Geneen Roth is a beautiful writer. Her books offer two of the things I love best: careful, flowing prose and intimate true stories. Through her books you get to know her story and her struggles—and you come out of it believing that what she did is something that you can do, too.
Overcoming Emotional Overeating is an introduction to the intuitive eating approach to diet. It’s a memoir as well as a diet book, offering practical guidelines for implementing the intuitive eating approach and Roth’s personal stories learning the same. Read it for the insight she shares, but also read it for inspiration. Changing unhelpful food-related habits is hard, and Roth can be your advocate.
Intuitive eating is the ultimate non-diet. Intuitive eaters eat anything they want, anytime they want to—as long as they’re truly hungry, and what they’re eating is what they sense their body is asking for (you know, intuitively).
Geneen Roth’s eating guidelines are as follows:
Eat only when you are hungry.
Eat sitting down in a calm environment (not in the car).
Eat without distractions.
Eat only what your body wants.
Eat until you are satisfied, not until you are full.
Eat with the intention of being in full view of others. (Meaning, don’t scarf.)
Eat with enjoyment.
In her inspiring, emotionally intelligent and highly vulnerable style, Roth encourages the reader to think differently about food, their body–and even how to enjoy a more meaningful, connected life.
About the Author
Geneen Roth is the author of several books on weight loss and weight management, particularly the emotional components of these challenges. She encourages people struggling with extra weight to explore their underlying emotional and psychological concerns and shares stories from her personal experiences to illustrate her points. Roth also hosts talks and workshops on the subject. Some of her notable works include When Food Is Love and Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money. Her goal is to bring positive transformation in people’s mindsets around food and body image.
Your Life Is A Book: How To Craft & Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann is my favorite book on memoir writing. Written by women in the publishing business, it’s heavy on the practicalities and light on the sappy “dig deep inside” stuff.
Read it because your life is a memoir, and you’re just waiting to see how it turns out before you write it.
My favorite quote of the book: “Start anywhere. Because no matter where you start, you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.”
Consider these subjects: gender, race, politics, class, culture, religion, location, food, sex. All can provide a thread for the narrative.
Memoir must include epiphanies that you build up to after which the person’s life is changed.
Read other memoirs. Educate yourself on the genre before taking it on yourself.
Ask: What is the story you’re telling to yourself about yourself? Write it down in a few pages, then see if that’s your main theme.
Write down your dreams.
Reread your old letters.
Your journal is not your memoir! This is important.
Here’s a helpful writing prompt: What is one scene from your life that explains your whole life? Jot down your thoughts on this and see if that’s your story.
Each scene has three jobs: To advance the plot, to deepen the characterization, and to engage a major theme. Don’t leave any of these three functions out.
Don’t start with waking up or with the weather–these are the oldest cliches in the genre. Start with a unique scene, and follow it with more unique scenes.
Bring in a sense of place and time–good settling details. Consider your settling to be another character in the book.
Make your stories memorable. Don’t be in “no time.” Engage the senses, and ground the narrative in place. Tell what the person’s body is doing, what year is, and the like.
Write about food! When in doubt, it’s a go-to. Describing meal details is very emotionally provocative and symbolic, as well as relatable.
Write about a journey. Where did you start, and where are you going?
Finally, write about moral dilemmas. These are relatable and bring up strong emotional responses in the reader.
About the Authors
Brenda Peterson is an American author, wildlife advocate, and writing teacher. She was born in Seattle, Washington, and has written numerous books, including memoirs, novels, and nature writing. Peterson’s work often explores themes of nature, animals, and the human connection to the natural world. She is known for her evocative writing style and her ability to blend personal experience with environmental and social issues.
Sarah Jane Freymann is an American literary agent and co-founder of the literary agency Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. With her extensive experience in the publishing industry, Freymann brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the process of crafting and publishing memoirs.
In Your Life is a Book, Peterson and Freymann draw on their expertise to guide readers through the various stages of writing a memoir. They cover topics such as identifying key moments, creating compelling characters, developing a narrative structure, and finding one’s authentic voice. The book also offers practical guidance on editing, revising, and navigating the publishing industry.
Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich sn’t just about unschooling. It’s about all kinds of teaching situations—about the art of learning through exploration. What could be more inspiring than that?
“Unschooling” is the term commonly used to describe a way of homeschooling that is highly play-based and child-led—what some would call “organic” learning. Unschooled kids don’t do worksheets, and may or may not attend formal classes. They just do things and learn along the way.
Do what you love.
Use microcosms as much as possible.
Embrace all technologies.
Excel is awesome for math.
Formally learn only what will be reinforced in the next 14 days.
Explore first. Play second. Teach third.
Only work on one or two subjects per day.
Keep a focused journal.
About the Author
Clark Aldrich is an author, speaker, and expert in the field of educational technology and simulations. He has made significant contributions to the development and implementation of innovative learning solutions that combine technology, simulations, and game-based approaches.
His work emphasizes the importance of active, experiential learning, where learners are actively engaged in realistic scenarios and problem-solving activities. Aldrich believes that well-designed simulations and games can provide learners with opportunities to practice skills, make decisions, and learn from their experiences in a safe and immersive environment.
As a speaker and consultant, Aldrich has worked with numerous organizations and educational institutions to implement innovative learning solutions. He has delivered presentations and workshops worldwide, sharing his expertise and insights on the transformative potential of simulations and game-based learning.
No, it’s not a must-read. But Growing Up Amish: A Memoir and other religious memoirs like it offer fascinating and educational insight into other people’s lives and minds. Ira Wagler doesn’t needlessly berate his former belief system or the people who maintain it. He gives a well-written, objective account, as do many others. I, for one, can’t get enough of this type of book.
This memoir chronicles Wagler’s experiences growing up in a strict Amish community and the internal struggles he faced as he questioned the beliefs and lifestyle he was raised in. Itprovides insights into the Amish way of life, their traditions, and the challenges of leaving the community behind.
“We were also repelled by what we saw and heard around us every day. Most of the adults—those securely anchored in the faith—didn’t seem any too happy in their daily lives. In fact, they were mostly downright grumpy. There was little in our own world that attracted us, made us stop and think, That’s what I want. To live like that. We were stuck in a stifling, hostile culture consisting of myriad complex rules and restrictions. More things were forbidden than were allowed. And that’s not to mention the drama, the dictatorial decrees, the strife among so-called brothers, and the seemingly endless emotional turmoil that resulted. We had seen and lived it all.”
“In fact, the Amish church does everything in its power to maintain its grip on the youth, including applying some of the most guilt-based pressure tactics in existence anywhere in the world. After all, there’s no sense encouraging young people to taste the outside world …”
“With some prodding, there might be a reluctant admission that yes, others not of our particular faith might make it to heaven, but only because they were not born Amish and didn’t know any better. Those who were born in the faith had better stay, or they would surely face a terrible Judgment Day. That’s what we heard. What we were told by our parents and what we heard in the sermons at church. But they never explained why.”
“That kind of pressure is a brutal thing, really, a severe mental strain. And it’s the reason that in most communities, when Amish kids run wild, they usually run hard and mean. Because once that line is crossed, there are no others.”
“From a distance, or from outside, my decision [to return to the faith] makes no sense. But it made all the sense in the world to me in that moment, to keep slogging on, to walk the road that equated eternal life with earthly misery.”
About the Author
Ira Wagler is an American author known for his memoir “Growing Up Amish: A Memoir.” Born in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, in 1961, Wagler grew up in a traditional Old Order Amish community. However, as a young man, he made the difficult decision to leave his Amish upbringing and pursue a different path.
Someone lived in space for a year. His name is Scott Kelly, and Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery is his story. I think that pretty much sums up the value of this book. Side note: the quotes I selected below don’t do the book justice; the beauty of it is in Kelly’s descriptions of the mundane, daily activities of life in space.
On the International Space Station: “The ISS is a remarkable achievement of technology and international cooperation. It has been inhabited nonstop since November 2, 2000; put another way, it has been more than fourteen years since all humans were on the Earth at once. It is by far the longest-inhabited structure in space and has been visited by more than two hundred people from sixteen nations. It’s the largest peacetime international project in history.”
On landing the space shuttle: “The very complexity of the space shuttle was why I wanted to fly it. But learning these systems and practicing in the simulators—learning how to respond to the myriad of interrelated malfunctions in the right way—showed me how much more complicated this spacecraft was than anything I could have imagined. There were more than two thousand switches and circuit breakers in the cockpit, more than a million parts, and almost as many ways for me to screw up. The amount I learned in order to go from a new ASCAN to a pilot on my first mission was, from what I could observe, an education comparable to getting a PhD. Our days were packed with classes, simulations, and other training.”
On the moments before takeoff: “The space shuttle, fully fueled with cryogenic liquid, creaked and groaned. Soon this sixteen-story structure was going to lift off the Earth in a controlled explosion. For a moment I thought to myself, Boy, this is a really dumb thing to be doing.”
“There is a NASA tradition, which some crews follow more closely than others, of pulling pranks on rookies. When the Astrovan pulled up to the launchpad, I said offhandedly to Tracy, Barb, and Alvin, “Hey, you guys remembered to bring your boarding passes, right?” They looked at one another quizzically as the four of us veterans pulled preprinted boarding passes out of our pockets. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t bring your boarding passes! They won’t let you on the space shuttle without one!’ I insisted. After an initial look of panic crossed their faces, the three rookies quickly caught on.”
“On his fourth flight, in 2008, Yuri’s Soyuz landed so far from his intended touchdown point, the local Kazakh farmers who came upon his steaming spacecraft had no idea what it was. When he and his two female crewmates, Peggy Whitson and Yi So-yeon, emerged from the capsule, the Kazakhs mistook him for an alien god who had come from space with his own supply of women. Had the rescue forces not arrived, I suspect the farmers would have appointed him their leader.”
About the Author
Scott Kelly is an American astronaut, engineer, and retired U.S. Navy captain. He was born on February 21, 1964, in Orange, New Jersey, United States. Kelly is renowned for his contributions to space exploration and his record-breaking mission on the International Space Station (ISS).
Kelly joined NASA in 1996 and became an astronaut in 1999. Throughout his career, he participated in several space missions, including space shuttle flights and long-duration stays on the ISS. However, his most notable achievement came during his year-long mission on the ISS from March 2015 to March 2016. This mission, known as the “One-Year Mission,” aimed to study the effects of long-term spaceflight on the human body, specifically comparing Kelly’s physiological and psychological changes with his identical twin brother Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth.
During his year in space, Scott Kelly conducted various scientific experiments, participated in spacewalks, and documented his experiences through photographs and social media. His mission provided valuable insights into the physical and psychological challenges of long-duration space travel and helped pave the way for future manned missions to Mars and beyond.
Scott Kelly’s achievements in space and his contributions to scientific research have earned him numerous accolades, including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the Russian Medal for Merit in Space Exploration. He is recognized as a prominent figure in the field of space exploration and continues to inspire others with his remarkable journey and dedication to pushing the boundaries of human exploration in space.
In case you didn’t already know, Donald Maass is a legend of the book publishing world. In his mature, wise, yet conversational way, he’s written a slew of books on writing and publishing, including How To Be Your Own Literary Agent. I love the emphasis in The Fire In Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Technique To Make Your Novel Great on making your fiction (and nonfiction) snap, crackle and pop. This is one of the most practical and specific books on writing I’ve ever read.
There is a big difference between storytellers–people who hone their craft relentlessly–and status seekers, who publish for money and recognition. Be the former, and avoid the latter trap.
Great novels happen because the author is committed to making every scene, every line, not just technically good, but infused with the author’s own passion.
Protagonists shouldn’t be just Jane and John Does. They should be people we admire and want to spend time with, like the few friends we have that we would cancel plans and drop everything for. Even antiheroes should be admirable in some way.
Similarly, every hero or protagonist needs flaws. Balance the bad and good in every character in the book–even the minor ones. Make no one flat.
Secondary characters are often one-dimensional, cliché. This is a major missed opportunity. Each should be 3D and memorable.
When editing scenes, look for their turning points and focus the whole scene around them. This will clarify the purpose of each scene. In each, something or several somethings should change. A story is always in motion. Remember: change.
Your book should include the “tornado effect.” This is the big event in the book that affects all of the characters. Show how it affects them, too; don’t just assume the reader gets it. Make it clear how the tornado changed everything.
Good description attaches emotions to detail. Both are found together. Don’t have flat detail; have evocative detail.
Characters should have opinions. This makes us want to get to know them. Don’t worry about being too controversial; remember, they’re just characters, not you.
“The world of story is hyperreality. In a passionately told tale, characters are larger than life, what’s happening matters profoundly … and even the words on the page have a Day Go fluorescence.”
“Great books are fast reads because there is tension in every line. Characters are always at odds, even if just mildly, as with conflict between friends. This is the secret to page-turning fiction.”
“Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds.” Knowing whether or not guy gets girls doesn’t us for three hundred pages. Knowing who will win this little battle of minds in this scene keeps us there for that scene.
About the Author
Donald Maass is an American literary agent, author, and teacher known for his expertise in the field of writing and storytelling. He is also the founder and president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, which represents a wide range of fiction and non-fiction authors. He has worked in the publishing industry for over forty years, helping authors navigate the publishing world and negotiate book deals.
In addition to his work as a literary agent, Maass is also a prolific author. He has written several books on writing and craft, including Writing the Breakout Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and The Emotional Craft of Fiction. These books offer insights, techniques, and exercises to help writers create compelling and emotionally resonant stories.
Maass is known for his deep understanding of storytelling and his ability to identify what makes a book stand out and connect with readers. He encourages authors to dig deeper, take risks, and infuse their writing with emotional depth and resonance.
This is part three of a story I wrote after the death of my daughter in 2011 called What I Learned from Jane. Read parts one, two and three here.
On Tuesday, David and I got to the hospital around noon again. This time there was no meeting.
It was Jane’s last day.
As I had the day before, as soon as I saw her lying in her bed, I started to cry, and, as soon as I could, I sat down to hold her. After a short time the nurse asked if I wanted to be skin-to-skin again.
“There are visitors,” I said, but she told me she could pin some blankets over my shoulders, so I said yes. She called in another nurse to help and they put Jane’s body on mine and I placed each of her arms on my breasts and wrapped her legs around my waist, then leaned back in the chair.
After a while, there was a call on the room’s intercom.
“David’s boss is here with his family,” the receptionist told us. “Can they come in?”
I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “Let them in.”
He and his wife and daughter came in the room and saw my bare arms and saw my tears and they were very nice and they understood.
A few hours went by and more visitors came. Eventually, I had to use the bathroom so I got dressed and gave the baby to David. He took off his shirt and held Jane skin-to-skin, too, and, as he did so, his face was very happy and very sweet. Then David’s sister held her for a while, and, after that, Andrea.
When Andrea held her, David and his family were already out of the room, so I decided to leave, too, and give them some time alone. I went to the waiting room for a while, then went back inside.
Andrea was still holding Jane and she looked very happy and very sad at the same time.
We sat quietly for a while. Then we started talking about the meaning of Jane’s life.
“Do you think she knows we’re here?” I asked.
“Yes,” Andrea said. “I think that the important part of her is still here, even though her mind is gone; who she really is is here.”
We were quiet again. Then, after a while, I said, “I used to be religious.” I didn’t just say it for no reason; I wanted to find out what she believed about such things. “Anyone this good and this kind,” I thought, “Must know something I don’t.”
“You were?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It was nice.”
“What do you think about religion?” I asked.
She paused and looked away. Then, slowly and carefully, she gave me her answer.
“I am a very spiritual person,” she said. “I read about it and I meditate and it is important to me, but I am not religious in the typical sense of the word.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I like that.”
And, right then—right at that moment—I think I came back to God.
I have always believed in God. Ever since I was old enough to believe anything, I’ve believed in something beyond this great green place. When I was maybe six years old, in fact, I spoke in tongues for the first time. If you don’t already know about speaking in tongues, I’ll just mention that it is believed to be a way to communicate with God in words that you yourself may not be able to interpret.
When I spoke in tongues for the first time, I was not thinking. I was not speaking on my own. The words just came out without me even knowing what had happened.
I guess that’s what is so great about being a child.
My sister was sitting next to me and after I was done, she asked my mother if she could do it, too. So, my mom prayed for her and the same thing happened to her that happened to me and I saw it happen, and it was amazing.
And nothing like it has ever happened to me since.
But I kept believing. And I’ve never stopped. Not because I spoke in tongues, though.
Because I think that belief makes sense.
Now, I won’t start preaching to you—after all, it won’t change your mind about anything and anyway I like you just the way you are, I really do. But I do want to tell you a little more about this because after all, this is a story about what happened to my baby and what happened to me after that.
As I said, I’ve always believed in God and I’ve always been a spiritual person. But when I was in high school and for my first few years of college, I was really spiritual. I wasn’t just inclined to believe a certain way; I was actually trying really hard to change myself and to be a better person.
And, as I said to Andrea, it was nice.
No matter what I was doing, there was always a purpose to it—a real purpose, not just a love-others-and-be-kind kind of purpose. Everything I did meant something—or seemed to, anyway.
Then things happened. I won’t go into the details here as they are unimportant, but I will just say that as a result of these things, I could no longer believe the same things I used to believe and, as is so common among college students, I lost my faith. Not all of it—but all of the part that, at the time, made it meaningful.
And then, I graduated. And then, I did the usual things and learned how to be happy without the help of religion.
I became like everybody else.
I got married, which made me happy for a while. I got divorced, which also made me happy. I went onto the internet and found a very good man, David, who is either an atheist or an agnostic depending on how you phrase the question, and soon after that I knew that no matter what, I would never let him get away from me, even if it meant losing my religion entirely.
And then, at some point—maybe a while into the relationship or maybe at the very beginning, when I first fell in love with him, long before I knew for sure we’d be together for good, but just knew I wanted to be—David became my religion.
Not literally, of course. He was still just David.
But I lived for him. He did not ever hurt me, and our love was as real as I’ve ever known love could be, and I am an old-fashioned girl anyway who likes looking up to someone I think is better than me and so, I let my love for him take over a great part of the meaning of my life.
In other words, I lived to be happy.
By that time I had learned a lot about the subject of happiness. I had made a lot of mistakes and assumed a lot of things that weren’t true. For instance, I used to believe that if you were very good, and very spiritual, happiness would just come to you as a matter of course. As it turned out, though, life isn’t like that; if I wanted to be happy, I realized, I’d have to make myself that way.
And I did. I looked for a good partner, which, fortunately, I found. I looked for a good city and I moved there. I started doing the kind of work I loved—all in the same year.
And, finally, I was happy.
And happiness—living the good life, as I called it—became everything to me.
Then came Jane.
And somehow, in the time that I knew her, I realized something: I wanted to be spiritual again.
I wanted to believe in something higher than myself.
I wanted to believe in miracles.
And that is why spirituality, to me, is relevant again. It’s not just something I think about or an interesting topic of conversation; right now, it feels like a lifeline, like a rope thrown out to a drowning person.
I don’t know where the rope came from. I don’t know where it will lead me.
But now isn’t the time to question all that.
Now is the time to just grab onto the rope.
I’ll figure the rest out later.
Andrea and I talked for a while longer. Then, she went back to the waiting room and I undressed and took Jane again.
It was the last time we would be able to sit like that together. We were there for about an hour and a half, but it seemed much, much shorter.
I cried a lot. I sang to Jane in a cracked and terrible voice. I told her I loved her and tried to do all of the last things.
I asked her why she didn’t want to stay.
When David came back, he told me that it was almost time. Since we didn’t have any baby girl clothes, some of our visitors had given us some nice things for her to wear for her last moments. Before we put them on, though, the nurse asked us if we wanted to give her a sponge bath. We said we did.
We washed her whole body, one part at a time. David changed her diaper and we both washed and combed her hair. Her hair was so long and so soft and so beautiful.
She would have been so beautiful.
After that, David left the room and I put on her clothes while he waited with the others in the lobby. When I was done she looked very fat and very healthy and she looked like the perfect baby girl. David came in.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
It was about nine thirty.
The visitors came in and we took turns standing by the bedside with the baby, looking at her and touching her for the last time. All of the women cried and maybe both of the men, too. Someone brought her a stuffed dog and I said, “She must like dogs because that’s the second one she’s gotten.” We all talked about how pretty and healthy she looked and how the nurses had told us that her feet were big for a newborn.
“Maybe she would’ve been tall,” David said.
“She probably would’ve been,” I said. Then we were quiet.
After about half an hour everyone left the room except me.
It was now the end.
The nurses moved some chairs to the balcony where I told them I wanted to be and, saying it was cold outside, wrapped Jane and I in blankets. They undid most of her tubes so just the respirator was left. Then they brought in a mobile oxygen tank and attached her to it. One of the nurses showed me how to open the little iodine tubes and rub it on the tape before removing the respirator.
After that they put Jane in my arms and we all walked out of the room, down the hallway and onto the balcony. We walked very slowly. To my surprise, I was not crying yet.
I sat in the chair that faced the city. One of the nurses asked me if I was ready for them to take the oxygen tank away, and I said yes. She did so, then both of the nurses left, saying they would be right inside the door if I needed anything.
And then, for the last time, we were alone.
Next to me there was a railing and on top of it there were the iodine tubes and a wet nap to wipe her face with. I picked up one of the tubes but I couldn’t make it work so I put it back down and began to pull the tape off Jane’s mouth without it. It came off easily and, in a way, I was relieved.
Then I took the respirator out of her mouth.
The nurses told me later it would’ve happened a few seconds after that but at the time I couldn’t tell; there was no change.
I looked at Jane’s face without the respirator.
It was beautiful.
It was perfect.
It had depth.
It said something to me that I don’t think that any other face could say so well.
It said, “I know you. I understand you. I love you. “You’re my mother.”
After a while, I opened the wet wipe and began to wash Jane’s face. Her lips were still pinched in a little from the respirator and I wanted to smooth them out so I rubbed the cloth over them again and again.
It didn’t work; they would not go back to the way they were when she was born. Still, I kept wiping them and the rest of her face, over and over and over. At the time I didn’t know why I was doing it—it just felt right. Later, though, as I was telling someone about that moment I said, “It felt like it was the last thing I could do for her as her mother.”
After a half hour or so the nurse came out with a wet wash cloth and exchanged it for the wet nap and went back inside.
I wiped her face some more.
After a while, I pulled Jane close to my chest for the last time. Then I kissed her.
My last words to her were, “Please don’t leave me.”
I said it many, many times.
It was all I said.
Another half hour or so went by. Finally, I decided I was ready, and shortly after that it started to rain, so I gathered Jane’s blanket around her head and mine around my shoulders and we went inside.
I took Jane back to her room and put her on the bed. By this time her face was very yellow. The nurse that was there said that I could undress her, so I did. Then a doctor came in and looked for a heartbeat. There was none, she said.
It was over.
We looked at the clock. It was ten forty-five.
I started gathering Jane’s things and mine. The nurse offered me her comb and the clothes they had given her to wear during her first days in the hospital and some other things, too. I took them all and put them in my purse. Then I put her blanket around my shoulders.
After that, Jane was naked again on the bed with just a hospital blanket over her lower half.
I kissed her goodbye and walked to the door. At the door I turned around and looked at her for the last time.
Then, I left.
In the lobby, the visitors were still waiting with David. I hugged everyone and they had some food for me so I ate some food and drank some water and soon after that we went home.
The next few days were busy. I was still in some pain from the episiotomy but I didn’t want to rest. On Wednesday we went to the funeral home to make arrangements and I cried in front of the lady we talked to there. Then David and I got a massage and I cried while lying on the table. The next day I cried at the dentist, and the day after that in the bank lobby while waiting for someone to help us.
And every single day for that first week, I wondered: If I stop crying, will I lose her?
I don’t want to stop crying for my little girl, I thought. Not even when it seems like the right time.
I want to bleed forever.
Besides the pictures, and her clothing, and two locks of hair, the tears are all I have left.
The day after Jane died, a Wednesday, I talked to my sister on the phone. I told her about Jane’s last day and I sobbed and after a while I said, “I know it sounds crazy because she never spoke and I don’t know if she ever heard me speak except in the womb but looking at her, especially those last two days, it felt like her soul was there and it spoke to me instead.
“It felt like she was my soul mate, someone who understood me better than I even understand myself,” I said. “It was like she came for a reason and she knew exactly what I needed—something I maybe used to have but somehow didn’t anymore—and she knew exactly how much time I needed with her to get it back. So she decided to come for just that reason and nothing else, to give me a gift I couldn’t have received in any other way, and now she’s gone.”
I could not accept that her death was a result of random chance—and her life, too. It had to mean something.
There had to be a reason.
And I still believe that.
It’s unspecific, I know. It’s not a perfect philosophy or explanation. But, so far, it’s as close to a theology as I have come in a long time.
And I think it makes sense.
I think it really makes sense.
That night was hard, but Friday night, two nights later, was even harder. I could not sleep and as I lay in bed I thought about all of the things I didn’t do that I should have done.
I should have held her more, I thought. I should have stayed with her at the hospital every night.
“It was too short,” I kept saying to David as I cried. “It was too short.”
The following Sunday, I went to church for the first time in a long time. It was a non-traditional church where people believe things like karma and reincarnation—and Jesus, too.
I liked it a lot.
During the service, I cried a little. Then, after the service, I prayed with someone and cried a lot more. The minister saw me and came over to talk. I told her what happened and said through my tears, “I want to know where she is.”
“Why do you ask that?” she said. “Why is it so important for you to know?”
“I don’t want to believe she’s in heaven,” I said. “I don’t think she is. I think she is still with me.”
The minister said that she believed I could be right; Jane could still be here.
“I don’t believe in heaven,” she said. “I believe that those that pass on are still with us, but they’re on a different level, one that we can’t see right now.”
“Can I talk to her?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You can talk to her, even out loud, and I think she will hear you.”
The next day was a Monday. That night, as David and I were sitting next to each other on the living room floor, warming up by the heater, it suddenly occurred to me that he probably didn’t know how much I loved him.
I looked at him. My face softened into that right-before-crying look and I said, “I love you, David. Do you know how much I love you? I love you so much. I love you so, so much.”
I cried for a long time as he held me.
And that, my friend, is the story of what I learned from Jane.
Now, I still don’t have a religion. I probably never will again. But I have something else, and it is, as I said before, something big.
Something much bigger than any one thing can be on its own.
I feel more now. I love people more. But more important than all that: I have, once again, learned to expect miracles.
I don’t know what the miracles will be, of course. Right now, I don’t even have a guess. But I am going somewhere that I wasn’t going before, and my life is larger than it used to be: larger than my own happiness and larger, even, than the happiness I can bring to others.
It is as large as my soul.
Of course, I am not always full of faith, even now.
The truth is, I only have this kind of faith part of the time. The rest of the time, there is nothing—only emptiness, and when I see Jane’s picture, I just see what could have been, not what is, still, somewhere, wanting me and waiting for me to be with her again.
The truth is, most of the time I have very little faith or none at all.
But I want more.
Maybe someday I will have it.
Maybe that will be my miracle.
Oh, I hope so.
Oh, God, I hope so.
Please, Jane, please let it be. I want to talk to you and believe that you can hear me. I want to have something more to live for again.
Please, Jane, if you are reading this, please give me that faith.
And with that, this story is almost done. Before I end, though, I should add one more thing. It isn’t something Jane taught me, but it is something she gave to me, something very simple and yet very beautiful and, I think, important:
She made me a mother.
And for that, I am grateful.
Even if it had to be for only four days, I am grateful.
And I have no other explanation for how it feels to have given birth to a person and then spent a few days with them before letting them go other than that:
It feels like being a mother probably feels every day.
It felt like being a mother.
And so. This is the end of the story. But only technically. Only in the literary sense of the word “end,” as in, “And they all lived happily ever after. The end.”
But actually, I don’t think this is the end, not really. Maybe it is for you—if you want it to be, that is.
But not for me.
Because there is something that I have now that I didn’t have before—not enough, anyway.
I have purpose. I have emotions. I have love.
And I know what it feels like to be a mother.
I am changed.
And that is all I have to say. For now. Except: Thank you for reading, dear reader. And thank you for being my friend. You have been kind to me, and I want you to know that I’ve noticed, and that I’m grateful.
This is part two of a story I wrote after the death of my daughter in 2011 called What I Learned from Jane. Read parts one, two and three here.
At this point in the story, there is something that maybe you should know: I have always been a shy person. Now, for the past ten years or so, I have pretended pretty well that I’m not. People even say that I’m confident. And actually, I am. I love myself way, way too much, possibly as a result of good parenting. But even though I’m confident, I am shy, too, and insecure, and deep down inside, as they say, I’m really unconvinced that people like me, or maybe even really convinced that they don’t. And so, sometimes—often, maybe—I have just decided—even before really knowing someone I have decided—I will not like them back.
That way I’d be, of course, invulnerable.
When I was going to the birth center for my baby appointments, the midwives there told me that I’d have to write a birth plan. I had read about birth plans but I didn’t know what to put in one, so I asked the midwife about it.
“Write about how comfortable you are with affectionate gestures from the midwives,” she said, “And about how you think you’ll react to pain.” She said that the midwives would all read it once when I gave it to them, then once again before coming to the birth.
So, that is what I did.
“…Touch and massage welcomed from David but no touching by midwife of an affectionate nature,” I wrote. “Excessive smiling also not preferred.”
After that, when we were in the hospital together going through all of this, all of the midwives would ask me for permission whenever they wanted to hold my hand or give me a hug.
And that is what I was before Jane.
Now, things are different. I’m not quite myself anymore, I’ve realized. I cry pretty often, and, a lot of the time, the tears are sudden—they come without any warning at all. Often, I am with other people when it happens and I should say now that if you’ve seen me do this already, you have been very kind to me and at least pretended very well to understand, and I have noticed, and I am grateful.
But please don’t take this as an apology. I haven’t been myself lately, but, somehow, I don’t think that that is such a bad thing.
And I should say, too, that sadness isn’t the only thing I feel more of lately. I’m more emotional about everything now. I get mad sometimes. And I get really bothered by mean things or unfair things. And I feel like I’m bleeding all the time, and needy, and I get embarrassed more easily, and I am embarrassed to even admit this right now.
And I love people more. And I see them not as just people I know: I see them as people I could really like a lot if they let me.
Overall, I think having more feelings is worth it.
And that is the first thing I learned from Jane.
The next morning, a Saturday morning, David and I got out of bed around ten o’clock. I was very stiff all over, I remember, and I was bloody, too. I stood up just long enough to take a shower and the rest of the time I was in the wheelchair. Doors felt very heavy to me and I had to move very slow.
The shower, however, was nice. It felt good to get rid of all of the blood and sweat from the day before. David’s parents had brought us some clothes and putting them on I felt even better. I looked at my deflated belly in the mirror and felt very small and very light even though I still had some pain.
For breakfast, David and I ate some bananas and apples that someone had given us the night before. As we ate, I said, “Do you think we should give her a name?” Now that we knew she’d be with us for at least a few days it seemed like the right thing to do, and he agreed.
“I was kind of thinking Lily,” I said.
“That’s nice,” he said. “I actually liked the name they gave her at the hospital, though—the first one we went to. They called her Jane.”
“Jane,” I said. “An old-fashioned name. Let’s call her that.”
And so, from then on, she was Jane. Sometimes, too, she was Baby Jane.
We liked the sound of that.
A little while later David’s visitors arrived. He went downstairs to see them while I stayed in bed and rested. I had a breast pump with me and I wondered whether I should start using it but I was too tired right then and so I decided to wait.
After a while, David came back to our room with the visitors and we all went downstairs to the NICU to see the baby together. She was still on the cooling blanket so we couldn’t hold her all the way yet but we touched her feet and hands and forehead and soft, soft skin and talked about how beautiful she was.
After a while, Andrea came into the room. I was a little surprised she was there; I knew she had a family and even though she said she’d be back I thought she wouldn’t have time.
I was also surprised by how she looked, and David must have been too because when he saw her he said, “Did you get any sleep?”
“I slept,” she replied, but we both knew what she meant. “How are you guys doing?” Her voice was very kind and caring and I thought, “Maybe she really is as nice as she pretends.”
At four o’clock there was another meeting with the doctors. This time Christine and Andrea came as well.
First, they told us that they had done the MRI. Only one doctor had looked at it so far and another one would review it the next day, they said. “So far, though, it confirms what we already suspected. There is almost no activity in the brain—just at the very base, the part that controls the heart.”
“That explains her strong heart rate during labor,” we said. “But do you know what could have caused this kind of damage?”
They did not, they said. They couldn’t even make a guess. “We have never seen anything like this before.”
Then we asked them if they at least knew when it occurred, but again the answer was no.
“We do know that it didn’t happen at the time of delivery,” they added, explaining that there was some blood on the outside of the brain that seemed to have been there for a while before birth.
Andrea and Christine went over the details of the delivery, and again the doctor assured them that they had done nothing wrong, and neither had the paramedics.
And neither, they said, had I.
“How do you know?” I said. “If you don’t know how it happened, how do you know what caused it?”
“Nothing that we know of could have caused it,” one of the doctors said. “Nothing that is within our current understanding of medicine explains it.”
Did that include genetic problems? we asked.
“There is no developmental problem that we can find,” they said. “We don’t think it was caused by genetics.”
Before the meeting ended, they told us they’d have another specialist look at the MRI the next day and that he might be able to give us more information.
When we left the meeting, we were all relieved.
It was nobody’s fault.
That evening, David and I ate dinner with some of our visitors in the hospital cafeteria. We talked about the meeting, trying to explain what the doctors had said without really understanding it ourselves.
We didn’t only talk about Jane, though. We talked about other things, too, and even joked and laughed a bit, and we took a little break and it was nice.
After dinner, around eight thirty, the nurses told us that Jane could come off the cooling blanket for a little while.
“Do you want to hold her?” they asked.
“Yes,” I said.
So they arranged a chair for me by the bed and moved all the cords and machines and after that I held my baby for the first time.
Her head was heavy and limp. The only thing that visibly moved was her chest as air was pumped into her lungs one breath at a time. I looked at her face, studied it, admired her big fish lips and enjoyed the way her body felt in my lap. I wondered about what had happened to her, and what could have caused it, but I still didn’t know what to think about it all.
And I still didn’t know what to feel.
After a while, I asked to be alone. I remember that for some reason, I thought this would be my only chance to hold her, ever, so I tried to think of everything I wanted to say.
First, I prayed that God would bring her back. Then, I asked her to come back.
I asked her many times.
I wanted her to hear me.
And yet, I did not cry.
Later that evening, David told me that he had talked to some of the nurses about breastfeeding.
“They don’t think you should start pumping,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“They said that if you do it will be very hard for you to stop. The milk will just keep coming.”
“I will ask them about it later,” I said, and the next time we went downstairs, I did.
“I don’t think you should try,” one of the nurses said. “It hurts and you could get an infection.”
Before we went to bed that night, I told David I would decide the next day.
The next day was Sunday. Once again, David and I woke up around ten o’clock and took a long time to shower and get dressed. I found that I could walk on my own again, though, and that made it easier.
Around noon, more visitors arrived. Again, I wanted to rest so I let David stay with them while I stayed in bed.
After a while, Andrea came into the room with David. At first, when I saw her, I thought, “I don’t want to see anyone right now.” I didn’t tell her that, though, so she sat on the bed and we started talking.
And as we did, suddenly, I had a thought. It was more like a feeling than a thought, though—more like a realization, and even before I was sure what the right words were to describe it I said to Andrea, “Andrea, I have to apologize to you.”
“Why do you have to apologize?” she asked.
“I have been cold,” I said.
She said she didn’t think I was cold, but I went on. “I don’t usually expect people to be so kind and really mean it. I didn’t expect you to come today.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“I am glad you’re here,” I said.
And, after that, we were friends.
And there was something else that happened in the few minutes that she and I spent in that room, too, something very important and meaningful, something that I’ll never forget, ever, and if I do, please, please remind me of this that I’m writing to you right now:
I started to feel again.
A little while later, Andrea and I went downstairs to see Jane. As I sat next to her bed, holding her foot in my hand, I wondered again what to do about breastfeeding.
“What would you do?” I asked Andrea. I was a little nervous to ask; I knew how stupid it sounded.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Why do you want to breastfeed?” She said it in a sympathetic way, a way that showed she understood but wanted me to tell her anyway.
I looked down at the floor, hiding my face with my hair.
“When David and I were making plans for the baby, the one thing I always said I would never, never do is give up on breastfeeding. No matter how hard it got, I swore that I’d keep at it. It’s the thing I looked forward to more than anything else.”
After I said that, something wonderful happened.
I started to cry. Not just a little, either.
I cried a lot.
“Now that all this has happened,” I said, “It feels like it’s the only thing I have left.
“It’s the only thing I can do that would make me feel like a mother.”
It was then that, for the first time, I knew I loved my baby.
I might have loved her before that, of course.
But I don’t think I knew it until then.
That is the advantage of having people to talk to sometimes. Without them, I don’t think I would have learned how to feel what I felt.
Without them, I may not have learned how to grieve.
And that was the beginning of my feelings—the real beginning.
And after that, I couldn’t keep them away if I tried.
But, I soon realized, I didn’t want to keep them away. No matter what I was feeling, I decided, it was better than feeling nothing at all.
Much better, actually.
It was wonderful.
At three o’clock that afternoon, we had another meeting with the doctors. They told us what we all expected to hear.
“There is no reason to continue with the cooling treatment,” they said. “She will not live.”
They still had no explanation for what happened to her, and neither did the other specialist who had looked over the MRI that morning.
“Do you want us to keep her alive if something happens during the night?” one of the doctors asked. “Would you want her resuscitated?”
We said no.
Several of us asked the doctors more questions, trying to pin down the cause of the injury, but all of our theories were ruled out; they would do an autopsy, but it was unlikely we’d ever understand what had happened.
After the meeting ended we went back to the lounge area where some of our friends were waiting for us. We told them what had happened and all I could think was, “It is settled now. She is really going to die.”
Soon after that I went back to Jane’s room and as soon as I saw her I started crying again. And I can’t quite explain it but that time, as I looked at her, something was different. Her eyes were still closed and she still did not move or breathe on her own and the respirator was still there, and she looked in every way exactly the same way she had before, but somehow, in that moment, she was a total person to me just like everyone else.
For the first time, I felt like I knew my daughter.
I knew her.
And she was mine.
That night David and I decided not to stay in the hospital anymore, but to go home to sleep instead. We went out to dinner, then came back to the hospital to pack our things. I don’t remember if we saw Jane again before we left but I know I didn’t hold her again and I regret that now.
I should have held her again.
I should have held her all night.
As we drove home we I noticed the Christmas lights that had been put up in our absence.
We went home and slept very badly and very long.
The next day, a Monday, we arrived at the hospital around noon. As soon as we got there we were ushered into another meeting. This time there were just two doctors, David’s parents, David and I. They told us that now that Jane was off the cooling blanket we could hold her as long as we wanted.
We asked them some more questions. We told them about the ultrasound I’d had the day before I went into labor and how everything was normal. They said that that may help narrow down the time period in which the damage could have been done, but nothing else about their diagnosis had changed.
When the meeting ended, we went to Jane’s room right away.
As soon as I saw her, the tears came again.
“I want to hold her,” I said, so the nurses arranged all the cords and I sat in the chair by her bed with my feet up and held her for several hours while people came in and out of the room to visit.
I stroked her back over and over. I held my lips and cheek to the top of her head. I admired her arms and legs, noticing how long they were. “You’re my little monkey,” I said. I looked at her face for a long time.
I thought, “She looks just like me.”
That afternoon there were a lot of decisions to be made. David and I had to plan Jane’s baptism, her photo session and, finally, her last moments.
“When do you want to let her go?” David asked me.
“We can do it tomorrow,” I said.
“Do you want to be there?”
“Yes,” I said, and he was surprised. “Do you want to be there?” I asked.
“No,” he said, and I was surprised, too.
Sometime after that, the nurse asked me if I wanted to change Jane’s diaper.
“Yes, I do,” I said. It was the first time I’d ever done this and she had to show me how.
A little after three o’clock, we held Jane’s baptism. Several friends and family members were there.
During the baptism, I held Jane in my lap. When the chaplain read the verse “. . . And Jesus said unto them, let the little children come unto me,” I started to cry. “I don’t want her to go to him,” I thought. Then, when he put the water on her forehead and said, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” I cried harder and Jane’s body shook with each sob.
Most of the other people there cried, too.
When the baptism was over Christine and Andrea stayed in the room with me while everyone else did other things. We talked a little, but we also stopped talking some of the time and I knew that they understood.
“We were going to hold her all the time,” I said after a silence. “I was going to hold her all day, and when David came home from work I was going to give her to him to hold, too. We weren’t even going to wear shirts when we held her so that we could be as close to her as possible and she could feel our skin on her skin all the time.” I smiled at the thought.
Then Andrea said, “Do you want to hold her like that now?” and it may have been the best thing that anyone has ever said to me.
At first, though, when she said it, I didn’t think it was a good idea. “I can’t do that here, like this,” I thought. I looked down at Jane and didn’t say anything.
But after a moment, Andrea asked me again.
“Do you want to hold her like that?” she said, quietly.
This time, I nodded.
Then I started to cry.
Andrea and Christine called the nurses in and told them what I wanted to do. They didn’t think it was strange at all and while they took the baby I took off my sweater and shirt and bra and sat back down in the chair. Then they put the baby on my chest with her head between my breasts and her arms and legs wrapped around my stomach.
After that, they left, and we were alone.
Before I met Jane, when she was just a body inside me, someone I was with all the time but never actually saw, and even before that, long before I was even expecting a baby, or expecting to ever have a baby—even back when I didn’t want a baby at all—I dreamt about babies. Not often—just often enough that I woke up during a significant number of them, thus remembering the details.
They were never good dreams. The first part was wonderful, but they never ended well.
Though the specifics varied, the general outline was always the same. First, I loved my baby more than anything else in the world. I felt the kind of feeling that I used to think you can only feel in dreams, namely, complete love. Complete surrender of every other emotion to this one of total bliss as I held the baby in my arms.
After that, though, something would happen that would take her away from me. In one dream, she grew up right before my eyes and she was too big to hold. In another, I left her in the supermarket, only to remember her hours later in a sudden panic.
In all of these dreams, I never got the baby back.
Now, I don’t think these dreams were a way for the universe to warn me about what would happen to Jane—I think they were just dreams. But what I do know is that in each of them, for just a short time, I knew what it was like to be a mother. And I knew, a little, what it was like to lose a baby. And now when I remember having them, I think to myself, those feelings I had when holding the baby in my dreams don’t even compare to the feelings I had when I held my baby skin-to-skin for the first time.
And losing the baby in my dreams was not as bad.
After a while, David came into the room where I was holding Jane.
“We’re all going out to dinner,” he said. “Do you want to come?”
“No,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
He left and I stayed with Jane for about two more hours after that and they were the best two hours of my life.
Around eight thirty, the photographer came. I put my clothes back on and we had our pictures taken. After that, someone asked if I wanted to make a Christmas ornament with Jane’s hand prints on it, so I did. One of the nurses had also made one for her the day before so I put mine in the box next to hers and we gathered up our things and went home.
When we got home it was about midnight. I still wasn’t walking very well and on my way to the door I dropped one of the Christmas ornaments and it broke. David wondered what was taking so long so he came back to find me.
“Are you coming in?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything; I was just looking at the ground and crying.
He said, “Oh, the ornament broke.”
Then he took me in his arms and held me for a long time.
Later that night after we had gone to bed I told David that I wasn’t sad about losing the ornament.
“It just seemed so symbolic,” I said. “She’s broken.”
And that was the end of the fourth day I knew Jane. And that is the story of how, in a very short time and without saying one word, she taught me things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.
But that is not all that I learned from Jane.
Jane’s short life of only four days not only taught me greater love and greater feeling; it taught me to expect miracles.
In the distant future, two young adults make their way through a dystopian landscape in which resources are scarce and the minutes on the clock can be the difference between life and death. Read it here.
Sam and Alex are happily married. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want more out of life: more love, more family and more adventure. So one day, they decide to look for a third partner, sometimes called a unicorn. Read part one, part two and part three of their story here. (This story is coming soon.)
This is part one of a story I wrote after the death of my daughter in 2011 called What I Learned from Jane. Read parts one, two and three here.
Prologue: Dear Reader
I want to write what happened to me and to my husband, David, and to our beautiful daughter, Jane (who is still with us now, I believe) as not just a story, but a letter—a long letter (much too long, probably)—but nevertheless a letter, which is sometimes essentially the same thing as a story, except that there are not only a lot of “I’s” in it, but some “you’s” as well.
And the “you’s” are important. Because I don’t want what happened to us to be only for me and for David; I want it to be for someone else, too.
And maybe that someone is you.
Anyway, even if it isn’t, for now, just because I need to, I will pretend that it is. And so today I am writing this story as a letter to you: to my “dear reader.”
And when I say “dear reader,” please know that I mean exactly that. I may not know you, personally, or I may, but either way, I do know one thing: You are dear.
You are completely and absolutely dear.
That is something that Jane taught me and I hope that I never forget it.
And I want to say it again just in case you didn’t fully hear it the first time: you are dear. You are completely and absolutely dear. If you came to the hospital and stayed with David and I during those four precious days we spent there, or if you came to the memorial service we held and greeted us as we mourned, at some point I looked at your eyes and I remember what I saw—even weeks later I remember—and it was special and precious and irreplaceable and perfect. And if you weren’t one of those people, you are dear anyway because God is in you and even if you somehow don’t see that right now, please understand that there is someone who does, and that is me. And there are probably a lot of others who see it, too, and I bet if you asked them, they would tell you themselves.
Okay. I know I promised you a story—a real story, not just a very long, very wordy, very sappy letter, so I guess I’ll begin. But first, because I just can’t help it, and because I’m still pretty sure you didn’t understand what I meant the first time, please let me say it again:
You are dear.
Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. She lived for four and one-third days. They were wonderful. They were indescribable, really.
They were the best days of my life.
But they were too short. They were too brief.
They were too, too short.
And so, I find that now, one month later, I want to relive those days again. And not only do I want to relive them myself, I want to have someone else who has lived them, too, with me, even if just in a way, and so I’m writing this letter to you, who is my friend, and maybe now about to become a better friend, because I want someone else to understand what happened in those days that I knew her and, maybe, a little, understand. I want to tell you about those days, which were the best and worst, as they say, that I’ve ever had, and I want explain to you why knowing Jane has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. And I want you to know that I am thankful for her coming, even if it had to be for only four and one-third days.
She made me different. And, for that, I am grateful.
There is another reason I’m writing this letter, though: I am writing it for you. Maybe you have grieved, too, and even if you haven’t, most likely, you will—someday. And maybe, someday, you, my friend, will find it comforting to read about these things that happened to me and, maybe, also, they will make you feel less alone.
It’s worth a try, anyway, I think.
But, I admit, those aren’t my number one reasons for writing this letter. My number one reason for writing about what I learned from Jane is to think more about what happened, and, in doing so, maybe—just maybe—understand it.
Ever since I met Jane, I have known there was a purpose to her life. Not a small purpose, either, like helping me “be a better person” or “learn how to let go.” Not a small thing like that.
And so, for a while now, I’ve been asking myself this question: What was this purpose? What is the meaning of her life?
It has been almost one month since she came, and in that time, I have learned a lot about grieving—definitely more than I ever used to know. And one of the things I’ve learned is that it is much easier to grieve when you think there is a reason for what happened—a good reason; that, somehow, what happened to you will make you better.
So, I search for meaning. I look for it everywhere I go. I pray. I even tried meditation. I think, and think, and think. Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting closer to an answer. But most of the time, I don’t. Most days are just days, with nothing special in them at all.
But still, I search. I pray. I read. I try to figure it out.
I ask myself why.
I even talk to Jane, and ask her why.
She may be giving me an answer, I think, but I just can’t hear it. So I listen harder, pray more.
And I write.
And, even though it’s hard to do, I’m writing this letter about her life and about what I learned from it, because even though I don’t have the whole answer yet, I think I have, at least, found part of it.
And the rest, I believe, will come.
As I said before, Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. The day before I went into labor—a Wednesday—I had an ultrasound and some other tests, too, and we saw the pictures and the needles on the paper and we saw that everything was perfectly fine.
We saw something else, too: I was having contractions. They were coming about every fifteen minutes, the doctor said, but until she said that and told me what to look for I did not know it was happening and even after that I still couldn’t feel them.
David could, though. While we were there at the doctor’s he touched my belly and learned how to tell when the contraction was coming and after a while I learned to feel them, too. So, that night, we sat on the couch together and watched TV and he kept his hand on my stomach and we noticed them together when they came—he by feeling outside and me by the slight tightness that happened inside.
When I woke up the next morning, I was still feeling them. I called my family and told them that finally, twelve days after my due date, I was having contractions. They thought it meant that I would be going into labor right away and they were so excited they screamed.
“But I don’t know if they’re real,” I said.
“Do they feel kind of like gas pains?” my mom asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “They are real.”
David was sitting next to me at his computer and after I got off the phone I said, “Did you hear them screaming?”
“I thought I heard something like that,” he said.
“They think I’m going into labor,” I said. “The contractions aren’t regular yet but it could be almost time.”
“It would happen on my day off,” he said.
He is dear.
A few hours later David and I decided to take a drive. The contractions had become more noticeable by then and by about three in the afternoon while we were still in the car I was really hurting.
Around that time, my sister called again to ask about how I was feeling. While talking to her I had to take a couple of breaks to breathe better, and after that I knew it was time to go home.
We drove back home and as soon as we got there I went to bed. After that I felt pretty good; there was pain but it was a normal kind of pain. David and I timed my contractions for a while but even though they were getting stronger they still weren’t regular so we thought we had plenty of time.
Sometime that evening, we called the midwife, Christine. She told me to relax my breathing more and to call again when the pain was less manageable.
During the night the pain got much worse. David came to bed but I didn’t want to keep him up so I took a bath then walked around the living room for a while. When I went back to bed he woke up and we decided to call Christine again.
When we called her, though, she gave us some unexpected news.
“I am at another birth,” she said. “I’m not going to be done in time. Is it okay if Andrea goes instead?”
“Of course,” we said. I knew all of the midwives at the birth center so I thought it wouldn’t really matter either way.
As it turned out, though, it did matter.
It mattered a lot.
David and I got ready to go. While I put on my shoes, he packed up my things and a few things for the baby. Then he helped me to the car.
When we arrived at the birth center it was about six forty-five in the morning. Andrea and her assistant, Jamie, were already there. They helped me onto the bed and even though my head was at the wrong end when I lay down it was so hard to move that I didn’t turn around. Right after that, Andrea and Jamie both did an exam and said I was nine centimeters already and I was ready to get into the tub. David and I had planned a water birth so we took this as a good sign.
I undressed and got into the water. People brought me ice and wet towels and I had a few more contractions but they seemed to be coming less often. So, after an hour or more of this, Andrea tried to speed things up. She told me to move to other places and positions, and that is when the pushing started and it got really hard. I won’t describe all of the positions to you but the midwives were taking pictures so there is evidence anyway.
During the labor, David was so strong. I gripped his hands and arms constantly. I pushed the bottoms of my feet against his hands and body. He held up my head and neck from behind. Each time I had to get up and move to another place in the room, he had to lift me almost entirely on his own.
For each of the positions, Andrea told me everything to do: how to breathe, how to push, even what to imagine as I did so. At one point, she said she wanted me to push the baby up to the ceiling, kind of like a yoga instructor would say to try to improve your form and even though I hate yoga—and visualization, too—it worked. She was calm and precise, but used urgency in her voice to show me how I needed to push.
“I need you to push harder, even harder,” she said many times. “Push through the pain.” Then, on a good push, she would say, “There you go. I want you to do that again, just like that.”
Also, whenever the baby made some progress, she made sure to tell me about it. She would say the baby was “plus one” or “plus four,” but I didn’t want to ask what the last number was. Eventually David asked, though, and she told us that plus five is out. By that time I was already at plus four, though, so it was good news.
Sometime after getting to plus four, my legs started shaking. I tried to relax them, especially between contractions, but they would not stop—they shook and shook and breathing got harder, too. David asked Andrea if I was cold but she said I was just tired.
Between the contractions, especially for the last few hours, there was barely a minute of rest and it wasn’t really rest. I could breathe a little better but I couldn’t relax my body. Andrea said, “Use the break, use the break,” and I tried but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop pushing; I just wanted it to end.
By then it was afternoon and I was close. Before every contraction Andrea would tell me that the next one could be the last one and I made myself believe her, but it didn’t help. I couldn’t push hard enough to make the baby come. When my breath ran out on a push and I had to take in more air, the baby stopped moving down and sometimes even moved back up a little. Andrea said later that it was like the baby just wasn’t helping. “She could have just lifted her head up at any moment and she would have been out,” she said. Now we know why that didn’t happen.
At the time, though, Andrea still thought it would be soon. The head was showing and she told David and I that we could touch it, so we did. Jamie brought a mirror so I could see it but I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t see it very well and anyway I didn’t want to look—I just wanted to push. After that, Andrea asked David if he wanted to catch the baby and he asked some questions and said that he might. Then she told me that after the head was out she would have me ease up on the pushing for a little while so the baby didn’t come too fast. By this time they were measuring the heart rate after every push. It was always normal.
Around two o’clock, the other midwife, Christine, came into the room. She hadn’t planned on coming, she told me later. She just happened to stop by the birth center to drop something off and wanted to see how I was doing.
“I don’t ever do that,” she told me.
“You came at exactly the right time,” I said, and it was true, because soon after that we got the first sign of trouble: the baby’s heart rate dropped to ninety. At that point, we all knew we needed to get the baby out fast.
Both of the midwives and Jamie went immediately to work. First, they put an oxygen mask on me. Then, they moved me from the bed into a squatting position on a stool with arm rests that I could push down on. Someone put a bowl and some pads underneath me for the blood. David sat behind me on the bed and held me while Christine and Andrea sat on the floor in front of me. Then someone brought some scissors and other supplies.
“I’m going to give you one more push to get the baby out,” Andrea said. “If it doesn’t come, we are going to have to cut you.”
“She will have to cut me, then,” I thought. “There is nothing more I can do.”
I told her okay, though, and when the next contraction came I pushed as hard as I could.
Immediately after that, Christine took the scissors and made a cut. I thought it would hurt, but it didn’t. There was a slight burning, but it didn’t feel like I expected it to.
Another contraction came—the last one. I pushed again, as hard as I could, and this time, there was a relief at the end and the feeling of a knotty cord winding out of me. It felt like the baby had shot out very quickly and gone a long way but I don’t think my eyes were open at the time so I didn’t really see her being caught.
It was two thirty in the afternoon exactly.
I opened my eyes and looked for the baby. She was there, I knew, but I could barely tell where; I couldn’t focus my eyes. Then, someone started to hand her to me and I saw that she was near my right side.
Behind me, David said, “Hold the baby, honey.”
“I can’t,” I said, surprised that they thought I could hold anything right then.
Right then, Christine must have realized something was wrong because she pulled the baby back. I thought she was just taking her away because I couldn’t hold her but then I saw that the baby was on the floor and they were doing CPR and I, too, realized that something was wrong.
At first, David and I did not look at each other or say anything; we just watched what they were doing and wondered what was going to happen. Then Christine told us to talk to the baby so we did. We said, “You’re okay, baby. You’re okay.” There was nothing else we could think of to say.
The longer it went on the more we realized how serious it was. After a few minutes Andrea said to Jamie, “Call 9-1-1.” I don’t remember my exact thoughts but I knew that the baby had never taken a breath and I was very afraid.
At some point, I asked David for my glasses. He didn’t want to give them to me, though; he said I didn’t want to see. But I did want to see. The glasses were next to me on the bedside table so I found them easily and put them on.
And then I saw my baby for the first time.
The first thing I noticed was how gray she was. Her whole body was gray, not just her face or some part of her. Also, she was completely still. Her eyes were closed and no part of her moved on its own.
Strangely, I don’t remember being surprised at her not breathing. I think if my labor had been shorter or easier I would have been, but as it was, it must have seemed to make sense.
Something that did surprise me, though, was how big she was. She was much bigger than I’d imagined—much bigger than any doll. Then, after a while, when one of the midwives moved out of the way and I saw that she was a girl, that surprised me, too. I had guessed she would be a boy and seeing her I thought, “I don’t know this person.” I studied her face. I tried to see something I would recognize in it, but I didn’t.
She looked like a stranger.
After what seemed like a long time, the ambulance came. Four or five men rushed into the room. I was still naked and the bowl that was under me was full of blood but I don’t think anyone was looking at me anyway. Christine told Andrea and David to go with the baby and Jamie to stay and help with me. David gathered his things and went outside but Andrea was still breathing for the baby with the oxygen mask until they got into the ambulance so she had to leave without her shoes, cell phone or keys.
After they were gone I lay down on the bed and Christine told me I would need to deliver the placenta. She told me to push it out but I couldn’t—my muscles wouldn’t do what I wanted anymore.
After a while, she started looking worried. She asked Jamie how long it had been since the birth and Jamie said forty-five minutes. She felt inside me and pushed around a bit, trying to make it come out but it still didn’t, so they gave me a Pitocin drip and after that my muscles contracted and I was able to give a little push and, finally, the placenta came out. It hurt but afterwards I was relieved that all of the pain was over.
Christine said, “Do you want me to stitch you up now or do you need a break?”
I said, “I don’t need a break.”
She and Jamie prepared their things. Then she gave me some numbing shots. She said they would hurt but they didn’t, much, and I didn’t feel the stitches at all.
At some point, Christine got a phone call and I knew it was from someone at the hospital. She didn’t tell me right away what they said so I thought it must have been bad news and I didn’t ask. After she stitched me up she said that it was time to go to the hospital to see David and the baby and I was surprised.
“Is she okay?” I asked.
“She is alive and she is stable,” Christine said.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe right; I started panting really hard and couldn’t stop.
“There is still a chance,” I thought. “There is still a chance.”
There were tears in my eyes but I did not cry.
After I calmed down, Christine asked me if I wanted to take a shower.
“I won’t be able to stand,” I told her. So she wiped some of the blood off my legs and helped me get dressed. While we were doing that Jamie asked if I wanted to see the placenta and I said I did and I suggested they take a picture of it but she said they would keep it for me and David instead. They packaged it and put it in a bowl.
Then, it was time to go. Both of the women helped me to the car. I walked very slowly and when I got to the car I couldn’t sit down directly so I put my knees down on the seat first, then sat with my hip on one leg. Someone put my seatbelt on for me and Jamie and I went to the hospital while Christine stayed behind.
At the hospital, Jamie left me in the car and went inside to see what was going on. After a while she came back with some doctors and I rolled down the window and they talked to me there in the parking lot. They explained that the baby was stable on life support and she would now be transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital. I said okay and thanked them, and they left and Jamie went with them.
A little while later, David got into the car. The first thing he said was, “She is so beautiful, Mollie. Her skin is very pink now and it’s just perfect.” I asked him if he thought she would make it and he said that she wasn’t responding to any of their tests so far.
“And if she lives, she will have brain damage,” I said. I hadn’t thought of it before, but somehow right then I knew it was true.
“Yes,” he said. “There will be some, but they don’t know yet whether it will be permanent.”
Then he told me what happened at the hospital.
“They took a long time to resuscitate her,” he said. “I watched for a while but eventually I couldn’t anymore so I went into a little waiting room. After a while of being in there I started crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating and shivering all over. Someone had to turn the lights down for me to help me calm down.
“I have never cried that hard before,” he said.
When Jamie got back to the car she told me that I could ride in the ambulance with the baby if I wanted to. “One person is allowed to go,” she said. “You can ride with her or you can go with David.”
“I don’t want to go with her,” I said. “I’ll ride with David.”
When we arrived at Children’s Hospital, David brought me a wheelchair from outside the front door and helped me get out of the car and sit down again. Then he and Jamie and I went inside to the front desk. There, they gave us all ID badges and told us where the NICU was. Jamie’s badge said “Visitor” and David’s and mine said “Parent.”
At the NICU we asked where the baby was and they said she hadn’t arrived yet. I had to use the bathroom anyway so David and Jamie took me and helped me onto the toilet. I was bleeding a lot and I needed new clothes already so it was a long time before we were done. When we finally got out, we were told that the baby was at the hospital. By then, David’s parents had arrived, too. It was nearly evening.
A short time later, a nurse came to get us and take us to the baby’s room. David, David’s parents, Jamie and I walked through the double doors, down the hall and into one of the rooms. Just inside the door there was a high bed surrounded by machines, and in it was the baby, breathing and still.
And she looked perfect.
Her skin was pink and soft. Her cheeks were fat. Her hair was long. The nurses told us she weighed over eight pounds and was twenty-one inches—a big baby, they said. Her little fingernails had grown well past the ends of her fingers and there was fat on every part of her.
She looked healthy.
Of course, she had tubes in her, too, and some patches on her head and chest that were linked to monitors. Also, there was a respirator in her mouth; she still wasn’t breathing on her own. The respirator was pretty large and with the tape on her cheeks that held it in it hid a good part of her face. It also held her lips in a puckered position, like very big fish lips, but even with that, you could see what they looked like and they were beautiful.
Almost as soon they saw her, David’s parents and the nurses, too, said that she looked like me. They said she had my forehead, nose and mouth. When they said that, I studied her face and tried to see what they were seeing. I agreed that she had my features, but I didn’t think she looked like me. I couldn’t believe that this was the person I had known for nine months already.
I still didn’t recognize her at all.
After an hour or so, the doctors came into the room. They talked to us for a while about the baby’s condition and said that we would have a meeting later that night after all of their tests were done. At that time, we all thought that the damage had happened during the labor or in the minutes just following it before she was resuscitated. It seemed to be the only explanation.
By then, Andrea had arrived at the hospital. When David and I went to the lobby to wait for the meeting she sat next to me and took my hands and said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
“I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” she said again.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you feel bad. It’s okay.”
“You don’t have to be so strong,” she said. “You can be angry.”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry,” I thought. “I don’t get angry.”
While we waited, one of the nurses asked us if the baby had a name.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to give her a name.”
David agreed. “It’s probably better that way,” he said. We didn’t know then whether she would make it through the night.
After that, the doctors took David, David’s parents and I to a conference room for the meeting. The conference room was small and they had to move one of the chairs out to make room for my wheelchair.
We all sat down and introduced ourselves. Then the doctors told us what they knew so far: the baby still wasn’t responding to any of their tests, which suggested serious brain damage.
“Her condition is very concerning,” one of them said.
“What could have caused this?” we asked.
They didn’t know. “We will do an MRI in the morning.”
Meanwhile, they told us, they had put her on a cooling blanket to help slow her deterioration. It was an experimental treatment, but it was all they could do. After two days of this, they would warm her up again, then observe her for another day or so after that.
“If her brain activity returns, it will likely return then,” they said.
“What is going to happen to her?” we asked. “What are her chances?”
“There is no way for us to predict that,” the doctors said. “Every baby is different.”
Then they said that though the baby had to stay cool for now, David and I would have a chance to hold her the next day.
When they said that, for some reason, I was surprised.
After the meeting David and I went back to the baby’s room. As we stared at her and held her hands, I said to David, “Do you think there’s even a ten percent chance she’ll live?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
Later that night, the nurses told us they had a room for us to stay in so eventually we went upstairs. The room was very small with a twin bed but it was nice to be there.
As we were settling in, people kept asking us if we needed anything. We said we could probably eat a little so they brought us a lot of food and left it in our room. After they left we ate, then got undressed and went to bed. As we took off our ID badges I read mine to David.
“Parent/Caregiver,” I said. “I don’t feel like either one of those things.”
“Neither do I,” he said.
I don’t remember all of my thoughts that night but I was very tired and very sore and it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
The next morning I woke up very early and I remembered they said I would be able to hold the baby later that day and, for the first time, I cried.
Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon isn’t just about revision; it’s about writing. It’s a book on writing, with the revision angle. And it’s solid.
Read it because you want to learn the writing craft … or you just want to tell a better story.
Know the difference between style and voice. Voice is unique to each author. Style can be captured in phrases or descriptions that apply to many different authors.
When you do a read-aloud of your script, don’t perform it. Read it straight.
Practice riff-writing. Riff writing is when you quickly flesh out a portion of an early draft that needs more depth or room. The author writes: “Most early drafts are ‘tight’—they are shells of what they need to be, outlines or condensed revisions of the full story … In twenty years as an independent editor, I ‘have rarely seen a manuscript overwritten …” Most are underwritten.
Add conflict to every single page. Even in quiet scenes, show inner conflict. Conflict shouldn’t be too up and down, either—it should rise slowly, evenly.
Avoid sagging middles. When conflict flattens out, or starts to go up and down, up and down endlessly without building, “… the reader will at some point get tired rather than more deeply worried about the outcome.”
The first chapter should raise lots of questions in the mind of the reader. Hook them good, right away with the main question of the book that’s not answered till the end.
The protagonist needs a backstory wound (one that is emotional in nature), as well as a universal need or personal yearning.
To learn more about great storytelling, read Newberry Award-winning books. Young adults are a hard audience to capture, and the way these books do it is highly instructive.
About the Author
A writing teacher and book editor since 1988, Elizabeth Lyon is the author of half a dozen books on how to write, revise, and market novels and nonfiction. In Manuscript Makeover, Lyon offers aspiring novelists the guidance and instruction they need to write and edit well-crafted and compelling stories that will stand out from the competition and attract the attention of agents and publishers.
Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World is a book by one of my favorite people I’ve never met. Ben Hewitt is a homesteader, a homeschooling parent and a damn good writer. Everything of his is inspiring. Here he describes the unique way he raised his kids: on a large farm, with lots of books and a little tutoring.
“I think of the way I’m so often caught off guard by some small, commonplace moment: the sight of our pet Muscovy duck, Web, waddling across the pasture; or seeing Fin and Rye moving over the land together on their way to or from the woods. From the way their heads are tipped just the slightest bit toward one another, I know they are talking. Sometimes, I cannot even identify a trigger, like when I am walking down the farm road and I am suddenly swept by a sense of knowing my place. Not just in the here and now, but in the grand, infinite scheme of things and forces far beyond my capacity to even imagine.”
“What I gain from these moments—the quick bloom of warmth they bring, the quiet sense of knowing that there is nothing else I need—cannot be readily measured, and because it cannot be measured, it cannot be traded. It is my own wealth. It is unique to me and therefore it is secure.”
“When I explain my children’s unconventional educational path, I am often confronted with skepticism. ‘What if they want to be doctors?’ people say. ‘How do they learn?’ I am asked. ‘What if they want to go to college? Don’t you worry about socialization?’ I have heard these questions so often that it is almost as if I can see the thought as it migrates from brain to tongue. I can hear the question before the question has been asked. The answers to these questions are at once simple (respectively: ‘If they want to be doctors, they will.’ ‘They learn because learning cannot be helped.’ ‘If they want to go to college, no one will be able to stop them.’ And ‘No, we are not worried about their socialization. Don’t you worry about what schoolchildren are socialized to?’) and complex.”
“Still, I can’t help but think of how my own sense of discernment over my time has shaped my life, and generally for the better. I did not like school, so I walked away from it. I did not like working for others, so I chose not to. I do not like to spend a lot of time indoors, so I don’t. The truth is, I want to live the way I want to live, conventions be damned, and I can only hope for my sons to know they can be so free.”
“I have no doubt that if Fin had been sent to a public school, he would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and summarily prescribed behavior-modifying drugs.”
“And what we observed was that the son we worried would never be able to quiet his body and mind enough to concentrate on a particular task was actually capable of tremendous focus. Liberated from paint, paper, and all assumptions about how he should learn, Fin immersed himself in projects that seemed to blossom from some primal place deep inside him. At first, these projects had no discernible end: He spent hours hammering nails into a single piece of wood, or whittling a stick until it was so thin it splintered in his hand. But gradually, his pursuits became tangible. He built bows, spending hours carving and sanding. He became an expert at making cordage from gossamer threads of cedar bark.”
“Sometimes the greatest blessings come disguised as inconveniences.”
“There’s another part to it, and I think it’s that chores are an assumption of responsibility in a world that can sometimes feel devoid of such a thing. In a sense, chores are homage to the animals and crops under our care, the fulfillment of a silent promise not only to them but also to ourselves. It’s a promise not to take anything for granted, and that we won’t forget—for this one day, at least—that we are merely a part of something bigger than we can even imagine.”
“You might ask, ‘What is the point of knowing these things?’ To which I can only answer, ‘What is the point of knowing anything?’ By extension, we might both ask, ‘What is the point of an education?’ Is it to be socialized to a particular set of expectations? Is it to continue sawing at the few frayed strands still connecting us to the natural world? Is it to learn that learning happens best under the gaze of a specialist? If so, then perhaps you are correct. There is no point to my sons knowing what fox pee smells like, or which of the wild mushrooms in our forest are edible, or how to make fire from sticks. There is no point to the ease and comfort with which they move through the wilderness. There is no point to their desire to help our neighbor get his hay under cover before the rain comes. There is no point to their boundless curiosity regarding the habits of the woodland animals. There is no point to all the little shelters and tools they’ve built.”
About the Author
Ben Hewitt is an American author, journalist, and homesteader known for his works exploring alternative lifestyles, sustainable living, and the connection between humans and the natural world. He resides in Vermont, where he and his family have embraced a self-sufficient and off-grid lifestyle.
Hewitt has written several books that offer insights into his personal experiences and reflections on living close to nature and pursuing a simpler way of life. His works often blend memoir, philosophy, and environmentalism to explore themes such as sustainable agriculture, homeschooling, and the importance of community.
There are a lot of inspirational books on creativity out there, but my favorite is this one: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert. The reason I like it is that it doesn’t talk about how hard it is to be creative. It talks about inner resistance a bit, with the author concluding that writer’s block and other names given to the resistance is a bit … overrated.
Work hard, Gilbert advises. Be consistent. Show up. Do that, and you’re most of the way there. Woody Allen said that, but Gilbert expands on the idea in that authentic, heartfelt voice we love her for.
Perfectionism is ego. Don’t fall into this trap. Make peace with the paradox that what you’re doing is infinitely important, and at the same time, completely irrelevant to anyone but you.
You don’t need permission to create. You also don’t need feedback, or fans.
Originality is not possible; all ideas have been done. Instead, reach for authenticity.
Don’t create in order to help people or make money. Create because you like it. Then you’ll accidentally make stuff that help people, or at least entertain them genuinely.
The suffering artist is a myth. Depression is demotivating. People who created alongside depression and despair probably did it in spite of their emotional state, not because of it.
You are qualified enough. Men tend to think they’re qualified enough if they’re 41 percent of the way there. Women tend to wait till they’re 99 percent of the way there to consider feeling qualified enough.
Creativity comes in many forms. So does art. Don’t limit yourself.
The best artists often don’t seem to be the best or smartest or most educated. Talent picks randomly and surprises us.
Fear might always be with you as you create. Welcome it. Acknowledge its presence. It’s along for the ride and part of the family. But it doesn’t get to choose the station, fiddle with the A/C … and it certainly doesn’t get to drive. That’d be like giving the wheel to a three-year-old.
About the Author
Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, best known for her memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” which became a worldwide bestseller and was later adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts. The memoir chronicled Gilbert’s personal journey of self-discovery, as she traveled to Italy, India, and Indonesia after a difficult divorce. The book resonated with readers around the world, becoming a phenomenal success and remaining on the New York Times Best Seller list for more than 200 weeks.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing often explores themes of love, spirituality, self-discovery, and personal growth. Her works have been praised for their honesty, wit, and ability to resonate with readers on a deep emotional level. Gilbert continues to write and speak publicly about creativity, personal development, and the pursuit of a fulfilling life.
Choice is good, but too much choice? Not so much. That’s the central message of the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. As humans, we love options. We want the perfect-fitting pants, the most qualified doctor–even the trendiest water bottle. But do all these choices leave us more satisfied with what we end up with … or less so?
Read this sociology classic to spur some self-reflection and decide what’s important to get just right in life, and what you’re better off making peace with as is.
There are lots and lots of problems with choice. One is that when we think about past experiences, it’s hard for us to remember them objectively. What we recall is almost entirely made up of two moments: the peak and the end. If these points were particularly good, we think of the experience as good, even if much of the rest of it wasn’t. (Think of the last trip you took that you raved about to your friends on social media: was it really as much fun as you thought it was?)
Another reason it’s difficult to make good choices is that we think we want more variety than we actually do. In one study, people who were told to choose their snacks ahead of time overestimated their desire for variety when they would have gotten more pleasure from choosing their favorites more often.
Another problem with choice: We greatly prefer brands we’re more familiar with, which skews our decisions towards them unfairly. This is why commercials have memorable songs and why radio stations play same the ads over and over, ad nauseum.
People are also suckers for something called “anchoring.” This is when companies purposely offer us relatively poorer quality or more expensive options so that we have something to compare the better option (the one they wanted us to buy anyway) to.
Frames are another type of anchor. Frames are a way marketers turn a neutral quality or even a drawback into a desirable attribute by framing it in the context of a comparison. Have you ever wondered why clothes are always on sale? The original price is the frame marketers place around the item of clothing.
Loss aversion also trips us up when trying to make a decision. This is the phenomenon whereby the experience of loss brings a much more powerful negative reaction inside us than the experience of gain brings us a positive reaction. Most people feel much worse about losing fifty dollars than they feel good about gaining $150. Many poor decisions, such as the decision to hang on to bad investments, costly possessions and unneeded items around the house, are due to loss aversion.
Three final reasons choice is bad: first, choice brings greater expectations for whatever you end up choosing. Post-decision regret as well as anticipatory regret show up before and after a decision is made. Second, choice is overwhelming. Many of us expend far too much of our limited emotional resources on it, and decision paralysis can even set in. And finally, choice is bad because of adaptation. Most of the time, people underestimate how soon they will start taking their purchase–such as their new car–for granted and end up with very little to no enjoyment as compared to their previous item.
About the Author
Barry Schwartz is an American psychologist, author, and professor. He is best known for his work on the intersection of psychology, economics, and philosophy, particularly in the areas of decision-making, happiness, and practical wisdom. His academic research focuses on the impact of choice and decision-making on human well-being. In addition to The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz has written Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing (co-authored with Kenneth Sharpe) and Why We Work. As a professor, Schwartz has taught at Swarthmore College and later at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a professor of psychology.
Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Dave Balter and John Butman makes an excellent point: the best marketing in the world—the most effective, the most reliable—is word-of-mouth marketing. The problem: advertisers can’t drum it up, no matter how hard they try. Lasting, powerful word-of-mouth happens only when products and services are the real deal.
Read this book because you’re interested in marketing and business … or maybe because you just want people to start commenting on your YouTube videos already.
Genuine word-of-mouth is not “buzz.” It’s not the latest thing that everyone is talking about right now. It goes far deeper than that, and lasts longer.
People love talking about the stuff they buy. We do it all of the time. But why? The reasons are discussed in Grapevine. They include: the desire to educate or help, the desire to prove our knowledge, the desire to find common ground, the desire to validate our own opinions, and the pride of ownership.
Notable quote: “There’s a tiny part of the brain, the hypothalamus, that among other things helps regulate sexual urges, thirst and hunger, maternal behavior, aggression, pleasure, and to some degree your prosperity to refer. The hypothalamus likes validation – it registers pleasure in doing good and being recognized for it, and it’s home to the need to belong to something greater than ourselves. This is the social drive for making referrals.”
About the Authors
Dave Balter is a seasoned entrepreneur and founder of multiple successful companies. He has a deep understanding of consumer behavior and marketing strategies, with a particular focus on word-of-mouth marketing and customer engagement. Balter is known for his innovative approaches to building brands and creating impactful marketing campaigns. He has authored the book “Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing,” where he shares insights and strategies for harnessing the power of word-of-mouth to drive business growth.
John Butman is a renowned author and storytelling expert. He specializes in helping individuals and organizations communicate their ideas effectively through compelling narratives. Butman’s expertise lies in the intersection of business, leadership, and storytelling, and he has collaborated with numerous executives and entrepreneurs to develop their communication skills and craft powerful narratives. He has co-authored several books, including “Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas,” which offers practical advice on storytelling and thought leadership.
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley, Jr. is a popular marriage book–and for good reason. It’s basic point: partnership isn’t all about love and self-sacrifice; in order to have a good relationship, we have to get our needs met. It’s a good choice for the newly engaged, but any partners can benefit.
Like it or not, relationships function in a give-and-take way. This phenomenon can nearly be quantified.
My favorite quote of the book: “Figuratively speaking, I believe each of us has a Love Bank. It contains many different accounts, one for each person we know. Each person makes either deposits or withdrawals whenever we interact with him or her. Pleasurable interactions cause deposits, and painful interactions cause withdrawals … In short, your needs keep score.”
Since this is the case, it’s vital to keep your account and your spouse’s account balanced, so that neither feels like they’re getting cheated or going broke.
There are several key needs that partners have in their relationships, and people prioritize these needs differently. It’s important for couples in long-term relationships to identify their most important needs and show their partners how to help provide them.
These key needs include, but are not limited to, the following: quality time, physical intimacy, financial security, good conversation, shared fun and more)
Harley recommends that couples rate each of their needs and discuss them at length with their partners.
About the Author
Willard F. Harley, Jr. is a renowned author, psychologist, and marriage counselor known for his expertise in marital relationships and relationship counseling. With over five decades of experience in the field, Harley has dedicated his career to helping couples build and maintain strong, fulfilling marriages.
Throughout his career, Harley has authored numerous other influential books on relationships, including “Love Busters” and “Five Steps to Romantic Love.” His writings offer practical advice and guidance on addressing common challenges and conflicts that couples face, such as communication issues, conflicts over money, and infidelity.
Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It is pretty darn controversial. Still, most of what the great Gary Taubes says is true. Though I’m unsure where I stand on the whole vegetarian versus low-carb/Paleo debate, it seems clear that blood sugar spikes are a bad thing. Read the book closely and draw your own conclusions.
Excess calories aren’t what make us gain weight.
Low-fat diets definitely don’t help us lose wight.
The calorie theory of weight loss is garbage science.
According to an early ‘90s collection of National Institutes of Health studies, even while dieting, people often gain weight and lose muscle.
Exercise doesn’t work either; it simply makes us want to eat more.
Our bodies, not our calorie intake, regulate our weight. If that weren’t so, the couple of extra calories per day that lead to a yearly weight gain would almost guarantee we were all overweight.
The energy we spend and consume are dependent variables; one affects the other.
Of course, the type of food also matters. Carbs release much more insulin than protein or fat, and insulin is the fat-storing hormone.
Meat was the preferred calorie source in prehistoric times.
On a comprehensive analysis of 229 hunter-gatherer populations from 2000: “When averaged all together, these hunter-gatherer populations consumed about two-thirds of their total calories from animal foods and one-third from plants.”
About the Author
Gary Taubes is an acclaimed American author, journalist, and investigative science writer known for his influential work on nutrition, health, and obesity. With a keen interest in challenging conventional beliefs, Taubes has delved deep into the complex world of dietary science, challenging the prevailing notions about the causes and treatment of obesity. He has written extensively on the subject, analyzing the role of carbohydrates, sugar, and insulin in weight gain and exploring the potential benefits of low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diets. Taubes is widely recognized for his meticulous research, engaging writing style, and ability to present complex scientific concepts in a compelling manner, making him a prominent figure in the field of nutrition and health journalism. His thought-provoking books, including Good Calories, Bad Calories and The Case Against Sugar, have sparked widespread discussion and influenced public understanding of nutrition and the obesity epidemic. Through his work, Taubes continues to challenge prevailing beliefs and encourage critical thinking about the role of diet and nutrition in our overall health and well-being.
I couldn’t admire an author more than I admire the great Ben Hewitt. I love his intelligent, writerly style, but it’s the content that really gets me. If you’re interested in homeschooling or simple living, all of his books are well worth a read. The Nourishing Homestead: One Back-to-the-Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit is particularly info-heavy, which I like, which is why I chose it as the book to feature in my highlights here.
On connection to the land: “To us, making a life means living in a way that feels connected. Connected to the land, to animals both wild and domestic, to community, to seasons and celebrations, and to the food we eat. It means living in a way that affords us the time to follow our passions and to feel as if the work we do nurtures our bodies, minds, and spirits, rather than depleting them. It means waking up every morning looking forward to what the day will bring and going to bed every night satisfied with what was delivered. It means living in a way that enables us to act from a place of kindness and generosity, in part because we have seen that when we act from a place of kindness and generosity, these things are returned to us tenfold and in part because kindness and generosity feel a heck of a lot better than meanness and stinginess. To us, a meaningful life is one that includes vigorous physical labor in the pursuit of food, shelter, and heat, because we understand that this labor is not an inconvenience but a gift. It is a life in which all of the aforementioned aspects come together in a way that does not merely inform the way we live, but also actually becomes the way we live.”
On freedom: “When the subject of travel comes up, I often explain our choices in terms of exchange. Which is to say, we’ve exchanged the freedom of easy and frequent travel for a different sort of freedom. The different sort of freedom I’m talking about is not quite so easy to explain, particularly in a society that celebrates the transitory freedom of easy travel. The freedom I’m talking about comes from connection to a particular place. It comes of spending one’s days immersed in that place, in its nooks and crannies, hollows and swells, woods and fields. It comes of waking every morning—or most mornings, at least—with a sense of anticipation for what the day holds, for all the small tasks and moments that await. It comes of walking down to the cows in the hesitant light of almost dawn. It comes of knowing where the chanterelle mushrooms are emerging from the forest floor, of following a fresh set of moose tracks with your eight-year-old son until you feel like not following them, of returning from morning chores with your hatful of mushrooms and a quartet of fresh eggs and setting them on the ground, stripping down to your birthday suit, and cannonballing into the pond. This freedom comes of ritual and routine, not in service to the contrived arrangements of the modern economy, but in accordance with nature’s cycles and forces . . . And when there’s no one to tell you your time should be spent otherwise, there’s not much of a need for vacation. There’s not the same desire to get away.”
On food industrialization: “It is infuriating to me that we have arrived at a place where the fundamental right to feed ourselves as we wish has been largely eroded. At this very moment, I could leave my house, drive a handful of miles, and purchase a semiautomatic handgun, a carton of unfiltered cigarettes, and a fifth of whiskey. Yet I can’t legally sell the butter I make at any price. I can’t legally sell a home-butchered hog or even a single link of the excellent (if I do say so myself) sausage we make.”
On safety and child-rearing: “This is a huge subject, but in short, Penny and I believe the invisible psychic and emotional risk of not exposing our children to these tools and tasks is far greater and ultimately more damaging than the risk of bodily injury. Furthermore, because the latter risk is the one that seems most visceral—after all, wounds to the psyche don’t bleed—we grant it more power than it deserves. It is difficult to see a child’s eroding sense of confidence and to articulate all the risks of that erosion; it is not difficult to see the wound left by the knife’s blade or from falling out of a tree.”
About the Author
Ben Hewitt is an American author known for his non-fiction, memoir, and nature writing that explores self-reliance, sustainable living, and the connection between humans and the natural world. Hewitt gained recognition with his book The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, about small-scale agriculture in Vermont. Another notable book of his is Saved: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World, a memoir that discusses the author’s simple, anti-consumerist, anti-materialist, self-reliant lifestyle.
One of my favorite marriage books is also one of the more controversial of the genre: Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance–The Key to Life, Love and Energy by John Gray. If you are uncomfortable with frank discussions of innate gender differences, this might not be the book for you; otherwise, have at it. It’s practical advice with a good bit of hard science to back it up. As always, take generalizations with a grain of salt. This author sometimes gets too excited about his points and doesn’t present any opposing details.
Some of the differences between men and women are due to differences in hormones—both in their levels and in the ways they behave in their bodies.
When feeling stressed, men often seek testosterone-raising and testosterone-releasing activities. When feeling stressed, women often seek oxytocin-raising and oxytocin-releasing activities.
For men, testosterone is released during work-like, problem-solving activities and raised during rest/zone-out/no-talking time.
Women are different. “Testosterone feels good to her because it gives her a sense of power and capability and makes her feel sexy, but it doesn’t lower her stress level.” It may even raise it.
Instead, women seek oxytocin raising activities—primarily talking and bonding—and oxytocin-releasing activities—care giving.
Men are different. “Oxytocin feels good to him, increasing his tendencies toward trust, empathy, and generosity, but … [it] doesn’t lower his stress level.” it may even raise it by lowering his testosterone.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is only good for them in a true emergency. As a daily response to modern life, it prevents people—both men and women—from maintaining healthy levels of their other needed hormones because the body prioritizes the making of it. Thus, when we’re stressed out, they feel the need to engage in even more oxytocin-raising and -releasing activities (for women), and even more testosterone-raising and -releasing activities (for men). Soon, their schedules are fuller than ever, and they become even more stressed out.
Tomorrow morning, you are going to have to wake up. You’re going to have to take the baby to the park and to the playdate you have scheduled, and pretend that everything is fine. How are you going to get through it? How in the world are you going to get out of bed, knowing the foundation of your life—your marriage—is crumbling?
Though the hormonal needs of individuals vary widely (some women need more testosterone than other women and some men need more oxytocin than other men), these needs explain the presence of traditional gender roles. Women enjoy nurturing others, then being nurtured through conversation and relationship, while men enjoy working and problem-solving, then spending time alone to rest.
Women aren’t cranky—their serotonin is depleted due to stress and fluctuating blood sugar levels.
Men aren’t lazy—they are chemically built to need more time off.
Women don’t prioritize chores over self-care—they choose to release oxytocin by taking care of the home environment.
Men aren’t insensitive—they don’t crave the bonding women do.
Women don’t want to avoid sex—they need oxytocin-building, caring words and actions in order to get in the mood.
Women don’t overreact—they experience a larger response in the brain when under stress than men do.
Women don’t complain endlessly—they talk about their feelings at length in order to rebuild their relaxing oxytocin.
Men don’t procrastinate—they choose to rebuild their testosterone levels through rest. They put off doing chores until an emergency, at which point their testosterone kicks in and tells them to act.
Women don’t worry an unreasonable amount—they simply enjoy nurturing others and thinking about their needs.
About the Author
John Gray is the author of several self-help books that offer practical advice on how men and women can communicate more effectively, appreciate each other’s differences, and develop stronger connections. One of his first books, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, was published in 1992 and became an instant bestseller. In the book, Gray presents the idea that men and women have fundamentally different emotional needs, communication styles, and approaches to relationships. He suggests that understanding these differences and learning to bridge the gap can lead to healthier and more fulfilling relationships.
I love a good goal–especially a New Year’s resolution. And especially a self-improvement one. In You’re Getting Closer, I write about my year-long attempt to meditate daily and develop closer relationships. It was one of my first books that I didn’t completely hate after a few years, and yet, I still don’t think it is quite good enough to submit to my current publisher. (I also unpublished it on Amazon, since I no longer self-publish except on this blog.)