Posted in Book Reviews, Middle Grade Book Reviews

the thing about jellyfish

By Ali Benjamin
Realistic Fiction – Young Adult

My Synopsis
When Susy’s best friend dies, it causes her to undergo a series of grief-induced reactions. She stops talking, hunts for answers, relives all her regrets, deals with loads of guilt, and gets angry at those around her. In her hunt for answers, she becomes oddly obsessed with jellyfish as a possible cause of her friend’s drowning, hence the book title.

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Posted in Living Life, Random Thoughts

Pushing Past Grief

Pushing, pulling, dragging- it’s not easy no matter how you do it. I’ve dealt with grief before, more than once. It doesn’t get easier, but it gets familiar.

Like falling, I suppose. As a kid, you fall sometimes. Maybe from your bike, skates, or a tree, and it seems devastating. You think you may never do that activity again. But you have people who care for you, tend to you, and slowly your cuts heal. It does not mean that you won’t feel pain the next time you fall. Or that you don’t mind it. Nope- you still don’t like falling. You still need time to heal. Some falls are worse than others. Some break things while others just bump and bruise.

You may try to avoid dangerous activities for a while, thinking that’ll save you. But people slip on ice, trip on their own feet, or get dizzy and fall for no fault of their own. It doesn’t matter how much you try to prepare yourself. It is still going to hurt, and the healing process – well – it is just that: a process.

This week will be two months since the inevitable death of my dog. I knew it was coming. I had known for well over a year that her time was soon. Without an actual birth date, I was only guessing at her age, so every day was a treasure during her last years. Each survived alignment was a remarkable success. But like every damn thing on the planet, she had an expiration date, and her time came to be done with being alive.
Done on this earth.
Done being my girl.

I could tell she was ready.
But me?

No. I was not ready. Who can be prepared for death? You accept, but you can’t ever actually be ready. If you warn me that you’re going to punch me in the face and I’m not allowed to block or fight back, the only thing you saved me was a shock. All the pain and agony cannot be avoided. And the warning would never make the healing go faster.

How could I have been ready to say goodbye to the beating heart that was with me day and night for almost 13 years?

This week is also the first anniversary of a dear friend’s death. She was a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a sister, a loved boss, a fantastic neighbor, and an all-around great person. The world is still dealing with the emptiness of her departure.

Pushing past grief. Because life goes on. Time goes on. Time and space. They are supposed to be the same but death seems to break them apart. Time shrinks, and months pass like seconds while space grows. So much empty space. Empty moments. I’m sure a scientist out there could tell me why, but those explanations won’t help. Their answers won’t help push.

Pushing past grief. It takes energy and wipes you out. It steals from you. And the horrible thought that getting over your grief means you’ve stopped loving the person you’ve lost. It’s not true, of course, but that’s where the brain goes. You get stuck and can’t keep pushing.

This is the first weekend since my girl died that I’ve been at home. That I’ve been brave enough to be here rather than out with distractions. The first time I’ve sat down to draft a blog. The first time I thought about writing again, other than in my journal. A part of me thinks I may never tap into my creative mind again. I’ll never be able to string two good thoughts together. The last thing I want to do is sit still and dive into my brain. I want to get out, move, escape, run – push through.

Yet my journals tell me that words help me heal. Words help me push through. I write things I may need to get out but maybe can’t say out loud. Words that I need to say but don’t know anyone willing to hear them. So I am trying to write this blog. I may run out of things to say. I may lose my interest in life and have no reason to write a shared word. I may stop pushing for awhile.

It’s one thing to lack inspiration; it’s an entirely different thing to lose motivation. That’s when I tell myself it’s ok because I have a different task. I’m busy with other challenges. I’m busy pushing- dragging, shoving, fighting past grief. Who knows what’s on the other side, or if I’ll even like it when I get there, but I’ll keep pushing. It’s what we all do when we become trapped by grief.

Posted in Living Life, Random Thoughts

to-do vs done

My recent return from vacation had me wondering why I ever go on away. I came back to tons of laundry, an avalanche of emails, work hours my now relaxed body was unprepared for, and dirty city air. Not to mention the stress of unnecessary drama I was able to put on hold while away. Worst of all, the dreaded “To-Do” list had morphed into a diabolical monster I could no longer slay.

I became overwhelmed with all the things I had to do. This caused me to get sick. I had nausea and a fever every night for a week. I’m the type of person who can’t seem to find a middle ground. Once things get out of order even a tiny bit, I let them slide into chaos. I either have a place for everything and everything in its place, or I’m shuffling through piles of clutter I can’t seem to tackle. So I used to have a process to help me deal with my task list.

I was once told to write out my to-do list and address one thing at a time. The idea was that I could cross out each item once completed, and that action would cause me great satisfaction. This satisfaction would inspire me to do more and stave off chaos. This worked for a while. The problem was that my to-do list was never empty. While crossing things out was satisfactory, adding on new items or items that repeat (laundry, dishes) became tedious and draining. Depressing.

The problem started to be that I couldn’t look at the list without prioritizing. My priorities were almost always housework and chores. It’s a mindset I can’t seem to ever shake. So even if I did accomplish things like a nice walk or a bit of writing, I felt guilty because I saw all the other items on the list. Eventually, the list was so daunting I couldn’t do anything. Doing nothing felt better than doing the “wrong” thing. However, then guilt and stress would sink in. That’s how my post-vacation week has been; nothing got accomplished.

By the end of the week, I had to admit that those moments of nausea and fever were nothing new. They weren’t just post-vacation problems. This has been going on for a long time. Worse still, they are often preceded by what I can only describe as anxiety attacks. And these horrible moments of stress and illness add to my exhaustion, making my to-do list even more impossible, so the vicious cycle turns.

No more to-do list for me. I have a new plan, and perhaps it will work, and perhaps it will not. The reality is that I don’t need a list to know what tasks need to get done. Emails ding non-stop, clean clothes get sparse, clutter levels rise, and cupboards go bare. I do not need a list.

So instead of a “to-do” list, I create a mental “done list” at the end of the day.

This list can be anything. Did I do anything other than sleep- great, it goes on the list. Got dressed? It’s on the list. Ate breakfast? It’s on the list. I can’t look at a to-do list and feel good about the few things I’ve done when there are still so many things on that list. My done list makes me feel better. I may need to clean and grocery shop but decide to do gardening and writing instead. I may have goals that get blindsided by a random task or a time-sensitive emergency. Instead of seeing these as excuses for my incomplete “to-do” list, they now go on my “done” list. I can go to bed at night satisfied that I accomplished something instead of thinking about the rest of the items on an impossible to-do list.

It may seem like I’ve set a very low bar for myself, but you know what? It’s better than doing nothing. It’s better than stress, anxiety, guilt, headaches, sickness, and worry. My least favorite thing to say is “I have to” or “I should have”.
It’s no longer about what I still need to do; it’s about what I’ve done. Very similar to thinking about all I am grateful for, all I have, rather than thinking about the things I lack or may wish I had.

It’s a mindset, and I hope it works. While I was drafting this blog, I stopped to feed the birds, and I stopped to take a phone call planning a get-together. Tonight when my mind tries to rattle off things from a “to-do” list, I’ll fight back with my “done” list, and these will most certainly be counted.

Posted in On Writing

Acceptance vs Expectance

Last month I wanted a change, so I chopped off my hair. I had hair down my entire back, and now it barely covers my ears. It’s certainly changed, but it’s not cute. In fact, it’s an absolutely terrible home haircut. I should be more upset. Or, ideally, I should love the “new me .” Instead I simply have something new to dislike when I look in the mirror.

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Posted in My Work, Poems and Prose


Blessed are those who see the dark; they shine upon the hour.

A light shines out a light shines in, a beacon on a tower.

They do not shun the lurking shadows; they do not close the doors.

Instead, they open up themselves and ask if there is more.

A tear will fall, a cry may sound, but every breath is strong.

Each battle fought with spitting fury regardless of how long.

In careful corners of the world
plays ignorance and innocence.
By circumstance or by their choosing,
confidence is but false bliss.

Blessed are those who see the dark; they shine upon the hour.

The truth be known, and shadows shown! And welcome in the power.