Creative Nonfiction

The Magic Maker

Non-fiction in Mused – The BellaOnline Literary Review – Winter 2014, Vol. 8, Issue 4


This is the story of how I ruined Christmas.

My thirteen-year-old daughter Beth is smart as whip, but socially? Let’s just say she’s a little quirky. At thirteen, she says she still believes in Santa Claus. Or, she did until the day I said, “You know that there is no Santa Claus, right?”

She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “What!?” The pompom on the tip of the red and white Santa hat she wore throughout the month of December shook violently.

We were in the car, driving to her church youth group meeting. My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.

Why is it that when you know something isn’t going right, your brain kicks in to make it even worse? I mean, you know the conversation is going downhill but you say something that turns a snowball into an avalanche.

“You know that Santa doesn’t exist, right?” I pushed the snowball right over the cliff.

Tears under her thick glasses made her beautiful dark eyes frighteningly large and menacing. “You have ruined Christmas forever!” She started to hyperventilate.

“Are you kidding me?” I yelled back at her. “You’re almost fourteen years old! You can’t tell me that you really still believe in Santa Claus!”

“Awwwwwww!” She was wailing, tears streaming down her face. “You have lied to me my whole life!”

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and turned in my seat to look at her head on. “Beth. You know there is no Santa Claus.”

“You … gasp … have taken … gasp … away my … gasp … childhood!” She was choking on her sobs.

“Honey….” I decided to take a softer tack. I took my hand off the steering wheel and reached for her hand.

She shoved my hand away. “No! I won’t listen to you!”

My thoughts were reeling. I wondered as I often did how I had become so inept at parenting. I simply did not understand.

“Santa lives in our hearts.” The sanguine tone of my voice even made me want to throw up.

“Ahhhhhhhh! I don’t want you to talk!”

We sat in the car, listening to the other cars whiz by us. I was certain that those cars were driven by good mothers, happy mothers, mothers who bought Christmas gifts in August and had everything all neatly wrapped by Halloween. Mothers who had not stabbed the Christmas spirit clear through the heart with the simple phrase, “You know Santa doesn’t exist, right?” Right.

Beth’s breathing began to even out.

“Beth,” I started once again.

“No!” she said. “Stop.”

I kept quiet. I waited. It started to rain and the automatic windshield wipers pushed the rain to the side in a hypnotic rhythm that suddenly sounded like the back beat to Jingle Bells.

Her voice was quiet. “What about NORAD?”

NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command. This is a major military operation, a seven-day-a-week program that warns of any “atmospheric threat,” like missiles, asteroids, and Santa’s sleigh. For the month of December, NORAD maintains a website that does a countdown to Christmas, and for twenty-four hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they track Santa’s travels. For years, Beth has followed Santa around the globe.

“NORAD,” I said. “Well….”

“It’s fake,” said Beth. “It’s a lie.”

“No, Honey. It’s not a lie,” I lied.

“Stop it.” Beth’s huge eyes had become narrow slits. “Stop talking. Stop telling me lies. Take me to church.”

I put the car in gear and we drove in silence the five minutes to church. Beth got out and slammed the car door shut. She pulled the Santa hat off her head and stuffed it in her pocket in disgust. I watched as she then marched down the cobbled sidewalk and through the big oak doors of the sanctuary.

“Jesus Christ.” I banged my head on my hands resting on the steering wheel. Thank God I hadn´t yet burst her bubble about Him.

“I have ruined Christmas forever.”

You see, it all started just before Thanksgiving with a classic child-of-divorce maneuver. One day Beth says to me, “You know, since you and Daddy divorced…”

Here it was. I could tell I was about to take a guilt trip.

“…I’ve been feeling kind of lonely.”

My ticket was being punched.

“I think if I had a puppy, a Dachshund puppy, I’d feel better.”

I was on the express train to Guilt City.

It didn’t matter that we already have a dog, a neurotic dog that pees on your foot when you walk in the door.

“We already have a dog,” I said to her.

“But Stella,” the dog, “is your dog. She loves you.” Beth fluttered the lashes on her big brown eyes, eyes made wider behind the magnified lenses of her thick glasses. “She’s not mine,” she implored.

What I should have said was ‘There’s no way we are getting another blankety-blank dog!’ Instead I said, “We’ll see.”

If you are a parent, you know that “we’ll see” is the first step to a done deal.

For the next few weeks Beth created slide show presentations of why a Dachshund is the perfect dog. I like big dogs so she was trying to sell me on this. She also made a handbook of training methods she was going to use. This included commands for the dog to burrow into gopher holes to rid our acre of gophers. It didn’t matter that we don’t have an obvious gopher problem. She was going to train the Dachshund to go after gophers.

I had to find her a Dachshund.

I don’t “buy” dogs. I rescue dogs. I went online to the various rescue organizations and the closest thing to a Dachshund I could find was a Chiweenie. This rat-like cross between a Chihuahua and a Dachshund is small and ugly. And expensive. The last time I rescued a dog the cost was fifty bucks. Now a rescue is over two hundred. I was not going to spend two hundred dollars on an ugly little dog that was no bigger than a hamster. I asked her; she said no to a hamster.

I decided that I had to prepare Beth for the possibility that there would be no Dachshund for Christmas. I decided that the best thing to do was to just come right out and tell her. No Dachshund. To do this, however, I needed to start slowly, hint at the whole Santa Claus-doesn’t-exist thing.

Now, I truly believed that at the age of almost fourteen that her belief in Santa was really a show, a way to keep the gifts coming. I know I did that when I was a kid. I was the youngest; I had been certain that if I admitted that Santa Claus didn’t exist, Christmas would be over. So I was pretty sure that this is what Beth was doing.

Sometimes I’m just clueless.

“So, Beth,” I started with just a hint of feigned nonchalance in my voice, trying to keep my eyes on the road. “You know there’s no Santa, right?”

By the look on her face you would’ve thought I killed a Dachshund right in front of her with my two bare hands.

I really had ruined Christmas forever.

After youth group that night, Beth came home and managed to say not one word to me. She avoided me, and I avoided her. I thought avoidance was probably what was called for at this point. She gave me a hug before she went to bed, but no ‘Good night, Mom.’ Just a hug. I told her I loved her; she smiled and went to her room.

“I’ve taken away her childhood.” Her words rang in my head.

The next morning Beth was still not talking to me. She got ready for school. I left for work. We both were miserable.

I spent my day telling anyone who would listen how horrible I was. I hoped that public humiliation might save me. But no one took me seriously. “You told your daughter there isn’t a Santa Claus? She’s thirteen! Shoulda’ happened ten years ago!” They didn’t understand that I broke my daughter’s heart and I had no idea how I was going to put it back together.

But that evening at dinner, Beth began to talk.

“So, Mom, about this Santa thing,” she started.

“Unh uh,” I said. “No way. I’m not talking about that again.”

“No, Mom. Really. I want to know something.”

I reached across the table and tapped her hand with my finger.

“Okay. What do you want to know?”

“What about NORAD?”

Oh, how was I going to do this?


“Yes. Is it all just a lie?”

My heart was breaking. I was destroying everything she lived for; everything she believed in.

“Oh, Beth. It’s so hard to explain this. But I’ll try.”

Her eyes bore into mine.

“You know what NORAD is, right?”

She nodded that she did.

“Okay. So, here you have this huge government organization. Lots of people working round the clock to keep the country safe. And yet, in December, they have a whole department dedicated to tracking Santa. Why do you think they do that?”

“They’re trying to find Santa?”

I wanted to cry.

“No, sweetie. But, why else do you think they might do that?”

After a long pause, she said “They think believing in Santa is important?”

Thank God.

“Yes,” I said. “They want to help create the magic.”


“Magic.” I took a deep breath. “Beth, hasn’t Christmas always been magical for you?”

“Yes. I love Christmas.”

“Okay. Who do you think makes it magical?”

She looked at me for a moment and then said, “You?”

“Yes. Me. And every other parent in the world.”

“But what about the toys?” She was talking through her heartbreak. “You know, those toys that are in my stocking every year? The toys that no one else has, that none of my friends have ever seen before?”

Every year I search for special small toys to give Beth for Christmas. These toys are usually little wind-up Santas or snowmen, magical in their uniqueness.

I smiled at her. “It’s part of the magic.”

“You see, Beth,” I went on, “when you’re young, everything at Christmas is magical. There is nothing more wonderful than believing in the magic of Christmas.”

“I know.”

“But, Beth,” I said. “It gets even better when you’re an adult.”

“It does?” She was skeptical.

“One of the joys of being a parent is making the magic for your children.”

Her eyes began to soften.

“When you’re an adult, Beth, you get to be the Magic Maker.”

Her smile was breathtaking.

She got up from the table and pulled the Santa hat out of her coat pocket where she had stuffed it the evening before. She walked over to me and put it on my head.

“No, Beth.” I took the hat off my head. “It’s official,” I said, placing the Santa hat on her head. “You are now a Magic Maker.”

Creative Nonfiction

The Blue Room

A Memoir. August 4, 2014, The Prague Revue


The Blue Room was designed and built for sex. It had walls of blue molded plastic, all soft corners. Oddly shaped ledges were built into the walls around the room at various heights, each ledge the length of a body lying down perhaps, like a window seat—only there were no windows in the Blue Room. Someone had screwed metal hooks into the walls, high and low, decorative hooks, painted blue. Everything was blue. Even the glittering silver slide, which I supposed was meant for a quick bare-ass ride from the upper loft down to the floor below, reflected the blue of the Blue Room. My mother and I were there to break up the blue monotony. We were making patchwork-beaded pillows for the Blue Room, the sex room. It was a job.

In 1971, I was fifteen years old, sewing pillows to decorate a sex den in what was then—and still is—the gay Mecca, Provincetown, Massachusetts.

My mother was in her mid-forties and had just divorced my father after having been married for twenty-five years. The Sixties had been hard on my parents. My father was a political conservative. He wore the white shirt and narrow tie and dark gray suit that was the uniform of the men from the Greatest Generation. He believed in his government and in his job, a job that supported the Military Industrial Complex. My father believed in a world that was. My mother, on the other hand, was a dreamer. She was vehemently against the Vietnam War and dragged me to protests and marches. She was a civil rights activist, as much as anyone could be while living in our all-white suburban Connecticut neighborhood where the only interesting cultural diversion was the Jewish family who lived on the corner of Oak Street. Our neighbors were quietly pissed off when our family, against my father’s wishes, hosted “city kids” at our house for the summer. The neighbors waved pleasantly enough when we caught their eye, but we were persona non grata at neighborhood picnics. My mom joined a local migrant workers organization, the Asociación de Trabajadores Agrícolas, to get better working conditions for the local tobacco pickers. She was a supporter of Cesar Chavez; we didn’t eat lettuce for years. And she was a feminist.

It was too much for my parents’ marriage to bear.

After their divorce, my mother and I moved to Provincetown. We packed her 1966 navy blue Ford Mustang with her record albums and paintings. She had played at being an artist; her wild abstract paintings, like Rorschach’s designs, were whatever the observer thought they were. We took only as much from our life pre-divorce as the car could hold. I took one last walk around the house I had grown up in, running my hand over the rough shingles as if tracing a line around my memories, tying them neatly with string, my childhood sold, packed into boxes, or thrown away. I sat on my swing for a few minutes and memorized the backyard—the trees, the hill, the Sanderson’s house across the street. Then I got in the Mustang with my mom, our two cats, and a cardboard box labeled “Memorabilia.”

Provincetown is a small fishing community at Land’s End, the very tip of Cape Cod. It was—and still is—an artist colony, which as far as I can tell is just another way of saying the lunatics are allowed to run free. In 1971, the lunatics were abundant. The winter population of Provincetown more than doubled that year. Artists and professors on sabbatical, draft dodgers and college dropouts, and a middle-aged, formerly-upper-middle-class, divorced, suburban white woman with her fifteen-year-old daughter. It was a time of war protests and free love, hippies and pot, civil rights and honest-to-God feminism. The background music was the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, and the Steve Miller Band, “Let it Be” and “Instant Karma” and “All Things Must Pass.” The musical memory of Woodstock hung in the air around us, riding on the scent of patchouli.

If you weren’t alive then, I kind of feel sorry for you.

Although my father gave my mom money to support me, she refused any alimony for herself. She wanted to be free, and that meant living on her own, earning her own living. That meant she couldn’t refuse a job to make pillows for a blue room sex den.

The Blue Room was in a large bayside apartment on the second floor of a house on Commercial Street. On the first floor of the building was a head shop owned and run by the woman who had designed the Blue Room. Billy was a large woman in her forties, dynamic and funny, and high on something whenever I saw her. She would flit like an elephant in a muumuu from her yellow and orange kitchen (she baked the best brownies) into the Blue Room, rubbing her hands together, twittering, I love blue! I love blue!

My mom ran fabric through the sewing machine and I stitched little beads on the pillows. I hate to sew. To this day, I have panic attacks when I pick up a needle and thread. I come from a long line of devout sewers and knitters, crocheters and rug weavers; and as a kid I was dragged on daylong outings to every fabric mill and knitting shop within a six-hour drive, which for the women in my family was nirvana but for me was hell. The lingering smell of fabric sizing haunts me, sending shivers down my spine and tying a knot in my throat. I was willing to overcome my anxiety for this job, though; having to sweat through the tangle of a needle and thread was a small price to pay for the daily show I was privy to.

A steady stream of Billy’s flamboyant friends came in and out of her apartment, checking on the Blue Room’s progress. It’s enough to put your tits in a spin! Dennis, he was my favorite, petite with blond hair and a uniform of paisley bellbottoms and a vest with no shirt. He died in 1984. Many of Billy’s friends were gone by the mid-1980s.

I became a kind of Blue Room mascot, often dragged away from my pillow stitching (thank god!) and waltzed through the burgeoning Blue Room. Isn’t it too wonderful for words! I was a fifteen-year-old kid from suburban Connecticut. I had trouble imagining what heterosexual sex was like, let alone the kind of sex that I assumed was supposed to happen in the Blue Room. All I knew was that everyone in town was …titillated.

When the last pillow was stitched and the final touches added to the Blue Room–strategically placed lava lamps and black lights–Billy had a little party for my mom and me. I was kind of hoping for an invitation to the grand opening of the Blue Room, but, well, yeah … Most of Billy’s friends came; they had become our friends, too, during the stitching of the pillows. She made a large cauldron of Portuguese soup and Portuguese bread, and we drank glasses of Mateus Rosé and ate her wonderful brownies. I had one brownie. My mother had three.

We sat on the pillows we had made for the Blue Room. We laughed and talked and listened to Sly and the Family Stone’s Stand! album. But then someone put on the Beatles You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. The room fell into a post-pot-high melancholia, quiet. The party was over.

My mom and I headed back to our snug three-room apartment overlooking Cape Cod Bay. She soared down Commercial Street as if she were running through knee-high water, her arms out wide, raising her knees to her chest and tippy toeing her foot to the ground, like a marionette in the hands of a drunk puppeteer. I grabbed her hand to keep her from flying off into the starry, starry night. We’re almost home!

Those were some good brownies, she giggled, holding tight to my hand and tripping high over cracks in the sidewalk. I’ll have to get the recipe.


“The Blue Room” is an excerpt from Lucy Gregg Muir’s work-in-progress, a collection of creative nonfiction, entitled The Autobiography of Toto, a Memoir.

Creative Nonfiction

The Swing

ImageCreative Nonfiction – June 19, 2014, The Prague Revue


My daughter swings.

My daughter is seventeen, and she swings.

She swings at night in the rain. She swings in raging blizzards. She swings in the cool shade of a tree during the long hot days of summer.

She swings to save her life.

From the time my daughter was two and could climb by herself onto the seat of the swing in our backyard, she has swung, furiously. From the moment she understood that the secret of swinging is in the arms and not the legs pull the chains and lean back push and lean forward repeat she has swung, frantically.

My daughter swings so much that the hooks that hold the swings eventually pull out of their sockets and new holes need to be drilled. My daughter swings so much that we’ve had to replace the heavy wooden swing-set three times in fifteen years. The second time we replaced it, the large beam that holds the hooks had split in half from so much swinging. When we replaced it with a new swing-set, I saved this beam and the swing that still hangs from it. I hung it across beams in my garage because it won’t fit into the pages of a scrapbook.

We replaced this swing-set on the morning of Christmas Eve while my daughters – I do have two daughters, but only one swings – were watching television and I was baking cookies, their father wrapping presents up in the bedroom. We were all present and accounted for so it must have been one of Santa’s elves! who delivered it. I keep the magic screwdriver the elf left in the snow by mistake in my desk drawer. It won’t fit into the pages of a scrapbook, either.

When she was eight and wanted to go late at night onto the swing, I worried that the bears would eat her, or a passing hobo might kidnap her. But I let her go. I stood in the kitchen window and watched her. I didn’t take my eyes off of her. I stood in wonder at my beautiful daughter in need of a nighttime swing.

I worried when she would come home from school, drop her books and run to the swing. And swing. And swing. And swing. And then she would come inside and melt onto the sofa.

I loved the swing for what it did for my daughter. I loved the swing for doing for my daughter what I could not do.

The swing-set can be seen by passing motorists on my street, a street well known by the locals as a back way into town, and by people walking their dogs. Many people know my daughter swings. Many have commented oh you live in the house with the girl on the swing and seem as much in awe of her as I am.

Sometimes I feel the need to explain my seventeen year old daughter and her swingshe is anxious depressed angry frustrated brilliant lovely hurt waiting to be in control of her own life. But mostly when people say you live in the house with the girl on the swing I just say yes.

And mostly, people understand.

Sometimes I’m not sure my daughter understands why it is she swings. Then again, I’m not sure it matters if she understands.

My daughter came to me yesterday and said I know it’s not Mother’s Day yet but I wanted to give this to you now. And she gave me this picture she painted, of her swing under a full harvest moon, and a tiny red heart on the seat of the swing.

Oh, my daughter ….

I love my daughter’s swing.


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Creative Nonfiction

Scream, Baby. Scream.

Creative Nonfiction – April 19, 2014, The Prague Revue

A response to Parker Marlo’s honest essay on cutting.


No, no, no. It doesn’t make you a liar.

Let me tell you why you cut.

It’s your mother’s fault. Yup. Your mother never let you cry yourself to sleep when you were an infant. She was one of those hippy-types who believed in the family bed and that allowing an infant to cry was cruel. Crying meant the infant was unhappy. And we couldn’t have an unhappy infant, could we? We were all peace and love and happy babies. At all costs, we kept the baby quiet. A quiet baby was a happy baby. A happy baby would grow up to be a happy adult.

God, where the fuck did they get that idea? As if our first gassy smiles are an indication of future contentment.

A baby who doesn’t cry makes up for it later, let me assure you. A baby who isn’t allowed to cry becomes an adolescent whiner, a self-centered all-about-me adult. A baby who isn’t allowed to cry becomes a needy anorexic cutter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oh, so anxious for you to be born! For all those expectant months your mother read every how-to manual she could find. Friends gave her their dog-eared copies to read with important sections highlighted, formula is manufactured by Nazis, (Oops. That’s another discussion.)

Your mother read how essential it is to bond with a baby from the very first moment of birth. Your mother isn’t, wasn’t, an idiot; she knew all about bonding, knew that bonding was the key to having a happy baby. She’d read all about it. That first night in the hospital, the day you were born, she kept you in her room instead of the nursery. But, oh, how she desired to sink into a deep, post-birthing-a-baby sleep. She couldn’t, though. She was a mother now. She had to bond.

And she tried to. God, how she tried. She swaddled you, but you looked like a hot dog falling out of a bun; she failed at her first job as a mother. And you cried. And cried. Was this bonding?

At two in the morning the night of your birth, when the famous film producer’s movie star wife who had just given birth and was resting comfortably in the next room screamed Shut that baby up! oh, God, she tried! And a few weeks later, when at your colicky worst you screamed into the wee hours of the night and the neighbors in the next apartment pounded on the wall Shut that baby up! oh, God, she tried. Again. And again. She was inadequate. Incompetent, certain that social services would take you away. She had to keep you quiet.

And yet your mother was so exhausted, so tired, so unbelievably drained, she wanted desperately to put you in your crib, shut the door, and let you scream. She wanted to Ferberize you, follow Dr. Ferber’s recommendations to let babies cry themselves to sleep. She tried it once or twice when the neighbors were out and the windows were shut, sitting on the floor outside your room, head on her knees, hands over her ears, sobbing. Shut that baby up. Shut that baby up. Please, shut that baby up. If only she had trusted herself then. If only she had trusted you.

Instead, she shut you up. She tamped you down. She stuffed a cork into your teeny tiny baby emotions, teeny tiny baby emotions that you should have learned to handle then so that by the time you were older you would know how to handle your big girl emotions.

But she shut you up. She wanted a happy baby. The kicker was, you weren’t a happy baby. You were miserable. The more she tried to keep you quiet, the more you screamed. The more you screamed, the more she tried to keep you quiet. The more she tried to keep you quiet, the more volatile you became. Tantrums, night terrors, uncontrolled outbursts of anger for no reason. Others said you were spoiled, but you weren’t. You didn’t have tantrums because you were denied candy or toys or whatever. You had tantrums just because. Kicking screaming flailing outbursts for no reason, at any time, in any place. Yes, your mother was one of those mothers, thebad mothers, the grocery store mothers who are the recipients of the tsk tsk tsksdolled out by the good mothers.

So, she shut you up. And then, her job, her life, was to make you happy, to keep you happy. Oh, she didn’t spoil you. You didn’t get whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it. You had rules to obey and were punished when you didn’t. But, your emotional happiness depended on her. As a toddler, if you couldn’t sleep, she rocked you. When you were older, if friends upset you, she distracted you. Your emotions weren’t yours to control. You didn’t know how.

You never learned how to soothe yourself.

When it came time for you to become independent, to rebel against your mother, as all daughters must in one way or another, you pushed her away.

And the emotional cork that had been implanted when you were an infant, that your mother learned how to perform a controlled release of whenever necessary to let out just enough steam so you wouldn’t blow up completely, blew.

And you did. You blew.

You were smart. You were beautiful. But you had no idea what this turmoil was inside of you, and you had no idea how to deal with it. You didn’t know how to deflect it. You didn’t know how to release it. You didn’t know how to turn the enormous emotional energy into something positive. You became out of control in your search for control. What else could you do? You blew.

You became extreme. Sex. Drugs. Sex. You confused pain and emotion. Emotions hurt but you didn’t know how to deal with them. So you caused pain because physical pain can be managed. A band aid. A splint. Drugs. Emotional pain has no band aid. The only cure for emotional pain is to cry, to feel it, to suffer it, to live through it.

And you never learned how.

I’m sorry. I fucked up. I thought I was doing the right thing, but that’s no excuse. What do they say about ignorance of the law? I’m guilty as charged. So sue me.

But you are kind of right about this. People don’t really care. Well, it’s not that no one cares. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that we, I, can’t do anything about it. No, that’s not right either. I won’t do anything about it. Maybe it’s too late, but you have to learn how to handle your emotions, how to let yourself hurt, and heal. You have to learn how to scream in order to hear the quiet that comes after and know that it belongs to you. I have to let you scream.

So scream, baby. Scream.


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