Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life: One Kick in the Nuts After Another

[Final edit at 6:08pm, accompanied by a tall glass of Jack and water over ice…]

I’m tired of being optimistic. Tired of smiling and pretending I have any influence, at all, on what happens next in my world and that everything’s going to be okay. Because I don’t, and it’s not. Our lobbyist-run government is corrupt, our politically divided country is full of sheeple, and our flat, over-sized televisions spew a thousand channels of shamelessly over-commercialed garbage. Cities, towns, and entire islands all over the globe are disappearing under rising tides. Economies (including ours) are crumbling. Human trafficking, slavery, organized crime, poverty, child abuse, torture, terrorism, and war exist – will continue to exist – everywhere.

With advances in technology, and one-click access to more information than probably every other generation before us, combined, you’d think we’d get better at solving the world’s problems. Instead, phones, tablets, pads, and the mindless games and activities over which we obsess have taught us to look down instead of out and inward. We see it as multi-tasking. We think we know ourselves – and each other – but we don’t. We pop in headphones, link to WiFi, and think we’re connected, but we’re not. Social networking is, in fact, making us anti-social. We tweet our “Check in” at Applebee’s or click “Like” on a friend’s photo of a kitten pushing a smaller kitten in a tiny shopping cart and call it “communicating,” while eating lunch surrounded by people doing the same thing. Our “Friends” lists are growing, but our vocabularies are shrinking, and our attention spans are getting shorter. I’d say that’s far from advancement.

As a novelist, I find it all discouraging. What, exactly, does one write about when the world clearly doesn’t give a damn about anything worth writing about? And, given the dwindling number of people willing/able to sit down and read for more than three minutes at a time, where do I find the motivation to produce material for an audience that doesn’t exist? I have enough trouble drumming up readers for a blog post that took a day and a half to write (this one, for example), what’s the point in spending two to five years crafting a story only three hundred people will read, half will pay for, and fewer will review and/or recommend to friends? (Not that I’m ungrateful for those of you who DO buy, read, comment, share, and keep coming back; if YOU didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be here bitching there aren’t more of you.)

The only reason I’ve been able to publish two novels, two short stories, and six magazine articles – and (poorly) maintain a blog – is because my husband makes it possible. I’d hoped to ultimately repay his support and sacrifice by justifying my existence (sporting a substantial ROI, if you will). After ten years, I’m not only NOT making a living, I can’t even cover my vices. Though I’ve certainly reveled in the hundreds of copies sold and the tens of dollars I’ve pocketed in royalties, I’ve arrived at a crossroads.

Ten years, people – TEN! That’s a fucking DECADE of fighting for time to sit on my ass, stare at blank pages, and make up stories, while Scott schleps off to work every day, so the bills can get paid. I’ve persisted through the death of my mother, accidental and suicidal deaths of dear friends, at least half a dozen hurricanes, countless arguments and/or serious misunderstandings with my children and siblings, two near divorces, and a lightning strike to the house that wiped out cable, Internet, and half the sprinkler system. I nearly died in ’08 from poor nutrition and exhaustion! And yet, I have little more to show for all that persistence than a small shelf of books and magazines that collect more dust than royalties, a blog maybe twelve (wonderful) people read, and a husband who’s overwhelmed and out of patience. I don’t want to think about what the next ten years might bring.

Why am I doing this?!

My next project is supposed to be an historical novel that incorporates the origins of firefighting with the history of the Knights of Malta, the eternal clash between Christians and Muslims, and the importance of family and community. The themes are dear to me, and the topics seem relevant and interesting. But, every time I sit down to write, I think, “Aside from the luxury of being at home and available for family, friends, and the occasional crisis (aka, kick in the nuts), what GOOD am I doing?” I’m not making money, creating jobs, or changing the world. I’m not even changing attitudes about anything important, like foreign relations, genetically modified food, the destructive natures of religion and monogamy, benefits of recreational marijuana, pitfalls of vanity and greed, and the very basic need for real, human contact. How do I justify – every day – the hours (days, years) it takes to write a book about people who don’t exist, doing things that didn’t happen, when my husband resents me and the world is going to hell? Surely, you can grasp my dilemma.

If you don’t hear from me for a while, blame Willie and Lukas Nelson. Might as well throw Kid Rock in there, too, since we’re throwing blame around (on everyone but ME, of course, because I’m brilliant, faultless, and totally free of personal responsibility – try saying THAT to yourself in a mirror without laughing…or crying). Through their actions, as well as their music, they’ve inspired me to do well AND do good. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world. MY world, anyway. A successful novelist might be able to pull that off, but the simple fact is: I’m a housewife in Jupiter. Yes, I still believe in my work and my ability, and I couldn’t stop writing if I tried. But, until I reach more people and sell more books than Paris Hilton and her dog, I’ll go on being nobody in the world of readers and writers. And no one will listen. Rather than waste more energy being optimistic and plod forward as merely an aspiring novelist, I think it’s time for a change of focus and scenery. I’ve heard I throw a good party. Maybe I’ll start there…

Until next time.

Peace. Love. Balance.

~ Dawn

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Shove America - With All You've Got

Ann Coulter made me smile today. Never thought I’d say that. On the few occasions I’ve attempted to give her my attention – to see what all the fuss was about – she’s spewed nothing but bullshit, and her voice made my head hurt. Then, along came her #hashtag photo on Twitter, one where she’s clearly shown shoving her foot in her mouth. The Huffington Post’s headline said her now-viral tweet went “beautifully wrong,” so I’m not the only one smiling. I sincerely hope all 276 girls kidnapped from their Nigerian school are found and safely returned to their families. I also hope they team up with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign organizers and send Ms. Coulter a nice fruit basket (because, not only would it be rude and in poor taste, it’s rumored to be impossible to send her a kick in the nuts).

What happened to our humanity? In American (media-driven) politics, it seems non-existent. People choose one side or the other – I’m right, you’re wrong – the end. No discussion, no compromise, no real solution, just a bunch of politicians and pundits spewing identical, propaganda-laced sound bytes into their press conference microphones. They could achieve the same results sticking their tongues out at each other.

As human beings, and as Americans, we lost our sense of community when we started pushing the “R” and “D” buttons and stopped thinking for ourselves. As in, allowing data (or thoughts) time to percolate inside our own heads (i.e., without a smart phone) while we weigh facts and consider opinions (preferably from reliable sources who make logical sense and base their opinions on actual fact) in order to deduce a reasonable (hopefully humanitarian) hypothesis. Which is all an opinion is, really: a hypothesis. In the world of science, it’s neither earth shattering nor unusual when new information replaces one hypothesis with another (though I’m sure it’s pissed someone off a time or two). In the thought-processing world inside your head, it’s called, “Changing your mind.” To quote Flo from that insurance commercial, “It happens to me all the time.”

This is 'Merica: Our votes don’t count, but our dollars sure as hell do! It's time we combined forces and allowed our choices to be driven by our right minds instead of by the right or left wing. Once we let go of the “R” and “D” mentality, we’ll realize it’s okay to change our opinions (our hypotheses) about Ann Coulter. Rush Limbaugh, too. Even I changed my mind about Barack Obama. Not every Republican is conservative, not every Democrat is liberal. Few on either side are equipped for the positions they hold, most are full of shit puppets run by greedy corporations, and some should be executed. I won’t profess to have the answers, but I strongly believe thought is the most powerful tool we Americans have in our arsenal. When we open our minds to truth (climate change is real, Columbus did NOT "discover" America), rather than simply buying into what our political leaders tell us (pot's bad, pharmaceuticals and fracking are good), we’re able to see rhetoric for what it really is, we’ll make better choices (with our money, our time, our resources), and we can finally shove this country in a positive direction. You can’t argue it needs a good shoving.

We are the UNITED States of America. UNITE. For truth. For humanity. For real.

~ Dawn

Friday, March 28, 2014

BYOB & Ten Bucks, or Liquor In the Back

Musicians live a hard, misunderstood existence, travelling the country – the world – checking in, setting up, tearing down, practicing, performing, meeting and greeting, collecting (counting) the money, paying “the man,” rushing to the next place to do it all again. They write and record and promote and eat and sleep when they can fit it in, as in when they can afford to lose the time or the money. Every day is another struggle in an endless, grueling cycle. Unless they have a day job; then it’s worse.

With the strum of a six-string, the gentle tap of a key, a musician has the ability to turn silence into something unique and spectacular. It’s a gift many possess, few share, and even fewer truly excel at. Ask any of them how easy it is to make a living out of playing music, and – if they don’t tell you to bugger off – they’ll say there’s nothing “easy” about it. Centuries ago, musicians were mocked, tortured, and cruelly executed. Today, they’re merely overlooked, underpaid, and taken for granted. As a broke novelist, I understand their pain. Why, then, do they keep doing what they do? Whatever their reasons, I will be eternally grateful for their sacrifice.

Music isn’t everything to everyone, but it means something to most of us. My husband, Scott, loved (still loves) Sammy Hagar and Van Halen, and bands from the 80’s, like INXS and Boston, are his go-to when he needs a lift. My tastes evolve and expand – from Phil Collins to AC/DC – but I will forever refer to country music as my “comfort food.” In our 25 years together, Scott and I have been to countless concerts, music festivals, bars, backyard parties, hotel lobbies, and holes-in-the-wall of all shapes and sizes. Consequently, we’ve developed a fondness for live music and the musicians from all genres who share themselves with us. Sure, you can buy a CD or download recordings to your MP3 and possess music, but where’s the magic in that?

From intimate, acoustic shows in coffee rooms to massive auditoriums, I’m continually in awe at how music simply “appears” from nothing. One minute, there’s a stage, a few microphones, a couple guitars, a piano, and a drum set, and then people walk on, strike up their instruments, and suddenly … music. Sometimes all it takes is a chair, a guitar, and a voice. Or just a harmonica. But it’s not only the music, itself, that makes the experience memorable: the setting, the people, the atmosphere, and the weather all contribute to the ultimate “feeling” of a live performance. And that’s what really gets you. Imagine Willie Nelson crooning “Georgia On My Mind” under a full moon amid the trees along the banks of the Suwannee River; Kid Rock singing, “I’m goin’ down to New Orleans,” on the deck of a boat as the sun sets beyond the banks of the Mississippi; some random guy at a party who brought his guitar to the fire pit and started to play. I might be broke, but those images, and the peace that comes with them, will ALWAYS be with me.

When Scott and I purchased our first “real” home five years ago, turning the place into a concert venue was nowhere on our list of priorities. Not even at the bottom. And, don’t misunderstand me: it’s still not our intention. Friends and family who were here at the Campground for Scott’s Birthday in 2013 were witness to a turning point, however, when the F.O.G. Band rocked the East Ball Room on a chilly, rainy night in January. I think there were about 40 of us. We’re no strangers around here to late night dance parties, but the change in energy was undeniable.

There’s nothing like watching a live performance…until the performance takes place in your back yard. Imagine being surrounded by your friends, watching young men you used to call "kids" kill an acoustic set as Operative Me and listening to John Eddie belt out, “I’ve got a real big deck,” only steps away from your actual, real, deck. It’s possible, and it feels amazing. If you have the means and the inclination, I heartily encourage you to consider live entertainment for your next gathering. It doesn’t have to set you back a lot. Ask the chick who plays the bar you go to every Saturday night. You could be the opportunity she’s been waiting for. If you can’t host an event, at least attend a few. And invite friends, throw a few bucks in the tip jar, and tell them how much you appreciate them. It ain't easy, selling yourself and praying you’ll survive to do it again another day. Support live music. Any way you can.

~ Dawn

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Disagree With Me - I Double-Dog Dare You!

(Originally posted to the blog on November 16, 2006. But not a thing's changed...)

Today, your mission--along with the obligatory, "should you choose to accept it"--is to disagree with me. I can't believe we're all on the same page on everything. There surely must be something I like that you don't or I don't like that you do or, if we both like or dislike something, you've got to have more noble reasons than I do for liking or disliking it, because I have the morals of a trained chimp. Or maybe a panda. You get the point.

Let's see if we can't stir shit up, okay? I'll start slow and obvious...

Marijuana should be legal and available at Walgreen's in convenient quarter-, half-, and full-ounce bags. Among other benefits, it's a safe, natural way to combat nausea, lack of focus, poor appetite, sleeplessness, and anxiety, and few substances open better paths to creativity. Also, pre-rolled joints should be packaged like cigarettes to make it easier to smoke while driving, because every stoner knows it's not the high that makes you dangerous, it's the distraction of preparing to get high or trying to hide the fact that you're getting high that sends you swerving into the ditch or slowing to 8 miles-per-hour. (Before you launch your attack on THAT one, please prepare to defend the millions of drivers legally operating under the influence of mind-altering prescription drugs, like Oxycontin, Percocet, Ritalin...)

Prostitution should also be legal. And free of disgrace. People in the profession should have excellent health and dental plans and their clients shouldn't have to put up with bitching and moaning and whining on the homefront. It's just a blowjob or a hand job or an ass pounding or something equally mundane that YOU won't give him. It's not like he's buying her a house in the suburbs. Damn! What does it take?!

Marriage should be a more difficult institution to join and nearly impossible to quit. Our divorce rate is disgusting. We should be ashamed of ourselves. To make a relationship work, you have to talk and fight and sacrifice and struggle through the bullshit. Together. Gay couples already get that--in spades. They're better at commitment than heterosexuals. Don't believe me? Keep an eye on the state divorce rates where gay marriage is allowed. I'll bet you a dollar rates improve in 5-10 years.

Masturbation techniques should be taught in junior high. I'm not talking live demonstration, just assign the kids a book or a pie chart or something with pictures or detailed descriptions. At least tell them it's NOT WRONG and an excellent way to stave off cravings when you're trying to hang on to your virginity. And show them where they can learn more about it. Talk to them one-on-one or in small groups if you have to. Make it okay for them to talk to each other about it, too, because my cultural boundaries won't let me talk to my children. Would prefer, in fact, I not speak to anyone about it. I didn't learn how to "properly" use a vibrator until I was 30! Can you imagine how much better I could have kept my libido in check if I'd been taught sooner? Of course, I might not have such good stories to tell...

Driving tests should require that applicants actually learn to drive before being issued a license. Seniors (whatever that number is these days, 65? 82?) should be evaluated every year on their ability to operate an automobile, which includes proper use of the turn signal and brakes, adherence to speed limits (especially minimum requirements), and general navigation. They should at least be able to see over the dash.

Early term abortion should be a SAFE, legal option for ALL women, and the doctors who perform the procedure should be able to go to work, lounge at home, open the mail, and sit on the toilet without fear of dismemberment and/or gruesome death. PERIOD.

For people who CHOOSE to be parents: Children should be spanked when they need or deserve it. They should also know, before committing the crime, that said whacking will likely come along as a consequence of their actions/behavior, making their "choice" a conscious one; the point is to teach them, not generate fear. And the punishment should NEVER exceed the crime.

Women who kill their children should be publicly stoned. And I don't mean the Cheech and Chong kind. I mean the one with chunks of granite that fit nicely in the palm of your hand. Don't sing me that depression song or try to pawn "my boyfriend made me do it" on me. I don't give a flyin' shit. Mothers protect their children to the death, they don't kill them. Any one that does, in my opinion, doesn't deserve another day above ground.

Guns don't kill people, people do. Go after the people, not the damn guns.

Kid Rock rocks!

And so do you.

~ Dawn

Thursday, September 19, 2013

El Adventures of Juan de Burro

This past February, my dear friend, Jennifer, gave me a plastic ass. We named him Juan. If you pull down on his ears, he lifts his tail and shoots a cigarette out his backside. Jen thought the novelty item would be a perfect addition to the Campground. She had no idea.

We're careful not to share Juan's "secret" talent in pictures or videos - you have to meet him in person to see that - but we began chronicling his adventures immediately, from Daytona to Seattle and back. The link below will take you to the photo album I recently created on Facebook (you shouldn't need an account to view the pics and narrative). Since it's an ongoing saga, the album will be periodically updated and, therefore, offer something new and exciting with each visit. Consider this my first "photo blog," or first illustrated story. Whatever you call it ... ENYOY!

~ Dawn

Click HERE to read Juan's story

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Putting the "FUN" in Dysfunction

A couple weeks ago, I read my grandmother’s Last Will & Testament to the small group of attendees at the Bramer-Ray Family Reunion in Centralia, Washington. My dad’s sister, Marcella, has been the driving force behind the Fort Borst Park event since its inception several years ago. I’ve never attended before, because my kids were always in school by the time the big day rolled around, but Marcella asked me, personally, at our Michigan Hill BBQ in July if I’d do the honor of reading her mother’s Will at this year’s gathering. Since my kids are grown, now, and the festivities were serendipitously scheduled for the day after my 30-year high school reunion, which meant I’d be in town, and because the twinkle in her eye suggested she had mischief up her sleeve, I couldn’t resist.

My dad hates his sister. He hated his mom, too. There’s a long, head-scratcher of a story to support his unshakable stance on the matter, and it was no secret the feeling was mutual all the way around. Still, I never saw Dad be anything but civil to them. When we were kids, we had dinner at Grandma’s every Christmas Eve. At Mom’s memorial in 2007, when Marcella and her (creepy, nauseating) husband, Dan, showed up to shovel in free food, Dad held his composure. (My brother, Jack, was on the edge, but he calmed down.) After a few of us insisted he’d carried his grudge too long, Dad even agreed to allow us to invite Marcella and her family to our annual BBQs on the hill. She seemed grateful. I thought we did a nice thing.

Within minutes after arriving at Kitchen #2, I met my older brother, Leroy, for the first time. My first words? “Hi, it’s SO nice to finally meet you! I hear you have a cooler.” I didn’t know I had an older brother, ten years my senior, until Mom died and I learned Dad had a first wife. (My guess is that Mom had forbidden Dad’s family from telling us, so they waited ‘til she died. Whatever…) As a guest of Marcella’s, Mary Lou (Dad’s first wife) attended our BBQ this past July, which is how it happened that Dad was able to introduce us. I liked her immediately. Dad swears Leroy’s not blood, and he only married Mary Lou to give her baby a name, but I’m looking forward to getting to know my “new” sibling and quasi-step-mother, regardless. Family is what you make it.

Once my four-pack of PBR was safely stashed in Leroy’s cooler, and after everyone had gone through the buffet line a couple times, Marcella produced the “Family Bible” and Grandma’s unsealed Will. There were maybe 40 people seated at the scattered tables, some still picked at their plates. Across the room, Dad sat near the back with Mary Lou and ALL the rest of his children: “The Twins” (aka Jack and “George”), our youngest brother, Jamie, and our “new” older brother, Leroy. I refilled my beer, grabbed the microphone, made sure the small PA system was on, and told everyone who I was and why I was there. (“Hi,” I began, “I’m Orville’s oldest daughter.” You know, I thought to myself, the one who’s not mentioned in the “Family Bible.”) With Marcella standing nearby, eagerly looking on, I unsealed the official envelope, and started to read.

Now, if you’ve been around me for any length of time, you might have noticed I’m not exactly uncomfortable in the spotlight. Armed with the suspicion that Marcella was setting us up for something, I’d arrived at the mid-August family reunion emotionally prepared and totally dressed for the part in cowboy boots, blue jeans, purple Brooklyn Tavern spaghetti tank, western “Dawnie B” belt with the John Deere buckle, cobalt blue, ankle-length, flared-collar sweater, and – of course – The Hat. I’m not sure what any of those people were thinking about me at the time, but I’ve heard some of the colorful stories that side of the family has passed around about me (“Is it true she got pregnant in high school, and Leo’s wife, Sharon, offered to adopt the baby, no matter what color it was?!”), so I’m confident many of them were poised for a show.

The first couple of pages were dull and uneventful. Then I got to the part where it said, “I hereby give my estate to my three children…” (she had four) “…and to my son, Orville, I leave nothing…” And blah, blah, yatta, yatta. I could almost hear jaws hit the floor. I finished the paragraph, muttered a low “hmm” to myself, glanced up at my dad and my siblings, and read on. All the way to the end. I pronounced everything correctly, didn’t stutter, didn’t laugh, cry, or display any emotion at all. I just read.

When I handed the Will back to Marcella, she giddily passed me another sealed envelope. Here comes the kicker, I thought, and announced to the crowd something like, “Look, there’s more!” Inside the envelope were two $1 bills with names paper-clipped to them and a hand-written note, supposedly signed by my grandmother. The note detailed Grandma’s wishes that Marcella get everything, from house to bed slippers, and that my dad and his brother, Leo, were each to receive $1. I scanned it quickly, briefly entertained reading it aloud, then gave it back to her, along with the dollar bills and the now-unsealed, postmarked envelope. I said, “You can read this one,” into the microphone, then gave that to her, as well. With a nod to Dad and the family at the back of the room, I picked up my beer, walked out the door, crossed the parking lot to my brother’s truck, and took a generous pull off his bottle of Canadian whiskey. Once that trickled down, I took another.

Mom dropped out of college to marry a logger. (That’s the Reader’s Digest version.) Consequently, my siblings and I were doomed out of the gate to walk a hybrid tightrope of an existence, between educated people who grew up to be executives and run companies and uneducated, blue collar people who met their spouses at family reunions. Both, in my opinion, have their pluses and minuses. Had the exposure been distributed equally, I might have been a CEO by now, and my husband would be fishing instead of working to support my lazy ass. But, although childhood was sprinkled with visits to the “big city” and summer vacations in Tahoe, most days and nights were spent on a small, family farm with Mom, Dad, Jack, “George,” and Jamie, and what seemed like an endless parade of characters – family, friends, neighbors, the occasional Jehovah’s Witness – all of whom contributed to the slightly off-balance individual I am today.

Let’s just say I’m often underestimated. ;)

Mary Lou was one of the first people to join me outside on the tailgate of my youngest brother’s truck. After lighting a cigarette, she said exactly what I was thinking: “That was so cruel.” I puffed on my own cigarette, smiled, and said, “That’s Marcella.” Dad and the rest of the crew made their way outside. I gave Leroy a big hug and said, “Welcome to the family!” We asked Dad if he’d heard anything, to which he responded with a non-surprising, “Nope.” (Even WITH his hearing aids, Dad can’t hear a thing.) I hollered, “You’re out!” He lit a cigarette and replied, “I was never in.”

Once my heart rate returned to normal, after I’d finished my beer and smoke, I walked back into Kitchen #2, refilled my glass, sauntered to the back of the room and tapped Marcella on the shoulder. My sister and youngest brother were seated with Leroy at the adjacent table at the time. Only a few other people were within earshot when I opened with, “I have to tell you that was the cruelest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’d like you to go fuck yourself.” The short, white-haired, 80-some-odd-year-old woman in front of me looked perplexed. Having never said that to anyone before in my life, I was a bit stunned, myself. “Don’t ever contact us or set foot on Michigan Hill again,” I continued, slowly and calmly. “You and your family are no longer welcome.”

Touching her fingertips to her chest like a southern belle with a touch of the vapors, she timidly asked, “Whatever did I do?” As if she hadn’t sabotaged her brother’s return from the Air Force sixty years ago. As if she hadn’t spent decades taking everything her mother ever built, until it was all gone. As if she hadn’t attempted to cover her tracks with a worthless, hand-written piece of paper and two dollar bills AND divert attention and blame by humiliating her brother – my dad – in front of his family.

I put my hand on her shoulder, gestured to the small, rapidly-aging crowd of Bramers and Rays, said, “Why don’t you ask one of these nice people to explain it to you,” and walked away.

Back outside, Dad “held court” for another 30 minutes or so, supported by his kids and his ex-wife. At one point, the little old lady who’d been manning the guest book table popped outside and invited us to come back in. “We’re raffling off all the craft table items,” she exclaimed. I thanked her, and told her – nicely and with a smile – that I didn’t give a shit. She ruffled and said, “Well, maybe you don’t, but what about these other people?” I thanked her again and assured her, “They don’t give a shit, either.”

We laughed, told stories, met some distant cousins, took pictures, and exchanged phone numbers. Because my trip was a short one, it was the only day I got to see Jack and “George.” And it was a good one, not at all like what Marcella had planned. There’d been over 100 in attendance the previous year, so she’d surely been hoping for a bigger crowd. Had anyone but me read the Will, there would probably have been a scene. And, as for her feigned innocence with regard to the contents of the “original, sealed Will,” all that backfired the instant I read the words, “I hereby appoint my daughter, Marcella, as my power of attorney and executor of this Will.” She’d already admitted she’d read a copy several years previously, and it wasn’t a coincidence that her (creepy, repulsive) husband, Dan, left the reunion before I started reading; everyone with half a brain knows what she did.

Dad got his dollar. I kept the paper clip and hung it on the wall above my writing desk. Before we packed up Dad’s chicken and noodles and left, I stopped at the guest book table and scribbled out my name and address with a wide, blue Sharpie (I later learned that several people ran up to the table, eager to discover what horrible thing I’d “written”). On the way up the hill, shortly after Dad and I chuckled over my statement, “the good news is, you’ll never have to see those people again,” the wall I’d erected to hide my emotions slowly crumbled, and the tears started to fall. I couldn’t believe what Marcella had done – had tried to do – to her own brother, and in front of all those innocent people! Better women than you have tried and failed, I thought, remembering the mountain of unexpected debt Mom left for Dad when she died. Back up at the house, Jack appeared with a bottle, Jamie hung around for a while, the neighbors stopped by, and my last evening in Washington turned out pretty well. But I still cried most of the night.

Like a dark comedy, life is both cruel and joyous, unfair and just. We’re told everything happens for a reason, for some grander purpose, yet so many things don’t make sense. Two weeks ago, in the days prior to the reading of the Will, I spent a fantastic time with former classmates, getting re-acquainted at our 30-year reunion. Two weeks later – just a few days ago – one of those classmates committed suicide. Earlier this year, Scott and I had a blast at back-to-back New Year’s Eve concerts, then did it all again on Kid Rock’s Chillin’ the Most Cruise. One of the friends we shared both experiences with was moved to Hospice yesterday, only a year or so after she’d endured the death of her only child. I’m grateful to have spent time with such amazing people, but why the hell were they given so much weight to carry? And why do good people have to go out like this?

Why is there so much pain in the world? Why are we preparing to go to war in Syria? Why can’t we solve the hunger problem in the United States? Why aren’t more high school seniors able to spell? Why don’t more people think for themselves? Why must cold-hearted, miserable, back-stabbing, blood-sucking weasels exist? If I thought about it all long enough, if I let the sadness and frustration really sink in and feed that sense of helplessness that seems to constantly hover about, I imagine I’d implode. I suppose many of us do.

So, I smile. And encourage people to laugh. As often as opportunity allows. I also drink. (Some people turn to religion, philanthropy, or football for solace, I put my faith in Jack Daniel’s.) There’s no guarantee the friends and family who join us on the real big deck today will be here tomorrow. Living in hurricane territory, we’re not even guaranteed a deck. This existence we call life isn’t easy. Good, strong friends and family help. It’s also handy to have learned how to navigate along a tightrope:

·       keep your eyes forward, don’t look down;
·       when the wind blows, hold steady;
·       don’t rush to the finish line; and,
·       once you’re safe on the other side, thank the people who got you there.

We could all do worse.

We can all do better.

~ Dawn