– a reflection on Father’s Day, a father and a daughter

On a sweltering summer’s day in rural Virginia in 1970, a 7-year old girl was taken away from her home by the county sheriff and handed over to her mother. At gunpoint as the result of a court decision following a riveting divorce case that kept the local gossips occupied for weeks.

The next thing she remembered, she found herself in a car with a slim, elegant, deeply tanned man driving down a road in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area of Virginia. He was nothing like the men she knew before. He spoke ‘fancy’, meaning not-Southern. He enunciated precisely (as he did most things, she came to discover). He asked her questions. Not the usual kind you ask a seven-year-old, but what she liked and cared for, what she dreamed about. Then he said: “I know this must be really, really hard for you. Just call me Phil. You and I can figure this out.”

Over the course of the next two years, they did just that. He woke her up early in the morning and took her to the beach a short distance away to dig for clams and crabs. He showed her the lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge twinkling in the distance. He taught her that fall to find the wild black grapes that grew everywhere and tasted like nothing else. At night, he’d take her to the beach and teach her the constellations of the stars, and in daylight to read the weather in the clouds. He encouraged her reading, and asked what she thought of what she read, of what he did (he was an architect) and the houses he built. “All my houses have big kitchens,” he said. “Because in my family, the men cook.” He was also famous for that.

In short, this first-generation New Yorker Sicilian-American was something of a Renaissance man – well-rounded, educated, and with a truly unique ability to basically walk into any bar in any country and have the entire bar wanting to be his new best friend. He was a man completely without bias of any kind, and made sure to eradicate any of my own I might have developed.

About a year later, when he married her mother, she decided to call him Dad. For no other reason than they had indeed both ‘figured it out’.

The little girl was me, that elegant man – whether in a shirt and tie or bathing trunks and diving flippers, he always had that sublimely Italian ‘bella figura’– was my stepfather, and to all intents, purposes and meanings, my Dad.

My father cracked open the world and gave it to me. Always happiest on a boat, he passed on his immense love of the ocean and marine life. He taught me to swim the hard way – by putting me in a life vest, snorkel, mask and fins and throwing me into the Caribbean. He was an artist, too – painting on plywood and walls, painting everyone and everything he loved and cared about.

In those important years between the ages of seven and twelve, his indelible imprint shaped me in ways still with me to this day. At no point in our shared history did he ever make me feel I didn’t belong, wasn’t ‘his’, or wasn’t an important part of his own life.

When I aced my first SAT tests and scared my mother witless, he sat me down for a talk.

“You can go on to Harvard, or Princeton.”

“Why would I do that?” I was still smarting from being told I was too short to be a cheerleader at my junior high. These things matter when you’re eleven.

His voice dropped half an octave. “Because pretty is good. But smart is better.”

Even today, those words are engraved in marble on my heart.

As stories of fathers and daughters go, my own doesn’t end happily. A small package arrived in September 1974 – a baby girl who looked very much like her father. I hovered on the brink of puberty preoccupied with other things; straight As, my friends, viola lessons, music and always, a big pile of books. Whether because of my baby sister, my own increasing independence, life in general or for some other reason I’ll never know, my mother packed a few suitcases, wrapped up the baby, told me to pack and left him. I wouldn’t see him again for fourteen years.

He told me some long time later how devastated he was. So was I. I never received an explanation from my mother, wasn’t allowed to have contact with him and certainly never, ever mention him in conversation. When he sent me a huge birthday package for my twelfth birthday, my mother insisted I send it back. I refused. Not least because he sent me a lot of music in the shape of ´45 singles that reallyrearranged my adolescent mental furniture, never least David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’.

My Dad was cool that way, too.

Around age 24, I began to write him letters. Long, long letters written on a legal pad he sent me, letters about my life, letters about life, letters about whatever I thought he might find interesting or entertaining. “You should have your own newspaper column. You’re that good,” he wrote back. And he always wrote me back.

Today, the baby – that little girl he fathered who became his greatest gift to me – does. Her Father’s Day story would be different from mine, as it should be, because it’s her story and her life.

As for my own, we had one last riotous reunion in 2002, Dad and I. There was laughter, and food, and that sense of belonging he always gave me. We talked about that past, and the present, and a little of the future. He told me – this came as a massive surprise –he had wanted to adopt me properly, back in the day, and my mother wouldn’t let him, and wouldn’t say why. I still don’t know, any more than I’ll ever know anything about my biological father apart from what I had inherited, among them my blood type, eye color and insatiable curiosity.

In April of 2005, while getting his boat ready for summer, he died in an instant, aged 63. I was on maternity leave with a baby of my own, unable to attend his funeral. In a long transatlantic conversation with his widow, she told me how much those letters I had sent so long ago had meant to him, and that he kept them close by. All I could do was hold a baby tight through my grief and swear that some day, I’d tell him about my Dad.

On a dark November night in 2013, I sent my last edited and proofread installment of my first novel to my publisher. I bawled like a baby after hitting the ‘send’ button. I collapsed into bed that night and dreamed of Dad. We were somewhere off the coast of Florida, hauling up lobster crates. In my dream, I was overjoyed to be back with him, doing something we both loved. I told him I had just handed in my book. “Do you think I did OK, Dad?”

He looked up from a gargantuan pile of very large and lively lobsters. “Honey,” he replied, “You did GREAT.”

I woke up, a long way from the Atlantic, from lobsters, and from a father who had been gone for over eight years.

Then again, he never really left at all.

Thank you, Dad. You really, truly did GREAT.


In memory of Philip Caruana, 1941-2005


– When one word changes everything

For the past few months, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion I was slowly but surely going mad. Events blew up around me, I blew up around me, and everything – everything in my life seems poised on the verge of some massive sea change I could sense but not quite see.

It wasn’t me, it couldn’t be – but if it were, maybe I was…going crazy? Or had I been a basket case all along and no one had the nerve to tell me?

They say that so long as you’re able to question your own sanity, you’re sane. Somehow, that didn’t ring entirely true.

So I went through my own mental checklist. Hormones. Ladies of A Certain Age. Maybe HRT was what I needed, but that didn’t answer any questions of how I’d managed to be my own Mad Hatter for so many years before All This Shite Happened.

It didn’t explain…why I’ve only recently become even a very modestly renowned success – although in a fairly narrow sphere of influence and for one particular talent. It didn’t explain my low boredom threshold for events, people or situations I felt were somehow unworthy of my interest. To be fair…I had (and still have!) very many interests.

But whenever I felt bored, or restless, unmotivated or unappreciated, a relation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Imp of the Perverse would pop up like a jack-in-the-box to stir up trouble. Trouble that would cost me, trouble that would reverberate for years, trouble that would have my family and likely a few friends shaking their heads in despair or exasperation and sometimes both.

 “How could you be so irresponsible?”

“Why are you so impulsive? Why didn’t/don’t you think?”

“How could you do that?”

“How dare you? How could you?”

I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t know why. I just…did. And paid the price tag. For years.

My fairly short fuse I attributed to my Fire Sign-accented personality, my mood swings were, well…if not extreme, just a bit… random. I burn white-hot. I’m passionate about anything – or anyone –  I care about. And tend to stay that way, because I’m that much of a stubborn Bull, too.

Never the most organized of people, I had a hard time keeping track of bills, paperwork, paper trails. I used to joke that in an ideal world, I’d hire someone to take care of “all that” – all I couldn’t be bothered with. It wasn’t so much I forgot, it was simply…I’d make a reminder for myself, promptly park that reminder on a mental shelf – and forget all about it. Parenthood cured me of most of my slob housewife tendencies, but let’s face it…I’ll never give the Martha Stewarts of this world any inferiority complexes.

Most of my classmates from high school and friends from my twenties now juggle successful careers, marriages, teenagers, cars and real estate. As of today, I own five moving boxes of clothes and books, four pairs of shoes, two suitcases (one full of testaments to that Very Modest Success), two handbags, two cats and my laptop. Within the next two weeks, I can look forward to moving into a freshly renovated pied-à-terre apartment with not one stick of furniture. This is my life – now. I’m almost fifty years old. This is what I have to show for it.

On the other hand, I had a few things going for me. I’ve never, ever lacked at least ten creative ideas at any given moment. Visual ideas (I have a background in graphic design), verbal ideas or madcap ideas. Ideas for stories, ideas for blog posts, ideas for all sorts of things. I have an ear for languages, a smidge of musical ability, verbal acuity, an ease with hard-to-grasp intellectual concepts and a quicksilver mind to grab them in seconds. And just for the record, zip talent for mathematics. I never understood why everyone I knew couldn’t do the same. It came as easily as breathing, and to me it was and still is – easy.

I have a low tolerance for ambient noise – it stresses me out. Metal music on the other hand calms me down. Valium speeds me up. Another telltale sign.

Non-conformity is my middle name – at least as soon as I open my mouth. I’ve very rarely fit into any social context, unless it were an environment of like-minded crazies/compulsive creatives as ‘out there’ as myself.

I have a unique ability to ‘fall down the rabbit hole’ – and stay there. In that little understood space of concentration and creative effort, I have no problems at all forgetting all the appeal of the real world in favor of the world I create through that Very Modestly Successful talent. Absolute concentration – absolutely. In that Ideal world, minions would make sure the bills were paid, the fridge stocked and the floor clean while I got on with the Really Important Stuff. The rest of the world – unless they were my self-selected family of friends – could just eff the hell off, for all I cared.

People gave me strange looks when I declared:  “I’m an artist. I create. That’s what I do.”

Even with all of that, I still thought I was going crazy. The day before yesterday, I told my doctor the same. She granted me sick leave, although not before I promised her I wouldn’t kill myself before our next appointment. So I did. Whereupon she gave me a stern look and said – “Promise!” “I won’t. I promise.” That got me a hug. She’s that kind of doctor.

Since I’m living with a friend (of a kind who doesn’t happen often, although we’re vastly different people), I came home and told her the news. There was a long pause. She swallowed, and then she said those words that made my own head explode:

“Have you ever considered you might have ADHD?”

Only a brave soul and a true friend would dare to say such a thing and live to get away with it. Instead of blowing up at her, I Googled “Adult ADHD”.

And in one fell stroke, forty-nine years of chaotic, hand-to-mouth existence fell into place. My short attention span for what bored me, that Imp of the Perverse, my mood swings and temper flares, my impulsive urge to sabotage myself, my addiction to that Rabbit Hole of My Making, my 101 Bright Ideas a minute, my zoning out when boredom threatened me – everything, everything made sense in a way it never once had before.

All this time, I thought the problem was me, you see. I was lazy, I was unfocused, I was stupid, I was weird, I was…well, pretty much worthless, unless you needed 101 alternative uses for lightbulbs/turkey carcasses/dirty laundry. How often do you need those?

I’ve wanted to fit in and conform since childhood, and never did no matter how I tried. Not until now, thanks to that Very Modest Talent and a flypaper mind of information overload to go with it I was never afraid to share.

Smart-alecks are not appreciated. I learned to Shut The Fuck Up in elementary school, or else.

Can you imagine how I felt when my friend was brave enough to pipe up?


I had an explanation for everything crazy, impulsive or insane I had done for all my adult life. Or was it just a handy excuse for being completely off my rocker? I don’t know. But when two of the people who know me best – my former husband and great friend and my much-beleaguered sister – said it made perfect sense when I asked them for an honest answer, this told me it could very well be true.

If it is, then it makes me happy to say the world needs creatives – even creatives with ADHD. We can be incredibly productive. We can give the world all those bright ideas it needs so badly, thanks to faulty brain wiring. If that’s not a beneficial side effect, what is?

I intend to find out for certain. At least, it beats the heck out of jumping off a bridge. Then again, I promised not to! 😉

With my eternal gratitude to the truly exceptional (and true-blue) Mette Jensen. Her name – the DK equivalent of Jane Doe – is the only ordinary thing about her.

Image: Keith Haring, “Exploding Head”

Yesterday, I came home to find that my broadband has been switched off. My apartment complex has switched providers, and the providers forgot to inform us of the switch-off date. So people, I’m only online at work, and even then, it’s iffy.

This does, however, do wonders for the next installment, which is well underway and about halfway through.

You might want to know that this story I live and breathe, every waking moment. You don’t – trust me – want to know what I dream about…;-)

So – for the next few days, it will be quiet. Look at it this way – worst case scenario, I won’t get back online until Friday, when my new modem arrives.

Best case scenario, it means two more installments!

Are ya happy now, punks? Are ya? 😉

That does mean, however, that you can still – debate, question, let me know what you think besides “More! More! More!”

I’m working on it.

And I couldn’t have done it without you!

It finally arrived, the day my now four-year-old son was waiting for, the day he was allowed to rip apart paper, eat all the vanilla cookies he wanted and stay up until his brain overloaded. (He did.)

So many presents, cookies and piles of wrapping paper later, the living room behind me looks like an ad for Thomas the Tank Engine wall-to-wall merchandising. Now of course, I’ll be spending whatever’s left over from writing the end of Chapter Four (teenage lust, watchdogs, herring, storm and shipwreck), finishing this blog (wait for it), baking cardamom cinnamon rolls just because I can and it’s Christmas, damn it, and that’s what elastic yoga pant waistbands are for (edible porn), working my way through an obscene pile of dishes and changing DVDs of – yupp, you guessed it, Thomas again, in several incarnations, I’ll also be fixing train tracks, just because Thomas, or Gordon, or James or Percy were being naughty.

While they are being naughty, I shall be very, very nice. I shall think only kind thoughts of my fellow humans – in general. I shall think only good things about the specific ones I love. My Resident Buttkicker in all his orange-furry, 6’5 1/2″ glory, who treated me with a present of his own – a documentary about Joy Division, which was nothing less than miraculous. Damien the Sequel, who went from terror to terrific in these past few months, and who turned four three days ago. My sister, brother-in-law and niece, who came by to inhale cookies, exchange presents and cheer up one decembrally depressed sister. One exceedingly complicated Pisces, who plays possum, GTA 4 and won’t answer my emails. I suspect I know why, but he’s not telling and I won’t ask since he won’t tell, even if I’ve told him that’s what friends are for, you know.. One rather less-complicated Scorpio, but then again, never underestimate a Scorpio. I love them both to bits of distraction, and if they didn’t know it before, they certainly do now.

I send out my love to friends far away – the ones I left behind in NM and CO, the ones I’ve found online. One friend, a lovely dude in IN, sent me an alternate Christmas Carol short story, proving that miracles great and small can be found in the most unlikely places – my inbox, for instance.

My pathetic gratitude to the bands that kept the Dood happy this past year, and not one of them was in the Billboard Top Ten! I vow that I shall change my iPod playlists more often in the coming year – just to stir things up a little.

And more bathos to those readers I do have, especially if you comment!

I also vow to extend my esoteric collection of perfumes to include something really stunning that noone else is wearing, just to prove I haven’t lost it – yet. To the males of the species – you have been warned. Love Potion No. 9 has nothing on me.

I might even, since it is Xmas, after all, thank my mother-in-law for giving me a tunic top only a Pucci-plastered hippopotamus could love. It will be a smash hit at my local Salvation Army. Whoever finally gets it will be burning retinas up and down the length of the Cimbric Cherssonese. It certainly put the “hip” in hippopotamus.

So there – love a little – or a lot, or way too much. Eat too much. Live – far too much. Have another. It’s Christmas.

Your favorite gothadelic cynic shall return. As soon as the elastic waistband gives out!

I have this old, old friend, who has been my faithful, loyal friend since about the time that puberty hit me with a sledgehammer, or was that a pickaxe in the forehead?

This is the dood (I won’t call him “dude” – that’s way too laid-back surfer, stoner Californian for this one) who loves nothing better than to stir up the maximum amount of trouble with the minimum amount of effort. A bit like the Norse god Loke, but Loke belongs to someone else, and that someone isn’t me.

He is very faithful. I call him “he”, but the fact is, he’ll happily change gender every once in a while just to trip me up. In other words, I never, ever, know what to expect – except the unexpected.

And he never, ever leaves. He’s been freeloading, drinking my booze, eating my secret stash of chocolate in fits of pique or blues, urging me to indulge my taste for perfume handmade by Florentine nuns in 12th-century convents, when I have bills to pay. This is the one who will shout out at inappropriate moments – “So, where’s the coke, man? Let’s party like it’s 1989!”

Freud knew this guy, and called him Id. Dood – or Id – is the guy who made me steal bikes at 3 AM, so I didn’t have to walk home in the rain. Dood loves very loud music, especially if it’s live, and over the years, it’s only gotten louder. So much so, that now, I have tinnitus from all those ruinous rock concerts in stadiums, in bars, on beaches and in small confined smoky venues that were just big enough for some really sick Marshall amps.

Because of that Dood, I’ve gone over to the dark side. Good music – and my taste runs the gamut from AC/DC to ZZ Top, and from Alban to Wagner – is good music, but because of that constant ringing in my ears, it has to be LOUD. And it has to say something – to the Dood, otherwise he starts calling me a wimpy candy-assed pop-loving slutbunny. Now, slutbunny, I can handle. “Nothing wrong,” as my dead mother used to say, “with being a slut. Just make sure you enjoy it!” Candy-assed is a compliment. It sounds edible. I don’t know many women who’d object to tooth marks in their posteriors, if they were hot and bothered – slutbunnies. But pop-loving??? Wimpy???

Over my dead candy ass!

So, if it ain’t about the darker, danker recesses of the mind, if there are no monsters and dragons and vampiric Liliths and the long-haired tattooed barbarian alpha testosterone bombs who wail about them – I ain’t interested. Or should I say, the Dood goes cold.

He’s got other things on his conscience. “You got cleavage! You know how many women in California pay for boobs like that? So w-t-f are you waiting for? Show those puppies off, girlie!” So I would, and in those smoky dives on smoky nights, the Dood would turn to the testosterone bombs standing at the bar and say:

“So whddaya think, fellas? Nice set of jugs?”

And there I’d be, in all my dolled-up D-cup glory, drooled over by testosterone bombs who normally wouldn’t give me the time of day on a Wednesday afternoon. Drooled over at a distance, mind you – something fatal must have happened the minute I opened my mouth. I don’t look THAT good in dim lighting.

Or else it was the handmade convent juice. On nights like these, I usually went home alone.

If the Slutbunny didn’t get at me first, heavily urged by Dood. “C’mon, it’s just ONE shot of tequila. Just ONE you can handle, right?”

And somewhere after the seventh, or eighth, a testosterone bomb would be handling me. Or the nice set of jugs that came with it.

Next day, the bomb would have turned into a toad with troglodyte conversation.

How rock and roll is that?

Now that I’m old enough to see “that certain age” in the distance – you know, the one where no one wants to do you to the background tones of “Thunderstruck” any more, standing up against the wall trying to plaster you to the wallpaper with a little help from Vlad the Impaler and his main speech implement down your tonsils – Dood still delivers. You see, he knows that secret about women over the age of 35.

It’s all true.

All the time.

So, Dood makes me look at those luscious, lecherous 20-somethings and think…”Hmmm.”

I have my iPod. It’ll have to do.

And my imagination.

And a Dood that never leaves.

Very! – rock’n’roll.

Usually, I never paint myself in shades of blue. I’m the original idiot optimist and bouncing fractal-colored happy beach ball babe. Well, hey – c’mon, you only live once and you’ll be dead a long time, right? So screw it all – the bills, the responsibilities, the whole sorry excuse for existence we call life – and have a good time. Just call me Pollyanna. I cheer people up, I tell stupid jokes, I try to accentuate the positive in everything for the few who deserve it. So long as I get to decide who deserves it.

But since the arrival of the Day-Glo green elephant (with the black and purple pulsing polka dots), I’ve been turning an alarming shade of indigo. It ain’t what I did, or didn’t, and it ain’t what happened, or didn’t.

It ain’t even the why, the were or the who.

It’s the Day-Glo green elephant that refuses to move, stonewalling me whenever I try to gather up the courage to shoo it out of the room so I can talk to one of my best friends again like I was able to a week ago. It won’t go away. From the way that elephant fans its ears irritably and shakes its head, it’s all, and always, my fault.

So, I keep banging my head against the side of a green elephant, and on the other side, I see a friend who’d like to say – something, and he can’t, because the elephant got his tongue.

Or maybe I’m just deluding myself and denial really is:

a) a river in Egypt
b) a South Carolina metal band or
c) The Great Green Elephant.

And meanwhile, I’m turning navy-blue.

I wish it were – a river in Egypt.

‘Tis the season of…dread, disaster, depression and December. December also means, as if the above weren’t bad enough, that yearly bacchanal and free-for-all known as the Office Xmas Party, and in some cases, it could be -rated X.

Now, Xmas parties are predictable beasts, if you think about it. There’s always someone who shows up plowed just short of oblivion and makes scenes that keep the office gossips entertained all through the following Monday. The office gossips, on the other hand, would never, ever dare to get more than a teensy bit tipsy, for fear of being next on the chopping block of reputations.

There are those who sit in the exact same cliques they do every work week, for fear they might get typhoid from the blue-collars in the warehouse.

And then there are the lucky few who really, honestly, truly do not give a flying cigar what anyone thinks, so long as the drinks are free, or at least cheap, the company congenial and they can let down their hair dressed in something more exciting than an oversized grey sweatshirt embroidered with the company logo. And if it gets really dismal, just blow the joint altogether and find some place else, albeit with far more expensive beer.

That would be me. Exhibit A, hell-raiser with New Hairdo and Heels.

Which is where the elephant comes in.

Because, and here’s the predictability of it all, if you really, truly don’t care what people think, and have no objections to delivering the goods for the office gossips, just so they can have some excitement in their sad and worthy lives, you will eventually do something, or say something, or learn something, that will hatch the biggest, baddest, greenest, black polka-dotted elephant in the room.

You’ll come in to work on Monday morning, hangover mostly gone, to be greeted by the sight of That Thing We Did – the elephant.

And there it stands in all its Day-Glo glory, polka dots pulsing black and purple. Every once in a while, it will fan out its ears and raise its trunk, just to remind you it’s there.

Everyone can see it. But it’s – That Elephant.

Better just to pretend it’s not there. It never was. It was all a figment of –

a) alcohol
b) more alcohol
c) long-overdue and alcoholically acknowledged mutual lust.
d) a fevered imagination.
e) all of the above

(But – but – but, I heard myself screaming into the silent void this morning – how can you miss a 4-ton African Day-Glo flourescent green elephant with pulsing black and purple polka dots?

In other words, I’m just waiting for that Emperor’s New Clothes moment, the one where the kid points and says in a clear and carrying voice:

“But there’s an elephant in the room! How can you not have seen it?”

Because it must have been a figment of my fevered imagination.

Meanwhile, the elephant is still standing there. And what do you feed a Day-Glo green elephant?