Debts paid, Lessons learned.


I don’t even know where to start… Partly because this story is a decade long and difficult to encapsulate, and partly because it is terribly embarrassing. But if by revealing my embarrassment and my mistakes and my naiveté, somebody else might feel less awful about theirs, I will count it a privilege to overshare this part of my life. I thank you in advance for your indulgence.


Perhaps I should start with the end. Today, after 9 long years, I made the last payment on a debt of over $100k to the IRS.


It all started in 2003 when my husband and I sold our house in Mar Vista after our daughter was born. I had suffered from postpartum depression for about six months and essentially stopped working, making it impossible for us to make our mortgage payments. Selling our house was our first mistake. We should’ve kept it, rented it, waited until my voiceover work took a swing back upwards. It always does. But we sold it, and ourselves, right out of the Los Angeles housing market which, at the time, was still booming. We used most of the very small profit we made and bought two rental properties in Oklahoma, sight unseen, but that didn’t stop us from buying a couple of other “investment” properties with no money down. That’s another story. Let me just say that 100% financing was all the rage in 2005.


About that time we also decided we were going to save our daughter from the insanity of Los Angeles and move to the midwest. So we bought a house in a Kansas City suburb, packed everything up, and waved goodbye to my home state. This house in Leawood KS was amazing. A mere $245k. A half acre. 2000 square feet. 3 beds, 3 baths. A basement in which I could build a voiceover studio. Awesome. A mansion by L.A. standards. And though it was never on our list of must haves, it turned out to be a pretty swanky neighborhood. Who knew? At that price it seemed like a fire sale to us, what with our west coast real estate sensibilities. Turns out we over paid. And we inadvertently threw in $100k to remodel the thing. We had intended to put in $20K, but that’s how remodeling goes, right? Where we got this money, I have no idea. Credit cards. Loans. Today, I tremble at the expense of needing tires for my car, let alone where I’d find $100k. But again, borrowing was all the rage and not a single lender said no. At least not until, after the remodel, we tried to refinance. Remodeling a house in the midwest does not increase home value like remodeling in California.


Then the ground began to shift.


Shortly after our move, my husband’s new job prospect in Kansas City fell through. His old job in Los Angeles kept him on, thank God. So, by necessity, he started commuting – coming home to Kansas from Los Angeles every other weekend – while he continued to look for work in KC. Our daughter was 3 years old at the time, and after about 2 months of that nonsense, she didn’t even want him to kiss her goodnight anymore. “Just go” she’d whisper, as he came to say goodbye before heading to the airport. It broke his heart. It was becoming clear we’d made a mistake moving to the midwest. (Ya think?) Our friends in Los Angeles knew this before we ever left, of course. We decided to “cut our losses” and move back to L.A. But it was there that our losses grew beyond our wildest nightmare. Right about that time the housing market began to crumble, and it always crumbles in the midwest first. We couldn’t sell our house. So, we rented it. To awful tenants. Then the house started to fall apart. We needed a roof, a new heating system, the basement flooded. You name it. We had purchased The Money Pit. We were now cash poor and tapped out of credit, and whatever equity we thought we’d gained by remodeling was now truly gone with the housing meltdown. So…


We emptied our 401k to save the house. We paid our penalties and our automatic 20% tax, but we had no idea that emptying that account would kick us into a higher tax bracket with seriously higher tax consequences, or that it would be the nail in the coffin of our financial undoing.


That year, we ended up with an $85k tax bill. And we were broke. We tried to sell everything, but nothing would sell. There was no help yet available from Uncle Sam for underwater mortgages. We were among the first wave of losers in the housing market crash of 2006, the lucky stiffs who paved the way for the tsunami of underwater home owners soon to devastate the economy to such a degree that the Feds were forced to step in.


We lost our Kansas City house to foreclosure in 2011. We lost our 401k. We were terrified of the IRS, who has rightfully earned its reputation for being intransigent, cold, and unrelenting in its collection methods. It didn’t matter to Uncle Sam that our dreams were crushed, that we were sorry for our terrible decision making, that we took responsibility for it all. It didn’t matter to them that the federal manipulation of money and interest rates and mortgage lending rules helped to create our perfect storm. Understandably, every piece of advice we got from every so called “expert” was not to negotiate with the IRS alone. Hire an attorney. Hire a specialist. Whatever you do, don’t face them by yourself. We hired one company promising to help us negotiate pennies on the dollar. They took us for about $5k and all we got were wage garnishments. We then hired a bankruptcy attorney to the tune of $9k who erroneously filed bankruptcy on our behalf TWICE before withdrawing the filings both times because he failed to gather pertinent information from us before filing. He also failed to tell us that voluntarily withdrawn bankruptcies stay on record for 10 years just like regular ones do, only without the relief of bankruptcy itself. No wonder he disappeared from our radar screen. We then hired a tax attorney to help us set up an installment plan and once again were threatened with wage garnishment. Needless to say we were seriously beginning to doubt our ability to judge anyone’s character. Lord.


Weary (so weary) in 2012, we fired the tax attorney and I called the IRS and FTB myself. What could they possibly do to me? Take my favorite sandals from Target? The well-worn china my mother-in-law gave to us? What? Our penalties and interest alone had grown to near equal our original debt which, if we’d just called the taxing authorities ourselves in 2007 and set up a payment plan, would’ve been paid by now. All that was required to negotiate with the IRS was my calculator and some very simple math. I did not dispute any part of the tax owed and told the IRS and FTB we just wanted to pay. Sweet music to their ears. We set up a plan for each, and each was accepted without a fight. Our plan for the State would take 4 years to pay off. Our plan for the Feds would take 6 years. But at least we could see the end.


Our luck began to change in 2014. I’d put my shoulder to the wheel and ended up having a pretty good year, and by a stroke of good fortune we were able to pay off the State of CA last September, 2 years early. It felt miraculous.


By several different standards, we make a lot of money. More than enough. By Southern California standards, we are just a working class family, trying to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck with no room for error. The bankruptcy attorney we hired refused to refund our money and has stopped returning our calls. The IRS attorneys we’d hired to help us in the beginning had class action and criminal suits filed against them and are in jail. Our credit is gone. We have Federal and State liens on our persons. And even living modestly in L.A., our rent is exorbitant. All that remained were the two modest investment houses in Oklahoma, neither of which had appreciated in the last 10 years. Still, we’d put 10% down on each and had ten years of paying down the mortgages. Perhaps there was something there to be culled. I brought this to My husbad’s attention, and this past Spring we put them on the market.


We closed on Oklahhoma house number one at the end of July, and on Oklahoma house number two on the 2nd of October. Our net (I should say “the return of our money down” as it could hardly be called profit) from both houses combined was a mere $56k. When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, I was on hold for 90 minutes just to find out what our IRS payoff was – expecting something around $65k. We figured the sale of the houses would cover most of the remaining debt, but not all, and we were prepared for several more months of regular payments. The IRS agent uttered a figure that took me aback. $54 thousand. We could pay in full, with two grand to spare. I hung up the phone, dropped my head in my hands, and cried my little eyes out.


I’d like to tell you that paying off this debt in full was altogether celebratory, but it wasn’t. I’ve been a little depressed these last two weeks. The reality of it all just smacked me between the eyes, like standing in the aftermath of a tornado that has done its damage and dissipated. I’m so relieved it’s done. But what do I do with what’s left? I’ve spent the last decade – most of my 40s and into my 50s – with this beast on my back, as has my husband. It has colored everything, every last part of our lives. Our marriage. Our daughter – what we have been able to provide her, and what she’s gone without. She could’ve used some educational assistance, tutoring, perhaps schools better suited to her learning issues, and we can’t get her developmental years back. They are gone. We sold furniture, beloved drum kits, instruments. We’ve sold more crap on Craigslist than I can recall. We have foregone seeing family and aging parents, and visiting our dearest friends in their times of need. Even our inability to join friends at dinner or a concert now and again reverberates with a bit of melancholy. Each place we’ve rented has gotten smaller each time we’ve needed to move. It has been a most humbling experience. We made some really, REALLY stupid decisions, and we have paid more than a fair price for our failings. Isn’t it funny… In my stubbornness, I still maintain had we made those decisions a decade earlier, they wouldn’t have appeared so stupid. Some might have called us genius (!) and we likely would have made a nice nest egg for ourselves in real estate. Ha. No point in re-writing history. Stupid is as stupid does…


I think I ended up with the equivalent of a PhD double-major in Life and Economics – a detailed education in real estate, finance, borrowing, credit; in the fallibility of attorneys and experts, and opportunists who seek out the weak to exploit them. I learned what I am made of and that no expert has my best interest at heart – not like I do.


I learned I am not my credit score.
I am not my bank account.
I am not my failures.


I am not alone.


I learned to cook.
I learned to share.
I learned to live on less.
I learned to want less – less stuff, anyway.


And I’m happier that way.


I learned to want more of the good stuff:
More truth.
More transparency.
More love.
More humility.
More grace.
More faith.
More creativity.
More expression.
More presence.


More life.


And here I stand. 53 years old. At zero. No nest egg. No house. No property. No savings. No investments. No credit. We will not be paying for our daughter to go to UCLA, let alone Princeton. If she goes to college at all, she’ll be working to pay for it, and that may end up being the most valuable part of her education. I’d be lying if I told you that all of this doesn’t scare me. At the same time, I know I am terribly lucky to have been imparted by my father and mother and the whole of my faith family a value system that confirms the state of my heart matters more than the state of my finances. That’s an immeasurable gift for which I am eternally grateful. It’s what carried me through.


I am finally free of a truly ridiculous burden – and yet men have jumped off of bridges for less. That’s not lost on me.


I am also quite aware that this decade of struggle was, by and large, a “Western-world” problem. What we’ve gone through – this loss of security, of comfort, of “stuff” is nothing new, nothing unfamiliar to countless numbers of people over the course of time; nothing uncommon in the least. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country are still inside of similar or worse struggles. Some have a long way to dig before they find some light. Some may leap from the bridge. I can’t even talk about the rest of the world. My goodness. What’s a FICO score to a man scouring the streets for something to eat, or to a woman desperate for a place to lay her head in safety? What’s a foreclosure on a credit report to a refugee desperate to touch his feet to free ground?


Perspective. That’s what this has taught me. Perspective and gratitude. Gratitude in plenty is easy. Gratitude in darkness, in want – that’ll test your mettle. And mine was tested, for sure.


That’s it. Just a little thing called freedom. That’s the gift I wanted to celebrate with a bottle of fantastic champagne. So… Cheers, my friends. Here’s to hope, to perseverance, to gratitude.


I’m good now. 🙂






Another piece from my forthcoming collection of letters to Esther; this one written over three years ago. My goodness, time flies…


My Darling Esther,


It is May 30, 2012. I am flying at 36000 feet, traveling at 554 miles per hour, heading west from London and home to you. I miss you so much; so, so much. As I contemplate my arrival home in a few hours, I am remembering the moment you flew into my arms last year when I came home from a week long trip to New York. It seemed a lifetime spent away from you. I remember the sound you made as you jumped to me, wrapping your arms around my neck and your legs tight around my torso. You let escape a moan so deep it went straight through my heart and shook me alive. I know the depths from which that sound comes. It is primordial (Ooh, that’s a good word, honey. Look it up.) It is love and need, anxiety and relief all wrapped up together, and I felt it for you too. “Sighs too deep for words” – as Paul in Romans describes our most inexpressible prayers, my Esther – and I sighed for you, too, more intensely that day than even on the day you were born.


One day, my girl, when you set out on your own travels through the world, you’ll discover what a strange thing it is: to experience the fantastical freedom of flying off and leaving your silly, stodgy, irritating family behind; letting go your former things, your ingrained ways of doing and being, to make room for new things and new ways and new doings. And in a fit of the human condition even you will not escape, you’ll toss the old and new together, just as you will toss about in the lonely winds of that same fantastical freedom that lured you to its beauty in the first place. And then, like Dorothy, you’ll realize where you are may indeed be lovely, but where you came from ain’t so bad either. You’ll feel that paradoxical pull toward home every one of us comes to feel. You’ll click your proverbial heels and wind your way back into the arms that loved you enough to let you go; the arms that will welcome you home each and every time you choose to return, for how ever long you wish to stay.


You know what, Esther? It’s not so different for me, this leaving home and returning again. 10 days ago, when I set out on this rather extravagant journey to London and Paris to celebrate my 50th, I really needed some time away. It’s been a good trip and I’m so grateful for it, though it has not been without its difficulties. Even at my age it’s a good thing to tire of your kin, a good thing to travel away from them for a time, and even to miss them. But it’s better, I think, to book a return flight; and best of all, to arrive back home.


Can’t wait to see you, sweetheart.



If I Am What I Ate



If I am what I ate,
I am Spaghettios
and Swanson TV dinners.
I’m grilled cheese on Wonder Bread
and my mother’s Mexican Goulash,
which is neither Mexican
nor goulash.


If the voices in my head
belong to my parents,
then it’s they who told me to lay low,
toe the line, follow the rules,
and do unto others, as others
are more important than I.


It wasn’t God.
It wasn’t Jesus,
not the Pope nor Billy Graham.
It wasn’t the sacred texts or hymnals,
or the sages who interpreted them
who told me to be someone else.


God is God, and He’s made me a lovely dinner.
I dine on the Feast and become myself.


With my tongue I taste.
With my eyes I see.
With my ears I hear.
It’s my blood surging.
It’s my heart that sings in the dark.

In The Moment, When It Mattered Most


My mom and my daughter, Esther, in June 2012.


I wrote this piece in December 2012; two weeks after my mother died. It has taken this long for me to shine it up for public consumption. The heart is ready when the heart is ready…


Those of you that know me well know I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother. It was fraught with strife from the start (if what I was told was true) and continued through most of my adult life. Of course I don’t remember much before the age of six, but from that point I had the perception that my mother didn’t like me too well, that I was difficult, that my conception was, for her, an unhappy accident, and I came along just at the wrong time. If not for me, so the folklore goes, my mother would’ve traveled more, and lived her dreams. If not for me, she would’ve gotten her PhD and really made something of her life.


If not for me.


These kinds of myths, when imparted to a young child whether by word or glance or silence, persist, loom and grow larger as years pass and, at least for me, they became the foundation of a life fraught with a sense of worthlessness, which I came often to experience as paralyzing anxiety. This manifested in many ways: fear of flying, the ocean, taking tests, getting sick, auditioning, stepping on stage, and the ever pervasive “nameless dreads” – the irrational sense that something bad is coming, and coming right soon.


It feels like I’ve worked a lifetime at ridding myself of these demons, and for the most part I guess I have. I started seeing therapists when I was 7 years old. I stuttered pretty badly at the time, and my father was wise enough in the late 1960’s to understand this was likely an emotional issue, not one of speech mechanics. So, he took me to the school psychologist, also known as the “speech therapist.” I’m still incredulous that they had such a person on staff at a public elementary school in 1969. The next occasion I had to see a therapist was almost a decade later, around the time my parents divorced; then again in my mid twenties when I just couldn’t shake the panic attacks, cigarettes, cocaine, or bad-boy men-friends; and yet again in my mid thirties as a result of self-inflicted emotional trauma caused by my own infidelity during my first marriage. Worthlessness takes on many forms, and I’ve worn lots of camouflage over the years.


In the year 2000, I had the good sense to marry Tim Klassen. Whether it was good sense for him to marry me is something I imagine he’s still pondering 13 years later… But, he’s free to write his own blog and bare his own soul… With Tim came a sense of calm and long sought stability (though it’s WAY more complicated than that) and, 3 years down the road, our greatest treasure: Esther. Now motherhood, as all mothers know, changes everything. Once you have a child of your own, you never see your own mother in quite the same way. And so it was that a light went on when Esther was born. I realized, Good Lord in Heaven, that my own mother is a human being. Who knew? My parents’ prohibitions, once thought equivalent to those of a jailhouse warden, began to seem quite rational and, truth be told, too permissive. Now I understood that my mom and dad had no idea what they were doing. While they appeared all knowing and all powerful, they were just doing what they thought best at the time. And while my father was busy saving the world one soul at a time, I imagine my mother was reading Dr. Spock blindfolded, crouched and shaking in the back of her bedroom closet.


Even as I have struggled to maintain a career in the 21st century and struggled to keep some culturally acceptable sense of a “personal identity” separate from my identity as a mother, I have NEVER struggled to love my daughter. That scenario is just not within the realm of possibility. And so it is that I’ve come to rethink the folklore of my childhood. Given my own experience as a mother, it seems likely that loving one’s children kinda goes without saying. So, is it not possible, logical then, that even in my mother’s struggle for identity and her desire to live her own dreams, she also loved me? Maybe even as fiercely as I love Esther? I think so. No. I know so. And I think, again based on my membership in the motherhood club, my own misguided belief that she didn’t love me broke her heart. I remember a few occasions when she tried with great desperation to explain her love for me, but it was all mixed up and awkward, rolled up in her ambivalence about career and marriage. It was covered so thick in Gloria Steinem, pop psychology, and Me-Generation rhetoric it turned my stomach, and I would have none of it. It took another 25 years and having a child of my own to understand the terrifying truth she was trying to express; something I, in my stubborn naïveté, have just barely come to accept: once you have children, you give up your dreams in deference to theirs – at least for a time, but maybe forever. It depends upon your kid, and it’s a risk you take. And I would add another somewhat controversial layer to it: A mother gives up her dreams in deference to her children’s, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.


Knowledge of this truth has not kept me from pursuit of the illusory Brass Ring in my voice acting career, nor has it kept me from lone excursions to far away lands in pursuit of an ever-elusive peaceful state of mind, of lessons in how to let go of worry for the future, regret for the past and (at the risk of sounding just as entrenched in modern day Me-Generation bullshit rhetoric as my mother did in the early 1970’s) of learning to “be in the moment.” Why else, my friends, would I attempt to surf in Costa Rica with a bunch of 22-year-olds or balance myself in Bakasana (crow pose) at the age of 50? I’m a jokester about my own narcissism rooted in my parents’, but now that I’ve crested the great mountain of life and am staring down its descent, my desire to be in the moment has shifted focus. Lately, what I have wanted is to be fully present, not with myself, not with God even, but with the people I love right here, right now; my friends, my family, and especially my daughter. When I’m with Esther, I want to be with Esther, not focused on the dinner I “should” be making or the audition I should be recording. I want her to know I am right here with her doing homework from 1×1 to 12×12 and every word problem in between. I want to be with her on the swings and climbing the tree, not on the sidelines on my iPhone checking Facebook. It’s an on-going problem of mine, this not being “present,” and I’ve missed out on stuff I don’t want to miss out on anymore.


As Providence would have it, I did not miss out on what has turned out to be one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. Two weeks ago, my mother died. Her rather sudden decline over the last few months took us all by surprise, as my siblings and I were just coming to terms with having moved her to a residential care home where she would have round-the-clock oversight – necessary due to the deepening of her dementia. It was not easy for us to get to her, as I live 3 hours away by car and both my siblings live out of state. Nonetheless, we were all able to be with her at some point in her last weeks on this earth. Most of the time she knew who we were and was able to respond in kind when we told her we loved her.


After 4 weeks convalescing in hospital from an infection, she had been home only a few days before she was taken to the hospital again. This time she had suffered a few small strokes that sent her into a rapid decline. With the good counsel and care of the hospital social worker, we decided it was time to adhere to my mother’s advanced care directive, stop all heroic measures and bring her under hospice care. I asked the hospice nurse to be frank with me about how long she thought my mom might live and, God bless her, she was. Not months by any stretch. Not to Christmas. Maybe days, maybe a week. That was on a Wednesday. I planned on coming to see her that coming Friday, the 30th of November, and to stay a few days.


I drove to San Luis Obispo County and checked into my hotel, the Kon Tiki in Pismo Beach, before heading 10 miles further north to my mom’s. The ocean was roaring to the West and clouds were threatening rain ahead. I drove in the dark to Los Osos and arrived to see her at 6 pm. Ross, her caregiver, took me back to her room. I pulled up a chair next to her, reached for her hand under the sheet and fixed my eyes on her. The air in the room was warm, thick and humid. The only sounds were the rain outside the window and the whoosh of her oxygen machine. The room was peaceful and expectant, womblike almost. She was sleeping, and while her breathing was shorter than usual, it was steady and calm. I didn’t want to wake her, so I kept my eyes fixed on her and said nothing. Her skin, my god, her skin. It was still flawless with nary a wrinkle, even at 82. My mother never went in the sun. She wore the silliest hats and goofiest sunglasses when I was a kid, keeping herself protected all year long from the California sunshine she sought as a young wife and mother in her 20’s, escaping what she perceived as the drudgery of life in the small town Midwest. I remember we’d go to Disneyland in the high heat of August and she’d tell us girls to put on long-sleeved sweaters, so as not to let the sun burn our skin. My sister and I, who would slather ourselves in baby oil in the midday sun every July, thought she was crazy. Ya. Crazy like a porcelain goddess.


After sitting with her for about 45 minutes, I looked at my watch and remembered that I hadn’t eaten anything since 10 am. I squeezed her hand just a little and whispered that I was going to get something to eat and would be back in an hour. As I let go, she opened her eyes. I took it as a sign, a signal for me to stay. So I did.


I searched the Internet on my phone for hymns of her youth and favorite scripture (there are times to praise the internet, it turns out) and began to focus my vigil. As I read and sang, and as her eyes once again closed, I realize how much of those hymns and pieces of scripture I knew by heart… And in knowing, I was able to keep my eyes focused on my mother. I was looking at … no, seeing… so intently my mother’s skin that when I began to notice a shift in her coloring, I thought my eyes were going wonky. Her skin was becoming translucent and I could see the tiniest, most delicate capillaries on her forehead. Her bone structure was amazing. She glowed. How can that be? How does one glow in such a state? I kept blinking to make sure I was keeping her in focus, and began to realize that she was dying before my eyes. The blood was leaving her face. Her breath became shallow, inhales less frequent. But my god, even as life was leaving her body, her beauty was palpable.


I had arrived at 6 pm that Friday. I sang and kept vigil until 8:02 pm when she took her last breath. It was not days, it was not weeks. She’d had only hours left. And I was present for them. Along with the hours spent birthing my child, these were two of the most privileged hours of my life. Within the span of them, I got to encourage my mother to Heaven, while every resentment, everything bitter, every failure between us drifted away. Vanished. Like they never existed. And it was nothing I did. It was the last and most treasured gift my mother gave me. By her willingness to die in my presence, she confirmed that she trusted me, that she loved me, that I was worthy of being present at her birth into eternity.


I did not call in the nurse for a good 15 minutes. I sat alone with my mother’s body and took in the last moments of her life. I felt in some odd way that I had witnessed a miracle, and even now I find it hard to articulate. I mean, what is so miraculous about death? It’s pretty pedestrian, really, and inevitable for us all. I didn’t see her spirit hover or ascend or see anything I thought to be supernatural. But I was struck again by how beautiful she was. I wanted very much to share this experience with my siblings who had wished so much to be by her side with me. So, as odd as it sounds, I took a picture of my mother in a last, feeble attempt to capture the moment, to capture the beauty I saw as she left this realm.


It wasn’t until the next day that I looked at that picture. And what I saw was as plain as day: my dead mother. A shadow of herself. No life. No translucence. Just a strange emptiness. It was not easy to see, and for a moment I was deflated. But in the next moment I grasped, finally, that what I had been working so hard to experience over the last few years had come to pass. The moment my mother died, I had been fully present. I was in the moment when it mattered most. With her, and nowhere else. And by being in the moment, I saw her.


I saw her sweetness.
I saw her innocence.
I saw her vulnerability.
I. Saw. Her.
And she was beautiful.


For an experience as emotional as this one was, I shed very few tears over the next few days and had little to say. I was mostly in a daze and out of my body, like I was hovering over the tumultuous Central Coast ocean, yet at peace. I imagined that this was kind of what Mary Magdelene (my patron Saint) must have felt when she saw Jesus in the garden that First Easter Morning. Miracles do that to you, I think. Leave you speechless…


And so it is, I have found, that even in death there are gifts to be received. Some would say it was a gift to my mother that I was by her side when she died. Maybe so, but I think I got the greater gift. My childhood folklore was dismantled and, irony of ironies, it was my mother who set me free from its tyranny. I don’t know exactly how that happened, so I’m choosing to call it a miracle, and leave the mystery intact. I have no desire to explain it away, only to embrace it, and hopefully, when the moment comes, offer the gift to Esther.

4 Random Poems on Parenting


Parenting is a roller-coaster for sure.
It goes too slowly, and it moves too fast.
It’s also the best thing ever.


Too Much


Today she got the best of me.
All three.


There was no adult in charge.
Just a 51-year-old adolescent
at the stove,
at the wheel,
at unlucky door number 3.
Today she told me not that she hated me,
but that I hated her.


I willed her to my womb,
I grew her in my body,
I fed her with my breasts,


I bathe her,
read to her,
go sleepless when she’s sick.


I bandage her wounds,
I sing her to sleep.
I brush out her fucking tangles
every fucking morning.


I hold her down.
I hold her up.
I hold her in the dark.


God it’s too much.
I simply cannot
in good conscience
recommend parenting
to anyone.



Attention Deficit


Hey Doctor!
Hey Shrink!
Hey Specialist!
Hey Administrator!
Hey Teacher!
Hey California Standardized Box Makers!
Hey After School Square Peg Directors!


Do I have your attention?
Can you focus on this for a minute?
Can you settle your asses down in your seats?




Now take your little tests
And your little evaluations
And your cute little bell curves…
Gather them all up together and put a cute little bow on them.
Then, take your bullshit recommendations
and your bullshit red markers
and your bullshit drugs
that dull my daughter and drown her sparkle
and go fuck yourselves.





You’ve had a fever for 3 days, Esther.
And I don’t like it one bit.
Fever scares me.
It scares me cold.
I’ll never show you that it does, though.
I will never let that cat slip.
I will smile every time I take the reading.
I will smile and wink
and give you popsicles
and ice chips
and stroke your forehead
and tell you how lucky you are to sleep in my bed.


I will smile when I tell you that you don’t have to go to school
and I will cancel my appointments,
and change all my plans – every last one.


To be with you.
To watch you.
To watch your fever.
To watch it rise
and rise again
To wait for a sign.
To wonder.
To wonder.
To wonder.


Why now?
And what did you touch?
How did you get it?
From whom; on what day?
When will it break and what is it, anyway?
Why no other symptoms?
Why nothing?
Why nothing?
Why nothing?
But fever.


Jessie’s youngest had a fever that wouldn’t go away
and wouldn’t go away
and wouldn’t go away
and they finally found cancer in her blood.
Fever with nothing.
It scares me a lot.


So you’ll sleep in my bed and I’ll stroke your forehead.
I’ll bring you ice chips,
and smile.



Second Story


She sleeps in a second story nest
right up close to the glow-in-the-dark stars.
She listens to me read the pictures of a life
lived on the prairie a hundred years ago
and tries to put it together with hers.


One more chapter is closed.
One more night has fallen.
One more dream has filled her head.


She wishes I would hold her all night,
But I’ve grown too old for her bed.

God Somewhere



I don’t understand people
who refuse the hope
that there’s a God.
I mean
kind of God.
It doesn’t have to be of formal conjuring.
Forget all the epistemological arguments.
At the very least there’s got to be a Something that knows more
and is more
and is more able than I.


If I thought there really were
no God at all, well…
why wouldn’t I just slit my wrists?
Look at this world
and the institutions
and the people
in it.
Live long enough and you’ll see.
It’s. Fucked. Up.
There is no one
and nothing
to trust
even if you wanted to… even if you should.


Friends fail
Lovers fail
Parents fail
Children fail
Teachers fail
Priests fail

Governments fail
Churches fail
Courts fail
Banks fail
Cops fail
Lawyers fail
Dictators fail


                                Wives fail
                                Husbands fail
                                Heroes fail
                                Psychiatrists fail


Planes fail
Cars fail
Boats fail
Elevators fail
Dogs fail


        Cats don’t even fucking try



















So, the only thing I’ve really got going on is this hope,
this hope,
that there is a God somewhere
Who has not
Will not

In The Big Bed, Sleeping.



This is another excerpt from the book of letters I am writing to my daughter…


Dear Esther;


You are lying next to me in the big bed, sleeping. I am up late, getting stupid stuff done, winding down, and happy that you are next to me. I’m not sure what it is, but I love the sight of your little body in the big bed. You look so cozy, you look so small; you are at peace.


We have had some hard days lately, you and I, and perhaps you lying close to me reassures me that we are not yet approaching the end of our long goodbye, that our worries and our struggles and our battles are ephemeral; that we are still inseparable.


As parents do, I worry about losing you sometimes, and oh to my dismay there are so many ways of being lost. You are a sensitive girl and so different from your peers. There is an innocence about you that many of your more already-hardened contemporaries will not suffer too much longer. The world doesn’t like innocence. Oh we pretend to like it. We long for it in a wistful kind of way, hoping we might touch once more the sweet, forgotten someone we once were. But really, out in the world, we aspire to sarcasm and quick-witted repartee. We aspire to wisdom, and expertise. We aspire to the answers even before we’ve earned them by our stripes. We fear ignorance and incognizance. We fear being shamed for not knowing, and we fear that shame showing up in our eyes lest someone we want to love appears one day and decides to look deep. We hide behind cunning and detachment, self-sufficiency and cynicism. Oh goodness, the clever ways we hide. But you, my love, are as guileless as an afternoon in early June when school lets out for summer, all bouncy and free. And when a person is as bouncy and as free as you are, it makes the not-free people nervous and uncomfortable in their hard, bound skin. So they start looking to find fault for their discomfort, and they look everywhere but in a mirror. They look in the boardroom and the classroom and the bedroom; at the dinner table and birthday parties and on playgrounds at recess. And when a friendly and disarming girl like you needs help with spelling, and you’re a little behind in math, and you’re the new girl at school, well… you are about as easy a target as they come. And I worry, with all that pixie dust in your eyes, you will believe that little shit Kate who says you’re stupid and no one likes you. And I worry that three years from now you will take the pretty pills she offers you in the bathroom after 3rd period just to prove to her and to yourself that you are likeable and cool, and that you “know better.” Oh, how I worry.


I woke up with a start at 1:56 this morning with an awful thought. Esther was not meant for this world… Esther was not meant for this world… Esther was not meant for this world… One day when you have kids of your own, you’ll know how terrifying such a thought is and you will badger God for some explanation. “What does that mean?” you’ll beg. “Does it mean something bad is coming? Is it literal? Figurative? Do You mean in the spiritual sense? What is it? What are you trying to tell me? Answer me please!” And then you’ll realize it is no premonition, it is no sign. It is one more imploring expression of hope from your own heart that you can keep your child safe and well and innocent. And there is no answer except to hold tight while you can, stay close while you can, and keep your arms open.


You are lying here next to me in the big bed, sleeping. You look so cozy, you look so small… And for a moment, I am at peace.

The Moss of Emily Dickinson



This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
What I really want is a kiss.
What I really want is to collect my two hundred,
buy up the boardwalk,
and flip the fucking board off the table.
What I really want is a get out of jail free card.


This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
What I really want is absolution for my most mortal sins.
What I really want is adulation for my brilliance.
What I really want is a pair of eyes to swallow me up
and shake me ‘round the ice ‘til I’m nice and pourable
for the cherry in the glass.


This is a poem I want to write, but the poem is fighting me.
It wants my blood.
It wants my flesh.
It wants the lava in my bones,
and threatens to cover my mouth with the moss of Emily Dickinson.
This poem wants me dead
and it’s time I surrender.


This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
This is a poem I’ve written.
And this poem just saved my ass.

Burning Down The House




For a moment
I thought it would be better
to burn the house down
than to pack it up again
just to move a mile away.


One good thing about moving is
the more I do it,
the less stuff I hold onto.


Soon I’ll be barefoot
with empty hands


I’ll be a pearl
and the world
my oyster
at last.




*** From the cover of Shawn Colvin’s “A Few Small Repairs”





The face of my dead mother comes to me at the strangest times.
The last time was in a yoga class.
I don’t know, maybe that’s not so strange.
Dead man’s pose.
Dead woman’s face.
Dead woman’s daughter in dead man’s pose
spilling over with grief.


My belly didn’t convulse as with my usual crying.
It’s just liquid this time,
like her face in my head turned on a spigot
in my tear ducts.
Little drips of ocean out the corners of my eyes,
onto my cheekbones,
onto my shoulders,
onto the mat where I lie
remembering the time I told her I hated her,
the time I made fun of her behind her back with my friend Rose,
the time I asked my daddy what I’d look like if she wasn’t my mommy
and was disappointed by his answer
that I wouldn’t be me
without her.