Photos for January Stones and April PAD 2012 property of M J Dills (exception 1/16)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine’s Day – The Mouth of My Monster

February 14th is different for me. Years ago, I was married on this day. Two months prior, I nearly bled to death. As life drained out of me and my skin color blended with the white sheets in the emergency room (you can’t believe it unless you've seen it), I received a proposal of marriage. It was meant to give me the will to live. It wasn't necessary. I was in good medical hands and had no desire to go anywhere. My life was my three kids and my desire for them to have a typical family. The five of us were coming to that but we had put off making a legal commitment. Three kids as part of my bargain didn't seem to represent a fair prospect for him.


They normally don’t allow people in the ER beyond the waiting room but he just walked in after locating me in the warren of swinging doors and bright lights. That was the kind of man he was. No was not in his acceptable inventory of responses.  Nobody stopped him. I saw his face among those who were tending to me; I accepted him to have found me. He later said he counted 17 people in that room, not including the two of us. I remember, even now, racing to the OR watching the ceiling tiles whiz by overhead, some pieces missing with wires and pipes exposed, like in a movie. I woke hours later in the ICU and watched flakes of snow whirling outside the foggy window. A nurse told me he’d just left; it was 5 a.m. and I should let him get some sleep. She phoned him and he was standing next to me the next time I opened my eyes. The weather was torturous. It was 12 degrees and he’d gone home and checked the wrapped pipes, turned around and came back. He brought my hairbrush. He was that kind of man.


Over the years, we had a grand party every Valentine’s Day. We invited everyone we knew and they all came. A bartender was hired; glasses were rented; food was cooked for days. It was a festive gala, a chance for people to dress up and make merry in what was usually the dullest, grayest time of year. Photos have been lost; tossed out, I suspect, by a bitter child. But that’s another story.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point about the process of memory in his chapter about The Power of Content.  [Transactive memory is part of what intimacy means and when a unit is broken up, as it is in divorce, depression develops due to the] loss of [] external memory systems. 
And so… my recollection is only half of what it should be. I could make a pie chart of where collections of memorable events exist. I've lost much; I've way too many living ghosts.


I hate hospitals. The weeks and months of smelling those odors, hearing those sounds. I became far too familiar with routines, schedules and movements. I was often mistaken for a doctor or nurse, even without a uniform. 
We came to refer to it as the drive-by germ. It hit our house in late January, just as we were planning the next Valentine party.   
I slept in his ICU room for nearly a month. They moved him to a standard room and I had to sleep in a chair. I couldn't leave. He lost his ears, his toes, half his fingers. He was on breathing machines at 100% for too damn long. He lost his mind, his memory, the things we shared together, the things we cherished, the moments, the harmony, the sweet accord that made us whole.


I thought I’d gotten over him. Last year a phone call came in the night and we rushed to that place I hate…the hospital. It was eleven years since I'd seen him. You get over a person in that amount of time, right? Especially if that person is not even recognizable as whom he was to you, when he was a complete, sane person?

I honestly didn't think he’d make it through the night. There was blood everywhere, a huge gash in his forehead, broken bones on both sides on his body, his back. Intubated; those familiar tubes trailing from his nose and mouth, the pumping of air into lungs that resist each thrust. He’d been hit by a pizza delivery car; stepped off a curb in his usual oblivion and BAM! Here we were again.  


“He has nine lives,” we joked. It was funny. Sort of. He’s escaped death more than anyone I know, twice as a child in horrible accidents. I visited him three times again after that, twice in the ICU, where they had him stabilized; then again in a regular room when he was awake and aware. He didn't cling to my hand like he had when he didn't really realize who I was. He dismissed us all with the wave of his deformed, damaged hands.  I closed the door.


Christmas is difficult. We had such a multitude of traditions and so much fun; it’s never been the same. I've chosen to be in Mexico for the holidays, where the culture captures me and I don’t dwell on how our typical family completely fell apart, shattered in so many pieces, no pot of glue could put it together again.

Valentine’s Day, however, follows me wherever I go. Those many years ago, my first one without him... friends, who took pity, invited me to dinner. A mistake. After they talked about him through the entire meal, I excused myself to go back to the hospital, sit next to him and listen to the wheezes and beeps, the monitors and machines that were keeping him alive. I woke at dawn, drove home and fell back to sleep curled in a ball. Those things I remember.

When he came out of the coma, woke and spoke, he recognized no one and thought I was someone named Sheila. Slowly he began to come back to us but he never really reached that point where we knew him. His transactive memory was gone. It was the death of our intimacy.


My life has gone on. I've had magic and wondrous times. I've even had love again, which was something I doubted would ever revisit me in this mortal existence. I've been lucky and there are few regrets. Valentine’s Day though… it’s a burden I shoulder.

Thanks for reading. 

Heart in Her Hand painting of me by Michael Hale 

(At the time of his illness, a vaccination was being developed for meningitis, which is highly recommended for teenagers, who are more susceptible than younger children. Too late for Breeze, who lost his spleen as a young boy in one of the aforementioned accidents. Had it been only a couple years later, he would have been eligible and chances are we would still be making memories.)


Tuesday, July 29, 2014


So many mother's babies have been lost in recent weeks, the result of horrifying warring. I was compelled to write a poem at the time of the deaths of three innocent boys, hitching a ride home from school. This piece was part of a challenge from Robert Lee Brewer, Writer's Digest poetry editor. Since it was entered in a poetry contest, I wasn't able to post it to my site but here it is, in its entirety, in memory of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16 and Gilad Shaar, 16 and all the children and their families, lost in senseless battle, West of Jordan.

Using the form of a Golden Shovel poem, the writer must take another poem and using each word in that line or poem as an end word of their own piece. Once completed, the original poem is revealed by reading the final words of each line of the new creation. I used the Walt Whitman poem LOOK DOWN, FAIR MOON, which was an homage to young men killed during the American Civil War. According to one analysis [certain battles would drag on for many days at a time. As a result of this, oftentimes corpses had to be left where they fell on the battle field due to a lack of ability to go back and pick them up. The author of this analysis believes that this poem is based upon Whitman's plea for the moon to look down on such battlefields and clean and purify the bodies of the wounded.]


Let’s say you don’t like the way these boys dress or look

Or perhaps you, helplessly, down

To your own calcified beliefs, have trouble being fair

In a world, under the same moon.

Maybe you see our children differently and

You’re not interested in how we bathe

These bloody issues, be they Israeli or Palestinian in this

Complicated and hard to be neutral scene.

Imagine the tears of three mothers and how they did pour

With aunts, grandmothers, friends and softly

Spoken young girls, all falling down

On knees with incalculable sorrow in the night’s

Mourning, a glow of love and grief like a dimmed nimbus

Like nothing you have ever, ever known, the floods

Of untold loss, without relying on

Memories of sweet babyish faces

That now, after sharing ten silent bullets, are left ghastly,

Found in an open area close to Hebron, swollen,

Left in a field in the West Bank; cheeks, hands, lips purple

These mother’s babies missing. Two. Weeks. Don’t tell me it’s not on

Your mind what had to be acknowledged in the

Cold bright room where they identify the dead;

Does it matter to what god they prayed? on

What day of the week? or the food on their

Breakfast plate? … now that they lay on stiffened backs,

What if it was your boy who died there with

His school friends, last seen at the hitchhiking point in Gush Etzion with their

Book bags over shoulders, dangling arms

About each other, cares toss’d

To the wind, with hearts opened wide,

Not knowing what fate was about to pour

Upon them from heavens and hells that have been turned up side down

While you were watching the five o clock news in your

Cozy home surrounded by family and the wealth of unstinted

Peace and security. Your borders are tight and the nimbus

Of tranquility makes you believe your circle is sacred

And your children are safe under that same moon.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, June 30, 2014

My Leg of the Blog Tour in Progress

First and foremost, my genuine THANKS to Nancy Coats Posey for inviting me to join this Blog Tour. 
A word about Nancy:
Nancy is a lot like me, having so many interests, she needs to be twins and even some days, triplets. Nancy is an Alabama native who has lived in North Carolina since 1995, an English instructor, poetess, wife, mother, and grandmother, a photographer, and a perpetual beginner mandolin player. She has a couple blogs she floats in and out of for poetry, general information, and art projects. Her regular blog "Discriminating Reader" is devoted to her lifelong love of books. She reviews her recent (and excessive) reading and sometimes just chats about books and reading in general. Check her out at whenthepenbleeds,blogspot You’ll be happy you did.

The tour is comprised of questions starting with

       1.  What am I currently working on?

I HAD A BOY, my latest novel about Robin Dockery, a pregnant teenage runaway in Los Angeles, during the music explosion of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Robin gives her baby up for adoption but gets him back when she marries a handsome British lad so he can get his Green Card and stay in the USA with his boy friend, the son of a Venezuelan diplomat.

I completed writing BOY last year and had some interest, mainly from Anderson Literary in NY, who send me the kindest, most informative rejection letter a person could ever hope to receive.

BOY is a unique story because it is mine… I lived it and felt all the pain and joy that’s transferred onto the pages. The music scene in LA was a magical one and music really was everywhere. I take great liberties with facts and plot twists, giving cameos to the quick and the dead.

As she moves up and down the coast, over a couple decades, between Southern California and a small town in rural Washington, Robin is continually torn between her self-made family and the gnarly nest of her religious and mildly demented mother, her browbeaten father and redneck siblings with whom she has never been able to relate. I’m happy to report these characters are not based on my own personal family.

Robin’s story is important because she represents a generation of females whose choices were limited. Birth control was not quite impossible to get, but it was a challenge. Pharmacists kept condoms, (which were known by the objectionable name rubbers) behind counters so they had to be asked for. If a girl purchased a condom, she was considered nothing less than a slut and usually underwent interrogation by some white-coated pervert. Boys inquiring about prophylactics were shamed with stupid questions like “What size? You want extra large or extra small?” by the chuckling jokesters.  Roe v. Wade was on the horizon, but aborting a pregnancy was way too expensive for the majority, whether they could have the procedure legally or not. I've knew girls who found surgical solutions. They went through horror and humiliation. Some never fully recovered.

So… what happened to Robin and others like her, when their children realized they could've had a different life with someone else, someone not related to them? They might have grown up in a fantasy family, chosen and adopted. or maybe with that completely uninterested father.  

What about the mothers who didn't know who was the father of their baby? That was more common than most want to admit. Or those who barely knew him; their sperm donor, as we have semi-fondly referred to those guys who showed up for maybe a night or two, then disappeared down the road, taking responsibility and their last name with them.

How does it feel to have men come back into a mom’s life, who previously insisted she illegally abort her baby, but now want to play the role of father, grandfather, cuddly best friend and confidante?

My goal with BOY, at this point, is to re-edit… once more, and make it just a bit rawer than the original. Ms. Anderson, the literary agent, gave me some recommendations that I do believe it would be wise to pursue.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I HAD A BOY and my previous novel SING, AND DON’T CRY are about my personal adventures, turned upside down with fictionalization. Not that it hasn't been done before, but no one has ever told my story. 

I weave a certain amount of lessons in my tales, without being moralistic. John Irving wrote about the morality of abortion without ever being political or didactic. The same could be said about Mark Twain and racism; he didn't beat you over the head with it. Stephen King told stories about the death penalty and the mortification of prison life but it wasn't his intention to make his reader be shamed or feel guilty. Good teachers and I aim to emulate them.

3.   Why do I write/create what I do?
4.   How does your writing/creating process work?

I say this with a grand heaving sigh: I don’t have a choice in the matter. Words flow out of me, and like many artists, I wonder whom I’m channeling. I've stories to tell and if I try to do it through spoken word, I’m likely to be whacked over the head with a 2X4 until I shut up. So writing seems like a healthier alternative. More than once I've been told “you should write a book.” It seems like the things that have happened to me over the course of six decades are not your ordinary life. Everyone has a story to tell. My position is that some of them really neeeed to be shared. Point is, I know I like to read a good book and my aim is to give others the same pleasure.  

I work best in the mornings, which is odd, since I always used to consider myself a night owl. I’m not; I just have a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings on some days.

I like background music when I’m writing and if I want to get super inspired, I put CD’s on like soundtracks from ChocolatThe Mission or Amélie.

I can write in chaos or tranquility. There are boxes in drawers and closets with reams that attest to the fact. I possess notes written in darkened hallways, adjacent to deathbeds; bright glaring hospital rooms where my own personal cot was tucked in the corner of the patient room; boats pitching on the open sea leaving no resemblance of proper penmanship; humid jungles where cicadas screamed so loud, writing was more conducive than talking.

I've trained to perform in a circus; single-handedly midwived a baby into the world, with no training; marched, sat and sang for equal and civil rights; worked with famous people in theater summer stock and held lead and minor roles in plays and musicals; sang in a rock band; moved to a foreign country where I had to teach myself the language and then owned and ran, not one, but two businesses;. That’s just the tip of my literary iceberg. 

I end my blogs by saying “Thanks for reading” and what I mean by that is thank you for reading my blog; thank you for reading and buying books from first and second hand stores; thank you for reading poetry, mine and everyone else’s; thank you for reading newspapers and the internet; thank you for reading to your children; thank you for reading billboards; thank you for reading graffiti (because it's often someone’s creation meant to be shared); thank you for reading your emails; thank you for reading recipes; thank you for reading report cards and progress reports; thank you for reading your homework; thank you  for reading famous authors and not so famous authors; thank your for reading directions, the manual, the map and instructions; thank you for reading cereal boxes; thank you for reading The Magna Carta, The Constitution, the Bible, the Koran and the Talmud; thank you for reading... you know… Thank You for Reading.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Music was a huge influence in my parents’ lives. They danced; they sang. My mother and her brother participated in Dancethons in California, when they both lived there, he in the military in Wilmington and she building stealth gliders.
Jo Stafford’s I’ll Be Seeing You, along with every other young American in love during the war, was my parents’ song. My dad was too old for the service (b 1905) but he made good money tending bar and that’s how he met my mother. When she left California with a broken heart, she never intended to be swept off her feet by a handsome bartender in Seattle, sixteen years her senior. They were married three weeks after meeting; a marriage that lasted 42 years.
They loved to dance and I have fond memories of singing hits of the 40’s with extended family, gathered around the piano while mom tickled the ivories. I think a lot of people left a hunk of their heart in that decade. They lost so much.
Soldiers and sailors were everywhere. Seattle was a port and young men, some who lied about their age to enlist, were shipping out at Bremerton.
There were many restaurants and clubs in Seattle, including the Black and Tan (12th and Jackson), where my mom told me the jazz was incredible, the crowd very dark-skinned and the atmosphere never boring. She said famous people, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton played there and toured up and down the coast. The Town Ranch (at 8th and Pine) was one of their favorite spots and they frequented John Q Public, which is where this photo was taken in the spring of 1944. Pictured with my parents are three young boys who were shipping out the following day. The child on the left called himself Johnny Angel. My mom said he couldn’t have been over 16, maybe younger.
When I think of D-Day, I always picture these three sailors, getting pickled with my parents the night before they boarded ship to go win a war. Normandy was a slaughter, as we know. There was an estimate of 4,500 allied soldiers who died that day; 10,000 more casualties.
Give a listen to Jo Stafford to take you back to a different time.
May all our sweet young boys rest in peace. Thank you to all who have served.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Great Divide


I don't get it. I know SEVERAL small business owners who pay their employees a STARTING wage of $15. I'm also quite sure the owner of Cupcake Royale is far from personal financial pain, as was referred to in a friend’s Facebook thread. 
What a lot of whining! Why can't large corps do as Costco, known for paying their employees above the minimum in all states and countries they do business?  I worked the holiday season this last year at Nordstrom for a jaw-dropping $9.25/hr. I did okay for the weeks surrounding Christmas, which could have made it worth my while, but the bookend paychecks I received resembled nothing close to a living wage. That ain’t right.  
Food servers currently earn $9.32/hr and you say "oh, but they get TIPS, too…" Hah! I have many personal friends who are in this business. Most have two jobs. And it’s still a struggle.
I’m an apartment manager who’s pressured by upper management to raise rents whenever we have vacancies; ergo there are certain people living in our building. We used to call them yuppies; young upwardly mobile... a privileged generation. They are shutting out those who have not been able to afford a college degree, which seems to be the earmark for getting a livable wage. I know. I've done the job hunt in the past five years and it’s scary. I’m lucky to have some of the resources I do and the ability to capitalize on them or I would have gone down with this economic ship a long time ago.
Herman Cain, past presidential GOP hopeful, didn't quite come out to abolish the minimum wage but his claim that it’s the best starting place for those seeking a first job fell on ears of those with a high school education and no hope of even attending a community college and/or being able to pay rent. Guess how Cain made his fortune? Burger King. Godfather’s Pizza. He held executive positions in the restaurant industry most of his career. Republicans Rick Perry, Rand and Ron Paul all have run for office on platforms that include abolishing the federal minimum wage and as the elder Paul famously glibly quoted “because it would help the poor people.”
There is a great disparagement between the working class of America and those above them. We have the poor and we will always have the poor; those born in circumstances that are almost impossible to rise above. But we also have a diminishing lower middle class, who find it more difficult with each passing year to make ends meet. I know people who are in miserable debt, simply because they have been forced to buy GROCERIES with a credit card. Buying a new car? Laugh. Out. Loud. These are people who work at more than one job and when the day is done, there is little time for fitting in an extra class at the community college, let alone embarking on a new education or career.
I’m really disappointed in those I know who are complaining about things like higher menu prices. If you can afford trips to Europe, Asia, Hawaii, Mexico, go home to the East Coast/California to visit the family; if you have a new car don’t rely on Metro for your transportation, if you drink hard liquor or visit local restaurants, frequent a bar/café where everybody knows your name, shop retail don’t buy clothes at Value Village out of necessity, never sweat your car payment verses your rent mortgage, then maybe you should be willing to let others afford some of the same. We aren't discussing luxuries here: this isn't about yachts, expensive champagne, designer shoes. This is about enjoying life and not working your fingers to the bone. Because as the song says “What do you get? Boney fingers!” And instead of turning up your middle one to the people who actually make your life better, give a damn.  

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

World Book Night 2014

Tonight I was a giver. I gave books on World Book Night. The book I gave was WILD by Cheryl Strayed. 

About Cheryl Strayed, Ursula Hegi says: "In language that's lyrical and haunting, Cheryl Strayed writes about bliss and loss, about the kind of grace that startles and transforms us in ordinary moments."  

I must meet Cheryl, as I have met Wally and Anne and other amazing people, who can put words on paper better than I, and make magic.

Giving books to people, and explaining they are free, has a remarkable effect. At one point we were surrounded by girls, whose ages were 16 and 17 and all clamored to get a copy. How could I refuse? I made them promise to form a book club. I should have thought to give them my business card so they could report back.

The we of whom I speak is my granddaughter and I. For the past three years, she has accompanied me on World Book Night, which serves two purposes. She is willing to carry my extra books and she is soaking up experience. Tonight she was disappointed to the point of anger when a woman we talked to said she had no interest in reading. My granddaughter is a good actress and didn't let on that she was completely annoyed, however she marveled that someone could be so thick as to not realize what a gigantic world they are missing by having absolutely no interest in books!

WILD is an embracing book that made me weep, laugh, shout, chuckle, chortle, sob and sigh. A movie is being made starring Reese Witherspoon, which I may or may not see. Sometimes it’s easier for me to hang with my own images.

When we had one book left to give, we walked around until we approached a young woman at Starbucks. I opened my conversation with “the author lost her mother when she was 22” and I was handed back words that sent a waterfall of chills down my spine: “I lost my mom two months ago,” she said. I couldn't retreat with my offer nor there was much left for me to say. I handed her WILD and with my hand on her shoulder, said I was so sorry for her loss and hoped she might find some comfort in the book. 

Thanks for reading....



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Good Night PSH

Addiction is the monster that hid under the bed, lurked in the closet. Some escaped unscathed while others were fortunate enough merely to be scarred.
I've been surrounded by horrible addiction in my life and can sadly vouch for the fact that money gives no benediction to those who are leveled by their dependence.
Why some of us think we are so far above others is a mystery to me. We are all completely equal in that we are human. We are fragile as a sigh or a tear. To freely judge someone who has an exposed weakness, when we know in our personal depth, the errors of our own ways, the transgressions we have committed, the black thoughts in our hearts?
My mother-in-law could have entered treatment at any time in her life but she wasn't able to admit she was anything but normal, even though after one drink, her lip would begin to curl like a rabid dog and before long, she would ruin whatever was the occasion of the day. I’m convinced that she feared what happened to her husband would also be her likely end. Once her husband admitted he needed help and acquiesced, registering at a high-end rehabilitation facility, a long train ride away, he died the night before his departure. His death certificate reads “accidental death due to alcohol and opiates in the home of a friend.” 1943. Leaving a young widow and a tiny baby behind. His addictions began with pain killers.
I've sat with people I love and watched them bite right through a folded towel, shaking so badly that you might think the rattling of their very bones would kill them. Pouring Gatorade, bottle after bottle after bottle. I listened to sounds that rarely come from a human not giving birth, smelling the sweet stink of their sweat, poison seeping from their pores. And them swearing they would never touch the stuff again. Two years later, making the same vows, suffering the same agony.
Secrets and sorrow accompany overwhelming cravings and twist people beyond friendship and fellowship. They don't just destroy bodies and spirits and families; they also obliterate hope and faith and prospects for immeasurable futures.
I don't judge anyone. I smoked cigarettes for forty years, quitting for long intervals and fooling myself too often, thinking just one, just one and I won't have another. I'll be okay tomorrow. I haven't smoked for 5 years and I am fully aware I've damaged my own precious cardiovascular system but I bet you if I lit up right now, I would be back at it again. I never touched cocaine. I had countless opportunities but I knew that even once, I could have been a dead girl. I went to too many funerals. 
My sadness is that I will never have the chance to look forward to another Philip Seymour Hoffman movie. He was, by far, one of the best. Ever.
I'm sorry, Philip, that for after 23 years of sobriety, something enticed you, drove you and took you from us.
Heaven's gain is surely our loss and losing you and Pete Seeger in the same week gives me profound sadness. He was old but should have lived forever. You were young and should have cheated death. 

Thanks for reading. 

* Recommended: