Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Picture Box

On her way to her new home in Florida, my sister delivered a shoe box full of photographs, most of them recording my childhood beyond orphanage. Hours and hours of looking at them, I managed to sort and organize them into a sequence that made chronological sense. Along with black and whites of my brother and me, of kids on our street, of neighbors and friends, were numerous photos of my motherland her friends at Triumph Explosives where she made ammo for the Navy in WW 2. While she had put us in an orphanage, this new widow took on the challenge of the nation while earning a living for herself and her family. In every one of the many photos of her, she is smiling or laughing into the camera. She is clearly happy in her work. A woman with many stresses, still, she is not only making the best of her lot, she's happy doing it. My father died at the age of 32, leaving her with two kids and one coming. The war was on it's way and she had no income beyond a small life insurance policy. Serendipity? She and millions of other American women put down their lives to take up the pressing need of the nation. With whole towns emptied of able bodied men, women took up the war work. They proved their mettle, working long shifts and producing all the nation needed for the effort. For so many of them, this was heady freedom. Across the nation, young women sent their earnings home. My mother supported her siblings, paying their utility bills, their rents, their grocery bills. Not everybody was Rosie the Riveter. Making explosives was dangerous work. More than once my mother was blown across a building. some people died working with unstable gun powder. Daily life was a risk upon which she apparently thrived. I look at the smiling woman in the frame and experience a revelation. Caught up in her story of difficult challenges, she is smiling through, doing her best, making it work.I see where my own strengths have been shaped. I recognize her and myself in her. She has a spine of steel. While life is a challenge, it's also a blast. Mama never muddled through. She took life by the horns, leapt aboard and rode the experience to the ground. The downside, for her, was equivalent to the upside. Her very strengths made her tough and often hard. She forfeited any soft side she might have had. Soft was unaffordable. She kept the posture even when it was no longer needed. Each of us make our choices. Mama made hers. It is important now to understand the woman in the picture so to know her. Because all her choices helped shape me.

Incredibly bad format

The format sucks,for starters. There are very good reasons I don't use my blog often. Usually, when there is this much tinkering, folks are indicating they don't have enough to do. Continual redesign, or tinkering, to justify chronic change, discourages users to the enth degree. Having wasted an hour finding myself and figuring out how to access my account, I really have little interest in what I thought I had go say. Better things to do than aggravate myself here. Life is waaaaayyyy too short to be jerked around by google. When getting there takes longer than getting it said, I'm probably in the wrong place.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Another of the Five

John Spinneweber had no peers, was unique, a man of many talents in one category. John was a carpenter of rare abilities, builder, cabinet maker, master of all woods with a passion for cherry. I was new to my town, asked around, and was given his phone number, as I wanted a closet, planning to convert one of several extra bedrooms into a complete dressing area. He arrived one afternoon to look at the space and to discuss how to do it. Then he left. Just like that, leaving me with only his interest and energy. John was tall and lanky of some guessable age just a bit north of my own. He was balding, with a Clint Eastwood smile and similar mannerisms. About two weeks later he returned and asked to see the rest of the house. We had purchased this intact wonder with no idea of the Edwardian House and how to preserve it. Our expertise was the endless exposure of forty years of the eastern seaboard colonial house. This purchase was missing nothing. Complete with every single original chandelier, wall sconce, and magnificent wainscoting, curved walls, fireplaces, mind bending stabbed glass ala Tiffany,crystal etched door glass, windows with transoms, Brass everywhere, and English oak quarter sawn panels everywhere, we were living in an architectural wonder in nowhere land, a town open only to the native born, and their numbers were dwindling.This would be my home for ten years with little to amuse me but this brick pile. John was an answer to a call. But while he circled slot he wouldn't land. After the sixth visit, I asked if he actually wanted this job. He grinned and said he did, that he came so often to determine if we could work together. John knew what I did not: this was going to be a long term project, three years of hourly rate, time and materials, the most expensive way to contract for anything. we were babes in this woods. To his credit, John did not lick his chops.He built the required room and near the completion he announced he had figured out how to install an air conditioning system to cool our six thousand square feet. Given that we were well into the heat of the summer, our interest was certainly piqued. He went away, leaving us to think about it, and in short order we booked him for air. Gutting the master bath and the kitchen came next, all the while living in the mess, plaster in my teeth, coating my hair, and covering everything we owned. We were so deep in we were never going to get out. Money pit hardly defined it. Someone else resided the place, and John often sat within the sooty walls all day doing who knows what, but at lunch and breaks we became fast friends. He was as lonely as i was, but he was attracted only to my mind, so we talked for hours...on my clock...about politics and religion and his Life. John was a staunch Catholic,had lost his son, the light of his life, to a congenital heart condition when a very young man, and a daughter who was a Carmelite nun,complete with wimple, veil and robes. She came to the house to see her father's work, and to meet me. I knew enough to feel honored. I asked John what she wore when she was on vacation from her convent and at home with him. He looked puzzled, then said, "well,that!" what? Since she had given herself to God, he said, she was never again seen without her robes. What do you call her, John? "sister"' he said. No, what's her name? "sister" he repeated. John, when she was a baby what did you name her? "oh! Cathy"! John was generous, kind, intelligent and great company for me, and as interested in my house as I was. It was truly magnificent, and his skills guaranteed we would improve it with great care. He felt privileged to be permitted to do the work. In the three years it took, I was closer to him than most others in my life We had this incredible work in common. In our time together his wife died,ending a marriage more of duty than love. But he was frantic to find a new wife, never intending to leave his substantial money to the Catholic church. He chose the young crossing guard a block from my house because she had two sons. It was a loud shout about his losses. He wanted her sons to have His legacy and his money. John had never seen the ocean, never flew in an airplane, and the delight of his life was to dine at a major hotel in downtown Pittsburgh as the guest of one of the wealthy families in town, who then got the hotel manager to show him the basement, for John wanted to see the inner workings of the place. I miss him more than I care to admit. Generous and accommodating, he valued me in all my aspects, never once compromising me, careful to never cross the line, always preserving my honor. John was the perfect gentleman, completely under control of his religious beliefs, always aware of his personal responsibility to me and to himself. I mourned his losses with him, cheered his choice of bride and witnessed his new happiness, glad for him. We expanded each other. Taught each other, respected each other. Some time after we sold the house and moved away, John fell from a ladder and struck his head. He never regained consciousness. He would have been mortified. Embarrassed beyond belief to have made such a mistake as to misstep. I chuckle and shake my head, knowing. John was easy to love. He smiles that Eastwood smile in my head and I know that wherever he is, the place is brighter for his presence. He was a gift to me, and I learned to see parts of the world differently because of my time with him. He ranks high on my list of five, contributing to my growth and teaching me why wisdom and old fashioned propriety matters. I am a far better person for his friendship and his grace.

Monday, June 18, 2012

One of the Five

Sometimes when sleep won't come, someone arrives to fill the space. Last week such a one came bounding into my reverie full blown, and together we caroused across our memories for hours, in a dream state. His name was Christan Martin. I have been blessed with five incredible men in my life. One of the things they all have in common is to be loved equally well by both men and women. Everyone wants to be at the table with them, in their presence, breathing the same air. Each of them is a gift. these men connect at some mystical level with everyone they meet. We all want to live and die with them, to be in their company nonstop. They eclipse all others. Chris was a new pastor to our church. Firecracker, open, available, gifted. I was about twenty five, happily married and the mother of a four year old girl. Like so many others, mind melding with Chris was a given. When out of his office, he could be seen everywhere with a small boy atop his shoulders. His little boy desired only to be wherever his father was. Jet black hair knobby knees and stunning eyes, he looked closely at us all to try to see what his Dad was drawn to. The answer was so simple, so pure. Chris believed everyone who crossed his path, or whose path he crossed, was a gift from God to be discovered and enjoyed. In short, I think he sought God inside everyone. Wish I could say I learned from his example. I'm learning very late. Chris attended Franklin and Marshall College, and Harvard, and earned his divinity degree from Princeton while he was making his mark as a flyboy based in Hawaii and keeping the locals hopping in the company of Don Ho, of Tiny Bubbles fame. He was pursued by a quiet Yakima girl who bought a one way ticket to Hawaii. She was married to him for forty four years before his life here ended. She was an anchor to his crazy wild energy, so like that which my own husband of fifty three years is for me. Well. Someone has to hold those of our ilk to the earth, lest we go flying too close to the sun. Chris had the ability to let you know that because you are God's creation, you matter. He loved the idea of paying it forward, of the magnitude of the importance of loving, no holding back. He risked all the time, every moment. His was a seeking mind. He was a farm boy from Lancaster County, PA, an athlete and a scholar, but you had to discover that for yourself.You just wanted that thing he had, the self confidence to give himself away. After four years in the private sector, he joined the Air Force and served as chaplain for 40 plus years. Frequently decorated, all over the world and influencing so many, i kept up with him about twice a decade. He was one of those who just picked up the conversation where we left it. I saw him once more when on a hot summer night he appeared with his family , hauling me out of a night time swim. Finally, I located and called him in 2000, to find I was six months too late. Chris had died of a brain tumor. His fab kids took leave from their easy trick....and went with their parents on a world tour to see every last nook and corner Chris had wanted before heaven. At last when his ravaged brain wouldn't allow him balance, confining him, he marked out his remaining days like you'd expect. He remained engaged and involved in the last of his life. He knew his future. He'd soon be home with the Lord he loved, the One he shared, for whom he claimed As his Father.Chris believed we are here to love. To do it as best we can, to make the effort to do it freely. To tell each other NOW, when we are vibrant with life. Not when it won't matter anymore. Why do we wait? Tell someone you love now. I have learned many important lessons from my men. None is so important as this.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Treasure People

Oh, I have so many many! They email me, send me cards of encouragement and good cheer, lift me up to the very face of God for kisses, exhort me to victory and applaud every huddle I jump. I am blessed beyond belief, marveling that these people exist in my life. They have offered to dust my house, grocery shop for me, hold my head if sick, visit, take out my trash, teach me how to wear head scarves, wear scarves to keep me company. Who does that? Who? My relationship with these fab humans covers more than thirty years, and in hours of chemo have put themselves right in the chemo room in their emails to me in real time. When there is need, they drop everything and respond. In my hand is a worry stone. Black, smooth, reassuring and comforting, from a river of living water, found in a river bed on a hike a very long time ago. It resides in my pocket, or beneath my stroking fingers, a talisman of promise signifying the absolute constancy of permanence and shaping. Constant bathing by a cool clear stream for who knows how long, my fingers now apply their subtle pressure to make my mark upon that Permanence, and the stone, warming to my touch, returns the favor. This came in the mail: so do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:31. It came from a treasure person, one of those sustaining singers who shared herself and her faith in the mission purpose of my choir. It is no accident we are called Promise as we live out the promises of scripture. I love that assurance...worth more than many sparrows. I whisper to those little brown birds at my feeder and say I am worth more than all of you little guys! I know of whom I speak. This is my Lord, to whom I owe everything. His promises to me are money in the bank, life affirming and powerful. It is my source of courage. And it is bulwarked by the uncommon and consistent support of so many treasure people who step right in when I am shaky. When I falter. When the darkness whispers my name. They turn me around, reminding me that nothing has ever been said about my demise, even when I raised the question. To trust all those people who tell me with authority that survival is not only possible but assured. This cancer is curable. Cured. Pay the insurance price and reap the benefit. Six months of chemo and radiation? Kidding? Well, no. Do it. Do it bravely. Trusting. Take all those hands holding me up, hold tight to them. They know what they are about.How many ways can they be thanked? Give to receive. Walk along side. Hear the lesson. Take notes. We are bound together. We can look the other way, but believe me, we are still bound. It is about understanding what is in it for all of us. Any moment it can be you. Yeah. I thought I was home free, just because I have lived a long time, well past this kind of trouble. Wonder where that is written? Foolish in the extreme. We are bound together. No one is alone. No one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

God of the Universe hears my cry

Let me come right out with it: I am a Christian. Bold. Out loud, straight up, in love with my Lord kind of Christian. Crazy for God. Out of the box. Exuberantly, fully, no holds barred sold out for Him Christian. In His God aspect, God of everything God, He rolls down His God of the universe thunder voice across time and space and into me saying, "you are mine! Mine!mine!" no choices. I belong to this God. Like all else that He made, I am in the pile and valuable to Him. Not sort of. Not twentieth on the list. I matter to Him. He sacrificed His Son for me. Mind bending. In His Son aspect, as Jesus, only Son of God, He speaks to me of His Promises. Those He made to Israel, to His chosen, to His me. I claim them all. God gave me to Him. He is Master. Savior. King of Kings. Lord of all. Alpha.Omega. Beginning. End. Jesus, name above all names. I love Him like crazy. He loves me with a passion. With compassion. no holds barred. Love beyond explaining. Without reservation. Oh my goodness, without restraint. He is crazy about me! In His Holy Spirit aspect, He lives deep within me, speaks in holy whispers of intense love, guiding me, helping me, teaching me, motivating me and bonding me to Him. I love this aspect, need Him in this way, want to know Him more, and more until there is nothing else in my realm of existence. I seek Him out, day and night, and cannot get enough of Him,share him, sell Him, want everyone I know to know Him. He is my delight, my teacher, my companion, supporter, advocate, who knows what is required of me.Knows the purpose for me, the Reason I was made, and why God loves me. I love God because He loved me first. I can't resist love from this Being. Resting in that, so little else retains importance. But satisfying as this sounds, I find that staying close is my responsibility. I need to want to. The world gets in the way. Diverts me. I forget where my nourishment resides. God rarely imposes. He let's me wander away. Lost in the weeds. Out from under his wings. Playing in traffic. He knows exactly where I am. It's me who is lost. How prodigal. When I am lost enough, He sends out a call and I respond. He still knows my name. He brings me back on the sound of His voice. Reminds me where I belong. Beds me down and tucks me in. There is no greater love.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Life in the Cancer Lane

In the way of things, I have buried myself beneath the covers, amassed great books to read, like Be A Miracle, The Amateur, and The Harbinger.each keep me stepping, but not fast enough. Having felt really well after chemo, it is only that I didn't know the pace of the drill. the weekend was a wipe and by late afternoon today I am recovering from the flu-like misery that is the horned child of those chemicals that seek out any residual calls I might be harboring. Suffering is not becoming. It hurts. But I feel hungry so maybe I have passed this week's glitch. I have discovered I am held in the arms of incredible people who have taken me to their hearts, wrapped me in their arms and have stormed heaven with prayers for me. Humbling in the extreme, but I din't wish to blow it off as trite and unimportant. If you know my history, I am the product of unloved and unwanted, so this level of concern for my health and my recovery are way outside anything i have ever experienced. I marvel and pinch myself and what has happened is that I have had to see myself as these many see me: strong. Unbroken. Able. Winning. I'm trying to recognize myself within their framework of recognition of who they perceive me to be. It is permeating my chemo team, too, for they barely know me but have determined that i am up to this trial, able to stand straight within the blast of poisonous wind, to prevail. I pay attention, and closely, to the bald statement from my doctor that my body is free of cancer, that what we are doing is insurance against recurrence. A believer triumphs. So I march forward, bearing up, facing the day, demanding of my body the mundane: eat properly, eliminate, rest, meditate, laugh at the ridiculous, refuse the negative voice, keep a positive attitude for there is great reason to remain so. I am learning material I had no desire to know. But I stay focused where I do know treasure is: the cardinals on the deck, the gold finches in the trees, the thrush that sings to the morning sun, wakens me to the day and reminds me that along with them I am God's creature with her own voice, her own song, her own purpose. I am not my cancer. I am the same woman I was a year ago, or a month ago or a week ago. Life happens.what I do with my life defines me in the world. It is a gift to know who I have been in the eyes of my friends. In the world in which I function, I am a wife and mother, a grandmother, a good friend to many, a writer, an encourager, and with this part of my journey, one who will share the experience. I know myself to be blessed and cherished. Those are pacer bricks on a difficult road. The road is crowded and perilous. But I walk it held close on the path by these, my ardent supporters. Life in this lane requires my attention, but it is not all my life is about.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Life and lemonade

In the past two months life has been lived beneath the lemon tree. No cherries, grapes, or Bartletts. Only lemons. In this hiatus time I have learned things I never wanted to know about. Like cancer and how it grows. Like the difficult paths to it's defeat. Like how much courage it takes to walk fearless over hot coals in very bare feet. Like the unspoken fears that are horrific compared to the ones that are speakable. I never wanted to know a surgeon up close and so personal that he could lift a whole system up and out of my body. Like his incredible skill with a robotic scalpel. Who wants to know that on a personal level? Why is it essential to be intimate with a now unreliable bladder, and it's quirky failures on the way to surgical recovery? My journey has only begun and getting a good start out of the gate to health land required serious activity upon my body, from which I am still recovering, so that I can get to the really hard work of chemo which will include hair loss. Not maybe, or, we'll see, but definitely,definitely, and very soon after the first treatment. Omg. At my age I stupidly thought I'd gotten safely past this deep dark forest. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I am in very deep woods and for now the memoir is tabled, twitching there like some blob trying to hang on to it's importance. When some of this is under my belt, perhaps I can return to those chapters, get them edited and out to an agent or whatever we are to do now in the fragmented world of publishing. But that I have found my blog and marshaled my thoughts before the next siege, it is heartening, as even with chemo hard on my heels, I have found my thought process and determined that in the midst of this misery, I am alive and have every hope of wellness at the end of this cure. Not maybe. Definitely. And you who read this will walk with me and hopefully talk with me until one day in late November I will have this behind me. Hope is the beacon.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Life Gets In The Way

One can so easily forget the blog when life gets in the way. Between health issues and essay writing, it was easy to get sidetracked, pulled away from the memoir and get lost down primrose paths and dark bottomless holes.

I learned this week it is possible to write so much "show" that it can overshadow "tell"! I learned that polliwogs sing, that the night temps determine when they stop and start, and that Venus and Jupiter, hanging in the night sky all this month are good for another few days if the skies are clear. There is something mystical and magical about them. They have a presence, no doubt about it as they stand firm in the black velvet. Every clear evening sends me the front door where they make their appearance. I am bummed if it is overcast. Venus, because that planet is closer, dwarfs Jupiter which I know to be the largest planet, but so much farther away. astronomy is not my strong suit, nor is it much of my interest, but I am quite enamored of these two planets so visible this month.

The memoir suffers in the moment. Until my plate is cleared I can't concentrate on it. Polishing is done. Weaving is not. I mean to say I must do the work of making it flow so that you page turners will....turn the page! There is no doubt that the story is a gooder. No doubt that it is well told. No doubt that I have captured my mother, the eraser, negator, rubber out par excellence! But I have.... And memoir writing can get you there...discovered brokenness and pain in my antagonist that, had I understood her tragedies, I would have recovered sooner.perhaps we withhold our ability to see until we can bear seeing.

I can say, though, in my most frightened moments, I wanted my mother. But you see, I always wanted my mother. She did not want me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Post writers conference

Yikes. Cold, cold, cold! There I was in Arizona's high desert, wher the sun was brilliant and the blowing breeze was COLD! Got up to oh, maybe 50 during the day and down to 33 at night. Sitting around a blazing bonfire meant the front of me was steaming and the back of me was frigid. Getting there and back was arduous and ended here in a snow storm. But enough complaining.

There is nothing that a room full of writers can't overcome. The lectures were informative, the instructors were full of good stuff all writers need to know, and sharing ideas about how to do the deed were plentiful. There were a lot of poets this time, good poets who excel at their craft. What was lovely was the level of shared information by writers who have managed to be published...I am in awe...and what was devastating was the ongoing conversation about the pretty well broken publishing business, and how many countless avenues have been spawned. So many it's hard to figure where the fit is. Seems perhaps the correct road is to ePublish through Amazon, and a fave person also suggested iuniverse. When it is time, I'll do the wise thing and consult Jack Heffernan, a publisher available to us at conference and happy to advise any writer who asks. a number of writers there are published and willing to direct me to small presses, and apparently out there somewhere are still people who will pick upnthe marketing piece that is so daunting. I could focus forever and not get it right; my marketing skills are zero. I will need someone who will be good at that and worth their fee.

The whole idea of self publishing is daunting to me, and yet I think I see that for today's writer, that could be attractive. Someone suggested that I place at least sone parts of my memoir out here for others to read. That might make sense if I had a clue there was an audience. My reading a particular essay while at conference got a good reception. I might place it out here just to see what might happen.

It stuns me to see how this seems to work. A ballerina is expected to dance and do it dance well enough to attract an audience. She is not expected to produce the ballet, nor to design the set, or build the stage. She is to dance. That is what she does. You see my point. IT remains to be seen the direction I take. But for now, I will be resting up from a long trip of real distance, remembering the fun part of the workshop, and not the perils of today's travel.

Monday, February 27, 2012


This week I'll wend my way to the great southwest and try to pay attention in writers workshops and lectures, with other writers polishing their skills. The winter season has been kind this year and a lesser challenge than most winters here. Even so, I loathe being cold, so I look forward to sunshine and warmer air, with clear skies and starry nights. I'm currently experiencing a lot of pain, and know I'll be spending time with physicians when I return. I am a true wuss and generally neglect myself. Whatever is wrong lets me sleep through the night,so I have been able to postpone sleuthing with someone able to figure it out. Trekking airports won't be easy, though.

When I am over whatever this hump is, my intent is to throw myself at the memoir and complete it. A further goal is to send, send, send essays and excerpts to literary magazines to see if someone, anyone, will show interest in printing me. I find this part of writing tedious and defeating. Try as I might, I cannot get past some blind spot I seem to have about which publishers want personal essays, never mind that they say they do. I seem to be choosing wrong. and I can't figure out what I don't get. I see that in some cases what is printed is way, way out of my league. I can live with that, I get it. But there are some magazines printing stuff several cuts beneath mine. And they pass on me, too. I must just keep truckin'.

I suppose someday it will so clear that I won't be able to figure out what escaped me, but not now, Bud. Not. Now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Riding out discouragement

It is especially daunting to read the advice of an author who says what to do and not to do to get published. Among other things, she says din't write about abuse, everyone does, so publishers are put off, for such a subject is part of many repertoires. That author, of course, goes on to herald her memoir, published, of course because of her riveting experience of sexual abuse. WHAT???

The author goes on to tell me that publishers receive thousands of memoirs annually, because it is a popular genre, but that the market for them is weak, most are poorly written, not ready to publish, and that, if you are not some name recognizable celebrity, or that your story is unique, like perhaps you were hatched on Mars and wandered here on the wings of some petri dish contrived raptor, you really should forget it. WHAT??

This seems to be the message: writers love to write them, no one wants to read them. Hmmmm. How does that work?

There I am, brought up short, wondering why I'm bothering. There follows oodles of instructive tips to apply to my work that will probably never be read by anyone. editors to hire...irony there...why would I hire an editor to edit something no publisher would print unless I' know.

Look. I know that for publishers it is only and always one question: will this thing sell? That's reasonable. Practical. Smart. Who wants to print a loser? But how that coin toss works is what's under my microscope. It would help if I had been the child of a vampire. That's the current great hook, except I don't read about vampires, werewolves, trolls. I do read memoirs because generally they are about triumph and victory, uplifting and absorbing.

I recall that the auto industry was plagued by requests from drivers to reproduce convertibles. There was a huge deficit of convertibles for a very long time because auto makers believed there was no market for them, never mind all those demanders for same. finally, they listened and we have those fun cars again.

Is it the same with publishers? We get few memoirs because they have decided? Sane thing with petite size clothes. Or plus sizes. For decades tiny women and large women were offered only average sizes. Who in their right mind come up with this kind of"I've decided for you" who would refuse for so long to service those two markets? And pass up all that money?

Oh, don't get me entirely wrong. Publishing is dollar risky. I get that. Who wants to read about an abandoned child sprung from an orphanage to an angry jealous mother married to a broken soldier during a world war, who in that maelstrom of disillusionment of catastrophic size, still makes a world for herself with a funny little brother in a rural farm town, coming out the other side victorious? Never mind that the story Is compelling, absorbing, full of colorful characters who win their own wars, or lose.

I count myself fortunate. My story is filled with fab winners and dismal losers. it tells the story untold of the women who were not Rosie the Riveter, but built the war machine in other ways, making the bullets, the guns, the uniforms. in a Depression. In a world where all the men went away. Who would want to read about that, or about the aftermath when the factories and plants closed and those thousands of women put their aprons back on and cooked dinner Ad infinitum. Held their war shattered husbands in the long nights filled with their nightmares.

Who'd want to read about that? Seen through the eyes of a child, lost within her own unrecognizable family, it's just a memoir and we don't read those things. Oh, we watch the endless rekindling of the memories of those men who are finally talking about their war terrors. Men taught to be silent. Men relieving their pain. There is another story held by the women who waited, who made the explosives, who risked their lives unsung. My mother was one of them. Who'd want to read about that?

Never mind. Somewhere in the world there will be someone who sees the value of the story historically, emotionally, about how many ways we abandon each other with aplomb. About victory and triumph. Someone will want to read about that.

So here is my advice: believe in your own story. Tell it the best you can. Understand, when you've received your umpteenth rejection, it's not's business by a business knocked on it's ass by writers self publishing, by ebooks, by writers who are innovators, unwilling to accept pronouncements by on-high folks who used to know it all,but are currently as confused as you are. Remember Stephen King and Rowling, who do you think doesn't want to read them. Such monumental mistakes tells those who make pronouncements do not know it all. They are well intentioned people just like you and me, who live and die On their decisions.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tucson conference

I am so looking toward the third conference with Sheila Bender and Writing It Real. At my first conference I met a good number of repeaters and couldn't understand why. And then found myself wanting to return the second year. And now the third. No, we are not groupies. Not writers with nothing to do, without a real life, no longer connected to the real world. So why?

Writers stimulate writers. Writers are committed to their work and consequently to each other. Oh yes, a few have attitude about having been published and won't help with the details about how to get there. But they are few, and mostly we don't pester them to give up what they don't want to share. They are the minority. The rest of us encourage each other, show interest in each other's work, share the writing space, support each other and go out of our way to make new writers feel comfortable. After all, each of us was a new writer once. It's a fine sisterhood/brotherhood.

Nothing is so satisfying as giving a leg up to someone new so they participate at a level whereby they at least get their money's worth, and hopefully make fast friends. I plan to come home with a new friend or two.

The current essay class with Sheila, and the new class n how to target magazines interested in my genre and writing style, with Rita Robinson are keeping me stimulated and exposed to other writers. It's fun and I gain so much, sharpening my skills and networking and making new friends.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cracking the Code

One never knows when the quantum leap will happen. Writing memoir is more an evolving and a revealing than a recording of what is known.

As I sat before a fire, listening to it's hiss and whisper in the grate, I mused with my husband about our respective childhoods. He was the tag-on boy following two boys, when he should have been the longed for girl. That might have been workable, but then, the girl finally came, and now who could he be except discarded? older bros united together and shut him out. Sister became her mother's only recognized child, a menopause baby,to worn out parents.

Some of his issues are my own. Over afternoon drinks....a beer for him, a scotch for me, we looked at what went on with my mother as I pushed my stylus across the keyboard of my iPad. We mused as we watched the birds gobbling at the feeders in the fast falling snow. We got right to it and wondered at the end of the afternoon why we had missed what we actually knew all these years.

Mama was always enamored of bad boys. ornery, she called them. Not really bad, just well, ornery! Good boys, good children bored her. No excitement, no stimulation. This syndrome would resurface with my half sister, decades later, when she refused to date guys who kept a schedule, excelled at their studies, treated her well. They bored her.

My younger brother was a rule breaker. He walked the ridges, balanced on the edges of law breaking, knowing naturally where the safe place was and where the dangerous. He almost never got caught at his flaunting, hardly ever got tagged. She loved the daring, the risk taking, the exhilaration of "getting away with".

She encouraged it. She was blatant. I, on the other hand, was seen by her as a goody two shoes with never an infraction of the rules, always towing the line, hoping for approval. My very goodness intimidated her. She thought I was actually above her. She understood herself to be "bad" and therefore, common. She never dreamed I thought myself superior. I was breaking my neck to win approval, and getting marked down for it.

I knew viscerally that Mom was enamored of her "bad boy". She made no secret of her amusement at his infractions,and she openly resented my accomplishments, small or large. Something about my achievements made her feel inferior. So never was I rewarded.

So it was that one day forty years later, after visiting my parents, impromptu, I packed my belongings for the seven hour drive home. They didn't even say good bye. Halfway home, I pulled off the turnpike sobbing like some captive in the London Tower. out of control, heart breaking, I was face to face with the reality that absolutely nothing would open this door of rejection of me. My very presence was a challenge, an affront, a reality filled with too much pain for my mother. I would have to simply stop trying. To forfeit her. Such sick jealousy was irrational and insurmountable. I could not be less than I was.

It took me a few decades to process this, to understand the kind of parent who rewards the "bad" kid and punishes the "good" child. not that my brother or I saw ourselves in such categories. Each of us were simply following our instincts. Bobby fascinated her. I threatened her. Simple. But not.

As we sat, my husband and I, looking at this epiphany, we recognized in my mother her poor picture of herself, and how vulnerable she was, and how deprived, herself, of approval and applause. She too lacked the recognition of her value, of her own contribution of value. She couldn't get past her own guilt over placing each of her children in an orphanage, thereby reinforcing her own bad opinion of herself. And she knew she was playing favorites, unable to help herself.

I recognize readily the mechanism here. The gift of recognition necessarily means I better understand myself. The purpose of memoir is to translate this kind of grief and loss to victory and triumph, and ultimately validates the whole point of writing this memoir in the first place.

Memoirists are telling their own story to themselves, not as catharsis, but as revelation. We share it because we know our story is not ours alone. We seek that aha moment for the reader in the hope that they, too, can come to terms with their brokenness, and begin to heal.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The memoir lives and breathes and keeps me up nights

One month gone already, of 2012. Are we closer to the end of the world? If so, why am I writing? Maybe I should write an excerpt here, ya think? Still working well in Sheila Bender's essay class and submitted Buckaroo, a less than 1000 words about the cowboy playtime of my brother and I. Two kids out from under the regimented management of play in an orphanage suddenly had the run if the whole town, and somehow cowboys and Indians must be in our DNA universally.

I'm at the Place where all writers know, finally, that they are nearly finished, and now polish, slash and burn, cutting, cutting, cutting, tightening, chopping, throwing away perfectly good words for the sake of the piece, hoping not to toss the good parts instead of the bad parts and by this point, how do we know?

Writing mother without making it her memoir but knowing she is the true maker of all my foibles....oh yeah, always blame the mommy...NOT....but we can't pretend otherwise about her, and so she is a giant in my book. And not in a good way. I spend much time on my iPad pages dropping my thoughts about her there, so as not to Lose them. She was, baldly, a piece of work.but I'm on vacay from her. I'm strongly into story arc, framing, ordering chapters and on my way to piecing together the pieces parts for flow. For readability, for pace.

I must say here that while I know I have one helluva story, I was not prepared for the quality I have to tell it. It still surprises me that from somewhere deep inside me, some part of me is telling this story. it's not even asking permission.

Actually that part of me is telling me my own story, a fascinating and stirring mechanism I find surprising and rather engaging. While it is very hard to describe negation, but not my feelings about it, getting the reality
on the page would not happen if the thing were not writing itself.The erasure of a child's presence is a subtle thing, a cumulative message, beginning as a suspicion, something a suspecting child has difficulty defining. She knows it is happening but isn't sure how,has trouble naming it and can hardly admit to herself her mother hates the very sight of her just because she exists.

Looking inward is currently a full time job, but temporary, and not permanent. Thank goodness. I hear that even when finished, a book takes two years to get into print. Unbelievable. Truly.just getting a response to a short submission can take a half year, though not always. What else moves this slowly?

The salvation of this potentially depressing story are the many chapters of pure entertainment about living daily life with my little brother, with whom I was joined at the hip. Mother's delight whose perpetual safety was my permanent assignment. We were a pair in our love for this funny, creative little boy. Yes, I had/have other siblings, but my dailyness was lived with just this one, through thick and thin, after orphanage time.

Jerry, older brother, spent ten years in institutions. I spent nearly five. My little brother did a year and a half away from mother. So our stories are necessarily dissimilar. Told together, the emerging picture of a mother who put her kids away is a challenge. The difficulties and disillusions of this woman combined to bring a world of negation on our heads.

Given freedom at last, two kids made a life outside our home, away from the toxins of highly dysfunctional and unhappy parents cheated by the world War and their losses because of it.

Mama was a boom boom, not about the boom boom room, a cheap and tawdry description of call girls and, what, the halls of Congress, did I hear? No. Mama made explosive munitions for the Navy in time of war. Boom-boom. The plants blew up several times. She nearly died more than once. The whole war story about the neglect of women and their role in the war effort has been sadly ignored, but not in my memoir. Staying with her in the barracks at Triumph explosives allows me to describe this part of her life. And to tell the story of this nation at war and after, from her point of view.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Writing to myself:the curse of blogging

Could be I am the only person in the world. Could be I am the only person in the world writing to myself. Could be what I have to say is not what anyone wants to read/share/hear/think on. Is it about a truth, or about preference? And do I really care?

It's not that I need or want a following;that would impose a responsibility to...respond and i admit to skimpiness where other blogs are concerned. I actually still talk on the phone. Texting, emailing, and blogging are a bit dry for me. I want an inflective voice. I want laughter. Snickering. Chuffs and glottal stops. I want sighs, interruptions, whispered secrets. Epithets. I want more than the sound of my own voice. I want connection. I want to know by a response that I was heard. I have concluded that this medium is really for talking to oneself. That works for me. I work out lots of stuff here, like dancing with no clothes on, not aproblem because no one is watching. rumination, venting, chin wags, bitching, rants, a dash of memoir, i'mcobtent.

I respond to only a few blogs, one blogger blogs several times a day! I can hardly remember to get about this task, maybe twice a month,and no matter how I insist I will do better, I adjust not motivated. I could write about contest failure. I could write here what I send that fails. I could provide info on so much that I have discovered, if only I thought there was a reader. Nah. Even if I had a reader, I'd not do that. What would be the point?

Who cares about my chicken noodle soup dinner, my long term attempt to pass the damned kidney stone...with meager but definite progress...the sharp little edge that hangs it up released after much agony, so the thing that must surely be bigger than my head is much closer to the lumen it needs to slip through. I am blessed with tiny, full body lumens, discovered long ago at a nasty surgery. So while hope springs eternal, perseverance is waning, though a good tot of scotch brings singular relief. Not a good excuse to go around blotto, though, is it?

Could write about a marriage older than Methuselah, but even I would not read it. Or a out the rigors of holding down a job at the age of 73, understanding that so many of us are still plugged in to production even if we are weary however stimulated or challenged. It is keeping us young. Says so in the very fine print, that with which we have no longer the vision to read, hence how we are suckered.

To those of you who swear you read, breathe loudly so I believe you!

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Plans

I rarely make New Year resolutions, and this year will be no different. But I do have to rethink some things. This should be the year I get the memoir out the door and off to a publisher. I feel pressed for time in this, an urgency of sorts to do it while I can. The need to know whether or not this thing is marketable is paramount.

While I have enjoyed rediscovering the core things about my life that have shaped the current me, I also have had to come to terms with things festering across a lifetime without knowing why. Now I know. It has changed my outlook, and forced introspection about what I do and don't want my life to be, and how to sort it. What to prioritize and what to discard. What to work on and what to send to the GoodWill station of my life as no longer necessary or useful or fitting. Memoir has become a workable means to make these decisions and some of them are painful. Others will be rewarding.

Looking back on the past year, I see accomplishments I recognize as worthwhile, and achieved where I doubted I could. And I see abject failure in some arenas even while trying my best. On balance, both have made a major contribution to my life, and for that I am grateful. Growth is, I think, always less than exhilarating, but achievable.

I'll spend less this year on the craft of writing. That's good advice from several corners: stop being student and start being writer. That concept alone will push confidence into the writing equation. I'll try harder to get something, anything, published, though it is still only the mechanics, the "How-to" that prevents me. I write constantly and enjoy what I write, happy with the result, and with the feedback, nt finding rejection too daunting. But I'm still not in print. One can hone and hone and hone, polish and polish, but I think it is paramount to get a grip on knowing when a thing is at its maximum best and then run it out there for better or worse.

My self editing skills have taken a quantum leap in this past year, so my eye is better. Slash and burn has become a fine skill and still I can look back on a piece weeks later and say, "get those words out of that sentence!" and wonder how I missed that. But at least now, I see. Over-writing is vastly improved and summary is decreasing. For me, that's progress. Still having trouble seeing the need for more dialogue, and when I miss it, adding it in seemes contrived and forced. Deep now into the mechanics of making what I've written readable, I find I enjoy approaching my own work as if it is that of someone else. I think that's progress.

I finally, after yessing and no-ing, in and out of it, hand wringing and cursing, decided not to go to Turkey for a highly desired writing conference. I need to spend those dollars with a developmental editor with an eye to finding an agent. The past two years have been as unkind to me financially as they have been to most everybody. I detest picking and choosing, but already going to Tucson for same, Turkey, while a lovely place to visit, would be just another writing place for me. But I heartily recommend it for those who are going, and still wistfully wish it was me, too. Not everything is in the cards, you see.

To those few of you who drop in here periodically, Happy New Year. Having finished four courses and now countless essay classes, I have gleaned from every dollar I have spent an enormous amount of applicable information. I regret none of it. But the goal now is to apply all that learned knowledge and really write a good story really well. Now to get to it!