Reason Things Out

I am 55 years old

I am an average white woman in an average body

I am happily married and child-free

I live in Northern CA

I am employed

I am restless and anxious

I am medicated for anxiety

I have survived alcoholism, cancer and living in the South - both Souths, both Orange Counties

I share my survival techniques with anyone who asks

Oftentimes I don’t know what to do with myself or how I feel

The day after David Bowie died, I sat in my sensible Toyota in my sensible work clothes, ate a sensible sandwich and cried

I daydream less about personal glory and revenge and more about Netflix plot lines

I feel pretty damn lucky most of the time

At this writing, I am in Brevard County, Florida visiting my elderly father. Since my mother died a little over a years ago, I have turned my focus to my Pops. Pops has been neglected or avoided or relegated to the bench for most of my life. We’ve lived so far apart and have had such different lives. He’s been institutionalized for decades because he is severely mentally ill. Funny thing is, now that I see him more often, I am astonished at how well his mind does work. And his dear heart.

Before I left Oakland, I took a mini-inventory of my fears and expectations for my visit.

Ideally, I hoped things would go like this: In my perfect AirBnb I would do 20 minutes of barre exercises upon waking, walk for half an hour then eat only lean proteins and vegetables. Coffee is encouraged. I plan to write 500 words before a quick shower. Pick up Dad by 11:30am and after big hellos and hugs we proceed to our favorite restaurant on the Indian River where we lived as a family 45 years ago. All the while the sun would be shining and the adorable Florida critters would make themselves available for pictures. Afterwards, I would attend to my spiritual life and then find the local karaoke scene.

My fears were basic:  

I feared my Dad would be weird and difficult.

I feared family members might be weird and difficult

I feared I could be weird and difficult

I feared my back would become tweaked from all the sitting

I feared the woman who runs my father’s home would want me to be more involved in his day-to-day care

I feared someone would show my Dad the book I recently published

 

The best way I know how to relieve worry is to reason things out with others. I run my concerns through trusted filters and this time I came away with a more realistic attitude: loosely hold the hope that things will go well. Know there will be some misbehaving and forgive quickly; don’t nurse the hurt feelings. And always have a rental car.

 

What happened the night before seeing my Dad:

It was pouring rain, Florida rain, even as the plane landed Sunday night. My Toyota Yaris had plenty of pick up and go, especially between semi trucks as it hydroplaned in their dinosaur-sized rooster tail spray. But I was alright even though I couldn’t figure out how to pair my iPhone Bluetooth to the rental car because the prior driver had the radio set to a local Country Classics station and they were playing some choice tunes.

 

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An hour and a half later, I find my *perfect* Airbnb and it is not.

I knew it would be old and rustic since it’s located in historic downtown Melbourne. I knew it was built in 1929 and was decorated by a surfer with a recycled-chic vibe  because I have eyes and I had poured over the pictures for weeks. But everything looks worse in the rainy dark doesn’t it?

I held my breath as I reached deeply into a wooden shoe on the drenched and creaky wood porch, in the dark, to find the house key. My glasses had fogged up and I could not see the door knob very well. The surfer had left the lights inside on which was very kind. And the AC hummed nice and loud so that was a relief. But the lights were big and weird and pooled only below where they hung. The unknown was not bathed with the desired illumination.

My first impression was not good. It seems like I had been given the keys to the Head Counselor’s personally-decorated cabin at a church camp in Bolivia. It’s not so much shabby-chic or vintage as it is Missionary left-overs from a 70’s flea market.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t sleep well. Did I mention the train?

 

 

Day One of my Dad Visit

I got up after a few hours of tossing and turning and managed to pull the nylon sheets off the bed. That’s right - slippery nylon sheets - without a mattress pad to protect me from the defunct old mattress. My back was on the verge of going out. I had instant coffee and some turkey jerky for breakfast. It was pouring outside. I felt like a prissy middle-aged lady and that realization was a bummer.

However, I stretched and got gussied-up and sweet-talked myself into allowing grace to visit. Then I set out to see my Dad.

I rang the doorbell of his home and a sweet woman welcomed me in. She said, “Mr. Hugh, you have company.” My 81-year old father sat slouched in an upholstered chair wearing a red hoodie with the hood up over his bald head. He looked like a bratty teenager. I said hello Dad, and asked if he would like to go out to lunch with me today. We had just talked on the phone about my trip a few days earlier. Dad didn’t seem unfriendly, but he also didn’t seem very enthusiastic. I said, “Or we can just stay here and visit if you prefer.” He said that would be fine.

So I pulled up a chair and asked him how he was feeling because he had been sick. He gave me the particulars and thanked me for asking. Somehow the conversation verged to where I was from, and when I said, “California,” he said, “Oh I have a daughter in California and she’s coming to visit me this week.”

A sinking feeling hollowed me out and I sagged. Dad didn’t recognize me and, so, my fears were realized and this trip would be weird and difficult.

“Dad, I am your daughter from California,” I said’ “It’s me, Sandy.”

I took my baseball cap off. I had forgotten I had a cap on because of the rain. My Dad was flustered and unbelievably apologetic. He said, “I am so ashamed of myself for not recognizing you.” That made me feel even worse. Then I reached inside where the goodies are stored and pulled out handfuls of recovery and let go of my hurt feelings. We walked out together into the rain, got in the rental car, went to our favorite restaurant by the river and had a nice visit. We have days to get to know each other again.

 

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Take Out the Poison Bye Bye Blackbirds

I stopped reading music reviews years ago because reviewers stopped focusing on the music and instead, made it about themselves. But reviews in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, Bay Guardian, Mojo Magazine, even Spin and Rolling Stone used to be instrumental in leading me to the shows I wanted to see or records I wanted to buy. Being guided by the World Wide Web is more like dodging fuzz from a riverbank lined with dried-out and exploding cattails. When it comes to tracking down my musical desires there’s just too fluff a’ flying, and I don’t have the attention span needed to let anything take root. Luckily for me, my husband is tireless when it comes to procuring music.

One of the bands Brian plays in, Harold Ray and East Bay Dynamite, had a recent gig with the Bye Bye Blackbirds.  And even though I did not go to the show (boring excuse) I did listen and watch the videos that flew up on Facebook afterwards. HOLY SHIZA! What a great band this Bye Bye Blackbirds is!

We writers, musicians and other artists rely upon each other to get the word out. With that in mind, I am going to make this review as much about the music as I can, but I learned something when I started writing that had me re-examined my bitchy attitude toward music reviewers – music IS personal.

Bye Bye Blackbirds - Take Out the Poison.

Some families are not awful. Take for instance all the generations of The Beatles offspring: ELO, Big Star, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, The Knack, Crowded House, The Posies, Chris Von Sneidern, Jellyfish, Nirvana, Fountains of Wayne, and Spoon. In these bands the use of melody is paramount. You gotta wanna make folks sing along if you consider yourself kin. And, you must worship love, adore beauty, and be willing to layer up the harmonies. The songs need to be fun but not silly. And romance is key. Whether it’s the love of pain and suffering or the length of the thigh on the woman sitting across the room - you want to swirl that romance around in your mouth before you kiss the mic. The Bye Bye Blackbirds are a rootsy, glammy, pop-rock outfit that offers up eleven lovely songs on their most recent recording, Take Out the Poison. These smarty-pants white boys from the East Bay don’t need to get their Ancestry.com results checked because clearly, they are third or fourth cousins of The Beatles.

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Take Out the Poison

1 - Earl Grey Kisses

Aaron Rubin’s bass drives this song. Bradley Skaught’s lyrics and vocals are sneaky-sublime. I learned the chorus first, as one should, and before I knew it, had my window rolled down and hand tapping the roof of the car as I drove a little too fast.  

2 - Let Your Hair Fall Down

Another finely crafted up-beat number impossible not sing along with, Let Your Hair Hang Down has a glam-rock horn section with Jamison Smeltz on sax and Scott Jensen on trumpet. Ala Suffergette City, I forgot how cool horns can be in pop rock. Singing along with the bridge, “What time is the right time to tell you?” is absolutely mandatory.

3 – Duet

Duet is a lovely country-rocker that brings the Jayhawks to mind with wistful visits from Tom Petty when Bradley occasionally channels our dearly departed. This sweet song intertwines Skaught singing and song-writing duties with Lindsey Paige Garfield, a fine singer-songwriter herself.

4 – Wasted

I love the combination of chime and swagger Lenny Gills’ uses in his guitar playing on this shuffle. The shine Brad Brooks’ harmony brings to Skaught’s lead is tight! Reminds me of Jellyfish and that is always a good thing.

5 - I Meant to Write

This minor-key folk lament invokes the spirits of two more dearly departed, Elliot Smith and Nick Drake. Lush with strings yet sparse instrumentation, this song highlights Bradley Skaught’s lyricism:

Do you think this breeze is never ending

Where land and sea conspire to keep me standing

Don’t tell me how the winners will be spending their

Cold, dead nights

It is the remorseful soul of the album, and the words, like the vocal are taut and wary, a drifter straying from the bustle and clamor.  

6 - Alfred Starr Hamilton

This song is chewy and delicious, and mighty catchy for a song named after a 20th Century poet. It brings another songbird onboard, Ms. Julie Wakefield. And for whatever reason it makes me think of a funny little band from the 80’s called The Dancing Hoods that I loved. They later became the Sparklehorse, and the lead singer, Mark Linnous, much like his pop brethens from Bad Finger became tragic figures. Bradley – let this be a cautionary tale.

7 -Baby We’re Fine

This twangy mid-tempo duet with Olivia Mancini invokes San Francisco’s finest, Chuck Prophet and Stephanie Finch. A couple trying to cajole each other into believing everything is okay, “rolling and tumbling, baby we’re fine, believing in something like ‘time flies’.”

8 – Broken Falls

Bradley Skaught writes really well. This straight ahead roots rocker suggests a heartbroken state of affairs, whether it’s a sentiment with the nation or a specific relationship, the opening line, “Come alive or don’t come at all,” sets some serious philosophical boundaries. 

9 - Your Spell is too Late

The relationship between the couple in this duet (Julie Wakefield & Bradley Skaught) is not going to get better. But there’s a restraint of cruelty. It’s dark and passionate, “I’m spinning webs, to catch stars that won’t bring me their shine.” Khoi Huynh plays growling organ that accentuates the mood beautifully.

10 - Poison Love

A country classic played in an early rock ‘n roll style brings levity back to the fore. I asked Bradley why this particular song on this album. He responded, “I write a lot of art-y pop rock and I feel like the rootsy influences help keep that grounded and give it all a grittiness or soulfulness that could otherwise get lost in the smarty pants pop music I love in equal measure.”

11 - Earl Grey Kisses (Reprise)

Here we are right back where we started. Oh how I love the bookended reprise! In this stripped-down version, we can really admire Bradley Skaught’s song writing, his voice and the words. This song is made even more beautiful by strings and Julie Wakefield’s harmony. Her voice is honey butter and she makes me want toast.

Upcoming show: May 11, 2018, The Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco

Bye Bye Blackbirds are Bradley Skaught (singer-songwriter-guitarist) Aaron Rubin (bass) Lenny Gill (lead guitar) Joe Becker (drums) as well as other drummers, a host of singers, piano and keys, horns, and strings.

 

 

Still Nobody

Living is great. But it’s also tiresome.

I like to dig into my sticky weird soul and I like others to go with me. And even though an industrious and creative project can occupy my deepest-deep and heal my chronic soul-sickness, I know I’m a nobody. And so are you. Humans are the new termites. There’s just too many of us to keep track of anymore.

What will our aardvark be, I wonder? The Russians are human, too, and multiplying, so they are as plentiful and edible as the rest of us. Still, they’re getting out of hand and so, maybe, just maybe, the aardvark will be an antibiotic-resistant bacteria or thoughtless press of a big or little button. We just don’t know yet, so thank goodness for denial.

Can I get an AMEN?

In light of our limitations, why do we make art when life is scary and not nearly as sweet as it could be? There’s so much art around, already made. Ready-made. Factory made. Made to order, even.

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I continue to dig and create because I have to. Yet it’s not a compulsion; it’s a love story. I am in-love with living, as tired as my middle-aged bones are. Music, art and the written word fill me with passion. As I age, I adapt. Am I whittling away my life force with a bad attitude and sour grapes? Or am I giving my goodies the attention they deserve?

These days I find my life force coiled in the blankness of a new document. I tap the keyboard instead of thumping the strings of my Danelectro Longhorn bass that once sustained my younger creative self. Back when brushing my lips against a mic and having my voice grow flowering vines along with Brian, Marissa, Michele and Mel was as romantic as a wild spring sky over Joshua Tree. That was then, this is not then.  

This year, on Valentine’s Day, I decided to send my first-born novel out into the wild blue yonder. I did what I could to set her onto a path where people might find her and love her. I wonder, do you read fiction? Family dramas? Stories set in the 1970s along the Florida Space Coast?

I hope so.

Please buy my book. Please read it. Please tell your friends if you like it. Pretty sure WHAT YOU CARRY is a great choice for book clubs. And remember -- I’m nobody and so are you. It’s freer to be a nobody. Dig into your own stickiness, your own weird soul. I’ve been saying for years that our souls are like sink holes - deep and dark and old - nobody knows how deep they go. And still, they connect like ground water when it finds the river and flows out to a sea as vast as the universe. Enjoy the waves.

 Photo by Al Satterwhite

Photo by Al Satterwhite

 

 

 

 

Name Changer

The manuscript I had been writing most Friday afternoons for nearly ten years had a name. It was EXACT NATURE. I identified with that title, and I was not only attached to it, the title seemed ordained. I talked about my writing regularly by name. And then, less than six months before my plan to publish this sweet-ass novel with its provocative title and beautiful cover, another book came along with the very same name. The other EXACT NATURE was released in January 2018, is also a family drama, and this book is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Well good for you, Janet Peery. I wish you well.

It took a while to adjust to reality. Then I went on the hunt. I searched for phrases to jump out at me from the text, phrases like Radiance Stretched, The Sun Droned, and The Readying Sign. But these were clunky, hard to say, pretentious. I could not capture a title. And the few times I almost had something, I would google it and there would be another book with the same or nearly the same title. After a few weeks, I stopped looking. I took a break and trusted something would reveal itself when I was ready to know it.

The day the current title showed up, I was an emotional wreck -- full of fear and off-balance about several life-changing events surging towards fruition -- one of those changes being the decision to become a self-published author. That day, when I was driving home, the words what you carry grew legs and walked into a suddenly sun-lit meadow in my mind. The words carved a canyon through my skull…what you carry, what you carry, what you carry…

Of course! That’s it! Finally, you are here, you are mine, you are perfect. Flustered, I sat in the car after I parked, letting the potential title sink in. I had a brush with mania and was kissed by the universe. I was downright giddy, and started to cry.

The novel tells the story of what each person in the Thompson family carries – their hazel green eyes and clenched jaw -- a pound of flesh and the type of grinder. WHAT YOU CARRY is about one’s resilience, one’s ingredients, and one’s cradle. It’s how the sausage gets made.

But something wasn’t right. I became suspicious of this manna from heaven. Before I got out of the car,  I realized What You Carry is the title of one of my husband’s, Brian Mello’s, more recent songs. I simultaneously lost my breath and laughed out loud.

You can’t leave what you carry with you

I’ve been dragging these memories through the years on a chain

Count every grain of sand that slips through my hands

Holding on so tight to all that pain

I am floored by the symmetry in this shoulder-to-shoulder trek.

WHAT YOU CARRY, a novel, will be available in print and e-book Valentine's Day 2018.

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The Last Time I Saw my Mother

The last time I saw my mother was the day our friend Jon Cavaluzzo died. I was visiting Mom at her home in Cookeville, Tennessee, and Tuesday, February 9, 2016 was the last day of a sorrowful visit. Her health was bad, and her state of mind matched the cloudy winter sky: gray, tired, and not able to hold the heaviness much longer.

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After a teary goodbye, I was filled with dread. Mom had been beleaguered. Something deep and dark hollowed out my insides as I left her apartment. Maybe this really would be the last time I would hug her, be embraced by all her fluffy warmness, feel her claw of a hand pat my back and intuit that one-of-a-kind love that housed only in her watery, hazel-green eyes.

I got off the elevator and walked into the common room of her building where a Bible verse was written neatly on the whiteboard in blue dry-erase marker. Cheerful potted plastic plants with flowers sat on top of board games and a row of Britannica Encyclopedias. Sweet people lived in my mother’s building, and I was so grateful to know she was safe. I walked past the long table covered in items other residents were giving away (half a package of cinnamon rolls, adult diapers, a Christmas tree candle) that ran the length of the room. I hurried across the parking lot to my rental car because it had started to sleet and I wanted to get to my hotel room near the Nashville Airport before the weather got too wild. I buckled the seatbelt and checked my phone. There was a text from my husband that said he had very sad news, and how sorry he was to tell me that our friend, Jon Cavaluzzo, had just died.

   San Francisco   Jon Cavaluzzo     2015

  San Francisco   Jon Cavaluzzo     2015

My husband and I do not have children and our friends are our chosen family.

I gasped. The motor idled. The headlights lit up a retaining wall. I looked up at the darkening sky and sobbed. We knew Jon had serious and difficult to diagnose health concerns, but he was only 55. I texted for more information then looked back at my Mom’s window. I had hoped she would be there, bathed in golden lamplight, watching me leave as she usually did for one last wave goodbye. But she wasn’t. I cried for a few more minutes then put the car in reverse.

Mom died November 30, 2016, one year ago today.

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Outside the Lines

Eight years before my mother died, she had a debilitating stroke. More devastating than the loss of her ability to speak plainly or the use of her right hand, was the loss of what was beginning to unfold prior to the morning of her stroke: her short-lived revival.

Mom was limping back to life after yet another difficult decade, the one where she became her parents’ caretaker. She had returned to their home, to attend to her mother’s Alzheimer and her daddy’s old age. Those years took a toll on my mother like none other. I was in California beginning my own recovery journey and, while I was learning about powerlessness, I watched it unfold in my mother’s life as depression and self-medication took over.

After that challenging period, after both her parents passed, I watched Mom slowly come back to life. She moved into a small apartment in an assisted-living home in Winter Park, Florida, the youngest resident at the age of sixty-four. She missed us, her grown children who were scattered between central Florida, Tennessee and California, but she had family in Florida, and she began to make friends. She took in sewing and watched Dr. Phil as well as joining in the square dance lessons and art classes that were offered at her assisted living home. And it was there that she recovered her younger self’s truest love: painting. She painted and painted and became happier and more confident.

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Then my brother Will had a sweet idea. He bought her a modest home in Jackson County, TN, the town where we had lived, where Will and I went to high school. My mother was downright giddy from the attention. My brother’s hope was that Mom and his wife’s mother would live near each other and, therefore, support one another. He thought they would become friends and that would lessen their emotional burdens. However, that match was not made in heaven. Even so, Mom thrived in her Gainesboro house. Floored by her son’s generosity and the attention she received from her other nearby children, Mom painted, planted a vegetable garden, and watched the sheep frolic on the farm across the street from a rocking chair on her own porch. She relaxed into a gentler phase of life.

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Not being a driver, she managed to get senior services in nearby Putnam County to pick her up for doctor appointments and shopping. She even found a psychologist. I was so excited that my Mom’s can-do-ness had reappeared, that the old gal was getting her strength and fire back.

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The therapist she saw regularly in Cookeville thought that she suffered from PTSD. He convinced my mother to try a new form of therapy that addressed PTSD specifically. I was wowed by Mom’s willingness and bravery. Even though she was terrified, she said she would attend. 

No one knows exactly what happened the morning a stroke burned a valley through my mother’s brain, but I do know she was waiting for the senior services van to pick her up for her first PTSD session. I had high hopes for her future, that this specific therapy might truly bring my mother much-needed freedom from her anxiety and depression. The only place so far where she’d been truly free was in her paintings. She painted outside of the lines, in her own style, at her own pace.

In the anger that crested the waves of my grief, I went through my Mom’s purse to find her address book so I could call and cancel the therapy appointment she would no longer be able to attend. I’m not sure why I thought I needed to do that. I was so proud of her I guess I needed them to know she had not chickened out.

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An Ordinary American Life

My mother was a good-looking broad. When she was young she could have passed for a movie star with her nineteen-inch waist and double-D bust. She had giant hazel-green eyes and a bright smile. She was dramatic and sometimes the class clown yet the only makeup she wore was lipstick.

The one-year anniversary of her death is chewing through the pages of the calendar to November 30. Just like Richard Thompson sang, the ghost of you walks. I pick at my grief, trying to make it bleed so I can feel close to her again. 

Maybe I hope to understand myself better by understanding her. There's a lot I wonder about, for instance, why didn't she take better advantage of her physical beauty? Mom knew that life was a contest. She had been her high school Homecoming Queen and the runner-up to Miss Orlando in 1958. She said the pageant had been rigged, that the winner had been some rich man's daughter. So why didn't she play the game better?

Sure, my father may have seemed like a catch initially. He was handsome, came from an upper-middle-class family, and had lovely manners. But he became chronically ill only two years into their marriage. Why didn't she try to find a financially secure, not mentally ill husband after she divorced him twelve years later? She was barely forty and still beautiful.

Could be she did not wear plunging necklines and thicker eyeliner because she didn’t feel good. She wasn't up for it. When you have migraine headaches, depression and anxiety, five pregnancies in five years with only one miscarriage, weight gain, and prescription drug dependency, it's hard to feel pretty. She lacked ambition. There were people who called my mother a hypochondriac. Those people needed to walk a mile in her non-fussy shoes.

Maybe using her looks simply wasn't her style. Mom was not a flirt. It's possible that her experience of sex had been a drag, and lord knows she had plenty to complain about. But I think the real problem was how near the end of her emotional rope she swung. Mom was simply too exasperated to be sexy. She took whatever came to her, too defensive and too tired to reach. Besides, that would have been vulgar and for all her faults, being vulgar was not one of them.

All of this to say, I think my mother experienced an ordinary American life. She had been lucky in some respects, like being born an attractive white person in the U.S. of A. And the dream she claimed to have wanted more than anything in the world, having children, was realized. She got five of us. But her marriages were awful and she lost several houses; she had a low earning capacity; and after decades of warding off one shit show after another, she wore out. Something Broke Her, the song Sarah Silverman recently wrote and sang at the Blue Bird Café in Nashville hit emotional pay dirt for me. In the American tradition, she compared and blamed, took offense easily and the only things she truly never gave up on were her children and her anger. She had all she could take. She made peace with "I can't." 

But on a good day, she was funny as hell.

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What Kind of Bird Would You Be?

My brother and I recently visited my father in Florida for a super quick two-day visit to pre-celebrate his 80th birthday in July. The late April heat and humidity were thick enough to make the trip feel like it lasted a month. Something about the barometric pressure and below sea-level-ness intensified each moment, elongated it, made time yield. Melbourne Beach has a womb-like quality with all that salty ocean air mixing with the Indian River breeze, but without the sun-protection a mother’s body offers. And, this was the first time I visited with my father since my mother died.

Perhaps the visit felt lengthy because it was with family. Dad is still mentally ill. He lives in a safe and sweet rural home with other mentally ill, geriatric folk. The people who run this home are professional, and exceptionally kind. My heart is gladdened by their services. By “rural” I mean the half-way house is at the end of a cul de sac on the outskirts of Palm Bay, where palmetto scrub, pine trees, and live oak house every sharp, stinging, prickly plant or critter you can imagine, magnified by a sun that expresses the meaning of radiation in its morning hello.

I have genuine affection for my father. He is a gentle man with good manners and thoughtful responses. I used to be scared of him and mad at him. He had an exceptional excuse, being mentally ill, and that debilitation made childhood hellish. Once our family fell apart, I did not attempt contact with him throughout my twenties. But by my thirties, and after I got sober, we began a written correspondence that lasts to this day. I began well-supported visits to him even though at that time, he was institutionalized. The fact that he is doing so well so late in his in life should not come as a surprise considering his family tree is full of schizophrenia and alcoholism, longevity and taking a mouthful of one’s own teeth to the grave.

Because of this determination to know my father, to know myself, and value what I’ve been given, I’ve gotten fairly comfortable hanging out with Pops. We both love ice cream and hugs, we both consider ourselves writers, and talk easily about God and publishing. From behind the steering wheel, on our way to Sonny’s BBQ for lunch, I asked, “Dad, if you could be a bird, what kind of bird would you be?

“I’d be a mockingbird, Sandy,” he replied without hesitation.

“Why a mocking bird?” I asked, thinking, maybe because they can sing anything.

“They’re courageous,” replied Dad.

 Indian River Lagoon, Melbourne Beach, FL

Indian River Lagoon, Melbourne Beach, FL

In the yet-to-be published novel I’ve written, WHAT YOU CARRY, the father, Lyle Thompson, is schizophrenic. I worry that the snapshot -- the summer and fall that the novel inhabits when the family falls apart — that it may not shed the best light on the people who suffer the most. I fear that the stigma of mental illness could be furthered, instead of ameliorated. The father's crazy was strong in the novel. My hope is that the overlapping perspectives of the other family members show that we are all in this together whether we like it or not. I’m fairly certain every family carries illness, that we are full of pre-existing conditions, and that the way forward is by embracing our frailties and treating ourselves well instead of unwell.   

To finish the conversational circle, my brother would be any kind of bird that soars high above, and I would be a pelican.