The Fragility of Life

Monday, January 11, 2010

I have moved my writing office from the carriage house to the dining room, where I can keep a close eye on Marge, our nearly 13-year-old mutt and love of our loves. We returned home from seeing IT'S COMPLICATED (which, btw, isn't) on Saturday evening, and fed our dogs as usual. I noticed Marge acting uncomfortably after dinner, unable to rest or relax. She then started trying to vomit, but couldn't. She kept looking at us, and then her stomach, and Gary, thankfully, immediately, called our vet, who told us to rush her to the ER. Prognosis after X-rays? Turned stomach. Potentially life-threatening. Surgery, a must. Chances of survival? 50-50.

Just that day, Marge had played with her sis (as we call Mable, our two-year-old Labradoodle/Beagle mix), and gone on a walk. She had barked at deer in the woods; she had played tug-of-war with me on her stretchy, PetSmart duck toy she'd gotten for Christmas.

And, now, here she was, a needle going into her paw, me whispering into the softest ear I've ever known, "Hold on. You're my best friend."

Gary and I didn't sleep that night. As midnight turned to three a.m., and still no update, I thought the worst. She was old; she's had so many issues of late.

It has been a brutal past year or so. My mom passed away of cancer in June, and now the other girl in my life was fighting for her life. Why would God take my two best friends so soon? How could he test me so harshly and frequently?

I write memoirs, where I spill the most intimate details of my life. But, on a daily basis, my laptop -- along with Gary -- are really two of the few who I feel comfortable sharing such information. I have lost so many, that I have become guarded. I worry that as soon as I become close to someone, I will lose him or her again.

My mom and Marge were two of the few I could talk to without fear, knowing I would receive unconditional love. Take that away, and what are we left with?

I cried all night, as I waited to hear from the vet, so hard that the bed shook, my stomach ached, and Gary repeated, "Come back to me. Come back to me."

And, slowly, I did. A piece of me -- a very selfish part -- wondered if it might be for the best if Marge simply passed. She does not have much time left. She is old. She will get sicker. Could I care for another person I loved so much, try to nurse them back to health, believe, hope, hug, kiss, cater to and cajole, knowing, truly, the eventual outcome?

I thought, at 4 in the morning, of the ultimate irony of the projects in which I am deeply involved right now: A memoir on my mother and Erma Bombeck, two of the greatest influences in my life, women who taught me the power of believing in yourself and the fact that laughter can buoy you through life's tragedies; and the anthology I am editing, a collection of essays from some of America's favorite humorists about their dogs (I'M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP!). The goal? To raise awareness and funds for strays/shelters/The Humane Society by making people laugh.

I thought of Marge fighting for her life, of how life can change so dramatically in the blink of an eye, of how we all must fight, every day, to survive.

That's when Gary leaned over to me, also unable to sleep, gauging my restlessness, and said, "Just think. Marge is getting the tummy tuck you never will."

And I started to laugh.

I shut my eyes and prayed for my mom to fly her ass to the ER. Stat! I told her I needed one of my best friends for just a little while longer. No matter how much caring I had to give. No matter how much time she had left. As long as Marge had the chance to be healthy again, I wanted her, those ears, those eyes. My feet were cold, dammit.

I learned from my mom -- a nurse and woman of great faith -- that is the nature of unconditional love.

You take the good with the bad. Death is simply a part of life. Only by risking your heart, your soul, can you find true love, true joy, true happiness.

And, then, as if on cue, Gary's cell rang. Marge had made it through surgery.

And, here she is, snoozing in front of me, sore, woozy, but resting.

When Marge catches me staring, her eyes widen, brighten, and her tail gives off a pathetic but telling thump, thump, thump.

She is home.

I remember what author, icon, and animal lover Rita Mae Brown told me when I sat next to her at an author's event in Charleston this fall. "Dogs don't know how much time they have left; they live in the moment. And what a blessing that is. Humans spend so much time fearing death, fearing the end, that we lose sight of the now, this very moment. If we could only be like dogs, even for a day."

I am trying to take her advice. No matter how much time Marge has, or I have, or any of us have, I plan to hit "Publish Post" on my blog, and then lay down beside her, to live in this moment, and whisper into her ear, "You're my best friend."

And I know, because it always happens, she will kiss me gently on the face, and I will sigh, and suddenly be centered, and somehow have, once again, the strength to take each day as it comes, to try and laugh, at least once a day, no matter how much my heart may be breaking.

Two-Day Writing Seminar at The Book Cellar in Chicago

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hey, Chicago writers, emerging writers and wanna-be writers!

Due to your requests, I have added and will be teaching a two-day, intensive writing seminar Friday, January 22, and Saturday, January 23.

Cost is $155.00 per person, and classes will run from 6-9:30 p.m. on Friday and from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Saturday (followed by a par-tee!).

My seminar focuses on "finding your voice, finding your way, and finding your agent," and it's truly an amazing adventure to be a part of ... writing groups have formed from my previous classes, agents have been piqued by prospective works, and long-lasting friendships have been formed. Most importantly, you will write and you will learn about real-world publishing and how to make it in this world.

We need 10 to make this a go!

The Book Cellar is a fabulous indy bookstore located in the heart of Lincoln Square (4736-38 N. Lincoln Avenue; 773-293-2665). What's especially cool is that they pair books and wine (Could there be a more fabulous idea?). So, we'll drink and learn. Wouldn't that have made sophomore year so much more doable?

RSVP for this one is directly through my man, Gary ... [email protected]

For more about the event, go to the following link:

Sorry for the short notice, but hope this works out! I love teaching these classes; I always promised myself -- after being dissed by so many writers in the past -- that I would try to give back as much as possible whenever I was asked. That's why I try and make the sessions so intensive and affordable.