Darling Lulu,

I am going to burn this letter and add it to your ashes so you can read it.

Know this: just because you left your body doesn’t mean I’m going to stop loving you.

Knew you were sick. Jay told me. But neither of us were prepared for such a precipitous departure. Trying to go out like Amelia Earhart? West with the night, too.

I hate goodbyes, I hate change, so here’s some island news for the next life:

Marianna fell in love with the Ag Department guy. It’s mutual. Explains why he was visiting her chickens so often. Don’t tell anyone, but she may be eating for two.

Marguerite is still bigoted and bitchy, but somehow doesn’t bother me so much. Her inane comments just roll right off this sensitive skin. Maybe I’ve built an immunity!

Marz sent a tape (old school!) to American Idol (told you he sings, yes? a gorgeous tenor); he’s constantly checking his phone for their response, which irritates his siblings no end.

My book (which I could not have written without you) hit stores in time for the holidays. Sales were okay, because, as usual, you were right: the world was ready for a feminist Odyssey.

Horses at Columbia Gorge has been accepted at a fringe festival in Seattle (maybe I already told you?).

And speaking of horses, hold yours: Didi actually apologized recently. (Her version: “Your hair looks good grey!” I just colored it for a Suzan Lori-Parks play.) Maybe she’s in better fettle because her art is selling. La Bening bought three canvases last month!

Jasper is staying for your funeral, thank god. (you’re probably right about him, too: Gandhi reincarnated. Such fortitude.)

Michael. Michael Michael Michael. What pisses me off is that you didn’t get to meet him, this compassionate musical human who strolled into my affections. Again you were right (don’t you get tired of that?): I can have a non-abusive relationship. Man.

Back to you.

Thank you, Lulu, for every single thing. I even love our (rare) fights. I am a better person (cheesy!) because of you. A better writer, better performer, better woman. And better looking, thanks to your inimitable style tips: “No, Queenie, you cannot wear that Betsey Johnson frock with orange fishnets, unless you want to incur retinal damage.”

I am loving you, Lulu. Current, present tense.

50: letter from Lulu

Darling Queenie, sweetest girl, please don’t be mad at me.

I’m not sure if you’ll get this missive before you hear that I’m dead.

No joke, sweetie. I’ve left my body for good. I am so sorry I kicked off before you.

Every birthday you express amazement that you’re still on the planet. But of course you are! You’re not done yet.

I am, though. Tired, bone weary.

Please, don’t think you should’ve known. How could you? I was very careful to keep this from you. And please, don’t feel stupid for all the glorious letters you wrote, including the ones about your illness. There is no comparison. Each woman has her own path she has to travel. As Linda Ronstadt once said, “Competition is for horse races, not art.” And not illness, either. Or death.

You know what? Go ahead — be mad at me for leaving you. Be furious. Rage rage rage against the damn machine. I prefer that you get angry at me than at your own sweet self.

Know this: I didn’t want to leave you.

Hear me, Queenie: I am loving you right now, with or without a body. You are my best friend, always. All ways.

Yes, I’ve gone ahead. Checking out the terrain. Consider it reconnaissance for our renaissance.

You are such an articulate fish. Buy the house. Love Michael. Forgive Didi (she’s sicker than both of us combined — you know that, right? in mind, anyway).

Take the one-woman show on the road. You can do it. This I know, deep in my infected bones.

I’ve left you the loft in L.A. because . . . you need to perform. You need to write and act and dance and sing (a quadruple threat!), and be around other hard-working artists. It will be good for you to have a base there, to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities. Do it.

One thing I wish I could inculcate in you: confidence in your gifts; assurance in your presence. You are all you need, mon ami. Seriously. Remember what Mary said, after that very first showcase we did in Hollywood, eons ago?

You have no idea how wonderful you are.

Own it, babe. That’s a command. Ha! Death bed utterances — I love it. Feel the power, baby!

Listen up: I want to be buried at sea, or scattered, rather. Like life — scattered! Jesus. Okay. Jay will have me cremated. I want you to take my ashes out someplace with dolphins. I want to swim with them one last time. Don’t worry, I put this all in my will so the family won’t raise a ruckus. (Yeah, right.)

Anyway. I’m trusting you with this fabulous bod. It’s been good to me for a long ass time. Just like you.

So. That’s it. I’m outta here.

And here’s the chorus:

I love you. Te amo. Je t’aime.

Don’t forget it. I’m in your heart.


49: humans

Hey Lulu,

I am not as delighted with humans as I am with plants and animals. I find them (us) incomprehensible most of the time.

I was recently invited, sort of, to a holiday dinner. “Come or don’t come, and if you must eat meat, do it outside.” Wow. I felt really welcome, wouldn’t you? Your presence isn’t necessary, merely tolerated. Nice Christmas message.

Full moon! I miss the werewolf movie days when I would rip someone’s throat out for looking at me funny. Ah, what fun! So much harder to be a pacifist.

My health continues to fluctuate. One day I’m rarin’ to go and can work work work. Another day it’s a big deal to make breakfast without crying. All part of the process, says Doc. And Annie Lamott says, “If you have a body, you are entitled to the full range of feelings. It comes with the package.” Yippee.

Now that I’ve decided to buy this house, I may not be able to afford it. My accountant is crunching the numbers, but it doesn’t look good unless I can come up with a huge down payment. And of course I have doubts anyway. So hard for me to commit to a place. Unlike work. That’s always been easy for me. I guess, like Queen Elizabeth I, I’ll wait for clarity and let the decision take me (instead of making a decision). So hard to do! tolerate uncertainty, limbo, transition, change. Bleah!

This just in:
Michael’s soundgarden is going to be featured in Vanity Fair. They had a photographer out here last week. Shoulda sent an audio crew. You have to hear it to believe it. Storms are the best, the tree harp goes crazy – eerie dissonances and unharmonies. Atonal melodies.

Speaking of publicity, Marianna’s chickens won some sort of agricultural prize for most nutritious eggs. Evidently they have more something or other than supermarket eggs. (Sorry, don’t remember the details; in one ear and out the other.) No wonder I’m healing so quickly. I eat two of them a day. Of course I kayak most days, too, at least a little bit. I’ll never get tired of surprising the herons on the other side of the island. Squawk!

Didi might visit. Hard to tell with her. Jasper’s coming up for Xmas, so she might drop by. Marketing, I tell you. Even I believe families should get along. But what’s blood? Aren’t we all family anyway, if you go back far enough? Why should siblings get along any better than neighbors or coworkers? Damn those holiday movies. (I love ’em, but then I’m a romantic fool.)

Know what I want for Xmas, Lulu? To see your angel face at my door.
Think about it.

PS: Postman’s here, with a letter from you! Finally! Can’t wait to read it, but first gotta fold this up into the envelope and give it to the kind man waiting on the porch. Love the island postal service. Smooches!

48: to buy or not to buy

Sweetest Lulu,

Got a letter from our sensitive dancer friend, Zabeth. She is recovering nicely from that horrific mold poisoning. Back in La-La-Land, she has a new agent, new lover, new abode — almost in one fell swoop!

Work is going well, too. “We’re filming a beach movie,” she writes, “set in the 50s. They hired me to choreograph the party scenes. Lovin’ the costumes: frou-frou hats and kicky scarves, one piece bathing suits with matching sarongs, and colorful longboards with hunky, clean-cut surfers. Pretty far from reality, according to my grandmother, but, hey, this is Hollywood.” For research she watched Annette Funicello movies. “That girl could dance!” she wrote.

Her letter made me miss Los Angeles. Always filming, always acting. Remember that time we went camping at Leo Carrillo to get away from work for awhile? Rounded the point, and walked onto a film set. What was it for? A commercial, right? Skinny girl with too much makeup wafting along the dune. Perfume? Or maybe insurance. Hard to tell.

Still dithering about whether to buy this house. Would be fabulous to have a home of my own — all mine. On the other hand, it’s pretty far north, and pretty nippy these days. Maybe I’ll be one of those old people who winter in the south. Q-tip heads, Anne calls them.

Why don’t you come visit, and help me decide? You’ve no excuse: you own a plane! A seaplane, at that. You could land in my cove, and walk right up to my door. I would be thrilled. Plus, I want you to meet Michael. See if I’m crazy. Haven’t had much luck with either gender, this life around, but he seems to be a keeper. Ack! Too soon to tell. Aaaa!

Later . . .
I’m back. Minor freakout there. Had to take a walk, jump in the Sound. Don’t have to move in with the man. Can just visit. And visit and visit and visit.

Yeah, will probably buy this house. I like the neighbors.
And love you.

47: go back to move forward

Darling Lulu,

I’ve been walking backwards lately, just to use different muscles. I haven’t run into anything yet. I hike backward up the trail behind Gustafson’s – not all of it, just parts.

It’s foggy today, mysterious and comforting – everything buffered.

Heard from Jasper – Baja is working out. He met a boy who plays the clarinet like Michael White.

Marguerite and Marz are still at it, ho hum.

Rita’s now dating a gorgeous dancer from Jamaica. I’m meeting them at Dawn’s later for Cajun fish ‘n’ chips.

Work is going well. May actually be audience-ready before too long. Strange gene to put into an introvert’s body: you must perform! Make a fool of yourself for very little money!

I went to the mainland to get my teeth cleaned. Such an intimate thing, to have someone, a stranger usually, clean our teeth. A bit like visiting the gynecologist. Open wide.

While I was waiting to cross a downtown street back to the ferry, a motorcycle cop roared into the center of the intersection, using short blurts of siren and holding up a hand to stop traffic in every direction. Funeral? No. Governor? No. Hanukkah procession? Yes!

A dozen honking Hebrew-bannered, gelt-bedecked vehicles drove slowly along Main Street, drivers and passengers yelling, “Happy Hanukkah!” Can you see the giant Menorah on the back of the red pickup? The bearded old man wearing a felt Menorah on his head? It lights up! Of course I waved and yelled back. Best dental recovery ever.

Today is my name day. X stands for Love.

Did you know that, over the years, I’ve met three different women who claimed their names meant Beloved? One African, one Norwegian, one Korean. Perhaps all names mean Beloved. Yours certainly does.

Walking forward,

46: bad date

Darling Lulu,

Simon & Garfunkel sang it best:

Why don’t you write me, I’m out in the jungle and hungry to hear you. Write me today if it’s only to say that you’re leaving me-e-e. Why don’t you write?

Have I offended you in some way? No, you’d tell me, right? Write! That’s what friends do, work through the miscommunications that seem to be inevitable among our species.

Speaking of missed communications, Marguerite and Marz are at it again. Remember he was suing her for negligence of the shack he rents from her? Well, he dropped that when she finally apologized (grudgingly) and promised to bring it up to code. One hurdle crossed. Everyone sighed with relief.

Too soon! Marguerite’s medicinal blintzes are a big hit in Seattle, and Marz wants a share of the profits. Says she stole the idea from him one Hanukkah. What a family! Shakespeare could write a pretty play about these siblings. Maybe I should. After I finish (will I ever?) this “one-woman” show.

This morning, after another restless night, I caught a glimpse of hot pink to the north, and dragged my ass out of bed. How many poets have tried to convey the splendor of sunrise? the infusion of hope? the glory of red-gold colors in the lightening sky? I won’t even try. You had to be there. And I wish you were.

Breaking island news: Rita had a date with an old boyfriend. S’true: you can’t go home again. The guy turned up stinking (literally!) drunk.

Evidently they’d reconnected via Facebook, called and texted for a week or so, then met for dinner. All good. Since he paid for the meal, she offered to cook for him at his place. (He’s got state-of-the art this and that: range, fridge, kitchen gadgets. One of those people.)

So she gets all the ingredients for a culinary coup: a salmon she caught herself, choice salad greens from the farmers market, Michael-made raspberry vinaigrette, pears and apples from a grandmother’s orchard (I’m telling you, these Blackbears are thick with grandparents); lugs everything to the ferry (dude lives on the mainland).

He did not greet the ferry. He did not answer the phone. She took a taxi to his mansionette (he’s some kind of software developer), and rings the bell. Knocks. Rings again. She’s standing there, arms full of groceries and sunflowers, wondering what to do. It starts to rain. She bangs on the door. “Cooper?”

Finally he opens it, does not invite her in. Just stares at her. “I forgot you were coming,” he finally said.

“If I’d had a lighter,” she told me, “whoosh! he’d a been a crispy critter. He was that flammable, baby.” Turned out to be vodka, an old friend of his. “I thought he was done with all that. S’why we broke up, I think. Or maybe it was just because he was an asshole.” She laughs. “Forgot I was coming!”

So she left. “I don’t have time for that,” she said. “I’m sorry for him, but I’ve got things to do.”

Like play the mandolin at the Friday night ceilis; perfect her smoked salmon recipe; swim in the ocean every day. He missed out, I’m telling you.

And I lucked out, finding this island, listening to you (“Take it! Take the damn sabbatical!”).

So listen to me, Lulu. Send me a postcard, drop me a line, write me, wench!

Anxiously yours (and loving you, of course),

45: don’t dis’ the body

Darling Lulu,

Today I woke up at 5:34 a.m. Dark out. Wrapped a wool blanket around me, pulled on my fleece-lined boots (thank you, Nanny!), grabbed Michael’s left-behind gloves, and stepped outside. Full moon floating in the western sky. Quiet.

Heard a snort and a splash from the cove. A spouting noise. Whale? Couldn’t see. Sat on a boulder near the kayak. Breathed. Eventually my eyes adjusted and saw a couple of silvery heads. Seals. Or maybe selkies.

Worried about Thanksgiving. Trauma day instead of turkey day, decades ago. Will Uncle Bill’s behavior haunt me forever? I don’t know either. I do know that every day I go in the water, a little bit of tragedy washes away.

Here’s a better memory: Tante Fern grabbing our faces, shmooshing our lips into a pucker, and exclaiming, “I love this face! I love this face! What a beauty, praise God!”

Don’t tell anyone, but yesterday — I miss her so much! — I went into the bathroom and did it to myself in front of the mirror: “I love this face!” Know what? It works almost as well! I started laughing my ass off, “What a beauty!” Try it. Right now. I’ll wait.


Don’t dis’ the body, Lulu. Don’t dis’ the fabulous body. Hell with the traumas and tragedies. Let’s set ‘em down for a while, and buy the soft expensive leggings. Eat the caviar with onions and lemon. Sing out loud in public. Rollerblade through fancy neighborhoods wearing spandex and feather boas. In other words, darling, be your sweet, complete self.

Saw the fox the other day. She no longer changes direction when she sees me, just goes about her business, scouting food, investigating Marianna’s hen house, etc. Gonna miss her when I’m gone. Only a few more weeks here, then back to real life. Or is this real life? Who decides?

Went back to sleep after the moon set. Comforted: selkies on the watch.

Delusionally yours,

44: cracked

Dear Lulu,

Dolphins! por fin! I thought they’d gone for good, hadn’t seen them for weeks, then just this morning — fins! So happy, isn’t that odd? Had been bereft, plodding along, day by day, missing them. Friends.

Rock also caught my eye during my morning constitutional. Rosy colored oval with black cracks running through it in an abstract pattern. How beautiful and interesting it is with the cracked design, moreso than one without. Another blow against perfectionism.

Marianna sends her regards. Loved the chicken-themed egg cups you sent, very cute, especially the red-crested cockerels with the yellow feet.

Not much to report, really, just slogging along, waiting for the galleys. Thanks, by the way, for your sensitive edits. Appreciate it.

Oh! did you get the dates? Michael found them at Tehran Market on the mainland (he was visiting one of his many grandmothers). Have you ever eaten a plumper, moister date? And that gorgeous translucent brown (such a boring word – brown, doesn’t convey the beauty at all; not opaque like chocolate; need better word – coffee? please send thesaurus). My toes curl in happiness whenever I eat them.

I notice that the more rested I am, the less I care what others think. So why don’t I rest more? God knows. That internal, infernal push push pushing voice takes over so freakin’ often. Tires me out. I s’pose I believe I shouldn’t need so much rest, that I should be able to go-go-go just like everyone else seems to. But maybe they’re not, really.

Jasper is back from Tibet, settled in Mexico for the winter. Baja. Some small village without phones. Like auntie, like nephew, eh? Amazing how much trouble you can get into, even without a phone. Look at me: I knew no one when I came here last January, and that’s the way I liked it. But despite myself, I got connected: weekly dances, local grocer, bookmobile. Small island. I became known, whether I liked it or not. Still need solitude. But man! had no idea I needed (or wanted!) a Michael Blackbear. But evidently did.

Okay, one last quote from Middlemarch (which I just finished); serious Will to coquette Rosamond about good-hearted Dorothea:

I never had a preference for her, anymore than I have a preference for breathing.

Ah, the romance!

Your cracked comrade,

43: heard

Darling Lulu,

Good news! The house I lived in with George burnt to the ground. That odious home of pain is gone gone gone.

Didi told me, and I couldn’t help laughing.

“It’s not funny!” she said. “He could’ve been killed.”

No such luck. On the up side, he didn’t have fire insurance, cheap bastard, so it’s a total loss. Only the rebar remains.

I have been smiling for days. It’s like a terrible slate is finally washed clean, taking with it those days and nights of violence, along with my belief that love and pain must remain enmeshed forever, that no one would ever love me as I am. Desolation and isolation nestled in the very insulation there.

Michael and I had a disagreement the other day. He did not raise his voice nor his hand against me. Nor did he walk out mid-sentence and slam the door. He actually listened to what I (inarticulately) had to say. Did not interrupt. Waited for me to finish, then merely disagreed as if it was no big deal. Didn’t take offense. Didn’t have to prove he was right, which he was.

I am not used to being heard, not offstage anyway. Didn’t have to shout or repeat myself or line up arguments or defend my position or my life.

He doesn’t even scowl.

Granted, I haven’t known him long. But, Lulu, it feels like I’m remembering him, not getting to know him. Sometimes I just squint at him, as if he’s an optical illusion that will suddenly change into the tried and survived. But he doesn’t. He stays Michael Blackbear. Friend.


A white bouquet of lilies, daisies, and baby’s breath washed ashore yesterday, wrapped in taffeta. Where did it come from? Perhaps a boat wedding: the bride giddy with love and affection, tossed it overboard to the dolphins, and laughed her ass off. Perhaps a memorial: beloved brother and son, lost at sea. Perhaps they were for me: a sign of peace and forgiveness.

I shook off the sand and sea water and brought them inside. Cut the stems, and placed them in the cobalt blue vase Rita gave me.

Pax forever,

42: trick or treat?

Darling Lulu,

Bought a new computer today — hallelujah. I have now entered the 21st Century, kicking and screaming.

Why do I resist change so much? My writing life is infinitely improved; now I can finish the book and ship it off on schedule. My editor will be pleased, and the second advance will be released, praise gods.

Still tired these days. Resilient, but over the edge faster than pre-illness. Still too many people (but not enough Lulu!) in my life. Too many things to do, not enough time or desire to do them. Sometimes I just want to sleep for a year.

Hallowe’en, my favorite holiday, is coming up. Remember the time — skinny for a holocaust movie — we dressed as calaveras, complete with skull makeup and bald caps, and glow-in-the-dark teeth?! Funny as hell, but scared the kidlets, which was too sad.

Speaking of children, they don’t go house to house here. Instead, a flotilla of costumed characters circumnavigates the island, putting in at various docks and piers, which are already decorated and be-lanterned. Most folks offer hot cider and chocolate as well as candy and apples and nuts. Salmon jerky, too! Islanders still talk about the time Marianna dressed as a werewolf and howled at the moon while throwing oranges at the boats. Evidently, she wore very realistic fur, with bloody fangs and huge claws. Would’ve made a special FX team proud; I’ve seen the photos!

Perhaps this year I’ll dress up as a love fairy. I brought — of course! — the tiara you gave me for my sixteenth, with the ruby hearts and diamond stars. Will go fabulously with the be-starred boots and rose velvet cape. (Cape was a marvelous find on the mainland, post-doctor visit.) A little glitter never hurt anyone, I say.

May all your treats be sweet, and your tricks be neat.