Piece by Piece

I write a lot of blog pieces and Facebook posts about my crazy life and unbelievable, but true, adventures.  I post silly questions, risqué jokes, and way too many pop culture references (sorry/not sorry for the jabs Gwynnie). 
Today, with this post, I am scratching much deeper than the surface.  If you don't like to go deep, click here for a fun, but more shallow, read.

Thursday night, Kelly Clarkson, American Idol's poster girl turned anti-establishment chanteuse, paid a visit to her alma mater. An older, heavily pregnant Kelly sang her new song, "Piece by Piece".  If you haven't heard it yet, you might want to take a listen or you won't really get what I am about to prattle on about.

I have never been a Kelly Clarkson fan, but this song hit me straight in the heart.  My biological father abandoned me when I was a baby.  He abused my mother and neglected me.  I am truly a better person because my  young mother had the courage to tell him to go. 

He went. 

And he never came back. 

"I traveled 1500 miles to see you..."
When I was twenty-three, I tracked him down.  He was living in a sad, tiny apartment in Tampa, Florida (which, incidentally, is the stripper capital of the United States).  He was married to his fourth or fifth wife and raising two of his children (each had a different Baby Mama).  At first, he was warm and welcoming.  He planned outings to beaches and water parks.  He invited his relatives - my relatives - over for barbecues.  He kept my mind whirling with his non-stop prattle (so that's where I got my gift for gab), catching me up on his lost twenty-three years.  I felt as if I were in an alter-world wherein he was the snake and I was the charmer, but he was charming me and all I could do was sit and stare, eyes wide and catatonic.

"And all of your words fall flat..."
The thing about snakes is: no matter how much they entrance you with their markings, their graceful movements, their unflinching, hypnotic gaze, if you get too close, challenge them too much, they will strike.  Snakes can be slippery, venomous little bastards.

Some people are just like snakes.  They charm you, entrance you, lure you closer, and then strike.  Snakes are not what they first seem.
I am not at liberty to discuss the finer points of my visit with biological father, but I can tell you it ended with disastrous, disappointing results.

"Begged you to want me..."
Time, therapy, love - they can be remarkably powerful anti-venom. I am okay with my father's abandonment now, but for a long time his neglect left gaping wounds on my heart.  I tried to soothe those wounds with the love of others - friends, family, lovers.  I tried to be the most pleasing, most loving, most entertaining person to whomever I was with so they would love me and never abandon me. 

When my father packed his bags and slid away, never looking back, he left a legacy of self-doubt and longing.  I grew up wondering if my father left because I wasn't good enough.  Sometimes, the pain of abandonment was so great I would invent stories, casting him as a Vietnam War hero or an undercover CIA agent. 

Growing up without a strong, dependable, loving father influenced my behavior, particularly when it came to relationships with men. 

"That a man can be kind..."
I grew up dreaming about, and searching for, a man who would be kind, supportive, dependable, gentle, and true. 

But an abandoned and neglected daughter searching for a good man is a lot like being blindfolded, dropped in the middle of a vast forest, and told that you have to find your way out.  Good men are unfamiliar terrain.  Chances are, you will make several wrong turns before you find your way.  If you're lucky, you might stumble out of the forest, but not without a lot of luck or a lot of therapy.

"And a father should be great..."
Twelve paragraphs in, I don't even know why I am writing this blog post.  Maybe I am hoping a father on the brink of leaving will read this and consider the damage his abandonment will cause to his trusting daughter. 
Though, my cynical, jaded side - the side that is rarely allowed out of its dark, dank, deep cave - says, "Seriously?  You think your little blog post and a weepy Kelly Clarkson song is going to positively influence a positively flawed human being?  Ego much?"

Abandonment - in all of its forms: psychological, emotional, physical, financial - stems from a profoundly flawed morality.  Men and women who abandon their offspring, particularly when they are the most vulnerable and needy, are lacking the thick-as-cement moral fiber found in good, reliable, loving parents.  The very foundation of their character has a big-ass crack in it.  A crack created by a pathetically perverted inner-dialogue that says, "You are the most important person in this mismatched little group.  Your happiness is more important than theirs.  You deserve to be happy and free.  Walk away." 

"I made something of myself..."
Those wounds - the ones my biological father created when he listened to his inner-dialogue, the one that told him his happiness mattered more than mine - weren't healed by collecting fawning friends or finding a generous lover.  Those wounds were healed when I silenced the perverted inner-dialogue in my head, the one that said, "Your father left because you weren't pretty/smart/funny/kind/fill-in-the-blank enough."  Those wounds were healed not through the love of surrogate fathers, but through self-understanding, acceptance, and love.

A miraculous amount of healing can occur when you learn to truly accept yourself - freckles, fat fingers, frizzy hair and all!  The scars might still be there - you see them - but they don't cause you pain or limit your mobility.

A few months ago, my half-sister wrote to tell me our biological father was dying.  Keeping it real?  My first thought was, "So?  Why are you telling me?"

When I told my husband, he said, "What are you going to do?"

I shrugged.  "I dunno."

But then I sat with it.  Turned it over in mind and heart.  Prayed about it.

Eventually, I asked myself, "What would your biological father do?"

And I did the opposite.

I called his hospice, briefly explained my unusual family dynamics to the nurse, and asked her if she would convey a message to my dying biological father.

"Of course," she said.  "What would you like me to tell him?"

"Please tell him that I forgive him and I pray that he will find the peace and goodness in the Afterlife that eluded him in this life."

It suddenly just occurred to me - the reason for this post.  I am hoping some little girl, sitting in her pink painted bedroom in Topeka, Tacoma, or Toledo, will read this and stop her perverted inner-dialogue from ever forming.  Instead, I hope she tells herself, "It was his deficits that made him pack his bag and leave, not yours.  You are pretty, smart, funny, kind, fill-in-the-blank enough just as you are."

What's So Great About Scotland?

When I woke this morning, I detected a nip in the air, an unmistakable drop in temperature heralding the approach of autumn.  Here in Colorado, that means getting the snow blower serviced, pulling out your down filled parka, and stocking the pantry with survival food (caramel chocolate bars, tortilla chips, and wine).  Unlike other places in the world, Colorado does not slip gently into that good season.    When the first cool breeze blows, snow is soon to follow.

Rather than mourn the demise of bathing suit season, I made myself a pot of tea and toast with strawberry jam.  For me, tea and toast slathered with strawberry jam are inextricably linked with autumn.

I blame it on Scotland. 

Several years ago, my best friend nagged/bargained/convinced me to go on a three week tour of the United Kingdom with her.  I was the reluctant tourist.  Not because I loathe travel.  On the contrary.  J’adore travel!  But at that time, France and I were still in our honeymoon stage.  Frankly, I was eyelids deep in love with Paris and couldn’t imagine being unfaithful. 


Our phone conversations turned into word association battles.

“Buckingham Palace,” she would say.
Versailles.” I would counter. “‘Nuff said.”
“Victoria and Albert.”
“The Louvre.”
“Fish and chips,” she would cry.
“Croissants and champagne!”

Boo-yah!  At that point, she would usually fall silent and I would feel victorious.  I mean, who can argue with pain au chocolat and champagne for breakfast?  Um.  Nobody.

In the end, her passion for all things Scots, and my desire to spend QT with my best girlfriend, had me heading to Kayak to purchase round-trip tickets to London.  

Since this isn’t a travel piece, I will just give you a written montage of the first portion of our journey:  Tower of London.  High tea.  Shopping at Harrods.  Getting arrested by Buckingham Palace Guards.  Castle.  Castle.  Brighton (where I stared longingly across the Channel at my beloved France).  Jane Austen’s Bath.  Wales.  Harry Potter’s castle, Alnwich.  And then…

After a whirlwind tour of Edinburgh, we headed to our cottage, perched on a hill overlooking a sheep farm near Strathpeffer.  We spent the next week doing what girlfriends do when they are together: talk, laugh, shop, rescue critically ill sheep.

We hiked to the top of paps and yodeled like the people in the Ricola commercials.  We fell in love with the sturdy, plucky West Highland Terriers we saw in village parks and vowed we would each adopt one someday.  We tried Drambuie at the tavern where it was first made.  We walked between standing stones and hoped to be transported through time into the arms of a brave, brawny Scotsman, like Claire in Outlander.  We tromped through bogs in our brand new shiny Wellies, and returned to the cottage to feast on toast slathered with Mackays Strawberry Conserve. 

Order Finding It
And just like that, I made room in my heart for a new lovah: Scotland. 
So, when I sat down to plot out Finding It, book two of my It Girls series, I knew I had to set the book in Scotland.  The It Girls books are all about self-exploration and growth, broadening one’s horizons through travel, and building the best, most enriching friendships one can build. 

Sure, they are romance novels – which means there are sexy, charming men and some crazy-hot-monkey sex – but at their core, they are about how true friendships motivate, mold, and sustain us. 

My best friend motivated me to visit Scotland.  The memories we made that autumn have molded me into a different writer and sustained me when the darker side of life has closed in.  So, to answer the question posed to me by the editor of this blog – “Why did you place your novel in Scotland?” – Because I couldn’t think of a better setting for a novel about adventure, love, and friendship.

Castle on the Hill
Corgarff Castle, Highlands

Angus' Stones
Standing Stones on a farm near Dingwall

Follow the Leader
Sheep beside a sign in Gaelic, high in the Highlands

Hairy Coo
Highlands Cows near Culloden Battlefield

Bucolic Beauty
A hay field near Castle Fraser, Highlands

The Real Angus
Angus and his sheep, Shep, his faithful collie is popping his head up to the left of the photo,
Near Dingwall

My Buddy
After a few visits, Shep has become my good buddy.
I am even wearing a beanie with the words, "Get a wee, wee bye, Shep!"
 - the words Angus uses to encourages Shep to round up the herd.

Under a Blue Heaven
Pasture in the Highlands

True Friendship
Cindy is such a great friend, she let me talk her into
wearing ridiculous hats and posing in the pasture with
the sheep.  (To be fair, it didn't take a lot of convincing)

Moody Sky
The northern coast of Scotland

Here I am, just chilling in my Beatles tee and beanie,
watching the surf roll in.

It's All Mine
Striking my trademark pose outside Glamis Castle

In the Gloaming
Edinburgh just before nightfall

Old Town Edinburgh

New Town Edinburgh

Sunset on the Stones
One of my favorite things to do in Scotland is take
an evening hike and watch the sun set over the stones

Stones and the Heavens

Darkness Falls