, love their husbands, and now celebrate the next generation in our sweet boy Oliver. From them I learned what love really does mean.

This is my first birthday where I can say this and mean it unequivocally, from the bottom of my heart: I have never been happier. I like who I am (never been able to say that before). I look better than I ever have and am in the best shape I’ve ever been in. My 55th year of living seems to be the year I got it together in a deep way, and that’s OK with me. My beautiful life has been a creative act and I rarely took it for granted. I have felt like the luckiest person in the world. If you see me today, I will be tickled if you sing Happy Birthday. 🙂 And now I am 56, lucky lucky me. Not everyone gets to be 56. (And you should know that I cried while typing every single word, but you probably do already know that if you know me. Thank you for sharing my life with me.)

the last day of 55

I think most people reflect on their past year around New Year’s Eve/Day. As a person who is enormously birthday-focused, I prefer to do it now, right at the transition from one age to another — a meaningless moment, really, I’m the same on November 6 as November 5, but it’s a moment worth marking. As difficult as 2013 was for me, 2014 was that same degree of wonderful. There were troubles and fears and worries, of course, but WOW what a year of my life. Oliver’s birth. Travel to Sri Lanka and Greece. A deep transformation within myself. Monthly book club meetings, monthly poetry group in my house, and monthly trips to New York City. Here was my 55th year:

me at 55
me at 55

November — I flew to NYC on my birthday last year. We went upstate to the sweet little cabin we always rent. It was a lovely weekend. We marked a lot of sad anniversaries. We went to Sri Lanka, what a gorgeous place, and I bathed a pregnant mama elephant. We happily announced that Katie was pregnant with Oliver — the highlight of the month, sharing that news!

December — Lucky me, I drove to Dallas to spend the weekend with Karl and Dixie, and I need to do that again. Marnie and Tom came to Austin for Christmas, so my family was together (except for Will) for the first Christmas celebration since 2004.

January — Marc came to Austin for a few days. I had no work. Karyn and Mike invited me to their river house and it was glorious, eating and talking and kayaking. The lawsuit I thought was safely behind me wasn’t, as I got served 6 weeks after the deadline. I read The Orphan Master’s Son (thank you Lynn, for picking it for book club), now one of my very favorite books ever. Read it if you haven’t.

February — I had no work. I read The Goldfinch and enjoyed it a lot. I was depressed, and also worried about some loved ones. Marc and I had our first Skype date, on Valentine’s Day, and that was fun. I replaced the cruel inner voice that mocks me with Dixie’s sweet loving voice, a miracle that still holds. I was accepted into the Yale Writer’s Conference.

The dynamic duo of Oliver and Pete!
The dynamic duo of Oliver and Pete!

March — I had no work. I finished Oliver’s quilt, doing the actual quilting of it at Karyn’s house. Oliver was born! That was the highlight of being 55. Katie and Trey became parents of a much-wanted and deeply adored child, and I was reborn as Pete. We thought a little harder about Gracie than usual. Marnie’s birthday, always a huge joy for me.

April — Three loved ones had health scares that scared me too. It was a hard month, but one with moments of poignancy. Marc came to meet Oliver. I started getting work again.

May — Someone I thought was my friend turned on me in such a vicious way and I learned that she’d been saying terrible things about me all along. I still find it hard to believe. My friends surrounded me and our book club endured. Mother’s Day, extra special this year, Will’s birthday, sad and lonely without him. Marc’s birthday. Things started really coming together for me in this month, a kind of barely visible beginning of a process that unfolded the rest of the year. We went to Greece and I laughed my way across Crete.

June — WHAT a big month. Greece. Yale, and then the crushing heartbreak of my workshop, which was led by THE narcissist of narcissists. So bad that I left after the first day primarily because I didn’t think I’d be able to keep myself from saying something in the room that I would probably regret. Too long away from home. Finally home, I began my anti-flailing project (makes me laugh, that name) in earnest and assembled the elements that carried me forward from the changes that began the previous month. March brought Oliver’s birth, the highlight of my year, and June brought a kind of rebirth for me. Marnie introduced me to Anne Carson and I read The Autobiography of Red, which still haunts me.

July — Katie’s birthday, one of my favorite days of the year. In earnest, I focused on one thing at a time, and mindfulness came more easily. Daily yoga, shifting from too hard to a deep pleasure. Silence in my house as a nourishment. I saw the movie Boyhood and my heart broke more about my son, but then I got an insight that eased the pain a little bit. It’s such a beautiful movie, one of my favorites now. I became grateful for my body, such a shock to feel that way.

August — Meditation and mindfulness helped me release an idea I’d loved, but that kept me kind of fixed — the idea of story. I went swimming and was very happy all month. Robin Williams committed suicide, and I wrote a post that got more than 7,000 views. (shocking.) The lawsuit against me simply disappeared, as the other side just dropped it. I still can’t figure out any of it. And ditto for my husband.

September — A whole bunch of insights this month that moved me so far along. I finally got past my past. Finally. I had the bubbles insight that helps me stay in the present. We went to the Delaware Water Gap. I found the best rhythm for my day, morning and evening yoga, work, taking care of myself, making a luscious dinner, meditation (only 10 minutes!).

October — Just a quiet, peaceful, happy month. All the life changes settling into place, in their good groove. Time with people I love. A trip to the Catskills to see the leaves change. Halloween at Katie’s — Oliver’s first, in a cute little alligator costume (Olliegator, as Marnie adorably christened him).

November brings a lot of adventure — my birthday tomorrow, joyfully celebrated; a too-short 4-day visit to Marnie and Tom in Chicago; a return to New York City and then on to Laos, Cambodia, and a jaunt to Hanoi. Wow. What a great start to my next year.

My year was made most wonderful, of course, by the people in my life. There are so many of you near and far who are my online friends and you add so much to my life. Those in my in-person life, what would I do without you? My daughters, Katie and Marnie, the biggest blessings, I cannot imagine my good fortune. Their husbands, Trey and Tom, so grateful my daughters married so well and brought me two more sons to love. Oliver, too big in too many ways for words. Sweet Dixie, who lives so deep in my heart she is with me always. My Austin friends, Karyn and Faith and Debbie and Anne and Jennifer and Diane and Dee and Lynn, book club friends and boon companions; Nancy and Bob, hard to imagine my life without them next door (and coffee breaks with Nancy, never long enough); other Austin friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough, Cindy and Jeff and Kathy and Krissi. Sherlock and Peggy, too far away and I don’t get to see them nearly enough. Traci and Craig in New York, giving me such great joy and friendship wherever I am. Throughout this past year each one of you has touched my heart and in most cases, given me something so important you may not know….but I do.

I am grateful for my good health and strong body, for my sharp mind, for my family members, for my friends, for my beautiful home, for having work, for having enough money to take good care of myself and do what I can for others, for having found a way to keep my marriage going that works for us, for living long enough to find peace and happiness. It’s been a magnificent year. Thank you for living it with me. <3

birthday fortnight

My wonderful and beautiful friend Peggy is like me in that she’s crazy about her birthday. We have a great many things in common, and when I found out that she actually celebrates a birthday fortnight (in part because there aren’t enough opportunities to use the word fortnight) I knew I would love her forever. And so I am a birthday-fortnight-celebrator too. Later today we’ll be hopping in our car for a trip upstate (lower upstate) to the Catskills, to a place we’ve gone every single year at least once, often twice.

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via Flickr


The little cabin we’ll stay in is the exact one we always stay in, and we’ll eat at the exact same restaurant we always enjoy, and we’ll take the exact same walks we always take, and I will relish in the tradition of it all. Growing up with no traditions, no celebrations, has left me hungry for any little tradition I can get my hands on. Since my birthday is in early November, we always go here to enjoy the foliage, unless we’re on a vacation somewhere else; in fact, last year we had reservations to go the weekend after my birthday, but before that could arrive we decided to end our marriage.

Of the many, many, many things that broke my heart so badly when I thought my marriage was over, one of the smaller ones was the loss of these traditions. I figured I would just try to make some new ones, create a different kind of thing for myself, but the thing about a tradition is that it’s always there and it’s always the same. Tradition interruptus kind of loses its essential core. When we cancelled our trip last year, I mourned that I’d never again get to spend part of my birthday fortnight in our little cabin in the Catskills, and I regretted that the last time I’d gone there I simply had no clue it would be the last time.

But it wasn’t. Life is eternally strange, and only death permanently closes a door, I guess. Even when it seems like a door is truly and finally closed — no, for real, seriously — no, it really is, see it’s all bricked over — it might not be. Strange.

I’ll be taking my big photo gear, my big camera instead of just my phone, and will thoroughly enjoy photographing it all once again. Peak color has come and gone but there will surely be some resistant leaves still clinging to the branches. Temperatures are going to be very cold — highs in the low 40s and overnight dipping way way down to and below freezing, from what we can see. So much fun.

Happy Friday to y’all, I hope you are anticipating a wonderful weekend too! xo

I’m 55. 55 years old.

my last day as a 54-year-old.
my last day as a 54-year-old.

Today — my 55th birthday — I am again in the air, flying away. And so I will miss your Facebook birthday greetings until late in the evening, and I will miss your notes and emails but when I see them, they will make me feel loved. I’m ridiculously silly about my birthday; when I used to work in an office, if the UPS guy showed up on that day I’d suddenly demand that he sing happy birthday to me and he usually did, in shock. (Who does that?! Seriously.)

So many people who read this blog are new to it — my Austin friends, for example. For those of you who have been around for a few years, you may remember this and if so, I’m sorry for repeating. This is the post I wrote when I turned 53, modified and updated to fit. Happy birthday to me!

* * *

I’m mid-century modern. I know that most people think of architecture and furniture and decorations when they hear that phrase, like these:



I was born in the small north Texas town of Graham, on November 6, 1958 — mid-century….mid-last-century, which is pretty weird. That year Dwight Eisenhower was the President, hula hoops the rage, NASA was created, Sir Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole, and Elvis was inducted into the army. There was a crazy economic recession that year; the average price for a new house was $12,570; monthly rent was $92; average annual salary was $4,600, and gas cost 25 cents/gallon. Volare and Tequila were popular songs; popular movies were Vertigo, Gigi, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. On the tube, people watched Candid Camera, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Show, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (in black and white, of course).

I was the first-born child of an 18-year-old girl and a 19-year-old boy, both high school dropouts. One dear grandfather was an oilfield roughneck until he retired, at which point he was the janitor at the hospital; I’m not sure he made it to 8th grade. One grandmother was Comanche; she preferred to live alone in the woods.

Everyone’s lives are far too complex to summarize…..certainly in a silly little public blog post. But here, as I turn 55 years old, I can say these things with certainty:

  • My life has been much, much better than it had any right to be, given its start.
  • Becoming a mother redeemed and saved me.
  • For most of my adult life, I’ve felt like I was 27. I think I feel like I’m 28 now.
  • I’ve gone places I didn’t even know to dream about when I was growing up:
    • physical places like Hanoi (Vietnam) and Varanasi (India) and Arequipa (Peru) and Enkuisen (The Netherlands) and Istanbul (Turkey) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Bagan (Myanmar) and Raab (Croatia) and Luang Prabang (Laos) and  Yogyakarta (Java) and Ubud (Bali); the Ganges and the Mekong Rivers;
    • emotional places like so far gone in love with my children;
    • intellectual places, like getting a PhD (I thought grad school was just like 17th grade, and if you wanted to just stay on after you got a bachelor’s you just kind of kept hanging around);
    • life places, like working on Madison Ave for a big-ass publisher and living in Manhattan.
  • You probably do get to have everything, just not all at once, or when it would be most convenient for you.
  • The trick: get up at least one more time than you fall down.
  • Literature and poetry can save you.
  • Art too.
  • You’re stronger than you imagine.
  • Laughing helps.
  • Love is gold.
  • Hope isn’t about pink ponies and rainbows and sunny happy feelings; hope is that thing with feathers that perches in your soul, and you need it.

Since my last birthday, my life has changed so dramatically I hardly recognize it. On my last birthday, I was in such deep grief from our losing Gracie and from having to leave Katie I was reeling. We re-elected Obama on my birthday two days after I got home. And the next day, my marriage apparently ended, poof. I packed my clothes in my suitcases, left New York City, a place I loved so much, and flew to Austin, to start over from scorched earth. Since my last birthday, I learned how very strong my kids and I are. I learned that somehow I made an extraordinary family even though I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I learned that I am strong enough to clutch the bedsheets and bear being right in the middle of the pain without looking away. I found such beautiful, beautiful, beautiful friends in Austin, and kept my connections to equally beautiful friends in New York, so my life got so much bigger. I made my poetry group, a monthly source of deep pleasure. I created a beautiful little home that looks like me, and is comfortable. I took a solitary trip to the desert, to Marfa, to do what people have always gone to the desert to do — to reflect, study my heart, shift. My husband and I decided to see if we could find our way together somehow and we went to Java and Bali in the spring. I flew back and forth to New York City several times, to Chicago once to see Marnie and Tom. A client flew me to Beverly Hills for a week and put me up in a sweet little B&B. Sherlock and Peggy flew down to spend a long weekend with me. I got to see Neko Case performing for a taping of Austin City Limits. I learned that a terrible crazy person is suing me and so I hired my first-ever lawyer. I got to meet Nick Flynn and spend time with him. I read a lot of good books and poems, ate so many delicious meals, laughed for hours and hours and hours, cried for that many too.  I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that I can do this. I learned my very own life, my very own self, and I wouldn’t have done that without the bomb blast to my life. In a life with a lot of competition for this title, this past year definitely wins “The Most Dramatic Year of My Life” award.

The coming year will bring more of the same (but not the bomb blast please): flying back and forth to New York, a trip to the Catskills in a couple of days, a trip to Sri Lanka in a couple of weeks and a spring trip to Greece. Hours and hours of laughing with my children and my friends, my dearly loved people, all of you. At least one giant surprise. Shared meals, shared afternoons and lunches and walks. Shared quiet times, shared private conversations, shared group fun. Lots and lots of reading and writing, two of my favorite things to do. Time spent with myself in the deep pleasure of solitude. And this Christmas, Marnie and Tom come from Chicago, so all we’d need would be Will, and my sweet little family would all be together. The five of us will celebrate the holiday with great joy and wonderful food.

So happy birthday to me, to another fine though difficult year behind, and another one to come.  If you haven’t made it to the 50s yet, I heartily recommend it as an excellent decade of life.

how beautifully leaves grow old
how full of light and color
are their last days
~john burroughs

love xo

Marnie and stuff

Marnie and Tom last summer I think
Marnie and Tom last summer I think

Well, today is my daughter Marnie’s birthday — 28 years old, how did that happen. Her sweet husband Tom is making her day so special, up north in Chicago, as he always does and that gives me some comfort since I can’t be there to do it myself. It’s been a magnificent year for her, and I can’t wait to see what she makes happen in the year to come. Marnie calls me every week and those conversations are one of the best gifts of my whole life. She has been my ardent supporter, and I watch her closely to figure out how to be, when I finally grow up. Happy birthday, Marnie Elizabeth, my darling girl.

Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon with my dear friend Kelly, which was great on so many levels. It was a fabulous conversation with someone I’m crazy about, and all those levels of pleasure and inspiration aside, it was also just wonderful to finally connect with someone I already know. My social interactions have so far been with my precious daughter Katie and her kind husband Trey, or with total strangers (I’m getting to know them a little bit, but not personally yet). Since I’ve been kind of pulled inward getting myself together, I haven’t sought out my old Austin, my old connections. I haven’t been able to bear the whole “yeah, here’s what happened to me” conversation but I didn’t have to do that with Kelly.

lemmonAlso, yesterday I somehow watched three Jack Lemmon movies — Some Like it Hot, one of my family’s favorites, then The Apartment, one of my favorites, and then The Days of Wine and Roses, utterly wrenching in some ways, although it landed on me differently with this watching. I think if you grew up with a hard-core alcoholic it’s like watching a documentary, in a way. Yep, the destruction, check. Oh yeah, the lack of caring about anything but getting more booze, yep been there. Yes, boy did they nail the way an alcoholic looks and walks and talks and behaves. Since my husband has been in recovery since 1991, and since he was a consultant to Hazelden and a good part of his practice involved addicts, I learned a lot about AA. I’d never had any doings with AA before and in fact had some hard feelings about it. Watching The Days of Wine and Roses now, it seemed almost like a movie-length advertisement for AA, so many of the catchphrases were woven in (“other people can drink and they’re not alcoholics” “YET,” says the AA member in response), with Lee Remick standing in for the white knucklers, speaking for the hazards of thinking you can just do it with willpower—and see what happened to her? But however my feelings about the movie may have shifted, I’m still and always in awe of the performances. I read that Jack Lemmon was so caught up in the straightjacket scene he actually became hysterical, and the crew had to work hard to calm him afterward. I also read that he was an alcoholic in the 1960s; the movie was made in the early 1960s, so maybe he was already in it and that helped inform his performance.

Also, yesterday I read Brain On Fire, by Susannah Cahalan. Cahalan was a young reporter for the New York Post and essentially her body attacked her brain and she went absolutely mad for a month and might have died except for a brilliant neurologist who knew of a newly discovered autoimmune disease. The progression of her illness was fast and terrifying, and it’s quite a strong story. It’s easy to read (the science is encapsulated in a couple of chapters, and written simply enough to understand) and a page-turner because you just can’t believe how fast and terrible this thing happened to her, but I thought it was poorly written. Still, it’s one of those stories where what’s happening is so incredible it doesn’t even matter how well (or not) it’s written. Even though she recovered from the illness, there is still something changed inside her and she and others know it, and that is just fascinating. Some essence of who she was has been broken even though she is again her “old self.” And her trust in her perception has been changed too. She sees something run past, out of the corner of her eye, and is desperate to know if her boyfriend saw it too. Because maybe it’s just her, maybe the illness is returning. That is fascinating to me.

Late this afternoon I’m going to hear the Mundi Quintet, which should be great fun, but before then I’m getting out on my patio to do some flowerbed work; it’s going to be 76 today, blue sunny skies, a great day for playing in the dirt. I’ve got something on my mind, something I’m trying to figure out, but it’s kind of subtle and twined up in all kinds of things I need to think through so I’m not quite ready to write about it yet but probably tomorrow, a thoughty post. I just made up that word. 🙂

Happy March 3, 3/3, forever and always Marnie’s day. Once more: HAPPY BIRTHDAY my sweet little girl! xoxo

true confession: the magic minute version

This is such a complicated little thing — on the one hand, it’s one of my favorite little quirks about myself. But on the other hand, it may sound grandiose and since I don’t think I’m a grandiose person, I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression. But it just happened again and it made me giggle at myself, so I thought I’d share.

My birthday is November 6. November — month 11. If you write my birthday with numbers, it’s 11/6. 11/06. Never mind the year, it’s actually irrelevant (though I’m not shy: it’s 1958).

When I was in my early 20s, for some unknown reason I glanced at the clock one day and it was 11:06 and I said, “Ah! It’s the magic minute! Eleven-oh-six, the magic minute. My birthday!” And the idea just stuck. Two chances a day to catch the magic minute. I taught my husband that if he happened to see the magic minute, he had to give me a kiss. Lots of winning! Where the phrase “magic minute” came from, I have absolutely no idea.

I am crazy about my birthday, as you know if you’ve been around this or my other blog. More accurately: I am crazy about birthdays. I’m just as crazy about yours! Why not — it’s one day out of the year that marks our time here, that is pointedly about the birthday person. Hallelujah, I’ve been here another year, and I look ahead to the next. Hallelujah, I’m so glad I was born! And so glad you were born! Magic minutes all around! When it’s your birthday, I will be just as silly about it, and just as grateful that you’re here, because I am.

It’s funny just how often I happen to catch the magic minute. I’ll be engrossed in work, or anything else, and glance at the clock to see 11:06. It probably happens at least a couple of times each week. Now there’s no one to give me a kiss if they notice the magic minute, but that’s ok. I note it and feel my own delight at being here.

mid-century modern

Today is my 54th birthday. I love — adore — my birthday, the one day I get to truly celebrate with others my joy at being here, at getting to be some of the mud that sits up and looks around. This isn’t the birthday I thought it would be though; it was going to be the first birthday with a grandchild resting on my shoulder, my sweet little Gracie girl. I’ll miss her all day. And while I am still so glad to be here, and to celebrate my birthday, I feel just muted enough not to be able to write about my birthday — so I dug up a post I wrote when I turned 52, and made the appropriate edits. Here goes:

That’s me – I’m mid-century modern. I know that most people think of architecture and furniture and decorations when they hear that phrase, like these:

I was born in the small north Texas town of Graham, on November 6, 1958: mid-century….mid-last-century, which is pretty weird. Dwight Eisenhower was President, hula hoops the rage, NASA was created, Sir Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole, and Elvis was inducted into the army. There was a crazy economic recession that year; the average price for a new house was $12,570; monthly rent was $92; average annual salary was $4,600, and gas cost 25 cents/gallon. Volare and Tequila were popular songs; popular movies were Vertigo, Gigi, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. On the tube, people watched Candid Camera, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Show, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (in black and white, of course).

I was the first-born child of an 18-year old girl (a high school dropout) and a 20-year old boy. One dear grandfather was an oilfield roughneck until he retired, at which point he was the janitor at the hospital; I’m not sure he made it to 8th grade. One grandmother was Cherokee; she preferred to live in the woods.

Everyone’s lives are far too complex to summarize…..certainly in a silly little public blog post. But here, as I turn 54 years old, I can say these things with certainty:

  • my life has been much, much better than it had any right to be given its beginnings
  • becoming a mother redeemed and saved me
  • i’ve gone places i didn’t even know to dream about when i was growing up

physical places like Hanoi (Vietnam) and Varanasi (India) and Arequipa (Peru) and Enkuisen (The Netherlands) and Cavtat (Croatia) and Luang Prabang (Laos) and Nyaung Shwe (Myanmar); the Ganges and the Mekong Rivers

emotional places like so far gone in love with my children

intellectual places, like getting a PhD (I thought grad school was just like 17th grade, and if you wanted to just stay on after you got a bachelor’s you just kind of kept hanging around)

life places, like working on Madison Ave for a big-ass publisher and living in Manhattan

  • life is everything, luckily not all at once
  • you probably do get to have it all, just not all at once, or when it would be most convenient for you
  • the trick: get up at least one more time than you fall down
  • literature can save you
  • art too
  • you’re stronger than you imagine
  • laughing helps
  • love is gold
  • hope isn’t about pink ponies and rainbows and sunny happy feelings; hope is that thing with feathers that perches in your soul, and you need it, DESPERATELY.

Since my last birthday, I’ve traveled a lot (including a trip to Vietnam and Malaysia and Borneo, another to Oaxaca, a trip to Myanmar and Thailand, several trips upstate, a visit to Marnie in Chicago and a couple to see Katie in Austin), I’ve eaten a lot of meals with friends, I’ve made new friends, and I’ve lost a beloved grandchild. I’ve helped my husband endure (which means I also endured) 6 months of harrowing and grueling medical treatment. The coming year will bring travel somewhere, and perhaps big life changes. I hope it brings plenty of work, continued good health, more time with people I love, and I hope the inevitable problems are surmountable and small.

So happy birthday to me, to another fine but quite difficult year behind, and another year to come.  If you haven’t made it to the 50s yet, I heartily recommend it as an excellent decade of life. This isn’t the 54th celebration I thought it would be, but any 54 is better than no 54. I always say.

love xo