Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sorting Hat Settles at Centrum

"Oh you may not think I'm pretty, but don't judge on what you see; I'll eat myself if you can find a smarter hat than me."
—The Sorting Hat, opening lines of the 1991 Sorting Hat song, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I live many lives.

By day, I’m a San Diego working mother of two – I run a busy freelance book publicity business and teach communications classes at a local community college. By night, I’m an active mom and wife, cooking dinners, driving kids to sporting events, overseeing homework and social activities, washing clothes, grocery shopping, etc. For each activity, I wear a different Harry Potter-style Sorting Hat: advisor, nurturer, consoler, communicator, parent, and partner.

But my other life is a more personal one; I have been a writer for almost ten years, and somehow managed to get one novel written and published despite the many other hats that find their way to my head. With the writing came some wonderful benefits: a number of lively and friendly writing groups, three artist residencies, all in beautiful places (Oregon, Hawaii, and Vermont), connections with other authors, publishers, agents, and, since my book was a Native American story, the local Pala Indian community, who welcomed me with warmth and generosity. The writing hat fits well, indeed.

But this past year has been a tough one on my writing life, as both of my kids are getting ready to leave for college – one this year, and one the year after. It’s been a hectic time of softball recruiting visits for my daughter and college visits for my older son. But both are finally settled on the schools they plan to attend, so when a friend invited me to apply for an artist residency at Centrum in Port Townsend, Washington, I agreed. The time slot that Centrum offered us fit perfectly with my teaching schedule (it was, luckily, the same time as spring break), so I left my many-sided life in San Diego and have been here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, joyfully allowing the writing hat to slip back onto my head.

The Centrum campus is located on the grounds of Fort Worden State Park, a lovely wide-open green belt, with old-style military barracks, cabins, and apartment buildings scattered across the grounds. There is a youth hostel here, along with some mansion-sized homes and tiny wooden huts. I was first housed in one of the older, two-story apartments, but the building's rickety heater pumped heat non-stop (there was no thermostat in our unit). After two nights of sweating and incessant rattling noise, I asked to be moved to one of the cabins, and that’s where I sit as I write this post.

Fort Worden Park sits on a bluff above Admiralty Bay and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center beach and pier. The views are stunning – from my former second story apartment, I could see almost all of Whidbey Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which glitters in the sun and turns moody and sullen when the sky is cloudy. In my new cabin, I have even more impressive views overlooking the grassy cliffs and the bay down below. The cabin is peaceful, and the heat is – blessedly – controllable and quiet.

Centrum is a beautiful place; it bustles with the comings and goings of visiting artists, writers, and musicians (we saw a magnificent choro -- Brazilian jazz -- concert performed by some of the greatest folk musicians in the world two nights ago). The park also houses families and guests who rent the buildings to explore the Victorian harbor town of Port Townsend. So, there are children here, running across the grounds with their Frisbees, footballs, scooters, and bikes. The place teems with twittering birds and a few well-fed cats, yet it also has a quiet ambience, reinforced by the stately views of the sea and the elegant deer that tiptoe across the grass in the morning to nibble at the clover blossoms. The sun sets later in the day here, bringing with it a clarity and warmth that is soothing and breath-taking at the same time.

I’m happy to be here, in this lovely, northern world. I do miss my husband, kids, clients, and students (and, of course, my own bed), but I know that all the other hats I wear will be waiting for me when I return, refreshed and eager to pick up where I left off.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Complications: A Doctor's Love Story

I have been meaning to write updates about my clients' books and have been so busy lately that my good intentions have fallen by the wayside.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I've decided to hold true to my resolutions and begin with my wonderful client, Dr. Linda Gromko, and her memoir: Complications, A Doctor's Love Story.

I'm writing with a heavy heart because Linda's husband, Steve Williams, passed away today after a long battle with kidney failure. I didn't know Steve, but I have known Linda for almost two years (we met at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in August, 2009). After meeting Linda and working with her to promote her book at bookstores and kidney dialysis conferences, I heard all about what a smart, funny, courageous, and kind man Steve was. He and Linda were certainly well-matched, for she has the same intelligence, warmth, and tremendous wit that he is famous for. My heart is breaking for Linda and her family at his loss, and I hope that she can find some comfort in the outstanding life and wonderful memories that she and Steve created over the years.

Linda's book, Complications, is part love story and part history of Steve's struggle with kidney failure. Though realistic about the rigors of life with kidney dialysis and heart disease, Complications also offers readers a wonderful portrait of sacrifice and hope.

Dr. Gromko’s true story begins with an implausible inheritance from a former patient and her first meeting with Steve, a businessman who is “gifted at banter, irreverently funny, and loyal as a beagle.” Soon after the couple decide to wed, Steve's history of diabetes and high blood pressure leads him to fall precipitously into the abyss of kidney failure. Written from a doctor’s perspective, the book takes the reader on a tumultuous course of medical and personal trials, as Dr. Gromko exerts the most powerful advocacy of her life for the man she loves.

Joe Piscatella, author and President of The Institute for Fitness and Health, endorsed the book with these words: “Dr. Linda Gromko has written a gritty, realistic piece about true life with kidney failure and heart disease. If anything makes a case for prevention and a healthy lifestyle, this book delivers!” And best-selling author Elizabeth Lyon noted: “Dr. Gromko explains everything about the realities of kidney disease, and in a way that readers can not only easily understand, but will also feel on the edge of their seats awaiting the next diagnosis, procedure, victory, or complication. Ultimately, this memoir is a stirring account about hope, commitment, sacrifice, and love.”

I urge all of you who might be interested in kidney disease, dialysis, and modern-day love stories, to purchase a copy (softcover or Kindle) of Complications. As you read, take the time to reflect on the courageous and loving life this couple built together, and send your best thoughts and wishes to Linda Gromko and her family.