Friday, December 14, 2012

Time to take a hike

Am taking a break. Not sure for how long. Need time to sort out the words.
I have a deadline to meet so that is coming first for now. Check back from time to time because who knows, I like to write, and because it's all about me and I like to write all about me, this break may last as long as the lifetime of a fruit-fly.
Time to step outside my own mind and explore. Got my water bottle, a new Rand McNally, a compass and a pad and pencil; see ya on the other side of the hill.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A rerun of ...It's the one

This is a rerun of a post from last May. Same question, same answer. After's still a little creepy.

 “Did you ever come to a fork in the road? What did you do?”

A few days ago this was a question asked by Betsy Lerner, writer, literary agent, wife and mother, on her blog;,  a ‘must read’ for anyone who considers themselves a writer. I posted an answer that day, and a couple of comments, which were relevant but did not touch on one incident in my life which, when I think about it, or tell the story, sends shivers up my writer’s spine.

This is a true story. I mean really, it would not fly as fiction. No one would believe me and I would feel foolish coming up with the premise. So, here it is, for anyone who is interested, my fork in the road, ‘ah-ha’ moment, message from my mother and wink from God. And what did I do? I paid attention. How could I not?

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, house clean, laundry done, husband playing golf, time for a nap on the couch in my bedroom. I turned on the TV, nothing like a little Connecticut Public Television to lull me to sleep. Perfect, a special about the life and career of Mark Twain. I figured I’d be nodding off in two minutes. Problem - the program was interesting. I got into it.

Seems that after Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote Huckleberry Finn he set the story aside. Five years later, after a few trips up and down the Mississippi, he decided to revisit Huck. The rest is publishing history; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn became an iconic American classic.

When the TV program came to an end, (it was part one of a two-parter), I was disappointed. I really wanted to see part two. Scrolling the program line-up, not there, I checked on-line to see when it would air, no luck. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Since I had spent an hour watching TV during my fifteen minute power-nap, and was no longer in the mood to nod off, I was at a loss as to what to do with the rest of my afternoon?

I distinctly remember thinking, if Mark Twain could breathe life into a five year old manuscript he had set aside, maybe I could do the same with mine, not that my novel would be anywhere close to an iconic American classic. I mean, about the only thing I have in common with Twain is that we both lived in Connecticut.

But, I missed writing. Life and all its responsibilities had convinced me that writing was a selfish act; as if the actual process, separating me from family and friends, fed some sort of singular needy-dream. Back then, life was a time of making memories for my children. I wanted them to remember my presence with them, not apart, writing essays about them. But my novel, a story about a young woman embracing change, and brave enough to step forward and dance alone in the unknown, was a good one and the writing not bad. Many of the experiences I drew on were personal, perhaps too personal, (a pitfall for first time novelists), so submitting and being rejected, might hurt a little too much; reason enough to let it sleep.  Rejection is a skin-toughener for writers. My hide was thick and I longed to write again.

In my office, at the back of a bottom file drawer was my 80,000 word first attempt at women’s fiction. In the mood to write, and inspired by Twain, I opened the file drawer. Here’s where things got a little weird.

Lying flat across the tops of the files was a colorful folder. I knew what was in it, a collection of tear-sheets my mother had saved of all my published essays and articles. I found it among her things when I cleaned out her house after she died. Maybe I’ll read a few of my successes, I thought, to inspire me to work on my book. Sitting on the floor I opened the file.

The first piece in the folder was the entire front page of the commentary section of the Hartford Courant, a local daily newspaper. Usually my mother cut the articles out and dated them but not this time, the only time, she had saved the entire first page. Down the right side of the page was an article I had written eight years before, shortly after 9/11, regarding the suffering American economy. In the center, above the fold, was a picture of Mark Twain. Yes, Mark Twain. I gasped, I actually gasped. Down the left side of the page was an article outlining and reviewing the two part CPTV program about him I had just watched only minutes before.

There I was, sitting on the floor, forgetting to breathe and stunned by circumstance. The presence of my mother in the room was as real to me as the air I was forgetting to breath. Gasping again I touched the picture, the sign. What was I being told?

I don’t believe in coincidences, I believe in messages and that my mother was standing over me. Was she telling me to get back to writing, any writing, or was she telling me to, work on your book honey, it’s good enough, it’s the one?

“I hear you mom,” I said out loud, “I get your message.” I started to cry.

I’ve done numerous rewrites on that book, am very proud of my effort and still love the characters and the story. Everyone who has read it loves it and has told me, ‘it’s the one’. It's not my only work, there's much more to my writing list now, but that I can’t get anyone in publishing to read my first-fiction love is disappointing but not a surprise. I keep thinking that eventually, if I just keep at it, continue to query, and to research better choices, the right agent and the right publisher will get my mother’s message, or a wink from God, and make To Walk Among Strangers a path chosen at the fork in their road.

Or... maybe someday, after I am gone, one of my daughters will be sitting on the floor of my office going through my things, and she will be wondering about signs and messages. Perhaps she'll come upon a colorful folder filled with what moved me enough to write or my manuscript and she'll remember how long and hard I held onto my dream. I will be standing over her, whispering a message, read it honey, I’ll say, it’s the one, it’s the one.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Speaking the silent voice

Sometimes I don’t want to write, sometimes I can’t wait to pour my mind onto the page and sometimes I have to write just to prove to myself I can.

When inside my head the voice begins to speak I listen to her tone, I listen to the rhythm of what she is trying to say because I know how important it is for her to speak. From broken hearts to broken dreams, from pleasure to pain, she tells me everything. Sometimes she expresses herself in fits and starts until the words flow like her emotions. When during live conversations, her voice gets drowned out by my own, trouble starts; she can’t go back and edit to make it perfect, to say just the right thing. She has to be very careful and pick her words, hope I hear, or just wing-it and pray for the best.

The voice without sound which speaks to me, to speak to you, is a female voice. It is as if another person is trapped inside of me, a smarter woman, a woman who struggles for me to interpret the importance of her thoughts. She is a wiser person, this silent partner within, calmer and more patient then I. That she wants so badly to be heard fills me with purpose.

So I wonder, this woman with the voice I hear at this very moment, has she lived before? Is she struggling to get out or simply vying to be heard? Sometimes, I wonder who she is, where is she from. If she really isn’t me, than who was she, who is she, and how long will her voice sing inside my mind?
Who speaks the silent voice you hear so clearly from the depths of your stillness?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Kitchen clean-up...a follow-up to my previous post

Years ago after dinner, my mother and father decided to go for a walk. It was my job to clear the table and fill the dishwasher. Being a typical kid I did the barest minimum regarding clean-up. That particular night I decided to make the kitchen shine. Scrambling from task to task I cleaned that kitchen as if a white gloved Army Sargent was showing up for inspection. (She was.) I worked fast because I wanted to please my mother. Job done…it was perfect. I was so proud.

When they came back from their walk I was on the couch watching TV, proud as all get-out by what I had accomplished. Walking into the kitchen my mother went ballistic. In my haste to clean perfectly I had missed wiping clean a one square foot section of counter-top to the left of the stove. It was the first thing my mother saw when she entered the kitchen. 

“Can’t you do anything right, you are so lazy, all I ask is one thing, get your ass off the couch and finish the job…scream, scream, scream.” When I pointed out how perfect the rest of the room was she turned and stormed out of the kitchen. I was beyond hurt. I had tried my best to please her and all I did was piss her off. I was a failure in the eyes of the person I wanted to impress with my efforts. 

That day I learned that even if you think it’s perfect, it’s not, and that sometimes the people you admire most are the ones who focus on the one square foot of crumbs rather than the rest of the gleaming kitchen.

It’s too bad my mother focused on the crumbs. It’s too bad that out of my entire childhood and relationship with her I focus on the crumbs, I am after all her daughter. At least now, with my own family and the people I deal with each day, I try to look past the crumbs and search for gleam. But as has been pointed out to me on numerous occasions I’m not perfect, no one is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The dust bunny process of writing

In my head there is a thought, sometimes it’s something which leaves me breathless with anticipation and sometimes it is as quiet as the gentle drip from a faucet in the middle of the night. The barely audible faucet sound is often the most annoying because it is constant, until it flows from my mind to the ends of my fingers onto the keyboard.

It is amazing to me how symbols form communicated thought and how one person’s silent written communication can move, impress, stir or ire another. Without a single sound the symbols can shout, sing, laugh and whisper from first Cap to period. Being able to sooth or anger using those symbols adds responsibility to our communication.

In my field, when promoted to management, my boss told me to treat all employees like children. She didn’t mean they were children, she meant that when you peel away the grown-up actions of another adult you are really left with the simplistic behaviors of a child, therefore act accordingly. I was not to treat them as if they were ‘my’ child but ‘a’ child. The aim of a parent is to love, to teach and to guide. Dealing with adults at work involves teaching and guiding, love has nothing to do with it, respect does. I didn’t care if they liked me, I just wanted them to do their job and at the end of the day I hoped the folks could say their day at work was worth the effort. The whole ‘child’ thing was about how I was to interact. Not yell, not castigate, not in any way be abrasive or harsh because almost all of them wanted to do a good job, wanted to be rewarded, valued, wanted to be respected for their efforts, not rebuked for their errors.

In my business I have always dealt with district and regional managers. The good ones compliment first, and bring to attention corrections which must be made, later. The SOB’s lambast the first dust bunny and no matter what they say later about how beautiful the place looks or is managed, or how successful we are, that first negative sets the tone.

I do not act negatively toward people, it accomplishes nothing, it hurts feelings, dashes the positive state of mind formed from effort and most of all it stinks, is immature and hurtful. Even if the person I am dealing with is downright stupid, it is not my job to knock the stupidity out of them, it is my job, as a fellow human being, to be respectful of what they are trying to do.  

When language is your business, you must be able to communicate in a way which leaves the listener or reader in a better place. If negative emotions are overwriting, you are a failure at what you are doing because your message will be lost with the dust bunny.

I have, a few times, when threatened for example, stepped outside of my self-imposed boundary and lit-in. On those occasions I usually won, I’m good at it.  But other times, when threat had nothing to do with the situation and all I wanted to do was be rid of the asshole and make a point, I’d win again because I am very good at that; my mother taught me. Winning meant the asshole would never bother me again. That’s what I wanted, that’s what I got. 

It never dawned on me that someday, a person I respected and looked up to would consider me the asshole they wanted to be rid of. And if that was not their intention, they failed miserably at using their language, which is holy in this business of writing.  And to think they do this all the time is sad really, and I feel sorry for them. How could someone want to do this on a regular basis?
At work today I heard the gentle thud of the drip. Once in a while I became distracted but eventually the rhythm of it reached a tipping point and flowed from my mind onto the keys.

In the beginning this started as a thought, now it ends as a promise. I’m just not sure what that promise is quite yet. When I figure it out I’ll let you know. Until then:

Negative is so the reverse of the real picture.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A storm last summer

Last summer my husband and I were parked at the beach. We go there often after dinner; it’s a peaceful time when the beach isn’t crowded and the heat of the day blends with the breezes off the Sound. With the tide exceptionally low we watched as birds searched the flats for food and dawdling beach goers lingered during the calm of the pleasant evening. Within a few minutes of our arrival the peacefulness of the evening took an ominous turn. In the distance behind us we could hear rumbles of thunder and from inside the car I could see in the side mirror the pattern of lightening approaching from the northwest.

I was amazed by how many people continued to walk in the water or along the beach as the storm approached. Hearing some voice concern did not rattle the few who continued their evening stroll along the beach. A van pulled up next to us. The two people in the van I assumed were father and daughter. She was adorable; perhaps nine or ten with long dark hair. As she stepped out of the van a rumble of thunder and flash of lightening frightened her. I was a little surprised they didn’t get back in their vehicle but the father, obviously clueless to the hazards of standing on the beach while a storm approached, walked with his little girl down the sidewalk away from us.

As I often do during thunderstorms I related to my husband for the hundredth time my experience when I witnessed my uncle and another person being struck by lightning. We were in Rockland, Maine, I was twenty-three at the time and we were all inside an enclosed building when it happened. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. My uncle and the other man survived, but outside on the breakwater in Penobscot Sound, which we could see from inside the building, a father and his little boy were struck and killed by the lightning.

The storm at the beach rolled toward us, the sky darkened and thunder shuttered over us in earnest. While continuing to watch the lightening in my side mirror, I heard a child whining. Glancing away from the mirror, the father and his little girl slowly walked in front of our car. She was the one whining, trying to smooth her long hair down. It was standing straight up on end.

“Look at her hair,” I said to my husband.
“I see it."
“Get in your truck!” I shouted from my open window. She looked at me as if I had just yelled fire. I screamed at her. “Get in your truck now!” She ran for the van, climbed in and slammed the door; like saucers, her eyes were wide with fear; then a flash, and almost immediately, thunder shook our car.

Looking at me, the father now between our car and his van, smiled. I thought it odd. How could he so calmly smile at a strange woman who had just yelled at his little girl?

“It’s dangerous,” I said to him, “to be out in the storm.” The women in the car on the other side of us looked at me as if I just threatened the pair with an Uzi. Continuing to smile I realized the man hadn’t understood a word I'd said. Even if he didn’t understand English he should have heard the urgency in my voice, I had just scared the shit out of kid for Christ sake. She was now crying. All of this was happening while the thunder and lightning intensified. He finally climbed into his van. We left the beach along with about half the other cars.

To say my husband was upset puts it mildly. He believed I over-reacted. My knee-jerk reaction to her hair standing on end meant she was in imminent danger of being struck. I believed the last sign, and perhaps the only sign, someone gets is a tingling and static sensation, like hair standing on end, as the charge of the lightning bolt searches for a ground.

Did I scare the girl, absolutely? What plays over in my mind is if I had remained silent; knowing what was happening and saying nothing, she might have been struck right there in front of us.

Did I save her life, perhaps, I will never know but what I do know is that if it were to happen again I’d probably react exactly the same way.

Is scaring a kid to safety right?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Singing in the lane

After a co-worker and I worked a particularly difficult day we hung around for a few minutes talking, or rather bonding, over the significance of our efforts, or insignificance depending on which side of the paycheck you’re on. That’s when she admitted something quite personal about herself, something she said she has always hesitated to share with others. Since I’m not shy about sharing information, especially someone else’s, I’ll just come right out and reveal…she sings in the car. Not only does she sing but when she’s on a long road-trip and plays car tag, you know, passing and being passed as the miles pile on, she stops singing if the same car goes by, she doesn’t want the total strangers she will never see again, see her as back-up for Madonna or Celine.

I laughed, not because it was funny but because I used to do exactly the same thing. That was way back when AM was standard and FM an option; I was the fifth Beatle. Now… not so much; NPR does not inspire auto-dueting.

Our after work conversation went from…since you revealed something…it’s now my turn. I talk to myself, in my car.

Because I write I sometimes practice dialog, opening sentences or log lines. If a particular phrase seems stilted I speak it out loud until it sounds just right. But…here’s the interesting and kind of weird part, sometimes, I’m interviewed. On the way to work the ladies of The View might be asking the questions and on the way home, Diane Sawyer or Anderson Cooper. Yes, I actually practice questions and answers. Why?

I am comfortable talking in front of ten people or ten thousand; I was interviewed by Martha MacCallum on Fox News once, national studio in NYC, (they sent a limo for my five minutes of Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame), so amend that comfort level to millions. It really doesn’t make me nervous, if I am prepared.

Years ago I was invited to be the guest speaker for a group of writers in New London. Even though I had garnered some small success I didn’t have a clue what they’d ask or what I’d answer. So I practiced my speech alone, in the car on the way to work and on the way home, until I felt comfortable with my presentation and with answering just about any question I thought they would come up with. One afternoon, as I was stopped at light, jabbering on and on,  I looked at the car stopped in front of me, it was one of those big old station wagons with a third bench-seat seat facing backwards. Three young boys were staring at me while I was being interviewed by Walter Cronkite. I went mute, embarrassed by those three little boys staring at the whacked-woman flapping her gums in the car behind them. (This was before cell phones and Bluetooth because it looks like everybody is talking to themselves now.) One of the young boys pointed his index finger at his temple and drew small quick-circles, the universal sign for, “lady you are crazy”.

Glancing into the back seat of my car, I pretended to talk to a child in a car-seat; an action in its self which qualified me for the funny farm.

Now, I don’t care who sees me being interviewed by Morley Safer; they’ll just think I’m on the phone.

The next morning when I went to work my co-worker asked me, “So, on the way in this morning you were interviewed by...”

“Oprah,” I said, “and you sang with…”

“Aretha,” she said.