Saturday, May 30, 2009

Big Brother Love

As Angelina Jolie once quipped, “I’m so in love with my brother.” While I could never understand the kiss in which she chose to express this sibling love, I do know exactly how she feels because I also am in love with my brother. I love my three brothers equally but my brother Michael, or Dominic as he prefers to be called, is one special guy, deserving of an unprecedented sister-worship.

(The little sister with her three brothers, from left to right: Jimmy, Michael, and Joey)

I realized just how much I admired my big brother back in the 1970s when I went to visit him in his small apartment in East Aurora, New York where he lived with his Irish Wolfhound, Taylor. Then, as now, Michael lives simply with only the bare necessities to sustain his day to day life. I’ve always considered him the quintessential hippie of the family, a character I’ve tried to emulate but have woefully fallen short. It was my brother that introduced me to Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap, eating fresh vegetables right out of the garden, and how to view every day on this earth as a blessing to be grateful for.

My family has endured more than its fair share of tragedy, but my Michael has carried the weight of it heavier than most. At the age of eight he witnessed the devastating killing of his mother at the hand of his beloved father. Not two weeks later he heard of his father’s suicide over the local radio station as he ate his breakfast. From that point forward, conditioned to keep the tragedy from ruining the family name, he stuffed his emotions, pain, and grief far into the recesses of his fragile, innocent mind.

It wasn’t until twenty-years later when his na├»ve and persistent little sister came asking questions did his tenuous reserve begin to crack. That and the benign aneurism that nestled in his brain, causing first seizures, then black-outs, then the flood of remembrances that forced him to look his grief head-on and finally, finally deal with our family history. What saved him, he more than once shared, was the family he had created consisting of his beautiful, loving wife Sharon, and his two girls, Maple (I told you he was a nature lover) and Patricia, named after his long-dead mother.

(Michael and Sharon on their wedding day)

But life challenges were not behind Michael yet. He was forced to go through another heart-wrenching and difficult period, one that was as painful as it was healing.

Michael’s wife, Sharon was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of breast cancer (IBC Research Foundation), which sadly took her life on August 4th, 2006. For three years Michael took care of Sharon, nursing her through the horrific symptoms of the disease and medical treatments. If any grace can be recognized in such a tragic story, it is that Michael, in caring for his wife and holding her as she left this world for the next, was able to deal with his grief in a way he was never allowed to when his mother was ripped from his life. In preparing for his wife’s final rest, Michael turned to the one entity that had sustained him and brought him intense comfort; he turned to Mother Earth. Sharon and Michael’s love story and my brother’s choice in honoring his love and the mother of his children is one that needs to be shared with others.

Prior to her death, Michael had commissioned the construction of a simple pine casket, turning to a people he admired for their approach to life, the Amish. The casket was beautifully crafted and contained no harmful, earth-unfriendly chemicals. Sharon’s final resting place would be at Greensprings Natural Cemetery (, located more than two hours from his home. There he can visit Sharon in a beautiful setting where he has planted a sugar Maple tree atop her grave, camped in order to feel closer to his wife, and where he will soon place the natural stone headstone to mark his wife’s location. This headstone symbolizes Michael’s love for Sharon through the use of art he has taken from various Native American picture symbols.

Yes, my brother is an amazing, talented, loving man. As a witness to his courage through all the curves life has thrown him, his optimism and love of life and family, I have more admiration for him than any other man in my life, save my own husband. Mom and Dad, you would be so proud of the little boy who grew up to be an exceptional man.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Own Personal Writer's Retreat

I’m gearing up for a road trip. I try and return home to western New York once a year but didn’t make it last summer. Usually I fly and stay a couple of weeks, borrowing a car and making the rounds of visits. This year I’ve decided to drive there, yep – Vegas to New York with a number of stops along the way. Among the reasons for the drive is that I need time to myself and for my writing. Writing is such a release for me; I’ve maintained a journal since my teens. I turn to writing mostly when I need to work out a problem or something ignites a reaction in me and putting pen to paper is often my only outlet. I’m what you call an emotional writer. My most recent outburst was a letter to the editor published two weeks ago in the Las Vegas Review Journal ( complaining about disturbing images on their front page. I had some negative comments about my opinion, which used to make me cringe before I developed a tougher skin. I think my fear of bad reviews is partly the reason why I haven’t been more successful as a writer until now.

Years ago I envisioned that by this time in my life I’d be a fairly recognized, successful published writer, possibly even a book author. While I’ve had a handful of pieces published I’ve never achieved the success that my dreams elicited. That’s because my life got in the way of it; or to put it more accurately, I got in my way.

There are a number of obstacles on any given day that can prevent me from my calling. The floors need vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping; the garden needs weeding, watering, and planting; the family needs feeding and attention. I could go on and on. The bottom line is, I tell myself, you are a “wanna-be” writer, not willing to put in the time. It’s true to a point. In my defense I’ve written thousands of words, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. What’s next is the hard part: the editing, rewriting, submission, and rejections. In order to focus on those last necessary steps I’m taking my writing on the road.

Along with two of my dogs, Maya and Grubb, my companions will be my computer and my past writing, along with lots of fresh paper awaiting new inspiration. While I’m driving I’ll be conceptualizing plot and working out dialogue and voice. When at a stop I’ll edit, revise, rewrite, and create. I’m giving myself three weeks of travel.

From Las Vegas I’ll head east taking mainly the less-traveled road, staying off the main highway as much as possible. Inspired years ago by the book, “Blue Highways” written by William Least Heat Moon, I want to travel through small towns and meet some local people. Look for my encounters to be documented in my sister blog, “Storied Lives.”

I originally planned on taking my tent and enjoying my evenings under the stars. But that is a non-negotiable condition my husband has placed on me, so its hotels and the open doors of friends and friends-of-friends. When it comes to these details I’m pretty resourceful; remind me to share my year on an Oregon river adventure in an upcoming blog.

Stay posted everyone. I’ll blog from the road and share my journey both mile-wise and in print along the way. The day of departure is approaching soon. I’m looking forward to the long empty hours without the day to day distractions. Hopefully at home someone else can mop the floor and water the plants. Maybe I should stop writing now so I can go and attend to all of those things while I’m still here, “Hang on! Dinner’s almost ready!”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Aunt Mae is so good to me. As my godmother I expect a certain amount more attention than most nieces get but my aunt often goes above and beyond in her spoiling of me. As you know from a previous blog I am a chronic recycler. My aunt is a chronic shopper. We complement one another in that I’m always first in line when she’s ready to trade up items she no longer has use for. I’m writing this on her hand-me-down computer. It works because she buys only the best so “used” is like new the way I do my own personal shopping.

Not too long ago I called her saying that when she’s ready to retire one of her purses to send it to me. I waited eagerly for my new-used Prada, Louis, or Coach. What I received instead was a complete surprise. A large brown box appeared on my doorstep. Upon opening the outer box I found a beautiful brown box wrapped in ribbon.

I removed the cover and there sat an exquisite bag that didn’t look at all pre-owned. This was a brand new Coach bag, eggshell-white trimmed in green – just my colors. It’s perfect size, too, large enough to carry all the crap I regularly stuff into my bag. And that’s the problem; how could I tarnish this piece of art with the contents of my old purse? Worse yet, how could I pull off such a fashionable accessory?

I called Aunt Mae to thank her, promising to take good care of her gift. Take care of it I would, for I knew the purse would probably never leave its box. And it didn’t until about three weeks later. Getting ready to attend a business meeting I chided myself, “I’m a business woman, so look like one.”

I took the Coach box containing the purse down from the top shelf of my closet. I transferred from the old to the new; then put them all back into my old purse. I did this routine at least three times before I gave in. I forced myself to walk out of the door with my new purse; it’s a purse for crippe’s sake. At the meeting I found myself moving the bag from the floor to a chair to my lap, worried sick about anything marking it. I hid it from view not wanting undue attention paid to it or its owner. After the meeting I had to make another stop. Sure enough when I stood at the reception desk the young woman remarked, “That bag could be my retirement!” That’s it, I told myself, I can’t pull this off. Back into the box and onto the shelf the purse went.

Telling my friends of my oh-so-unfortunate (sarcasm here) quandary, their response is to take the bag to a Coach store for cash or credit. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly,” I say, “Aunt Mae will visit sometime and I better be using that purse!”

While I am utterly grateful to my aunt for her generous spirit and love of me, I just can’t wrap my head around such extravagance as my own personal possession. I am petrified of ballpoint pens marks, gum that some inconsiderate fool spit on the ground, or my ratty-old makeup bag giving the Coach bag apoplexy because of its inferiority. Remember me? I can’t throw out old tin cans. So there sits my beautiful new Coach bag all snug and secure in its box, on the shelf, under armed guard. Maybe someday I’ll have the nerve to give it light but until then I’ll keep using the Anne Klein bag I took from my best friend’s Goodwill pile.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When I’m stressed or angry I get moving. In the past when I couldn’t cope with a situation I would use my car as an escape. I have changed locations more times than I can count and family members complained that I took up too much space in their address books. Up and moving out of state isn’t as easy as it once was, as I’m in a committed relationship and my kids and grandson prefer to stay put. My outlet now is localized; I clean the house.

After a recent fight with my husband I couldn’t sleep. So from midnight till dawn I got down to organizing my stuff. In the old days it was in preparation to leave for good, now it’s just busy work. One of my daughters calls me a clutter freak. I don’t see myself that way at all. Sure, I collect stuff: containers that cottage cheese and coffee come in, Ziplock bags, even Styrofoam trays. Hey, you never know when they might be useful! I realized I may have gone overboard, however, as I stood facing over two dozen containers of stored water. I cannot bring myself to throw away Arrowhead water jugs or juice containers so I fill them with water and put them on a shelf. Or in empty cupboards. Or behind doors. I tell myself I’m being environmentally conscious. I do live in a drought-ridden state and my well may run dry. I think perhaps the behavior runs deeper than saving for another non-rainy day. I think it’s my grandmother’s doing.

My grandmother, born in 1912, mother to two stepchildren, 10 natural born, and foster mother to 4 (me included) was an obsessive recycler. I mean she saved and reused everything. She had to make, as she once said, “one potato feed all those kids!” Having lived through hard times made her a woman of means. One time we went to visit her and my husband whispered in shock, “what’s she gonna do with those dried up old chicken bones?” Maybe he was worried because we were just about to sit down to eat. I never did find out what she was saving the bones for, but then I’d given up questioning my grandmother long ago. Needless to say, she taught me some great stuff. Like how to make a great compost heap so my flowers and vegetables are exquisite. Or how to save the juice in a car battery by never using the radio (I’m sure modern day cars have come a long way since then, but old habits die hard). I can’t even throw away used tin foil. Like I said, old habits die hard. I actually feel guilty when I throw something away in the trash – the image of an earth overflowing with landfill debris gives me nightmares.

My grandmother died a decade ago but her ways and ideas still live on in me. Ingrained childhood teachings are hard to put aside, and frankly in this era of the Green Movement, I think I’m ahead of the game. Although I believe I can give my small house a bit more room and make it look a little more tidy if I can find the strength to temper my ways. So at 2:30 am I gathered all the filled containers with water. I opened the valves and let the water flow onto my thirsty garden and I placed the empties (I’m not saying it was easy) into the recycling bin. I ease my mind with the realization that I live in an urban center with a pretty good recycling program.

I vow to be more practical in my hoarding ways. I hope I succeed. At least I can reassure future visitors to my home that I promise never, ever to save and reuse dried up old chicken bones. That is, of course, unless I can find a need for them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

No More Nagging- I'm Doing it!

May 17, 2009 No More Nagging- I'm Doing it!

What's that saying our grandmothers had about procrastination? I think it is "pee or get off the pot!" That's what a writer friend told me to do recently. Well, not in those exact words, but she got her point across. Linda (, a successful book author/blogger/radio host/standup comedian has been on me to get going on the book I have been whining about writing. Linda suggested I start a blog; sharing snippets of my story, a method she assures me will provide discipline and accountability to this perpetual procrastinator. By doing so she is convinced I’ll have enough material to fill that longed-for book.

So here’s the debut of the Lisa Gioia Story, a compilation of recollections of a life lived spontaneously and some would say, erratically. It’s a life that for 51 years has provided me with amusement and, yes, sometimes deep sorrow.

Whether or not anyone reads the blog is of no consequence, it’s the work I’ve been putting off for far too long now. So, Linda – here you go. I’m committing for now to writing and posting a blog twice weekly; that’s every Monday and Thursday from here on out. It may take the next 50 years to get it all down but as another old saying goes, “it’s better late than never!

Thanks for the push Linda – wish me luck!