Saturday, May 16, 2015

It simply feels better to love and let go.

My God, has it really been almost a year since I last wrote in this thing? (Blows off dust from blog’s Web address.) How embarrassing. Between my job, family, and creative writing endeavors, I haven’t found much time to keep up with this thing, so I’m giving a reboot the old college try. It has to happen sometime.

I read Jen Sincero’s book You Are a Badass recently and found it to be a worthwhile read. I’m not normally a fan of self-help books; as I mentioned in my Amazon review of this book, I’m jaded when it comes to the touchy-feely, and often predictable, tone that self-help writers usually tread.

Sincero’s book treads on familiar ground with the go-for-your-dreams-and-the-rest-will-follow message, but I give her credit for at least giving this well-tread maxim a fresh, no-bullshit treatment. She ladles on the perkiness and spunk a little thickly, but her overall thesis and processes are sound: get the fuck on the fuck, get off your ass, and go for it already, because life is too damned short to wonder why you’re not doing what you love.

So I’ve been taking some of her advice and applying it as I can to my own life. I’m in the process of making changes to my day-to-day routine, lifestyle, and habits that will hopefully become permanent and in themselves more positive habits.

One of these habits is starting each day with an affirmation, but probably not quite the one Sincero had in mind. She recommends printing or handwriting and taping/pinning/pasting positive, affirmative, empowering affirmations all over the place in one’s environment: in the home, in the car, on a corkboard, on the refrigerator, everywhere one can see and mentally repeat them until the affirmations become a reality.

None of the affirmations she suggested in her book really resonated with me—except for one, and it wasn’t even meant as an affirmation (or at least not something to pin up, but I did anyway). It was rather a meditative paragraph that she recommended reading and repeating mentally until it “sunk in,” but for me, it was worthwhile to write down and pin to my wall. A spot on the wall directly facing me, looking me in the eyes when I first wake up in the morning, in fact.

It reads (reworded slightly from Sincero’s original):

Holding on to my bad feelings is doing nothing but harming me, and everyone else, and preventing me from enjoying my life fully. I am a good person. I choose to enjoy my life. I choose to let this go.

I paraphrased it only slightly to fit my own situation, mainly because I have trouble saying (and believing) that I’m an “awesome person,” as Sincero’s original would have had me state. I know I’m a good person, but becoming an “awesome person” is an ongoing process for everyone, and I’m sure, will be proven by my deeds when and if other people in my life look back on them after I am gone. Whether I am “awesome” is not for me to judge. “Good” is more true to me and will have to do in this case.

So I read this and ponder it every morning, and think about releasing the bad things over which I sometimes find myself captive to stewing and ruminating. These “bad feelings” can be depression, self-doubt, worry, annoyance over stupid things that aren’t worth being annoyed over—a myriad of things. But usually, I’ve found, these bad feelings manifest themselves in anger. Anger that, sometimes, is so visceral and penetrating that it almost resembles hatred. Almost.

Anger can an empowering emotion when felt for the right reasons—reasons in which the end game is constructive rather than destructive, or at least with the end goal of destroying that which is destructive. Human inequality, poverty, oppression, the removal of civil rights, the misuse of religions and financial/governmental institutions to keep “the others” down and to force them into extinction by attrition—all of these are elements that justify righteous anger, that should engender anger and result in productive action to counter them.

Anger is often the spark that sets off fights that need to be fought and challenges to power that needs to be dismantled so that the powerless can thrive. In these cases, anger is absolutely necessary. Without this anger, the status quo would continue and the people in positions of wrongful power would continue to exact their damage on millions of others, undeterred. In these cases, anger is a requirement.

However, on a more personal level, anger can be a detriment. Anger at loved ones and family members for past wrongs that simply don’t matter anymore. Anger at myself for opportunities never pursued, of chances never taken, of bad choices I can’t undo, but can only patch up the burned bridges and pathways of my life so that I can find some way to walk on them again. Anger can feel empowering—it feels a hell of a lot more powerful and in control to be angry than to be depressed—and it’s all too easy to feel angry in this manner. But it sure doesn’t feel good.

I went on an outing with some loved ones recently that I was dreading. I dreaded it because I knew old feelings of jealousy and hurt, resentment and grudges, and so on and so on would have to be put at bay, a cork put into the bottle of boiling cauldron, for me to put on a smile and pretend to enjoy the day. However, if one person at the gathering said something familiar, predictable, and reminiscent of these awful emotions even innocently (but maybe only masking itself as an “innocent” remark), I worried that the bottle would explode, the cork would come off, and I’d shout something at the gathering out of anger that I’d regret later. Something that probably would never need to be said, that wouldn’t help matters or make things better, even if, at the moment, I felt perfectly righteous in saying it.

My husband and I talked about my worries, and he told me to just enjoy the gathering and not worry about a situation that probably wouldn’t turn into the worst-case scenario I was building it up to be. As it turned out, he was right. The gathering was actually pleasant and friendly, with my keeping those feelings safely at bay in the back of my mind and not letting them surface in an ugly way. As it turned out, letting them be present at all wasn't even necessary.

At the end of the gathering, I gave one of the others a hug, and she hugged me back in the most loving way I’d ever known her to hug me. Or perhaps, she’d hugged me in a loving way many times before and I’d never allowed myself to feel that love because I’d been so busy letting the old resentment, anger, bitterness, and hurt get in the way. For the first time that I could remember, I allowed the feelings at bay to not remain there, but also not to come out in a mean-spirited or ugly way. Instead, I internally released those ugly feelings to the ocean and let myself feel loved—and love. It was then that I realized that it feels a lot better to love than it does to feel angry all the time. It’s harder to love, but it beats needless, exhausted, tiring, and soul-killing anger. It feels a lot better to love and let oneself be loved.

One of Sincero’s favorite expressions she repeats in her book and website is to “get the fuck on the fuck.” Translation: Get off your ass and start living your life already! Something I feel I’ve learned from Sincero’s lone meditation I have pinned to my wall, though, is that, to start truly living life, it’s important to get the fuck OFF the fuck. In other words, to let the bad feelings out of their moored-up pent and set them to sail somewhere far away. They’re not needed, and they’re doing nothing but harming me and those around me, and really preventing me from enjoying my life.

It’s harder to do, but it simply feels better to let go and to love.

And with that, I’m signing it off with a “badass” song by the Zac Brown Band: “Let It Go.” No—thankfully, not THAT “Let It Go,” but this one:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Script Coverage

For everyone who asked, here's my script coverage. I've already implemented some of the reviewer's changes. Love this competition!


What did you like about the script?

The writer’s smart enough to know how to judiciously use voice over. Many writers who put voice over on page one make it say too much and take over the story. But Judith’s second voiceover on page one makes her come across as a sympathetic, human character that the reader sympathizes with and wants to see succeed.

The writer also knows enough about screenwriting to know that many good scripts introduce what the script is going to be about around page 10. When Maria runs out of the store crying and screaming, the reader is hooked, desperate to know what’s going on.

Kudos to the writer for having a character say they’re going to write about the Palestinian/ Israeli issue and then actually having a character genuinely say something about it.

It’s a really neat moment when Judith finally tells Dan the truth on page 58. It’s tense, but human, and the reader can feel the stakes as the moment happens.

It’s good to see Judith stand up for herself when she tells Dan about how he does nothing for the family (or for the job) other than work on those car pictures.

“Judith Deciding to Help Clear A. J.’s Name” is an interesting third act development that spins the action into a completely different direction. It’s nice to see the evolution of Judith’s character so that she could get to the point where she could do something good for someone else. The script feels like it has the appropriate ending, where Dan, Judith and Maria end up together in a warm embrace.

What needs work?

While the voiceover on page one is good, the writer might want to trim some of it, as this could be a big red flag for some readers. This reader really liked everything Judith said after “I told myself…” The writer might want to consider just starting there.  

While Judith feels understandably weird when searching for A. J. Saleh online, she has a perfectly legitimate excuse for doing an online search on him: he’s working with her foster child. It’d be very strange if she didn’t look him up online, up to and including his Facebook page.

That’s good that Judith mentions that she might be whining too much, (and the writer is smart enough to have Judith call that out just in case that is what’s happening) but it does feel sometimes like Judith’s not driving this story as much as she could be. The writer might want to make her more active in her own life’s story.

The reader is glad when Judith finally tells the truth on page 58, but it feels like it happens so late in the script. The “A. J. Is a Rapist” thing feels like it comes out of absolutely nowhere on page 64. The flashback also feels unmotivated, like it’s there just to make the reader think that A.J. isn’t a bad guy for having this statutory rape case against him. If the script is going to include A.J. being accused of rape in it, then it feels like the script has to “own” that, to go all the way forward with it, as opposed to bringing it up and then dismissing it just as quickly.

This reader didn’t mind the script never explaining what exactly about the turquoise jewelry sent Maria into the “red zone,” but some other readers might bump against that. The writer might want to consider at least shading towards something that could show what that could be. Something that still leaves it ambiguous but gives a bit more than right now. But what the writer has is fine.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On a positive note...and what I believe that god may be

Earlier this morning, I woke up in a bad state. Consuming myself with ruminating over The Obsession (shorthand: T.O.), I had an online spazz attack that I spilled out from my keyboard: raw, histrionic, despairing, just plain sad and full of pathos. It was a terrible state, and after posting today's earlier blog, I knew I had to do something to heal, to get away, to escape for awhile and clear my mind and my heart.

My wonderful husband looked after our kids while I went on a drive; the only way I felt I could gain some clarity was to connect with nature on some level. So I chose Alderman's Ford Park, which is about a half-hour east of where we live. I told my hubby I'd pick up food for dinner on the way home, which I did. It was there that I started to get it together--I let my soul take some deep breaths as I took in Nature's gifts around me, unobstructed by the noise of Western Life As Usual.

Oh, and I took photos.

Nature has long had a healing quality for me, whether I've gone, and there I am. I could find solace in the mountains near Seattle ten years ago as much as I was able to find healing and meaning in the forests of Florida's Alderman's Ford Preserve today. Until today, though, I was never really able to articulate those feelings--what the healing and the moments and the beauty around me did for me in my time of emotional need.

I don't believe in a god in the way I see traditionally religious people do, but I do appreciate and feel grateful for the gifts that Nature brings to us, despite ourselves and our constant, modern desecration of Nature. At the risk of getting super New-Agey, I do feel as though my atheism transcends into agnosticism at times, especially in times such as my walk on the trails of Alderman's Ford. I guess I can be both, because atheism and agnosticism pertain to separate mindsets that could, possibly, coexist. The word "atheism" originates from the Greek word atheos, meaning to lack belief in a deity. In contrast, the word "agnosticism" originates from the Greek word agnōstos, meaning literally to not know, to be unknowable. It would seem to make sense, then, to fail to believe in something that is unknowable, beyond human comprehension, and conversely to not be sure of one's beliefs or lack thereof. I'm only human, after all. I don't know if it's even possible to be sure of what I can't know or believe fully...

...if that makes any sense.

Some of the fellow atheists/nonbelievers in my life--my father-in-law, my friend Nicole, even a classmate in a screenwriting class--have posited to me that, if a god does exist, then it is simply a force, one that cannot change the fate of human beings and all living things, or of this planet or cosmos. It is Genderless, Faceless, Formless--a power that is beyond our mere human comprehension--One that defies labels, dogmas, and religions across the globe.

Walking through the pathways of Alderman's Ford, breathing in the fresh, uncontaminated air, viewing the delicate green leaves and the intricate earthy branches of the bushes, trees, vines, and forests, I pondered the possibility of this Unknowable Life Force. If a god does exist, it is a Force that no religion, Eastern or Western, can fully comprehend even though all clerics and priests and imams and rabbis and TV pundits and the Dalai Lama himself try in earnest to do so.

If a god does exist, I imagine that the definition of god would be pretty close to what the Deists envisioned during the Enlightenment--that god is a clockmaker responsible for all creation, winding up the universe like a clock and setting it to run on its own, with no divine intervention. Yeah, I can dig that 400-year-old philosophy. Nature and all of life on Earth is created by a Great Something we humans cannot even begin to understand. The vast oceans, the expansive forests, the tundras of the Arctic, the giant mountains, the movement and shift of the Earth's forces that generate and perpetuate life--they are all gifts of Nature. It is our choice as to whether we respect these gifts and use them wisely.

As my husband and I have told our kids, and as I've written before, being and doing good--to each other or to the Earth and all that Nature provides us--is a choice. We can choose to do wondrous things to one another--we can be benevolent, kind, generous, understanding, compassionate, and truthful. We can also choose to do terrible things, to do great evil--committing acts of murder, bullying, cruelty, selfishness, heartlessness, and betrayal (to others, ourselves, and our principles). If there is a god, the Faceless, Formless, Genderless Force cannot and does not intervene in these decisions over time--god just lets the events and actions play themselves out to whatever consequences result, as does the ticking of a clock or the sand through an hourglass. Life is a choice, I pondered, and we all make choices that produce good or bad in our and in others' lives and in the world at large.

It was then that I imagined a huda walking beside me on the Alderman's Ford trails--T.O.--whispering to me, "You have a choice, too, Michelle. If you feel like your life is going nowhere, you can change it. You can end the stagnancy that's keeping you from doing good things." Huda didn't say this, of course, but in my imagination, I came to realize that is very much the case. It is great to philosophize about the esoterics of life, but it is essentially useless without action in our personal lives to embetter ourselves. Faith without action, I seem to recall one religious text reading quite aptly, is dead.

So maybe I don't have faith in a bearded dude in the sky or any of the definitions that religions would like to assign to god. But what I can do is have more faith, and confidence, in myself, my own abilities, and what I can do with them in this all-too-precious time that is so finite and results in a natural human death. If there is a god, that god does not intervene, has not intervened in the plagues and the famines and the genocides and the wars that we humans have exacted on one another since the beginning of humanity. A god has not intervened in the life of an overworked child factory worker in Bangladesh; has not intervened in the life of a laborer in China who agonizes day in and day out to make the material goods we can buy for dirt-cheap; has not intervened in the fate of an abused child who has yet to find sanctuary in the home of parents who will welcome him for a change.

But we can.

On the most benign level, in my privileged life that I have the luxury to agonize about where I'm going and where I've been, a god has not and will not intervene in the life of a lost woman who has spent too long searching and has yet to find her way. But I can. I am the only being who can, in this case.

With respect and gratitude to Nature and Huda...


Obsessiveness, a way to distract myself from the fact that I haven't really done much with my life...

So after confessing my obsessions about something I shall not disclose in this blogpost to a) my husband, b) my therapist, c) my *son's* therapist, and d) my psychopharmacologist, you would think that I'd be over this shit already. I can put the obsessiveness behind me, practice my daily meditations with Sam Harris and Headspace, keep doing what I'm doing jobwise, familywise, lifewise and move the fuck on. Easy, eh?

But no. My mind won't let me. And as much as I try hard to resist the obsessive thoughts or at least (as several articles I've read online about obsessiveness say to do) "co-exist" with these thoughts, they plague me every day. Every hour. Every minute. I try hard to escape from them and to set my mind on other things, but they won't let me. The three medications I'm currently taking to combat OCD, anxiety, and depression aren't helping either. I wonder whether a lobotomy will be easier. "Lobotomy gets 'em home!" I'm still looking for that mental "home."

When I write creatively, which is what I love best and feel I DO best, I write about The Obsession. When I try to practice guitar, I think about The Obsession and that I am serenading it in some sick way. When I go running with my husband and listen to my favorite music to try to physically purge myself of T.O. and move on, I imagine that I'm the lead singer and guitarist in the band singing to The Obsession in the audience. Even losing myself in a movie, I can feel T.O. gnawing at the back of my brain.

I hate it. It's not that I *like* to torture myself with such thoughts and immerse myself in unhappiness; I don't. It's what a cognitive/behavioural therapist might call "faulty thinking," and after reading books that try to guide me into redirecting it, I feel like I succeed for a while, but as soon as I stop the exercises and the mental self-coaching, IT starts up again. FUCK!! I really want it to STOP. I try to MAKE it stop, but it can't. It hurts. It makes me sometimes want to crawl into oblivion and die. Because I don't want to think about It anymore, but I can't stop.

Perhaps the individual who is the Object of my Obsession has done so much with his life, and does so much to help others in need, and seems to have such a full and fulfilling life, that is the root of my Obsession. Compared to this individual, I feel so inferior and small. I have done precious little with my life except for do some volunteer work here, write some failed projects there, always treading water and aspiring to dreams that are impossible for most people to achieve. My life is shit, and confronting that reality is depressing. Somehow I "ended up" in this place in life and don't know how to get out of it. I "ended up" in a job I can't stand anymore, in a soul-sucking orifice of cubicle-land in which I'm yet another cog in corporate America, yet another tool to be played by the proverbial 1 Percenters. I find no reward in what I do, and that is irritating, angering, and saddening to me.

My husband would tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself, to "join the club" and that many, many Americans hate their job (or two, or three) at which they slave away day in and day out, without end, whatever and ever, amen. And we're the spoiled Americans in the Western World who are feeling this lot. How would I like to be a child factory worker in Bangladesh, unprotected by workers' safety laws and imperiled to the first fire that comes raging through my workplace to consume my body and my life? How would I like to be a worker in China, who makes all of our goods that we buy for dirt-cheap so that she can throw herself from her workplace's building because she just can't stand it anymore, because she'd rather be dead than be forced to manufacture thousands more of our cheap shit anymore? I have it much better than people in these predicaments, eh?

For some reason, that doesn't make me feel any better. I donate whatever money I can to help the typhoon victims in the Philippines, donate food and clothing and gifts to underprivileged people in my own country, donate money to liberal political candidates whom I feel will make even a small ripple of a difference in people's lives as public servants. Yet I don't feel it can ever be enough. I suppose that, even as an atheist, I have a traditionally Jewish way of viewing what Gentiles would call "charity"--it is an obligation, for tikkun olam and gimilut khasadim. It's nothing for which I expect a reward or to get pat upon the back. It's something I believe everyone should be doing if our communities, if our nation, if our world are to become more peaceful and civil places to live with one another.

Maybe if I had some agency, I could uproot myself from this thankless role into which I've tread over the years and make a difference somehow. I wonder if the screenplay on which I'm currently writing IS worth writing, because it is feeding upon that very Obsession that keeps me up at night and keeps me immobilized in life in general. Maybe I could do something better with my life, but I don't know what. Maybe I should obsess about that, instead.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Atheist in a Moral Foxhole: The Conscience of an Atheist

Yep, this is now cross-posted at the Great Big Orange.

"There are no atheists in foxholes" is a fairly well-known saying that implies that non-believers, when confronted with "extreme stress or fear, such as in war" (according to Wikipedia—see link), will reach for a higher power or at least hope for one. As a non-believer, I would like to think that, even when confronted with the certainty of death when that time comes, I'd remain intellectually honest and consistent with my values and hold close to my family and friends, rather than a God I don't believe in, in my final hours—or days, or months, if I have the luxury to prepare for my death.

One aspect of life, however, does make me wonder, even briefly, if I should look toward a higher power—even if an unnamed life-force—for a higher truth and sense of meaning. That aspect is the temptation to do wrong, even when I know it is wrong—which I understand to be the definition of evil. I know in my heart and will defend to all ends the fact that atheists can be moral and benevolent human beings—I would like to think I'm one of them, or at least try my damned best to be—but at times, I'm so afraid of doing and being evil that I'd rather get on my knees and be a slave to the doctrine than be a faithless purist. Am I sick or what?

My mother-in-law (a fellow atheist and recovering Catholic) agreed one afternoon that some aspects of Catholicism "just never leave you." Case in point: when I went to Catholic school, one of our religious instructors (a long-time nun, not surprisingly) instructed my sixth-grade class that a mortal sin—in other words, a sin that is truly evil and not simply a normal human error or misjudgment—is knowing that the sin you're committing is wrong, but doing it anyway. Trust me, it is not often that I am tempted to do something wrong and feel good about it, but when I am, hoo-boy, I get afraid. Very afraid. Afraid enough to hide myself in a moral foxhole and pray to...something.

 I realize full well that there is a difference between being tempted and acting upon temptation. There is a difference between thinking and feeling things that are immoral, and acting upon and carrying out those thoughts and feelings. I can't always control the way I think or feel, but I damn straight can control the way I act and behave...or at least I hope I can. In the end, it's how we conduct our lives and treat other people that defines who we are as moral human beings.

Yesterday, my younger son's therapist touched upon Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development when he was discussing with my husband and I the motivations behind children's behaviors, and human behaviors in general. I remember Kohlberg's six stages well, from when my eleventh-grade English teacher brought them up and pondered openly with us whether she was a Stage Six or not. (Clearly, she didn't have much of an ego problem.) Anyway, the therapist made a brief distinction among the six, concluding that the highest stage was reserved for the rare Mahatma Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings of the planet.

Hopefully, I am not so egotistical as to believe that I could assign myself any moral ranking at all—my own actions in life, after all, speak louder than anything I'd like to think about myself. I would like to believe that I at least have an adult-level moral character, well past the "am I going to get in trouble if I do this?" mentality of Stage One or even the "will people like me if I do this?" moral insecurities of Stage Three. Having come from a family of World War II veterans, four police officers and a police chief, and also being a civic-minded liberal (to the point of occasional annoyance to others), I'd like to believe I fall somewhere between the law-respecting Stage Four and the social-justice-oriented Stage Five.

Nevertheless, I still run stoplights that have just turned red (calling them "pink!") and still exceed the highway speed limit by 15 miles an hour. I also despise Wal-Mart but have been known to violate my own principles against their dishonorable business practices and shop there in an emergency. Because, you know, where else besides the 24-hour big-box retailer can you buy a much-needed pair of kids' sneakers at 6:30 in the morning? "Morally inconsistent" would be an understatement, eh?

I believe that all of us think of doing bad things, whether it's clocking some asshole who said something mean to us at work or wanting to do something else that's mindless, cruel, and/or selfish. It's much easier to do things that make us feel better, if only for a few minutes or longer if we're lucky, long-range consequences and harm to others be damned. We're humans, after all. Fortunately, and especially as adults, we have built-in moral compasses that allow us to regulate what we say and do, as self-governance for behaving in a civil society so we won't all be crammed into an already-overpopulated prison system.

As an atheist, I get that old maxim that being and doing good is its only reward, and that character is what you do in the dark, when no one else is looking to hang a medal around your neck for simply doing the right thing. There's no Great Country Club in the Sky when we die; ashes to ashes and dust to dust is a reality, and not just a symbolic ritual done to mark the beginning of Lent. Ultimately, one doesn't need a sky-daddy to be a good person. In addition, being and doing good is a choice, which is something my husband and I try to instill in our kids as we raise them to be moral adults.

It is the occasional difficulty of making that choice in which I often doubt my capacity to be a moral human being, and to do the right thing even when doing otherwise is so damned tempting. It's those moments when I wonder if I really do need spiritual guidance of some sort, if only to pull me out of that mental immoral morass—the foxhole—to which I've confined myself. Maybe I can meet in the middle and attend a Unitarian Universalist church (atheists and agnostics welcome!), because sometimes, my own self-governor just doesn't seem to cut it.

Self-doubt. It's a pernicious thing, eh?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Lisa Denali

Warning: This diary contains graphic medical details about pregnancy and childbirth.

After years of trying to conceive a child, my husband and I fostered, and later adopted, two young boys out of foster care. We ruled out adopting an infant via private adoption or international agency, which virtually guaranteed placing ourselves on a waiting list for years more.

The grays forming on our temples were a stark reminder that Mr. Boof and I weren't getting younger, and time wasn't waiting for our family to start. By adopting children who genuinely needed a family, we would not only be nurturing our own visions of starting a family, but we'd be giving a family to some children who in many cases were on waiting lists of their own for several years or longer, being shuttled from foster family to foster family, and group home to group home, with no end in sight.

It has been four years since we adopted our boys and welcomed them into our home and our lives as our sons for the rest of our lives. We love our sons and feel so fortunate that they were the ones who came into our lives as our two boys; Mr. Boof and I both love them as if they were always our sons, and would give our lives for them. That being said, I still haven't completely overcome the grief of not being able to give birth. Infertility is something I thought I'd “gotten over” when we adopted, but it has produced an undercurrent of pain that has persisted.

We had a name picked out for her, if she were a daughter. If he were a baby son, we still hadn't decided, but my husband knew he wanted her first name to be Lisa. Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons was one of his favorite characters on the TV show due to her intelligence and drive to always do what was right. Her character was often misunderstood—mostly because many around her didn't match her in the Brain Department—and often struggled to fit in to the banal world around her. Mr. Boof loved the name Lisa so much—if we had a daughter, we would name her Lisa.

That meant that I had dibs on the middle name. I chose Denali, which is the indigenous North American name for Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak on the continent. Depending on which definition Wikipedia provides on a given day, Denali means either “the high one” or “the great one.” I honestly felt no connection to the meaning of the name—just the beauty of the name Denali itself. That, and I've long wanted to visit Alaska, the only state in the U.S. I haven't yet visited. So, Lisa Denali would've been her name.

One of my friends recently posted a great Buddha quote on her Facebook page. It reads:

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

Such beautiful sentiments, and I think I generally do a good job at the first two—but not so much the third one, particularly when it came to my husband's and my failed attempts at conceiving a baby.

In writing this, I do not intend for whomever is reading it to feel sorry for me in any way. Believe me, I've spent hours, days, months feeling sorry for myself—enough for everyone who is reading this and probably ten times over. At some point, I just need to be pragmatic about the permanence of infertility and not moving forward with any more fertility treatments. What's done is done. Perhaps I am at the transition point of stages 4 and 5 of the Kübler-Ross model of grief, where I am beginning to accept the fact that I will never become pregnant, even though I still get damned depressed about it from time to time.

After we adopted our boys, I was too busy to fully process my infertility grief—and I was also unwilling at the time to accept it. In the back of my mind—and sometimes, in the front of it when I daydreamed—I'd imagine that Mr. Boof and I would again pursue the fertility-treatment route and introduce a little brother or sister for our two sons, who at the time were still fairly young.

During that time, I must've been in the Bargaining stage (stage 3 of the Kübler-Ross model), or even worse, Denial (stage one). I still saw a glimmer of hope, and came up with a bunch of “maybe ifs.” Maybe if Mr. Boof and I paid off our student loans, we'd have enough money for in-vitro, which we previously could not afford. Maybe if I sold one of the seven screenplays I'd written for a small bundle of money, I could stop working for a couple of years and stay home with the future baby. Maybe if I won the lottery...geez, during those early stages of grief, who knew the depths of unrealistic fantasy into which my mind could plunge?

One of my friends has a framed photo of herself and her two older sons when she was very pregnant with her youngest son. In the photo, her two older kids were on either side of her pregnant belly, their hands cupped over their mouths, whispering through Mommy's abdominal walls to their unborn brother inside of her. When I was in a daydreaming mood, I'd imagine my own two boys touching their hands to my belly, feeling for a kick, smiling upon getting a response from within, posing for a photograph of the three of us in a similar manner to my friend.

I tried to talk myself out of the societal glamourizing of Woman Being Pregnant, Giving Beautiful Birth™. From what my female friends and relatives have shared with me, pregnancy and childbirth isn't a walk down the runway. In fact, it's messyviolent, even. In our First World society, a pregnant woman has two choices for the baby to exit her body. One, she pushes it out of her dilated vagina (or is that a dilated cervix? I won't pretend to be knowledgeable about the medical specifics). She does this in either excruciating pain, or else she is drugged with local anesthetics via an epidural. The latter involves a 22-gauge, 3-inch needle causing enough pain as it is injected to warrant the recipient contemplating, well, maybe the natural childbirth thing isn't such a bad idea after all. Two, she gets her lower abdomen cut open wide enough to allow said baby to be pulled out of it during a Caesarean, “untimely ripp'ed,” as Shakespeare would say. In either scenario, the baby is not coming out without a lot of blood, pain, and tearing of parts.

Trust me, I've seen the pictures and video clips of childbirth, which all rival any film in the Alien franchise. I've also heard stories from my friends and relatives who've “been there and done that.” It's a pretty gruesome process, this childbirth thing. There's a placenta that vaguely resembles a giant blood-covered omelet that any vampire would devour. Then there's a globulous mucous plug that uncorks the laboring mother's birth canal in an ever-so-romantic “champagne time!” moment that announces, hey, guess what? The baby is coming! A sinewy red-black-yellow-purple umbilical cord ropes itself from the inside of the mom's belly button to what will become the baby's. Somewhere in that anatomical mess is a screeching, writhing newborn baby, coated in a mixture of its mother's own blood and a milky white vernix that vaguely resembles semen.

Except during home births, the baby is born into a world of hospital-grade white and peppermint ice-cream green, with latex gloved hands cutting cords and foreskins and doing Apgar tests to make sure the baby “came out” right, whatever that means. Almost always, natural childbirth involves screaming women, newborn babies screaming even more loudly, and husbands and doctors barking urgent commands to breathe, push, bear down. Gee, sign me up. Like I SO should feel it's a bummer that whole thing didn't happen to me.

I haven't even gotten to the pregnancy part that precedes this magical moment. The bloated bodies, the fasting from the three cups of coffee and the glass of wine with dinner, the constant aches and pains and exhaustion of carrying around an extra God knows how many pounds of weight on your back and feet, extra money spent on somewhat stylish maternity clothes that are ever so tasteful, and suitable for parties and the work environment.

And after the baby is born? The swollen breasts, with nipples sore from nursing or using a breast pump. The scar tissue, the distended bellies and lady parts that don't quite snap into their former places, the gall-bladder removals and the acid reflux and the incontinence. Finally, for two years, or even longer, a little person to whom you are at the constant beck and call for middle-of-the-night feedings, diaper changes, butt-wiping, playtime, naptime, tantrum time, runny-nose time. Am I honestly depressed about missing out on that noise?

Well, in a word, yes. Like many, many mothers who for hundreds of thousands of years endured what I did not, I realize that the petty discomforts and unromantic—even undignified—aspects of pregnancy and childbirth would be temporary—a passing phase—for a lifetime of watching someone they brought into the world grow from a tiny infant to a toddler to a young child and a teenager, and finally into an adult who in turn could have his or her own children someday. So yeah, it sucks to not have been able to experience that.

You dads out there, the ones who've been in the delivery rooms to welcome your tiny sons and daughters as they drew their first breaths. I've seen the delivery room pictures, particularly of my brother-in-law as he first held his oldest newborn son, my oldest nephew. What was in his eyes was THAT You have to know what that is, if you've been there in the delivery room to help usher into the world a brand-new person you helped to make. I so wanted that experience for my husband and me to share. Like I said, I love our two boys as if they were our own sons, but all of the “they grew NOT UNDER your heart, but IN it” platitudes ring false and hollow after awhile when considering what might have been, but wasn't.

What is worse is sensing the cliches before they come out of anyone's mouth, and thus not saying anything, or else keeping my emotions to myself so I don't burden or bore anyone with it, so my grief is a pain that I've pretty much had to bear alone. Another set of platitudes are at least authentic to me: Be grateful I was at least willing to adopt (I am). Be thankful for my two beautiful sons to whom I gave sanctuary and built a family (I am).

I am well and soberly aware that the world is full of millions of young women and girls who either died or were killed before they were able to become pregnant and give birth—or worse, they died during the birth of a first child they'd never know, and whose children were horribly stolen the knowledge of the mothers who brought them into the world. One of my good friends died of cancer before her 40th birthday, when her little boy was only three. Her son will never grow up with—maybe he'll barely remember—the wholly beautiful human being who gave birth to him. So, you know, maybe I should put on my big-girl pants and simply get over it already, because I could have had it much, much worse.


Recently, I listened to a Podcast from the wonderful Creating a Family Web site and support network that was acutely pertinent to my feelings of heartbreak and sense of loss. Titled Coping with Infertility Grief After Adopting, the site owner, Dawn Davenport, had a compassionate, thoughtful interview and discussion with Carole Lieber Wilkins, a licensed family therapist specializing in adoption. The topics they covered were numerous—aspects of fertility and adoption I hadn't even known about. For example: choosing whether to destroy donor eggs or IVF embryos during a “closure cycle.” Because this wasn't a factor in our own fertility treatments, my husband and I didn't have to confront this decision, but I gained a new insight into the finality of a woman or couple having to do so.

When the two women on the Podcast began talking about a ritual and healing process recommended for saying goodbye to a biological child that would never come to be, I lost it. With my headphones on, I wept silently at my workplace computer, and when it was safe for me to leave unnoticed for a lunch break, I got into my car, took a short drive, and cried for a good long time before getting myself together and going back to work.


The ritual Carole Lieber Wilkins described was writing a heartfelt goodbye letter to the son or daughter one would never have, to the details of how one had imagined their child to be. The infant's tiny fingers, little toes, hair color, resemblance to Mom or Dad (or both, or neither!); the young child's interests, personality, stories he or she liked to have read, the trips the family would go on together; the growing young man or woman entering the world of adulthood. After writing the letter, it was then to be destroyed in a ritual manner—burned, washed away in the ocean, torn—signifying the death of a dream and a genuine saying goodbye.

I didn't know how I was going to start writing such a letter without falling apart. Just the thought of putting pen to paper and writing “Dear Lisa Denali” made the tears come again. One Sunday, however, I just toughened up and did it. Pink ink on a plain white piece of paper, both sides of the page. The only other person whom I allowed to read it before I destroyed it was my husband; true to the instructions Lieber-Wilkins advised, I did not make a copy of it.

After letting my husband read it, I drove alone to Ballast Point Park in Tampa, a place that I had gone to privately mourn our infertility when my first nephew was born, almost six years prior. I would stand at the edge of the pier, watch the water, and have a good cry to myself. When our sons came to live with us, I no longer had the time—or maybe I just didn't make the time—to make the trip to Ballast Point and finish my mourning, but that Sunday, I made the time to at least bring a sense of closure, even if the verdict is out on whether the grieving process is finally over.

That Sunday was a beautiful sunny fall day. Lots of people were at the park, having picnics, throwing Frisbees and footballs, and fishing off the side of the pier. Finding a private place to reflect on my letter and let it drop into the water was not easy, but I finally did find an empty place at the pier. I looked out at the water, silently read the letter to Lisa Denali for the last time, kissed the letter, and let it drop to the water below me. I watched for a long time as the calm ripples in the water carried it away from the pier, the pink ink blurring as the paper absorbed the water like a sponge, until it was a tiny frame floating on the surface of the water in the distance.

Okay, so it was not very good of an Earth-friendly liberal like me to do this, but I told myself that the paper was biodegradable.

I am still not sure whether the ritual Lieber-Wilkins recommended had any impact on moving the grieving process forward, but I would like to think that it is a small step ahead in letting go of a dream to which I had to say goodbye at some point. I needed to make closure so I could move on and be the mother I needed, and still need, to be to my two beautiful sons. Our family has trips to go on, experiences to share, and love to give to one another and those around us. Saying goodbye to Lisa Denali was difficult to do, but necessary.


Thanks to Dawn Davenport for providing us in the infertility and adoption communities with her engaging and compassionate forum, and also for allowing me to mention her name and Web site in this post. Please visit Creating a Family if you have a chance; it's a wonderful community of caring individuals. Thanks also to Carole Lieber-Wilkins for sharing her knowledge, expertise, and recommendations for overcoming infertility grief.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


I realize this blog is pretty Spartan for the moment, but I'll start populating it soon. :)