what do you do with anger? writing as exorcism

On Monday, along with about 600 others, I received an email from our elementary school’s principal. Here is an excerpt (click the screen shot to enlarge)—

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I read the email feeling terrible for the family and admittedly thankful I didn’t know them. It’s selfish, my motive, but also self-protective. Grieving is like suffering an acute depressive episode. I learned this a few years ago when my teenage nephew committed suicide. It takes everything out of you. It detaches you like a lost balloon. It fogs you up and weighs you down all at once.

The news haunted me anyway. Family of four. Minivan. I can relate to that. One minute you’re cruising happily along and the next, seemingly out of nowhere, you’re shattered. People post prayers to your facebook page. Life will never be the same. Everyone you talk to gets the chills just discussing it—the tragedy, the heartbreak, the it-can-happen-to-you randomness.

Yesterday after TRX class I found out that I do know the family after all. The mom, Seana (pronounced Shawna) was a boot camper at Performance Fitness where I work. When I was a client, we worked out side by side a couple times and she kicked ass. Seana is a lithe little thing, with flaxen hair and a toned runner’s physique. Sweet open face. Great smile. A good egg. Thirty-eight years old.

As of this writing, Seana’s in a coma with both lungs collapsed. She’s had surgery on a broken arm. The kids each broke their collarbones, and the little boy, his arm as well, which needed surgery.

I couldn’t get it out of my head, these kids, fatherless, hurt, scared, and their mom—who knows what will happen to her? Will these children be orphaned? Will Seana survive and if she does, will she recover enough to resume daily functioning or will she need assistance? What will happen to the kids? What are they thinking? What must they be going through?

The questions and fears circled in my brain like buzzards. Picking at each question like knife-edged beaks in a roadkill carcass.

I did the only thing I could. I googled.

First there was Seana’s facebook page, plastered with loving prayers, pictures and memories from those close to her. Family members took the time to thank everyone for their blessings and thoughts. It was heartening to read. They set up a CaringBridge page.

I felt compelled to learn as much as I could about the accident, as if knowing more would answer my questions and soothe me. Of course the opposite happened. That cat didn’t die from indifference after all.

A red Ford pickup truck heading north, was driving erratically, according to another driver, who “just knew something was going to happen.” The truck crossed the center-line into the south-bound lane and collided head-on with the minivan. Then the truck burst into flames.

I clicked through photographs taken at the scene. The pick-up truck, charred black and dripping with fire extinguisher foam. The crumpled minivan, its windshield peeled back like frozen pool water, its entire front end caved in as if punched in the face. Firefighters. Smoke. I even came across a picture of one of the Valentines—Jeremy or Seana—lying on a stretcher beside the van. Bare feet turned in a way that looked unconscious or worse. The world is a well-documented place these days. If you look hard enough, you can find almost anything to keep you up at night.


Maybe if Jeremy Valentine had been known for being a raging drunk or wife beater the news wouldn’t be quite as bad, but Valentine was lauded as an extraordinary member of the community, a wonderful father and husband. Thirty-nine years old.

Will she be okay? Will she be okay? This was my brain on auto-obsess. I tried to concentrate on other things—watching True Blood on Amazon Prime. Exercising. Designing workouts for boot campers and clients. But I kept drifting back. And as I did, my fingers found their way to the laptop keyboard.

Who was this Matthew Wagoner? I wondered now. Driving erratically. Texting? Drunk? Mental? He had two small boys in the car with him. All three injured, but alive.

He’s on facebook, I discovered. Matthew Gene Wagoner. Matt. I scrolled through his friends…

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This was the reflection of Matt’s character. The weight of it. The anger and prejudice roiled inside me. It burst forth quick. I wanted to talk to someone about it but I didn’t want to burden anyone or receive any well-meaning advice that would sink me deeper. I wanted to alleviate the pressure. But instead I picked the scab and let the blood flow.

I found someone—a cousin—who posted about Matt and the accident…

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They’re all going to be fine. Jeremy meanwhile is dead. Seana in a coma. But Matt Wagoner is just fine. Just a broken “ankel.”

It’s so easy to cast a villain. To assign blame. To look at this event as a story of good versus evil. But it’s more than a story. It’s a loss, a death, a shattering of our illusory feelings of safety.

And then I found Matt’s page…Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.37.49 AM Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.35.37 AM Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.39.13 AM

And these too—

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Here he is, world. You couldn’t invent a more perfect vessel to stuff full with rage and blame. If ever you needed or wanted a justification for your anger, this here’s a good one. This accident is rendered even more brutal and infuriating knowing that Matthew Wagoner, given his character, most likely didn’t experience a vehicle malfunction. He most likely didn’t suffer from cardiac arrest while driving. Most likely, he was, as he appears to be in his daily life, being spectacularly irresponsible.

So now I’m left with a different question after discovering the identity of the driver who caused Jeremy’s death, Seana’s coma, Luke and Molly’s broken bones and lacerations, along with the injuries sustained by Matt’s own children.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 10.24.38 AMI’m left wondering if justice will be served. I want Matt to serve time. I want his community and dare I say culture to wake the fuck up. And don’t give me the horse shit about “jail time won’t bring Jeremy back.” I know that.

But imagine Matt returning to business as usual after killing an innocent man and tearing a loving, close-knit family apart. Going to keggers. Getting slaps on the back from friends who are sorry for what ‘Matt had to go through.’ Posting photographs on facebook of half-naked women and unintelligible rants about boobs and “bedroom boom” and shitty employers. Raising his sons to never be accountable for their actions or respectful of rules, laws and fellow citizens. It doesn’t make much sense, does it?

I know this journey is not yet complete. Justice or not, it’s my job to overcome my rage, to accept the discord while working toward peace. I don’t usually pray, but if I did I’d pray for Seana and her family, and I’d also pray for Matthew Gene Wagoner and his children, and all the people in his world. Because what is any tragedy ever ultimately for, if not to illuminate ourselves, transcend our limits and strengthen our bonds?


keeping busy

i know it’s been ridiculously long since i’ve blogged here. more recent documentation can be found on my fitness blog, bodyenta.com.

When I was working on my first novel back in 2002 I freaked out somewhere in the middle and decided that the right and proper thing to do would be to enroll in interior design school. it would be far more practical than writing a novel. who did i think i was anyway? i’d been an art major at school. as a girl, after my big brother moved out, I turned his bedroom into an art studio. my friend Tammy and I would spend hours in there designing stationary and making Ziggy mobiles out of wire hangers and cardboard.

I enrolled at FIT. A week into the program I was a wreck, realizing I’d made a tragic mistake. I didn’t care about designing other people’s houses and corporate settings. I didn’t give a flying fuck where heating ducts and electrical outlets were supposed to go, and I definitely didn’t care about measuring anything or schlepping all over town to purchase fourteen-thousand dollar console tables.

I finished out the semester though, favoring my history of design class, and my liberal arts elective, sociology, and when I could, used the campus computers to finish my novel.

I’ve always loved interior design, just not as a viable career choice. Some of my happiest moments are spent poring over magazines, books and blogs (desiretoinspire.net is a current fave) and dreaming of ways to improve my surroundings.

Now that I have a new job as a personal trainer and boot camp instructor, my interior design fever is back. I’m not planning on going back to school or changing careers but I do find it curious, as a somewhat detached witness, that I escape into a world of design and decor with one foot, while the other is planted in a totally different field.

With all this in mind, I’ve been keeping very busy teaching and training clients, parenting Peaches and Spike, and compulsively beautifying my home. Here’s the illustrated version:


I lugged this branch home from a dog walk and sprayed it black in my driveway. Bryan and I drilled about nine holes in the ceiling before we found the studs. Our magnet stud finder gadget was worth zilch trying to locate nails through plaster. I wrapped the chain in burlap ribbon. Not shown in this picture is the hideous extension cord. It has yet to be camouflaged. I am thinking of doing the lights differently.


I hated the old peach-colored walls in this tiny hallway between my kids’ rooms the moment my father-in-law put the first lick of paint up, but it was a damn expensive gallon of paint—B. Moore Aura—so I lived with it for five years. The green color I chose was inspired by one of our pastels.


I also sprayed the old white sconce fluorescent pink and added one of those trendy Edison bulbs. Bought the kids a bunch of stickers to decorate their doors. And turned the hallway into a miniature gallery.


Painted the downstairs bathroom black. Put in a new sink from Ikea. The before shot is some pics down.


taking cues from design mags regarding two things: Add plant life and switch your shit around to reinvigorate it.


This is probably the most expensive light fixture I’ve ever bought. Almost $300. From schoolhouse electric. Natural brass. Made to order.


Peaches desperately wanted the chrome faucet. I shut her up with a Monster High doll. Ugh, the sucker I am. It’s atrocious. But i heart my white faucet from Ikea.


More plant life. Or plant death? Willow branches from Whole Foods.


Succulents are all the rage. Trader Joe’s.


A carefully curated grouping as they say in the biz. A yoga friend gave me the pink quartz, which I love.


I bought this Indian kantha quilt on etsy straight from Jaipur. It’s only big enough for a twin bed but I just lay it across my queen-sized bed for extra color and texture. It kind of made my heart race when I saw it. This is both sides.


the pillows are collecting. I keep picking stuff up from TJ Maxx or Home Goods or Target for other rooms and then they find better homes elsewhere. I love pink pops.


Got inspired by an article on apartmenttherapy.com to use my desk as a night table. it fills out the room very nicely.


this is my former office, where the desk used to be. now it’s a library and workout room. Bryan found the ipod speaker on the curb.


there’s nothing better than elevating kids’ art to serious shit by framing it. I love how free kids are with paint.


nother thing I learned—you can never have too many lamps. loved this one from ikea.


more kids’ artwork and weekly floral arrangement.


another thoughtfully curated hoosh. those mercury glass tree votives are on sale at west elm. the kids got the stones at crystal cave.


i’ve been wanting a stainless steel fridge with french doors but have no idea when that will happen. in the meantime, I organized the papers on the doors, bought some lovely tiny but strong magnets at the container store and have BIG plans to paint the fridge doors. I saw that someone in a magazine painted their similar fridge with chalkboard paint but we already have a chalkboard painted swinging door. So I’m thinking I might paint the fridge COPPER. eh? eh? B. Moore makes metallic paints you know.


My mom is obsessed with her tai chi class. so into it in fact that for his birthday she gave Spike a picture of herself getting her chi on. Gotta love that woman.


Peaches is catching the design bug too. she wants to repaint her room cobalt blue with gold variegated slashes to pay homage to king tut and ancient egypt. in the meantime, I throw curling ribbon and whatever else onto her chandelier.


original tub hardware.


I love the union jack. repurposed our curbside found wing chair to the head of the dining table. every night it’s someone else’s turn to sit there.


for zero money i made a section of open shelving in the kitchen by simply removing a cabinet door.


another take on the tree branch lighting system. the string lights are drapier in this pic.


nother floral arrangement.


my growing ninja.


that light fixture from schoolhouse electric came with three miles of newsprint paper. the kids had a blast with it right before bed.


who needs toys? just give the kids a roll of cheap-ass paper.


Spike chose Angus Young for his fourth grade biography project. the guitar is his poster.


grouping objects by color is a lovely way to showcase your collections. by the way. & i love trader joe’s flowers.


ah. here’s the old sink and the bathroom before. just after I tore down the fake tile backsplash. god that was satisfying.

so now, and maybe this comes as no surprise, I’m ready to repaint every wall, update the rugs we’ve had for years, take up photography and create huge canvases of abstract art to fill the walls. Then maybe one day I’ll tackle the yard. The garage. the basement. in the meantime I’m going to take a nap before I have to pick up the kids, figure out what the fuck to make for dinner and teach boot camp later tonight.

escapism is beautiful.


no jewelry in the OR

In the end I decide to share. Me, the oversharer, self-appointed queen of TMI, wondering whether or not to post this. But in the end, like I said, a quiet but assured YES comes to the fore.

That’s Bryan’s wedding band on my chain.


He’s in the OR right now, getting his left wrist put back together by a very reputable hand surgeon. The reason I tell you this is because I think it will fill him with teary gratitude to hear from every last one of you when he’s in severe pain and recovering tonight and tomorrow. Take his mind off the inevitable pain, the titanium plates and screws.


Monday on his way to work, he got in an accident. He was on his bike and had to brake suddenly to avoid a collision. It was around 8:30 when he called me to tell me he thought he broke his wrist. The sound of his voice. In so much pain and so frightened.


His head, neck and spine are all healthy and whole thank god. He was wearing his helmet. His helmet has a big gash in it. He also got some wicked road rash on his arm and shoulder and banged up his knees pretty good.


After his appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, who told us a couple of times that the injury is “very severe,” we went to Trader Joe’s. There, we met, so serendipitously that it seemed like God herself plopped this guy down to better Bryan’s perspective, a young man in a wheelchair. He was a paraplegic and we overheard him telling a co-worker to always wear her helmet when biking to avoid winding up like he did. We approached and learned that he had been in a coma for weeks after his accident and so elated to come out of it with his mind intact that the loss of his legs was nothing. He was so happy. It was a blessing to meet this guy when we did.


Breaking a bone at 45 years old. Feeling your mortality like never before. Going over and over the accident in your head, wondering how you could have reacted differently to achieve a better, less battered outcome.


This is a journey unto itself. An odyssey filled with incredibly kind and skilled doctors, firefighters, administrative workers, nurses and one very fine lawyer.



So keep my man in your prayers and reach out to him. Email him or post on his facebook wall. He’ll be okay. In the end it’s just a broken arm, but it still requires a lot of effort to get through the ordeal, physically and emotionally.

Love to all!


let us pray

One more reason I love living in the burbs: our neighbor was throwing away this coolio 70s sectional. I happened to have the lighting and lucite to go with it. Now we congregate on the porch for homework, guitar-playing and study-sessions. The pale periwinkle velour also complements the doggies’ fur colors. Come over and have a smoothie sometime!

IMG_6543 The kids aren’t getting any younger. Peaches now plays a disturbing game with her neighbor friend from across the street. They dress up in my not-very-high-heeled ankle boots and tank tops that they fasten with rubber bands high up on their torsos that they call belly shirts. On go the skirts, and for Peaches, her brand new Old Navy bikini we couldn’t resist much to Swamp Chicken’s chagrin. The top serves as Peaches’ “bra.” Then they boogie away to songs blasting from the iPod—Taylor Swift, Bridget Mendler, Lady Gaga, who rumor has it, picks her nose—this from our neighbor friend’s mom. I suspect she’s not a fan. Swamp Chicken curls up in the corner shaking and moaning, Make it stop! While I stand there gawking, wearing my signature silicone oven mit, praying this is JUST about fashion and not about future slut-dom. Please pray along with me.IMG_6506 Then there’s Spike. Looking rad in SoHo, below. I made him sit there and pose so I could capture this fleeting image of coolness before he rolled away, knees knocking, butt sticking out, arms flailing, wealthy European tourists leaping out of his way. He was very amenable.

Spike’s baseball team lost this season but he’s fixing to sign up for more. It’s the last couple weeks of school. He believes his sister is the cause of all his troubles, but he can also be the best, most menschiest guy.

Yesterday for instance, I went to my very first parking ticket trial. I lost my case, despite the fact that I spray-mounted pictorial evidence to foamcore rectangles; despite the fact that I wore a dress and heels and even took a shower, while others showed up looking like they’d just rolled out of the gutter, in dirty T-shirts, flip-flops and gym shorts. I came home dejected and exhausted. Spike came up to the bedroom where I’d been napping off my defeat and said, “Mommy, I need help with my homework, but you’ve had a hard day. Is it okay if you help me later and I go out and play for now? Okay thanks!” What a thoughtful boy.

IMG_6486One of my boot-camp friends is a scientist. She hosts this incredible evening of science for kids in her backyard. Peaches and Spike made personalized sports drinks, pneumatic rocket launchers, chromatographic T-shirts, and we even made natural lip-balm—I made three of those bad boys. We all want to go again next time. I think I’ll officially add the event to the list of good things about living in the Philly burbs. If you’re in the area, click this link to find out more.


I could go on and on about the ticket but I’m trying to put it behind me. Just—ick.

In other news, I’m studying the physiology of exercise now, finding out exactly how our bodies use macronutrients for fuel. It’s heavy shit, this personal training stuff. If you don’t already know, I’m studying to become a personal fitness trainer. I will need guinea pigs and have been approached by a few volunteers. Feel free to sign on. I hope to improve peoples’ lives soon, and not accidentally kill someone. Maybe we should say one more prayer.

Peace be with you.

And also with you.


jinx jinx you owe me a coke motherfucker

Aand within days she was struck by a virus, fevered and ached, shivering in her bed. This AND she received a vitriolic, hate-filled email addressed not only to her but to her colleagues as well. All of whom would vouch for her character. Brought her to tears it did. She would tell you all the nitty but this here’s the public stratosphere. Suffice to say she should have seen it coming, the pain. The misery, the amputation of endorphin flow and thus her social world of bootcamping ladies. Muscles slacken. The sofa has gone miles of dreamless sweaty sleep as the virus tendrils way too slowly out of her system.

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I took Bryan to see Louis CK at the Merriam Theatre here in Philly. I scored us second row seats, not including the few rows of folding chairs in the orchestra pit. I could read the writing on Louis’s water bottle: Aquafina. I could see the burnt mushroom color of his eyes.

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