Tuesday, June 19, 2018

This Side of Paradise

Last week as I backed my school bus into its parking spot, I promised myself a trip to the Jersey shore for making it safely through the school year, especially during those arduous days in March when we had three - or was it four - Nor'easters.
A view from the rear of the hotel
So here I am sitting in a beach chair with the entire Atlantic Ocean at my feet!

It is hot today, hotter than it was yesterday or the day before, but oh so incredibly beautiful, I think as I relax and listen to the cry of a child as he plunges into an icy cold wave.

I sit back and close my eyes and listen too, to the roar of the ocean as it lulls me into a state of deep relaxation, a state from which my mind will inevitably drift to some memory from the past or to some hope for the future until the call of a seagull or the voice of a child brings me back again to this moment of bliss.

Yesterday, after spending almost nine hours on the beach, I "walked the boards" intent on getting those decadent fried Oreo cookies that are dipped in batter, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and served with a side of chocolate sauce. (It was the first time I got to eat all five of them by myself!)

It really is hot today, I think again as I move my chair closer to the water's edge and watch the remnants of a wave inching its way toward my toes, making me squeal with delight.

Later as I fold up my chair and walk back across the sand to my car, I slowly become aware of the "imaginary" song playing in my head, a song with lyrics that wish every winter day could be just like Christmas, and every summer day one more day at the beach.

My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Thank You!

Back in June 2013, I went to my first Philadelphia Writer’s Conference (where I won a prize for a selection from my memoir Rude Awakening) and ran into my writing teacher, Richard D. Bank.  

“Have you signed up to pitch to an agent?” he asked when he saw me standing alone in a crowded room.

“Yes,” I said even though I wasn't sure what pitching an agent meant.

“For what time?”


 “It’s two-thirty,” he said, looking at his watch. “Look! Over there. No one’s sitting there,” he said as he took my hand and pulled me toward a table where a very good looking man was sitting. 

“What do I do?” I asked my teacher over my shoulder as I sat down across from the agent.

“Talk about your book, ” he whispered.

I swallowed hard and started talking to the agent who was looking totally bored until I told him the title of my memoir was Rude Awakening, and about the turbulence at the heart of the story. After I blundered through for several more minutes, he spoke. "What you need to do," he said, "is start a blog and get a following. Get other people interested in your work.".

Having no idea what “start a blog” meant, I nodded and thanked him. Then, I quickly signed up for a seminar on blogging, where I was told to “go as broad as possible. Write about as many experiences as you can.”

Later, in my journal, I began my plan of attack, deciding I wanted to write about my day to day life as both a school bus driver and as a writer, and about how I happened to write a memoir. I wanted, too, to write about ordinary things like: 

Driving to the shore to see the ocean for the first time in a year
Taking a risk and playing it safe 
Turning off the TV and listening to the silence
Exercising and walking,
Meditating and mindfulness practice 
Taking myself out to dinner and a movie
Joining a reading group
Joining a writing group
Being in a church
Walking alone
And about falling in love - with a book, a man, a child - and with everything.

And while I have written extensively on some of these things, on others I have barely begun. So here's to creativity, for you, for me, and for all of us. 

But, most of all, to my readers, who at one point during the past five years helped this blog to garner more than 1500 hits per week, I want to say thank you. If you have liked, shared, commented or simply read my posts know that your support is deeply appreciated.  

My second memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Monday, June 11, 2018

First Reformed, A Review

It has become my habit to take myself out on weekends to dinner and a movie. And lately, I've seen some powerful ones - like Tully and The Rider. But I have the feeling the movie I saw last weekend, First Reformed, is going to stick with me for a long time to come, and I highly recommend it even if I sometimes found it difficult to watch.

First Reformed, is a story about the minister of a small church in upstate New York. Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a former military chaplain who encouraged his son to join the military and is racked with grief and guilt after the boy dies in Iraq.

The movie begins when a young pregnant woman (Amanda Seyfried) asks the reverend to counsel her husband (Phillip Ettinger) who is an extreme environmentalist who believes it is immoral to bring a child into the world as it exists today and asks Reverend Toller (who has lost a child) if God can forgive us for what we have done to his creation.

The young woman, Mary, fears that her husband is becoming radicalized and violent and then uncovers the evidence to back up that belief. What she discovers in her garage will change not just her life but the lives of her husband and the minister.

This movie begins with a quote from the American monk and mystic, Thomas Merton, who tells us that "it is possible to hold both hope and despair in our minds simultaneously" and doesn't end until it shows us exactly how that is done.

Other members of the cast include Victoria Hill and Cedric(the Entertainer) Kyles.

My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Riding High

During the first couple of days this week I was feeling desultory, unable to motivate myself away from the comatose-like feeling I was under. (Okay I exaggerate, but not by much.) The first stirrings of wakefulness didn't come to me until I heard a ping on my phone late Tuesday morning and saw that there was an unscheduled early dismissal at the school district's high school. Encouraged by the fact that I could suddenly detect a heartbeat, I decided to volunteer to help out.

At that point, I hadn't driven a big bus in five years. I normally drive a mini-bus so I figured they'd send me out in one of those. Instead, our dispatcher (a very brave man) handed me the keys to a big bus and pointed me in the direction of the bus yard.

Walking toward the bus made me remember the last movie I saw, The Rider, the true-to-life story about a rodeo rider who suffers a traumatic head injury and strives to return to a way of life he can no longer have.

Standing at the foot of those steps getting ready to climb into that bus made me feel as scared as any rodeo rider, but once inside and behind the wheel, I remembered how much I loved being there. There is something about the inside of a school bus that is almost sacred. Even empty, I could hear the echo of children's voices and of their laughter.

Even the windshield seemed panoramic compared to what I was used to. Finally, I turned the key and put that bus into gear and, although I can't say that driving it was as exciting as riding a bronco, still, there was a certain thrill just being high up in the driver's seat and feeling, once again, like one of the big boys.

My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Saturday, June 2, 2018

In Heaven

I am not a “dog person.”  I never was, but in recent months my feelings have been shifting. I’m not sure why, but right now I'd like to tell you three stories, each seemingly unrelated, except that each one is about an experience I had with a dog. 

1) A long time ago – it was 1976 to be exact – when I was recently separated and living with my children in Pennsauken, New Jersey, I had no car but managed to find a job I could walk to. In order to get there, however, I had to cross Route 38, a six-lane highway. 

One day while I was walking to work I realized a dog was following me. I didn’t know why he was following me, but despite my efforts, I couldn’t shake him. When I reached the intersection I had to cross, I stopped (and the dog did too). I noticed the light was red, but there was no traffic and I knew I could make it to the center where I would wait on the small island for the light to turn green. When I got to the island, I stopped, but this time the dog did not. Instead, he stepped off the island and into oncoming traffic.  

2) One of the last things I posted on this blog was a story about my sister who, after she became a widow, went to a shelter to adopt a dog. Whenever I went to visit her, I’d try to stand back, but the dog would inevitably jump up onto the sofa and into my lap. On one occasion, after I shifted to avoid him, my sister noticed and said, “Hey! Don’t treat my dog that way!” When I retorted that his halitosis was enough to kill, she laughed and pushed him toward me. Later as my sister lay dying, that dog laid in bed beside her, comforting and protecting her. I don’t know how, but he knew she was dying long before I did.

3) Late one Saturday morning back January, I had a dream in which I was walking along what felt like the milky way. Except for what seemed like a thousand stars, I was surrounded by nothing but darkness. As I walked, I realized there was a dog walking beside me, sometimes running ahead of me, and then coming back again to walk by my side. Eventually, we came to a door. I knocked and when the door opened a friend of mine who died four years ago was standing there.

“Is this your dog?" I asked him even though in life he, like me, was not a dog person either.

He laughed. “No,” he said, “but he likes to come here at night to sleep with me.” 

"Really?" I thought as I woke up and, even with my eyes closed, felt the daylight forcing itself into my room from behind the blinds. I stayed in bed with my eyes closed for a while longer that morning. And then, thinking about my sister, my friend, and the animals who seem always to be moving so far ahead of me, I cried.

And now that I've told you those stories I think I know why. You see, until now I've never told that story to anyone - the one about the dog who died in traffic that day and now that I have - well, telling it won't bring him back. Nothing will. But right now I'd like to imagine that he was the same dog who was following me in my dream that morning and that both my sister and my friend are taking turns taking care of him in heaven.  

My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Am I Crazy?

It's almost that time again, almost the end of the school year when I will have to back my school bus into its parking space for the last time, when I'll have to face 11 weeks of summer (eighty-two days to be exact) and I'm scared. I can just hear the rest of you saying, Is she crazy? Doesn't she know how lucky she is?

Well maybe, but idle time scares me. What was it the nuns used to tell us when I was little? That idleness is the devil's workshop. (I wish!)

Anyway, the reason I'm scared is that I have no plans, no trips to the South or to Europe like I've had in previous years. So frightened was I that I picked up my journal two nights ago to see what I did last summer and, from what I read, I found that even without plans I managed to relax and enjoy myself doing what I always enjoy doing with my free time - reading, writing, walking, and meditating.

And this summer I have one more thing to add to that list: exercising. It's been a couple of months now since my actor/model/fitness coach grandson took me to the gym and taught me how to use the exercise equipment and I loved it, loved the way it took me out of my head and into my body. I loved it so much I started going to the gym every day walking three miles either on a treadmill, or out in the park, or some combination of the two.

Those of you who know me, or who have read my books, know that I see a therapist bi-weekly. (I can just hear the rest of you saying: She is crazy.) Anyway, my therapist has been away for the past two months, but she will be back next week and I'm hoping to see her throughout the summer.

And who knows, maybe I'll start that book I've been dreaming of writing for years, the one whose title is a line from one of my favorite songs. The song is Macarthur Park and the line is-. Wait! I'm not telling you that because, well, because you know I'm not really crazy.

Anyway, Happy Summer Everyone. For you, no matter what you're doing, I hope it's both productive and relaxing.

My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Malleability of Loneliness

If we try to avoid a powerful wave looming above us on the beach, it will send us crashing into the sand and surf. But if we face it head on and dive right into it, we discover only water.”

Every once in a while I start re-reading the journals I’ve been keeping for the last twenty years. I read them because, like a compass, they help me figure out where I am. Sometimes I even find something precious in them like the quote above, which came from a book I was reading on October 27, 2002. The book was called Buddhism without Beliefs, A Contemporary Guide to Awakening.  

That quote made me stop and think. The day after I copied it into my journal I wrote:

It seems as though I have been living my life controlled by a fear as powerful as a wave looming above me - the fear of being abandoned first by my mother, then by my ex-husband, and even now by the man I love. It feels as though I have spent my entire life living in the shadow of that fear. But now, I am ready to dive into it, hoping that when I do I will find not loneliness, but aloneness, solitude, empty space and room to grow there. 
And today, sixteen years later, I find I have only just begun to grow there.

My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE