making room

A few weeks ago I phoned my son Jack in Asheville. “How would you feel about me taking over your bedroom at home and turning it into a writing space?” I asked.

I’d hesitated for weeks before raising this idea. But Jack didn’t hesitate in his response. “Oh, that’s fine,” he said, “you can do whatever you want with my room.”

Although we have a tiny office on the first floor of our house, I’ve never written a word in it. The desktop computer is my husband’s and his in-box sits beside it, overflowing with not-urgent papers and clippings and instruction manuals. The window above the desk looks out to the driveway and whatever vehicles happen to be parked there. The counter is a repository for checkbooks and bills to be paid, stamps and envelopes. And the chair, just the right height for Steve, is not very inviting to me. The office is a perfectly good place to write a check or Google driving directions, but it’s not a space my muse has ever chosen to visit.

Most of the words I’ve produced over the last ten years in this house have come from a stool at the kitchen table, where I look out to a view of fields and mountains and sky. I’ve spent countless hours perched there, staring out the windows above the sink while trying to pull my thoughts together. As a mother, as a wife, as a cook and homemaker, and also as a writer, I’ve always been drawn to this room, my own home base, whether I’m chopping something, stirring something, washing something, or writing something. Soups and emails, jars of jam and blog posts, thank you notes and books, all have come from my kitchen. More often than not, several of these things are coming together at once, which means that the written work can easily be shifted to the bottom of my priorities list. No one actually cares if I write or not, but dinner does have to appear on that table every night.

And yet, as summer turned to fall this year, I found myself longing for some other kind of place, a place not in the middle of the action but away from it. A place in which some new work might begin to take shape, privately and quietly. A place where there is nothing that needs to be chopped or watered or cleaned or stirred, where books of memoir and poetry would be easily at hand, and where my laptop and notes and papers don’t have to be put away at the end of the day so that placemats and napkins and silverware can be laid out in their place. [continue…]

is video game addiction
a real thing?

It’s January, 2009. I’m sitting at the desk in my older son’s bedroom, putting finishing touches on a memoir about the fleeting beauty of ordinary life — a book I began in an attempt to hold on, just a little longer, to my two children as I  want to remember them in these years right before they grow up and leave home: tousle-haired, always hungry, generally happy, busy, and still (blessedly) around.

I’ve been writing The Gift of an Ordinary Day while living it for a while now, living it with a bittersweet awareness of just how good life is when we are fully present to its small mysteries and miracles. Despite the inevitable complexities of parenting adolescents, for the most part our family life seems rich and satisfying. And this winter, the end of the writing is in sight at last. I have only to complete a brief, upbeat afterword — a glimpse of Henry midway through his freshman year of college and a trip I’ve just taken to visit him — and the book will be done.

However, even as I’m revising these final pages, the plot of our family story is taking a new, darker turn. The irony is not lost on me. I’ve just spent the better part of a year celebrating and honoring our family’s life together and now, it seems, our family is falling apart. And I have no idea what to do about it.

One gray winter afternoon, I email my editor that I’ve finished, attach the final pages of my manuscript, and hit the “send” button. I bundle up and go outside for a walk, to clear my head.

And then I return to my computer and Google the words “video game addiction.” [continue…]

saving Jake —
a mom’s story & a give-away

51w9S21cSJL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Since writing last week about my son Jack’s addiction and first steps in recovery, I’ve been inspired and humbled and deeply moved by the stories so many of you have shared, both here on the website and in private emails. This conversation, still ongoing, is a beautiful, necessary reminder that we are all connected — not only by our struggles but also in our hope for our loved ones and in our compassion for one another’s challenging, complicated journeys.

Our culture is obsessed with perfection – and with hiding our problems. But what a liberating thing it is to realize that our private battles are, in fact, universal. And that they are also our richest opportunities for being able to fully share in both the grief and the joys of others.

And so, in that spirit of compassion, I would like to share with you an intimate, courageous book that made a profound impression on me.

Last May a reader of The Gift of an Ordinary Day wrote to say that my book had been “a balm” to her “roughened mother’s soul.” D’Anne went on to reveal that she’d come to cherish life’s quiet, mundane moments by way of a different path: “My 23-year-old son is three years clean from Oxy and heroin.” [continue…]