Dear Vera: On Growing Up in California

Dear Vera,

I am long overdue in writing your monthly letter. Apologies. This summer has been a whirlwind. One day you’ll be a college freshman somewhere and will casually answer someone’s question of where you grew up. I was born in Chicago, you’ll say, but we moved to Los Angeles when I was two. And the sentence will come so easily, even though the act itself was so much bigger and more complex than that, spanning months and bank accounts and enormous hopes and fears and eventual contenments.

We are living in Santa Monica now, in a sweet little Spanish-style house in Ocean Park. At night the electricity lines crackle in the heavy ocean mist and a lemon tree sits on our patio, its branches drooping with abundant yellow fruit. Your dad and I take you for walks every day, winding through the neighborhood to the park, past other Spanish-style homes and yards filled with bright, crimson bougainvillea. Palm trees fronds shimmer audibly in the balmy air above and everywhere we look there are plants like none of us have ever seen before — tall, spiny cacti and fat, squat succulents, flowers that beckon Hawaii and magnolias that remind me of the south.

I can’t believe you’ll grow up here.




California feels magical to me. There’s no other way to describe it than with some of the tritest words. It just feels special, unique unto itself. When I was a kid, growing up in Georgia, we often visited Southern California because my aunt and grandmother lived here. Each day we spent here steeped me that much more in such unusual sense memories — the strange light and air, the abundant plants and flora, the ocean singing itself to sleep each night. I returned home to Atlanta each time with a longing I couldn’t describe. I never understood how a place, a place, could fill you up and make you ache for something you couldn’t even touch.

I can’t believe you’ll grow up here.

There’s a good chance that you’ll take it all for granted. That it will all seem normal to you, but even if that is true, it makes me happy to think that magical will be your baseline. Growing up here will change everything about who you are, give you opportunities and perspective that it took me years to gain. You’ll have to work hard to work hard, I think. Does that make sense? Every parent wishes to bestow upon their children something they themselves worked for. What will it be that you work for then?

I can’t wait to find out.







On Vanity and/or Choosing an Author Photo

Now that my book is out there and I’m getting a sense of what it’s going to be like when it’s really out there and on shelves and in people’s hands and lost under the seats of airport terminals and things, I’ve grown increasingly more nervous about my author photo.

Dumb, I know.

Vain, I know.

But I also know that I’ve scrutinized the jacket photo of every memoir author I’ve ever read, trying to match up the author’s image with the one in my head, trying to match it up with all the images they are presenting of who they were at different times in their lives. In the case of my book, I’m going to have TWO photos on the jacket — the one of me at age 19 on the cover and the one of me now, on the back.

The cover photo is one that utterly captures the me that I spend a lot of time writing about in the book. I took the photo myself for the very purpose of trying to retain that image, possibly in the hopes of looking back one day to see a true contrast. The contrast being me now, a wife, a mother, a writer and therapist. Happy. Peaceful. Genuine.

Argh. That’s a tall order, huh? I’ve been stressing out about it all summer.

Anyway, I did a little photo session with my talented photographer cousin Ron in June on Cape Cod, but I was tired from a redeye flight and Veronica was screaming for me to hold her the whole time and I didn’t like my hair or makeup that much and on and on. Anyway, Ron and I reconvened this past weekend at his house in LA, sans Veronica and with more of a hair and makeup effort, and I think we were successful!

Let me know what you think. Here’s the final photo we chose. You can see a few of the other contenders here.















Monday in Santa Monica

Well, Lily is gone.

All three of us took her to the vet this morning and we were all together in the room with her when she took her last breaths. I smoothed out the hair on her nose and held one of her little paws for the last time. Greg ran his fingers over her back and we thanked her for being such a good friend all these years. Vera played on the floor with her doll and said goodbye half a dozen times, replete with kisses to Lily’s forehead. We told her that Lily’s body wasn’t working anymore and that she had died.

“Oh,” Vera said, and then gave her one last gentle kiss, before turning right back to her doll and yelling and playing as though nothing had changed.

And now I’m home and Vera is napping and Greg is at the coffee shop writing and it is a bit as though nothing has changed. I’ll post this and then eat lunch and go back to my working on my novel and then Greg will come home and it will be afternoon and then evening and the day will pass as so many have before.

I’m glad Lily is peaceful now. Or at least I hope she’s peaceful now. These last few months were hard on her and I’m glad to think of her strange little soul unrestrained from such an old, tired body.

For as much hasn’t changed, I know that this is also the beginning of a new era. In a hundred different ways. I stand on a precipice these days, watching the next phase of my life shimmer into being just beyond. Life is nothing, if not change.

For something cheerier, check out these photos from my friend Amber’s sweet party for her daughter Nora, who turned one over the weekend. Talk about the cycles of life.

Thanks to everyone for all of your sweet comments and well wishes. Each one is soothing.