Monthly Wrap: Time for Waltzing

by Susan Henderson on May 8, 2009

Sometimes, in the midst of revising my novel, I was consumed with the terror of uncertainty. If I made this one big change to the text, would I be able to handle its ripple effect throughout the book? Would I ever get this right? Was this even a story worth telling? And I crawled deeper and deeper into what friends call my “writer’s cave,” sometimes so focused or in such a funk that I’d forget daylight.

Here’s a story I call on again and again to give myself perspective…

I used to babysit every single day, for years and years, for a little girl who had a brain tumor – from age four when her parents first noticed the weird way her eyes would twitch and cross and how she’d bump into the door frame rather than walking cleanly through, to the surgeries and the horrible things that happen when you take away pieces of a person’s brain, to bike lessons and swim lessons and special schools and vacations (like the one in the picture; that’s me holding the baby bottles).

This is about a family who had every right to be stressed and focused soley on that tumor – killing it and saving the girl.

But that’s not how they did it. In this family that shouldn’t have had time for me or for each other, they read my dumb poems and stories, watched the skits and fake-Olympics I helped the three kids put on, listened to bad knock-knock jokes, and tolerated Vanilla Ice dance-offs. They always made sure there was enough food so I could stay for dinner. And one winter, in the middle of the worst of it, their father taught me to waltz.

The lesson I learned? There’s time. Time, even in the midst of a crisis, to give attention and show love. And there’s room for joy. There had better be. Or the cancer and wars and other things that are out of our control win it all.

So, for those of you in the throes of anxiety and uncertainty, know this: First of all, your story matters or you wouldn’t be fighting against such odds to tell it. Keep writing, a little every day, and you’ll get there. But also remember to let in the sunlight, walk with a friend, hold the ones you love, watch those crocuses come up, and dance. Because now matters, too.


What I read this month: Chris Adrian, THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL (God floods the world again and the only survivors are inside a floating children’s hospital. The first 300 pages are some of the best pages I’ve ever read – quirky, profound, emotional, and the brother, Calvin, who is dead before the book begins, is one of my favorite characters ever. But something too magical for my taste happens in the middle of the book, including a wedding I didn’t care for, and for me, the book never quite recovers its magnificence after that. I’m going to recommend it all the same. Uneven or not, it lit me up from the inside in a way few books do.)

What I read to my boys: We did that thing I hate where we start too many books at once and kind of ruin the momentum of all of them, so the only finished book was John Masefield’s THE MIDNIGHT FOLK (The boys found it fascinating in that great and creepy Neil Gaiman-y way, but slow because of the 1920’s British writing). And I also read them a whole bunch of little-kid picture books because I’m their mom and they still go along with what I say, even though they groan about it now. So: Jacques Duquennoy, THE GHOSTS’ TRIP TO LOCH NESS; Robert Bright, GEORGIE; Mark Teague, THE SECRET SHORTCUT; and Leo Lionni, FREDERICK MOUSE.

Thanks to everyone who played here, and to my guest, Lac Su, for giving such an honest and emotionally powerful interview. And thanks to all of you who are here, making this community one I’m proud to be a part of. See you soon with a new question and a new guest!

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly May 8, 2009 at 12:56 am

Aw dang – you made me cry with this…

See you Sunday! Watch out – I’m bringing my guitar and all THREE of my chords! 🙂


jodyreale May 8, 2009 at 1:13 am

That’s about the best anniversary gift ever.
I’ve read other entries that mention this little girl you cared for, and it gets me every time. I always wonder, are you ever going to tell us more?


jodyreale May 8, 2009 at 1:16 am

I hope they aren’t C, D, and G, because those are MY three chords, and they’re really working out for me.


Lance Reynald May 8, 2009 at 3:07 am

I so super excited about those Docs!!!

you better be wearing them on June 23rd!



Nathalie May 8, 2009 at 5:46 am

There is space for joy, there is space to discover beauty and pleasure in the cracks of a sometimes ugly, cruel – or just disappointing – reality. Life will get worse. Life will get better. The importance is really to live, to not waste those few precious moments.

Great boots. Not terrible adapted to waltzing perhaps but great nevertheless. They look like wearing them you might never need fear anything anymore.


EllenMeister May 8, 2009 at 5:53 am

You inspire me, my friend …


troutbum70 May 8, 2009 at 7:15 am

I understand all those feelings. I’m not a negative person in general and very confident in general and here is the but. When I write, I like what I write, I build momentum and then the self doubt grads me. I am brutal and it is hard to return to it afterwards. I have good stories a lot of stories, some true, some laced with truth and others that have attached themselves to me over the years. I know I could tell a story if I would just get out of the way.

I found out Wednesday that an old friend’s daughter had a brain tumor and when they removed it they found that it had spread to her spine and she would be on chemo for a year. This drains me but I also feel blessed that my kids are healthy.

Love women in boots. I had a crush on a girl in school who wore red Justin roper boots. She was hot and aloof and the boots added a bit of swagger. Twenty years later I went out with her in LA. Crazy…


AndreaGillies May 8, 2009 at 7:50 am

Loved this post. This philosophy that there’s always time: that’s one I needed to hear. I’m constantly telling myself that there isn’t. I’ve always been that way, I realise. It’s hard-wired. Perhaps wire cutters would help. I have a gift for making a happy thing into a stressful one, and I can’t believe that’s hard-wired in quite the same way, as I’m pretty sure it wasn’t always thus. Soft-wired things can change. KEEPER was published this week (only available on amazon’s uk site I imagine, as it’s only published here) and it’s been a characteristically stressful time, the joy of it subsumed by lists and also of course by a thoroughly normal writerly paranoia ( a deserved one as it turned out, as a newspaper that ran excerpts engaged also in rewriting them). I’m realising that one reason I have to write in a compulsive, bidden way is that it’s about being in control, of material and the reshaping of the narrative, even down to punctuation. But anyway, I’m getting distracted. Need to get back to the novel I’m writing – almost at end of first draft. My pinboard looks very like yours. And I very much admire your approach, with this book, the one that distils your own psyche, if that isn’t too grandiose a way of putting it. Great boots too! Happy Anniversary! It’s our 20th in September so here’s to longevity!


Kimberly May 8, 2009 at 9:35 am

Ha! Mine are C, G and D7!

(Clearly we are guitar goddesses!)


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 9:39 am

The truly awesome thing is that I know we’ll talk you into singing, too! If you don’t want to lug your guitar on the train, we’ve got probably 10 extras here. And picks galore (just look in the dryer)!


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 9:41 am

I love them, but they’re not easy to break in. I’m in shorts and docs right now, but with two pairs of tube socks on. Very hard to remove the dork streak from me, even with cool shoes.

I don’t know how much of the little girl’s story I’ll tell. It’s always a struggle, how much of the story is mine and how much is hers, and private. But I’m glad you like her cuz I do, too.


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

I will! I cannot wait! xoxo


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 9:47 am

Yeah, no time to waste, for sure.

I hope everyone saw that gloriously bright pig on your photo blog: (Talk about joy!)


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 9:51 am

I had so much fun with you at lunch yesterday. Too funny how *one of us* got a call from the school principal during our outing. Oh, reality!


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 9:53 am

I’m sorry about your friend’s daughter. Maybe someone should get her some cool red boots, huh?


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

Okay, let’s do this right.

drum roll……

Announcing Andrea Gillies new book: KEEPER!!!!!!

Three years ago, Andrea Gillies made the decision to take on the full-time care of her mother-in-law, Nancy, an Alzheimer’s sufferer. With her family, she moved to a remote peninsula in northern Scotland – to a house with sufficient space to accommodate Nancy and her elderly husband Morris – and there embarked on an extraordinarily challenging journey.

Keeper describes the terrible emotional strain of living with Alzheimer’s, the trials faced by both sufferer and care[give]r when patience and obligations are pushed to the limit… The book is also a brilliantly illuminating examination of the disease itself. It explores the brain and consciousness, and tackles profound questions about the self, the soul, and how memory informs who we are.


AndreaGillies May 8, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Oooh. Thank you! Don’t think I’ve ever had a drum roll before. That was exciting. :0)


Aurelio May 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm

I think the term multitask should be replaced with multipath. If I multipath my life, I allow myself to travel those paths that are not chores, but that feed my soul rather than just fill all my waking hours with things I think I aught ot be doing.

Like learning to waltz in the face of cancer. Perfect.


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Really lovely blog post over at Lance’s, and for some reason, I can’t post a comment, so instead I’ll link to it:


SusanHenderson May 8, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Ooh, multipathing!

BTW, I saw the photos of your garden. Gorgeous!


Lance Reynald May 8, 2009 at 10:46 pm

don’t know why it won’t let you comment over there.


Gail Siegel May 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

I’m so glad you’ve started a new project! Good luck at the reading!


Tanya Egan Gibson May 12, 2009 at 12:19 pm

“There’s time.” I think I’m going to keep saying those 2 words to myself for a while now. Great reminder about what matters. Thank you! (I’m going to go hug my kids now.)


SusanHenderson May 13, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Miss you, Gail.


SusanHenderson May 13, 2009 at 3:50 pm

I have to keep telling myself that, too.


5speener0 May 13, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Susan, I LOVE your red booties!!!! Have I shown you my hot pink fuzzy platform Rocket Dog slip-ons? I wore them to my 50th birthday party in the back yard, around the fire, sitting on hay bales, listening to good friends sing bawdy songs…in mid-November.

Way to go, Mr. H.!!!


5speener0 May 13, 2009 at 9:18 pm

LOVE that idea, Aurelio.


Gail Siegel May 13, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Miss you, too. Miss life! It’s been a hard few months. Husband: heart attack, fungal infection in lungs. Me: shingles. And that’s just part of it.

But things are looking WAY up, and you’ll see more of me. SMOOCH!


SusanHenderson May 14, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Wow, I’m sorry about all that. Up is the only way to go, huh? Call me if you need to. xo


SusanHenderson May 14, 2009 at 7:51 pm

I love ’em, too, but they sure are hard to break in! Your birthday sounds absolutely perfect.


SusanHenderson May 14, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Just got a note about the Twisted Sister gig, saying we can’t park in the lot because it will be full of motorcycles. The part of me that’s not laughing hysterically is terrified!


patry May 15, 2009 at 10:47 pm

I SO needed to read this today. NEVER let the bad stuff win. Much love and happiness to you and Mr. H. xxx


SusanHenderson May 16, 2009 at 7:23 am

Still have you down for a road trip, Patry. xoxo


DConaway May 16, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Hey, Sue–As always, you hit it on the nose. Love seeing the picture of your board, that’s a thrill for me. Also the red Doc Martens, the fingers-crossed, the faith-finding, the babysitting Olympics (replete with photographic evidence). Hate the weight of the wait–I don’t mean I hate your talking about it, to the contrary; hate that it has persisted, and the cost of that. [Just know…OK?] LOVE the tube socks and the dork streak, perhaps that most of all, for some reason.

I knew, but had forgotten, and so am glad to be reminded (and will probably forget, and then write a similar comment next year) that you guys were married exactly one week, 17 years ago, after WE guys were. We celebrated ours by going to ANOTHER wedding, and it was great–plus I won the dance-off, which I know was really given to me mostly because I was the oldest participant in the dance-off, and if they let it go on for another five minutes I’d have had a coronary.

So happy anniversary, and many many many more. XOXOXO–


SusanHenderson May 16, 2009 at 6:38 pm

I like your dork streak most of all, too. Hope you’re going to put the dance-off up on YouTube! xx


SusanHenderson May 16, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Edit: My favorite thing ever about you was when you had to close your office door so no one would hear you calling me retarded! 😀


Jim Simpson May 25, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Beautiful as always, Susan. Thanks so much for being here. You almost (c’mon, I’m a GUY) brought me to tears with this. Okay, my eyes are a bit moist.


SusanHenderson May 26, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Guys who tear up are HOT!


SusanHenderson May 31, 2009 at 4:07 pm

New Q of the Month up at midnight….


Darlin July 11, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Love that picture of you, Sue.


SusanHenderson July 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Aww, thanks. I like it cuz it’s not posed.

I was just thinking of you the other day. And missing Bob, too.


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