Tag Archives: friendship

Wednesday Fun!: Our Trip to Italy in Words and Photos

The Forum in Rome. Photo by David B. Coe
The Forum in Rome. Photo by David B. Coe

Nancy and I are recently back from three and a half weeks in Italy, a marvelous trip that took us to Rome, Venice, Lucca (in north Tuscany), San Quirico d’Orcia (in south Tuscany), Florence, Orvieto (in Umbria), and finally back to Rome for a couple of nights before our flight back to the States. It sounds like a whirlwind, but really it wasn’t. We had plenty of time in most places (a person could spend six weeks each in Florence and Rome, and still not see everything . . .), and did a good deal of our in-country traveling by train, which reduced the stress of getting around considerably. (The one exception was Tuscany, where we rented a car for six days, enabling us to visit several small, mountaintop medieval cities that aren’t served by the train system.)

Rome, looking toward St. Peter's Basilica. Photo by David B. Coe
Rome, looking toward St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo by David B. Coe
Piazza di San Marco and St. Mark's Basilica, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
Piazza di San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe

Faced now with the prospect of summarizing our trip for this post, I am a bit overwhelmed. We saw and did so much. Much of it falls into one of three or four categories — we walked A LOT; we ate A LOT and drank a bit as well; we saw many of the Sights That One Sees In Italy; and we hung out with friends in Florence, where two couples we know and love were on extended work-related stays.

The Grand Canal, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
The Grand Canal, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
Venice. Photo by David B. Coe

No matter where Nancy and I go on any trip, we wind up walking long distances. We feel that the best way to get to know a place is to explore it on foot, and as it happens, many of Italy’s cities lend themselves to this sort of exploration. Sometimes we walked with destinations in mind. Our first two days, when we were in Italy and still struggling with a little jet lag, we walked from our accommodations to the Colosseum and to Vatican city. After visiting those sights, we walked some more, looking for places to eat, stopping in at interesting shops or at yet another gorgeous cathedral from the 1400s. When we moved to Venice, we walked even more. What a gorgeous city! Every turn, every new lane or alley leads to another canal, another beautiful foot bridge, another view of a gondola or some other boat. It is a playground for light and shadow, for color and reflection, and for any who fancy themselves photographers.

Apennine Mountains above Lucca. Photo by David B. Coe
Apennine Mountains above Lucca. Photo by David B. Coe
The view from Pienza. Photo by David B. Coe
The view from Pienza. Photo by David B. Coe

While we were in Lucca, we found a hike that took us high into the Central Apennine Mountains. It was, in a word, spectacular. We had a perfect day — clear, breezy, cool — and were afforded incredible mountain vistas and equally beautiful views down toward ancient Tuscan mountain villages. The trail itself was a little rough, but still, it was a memorable morning. Tuscany in general was amazing. We stopped in San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Siena, Pienza, and Montalcino, where we enjoyed a fabulous wine-tasting and lunch at the Poggio Rubino Winery. Each of these cities was breathtaking and steeped in history. If we go back to Italy at some point, I think I could spend another week in Tuscany and never grow tired of the landscape, the food, the wine, the people. We had a similar experience in Orvieto, in the neighboring region of Umbria. Also stunningly beautiful, also rich in history, cuisine, and winemaking.

Orvieto, Umbria. Photo by David B. Coe
Orvieto, Umbria. Photo by David B. Coe

Florence as a city offers a compromise of sorts between Venice and Rome. Venice, as I said, is visually captivating. But there is an emptiness to it beyond the beauty and the tourist culture, which is ubiquitous. It felt at times as if, without the shops and restaurants and tourism industry, the city would simply cease to exist. Rome, on the other hand, is so huge as to be overwhelming. There is a tourist core to the city — in the old sections around the Roman ruins and various museums and duomos. But there is also Vatican City. There is a vast, thriving fashion industry. And there is as well a bustling urban center, with business and industry, contemporary culture, and everything else one might expect a world capitol to have.

Florence skyline and Duomo from Boboli Gardens. Photo by David B. Coe
Florence skyline and Duomo from Boboli Gardens. Photo by David B. Coe

Florence is, in many ways, as beautiful as Venice and as historically and culturally rich as Rome. But it offers more than Venice on a scale that is more welcoming than Rome. And for us it was doubly special, because of the friends we had there. These were two couples from utterly disparate parts of our lives. But they both happened to be there at the same time, and, it turns out, they got along really well. So much fun!! We had companions for so many of our meals, several of our sightseeing ventures, and even a couple of shopping sprees. While in Florence, Nancy and I also took a cooking class, which was great. We learned a ton and made by hand, without any sort of machine, our own pasta, which we then ate with sauces prepared as we watched by a master chef.

Interior of the Duomo di Siena. Photo by David B. Coe
Interior of the Duomo di Siena. Photo by David B. Coe

As I said earlier, it’s so difficult to do justice to a trip of this length in a single post. But I have tried. I would offer a few other quick tidbits. We saw many, many duomos, cathedrals, county churches, etc. We saw Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. But I think our favorite was the Duomo di Siena, the interior of which was mind-blowing. One of the best things we did was attend a glass-blowing demonstration at the Murano Glass Factory in Venice. Extremely cool. We had so many terrific meals and tried so many new foods. My personal favorite was the pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale that I had several times in Tuscany. This is a broad ribbon of fresh pasta with a sauce made with wild boar — a traditional Tuscan recipe. Incredible. We also discovered the joys of Campari, Aperol, and other Amaro liqueurs. Campari, which is sweet at first with a strongly bitter finish, is the chief ingredient in a Negroni (equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth). Aperol is sweeter and less bitter, and is best known as the chief ingredient in an Aperol Spritz (Aperol and Prosecco). We drank a lot of both. And we fell in love with Brunello wines — delicious reds that are deeper and smoother in flavor than any wine I’d ever had before.

Nancy enjoying an Aperol Spritz.
Nancy enjoying an Aperol Spritz.
Me and my Negroni, my Negroni and me....
Me and my Negroni, my Negroni and me….

Hope you enjoy the photos!

Monday Musings Potpourri: Travel, Music, Soccer

I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from the blog recently — a week here, a week there. When I came back to the blog after all that happened last year, I chose to do so on my own terms. All things being equal, I would like to post something every week. But I don’t want these essays to become a burden, something I dread doing. And so when I have nothing to say, I keep my virtual mouth shut (a notion I would love to impart to more than a few public figures). And when life gets in the way, I don’t fight it. You all have been incredibly generous with your support and patience. I no longer worry that if I slack off for a week or two there’ll be no one here when I come back. Thank you for that.

The problem is, sometimes — often actually — I want to write, but I have no idea what about. Today is such a day. I would like this post to go somewhere. I’d like an idea to spark in my head and carry me along. I’m still waiting . . . .

It’s a musings post, and my mind is going in a lot of directions right now.

Recent travels:

We are just back from a week-long journey to Mexico City, where we attended the wedding of my nephew to the charming, brilliant, beautiful love of his life. We took part in a wonderful weekend of festivities that included a terrific Sunday afternoon with just the two extended families. Great food, the best mezcal I’ve ever had, a lovely setting, fun conversations, lots of laughter. At one point, I was speaking with the bride’s father, who brought up the old saying (apparently as common in Mexican society as in our own) that we can choose our friends, but our families are ours whether we want them or not. And weren’t we all so fortunate that both families were so great and got along so well? A laudable sentiment, and truly fitting.

Part of the Diego Rivera mural, Mexico City
Part of the Diego Rivera mural, National Palace, Mexico City

Nancy and I were struck again and again by the kindness and generosity of everyone we met in Mexico City. Our Spanish is not very good at all. But people were patient and went out of their way to help us. And we were fortunate to have so many memorable meals, as well as fascinating visits to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia and to the National Palace with its magnificent murals painted by Diego Rivera. My brother and I got in a fun day of birdwatching at the botanical garden of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. A great visit.

Musical Explorations:

I have remarked before that Nancy and I are fairly new to the world of TV streaming. Until just about a year and a half ago, we were still suffering with satellite internet, which was too slow and too limited in terms of bandwidth to allow us to watch all the shows garnering raves from our friends. Well, the same was true of music. My listening was pretty much limited to the music I had on CDs, which I had uploaded to my computer and phone. This year, finally, I subscribed to a music streaming service and I have been exploring artists about whom I had been curious, or to whom I had been introduced by friends and family. (Looking at you, Erin!)

Like who? you ask. Well, as I write this, I am listening to Zac Brown Band, whose music I have come to love. Rockin’ Country music with terrific vocals and a great instrumental sound. Zac Brown plays Taylor guitars, so I was first introduced to his stuff by their promotional materials. And then Erin played a bunch of his songs for me. Now I am hooked.

Lots of friends had told me about Jason Isbell, and I own and love Southeastern, a haunting, powerful album. Now, I’m working my way through the rest of his catalogue, which is excellent as well.

Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel plays an eclectic blend of country, blues, rock, folk, and oldies, and because he’s so good, everyone wants to play with him, so you can find him doing duets with a who’s who of musical royalty. Some of the music is instrumental. Some has vocals. All of it is enormous fun.

Soccer:

Yeah, I know. I’ve written about this before. But Nancy and I are deep into this year’s Premier League (England) season, which is shaping up to be one for the ages. In recent years, one team has dominated, or, if fans are fortunate, two teams have fought for the season title. This year, with ten matches left on everyone’s schedule, three teams, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City are locked in a super-close battle that seems destined to come down to the final week of the campaign. This weekend, Liverpool and Man City played a thrilling, taut, brilliant match that ended in a 1-1 tie.

Yes, I’m sure that sounds like a contradiction — a thrilling 1-1 tie? How can that be? Trust me, it can. End-to-end action, inspired defense, a few moments of almost inconceivable luck that left both of us speechless, and beautiful, precise play throughout. Americans love offense. I get that. That’s why pro football has become something more like flag football than the defense-heavy sport I remember from my youth. It’s why baseball is now all about home runs. But part of the appeal of soccer is that every goal is precious. A single score can change the complexion of everything happening on the pitch. And in a match as important as this weekend’s Liverpool-Man City fixture, each scoring opportunity was crucial. What fun. Can’t wait for next week!

So, yeah. A bit of travel, a bit of music, a bit of sport. Nothing earth-shattering. And that’s okay. There’s lots of really dire, important stuff happening in the world. I’ll get back to those topics at some point. Or not. But sometimes we need to stop and enjoy the little stuff.

Be well, and be kind to one another.

Monday Musings: The Hypothetical Musings of a Hypothetical Stoner, Offered Hypothetically…

This will come as a surprise to none of you, but I was a stoner when I was in high school. And college. And for a good part of graduate school. I am fine with revealing this, because, while I am not a lawyer, I am pretty certain that the statute of limitations has long since run out on my youthful indiscretions. Although . . . . Okay, I checked and I’m good. Turns out being old is good for something.

Grateful Dead bearAs I say, if you know me, you probably don’t find this surprising. I have spoken and written about my love of the Grateful Dead, my experiences shivering outside on cold nights, in the dark of Providence, Rhode Island winters, waiting at the Providence Civic Center for Dead tickets to go on sale. People don’t do that unless they have already done damage to their prefrontal cortex. I could tell additional stories. It is possible that I (and select others) was (were) high during at least one musical performance that we gave while in college. I might remember playing Cat Stevens’s hit “Wild World” and literally watching my digital dexterity degrade over the course of the song.

I did other, stupider things while high as well. I don’t feel any great need to share them with you. I have been, for many years now, a respected figure in the realm of fantasy literature. I see no need to undermine that standing by telling you about the summer when I was a counselor at a sleep-away camp, and how a colleague and I, soaring (figuratively) at about 30,000 feet, were found by the camp’s owner raiding the main kitchen at about 10:00 at night. My friend, too high to engage with Mike, the aforementioned owner, went about making his sandwich, leaving it to me to try and keep us from getting fired. Mike asked what we had been up to that night. (We were both off duty for the night — in all seriousness, we would NEVER have been high while responsible for the well-being of our campers. We were young and stupid and careless, but not THAT stupid and definitely not THAT careless.) Before I could answer, I realized that Mike had turned his attention to my friend. I did the same. My friend was now trying to put mustard on his sandwich, but had forgotten to open the spout at the top. And he was squeezing the bottle really hard. Until the top literally blew off the bottle, skittered across the table, and fell onto the floor, leaving a deluge of yellow mustard pooling on what had been, I’m sure, a sandwich with great potential. I turned back to Mike, and managed to say with a straight face, “Not much. Just hanging out.”

It wasn’t all fun and silliness. Nearly forty years ago, I was cited for possession by a California state trooper. I won’t go into the details except to say the following: 1) I was with my brother, Jim, who was never a user; 2) I was completely unable to lie to the cop — my cheek started twitching at the mere thought of it, proving once and for all that I had no future in politics — and so I just admitted I was carrying. I also made sure the trooper knew that Jim didn’t smoke and had no idea I had any weed with me; 3) under California law, possession for personal use was equivalent to a traffic ticket. I paid a fine and that was it. Things would have been much worse for me in pretty much any other state; and 4) I got a great story out of it.

I mentioned up front that I smoked pot through only part of grad school. I stopped not long after I started dating Nancy, because she wasn’t really into it. That said, the last time I got high I did so with her, at a Dead concert she and I went to with friends who gave us the tickets as a wedding present. That was in June 1991.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Well, it is possible, in theory, that I might have recently started getting high again. If this were the case, it would be something I was doing VERY infrequently. But it would also, in theory, be something I was enjoying, sort of like visiting an old haunt for the first time in years. If any of this were true, I might be able to tell you that today’s pot is NOTHING like the stuff I allegedly smoked as a youngster. It is WAY stronger. I mean wow! (Hypothetically speaking.) A person who had in fact started smoking again (just a very, very little bit) would know this from personal experience, from the hazed memories of what once was and from theoretical knowledge of what might now hypothetically be. Got that?

In any case, all of this might or might not be something I’ve been musing about recently. I hope you have a great week.

Monday Musings: The Emotional Challenge of Writing

Whenever I work with writers who are at the outsets of their careers — whether I’m editing their work for freelance or for an anthology, or teaching them in a workshop, or just talking shop on a convention panel — I try to stress the importance of delving deeply into emotion when telling our stories. There are so many elements that make a book or story effective. We want to create fascinating worlds, imbue those worlds with breathtaking magical systems or mind-bending imagined technologies, and give those worlds rich, complex histories, cultures, and religions. And, of course, we want our plots to be twisty, unpredictable, fun, and, ultimately, deeply satisfying.

At the end of the day, though, the key to a successful story, at least in my opinion, thirty novels and nearly as many years into my career, is character. Every other element of our storytelling can be perfect, but if our characters are flat and our readers don’t connect with them, we can’t consider our narratives successful. On the other hand, imperfections in our world building and our prose and even our plotting can be overcome with believable, memorable, relatable character work.

And I would argue that successful character work demands that we tap into the emotions of the people about whom we’re writing (even if they’re not technically “people”). Emotion is a writer’s bread and butter. Emotion is how we connect with readers, how our readers come to love (or hate) our characters, how our characters give meaning and purpose to our narratives. Emotion is everything. Without it, we might as well be writing shopping lists, or relating our stories in bullet points.

Why am I telling you this? Many of you aren’t writers, and probably don’t care about the craft of writing. And those of you who are writers have probably heard me talk about this stuff before. As I said at the outset, these are points I make at every opportunity, because I deem them so important to the success of any story.

Infusing our prose with emotion, capturing and portraying the feelings of our characters, using emotion as a tool to propel our plots — all of these things are really hard to do well. Writers spend entire careers perfecting the techniques. But sometimes — for me right now — it can be an overwhelming challenge simply to mine our own emotions so that we can draw upon them in our writing.

“Write what you know,” writers are often told. As a writer of fantasy, I approach this bit of wisdom with a healthy dose of skepticism. If all of us ONLY wrote what we “know” the literary world would be a drab, boring place. But “write what you know” does have some relevance for emotional writing. All of us have felt anger and contentment, fear and resolve, love and hate, sadness and joy. We are emotional creatures. And by drawing on our own emotional experiences and memories, we can bring authenticity and power to the emotions we impart to our characters.

The problem is, sometimes we don’t want to go there.

The Chalice War: Sword, by David B. CoeIn the last year, I have written two pieces of original short fiction. That’s it. I haven’t written a novel since I finished The Chalice War: Sword, late in 2022. I have recently started work on a tie-in project (I can’t really say more than that, right now), a novel. It is coming slowly, and because I am essentially playing in someone else’s world, the emotions I’ll be mining are somewhat removed from my own. I spent the first half of last year doing a bunch of editing, for myself and for others, figuring that when those projects were through, I would dive into a new book of my own.

Then our older daughter’s health took a dramatic turn for the worse, and that was pretty much it. I couldn’t write fiction anymore. I didn’t want to write fiction anymore. Because my entire existence outside of writing was about pain and grief and loss, and the last thing I wanted to do was a deep dive into my own feelings for the purpose of bringing life to new characters.

Now, a couple of things. First, fear not — this is NOT a permanent condition. I will write again, books and stories both. I have ideas I want to explore and projects I want to complete. I’m just not ready yet. And second, notice I said, “I couldn’t write FICTION anymore.” I did not stop writing; I have not stopped being a writer. Not entirely. I am writing posts again, and I have been journaling all this time. I have also been writing to friends. In all of this writing, I am processing and prodding. I may not be willing to delve deeply into my emotional world at this time, but I’m not ignoring it completely. I’m being careful. The way we might favor a twisted knee or avoid contact with a bruise on one side.

Because I am bruised, wounded. And I am far from alone in this regard. Lots of you write with and through emotional pain all the time. Which, I suppose, brings me to my final, larger point. Another thing writers are told constantly is to write as much as possible. “Professional writers write.” I’ve said this myself. And it’s true. But it doesn’t mean we can or should always be forcing ourselves to work on the next thing we want to sell. At times, we need to write for our own purposes. At times, we write not to make money, but to survive, to heal, to find peace. At times, we can only ask so much of ourselves.

This is such a time for me. As much as I would like to be “productive” again (whatever that means) I’m simply not there yet. Emotional writing may be our professional currency, but it’s not always possible. Admitting that, honoring that, is a step toward healing.

Have a great week.

Happy New Year and a Musings Post Celebrating Grief (Yep!)

For years now, I have written New Year’s posts, often more than one per holiday. In December, I have often taken stock of the year that’s ending, evaluating my accomplishments, examining my disappointments, trying to make sense of an entire trip around the sun in 800 to 1,000 words. And then, early in January, I usually write another post, establishing goals and expressing hopes for the year to come.

For reasons that will be apparent to those who know me, I am reluctant to attempt any of that this year. The year that has just passed was the worst of my life, a year of tragic loss and emotional devastation. And the year now beginning? Honestly, I don’t know what to hope for, or what to expect. The truth is no full year is entirely good or bad. There were moments of joy and laughter in 2023, just as even the “best” years of my life have included intervals of sadness and anger and dissatisfaction. New Year’s is a convenient time to take stock, but our lives don’t divide into neat units according to the calendar.

So, why am I writing anything at all right now?

In part, I suppose, because I believe it is time for me to start blogging again. I don’t really feel like it. But I don’t feel like doing much of anything, and that is no way to live. I also have no intention of making every week’s post about despair and mourning, and so I guess I think there will be value in having to look beyond my immediate emotions for reasons to write and for subjects for my essays.

Today, though, with your indulgence, I will take the opportunity to write about grief. It’s been only a bit over two months since we lost our older daughter to cancer. We are still deep in the grieving process (to the degree that this can even be termed “a process”), and we will be for some time. I find it hard to imagine an end to this grief. Which is not to say that I don’t believe I can be happy ever again, or that I can’t laugh or enjoy life or take pleasure in family and friendships, hobbies and travel, the work that I love and the colleagues I treasure. Grief isn’t linear. As I have said before, having dealt with grief a fair amount in my life, I don’t believe it lends itself to division into convenient stages. Yes, it changes and evolves as we confront our emotions. Yes, it is tempered and softened by the passage of time. But it is different for each of us. And it changes with each loss we suffer.

What I have learned most about grief is that it is good. Yep, you read that right. Grief is good.

Loss sucks. I would not wish on anyone the emotional pain I have experienced over the past few months — hell, the past three years (almost), since Alex’s cancer diagnosis. The crater in my life left by her death can never, ever be filled. But my grief speaks to the depth of my feelings for her. That crater is commensurate in size with the joy she brought me, the joy she brought all of us. We grieve because we have loved; we grieve because we remember. And while the ache of our grief dulls and lessens with time, we never stop grieving. Nor would we want to. Because we never want to let go of that love and we never want to forget.

Grief is catharsis. Grief reminds us that while our beloved is gone, we are still alive, which is what she would want. Alex would not want us to be crippled by our grief, but I can tell you with utmost confidence that if we didn’t grieve at all, she would be thoroughly pissed off. Grief helps us place in perspective the importance of the one we’ve lost, and it also allows us to shape the way our memories of her, our love for her, will influence the rest of our lives.

There was a great deal of talk after the pandemic about what our society’s “new normal” would look like. I am having similar conversations these days with my family and friends, as well as my therapist, trying to figure out what my new normal and that of my family will look like. Our lives will never be the same. How could they be? But we can decide what life without Alex will be like, and our grief can help us create that new reality.

What did I admire most about my daughter? Her courage. Her resilience. Her spirit and her determination, even before she got sick, to live her life with zeal and joy and curiosity. And already I know that I want to be more like her in the years I have left. What a gift! A legacy, born of love, honed by loss, given voice within my heart and mind by the memory of my darling girl.

Already, Nancy, Erin, and I have spent time together sharing our recollections, laughing at things she said and did, imagining what she might say in response to some new situation, or how she might respond to something in the news or on TV or in a song. She continues to be a presence for all of us, as she should. Someday, perhaps, Nancy and I will be grandparents, and if/when we are, Alex will be the stuff of legend for Erin’s kids. Tales of her exploits — her bravery, her wit, her intelligence, her beauty, and, yes, even her foibles — will be an essential element of their upbringing. And so she will live on.

No one wants to grieve. As I said, loss sucks. But our grief is something to be embraced, something that gives back even more than it takes.

I wish you a wonderful 2024, filled with love and laughter.

Checking In and Saying Thanks

It’s been a little over three weeks since Alex, our older daughter, lost her two and a half year battle with cancer. It feels like more. It feels like less.

We have had celebrations of her life in New York City and in our little home town in Tennessee. Both were crowded and loud and fun. Both were filled with laughter and tears, music and good food, and lots and lots of remembrances of our brilliant, funny, beautiful child. (Yes, she was 28. Still, she will always be our child, our first baby, our darling little girl.) We have been overwhelmed by the love shown us by friends and family near and distant. By the generosity — spiritual, emotional, material — of so many. Cards, gifts, flowers, food, phone calls, and texts. And yes, comments by the hundreds on social media posts. We are humbled and grateful beyond words for every expression of support and sympathy. Thank you a thousand times.

At this point, the celebrations of her life are over. Guests from out of town have left. Erin has gone back home. Nancy is starting to work again, and I am gearing up to do the same. We are, I suppose, stepping back into “normal” life. Except there is nothing normal about it, and in ways that truly matter, in ways that will remain with us for the rest of our lives, it will never really be normal at all, ever again.

How do we navigate this path? I honestly don’t know. It’s a terrible cliché, but I guess we do so one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. In and out. Take a step. And breathe again. Rinse, repeat.

It’s a good thought, I suppose. It feels inadequate to the task. Already, in just these few weeks, I have reached for my phone more times than I can count, intending to text Alex, or check for a text from her. I want desperately to hear her voice, to know once again the music of her laughter, to ask her questions about her work, or the new restaurant she’s tried out most recently, or the music she currently has on looped-play. And each time, reality kicks me in the gut.

I watch TV and am shocked by the number of times some character, on-screen or off, is said to have cancer. There is no escaping it. We hear news of a celebrity passing away — cancer again. News of lost children assaults us from all corners of the globe, wars claiming their collateral toll, gun violence here in the States stealing more innocent young lives. These tidings were always awful to hear, but they were abstract in some way. Anonymous. Not anymore. Children are lost. Parents grieve. We are members of a club no parent wants to join.

Alex’s death hit so many people so hard, and in one sense that was a product of her amazing personality, her magnetism. But I am wise enough to understand that there is far more to it than that. The outpouring of love and grief from her friends comes in part from the simple truth that, for many of them, she is the first of their contemporaries to die. Tragedy has breached their generational line far too soon, and they are shell-shocked. The outpouring of love and grief from our friends comes in part from the recognition that this is every parent’s nightmare. Losing one’s child is unthinkable, unimaginable, unendurable. It happens, of course. Too often, actually. That club has more members than we ever knew. Several have reached out to me to say so, and to offer support and guidance. But for so many, our loss is a terrifying echo of their deepest unspoken fear.

Another truth: After Alex’s diagnosis in March of 2021, I found myself imagining the worst all the time. I couldn’t stop myself. Therapy helped some, but not completely. I lived with the constant dread of this ending, with the unrelenting awareness of the odds against her, of the near inevitability of her decline. Unimaginable? Hardly.

These days, I’m often asked, “How are you doing?” I don’t know how to answer. My emotions are in constant flux. At times I feel okay, and I can see a way forward. Other times I feel numb. And still others I am as fragile as spring ice. One wrong step and I’ll shatter. This is normal, I know. Grief is not linear. It can’t be prescribed, and while breaking it down into stages might appear to clarify the maelstrom of feelings raging around me, the construct strikes me as artificial and less than helpful. I know better than to be seduced by those moments when I feel as though I have a handle on my loss. I sense that I will get there eventually, but I’m not there yet, and won’t be for a long time. I also know better than to panic when I feel out of control. That will pass as well.

The numbness, though — that bothers me. I want to feel. I want to weep for my child or laugh at a golden memory. I want to feel pain and love and loss and connection, because those keep my vision of Alex fresh and present. Numbness threatens oblivion. Numbness makes the loss seem complete, irretrievable — and that I don’t want. Not ever. Better to cry every day for the rest of my life than lose my hold on these emotions.

And so I stumble onward, trying to figure it all out, hurting and remembering and loving most of all. I don’t know when I will post again. Soon, I hope. I believe writing this has helped, and I am certain I will have more to write in the days, weeks, and months to come. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your sympathy and friendship, and also for your continued patience and respect of our privacy as we attempt to find our way.

Hug those you love.

Alexis Jordan Berner-Coe, 1995-2023

Alexis J. Berner-CoeThis is the post I never wanted to write. The one I dreaded, the one that was, not so long ago, unthinkable, and, more recently, heartrendingly inevitable.

Our darling older daughter, Alexis Jordan Berner-Coe, has died, after a two and a half year battle with cancer. She was 28 years old.

How do I begin to tell you about her without seeming to be just a grieving father lionizing his lost child? She was extraordinary, but you would expect me to say as much. She was brilliant, but you’d expect me to say that, too. She was kind and generous, articulate and wise, courageous beyond belief and beautiful beyond words. What else could I possibly say? And yet it’s all so true.

She was charismatic. To know her was to want to be her friend, and this was true from the time she was little. She would meet a kid her age, say, on an airplane, or at a park, and within minutes they would be fast friends. Yeah, I know — proud dad. Well, consider this: When Alex was ten, we moved to Australia for a year while Nancy was on sabbatical. We moved there in August and a couple of weeks later she and her younger sister started attending a public elementary school in Wollongong. In December, Alex was elected student president of the school.

She was accomplished and driven and smart as a whip. Of course I would say so. But consider this: She attended NYU and graduated with honors. Not long after she graduated, she found a job with a sound production studio in New York, a company called One Thousand Birds. They hired her as an office assistant. Within six months, she had worked her way into a position as a producer. Three years later she was an Executive Producer and Director of Business Partnerships.

Strong, brave, resolute. Just words. But after Alex’s sophomore year in high school, she did an outdoor program that culminated in a summiting of Mount Rainier. Prior to the trip she had gotten new hiking boots, and we tried to warn her about the importance of breaking them in. But she was 16 and, well that’s really all I need to say, right? Her group leader later told us that in over decade of leading outdoor adventures like this one, he had never seen a worse case of blisters. Her feet were a bloody, ragged mess. But she never complained, never begged out of any activity, and never thought twice about completing the trek to the top of Rainier, some 14,000+ feet above sea level.

She wasn’t perfect. Far from it. She could be stubborn and prickly, self-centered and opinionated, sometimes aggressively so. But her imperfections were, to those of us who knew and loved her, part of her charm, part of what made her Alex, or ABC, as so many people called her.

She was passionate about music and books, movies and art. And she was an eager and adventuresome traveler. She spent half of her junior year in high school in Costa Rica at the Cloud Forest School. She traveled to Berlin for half of her sophomore year in college, and enjoyed being abroad so much that she spent all of her junior year in Madrid. In July of this year, while battling cancer and recovering from her latest treatments, she went to Europe for two weeks. She wasn’t back more than a week before she started making plans for her next trip.

Sadly, she never got to take it.

She faced cancer with the same wisdom, strength, and courage that she brought to every other part of her life. She was first diagnosed back in March 2021, but she had been sick for far longer and the cancer was advanced when at last it was discovered. She was scared, of course, but also resolute in her belief that she could beat the odds. She never allowed herself to identify as a cancer patient. She was, she insisted, the same person she had always been, except she happened to have cancer now. She didn’t give in to despair or self-pity or bitterness. She dealt with her treatments and side-effects with quiet dignity and an uncompromising determination to live on her own terms. She continued to work, to travel, to go to concerts, to see friends and throw parties. Losing her hair bothered her a lot, but she totally rocked her head scarves, which became A Thing. All of this to say that her vivaciousness was absolutely unquenchable.

Losing her leaves a gaping hole in our lives. Nancy, Erin, and I are shattered, especially Erin, who was Alex’s closest friend in the universe and who utterly adored her sister. But all of us know that Alex wouldn’t want us to become mired in our grief. She would want us to celebrate her life and to honor her by living with the same zest and verve she brought to this world during her too brief time here.

And so that is what we intend to do.

Be at peace, Sweetie. We love you to the moon and back.

Tuesday Musings (Yeah, I Know…): Another (Brief) Update

I’ve started this post several times, only to flame out after a few lines. The truth is, I have nothing I want to write. I am in New York again, staying with my older daughter, doing what I can to help her through this most difficult time. That includes little things — shopping for her, keeping the apartment clean, cooking, doing small repairs on stuff that’s been broken for too long — and bigger things, like taking her to the hospital for small procedures and scheduling appointments with various doctors (Nancy or Erin or I will be taking her to those as well).

And I am also here to sit and talk with her, to keep her company, to do whatever simple things I can to make her comfortable and allow her to focus on healing and coping.

She has remarkable doctors and remarkable friends. Her support system is wonderful.

And so is ours. Nancy, Erin, and I have been so grateful to the many caring, loving friends and relatives who have done what they can to ease our burden. And I so appreciate the support I feel and see on my social media feeds, in my email inbox, in my snail mail postal box.

I don’t know how much I will be posting in the days and weeks, to come. I want to maintain the blog, but I also know that my focus right now needs to be elsewhere. So, thank you in advance for your understanding. Trust that I am doing as well as I can. I am taking care of myself, even as I also minister to my child. I am seeking out the help I need when I need it.

Wishing you all the best. Hug those you love.

Monday Musings: Family Update

We are in New York this weekend — an impromptu trip to help our older daughter who is suffering through some rough side-effects after her most recent treatments. We are dealing with a lot right now. Her most of all. I won’t get into details, but I will say that the situation remains serious and difficult, and all of us — mom, dad, sister, patient — are struggling.

Through it all, our older daughter, Alex, has been remarkable. Remarkable. Courageous, wise, positive, resilient, matter-of-fact. I have been humbled by her strength and spirit again and again and again. And Erin, our younger daughter, has been amazing as well. She has been the rock on whom all of us have leaned. She, too, has been brave and brilliant, knowledgable (from her work in the health care field) and compassionate, a point of stability and also a constant source of humor and light.

I will resist my usual impulse when writing about my children, which is to deflect all credit for their amazing qualities toward their mom. Yes, they both remind me so much of her, and display so many of the attributes that drew me to Nancy years ago. But the truth is, I recognize myself in both girls as well. They are a blend of the two of us. Parenting them has been the great joy of our lives, and we have done a good job of it.

People write not-so-flattering things about Millennials and Gen Z-ers. It’s easy to find articles online and in papers about the shortcomings of the generations that have followed us older folks. I don’t see it. Alex’s friends — all of them her age or younger — have been incredible. They have offered her care, support, and companionship. They have taken her to appointments, cooked for her, picked up prescriptions for her. Back in 2021, when Alex began her first chemo treatment, and started to lose her hair, one of them drove down to Brooklyn from Maine so that she could get her head shaved as Alex was having hers done.

There is no greater point to all of this post. Not really. We as a family have been going through a hard time for two and a half years now, since Alex’s initial cancer diagnosis. We have had more than our share of setbacks and we honestly do not know what will happen ultimately. All of us want to be optimistic. All of us need to be realistic. Reconciling those two impulses isn’t always easy.

In the meantime, though, we are spending time together. We were in Colorado as a family in July. We are in NY with Alex now (Erin was here all week before we arrived, and Nancy was up here the week before that). When we leave tomorrow, Alex will come with us to Tennessee for a ceremony honoring Nancy’s service to the university there and unveiling her official portrait. After that, we’re not entirely sure, though we don’t think that Alex can be alone for the time being. So, at least one of us will fly back with her. Maybe both of us.

We do what needs to be done for the people we love, because love demands no less, because they deserve no less, because we know they would do the same for us.

Be kind to one another. Tell the people you love how you feel about them, how much you appreciate them. When you need help from others, ask for it. Just as you wouldn’t hesitate to come to the aid of those you love most, so they would not waver in their support for you.

Wishing you all a wonderful week.

Professional Wednesday: DragonCon and Professional Community

I am back from DragonCon, and I have a shortened week in which to get done a great deal, so today’s post will be fairly brief. Mostly, I want to say thank you — to the convention organizers, who did a wonderful job — yet again — with a near impossible task: keeping 65,000 people happy and safe throughout a weekend of fun, spectacle, and, for many of us professional networking and promotional activity. I want to thank the track chairs who once again welcomed me into their programming, treated me with respect and courtesy, and guided my colleagues and me through productive and interesting discussions. I want to thank the fans who came out to listen to us speak and buy our books. Without you, we writers are just a bunch of people with word processing software and voices in our heads.

And most of all, I want to thank my friends, of whom there are too many to name, who made me laugh, who engaged me in wonderful conversations — some silly, others fascinating, the best ones a combination of the two — and who expressed concern and support for me and for my family. This was a fun weekend for me, but also a hard one. At a time in my life when a part of me wants to retreat into my work and interact with no one, you all made my interactions feel safe and positive and comforting. I’m grateful to you all.

I often write and speak about the solitary nature of the writing profession. Most of us work in relative isolation, crafting our stories, polishing them, and venturing onto social media to promote them. Conventions like DragonCon offer us opportunities to emerge from our shells and reconnect with people we care about, people who understand the unique challenges of a publishing career, people who are witty and intelligent, passionate about their art and compassionate with their friends. I love to write, but I was reminded this week that I also love being a writer and having a diverse and committed creative community.

As part of my professional activity this weekend, I gave a series of brief mentoring sessions for aspiring writers. During each one, and also in several extracurricular conversations with writers seeking to break into publishing, I found myself asking them if they had Beta readers, people they could ask to read their work who would then give them honest feedback. Most of them had some, but clearly needed to widen their circle of such friends.

Since these Professional Wednesday posts are usually geared toward writing advice, I will close with this: cultivate those relationships. Find fellow writers with whom you can share your work, with whom you can talk shop, with whom you can commiserate over disappointments and celebrate successes. They are more than people who can help you improve your writing. They are your future colleagues, your convention friends, the people you will see year after year, picking up where you left off at the end of the last con that you attended together. They are your moral support and your sounding boards, your partners in goofiness and the emotional undergirding that will sustain you for the rest of what I hope will be long and fruitful careers.

Keep writing!