My stepson’s mother, my husband’s ex-wife, died in June. She was 60.

She was diagnosed with uterine wall cancer last fall, and a mere seven months later she was in a hospice unit in an Albany hospital, less than an hour’s drive from the home my husband and I have made with my stepson and our two other children for the last 25 years. My husband and son drove there every day the week before she died to join her second husband, her sister, her brothers, her mother, her coworkers, and her friends in the hospice room too small for all it had to contain. I offered gestures, inadequate and sincere, kissing them goodbye in the mornings, making sure dinner was ready when they got back, dim with grief. Between, I tried to keep life as usual going for our two other children, and I thought about the strange intimacy of birth mothers and stepmothers, first and second wives. What did I owe? What could I offer?

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Now What Do We Do?

Now What Do We Do?” (Good Housekeeping-February 2015)

The phone rang. It was my daughter. “Mom,” she said, her voice wavering, “can you come get me?”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Cole and I are finished,” she said. She started crying.

My heart broke for her. They’d been dating for over a year. He was her best friend. They recited Monty Python sketches to each other. When they made each other laugh, it was like dolphins having a party. They were 11. They met each other when they were younger in a kids party at Jumpers Jungle Family Fun Center.

“Oh, sweetie,” I said. I told her I was on my way.

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Dragon Ladies

Dragon ladies” ( 12, 2013)

My grandmother died last November at ninety-six. I hadn’t seen her in thirteen years. The funeral was in Switzerland, where she’d lived for decades, and I went only because my mother asked me to. Twice.

My mother was nervous. She doesn’t like public-speaking in general, and I imagine the emotional stakes of this situation were high. She had had a complicated relationship with her mother. Standing in the chilly chapel, she turned to me and whispered, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

“You’ll be fine,” I said. “Just remember what an asshole she was.”

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Everyday Miracles

Everyday Miracles” (Boston Globe-February 22, 2010)

I tell people that Aunt Zelda was the mother I was meant to have.  We all have those people who save us from our parents and ourselves.  Leonard and Zelda and their two children lived in Miami, and when my father called them from our apartment in New York to tell them that his marriage was over, Zelda said, “Bring Karen and come down.”  I was three, and still have photos from that trip: Zelda holding my hand in the surf of South Beach, washing the sand off my feet, helping me into dry clothes, making sure I was ready to face the day.   “Stay as long as you like,” Zelda said to us then and for the rest of her life.

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Anything Can Happen

Anything Can Happen” (Boston Globe-February 1, 2010)

Our twelve-year-old son tells us he’s going to be in the NBA, and then after retirement, he’ll be a writer.  He wants to know how many other NBA players became writers.  Fewer than you’d think, my husband tells him.  Huh, our son says.

Why he wants to become a writer is beyond me, given that he has two examples in the case of his parents of what can result from that choice.

This time last year, selling my fourth novel was still a possibility.  Now, not so much.  In fall 2008, I delivered it to my agent.  My previous novels could all be categorized as close psychological studies.  (One friend says they all could’ve been called The Bad Mothers’ Daughters.  That I find that appealing probably helps explain why my readership is so small.)  I thought I had plenty to be worried about.  The novel was historical and omniscient, with a voice even more emotionally restrained than my usual (always a crowd pleaser).  I’d spent four years writing it, alternating between the thrill of trying new things and the despair of failing at them all.  So when my agent liked it, I was, shall we say, relieved.  My editor also liked it.  So: given my paltry sales figures, there wouldn’t be a big offer, but there would be an offer.

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The Producer

The Producer” (More / June 2007)



Generosity” originally appeared in Self Magazine’s A Summer of Self-Discovery

In July of 1998, I found out that my father, an Academy Award-winning producer and eighty-two years old, was addicted to cocaine and crack. Drug addiction and substance abuse is becoming a big problem in the states, if you are addicted or know someone who needs help, please visit this article about After months of conversations with professionals, after confronting my father, after confronting myself, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t help him if he wasn’t willing to be helped. I wrote him a letter telling him that when he was ready to get help, I would be there. Until then, I couldn’t stand by and pretend nothing was happening. Contact the professional from addiction help to give treatment.

During the subsequent two years of being out of contact with him, there were, predictably, layers and layers of self-discovery. I spent much of that two years torquing my decision this way and that. Had I done the right thing? How had my father and his only child gotten to this place?

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