Sunday, May 3, 2020

Update from Our Corner of the Pandemic

The short version, if you have no time to read, is we're doing fine. We're healthy, and we're adapting.

The longer version, as with everything in these strange times, is a bit more complicated.

I keep thinking back to my birthday. My birthday was March 14th, same as Einstein and Telemann and Billy Crystal. It was a matter of weeks ago, but feels like ages. It was a Saturday. I was at work for most of it. Saturdays are usually my busiest day at the violin store, and this particular one last month was probably typical, but now in my memory it feels almost frantic.

There were people in my store--actual other people who do not live in my house. I kept them spaced apart using appointment times, and I washed my hands before and after each visit, and I required everyone wash their hands the minute they arrived. One family was in masks. I broke social distancing rules for them so I could fit the kids for rental instruments, but I did it as quickly and efficiently as I was able. It was nerve-wracking. I was honestly relieved when the official lock down order came the following week, and I didn't feel as if I needed to let people inside my store anymore.

I spent a quiet couple of weeks in lock down doing shop tasks. I sharpened my tools. I got to work on the non-pressing, time-intensive projects that most violin shops have lurking in their corners. I passed along a couple of those projects to my assistant down in Chicago so she could still clock in hours from home if she wants to.

Then the calls started to come. I knew they would, because music is definitely something many people stuck at home want to do, and with all music lessons being taught at a distance, there were bound to be broken strings as people with no experience started trying to tune violins. Then there was a rash of fingerboards coming off instruments for some reason. And violins getting dropped. So I had to develop new protocols for doing work out of my shop.

Currently the way we operate is this: We are by appointment only. No one is allowed inside the store. Simple things like changing a string, I can do out on the front steps while wearing a mask as people wait more than six feet away, and I wash my hands thoroughly before and after. More involved repairs sit in a quarantine line. There is no way for me to disinfect a violin or bow currently, other than with time. (And I've already heard of parents who have taken a Clorox wipe to their kid's instrument and were shocked the varnish came right off. My post-pandemic work load will not be pretty.) Violins sit in a row on the floor, tagged with dates, until they are safe for me to handle. (I recommend people also let the instruments sit at their end when they get them back, but I can't control what other people ultimately do.) Any work I can't figure out how to do safely (such as soundpost adjustments where I need the player in the same space and we have to pass the instrument back and forth between us several times) I have to turn away.

Business is certainly way down compared to normal, but I am far from bored. I'm maintaining a similar work schedule. I actually kind of like the built-in "stop switch" that comes with the quarantine lineup. Normally I am compelled to keep working until everything is off my bench, which means I often put in late nights. Now? Well, there is work to do, but I can't touch all of it. I have to stop and go home at some point. Which is good. I like the extra time with my family.

Which brings me to the first and most important way in which I am lucky during this pandemic so far, beyond not being sick: I really like the people I'm in lock down with. I like our home, I love my husband and kids.... And we're a whole group of introverts who get along fine. Especially on cold, rainy weekends, we're doing exactly what we'd normally be doing. We're each doing our own projects kind of near each other, and then gathering together periodically to watch a movie or play a game or eat a meal.

Our house is just big enough there is space for any of us to retreat from the group if we want to be alone. We have a treadmill that we moved into the room with the TV. I set up a card table in the living room with a jigsaw puzzle people can work on when they feel like it. I've been reading aloud to the kids in the evenings sometimes. (We finished The Hobbit recently, and just started Sophie's World.) We have movies, books, recipes to try....

My head is still not in a good space for creative work yet. I need the house to be less cluttered for that to happen, and two adults and three teenagers inside all the time is making that difficult. But I'm not stressing about it. I am making it a goal to get into my workshop in the next couple of weeks, and I may just dive into an early edit of my next novel, even though the one I released this year didn't even get a real launch.

The issues with contemporary fiction writing are funny right now. I was originally concerned that my next novel got locked into 2019, and that that would feel out of date by the time it was released in 2021. Now it's fine, because I don't have to include the pandemic in the story line. I recently heard an interview with Stephen King, where he said his current story had a plot point where a couple of characters go on a cruise in 2020. He had to bump it back to 2019 for it not to ring false for readers. A lot of writers are debating if we integrate these weird circumstances into our fiction or not. Most seem to agree that unless it's integral to the plot, we should ignore the pandemic. It will certainly date the stories the same way the Blitz would.

Which brings me to my kids, because I've been thinking a lot about how this will be a defining period for them that they will be asked to describe for children in the future. The same way 9/11 is something my children only know from history books, but it's a vivid memory for me. I hope regardless of what is happening in the world at large I am helping guide them through this time in a way that is healthy in all senses of that word.

The first few weeks of lock down and social distancing were unsettling. We all had adjustments to make, and things to give up. There were moments of stress that caused everyone to break down in tears at different times. Things have turned around, and at this stage we're all faring better.

I was most concerned for my oldest, because she's the most social of all of my kids, and to have her senior year come to an unceremonious halt was rough. But she's found ways to do Dungeons and Dragons online with friends. She meets someone down the street for a socially distanced Pokemon battle about once a week. She's learning guitar. And when I reminded her that we have the violin store building to safely retreat to for a change of scenery, and that there was an empty Airbnb just sitting there, she devised a schedule for coming out with me to work three days a week. She has the little apartment above the store set up as an art studio. She's been improving her painting skills, getting better at drawing hands, and enjoying a break from her siblings. Real time alone to both relax and be productive has greatly helped her mood.

It's also helped that she finally came to a conclusion about college. That was a lot of stress even without a pandemic looming all around us. Aden was accepted everywhere she applied, and was offered some impressive scholarships, but nothing felt quite right. So a week before all the deadlines were coming due to commit to a school, we did a Google search, and found a new one that checked all the boxes. We got the acceptance letter from UW-Stout a couple of days ago, and Aden is actually excited now about the prospect of college. We still don't know if she'll be able to attend physically in the fall, or what kinds of changes the school will have to make to accommodate college life in the midst of a pandemic, but it's fun to see my daughter looking forward to the next step of her education. We all feel good about it, even if certain elements remain unclear. However it pans out, Aden's not alone. The class of 2020 will be forever bonded through these strange rites of passage.

My middle child is simply enjoying being at home. She misses her friends and her teachers, but the chronic pain she suffers (still undiagnosed, but there's an appointment lined up with a neurologist in a month) makes life in the noisy school hard. It's helping that she can sleep when she needs to, or take medication without a hassle if her headaches get too bad. She's been diligently doing some online classwork every day, even though the district already declared everyone Pass/Fail for the term. If they ever convert that into real grades, the work she's doing now can be used toward improving them. Early on in the lock down, Mona was doing a bit of sewing and made me this adorable fish:
She'd like to sew more, but is awaiting inspiration. She's doing well with this overall, and I'm glad.

My youngest simply takes things in stride. He seldom understands why anyone makes a fuss about anything in general. He's been doing mandatory online school for about a week. It took the district some time to make sure every student who needed a laptop had one, and now that there is a modicum of equity, classes have begun again. We set him up in a little room off the kitchen that we call "the nook" and he gets himself up in the morning and sequesters himself in there with his computer and his lap-desk until noon.

Quinn's cast is off, so I don't need to be his other hand in piano anymore. Which is too bad, actually. I liked having time with him at the keyboard, laughing as we tried to coordinate our efforts into a coherent piece of music. The trip to the clinic to remove the cast was an adventure. I figured the last place I'd want to take my kid right now was to the hospital, but Children's made it about as safe as you could ask. They sent us to a satellite clinic for non-covid-19 patients only. We were pre-screened on the phone, screened again at the door by a man in full PPE, I was given a mask since I have a cough from an unrelated issue. We never saw another patient once inside the building. The people at reception were in masks and behind plastic sheeting. We never shared a room with more than one medical person at a time, and they did as much as they could at a distance as possible. It was far less nerve-wracking than the grocery store.

In any case, being 13 meant my son spent a lot of time in his room with the door closed anyway. I don't know how much quarantine has changed things, other than his friends from down the street can't join him on the trampoline now. He's made using the treadmill part of his daily routine, and he's always willing to accompany me on a walk with the dog if I invite him. He has Minecraft, and a dry erase board to doodle on. If he's suffering in any way, we can't see it. He's about as nice a person to be cooped up with as one could ask for.

My husband remains the person who keeps things working and I'm grateful for that every day. The biggest recent project was when the dryer stopped working. That's the kind of thing if I were on my own with the kids (like during the deployments) would have put me over the edge. But Ian simply consulted YouTube, took the dryer apart, and fixed it. He's amazing.

Ian's also been sweet about indulging my scavenger hunt obsession. Our little corner of the south side of Milwaukee is called Bay View, and I really appreciate the kind of caring, creative place this neighborhood is. A local record store put together a scavenger hunt all over Bay View to provide people with something to do when out for socially distanced walks. It's based on a box of 64 crayons, and those crayons are in shop windows and on display outside of historic locations. It's great, because it directs people toward local businesses that could use support. (Last week I picked up pie from one of the locations when we went to collect the information we needed off their crayon. Without the scavenger hunt, I wouldn't have realized they were even still open and offering curbside service right now.) Anyway, I've learned a lot about my community in the past few weeks of solving clues and hunting down crayons. And every time I have a hunch, Ian's happy to go with me there, by foot or bike or car.

In fact, last Saturday was the first day in all of this that I felt unabashedly great. Since we're by appointment only at the store, and no one was scheduled after noon, we closed up just to explore some scavenger hunt options. We ordered a sandwich ahead, and walked in the sunshine together, and went through our list of clues. We walked by the lake, found some crayons, split our sandwich, and enjoyed each other's company. The loop we made was about three miles, and then we got some more work done at the store. I loved it. On a normal Saturday I'd never be able to take a break like that. Ironically, because of the lock down, I was not trapped in the store.

I'm starting to become aware of all the ways during normal life that I box myself in, and how too full a schedule can look like a form of quarantine. There are normally days where every hour was spoken for: The alarm would go off at six, I'd prepare breakfast and make sure everyone got off to school, swim my mile, get to the violin store with hair that was still wet and get to work, try to get home in time to see the kids for a few minutes before heading off to a rehearsal, and crawling back in bed where I started sometime after ten. It was all stuff I had chosen and that I enjoyed, but with that kind of schedule I was quarantining myself off from time to create, time to read, time with people I care about. I'm wondering how to restructure my life when the pandemic no longer dictates my options so that I have more true freedom.

I feel right now that we have reached a good place. I know I have. I'm past the grieving and the ennui. I'm excited to get up in the morning and tackle things, which was hard about a month ago. (Not everything, but enough. I'll get there.) Limiting the amount of news I listen to has helped. I acknowledge I am in a privileged position where other than the general isolation, we're not in distress. But I don't think anyone should feel guilt about being happy right now if they can be. I lived through enough of that during the deployments. When Ian was in Iraq, and one of the kids did something adorable, it was bittersweet, because I was always acutely aware that their dad was missing it. And there was an underlying sense of it being inappropriate to have fun while he had to be at war several time zones away.

My heart breaks for people who are enduring great loss at this time. I have concerns and fears about the future. But that's true every day, not just during a pandemic. I can be sad for others while still being proud of my daughter for getting into the school of her choice. I can honor people's sacrifices while still being glad to get to snuggle with my son on the couch during a movie. I don't have to feel guilty when our chattering bird makes me smile. Hardship comes to everyone at some point. No one escapes pain in life. So if you've managed to escape some now, during these peculiar and difficult times, appreciate it. Don't try to mitigate it to balance things out in the world. Take joy when you can get it. Especially now.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

End of an Army Era

Today was my husband's last Army drill.

The official retirement date on his orders is the 15th, but today was supposed to be his retirement ceremony. That bit of formal recognition of 21 years of military service was canceled by the current pandemic along with everything else. It was supposed to happen between 11:30 and 12:30 central time, as our handy online calendar notified us this morning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

There's A Duck On Your Head

Today was supposed to be my official book launch. I was all set to do a book reading/signing at Boswell Book Company--my favorite local bookstore. I was going to make cream puffs for it.

When I was offered a list of available dates by the bookstore, and April first was on it, that made the choice easy. I figured, first of all, April Fool's day was easier to remember then a random day in March. And second, if nobody showed, then the joke was on me. Turns out the joke was on all of us, and we nearly all get to stay home.

My dad loved April Fool's Day. Not in a mean prankster kind of way--my dad was anything but mean--but in a devious actor kind of way. I think he always wanted to play a villain in a movie--the clever, dastardly type. He liked the idea of being able to fool us as kids on this one day when he could test his lying ability without being judged negatively for it.

He was good at it, too. He once told us he'd had the car painted purple, and we knew it couldn't be true. It would be silly, and a waste of money, but he said it in such an offhand way as he continued reading the paper, that I did have to sneak off and take a peek through the window at the driveway. He grinned proudly to himself when I came back to the kitchen.

Every year we could at least count on him to tell us there was duck on our heads, or a pig in the sink. My kids do not like teasing of any kind, so April Fool's is not a thing in our house. I did tell my son there was a duck on his head this morning. He smiled. (I'm not as convincing as my dad was.)

In a parallel universe where all our plans did not get canceled, my book signing is still on. And the cream puffs are ready. And I'm still trying to decide exactly which section of my novel to read, and hoping I don't flub the words as I try to share them.

But in this universe, all I can tell you is if you want my book it's online. (Or available for curbside pickup from Boswell's since they have a whole box of them here in Milwaukee.)

And, not to alarm you? But there's a duck on your head.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Plague Break

This is how my daughter has been referring to this unexpected and peculiar time off: Plague Break. It's like Spring Break (which according to our calendar is still approaching) combined with a pandemic. Strange times.

Our family is beyond lucky. As of this moment, the corona virus has not seemed to have touched us, or anyone we know personally. I expect that to change as the year drags forward, but today? Today we are healthy. Today we are fine.

Our state went on official lock down on Wednesday morning, March 25th. There was a flurry of activity in my store right before then, since many people don't view violins and instrument repairs as non-essential. One person even drove up from Chicago to have me set up her soundpost, since Illinois was on lock down already and no shop down there could help her.

Before this week, we'd been by appointment only at the violin store as soon as the public school closures were issued. The protocols we instituted involved lots of hand washing (for both us and our customers), social distancing, and anything people handled and didn't take with them got put into quarantine for several days. It was an odd way to work.

Since the lock down, no one is allowed inside my store. They can leave things on the doorstep that I can bring in after they've backed away. I have been able to deliver certain items. I recently left a violin bow on a porch and found the payment for it in the mailbox. I appreciate more than I can say that I have customers that think to call me first, rather than spend their money online.

Interestingly, we had more rental instruments go out in the past week than come back. People have time to play. I've been carefully asking each person who does return an instrument why they are doing it, because I don't want anyone to feel they can't play violin simply because we're in a peculiar time of financial strain. I would find a way for them to hang onto it for a while, rather than take a violin away from a child at this moment. But so far everyone has assured me their child lost interest, nothing more.

I've been at my store each day, primarily to wait for packages that were already in transit before the lock down order. I've been sharpening tools for work that isn't there. It's very odd to be caught up on repairs.

Very soon I will shift to being completely at home, the way my husband and children have been. I'll join the full-time quarantine, where at least we have each other and there are hugs and a well-enough stocked pantry. (On my last visit to the grocery store at the beginning of the week, I discovered the losing pasta type is Mafalda. Apparently people will take everything else before they will take Mafalda. Who knew?)

What I find really striking so far about this momentous shift we've all been asked to make in our lives, is how quickly so much of it has sunk in. It's only been about two weeks since school was canceled and social distancing rules were explained to all of us. Now when I see images in movies or online of crowds of people smashed shoulder to shoulder anywhere I feel something akin to panic. I'm conscious about how I wash my hands in a way I didn't used to be. Every time someone touches their own face I feel a small alarm go off in my brain.

I'm surprised by how exhausting all of this has turned out to be. And how hard it is to be motivated to do the kinds of projects I usually want to do. Seems like a perfect opportunity to write, or organize things, or get some real work done in my home shop. But I haven't really done any of that yet.

Part of it is that in some way, too much time can be a burden. I've often found that when trying to get somewhere on time, that too much time makes me as late as too little. And in terms of projects, I'm reminded of the saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." People often ask how I have time for all the things I do, and the truth is you grab moments when you can get them and use them to the fullest. But if tomorrow is just as empty as today, there's no hurry. So I keep putting things off because I can.

Another part of it is stress and grief. Those things make you tired. I tried to explain that to my oldest the other night when she was getting depressed and wasn't sure why. I told her it's because this looks like a vacation of sorts, but it isn't. It's a crisis. And even though in our own home things are about the same, having choices taken away never feels right. And she has legitimate things to grieve over. She left school believing she'd go back the following Monday. Instead, without any goodbyes, she's simply done. Not exactly the way we imagine finishing our senior year. She's trying to make decisions about college under unusual circumstances. She misses her friends.

The stories about people this pandemic has impacted directly are scary. There's no getting around that no matter how many cookies we bake. The fact that there is no end date is stressful. All of it makes us want to sleep in and tune it out a little longer.

As much as we've had to give up at this time, I am impressed by how many good things we had, if that makes sense. Most of us tend to focus on the negative side of being too busy. When all of it grinds to a halt, we can appreciate anew what we liked about all of those activities.

Because talk about cancel culture! Watching one thing after another go down like dominoes was rather shocking. Two concerts I was supposed to play were called off. My book signing is indefinitely postponed. I doubt my daughter will have a public graduation. My husband, after 21 years of service, was supposed to have his Army retirement ceremony next weekend, but instead, he just stops going to drill with no real recognition. Almost without exception, everything getting canceled was something we were looking forward to. It's sort of astonishing to be forced to step away from it all and realize how good we had it.

Currently the only thing keeping us tethered to the day of the week is the fact that my son has remote piano lessons on Mondays. That's it. Bedtimes don't matter, mealtimes don't matter.... All my kids are teenagers so the schedule has gotten very loose. The funniest part of Quinn's piano lessons is that he broke his wrist in two places on a ski trip right before the school closures. His left arm is in a cast, which means to play his assignments, I am now his left hand. I'm a viola player, so I don't read bass clef, and looking at chords is confusing. I gave his teacher a good laugh at least, last lesson. I will do better next time! And since I'm not taking Quinn anywhere near a hospital until the pandemic is under control, who knows how long he'll be stuck in that cast? I could become better at bass clef than I ever planned to.

I am enjoying reading more. I normally don't have a schedule that allows me to finish a book in a single day, and now I do. I'm reading to the kids as they gather to do projects some evenings at the dining room table. Mona has been sewing some beautiful things. Aden is drawing more. I've made a new friend on social media whom I think of as my "plague buddy," and we can tell each other stories that people in our own homes have already heard too many times. It will be nice to meet him in real life when the world goes back to normal.

I do wonder what normal will look like, though. I imagine a year from now it will look more like what we remember from just a few weeks ago. But the rest of this year I think will be strange and complicated. This is not something that will simply end in a couple of weeks and everything springs back to life as if we flipped a switch. There will be ripple effects, and I expect to feel them for a while.

Yesterday would have been my dad's 91st birthday. I took a walk by the lake for an hour and called one of my brothers, and then my mom. We agreed that Dad would have weathered quarantine just fine. He would have happily clipped articles at his desk and looked forward to whatever Mom made for dinner. We wonder if he would have noticed the plague break much at all, aside from the newspaper articles suddenly being entirely about covid-19. I feel bad my mom doesn't have his company right now as she's stuck by herself at home.

I loved my walk by the lake. I'm going to take advantage of so much time laid suddenly at my feet and try to do that every day that I can. This afternoon my family came out to walk a little with me. Even the dog who (because he is the world's weirdest dog and doesn't want to go for walks) enjoyed it for a little bit. The lake provides perspective you don't get anywhere else. It's always beautiful, always different. It makes our own concerns seem smaller and fleeting.

If we do this together we can be proud of how we looked out for one another at an uncertain time. Take care of each other and try to see the good. There's always good if you look.

I hope you all stay healthy.

Monday, March 2, 2020

What is it about?

The most natural question to ask an author about their new book is: "What is it about?"

That question makes total sense. Of course someone wants to know what something's about in order to decide if it would interest them. It's a great question.

And I am hopelessly bad at answering it.

The pain starts with having to write a synopsis when you try to submit your book anywhere. My knee jerk reaction is always, "If I could tell this story in a page, I wouldn't have bothered to write a whole novel!" And reducing a story down to its simple plot line doesn't capture anything relevant. If you handed the same synopsis to Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and Ann Patchett, and asked each of them to expand it into a book, you'd get three completely different novels. So what does summing it up even tell us?

And yet, there are genres that don't hold my attention, or subjects I don't really want to spend time with, so I get why it's necessary. I need to be able to talk to people about my writing in a way that lets them know if my book is something they would enjoy.

Here is my attempt to do that with Just Friends, Just War. And instead of pitching the story particularly, I want to share some thoughts about what was knocking around my head when I wrote and revised it, and explain the kinds of questions I was hoping it could address.

My second novel is called Seducing Cat, which many people were reluctant to pick up because when they asked, "What is it about?" I usually answered, "A woman who has an affair."

It's about much more than that. It's about temptation and how we define ourselves and where the line is between living your life to the fullest and behaving selfishly. But I can never think to say that when someone asks me in person what that book is about, usually because I'm like a deer caught in headlights where the whole book and all of its nuances flash before my eyes and it's too much for me to reduce to a single sentence. (It's a little like when someone asks, "How are you?" and your choices are to lay out all of the joys and traumas and your existential crisis of the moment, or just say, "Fine." Most of us only have time for "Fine.")

In any case, Seducing Cat was about two people who were together who probably shouldn't have been. I decided as a launching point for my next book, I wanted to spend time with two people who were not a couple, but that others would think should be. That's where Just Friends, Just War began.

When I write, I start with the characters, and make sure I understand them well before I begin putting them into different situations. I came up with Alex and Claire.

I wanted them to be different, but compatible. I thought about political discussions I'd had with various people back in college--people I liked, but disagreed with. I thought about the kinds of lines we draw when we disagree with people, particularly about politics. Some opinions you can let slide because they are simply different. Others make you question someone's morals or character. I find those lines interesting.

I wanted Claire to be strong, and Alex to be stubborn. I wanted their attachment to each other to be obvious, but not something that needed to be said in words to one another. If I wrote them right, I wanted readers to go back and forth between liking Alex a lot, and not liking him much, and to sometimes be uncomfortable about what to do with that. I wanted people to go back and forth between admiring Claire, and not always understanding her.

Once I had the personalities of my main characters fleshed out, I needed a setting. I decided to draw on my experiences in a dojo where I'd spent a few years.

My husband and I got our black belts together at the Futen Dojo in Milwaukee, and our sensei there literally turned my notes on doing techniques into a book for students to use. I was not particularly good at jujutsu, but I loved it, and was sad when I started having children that there was no more time for it. I stopped going when I was about four months pregnant with my first baby and couldn't tie my gi closed anymore. By having a dojo be central to the characters and their story, it was a way of reflecting on all the hours I'd spent in that space, and getting to relive some of it again. My characters meet in a dojo and it becomes an important element of their relationship.

Back when I wrote the draft for this book, I was also bracing for my husband to be deployed at any minute. He was in the Army Reserve, and that's a perspective on war that doesn't get portrayed often. By having Alex involved in the same kind of units my husband worked with, I was able to learn a little more about his military experiences while adding details to my character's story. Just Friends, Just War was also a way for me to grapple with my own fears about what deployment would mean to my family when it happened to us.

The power and nature of different friendships interest me. It wasn't until I started writing this book that I realized I was unusual at the time for having so many friends of the opposite sex. I talked to several women in particular who had never had a male friend, aside from someone they interacted with as part of a couple. It would never occur to them to get together with just the guy, and for me it's not an issue at all. I think that dynamic has changed somewhat in recent years, and my children don't think it's strange for people of the opposite sex (or different gender identity, or sexual orientation--not visible options when I was growing up) to be friends.

Likewise, I'm also interested in how your sex matters in different situations. People's expectations of themselves and others can be deeply rooted in their sex, and that topic never bores me. Alex and Claire were good vehicles for comparing and contrasting in what ways being male or female mattered to who they were, how they were treated in the world, and who they could be to each other.

This book spans over a decade of Claire and Alex's relationship, so it begins back in 1995. I had fun researching any time markers in the book in terms of technology, what songs were playing in a particular year, when certain episodes of TV shows were on, and what commercials would have been common. My favorite inclusion was an ad for 1-800-COLLECT, not just because I remember that commercial playing incessantly, but it really dates the time period back when "long distance" was a concern when making a phone call. (I tried to explain to my kids about how when I was young, we had to wait until after "business hours" for the long distance rates to drop low enough we could call someone out of state. They didn't seem to understand how that was a thing.)

And finally, I wanted by the end of this book for the reader to feel the weight of time and experience in terms of how relationships are built. When you've simply known someone long enough, mundane things become meaningful, and shared memories become like legend and lore. By the last few pages, every line should have meaning that it couldn't in the beginning. Because you've walked through so much with them, the weight of each object and gesture should be almost palpable. Alex and Claire should feel like your friends, too.

My new novel is Just Friends, Just War.

What is it about? Friendship, relationships, love, war, sacrifice, and martial arts.

I worked hard on it. It's good. You'll like it, and I believe the characters will stay with you for some time. Find your copy here, or better yet, come get one at Boswell Book Company on April 1st at 7:00pm when I do my reading and book signing--support a great independent bookstore and snack on homemade cream puffs. (Hope to see you there!)

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Recognized and Unnamed

I've been swimming at the local county pool since before my children were born. It's good exercise, but for lap swimmers it's rather solitary, which suits me fine. I want to go, get in my mile, and head to work. I use the time to let my mind wander as I go back and forth across the pool; I sort out problems or come up with new ideas to make the time seem more productive.

The other half of the pool not sectioned off into lanes by ropes is the social side. It's where the aqua-aerobics people meet in the mornings, and kids play in the afternoons. The people over there chat as they are led through different routines.

There is a core group of regulars at the pool in the morning. The aqua-aerobics classes are mostly women, and lap swimmers tend to be men, although there are obviously exceptions. Few people cross from one side to the other. Everyone recognizes who goes where.

Here is the thing I've been thinking about lately as I cross the pool 64 times in a row: When we think of people in our lives, we think of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. We don't think as often of the vast number of people who populate our days whom we recognize but can't even name.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

There's Always One More Thing

Thinking way, way back to when I had my first baby, one of the more vivid adjustments was to how relentless much of the responsibilities feel.

There were plenty of lovely, quiet moments. Moments when I would hold my sweet baby and watch her laugh, and feel her touch my face, and I would try to sear all of it into my brain so I could remember it for both of us. For the most part, she was an easy baby who grew into an adorable toddler and then a charming little girl, and eventually a very sweet teenager.

But at every stage there was always something to monitor, or get past, or solve. There was colic, or eczema, or weird rashes, or hives. Was she getting enough tummy time? There were vaccinations, and ear infections, and wondering if I was exposing her to enough new experiences. Figuring out school for our first child was an ordeal. At some point there were allergies and ear tubes and questions about socialization. There were concerns about how she was handling her dad's deployment. There were concerns about adjusting to his return. There were struggles with certain subjects, and drama with friends, and learning to drive, and cook, and how to frame her passions into something that looks like a future.

Today my daughter is in her last year of high school, preparing to graduate and applying to colleges. She's legally an adult now, but always my baby. There are new things to worry about, and to try and help her solve.

There is always one more thing.

I don't remember when tummy time officially ended. It was a regular real concern until it no longer was. Because whatever the new thing was, it took over, and we monitored and worked on that. And the cycle continues with each new thing, until you look up one day and realize your baby is eighteen and in some arbitrary official sense your job is "done."

But it's never really done. Because there is always one more thing. That's what life is.

And it goes by frighteningly fast.