Monday, November 19, 2012

From Love Anthony Morning Pages, 3/31/11

I bought this notebook as a treat to myself.  I love it--the words on the cover*, the size, its bendable frame.  I'm hoping it inspires me to pick it up every day, to write Morning Pages and jot down ideas, capturing those flashes of divine lightning that will become Love Anthony.

I'm already in love with this book I haven't written yet, and I'm terrified of it.  I need to release the fear surrounding this book, this topic of autism.  Lisa, be fearless.  I give you permission to write this story.  Don't worry about whether it will please everyone--it won't.  Make sure Tracey loves it--you don't have to please anyone else.

I need to figure out how this book begins.  All books begin in the middle of something--these characters are already alive and moving around, doing something, feeling something.

What am I in the middle of doing?  Today I'm going to yoga, the grocery store, I'm watching an autism video, and I'm interviewing Corinne Murphy about ABA therapy tonight at 7:00.  I need to go through my notebooks and notes from interviews and organize them, see what I have, what I know.

This book is going to be challenging. Olivia is in present time and sharing flashbacks.  Through journal entries?  Put them in italics--like in The Paris Wife?  I think so.  And Beth's novel will be Anthony's voice.  This will be first person, present tense, different font.

I need to organize the story so that it flows from one character, one piece of the puzzle, one revelation to the next without confusion.  All threads need to tie.  I really do love how difficult this is--I love the challenge of it.  People talk about writing fiction as being so right brain, using your creative mind.  But it also requires a lot of left brain--the pace, the plot points, the rhythm--these elements seem analytical to me.

Again, how do I begin this story?  I think both women go to the mailbox on the same morning--Beth receives a letter that will change her life, and Olivia receives some of Anthony's rocks.

Olivia will remember receiving news that changed her life--Anthony has autism.  Dr. asked her, "How's your marriage?"  Thought it was good at the time, normal good, fighting-making up.  She thought at the time--this will either force us to get close or tear us apart.  It put pressure on all the fault lines that had been dormant, unbothered, unnoticed before autism.  They had never been great at communicating, at leaning on each on each other, resolving problems, but it had never much mattered before.  Before.  After, it mattered, and they didn't have what it took to survive.  She wonders if she has contributed to the statistics--1 in 70 boys, 80% of marriages with an autistic child will end in divorce. She's part of a large and growing population, but that doesn't do a damn thing about the loneliness; she feels no comfort in being included in this crowd.  She's a woman, not a statistic.

So begin it with Beth walking to the mailbox, noticing another woman.  It is Olivia, and they are strangers noticing each other.  This is where their lives, already in motion, begin to intersect.

* On the cover of this notebook: "First it begins inside your heart. Something moves. Then opens. Then frees itself. And now you feel a rhythm breaking its long silence. This is going to be good."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creativity, Fear, and Flying

From my writing journal, 4/16/11

I'm in Cranston, RI, early for my very first anti-gravity yoga class (check out the video at the link to see what it looks like).  SO excited!  I love this feeling--trying something new, opening up to a new experience.  It reminds me of the year when I was writing STILL ALICE--acting, dancing, dating again after my divorce.  I hope this class opens up the parts of me having to do with creativity and fearlessness.  I need to call on both of these qualities to write LOVE ANTHONY.

I haven't really started writing yet.  I've done a TON of research on autism, much more than I did for Alzheimer's even and much more than for Left Neglect.  There's so much more written about autism--and oddly, really less is known about it.  I've talked to about a half dozen parents so far--raw, honest, incredibly moving conversations that still play in my head.  Lisa, you've done enough to get started.  Go to Nantucket next week, then begin.

Creativity and fearlessness.  I love this combination.  So powerful, so ALIVE.  The ingredients of powerful, alive writing.  I need to feed this as much as possible through things like this yoga class.  Maybe also an improv class in Boston?  That would awaken an old muscle, a part of my soul I've been ignoring.  What else?  A dance class would be great.  Make the time.

How else can I feed creativity and fearlessness?  Maybe rock wall climbing?  Maybe go to Italy in November for Ann Hood's writing retreat.  The energy of the writers, the scenery, the FOOD--talk about feeding creativity, feeding the soul!

And I will have two weeks in the Margo Gelb Dune Shack in September, which does scare me a bit, to be totally alone, especially at night (plus no electricity, no plumbing)--that should help with fearlessness, making me feel powerful, giving me the courage that I need to write this book.  And it will give me the quiet space and time to create.

Okay, it's time for class.  I'm scared but excited--ready to fly!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Remembering Jenny, 1937-2012

I can’t really talk about Jenny without including Don. Don is Jenny’s husband. And more than anyone else I’ve met with Alzheimer’s, they are in this experience together.

I meet up with Jenny and Don at a cafĂ©. Around lunchtime, it’s crowded and noisy with customers. We decide we need to find a quieter and less distracting place to sit and talk. Jenny is thirsty, so Don leaves us to buy a bottled water for her before we go. He has just finished telling me that Jenny fell outside on the pavement.

Are you cut?

“What do you mean?”

Are you bleeding anywhere?


You just fell?

I’m unsure that I want to pursue this line of questioning. I don’t want to shine a spotlight on her Alzheimer’s like this. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.

“I did? Is that what he said?”


“Oh, then I must’ve. I’m fine.”

She smiles and puts me at ease. So much about Jenny strikes me as vibrant and playful and young in spirit. She’s wearing a hot pink shirt and crocs. Her gray hair is pulled back tight into a high ponytail. Even her name, Jenny, and not Jenn or Jennifer, is fun.

Don returns with her water, and we head off and find a quiet spot.

Tell me about a typical day for you.

“I always go out. I walk a whole lot. We live near water, so I love walking down by the…the….the…”

“Lake Michigan,” says Don.

“Lake Michigan, yes. I love walking. I always have.”

Do you walk alone?
“Oh, yes.”

Where do you live?

“Up at the top…it looks right down to the water. It’s wonderful. It’s a lovely view. I walk there and almost anywhere. I walk up to…within…ahh, it’s so clear to me.”

“The Art Institute,” says Don.

“Yes, the Art Institute. The Cultural Center. You know, it’s very nice.”

Jenny’s anomia is quite severe and interferes with almost every answer she gives.

“I go to concerts at the Cultural Center. No set schedule. I can’t do as much as I used to do. But I always want to walk forward. I get angry at people who don’t want to let me do things or insist that I do or don’t, whether it’s silly or important. I don’t like those rules. On the other side of it…I…it’s doing what I really love to do…is spend time down close to the water.”

I wonder if her experience of this symptom is frustrating or embarrassing. It doesn’t seem to bother her. She appears to be genuinely enjoying our conversation.

What is it like having Alzheimer’s?

“I don’t think about it. I think I know all I want to know about Alzheimer’s. I do most things now that I did before. I definitely got annoyed when I found out I had it. But I thought it was me. It was a relief to know it was something other than me causing the problem.”

“Jenny was diagnosed April 1, 2002. Some joke! Her major symptom was agitation. As soon as she was diagnosed, the agitation stopped,” said Don.

Tell me about what you like to do at home.

“I look at some of the old bits of…I’ve been putting things away for years and years and years and years.”

“Letters to your mother. What she’s been putting away. She’s been going through letters she wrote to her mother,” explains Don.

“They’re steamy!” Jenny laughs.

She doesn’t remember her own letters to her mother when she reads them, but she enjoys them, often laughing out loud as she reads. She doesn’t mind that she doesn’t remember writing them or the stories as belonging to her own history. This feels normal to her. The stories in those letters happened so long ago, she feels that anyone could forget them. She’s not disturbed at all. She enjoys the letters for the content that’s there and doesn’t see them as evidence of a woman she once was who she can no longer remember.

“I sometimes look at some of the old stuff. I was an only child.”

“For a while you were. You have a sibling. There are two of you,” says Don.

“Oh, yes, that’s right. Anyway…”

Jenny and Don have many of these exchanges. Jenny can’t find a word, and Don fills in the blank. Jenny says something inaccurate, and Don corrects her. And she then agrees or disagrees or chooses to ignore him and continues on in stride, unruffled. Don is never patronizing. He’s not correcting an Alzheimer’s victim. The respect he has for his wife is obvious and enormous, and I can’t imagine it has been diminished at all by this disease. These little sidebars feel like the ordinary exchanges between a husband and wife who’ve been married for a long time. Of course, what Jenny can’t remember isn’t ordinary. But they both treat it that way. And it moves the conversation along. No one is embarrassed or upset or apologizing.

“I’m English to begin with. I came here in…”

She looks to Don.


“Yes, ‘64, and I actually didn’t like it very much. It seemed a stuffy place!”

She laughs.

“Well, she’d been in Africa for five years.”

“I was in Nigeria for four years, so I’d already done all that.”

What were you doing in Nigeria?

For the rest of my conversation with Jenny, we don’t talk about Alzheimer’s. She tells me about Nigeria, about college at Oxford, about her former job in health advocacy, about her travels and friends. At one point, I realize that we don’t have much time left together, and I’m tempted to ask her to get back to talking about Alzheimer’s. But thankfully, I don’t. Jenny isn’t about Alzheimer’s. Don isn’t about Alzheimer’s either. I remember what she’d said earlier:

“I don’t think about it.”

Her Alzheimer’s is like a naughty toddler throwing a tantrum in the middle of the room. If they were to try to tame it, bargain with it, or beg it to stop, if they became embarrassed or enraged by it, they’d only be feeding energy into it, making it bigger. It would take over and define their experience. Instead they ignore it and carry on. It’s there, but they don’t focus on it.

When I think back on my conversation with Jenny, I picture sunny walks along Lake Michigan, concerts at the Cultural Center, and Africa. I remember her pink shirt, her ponytail, and her laugh. And I remember the big hug she gave me when we were done.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Anthony's Rocks

I have about two months left to finish LOVE ANTHONY.  Two months of writing, and then I need to edit, edit, edit, make sure the story WORKS, make sure I've told the truth.  Please, God, let the story work.  Please, when it's done, let the story leave the reader with resonance, thinking, stunned, wowed.

But I have A LOT left to write before it's done, and I'm scared.  How do I get there from here?  Lisa, you know the answer to this--word by word.  See what's in front of you and keep going.  Today you are writing about Anthony's rocks, and THAT IS ALL.  Don't get ahead of yourself.  Yes, the end is near, but you can't see it yet.  You can't skip over this part and be done.  You have to write every word before you get to write THE END.

How great is that going to feel?  I remember exactly how I felt when I declared the first drafts of STILL ALICE and LEFT NEGLECTED done.  Euphoric.  Like giving birth.  Unburdened.  Like I could finally exhale.

It's not long now.  Two more months.  You're almost there.  Write about Anthony's rocks.  His pebbles.  His beach stones.  That's all.  Today is not THE END.  So stop thinking about that and write.

Friday, January 27, 2012

2011 Year in Review

I realize we're well into 2012 now, and I'm a bit late with this.  I was late sending out my Christmas cards this year, too.  If you keep reading, you'll understand and forgive me.

I traveled A LOT in 2011, mostly for Left Neglected but also for Still Alice.  It was an amazing year and a real privilege to get to meet and connect with so many people from all over the world.  But it was also quite challenging, talking to readers in Australia about Left Neglect or talking about Alzheimer's in Saskatoon when I was also supposed to be writing my next book about autism.  And while I always at first reveled in the break from changing diapers, managing tantrums, and being my oldest's chauffeur, by the second day away, I was usually missing them all so much that I could (and sometimes did) cry.  Note: If you come to my book event with your baby, please don't be alarmed if I ask you if I can hold him/her.

Here's where I went in 2011:

New York, NY
Framingham, MA
Boston, MA
Pawley's Island, SC
Isle of Palms, SC
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Concord, NH
Toronto, Canada
Duxbury, MA
Washington, D.C.
Madison, CT
Long Island, NY
Sandwich, MA
Savannah, GA
Vero Beach, FL
Toronto, Canada (yes, again)
Denver, CO
Tucson, AZ
Hyannis, MA
Danvers, MA
Sydney, Australia
Perth, Australia,
Brisbane, Australia
Yarmouth, MA
Wyomissing, PA
Tulsa, OK
Orleans, MA
Dennis, MA
Harwich, MA
Martha's Vineyard
Truro, MA
Centerville, MA
London, England
Lake Forest, IL
Cheshire, CT
Toronto, Canada (again)
Vancouver, BC
Saskatoon, Canada
Indianapolis, IN
Montreal, QC
Ottawa, ON
Halifax, NS
Swampscott, MA
Saint John, NB
Siena, Italy
Sandwich, MA
New York, NY

I'll be spending MUCH LESS time in airport security in 2012, but I do have a few book events already on the calendar for this year.  Go to to see where I'll be in 2012!