A Letter to my Daughter on Life, Love and Growing Pains



To My Beautiful Daughter,

You will be the hero of your own story. ..

Your best friend will be the hero of her story. Your teachers, coaches, boyfriends and rivals will all play the lead role in their own adventures too.  We are heroes among heroes, all of us living out our call to adventure. That is the most brilliant and the most confusing part of life. Our villains aren’t always villainous, and while we might accept that there are dragons to slay, it’s harder to admit that once in a while we become someone else’s dragon (which doesn’t feel very heroic). At some point, wonderful as you are, you will love a worthy person or two who will not find it in their heart to love you back. How can the hero not be loved by all? If you are anything like your mother, you will occasionally rage at heaven for such injustices. Isn’t the journey hard enough?

The truth is that your heart will be broken. It will hurt like hell, you will swear never to do it again, but I hope you will. I am 41 years old, and I’m still capable of a broken heart. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My heart breakers have been some of my best teachers. That doesn’t mean they were all at their best. Some were wonderful but just not right, others were real shits. I’ve been lied to, fooled, had a man claim he was my friend only to leave right when I needed a friend the most. I spent a long time trying to discover why, until I realized that what matters is the lessons in myself they gave to me. I have been a fool for love. Astoundingly foolish. Silly. Obsessed. Shy. Frightened. Blind…but if I’d never been any of the above, I wouldn’t have discovered that I am also sexy, smart, funny…and abundantly willing to take a risk. I love a great adventure, and I will dust myself off (eventually) when I fall. Remember when you lose someone who was special to you that their leaving doesn’t mean they weren’t a gift. Remember that no quality can be special in someone else unless it was special to you first and foremost. Let them go and pray they find everything they are looking for.

You will break hearts too. You will be someone else’s lesson.  There are times in my life when I have not been at my best. I’ve been wonderful but just not right, and I’ve been a real shit. At some point in your life, you have to take a look at that part of the journey as well. I have lied, and I have fooled, and I have left a man right when he needed a friend the most. Those were also lessons in myself.

All it takes is one look at you to realize how short I’ve fallen in my definition of love. It isn’t simply that I would give up my own life for you. At the end of the day, that’s as biological as it is spiritual in nature. The amazing and incomprehensible part is the unconditional gift you have given me. Yes, I know we fight, but I know I can be unreasonable, nutty, tired, a failure or a success, and you will still love me and count on me. Of all my gifts, that is the most rare and precious.

I won’t lie to you. This life, this growing up can be painful. Do you know what else hurt like hell? The day you were born. Opening a body up, stretching it to its extreme in order to birth a brand new person is unavoidably painful. I can’t think of anything more symbolic of every new stage in life. Our hardest and most painful days are the days we stretch and open. The natural process of a new creation. There is a moment in childbirth when a woman doubts her ability to make it to the end. That moment is called transition, and it is an age old sign that the last phase has come. A baby is about to be born. Those moments in life when you are sure you can’t do it anymore…wait, and remember that it is a sure sign that the miracle is about to happen. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Be the midwife to your own life. See your pain as your ability to create something beautiful and new and never seen before. Remember that love is as much about letting go as it is about holding dear. Life is a great adventure. Sometimes you have to fall in order to discover the path to the top. In love and life, take the risk and say what you mean. You don’t have to live with anyone else’s regrets but your own.

And always, above all else, always remember that this strange and wayward soul you picked as your mother loves you with all her heart.



Finding Home

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Two weeks ago, I sat down to write about taking a trip to my hometown. That post on the ups and downs of going home would not come. Maybe it wasn’t fully grown in my imagination yet. I ended up with a poem about secret gardens instead. When I lamented that the words had taken me so far from where I started, friend and fellow blogger Rob Taylor pointed out that there are many ways of defining home.

Home. The place where I was born. Bakersfield, California is still full of stucco and Spanish arches and oilfields and orange groves. The ghost of my girlhood self runs wild-haired and barefoot over the manicured lawns. She steals cherries from a tree that overhangs an alley so she won’t have to take the time to go home for lunch. She climbs fences and dreams of princes. She looks west and plans to run away to the ocean so she can swim across the horizon to the world on the other side. She believes that when she grows big enough she’ll be able to reach up and touch the stars. No matter what anyone tells her, she could spend every night sprawled on the grass watching those stars head in her direction.

I tried to touch her transparent edges, but she’s an elusive little gypsy girl. I sat on the porch of my grandmother’s house and watched her dance in the front yard. She asked me if I still want to know what is over the next horizon, and if I still believe someday I will touch the stars.

I opened my mouth to tell her no, but out fell a poem about secret gardens.

Home. My safe return. While on my trip, I had the chance to go snorkeling in the ocean. At first, I watched the sandy bottom undulate beneath me as we swam. Out beyond the waves, the bottom dropped, and the ocean grew wide and deep. There was too much of the water and too little of me. My head popped up. I tread water and gasped for breath. I lost my nerve.  I couldn’t take care of myself out there. I couldn’t control the world around me. The current would sweep me away…

Home. My first story. Seven summers ago, I started writing. My daughter was still an infant then, and I was in bed nursing her. Somewhere between asleep and awake, an image popped into my mind of a girl and her father standing alone on a beach. I had the sense that the girl was waiting for love to come, and the father was waiting for love to return. They seemed so real and as barely out of reach as the stars I’d watched as a kid. What brought them to that lonely beach? How were they so close and so distant at the same time? I couldn’t stop wondering about them, and that day when my kids took a nap I sat down at the computer and started writing their story. My first novel, The Keeper’s House, was born.

In chapter one, sixteen year old Nula stands alone on a beach in the middle of the night. She fears sleep and the dreams that send her spiraling through the lonely, dark water. Nula watches the waves and listens to them whisper as the moon glows over the distant horizon. She feels the pull of the ocean, a tug on her heart. Maybe it will take her away…and maybe she wants it to.

Home. Friendship and romance. I have a friend who is currently entangled in a casual, long distance relationship. They go days without speaking to one another. Sometimes she fears that she has had her last time with him, that he will disappear from her life, but unless she makes dramatic changes to her own life, she isn’t in a position to ask for more. Why not just end it? She told me she has thought of that many times, but then she realized she likes him as much for his mystery as for his warmth. She likes him just as he is. Sometimes she misses the first days when they discovered each other from a distance and she left her lonely beach. Now here she is halfway to the horizon with no real way of knowing if she is going to get hurt. She keeps diving in because she has to know what is on the other side. She dives because she believes he is worth the discovery. One way or another, this relationship could pull her away from everything she knows…and maybe she wants it to.

Back to my day of snorkeling on the open ocean, terrified of this mysterious world that neither welcomed nor rejected me. I could return to the safety of the beach, or I could dive in and discover what was on the other side of my girlhood horizon. Ahead of me was the chance of danger, of being unprotected in a world I had no control over. I answered the ghost of my girlhood, and I dove.

Two hundred yards later, I was swimming with majestic sea turtles. One the size of my seven year old daughter swam right next to me, so full of simple beauty and grace. Those turtles and the chance to discover their world were worth the dive. The current didn’t take me or at least not the way I expected.

Maybe our real fear isn’t that what is hidden over the horizon will take us forever. Maybe our fear is that it will send us back changed in a way that redefines what it means to find home.

That got me thinking again about those stars I loved so much as a kid. Open just about any newspaper and you are bound to find a horoscope section. Who among us has not looked under our sign at least once for some guarantee of our future?

If the stars can tell our fortunes, I really don’t know. There is one way that human beings from all over the world have used the night sky for as far back as we can measure. The stars have always been a map to guide us home.

Dive in and discover what is on the other side. Swim the ocean or open your heart. There is no guarantee that you won’t get hurt, but the simple beauty and grace on the other side are worth the risk. Even when you have to go home again, the horizon will never leave you, but you have to let yourself be taken in order to find it. You can’t stay lonely on the beach and make a story worth the telling.

Read more here! Chapter 1: The Keeper’s House

A Secret Garden

There is a secret garden
Dangerous and unexpected
Strange and wild
I found while falling
Rain-like in the summer heat
Tiptoe over the tiny heartbreaks
Through the empty and the lush

Do I possess it in my head?
It might have been my heart
The heart is fragile
But you have to keep seeking
Keep asking for life
Tiptoe over the tiny heartbreaks

Let my mind hold it alive and warm
Coax it with the hand of memory
Not much
Never very much

Or I will need it in that desperate way
A drug chased too long
A talisman held too dear

And the holding is how it is most often lost

I press along the edges
Until it aches
Like testing a bruise
To find it still part of me
Dangerous and unexpected
Strange and wild
A secret garden

Falling in Love…the stories we hold on to


The Story of Empress Moon

In the beginning, Spirit lived within water. And Spirit wished to know the warmth of the Sun and the smell of the world and the fear of death. Spirit rose into the sky in search of a way to find such adventures and came across Empress Moon, bored on her throne.

“What more might there be to life?” Empress Moon wondered. “What more might I do and see and feel?”

The moon is a windless place, and the heat of the night was enough to scorch the skin. Down below on earth, a pond stretched cool and inviting.

“I will fly down to that pond,” Empress Moon decided. “I will stick one toe in the water and refresh myself. No one will even know I am missing.”

And so Empress Moon took up her cloak of swan feathers and flew down to the earth pond. She put one toe in the water, but it felt so refreshing, that was hardly enough. Before she knew it, Empress Moon stood with both feet in the cool pond.

“How good this feels,” Empress Moon said to herself. I will wade out and stand waist deep in this pond. It will refresh me, and I can get back before anyone knows I am gone.”

So Empress Moon waded out waist deep into the pond. Little fish swam around her legs. A wind moved across her skin and made the surface of the water ripple like a million dancers. She looked up at her home. Everything seemed stagnant and lifeless up on the moon. Here the earth, the pond, so full of life and promise.

“I will stretch out and float on my back in the middle of this pond,” she announced. “It will refresh me, and no one will even know I am missing. I will be back. I must go back, but not yet. Not now.”

Empress Moon stretched herself out over the middle of the pond. She floated on the surface, felt the water ripple along her pale skin. She closed her eyes and sighed and all was good.

But Empress Moon wasn’t the only one whom Spirit had tempted out into the night. King Sun stirred from his sleep with a sense of unrequited passion. He brimmed with a desire to fight or to love in equal measure, whichever met him first. He left his bed and looked down at the earth. He saw a pond that seemed to shine with its own light. It lit the trees and rocks with a magic he could not resist.

“I will go down just for a bit,” King Sun said to himself. “No one will notice if I do. I might hunt at the edge of that pond and rid myself of this restlessness.”

So King Sun flew down and landed by the rock where Empress Moon had discarded her swan feather cloak. When he saw it, he smiled, thinking one of the moon maidens had snuck down to the pond for a swim. He never thought it would be Empress Moon herself. He took up the cloak and cleared his throat.

“Well, isn’t this a fine cloak. What a piece of luck to come across the likes of it so far out in the middle of nowhere.”

Empress Moon startled and jumped onto her feet in the middle of the pond. “That belongs to me. Please, give it back.”

“Finders keepers,” the Sun King shrugged. He turned and stepped into the woods, knowing full well that the maid would follow.

Empress Moon thought to call up the Goddess within herself, but Spirit or some inner knowing all her own stopped her. She tip toed along the tree line after him, as the moon is always apt to follow. When they came to a clearing, she leapt in front of him.

“I will fight you for this,” the Sun King warned. He believed she thought him nothing more than a hunter. She would try to seduce him in order to win back her cloak, and he would enjoy the fruits of her effort.

She did not seduce him.

“I will fight you,” said Empress Moon, “and I will win.”

She smiled.

His blood boiled.

The two ran at one another with a clash that lit up the night. They fought, and the more Empress Moon evaded King Sun, the harder he tried. The harder he tried, the more she smiled. The more she smiled the angrier he grew. The angrier he grew, the more she evaded him. On into the night they fought, first through the trees and then above them, rising higher and higher. The Sun chased, the Moon evaded. The Sun attacked and the Moon countered. On and on and on, until Empress Moon leapt onto the chest of the Sun King. There was dark air above them and dark air below and nothing at all but their two shining figures against the night sky. Empress Moon reached for her cloak. Their fingers touched.

Empress Moon and King Sun fell. They fell through the hot night air, through branches that snapped beneath their weight, through the swish of leaves and the whispered joy of Spirit. Empress Moon and King Sun landed tangled together on the forest floor.

That is when the two truly saw each other. There was suddenly as much interest in the discovery of one another as there had been in their fight. They extended the night long as they could, but it came to pass that King Sun could neglect his work no longer.

The sun and the moon are two different worlds. It was hopeless to believe they could ever be together. They agreed it was best to part as friends and never see one another again. Empress Moon left one way and King Sun the other. They both stepped out of the forest from their opposite sides and could not take one step further from the other. They both stood and waited and could not return to their lives until each had run back to the other and promised to meet just one more night. This need was repeated from one last meeting to the next and might still be this way today if on one night Empress Moon had not been late. While he waited, King Sun swam out into the ocean. When his body touched the line of the horizon, he felt himself begin to sink. Empress Moon arrived. She watched as her lover drowned in the sea.

For a long time, there was no King Sun to light the day. Empress Moon refused to show her silver face in the endless night. Until…

Until Empress Moon felt a tug on her heart that came from deep in the ocean.  She walked to the edge of her world in the sky and looked down at the waves that had taken away her love. She dove. Down and down and down she went, through the dark blue night and the stars. She plunged into the ocean and still she did not stop. Down and down and down until she reached the dark and lonely place where King Sun was captive.

Death asked a bounty for the return of King Sun. Empress Moon gave the silver comb from her hair.

Life asked a bounty for the return of the Sun King’s breath. Empress moon gave her first child, which Life placed on the earth and called Human.

Spirit asked for a bounty for the safe journey to the sky. Empress Moon gave her second child, which Spirit placed in the ocean and called Fin.

Empress Moon took King Sun back to the light where he belonged. Every now and then, the sun and the moon happen to be in the same place at the same time. Empress Moon and King Sun smile at one another, remembering their brief time on earth before they return to their solitary journey through the sky.

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