it’s the best story pitch, the best, everyone thinks so

Press releases! As an arts writer for the Times Union, I get a million of them a day. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. I get 796,321 of them a day, of which I manage to read only 239,547, principally because 431,446 of them get quarantined and classified as spam. And so, inevitably, stuff gets missed. Whenever a publicist asks sheepishly if I mind being approached a second time with a reminder email or a phone call, I reply OH GOD YES PLEASE ALWAYS I BEG OF YOU THANK YOU BLESS YOU. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!, I always add, laughing. They laugh, too. But this is dead serious business, trying to get a journalist’s attention.

Thus it was with unchecked dread, pitched anxiety and no small sense of cosmic ironic payback that I composed a press release pimping myself out for interviews. The reason: A story I told for “The Moth” is being published in a new collection coming in March. Plenty of other (MUCH, MUCH, MUCH BIGGER) names are also included in the collection, including Tig Nataro, Louis CK and John Turturro, and any self-respecting reporter or editor in his or her right mind would naturally seek out an interview with any of those people before ringing up some random regional-arts-writer-cum-suicide-memoirist (AND WHAT A FUN COMBO THAT IS) based in Smalbany, New York.

But what the heck, right? Maybe I could drum up a few more sales for my book (INSERT SHAMELESS LINK TO ‘FIGURING SHIT OUT’ AMAZON PAGE RIGHTY HERE). I mean, maybe not;  the thing was published more than two years ago, which might as well be 2,000 in the literary cosmos. (“Hi, would you like a copy of my recent book? The Emperor Tiberius loved it!”) But, ya know. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

So here goes. With no further ado, I present my first-ever stab at a press release. (And, yes. I sent it.)

Greetings, journalist! I’m one, too, so I know how this works: The chance of your responding to a cold email hovers somewhere between 2 and 5 percent. The chance of your actually writing a story on the topic being pitched is roughly .08 percent. That said. . .  

 I’m an author and speaker on suicide loss. I’m also one of the 45 folks whose stories for “The Moth Radio Hour” were selected for a new collection coming March 21 from Crown ArchetypeThe Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown. The link:
My story, “The Weight of a Ring,” tells of my navigation through widowhood following the 2011 suicide of my husband, author Christopher D Ringwald. If you’re curious, and you have 11 minutes and 11 seconds to spare, it’s right here:
If you have a little more time on your hands (not too much more — it’s short), I’d be happy to send you a copy of my book, Figuring Shit Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide and Survival, released in 2014 by Behler Publications. It tells of the rough year following Chris’s death, and it’s a fast, raw read, full of MAJOR EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS IN ALL CAPS and plentiful foul language. That link:
And now, to reward you for making it this far, I present several more links: 
*My blog, which also features MAJOR EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS IN ALL CAPS and occasional foul language:
*My TEDx talk, “You’re Still Here: Living After Suicide,” in which I repeatedly exhale loudly:
*An interview with me in Widows & Widowers magazine, in which I discuss the term “shit magnet”:
*My author’s bio:
*Some links to my current work as an arts writer and columnist for the Times Union in Albany, NY:
*Some links from my former life as a Hearst movie critic:
*Finally, the Amazon page for my late husband, who wrote authoritative, erudite, poetic books on faith and addiction:
Aaaaaand that’s about it. If you’re interested in my book, just let me know, and I’ll mail or email you one at warp speed. I am also available for interviews, be they short and sweet or long and prolix. I am capable of either.  
Thank you for reading my email to the end! We both survived! Good luck clearing the thickets of your inbox, and may you have a lovely day. 
Best regards,
Amy Biancolli 



a fresh layer of joy

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the awesome wedding cake topper (designed by the awesome bride)

Last night, on what would have been Chris’s 58th birthday, our youngest nephew married his sweetheart. They made their promises, swapped their rings, danced to a Randy Newman song under swirling disco lights, laughed and kissed and beamed before a ballroom full of people awed by love.

A fresh blanket of joy now lies across a date so thickly layered with gratitude and grief. I thank heaven Chris was born. I wish to that same heaven he hadn’t died. It’s that simple. That complicated. But a new thickness now overlays the older, crustier strata, and it’s softer than the others. It warms me. Watching my nephew and his new wife work the room, flushed from love and dancing, reminded me — all of us, at this and every wedding — that yes, life surprises and prevails, and no, we’re not delusional to believe in it. We’re only human.

Or would you prefer a more edible metaphor? Layers of creamy wedding goodness, a sweet fluff of bliss to top them all? Oh, why not. I’ll bite. Pass the cake.

facing the slope

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“Ames,” says my brother Danny, somewhere near the windy top of Killington. “I want you to ski this black diamond with moguls. I’ll show you how to do it. You’ll be fine.”

You want to me to ski a black diamond with moguls, I repeat back. You’ll show me how to do it. I’ll be fine.

“You’ll be fine.”


It’s around 3:30 Saturday afternoon, we’ve been skiing all day on sucky icy lumpy conditions, and I’m wrecked. Every joint and muscle and piece of bone in my body hurts, including the tips of my pinkies. A few hours earlier I wiped out trying to turn on a lump of wet, ungroomed crap passing for snow, so I’m not in the best shape for any kind of black diamond, be it accessorized with moguls or not.

But Danny’s insistent. And he’s smiling. And he’s my brother. And I haven’t died so far today, so I’m on a streak of good fortune. Continue reading

to do or not to do a not-to-do list

Each and every day, I make a list. Much of this covers basic shit likely to land on anyone’s list: go shopping, pay bills, call friends, make doctors’ appointments, blah biddy blah biddy blah. Some of this is more specific and idiosyncratic: Most people’s lists don’t include a reminder to re-work the fingerings on “Georgia on My Mind” in time for a violin lesson, for example.

The lists are long. Since Chris died, they’ve gotten longer, as the carefully delegated jobs defining every marriage went kablooey with his suicide, dumping piles of exciting new shit on me and me alone. Car shit: mine. Lawn care and pruning shit: shit: mine. Fixing-shit-around-the-house shit: mine.

At first, I made these lists with fullest, proudest, perfectest, stupidest confidence that I would scratch off all or most of the items on them. I did not. This realization, over time, began to depress me until I had a minor (really, really, minor) epiphany and understood that these itemized scraps of paper I labor over each morning are not, in fact, to-do lists. Instead they are not-to-do-lists: lists that I am confident I will ignore. Writing them each day with this fullest, proudest, perfectest confidence liberates me, because I no longer have to feel crappy about my failures to do everything — or even anything — there itemized.

This is all part of my constant effort to lower the bar, which also includes my nightly moral checklist (did I kill anyone?); my most common parental directive (“don’t break your neck”); and my radically enlightened philosophy of housecleaning. Early on in my efforts at F.S.O., I recognized that most of the S. I felt compelled to F.O. wasn’t as pressing as I first thought; if I never figured out an easy way to unroll and haul and wrangle the area rugs into place every winter, which Chris always did and Chris always loved and mattered so dearly to Chris, that was okay. I was allowed to keep them unrolled and unhauled. I was allowed to keep the floors bare year-round. I was allowed to not-do whatever I needed to not-do to get by.

At some point, I may decide to evade my chores without bothering to enumerate them. If I’m all about lowering the bar, and make no mistake, I am, just ask my children, then why devise a list at all? Why not just wake up every day saying, “Screw it. I don’t care what I forget. I’ll forget EVERYTHING! Take that, burdens and responsibilities and self-appointed tasks! Take that, day!”

I’ll tell you why: because it gives me a sense of control. If I scribble “Buy mop heads” and “practice Schradieck” and “call Aunt Charlotte” in Sharpie on the back of a balled-up Stewart’s receipt, then I have, first of all, a wafer-thin but nonetheless improved chance of actually accomplishing these things. But more than that, I have one small whit of power during one small moment over one small particle of my life. For the 38 seconds it takes me to compile my not-to-do-list, I have a sense of order.

Until, sometime around lunchtime, when I lose it — and then, in search of that same sense of order, I make another.

the expanding universe

This Christmas, as usual, my kids and I joined Chris’s family for a day of eating and laughing followed by yet more eating and yet more laughing, with breaks in between for energetic gift-giving and weak passes at digestion. While he was alive, I considered them the best in-laws anyone could ask for: caring, attentive, generous, never intrusive, always warm. After he died, they conveyed to me, in gestures and words, that my husband’s death was not an end to my bond with his family. In the midst of all that hurt, I was profoundly grateful to realize that I hadn’t lost them, too.

My universe can’t shrink any more than it has to. I want it to expand. And strangely, despite all the losses, it continues to. This is how it functions. This is its inclination, flinging outward from a central moment — the Big Bang, or the moment of creation, or whatever you want to call the giant cosmic spewing that kicked it (and us) into gear.

I happen to believe that a Someone set it off, but even if I didn’t, I’d still take comfort in the knowledge that, no matter what interplanetary flotsam we encounter, we’re forever moving forward. Even when our lives contract so grievously after a loss, they’re still expanding. Even when we seem to have derailed entirely, skidding off toward some forbidding landscape, we’re still going somewhere. Old relationships deepen and change. New friendships form. New family arrives in unexpected and miraculous ways.

It was Chris who remarked, “Amy, for someone whose family is dead, you have a lot of relatives.” He made this remark about 15 years ago, but I’ve recalled it often these past two, whenever I found myself in the welcoming embrace of his siblings, their spouses, their sons. Soon we’ll be seeing my extended and splendiferous non-blood family, the loved ones I acquired as a kid. How my universe expanded when I met them. How it expanded again when I married Chris.

And now, two of his nephews — my nephews — are getting married. I would say their fiancees are about to become members of the family, but they already are. They’re already eating and laughing and gift-giving. It was some of their food I went on to digest last night; if baked s’more cookies and lemon bars can’t seal the deal, nothing will. As the universe expands, so does my stomach.


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Heading into the attic storage room to rummage around for Christmas ornaments, I noticed this sign hanging above the door. My late husband and I salvaged it from an old vacuum-cleaner box at my mother’s house after she died, and we had it framed. It was too retro not to save, and too cute, and reminded us too much of my mother’s approach to housecleaning, which was not to do any. 

I always notice this sign, because I’m always heading into the attic storage room to rummage around for something or other, be it a pair of hockey skates or a DVD of William Shatner’s “Alexander the Great” TV-movie that he made in 1964, when he was really young and really hot and I was 1 year old and not yet infatuated with him. I am no longer, but I still possess weird Shatneriana and ephemera.

I possess many things, weird and not. I wish I didn’t. I don’t actually like things; they weigh on me like an obligation, requiring regular maintenance and necessary organizational skills that, unlike my things, I do not possess. Chris was good at owning things, knew what to do with them, how to take care of them, where to store them, how to retrieve them, how to use them, how to put them back afterward. I suspect he was always like that, but an early career in carpentry and construction honed his ability to retain and organize objects. His basement workshop was a miracle of tool-coordinating feng shui, and after he died it was months before I could bring myself to disrupt their order and give some of them away.

I have no such order to disrupt. When I write, my mind is organized, but that’s about it, folks. In all other contexts and all other ways, I’m a slob. Not a major one: no greasy pizza boxes anywhere. Just a minor one. And a recovering slob: 20 years of marriage to a neatnik brought me some self-awareness of my own chaotic and confused inclinations and, even more important, taught me to be vigilant in combating them. I work at it. Sort of. Kinda depends on your definition of “work.” If it means keeping the public parts of the house more or less passable and the private ones private, that’s me. But if, by “work,” you mean “vacuuming the curtains” or “scouring out the grot with a nail file,” or “polishing the silverware with my tongue,” then, umm, no. I don’t do that. But I do sweep and clean dishes occasionally.

Since Chris died, I’ve managed to purge a lot of things. Not just his things; all things. I need fewer of them, because I’m a terrible and neglectful caretaker, and because I have so little time to spend on anything that doesn’t matter. Things don’t. I’m reminded of my mother, whose life changed and time shrank after my father — who was 56 when I was born — began to go senile, forcing her to care for him and her children while earning a paycheck. At the end of the day, she never had much stuff left in her for cleaning: I never saw her scouring out the grot with a nail file, either. She did her best, and her best included a laissez-faire attitude that allowed her scrappy younger child to throw baseballs against the house and, in the process, shatter every other window on the first floor. “It’s only a thing,” she’d say, and then cover the broken glass with a sheet of plywood.

Touch no dirt. Breathe no dirt. See no dirt. The way I gauge it, I can achieve these three exalted states of being by applying myself full-time to household scrubbing. Or I can do as my mother did and just make do — picking at this stack of clutter, straightening that one, sweeping away the dirt as it accrues. I clear out the cobwebs. I haul things to the curb. Onward.

the fat keister of time

Tonight I would like to express my displeasure with time. It’s shifty and stubborn. Sometimes there’s too much of it. Sometimes there’s not enough. No, not sometimes. Always there’s too much of it. Always there’s not enough. Time is fulsome in its brevity, always present, never passing too quickly to suit us, and when it does pass, the absence of whatever was here before seems outrageous. It’s madness. An affront to our sense of self and our urge to control things. We don’t want time to go anywhere, and then we do want it go — quickly, tout suite, right now, boss-man — but when, after all of that lazing around, it finally gets off its big blobby tuckus and itches to move on, we bitch and moan in protest. Time! What the hell, dude! Stick around! But there it goes.

Chris’ time here came and went. Now I’ve had more than two years without him. They passed. Without him. Life accumulated. Without him. And when I make the mistake of looking too far ahead, I see a gelatinous, shuddering ass-mass of time — 20 years? 30 years? 40? — and I begin to panic. It’s too much, so I look back; and then, for a time, I stay there. Until that becomes too much, too.

If only we could freeze and un-freeze memories, fast forward and rewind scenes — like Adam Sandler in that peculiar tragedy of contemporary disquietude, “Click.” That was an odd movie. But I felt it. I understood it. Time flies not when you’re having fun but when you’re distracted and ungrateful, when you’re not paying hard enough attention to all the many graces before you.

They were before me when Chris was alive. Did I pay attention then? I hope to God I did. They’re before me still. Do I pay attention now? I hope to God I do. My oldest daughter, Madeleine, came home today for Thanksgiving, and the noisy joy of eating take-out with my three children in the kitchen gave me a moment out of time to notice — and to treasure.

I am woman, give me the jumper cables

jeanne - textsSee this flurry of extremely alarmed texts at left? They came from my daughter, and they interrupted my breakfast in Vermont this morning with my son and assorted members of my splendiferous non-blood family. (These are the folks who took over the business of being related to me after my parents and sister died in the early 90s. It’s a long story. I’ll explain it in full at some point, but for now, if you’re feeling up to it, and if you’re already sick of reading this post, you can hop on over to my column about them in the Times Union.)

In the middle of this, I got that thing at the left, a wild and hurried display of pronounced adolescent panic based on A) the realization that the Matrix was dead meat in the driveway and B) the worry that Mom Would Be Really REALLY Super Pissed. But Mom wasn’t Really REALLY Super Pissed. Mom wasn’t Pissed at all. However, Mom was in Vermont, and both the car and daughter in question were in Albany, and so Mom , be she Pissed With Qualifiers or Not Pissed At All, couldn’t do a damned flapdoodling thing about it. Not yet, anyway. Continue reading

Hi, blogging! How are ya!

So here I am. Blogging. Or rather, blog. ging. About shit! What?! Have I lost my mind? No, my people. I have not lost my mind. Instead I have gained a pair, or so I’ve recently been told.

This is what happened. I wrote a book. I’m not saying I succeeded, but I tried to write a very good book, and I’m using “very” as a qualifier despite the fact that it’s an exceedingly weak, puffy, flaccid, useless and gratuitous adverb that should be summarily ejected from the English language. Off with its head! But only after I’ve used it to promote my (so far) unpublished manuscript. Continue reading