Resilience

About six months after my 19-year-old daughter Maya died, I remember walking home from the commuter train station in so much pain I was not sure I could make it. When I reached my driveway, I was choking back tears. I looked up and saw a giant Redwood tree, the furls and gnarls in the bark, the majestic branches, and the strength coming from that tree went straight to my soul. In that moment, I realized that, like the tree, I had to stand through all weather until the storm passed.

Today’s WOW! Women on Writing guest blog appears at Create Write Now, where I reflect on how, like the tree, I had to be resilient.

When the unimaginable happens, how do we go on? This is the question Swimming with Maya attempts to answer. How do we get back up after life knocks us down? As a memoir, my book is a very personal account of one woman’s journey. It is not a self-help book, but it is inspirational and motivational because it shows how I became more resilient than I ever thought I could be.

Resilience is mysterious! For me, it’s a combination of divine grace and luck of the draw. I’ve always been an optimist. Perhaps I was born that way, or maybe I absorbed it as a child by watching my mother and father.

Both my parents were professional actors and my Dad’s motto was “The show must go on.” Even under trying circumstances, my parents expected me to go out and do my best. I saw both my parents do this against tough odds so I picked it up early.

I learned to find humor in almost any situation. The saying “Tragedy plus time equals comedy” rings true for me. While I can’t quite get there with Maya’s death, I can remember plenty of other difficult experiences and laugh about them. Humor figures in some parts of Swimming with Maya, and in almost everything I write there is always a dollop of irony. I try not to take myself – or life – too seriously!

The geriatric psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky, MD, writing in Psychiatric Times, says resilient people are characterized by commitment, dynamism, humor in the face of adversity, patience, optimism, faith and altruism. My type-A father was naturally gifted with six of the seven traits, but Dad was not a patient person.

As my father aged, he faced challenges that would have defeated many.  He recovered from colon cancer surgery and a broken hip, and until his death at the age of 92, was president of the resident’s council at his nursing home, despite his advancing dementia. His final illnesses forced patience upon him.

Whether by nature or nurture, I have followed my father’s example by handling setbacks with renewed determination. My default setting is always humor and a belief that I’ll do better next time. Try telling me I can’t do something, and I will prove to you that I can!

The death of a child is considered one of life’s worst events. I won’t sugarcoat it. I thought losing Maya would kill me. And for the first two years after she tied, I clung to any life raft I could, including the image of that Redwood tree. But after 21 years of mining the gifts of grief, being inspired by people like my Dad, and learning to take really good care of myself, I can truthfully say my life is better than ever.

Deciding to donate Maya’s organs and tissues to strangers in need (altruism) was a huge factor in my recovery, and in the way my surviving daughter Meghan dealt with the loss of her sister. We were privileged to have something miraculous come out of something horrific. That gave us hope. Having hope motivated me to keep on keeping on.

In Swimming with Maya I recount our journey in detail. Please enter to win a copy of my book, and thanks to Mari for hosting me today at Create Write Now.

Balancing Act

In our hyperconnected, ping-me-now world, an author’s work is never done. You could spend 24/7 promoting your book and never check off every task.

So how do you keep your writing vital and alive while also promoting a book? Today, I’m visiting the Literary Ladies blog with a post on this topic.

Since Dream of Things reissued my memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, it’s been a whirlwind.Eleanor Signing Swimming with Maya

While I haven’t found an answer to the balance question, I have stumbled upon a few strategies. Give my “top 5” a try! Even if you’re not an author, these ideas can help you balance competing demands.

Compartmentalize

I block out entire days when I do no promotional activity. To really drop into my writing, I need to focus. Facebook posting and composing email blasts create the opposite for me – a state of hyperalert multitasking that is the polar opposite of deep concentration. If writing makes me happy (or at least content), I prioritize it over marketing and platform building. It helps that my writing group meets monthly, so I have people expecting me to show up with new writing.

Set goals and deadlines

I write my goals for the month in my day planner at the beginning of each month. I now set a daily target of 300 words, a strategy I learned from members of my writing group. I don’t make my target every day, but even if I hit it several times a week, that’s good output. I make dates with myself to write, and do my best to keep them.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

I’ve learned I can’t do or be it all, so my new motto is “good enough.” Today, I’m a good enough author if I do one Facebook post or update my author page on Amazon, or respond to one reader review or email.  I’m juggling so many balls, I’m always in danger of dropping one, so I’ve learned to accept less than perfection. Aiming for the silver rather than the gold standard makes me a happier person.

Take frequent breaks

Sometimes, I just have to get out of Dodge. Whether it’s a walk in the Redwoods, a cup of tea at a favorite café, or a weekend away in a beautiful place, I take breaks from my day-to-day routine. Promoting a book takes a tremendous amount of energy, and writing at the same time burns a prodigious number of brain cells, so down time is vital.

Have fun!

I always dreamed of being a writer. When I was younger, I thought that only men who lived in Manhattan got to do that. Now I know differently. I enjoy saying, “Yes” to my dreams. Being an author – a published writer who does the necessary marketing and platform building – is a great honor. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself of that.

Balance is elusive. Finding it while promoting your book and writing your next one is a delicate dance. Do it with happy feet!

Visit the Literary Ladies blog and comment on my guest post for a chance to win a free copy of Swimming with Maya.

Moving Forward After Loss

For today’s stop on the WOW! Women on Writing blog tour, I’m visiting Mom Loves 2WOWCommunicationLogo (1) Read, to talk about grief recovery – an important skill for mortals. Sooner or later we all lose someone we love. How do we move forward after loss?

It’s been 21 years since my 19-year-old daughter Maya was thrown from a horse and went into an irreversible coma. Healing my grief over Maya’s death has liberated me in ways beyond what I could ever have imagined. The worst has already happened. What is left to fear?

Swimming with Maya is a crisis memoir that plumbs deeply the intense shock, grief, and anger that followed in the wake of my daughter’s accidental death.

The last third of the book is about how I healed my grief. Those stories – how I wrote my way, slowly and haltingly, to acceptance, worked out long buried family patterns in therapy, sought out people who inspired me, including the man who received my daughter’s heart – are the light that draws me as a writer – and a reader.

Reading passages from the book make the experiences alive and fresh again.

Here’s one from Chapter 3: “Maya’s chest rises and falls. The ventilator hisses, the computers beep, fiber optic cable snakes into her skull. I never knew love could be so big, that it could expand to allow even this. I have a premonition of lifelong grief rolling toward me, but I know that, once again, I am being asked to give my daughter her freedom.”

That was the moment I realized I had no right, nor any power, to hold my daughter here. I had to let her go. I gave in to her coma and ultimate death because they were hers not mine, a destiny I could never have imagined. That moment of surrender marked me for life.

The death of a child is something every parent fears, and few want to imagine deeply. Swimming with Maya offers one woman’s way through the tangle of emotions. As one reader wrote after finishing the book, “I feel broken and mended.”

Healing from grief is a long, slow process. Writing about it helped me go all the way to the bottom of my grief, and that is where I found treasures that continue to inspire me.

Swimming with Maya is vital testimony about how losses can be healed. It was worth writing.  I hope you find it worth reading. Please stop by at Mom Loves 2 Read to view the full post and leave a comment.

 

The Challenges of Single Parenthood

When I look back on my 25 years of single parenthood, I shake my head in wonder. I pulled on my pantyhose every day (this was in the 1980s and 90s) and went to a corporate job. I made breakfasts and lunches, drove kids to school, helped with homework, scheduled and went to doctor and dentist’s appointments, wiped away tears, broke up fights, shopped for groceries and shoes, and otherwise raised my kids. And that’s not even the hard stuff.

The hard stuff was navigating the challenges of a blended family, two divorces, sibling rivalry, one absent father, one involved stepfather and biological dad, a gifted and mercurial older daughter, and a quiet, sensitive younger child who, at the age of 11, lost her half sister in a freak accident.

I was so blessed! I had two, bright healthy daughters, who were (and are) the loves of my life. Now that I’ve been an empty nester for almost 15 years, and a grandmother for three, I can look back at all of it and be grateful. And even laugh about much of it.

At the time, though, it was no laughing matter. I lurched from crisis to crisis, punctuated by small, joyful moments. My girls laughing together over a joke one of them made up. Tucking them into bed at night, their hair tousled, their bedroom littered with clothes and toys. Watching their eyes light up when they opened Christmas or birthday gifts. How much they loved my Saturday morning French toast with vanilla, cinnamon, and sliced strawberries drenched in real maple syrup.

Those are the moments that shine like crystals in my memory. The nonexistent child support checks, the surly boss who yelled at me for arriving late and leaving early, the credit card bills I could never pay off, the car repairs I had to postpone, even the girls’ illnesses and accidents – all the things that loomed so large at the time, are a dim, foggy recollection.

In Swimming with Maya I delve deeply into what it was like to raise Maya and Meghan, and to grieve for Maya after she died as a result of being thrown from a horse.

My next stop on the WOW! Women on Writing blog tour will be at Jerri Ann Reason’s fine blog Mom-E-Centric, where you can find my full blog post on single parenting and also enter to win a free copy of my book.

http://www.momecentric.com/

Kitchen sink casserole

Today was clean out the fridge day. I set stacks of containers containing leftovers on the counter and prepared to wipe down the refrigerator shelves. I confess. I’m one of those people who saves stuff, and that includes food. My mother often said “Children in India are starving” as she tucked one more dish of leftovers into her fridge.

So instead of forcing myself to throw out perfectly good food, I decided to combine it. Voila! A casserole was born. I call this one “kitchen sink casserole” because it contains everything except the kitchen sink. You could, of course, use any ingredients in your fridge or cupboards to do something similar, but here’s my recipe.

Kitchen sink casserole

Kitchen sink casserole

Kitchen Sink Casserole

Layer these leftover ingredients (or similar) in order:

Polenta cooked soft (I use Bob’s Red Mill, which has the best texture I’ve found)

Sauteed mushrooms and onions

Quinoa with garlic (Trader Joe’s brand)

Tomato sauce with meatless meatballs (Trader Joe’s freezer case)

Leftover turkey chili

Extra tomato sauce

Shaved parmesan cheese

Lite Mexican grated cheese blend (also Trader Joe’s)

Sprinkle liberally with paprika and chili powder then bake in a 350 – 375 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until casserole bubbles and cheese is lightly browned. Serve with a green salad and some good artisan crusty bread, preferably whole grain. Yum!

On my old WordPress.com blog, Oakland Cityscapes, I posted a recipe for Turkey Pickup, a casserole my grandmother used to make which I changed to a healthier version a few years ago. Since I can’t seem to link this blog with the old one, here’s a link if that recipe interests you. http://eleanorvincent.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/lazy-girls-healthy-turkey-pick-up/

Just a reminder for those of you still following the old blog, please provide your email address on this newer blog to become a subscriber, or go “Like” my author page on Facebook. Hope you enjoy these recipes! You may also want to visit Baking not Writing, a fabulous blog by sister writer Emily Polsby – many delicious dairy free recipes and baking tips there.

 

Parenting a Gifted or Difficult Teen

My daughter’s friends called her “Barbie” because of her platinum blond hair.
Maya was lean and willowy, with deep brown eyes and a winning smile. But
she was no dumb blonde.
Maya at age 18

Maya at age 18

She appeared in her first play at the age of nine, portraying one of the “no
neck monsters” in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams. Maya was a
natural actress. She had a combination of charisma and vulnerability that
commanded attention.
Offstage, her artistic personality was challenging: one minute sunny and
witty, the next gloomy and surly. As she became a teen, she increasingly
defied me.
In Swimming with Maya I recount a painful confrontation that marked the
nadir of our relationship. By her junior year in high school Maya had become
a binge drinker, something I was too naïve and frightened to acknowledge.
But the summer before her senior year, things came to a head when I
discovered her coming home two hours after her curfew.
I confronted her. When she insisted she was going out again at two o’clock in
the morning, I blocked her bedroom door.
“Think again, Maya,” I said. “You are not going anywhere.”
As we faced off in front of her door, she whispered under her breath, “You
bitch.”
“What did you say?”
“You heard me,” Maya said, eyes flashing.
“You are grounded for a month,” I said.
She showered me with curse words. I slammed the bedroom door, furious and
humiliated. A few minutes later I heard her bedroom window open, and then
her car tires squealing away from the curb. Maya had run away.
For the rest of the story, please visit my guest post at http://betteleecrosby.com/2013/10/18/please-welcome-nyt-bestseller/. Bette Lee Crosby hosts my full post about “Parenting a Gifted or Difficult Teen” on her excellent blog Words, Wit and Wisdom.

 

Books I Think You Should Read

Cover of "Swimming With Maya: A Mother's ...

Cover via Amazon

Most authors tour virtually now. While I miss the face to face contact with readers, a virtual tour allows me to reach many more people, and connect with some wonderful bloggers and websites. Stop number 2 on my Women on Writing (WOW) blog tour is the Books I Think You Should Read blog hosted by Elizabeth Parker.

Elizabeth’s review of Swimming with Maya moved me because of her visceral response to the book. She was reading it on October 4, Maya’s 41st birthday, and realized that I must be missing my daughter. She was right! I do miss Maya, but I also am able to celebrate her life and our relationship, which continues.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one you know that after a time your grief begins to be less about their death and a lot more about memories of times you spent together, their quirks, the way they laughed, or that crazy cowlick they had. All of those memories apply to Maya. For a very feminine looking girl, she had the biggest laugh and the loudest burp I ever heard! And a cowlick that absolutely stood on end like a big blond poof. It still makes me smile.

Because Maya is such a deep part of me, she is still very present in my life. I know she would be lapping up all the attention “her” book is getting right now. She loved the spotlight and was very out there with her talents as an actress and all around witty person. I’m a bit more introverted and, as a writer, I prefer being in the background observing. But I loved my daughter’s sass and applauded her exploits.

To learn more about our relationship, please visit Books I Think You Should Read and enter to win a copy of Swimming with Maya.

Wednesday, October 16@ Books I Think You Should Read
Eleanor Vincent offers a giveaway for her parenting memoir Swimming with Maya and Elizabeth Parker provides an honest review of this moving book.
http://booksithinkyoushouldread.blogspot.com

 

Swimming with Maya Blog Tour Begins!

Monday, October 14  @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway!
http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

When Crystal Otto asked if I would do a Q & A to kick off my Women on Writing blog tour, I thought “Well how hard can that be?” Little did I know what thought provoking questions Crystal planned to ask me.

We cover everything from how I managed to survive the death of my daughter Maya to the role that cats have played in my healing. Our interview spans the gamut from the inspirational to the amusing. I even confessed to my Zydeco dance habit!

Please visit Crystal’s post at The Muffin http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/ for the full interview. Be sure to enter to win a free copy of Swimming with Maya. And bookmark the Women on Writing site – it’s a great resource for writers and readers.