Coming soon to a bookstore near you: ME! I will be talking about THE BEAUTIFUL LOST (out 6/27) and would love to see you along the way. Please stop by one of these great stores/libraries and say hi. Also, i could use a hug--can't you?
The ocean gives me life and inspires all my books including THE BEAUTIFUL LOST. Thank you Scholastic for featuring my World Oceans Day essay on the Scholastic blog! You can click on the link or read it here:
Celebrate World Oceans Day with bestselling author Luanne Rice
Brooke Shearouse June 8th, 2017
It’s World Oceans Day, and to celebrate, author Luanne Rice stopped by OOM to talk about her connection to the sea and answer our questions about her newest YA novel, The Beautiful Lost. Her latest is a sweeping story of a girl and boy, both troubled in different ways, who take off on a whirlwind road trip up the East Coast. Check out the chat below to learn more!
How did your connection to the ocean start?
I was very lucky to grow up spending every summer at my grandmother’s house at the beach. School would get out in June, we’d pack our bathing suits and Scottie dog into the station wagon, kick off our shoes, and basically not put them on again until September. My sisters and I spent every day on Long Island Sound. I was inspired by sunlight and moonlight on the water, whitecaps, constant wave action. My first published story, when I was fifteen, was about an adventure with my cousin at the beach.
I spent most days playing in tidal pools, learning to identify species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, starfish, jellyfish, and barnacles. It was so mesmerizing, hours could go by. I observed how tides and currents brought energy and nutrients into the pools, how different kinds of seaweed could be used as camouflage and habitat for hermit crabs, periwinkles, cunners, molting lobsters, and other creatures. Those days taught me so much about the ecosystem and made me want to know more about the ocean environment.
My friends and I bonded over love of the sea. We’d swim out to the big rock and around the point, go on marathon expeditions with a flotilla of rowboats, and hike through the woods to a secret beach and wait until after dark to take night swims and watch for shooting stars.
For my eighth-grade science project, I used the family Super 8 movie camera to make a short film about local water pollution, At fifteen, my summer job was helping my father pull lobster pots, and at nineteen, I went to study humpback whales aboard R/V WESTWARD, a hundred-foot staysail schooner, run by the Sea Education Association of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. One of the great joys of my life was being surrounded by oceanographers at the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Marine Biological Lab, studying through the night in the MBL library, with the boats in Eel Pond just outside the window, the music of halyards clanking in the wind.
What is The Beautiful Lost about and what role does the Atlantic Ocean play in story?
The Beautiful Lost is about a girl named Maia, who goes on a road trip up the East Coast in search of her mother. Maia’s mother left the family for her career as a whale researcher in a part of Canada so remote, it’s off the map. Her mother’s leaving triggered severe depression and sent Maia to a psychiatric hospital. Maia struggles with continued treatment, the unwanted effects of medication, feeling different at school, and the constant pain of missing her mom. A shining light in her life, literally, is the glowing window of a group home on a distant hill, where a boy named Billy lives. Maia has a secret crush on him. When she decides to take off to find her mother, she drives up to the home for one last goodbye, and Billy shocks her by jumping into the car and telling her he’s running away with her.
Billy plots a route for them through coastal New England. The first stop is Mystic Seaport, where Maia finds a very old, valuable bookthat contains the information Maia will need to find her mom. Billy and Maia stop in Atlantic fishing villages, libraries by the sea, and a lighthouse on the easternmost tip of Maine. By the time they reach Maia’s mother’s research station on the St. Lawrence Seaway, they’ve worked in a crab processing plant, traveled on ferries and a fishing boat, and seen countless beluga and humpback whales.
The ocean brings Maia and Billy close together. It also pulls Maia to her mother. Along the road trip, Maia feels the power of the ocean and discovers a life force and strength within her she hadn’t known was there.
Would you say the ocean inspires all your writing in some way?
We are made up of salt water—tears and blood. Nothing in life—other than love and my relationship with my sisters—has inspired me more than the ocean. It has found its way its way into almost all my books. I’ve written my novels on the edge of various coasts: overlooking the Pacific from a bougainvillea-covered bungalow in Malibu; watching a fleet of vintage 12-Metre sailing yachts crisscross the harbor in a graceful maritime ballet from my desk in a borrowed stone carriage house in Newport, Rhode Island; nestled into a bed-and-breakfast above the Celtic Sea in Cork, Ireland; at the Wonderview Cottages by the seal-filled bay in Belfast, Maine; and, especially, at the old oak table in my grandmother’s beach cottage in Connecticut—the place I’ve come every summer of my life, and am now lucky enough to own.
How can readers help the world’s oceans?
Spend time by the water, learn about everything you can, fall in love with it. Tide pools can teach you so much. They can be very small; one of my favorites is an approximate two-by-three-feet cut in the rock ledge jutting into the cove, and it contains so much sea life. I encourage you to try it—just stare at the smallest area and be amazed by what you see. The great thing about the intertidal zone is that it doesn’t reveal everything all at once. You think you’ve seen all the mussels, whelks, starfish, and minnows there are to see, and suddenly a wave ruffles the chondrus crispus seaweed bed, and a rock crab will scuttle forth. Am I an ocean nerd? Obviously. But try it, you’ll love it.
Another way to help is to reconsider balloons—they look pretty and festive going up into the sky, but when they fall into rivers they are borne to the ocean where creatures from sea turtles to whales mistake them for jellyfish or other food, ingest them, and die. The same is true of all plastics—bags, utensils, anything that might find its way to the sea and into the food chain.
My bookshelves are full of volumes about ocean science and conservation, some classics, others new. I love novels with seaside settings. Any book—fiction or non-fiction— inspired by the sea can instill or encourage a love of the ocean, a protective feeling for the environment, and that can only help.
- The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson
- Under the Sea Wind by Rachel Carson
- Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature by Linda J. Lear
- The View From Lazy Point by Carl Safina
- The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One by Sylvia A. Earle
- Grayson by Lynne Cox
- How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley
Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:
- Sea Change by Aimee Friedman
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
- Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
- Rockall by Amelia Onorato (a graphic novel by my niece—full disclosure!)
- Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken
- Wish by Joseph Monninger
- Flush by Carl Hiassen
And here are some websites to check out:
thank you skg girl for this lovely review of THE BEAUTIFUL LOST!
reposting from SKG fun:
The Beautiful Lost: Depression and Road Trips with Cute Boys
The Secret Language of Sisters? I looked at the book my friend Julia Findley had sent me. Looks good.
Looks good was an understatement. Not a week later I was flipping the last page, my heart torn into three bajillion pieces, a warm feeling floating all over me.
At that moment, I promised myself I would never text and drive. EVER. (You’re gonna want to read this book too!)
Imagine how pleased I was when I discovered Luanne Rice, author of Secret Language of Sisters, has a book releasing in June of this year. But I never imagined she would actually send me an Advanced Readers Copy!! SO Y’ALL . . . I GOT MY FIRST ARC!
This book is called The Beautiful Lost, and we’re partnering with Ms. Rice in a few weeks to give ONE OF YOU the chance to read it.
But first!! Review time!!
A brilliant 4.296 stars.
-AN ENTERTAINING ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY-
A girl embarks on a road trip with her crush (who may just be as nutty as his murderous father) along with lots of snacks and together they start on a mission to find the girl’s marine-loving mother and put her life back together again but oops they might just fall in love. <3
-MORE ENTERTAINING SHORT SUMMARIES-
Whales. SO. MANY. CUTE. WHALES.
Billy who is just goalz with his freckles and green sparkly eyes.
Beat-up cars with super-cool stories yaaaaaass
THE FRENCH. Bonjour.
A scary lack of money (NO, BOB, WHATEVER SHALL WE DO??)
BREAKING ACROSS BOARDERS MUA HA HA!!
-SLIGHTLY LONGER SUMMARY-
It’s been three years since Maia’s mom ran away to devote her life to studying whales. 🐳 Ever since her father remarried, Maia has just felt life is wrong: I mean, her new stepmom Astrid wears cashmere sweaters and gold chain necklaces. She’s NOTHING like Maia’s nature-loving, daredevil REAL mom; Astrid doesn’t even know how to swim and hates the outdoors. So, Maia decides to go find her mom. In a lucky turn of events (very lucky indeed, what is in the milk she drinks in the morning I would like one please), her crush Billy ends up coming along. Soon, however, Maia realizes that there’s more to Billy than meets the eye. I mean, everyone knows he’s the son of a murderer . . . but he’s not like his dad—is he?
But that doesn’t matter. Because when Maia finds her mom, everything will be perfect again.
. . .
-WHAT I LIKED-
- Billy. I would like one to-go, please and thank you. *makes a mad dash* But no, seriously, Billy was just the sweetest. He had an openly brooding and distrusting personality but he was just a fluffy old man really. Lately I have been super annoyed with guys in books being super attractive so I take away a few micropoints because he was so deviously handsome BUT COME ON . . . HIS EYES AH BE STILL MY HEART OKAY I GIVE BACK THE POINTS.
- The whales. I mean, how can you not love whales?? THEY’RE ADORABLE. And so artistic. LIKE SOMEONE GIVE ME A POSTER OF THE TYPES OF WHALES STAT. *trills like Dory* PLUS I CAN SPEAK WHALE.
- Maia appreciates a good library. I mean . . . what more can I say.
- Billy and Maia were very moral. You know what I mean. These kids were alone for nine days and they only stole a few kisses (COME ON IT WAS OBVIOUS Y’ALL LIKED EACH OTHER WHY ISN’T IT THIS EASY IN REAL LIFE). Kudos to them.
- Different perspectives. This wasn’t the book’s doing, but the first time I read the book it was great and all but the second time I’d changed. I took a college-level psychology class and recognized many things we went over, and I’d also been through an actual bout of depression. I didn’t realize I had until I was reading Maia’s description of what she was going through and I was like . . . I hope I don’t need a shrink. (it’s okay tho, I’m recovered) The main thing I recognized was the term naïve idealism, which is a teen thinking that, for example, if their parents got back together again everything would be perfect. Maia believed a version of this. And I hate the word naïve.
-WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE-
- Objectionable elements, please. Maia and Billy met a few groups of people along the way. The first couple was lesbian. A person in the second couple used an Ouija board to communicate with the dead (although it wasn’t actually real). And the last group of people were openly hostile towards Christians for shoving Christianity down the Innu peoples’ throat. Now, I do not pretend that some American settlers did not infest the poor Native Americans with disease and take their land. I also do understand that some were a bit pushy regarding religion. Sometimes American history makes me a bit sick. But, nature worship is not right in any case. Nature is beautiful; but even more so is the God who carved it for us.
- The approach towards depression. Guys, depression is serious. Christians can struggle with it just as much as anyone else. I have been depressed before. The first time I read this book, I hadn’t but the second time I was so much more understanding. More on this below.
- The ending. This has to do with the approach towards depression. Maia is locked away in an institution for six weeks and drugged up. Guys, that’s just covering the problem. Maia needs real help, and it doesn’t come in the form of antidepressants, white walls, or Billy promising to attempt a long-distance relationship.
At the core of this book is the resonating message: DON’T GIVE UP. We’re all gonna face seemingly impossible trials. We’re all gonna have to cross an empty desert with nothing but our own tears to satiate our thirst; we’re all gonna have to scale mountains with nothing but the hands that we’ve wrung so hard they’ve turned red.
The problem is that this book says that what can relieve you of your trial is medication, institutions, or driving to Canada with a super cute guy. And while these things may cover up your festering wounds for a while, depression is nothing to be taken lightly. Depression is SERIOUS; it’s a heart wound, a head wound. No human can heal that; no matter how many abbreviations stand behind their name. Nothing can heal you except the blood of Christ. He will hold your hand through the valleys, carry you across the mountains, walk across the raging rivers to get you where you need to be.
This book was written masterfully.
The descriptions were deep, the symbolism was artistic, and the depression was really relatable. At its core, I’d say it was a good book. As Christians, we can read this and sympathize with victims of depression who don’t have anywhere to turn to. Of course the world would turn to a boy, or doctors, or medicine, or the hope that their no-show mother will welcome them back into her life.
Sometimes Christians can be really blinded. How could they be so foolish? We might ask ourselves stupidly. Why is it so hard for them to accept Christ’s cure?
The world has attempted to answer depression. The world has attempted to make suicide look heroic, even.
But you know what? YOU HAVE A CHOICE. Nothing is so hard that you should give up on yourself, ever. No matter how bad things look, you’ll always have at least one Person on your side.
Please don’t ever give up, and please don’t give into the lie that it’s better to die than to keep going on. The world pretends that suicide is an answer, but it never has and never will be.
Does this sound like a book you would like? Ever read The Secret Language of Sisters?
Linden Frederick is the most literary of artists. His paintings tell stories by inviting the viewer into a very focused and specific moment in time, engaging our imaginations. He often paints night scenes: dusk to dawn, changing light . He depicts houses, windows dark except one, making us wonder what is going on inside, drawing us into the family story. Sometimes there will be taillights on a highway, making us want to follow the car, see where it is going. He'll paint ice cream stands or downtown stores or a bridal shop on a small town street after closing, lit by street lamps or neon lights or the last light of day. Although the scenes so often take place at night, I don't think of them as dark. The sky glows at magic hour, or it is indigo midnight with stars overhead, or breaking dawn with a setting moon. The paintings are thrilling.
Right now his brilliant show Night Stories is on exhibit at the Forum Gallery, his longtime artistic home. The paintings are virtuoso, revealing his colossal talent. Complementing his work's storytelling nature, each of the fifteen paintings is accompanied by a short story written by one of fifteen writers. I am lucky enough to be one of them. Some of the writers have long collected Linden's work, others are new fans. Richard Russo, a good friend of Linden's, was instrumental in bringing all of us together for this project.
Opening night was a joy. Although I had seen images, encountering the actual paintings took my breath away. Entering the warmth of the Forum Gallery's beautiful new space at 475 Park Avenue, seeing the works hung on parallel walls, made the outside world stop. You really do leave the regular world behind as you stand before each painting, entering the life within the frame (exquisite dark wood, fabricated by Linden.) The paintings are so varied--evocatively titled by the artist (as all his pictures are,) each title a brushstroke: Rear Window, Offramp, Repair, Save-A-Lot, and nine others.
The paintings are oil on linen, 36 x 36, and as luminous as any I've seen of Linden's--and luminous is the word that so frequently comes to mind when I view his work. I first discovered him in 1989 at the Four Contemporary Realists show at the Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme CT, and in 1991 I bought my first painting of his--a 2 x 2" gouache, Nightshade, the miniature perfection of a hazy moon rising over a distant hill. It feels to me the essence of a July night in Maine and sparked the first of my Linden-inspired short stories, "Nature's Child."
The book accompanying the show is NIGHT STORIES: FIFTEEN PAINTINGS AND THE STORIES THEY INSPIRED. It's an incredible collection, and I am so honored to be among such wonderful writers: Anthony Doerr, Andre Dubus III, Louise Erdrich, Joshua Ferris, Tess Gerritsen, Lawrence Kasdan, Lily King, Dennis Lehane, Lois Lowry, Ann Patchett, Richard Russo, Elizabeth Strout, Ted Tally, Daniel Woodrell, and me. Inside the beautiful book (a work of art in itself, designed by Hans Teensma) are Linden's works faced by each of our stories. I chose Night Off, and from it my story "Alley's End" flowed as if the painting had already written it.
As a gift for writing the stories, Linden gave each of us the study of our paintings. Once you've seen the paintings in the main gallery space, you enter a magical corridor lined with the studies. It is fascinating to see the evolution of the work--to see the small oils that captivated each writer, to know that they led not only to Linden's large pictures, but also our fifteen short stories.
Bob and Cheryl Fishko and their genius gallery staff have done a stellar job with this complicated project. (The Fishkos are also incredibly gracious hosts--the party after the opening felt like a literary and artistic salon--New York City transformed into Paris in the '20s. And Bob is an amazing chef.) Linden dedicated the book to his wife Heather, and no wonder--I was so happy to spend time with her and thank her for everything. She is integral to the book, every step along the way. The opening was a joyful and exuberant celebration of Linden and and the collection. I loved seeing several of my fellow authors--Joshua Ferris, Lawrence Kasdan, Lois Lowry, Richard Russo, and Ted Tally, and my glamorous friend and Jane Rotrosen Agency sister Tess Gerritsen. It was especially delightful to be able to share the evening with my forever agent and amitié amoreouse Andrea Cirillo, and my Scholastic editor (and dear friend and greatly admired author) Aimee Friedman.
There are too many great moments from the opening on Thursday night to recount them all here, but I can think of a few highlights. I was thrilled for both Richard Russo and Joshua Ferris--they have brand new short story collections out, and they both received rave New York Times reviews on Thursday, so we were able to toast them at the opening. Ted Tally and I shared a moment about Linden's exhibit at the Michener Museum--Ted is a great champion of Linden's, and his contribution to the collection is a perfect screenplay that could easily be his next Oscar winner, an exquisite short. I loved catching up with Tess, hearing about how she knows Linden--they are both musicians, live near each other in Maine, and play music together. Multi-talented, no surprise.
A really charged moment occurred on Saturday--a good crowd of fans and artists had gathered to hear Linden's artist talk. While Linden spoke about the details of Liquor, the painting that inspired "American Rye Whiskey" by legendary screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, Lawrence praised him for being able to capture the light at dusk, so fleeting, beloved by artists and filmmakers (and writers.) They had a really fascinating exchange about light, time, film, and art. The crowd was transfixed.
I hope you can see this extraordinary exhibit (May 11-June 30, 2017) and read the book. I feel so privileged to be part of it and thank Linden for his his work, all of it, incandescent and deeply inspiring.
I write a lot about sisters. I am the oldest of three, and when we were young, we were so close we never wanted to be apart. We shared a bedroom--three beds, three desks, three bookcases, and us.
Sleep didn't come easily because we'd be talking, laughing until we hurt, jumping on our beds and playing hub-a-bub, a game we invented, or telling "Kathlene Stories," an ongoing made-up-on-the-spot series involving a curly-haired older neighbor who wore silk print shirtwaist dresses and referred to herself as "a maiden lady." We improvised the pitfalls and perils of Kathlene and her sidekick, a French poodle named Coquette. Our protagonist had a tender, easily-bruised heart, strong opinions, and a steely inner strength, somewhere between Jane Eyre and a character, whose name now escapes me, on The Doctors, thr soap opera we watched.
If I called my middle sister right now, I bet she could tell me the name of that character. She'd probably say it with an English accent like Colin Wakefield, a handsome doctor on the show. Or she'd growl like Billy Aldrich, the bad boy played by Alec Baldwin. Speaking in character is something she'd do--it was one of our ways of communicating, part of our secret language. But I can't call her. She's not there.
She's lost to me. That sounds like a line from The Doctors--dramatic, said with the back of the hand pressed to the brow, tears welling. But it's true. She is alive and, I hope, well, and she lives just a few miles from me and our youngest sister, but she doesn't want to be in our lives. It started a long time ago, and I have no doubt she has a list of reasons for why she doesn't speak to us, want to get together, want to talk and figure this out. I've emailed her from a bunch of different email addresses because every time I do she blocks me and I have to try a new one.
After a while, you stop and wonder. I mean, what's the point, if every time you write, you get the alert that you've been blocked? After a while, is it rude to disrespect her clearly stated desire that she wants nothing to do with you? Or do you follow your heart, hope that this time will be different, that this time your message will get through? You've wracked your brain for ways to circumvent the email situation: call her phone. But the number has been changed. Write her a letter. But she's moved, and although you've heard from friends and cousins the town she now lives in, you don't know the address.
She has her point of view. I don't know what she's saying, lately, about why I'm horrible. That story has changed along the way; it's been layered and layered with infractions. Yet a decade ago we had a very brief and shining thaw, when whatever was wrong melted away. No more hurt, no more anger--our sisterly love was there as strong as ever. We called each other every day--our old closeness was back. When I say I'd have done anything for her, I meant it. Then I tried a little too hard to help with something she didn't think needed helping and maybe that's what drove her away. Maybe I touched a nerve.
See, I have a point of view too. I want to talk to her, explain, hear whatever she has to say to me. I want us to heal this, but how is that possible without actually seeing each other? Without speaking? Will we go through the rest of our lives living ten miles apart, never visiting or talking again?
I can't say I've made peace with the situation, or that I'm okay with it. But the feeling of missing her is so deep--the teetering between frustration and anger, helplessness and sorrow at the passage, the waste of time--the only way to live with all is to practice mindfulness, lovingkindness meditation toward her, toward us. It eases the bottomless grief.
People hear that we're estranged--I hate that word--and they want to bring us back together. They'll say to me, as if I'd never considered it, that life is too short to go through it being mad/upset/stubborn/intractable regarding my sister. That it's time to bury the grievance, whatever it is. I listen, my stomach tight, and nod as if I think they're wise. I blurt out the story of what happened--tell my side of it. I tell the well-meaning friends or distant family members that my door is open. I'd love to have my sister in my life, it's her choice to have this distance.
I think I'm going to stop telling them that or anything. This is between us--the three of us--the sisters. It's pain that belongs to no one else, and I can't expect anyone to understand something that I can't comprehend myself. Just yesterday a friend at a local shop told me she'd seen her. That my sister had said of me and our other sister "We're not in touch." My friend told me this hesitantly, with sensitivity. She wondered how it could be, and I don't blame her, or anyone, for wondering that, for wanting us to reconcile. I nearly fell all over myself trying to explain. When I left the shop, I felt exhausted and a little sick. It is a story I'm so tired of telling, justification I've stopped being able to bear.
My sister loves A.A. Milne. Back during that glimmering time when we were close again, she gave me a copy of one of our favorite Pooh books. The inscription, in her tiny, perfect, dear handwriting said Rusty urges you to pay SPECIAL attention to Chapter X. Rusty was one of our imaginary characters, a key part of our secret language. The chapter contained a message from my sister to me, and as soon as I read it, I understood.
So, now, my message to her: Call or write me. My phone number and email address are the same. I love you. And Rusty STRONGLY urges you to pay SPECIAL attention to Chapter X.
Recently I walked down Lyme Street in the early evening. Spring is just beginning, and the first peepers had started to call from the Lieutenant River. The sky was spellbinding a shade of blue so dark and clear it made me look up for a long time, until the moon rose. Some of Old Lyme's graceful houses and galleries had their lights on, glowing warmly from within.
I passed the Cooley Gallery, my favorite art gallery in the world. Many years ago Jeff introduced me to the work of Linden Frederick, an artist whose paintings, mostly nocturnes, are as luminous as a clear night's sky in early spring. Each tells a story. The gallery also shows Maureen McCabe, my former art professor at Connecticut College, an artist whose intricate collages weave together magic, symbolism, Irish legends, French history, fortune-telling, standing stones, and much more. Each December the gallery holds the beloved All Paintings Great and Small exhibit, incorporating deliciously small works by many of its artists. I never miss it.
Stars had just started to appear, and I tried to capture a photo of them with my iPhone. You can see them just above the old church. It's a private house now, but once it was Christ the King. My parents were married there and both their funerals, separated by years, were held there. When i walk past, i silently thank the building for being the keeper of timeless joy and sorrow.
I took another recent walk on a rainy day. Lyme Street is as beautiful in daytime, all through the year, in any weather. It's April, so I visited the daffodil field. In full bloom behind its classic wrought iron fence, I stopped to look, to feel the essence of spring in Old Lyme. There was something all-the-more enchanting, seeing it on a gray day, with mist falling and scraps of fog blowing in from the river. Standing there, it took me back in time, made me forget the year, the century, let me feel the beauty and history of this place where I'm lucky enough to live.
I'm so thrilled by this wonderful review from Kirkus!
It’s been six years since Maia’s mother left and one year since she was hospitalized for attempting suicide. The depression is starting to set in again, but this time she has The Plan.
Eighteen-year-old Maia is determined to find her mother. The young white woman has no problem saying goodbye to her father or even her best friends, but leaving Billy, her longtime crush, proves more difficult. She risks a meeting, thinking if she can just see him one more time, she’ll be able to leave. But Billy is just as unwilling to lose her, offering to run away with her. He knows how to disappear, telling her that cellphones are out, but good music and snack foods are a must. Maia finds herself falling in love with the freckled white boy. And when everything starts falling apart, losing him seems like just one more thing she cannot bear. Veteran Rice pens a riveting examination of the ravages of depression and loss. Both Maia and Billy are well-formed and complicated, and their progression from acquaintanceship to love will tug at even the most jaded hearts. An author’s note and resources serve as encouragement for those battling their own pain.
This novel clearly demonstrates that sometimes it is only in darkness that one can see light. (Fiction. 12-16)
Pub Date: June 27th, 2017
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online: March 6th, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2017
There is a feeling of holding on, of getting through, of balancing on a precipice. When you're lied to by someone in power, it's the same as being gaslighted in an abusive relationship. You're being told one thing, but you know it's wrong, you know it's false. To mix movie metaphors, it's also the Wizard of Oz telling us "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." But we have to pay attention. And, frankly, the wizard was too genial and well-meaning to be an apt comparison here. We're dealing with a bully who who not only lies but is a stranger to caring about others.
A spirit of hate, intolerance, denial of climate change, erosion of rights, disdain and disrespect toward women has emerged. I have nieces and many young women I love. They're devastated, and so am I, to think that someone who spoke the way he did about women could have been elected (not really elected.) To have our choices and health care threatened, to have the planet--on which our young people will live long after we're gone--endangered and ruined, is a heartbreak.
Collective trauma. Everything is a potential trigger. Hate speech, purposeful confusion, being told that what you see, what you hear, is untrue, that a different reality is valid and being counted as the real reality, all trigger a feeling of powerlessness.
The beauty is, so many of us have found a voice. Demonstrations and marches and constant reminders in my twitter feed that people are on it. We are more than paying attention. We are promising to steward the earth, to protect the most vulnerable, to remember that we're a country of immigrants, that we have a free press. We are doing this.
Our skepticism and refusal to be in denial will serve us well. Keep recognizing what's wrong, what's a lie, and stay vigilant like this:
Vigilance will keep us strong. Recognizing that we're being gaslighted, calling it what it is, creates awareness, and awareness is power. Remain aware. Pull together. Don't lose hope or heart. It's the best we can do right now. And it's a lot.
We'll turn this around. Liars get caught, tripped up in their own lies. Watch and wait and, more than anything, keep speaking out. Your voice matters. You've called your congresspeople to protest unacceptable cabinet picks, you've marched to show strength in great numbers, you're saying that bullying isn't okay, it's far from okay. You're refusing to accept lies. Stay connected with each other and remember: in the movie Gaslight, after all, goodness prevailed, the gaslighter was called out for the liar and bully he was, and this happened:
The tables were turned. Believe in the power of your voice. That's how we bring about change. That's what we're doing. Take heart, we have each other.
The paperback of THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF SISTERS comes out on Tuesday, January 31. Jeryl Brunner interviewed me for Forbes, and I talk about the book, writing, and sisters. Here is the link. Jeryl is always so supportive and I love her stories on theater, the arts, books, and so many other topics. I first met her when she included me in her book MY CITY, MY NEW YORK.
Three Things to Know About Maia
Ever since her mother left, Maia's struggled with depression -- which once got so bad, she had to go to an institution for a while. She doesn't want to go back.Read More
The winter solstice feels pure and eternal. The beach is so quiet, not another soul around. No voices, just the sound of the waves, the wind in the reeds. There are buffleheads and mergansers in the pond and off the point, and a lone osprey circles the bay. Is he a juvenile as one birder friend of mine suggests? Was she left behind when the others left on their migration months earlier?
Last week snow blanketed the beach, and a thin film of ice covered the boat basin, cracked and moving with the tide. The ice melts most days, reforming in late afternoon, when the temperature drops. On very cold days a layer of sea smoke forms past the big rock and breakwater. The cold, white mist is mesmerizing, and I watch it move in and out, closer to shore and out toward the middle of the Sound.
There will be a snowy owl, or maybe there won't. But owls are my favorite birds, and snowies are my favorite owls. They inhabit the arctic, and during years when prey is scarce, they fly south and grace these parts with their presence, seeking flat, tundra-like habitat--beaches, fields, airport runways. If you see one, protect its locaton. They are vulnerable, and too many people will disturb them. Owls are the most secret of birds.
The snow has melted for now, but I'm hoping for more.
I spent Friday at Boston's Logan Airport celebrating Deconstructing Stigma, a project developed by McLean Hospital. It's an amazing exhibit, intended to start a conversation about mental illness and the stigma that often surrounds it. The walkway between Terminals B and C is lined with photos of people affected, including me--I've dealt with depression since I was a teenager. Although the images are larger-than-life, the stories told are human-sized: intimate and personal.
The day was emotional for me. I loved meeting some of the other people in the exhibit. Their honesty and openness moved me greatly and made me feel part of a wonderful group. Sean, who had his first panic attack at 13, when his mother was dying of cancer; Carol, who during her freshman year of college in 1958 was told by the dean to take a semester off--because mental health was rarely discussed back then, it took decades for Carol to be properly diagnosed and learn that she had bipolar disorder; Nathanial, whose obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) began when he was in eighth grade. I stuck close to Amy--a really good friend. We met when her husband Jason and I were patients on Proctor 2 at McLean. Their photo is on the wall too, with Amy's quote "We're always looking out for each other."
Howie Mandel, Maurice Benard, and Darryl McDaniels, and other celebrities are featured in the exhibit. Darryl, a founding member of Run-DMC, spoke before the reception, powerfully telling of his struggles with depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts. But what strikes me most about the stories is that, whether famous or not, we have so much in common. We've all been affected by mental illness, and are here to talk about it, to reach out to others and say there is help.
Marylou Sudders, Secretary of Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, introduced the event with such compassionate comments. She spoke of her own family, telling how her mother died young from complications related to psychiatric illness, and she welcomed us with the knowledge and understanding of how these issues affect us all.
There were so many great moments, but one really stands out for me. I had requested that several people very important to me be invited, and I honestly didn't think they'd make it. They're so busy, they have many patients, would they even remember me? But they showed up, and I was over the moon to see them. These women took care of me the times I was hospitalized at McLean for depression. They listened for hours on end, they made sure I--and all the patients on Proctor 2, the trauma unit that does nothing less than save lives--were safe. They helped me get well. If you've read my books, you've seen characters of mine--nurses, doctors, healers--inspired by them, and sometimes with the same first names.
I am very thankful to Adriana Bobinchock, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at McLean, for inviting me to take part and being so incredibly encouraging and kind. Epic thanks also to Gerald Dawson for overseeing the photo shoot and doing so much to organize the event and bring everyone together. Patrick O'Connor is the photographer who took the beautiful pictures, and Steve Close is the creative director--both came to my house with Gerry, and not only did they do a great shoot, they made it so much fun.
I hope Adriana won't mind my sharing something I wrote in an email to her today, thanking her for everything and telling her my feelings about seeing the photos in the concourse: "travel is stressful but also a time for reflection--all that time in airports, and on the plane--and i've had more than one revelation on a long flight or heading to the car afterward. i think the exhibit is well-positioned to touch people at their most vulnerable, when they might be most ready to realize they need help, or to soothe their worries of being alone/different/isolated/broken." Those people are not alone--we are with them.
That is what it's all about: listening to each other, caring for each other, seeking help when you need it. Your story matters. It makes you who you are. Your experiences and emotions add up to a wonderful life, but sometimes there is pain along the way. It's better than okay to admit that--it's actually great. Tell your story. We want to listen. Actually, we need to.
Much love, Luanne
Every year, on the first of December, Christmas trees arrive in New York City. The same families come year-after-year and set up their stands on the same street corners. There is one on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea that inspired me to write SILVER BELLS. I am always so happy to see the people again, to round the corner of West 22nd Street and smell the trees, to feel I've stepped into a grove of pines in the far-north.
Yesterday my dear friend and literary agent Andrea Cirillo and I walked from Chelsea to Soho. Along the way we passed other tree stands, and loved seeing this one in the West Village--Christmas trees juxtaposed with the year's last roses. We wound up at a favorite haunt--the always charming Balthazar--to meet my wonderful editor Aimee Friedman for a festive lunch.
We have lots to celebrate--starting with the paperback of THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF SISTERS coming out January 31, 2017. After lunch we headed a block north on Broadway to the enchanted offices of Scholastic for a meeting with some of the most extraordinary people I've ever worked with: David Levithan, Rachel Feld, Tracy van Straaten, and Jennifer Abbots. I feel so lucky that Scholastic will be publishing my second YA novel in June 2017. THE BEAUTIFUL LOST tells the story of Maia, a girl struggling with depression who takes off on a road trip in search of her mother. (It's very close to my own heart and experience, and I'll be writing much more about that here.)
Fall begins today.
I am happy. My sister Maureen is sad. She feels melancholy when summer officially ends. I welcome the shorter days and cozier nights. She misses carefree sails, every evening after work, with her husband Olivier, out of Noank and back. I like apples. She makes apple pies. Maybe she will make one and feel happy. I hope so. I know I will, because she will give me a piece, and she makes the best pies in the world. I also hope she has many more sails before it's time to take the boat out of the water. But still; I respect her sadness even as I love the season. It's funny, how two people so close can feel completely different ways about the same thing.
My friend gave me a chrysanthemum.
It is peaceful. The summer people have gone home. Kids have started school. I miss them, even though I love the quiet. I'm not talking about kids in my family but, rather, the children of summer, who play on the beach all through July and August, whose constant calls of glee as they tease the small waves of Long Island Sound drift up the hill to find me at my desk. Now I hear waves, wind in the trees, birds singing; but i miss the joyful beach sounds.
Still, there is plenty of joy. September skies are heart-cracking blue. The windows are open. A constant sea breeze blows through. It carries the first scents of fall. The leaves on the eighty year-old oak outside my kitchen window are still green, but there are clusters of acorns, and the green is darker, more subdued than it was last week. Soon they will turn golden. But not today.
I write at this desk. My cats keep me company, sleeping in old baskets that have been here so long, their woven slats have snagged bits of fur, silver and ebony, from cats who have long since left us. The baskets themselves have carried tomatoes and mint from my mother's garden, moonstones collected on the beach at dusk, pine cones to place on the mantle at Christmas.
This week I went sailing with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece. We left Noank on a day so sunny and warm it felt like the heart of summer, not the end of it, and we wound up in East Harbor. We swam and laughed, picnicked on produce from Whittle's Farm Stand, then swam some more. The heart tugs in September, perhaps more than any other time of year. There's an awareness that time may be short--next week weather could roll in, the temperature could drop, this might be our last good sail of the summer.
But the beauty of September is that we don't know. Every day is beautiful, and change is part of that. Fall is coming, and the air is spicy. I've found a warming bed for my oldest cat, and when she circles twice and lies down, the way she does, the heat of her body will be held in the mylar lining, and she will stay toasty all night. Soon there'll be no more corn at the farm stands, no more butter-and-sugar or silver queen. The last of the tomatoes, basil, green beans are here, but we don't know quite for how long. But I'm looking forward to apples, butternut squash, cider, pumpkins, shelves and shelves of yellow and russet chrysanthemums.
My sister said, as we were salt-crystaled from our swim, drying off in the sun on deck, "This is our last sail to East Harbor this year. The weather's going to change. I will get cold." I'm an optimist, but she's right: eventually the north wind will blow, we'll have a frost, we'll be wearing fleeces instead of bathing suits. But not today. So I could put my arm around her shoulder and say we'd be back next week, and the week after.
We turned for home, had a perfect sail, only one tack back to Noank. We took the dinghy from the mooring into the dock and hugged and said talk to you tomorrow, see you soon. And we would, and we would. I drove home to Hubbard's Point, to the small beach cottage my grandparents built, where the cats were waiting to be fed.
I fed them. The sound of the waves came through the window. The sun had set, the sky through the pine trees was fiery. My skin was still salty from the sail and swim, and I didn't want to wash it off. Not yet. I wanted to hold on to everythign about the day for as long as I could. I wanted to say thank you for it, I wanted to call it out, down to the beach, across the water.
It's no coincidence the name of the boat is Merci. No, I'm sure that's no coincidence at all.
In some ways it’s hard to call up the emotions of that day. In other ways they are as alive as ever. I wrote this piece a week after the towers collapsed. – LuanneLast Wednesday, a week and a day after the World Trade towers fell, I was crossing Park Avenue South at twilight when I saw a woman in a yellow dress climb out the window of her fifth floor apartment.Read More
I am working on my new novel, doing most of my research at the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library in Old Lyme, Connecticut. The 1897 brick building sits on a small hill, shaded by venerable oaks and maples, its curved granite steps and white columns graceful and inviting. Lots of writers have worked here including my friends David Handler and Dominick Dunne. We all set some of our novels in fictional versions of Lyme or Old Lyme. David's is Dorset, Dominick's was Prud'homme, and mine is Black Hall.
The old part of the library contains a reading room that feels cozy, a literary home. Its walls are lined with landscapes by plein air painters who visited town around the turn of the last century. They stayed at Miss Florence’s boarding house just a half mile along Lyme Street and set up their easels to paint the local beauty: hills of mountain laurel, cottage gardens, tidal inlets, rocky shores. Over a hundred years later, many of the scenes they chose are unchanged.
Old Lyme is located at the mouth of the Connecticut River, where it flows into Long Island Sound. There is water everywhere. Creeks, streams, marshes, and five small rivers create a particular quality of light that attracted the artists. The light is both delicate and intense, changing the landscape from second-to-second.
The Tonalists founded the Lyme Art Colony, joined later by painters who gave birth to American Impressionism. I am inspired by this place just as the artists were; it's been the setting of nearly all my novels.
The library’s reading room has a fireplace. Years ago, when I was nineteen, I wrote at this same table and often saw Dr. C. Philip Wilson, the father of a friend, sitting in an armchair beside the fire, engrossed in the New York Times or a book. It gave me comfort to see him there. He was kind and understanding, always interested in what I was writing.
Dr. Wilson was a well-known psychiatrist in New York City, and he and his family spent summers here (as my family did.) He was tall, with dark hair and a serious, almost penetrating gaze that relaxed into a warm smile. I felt him wondering what I was doing all day-every day at our small-town library instead of at college while his son, my age, was off at Princeton. He made it very easy to tell him that I had dropped out of college because of depression. As the season went on, he would ask how I was doing, and I remember how he would listen with quiet compassion, and encourage me to keep writing. I wonder whether he realized how much those conversations meant to me.
He made me feel as if I mattered. It was a tremendous gift to a troubled young writer. Over the years he and his wife would come to my readings at the library and local bookstores. I still have notes they sent me, filled with generous praise, cheering me on. Once the three of us ran into each other at the Florence Griswold Museum, for an exhibit of works by Bruce Crane. His palette was reserved, unlike the bright, sunny colors of summer gardens and sparkling blue coves used by many of his American Impressionist friends.
Crane seemed to favor autumnal, elegiac and slightly melancholy scenes, such as one of an autumn marsh, with tawny reeds and tarnished silver waters. I remember standing with the Wilsons in front of a winter landscape—a snow field against a pewter sky, the horizon a narrow, brilliant slash of orange. We stared at it for a long time, as if watching an actual sunset, waiting for the sun to go down.
The painting, and Crane’s canvases in general, drew me in. I felt an exhilarating darkness in his work. Crane had spent years visiting Old Lyme. His wife Jeanne was hospitalized with mental illness. In 1902 he divorced her and married his stepdaughter, Jeanne’s daughter Ann.
I didn’t know those details at the time, but now I wonder if Dr. Wilson sensed Crane’s family pain, if that was why he’d regarded that sunset painting with such deep attention. Or perhaps I’m just, in retrospect, imputing the compassion he felt for me and others to the artist and his family.
Not long before Dr. Wilson died, I ran into him in the city, on Fifth Avenue. The day was sunny, and across the avenue Central Park was cool and green. I felt so happy to walk with him for a few blocks.
We caught up on news about our families and books—he too was a writer. I wish I remembered more of the details of that talk, but what stays with me was the familiar warmth, the sense of his fathomless interest and curiosity in the world. Parting, we said we'd see each other in Old Lyme.
That was the last time I saw him.
These days, working in the reading room, I miss Dr. Wilson. I glance over at the armchair by the fireplace and can still see him there, still hear his voice and feel his presence.
The loveliness of an old library is carried through time by the ghosts who loved it in their day. the stacks hold memories of the many dear readers, the many dear friends. The library holds many stories, including our own.
Update: I wrote this essay two years ago. It's full of "place"--places I've lived, places I've felt depressed, places I've felt better. What I've learned is that "where" doesn't matter--depression is an illness that doesn't really care about geography. Right now I'm back in New England--the photo shows a bench at Rough Point in Newport RI, where my sister and I recently sat looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. We took in the beauty, and I felt very grateful to be back on the east coast, near her, after some time away. I thought about this p.s. to the original piece and the reasons I wrote it. Here goes:
I had felt my readers missed me--I had stopped blogging and posting on social media, but I sometimes read the messages, and I felt people's love and concern. So I wrote about what was going on, briefly published the essay here on my website, and then took it down. During the short time it was up, I received a lot of mail from people: some expressed worry about me, and others confided that they too had suffered depression. I was humbled to receive such outpourings from people I knew and loved and from total strangers.
Here is one thing I want you to know: I am better. Much better. The depression has lifted--maybe not forever, I've had it long enough to know that it stays around, often at a low level--but time has passed since I've felt the worst darkness. My first young adult novel was just published by Scholastic, and I'm having fun meeting young readers and introducing my long-time readers to YA. I still miss Maggie and Mae-Mae. Maisie is now 17, she's as feisty as ever, and she enjoys being with Emelina and Tim--especially Tim.
Another thing I want you to know: if you feel depressed, it's real. It's not a decision you make--"Oh, I think I'll just stay in bed today because I can't seem to move and my limbs feel full of sand and my eyes keep leaking tears." It's an illness, like diabetes, and it affects people of all ages, from all walks of life. I hope you can get help, as I have. It is out there--call a hotline, find a therapist, whatever it takes. I love my therapist so much--she knows me well and has helped me know myself. Please look do what it takes. I want you to get better, to be okay. To be better than okay.
WHERE I’VE BEEN
I was someone who blogged every day, who embraced Facebook quickly and whole-heartedly, but I've been quiet in those online places lately, and I thought I'd tell you a little about where I've been. I got depressed. Isn't that a strange sentence? "I got depressed," just the way someone would say, "I got seasick." Or "I got dressed." An illness, a state of affairs, a gigantic event came to me, landed on my head, squashed me. That was the effect, but at the time it was neither stark nor sudden.
It happened over time.
I can't even say, for certain, the precise moment it began. I know I was in California, in my pretty house overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains. I had moved there, after a lifetime on the East Coast, for reasons having to do with work, inspiration, nature, and the desire, at this stage of my life, to have an adventure. I saw myself learning to surf. I would definitely hike. I would write nonfiction along with my novels.
My cats and I headed west and moved in. The girls—Maggie, Mae-Mae, and Maisie—were sixteen, fifteen, and twelve. We had been together through everything from the death of my mother to the world's worst divorce, numerous book publications, the heartbreaking end to a long relationship with a wonderful publishing house, and a sea change of my outward life.
Maybe those big losses had caused me to seek even greater solitude, developing a strange aversion to being out after dark, to getting together with friends, so that I was hurting people's feelings by declining all invitations, so that I was most comfortable living at my desk, in the world of my characters. My cats were my family. They sat on my desk, made me laugh, soothed my tears.
We loved New York, had lived there, in Chelsea, for a long time. New York may be the perfect place for a particular kind of recluse—one who needs solitude to write and think, but who requires human connection that doesn't demand, necessitate, or even expect any commitment in return. Hello to the doorman, good morning to the super next door, black coffee thank you to the waiter at the diner, an hour with my beloved therapist, who knows me better than anyone and has since I was in my twenties. Then back home, upstairs to the apartment, to the cats and the characters.
The move to California came after several years of trips to Santa Monica. I had month-long stays in a favorite hotel without the cats, visits with great friends, one particular friendship so deep it felt like family. There was all that sunshine, the ocean, hikes in the canyons, and bougainvillea everywhere.
Nature, more than anything, pulled me. I am a person of more contradictions than consistencies, and one of them is that nothing sustains me more than nature, yet I have been an urban dweller for my entire adult life. When I was in California, I felt if not precisely happy, a different level of okay. I began to think this could be possible: a change, a big one.
I'd dealt with depression for a long time. It started in grade school where I would regularly miss over half of the school year's 180 days. We didn't know what to call it, but I know I was constantly on the edge of crying, and it gave me a sore throat. My father drank and sometimes didn't come home at night, and I'd kneel at the window as a sort of penance--I'm not sure for what--my bare knees hurting on the oak floor. When you're seven, or nine, or thirteen, and your prayers never come true, depression seems to find easy ways in.
I left my body when bad things happened or when I got too sad. Time would pass and I wouldn't remember what I did, what happened. I'd be wide awake, but then I'd wake up, as if I'd been asleep, as if life was a dream. I thought of it as "going away," and sometimes when I went away I became Blue or Leda, different names for the other girls inside me, the ones better able to cope with the pain, the sadness. Blue could fly and read other people's minds. Leda was feral and protective and wouldn't let anyone hurt me or get too close.
I had bad episodes of depression in college. I couldn't make myself go to classes, and I dropped out two years in a row. I never did graduate. When my father was dying I walked to the top of the Newport Bridge, planning to jump off, but a police car picked me up and dropped me at the base of the bridge, and the officer told me it wasn't safe to walk on it at night. He seemed to have no idea he'd stopped a suicide. Maybe the tears on my face hadn't been enough of a clue. All I know was I hadn't had the strength to walk up again--so he did save my life.
More recent depressions and a bad spell of dissociation landed me on Proctor 2, a trauma unit at McLean Hospital, in Belmont Massachusetts. The hospital is a haven, the staff are angels. They listened to me and nurtured me and made me strong enough to face life again.
But this particular depression, at least in the beginning, was different--it was more like sadness. Not incapacitating like the others, not filling me with the feeling that to end my life would be the best solution, just an ongoing heaviness in my heart, and I thought maybe California, a place that was very far from the pain, could take it away.
And for a while it did. After moving into my new house I worked on a novel. Writing has always been everything to me—a self-contained world at the desk, a life of words and dreams. I distinguish between writing and publishing. What happens after the work is handed in is another thing entirely; I know I have been very lucky.
California was three thousand miles from my sister and nieces, with whom I am very close. I wrote, of course, because that is what I do. One thing very different from New York City was that seeing people took effort. I had to get into my car for everything; it was more self-contained. Encounters felt more pointed, not just the casual hellos to the doorman and gallery owners and strangers on the street.
I saw my friends, but things were different now that I lived there. Perhaps a visit to California was safer in its closed-endedness. Residing there meant we could get together anytime, so our meetings were not so charged, special, imbued with the sense that I'd be leaving soon. We didn't make the same effort to see each other.
Craving solitude is a familiar state for me. I need to be alone like I need air. Waking up, I have a talismanic need not to speak out loud before writing. The Internet has required careful navigation: is email a conversation? If so, I can't do it before I write. I hold on to my dreams of the night before and let them carry me into the day's fiction. Whether I remember the details or not, just the feeling, the mood, the images of the dreams take me where I need to go. People get in the way of that. Cats don't. But being alone too much works against writing; a feeling of loneliness must be balanced, carefully, so it doesn't start to chip away, doesn't start to carve me up into someone who doesn't matter to others. Doesn't matter to myself. Doesn't matter at all.
Some northeasterners think there are no seasons in Southern California, but are. They are subtle, however. Over my two years there I watched the canyon turn golden in September, green in March. I heard the tree frogs start up in January. I saw the California gray whales migrate south in November, north—with calves—starting in February. I saw the bougainvillea in my yard bloom, then die. And the lemon trees bore flowers, then fruit. The cycle repeated.
The cats had always lived indoors. I never wanted them to get lost or hunted, and I didn't want them to kill birds. In California we had a garden, but small enough so I could see all four corners at once. I began to let the girls—my cats were all female—outside, one at a time.
Maggie was ancient and slow. We would sit on the enormous settee on the deck overlooking the canyon and ocean. It was covered with canvas the color of the ocean, and I called it "the blue thing." I would read, and she would sit still beside me and follow hawks and butterflies with her hunter's turquoise eyes. I never wanted to say one cat was my favorite, but she was mine. When she was a kitten she used to sleep on my chest; I would stay awake as long as I could, waiting to hear her purr. But she was feral, and she never learned that skill.
One day she began to die. She had lymphoma—the same disease that both my parents died from. I wanted to hold on to her forever. Knowing that that was impossible, understanding that all things must pass, that life is a circle, had no bearing on my emotions—I may have ascribed to those truths consciously, but inside I was about to start breaking apart. Maggie's death left me unhinged.
That spring Mae-Mae died—also of lymphoma. I buried her in the garden next to Maggie. One Saturday at dawn I drove down to the desert and volunteered with a group that supplies water to save the lives of border crossers. Laura, one of the founders, showed me a cross marking the spot where a woman had died of thirst. She showed me the note an anonymous person had left at one of the water barrels: “This water saved my life. God Bless. Sincerely, Lost."
After five hours in 105-degree heat, in a brutal landscape that stretches with nothing but rocks and dirt as far as the eye can see, I passed out from heat stroke and, I think, the shock of seeing that cross and realizing how impossible it seemed that anyone could live through it.
Once I hit the road I realized I couldn't safely drive myself home. I was shocked and sick at the closeness of death in the desert, at that level of human suffering. I checked into a hotel near San Diego. I made it home the next day. After that, depression took hold. Not just feeling sad anymore, not simply feeling a little too lonely: this was the real thing, the same depression I'd had as a child and later and that had landed me in the hospital. It was sickness. I felt despair—those words don't even cover it, though. I tasted chemicals—they were so strong, running through my bloodstream, I felt them in my brain, in my fingertips. I felt them in my heart.
Life was too hard. Love remained, but the beings, the objects of my love, were gone. They were dead. Had the move west been too much for my old cats? Had it been too much for me? Had I brought all of this on? I began to feel I had killed my two oldest girls. People died in the desert, looking for a better life. People died of thirst. I went crazy.
I was raised Catholic but left that religion a long time ago. When the Dalai Lama comes to New York I attend his talks and listen to his wisdom about impermanence and letting go. Sharon Salzberg's work on mindfulness and compassion has been inspiring. But when depression hit, none of the teaching, none of the time I've spent sitting, breathing, watching my discursive thoughts, noticing my grasping thoughts, allowing them to pass through my mind like clouds across the blue sky, helped.
I began to think of suicide again. I was planning. I researched ways to get Nembutal; I found a link for a place to go to in Mexico where I could obtain the medication that is no longer available here. Living on the Pacific coast, I had plenty of places in mind where I could go after dark—take the drugs and just disappear into a canyon. What stopped me was thinking of who might have to find me. And what it would do to my family. Being stuck in that place, wanting the pain to end but being unable to act, tormented me.
My writing stopped. That's like saying my breathing stopped. I pulled back from everyone even more than I had before. No more posting photos of cats and my garden on Facebook, no more writing a daily blog.
My longtime therapist saved me--as she's done before. Together we made a plan for me and Maisie to come home to New York, to the apartment that has been refuge for so many years. It felt empty—no Maggie, no Mae-Mae. I found tufts of those old girls' fur snagged on bookcases; a blue yarn octopus toy; a catnip apple; and all their favorite cans of food—each cat liked different flavors.
I resisted medication. In college a psychiatrist at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut, put me on high doses of amitriptyline. After one more recent hospitalization I was on a high-dose brew of Zoloft, Seroquel, Ativan, Remeron, and others. I have trouble sleeping, and those medications definitely put me to sleep. The thing was, they didn't stop depression. They might have dulled it, I'm not sure. I could feel it moving around like parasites under my skin. I felt encased—as if I was wearing pantyhose over my spirit. I hated the feeling, so I went off the meds cold turkey, without medical help, and went into the worst withdrawal imaginable. So I went back on some of them and stepped down, slowly. Eventually I found one that worked, and I still take it today.
I don't like to do things slowly, but sometimes I've had to. I want it all, all at once, forever and ever. Getting well has been like that. One step forward, one step back. Or is it two steps forward, one step back? I'm not sure. I just know I'm moving along, here in New York, writing and writing and writing. Writing came back right away. Sharing, being open, has been slower.
Some of my closest friends live states away. One, the writer Joe Monninger, tells me about his dog Laika. We talk about writing and life—mine in New York, his in New Hampshire. He is a fly fisherman, and loves nature the way I do. When he sees a flock of cedar waxwings on his crabapple tree, he lets me know. My sister Maureen calls me from Connecticut every night at six. Every night. I love her for that, and for everything.
My solitude is intact. It's not loneliness. Maisie is still with me. We have adopted two kittens, Tim and Emelina. It took a while for her to stop hissing and accept them, but they loved her from the beginning, and I can see that love has changed her. Later today I will take a break from writing and go downstairs to check the mail, and I'll step out for a coffee.
I'll look up at the blue sky. I can see it now, again.
When I was ten I joined a second family. Although I loved my own, one day after school I stumbled down a flight of stairs into the Whitneys' garden at 588 Lincoln Street, and fell in love with all of them. Mrs. Whitney was the most intrepid mother imaginable. She wasn't protective and introspective, internal and artistic like my own mom--she encouraged adventure, travel, and exquisite, borderline danger. She climbed the highest trees, taller than any rooftop, and I followed. She'd take the family skiing at Mad River Glen (whose motto is "Ski it if you Can") and like the Pied Piper led us all slicing down black diamonds--the iciest, most mogul-ridden trails on the mountain. She taught me to do backbends and back-walkovers, how to ride a bike no-handed, and how balance across a narrow ledge above a steep waterfall and not look down or be afraid. She told me stories about teaching in Panama, Switzerland, and New York, and she ordered me to find a way to live overseas at some point in my life. (Eventually I did--I moved to Paris.) She said that in Panama she'd take her students up on the school roof just to grab a bit of fresh air, and in New York she shared a small Gramercy Park apartment with another young woman and they'd dance the night away and have to prop their eyelids open to teach the next morning.
Mrs. Whitney (she wanted me to call her Betty Anne, and it was a hard transition--she was of another generation; in fact, as she put it, she was my other mother, and since I couldn't call her "Mom," having one of my own, I had long since settled on "Mrs. Whitney") and I stayed close throughout life. When I dropped out of college for depression, she gave me Sibelius and James Galway records and told me cross-country skiing would help me, that I would feel more alive in the cold, gliding over the snow. After she sold the house in New Britain (the year the twins were born the family had moved to 655 Lincoln, conveniently just across the street from us,) she relocated to St. Simon's Island and became a bookseller at G.J. Ford Bookshop. She instantly became part of the community, and she loved recommending books and hearing what everyone was reading. They invited me down for a signing several years ago, and I loved seeing her in action. When I ran into Mary Jane Reed, the store owner, at Winter Institute earlier this year, we hugged and tearfully had a Betty Anne Whitney moment--it was the first time we'd seen each other since she died.
That was something I couldn't face at the time. Death is part of life, and Betty Anne was decidedly unsentimental about it. But losing someone so important to me, a person who was integral--I'd call her every week, or she'd call me, we'd laugh and cry about everything, she'd help me make sense of the vagaries of relationships, and more than anyone she'd celebrate my books--the writing of them, their publications, she was as proud as my real mother was before she died--was seriously impossible to bear. I dealt with it in a very private way, and for a while it was too hard to talk to the other people who had loved her so. Including, and especially...her four children.
See, they are the other part of my other family. To say I adore them is an understatement. I babysat them every single day after school from when I was ten until I went to college. Tobin was already born when I started, and I held Sam the day she came home from the hospital. The twins, Sarah and Palmer, were the sweetest, and I couldn't put Sarah down--I carried her everywhere, and her mother used to joke she was glued to my hip. Tobin has always been graceful and thoughtful, a caring teacher at a school for the deaf, Sarah is director of alumni relations at St. Joseph University, Palmer is a successful businessman who shares his dad's love of sailing. All have amazing families.
Yesterday I had the most wonderful visit from Sam. She and her three children are on vacation, staying in a hobbit house in Topanga. We spent the day together, and in typical Whitney-fashion this involved climbing on the craggiest, steepest, most precarious rocks, taunting surf that was smashing against the cliffs, and finding a restaurant that allowed for running around after dinner because there is so much energy. We also needed books, because this is a majorly reading family. Sadie, my goddaughter, is an epic reader and a talented writer, Annie loves all books and gave me several fantastic book reports as we scrambled up to lifeguard station #3, and Tobin knows every spell in Harry Potter and also beat me very skillfully in a ruthless game of Dots.
And Sam...how to describe how much I love her? She is an inspiration to me. A Telemark skier, a back country hiker and camper, the most caring woman ever. She went to Tibet with One Heart, to bring life-saving childbirth practices to the women there, she and her sister Sarah worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and she is now a nurse-midwife for the most at-risk moms and babies in Salt Lake City. In DREAM COUNTRY I called her "the best midwife in the west," and she is.
Oh, how life comes around. I grew up babysitting Sam, and now she has great kids of her own. I feel so lucky to have them in my life. I love that they are as daring as their grandmother would want them to be, and also that they are readers of the first magnitude.