I’ll have what she’s having

Nora1Fun fact: Nora Ephron and I share the same birthday.

I first experienced Ms. Ephron with her film “Heartburn” in 1986, based on her semi-autobiographical book by the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Although, I confess, at the time, I was struck more by the credit music by Carly Simon, prompting me to buy one more of her albums just so I could listen to “Coming Around Again” again and again.

I had seen “Silkwood” with Meryl Streep and Cher (1983). Then came Nora’s “Sleepless in Seattle” (’93), “You’ve Got Mail” (’98), “Julie and Julia” (’09), and a score of others interspersed throughout those years.  But, for me, the definitive “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) is the best of her films, and is still arguably one of the most sincere and realistic films about friendships between men and women ever produced, not to mention just all-out fall-down funny and touching and real.  One of my all-time favorite movies, period.  That movie, that point in time, is when Nora Ephron really hit my radar.

But it wasn’t until mid-July this year when I finally sat down with a book by Nora.  I was trying to understand this form of writing I stumbled upon — and apparently have been doing — for over a year.  The week before we left for a long-weekend trip to northern Michigan, I Googled “personal essay writers” and was hit with list upon list and more lists and “next pages” of lists.  I wanted a woman’s perspective.  So naturally, it was Nora Ephron.

I was at Barnes and Noble for over an hour in the small, hidden-in-the-back, out of the way “Essays” section (I didn’t even know there was such a section until then; did you?).

With a lot to do before the trip, I decided I’d wait to read my chosen coursework until we were “officially” on the trip.  Which means, once we get on the road or to the airport.  Mostly because at that point, there is nothing else I can do to get myself/child/partner/pets/house/car in order.  In this instance, we had decided to fly since it was just T and me; and, because in the previous five weeks, between the two of us, we had already made the driving trek to Michigan five times (various business trips intermingled with family visits), with one more to go (our summer family vacation; and no, we don’t normally get to spend so much time in our home state.  It’s just worked out that way this summer).  So with great anticipation, I cracked the spine on my primer when we arrived at our gate.

I Feel Bad About My Neck is the book I chose to begin my education.  And it was a post-doc level course.

Nora2I laughed so hard and out loud on the plane reading it, I think T was actually pretending not to know me for the entirety of the flight.

When we landed, I reluctantly put the book away for later.  We were there for reasons other than relaxation, and it wasn’t until bedtime that I had an opportunity to extract the book from my carry on.  While T finished up some work on his laptop, I lay in bed, laughing; folding over page corners for reliving later; thinking “me too!” more times than I could count; and wondering how in the world this woman had exactly the right words in exactly the right order to recount periods in her life with such exquisite perspective.

I sighed when I finished — much like after a wonderful meal that fills you, not only with food, but with gratitude that you had a seat at that particular table.

“I may as well just stop writing now,” I said to T.

“What?”

“I will never write like Nora Ephron,” I said.

“Well maybe it’s something to strive for,” he replied.

“No, you don’t understand,” I replied earnestly.  “I will never write like Nora Ephron.”

At that point, he decided to just nod vaguely in agreement and leave me pondering this slim volume of wonderment.  (He’s a wise man.)

I decided to do a little background research on my new-found teacher, and that’s when I discovered I have the same birthday as Nora Ephron.  That must be some cosmic sign she is to be my muse, right?  (Of course, there are lots of other people who were born on that day in May.  Including one of my ex’s much younger girlfriends.  Some people think I must be offended by that in some way.  Not really.  I had that birthday first.)  I was on a first-name basis with Nora by then, so it was an OMG moment for certain.  I posted it on Facebook.  I tweeted on Twitter.  I shouted it to my family (“Who?” said my teen).  Ok, I was getting carried away.  I can see that now.

But it’s NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON!  And she’s one of the most brilliant writers ever, whether it’s for print or movies — geez, she could write directions for an oil change and it would be awesome.

Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events,” she wrote.  As the song goes, “I know nothing stays the same…”

And yet she still believed strongly that “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”  Hell to the yes!

At the same time I was voraciously reading Nora’s essays, I picked up a copy of a book T’s mom had told me about regarding the history of the feminist movement.  This happened to coincide with Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first woman to head an election ticket by a major party.  AND, guess who was quoted throughout the book?  Nora.

Nora3So how timely and apropo was my discovery of Ms. Ephron?  From needing some direction as to my writing future to commentary on women in politics, Nora came into my life at just the right time.

Nora would have been 75 this last birthday of ours.  But the world lost her marvelous voice in June of 2012, to stupid leukemia.  I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do regret not having discovered this remarkable woman earlier.  I would have written a letter to her, in the most fan-girl of ways, saying all these things I’ve learned with help from her.

In retrospect, however, I do believe I came across Nora Ephron exactly when I should have.  Any sooner, I may have just chuckled and moved on.  In that time period, from when she left us to my discovering her on that bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, I have changed in so many ways — I think for the better.  Nora has given me so many master-classes in not just writing, but in how to look at the world through a different lens; finding humor in places I didn’t know I could; accepting myself fully for who I am in every way; looking back through the history of the Women’s Movement and learning things I never even guessed at growing up in the 70s.

NoraI know nothing stays the same, but it’s ok, she assures me.  Because if things don’t change, we’re actually all the worse for it.  So the changes I’ve weathered, the changes I invited, the changes I made willingly and excitedly, even the ones I didn’t — they’ve all made me who I am now, and have led me to discover my writing anew and shown me where I can fit in to the literary world.

Thank you, Nora.  I needed that.

 

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Originally published on August 25, 2015.  As apropo now as ever…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Admit it: you sang the title just now, didn’t you.

I love my son.  Let’s just be clear on that.

But by the time mid-August rolls around, I’ve decided I love the beginning of the school year almost as much.

Dad with cartThose office supply commercials capture the essence perfectly, don’t you think?  From the parent gaily coasting along the aisle on the back of a shopping cart, to the sad, pitiful children, standing by, watching as their Dad effectively loses his mind from pure relief that summer vacation is nearly over.

Dad and kidsIsn’t it great?

Our kids don’t understand.  They won’t — unless and until they become parents themselves.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent or a parent working outside the home: by the time summer is well underway, you find yourself going through the calendar (many, many times) counting the number of days until the bell rings.

I love our family vacations when we’re able to get away.  But they’re FAMILY vacations — we ALL get to relax (more or less) then.  The kid may be “on vacation” from school the rest of the time, but the adults here are back to work.  Trying to keep another person busy and entertained is another whole job unto itself.  Forget about getting anything else actually accomplished.

Even a teen — old enough to dress and feed himself, but apparently not old enough to understand that 12 hours in front of a screen probably isn’t the healthiest way to go — surrenders to the idea that brains are on hiatus over the summer.  I’m tired of taking away gadget privileges for spending every waking hour with them.  When does self-policing kick in?  Age 30?

No matter how many times I tell my son “It’s good to be bored once in a while,” he doesn’t believe me.  In this age of instant access to all sorts of information and entertainment, being bored is akin to the spinny circle of death on a computer screen (cue the screaming and agonizing and gnashing of teeth).

I’ve come to the conclusion that I look forward to the beginning of the new school year because then I have other adults (ie, teachers and coaches) on board with me keeping the kid’s brain from turning to mush.  We get back to a SCHEDULE where EVERYONE (even the teenager) knows what is expected and when (even if he claims the contrary).

mom jumping for joyBut I think it’s mostly this:  even more important than my teen having a schedule is ME having a schedule:  I know exactly how much time I have before the “I’m hungry/there’s nothing in the house to eat/can I watch TV/where’s my iPad charger/why do I have to take the garbage out/my room IS clean/I have too much homework” griping begins.  I know exactly how much I can get done during the school hours, and I know how I need to structure my day and my work schedule to take advantage of the optimum quiet time BTA (Before Teen Arrives).  Even when I worked outside the house in an office miles away, I was besieged by telephone calls and texts once 3:12pm rolled around — the moment he walked in the door from the bus stop.

Even when I leave lists of chores to be finished by dinner time, I still hear “I’m bored” once in a while.  At those times, I’ll “save” my work and put the computer to sleep, and sit down with my teen child.  Sometimes that plaintive tone best suited for a 6-year-old comes through in the 16-year-old.  I’m not sure, but I think that’s more “Mom, I need you.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he seems happier when we’ve sat together and talked about his day, or avoided talking about his day all together.  I can pick up on the cues enough to know when he wants to skip a certain subject.  Sometimes I’ll fix us a light snack as he sits at the kitchen counter, talking; me asking questions along the way, sometimes he asks the questions.  It can be 10 minutes or half an hour.  But somewhere along the line, these breaks have become very important to both of us.  I can see his shoulders relax, he smiles more quickly, and becomes animated while telling me about what happened during chem lab or at the lunch table that day.

Sometimes, when the snack is finished and we’ve talked about everything we want to at that time, a “sigh” will escape.  That’s usually me.  Z will look at me and smile, give me a hug, and go back upstairs or downstairs (depending on mood) to work on the “too much” homework.  I’ll go back to my computer and open the most recent project.  We both work until it’s time for dinner.  At that point, we’ve settled back into our day and managed (usually) to accomplish something, and we feel good.  The laughter comes easy, sharing the rest of our day is fun, and it’s a pleasure for all of us to be back in the same room together.

There is actual research to support the idea that when people spend a portion of their day apart, coming back together is far more pleasurable.  Maybe that’s why summer break doesn’t always feel like a vacation:  maybe there’s too much togetherness.  No apart time.  Everyone knows what everyone else is doing all day.  There’s not much to talk about then.

futileSo come on, First Day of School!  Hurry up and get here!  I really, REALLY want to appreciate the absence of my teenager!

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

A great agony… and other things about writing

image“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
~ Maya Angelou

Between writing from the heart, writing what’s on my mind, dreaming about writing, writing to be heard, writing writing writing writing; having an idea I want to pursue and not being near my computer or smart phone, nor pen and paper, and being set upon by madness until I can write down the idea…. that is the greatest agony for writers, truly. “Bearing the untold story” that Dr. Angelou talks about is why I started my blog.

Now, the reasons why writers hold those stories are as different as why we ultimately decide to tell those stories.  My reasons are pretty straightforward: I wanted another way to connect to the world.  I wanted to share my experiences as a kind of salve to anyone thinking they were alone because of certain feelings or circumstances (or was it the other way ’round?); and, I wanted to evoke the “me too!” reaction that always brings me joy when I am gifted with it.

I’ve learned certain things about myself, and my writing, over the last year and a half.  Writing (nearly) every day will do that to you.  So will attending a writing conference or retreat.  And it’s a mixed bag, some good observations as well as some not-so-pretty; and some that were difficult to admit, and others that surprised me.

In no particular order, what I’ve learned about myself through writing:

…as in speaking, I’m long-winded.

…I probably use the em-dash (—) far too often.

…I have a strong voice.

…I have a need to dwell on the positive.

…I can turn almost anything on its end and make it funny.

…my favorite comments from readers are the ones where they tell me they felt as though we just finished having coffee, or wine, over conversation in person.

…that I have a long way to go in being able to write a good novel.Nora

…that nearly every one of my blog entries is actually a personal essay.

…that I will never write like Nora Ephron.

…that personal essays are a genre that doesn’t enjoy the same cache as novels, or poetry, or short stories.  But it should.  Because, NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON!

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~ Nora Ephron

A personal essay, as near as I can explain it, is about a specific point in time in the writer’s life that illustrates a timeless idea or point to the reader.  Typically written in first person (“I”), the writer is describing a personal experience, examining it, and sharing their observations about the experience in terms to relate to you, the reader.

That said, it almost seems as though essays would be dry things, and not a very interesting way to spend time reading, let alone writing.  But I disagree!  Author Ariel Levy says, “…writing an essay is like catching a wave…crafting a piece of writing around an idea you think is worthwhile — an idea you suspect is an insight — requires real audacity.  It is an act of daring.”

Wow.  I’m audacious and daring!  If I think too much on that, though, I get a little queasy, so let’s go somewhere else…

It is, indeed, like catching a wave when an idea comes along. It’s not as though it taps you on the shoulder and waits around.  Sometimes it seems as though it’s more like a ticker tape running through my head at the bottom of the screen of other more prominent thoughts, ideas, to-do lists, and images.  Once in a while, one of the “ticks” will catch my full attention as it enters my internal screen view, and everything else suddenly switches to the background as I focus on that tidbit of information.  If I’m lucky, it turns out to be fodder for an entire column — or as I’m beginning to think of them, an essay.

Occasionally, it turns out there wasn’t really anything there, but I’ll file the idea away (in writing, because heaven knows I can’t remember a damn thing unless I write it down).  It might turn into something more substantial later.

Writing these weekly essays has been a means for me to get ideas down; the ideas I want to share.  It’s also allowed me to play with them, try different things, and different forms.  All of this experimentation has led me to realizing the list at the beginning.  A list of some of my strengths and some of my weaknesses.  This, in turn, gives me yet another list of things to work on.

But most importantly — at this time, anyway — it allows me to see not only what I’ve done right, but also how far I’ve come.  Taking stock like this lets me see myself from a different angle…. and who doesn’t need that once in a while?

It’s my way of conducting a writing reality check.

Perhaps that is why I write, whether it’s essays, or stories; fiction or not.  I’m conducting a reality check for myself:  is this or that idea common?  Is this storyline interesting enough to share?  Does anybody want to read any of it?  Wait, what do you mean I’ll never write like Nora Ephron?

As time continues to tick along the continuum, I certainly hope I continue to evolve and that my writing does, too.  I suppose if it stops, then it’s time to move on to something else.  But I’m bearing a lot of untold stories, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be writing for a while.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

Standing on this precipice

Dear Z,

Wasn’t I just writing about your 16th birthday?

Somehow, a whole year full of ups and downs and ins and outs and every-which-ways has passed, and I now find myself writing as you turn 17.

Seventeen, more than any age, looks like a precipice.  You have obtained that driving license; you’ve visited colleges; you’ve taken the ACT, the SAT, and you worked hard to bring up an already stellar GPA; you’ve traveled abroad; you are in the midst of your first “serious” relationship; and you’re about to be a high school senior.  All of these experiences, and more, have led you to this cliff’s edge.

But don’t be alarmed!  This cliff is offering you a unique perspective on where you’ve been and the infinite ways to go from here!  On this path you’ve seen the best and the worst of people.  Now you know what to look for.  On this path, you have seen beauty unparalleled, and ugliness you hope never to see again.  Now you know what to look for.  This path has been smooth and bumpy along the way (for both of us); and you’ve learned the smoothest path isn’t always the wisest; but sometimes it’s ok to “coast” and put down your burdens for a while, too.

You’ve seen first-hand what integrity really means, and I see you striving to live up to that idea.  I’ve seen you rage against injustice, and I pray it won’t harden you.  Watching your sense of humor develop has been a trip and a half, and I hope it serves you well in all your years ahead (it’s a super-power we share).  Your passion for learning inspires me every single day, and I’m so excited to see you spread those wings you’ve been testing…

…and jump.

Yes, jump.  Get a running start and leap off this cliff, spread those wings, and see where and how far they take you.

This time, unlike others, you’ll be doing it by yourself.

I’ll be watching from the cliff, always.  Sometimes holding my breath, other times cheering wildly.  I’ll desperately want to jump to follow you when I see an ill wind coming your way, but I won’t.  I will be here, when you need me to be.  I will be here to throw you a rope if you need one.  And my home will always be yours, even when you have a place of your own.  Anywhere my heart is, you are already there.

There are so many people in this world who love you ~ some you’ve never even met.  And there are even more who will grow to love you from this point on.  These are people I may never meet, but I hope you’ll tell me about them.  And I hope you cherish them.  Cherish the hell out of the people who cherish you, ok?  Keep your heart open, but guard it.  Because that, my child, is your greatest asset, your greatest gift.  It is what will keep you aloft.  Your very great big heart.

I have been so incredibly lucky to give you part of my heart, and be given a piece of yours in return ~ that is what has kept me on the wing all these years together.

Fly, be free to continue your journey to be anything and everything.  In the meantime, remember: I love you mostest.  You are my greatest treasure.    Always and forever.

~ Mamadrawn heart

 

A room of my own

a roomI have a place of my own.

Well, my own until someone comes to visit overnight, then I have to share.

Our “guest room” is now “Dana’s office,” and went from an electric lemon yellow (honest to god, I swear the color vibrated on the walls at times) to a cool, clear turquoise — what I call my “power color.”

The trim is a fresh, bright white, and the ceiling got a fresh coat of ceiling white as well.  I moved all of my favorite turquoise-y items in after Z helped me put together my new desk, and helped carry up from downstairs the bookshelf and little armoire I’m using for my printer, files, and other items.  It works for a small office space by going vertical with storage instead of horizontal.  The new white blinds arrived yesterday, and my birthday-present-artwork-print from my favorite guys is matted, framed, and now on the wall over my desk.

I posted the transformation on my personal Facebook page, including “before” pictures.  As soon as I put up the finished pictures, “likes” began pinging in faster than I could click to see who was admiring my new space!  Overwhelmingly, my writing friends were the most excited.  They know the trials of trying to create at the dining room table or the kitchen bar: always being in the middle of the household happenings is not conducive to writing or editing, or accomplishing anything in a timely manner; nor is it helpful to the brain when it’s in “concentration mode.”

T has been suggesting the change for a while.  I wasn’t convinced.  I still like to give friends and family their own space when they come to visit.  T’s point was that I work most days; but we have visitors, at most, once a month, for a few days.  Why not make the room serve the purpose it would have MOST of the time.

I’m still not certain why I balked at it.  He made perfect sense.  And it would also allow the dining room table to revert to it’s original intended purpose: a family dining surface (wow!).

When at the writing retreat a few weeks ago (has it really been that long???), our keynote speaker made a point of saying “It’s imperative to have a writing area, a space of your own.”  Several other authors reiterated the importance of that point throughout the week.  When they said it, I took it to heart and began thinking of the guest room more in terms of “my office.”

Why?  It’s certainly not that I don’t value T’s opinion.  Was I looking for validation from others who practice my craft?  No, I don’t think so.

deskI have to go back and think about my original purpose of attending the retreat: I was looking for tools to help me become the best writer I can be… the chance to talk with other writers about the path they walk every day and compare notes about what works and what doesn’t… When more than a few said a work space of their own was instrumental to their own success, I believe that may have capped the decision for me.

So I had T’s blessing to turn a room in our home into space for me; testaments from “real” authors; and, a picture in my head of exactly how I wanted this space to look, but even more important was how I wanted it to feel.

I had my local paint store color-match my favorite writing journal book for the perfect turquoise.  My son (apparently devoid of the dreaded difficult teenage hormones at the time) agreed to scrape off the old wallpaper border (I’m telling you, a spray bottle with warm water and half a cap full of fabric softener is MAGIC!).  Add my favorite painter, and in one day I had my vision of the perfect room to work in!  We waited overnight before moving the furniture back in, and when it was all settled, I sat at my desk and sighed. This feels RIGHT.

The cats, Murphy and Miss Coco seem to think so as well, because they’re in here every time I am.  Miss Coco likes the upholstered chair in the corner across from my desk; Murph-man likes that he can sit in the windows now and look down into the yard — the old blinds were broken and didn’t go up, so the windows were perpetually “closed” in here for cat business.

If things get too noisy or busy up here, I can just close the door. What  a concept!!  I can play MY music.  Or not, and work in silence.  I can turn on the fan and have a constant cool breeze ruffling my hair.  Or not.  It is my space.  Until someone comes to visit, I am in control of this 10 x 10 space.

I’m amazed at the way I’ve come to think about my work space (both external and internal).  Knowing everything is already set up and ready for me, waiting, is exhilarating and very freeing!  I can get right to work as soon as I sit down.

libraryI don’t know whether it’s the color surrounding me, the fact that I do have a space to call my own, or both, but I feel energized every time I walk in this beautiful room; and when I leave it, I can’t wait to get back to it.  It’s been a long time coming, but now I can say honestly “I love going to work!”

Until next Friday, friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

 

 

Of cabbages and kings…and physics and turtles

Originally published on October 9, 2015.  The dream has made an appearance again….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Everyone has one.

cloud and moonA recurring dream — or nightmare — that always catches you unaware when it sneaks up on you at night.

One of mine made a surprise appearance a few nights ago, but with a twist.  This one falls into the category of “Being Back in School Taking a Test for Which You Are in No Way Prepared.”  Variations on this theme, for me, include:  “Back in School Performing in a Musical Where I Don’t Know/Can’t Remember the Words,” “Can’t Remember My Locker Combination,” and “Don’t Even Know Where My Locker Is.”

This time around, I knew exactly what triggered this replay:  I’ve started a brand new project, something I’ve never done before.  I’m certainly qualified, but nonetheless, it’s still a bit daunting.  Cue the subconscious questioning my abilities.

This dream/nightmare was slightly different, in that I actually remember things from the “test” I was taking, specifically in the form of the Extra Credit question.  I normally don’t remember a thing about taking the actual tests in my dreams.

For some unknown reason, this time around I “needed” to take a Physics class as an adult.  I have no idea why.  I never took another college science class after biology — I didn’t need to for the degree I pursued.  Never took Physics in high school, either.

formulaeI suspect the subject was on my mind because that’s what my son is thinking of as his college major.  Astrophysics to be exact.  We’ve been doing a lot of research on schools, and have just finished arranging several visits during October and November this year to different universities.  I’m actually in awe of him for his grasp of the subject and depth of understanding, not to mention just plain interest.  Math and science are sooooooo not my things.  I’m more of a humanities person.  Anyway, college and science have been taking up a lot of my brain space lately.

So here I was, fast asleep, letting my subconscious have its way with me, when suddenly I find myself walking into the whitest, brightest, windowless classroom with the highest ceiling I’ve ever seen.  I sit down, somewhere near the back, and the professor starts handing out the test papers.

(By the way, my professor looked EXACTLY like Sam Weiss from the bowling alley in the Sci fi show “Fringe.”  Why he showed up is easy for me to figure out: Z and I have been watching episodes of this show almost every night as part of his further education in 1990s and ’00s science fiction TV.  Sam is, indeed, a genius, so it naturally follows he would be teaching Physics in my dreams.)

Anyway, there are six sections of the test, labeled “A” through “F”.  Now, somehow I recall “studying” these sections in the miraculously appearing Physics textbook on my desk and in my as miraculous notes.  It is an open book/open notes test.  This should be easy, right?  Even I should be able to pass this test, right?  Um…

lego physicsI am overwhelmed.  I am totally lost.  The sections on the test aren’t labeled the same as in the book or in my notes.  I can’t match anything together.  I go through and answer the questions I can remember off the top of my head (ha!) and simultaneously have the awful, sinking realization that I’m going to flunk this test (something, thankfully, that didn’t happen in my real life education).  Then I look up, and notice I am the last person left in the classroom.  Professor Sam walks over and I ‘fess up immediately: “I really messed this up” and guiltily hand over my test packet.  He says “Yeah, you were only supposed to do sections “A”, “C” and “D”. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to go well.”  I don’t know if he means for me specifically or for the whole class.

Again, I can kind of understand why Sam shows up.  But why in heaven’s name am I in a Physics class?

And WHY is the extra credit question about the parts of a turtle’s shell?turtle shell

Can anyone offer a suggestion as to why this would be part of a Physics curriculum?  Because I’m doubting the legitimacy of whatever college offered this particular course.

The weirdest part is that I clearly remember the turtle being part of my notes and in the textbook.

On the test, I was able to fill in 3 of the parts.  Out of something like 53 (you and I both know there can’t POSSIBLY be 53 parts to a turtle’s shell, but apparently my subconscious doesn’t).

Oy.  So much for extra credit pulling up my grade.waking up scared

I woke up thinking “I sure hope Z knows what he’s getting into with this Physics stuff,” …and ok, maybe a little bit of “I have to stop drinking red wine before bed.”  In the meantime, if anyone finds a “physics for non-science people,” let me know.  Apparently I need it.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!drawn heart

 

You are here

you are hereHave you ever experienced a moment where you knew — I mean REALLY knew — you were exactly where you were meant to be?

If I’ve had one before this week, I wasn’t cognizant of it.  Which is a shame, because it’s a pretty damn cool experience, one I’m sorry I may have missed before this.  (Chances are I had one or two as a Mom, but I was too exhausted to recognize them.)

This time around, my feeling of “place-ness” started with Facebook.

I know, I know:  some people hate it.  Some people love it.  A lot of younger people feel my generation (and older) absconded with it, and if we like it, then it can’t possibly be cool for them to like it, yadda yadda yadda.  I happen to enjoy it, purely for the ability to catch up, and and keep up, with friends from all over the globe.  I also use it to reach a lot of my readers, and for that, I am very grateful!  As it so happens, this story is about writers.

Anne McCaffrey b&wMy very favorite author in the world is Anne McCaffrey, an award-winning science fiction author with over 100 books to her name, some of which were collaborations.  (That’s important; I’ll get to that later.)

When I was in high school, I discovered Ms. McCaffrey.  And I’m not lying when I say that her Harper Hall books probably saved my life.  I was able to escape into her world when I opened her books:  her wonderful dragon-filled world (yes, people, dragons took center-stage long before “Game of Thrones”).  In fact, it was Anne McCaffrey, whose tenacity as a female writer taking on the “men’s” world of science fiction and fantasy (with other women such as Ursula LeGuin and Andre Norton, paving the way for writers like J.K. Rowling and Sofia Samatar) who sparked the first flicker in me to become a writer.

I fell deeply in love with the cover art for McCaffrey’s  (paperback editions) Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, beautifully created by the artist Elizabeth Malczynski.  I still absolutely adore the artwork, as well as other stunning art by Ms. Malczynski.  So for my birthday this year (over 35 years after first falling in love), T and Z bought me a limited edition print of the cover art for Dragonsong.  (Yes, I cried.  I cried a lot.)

Also during my younger years, I met a talented girl named Kary English who has, since then, gone on to be a wonderful published writer.  We reconnected on Facebook a while back and I’ve enjoyed keeping up with her exploits ever since.

Fast forward out of my adolescence and beyond, and you may remember mention of the writing retreat I attended just a few weeks ago, where I met Patricia Ann McNair, author extraordinaire.  I had the very great fortune of sitting down with her privately to discuss my writing.

Now remember: Anne McCaffrey collaborated on several series.  One of her co-writers was Jody Lynn Nye, an author I have enjoyed getting to “know” through the McCaffrey collaborations.

Two things happened today:

One:  I found out Kary and Patty each KNOW Jody — they are each friends with her on Facebook!  (Kary, meet Patty; Patty, this is Kary). 

IMG_5324And two:  I picked up my limited edition, now framed, cover art print by Elizabeth Malczynski of the Anne McCaffrey book that got me started on the writer’s path in the first place.

So, without thinking too much more about it (in case I chickened out), I messaged Jody.  In a nutshell, telling her everything I just shared with you, and I’ll admit it was in a kind of fan-girl manner (yes, I know, I’m 52, but I’ll still cop to being a fan-girl about certain things).  But it was also a “Wow!  Small World!” message capped with an “I love the writing community!” gush.  And she not only accepted my Friend Request on Facebook — she messaged me back. W O W !

These 3 women are all FANTABULOUS writers, and we are all connected to each other now in strange and wonderful ways!

(I really love this writing community)

What are the chances?  All of this crazy coincidence of connecting the dots back to a 16-year-old Me discovering McCaffrey… I thought, ‘would anyone else walk away from a day like today with the same gobsmacked feeling I had?’

dog ZenAnd there it was: my moment of Zen.  My 42.  The epic epiphany.  My light bulb moment:  Of course no one else would experience this particular alignment; this one is for me.  I am exactly where I am meant to be at this time in the Universe, doing what I need to be doing.

As my favorite therapist, Denise, always said, “Sometimes the Universe conspires to give us what we need.”

Heady moment.  Almost overwhelming.  Also met with tears.

All good things are.

Until next Friday, my friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

 

 

 

Where’s the care?

This round of orthodontia isn’t my first rodeo in the ring of oral health care, for myself or anyone else in the family.  We’ve been fairly lucky.  Maybe we’ve had more than some families; less than others.  But a recent “event” still has me grinding my teeth.

I had been going about my business one morning not too long ago.  I’d had my morning smoothie with fruits and veggies.  Now it was 1:00pm and a turkey sandwich was calling my name.  I assembled all the parts, and then removed the bottom Invisalign tray from my mouth…to some considerable twinging pain, and ultimately saw my crown STUCK in the retaining tray!  I person in tooth paingasped — and immediately regretted sucking in that breath as the cold air whipped around, and into, the exposed nerve the crown had been protecting.  Instinctively I grabbed my jaw, and managed to poke my poor mouth right at the bare spot.  T was the unfortunate nearby soul, but he did ask a stupid question: “Does it hurt?”

“I just ripped something out of my head that isn’t supposed to leave.  Ever.  What do you think?”

T moved quickly out of my verbal reach (smart man), and I called my dentist’s office.

And was essentially blown off.

Now, I need to say that I have liked my dentist and his staff for the most part of the last 12 years.  But it has needled me that rescheduling a visit (even with plenty of lead time) is extremely difficult.  This is the first dental emergency our family has faced, and I couldn’t get them to schedule me in, even for a temporary fix of some kind.

Really?

At that point, in the pain I was in, I was furious.  I was asking for help, real help, and all I got was “he can probably see you later tomorrow.”

My orthodontist’s office was at least somewhat helpful, when out of desperation I called his office. The actual orthodontist got on the phone and listened to my abbreviated explanation.  He apologized (!) for not having the type of cement fixative the dentist uses for crowns, but then took the time to give me some ideas, including to put the orthodontic tray back in if the crowned tooth fit ok.  It did.  He explained that even though it wasn’t sealed, at least the nerve inside the tooth was covered and that would help lessen tooth in painthe possibility of it becoming infected.  He also told me to go ahead and eat soft foods with the tray in (which is NOT ok under regular circumstances and usually cause for scolding by the orthodontist). I could make that work, along with the massive doses of ibuprofen he suggested for the pain, at least I had a plan. Which is so much more than my dentist’s office offered (which, let me remind you, was ZERO).

Eat soft foods.  Hm.  Let’s check the pantry: oh look!  Stale saltines.  Probably not soft enough (but, ewwww, close).  Hmm, Stove Top Stuffing. That might work.  Oooooooh, wait, hang on, hold the phone:  there’s a can of Chocolate Decadent Double Fudge Creamy Homestyle Frosting.  Score!

Needless to say, I was hungry.  The smoothies just weren’t cutting it.  And I had over 18 hours to go before the dentist would even take a look at my mouth.

(I’d never make it through a voluntary fasting.)

And on top of it all, my mouth hurt — my head hurt — and I was grumpy from the mouth pain and the hunger pangs.  Actually, ‘grumpy’ is probably a nice word for it.

But mostly I was angry.  I was angry that someone in whom I entrusted part of my family’s healthcare couldn’t be bothered to even give me a few ideas as to how to alleviate the pain, let alone fit me in to their day for 10 minutes to re-affix the crown.  I was angry that I was honest with the receptionist who answered the phone and told her my pain level was a “6” — I guess I should have lied and said it was a “10” in order to be taken more seriously.

I understand there are worse accidents that can occur than what happened to me.  I understand the receptionist I was talking to was relatively new.  But she put me on ‘hold’ for over 5 minutes — she had to be talking to someone who knew more about what happens when a crown is ripped from it’s place.  Or maybe not.  Regardless, by the time she got back on the phone, I was shaky and hurting something awful, and I know I sounded like I was crying — I may have been.  To be told “he won’t see you until tomorrow” and no suggestions as how to alleviate the pain and discomfort until then was as careless as disconnecting the phone call would have been.

red crossI was suddenly reminded of all the times I’ve been in a patient care situation (myself, Z, or someone else I love) and the tremendous “bedside manners” of those times I remember.  Even when there was nothing to do but ride out pain, the caring way in which those charged with taking care of me, of us, was done…  Holding a hand, fluffing a pillow, tucking in the blanket, talking quietly, even apologizing that there wasn’t anything else they could do right now, calmly explaining a procedure, asking if we had any questions… THAT’S health CARE.  And I am tremendously grateful for the wonderful care my family and I have received in the past.

Unfortunately, it just makes the contrast of what I’d experienced with the dentist’s office even starker.

I eventually got the crown replaced.  But I have to admit confidence in my dentist and his staff is greatly shaken.  I dread another emergency, or even needing to reschedule a check up now.  I don’t expect to be catered to, I don’t expect to be put first.  What I do expect is that my family’s care is of concern to the providers in whom we entrust our health.  And frankly, if they’re not on board with that, then I’ll find someone else who is.

Wishing you all good health, always.  But in the meantime, until next Friday: Cheers, Friends!drawn heart

Oh Say Can You See

I hope my out-of-country readers will indulge me this week….

Despite the awfulness of the political climate these days, the insistent ringing of phones with caller ID numbers we don’t recognize, cringing every time we turn on the TV as yet another mud-slinging ad assaults our senses, and the bombardment of opinions crashing in on us from social media, I have to admit that the Fourth of July still stirs something in me.   I remember the words to almost every patriotic ballad we learned in grade school, singing with gusto and and hands over hearts.  Later, after a particular September day, a decade and a half ago, those same songs were sung with tears.  No matter how, or even if, you remember them, they are generally part of the fabric of our upbringing in this nation.  And, there is one in particular that stands out for me, even today.

“The Star-Sthe star spangled bannerpangled Banner,” the United States of America’s national anthem, is from a poem Defence of Fort M’Henry written on September 13, 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.

Ironically, the poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “To Anacreaon in Heaven” (or “The Anacreontic Song”), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States.  Set to Key’s poem and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it soon became a well-known American patriotic song.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916; but it wasn’t until 1931 when it was finally made the national anthem by a congressional resolution, signed by President Herbert Hoover — over 125 years after it was first written.  Proving that good things are, indeed, worth waiting for.

Even so, our national anthem is often argued to be “too hard” to sing.  Afterall, it does cover an octave and one fifth — not typically in anyone’s regular range unless they sing often; and although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.  These words, however, are known to virtually every American older than a second-grader:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

partial flagOur flag does wave.  We are free.  And every time this song is sung with wavering voices or played by beginning brass players; piped over loudspeakers in stadiums or sung live by local choirs; every time, I hope people spare a moment to remember why we sing.

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

paint stroke flagHow is it that the very story this song tells is so often forgotten?  How is it that every sports stadium in the United States of America is filled with the strains of this music, and the only line people typically cheer is the last?  What happened to remembering how this country was forged?

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

How can we complain that this is too difficult to sing, when the very idea of The United States of America was thought “too difficult” to even imagine when our Founding Fathers initially met?  Our flag does in triumph wave.

Although he ended his poem with a prayer (regardless of how you feel about that, it is a protected right under our flag and I respect that he was so moved), Francis Scott Key obviously felt that last line was most important: every stanza ends with it.  We are the home of the free and the brave.  Remember that.  Every time.  Even better: Let’s live up to that.  We did, once upon a time.  There is no good reason on this Earth that we can’t do it again.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!flag flying navy background

Alas

one city

 

Orlando.

The name alone used to conjure up Magic.  Sun.  Water.  Fun.  The Happiest Place on Earth.

I’ve put off writing about the unthinkable tragedy, the reprehensible murderous rampage carried out in this city I’ve visited countless times.  I don’t have words.

I’m a writer, and I don’t have the words.

I don’t have the words to express the disbelief at the first news reports.

I don’t have the words to express the horror at learning it was a single hate-filled person who did this.

I don’t have the words to express the heart-wrenching pain felt as we watched the numbers climb.  Each number represented a life.  A beautiful, complicated, messy, amazing, cherished life.  A life like yours and mine.

Days later, I still don’t have the words.  I don’t know if I ever will.  At the writing conference I attended last week, the week of the attack, several speakers addressed what happened in Orlando.  One in particular called us to attention:  We are writers, we have words.  We have an obligation to use those words.

We do.

But none of them serve.  The tools of my vocation fail me.  The ringing condemnation of the hate-filled attacker doesn’t come.  Rallying cries to spur our Congress to do the right thing sound hollow.  The salve I wish I could dispense, the comfort I wish I could give — none of the words that come are powerful enough to dispel the anguish.  None.  The simple words whisper, afraid to seem trite, insincere… or simply not enough.

We see you.

We hear you.

We stand with you.

Lead us — help us know what you need.

We love you.

I am a writer.  I have words.  Never have I wished so fervently that these words mean what my heart aches for them to convey.

Until next Friday, cherished Friends.  more love less hate