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Letting go of a dream. (10/15/2018)
My former blog.
My former blog. Don’t you love the name?

Two years ago, I started a blog called The Well Nested Life; this month, I’ll close that site down. I’ve moved all my blogs over to this current site, so I’ve retained my words, but I have to say goodbye to the dream.

Closing my blog feels like I’m losing an old friend.

With some brainstorming help from family members, I had arrived at the term well nested. It describes my life. Homebody. Introvert. Feeling most at home, at home. My plan was to blog about humorous and poignant and touching stories of my simple life. My hope was to gather followers—my flock—who would then someday buy my memoir, in progress.

That part of the dream—let’s call it Phase I— is intact. I’ve established my online presence as a writer, attracted loyal followers, and I’m closing in on the final chapter of my memoir.

In Phase II, my follower base would grow to scores of thousands. An editor at a “Big Five” publishing house would discover my writing and be impressed with my platform. She would pay me big bucks for the honor of publishing my book.

I’d be a best selling author!

(Please don’t think I’m delusional. Most writers share this dream.)

However, it’s Phase III where I got carried away (as I have been known to do). In this phase, I’d use my big bucks from my memoir to help others become well nested.

First, my husband and I would remodel our basement into an apartment to house immigrant families short term until they secured more permanent housing. 

Then, we’d buy and renovate houses in our community, and sell them at cost to families in need. Or maybe we’d partner with Habitat for Humanity, one of my favorite charities. 

Finally, I’d create a cooperative of gardeners to provide gardening and simple landscaping help to homeowners moving into and out of our community. This would help homeowners to become well nested, as well as maximize the curb appeal of their homes, increase their home values, and increase the tax base for the community.

Sigh. It was a lovely and honorable dream.

But here’s the reality: as a writer, if I really want to build my flock, if I really want to be found by an agent or editor, I need a website under my name. “The Well Nested Life” was a mouthful of a blog, and hard to remember. So now I write, and you read, at www.karendebonis.com.

I don’t have the time, energy, or money to maintain two websites, and not nearly enough of those resources to accomplish Phase III. Something had to give; The Well Nested Life blog had to go. I have no regrets; it connected me to new friends, taught me that I’m not a complete computer simpleton, and gave me joy that (mostly) outweighed the headaches. My heart is heavy, but full.

I’m glad you’re here to help me say goodbye, and to celebrate as I write the next chapter of this journey. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m letting go of the website, but keeping the domain. Www.thewellnestedlife.com is mine for as long as I want it. You never know when I’ll get big bucks for my memoir.

You never know when another dream will hatch.

I’m open to the possibility. You in?

The roar of the lioness, the squeak of the mouse. (10/1/2018)
Voices on sexual assault: mouse or lioness.
Voices on sexual assault: mouse or lioness. (Photo courtesy Pixabay.)

 

[Trigger warning: reflections on sexual assault.]

I wasn’t sure what to do with my feelings last week. They sat in a jumbled heap in my gut, and I couldn’t seem to sort them out.

I didn’t want to write about them; I had other priorities, like my memoir manuscript. But I couldn’t escape the heap in my gut nor the whirlwind in my head. I needed to write in order to figure this out, and move on.

Now that I’m a writer, that’s what I do. I write.

So here goes:

This is about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, most of which I watched. 

To be clear: I write from a position of privilege in that I have never been sexually assaulted. Harassed, yes. Assaulted, no. 

But I have been in positions where it could easily have happened, so when women tell of their assaults and attacks, I feel their fear and pain deeply. It could have been me. By the grace of God or the luck of the draw, it wasn’t me.

I feel their fear and pain, and when their stories are dismissed, I feel their betrayal and humiliation and anger.

I want my voice of support for these women to be heard, but mine is a quiet voice, and there are more relevant voices—many of them—roaring on the internet and over the airwaves. My voice would be lost. In fact, acquaintances have asked me to allow the roars to own the stage in this chaotic time. Now is not the time for quiet voices, they said.

I claim to listen more than I talk, so I did that–I listened. 

Yet my writer instincts would not allow my voice to be silenced. So I’ve turned that voice into a poem. It’s not my genre, but the words have quieted the jumble and stilled the whirlwind, for now, at  least.

The roar of the lioness, the squeak of the mouse. 

A bird sings.
This is my voice, a melody of peace and harmony.

An owl hoots. 
This is my voice, waiting for dusk to be heard, quiet wisdom.

A mouse squeaks. 
This is my voice, gentle, unobtrusive, sometimes unheard.
But persistent.

A lioness roars.
This is not my voice.
Her roar drowns out the hoots and songs and squeaks.
The roar commands attention; the jungle listens, it stirs in response.
A roar moves mountains.

A squeak moves nothing.
But it greases the wheels of motion.
It persists.

My 9/11 story. (9/11/2018)

Most people remember where they were and what they were doing when they first got the news of the 9/11 tragedies. I remember. One hundred fifty miles north of the World Trade Center, I was driving down the highway to train my successor for the job I quit a month before. I had no replacement job; my new title was Stay-at-Home-Mom. My sons were ten and fifteen.

I was starting a new life of hope and promise when so many others’ lives were shattered. That day made me realize how grateful I was to have woken up to my priorities before it was too late.

I quit my job because Matthew—my fifteen-year-old— was having a painfully slow recovery from the damage caused by his brain tumor, diagnosed four years earlier. I needed to focus on him, focus on healing our family, and focus on healing myself—physically and emotionally—from the ordeal. My career came last. Or it should have, but it didn’t always. 

My position had been Student Assistance Counselor in a K-5 elementary school. I taught lessons on feelings and problem solving and decision making, and ran support groups for sad or angry or floundering students. I loved the kids, loved the job, but the job didn’t always love me back. Too many needy kids needed me too much. After nine years, it sucked me dry. My sons and my husband got the dregs of my energy and attention, whatever was left after I gave at the office. 

It’s too complicated to explain here how this imbalance happened; someday, you’ll read about it in my memoir. Too many Americans have much harder stories to tell today, and I don’t want to grandstand.

Today, I hope we can remember to focus on our priorities before a crisis or tragedy strikes. And if our world crashes down, literally or figuratively, I hope we find ways to grow as we heal.

It’s a good day to remember. I will.

The irony of “Why I hide my truth.” (8/20/2018)

It’s ironic that my essay, Why I hide my truth, posted today at The Sunlight Press.

The irony is that yesterday, David and Goliath duked it out within me about that very thing–sharing my truth when I’m most vulnerable. Goliath fought to keep truth in; David fought for its freedom.

I’ve been battling chronic health problems now for over four years. Some days are better than others; yesterday was not one of them.

Most days, I’m able to offset the discouragement of my physical symptoms with the joy and purpose of writing, and simple pleasures like reading on my porch swing. Yesterday was not one of them. I was a hot mess.

I hate asking for help. I hate bothering people. I hate that I might be perceived as needy. I hate exposing my raw feelings, and yesterday, they were rawer than beef standing in a field, mooing.

But I know that this journey I’m on, to write the story of my difficult motherhood, made more difficult by my son’s brain tumor, is intended to help me to grow. The universe is challenging me to break free of my old habits. If I don’t, my pain will not have been worth it.

But old habits die slower than a hosta in poor soil. Yesterday, I scrolled through the contacts in my phone, and saw many friends I could call. How blessed I am. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reach out. So I put my phone down and cried even harder. Then I felt worse, because I knew what I needed, and it was so simple, but I was too afraid.

I knew The Sunlight Press essay would post today, and I thought, Have I learned nothing from this process? I understand better why I hide my truth, and writing is a wonderful outlet, but sometimes, Goliath must fall at that very moment, not weeks or months later. Sometimes, David has just one shot, and it’s now or never.

I believe our greatest fears are our greatest opportunities for growth.

So, with a deep breath and a prayer, I did it. I texted some friends, who called me right back. I cried, they listened, and I felt better. I even laughed. The physical pain remained, but the emotional pain went poof, like a cloud of dust in Golliath’s fallen wake.

New habits take practice, and sadly, I’ll have many more opportunities to learn. I expect each time I reach out, it will be a little easier. And each time, I’ll have good fodder for my writing.

 

 

Thirty-two years ago… (8/13/2018)

IMG_1677

Thirty-two years ago today, when I became a mother at 7:32 PM, on Wednesday, August 13, 1986, I had no idea of the difficult road ahead. No parent-to-be knows for sure what to expect in their new role, of course, but there’s a continuum of “typical” and there’s off-the-child-development-charts “unpredictable.”

If you’ve followed my story, you know where my motherhood experience fell.

I thought I was ready to be a mom. I had loving role models in my parents, I was an attentive big sister, and I babysat as a teen. I had a supportive husband, a fulfilling career, a cozy house with a crib, and a changing table stocked with onesies, cloth diapers, and blankies. I took my prenatal vitamins and shunned alcohol and attended LaMaze and breastfeeding classes, and read every page of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

I was prepared for a typical child. And I expected to be a perfect mom. Matthew and I were neither.

But we’re resilient. Matthew’s recovery from his brain tumor, diagnosed when he was 11, is profound–unpredictable in a good way. Every time I see him, I think he’s smarter than the last time, and the last time, he was reading The Communist Manifesto. 

He’s one remarkable human being. I am so blessed that he is here today so I can wish him:

Happy Birthday, Matt.

Love, Mom

Reframing my reflection. (8/10/2018)

Telling the story about my son’s brain tumor is the easy part of writing my memoir.

I first wrote most of the dramatic scenes over fifteen years ago, within a few years of his diagnosis at age 11. Had I not written them, I would still remember. The trauma created new neural pathways in my brain, and the memories travel them frequently.

I’ve shed so many tears over the years as I scribbled and typed away, there are fewer left now. It helps that Matthew is about to turn 32, and he manages his minor deficits so well, you’d never know anything had ever been wrong.

A mother knows. But that’s what mothers do–they know, when others do not.

During the three years that Matthew’s slow deterioration remained a medical mystery, I knew, deep inside, that something was wrong. But I didn’t listen to my gut. I didn’t stand up for what I believed to be true.

The hard part of this memoir is to tell that story: that motherhood exposed my flaws, and those flaws jeopardized my child.

At this point in my writing, I’m struggling to understand who I was as a mother, as a woman, as a person. I’m struggling with forgiveness.

Today, as I stepped out of the shower, an insight hit me like a blast of cold water, and I ran around in my towel, dripping on the floor, trying to find paper and a pencil. I scribbled my thoughts down; here’s what I’ve written:

I was a flawed mother, but I didn’t give up and I didn’t fail. I pulled my family through our ordeal, and we survived, not unscathed, but stronger and wiser. And by grappling now to understand who I was then, when my children were little, I’m coming to peace with my flaws, and realizing my strengths. What better example can a mother set for her children, even though they are now grown?

I looked in the mirror, and for years, all I noticed was the jagged crack running through the middle. Shards of glass occasionally splintered off, drawing tears and blood. Now, I have sealed the crack. It left a scar. There are some chips in the beveled edges, and the antique glass is wavy. Black splotches show through where the quicksilver backing has worn away. I see character. As an antique, the mirror is more valuable with its flaws intact. The cheap frame, however is moldy, and needs to go. I put a new one on, and it changes my reflection. I love what I see now, flaws and all.

If you are on a quest of forgiveness, for yourself or others, can you reframe what you see?

The happy ending. (8/3/2018)

My memoir, when it’s done, will be a tough read, until the very end. There’s a lot of pain in it, and I imagine some readers will wonder if they can make it through. When I was living the pain, I sometimes wondered if I would make it through, too.

Note to future readers: The story has a happy ending, and you’ll be so glad you stuck it out.

.I wrote about the happy ending in a 100 word essay, published in Drabblez Magazine this week. I was surprised at how much I could tell in so few words.

The title is When muddies waters clear.

And it starts like this:

His fifth day at Rent Central was his last, after he dropped a couch in the mud. My son.

You can read the rest of it here. (Unfortunately, there’s no direct link to my essay, but you can scroll down to #18.)

It’s another writing feather in my cap. And I’m now working on manuscript revisions in the section leading up to the happy ending. I’ll be glad when I get there!

 

It’s a big day and a big step! (7/20/2018)

Today, I’m happy to announce my first essay to appear in a Literary Publication–Mothers Always Write!

“When a horrible diagnosis is a relief.”

I submitted the essay in March, then it was accepted perhaps in May, (I’ve lost track of that exciting email), then I received notice on Monday that it would appear today. I’ve been nervous, wondering how it would look. Although I wrote the essay, of course, I didn’t know if I’d be happy with it when it became “official.”

Well, I am happy. And proud and humbled.

This is a big step. If I’m to attract a publisher to my memoir, I need to build my writing resume. Having this website (and my former blog) is a good start, but it’s having my writing in literary journals and widely circulated publications that gives me the credentials I need.

So it’s a big step. I’m glad you’re here to share it with me.

I hope you’ll take a moment and give me your thoughts. Have you ever had a horrible diagnosis that brought you relief? If that makes no sense to you, please read my essay, and hopefully you’ll understand.

 

 

 

Happy Positivity Day! (7/13/2018)

Today is Friday the 13th, a day some people truly dread. For others, these unlucky Fridays provide a whimsical excuse for all that goes wrong. April was the most recent time a Friday fell on the thirteenth. When I shared some thoughts about it, I received a comment by this writer suggesting that every Friday the 13th should be considered “simple life day.” I loved the idea.

But I’ve changed my mind.

Today, I declare that Friday the 13th henceforth will be known as “Positivity Day.”

There. It’s official, at least, in my world.

I have good reason to choose this new designation. One month ago, on an unlucky Wednesday, a family member called to say she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was too early to reveal her identity, but now I’ll tell you that it was Mary Beth, my only sister, my confidante, my beautiful, talented, caring, spirited, chronic illness warrior partner.

It was the second time a brain tumor crashed into my world. The first time, it was Matthew, my 11-year old son, who was no longer my “Little Einstein, or my “gazelle,” and we couldn’t figure out why until a brain scan revealed the problem.

There are so many similarities in Mary Beth’s and Matthew’s stories, it’s eerie. “Surreal,” my sister and I kept saying on the phone.

My sister’s tumor, a benign meningioma the size of an orange, was removed in a nine hour surgery. Last week, I flew out to spend time with her, and saw first-hand that she is doing amazingly well. Amazing as in, less than a month post-surgery, Mary Beth is feeling and functioning better than at any time in the past five years when her journey of pain and weakness began.

Matthew’s recovery was not so dramatic, but equally amazing. At 32, he manages his independent life better than many older, wiser adults. If you didn’t know what he’s been through, you’d never suspect what he’s been through. My memoir, in progress, tells of my struggle to parent Matthew through his challenges, a struggle that exposed the depth of my personal weaknesses. A perfect life could never have taught me so much.

My own brain still struggles to wrap itself around this recent brain tumor surprise. There are life lessons hiding in it, yet to be discovered. With time, I’ll find them and work them into my writing. I have to get back to work on my memoir manuscript. It has a new chapter. Or perhaps a sequel, as my sister suggested.

Today, I’m going to find positivity in everything. Already, the day is exploding with examples: the sky is blue, the sun bright, the AC ready for the afternoon’s humidity. My Rose of Sharon shrubs have popped with pink and purple flowers, the white balls of blooms on my hydrangea are bigger than my head. My coffee was perfect this morning, and I’m sitting in my PJs tapping away in my quiet, cool dining room. Matthew will be stopping by this weekend to visit, and Mary Beth texted this morning to say she is full of joy.

It’s working! Positivity reigns!

 

If you find positivity in an unusual place today, or any day, please share it with me! You just might nudge another reader (or me) toward the same discovery.  

 

 

 

 

Finding hope in the chaos of life. (6/20/2018)

My memoir, which I’ve not finished writing, has been given an unwanted sequel. Not by Matt, my 31-year-old son who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 11. By a close family member, who just received that same diagnosis. I can’t give more details yet, out of respect for this person’s privacy, but as you might imagine, my own brain is reeling.

The prognosis for my family member is good, as was Matt’s. Recovery will be long and arduous, as was Matt’s. My heart is breaking all over again.

I had planned to give you an update on what’s not blooming in my garden this year–my climbing hydrangea and my yucca. Both bloomed last year for the first time, giving me such hope. I wrote that I was “open to the possibility” that the blooms were a sign my chronic health issues would resolve. (You can read the post below.)

This year, those plants have not bloomed and my health has not improved and now my memoir has a sequel.

What does it all mean?

It means we will always be challenged to find hope in the chaos of life.

I remain open to that possibility–that there will always be hope. I still have mine. Do you?

(The chaos in my life will include some out of state care-taking, so you may not hear from me for awhile. I won’t forget about you if you don’t forget about me.)

 

 

When I looked out of the living room window the other day, I saw that my climbing hydrangea had buds. “Michael!” I yelled to my husband who was in the yard. I ran outside and dragged him over to look. Upon closer inspection, we saw five clusters of buds about to explode into starbursts of tiny white flowers. I had waited five years for this.

The next day, I was strolling around the back yard and again yelled to Michael to “come look!”  This time it was my yucca, a name that belies its stately spires of white flowers. In seven years, my yucca has graced me with this vision just once. As I pointed out to Michael the tall stalk rising up out of the scratchy foliage, I noticed two more blooms-to-be.

There’s more. If you’re not a gardener, stay with me here. There’s a deeper meaning to my garden eureka moments. At least that’s what I choose to believe.

My rose campion, started with cuttings I took from our other house 11 years ago, has finally produced a sprinkling of its vibrant magenta flowers.

And an ornamental variegated grass that I’ve had for four or five years surprised me with tall wheat-like plumes that dance gracefully in every breeze.

What the heck is going on in my garden?

People adhere to different philosophies about unexpected events. Here are some commons sayings:

“There are no coincidences.”

“It was meant to be.”

“It happened for a reason.”

One of my personal sayings is: “I’m open to the possibility.”

It’s possible that this year’s garden miracles are a coincidence. It’s possible they’re a result of our rainy May, or the new type of fertilizer I used.

I’m going with another possibility. I think my late bloomers are a sign of good things to come.

Last year, I declared that 2017 would be “my” year–the year I would finally conquer my crazy health conditions. So far, 2017 has not exactly been cooperative.

Then, this visual chorus in my garden like angels splashing the earth with a flower-petaled “Hallelujah.”

I’m taking it as a sign that I’ll get better. Or maybe there’s an alternate miracle in store for me. Maybe I’ll hit 1,000 followers on my blog. Or I’ll finish my memoir. Or, even better, all three AND a book deal. Or something different and superior, yet to be revealed.

Yup. I’m going with it.

If nothing else, when I peek out of my living room window or wander around the yard, I’ll be reminded that good things can be in store for us. They may be holding out, just beyond our awareness, waiting for the right moment to appear. I’ll stay open to the possibility that these things take their good old time getting here. And when they do, Hallelujah!