Jodi Picoult’s Occult Mystery

Occult: adj: “of involving, or relating to supernatural, mystical, or magical powers or phenomena.”

 

Jodi Picoult’s 23rd novel Leaving Time, is surprisingly so much more than a moving saga about grief, loss of a mother, and the wonderful world of elephants. I just finished reading this nearly over-whelming book, even as her next block buster debut’s this week. Leaving Time has haunted me for a week since I completed it. Not just because it confirms what I’ve always considered: that elephants live more dignified, loving lives within families who protect and support one another. Or that love lasts beyond time and space, so when we lose someone we love, the love survives. But what intrigues me most, as a writer, is how Jodi interweaved the occult within the fabric of this mystery in a way that slips the unassuming reader—the reader who would not normally read a book with paranormal aspects—into the thick of the drama. Not until the very end do we learn that two of the main characters are, in fact, dead and were the entire manuscript. We are left questioning the dimension in which they lived, one where the dead continue living a bustling life which contains a world with school, family, binging, boozy nights, dating, money problems, work issues, rent to be paid, etc. It’s a dimension where it’s possible they (and everyone within it) don’t realize they are dead, and they don’t have all the answers, nor the ability to find the people they love. The notion that we die and all the answers are revealed, is turned on its head. The common held belief that our dead loved ones are a thought away, is also dismissed, as 13-year-old Jenna, the main character, searches for her mother Alice Metcalf, a scientist who studies elephant behavior. Jenna hires a broke, formerly-famous psychic named Serenity, and a washed-up, pessimistic, alcoholic detective, Virgil, to help her find Alice. In the end, we learn that Virgil and Jenna are both dead (as well as everyone else they connected with, such as Jenna’s grandmother, a policeman, a lab assistant). Yet, they all seemed to lead vibrant lives with other people in them, bars to go to, cars to drive, policemen to talk with, school teachers, clients, landlords, etc. But apparently their world must lie on another plane of reality, like fine line of ice below the surface of our perception, that somehow, Serenity can see. But even Serenity doesn’t realize Jenna and Virgil aren’t alive, until the very end.

 

Most of Jodi’s interviews about Leaving Time concern the plight of elephants, how they grieve, and how wonderful a metaphor their ability to grieve, is, to her then first empty nest at home. She doesn’t say what motivated her to create such a walloping metaphysical surprise at the end. Stories of the elephants are woven into the book via Alice Metcalf’s notes, that Jenna reads. Alice is a researcher who has lived in Africa, as well as on a New England sanctuary with her husband and then three-year-old daughter Jenna, when she disappeared after a tragic accident leaving one person dead and one mentally insane. Jenna, who was three at the time of the accident, can’t remember what happened and had to be raised by her stoic grandmother. This story alone, is compelling enough to be a best-seller with all the ups and downs of who actually got killed and who slipped away and why. And the glimpse into the world of the elephants and how they are tragically being hurt by poachers, is critical for the world to understand. See this video for example.

What I find ultimately puzzling, is how Jodi manages to pull together so many subplots and themes into one novel, without losing me at any turn. She tackles the occult and afterlife, the plight of elephants, a murder, mental illness, spousal abuse, infidelity, suicide, mother-daughter and grandmother friction, the struggle to follow ones dreams as a mother, and a daughter’s unfailing love for her mother, and the huge emotional and unbearable loss a child endures when a parent abandons them.

It’s a beautiful novel. It’s powerful. It’s unlike any other I have read. Jodi Picoult is only getting better with each novel. You need to read it.

And with a side note to my fellow writers, isn’t it remarkable to think that Jodi Picoult, New York Times best selling author (whose last nine novels debuted number one on this prestigious list) was rejected by 100 agents before one believed in her?

Keep going my friends. And read her book for inspiration!

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Kitty CRAZY!

GreeceJames

This picture is what started it all. Last summer, my James fell in love with a calico cat who visited us in our barn in Greece during my yoga & writers retreat. She chased grasshoppers and shooed away spiders and bees and purred and snuggled and was just adorable. But what I failed to realize, is that she was a cat, not a calico kitten. So…seeing that my son was in need of more unconditional love around the house after our move, I adopted a calico kitten that looks much like our beloved Greek cat. A yoga student, who had seen this picture, called me and proclaimed it was destiny, we had to have this look-a-like kitten. While my boys were with their dad this August, I adopted this little one. But the stars weren’t exactly aligned with this one. Just my luck. Who knew something so cute could end up more like the bunny from hell in Monty Python?!

kitty

Don’t let her cuteness fool you. Sweet, adorable Tabitha, my crazed arch-nemesis! Notice her collar? She’s had this for three weeks due to an infected paw that won’t heal. This hyper diaper high energy gal climbs window screens, tearing them and re-infecting her paw, even after two shots of antibiotics, one round of pills and three different lotion medications. She’s managed to find ways to rip mattresses open from underneath, climbing up inside them and clawing at the coils. A master of untangling woven baskets, and a natural at flying directly up to the top of our refrigerator, only to fly out across our kitchen, as if by hang-glider, landing anywhere: on a lit stove burner, countertops with bowls of prepared food, you name it, she lands on it. Yup, she’s certifiable. And it’s not like she doesn’t have toys. So many, my den resembles a pet shop. But she prefers ‘other’ ways to get her energy out. Like tackling and scratching my ankles the moment I walk into my house—biting my calves deeply as I try to shake her off. In rare sleepy moments where she resembles past kittens of mine who like to snuggle, if I make the mistake of picking her up, she often bites my cheek or chin, so deeply, a few of my students wondered if I had had surgery for skin cancer. I’m not kidding.

For the love of my son, I mentally tell myself: “it’s only a flesh wound.” My youngest adores her. Tabitha sleeps in his bunk bed and even when she scratches or bites him, James still loves her and reminds everyone that she doesn’t mean it, it’s just instinctual. Well, I grew up with cats and I know for a fact that not all kittens are like this. But I just nod to him and wonder what I did to adopt a crazed animal like this who injects stress and frustration and high frequency energy into my house. During the day when I write, I lock myself into my room, not allowing her in, and lock all the bedroom doors and bathroom door so she can’t reek havoc.

Just when I’ve had it and am considering giving this expensive kitten away (four visits to the vet already for her damn paw!) James crept up behind me last week, put him arms around my waist and said: “Thank you SO much for Tabitha! She’s the best gift I’ve ever received. I just love her.”

Geez, well I can’t give the devil cat away now, can I? So, what can I do? Every time I scoop her poop or swat her away from our dinner table, after she’s thrust a dirty paw into my meal, I bite my lip and swallow down the strong urge to pick this little urchin up and throw her into the next door neighbor’s yard with a doberman pincher. Lets just pray that I make it sanely to next year, when the Vet insists that she’ll finally “chill out.”

Sigh. What I do for my children.

What’s Driving You?

driving youAt any given moment, a mother is somewhere in America close to her breaking point. And I imagine that she’s smiling, like I am, in this picture taken last week. Can you see it? Look closely. Behind the smile, somewhere in the eyes, can’t you almost feel the tightness in my chest, the held breath, the swirling thoughts that I’m trying to manage and keep at bay. I was behind the wheel, getting ready to take a kiddo to school, when I snapped the picture. Why did I do this? Because it dawned on me that I no longer knew what was driving me or where I was going mentally that day. As I was getting into the car, un-showered, with my teeth not brushed, my hair not washed, that morning, I had hundreds of thoughts swirling in my mind and none of them had to do with taking care of myself AT ALL. And that’s the life of a single parent, especially the full-time single parent. Not one ball can drop. No sick days allowed. And there’s no family to call nearby to help. And the guilt that comes from me striving to follow my dream to get published, when my kids are in need, bubbles up like ancient frozen methane gas rising to the surface.

But what’s life without dreams? And as much as I love these boys, and I do, I have to still carve out space for me to exist separately. My writing is what centers me and motivates me and has ever since I was 18 and writing for The Red & Black newspaper at UGA.  It’s just hard to juggle all the demands and carve out space for my writing… so typically hygiene, self care and a personal life, is what gets sacrificed. But I think it’s worth it. And in the end, I keep telling myself that it will show my boys that a mom is more than a servant, driver, cook, maid, tutor for her kids. A mom is also a woman who has dreams and aspirations that are just as important as their father’s. I just wish that I could manage to squeak in more balance between the parenting needs, writing time, yoga teaching, to add in a little personal life. But all in due time.

Last week I received great news, insanely welcomed news: a few publishers are interested in my 3rd novel! I am meeting with them in New York in mid December when they will review chapters of my novel for five hours on three different days and then decide if they want to work with me. I can hardly believe it! For months I have been sending agents pitches every week and began to reach out directly to publishers too and … it’s working. 😉

So I’m racing to figure it all out. If their dad can’t fly back, I will likely leave the boys solo for five days to fend for themselves, asking a good friend and neighbor to pop in every now and then. My 16-year-old will be in charge and I’ll just pray that the house is in tact and our kitten still alive when I return!

It’s dawning on me that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for them to do more. I see my friends who let their kids bike and walk to school every day solo and wonder why I never let my youngest do this. Some have their kids make their own breakfasts and lunches and then do their own laundry. We are a single parent household, yet, I hardly ever ask my kids to even take out the trash. I do too much.  Maybe I’m trying to overcompensate for their dad leaving. But in the end, maybe the kids will benefit more from the value of pitching in, helping out. I asked my oldest to take the trash out this week. SCORE! My youngest is making his own breakfast, too. Hip Hip for little victories! Maybe now, I’ll shower and brush my teeth in the mornings before heading out, lol!

The morning of that picture I was experiencing confusing brain drain (see article here) before my day had really begun. Scientists call brain drain the syndrome of over-working brains from multi-tasking non-stop to the point that it becomes hard to make simple decisions. I had stayed up late the night before, after teaching yoga classes, cooking & cleaning up from dinner, trying to wash our kitten’s infected paw (that’s insane! you should see the scratches on my legs!) then filling out applications for financial aid for my son’s symphony trip to Spain, and answering questions from my other son’s therapist. I couldn’t sleep. Yes, I had meditated, but life was too lifey. In the morning, instead of showering and brushing my teeth, I had prepared breakfast, made a lunch box, and dumped out kitty litter and signed parental slips for something or another, while slipping into an energy of fear and lack of gratitude. I suddenly forgot something major, but didn’t know what it was.

It’s time to get more help around the house. I can’t keep up with it all. Shouldn’t I let my nine year old do his own breakfast and lunch box and dump kitty litter for me? I bought the cat for him, right?

The morning of that picture, I had raced through my calendar and a mental list of parental duties/worries I needed to perform, that seemed like they’d over-take my life. Orchestra meeting, check. Soccer dues, check. Dad note regarding birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, check check check. Yoga classes scheduled or subbed, check. Therapist note about my youngest, check. Teacher meeting note, check. PSAT nagging for oldest, check. New York flight and hotel for writer conference, check…can I actually GO??? Easter trip to visit colleges, oh shit. Summer symphony trip shit shit shit.

It’s so easy to get over-whelmed and since my ex and I don’t really talk, I end up managing it all solo, and in my mind, I have discussions with my universal guides about what I should and shouldn’t do until I just drop and feel like I need to wave a white flag or give up teaching or writing. But giving up means giving up a part of myself. I now understand why my mom insisted on working as a social worker while raising four children nearly solo, since my father was away most of the time. If she gave up working in a field she was passionate about, and had worked so hard to achieve, she’d be giving up a part of her soul, her identity.

It’s worth fighting for. It’s just not worth getting sick for. My health and sanity need to be a priority too. So, for now, I’m asking my boys to do more. OH! I signed up for health insurance and dental, as I’ve been three/four years without. I know. I know. … it was just too expensive, but I’m biting the bullet. And, I asked my ex-mother-in-law to fly in for a weekend so I can take time off this month. I asked my boy’s dad to fly in when I go to New York. Baby steps, right? It’s a journey of self discovery. I have to ask to receive. I have to believe that I’m worth it, in order to strive to take better care of myself. Balance requires effort and vulnerability and the willingness to receive help. I love to do for others, I’m a giver. But I need to allow others to give from time to time. I’m learning, slowly. A sense of humor is necessary! 🙂

Have a blessed week!

Laura x

 

 

 

Creating Powerful Characters

So I’m writing my next novel right now. And it’s what agents would call plot heavy. Anyone who loves a good mystery or action story, doesn’t mind that. Yet all the agents I’ve been talking with say they are seeking that magical character.

“I want to connect deeply with the main characters,” one said. Another said, when describing why she turned down a well-written manuscript: “I loved the detail and plot, but I just didn’t bond with the main characters like I wanted to.”

So, what makes people bond/connect with main characters? Think about the characters that you have fallen in love with over the years. What was it about them? Why did you keep reading and then miss them after the novel was over? I’m on a journey to discover what makes us bond with a character. As I was listening to my 16-year-old get ready for school at 6 a.m. this morning, it dawned on me: we all want to hang out with someone who makes us laugh, is entertaining, lightens us up, yet is still tackling major life issues. My 16-year-old, who happens to be sick, still woke up, like he always does, humming. He puts on a playlist, of a lot of 70s music, country, rap, 80s, you name it, and jammed as he prepared for another day. He always has a girl friend offer to pick him up and take him to school. Why? Because he’s the kind of guy who will make you laugh, says insightful things, is smart without being snarky or stuck up and is charming. He’s the kind of guy that will start your day off well and who puts you in a better frame of mind. And he’s constantly joking around, giving ridiculous birthday gifts to friends, like a bidet (french water spout toilet seat) that he gave to a friend who is anal and part Japanese (as Japanese love bidets). He’s silly, yet insanely smart, confident: plays violin and soccer and could care less what ‘hip’ kids think of that. And he’s stylish in his own way, not following surfer trends here in Southern California, but more dapper, like a Londoner or New Yorker. He stands out. Yet he misses his dad insanely and doesn’t understand why he left nine years ago or why his dad lives abroad and chooses to be out of touch, not engaged in William’s day-to-day life. Yet William chooses to be happy, while also not partying or throwing himself into drugs or alcohol, as he’s determined to get a scholarship to college. Maybe, just maybe, my son would make for a great main character—someone the reader would want to pick up and have ride with them on their way to work, so to speak.

I’m re-reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, such a great writing advice book that is insanely funny and helping me to not take my writing life, and the tedious task of getting published traditionally, so seriously. She compared the creation of a good character to that of picking a good friend. With good friends, you’d “ride with them to the dump just to be with them.” Boring friends, on the other hand, (I’m paraphrasing here) could offer to take you to a show and a five-star restaurant, and you’d rather stay home and wash your cat.

And that’s it. Plot really doesn’t matter so much, which is putting me in a quandary with Orbiting Jupiter, my next novel. It is a mystery and is plot heavy and I’m not sure my main character is someone I would ride to the dump with, just to keep talking to. I mean, she’s going through a lot and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown that any woman who has been cheated on repeatedly can relate with. She’s also lovable and kind and artistic, but these are attributes that feel like labels on a name tag. I mean, can she make me laugh? Does she laugh at herself? Is there some quality about her that is so priceless and unique that her friends would be shattered by a life without her? If I’m honest, not yet. She needs to marinate more.

With the development of compelling characters, Anne Lamott says to look at the closest people in your life, or the ones that draw you in, and observe what it is about them that attracts you or is lovable. For me, someone has to make me laugh, help me not take myself so seriously, (while also not poo-pooing my feelings). A person who is tackling their own demons with dignity, or who, upon closer inspection, is more conscious and aware then people would assume, as he/she is humble and not self righteous, pious, or one of those over-the-top spiritual people who seem like they are trying to impersonate Buddha or Jesus himself.

It’s laughter and the ability to be aware and conscious, yet also see through bullshit that usually pulls me in. I once had a lover look at my new tattoo, for instance, and ask what it meant (It’s Japanese). I said “Don’t give up on Life” in a serious, quiet voice. He replied, “It probably means ‘I shop at Vons’ but you just don’t know it.” I laughed so hard at myself afterwards and wanted to see him again. See what I mean?

My sister Sarah is another person that I love with an intensity that I can’t explain rationally. She is insanely lovable to many people, yet can’t see her own light as she battles many demons. I used to wonder why she always attracts men like flies to honey (I know, a competitive little sister thought) but even now, at 53, she has 25-year-olds asking her out! She always has, even when she finds herself in the darkest of places. I think it’s because of her raw honestly, combined with an ability to laugh at herself and others—and her surprising kindness, that can make a person stop and fall to their knees feeling unworthy or ashamed of their own selfishness. With half moon dimples, crystal blue eyes, a horsish, rough chuckle that erupts into a brook that bubbles over, Sarah is just plain fun to be around. She is humming, singing all the time, even when sad, usually Janis Joplin or older country that only she can land perfectly. She also creates art that is breathtaking with sea shells or tiles, like tile sunflowers that somehow seem to move in the light. And when she’s not laughing, or singing at a club with either or the two bands she is in, or playing piano or creating art, she’s able to listen to a friend in need and convince them to back off the mental ledge they are getting ready to jump off of. Sarah is someone people trust—she sees issues with clarity, calls people on their shit in a funny way, and then will be there for any of her friends anytime. She’s just plain fun to be around. I recently heard her answer her phone, laugh to a young man who comes to her shows, and say: “I’m onto you buddy. Listen, you just want what you want when you want it and are trying to make me feel like I’m lucky to have you because I’m older. But you’re the one calling me. Hey, you want to hear a line from the song I’m writing?”

Once when I was with her, on a particularly hard day, (as she is struggling financially and recovering from addiction and depression), she walked up to a homeless woman who had two children beside her and gave this woman a big hug. “You needed that didn’t you?” she said laughing and looking directly into her eyes before giving this woman $5. Sarah bent down and looked at the art the children were making and asked what they were drawing and if they needed more crayons.

As we walked back to the car Sarah said, “I fucking hate people who walk by homeless women like they are lazy or don’t exist. How can people be so cold?”

That’s Sarah. And that’s why the more you get to know her, the more you want to know her, as she inspires you to be more compassionate, thoughtful, creative, and to be honest about your own bullshit and to laugh a little about it. She’s one of the best people I know on this Earth. If she doesn’t succeed in fighting her demons a part of me will die. And that’s the truth.

None of my characters are as compelling as Sarah or William. I’m not planning on putting them into my novels, but they serve as examples of people/characters readers would follow anywhere—even to the dump.

Now Lucy, my main character of Orbiting Jupiter, the novel I’m working on, is not quite there. I’m on the fence about her, which has me stuck in the process of continuing with the novel. Lucy needs to percolate more. I need to see more of what makes her tick and why I should give a shit that her husband cheated. Sorrow and pain and sympathy aren’t enough reasons to fall in love with a person. And maybe that’s why Lucy snaps and takes on another persona? Her alter ego is someone who can make any man stand up, pay attention, laugh and fawn after. I just need to be sure I can captivate the readers long enough with Lucy, until she turns into the more provocative and entertaining Jupiter. There are a lot of pages to read before she makes this transition, and if readers don’t like Lucy, they won’t want to trudge along with her, even throughout the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii.

So I’m going back to the drawing board, back to the beginning, to discover and develop any qualities in Lucy that would make her feel like the type of friend I would feel lucky to follow anywhere.

Fellow writers, any of you go through this? I’m on the verge of starting this novel over, or throwing it out! I won’t trash it just yet, but am on the verge, lol.

 

 

Cosmic Connection? Or Addiction?

The Light We Lost is a must read for all my girlfriends—single or married. Please, all of you, read this book. Jill Santopolo dives into the age-old question: “Why do I love him so much?” She explores why a woman could love one man passionately, insanely, recklessly—and continue to think of him for more than a decade—granting second chances, friendship and compassion—when he had the potential to crush her. Even after he had left her, broke her heart, called only when depressed, and behaved selfishly for years—she always allowed him back in. WHY?

I adore The Light We Lost for so many reasons. Jill is honest in how she portrays Lucy’s weakness for Gabe, who had, and would always, put his needs before hers—whether that be his career or his work out. Even when they lived together, he had major issues. He was secretive to the point of finding a job and arranging to move without telling her; flirty with other women; and not attentive to her feelings when at parties. He was confusing. Gabe proclaimed Lucy was his light, his muse and professed an undying love for her—yet Lucy never met his mother, whom he adored. You get the idea. But Lucy loved Gabe with an unapologetic intensity that she couldn’t control. She loved him more and more over the years—even while married to her stable, successful, happy and loving husband, whose only real crimes seemed to be planning trips to Paris and buying a dog and a beach house, all as surprises for her. 

One could argue that Jill Santopolo’s debut novel romanticized the obsession many women have with the lovable, yet commitment phobic, unobtainable guy. Others may think she romanticized a woman’s longing for heat, lust, good sex with a bad boy, or an exciting and intriguing man. (Gabe took photos for the Associated Press in war regions.) But that’s not a comprehensive answer. I think Lucy’s inability to let Gabe go was rooted deeply in her need not to become her mother and to be seen, heard and respected. Gabe had his faults, but he also listened to, and encouraged Lucy, in all her dreams and career aspirations. Lucy’s husband Darren referred to her career as “cute” and asked for her to stay home with their baby instead of going back to work, using manipulative phrases like: “Don’t you want to stay home? Who else would take as good care of her?” Gabe would never do that, she had mused. Yet Gabe would also be gone for months on end while on the front lines in wars. He wasn’t the logical man to have a child with. And Lucy knew this. Yet she always picked up the phone when he called, even on her wedding day. She became intimate emotionally within the first breath, focussing on whatever His emergency was, whatever His pain was. She raced to see him whenever he was back in New York, even after she was married. It was a risky choice that put the intimacy with her husband at risk.

This book will snare you in, dear girlfriends, from the moment she and Gabe discuss their dreams during their first college date on 9-11. As you read how interested Gabe is in her need to make a difference, to help children all over the world, you’ll wish you had a man like him to talk with. The scenes of him reading her scripts, or helping her form ideas for her children’s TV show, will make you jealous. He cared, and was involved, committed to supporting her success. He was into her: her dreams, her ideas, her thoughts. The two inspired each other to be more, and to keep striving to make a difference. That’s heady stuff. As life chugs along with adulting choices that often require compromises, many women, especially moms, get lost. Lucy wanted to keep that determined, savvy, creative part of herself that Gabe always saw. She missed being able to talk with him about new show ideas. Her husband didn’t care about her job at all.

The fact that Gabe was also hot, romantic, overly sexual, unavailable for long-term commitments, yet still needed her, and her alone, during every crisis—was like crack to Lucy. Add the detail that Gabe was a wounded soul from an abusive father, and now you’ve combined crack with heroine for just about any woman.

This book will help you, my girlfriends, see your own obsessions, co-dependent tendencies and any man who became like a drug for you. I doubt there are real Gabes on this planet—yet there are men who have some of his alluring qualities: the artist; the romantic; the compassionate; the wounded; the leaver, the commitment phobic, yet emotionally intimate; the secretive; the dynamic; the listener; the supporter; the sexual dynamo; the wanderer; the brave; the Shakespeare quoter, you get the idea. He had so many hooks for Lucy, but think back and notice which similar hook was within the one you couldn’t say no to. The one you betrayed your self respect for by taking back again and again due to your irrational love that you    just    could    NOT      LET      GO.

Maybe you’re still fighting the temptation? Maybe he’s the one you could take back again, because you just don’t understand why you love him so. Even after he has hurt you time and time again and shown an inability to respect, love or be available for you, a part of you wants him back, right? It’s not explainable. The idea of never smelling him again or hearing the sound of his whisper in your ear, or his hand on your low back is excruciating, isn’t it? Maybe it’s romantic. Maybe he’s your soul mate or husband from another life time. I’m sure you think the connection is cosmic.

But maybe, just maybe, he’s an addiction.

Read her book, girlfriends. And tell me what you came up with! 🙂

L. xo

#enough.

My Dear Neighbor:

I do not know you. But I do know one thing. You are NOT physically OK like the police report stated. Not just after what you went through. After your body heals, you are not going to be mentally or spiritually OK for a long time either. My heart goes out to you. The clean-cut, nicely dressed stranger, who brazenly walked into your front door on Sunday afternoon and raped you, is sick. And he may attack others. The sheer audacity of a man to walk into your front door, on a Sunday, and then just walk out the front door after the attack, is terrifying. I imagine that you will re-play that horrific experience over and over again every time you come back home. The violation; the brazen lack of fear; the violence; the planning that likely went into it.

This man may have walked away free, and may not think much about it later—but you, my dear neighbor, will likely never forget it. You are changed forever. I wish I could say that you’ll be fine. I wish I could say that you won’t have nightmares, or that you won’t get up in the middle of the night and check your locks repeatedly. I wish I could say that you’ll soon feel sexy and free and trusting again. But it will take time. And there will be flash backs.

Your friends, who you dare to tell, may not show up for you, as rape is a subject no one is comfortable with. Even the most ‘spiritual’ of your friends may forget about it a few months from now because they don’t want to think about it. You will likely avoid them, or avoid taking ubers home alone, or avoid walking into your house alone for years. Forgive your friends for not checking in six months from now when you become paralyzed and debilitated with fear. No one wants to think about rape, or the world-shattering effects it has on a person’s life.

But we need to think about it. And we need to care more. Rape is an epidemic in our country. Every 98 seconds a woman is sexually assaulted in America, according to RAINN.org. One in every six American women has either been raped, or been a victim of an attempted rape. It’s mind-blowing. It’s shocking. It’s disgusting.

My neighbor, you may feel overwhelmed, angry, helpless and hopeless. Move through all the feelings, get help from a therapist, and then fight your way back to hope again.

All men are not like this man. And even though it can seem like we women are now surrounded by misogynistic and degrading men everywhere we turn— from our president, to our favorite talk show hosts. But not all men hate women. You will feel safe in your house again. Maybe you’ll get a dog who will charge down anyone who tries to enter—like mine did—saving me from a home invasion 15 years ago.

Just know this, dear neighbor: love exists, even in the broken places.

You will laugh again.

You will get stronger.

You will love again.

You will heal.

You will not always be scared.

If you ever read this blog and want to find me, my doors and arms are open, and I will listen to you any day, any time.

Now to the pathetic excuse of a man who attacked you:

Rape is an attack of a person’s soul. In my eyes, what you did is the same as attempted murder. You tried to murder this woman’s life as it once existed.

You may have gotten away with it this time, but Karma is a Bitch. 

Maybe, as Marianne Williamson says, love is the only thing that is real, and all violence is an illusion—but I see you. I see you right now lingering in your dark, shadow vibration that wants to, and feels entitled to, hurt others. And I know deep down that you see your worthless and disgusting behavior for what it is.

You will not get away with this in the long run. No matter how many others you attack. You will get caught. And when you die, I pray that you will have to re-live this moment and any others. I pray that somehow, someway, the angels and spirit guides for all the women you have attacked, will show you just what rape feels like—from the inside out. You will feel and see their fear, their pain, their tears, as your own. Isn’t that what ‘One Love’ is all about? See, I’m one of those southern yogis who believes that the Holy Spirit moves powerfully within the flow of Universal forces that steer us in the direction of love. And love isn’t just an ethereal feeling. To love is to try to understand, and to care, and to be kind, and to empathize and to hold yourself accountable and to make amends when you don’t treat others, as you would have yourself be treated.

You will, one day, truly understand what you have done. You cannot fool God. As you sow, so shall you reap. I pray that you will be personally guided closely toward that conscious light of love. I pray that you will be steered up-close and thrust within its blinding light.

Can you feel it burning?

You will.

Seeking the Write Life

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What a dreamy writing spot I had last year in Greece! This is where I wrote a bulk of my last novel, Between Thoughts of You.  I led a Yoga & Writer’s Retreat in a remote area of Styra, Greece on the Delenia Cliffs—about a 30 minute drive from Nea Styra port and where few cars enter, due to hair-line turns on rocky, unpaved roads. These ancient roads roll past trails leading to ruins called Dragonistas, or pre-historic Dragon Houses of unknown origin mentioned in the Iliad. What an inspiring spot to write! For me. (But it might have been too remote for some of my yogis, lol.) I have a bohemian side from my North Carolina roots where I was raised near horse farms and in what Californians would consider rustic terrain.  I love being close to nature, hiking, listening to crickets—especially when they are competing with crashing waves. Add a night sky filled with stars and you can see why I didn’t mind living in a barn for a week—even if it had bats and huge spiders! I gave the main house to the yogis, who had pool and cliff and Aegean views, as I had my private writing spot every morning and most afternoons.

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As the yogis decided to snorkel or sight see or hire drivers to take them to towns with restaurants and bars, I stayed put and wrote. Yes we had sunset yoga & meditation classes daily and three writing workshops, but days were open to explore. I mainly stayed put. Maybe I should have ventured out more, but I was focussed. I did this in Rome the previous spring—writing most of my days in seclusion, and walking around after sunset for inspiration. It helped me craft this novel and finish the first half. I was so close to finishing the whole draft when we were in Greece, that I just had to keep going.  As a full-time single mom, I get so few full days to write. You may say that I fight for the time to write, when most of my friends lament of paralysis and procrastination. I can’t wait until that’s all I’m battling! For me, I juggle school stuff and homework for the boys, cooking, laundry, cleaning and soccer during the week—and I admit that I may not juggle it all that well. The minute I start to visualize where my novel is going, I find a way to sit down and write, whether at school, on the side-lines of a game, or even in bed at 5 a.m. where my black notebook lives in my side drawer. I dream of the days when I live “the write life” —meaning a life where I can devote five hours a day to my writing. I’m not even sure how I’ve managed to write three novels and am starting my fourth as the last nine years have been filled with sorrow, diapers and now a teenager all navigated solo. But it’s my journey. While I should be proud of what I’ve accomplished, I’m not completely. I’m determined to get better at my writing and at managing my time & life with my boys. I sent my last novel to beta readers and friends and must have edited it five times. I dream of the day when I get published traditionally. I love collaboration. I’ve been an editor of magazines, and I dream of working with an editor and agent and having that contract so I can write full-time, while of course teaching 2-3 yoga classes a week for balance and sanity! Until then, I will sneak writing time. I will steal a few moments here, a few moments there, and have a messy home for it and prepare too many frozen dinners.

My boys know that I’m focussed. I spoke with an executive at Random House earlier this year, showing him my synopsis and he said to me: “can you just get an agent so I can help you.” The traditional route demands representation. Self publishing demands marketing and self-promotion savvy. I don’t mind doing some, but I’m already writing my next novel. Who knew it would be harder to get an agent than to write to novel? But I continue to try and I continue to learn. I’m pitching an agent every week, as well as small publishing houses, a few have my novel now for consideration. I’m submitting to writing contests as well. It’s a business and I need not take rejection so personally, as many agents and publishing houses have specific genres/voice they are seeking and it changes constantly due to fluctuations and trends in the market place. I’m keeping an open mind and open heart.

And until that contract manifests, there is always another yoga & writer’s retreat! Next summer I’ll be in Spain watching my 16-year-old perform in opera houses and symphony halls. Isn’t that amazing? I can’t wait to watch him play violin, (and probably cry!) and then set up shop for my yogis. I’m debating between Madrid & Barcelona…I love both. There is power in creating space virtually, emotionally and physically to write while in inspiring get-a-ways. There’s just something magical that happens when taking that plunge—getting on a plane, leaving our bills, our neighbors, our little world behind that can become suffocating or distracting. It allows us to open up to possibilities. In the very least, it allows us to get inspired and talk about our dreams. As adults, it’s easy to shut down and lean into responsibilities, demands and fear. But without a little adventure and a little exploration, life becomes dull and heavy. We all need and deserve an injection of inspiration!

I can’t wait to tell you where the next retreat will be. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to juggle: to seek balance between loving my boys and supporting their needs, while striving to write another captivating novel that hopefully shows the power and survival of love—that always exists, even in the broken places.

Until then, have a beautiful month.

Laura x

When a Child is Suicidal

My world turned on a dime two weeks ago. In an instant, I felt like I was in a fast-moving vehicle on the highway, skidding out of control, yet time defied the law of physics as the wheels screeched, the car spun out, fish-tailing and beginning to flip. It may still be on its side, mid flip, and I’m praying my son is in his seat belt and that we will land safely off to the side of the hectic freeway. That’s how it felt when I learned my nine-year-old nearly committed suicide last year. Thank God he told me. I’m beyond sad. And, everything else has come into sharp focus for me. ALL of my choices. ALL of my daily activities and where my attention goes on a daily basis is all under sharp scrutiny. My life for the past nine years has slowed down in my mind, frame by frame, allowing me to analyze how I have been living. I’m making brave choices right now too, as it’s becoming drastically clear what I can—and should—be doing differently to make my baby a priority. I guess you can say I’m in triage mode.

Two weeks ago I found out my baby, who was home with his big brother on a Saturday morning when I was teaching two yoga classes, actually got severely depressed. His big brother, doing what big brothers do, decided to go out with friends and let his little eight-year-old brother play on the XBox. But the gaming got my youngest depressed and sad. He said he thought about all the boys who had been bullying him at school. He thought about how my life would be better if he had never been born. He said he knew his big brother and I would still be living in London with his dad—that his dad would never have left, had he never been born. My heart exploded. My youngest put a knife to his throat and allowed it to make a mark as he said he listened to two voices: one saying to do it, that he didn’t deserve to live, that he was a bad kid. The other saying not to do it, not to crush his mother or his brother. I thank the angels who must have intervened that day and convinced him to put the knife down.

My heart aches. Six months went by and he never told me. Last week, he tried it again. Or he tried to grab a knife again. I took it away from him. All knives are hidden in my house now. How can he not see how adorable, kind, loving, smart and fun he is? How can he not see the lovable and deserving person he is? We’ve been doing gratefuls every night since he was born. It’s not enough. I got him a life and sport coach two months ago. A kid who is beyond inspiring and fun. They exercise, they create mantras and goals for the week, but it works temporarily. Like exercise in general, my son gets the lift from the exercise, but the next day he’s down again. I put him in a brain study at USC and it proved his IQ is very high and that he is emotionally and intellectually about 3 grade levels above his level. This week the neuroscientists concluded he feels isolated because the boys in third grade bore him or are too physical with him. Much too physical.

So I’m exploring my options. I’ve reached out to therapists. One wanted $300 /hour and six months of therapy payment upfront. Um. NO. One of the neuroscientists at USC is working on finding me someone who takes insurance.

But really, my little guy just needs a friend. I was insanely shy when younger, but I had that one BFF. It makes all the difference in the world. In Hermosa Beach, capital of volleyball and a town that attracts professional athletes, most kids at his school are very active, cocky and surf boy stylish. James is cerebral and artistic and would rather read a book that most sixth graders are reading He isn’t fitting in. He’s been hit, kicked, slapped, punched and even had a baseball bat to his gut on the playground. Nothing done.

So, I’m exploring my options. But being a full-time single mom who can now never, ever leave him alone, it’s scary. I won’t lie. I have no family here who can help on a daily basis, I can’t afford a nanny, and know few friends who get it, or who I could trust, or even who have kids this age. But I’m hopeful. And I’m making major changes that need to be made.

Within two weeks, I broke up with someone I had only been dating a month. He was selfish. He demanded a lot of my time. He whined and kept asking me to drive long distances to see him and he gave nothing in return of significance. He didn’t understand what I’m going through, nor does he really care. Done. I’m not dating, AT ALL, for a long time. My son comes first. I’m dropping teaching yoga classes that are in the evening or require three + hours of my time to open the studio, and to lock up after, as my son can not be alone, ever. And I can’t risk something happening while my older son is babysitting. Can you imagine? That would be cataclysmic.

I’m looking into alternative schools and seeing if they will offer scholarships based on the findings from the USC study. Next week I take off most of my yoga classes and have put my son into an advanced science rocket camp at the California Science Center. I’ll drive downtown every day and hang out there in case he needs me, squeeze in some writing time. I’m trying to talk with his dad too, as he’ll be seeing the boys for a few weeks in early August. He can’t leave his son alone, ever. I’m scared too death. But I have to trust the Universe, trust that his big brother will be ‘on’ during their vacation and I’m choosing to believe my son who promised he won’t try to hurt himself again. And, I’m getting a pet. That’s a BIG compromise for me. I’ve honestly gotten ‘over’ pets. I grew up with them: cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, frogs, you name it, we had it. But now I’m tired of fur everywhere: choking on it in bed, or having wet dog or cat food smell in a small house. It turns my stomach. But we need more unconditional love in this house, so I’m getting a pet this weekend. Something for my son to love, to help take care of, and to look forward to seeing when he returns from visiting his dad.

Life is hectic right now, but also beautiful. I’m razor focused on the love I have for my boys. I’m focused on the kind of life I need to live to keep them safe, to help them feel loved and to one day thrive. Eventually I will find the support I need. Instead of focussing on what I don’t have and what I can’t do, I’m focussing on what I DO have and what I CAN do. I miss my mom desperately, who died of early onset Alzheimer’s. She was amazing with my kids and such a kind soul. But life goes on. USC will likely be my boon for finding support. A concerned therapist gave me her cell phone number. I’m beyond touched by their kindness and open hearts. The owner of the main yoga studio where I work, is adjusting my schedule so I can mainly teach morning classes and another studio in town is hiring me for day classes only. And my oldest will have to pitch in for now when I need help. His little brother can never be alone until stable.

IF I don’t blog in a while, just know I’m focussed and wishing you love & light.

Laura x

Achieving Equality: A PipeDream?

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Pic from ExhaustedWoman.com

 

Did you go into your marriage, pre-children, expecting to have equitable parenting duties with your husband? Did it ever occur to you that your career would be deemed less important, therefore you’d be expected to have more time to shop, clean, care-take? Did you ever imagine that you would have less time off to replenish, while working more than your spouse? If you knew all this going into your marriage, would you feel differently about your husband?

Equitable parenting duties. Equal time off. Mutual respect. In 2018, according to multiple studies, these are still drastically missing within heterosexual couples who have children.

In reality, for most American women, these ideas are mere pipe dreams. It’s just not how our society, and how most fathers, behave. Period. End of story. There is a lot of research to back this up. See the links below for in-depth articles in The Washington Post, Forbes and Time magazines. 

Maybe in the top echelons of society among very young couples who live in democratic, liberal University settings, do you see fathers who are doing more and are behaving with more respect. But for the most part, throughout America, at every age and social and economic demographic, this isn’t the case. A woman’s career can be treated like a hobby and not as important as a man’s, by his behavior—forcing a woman to feel battered into doing the lion’s share of parenting, cleaning, care-taking of in-laws, parents and organizing of family activities.

For example, one mom interviewed said her husband “Just doesn’t get up.” She explained that her young husband will remain drinking his coffee at the kitchen table and checking his phone, while his wife, also a full-time working executive, is racing to put together backpacks, get the children dressed, prepare lunches. It puts her at a disadvantage with work as well as loading her down with stress, anxiety and bitterness—resulting in poor health and marital resentments, lack of sex drive and dissipating connection between mom and dad. And the children notice. They see what we do, much more than what we say—and model our behavior. Which is why many experts say the misogyny behind the #metoo movement, has its roots at home where mom is undervalued, taken for granted and disrespected.

In the Washington Post article Where do Kids Learn to Undervalue Women? From Their Parents, multiple studies showed that: “even progressive spouses don’t divide burdens equitably. The children notice.”

According to university research, conclusions ranged from misogyny budding from modeled parent behavior to malignant gender dynamics being passed down generation to generation.

Sadly, recent studies showed the following, reported by Darcy Lockman:

“Among heterosexual parents, fathers — even the youngest and most theoretically progressive among them — do not partake generously of the workload at home. Employed women partnered with employed men carry 65 percent of the family’s child-care responsibilities, a figure that has held steady since the turn of the century. Women with babies enjoy half as much leisure time on weekends as their husbands. Working mothers with preschool-age children are 2 1/2 times as likely to perform middle-of-the-night care as their husbands. And in hours not so easily tallied, mothers remain almost solely in charge of the endless managerial care that comes with raising children: securing babysitters, filling out school forms, sorting through hand-me-downs.”

Ey ey ey people.

I feel strongly that this lack of respect and “unawareness” among fathers who overburden their wives by not stepping up, is the root of divorce. I’ve seen so many moms become severely bitter, insecure and disconnected without hope they can ever achieve their dreams within this family dynamic. This is likely the reason why so many mothers look forward to their alcohol binging nights out with other moms, highlighted in The Bad Moms movies. And it is also why I, as a full time single mother for the past nine years, feel extremely lucky. At least as a sole parent, I don’t have ANY expectations that a partner will be, or should be, doing ANYTHING for me and my boys within the household on a daily basis. No one will be prepping for schools, buying foods, cooking dinners, planning sports and summer camps, going to parents nights or performances, yard work, etc. It’s just me. Surprisingly, I find peace and liberation with this as I have lost all my bitterness from needing that from someone. I am also never, ever going to live with someone who may be critical of my appearance, or my house’s appearance, my cooking (or lack thereof), or parenting abilities—while also pouting about my lack of sexual desire at the end of the night. I’m tired. Yet, I’m following my dreams again and writing novels and teaching yoga and my boys know that mommy needs help at home and that her dreams are just as important as their own.

When I was married, my older son was learning something different. He was learning that mommy’s dreams don’t count, because they don’t pay as well as daddy’s, and that she needs to do the lion share of parenting and cleaning and deserves less time off than daddy. And I’m to blame for allowing this dynamic. I used to think my ex taking our son to the park on a Saturday afternoon, after he had been gone all week and I had spent late-nights catching up on work, meant that I had an hour to clean the house and race to the grocery store. It didn’t occur to me to get a massage and let him help me do the other stuff later. Yet I was working full time as a magazine editor and taking care of our son solo and staying up late managing deadlines. Where did I get this misconception that I had to work, work, work and never rest? From my parent dynamic of a working full – time mother who did all the parenting. It really does get passed down generation to generation and women (especially those raised in the South) are taught to believe that they are just more compassionate, better organized, better at cooking, more patient and therefore, better at parenting, so it’s easier for us. I can’t tell you how many times I heard friends prepare weeks of food for their husbands before leaving for a work trip because their husbands “just can’t open a can of soup.”

This has to stop. Having a penis doesn’t mean a man can’t cook, tuck a child into bed, read bedtime stories, grocery shop, plan birthday parties, volunteer at schools, design holiday cards, and help with in-law care-taking. None of these activities are exclusively made for humans with vaginas. But I understand why women just do the extra work when they fear that it just won’t get done otherwise.

It took divorce and becoming a full-time single mother for me to realize that I allowed this toxic, old-fashioned inequitable dynamic to exist by not demanding my ex do more. If I had boycotted the home situation, protested, left for an extended amount of time while leaving our child at home, perhaps my ex would have seen what was going on. Or likely, he would have hired a full-time nanny and not fretted about the cost.

I predict there will be a shift in the American family (heterosexual) dynamic within the next 50 years where women just opt out. We’re tired. And we’re worthy of time off and help. It’s time for us to raise our hands, lift our white flags and say ENOUGH. Doing it all and being everything to everyone, enables a toxic old-fashioned view of parenting, and is just not worth ruining our health and forgetting our dreams for.

If this has riled you up, sadly, here are more articles and studies regarding the lack of gender equality in American households and society:

“A stunning chart shows the true cause of the gender wage gap.” 

“From concubine to CEO, how far have women really come?” Forbes, Dec. 20, 2015

“The Parenting Fantasy that holds Women Back” Time, Oct. 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can a Childhood Decision Shape Your Life? Anne Tyler Thinks So.

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Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, recently revealed that her next book Clock Dance, is based on her theory that a person’s entire life and identity can be shaped by a single decision made in early childhood. As early as seven years of age, Tyler says a child can know exactly who they want to be and what type of temperament they want to have. For instance, Tyler said in her published Note prefacing Clock Dance:
“I believe that our entire lives can be shaped by a single decision that we make during childhood as to who, exactly, we should be. As to how we should be, what kind of people we want to become. ”

She provides a few examples of decisions she made when seven years of age, after studying the two grown ups in her life. Upon comparison of her parents, Tyler decided that she’d rather be like the steady, gentle, patient one, instead of the sharp tempered and erratic one. And that being the case, she knew she’d have to not marry anyone patient, as clearly, there “is only a certain amount of patience to be had, and you don’t want it all to go to the other person.”

She leads readers to surmise that one decision to be the patient one, basically formed her life and became the catalyst for her next best selling novel.

Do you agree with her theory? Can we decide as early as seven who we will become? What our personality traits will be? Maybe. But then again, don’t we always have the opportunity for reflection and to change, to grow? Or maybe we just humor ourselves with the idea that we can or will change, yet underlying personality traits of either being hyper, dramatic, patient, shy, short-tempered, etc. are embedded into our soul like a watermark that never leaves. So are we born with any genetic predispositions, or do we choose all of our personality traits based on our environments and what we choose to become?

What do you think?