speed bumps ahead


September 1, 2016

IMG_4145Katonah, New York

[photo by: Elizabeth Flock]

In 1998 I had a breakdown and ended up in the hospital. Though it was a frightening time, a part of me knew even as it was happening that I needed help. That my personal crisis was no longer personal; it was bigger than me. Agreeing to get help was one of the best decisions I ever made — I have not regretted it, not even for a second.

Having said that, being in the hospital following a breakdown of any kind is a harrowing experience. Three days after checking in I scraped myself out of bed and tuned my brain into the frequency of the ‘present.’ Which is to say I left my room and took a look around. I began exploring the hospital grounds as an excuse to be outdoors and sure enough, getting out into fresh air helped me shake some shit out of my head to make room for what I was learning at the hospital. One rainy day I followed the long, winding driveway leading to the administration building, walking on the pavement because the ground was so soggy. I was turning back from the entrance to head back to my room when I saw this familiar sign and instantly, right there on the hospital driveway, I KNEW MY LIFE WAS ABOUT TO CHANGE. I’m not kidding, I did. Because this sign, warning of speed bumps lying in wait, suddenly appeared before me as metaphor.

Signs for speed bumps are sprinkled throughout our world — namely in highly residential neighborhoods and near schools — reminding us to slow down. To take care. Reminding us that we need to pay attention to the road we’re on. Problem is, it’s up to us to pay attention to them — and if you’re like me, sometimes you don’t. So you’re driving along maybe fiddling with the radio (guilty!) or checking directions (guilty again!) — for whatever reason you miss the “speed bumps ahead” sign and POW! what would have been a small bump had you been prepared turns into a jarring near-accident that makes your heart beat adrenaline into your veins so fast you need to pull over to re-group.

Then there are the times you do see the warning so you take proper precautions (i.e. slowing down) and it almost feels like you’re floating over the hump in the road, comparatively of course.

In life we run into countless obstacles lying in the road ahead of us. Divorces, unemployment, death of a loved one, illness — the hurdles awaiting us are as plentiful as they are varied. But usually we have been forewarned. Usually the universe provides signposts — a spouse is vocal about unhappiness in marriage, sometimes for years, and yet their partner is shocked when presented with divorce papers; a stomach is roiling in stress but the Pepto-Bismal you’ve taken for months has stopped working. Turns out the acid-reflux you ignored for so long became a hernia that requires surgery; the person you’re dating has severe road rage you try to overlook but over the course of time the rage leaves the road and enters the relationship.

All of the above are examples of us ignoring the signs alerting us to future danger. They are examples of how, in life, we sometimes bang so hard into the speed bump we were already told would be in our path it threatens to undo us altogether. So the next time you see a sign for SPEED BUMPS AHEAD, check not only the speed at which you’re traveling but maybe give thought to the metaphorical obstacle course you’re on in life. Slow down long enough to take in the world around you and how you are moving through it. You just might end up saying, like I do, “a simple road sign turned my whole outlook around.”

writing in libraries

August 25, 2016

IMG_5064April 28, 2015

Mill Valley Public Library

Mill Valley, California

[photo by: Elizabeth Flock]

Writing is a solitary endeavor no matter what you’re working on, be it fiction, memoir, non-fiction or a combination of all, and I dont think I’m alone in saying that it is not for the faint of heart, this profession. You’re often so deep inside your own thoughts it can be jarring to be interrupted by any kind of sound but especially by conversation. And if you write at home that’s a whole basket of trouble. I’m betting if you write at home your home is as neat and tidy as mine is because I AM THE WORLD’S GREATEST PROCRASTINATOR. Everywhere I look I see dust. And of course it needs to go before I can possibly focus on my work.

My advice: take your show on the road and hit your local library. It’s like enforced study hall. And if you’re lucky you find a library like the one above in the picture (MVLibrary). I work out of the Mill Valley Library when I’m in Northern California and it gets too distracting at home. It’s got so much natural light it took my breath away when I first explored the place a couple of years ago.

The best part about working out of libraries? You won’t be tempted to dust.


August 18, 2016


You make your own happiness. That’s what everyone says, right? That it’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to be happy or unhappy? Personally, I didn’t know that for an embarrassingly long period of time. Then I saw some poster or meme or quote on someone’s tee-shirt that said it takes just as much effort to be happy as it does to be sad.

WHAT? I remember thinking to myself. It takes just as much effort to be happy as it does to be sad? No way.

I should tell you that at the time I happened to be deeply and profoundly sad. I was experiencing the kind of sorrow that makes you wonder if you’ll ever not be enveloped in it. You see, my father was dying and our family was plunged into caregiving and managing an illness that blindsided us — all while watching our once vibrant patriarch deteriorate swiftly in front of our eyes. When I saw those words about happy and sad and the energy it takes to be either of them, I was mired in grief and an overpowering sense that I was forgetting something critically important. I had no relief from that feeling of being behind some invisible 8-ball. My brain was constantly whirring. When one problem was tackled my brain clicked over to another like it was a plastic Viewmaster.

[[ click ]]

take away his car keys

[[ click ]]

ask the pharmacist in a whisper where to find adult diapers, go to aisle, come to the realization you are buying diapers for your father, sob in the feminine/baby care section

[[ click ]]

pick up his prescriptions. wait, one is missing and two aren’t ready to be filled yet?!

[[ click ]]

dial the number of the doctor to see about a stop-gap medication so his tremors won’t be so terrible while we wait until we can refill the prescription that’s only barely working anyway

[[ click ]]

leave message for doctor, knowing it will be days before you’ll hear back

[[click ]]

make voice sound cheerful: call parents to make sure the suffering — biblical at this point — make sure it’s manageable today.

[[ click ]]

come to the soul-crushing realization that, really, all you can do for him is help keep his suffering manageable.

[[click ]]

Sadness feels so heavy. So dense. So impossible to shed. Furthermore, what do we do if there’s nothing to be happy about? I can’t be truly happy while someone I love is in distress. Ah, but here’s the point.

[[ click ]]

 My fingers tippity-tap these letter buttons, spelling all this out to you, from a sunny summer day in August. I feel a light breeze and move my glass of water to keep a pile of scraps of paper from taking flight and it occurs to me that this moment — this very moment — is a happy one. I look up from typing. I am outside writing in the shade of a Eucalyptus tree. A few feet away the hammock swings and I smile at the creaky sound it makes as it rocks back and forth on its ancient metal pole stand. I imagine it is the rope sighing. I sigh with it. Because it finally registered.

[[ click ]]

Happiness is what’s found or made or recognized on a minute-to-minute basis. It’s always there for you, you just have to set the Viewmaster aside and fiddle with the lens in your mind so that it all comes into focus.

So, in a second, when I slide my finger on the square below these lettered buttons, guiding the blinking cursor to the word “publish,” these words strung together on a tranquil if fleeting August day, they will float out into the ether of the internet. These words will drift into space and across time and perhaps even land in front of another set of eyes like yours. And yes, they shall remind future me what it was like to be past me, wearing that heavy cloak of our family crisis every day, back nearly crumbling under the strain of unrelenting heartbreak. But I will also have a souvenir of this moment by the creaky hammock. The moment it occurred to me that yes, though sometimes it might not feel that way, happiness takes just as much energy as sadness. No more, no less.

[[ click ]]

Momma’s travel case




August 12, 2012

Columbus Avenue at 77th Street

[photo by: Elizabeth Flock]

I love flea markets in general, the Columbus GreenMarket here in NYC in particular. Because it’s only a handful of blocks from my home I find myself wandering the unkempt aisles nearly every Sunday, sidestepping handicapped lap dogs nestled in jerry-rigged strollers and barrels of pickles floating in brine, smiling at the always surprising variety of Stuff For Sale. Recently I happened on the embodiment of something I had imagined from scratch and it ROCKED MY WORLD. This travel case plays a pivotal role in my latest novel, What Happened To My Sister. I cannot overstate how weird it is when Life Imitates Art.

book trailer

August 8, 2012


I’m so proud of the book trailer Random House did for What Happened To My Sister.