Friday, September 18, 2015

Flash poem

Where the rainbow is

It isn't where the rainbow is
that matters
it's where you are

because it's your eyes that make
a rainbow
isn't it?

Hear rain rumble the glass rooftop
like scampering hooves
then stop.

Evening sunshine burns hot enough
to trigger auto-blinds. What's the angle?
Where's the rainbow stage?

Follow the shadow line of a tree
it should point the way, but
no rainbow.

Start a poem. Look one more time
Chalky pastels draw an arc

then fade

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A stroll on Killesberg (Stuttgart)

Saturday afternoon, we took a long stroll through Killesberg Park in Stuttgart. Markus' mother and father live a short distance from the park, and they know its winding ways. This hilltop once housed the convention center, which has since moved to the Stuttgart airport. The area has been tastefully redeveloped. A wide expanse includes the gardens that remain from the 1993 International Garden Show, and that's where we walked.

Markus and his mother, both known for
spotting ripe nuts and berries along the way.

Tucked into the public lands are some private gardens. Here's one that includes the most charming display of the Gartenzwerg that I've ever seen.

Gardening dwarves.

Music and sports.


We also passed a pond with water birds.


Ruffled feathers.

And endless plantings of blooming dahlias, their voluptuous heads wide open to the skies. Now through early October, you can wander amid the groups of flowers, mark your favorite on a ballot, and see which one wins the most votes.



Simple elegance.


My personal favorite--where pink meets yellow
and all that's in between.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Being present (flash post)

Keeping to my own rules for a flash post (write it fast, almost no editing), I came home needing to write a little scene. I jotted it down by hand because I had a pot of soup to start, and then I came to my computer to blog. And here's what happens: I start to wonder if I need to break the lines. Is this supposed to be a poem?

Today's result is two poems. The first is a prose poem. The second, a lined poem. Each form, of course, drives different choices. Editing today is a particularly astute process because I've re-read Strunk and White's Elements of Style for an article I'm writing. Still not done, but this is a flash post! Since there are two versions of the "same thing," your are welcome to vote on your favorite!


Walking away from the small town supermarket this evening, past the outdoor fruit display, past the cluster of middle-aged cyclists paused in front of Town Hall, weaving aside for pedestrians, I saw a lady walking toward and past me. She smiled warmly as as she said, "See you soon," into her phone, and I wondered if I'm ever that genuinely pleased. Certainly not on the phone, because I dislike talking on the phone. But ever in my life? Do I inhabit a moment with such generous appreciation? I grasped at my bike helmet to open the strap and rounded the corner toward where I had left my bike. And in the moment of asking do-I-ever a radiant field of magenta burst into view--a flower box plump with petunias hanging from a window of the old Rathaus. Sensory pleasure filled the air like the chimes of shimmering bells.


Walking away this evening
from the small town supermarket
past an outdoor fruit display
side-stepping pedestrians
past a cluster of cyclists

I saw a lady walking toward
and past me who smiled warmly
as as she said, "See you soon,"
into her phone, and I wondered
if I'm ever that genuinely pleased.

Certainly not on the phone
because I dislike talking on the phone
but ever in my life?

Can I feel a moment like that?

My fingers undid my bike helmet strap
I turned a corner
and my eyes filled

with radiant magenta--
an effusion of petunias
hanging from a window
in the old Rathaus

like bells chiming shimmery tones in every
molecule of the air.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

It's August 6th again--11th anniversary of missing Simon

Sometimes simple is the best way to go. Eleven years ago today my son Simon died. We miss him. We remember him.

I have written about the day he died. The opening of my essay "Objects of My Attention" takes a direct look at the events of that day.

Last year for the 10th anniversary of Simon's death, I posted a video slide show of his seven years, accompanied by a lovely and thought-provoking song written in Simon's memory by Laszlo Slomovits, "You've Crossed Over". Today to mark the anniversary, I'm opening the video to visitors again for several days. Follow this link and when you get there, enter this password: SimonAug6th. Most of the other children in the photos have grown up and are off to college. Had Simon lived, he would have been ready for college this fall.

This evening, Miriam and I went to the recent Pixar release, Inside Out. (Markus is attending the annual Academy of Management meetings in Vancouer, BC, so tonight we're missing him, too.) We enjoyed many Pixar films with Simon--the first two Toy Story movies, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo. Simon never got to see The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, or Brave. We keep him very much in mind when we watch, and re-watch, the films he knew and the ones we know he would have liked.

Pixar's newest: life in an 11 year old's mind

Like Monsters Inc. and Up, Inside Out is directed by Pete Docter. In 2003, Simon received an invitation to tour Pixar Studios with Pete Docter himself while on a medical visit to San Francisco. (Pete is the first cousin of a friend, and he was generous with his time and some signed artwork for Simon.)

Emeryville, CA December 30, 2003

Posing in front of a Finding Nemo shark model:
Grandma W., Mary, Simon, Rowan W., Miriam, Pete Docter and son

How cowboys know where to go to the bathroom at Pixar

Classic Simon outside Pixar:
magenta coat, half-lotus legs, investigating

While looking for photos, I found two more from the fall of 2003. I enjoy remembering my healthy-looking boy, fully inhabiting his life.

At home, September 2003

Yellowstone National Park, October 2003

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dragonfly visitation 3

The next evening, as I sat having dinner with Miriam on the deck, I saw another dragonfly dive through the airspace over our backyard.

"Dragonfly!" I said.

She turned to see it swoop, same chartreuse helmet and striped tail as last night's visitor.

"The cats killed one yesterday," I told her, not naming the perpetrator.

She scolded both cats. "Hey, why'd you do that to your brother?"

I pointed at the perfect-looking carcass still lying at the edge of the deck.


"They didn't even eat it!" she said. "Bad kitties!"

It does seem especially pointless that the cats hunt for sport. That they live out compulsions they can't control. That they swipe sharp claws at a flying creature before they even knew it happened.

I told Miriam about my conversation the night before with Markus.

"Of course it's Simon--why else would the dragonflies be showing up," she said.

I asked her to shoo the cats and scare the dragonfly off. The cats startled, and the striped body cut its way up and over the bushes toward the next yard.

Not much of a visit, if we send the creature away. But imagining it free is better than watching it get plucked from the sky.

Markus was late coming home. I tried not to imagine him somewhere on the bike path between the office and here, lying on his back with legs churning the air. I checked every bike approaching through the dusk on my walk.

Tuesday's sunset
At home I finally called his office. It was after 10pm. He answered. Another half hour, he said, the same thing he'd said two hours before. He'd gotten a new laptop; there was a lot for tech support to set up.

Markus biked safely home.

Previous dragonfly posts:
Dragonfly visitation, August 8, 2014
Dragonfly visitation 2, July 20, 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dragonfly visitation 2

A little before dusk this evening, Simon-the-Cat is crouching alertly next to the backyard sculpture.

"What's he up to?" I ask Markus, who is reading on the deck.

"Dragonfly," Markus replies.

We watch the creature make neat lines across the backyard about two feet above ground. I've seen the cats take interest in bugs before. They always look so surprised when they eat their catch. We rarely see dragonflies around here. When we do, they usually fly off to safety as we cheer them on.

"Suicidal," I say, as the pale speck continues to fly low next to the bushes.

The cat pounces, his sleek black body diving into the brush, bell jingling. And that is that.

"If the spirit of our departed son was hitching a ride on that dragonfly..." I say to Markus. Why else would it come into our yard like that and fly so close to the cat who shares his name?

"...Then he goes into his next incarnation," Markus says, glancing back at his magazine.

The exchange is somehow good-humored. Our son Simon was enamored of nature and of dragonflies and damselflies in particular. As I've written before, it's always easy to picture him somehow inhabiting the sleek body and filigree wings.

Dropped from the cat's mouth, the dragonfly lies supine in the grass, churning its bent-wire legs. Both cats sit nonchalantly nearby. I hope there's a chance the creature will recover, and I grasp its camouflage-striped body-tail so I can place it right side up.

The body sticks strangely to the grass, but I am able to right the creature and place it on the edge of the deck. I watch as it revs what must be fang-pierced wings. Pity.

I leave it on the deck plank, hoping the cats will show some respect and refrain from a fatal bite. Perhaps the dragonfly will rally.

I will check in the morning. Wouldn't it be great if the spot is empty because the dragonfly has recovered and flown away?

But, twinge of hope aside, it feels like another lesson in nothing else I can do.

Currently reading: What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas, master of micro-story and the written (psychological) moment.

Previous post: Dragonfly visitation, August 8, 2014

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Learning to break

I'm trying to learn how to break
a line and how long to let a line be 
one of poetry's puzzles
along with assonance
consonant consonance
stanza length
I'm on the outside of a cabin
built of rough-hewn slats
looking in through the gaps
catching glimpses of fire
and sometimes a word
a line
an image
takes over 
and I believe the poem has its own way to be 
the learning is learning
how to follow
I wrote most of this poem yesterday while walking past the fields near my home. My phone battery was nearly dead, or I might have voice-recorded or typed the phrases that came to mind. Instead, I saved my last 3% for a possible incredible photo. I checked in my mind. The opening lines stayed with me. Aha! I thought. Perhaps that's one way to know I'm building a poem. I wrote the lines in a notebook when I got home and made small changes today.

Harvested field with hay bales, July 2015

Harvested field with geese, July 2015

In 2008 I enrolled in my first semester-long writing course at the University of Utah: Intro to Creative Writing (English 2500). The instructor was Timothy O'Keefe, a PhD student at the time and now on faculty at Piedmont College in Athens, Georgia. Tim is a poet, and although we read and wrote fiction as well, our class got a solid dose of poetry writing. When you hear me say fiction, you have to  assume my prose was usually memoir/nonfiction instead. Interestingly, we don't hold poetry to the same split between fiction and non.

Tim was the person speaking to my adult ears about poetic devices like "enjambment", which I would have sworn I had never heard of before. In fact, when I cleared out my high school notebooks from my parents' attic last year (class of 1981), I found plenty of proof that poetry had been taught to me previously. Still, I often think of Tim when I wonder about how and when to break a line. I've just thumbed through my binder from his class, impressively well organized by both Tim and me. I was looking for the notes I'd taken the day he put a poem on the board to help us comprehend what a good line break can do.

I can't find the note. I see how I marked the margins for "pity" and "tragedy" in Nabakov. How we analyzed Jack Gilbert and Luise Glück. How I wrote my first ekphrastic poem about Warhol's silkscreen of Mao. But apparently I wrote nothing down about the line break on the board that made me gasp and finally "get" something about the possibilities of meaning through breakage.

Fortunately, I have remembered the lines well enough to locate the poem. It's James Wright's "A Blessing". I expect the particular moment will be clear to you if you follow this link and read it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The kind of heat (flash post)

We're back in the kind of heat
that bakes the days and leaves
the air trembling even after
the sun has fallen to the west.

Every action, every thought superseded
by little tasks to keep the heat
out--window open, window closed
blinds down, awning out

stumbling around the darkened rooms
working in the computer's glow
with lights off all day. Along
with the heat I have banished

circadian rhythm in a trade for
air that moment by moment
loses the cool we coax inside
in the hours around dawn.

Outside, when I dare, fries my skin. Precious
shade is indispensable also for my car,
which suddenly I love--my one and only
possession that can blow cool air.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Barcelona Notebook #2: Return to Sitges

(c) 1997 and my favorite from that trip
It was a deliberate act of reiteration, returning to Barcelona at the end of May. In 1998 when Markus and I traveled with one-year-old Simon, we flew from Detroit to Barcelona. It was Simon's second flight to Europe, having attended the funeral of his great grandmother Bichler in Leonding (outside Linz, Austria) when he was five months old. Our destination was Sitges (rhymes, appropriately, with "beaches") on the coast about 30 minutes southwest of Barcelona. We'd been unable to get a room for the first night in the Meliá Sitges hotel, where Markus had a conference to attend, so we booked into a place we found in a travel guide. As I recall it, our trip was essentially pre-internet. I'm willing to bet Markus didn't even schlepp along a computer.

This time around, in 2015, we had a repeat of the first-night scenario. I looked for an Airbnb* apartment for Markus, Miriam and me in the Gràcia district of Barcelona to be near the location of my writing workshop at Jiwar. We made the decision to travel just four weeks to our arrival, and I had to work fast to figure out the Airbnb process as a first-timer. The more I looked, the less I found. Finally, an apartment was available for all but the first night. It was around the corner from Sagrada Famìlia, which would be 15-30 minutes from my workshop, but it would be beds and a shower. Meanwhile, hotel rooms for our arrival night on May 30th were vanishing with prices pushing 500 Euros a room. Why? It turns out there were a couple of festivals, but the big event was the final game in the Copa del Rey: Barcelona vs. Bilbao. Spain's premier soccer final, played in Barcelona. No wonder.

Casa Mallagrena B&B in the mountains outside Sitges, 2015
There's some symmetry, then, to the fact that we booked a room just outside Sitges for one night at Casa Mallarenga, a mountainside bed and breakfast run by two Scots. Hosts Caroline and Peter offer pleasant accommodations and a tasty breakfast that includes two national specialties: pan Catalan (toasted bread smeared with a soft tomato and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper) and orange marmalade (homemade) on croissants and toast.

The B&B is decorated with posters depicting the Hebrides, plus Harris Tweed pillows on the sofas. We got some ideas about places to visit along the Scottish coast, and I'm pleased to say it was a Scotsman who turned me on to the salty pleasure of pan Catalan for breakfast. It does go with coffee!

Markus on the steps of the seaside church in Sitges, 2015
The evening before, after settling in to the B&B, we drove down to Sitges to wander around and find dinner. It's a Mediterranean coastal town of 28,000, known for its gay friendliness although equally enjoyed by all kinds of people. Markus, Simon, and I spent about four days there in 1998. While Markus was at the conference, Simon and I rested and played on the beach. In the evenings, Markus joined us for walking around and more beach time.

In this picture, Markus is holding a small photo album that I made of our 1998 trip to take along. We compared features in the photos with the places we found. Did we remember this place? Was that where we had the picnic? Is that the swingset Simon played on? Seventeen years is a lot of time. I found my basic memories were correct: the conference hotel was somewhere up there, behind the church (true). That must be the beach we went down to (true). But did I remember being there, in that coastal town, with Simon? Only the pictures, really, I remember the pictures from studying them. But the feeling of Simon on my lap, nursing, running in the waves... Memory is an elusive modality.

Akelarre Taverna in Sitges, 2015
Our night wandering in Sitges took us to a tavern where we settled in to watch the Barcelona vs. Bilbao game on television. We took a liking to pinxos (yummy things on a slice of baguette, self-serve from the bar, and you pay by the number of skewers on your plate at the end). We learned to call cervesa by its Catalan name, caña. Barcelona won, of course. They're winning everything this year. The folks in the tavern paid mild attention to the game.

A few more photos from 2015 and 1998 in Sitges.

Mediterranean boys, 1998

Seaside picnic, 1998

Evening strollers, 2015

*Airbnb, for those who haven't tried it yet, is an international network of bed and breakfast type accommodations hosted by regular folks (more or less). You book via a website, on which you have to build a profile and prove your identity to be taken as a safe renter. Now that I've done it once, I feel comfortable about trying it again.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

52 years ago: Another birth to tell you about

Today is Flag Day again. On this day in 1963, flag day or not, my mother's utuerus yawned and heaved until around 3:30 pm out I came. She was in Allen Memorial Hospital in Oberlin, Ohio, attended by Dr. Siddall, who presided over the births of most everyone I came to know. I had a head full of coarse black hair, which the nurses pulled together with a tiny bow at the top of my head. My father was invited to sit in the waiting room, where no doubt someone came out to exclaim, "It's a girl!"

June 14, 1963

Since the small town anesthesiologist took summers off, there was only a machine attached to a mask with some sort of ether-gas to ease the pain. Self-serve. As she'd done for my sister's birth three years prior, my mother took a little whiff when she needed it. Two years later when my brother came in April, who needed an anesthesiologist?

I was born on Friday. Back then, mothers and new babies somehow spent about a week in the hospital after the birth. I walked out the very next day after both of mine, so I do wonder what Mom and I did that week. I know she breastfed. Somewhat counter to prevailing 1960's culture, she nursed three babies about nine months each, going straight from breast to cup--no need for bottles.

At our house, Granny watched over Julie, who asked every day during that long week, Is it Saturday? Granny patiently explained, No, it's Monday or It's Wednesday. When Granny finally asked her why she wanted to know, Julie exclaimed, Because Saturday is pancakes! (Our mother's trick to limit Julie's daily wish for a messy breakfast. Saturday is still pancake day when you visit my parents.)

Home from the hospital to live with sister Julie.

I don't often think of the umbilical connection to my mother or about the months I spent tucked inside her. Each one of us comes from that experience--so far as I know, there's no other way to arrive as a mammal on this planet. And here is my welcoming sibling--somehow exactly me and somehow entirely different. Isn't she a cute almost three year old? (The hilarious hair I was born with fell out and was replaced by softer actual baby hair.)

Julie's baby.

When I got language, I called her Dee. I'm told I stood with my face pressed to the front screen door whenever she went off on her own with a little sadness in my voice saying, Dee go out? I know I welcomed her home like a frolicking puppy.

On the day I was born, cousin Sarah, who was already big sister to cousin Ken, lived in Portland, Oregon. That day she went out ringing the neighbors' doorbells to announce a confluence of events: Today is Flag Day, and Grandma and Granddad are getting married again because there's a new baby in the family.

Factoid: 52 years at 52 weeks per year makes me some kind of perfect square today. I'm 1,144 weeks old.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Launching Barcelona Notebook

I have been away--away from home, away from cat (hair), away from media. Well, most media. I traveled to Barcelona for a 10-day poetry course. How's that!

The pleasure of a writing workshop in June is a tradition I've kept nearly every year for the last 11 years. I took part in the annual Writers at Work conference as a Salt Lake local 2005-2009. I missed 2010 (we were moving) and 2011 (residues of the move). Since coming to Germany, I've returned to Salt Lake City three times for the June conference (in 2014 as a fellowship winner). In fact, that wonderful organization is holding this year's conference right now, 5,000 miles away.

Writers at Work is a great conference for new-ish writers. I'm proud of and grateful for my own pedigree: Brenda Miller (2005), Jesse Lee Kercheval (2006), Christopher Cokinos (2007), Abigail Thomas (2008), Eileen Pollack (2009), Steve Almond (2012), Katherine Coles (2013), Robin Hemley (2014).

From my seat on the back deck in Flein, where two black cats slink around in the overgrown grass, the blue-blue Utah sky feels far away. This year's conference site at Ft. Douglas looks out over the University of Utah and the Salt Lake Valley; I bet standing there I could almost see Simon's grave at Mt. Olivet. So here's a shout out to all my dear people and places in Salt Lake: I miss you this year, so far away.

I have stayed closer to home this time. At the AWP conference in April, in addition to gathering information about low-residency MFA programs, I searched for English writing opportunities in European locations. The final evening of the conference I caught the last ten minutes of a reception hosted by various residency programs, hoping the promise of "and international" in the description would yield options.

Postcard for writing workshop
with Sharon Dolin
I passed by a postcard with an image that did not quite capture my recollection. Writing About Art In Barcelona. I took the card and walked on, looking to pick up whatever else I could find. Barcelona? Art? Poetry? Me?

A brisk motion with a VVRRT sound grabbed my attention from the right. That sculpture thing, life size, had just rolled down from a stand at the wall. A slender blond in a black top was gathering it in. I connected her to the postcard in my hand and started a conversation about how, although I live in Europe and would like good writing opportunities there, Barcelona Art Poetry had not been on my mind.

And then I felt a tingle in the softness of my knees and elbows, radiating from my spine. That adrenal fight-or-flight-something-is-going-on tingle. I had been to Barcelona once before, and I had seen the sculpture on that postcard. Markus had attended a conference in the beach town of Sitges, and Simon (age just barely one) and I had traveled along. May 25-June 2, 1998.

Fundació Miró May 1998
Back to Barcelona, 17 years later. What a beautiful trip we had--happy new parents and a healthy, bouncing boy enjoying a (mostly) vacation trip. Back to places I'd visited with Simon, long before I had any idea how much a child can suffer and that he would be that child. Before I knew how diminishing it is to lose the brightest light of your life. Back in 1998 I didn't even know yet what it feels like to have the brightest light turn into two with my second child.

The details: the workshop fell within Miriam's two-week vacation (Pfingsten). We could all go! That is, we could get an apartment in Barcelona, and Markus and Miriam would go shopping and see various sites while I attended the daily two-hour workshop. Most afternoons they could join cultural visits with the poetry group. To boot, Markus had a two-day conference in Toulouse the end of the prior week. He flew there and took a train to Barcelona, where he met me and Miriam at the airport. I stayed on for the last four days alone, while Markus and Miriam returned in time for her to get back to school. Super tidy.

I have so much to process, so much to report. I will be writing a new series here: Barcelona Notebook. It will be more occasional than daily, and it will be my opportunity to reflect on both trips--1998 and 2015. Learnings from a 10-day writing workshop could take forever to settle in. Let's see where this goes. I hope you'll come along!

Thisbe Nissen's reading
recommendations in 2008
Meanwhile, I am back to what I left when I departed. I'm working my way through a re-discovered reading list, given to me by Thisbe Nissen in 2008. Those interlibrary loans burn holes in my night table. I returned the Mangusso and Flynn (I mentioned them on May 18th) before I left for Barcelona. John D'Agata's essay collection Halls of Fame awaited me after the trip. I've been back for "two sleeps" now (as Simon used to say). D'Agata's words go into me like perfectly toasted nuts--irresistible and long in the chewing. For example, the essay about Martha Graham, written as alphabetized portions of dictionary definition. I'd never heard of D'Agata in the summer of 2008 when I talked with Thisbe. That fall I read his anthology The Next American Essay for two classes. I liked it so much I typed up every bit of his interwoven essay introducing the other 32, just to see what it looked like in one piece. (Side note: Thisbe's recommendations are written in three colors of ink. I'm practically certain she was using my four-ink pen, which had actually been Simon's.)

This list is a treasure. Marilyn Ablidskov and Mary Allen, whoever you are, you're next. I've already read the Hood and the Hall (both grief memoirs).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

18 Years Ago: Reprise (May 26th)

Hike near Prevorst.
I took four days off after stopping my 18 Years Ago series on Friday. And here are a few things I did, having not done them in a while: watch a movie with my family (About Time, which we all recommend); binge-watch crime/mystery shows on German TV one evening (alone, with my sock-knitting); take a woodland hike with a school friend of Markus' and his two sons; cook for a few hours at a stretch (listening to NPR podcasts); bathe (to relax, I don't mean to suggest I was neglecting myself while serial); take a 16K bike ride with my husband; read (currently: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, a recommendation by the same writer who told me about The Two Kinds of Decay; it's a memoir of a tough childhood reminiscent of Tobias Wolff's with an intense dance between memoirist-son and absent father, told in a sporadic way that speaks to the vignette style of my own writing); sleep; pick strawberries with my daughter.

Berry picker.
We've had some extra time because it was a holiday weekend. The holiday was Pfingsten (Pentecost), and I've written a Language & Such entry to ponder the word. Protocol for holidays in Germany is that businesses are closed, and so are all the stores. But there are some exceptions. For example, the farmers are permitted to sell their perishable products, even on the holiday. Miriam and I went out for a walk, planning to buy a container of strawberries at the stand. When we found they were offering U-pick for the first time this season, we went out into the fields to search for ripe berries and carry them home.

Pfingstrose on Pfingstmontag.
In the garden, we're watching the slow arrival of early summer. The German word for peony is Pfingtstrose, i.e. Pentecost rose. We have a massive clump of peonies, nearly as tall as me. I shared photos earlier this month as a metaphor for waiting, and I found I was still waiting for the first blooms on Pfingstsonntag. I rather thought the actual holiday for which the plant is named would do the trick. Yesterday, on Pfingstmontag, I found one blossom just about open, but the temperatures are cool, and I think the plant is holding out for warmer air. I haven't decided which word is stranger: peony or Pfingstrose. (The word "peony" via Latin from Greek: Paiōn, the name of the physician of the gods.)

Meanwhile, the clematis has more than made up for the laggard peonies.

Since it was so much fun to write about happenings in May 1997, I can't resist adding a couple of photos and remembering. By today's date, May 26th, Simon was 9 days old. When he wasn't asleep, he hung out with us. We set him on the boppy pillow on the table next to us during meals. He slept in our arms. He made eye contact. He nursed and nursed. We were off to a good, healthy start. Born well, healthy baby, healthy mom and dad devoting time to his care. Good times.

When Simon was one week old, Markus took his portrait for the birth announcement. Here's another pose.

One week old.

I have to say, Simon rather turned his daddy's head.

My boys.

Friday, May 22, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 22nd--Simon's cohort

Birthday cake on Simon's "8th birthday"
during a lemonade stand at Liberty Heights Fresh
in Salt Lake City, May 17, 2005.
I am ending the 18 Years Ago series today. If you missed the beginning, the series started on May 1st and ran daily until now, May 22, 2015.

Flash to 2005
I chose this date as a way of remembering Simon's many friends. In May 2005, we passed Simon's birthday for the first time since his death. How do you celebrate a missing child? We decided to seek community. On the actual birthday, May 17, 2005, we held the first of several annual Lemonade Stands in Simon's memory to raise money for childhood cancer research. It's lemonade stand season again--find out more at Hold a stand, buy some lemonade, send a donation--research funded by this organization is making a difference for children with cancer.

Miguel interviewed for KSL TV on May 17, 2015.
The top photo shows some of Simon's classmates and other friends, eager for some of the gorgeous cake but also contemplative about the birthday boy. The cake was a donation from Pinon Market, and owner Victoria graciously invited Miriam (age 5) to help decorate! The boy in red and white stripes is Tobias, who will be graduating from high school about now, along with Ellen, the blond girl right next to him. Both of them had sat at Simon's table during first grade the previous year.

The second photo shows Simon's buddy Miguel, who was interviewed for local TV news during the event, as were several other children. I'm sad to say we've lost track of Miguel since moving away from Salt Lake City. He must be a wonderful young man now.

Simon's Cohort
Recently, I've seen facebook postings about some of the boys who are Simon's age (or a bit older)--the ones I consider his cohort. They've all been turning 18! They've been going to prom! They've been formed into young men by testosterone, life and sports! Nathan, Schuyler, Rowan, Lev, Ross! And there are all the other boys and girls from Simon's 1st grade class in Utah, kindergarten in Michigan, and daycare at Linda's. These young people are moving into adulthood, as they should be, starting college, confronting choices, making plans. They carry the mark of knowing Simon and losing him in such an unfair way. I expect that changes your view of life. I never witnessed the loss of a peer growing up. I hope remembering Simon brings a richness to their lives and never anything like guilt.

Four days after the lemonade stand in 2005, we held a birthday party in Simon's memory at our house. Technically, the party was on May 21, 2005, so I'm off by one day. Not a big deal. After a few more thoughts on this blog undertaking, I will close this post, and the series, with a recap of the 2005 birthday event.

Reflections on writing a series
Writing my serial meditation around Simon's 18th birthday has surprised me in several ways. The idea came spontaneously at the beginning of May, and I have easily found material for a new post every day. I had to conquer a few impediments: I got my 12-year-old scanner to work with my latest operating system, and I re-rigged my old Photoshop Elements 6 to function (at least some of the time). I even learned the four-finger keyboard command for paste-and-match-style. I used a smart phone to upload a post, and I proved I could meet a daily deadline not just for NaNoWriMo.

This blog series has sent me back through boxes and albums of photos, many of which I hadn't looked at in a long time. The images not only make the text more interesting (and "sell" a post better, for example on facebook) but they also offer a layer of dialog between text and image. This layer enhances the underlying construct: a dialog between then and now. Add to that the peculiar workings of my mind (soccer goalie-ing is like perineal stretching? see May 12th), and a sticky web of meaning emerges. A few days into the project, the need for individual titles became clear, adding to the playful connections.

I'm not a plotter, at least not yet. My writing focuses on the "real," on events that have occurred. The "plot" is given, and it's my job to follow along, choosing what to emphasize and what to leave out. Conjecture remains fair game, but I haven't got the muscles for creating characters and then creating the things that happen to and around them. Still, as I followed this series with its more or less pre-defined storyline, I found myself jotting down ideas and semi-planfully taking many of them up in different posts. I haven't gotten to all of the ideas--I've got a lot more to say about breastfeeding, for example. But it can't hurt to leave with a few good cards still in my hand.

May 22, 1997, 5 days old
Have I figured anything out? Have I increased or decreased the pain of not seeing my son grow up? I don't know. I've distracted myself. I've enjoyed myself. I've sat peacefully next to dancing flames atop colorful candles. I've renewed memories of happy and healthy times. I'll never know the Simon who would have become an adult. I know that. And I'm not alone in being the poorer for that loss.

We sure did have him while he was here. A week or two into his life, while sitting with him at the dining table, I had a wonderful thought: I enjoy his company. I enjoyed every day of his life (even the awful days), and it's a gift to feel his delightful company still.

Birthday in Memoriam, May 21, 2005

Children starting to chalk the driveway.

Watching Marcus Funny Man Who Does Tricks,
who also made Simon laugh.

Miriam (front middle) with Simon's school friends.

Julio, Miguel and mom Luz.

Card trick.

Parents hanging out indoors (oh, I miss that kitchen!).

We all lit a candle from the big magenta
Simon candle.

Everyone signed the pink balloon.

We got ready to send our love up with the balloon.

Past the utility wires.

Past the trees.


My love and thanks to folks who've come along on this blog ride. In case you're curious, the whole series is 15,000 words long. The most popular post so far? May 10th--The fashion post. As you can see from the birthday party photos, we've had a lot of support from children and grown ups who love Simon, too. We know you are there, and we thank you.