2010, Granada Hills, CA
On the night of Lisa’s funeral, we gathered at her house, the other Notre Dame ’93 gals and I. Lisa, Lisa, Suzanne, and Julie (yes, there were three Lisa’s, once.) We drank her liquor. We told stories in her living room. And then we stayed the night.
Suzanne and I slept in Lisa’s bed. The bed where she died. The bed where her body was found.
It should have been morbid and possibly even creepy. Maybe it should have made us uncomfortable. I wanted it to make me sad and uncomfortable. I am not sure why. It’s not like I had an absence of feeling. Just that morning I had stood before about 400 people who loved or admired Lisa or loved or admired those who loved her, and read aloud the most important thing I have ever written. I was emotional. I was drained. And I was super disappointed that she didn’t get to proof it first, because I know she would have laughed her hiccupy high-pitch laugh, because it was fucking funny. In parts.
I shook as I read it. In fact, in the moments leading up to my funeral march, literally, to the pulpit, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do it. I couldn’t stop shaking, and I had pretty much lost my voice the week before because I was so sick with the flu. I had walked around for days with a scarf wrapped snugly around my neck several times, drinking hot water with lemon and honey, like an actress about to audition for a musical.
But as I knelt in the pew, one close to the altar reserved for people who were part of the program, I actually prayed to Lisa to help me be still. Isn’t that crazy? Praying to one of my best friends, as if I couldn’t just call her and ask her for a favor?
2011, La Costa Resort
Yes, it is crazy. Unless that second part is true.
Anyway, it worked. At the appointed time, I got up, walked around the side of the church to avoid the casket that contained her body, shuffled my wrinkled papers under the microphone, and apologized in advance for not being brief, because in writing the eulogy, I had found brevity impossible. Besides, there was no orchestra to play me off, no timer, no commercial break. This was the end.
The ladies had driven up from San Diego and flown in from Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. We hadn’t been gathered together in many years, so many that I kind of can’t remember. But we fell into each others’ arms in tears on this unbelievable occasion. This should have been her wedding, we said.
As Suzanne and I settled down for the night, I’m sure we remarked about how odd it was that we were going to sleep where Lisa died. I am comforted now, as I am sure I was then, that she didn’t seem any more fazed by the circumstance than I was. “Whatever,” we must have said. “Someone washed the sheets.”
I wanted her to come to us. I wanted her ghost, or her spirit, or a cold patch of air, or a falling lamp. I would have vomited or shit my pants if that happened, maybe, but I wanted it so hard.
That one time, at Michigan State (1992). Not sure how we managed to arrange ourselves in the same position in photos for over 20 years. I’m sure that was a coincidence.
The other night I was explaining the “move a body” friend to my husband. He had never heard the concept before. We were in the midst of a jovial catching-up conversation, updating each other about the past week because he had taken our boys to visit his mother. To illustrate my point I said, “A move-a-body friend. You know, like Lisa.”
He knew. And he stayed quiet for a few moments as my voice caught. It took a little while for me to choke back the almost-sobs and get back to the story I was telling. Missing her still takes me by surprise sometimes. I don’t need anyone to help me move a body, right now, but I need her. In general.
The morning after I slept in the space where Lisa died, I didn’t recall any kind of visitation or haunting. I didn’t feel weird about sleeping in that spot. I didn’t sleep much, though. Suzanne (I apologize for telling this to the world) snored like a lawnmower, and I hadn’t brought my earplugs. I was also getting over that flu.
So no, Lisa wasn’t there. She isn’t anywhere, but she is everywhere for us, the people who loved her. And for all the children she saved who are growing up now because of her, and their families, and everyone they touch. They’ll never know it, probably, but we will, and that’s how her spirit visits us. My friend Chris will be happy that I’m finding something positive to focus on with my sadness. That’s really the best I can hope for, right?
Kyle was born nine years ago yesterday. He nursed like it was his job.
It was his job. And I was super hard core about timing him and keeping track of what side was up next, etc. Notice the badass sports watch. I was not kidding around.
I look pretty blissed out in this photo, but I assure you that nursing hurt like a motherfucker at first. Ladies, if you’re reading this before or during your first days of breastfeeding and you’re wondering if you’re doing it wrong, relax. You’re probably doing it right. It just takes some getting used to.
I don’t miss breastfeeding at all, but I did come to love it while it was happening. It was convenient and snuggly. Oh, how life has changed.
Don’t look too closely, I am suggesting. Don’t make me explain it. I have no time or patience for your possible disapproval.
It is 10:27 PM on Monday. I sit in a quiet corner of a vacation apartment that is perched at the edge of Laguna Beach, between the street and the ocean. I left the sliding glass door open a crack so that the crashing waves, which earlier this evening I mistook for traffic noise, will be the soundtrack as I fall asleep.
I’ve nearly missed my deadline. In fact, until this moment I forgot all about it. It’s my turn to post some words for the My Writing Process (#mywritingprocess) blog tour. I don’t know much about it, but Jane Gassner tapped me on the shoulder with her virtual sword, and I am thus knighted. I’m smart enough, at least, to know that I should do whatever Jane says.
Jane says, not that she’s done with Sergio, but that the Writing Process blog tour is a way to connect with other bloggers who identify themselves as writers. I’ve been blogging for a very long time, time itself being relative and all that, but long enough in Internet Speak that I am considered a veteran. And only in recent years have I been introducing myself as a writer. “What do you write?” people then ask. It is a title that always elicits further questions, unlike saying “I’m an accountant” or “I’m a pharmacist.” People wonder about writing, and whether or not saying one is a Writer means one actually even works.
Whatever. I’m finally secure enough in my self-image that I can say “I am a writer” and any qualification that comes after that, any self-deprecating shrug or wave of my hand to whisk it all away is just a cover, a smokescreen. Don’t look too closely, I am suggesting. Don’t make me explain it. I have no time or patience for your possible disapproval.
What was I talking about?
Oh. Right. The Writing Process blog tour. I am to answer some questions and then pay this favor (?) forward to three more writers who have blogs. And I need to do this tonight.
1. Why do I write what I do?
There are two answers to this question. One: Because the words just came out. That explains the chatter above this line. I rarely edit myself in these instances, unless I’m writing for someone else’s publication. So it’s for love. I like to write things that I like to read. Is it weird to admit that I go back to my old work and read it like it’s something new I just discovered? I can read entries from this blog that make me feel like I am visiting with a past version of myself. I love the way she writes. I am proud of her. Yesterday I discovered a box where I had stored pieces I wrote in the 90′s. In the 80′s even. There was a short story in my own handwriting with notes and giant X’s through paragraphs and arrows and asterisks. There is no doubt that I wrote it. But I don’t recognize a single word. I always tell people that I’m no good at fiction, but look at that young girl! She had no idea that she wasn’t good at it. She wrote the hell out of that story. Good for her.
The other answer is: for money. I’ve been able to cobble together a nice little income with my writing. It’s far below the poverty line, but my work is commanding higher and higher fees (I’ve also stopped accepting deals for lower fees, so that helps) so when I can get it, that validation is rewarding. But I have to tailor that content to the outlet, which is why my voice is a little bit different depending on where you are reading my work.
So there you have it. I write for love and money. But first, love.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
When people ask what I write my favorite answer, if we get far enough into the conversation, has always been “I like to tell people what I think about stuff.” Is that a genre? If pressured to pick a category I would pick personal essay and the easy answer then is because I’m the only person with my voice. Are you bored now? I am. Let’s move on.
3. How does your writing process work?
Lately I have been writing about three pages every morning. The very first thing I do is get a cup of coffee and sit down at the kitchen table with my notebook and fountain pen and scrawl out three pages of mostly drivel. Occasionally there is a gem of a sentence or a nugget of an idea in there. When I have free time and I’m at the computer again, I’ll pick at that idea or expand on that gem. And when I get even more free time, or if I have free time and my brain is tired, I type the written notes into the master document.
But that’s for my personal project. For works for hire, I just sit down and bang it out, man. Sometimes if I get stuck I start with the line “Tom Hanks is a bad-ass motherfucker,” because that is how my colleague at E! used to begin his celebrity biography scripts when he was stuck. It gets the juices flowing. Shout out to you, James. I am sure you have no idea that you provided me with a lifetime of inspiration.
Or sometimes I delay until the very last minute, writing paragraphs in between dropoffs and pickups, or working late into the night, because I didn’t have the hook right away. It happens. But what I can tell you concretely is that it happens in my office, my very own Room of My Own – the fourth bedroom on the second story of our house, with a window that looks out over rooftops and trees to the beautiful mountains. I use a laptop with a homegrown docking station and a bigger screen. I take notes in pencil. I tack colorful images and inspirational words and reminders to a large bulletin board hung on the wall to my right. When it’s cloudy I light candles.
4. What am I working on?
I’m writing a book. It may take forever and it may come out completely different from what I had originally planned to write. But I’m writing it. And by “writing a book” I mean reading books about writing a book, mostly, but those pages I mentioned above are all part of something bigger, so maybe just by putting one word in front of the other, I will get there someday.
I also write a column on Mint.com. Soon the eleventh post will go live. It’s published every two weeks, so that’s 22 weeks now. Time flies, doesn’t it?
I also write a column anonymously. Can you guess what it is? Email me and I’ll tell you if you’re right.
I also have a white board upon which I have listed all the reviews for free shit that I still owe people, some as far back as last year. I’ll get to those, my treasured colleagues. I promise.
Here is where I am meant to introduce three writers I have chosen to follow me on this blog tour adventure. They are probably going to be pissed at first, because I didn’t ask them ahead of time, but then they will think about it, and grudgingly accept the challenge because the questions are thought provoking, and nobody loves talking, reading, or writing about writing more than writers. I have chosen Deborah Stambler, my writing partner, and by “writing partner” I mean co-dependent, with whom I meet every few weeks so we can remind each other that we are people who exist in the world and we are not crazy. Well only a little. Also Charlene Ross, a member of my writing group, which is also a therapy tool. We meet every month to keep each other accountable and grease the rusty wheels inside our brains with intellectual stimulation and wine. And last but not least, Alyssa Brennan, who is my original blogger BFF, even though she rarely blogs and probably has the least amount of time out of any of us, because this will finally get her to write a new post.