My return from South America was promptly eclipsed by the massive November 30th earthquake here in Alaska.
I’d landed in Los Angeles from a brief layover in Peru when I turned on my phone to find a flood of texts. The first was from my youngest daughter, giving me a heads up that something “big” had happened. Many others were check-ins from family and friends.
While I felt a little guilty for not being in Alaska when it happened, and a splash jealous for missing the experience, it’s been a fascinating event to witness through the eyes of others.
I’d never been through a natural disaster, so returning home from a 3 week-long trip just hours afterward was memorable. While we Alaskans are accustomed to our fair share of earthquakes and aftershocks, this one was a doozy at 7.0.
Supermarkets ran low on food and water. Electricity was out in much of the city when I returned. So was cell phone service. Some roads and schools were destroyed. Yet no one died, a great tribute to careful city planning and building codes in Anchorage. There weren’t reports of opportunistic thefts.
A few things stuck with me.
Each person’s reaction to the same event was unique.
This reminded me of the birth order conversation I often had during my book tour.
If a family of four was home together in the same room during the quake, their reactions varied widely, from getting under a table, crying and shaking, or running outside. Their ability to deal with the trauma long afterward was as varied as their responses, often due to their age and role in the family, past experiences, genetic makeup, and other traits and quirks.
Pets were/are and are as impacted by the earthquake as their humans.
Many dogs and cats ran away from home shortly after the big shake. They lost control of their bowels, and some continue to have problems. A doggy daycare staff member told me more dogs have to wear anxiety jackets, and have a compromised immune system from the stress, developing kennel cough at a higher rate. And a friend’s 15 year-old bird died soon after the quake, not due to injury, but due to strain.
Only the worst images were replayed by the media and were then shared in social media, though many people experienced no damage to their belongings or homes.
Don’t get me wrong; there was a lot of damage done. Most everyone I know sustained loss of belongings due to the earthquake.
Yet it reminds me how scared we become after watching news images, whether it’s on television or the social media shares. Perhaps it’s about an American tourist who died overseas. Or an image of violence, played and shared, over and over. We become fearful and wary.
We might forget to mention who all emerged safely from this earthquake, who all helped one another, and how grateful we are that no one died as a direct result of such a seismic quake.
After I called my daughter from Los Angeles, and she told me that she and her sister were fine, as were my pets, I wondered about my newly renovated kitchen. Twenty-three years of ugly had been replaced by beauty just before I left on my trip, and I had been over the moon about it. But I knew what a complete jerk I’d be for asking about it long distance.
My plane landed in Anchorage several hours after the shake, and I hailed a taxi. My driver was an African immigrant, small yet loud, and hidden under his oversized red wool hat with a pompom on top. On the way home, he told me about how it was for him, a relatively new citizen, to be jarred awake from a deep sleep. How he ran outside and fell to the ground, and how he calmed himself, realizing there was nothing he could do to control the outcome.
“We can replace things,” he told me,” We cannot replace peoples.”
It was just the message I needed to hear.
I opened the door to my place, and looked at each room, saving my new kitchen for last. And though it appeared someone held a raucous party on the second floor and left the mess afterward, my kitchen, my long-awaited kitchen, was undisturbed.
I am truly thankful.
I’ve heard a number of people say they wanted to leave state after this earthquake. It came without warning. The aftershocks still continue. It was too much to deal with.
But for me, showing up just after to witness the inspiring recovery efforts, Alaska still feels like a soft place to land.
Just before the holidays, I spent some time discarding and donating stuff I no longer wanted when I came across this tattered list. It is an outline of wishes and goals I hoped for in my 39th year.
It was just the distraction I needed to stop de-cluttering.
Thirteen years ago, when I crafted the list, my kids were nearing adulthood, so I aimed high. I hoped for things like a fake wood floor, a better car, a book deal, $500 more a month, travel opportunities, a soulful community, lower cholesterol, and a promising relationship. And then I scrawled all of the qualities I wanted my suitor to have.
I think I’d listened to some motivational guru Tony Robbins cassette tapes that inspired me to be focused and intentional about what I wanted.
There’s nothing wrong with being focused, so long as it’s tempered with flexibility.
So how did I fare, achieving my goals?
Well, that year (2003) I was fortunate to enjoy a soulful community and I completed the first draft of my memoir.
And over the next ten years, I did get a fake wood floor, a better used car, and more money. I began to travel, and completed more drafts of my memoir, finally publishing it a few months ago.
My cholesterol is still high, but my good numbers increased while the bad decreased.
And my promising relationship?
Songwriter Leonard Cohen once mentioned in an interview that perhaps his greatest goal was to recall what he’d hoped to achieve as a young man, compare it to what actually did happen in his life as he grew older, and then accept the gap between the two with grace.
Of all my resolutions for 2017, this is perhaps what I want most of all.
Accepting the gap. And keeping hope and faith alive for the future.
Summer for all of us is half over, and for those of us living in Alaska, it will end in nano-seconds. Not only that, we’re more than half way through 2013. I find summer brings less time for writing, but adds time for visits with family, friends, and fun. With both of my daughters doing well, combined with the best weather in Alaska’s history and the company of so many I adore, my cup runneth over.
Let me not forget the other connection I love. You! When I get comments, emails, and re-posts, I feel so blessed. Connections, in person or online, are wonderful things. Favorite books (Liz fun)– THE BUTCHER, BAKER by Walter Gilmour and Leland Hale
The story of Alaska’s most prolific serial killer will now be told in the film On Frozen Ground with Nicholas Cage and John Cusack. None of us who lived here will ever forget this story, and it’s always exciting to see people you know (the lawyers, judges, not the criminal) portrayed by actors.
To follow that up, I had to choose a sweet book. AS I KNEW HIM by Anne Serling tells the sweet story of a daughter’s love for her father. I think most of us can’t imagine the extraordinary private relationship Serling had with her very public father. What a fortunate daughter. And lastly, I may be late to the cause, but I love, love, love Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS. It’s a book I’d have never picked up without my book group’s insistence, and I’m so glad I did. If you wonder why you might not be a musical savant, or think about why so many Asian cultures children exceed American children’s math scores, give it a read. The author provides a different point of view.
Family. Friends. Fun. This is a good time of life for me. I hope it is for you, too.
What are you grateful for this summer? Do you have New Year’s goals you’re working on? Read a new book you’d like to share?
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month.
There are a lot of reasons an abuse victim remains in a violent relationship. Want to know the reason up to half of battered women interviewed give for not leaving their violent partner?
Fear of what would happen to their pet(s) if they fled, leaving the pet behind.
The fear is not unfounded.
It turns out, people aren’t the only victims of domestic violence. Household pets are injured by the abuser as well. One study in the state of Wisconsin indicated nearly 70 percent of the abuse victims interviewed stated their partner had hurt or killed a pet or livestock, and three-quarters of the incidents occurred in front of the victims or their children as a control tactic.
According to Alaska Friends of Pets board member Ruth Quinlan, her agency was recently contacted by a victim who would not leave her abuser until her 3 cats could be safe. A pet foster home was secured through their Safe Haven program before the victim went to the local shelter. After she secured safe housing, the woman and her cats were reunited.
At a interdisciplinary work group, I heard a police officer talk about a German shepherd who was missing more teeth each time the officer was called to the home to respond to a domestic disturbance. No one admitted to violence in the home, and subsequently no arrests could be made without obvious injuries or other evidence. The calls kept coming in until finally the victim was ready to talk. By then, the shepherd
was nearly toothless.
But there is hope.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is working to train district attorneys and veterinarians so that animal abuse can be prosecuted vigorously. They can also refer abuse victims to resources in their area that can assist in the domestic violence crisis.
Programs like Friends of Pets Safe Haven Program in Anchorage or Friends of Animals in Utah exist in many states.
How you can help
Report animal abuse when you see it. According to Ruth, who ran a battered women’s shelter in the past, animal abuse can be an indicator of domestic abuse towards the rest of the family. Look at the ASPCA’s website for guidelines on how.
Donate to your local nonprofit that deals with animal abuse. In Alaska, it’s Friends of Pets.
You can specify that your donation goes to the Safe Haven Rescue portion of the Friends of Pets program.
Support your local ASPCA. Shop at their thrift stores if one’s available. The ASPCA has more than 100 years of protecting animals from harm nationally.
Family violence is rampant in our country. Let us not forget to help those who have no power to make it stop.
(The animals in this post are models only, and yes, the camera makes them look heavier than they really are. No real foster animals were filmed in order that victim confidentiality be maintained.)
Have you ever gone to a conference or workshop that left you feeling invigorated, even in the face of apparent hopelessness?
At the Alaska Writer’s Guild’s 2012 conference http://www.alaskawritersguild.com/events?eventId=451830&EventViewMode=EventDetails this weekend, I learned that getting my memoir (about domestic violence and recovering my internationally abducted children successfully, fueled by the memories of my own kidnapping’s aftermath) traditionally published will be as likely as giving birth to conjoined twins. Post-hysterectomy. At age 48. Unless, of course, I do everything I can to have the book in perfect shape and develop a solid marketing plan before pitching it to agents.
It’s less discouraging than it sounds.
It turns out, I’ve been doing a number of things right already.
What I’ve done right:
Participating regularly in a writer’s group for peer critiques.
Creating a blog that covers key word topics that are emphasized in my book. Domestic violence. International parental child abduction. Finding missing loved ones.
But from each of the presenters I’ve heard thus far, there’s much more I must do.
From author/publishing guru Jerry Simmons (nothingbinding.com) I learned that it’s the breadth of writing that matters. Another words, my second book will boost sales of my first, provided their in the same genre. The third would boost the sales of the first and second book. And so on.
From literary agent Gordon Warnock from the Andrea Hurst Agency (http://www.andreahurst.com/) , I learned that that having a great pitch is key. He liked when an author of young adult lit told him her books was as if “David Lynch met Juno.” He gave some great websites I’d never heard of to assist debut authors to find an agent, and said writers should go to bookstores every week to look at titles and sales of books similar to their own.
Author Susan Meissner suggested fiction authors consider giving their characters the free version of the Myers-Briggs test and write the results so they can keep their characters consistent, and gave an outline of how to write 300 pages in 30 days.
Author Jan Harper Haines provided engaging writing exercises for writing both memoir and fiction, and gave out a handout that offered some challenges. My favorite? Dare to suck! So, dear blog readers, you are an integral part of my future. I plan to follow the directions given, but will need your help.
What I can do better:
My pitch: Betty Mahmoody meets Erin Brockovich. Does that sound alright?
Commit to grow my blog traffic to 10,000 hits a month
Locate guest bloggers on relevant topics to the book.
Offer a short story on Kindle for the holidays excerpted from my book for 99 cents.
Strive to connect with other writers and readers, and increase the number of comments left by my weekly blog readers.
Do you have any tips for burgeoning authors? Any feedback is welcome.
Thanks goes to the Alaska Writer’s Guild for hosting accessible and affordable annual conferences in Anchorage. With the help of the annual conference and the connections I’ve made through this blog, I know that my goal of becoming an author is within reach.
Mother’s Day last weekend was especially terrific.
My youngest daughter graduated from college in New Mexico the day before, so I was there to spend it with her. It’s been at least five years since we were together for Mother’s Day, and she went to great lengths to make it special. We agreed it would be more convenient to celebrate in advance of the actual day, when restaurants and the like are over-crowded.
The morning began with coffee. Then pedicures. We got a massage together, followed by an ionic cleanse, and lunch at a Turkish restaurant. Such fun.
On the actual Mother’s Day, we drove to my sister’s gorgeous farm in a nearby town and relaxed with her and her husband. Again, so special.
That night, back at the dorms, I caught up on emails and blog links. I read about the R.O.S.E. Fund’s success in helping Crusita Martinez reconstruct her entire face after a former boyfriend threw battery acid on her face as a punishment for leaving her when she was just 18 years old. Now, seven years later, she is mother to a little girl who understands that her mother’s strength is her beauty.
I’m partial to the R.O.S.E. Fund. They helped me reconstruct my life, and, as their acronym indicates, they’ve helped scores of survivors in Regaining One’s Self Esteem.
Founded it 1992, the New England-based non-profit has directed resources to helping survivors of domestic violence while raising public awareness about the issue. In the 90’s, the R.O.S.E. Fund gave awards to a few nominated women a year, and in 1998, I was one of those lucky few.
At the time, I worked as a domestic violence advocate full-time, but couldn’t afford medical insurance for my daughters. I hoped to complete a graduate degree in psychology and write a book about my experiences.
Then came the call. I had won a $10,000 R.O.S.E. Award. The girls and I were flown to Boston, where we were presented with the award at a banquet. I gave a talk in front of 500 attendants, including the entire team of the New England Patriots. It was a dream come true.
Thanks to the award, I finished my degree in psychology, which allowed me to get a job that provided medical benefits for my daughters. That allowed me to give up my paper route and focus on writing. Which allowed me to complete my book.
Today, the R.O.S.E. Fund focuses on helping victims of domestic violence who need reconstructive surgery, and assists educators with tools they can use in high schools to prevent and/or address teen dating violence.
To me, their gift was enough to give me a leg up without promoting any kind of dependency upon them.
Thanks to the R.O.S.E. Fund, I had the courage to chase a dream. And watching that transformation helped my daughters chase theirs.
Would you like more information on how you can help? Feel free to peruse the link below.