Tuesday’s Big Ask

Hello Tuesday Friends ~

Here’s the latest: Several drafts and a book coach later, I’ve completed a full-length memoir and secured representation with a literary agent.

Here’s what I’m hearing about Sushi Tuesdays the bookHeartbreaking, hilarious and honest. Beautifully written. Hopeful. Timely. Stunning.

Here’s what I’m learning about the publishing industry: They want to know who’s going to buy how many copies of the book.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Follow me on Instagram: @charlottemayawriter
  • Like the Sushi Tuesdays page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sushituesdays/
  • Follow the blog: sushituesdays.com
  • Send me an email at charlotte@sushituesdays.com to answer this question: If Sushi Tuesdays were available for purchase today, how many copies would you buy and for whom? (friend, aunt, brother-in-law, teacher, book group, everyone you know). 
  • Share any (or all) of the above with your people.

Here’s what my kids said: Make sure they notice the shtuff in the middle of suSHITuesdays (not sure how I’m going to explain this to my granddaughter). The healing heart of my radical self-care Tuesdays was (and still is) cultivating the capacity to deal with the shtuff. Isn’t that life?

Many thanks, and I look forward to autographing your very own copy of Sushi Tuesdays when – because it’s a when, even if we don’t know exactly yet when – the book is published.

Love & Light,

Charlotte

Taking Flight

This piece is from the archives, as it were, and as kids are heading back to school, it feels like the right time to share.

***

The little one’s last two years of high school have been colored by a renewed struggle with his father’s suicide. I can’t blame the father 100% for the child’s behavior. It’s entirely possible that the boy would have engaged in the stereotypically risky teenage business anyway. But his adolescent anger has fueled some unfortunate decisions, and I’m afraid that love and patience and therapy will not counter the effects of paternal abandonment and the allure of drugs and alcohol and pretty girls. 

My son believes his mother didn’t get it. And indeed, I don’t.

I love him. I am proud of him. And I am profoundly afraid. 

Over the summer, my son and I fly to the Midwest for his orientation weekend for incoming college freshmen. We travel together in that distinct tandem of parent and child. At nearly 6’3”, he acts as my defender, and as the baby, he follows my lead through the terminal to locate our departure gate. Naturally, his eyes occasionally roll dismissively in my direction, and also, he falls asleep on the plane with his head resting on my shoulder. I tip my head toward his, feeling his thick, unruly hair against the side of my jaw, trying not to think about the fact that the next time we fly to Milwaukee, his ticket will be one way and I will return home to my freshly empty nest. I inhale the sea breeze scent of his shampoo and close my eyes. No matter how stinky and surly a teenager becomes, these points in motherhood stabilize the tension. Balancing on the razor’s edge between love and loss, I drink in this tender interval between a moment and a memory. 

On the return flight home a few days later, he wants to watch a movie, but he has forgotten his earphones. 

I wonder silently whether he is really ready for college.

“Can we share yours?” he asks, smiling impishly. “Let’s find a movie we both want to watch.”

Normally more of a book-reader than movie-watcher, I slide my iPad into the seatback in front of me. His three older siblings have conditioned me to drop most everything when they want to share an experience, which becomes increasingly rare as they grow older. If he had asked to borrow my headphones, I might have simply handed them over, and I am pleased he wants to watch together.

He scrolls past the action movies he knows I’m not inclined to choose, Spiderman and The Fast and The Furious.

I scroll past the documentaries RBG and Free Solo.

He lands on A Star Is Born and looks to me for approval. 

“You know there’s a suicide at the end,” I say. 

“I know,” he says.

“At least 10 people who loved it warned me not to watch it.” I have purposely avoided watching this film. I’ve lived with a suicide. I don’t need my entertainment to be punctuated by one.

“I know,” he insists, “but I heard Lady Gaga was great.”

Thus, we are agreed.

Held close to each other by the cord of a shared pair of earphones, we watch. As the movie nears its foretold conclusion, I force myself to breathe. Inhale, exhale, repeat. I feel my son’s warm, brown eyes – inherited from his father – glancing over, watching me protectively.

In fact, it is a brilliant film with heart-wrenching performances. Painful scenes echo our own reality. My friends were kind to have warned me. And yet, this is probably the best way I could have watched this film – on a tiny screen and connected to a son who shares my earphones and my grief.

The most poignant moment happens after the film is over, when my son who at six idolized his father and at 16 reviled him, turns his 18-year-old self to me and says, “I wasn’t expecting to like the Bradley Cooper character, but I really did.” Which begins – yet another – conversation about his father, about life and mental health and suicide and love. About how it might be possible – if inexplicable – that Sam both loved his children dearly and never would have hurt them, and was suffering so desperately that he imagined they’d be better off without him, shattering them. That he could be a truly kind man and the asshole who left. And that the child himself could love his father and resent him and be proud of him and ashamed and miss him and feel his presence. All these can be simultaneously true. 

I marvel at my son’s resourcefulness and his capacity to love and forgive. 

Yes, I think. My no-longer-little-one is prepared – for college, for travel and for life. He has everything he needs, even when he forgets his earphones. 

***

Wishing you light and strength along your way. And please remember to remove all personal items from the seatback in front of you.

***

Also, my iPad found its way back to me. And the so-called little one is now half-way through college.

Ringtones

Most times when I call, the phone just rings and rings. There are no phones in the patients’ rooms on the memory ward. The line rings at the nurses’ station, and if they have time – between distributing meals and administering medications and the myriad other life-affirming tasks they do – an angel might pick up the phone and then walk it into my father-in-law’s room. I’m often on hold for 10 or 15 minutes before I hang up and try calling again. I might finish my morning coffee while I wait. 

On a good day, I speak to the operator only twice before I get through. Some days, after several conversations with the main switchboard, she gently suggests that I call back later. He’s on the East coast; he already has a three-hour head start, and as the day progresses, my father-in-law becomes increasingly disoriented. For him, time itself seems to take on an otherworldly quality, where present, past and future blur together. It’s better to talk to him in the morning. I hang up the phone and sigh.

On his 92nd birthday, I sat at the dining room table with the morning light filtering through the South-facing windows and my heart thumping anachronistically. It wasn’t so much that I was nervous to talk to him as it was that I worried that when I did get through, he would be more confused, less himself. I was afraid of losing him. He has been fathering me for 30 years – since I was 23 – and he’s the only dad I have left. 

Even if he didn’t know what day it was, I did. The nurse answered pleasantly, and there was a scratching sound and a muted voice as she handed him the receiver. I heard his breath against the receiver, like a young child waiting for the phone to speak, and I said hello.

“Charlotte!” he said. He sounded so happy to hear from me. 

I was relieved that he recognized my voice, that he still knew my name. “Happy Birthday!” I said.

He paused before asking, “What day is it?”

I told him.

“It’s my birthday!” he said, sounding as delighted as a child announcing the fact in a first-grade classroom. And we laughed together.

His spirits sounded good, even when he told me he didn’t know why he was in the hospital. “I feel fine, but they tell me I’m sick!” I could picture the way he turned his head and raised a bony shoulder into the shape of the question, wondering whether the entire hospital staff was one taco short of a combination plate.

We didn’t talk long. We never do. When my mother-in-law was alive, he often handed her the phone within moments of my calling, seemingly happy enough to know that I had called and yielding the rest of the time to his wife of over 60 years. 

He seemed to remember all of my children, his grandchildren, including the stepsons I added to the mix when I remarried 10 years ago, although he was having trouble keeping track of the girlfriend, the fiancée and the wife. When I told him he was going to be a great-grandfather, it didn’t quite compute. I never ask if he remembers Sam. His only son has been gone nearly 14 years, and while I know that love never forgets, I do not know how dementia might torment my father-in-law’s heart, how fresh the loss might feel, how utterly lost he might become. If there is any kindness in dementia, I hope that it softens the edges of my father-in-law’s grief. 

These days, he often reverts to the language of his young years, and I sometimes struggle to understand as he segues into Spanish. But mostly our conversations cover the same territory, so it doesn’t really matter which language we speak. He almost always tells me that my sister-in-law is coming to take him home that afternoon; his optimism is unflagging. It’s so sweet. And heartbreaking. It reminds me of another grandfather who, though blind, bedridden and wearing a flimsy cotton hospital gown at the time, leaned over to my then 15-year-old and asked him to “bust me out of this joint.” I almost wished I could hand them the car keys and see them off for one more adventure together.

Today might have been my 29th wedding anniversary, if Sam were still alive and all the other planets had aligned, and my kid who for years refused to say the words “dead” or “dad” now decides that he wants to go to the cemetery. The last time he visited was probably five years ago, and it was related to a school assignment; today it’s for reasons all his own. It’s hot and sunny, so I grab a broad-brimmed hat and off we go. When we arrive, he remarks that the grassy lawn that once appeared steep and expansive now seems a gentle green slope. I don’t think it’s only a matter of his physical growth; it looks smaller to me, too, and easily navigable.

We spend some time at Sam’s gravesite, and on the way home, we call Sam’s father from the car. Must be the luck of the grandchild, because we get through on the first try, and though his voice is soft and distant, my father-in-law sounds happy. He still knows who we are, and I am grateful. “Mi vida,” he calls my kid. My life. Which from a couple thousand miles away feels like a warm hug. 

Because I’m not quite ready for this weirdly magical anniversary afternoon to end, I suggest we get ice cream. And instead of tasting several different options like I usually do, I choose vanilla, just like Sam would have done. We sit on a bench in the shade with our cones, and my kid turns to me with blue eyes sparkling. I’m expecting another insightful comment, another display of his progress along grief’s path, but instead he grins and says, “You have ice cream on your hat.”

There have been times over the last 14 years when the black pain of loss felt hard and heavy. Days when no amount of sunshine or sugar lifted our spirits. But today is not one of those days. Today, love feels lighter than laughter.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And ice cream!

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat

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I’ve entered the New Year with a bit more stillness than in years past, which I attribute to the fact that I’ve become more consistent with my meditation practice. Could be the everlasting sticky cold that has planted me on the sofa for days on end.

I suspect it has something to do with the empty nest as well. After decades of raising four boys, the house is oddly quiet now. And the ancient cat, an 18-year-old Siamese mix with his congenitally crooked tail and his sock fetish, is gone. He always had something to say, a morning greeting, opinions about our competence, demands regarding his dining experience, objections to the fact of the dog. The silence of his missing meow practically echoes around here.

The garbage truck beep-beep-beeps down our little cul-de-sac, and I make a mental note to remind the boys to bring in the garbage cans when they come home from school. I look at the clock – it’s almost time for school to release – and I feel the butterfly wings of excitement. I always look forward to the afternoon moment when they walk through the door, strong and vibrant, silly and weird.

And then I remember that they are all now off at school or working or exploring. It’s scary and hard and wonderful and amazing. I am grateful and proud and also just ever so slightly bereft.

The fall was easier to take. One college drop-off, then another. One parent weekend, then another. The honeymoon trip we had delayed for nine years, planned for that exact moment when all the boys were off to the races, and then the holidays arrived.

The winter drought is harder. A slower pace, fewer gatherings to propel the calendar forward. Fewer distractions. More focus on this one moment. Settling into the rhythm of my own life is oddly challenging. But I sit, letting the energy settle and swirl, feeling the opportunity gathering in the quiet moments. It is, if I am completely honest about it, an intriguing time.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the defective hunting dog is proving to be an excellent meditation companion. It will be interesting to see where we go next, but for now, we sit.

***

Wishing you light and strength right where you are. And comfort in the silence.

***

If you are looking for some meditation resources, these ones caught my attention recently:

Tara Brach is offering a Radical Compassion Challenge, January 21-30, 2020. “The medicine our world needs is widening circles of compassion. We need to love ourselves – and each other – into healing.”

Sharon Salzberg is offering her Real Happiness Meditation Challenge for the month of February, 2020. “Each week of the Challenge explores a different type of meditation practice to cultivate greater focus, clarity, kindness and resilience.”

Oprah Winfrey & Deepak Chopra are offering their 21-day meditation program, Perfect Health, which begins February 3, 2020. “Discover the healthiest version of yourself.

Crosswalk Contemplations

I can’t let it go. I don’t know why it bugs me so much – other than the obvious, that I’ve been a tad skittish in crosswalks ever since my beloved father-in-law was killed in one. I keep thinking about the vitriolic tweet from someone I don’t even follow maligning a woman who stopped to stretch in the middle of the crosswalk while the driver waited (impatiently) so she could proceed to her vitally important meeting/conference/class/I’m not exactly sure. I totally get how annoying it would be to pause for the insouciant stretcher, but I keep wondering… what did it cost the tweeter to wait, really? Twelve seconds? Maybe?

I walk nearly every day. I drive just as often, which is not for the faint of heart in Los Angeles. I, too, might be running late, occasionally through no fault of my own.

The other day I was at a four-way-stop, the faithful and defective hunting dog at my side, and a car stopped in each direction. I was lucky. This particular intersection features a narrow curb, a rarity in a town whose streets don’t often include sidewalks, giving me slight protection. I know all four drivers can see me. I know they all have places to go at 8:00am. So do I. As the pedestrian, I even have the right of way. I also have the most to lose if we collide. So I wait.

The suit in the Audi, the Suburban driving carpool, the Honda with the music, the Kia sporting the bumper sticker, all proceed without even acknowledging me. I don’t see how they didn’t see me – I’m up on the curb with the world’s most handsome dog. Nevertheless, I wait. Next up looks to be a teenager, likely on her way to school. She waves me through, and not for the first time this week, I find hope in today’s youth. But really, how long did I wait? Twelve seconds, maybe?

Let’s just say – on the driving side and on the walking side – this confluence of people moving in conflicting directions happens five times each day, it’s only a sum total of sixty seconds, one minute per day dedicated to other people.

I don’t know. Maybe the self-important driver truly doesn’t have a minute to spare in her day. But I doubt it.

What would happen if I made a conscious effort to spread that 12-seconds around every day, five times a day? What would I do with that minute? Say a prayer? Take a breath? Sit still? Does it matter? I’ve certainly wasted 12 seconds in far lesser pursuits – internet shopping, gossiping, biting my fingernails, scrolling through my Twitter feed….

The truth is that I witness far more examples of momentary warmheartedness in my daily walk (and drive) – a nod, a smile, an offer, a kind word – than toxic crazy.

What if I make it a practice to hold on to these interactions with so much passion that the occasional noxious belch is fleeting, while the kindness endures and empowers? The FedEx guy holds the elevator door for the octogenarian attorney who meanders down the hall, the minivan slows in a construction zone, a young child compliments another’s shoes. I am reminded that many of us are moving in concert.

Strangers extending the conscious effort to honor each other, giving and receiving twelve seconds of kindness. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it makes a difference.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And twelve seconds of kindness.

Process

I write much the same way as I pack for a long weekend away:

I think about where I’m going for days, weeks, even months in advance. I imagine, flirt with and fanaticize about how wonderful it will be.

I walk the dog, pondering my experience, and return home full of inspiration and motivation, dizzy with excitement and optimism.

I forget every thought in my head, caught up in the daily caffeinated swirl of kids, cat, dog, school, work and home.

I repeat the above practice daily.

I panic, realizing that time is short, and I’ve done NOTHING to prepare. I cannot remember a single thing I need and I cannot settle on where to start.

I wonder if it’s too early to eat lunch.

I throw a bunch of stuff out there, maybe write a list, but more likely just compile a ton of pieces I think might be handy along the way.

I go to the fridge to determine whether my leftover veggie enchiladas are still in the there or if my teenager has already eaten them, leaving me only the empty container. Sometimes, I get lucky.

I check the weather, realize I’ve made a strategic error, and throw eight more essentials on the growing stack.

I rearrange the pile. And frown.

I get overwhelmed and think about doing something else – queuing up a podcast, getting the car washed, calling my mother, shopping for a housewarming gift. I add those items to the list and, once again, attempt to get down to business.

I receive a panicky text message from my teenager who forgot his [fill in the blank: calculator, iPad, team jersey, lunch money, dorm key, and yes, he lives in another state a thousand miles away]. I marvel that boys survive to adulthood. I grab the car keys, vow to finish the project after just this one errand.

Lunch, two loads of laundry, three chapters of a novel and one trip to the grocery store later, I return to the pile of good intentions, waiting patiently for me to sift through it, and I check the clock. Am I really going to tackle this before [fill in the blank: the kids get home, the scheduled conference call, the dog’s vet appointment]?

I make a cup of tea – iced or hot, depending – and I sit. I find the cookies where I hid them from the kids. I wonder if this whole enterprise is all too much trouble and I should cancel my plans. It’s expensive, glitchy, and who will really notice or care? I eat another cookie.

Sigh. I care.

I dash off a few emails. With considerable restraint and a hint of intention, I close all the other open windows on my laptop, but not before sending a quick note to my niece.

Inhale, and dive in. I’m ready to work.

Reset Wifi.

Now, I work.

I look at what I’ve done so far. I realize I’ve got way more stuff here than makes sense. I cannot carry this comfortably, so I dig in and really start thinking about what’s important. Reluctantly, I let a few things go, putting them carefully back in a drawer for another time.

Things are starting to come together, and I’m feeling good until I realize that in the midst of my focus, I totally forgot my own haircut appointment. The one I planned months ago. Missed it completely. Not by minutes, by several hours. I call and beg the salon to take me, because every trip is made better by a fresh haircut. Mercifully, he makes time for me. I feel five pounds lighter without having to give up dark chocolate or red wine.

I return home, but the pile has still not packed itself neatly into my travel bag. I peruse the weekend’s itinerary and get back to the task at hand.

I notice the cat has been eerily quiet… I get up to check that he’s: 1) inside the house, and 2) still breathing. He is. I notice the combination furball-cat-vomit on the carpet but, like a teenager, pretend I didn’t see it, hoping that my husband will take care of it later. He does.

I remember something important I had forgotten. Really important, like the-whole-reason-for-this-trip-in-the-first-place-important. I marvel that I have survived to adulthood.

The wizened cat sits on my handiwork. He looks pleased. Or maybe he has just declared it good enough. Mission accomplished.

With gratitude and surrender, I tuck everything into place and I’m ready to go.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And joy in the journey.

A Spot of Blue

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So I’ve got this fuzzy blue yarn sticking to my black jacket, and I’ve decided to let it ride. I was having breakfast with my bestie best a few weeks ago, and she was using this particular yarn in a creative project. Some of the blue fuzz stuck to me when she hugged me. She tried to neaten me up and take it off my lapel, but I nabbed it and stuck it back on the front pocket. I like the slightly messy, totally silly, random reminder that somebody who loves me left her mark, kind of like the baby urp badge of honor but without the lingering slightly sour smell.

Blue fuzz. I’m a Sesame Street girl, so I grew up with a fondness for fuzzy blue critters. If Grover does not make you smile and feel like skipping across the room, then I really do not know how to help you.

You don’t have to skip, but I recommend that you do.

Because yes, life is heartbreaking and horrifying. It’s scary and people can be cruel and selfish and entitled, refusing to clean up after themselves or put their grocery carts back. There’s death and illness and all manner of hostility and ignorance and crazy. And there is still goodness and silliness and yoga, smiles and hugs and laughter, dark chocolate covered almonds, champagne and baby giggles and butterflies, and the occasional art project that leaves love all over the map.

Somewhere in the course of today I hugged that blue fuzz onto somebody else. And it’s okay. Because some things are better shared, and blue fuzz is definitely one of those things.

***

Wishing you love and light on your path. And a little spot of blue fuzz.

Sprout

Oh, it is impossibly hard to begin again
when you’ve lost everything.
That tiny little leaf at the tip of the fragile green stem futile
against the whole world.
A giant undertaking,
overwhelming,
breathtaking,
altogether too much for one tiny seed.

And what difference will it make?
Is it even worth the effort?
Who cares?

Progress is slow,
imperceptible,
virtually unrecognizable.
The creative process discouraging.

You do it anyway.
Grow,
little by little,
one cell at a time.
One drop of rain.
One ray of sunshine.
One dark night.
Another. Another. Another.

You can’t help it.
It’s your nature.
It’s who you have been.
It’s who you are meant to be.

You realize
the sunlight, the raindrops, the winds of change and earthy roots
– this entire world –
has been working with you the whole time,
not pressing against you.
Protecting, nurturing, cheering you forward,
pressing you outward,
drawing you up to where
we can admire
your whole beautiful self.

Love & Laundry

Tuesdays are my devoted time to listen to my heart’s longing. What do I need more of in my life? What am I hungry for? Where am I holding tension? Do I need to breathe and stretch? Or go for a long walk? Or take a short nap? What will bring me peace in this moment? What do I want for lunch?

It is not a day to catch up on laundry or correspondence, tempting though that may be. I confess, however, that I can hear the dryer’s gentle rhythm from where I’m sitting, and I’m the only one home. Or at least the only one home with opposable thumbs. Clearly, I have been remiss.

Sometimes I need to remind myself of the preeminent Tuesday rule: “Unless you are, in fact, on fire AND I gave birth to you, it can wait until Wednesday.” This was the standard I implemented shortly after Sam’s suicide and kept as I navigated life as a single mother of two sons, and then continued as a newlywed and mother to four sons, and even now as those baby birds are leaving the nest. It’s a helpful practice because, of course, as life’s demands shift, the mental, physical and emotional reserves I require likewise change.

My Tuesday practice involves more than just filling my incoming stream with positive messages and images, although that’s nice. A real Charlotte Shabbat requires paying attention to my own self: how I am feeling in the moment, noticing where I feel stress, what ideas take my breath away, inspire me or infuriate me. It allows me to see what I’m afraid of and find ways to nurture my courage and strength. I cultivate calm in the swirl of crazy. I feel the fullness of what I’m grateful for and the ache of what I am longing for. I ask a lot of questions. What am I trying to get away from? Or closer to? And how on earth could I fill an entire washing machine – twice – with nothing but white athletic socks?

I take a deep breath and resolve to sit still and embrace the fact that I am a child of the universe, to marvel at the love that supports me on life’s journey. There is something deeply comforting about sitting so quietly that I can feel the reverberations of my own heart’s beating and knowing that that’s enough. All that life requires of me in this moment is to be.

Suddenly, I wonder if there are any fun surprises in whatever the mailman just dropped off. This epiphany occurs just as the cat is coughing up a fur ball on somebody’s sweatshirt, and my thoughts return to laundry. Clearly, I need more practice at my Tuesday practice.

To my great relief, sitting quietly on Tuesdays is not the only path to love and light. The other day I was sorting through old stuff when I came across a folder that a friend had put together for me, a blue folder with a spreadsheet including the names and contact information for friends who volunteered to help me. There’s a column with suggested tasks and errands that I might call upon them for, such as dinner delivery, grocery shopping, childcare, carpool, walking the dog, even household repairs, the many daily ways that families show their love and care. Not surprisingly, many of the names belong to people that I am still close to, friends I’ve had dinner or coffee with already in 2018. There are some I’ve lost contact with, or whose children now attend different schools. No doubt many of the email addresses are no longer valid. But the most astonishing thing about the list, the part that humbles me to the point of tears as I run my fingers gently over the names is that it is three pages long. There are one hundred and nineteen names. More names than there are socks in my dryer. It’s formidable.

Know that it matters when you show up and put your name on the list, whether you think it’s no big deal or you worry that it’s not nearly enough, and particularly on a day when living with teenagers has reduced your sanity and self-confidence to imperceptible levels. You make a difference.

I just wanted to say that out loud.