Drowned in Moonlight

Almost exactly six years ago, my Women & Literature professor challenged our class to choose a contemporary woman in the public eye, and write about the ways in which she represents the average, modern American woman.

I wrote about Carrie Fisher.

carrie-fisher-in-her-one-woman-show

Carrie Fisher in her one-woman show based on her memoir.

I did not grow up on Star Wars, but for whatever reason, Wishful Drinking grabbed my attention. Before I’d even finished reading it, Carrie Fisher became my hero. Here was a woman who had battled body-image issues, bipolar disorder, and addiction. And she came out the other side laughing. Even as I read about her most difficult times in life, I was awed and inspired by her ability to keep her sense of humor.

I’m not so good at that. When depression strikes, I tend to lose my ability to laugh at all. So you can imagine that I’m not in the mood to laugh right now. But I think she’d want us to.

Because my sense of humor is MIA right now, here’s some of Carrie Fisher’s. I hope it helps you smile even if you feel like crying.

“I have a sense you will be going to outer space very soon, so here’s why you cannot wear your brassiere, per George [Lucas]. So, what happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands??? But your bra doesn’t—so you get strangled by your own bra. Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obit—so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra” (Wishful Drinking, 88).

carrie-fisher

“Drowned in moonlight,” just sounds so poetic and magical, and when you follow up with laughter in the face of overwhelming pain, like “strangled by my own bra,” you get Carrie Fisher.

I wanted to meet her. More than I’ve ever wanted to meet a celebrity. I wanted to see her one-woman show and maybe wait outside afterwards so I could tell her how much her memoir meant to me. So I could tell her to her face that I did not love Carrie Fisher because of Princess Leia, but that I loved Princess Leia because of Carrie Fisher.

 

From “Mom of the Group” to Real-Life Mom

Everything changes when you have a baby.

People have been telling me this for years, and for the most part I believed them. But I also thought, I know who I am. In a way, I have always been a mother. My friends used to call me “the mom of the group,” because I’m the kind of person who put a blanket over my friend when I found her sleeping on her couch. I’m the kind of person who tells my friends to call me if they need a sober ride, even in the middle of the night. I’m the kind of person who cried when I dropped off my sisters at elementary school shortly after getting my driver’s license. Even though I knew my mom had been dropping them off for years, and they were more than capable of walking twenty feet by themselves to get into the school.

Still, being “the mom of the group” is different from being a mom.

No matter how focused you used to be on the needs of the people around you, it cannot compare to the focus you have on the needs of your child. You know your child’s needs before they do – literally, because a baby does not yet have the cognitive ability to recognize or understand when they need something.

You have an invisible tether to your child, so that no matter how far away you may be, you feel their presence. You know when your child wakes up from their nap, even before there’s an audible noise on the baby monitor.

Your entire perspective of the world shifts. You see the world through your child’s eyes. Birds and squirrels used to just be part of the scenery, but now they are magical creatures whose graceful movements cause you to smile.

Your own mother becomes more human. This is what she went through? These are the kinds of thoughts that went through her head? The way I feel about my baby – this unbreakable, inexplicable bond – this is how she felt about me?

(Here’s a little insight to my main character in Finding ‘Ohana: Cinnamin is figuring out motherhood. Is she a mother, even though she did not give birth to her son? How can she be a mother without a role model, without her own mother in her life? How could Cinnamin’s mother abandon her, if she felt the same way for Cinnamin as Cinnamin feels for her son?)

When I was a kid, people told me, “You’ll understand when you have kids.” Well, I’m an empathetic person. I thought I already understood.

I was so wrong.

Because no matter how you try, you cannot put motherhood into words. Some things just have to be experienced.

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Why I am Shaving my Head

When I was in second grade, my best friend and I used to spend every Saturday at an indoor ice skating rink. Her mom bought us hot chocolate and let us play the crane game that promised a winner every time, and we skated in circles around and around and around the ice for hours.

One Saturday, I arrived with my hair in a braid, so that I could skate without my long, looong hair getting in my face.

fan art by RadissonClaire on DeviantArt

fan art by RadissonClaire on DeviantArt

(How hipster is that? I braided my hair to go ice skating about twenty years before Elsa made it cool!)

My friend said that when we got separated on the ice, she always found me quickly by looking for my mane of wavy hair – and she demanded that I undo the braid immediately.

Fast forward a decade or so. I’m sitting for a caricature and the artist asks me to turn my head so he can see my hair in its ponytail. He makes an involuntary exclamation when I turn and he sees just how long my hair extends from the hair tie.

My tennis coach used to call me “Muppet Head” because I went through a phase when I let my hair go free and it flew around my face as I ran across the court.

People knew me by my long hair.

But the weekend before my high school graduation, I cut off twelve inches to donate.

It was terrifying. (How could I hide my fat face if I didn’t have long hair?) And liberating – because my face did not look as grotesquely fat as I’d been worried it would.

I’ve donated my hair a few times since then, alternating between looong hair and short bobs for years. But next week, I’m going to do something even more extreme.

I’m going to shave my head.

As can probably be expected, people’s reactions of finding this out have been exaggerated versions of their same reactions to me telling them when I was going to cut twelve inches of my hair. They are shocked, appalled even, and they want to know why.

So here I am, telling you why I am shaving my head.

1) To raise awareness of and funds for researching and curing childhood cancers.

This is the big reason. I’m shaving my head as a virtual St. Baldrick’s event. Part of this is asking for donations and pledges on my bald head that will go toward researching and curing childhood cancers. Every three minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer, yet childhood cancers often do not receive the funding needed for research. This is why organizations like St. Baldrick’s exist – to conquer childhood cancers once and for all.

FB event

I can’t imagine what I would do if my child were diagnosed with cancer. That’s something no parent should have to face.

2) To support and stand in solidarity with kids who have cancer.

We live in a society where it is extremely difficult to not have hair. And it’s especially hard to be different when you’re a kid. It’s a natural part of development to separate things into categories, and that leads to certain categories being more stigmatized than others. But the more of us who challenge our society’s beauty norms, the easier it will be for the kids who have no choice but to challenge those norms.

3) To donate my hair so more kids who choose to can wear wigs.

Part of the reason I’m shaving my head is similar to the reason why I donate blood whenever I can. As young (broke) parents, my husband and I don’t have a lot of time or money to donate. My hair is something I can give. I’m donating to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for children who face hair loss for a number of reasons. Because kids are still growing, they need new wigs more frequently than adults. So there is always a need for kid-sized wigs. I like to think my hair will help some little kid regain a confidence they might have lost.

4) For me.

Okay, full disclosure: I’m not shaving my head as a purely selfless act for the sake of the children.

It first occurred to me to shave my head when my son reached that phase when all he wanted to do was yank my hair right out. And being bald has the added bonus of keeping cool, which is important when you live in a desert.

But more than that, I’m actually going bald because of, not despite, the way it looks.

Gender norms in our society are rigid. Men can rock a shaved head, but not a dress. Women can wear pants, but heaven forbid they should leave the house without makeup on.

Gender is fluid, so that’s how we should view it. Some days I’ll have makeup and giant earrings to balance out my bald head, but some days I won’t. And I’ll still be beautiful. Just like you are beautiful, regardless of your clothes, hair and makeup and jewelry or lack thereof, manicured or chewed-to-nubs nails, or style preference in general.

I have written here about my difficulty with depression and I’ve written short stories about my battle with body image. The two are not always linked, but in my case they often are. There have been dark times in my life when my hair was the only part of my appearance that I appreciated. In fact, there were years when I hated my body (and by extension, myself) and tried to hide behind my hair.

Shaving my head is my way of showing myself that I am beautiful, even if that beauty is not within the “conventional” definition of the term. And it’s my way of showing myself that, no matter what I look like, I am worthy of self love.

So even though it’s scary, and even though people keep telling me I’ll regret it, I am going to shave my head. And I’m going to love myself while doing it.

You Matter

This post is gonna be a downer. Sorry. But it has to be said. And I promise that if you stick with me, I’ll end on a happier note.

 

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screenshot from Reddit

In the past month or so, it seems like everyone online has spent at least some time remembering Robin Williams. And although I do not tend to get especially upset by celebrities passing (not in the same way as when I lose someone I know, at least), this particular tragedy has affected me more than others involving people I’ve never met.

Here’s why: I’ve known more than one person who has attempted suicide. I can count at least five friends, family members, and acquaintances who have done so. None of them have succeeded, thank goodness. But I have known people who have lost loved ones to suicide.

And there are many more whose stories I don’t even know.

(This is part of the reason why I included attempted suicide in Cinnamin’s story. It’s a reality of too many people’s lives – it cannot be ignored.)

The thing is… you never know who your actions are affecting. For better or worse, everything you do ripples.

ripples

Like I said, for better or worse. Meaning, if you were to attempt suicide, your actions would affect people for the worse. But the other side of the coin is, the good you do affects people for the better. And I guarantee you, you have already affected people for the better. Maybe some people you don’t even know.

Look at the above story about Robin Williams. He might never have known that Redditor’s name. We know they never saw each other again after that day. But he made his life a little better. He made his burdens a little easier to bear.

Believe it or not, you have done the same thing for someone you may never meet again. Someone whose name you will never know. (This happens to be the idea behind my novel in progress about hair donation.)

When I was in high school, a classmate of mine drove drunk and ended up killing his best friend, who was in the passenger seat when they got into an accident. I did not know either kid. I’d never known their names before. But the Monday after it happened, I heard other kids talking about it. I saw how it affected them. And it affected me. I cried. I mourned. Not for someone I’d lost, but because I saw others who had lost someone.

I called my friend in Maryland after school and told her. We cried together. She was with another friend when I called, someone I’d never met or spoken to. But she cried too.

Do you see the ripples? Three thousand miles away, death can affect a friend of a friend of an aquaintance of a friend.

The good news is that the possitive impact you have on a person’s life can do the same thing.

Whoever you are, you are the Robin Williams to the above Redditor for someone out there. Some small act of kindness you’ve done has affected someone’s life for the better. True, there’s no way of proving this, of tracking down that person and finding out what kind act you don’t remember that changed everything for them. But every action ripples. If you have ever done anything good, chances are it helped someone in some way.

You matter.

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How do I go on?

As often happens for me, today I read something that happened to correlate with my own life. This is what writing, and all art, is for. To connect people. Anna Kristell wrote The Road to her Heart (sequel to Crossroad to Love), and I read it, and a couple short paragraphs affected me. That’s what art is all about. That’s why I write – so I can affect others, hopefully for the better. We’re all connected, and art shows us how.

This excerpt takes place a few days after Cara, five months into her marriage and six weeks into her first pregnancy, becomes a widow. She seeks comfort from Katy, a woman about twenty years her senior, who experienced a similar situation ten years ago when her own first husband and their daughter died in a car accident.

 

Cara leaned her head on Katy’s shoulder and said, “What am I supposed to do now? How did you do it? How did you go on?”

Katy sighed as tears rolled down her cheeks. “You cry, you scream, you curse, and afterward, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and, somehow, find the strength to go on. You still have your whole life ahead of you, even though it doesn’t seem like it right now. I spent many years wondering what might have been. But I finally reached a point when I realized it wasn’t meant to be. That’s when I knew it was time to move on.”

“And now you’re happy again.”

“I am, sweetheart. It doesn’t mean I love Bill or Bree any less. It just means that I’ve gone on with my life. I wasn’t in the car crash and there must have been a reason for that. I was meant to be here for [my son,] Alex, and to meet Ryan [my new husband]. That’s what life had planned for me. Just like someday there will be something out there for you. We don’t know when or how or who… but it’s waiting for you, when the time is right.”

 

Someday, there will be something out there for you. We don’t know when or how or who… but it’s waiting for you, when the time is right.

Your job is to have faith that the right time is coming. Your job is to get through this time of your life, as hard as it may be, so you can make it to that time.

If the world ends today…

…at least I’m goin’ out as a published author!

I got the final confirmation email today, and I am proud to announce that I am now an author with The Write Place at the Write Time! My original short story, Pyramid, will be published in the literary journal’s winter edition, to come out on January 22nd. So mark your calendars!

The bad news is, excerpts from Pyramid will not be available here while the story is live. The good news is, once the winter edition is archived, I will be able to post excerpts again. Enjoy your antici…

…pation now. Come January 22nd, I will post the link so that you can read Pyramid in its entirety!

Here’s the original post (with a synopsis instead of an excerpt) from when I first blogged about Pyramid:

Reading through Laura Pauling’s guest post on My Memories of a Future Life, I was reminded of how often music has inspired my own writing.

Unlike Laura Pauling, I find that the right lyrics with the right notes are the most inspirational. Being a writer, it’s hard not to listen to the words. But, being a singer, I will admit that music can emote more profoundly than any words. So when you combine emotional writing with emotional music, you have something that moves people in a way that neither would be able to alone.

Also unlike Pauling, I will sometimes include the inspirational song so that it inspires my characters. (This was part of the reason why I loved Jodi Picoult’s Sing You Home – it has a soundtrack!)

There is one short story in particular in which I included a song, because the song was what inspired me to write the story in the first place. Feel free to listen while reading the synopsis:

Pyramid is a fiction short story about a woman struggling through an abusive relationship. After waking up in the hospital, without so much as flowers from the boyfriend who put her there, she finally sees that she deserves more. With the help of a friend, a therapist, memories of what it means to truly live, and a song whose lyrics reach her at the very moment she is ready to listen, she begins her life again on her own.
In order to recognize the thousands of women in this situation, none of the characters in this story have names, and only the main character and her boyfriend have genders. What individualizes the main character is who she was before the abuse, and who she becomes afterward.

Haleakala

It was actually my boyfriend who suggested I add a scene of Haleakala, which we saw when we were on Maui, to Finding ‘Ohana. (All of the photographs in this post were just a few of the ones I took while we were there.) I cannot express how happy I am that he made the suggestion and that I saw how wise he was for making it. Because now, I have to say, I think this is my favorite part of Finding ‘Ohana. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

 

Before the Thanksgiving when I had confessed to my parents, I used to go home to Michigan when the dorms closed for the summer. So the first summer I had no family was also the first time in my life I had nowhere to live.

I started looking for apartments a couple weeks before the dorms closed. “I don’t need anything that big,” I told Naali. We were looking over ads in the newspaper at the coffee shop where I had first seen her. “I mean, I am used to a one-room dorm. I just need something affordable. And I’d like to be able to be settled before we go on that trip with your family. I don’t want to have to come back to unpacked boxes.”

Naali nodded, gazing at the page but not reading it.

“Hey, Bun, have you thought at all about us living together?”

“What?” Yes, I know, very eloquent.

“You know, we’ve been together for over a year now. It wouldn’t be that unusual.” She nudged me playfully with her elbow.

The thought had never crossed my mind. I grew up thinking that I could not live with someone until we were married. Naali spent the night in my dorm room often enough, but somehow living together had not occurred to me. It would be like announcing our relationship to everyone. What would people think if two women applied for a one-bedroom apartment?

But how else would we be together? The one thing I never doubted was that I wanted to be with Naali, and eventually being together means living together. We could never get married legally, so I would always be breaking that rule anyway. And even once we considered ourselves “married,” we would always get the same reaction from landlords. What difference would it make to take that step now? All I should really ask myself was, “Are we ready?”

I looked up at Naali, at her kind eyes, her mouth that was always smiling, and I knew. We were ready.

We moved in as soon as Naali was done with beauty school, a full week before the dorms officially closed. And we were unpacked and settled with plenty of time before we took our first trip together.

We only flew to Maui, and we went with Naali’s family, but it still felt romantic, going away together. Her parents had been planning the trip to Haleakala for months, and they were so excited they were like children themselves.

“It’s the most beautiful sight in the world,” Kamea said, far too enthusiastic for how early it was. “It’s worth waking up early for.” With that, she swept the sheets from the hotel’s fold-out couch, leaving Naali and me no choice but to get up and get dressed.

It was four in the morning, still dark outside, although I guess that was the point. My body was screaming at me to lie back down, just for a moment. I stared longingly at the pillow, still warm from my head. It looked so comfy.

“It had better be worth it,” Naali mumbled, too low for Kamea to hear, and stumbled to the bathroom to change.

Once everyone was up, we piled in the rented car and Ihupani drove us toward one of the two mountains that, along with the valley between them, made up the island of Maui. ‘Apona and Hiapo were out like lights as soon as we started moving. My stomach was turning too much with the windy road to allow me to sleep.

“I wish you had brought something warmer to wear, Manaali‘i,” Kamea said from the front seat.

When we were packing, Kamea had warned us that it was freezing on the mountain. Not cold, freezing. I took that to mean I should wear two layers of pants, a light jacket, and my heavy coat which, until then, had been gathering dust in my closet. Naali laughed at me when she saw how much I was bringing. She was only wearing a light jacket, and had pajama pants rather than shorts to account for the freezing temperature. Instead of tennis shoes, like the ones I wore, Naali had flip-flops, or slippers, as she called them.

“How cold could it really be?” she’d asked as we packed. In the car, all she said was, “If it’s really that cold, Cinnamin and I can snuggle with a blanket. We’ll be fine.” She wrapped her arm around me and pinched my hip.

We spent a good hour in the car, winding up the mountain. Kamea worried we would not make it before the sun started to rise. Ihupani worried it would be too cloudy. I worried about my stomach that lurched back and forth with every curve in the road. I decided to pull out my phone and check how much further it was. As soon as I looked at the screen, I knew I’d made a mistake. I groaned. Naali asked me what was wrong. All I could get out was, “Pull over?” But there were no shoulders on the mountain road. I dug around the floor of the car and found a small brown bag that had held a pair of earrings Naali had bought the day before. I tossed the earrings at Naali and buried my face in the bag.

The situation would have been much worse without it, but that bag was not designed for what I had to use it for.

My face burned as the whole car listened to my retching. Even Hiapo and ‘Apona had woken up and could hear me. Finally I’d finished and tried to wrap the bag around itself so it would not drip. Hiapo passed me a few napkins Kamea had gotten from the glove box. My stomach felt better, but my face still burned. Naali rubbed my back. I had not noticed until then, but she had been rubbing my back the entire time.

“We’re almost there,” Ihupani said. His voice was so sympathetic. I looked up and saw that everyone in the car was worried about me. Their faces all reflected each other’s expressions, the same expression Naali had. Not disgust or embarrassment, but sympathy.

“Sorry,” I said in a small voice.

Everyone immediately jumped in to reassure me.

“No, no, don’t be sorry.”

“We just want you to feel better.”

“Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”

When we did finally get to the top of the mountain, I scrambled out of the car as soon as Hiapo and ‘Apona cleared the way. I tossed the bag in a trash can and breathed in the cool air.

It felt like home. The morning was crisp, only barely beginning to lighten at the edges of the sky. The air felt almost as though it had tiny icicles in it, but they felt refreshing as I breathed them into my lungs. It reminded me of winter mornings when I would walk to the bus stop before the sun was fully up. I did not even zip up my coat to shut out the cold, it was too refreshing.

“J-j-jeeezz.” Naali’s teeth chattered behind me. I turned and saw her still sitting in the car, hugging herself, the door open and letting the mountain air in. “It’s fr-r-reeezing!”

“You’re right,” said Kamea, snug in her warm coat. “In fact, I think that’s the exact word I used to describe it.”

Naali glared at her mom and grabbed the blanket ‘Apona had been sleeping with during the drive. I decided to wear my tennis shoes without socks so Naali could wear them with her flip-flops. She slid her arms in my coat, squeezing herself close to my body heat.

“It had better be worth it,” she said for the second time that morning.

“Hey, if you didn’t barf today, you can’t complain about it to me.” I smiled. The coldness of the mountain had raised my mood. “C’mon, let’s go find a good spot.”

We tried to walk a few steps connected by my coat, but Naali had to shift to be on my side before we could make real progress. She walked with one arm in my coat, the other wrapped in her blanket. It was still dark, but we followed the sidewalk and it led us to a cliff. Already there were crowds of people covering every inch of the guardrail. Naali wanted to watch from inside the small visitor’s center, but it was crowded too and we could barely see. So we went back out into the cold and had to stand on a rock to see over the crowd’s heads. I knew from Kamea and Ihupani’s description that past the cliff was a valley set deep in the mountain, and we had come all this way to see the sun rise over it. But when we stepped onto the rock, we could not see the valley at all.

It was as though we were standing on the lip of a bowl, and the bowl was filled with clouds. Everywhere we could see, for vast expanses of space, it was as though someone had filled everything with soft, billowy white. I could see now why Ihupani had worried about the cloudy day.

But as the first rays of sunlight appeared, all those worries melted away. The sun painted the clouds, so that each one it did not touch was filled with deep blue and indigo.

And the parts of the clouds the sun did touch, they turned bright with orange and pink dusting their sides. And the sky. The sky became yellow where it reached the clouds, setting the shadowed ones in intense contrast. Further up, the yellow melted, faded until it was almost as white as the clouds once were, until the white shifted to the brightest blue I’ve ever seen.

As the sun rose higher, every color became deeper, more intense. Even the clouds high above the sun, the ones which should have been out of its reach, even they were painted a vibrant pink. The clouds below us looked almost solid, like hills rolling across the valley, where I could see what must have been the other side of the mountain. But with the clouds covering everything, it looked more as though I were gazing at an enormous white waterfall tumbling into the valley.

I struggled not to look directly at the sun too long. It was so perfectly round as it peeked over the horizon that I felt more like I was watching a painting. It rose until it reached a cloud floating just above the others, and when the sun hid behind that cloud, everything surrounding it turned golden. The cloud itself looked black, and the valley became a deeper indigo than before, but the light above it looked like it was burning, like molten lava maybe. And within moments the sun appeared again.

We watched in silence, too awed to say anything. What could we say? Words could not describe the feeling we had, looking at this masterpiece.

With the beauty of the view, a song nudged its way into my mind. I had not heard it in almost a year, since last summer, the last time I had been to church with my family. The words had never meant much to me, but the tune, the music used to ring through me like truth. Standing on that mountain, gazing at Haleakala, which means The House of God in Hawaiian, breathing in the cold air that reminded me so much of home, with Naali’s shivering arms around me, that song came back to me and I felt something I had never felt before: connection to a higher power.

Encourage my soul, and let us journey on.

For the night is dark, and I am far from home.

Thanks be to God, the morning light appears.

The storm is passing over.

The storm is passing over.

The storm is passing over.

Halelu— Heleluja! Haleluja!