Autumn Bookmarks: Falling in Love with My Past & Present

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I found a leaf, by chance, pressed between the pages of an old encyclopedia I had sitting on the bookshelves in my writing studio.

I hadn’t picked up that encyclopedia in decades but happened to pluck it off my writing studio bookshelves, also by chance, as I felt suddenly compelled to reconnect to pages, to my past, rather than pull up an online “dictionary” via my MacBook software.

The leaf I happened upon – stuffed amongst the “M’s”, I assumed, because it was smack-dab in the middle of the dictionary where the weight was equally distributed – took me back to another place and time.

I immediately remembered the warm October afternoon my mom and I had found this gigantic oak leaf as we walked a trail in our sun-dappled Ozarks woods. I had picked up that leaf for an autumnal science project and then, after my assignment was over, had used it as a bookmark in my encyclopedia, a book I used to read obsessively, as I was fascinated as a kid by words, their origins, their definitions, their synonyms.

Book and leaf had remained united for decades.

The day I found that leaf, I reconnected to my past and was reminded that the fallen pieces of our history shouldn’t always be forgotten or tossed away and replaced by the newest and latest.
That leaf and that encyclopedia were important pieces of my past: My mother, my Ozarks childhood, my love of words made me who I am today. They were my seeds of growth, just like the acorns I used to stumble across in our woods turned into giant oaks.

There is a beautiful symmetry in life, I’ve come to realize, an ability to grow up, move on, change, become a new person, without forgetting who you were. The trick is not to run away from our past but to allow ourselves to remember.

That rediscovered leaf – brittle, flattened, crumbling – allowed me to reconnect with my history.
The Octobers since Gary and I have moved to the Beach Coast – this is now our eighth – have become stoked in new traditions based in the past.

We gather acorns from our woods, which Gary stacks in McCoy pots and places around our cottage, “Turkey Run.” We stand under our towering sugar maples (now my favorite tree), wait for a strong wind to come and let the dazzling rainbow of leaves rain down over our bodies and gather at our feet.  We then pick through them and gather our favorites – Gary loves the brilliant red while I adore the yellow-orange – which we use to decorate tables and fireplace mantels.

And, yes, we now press a few of those breathtakingly colorful maple leaves into a random assortment of books that stack our cottage – those bookshelves in my office, the canoe-shaped corner cabinets, the pine shelves that line Turkey Run – knowing that one day, in the future, we – or someone else – will happen to pop open a novel or even one of my memoirs, and there will be a fallen piece of our past waiting to open a piece of our future.

My old encyclopedia remains on my writing desk and holds two bookmarks: A leaf from my past and one from my present.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I'm hosting an "after hours" party! Wanna come? Seriously excited to be the keynote speaker at the Michigan Notable Book's "Homecoming for Celebrated Authors" event on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Grand Rapids Public Library (main library) honoring nine of this year's Michigan Notable books and authors. Drinks, food, fun, book signing ALL FOR FREE. Registration is limited and required. VIP reception @ 6:30; ends at 8:30. Come have wine and words with Wade, but, most importantly, come celebrate and get your hands on some of the state's most noteworthy books for 2014!

September 20th Writing Workshop

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2 spaces left for the Saturday, Sept 20th writing workshop.

 Click here for more information!

Sentimental September

Monday, September 8, 2014

            Even though it's been over three decades since I last lived at home and headed off to school, I swear I can still hear my father singing at the top of his lungs the moment September arrives:

Hey look me over, lend me an ear
Fresh out of clover, mortgaged up to here
Don't pass the plate folks, don't pass the cup
I figure whenever you're down and out, the only way is up

            My dad was an early morning man, thanks mostly to the military. He never needed an alarm clock. As soon as the sky brightened, the first bird chirped, he was up to greet them.

            I never needed an alarm clock either. My father's booming, off-key voice was enough to wake the dead. So was his banging of pots and pans, jangling of keys, and making of coffee.
            For years, he was my wake-up call, and that call began with the start of school in September.
             No matter how old any of us are, whether we have kids, whether they're still in school or long gone, September is filled with nostalgia.
Though still warm, it marks the official end of summer. I can see it in the trees, some of whose leaves have turned more yellow, some of whose branches are tinged in color.
There is a return to routine, a societal flow as constant as the ever-cooling waves along the beach.
September is a sad farewell to summer and excited hello to fall: We can all recall the start of school, the ringing of the bell, the smell of the lunchroom and new books, recess, friends, old and new.
            Much of September's nostalgia still applies today, even as I near 50.
As August's days end, I find myself saying goodbye to good friends I have spent time with over the summer months in our resort town, as they head back to their city lives and urban routines. Labor Day feels like an adult version of the last week of school.
            Though I am sad to say goodbye to my friends – just as I was in school – there is an excitement about what lies ahead, too. September means a return to routine for me as well: Days spent waking early and writing with the windows open, evenings spent relishing the last warm days.
            September's nostalgia makes it one of my favorite months. It is a middle ground for me, not only on my annual calendar but also on my calendar of life.
It is not quite summer, not quite fall, but a beautiful transition.
            I am smack-dab in the middle of my own middle ground in life – not young, not old – and while I have great sentimentality for my past, it is tempered by my excitement for the future. Perhaps that is why September resonates so deeply in my soul: It still feels so young, but you realize, you know that it is aging, its days now more numbered rather than unending.
            Sadly, my Septembers have become even more nostalgic, as my father is now battling dementia. He is weak but still doing well, but his memory – especially of my current life and of current events – is sketchy at best, and my heart breaks for him when he cannot recall things I've just told him.
But every September, I still ask him to sing his wake-up song – like he used to so long ago – and, amazingly, he can typically recall many of the lyrics.
And so will I, no matter how many Septembers lie ahead.

Happy 4th! What You Need to Cherish (and Read) This Summer!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

As I near 50, I’ve come to appreciate that some of the most memorable moments from my childhood were not only the simplest but also quintessentially summer: Bobbing down ice-cold streams in innertubes with my mom; fishing a quiet, deep hole with my grampa; marching in 4th of July parades, my giant trombone blaring “You’re A Grand Old Flag”; Jack Buck calling a Cardinals game over the radio; roasting marshmallows over roaring bonfires; watching fireworks boom in a night sky; reading a great book (or cheesy paperback); and making homemade ice cream, drooling while staring at that slowly rotating churn, praying for time to fly.

Well, those final prayers were granted: Time did fly, and life changed. And, sadly, so does summertime as you become an adult. We work during most of those precious weeks of glimmering sunshine. We shuttle children to the activities in which we once participated. We slide summer in when we can, like a much needed nap.

I used to take two weeks of vacation every summer and cram in as much fun as I could. I would hit city waterparks and pools, pack picnics and fight traffic to watch mammoth urban 4th of July fireworks spectaculars. I would take weeklong beach vacations, saving the other week for travel during the holidays.

         But there always seemed to be something missing: That Norman Rockwell nostalgia – that feeling summer would last forever – which existed in my youth I believed that could never be rediscovered.

         And then I moved to the coast of Michigan. I knew the move meant I would rediscover a slower pace away from the constant buzz of city life, but I was surprised to rediscover that slice of Americana pie, that simple beauty and nostalgic wonder that makes summer special.
In my little resort towns of Saugatuck-Douglas, I rediscovered small-town parades, complete with marching bands and hard candy thrown by kids; art festivals; lazy beach days floating in the water that led to lazy nights roasting hot dogs and marshmallows; reading a great novel (or cheesy paperback) in a hammock strung between two pine trees; farmer’s markets and fruit stands; musicians playing from a white gazebo in a park by the water.

         Through this rediscovery, I rediscovered me.

         Yes, I still work most summer days. In fact, now that I work for myself as a fulltime author, I seem to work harder, longer days than I ever did before, without giving myself a break. And I often travel too much away from the place that I love.

         But I now find myself on summer days not sitting in an office tower, or board meeting – praying for time to fly so I could reach those precious two weeks – but writing in my office overlooking a forest of ferns and pines, or hauling my laptop to the screen porch, the roar of the lake in the distance. I savor my summer, even while working. My lunch hour is a long run along the lakeshore with a short swim in the lake, a jaunt to the local farmer’s market, or an extended break to hit the beach. Though busy, I no longer have to cram in summer hungrily, like a melting twist cone.

         In addition to rediscovering the nostalgia of summer, I have also rediscovered what I now consider to be the most precious summer gift of all: Perspective. I have the ability to understand that – although I’ve grown older, much older, much too quickly – that the most memorable moments of life – the ones that equal any book deal, TV appearance or large lecture – are the simplest. Yes, the grand moments provide a gilded frame to life, but it is the small details that make the portrait so beautiful.

Which is why, as I sit on my screen porch reading a book and listening to the sounds of summer – the moaning frogs, the whippoorwills, the crickets, the baseball game, and, of course, my old ice cream maker – I no longer pray for time to go faster, I no longer rush the magic of summer.

I sigh, I smile and I simply wait for the ice cream maker to slow.


What Wade's Reading This Summer (while waiting for my ice cream)!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Yes, I know I'm late to the game here, but it is a stunning read – thrilling and so beautifully written at the same time. The novel is not only haunting me at the current moment but also making me jealous of Gillian's gifts.

Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer
The perfect summer beach read from the "Queen of Beach Books." The novel is about two childhood friends who drift apart but find they are forever bound by the beach and to each other. Nancy writes lyrically of her home.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I re-read a classic every summer, and this is my all-time favorite. Holden's voice and take on the world, adults, fitting in, wealth, love and death are brilliant. Moreover, Salinger's messages about pressure and expectations still feel so spot-on and important today.


Friday, April 4, 2014

I received the best birthday gift of my life last week: Gary and I were married.

As with most things in our lives, it happened with the shocking suddenness of a thunder bolt. And, as with most huge moments in my life, it happened while I was on a treadmill.

"We're getting married on Friday," Gary said when I picked up the phone, my legs churning beneath me. 

"Who is this?" I asked.

"Screw Michigan!" he said. "I'm not waiting another second for anyone to decide when it's right for us to marry."

In the previous days, a judge had overturned Michigan's ban on gay marriage. Dear friends of ours had rushed out on a Saturday to marry. By Monday, the attorney general had challenged the ruling, and a stay had been put on marriage. 

Our hearts were crushed. We had planned to marry on our anniversary date of July 27. We wanted to wed amidst Gary's beautiful gardens in front of our beautiful friends. Gary had already begun the planning. 

But our dream had been taken away.


"We're here now, in California," Gary said, knocking me back into the present. "I called the courthouse. They have a little chapel attached. They have an opening Friday ..."

He stopped. I could hear him softly crying.

I hit "stop" on the treadmill.

"Let's do it!" I said. "You're right. It's time."

Gary arranged for good friends (who married the week after us) to serve as witnesses, and another friend volunteered to photograph it. Gary made boutonnieres for us, color-coordinated them with our shirts and ties, and on the morning of March 28, we walked into a county clerk's office, signed a sheath of papers, attested we were who we were, paid our fees and waited to be married, along with a gaggle of other, very young, couples. 

I couldn't help but think: This wasn't anything like the dream wedding we'd dreamed of.

But then, magic began to unfold.

A beautiful woman, whose cousin had just gotten married before us, ran over when she saw us waiting. 

"Are you getting married?" she screamed.

We nodded.

She dissolved into tears. "I'm so happy for you," she said, bawling, pulling us into her arms and holding us tightly. "How long have you been together?"

"18 years," we replied at the same time.

Her face melted, and she heaved with sobs. "My brother and his partner have been together nine years," she said, nodding over at a handsome couple. "I want him to marry next."

She stopped. 

"It's love and commitment like yours, and his, that are my shining examples. I strive to have a relationship as beautiful as yours."

And now it was us who began to tear up. 

What she gets that most people don't seem to realize, I thought as she walked away waving, was that the gay couples "rushing" to marry have been together five years, 10 years, 25 years, 50 years. We have already committed our lives to one another.

We were ushered into the "chapel," a sort of holding room filled with the type of furniture you might have seen on "Three's Company." A wooden, lattice-y altar filled a wall, some plastic ivy strewn through it, fake flowers sprinkled around the room. An empty Kleenex box sat atop a vent. 

Gary winced. "Why don't they paint this white?" he asked, touching the altar. "And get some real plants? And ..."

He stopped. "It's perfect," I said. "It doesn't matter."

The woman who was to marry us bolted into the room and introduced herself. "How long have you been together?" she asked.

"18 years," we replied again at the same time. 

She began to cry. 

"When California approved gay marriage," she whispered, her voice heavy with emotion, "I sprinted here to volunteer. I wanted to be part of moments like this. Each is so historic. Each is so beautiful. I wanted to be part of a love that will forever change our world, for the better."

And then she took our hands, and then placed them in each others', and she began the ceremony.

It was then I knew this was a dream wedding, because  I never dreamed this would ever be possible for me. I never dreamed I could marry, hear these vows, repeat these vows, have my relationship acknowledged by the government as the same as every other. 

As the ceremony unfolded, I couldn't help but think of my life and relationship with Gary, similar in so many ways. Gary and I grew up in small towns in Middle America. Haunted by our sexuality, we relinquished our youth, unable to date, unable to share our true selves with our families and friends. Gary drank and I ate, until we finally found one another.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, we not only fought like hell to find one another – the perfect love – we fought like hell to survive until we did. Our love likely saved each other's lives.

Suddenly, my emotions overtook me: This wasn't only a dream, it was historic.

"Do you have vows you would like to read?" the judge asked.

"Yes," I said, pulling a sheet of paper from my pocket, shocking Gary.

"What are you doing?" he mouthed.

"Marrying you," I whispered.

And then I began to read:

"Gary, it's not that my life hadn't begun before I met you; it's as if it had never started. You brought my life to Wizard of Oz technicolor. You not only taught me how to love another unconditionally, you taught me how to love myself unconditionally. 

You are my compass and my bridge, my shadow and mirror, gardener of flowers and my soul. I would not be here, literally and figuratively, without you. 

I love you more than anything in this world, and I am so honored to take you as my husband. 


As she began to recite the vows, our voices went from quivery, to shaky, to unstable. Tears flowed.

And when we said, "I do," my life and my future flashed before my eyes.

I was married. To the man I loved.

As the judge pronounced us husband and husband, we kissed.

Gary slipped me the tongue, which was totally inappropriate.

And then he whispered, "You cannot go and get this annulled, either."

That evening, we gathered with friends for an unforgettable dinner. They even surprised us with a wedding cake ... topped with lots of buttercream frosting.

As we crawled into bed for the first night as a married couple, it felt like it always had.

But different, too.






After 18 years, we were married. It was no longer a dream, no longer a fantasy, no longer illegal.

Our wedding, like our friends' weddings in Michigan and California, aren't just weddings, they are the fulfillment of lifelong dreams. They acknowledge the power of love.

They aren't just weddings, I realized, they are exclamation points to our lives and our love, to all of our lives and love.

Happy Birthday (to Me!): The Icing on the Cake

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

As an adult, I used to watch the MTV show, "My Super Sweet 16," with an equal mix of horror and envy.  
Lavish birthdays were not a part of my childhood growing up in the 1970s Ozarks. My family wasn't poor by any stretch of the imagination, but we lived more than modestly and any desire for extravagance – be it a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, a pink Izod, a Linda Ronstadt album – was frowned upon.
From one of my Depression-era grandmothers, I always received a dollar for every year I turned on my March birthday. What was exciting at the age of 10, however, was totally lame at the age of 15.
My other grandmother tended to buy me necessary items, like socks or Husky jeans.
But both would bake for me: They would spend hours in the kitchen, creating themed birthday cakes or a tower of iced cupcakes.
As I grew older, I began to realize that what they were baking me was more meaningful than anything they could ever buy and richer than any amount of cash: They were giving me their hearts, their time, their love, themselves.

As I near 50, I don't really recall the games, or clothes they gave me, but I vividly remember the buttercream frosting, the red velvet, the Speed Racer themed birthday cake, the lemon custard-filled cupcakes.
After my grandmothers passed, my birthdays were well celebrated but always had a void. No purchased bakery birthday cake or restaurant cupcake, even topped with burning candles, could fill it.
My first birthday with Gary was filled with presents. Gary loves gifts. If Santa or Cupid ever fell ill, Gary could step in and the world wouldn't even notice.
Gary also loves a bit of extravagance: My favorite (expensive) cologne? Check. That Kenneth Cole jacket? Check.
"It's too much," I said.
"Birthdays are the one day we get to celebrate someone," Gary said, "simply for the miracle of being born and being in our lives."
"I don't know what to say," I replied.
"Wait here," Gary said, getting up from a candlelit table filled with a dinner he had prepared.
A few seconds later, I saw a glow in the kitchen. Gary emerged into the dining room holding a towering cake, its fluffy white icing dotted with candles.

"Where did you get this?" I asked. "It's beautiful."
"I made it," he said. "You know how much I love to bake."
I couldn't help myself: I slid my finger along the side of the cake, scooping a hunk of icing and shoving it into my mouth.
"Buttercream," I sighed.
"Make a wish!" Gary said.
I closed my eyes and then blew out the candles.
"Hope it comes true!" Gary said, slicing the cake and setting a huge slice on my plate.
I took a big bite and closed my eyes again.
It already had.

(Note: I turn 49 on March 30. This will be my last stay in the 40s. I am fine with that. Sort of. Let's just say I am fine with that, as long as I have a birthday cake with icing. LOTS and lots of icing! This was an essay I recently wrote for Chick Lit Central to celebrate my birthday month.)