It’s my birthday! And two days ago, the proof of my fairy tale collection The Poof! Academy arrived in the mail, just as I’d hoped—the best birthday gift ever! At long last I’m able to hold my first book in my hand.

At noon Ella took a lunch-hour break, and we went over to my godkids’ home, three blocks away. Leia had invited us over to see the transformation of her formerly cluttered back yard into a vegetable garden. We arrived to find Happy Birthday balloons bobbing in the breeze and her large patio table laden with bouquets of flowers, birthday cards, and a gift bag. My first surprise birthday party ever! The patio chairs were pulled back so we could all keep our distance—Leia was eager to reassure us that she’d disinfected them—and the five of us, including Michael (age 20) and Emerald (17), chatted through masks for over an hour. I’m afraid I did the lion’s share of the talking, I was so eager to tell them the saga of how my book had finally come to be—almost—published.

Then, in the late afternoon, Ella and I made lemon jello cake from a recipe I’ve had since I was as a teenager. We poured lemon syrup on it after baking—and ate it while it was still warm.



It’s a beautiful spring day, preternaturally clear and bright—or so it seems to me, since the sky is freer of smog than at any time within memory. I’ve opened the back door and bathroom window, creating a gentle cross breeze as I work at my desk. Because it’s been cold recently, Ella and I have been cloistered—with windows closed and curtains drawn, both of us working so hard that we’ve barely been aware of our surroundings, which have gotten especially cluttered. Some days, we forgot to change out of our nightgowns until our evening walk. But now—at last!—I feel I can relax, having finally sent the pdf of The Poof! Academy to Kindle Direct Publishing. A proof should be in my hands within the week. Gee! I’ve only waited fifteen years to get this book published!

Not only do the skies have a rarefied clarity, but they say on the news that animals not normally seen are venturing out onto the otherwise vacant city streets all over the world— and dolphins are swimming up the canals of Venice—while we humans listen to the mounting death toll from the cornonavirus—as of noon today, over 51,000 in the U. S. and 194,000 worldwide.

And what is my new normal? Instead of house-made granola from Fat Apple’s restaurant, and fresh salads from Ladle and Leaf, and deli favorites from Market Hall like Moroccan chicken and fresh raviolis, everything I eat is pre-packaged or frozen. (Ella hates to cook, and I, with my bad back, can’t.) Almost daily, I eat a chopped salad of raw broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage from Trader Joe’s, partly because its lemony dressing is the only one I’ve found that I actually like. I’ve had to go spelunking in the back of the freezer for ancient entrees, covered in frost—inside, under the cellophane. Meanwhile, endless trails of cars are lining up at food banks around the country. I know I have it good.

I mindfully wash my hands throughout the day, and swab down my keyboard and mouse with a wipe each morning. (The latter is only possible because Ella was finally able, after five weeks, to procure a canister of Clorox wipes at CVS—by ascertaining the delivery day and showing up when they opened.) Washing my hands in the bathroom involves soaping the faucet handles at the same time, since my hands might have been contaminated when I turned on the water. In the kitchen, where there’s a single movable handle, I have a different solution. I turn on the water by pushing the handle upward from underneath with the back of my hand in order to keep the top of the handle uncontaminated at all times. Also, I have a rule: if I’m washing my hands to touch food directly, I dry them with a paper towel; otherwise, I use the hand towel hanging on the refrigerator. (When Ella arrived at Trader Joe’s at 8:00 a.m. yesterday, they were out of paper towels.)

The worst part of sheltering in place for me is not being able to swim and do water aerobics, which have been my main form of exercise for decades because, with my fibromyalgia, I kept injuring myself when I tried anything else. Now I’m having to explore new ways of working out on our Aerobic Rider, which had been gathering dust, also for decades.

And how do I feel about all this? Well, maybe my leg says it best: I often find it swinging back and forth with a fitful energy, as it’s doing right now.



There had been one bright spot in my life in California:

My very first day of eighth grade at Garfield Junior High—now Martin Luther King Middle School—my homeroom teacher asked the girl two desks in front of me to help me find my classes and show me around the school. Her name was Linda, a carrot-top like me, and though we couldn’t have looked more different, because of our hair strangers would ask if we were sisters. But hers was bright, while mine was pale; her eyes were hazel, while mine were blue; her skin was creamy, while mine was freckled; her nose was straight and bold, while mine was crooked and nondescript. At lunchtime she introduced me to two of her friends, Daryl and Nikki—all three of them children of divorce, though Linda was the only one who lived with her father. (In St. Anthony Park, I hadn’t known any kids whose parents were divorced.)

It was Daryl I was drawn to from the beginning, both for her gentle manner and her sense of humor, which jibed with mine in a way I’d never experienced with anyone before. She began asking me over for dinner on Fridays, and her home became a haven for me. She lived with her writer mother, Nancy, who walked with a limp, and who, like Daryl, had a gentle way about her. Their house was in the Berkeley Hills. From their picture window, in the evening, you could see a panoramic view of the bay, a sea of twinkling lights in the foreground, the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. A typical dinner was steak—which my family couldn’t afford—and red leaf lettuce salad, which seemed very elegant to me because all I’d ever eaten was iceberg lettuce. They had a tiered yard and garden in back, and their living room was spacious enough for us to do modern dance in. Nancy even hired a dance teacher to give us lessons. In Minnesota, I’d started going to the Unitarian Church in Minneapolis in seventh grade with my friend Mary and her family, as I’ve mentioned. In Berkeley, Daryl and I started going to the Unitarian Church in Kensington, a modern gray stone structure with an atrium, rubber trees, and an even more spectacular view of the Bay Area cities because it was on the very highest ridge of the East Bay hills.

From my mom, who got to know Nancy, I learned that Daryl’s father was a musician and that Nancy’s lameness had been an issue in their marriage. Though it would be years before I knew I was meant to be a writer, I felt a comfort and affinity with Nancy. What I didn’t know was that, unlike my own mother, she recognized who I was and understood that my life was likely to be a difficult one. Only as an adult would I learn that my mother had always viewed me as so talented that I “would never want for anything,” including—apparently—attention, understanding, empathy, and encouragement. Nancy, on the other hand, had expressed to my mom the opinion that I was an artist and would suffer. “Talents aren’t assets that lift you above want or need,” I would tell my mother as an adult. “They’re hungers—and if they’re not fed, you’re likely to become as emotionally blighted as a starved child is physically blighted.”

What I couldn’t foresee, as I headed back to California from Minnesota at the end of my summer with my father, was that my safe harbor with Daryl and Nancy had only been a temporary one.

In ninth grade, Linda’s father decided to send her to a home for delinquent girls in Oakland. He’d recently remarried—a woman with two daughters—and believed that Linda was trying to sabotage his relationship with his new wife and stepdaughters. So beginning in ninth grade, Daryl invited Linda to live with her—and I don’t remember ever visiting her home again. I also know from my mom that Nancy found Linda difficult and was deeply distressed about her staying with them, but Daryl remained staunchly loyal to our mutual friend, and she and I were never close again.