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The Story I Never Tell Part 2

The Story I Never Tell Part 2

Here is what happened. I had a fairly good beginning, all things considered. I wrote a manuscript and had no idea what to do with it. I googled, “What do you do with a finished manuscript,” and learned that I needed an agent. I had […]

The Story I Never Tell Part 1

The Story I Never Tell Part 1

I am going to tell you a story that I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone completely. My very best friends know some bits. My family knows some bits, though they know even less than my best friends know. But I don’t think I’ve ever […]

Steve’s Iphone Sock and Knitting One’s Way Out of Depression

Steve’s Iphone Sock and Knitting One’s Way Out of Depression

In 2010 my book came out and very shortly after that, Carolyn See gave it the weirdest book review I’ve ever read. She panned it with one hand and she praised it with another; she said I seemed so kind and good and then spoke about me like I was a small, silly child who didn’t know any better than to have written the book I wrote. She went on and on about hair as though I had gone on and on about hair, but no one seemed to think that but her. She was so very, gratuitously mean. If God were to come into my head and write through my fingers, if a channel were to open up and deliver the wisdom of the universe directly into my words, I still am not certain I would be able to convey just how deeply that review hurt me. I collapsed, and no one really knows how collapsed I was. I have a big smile and a dark heart full of falsehood. I even have a blog of lies. (I wrote a blogpost then about that review, but my agent and my editor made me take it down. But Carolyn See is dead now, so I figure, what the heck. She killed my book and I’m not really over it, so I reposted the blogpost).

For a long time, I was unable to read fiction. I was unable to sit at my computer. I was unable to enter my office. I was unable to take a deep breath, and I mean that literally.

The whole landscape of depression was like walking on a different planet without enough air, and I did not think I was depressed and I never would even have considered getting help, because I didn’t know I was depressed. And because this inability to function was hiding behind a really big smile, and because no one else’s balls were dropped (everyone got to practices on time; everyone got to school on time, clean and with their homework; the birds didn’t die; the house stayed clean enough; I showered; I exercised) no one knew enough to tell me to get help. And when a person is in that state, but is never in that state, and so she feels like she is walking on a planet without air, but she keeps waking up and she keeps moving along and doing the things, I think sometimes God intercedes on her behalf and offers small, shallow steps to climb out. I am not kidding when I say that I knit my way out of depression. 

There is something deeply meditative about knitting. The needles click in your fingers, and when you’re knitting something simple, the clicks form a steady rhythm, which in a silent room is something like a heartbeat. Needles are cool and smooth, but yarn is warm and textured. I am a person who is stirred by bright colors and so there are bright colors. The fabric you create rises up out of nothing in your hands. It is lasting.

I knit a sweater once in college. My roommate Ibby taught me how. She could do everything. It was white and it had a black, knit numeral 8 appliquéd on the front. It was the 1980’s and we wore things like that. Later I unraveled it and wove it into something on a loom, and I don’t even remember what happened to it after. Anyway, in the ensuing 30 years, I forgot how to knit.

So I bought a little book (remember, in 2010, YouTube wasn’t the staggering source of tutorials it is today), and I bought a set of needles and I pulled out some yarn I had in the house, and I relearned how to knit. And the thing I knit was iPhone socks. Little sleeves into which we could put our little iPhone 4’s. They were garter stitched with a little rib at the opening, and rather than appliqué-ing the letter on, I figured out how to knit the pattern into the fabric in stockinette. Noodling over how to do this also calmed and occupied my frantic mind.

I posted one I made for my son in Orioles colors, and Steve Williams asked me to make him one for the Phillies. My son would sneak into my office, unravel it in rows, and declare, “No knitting for the Phillies.”

Steve Williams was a hero among men, a friend who would prop you up without even asking why you needed propping. Steve died without warning before I ever got to meet him in person. He was a friend of a friend, we met on Facebook, and he became such a strong supporter of mine. He bought my book. He bought multiple copies and gave them to friends. Steve was like that. He was tickled for you without even having met you. He loved your kids and wished the best for them without knowing them. He thought Kiran might go to his beloved Princeton, and I think he might have forgiven the fact that Kiran unraveled his iPhone sock multiple times, but I’m not sure he would have forgiven the boy for ending up at Harvard.

I’m just kidding. Steve Williams would’ve been so proud of him, just like he was so proud of me, even though he never met either one of us and even though I got a bad book review from Carolyn See.

 

 

 

 

My Kid is a Sweet Pain in the Butt

My Kid is a Sweet Pain in the Butt

Dear Sujatha, My son is in the 6th grade. He is sweet, loyal, really handsome, hilarious, good at heart, but also immature, aggressive, quick to anger, impulsive, manipulative and sometimes he tells lies, though he can also be remarkably truthful! Here’s my problem: yesterday I […]

Morton Huseman Has a Girlfriend: The Retracted Blogpost Reposted

Morton Huseman Has a Girlfriend: The Retracted Blogpost Reposted

Seven years ago when I first published this post, I was advised by my agent and my editor to pull it, so I did. But 7 years have passed and people have died and so I’m reposting it. Morton Huseman has a girlfriend. She is […]

My daughter’s friend

My daughter’s friend

Dear Sujatha,

I have a pretty involved problem but I will try to be brief. My friend Maria and her husband Joe just got divorced. Their youngest child Beth is my daughter’s good friend. They are 16 years old. Beth splits time between Maria and Joe. When she’s with Maria, she’s well supervised, but when she’s with Joe she is not. He often goes to bed before she has gone to bed and I have come to learn from things my daughter has said that Beth is sneaking out of the house after Joe goes to sleep. My daughter has shown me Snapchats which show her drinking with boys no one knows. Maria has always been in charge of the kids and Joe is clearly in over his head. Maria and Joe are not able to even be civil to one another. My daughter has begged me not to tell Maria what is going on, but I can’t just sit by when the child is potentially in danger. When I tell Maria, she is likely to fall apart with this added stress, and part of me feels sick to my stomach even considering adding to her already crushing load. Also if I’m being totally honest, I dread being the messenger. Also, when I tell Maria, she will confront Beth, she might have to tell Beth where she heard this from, and Beth will tell my daughter and my daughter will feel she can’t tell me anything anymore and she will earn the reputation of being untrustworthy and a “snitch.” Maria could resent me, my daughter might hate me, and Beth will hate me too, but if I don’t do anything, Beth risks slipping further and further away.  Help!

Miserable accidental witness

 

Dear MAW,

I am so very sorry. This is a terrible situation to be in the middle of and if it weren’t underage drinking and anonymous boys no one has ever heard of, I would be inclined to follow your daughter’s instincts to stay out of it. But it is drinking and anonymous boys so doing nothing isn’t advice I feel comfortable giving. In the middle of this terrible situation, I want you to take a moment to give thanks that your daughter shared the information with you. There is a lot of information in that one act: when faced with a problem she doesn’t know how to handle, your child comes to you; in telling you what was happening, even though she simultaneously is telling you not to tell, she is recognizing a problem that is over her head and recognizing you as someone who gives sound advice. Also, you must have a history of not overreacting and of handling problems rationally and proportionately. That is a great place to be coming from in trying to negotiate this current crisis.

I think there is no way to deal with this without being as forthright and transparent as possible in both your thinking and your planned actions. Tell your daughter exactly what is going on in your head and what is guiding your thinking and your actions and invite her to be part of that discussion with you so she knows what to expect. “Daughter, we need to figure this out. You know how much I care for Beth. If this were not such a truly scary problem that could result in truly tragic consequences, I would never even think about interfering but it isn’t that kind of problem. I think you know that. I think that is why you told me what Beth was doing. If Beth had gotten a tattoo, or multiple piercings, or mooned the bleachers with the cheerleaders during the football game, I don’t think you would even have brought it up to me. You know this is dangerous and you don’t want anything terrible to befall Beth that you might have prevented by just asking for help. I admire your courage and I admire your care for your friend.”

I think you start there and see what your daughter says. Try to incorporate her feelings and thoughts into your next statement about your planned actions, which really ought to include talking to Maria, your dear friend. If Beth were older, I might suggest talking to Beth and letting her handle talking to her mom if she wanted to, but she isn’t. And I have to always filter this kind of advice through my own mothermeter. What would I want someone to do if it were my own child?  And How would I feel if something terrible happened to my child and I found out later that my good friend knew what was happening long before, but was too uncomfortable or afraid to tell me? That is always my fallback in questions like this, the mothermeter test.

Then you tell your daughter that you are going to have to tell Beth’s mom. She might balk. She might stomp and throw a tantrum. She might loudly protest that she will never tell you anything again. But don’t let that pull you off your north. You know what you have to do; you just wrote to me so I would tell you the same. There’s strength in agreement. But don’t minimize the importance of discussing your reasoning with her. Because you don’t want to do any damage to what seems to be a pretty open relationship. And you don’t want to risk her misunderstanding your motives with a teenage brain that does not always see things perfectly clearly on its own, and which has been known to react with undue anger to things it doesn’t understand. “Daughter, I’m going to have to tell Beth’s mom. I won’t bring up your name if I don’t have to. I will say, ‘I saw some images Beth sent on Snapchat that alarmed me and I have to tell you because I would want to know if [your daughter’s name] had done the same. From the pictures it looks like Beth is out late on nights she stays with Joe and that she is spending time with boys and drinking. I know there would be no way for you to know this since it’s happening when she isn’t with you.’  If she asks me how I saw these, I will tell her that I saw them on your Snapchat. I won’t say that you told me unless she asks. I will ask her if she could try to keep your name out of it when she discusses it with Beth. I will tell her that if Beth feels she cannot trust her friends, then she will grow more isolated that just puts her at greater risk. I will remind her that the more we share with our friends the hurts we feel, the less isolated we are, the safer we are, the more friends there are protecting us from dangers. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your relationship with Beth and I will not say or do anything more than I absolutely must and I will keep your name out of it as much as is possible.” (Honestly, MAW, just writing that down brings tears to my eyes because I feel it so sincerely. We are each of us pulled from the jaws of death by our friends. I am praying that Beth keeps all her close friends as she navigates this hard time).

The most important thing is to be forthright and transparent and do it without judgement. If you can manage that, you have done your best by your daughter, her friend and your friend and I have to believe all of these relationships will survive this crisis and thrive as well.

I send you good luck,

S

 

 

That Belt I Stole

That Belt I Stole

Dear Sujatha, About 3 years ago, I stole this belt from a store in the outdoor mall near my house. The reason I did it is pretty stupid and really doesn’t matter, but basically boils down to my needing a belt and having left my […]

The Incident in the Lunchroom

The Incident in the Lunchroom

First, let me apologize for my long bloghiatus. I just regained use of my fingers after the incident in the Lunch Room. Second, I would like to interject that with all the taxes we pay, we really shouldn’t have to volunteer in the Lunch Room […]

Year-Long Jack-O-Lantern Supply

Year-Long Jack-O-Lantern Supply

I have a big problem. I big, big problem.

Today started off okay, I mean, considering how it ended up. Like, when I woke, the sky was not purple, so I figured no more houseguests would arrive. Also, I didn’t have the tingling feeling in my lips that often precedes particularly odd or dangerous Pepe behavior. Like when Pepe decided, around Christmas, that he would help me by installing a yard sale antenna on my roof and I came home to find him standing in a tree beside the garage hammering this Pleistocene, multi-limbed monster into the very precarious limbs of an old Bartlett Pear, all while singing Chinese Opera with a Spanish accent. When he heard my car pull in, he shouted down, “SEE MISS! I’M PUTTING THIS ANTENNA ON THE ROOF FOR YOU BECAUSE I LOVE YOU! IT HAS MANY ARMS! IT WILL SEE EVERYTHING! EVEN IN MY COUNTRY!” And I gently shouted back, “BUT PEPE, YOU’RE IN A TREE. THE ROOF IS BEHIND YOU!” And he turned to see, even though he is blind, and fell out of the tree pulling the pterodactyl antenna down with him, and landing, luckily if you choose to see it that way, in a giant bank of snow. He cried out, “OH NO, OH NO! NOW YOU WILL SEE NOTHING LIKE BEFORE!” (It astonishes me that he believes we all see on television what he sees on television, and that this is due to a failure of reception. Nothing we say convinces him otherwise, not even the simple, “Pepe, you are blind.”)

That day, I felt my lips tingling right when I woke up. And the day he considered bathing, so locked himself in the bathroom, removed his clothing, turned on the water and then had a panic attack and began to scream, in some bizarre mix of Quechua, Spanish and Chinese, but was so terrified by the water that he could not unlock the door and I had to remove the doorknob to rescue him, but not before the tub overflowed. And I had to see Pepe naked, and in fact had to dress him because panicking blind men with hydrophobia can not dress themselves (just so you know if you are even in this situation). That day too, I woke up to tingling lips. So now, when I wake up, I do a labial scan before even getting out of bed. And the day seemed safe. The only annoying thing was this very close by beepbeepbeepbeep, that went on for a while, and the relatively close hum of a truck, which I figured was someone’s lawn guy or some moving van, though it was pretty early. I didn’t pay any attention to it and when I look back on the day, this is where I went wrong. I need to remember to take everything seriously. Every sound. Every instinct. Everything I notice means something, possibly. Probably. Because now I not only have Pepe, but also Morton Huseman. And I am not certain about the bodily clues of Morton’s Mischief, though I have a hunch. And until I am sure, I need to be hypervigilent.

So I went about my day. It was a particularly busy day. I had neglected to iron on the Brownie Badges for LH of the red lips and white skin, the dark eyes and the able hands. She is like Snow White. Yes. You read right. I have a child who looks like Snow White and is also assiduous in that same Snow White-like way. Anyway, I digress. So I had neglected to iron on the badges and it was Brownie Day and I am that mother. The one who makes bad Shepherd’s Pie on purpose and forgets to iron on the Brownie Badges. I really only want to read to them and write novels. I also enjoy their company for I have raised them to suit me perfectly. Because I am that kind of mother. Anyway, I continue to digress. So I woke up, did my lip check, and got crackin’. Brownie Badges, papers to sign, breakfast to make, kids to shuttle, research to conduct, meetings to attend etc etc. And when I got home, I exited the car and smelled manure.

Now here is the thing. It’s not unusual once spring hits to exit the car in the suburbs and to smell manure. Because everyone is mulching their yards. But it is January. It is January. I looked around. My neighbor’s neighbor (who must not have a job)was out there, he waved. I waved back. I opened the garage and went in the house and the smell of manure was stronger. Yes, you read correctly. I entered the house and the smell of manure was stronger. My heart began to race and then suddenly…my ears went deaf and dingy, you know…that airplane thing. It happened to me once over Dubai, my ears went completely thick and were wracked with needle-like pain. At the time, I considered that death would be preferable. That was an indulgence of youth, that I would die rather than suffer the momentary needle-like pain in my ears. I have kids now, so I suffer these things mutely without contemplating suicide. But that is what I felt, the simultaneous deafness/needles pain in my ears. Very unpleasant and a clear harbinger of doom.

I put down my handbag and my grocery bags and scanned left and right. I bent over to take off my shoes and I could swear that as I bent forward, the manure smell was stronger, so I thought, with relief, that it was my SHOES, that I had STEPPED in something! So I picked them up to check and no manure. It wasn’t my shoes. I dropped to my knees and definitely the smell was stronger closer to the floor. So I began to crawl, through the kitchen, into the living room, through the hall and as I approached the basement door, the smell grew overpowering and I knew whatever it was was in the basement. I stood up and opened the door and the stench threw me against the wall. There was a blinding white light emanating from the stairwell and there was absolutely manure in the basement. Yes. You read correctly. There was manure in the basement. I walked slowly down the stairs and peeked around the corner and there were Morton and Pepe, on their knees in the middle of a plowed field, under a ceiling suddenly strung with thousands of white bulbs. They were examining with rulers something they held in their hands. Seeds. They were measuring seeds, both of them. And Pepe is blind.

My basement carpet was missing, or underneath the 20 cubic yards of manure. I looked around. There were my walls and my teeming bookshelves, and my windows, looking outside…meaning I was definitely inside. My mouth dropped open and Morton and Pepe looked up, as though the sound of my thudding heart had interrupted their measuring.

Morton looked back at Pepe and then swiveled his head over to me again. He said nothing and blinked. Pepe grinned, stood up, ran over and threw his arms around me and shouted, “MISS, OH MISS! WE ARE GROWING PUMPKINS! PUMPKINS MISS!”

They are growing pumpkins. Yes, you read me right.

It seems Morton Huseman, in addition to his online Chinese Opera Instruction, also runs a year long jack-o-lantern supply with a worldwide market. He grows pumpkins through a self perfected pumpkin-forcing process and when they are the right size, he carves them on demand into whatever his customers order. He assures me he is a “Pumpkin Artist.” He showed me his albums.

He said, “I can make you in pumpkin.”

I looked at him with my mouth open. My ears, remember, were popped, “Did you say, you have made me into a pumpkin?”

He swiveled his eyes over to Pepe and then back at me. He stared and waited, “No. No I did not say that. I said, I can make you in pumpkin. I can make a pumpkin into you.” He smiled his microdontic smile and blinked his penguin eyes. I shuddered and chose not to pursue it.

“Why don’t you grow them outside?” He swiveled his head over so fast I thought this time for sure it would spin off entirely leaving me with this shit to clean up, but it didn’t. He just stared especially long.

“You can not grow pumpkins year long in an uncontrolled environment. I am not even sure your basement will work.” He looked around at my basement with some disdain I thought.

Pepe chimed in, “OH MISS’S BASEMENT WILL BE PERFECT FOR ALL ENDEAVORS. MISS HAS MAGICAL POWERS!” Pepe is convinced I have magical powers. He makes me lay hands on his eyes every day. I do it. Who knows…maybe I do. I am left handed and and I have an odd spot on my tongue.

I didn’t exactly know how to respond. You see, the problem is that the manure is already there. It’s a problem I never imagined handling. I’m not so good at confrontation. I said, “You put manure down on my floor.”

He swiveled his head and stared and finally said, “How else can I grow my pumpkins?”

I answered, “But there is manure. On my floor.”

He replied, “I put down trashbags.”

I am not sure what do to…I’ve seen Pacific Heights. I am afraid of Morton Huseman. He has penguin eyes, and an online jack-o-lantern carving business. Jack-o-lanterns! It’s just not natural. I am afraid, this is the truth. And I need your help. I do not know what to do. All I know now is that my preternatural signal of Morton Huseman’s madness might be Dubai Ears.

So I am simply asking, after you read this, if you have any thoughts, please feel free to send them to me, because…I just don’t know what to do.

Morton Huseman Mystery Solved

Morton Huseman Mystery Solved

I solved the Morton Huseman mystery. He scares me, though I am trying not to send too much energy to the cold feeling in my spine. Morton Huseman is a friend of Pepe’s. This would be reason enough for alarm bells to go off, but […]