Hope is my superpower

I participated in an online writing event hosted by Laura Lentz last Friday.  100 of us listened to poems and readings and then were given 13 minutes to write.  The theme was lungs and breathing but really just about anything while we all sit in quarantine.

I had been giving a lot of thought to the word “hope” prior to the class and in the 13 minute time frame – hope is what rose to the top.

The rough 13 minutes on the emergence of hope…

They say that in the eye of the hurricane everything stops.
The eye of the hurricane is upon me – my home – my community – my city. The experts say the worst will be in the days ahead. A surge. A chaos. Cries in the night. Masks, ventilators, protective gear.
It is sooo quiet outside now. Yet, I hear birds – so many birds. I hear kids down the street, walking and laughing with their parents. We are all on foot.
The daffodils sway. The tulips are closed. But standing upright, they seem hopeful.
Hope. Isn’t that that the thing?
In the quiet of the eye, I walk the street with my dog and from many feet apart we wave at others. I look up at the sky. It is a vibrant blue. And at night the stars shimmer.
Maybe, just maybe, the quiet is trying to tell me something. Maybe, just maybe, if I can listen.
Before the eye passes. Before the worst hits.
Breathe, she said. Breathe.
Hope will be your superpower.

And in that moment, clarity in the eye of the storm.

Goldfish in small fishbowl watching goldfish jump into large fis


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I’m dusting off some thoughts for 2020….

So Happy New Year. 

First up, some thoughts on gal friends…I love them! Love, joy, laughter, dancing, crying, eating, working are just many of the things that they bring and brighten.  And the conversation…sometimes quick, often long, most always welcome.   

So with dust flyin’ – Cheers!


You would be surprised by her naughty thoughts and her mouth full of curse words. An invitation for tea, might include a description of those damn cups that her mother gave her from Italy that bring her so much comfort. A conversation on the beautiful day, might also include the shitty driver who cut her off while she was admiring the rainbow crossing the bridge.

What should not surprise you is how strong and determined she is. Her eyes are bright. Her teeth sparkle. And with one deep breath, she straightens her shoulders and marches forward, despite her feelings that she is fucking cursed and regrets many of her past shitty decisions. She is the person you want in front of you, behind you and beside you. She can do all those positions. Fucking fabulously.


I was in a bit of a funk last week.

Then I entered the weekend. On the calendar, two memorials, one for a dad of an old pal, and one for an elementary school friend. On the pages of my social media pages, two writing sisters, each sharing the pain of their own deep personal loss. At home, our daughter’s dog, a dog we had loved for a short four years, a survivor that we had adopted when he had one eye and one tooth, was communicating he was ready to move on too.

In my email, came a musing from a writer I greatly admire, Ann Patchett. She was in the middle of a writing project, looking for a book or two to shed some light and “take me out of my own head for a while.”

I needed that too. I was stuck in my head. Stuck on the page. And to a certain extent stuck at home, petting and comforting this wise old dog and his owner.

I drove up to Capitol Hill, picked up that dog owner from work and said, “let’s take a quick stop at the bookstore.”

This girl loves books. I knew what her answer would be.

I picked up two of Ann’s recommendations, My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel lecture and The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers and headed home. She recommended these two books with phrases like “breath of clarity” and “inspiring dreams” and I was ready for both.

In between memorial services, I read these two lovely books. While grief passed through me and all around the rooms I walked through, the words followed like loyal pets. Passages were highlighted. Certain sections reread. I googled for facts. And the thoughts raced around and around. I followed the grief of my she writes sister and took in her beautiful poetry dedicated to her mother. I slept and dreamed fitfully, as a small dog woke to sip water and give his last gifts to my daughter.

Standing at the counter, mixing the comforting ingredients of meatballs, (eggs, milk and bread crumbs) I inhaled the wisdom of these two authors. Relationships. Dreams. Connection. Optimism. Hope. A sense of humor through it all.

I reheard the words spoken at the service. Grief is love.

So, is laughter, I thought. As my daughter and I laughed uncontrollably, in the middle of the night, as we tried to breathe through the incredible bad breath and occasional gas of her dog.

A dog we didn’t know we needed. A dog with all sorts of lessons also. Patience. Understanding. The lesson of hanging in there.

The vet came to our house yesterday and with grace he assisted my daughter with this last goodbye.

Later that evening, I tried to connect all the dots of the weekend. Passages. Amazing books that took me out of my head. Old friends. All the dogs I have ever lived with. The dots circled on each other and back again to the same important detail about love and grief and life.

The importance of showing up and digging in.


A Soundtrack. Part 1

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A recent writing assignment about music resulted in an essay I nicknamed, “A Soundtrack of Life.”  I find, like most people, that a certain song or a certain meal can take you back instantly to a specific memory.  A moment preserved.

Because it is Thursday and a special day for throwbacks, here is Part 1.

The Song.

“At the bar”

A funny folk song, of folks sitting at the bar, and the coins are rolling away.  Good pants are ripped and no longer needed for Sunday.

The Moment.

Tekiu point. Clam digging. All the families at the beach. Short hair clipped back with a barrette. Making cigars out of fat sticks and lighting them till they smoked. Dogs. Labs and golden retrievers. My Dad and Mr. Anderson laughing. Driving home in the old blue station wagon, windows all open. No seatbelts. Dad starts the verse.

What’s the first song on your soundtrack?

The “F” Words

Today, I am turning F—ing Fifty-Five years old!

That’s how I’ve been saying it – F—ing Fifty-Five years old!

It just sounds better that way. Sort of fierce. Sort of fun. Sort of frickin’ fantastic!

What’s funny, is my good friend, nameless she will be, said it the same way without knowing.

“You are turning F—ing 55 years old!”

I like it. It fits me. It’s a good title, and I have tried on many titles. But it feels in many ways that I have come full circle.

I am Marianne Lile and I am f—ing fifty-five years old!

I ran into an old neighbor who lived across the street from us when I was young. His dad had died, and I had taken my mom, to remember and reminisce. I had not seen this neighbor in years. He told us the story, of when his family had first driven into the driveway of their new home, fifty some years ago, he had looked across the street and heard kids playing, i.e. my brothers, sister and me. As he told the story he smiled as he recounted from around the corner came a little girl running free – literally – naked, laughing and sprinting around and around her house. That little girl was me.
I laughed at that story. And I remembered running around that old red house. Naked was my preferred option. Laughing. Looking up at the sky. Running.

Looking back, those experiences tend to get lost. Caught up in the fine details of living a life. But, I am committed to bringing them back this year. It’s time.

It’s time to fight too. Time to get off my duff and fight for the fairness and freedoms that are being threatened. I might just get a little feisty.

Just look at those “F” words. Fierce. Fun. Fantastic. Funny. Fits. Feels. Full. Fight. Fairness. Freedom. Fiesty.

So, fifty-five sounds kick ass. Ready for the dance floor. Ready to bring my friends and family to my dining table to eat food, drink what they want to, and to laugh. Maybe, even ready to run around my house naked!

Because I am F—ing Fifty-Five years old!




Let’s start this month with some humor…



I’ve been asked to write about shoes. And I want to write about shoes. I have some great shoes. Sexy, over the knee, leather boots and a pair of cowboy kickers, buckin’ bronc on the side and just ready for the dance floor. I have a pair of killer red heels that only mean one thing and a pair of Donna Karan booties that I bought in the 1980’s that still work their magic. I have some great shoes.


I am sitting here, in my chair, at my desk, in embarrassment. A little bit of perplexed disgrace.

I have – I mean I am – trying to embrace this whole, no clutter, live sparingly chatter that is everywhere you wander these days.

What better place to do this than in your closet?

When I brought out my winter clothes this fall, I gave myself a no-nonsense lecture.

“Ok. Let’s just try and get rid of some of these items this year, shall we?”, I said with all the seriousness of my first boss, when she told me to head to the Capitol, hand out the information on our legislation, and do not answer any questions.

I lifted each piece up, eyed it for wine stains, food particles and animal hair. If it passed that test, I eyed it for fitness. To lazy, to try it on, I imaginatively, guessed. I remembered the last time I wore that item. Did I feel good in it? Did it do me justice? Was it still a keeper?

With diligence and determination, I culled the pile of cold weather garments. I was tough – okay I wasn’t that tough – but by the end of picking through this pile I had three big bags of rejected clothing. And not all of them had stains on them.

Then thinking about a great cashmere sweater, I had seen at the local boutique, I thought I should bring some of these pieces up to the consignment store and get some cash! Wow, I had all motors running this weekend!

So, I culled again and pulled out those items I thought looked perfect for the consignment store. Black leather biker jacket. Crisp, white blouse with the tag still on it. (I knew I should have returned it, when I bought it…oh well.)

I took my sweats off, put on my jeans, looked to see if I needed to brush my teeth, (no) and drove up to the consignment store with my bags full of cash – I mean clothes.

The tinkle of the bell hanging above the door announced my arrival, and the gal at the front, put together in designer jeans and forest green top, looked up. Already working with a customer, she asked if I could wait a few minutes before she could look at my items.

I placed my bags down and started to browse through her items. I looked at her leather jackets and I just knew mine was going to be a fast seller.

I glanced at the time on my phone to see if I would have time to swing by that store and buy that sweater.

I saw her from the corner of my eye, pick up the first bag. Jackpot! She picked up that leather biker jacket first! Then the cute, black car coat with its fun little belt. I saw my black velvet, mini skirt, lifted and assessed. That skirt had been hard to part with, after all, velvet was back in style. But, I had culled it!

Bag one done, on to bag two. Same quick assessment. Same no-nonsense attitude.

“Alright,” she said, “I don’t think any of this is will work for our store.”

“Oh,” I said. An upward lilt to that word. “Okay.”

I gathered my bags and tail between my legs, fumbled out the door. Bell above tinkling madly.

“What the hell?” I said to myself back in the safety of my car. “The white blouse had the tag on it!”

“Who doesn’t need a crisp, white blouse?”

I mentally, went through each item in those bags. Remembering again where I had worn it. The good feeling that (most) of them had given me at the time.

“What the heck?”

I had style. I had panache. I could work a room in these clothes! By god, I had once repped a clothing line. I was not dimwitted when it came to stylish garments!
But, my clothes had been rejected. Humiliated. Thrown off the counter and back in the bag. I felt like a scorned girlfriend. I had blushed at that counter! I felt rebuffed. Maybe I should have brushed my teeth, I looked in the rear-view mirror.

I looked at that dejected black leather biker jacket and thought, “Maybe, I should just keep it.”

“Make it work,” as Tim Gunn, on “Project Runway”, would say.

But no, I am supposed to be decluttering. Making my life simpler.

I called my friend.

“Have you ever been rejected at the consignment store?”

She laughed at my story. Felt my pain. She was just trying internet dating for the first time and rejection by the consignment store sounded a little bit more enjoyable.

So now, I am sitting in my chair, at my desk, with the hope to write about my amazing shoes. But sitting behind me our bags of rejection.

Life is a balance, isn’t it?! Rejection. Approval.

Some things work out. Some things don’t. Not everything is simple.

So, feet on the floor, shoulders back and onward.

Okay, let me think about my shoes.

You know what? They are fabulous!

boots made for dancing

September 26

Today is the day.

My memoir, Stepmother, turns 1 today. But in my definition of book years it really turns 10. Since it took me that long to write, edit, find a publisher, print it and watch it move out into the world.

But it is this past year I want to commemorate. To say thanks.

It has been a year of many gifts. And like most good gifts, ones that I did not see coming. Ones that surprised me, touched my heart and brought moments of true joy.

Thanks to the women I met this year. Most of you are writers. You inspire me. You were generous and warm and available.  I felt like an author at a welcoming round table and I was thrilled to sit beside you.

Thanks to the readers. Wow! What I learned from you! Time is precious and for you to take the time to read and/or reach out to me, to tell me how the book impacted you, was an unmeasurable delight. Tears came easily this year. But it was the tears of companionship brought together by your kind comments that marked me most.

A bit about my publisher…She Writes Press and Brooke Warner have been an incredible partner during this process. It comes as no surprise to me that Brooke was awarded the Industry Innovation Award last night by the Book Industry Study Group. She is a trailblazer and a champion of women writers. My experience went way beyond my expectations. And I could not be more grateful for the honor of having been an author with this organization and this group of fine people.

This year I loved the readings, the book groups, the interactions that followed meeting with people and listening to their thoughts and questions. I enjoyed the challenge of defending my words. Because in the acts of defense, I found fierce truths and an inner strength that I can live with.

I am proud of my book. I am thankful for the gifts of the past year. And I am deeply grateful to all of you.



Red heart in nest

I sit.

Step Mother.

Sometimes you just need to sit down. Take the weight off.

And ponder.

Why the word step?  Why the word mother?

The word step creates a distance. A hurdle. A physical barrier to cross to get to the destination.

Mother.  Well that just summons a million emotions!  It is a revered word.  A life giver. A home. A nest. A protector.

Most step moms give it all.  They protect, love, shield, play, clean up after, drive and cook for their step kids.

All things “motherly”.

BUT…the but.  The hiccup.  The eyes that say you aren’t my mom.  You are my Dad’s wife.  You are a good listener.  You are sometimes my friend.  You are a good cook.  But

Being a step mom is one of the hardest things I have ever done. And that is a consistent refrain that I have heard from the emails I have received since the publication of my memoir, Stepmother.

Does the label of stepmother create more hardship from the get go?  Have we made it harder by assigning a name that creates distance, a hurdle and already belongs to another?

As I sit,  I ponder.

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Clean Slates

March 2017.

The first thing I was going to do this year was repaint our bedroom.  It had been a long nine years since that space had seen fresh paint and those walls were tired.  And now, finally, at the end of February all the pictures are down and are relaxing in another room.  All the nicks and scratches, the animal hair, the squashed residue of bugs gone by and the usual family dirt are fixed, gone and covered up.

I finished that last upper corner with my small brush, covered in that last hard-to-reach edge with a paint dipped Q-tip and pulled back the blue painter’s tape.  Tying up the last trash bag filled with tape, I sat on the bed and looked at this new space.  I had changed pretty much everything.  Even the direction of our king size bed.  Once facing east, it now pointed north.

A clean slate.

These first months of this year have had a strange momentum.  The rhythm of the days has been off.  It feels as if there is an underlying edge and a persistent unease that permeates a part of each day.  I can’t help but feel some of it is emanating from one of my favorite cities, Washington D.C.  But is that all?  What else was creating this restlessness?  This lack of energy?  This procrastination? (After all, it took me two months to finish the one thing I had said I was going to do first!)

The instant reaction to this clean room was physically obvious.  Peaceful.  Relaxed.  Open.  I could look at this space in a new way.  And isn’t that what we all want to do sometimes?  Put the old behind us and start out fresh.  Hold that clean slate like a precious piece of art and take the steps to fill that space in a new and comforting way.  A place to reflect the present and move on from the past.

I recently received a beautiful email from a reader of my memoir, Stepmother.  I could feel the angst in her words as I read the note.

“Hello Mrs. Lile,

My name is…and I am a stepmother to three girls.  By chance, maybe out of desperation, I checked out your book at the library.  I currently live in…and have been navigating the stepmother role since July, 2014.

…Your words have made me feel like I am more normal than I think I am.  I feel so alone in the journey that I have chosen to travel (yes…many of my friends remind me that I chose the stepmother life).  My husband is reading the book and I hope that your words give him a little insight to how I might feel…”

I am guessing that this reader could use a clean slate too.

Feeling alone, but overwhelmed.  Feeling isolated but surrounded.  Feeling stuck.  Wanting a do over.

But how do we create a space for a clean slate in our personal lives when navigating family, work and life?  How does that desire not feel selfish and one sided?  How do we do it without causing even more disruption?

Maybe we start small.  Just one room.  Or just one small wall.  One little table.  Or even one tiny page.  Small baby steps.

Because we need clean slates.  We need them for different reasons and at different times in our life.  We are not stagnant people.  We change.  We evolve.  We see things differently than we might have once before.  I, for one, need to see that reflected “some” place.  I have used clean slates to actively and with fierce determination wipe out the old with something new to serve as a clear and decisive reminder of all my hard earned efforts to grow or to remind me of something I learned that was exceptionally valuable.  I have also expended the energy to create a clean slate much the same way I have used old boards under the wheel of my car to get out of that mud filled rut.  A way to get out and move on.

A clean slate can be the tangible evidence that “you” and “your” life are open to the next adventure.  And part of this new slate will be a reflection of where you are today.  A mosaic of color.  Or a muted haze.

Most importantly, it is your clean slate.  And you get to design it any way you want.  As the poet Mary Oliver wrote so eloquently, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Maybe we need a clean slate to remind us of our plan.

What does your clean slate look like?






Thoughts for a new year…

I am not one to make resolutions, but I am one to reflect and ponder, especially over the course of months when the same dreams, strange coincidences and themes keep showing up in my daily life.  In the last several months, I have found myself bumping into, dancing around and looking back at the same several words and trains of thought.  Conversations and reflections that seemed to circle around a theme of belief and worthiness and inevitably individuality and connectedness.

I do believe.

I believe in optimism, good over bad, the importance of eating around a table with other people and driving in a car, taking routes that prolong the trip, just waiting for the conversation to happen.  I have faith.  Faith in the overall goodness dwelling in others, that magical and mysterious powers exist around me and that each of us has a role to play, big or small.

I believe in circles.  The circle of life.  The circle of love.  The circle of protection.  And if the same coincidences keep circling around you, it is important to pay attention.

Stepmother, my memoir, was published almost four months ago, to the day.  It has been a ride.  And it was, without a doubt, a highlight for me in 2016.  There have been euphoric highs and some nail peeling nervousness.  There has been the need to boldly put myself out there, where I didn’t want to go and some stepping back to deal with some sadness that percolated from the deep depths of history.

Looking back, deep in the history before this publication, was a circle.  Years ago, a small breeze gathered, slipping between the trees and under the cracks of the door, circling with quiet efficiency, finally catching all the right elements, developing into a twister.  A circle that wanted me to keep quiet, combusted with a circle to talk out loud.  Puff.  It declared.  But a simple breeze can change the direction of the route and so it has.  I am out.  Stepmom.  Mom.  Wife.

And me.

As some of you may know, I like to cook.  This passion ignited a real joy of reading cook books and diving into luscious stories about food and eating.  It was through this process that I came upon some of the best instructions for my role as a stepmom.  In a recipe for yogurt pancakes the author instructed the cook to mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients.  The recipe was proceeded with this caution:  blend, but don’t over mix or it will be tough.  And, just like that, an epiphany.  This was the direction that I was silently being asked follow as a stepmom.  “…If you could just blend in…don’t over mix.  Don’t stand out in the group.  Don’t make yourself seen too much.  Blur with the colors of the crowd…”

Believe it or not, I am a private person.  So, blending without over mixing came easily for me at times.

But, while it is nice to blend in sometimes, over time it can feel restrictive. Pushing yourself away from even yourself.  And there must come a day when you do not simply blend in.  Or you lose you.  You will not be able to find yourself in the crowd.

Last Fall, I attended a retreat with She Writes Press in Scottsdale, Arizona.  On the first day of the retreat we all participated in an exercise driven by the following questions.  What is your nature advocate?  What descriptive words describe this natural phenomenon?  Who is your real-life advocate?  A person dead or alive who is your personal and genuine cheerleader?  What words would this advocate choose to describe you?  Nouns?  Adjectives?  Verbs?  The culmination of this exercise?  Your personal vision statement.

Always the diligent participant, I followed each direction with quiet seriousness.  What came out surprised me and stuck with me.  It was the beginning of the coincidences and themes to follow over the next few months.

My answers?

My nature advocate was a tree.  A tree is resilient and persevering.  It can stand alone or be at peace in the mix of many.  A tree changes with the season.  Adjusts to the temperatures.

My real-life advocate was me.

My words to describe myself were unorthodox, sensitive, shy, and a good friend.  Worth the effort.

In the months to follow, when words like belief and worthiness kept surfacing to confront me, a realization that I have always held, but had let slip away, surfaced once again.  It is up to me.  To find happiness, to be loved, to be worthy.  It comes from within.  It is my “gut” feeling.  If I can’t bring my own happiness, love myself and believe in my own worthiness, no one else is going to either.

I am alone.  And that is okay.  It does not mean that I don’t have great companions and people upon whom I rely.  I do.  They make the days better and my life fuller.

I rely on me but I am connected.  Some months ago, I was posed the question that perhaps my “knight in shining armor” had not lived up to my expectations.  But what that accuser does not understand is that I ride my own horse.  I am my own knight in beautiful multi-colored armor.  I ride side by side with many along the way.  I am also comfortable riding in the back watching the others take the lead.  Then, every once in awhile, I say “giddy up” and gallop ahead, knowing it is my time to see the horizon first and in my own unique way.

“Yippee kai yay!”

Standing up straight.  Looking you in the eye.  This is me.

I am the tree that can persevere and can stand alone and is worth the effort.

book of nature with grass and tree