Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This is Christmas –

Carols and choirs,
Candy canes and caring.
Midnight, miracles,
Magic and mystery.

A mother, a child,
A shepherd, a lamb.
Santa, his elves, 
And silver bells.

A child asking, “Do you think I’ve been good?”
And reindeer flying the way that they should.
Hay in a manger, glitter on the floor.
Gold, frankincense, and mirth.

Families that are close or far apart.
All the above – or nothing at all
Because a heart that is full
Is what Christmas is about.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Me and Dr. King #MLKJr

Last night I was feeling inadequate, unable to work on the book I’ve been writing. Dissatisfied with everything, I decided to get into bed where I thought: Listen, God, I  don’t know if you’re there. The little bit of evidence I have would never hold up in a court of law down here. But if you are, could you send me a sign? Just a little one. It doesn’t have to be a bolt of lightning. You don’t have to move a mountain. 

In the morning I got up and did what I’ve been doing every morning since summer began. I went for a walk. On my way to the track I turned on my car radio, which I always keep tuned to NPR, and I heard a voice, the voice of a ghost from the past – the very distinct and mighty voice of Martin Luther King Jr, and he was saying these words: “You must have a blueprint…(you must have) a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own somebodiness…. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star…Be the best of whatever you are.”

 I listened to Dr. King and then I went home and sat in front of my computer and started to write. Thank you God I said when I was finished. And Thank you Martin, I added. Oh, and Martin, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that the voice of God sounds a lot like yours.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Road Tripping

     When my daughter returned from England on a Sunday in July she began talking in the late afternoon about her trip and continued talking until late evening. She was clearly enthralled, so I listened patiently – or as patiently as I could - until I found a way to escape and run off to bed. But in the morning she began again until I understood that there would be no stopping her unless I could come up with a way to distract her.
     “Do you want to go to Graceland?” I asked. Going to Graceland was a trip we had been talking about making for the last twenty years.
     “Sure.” Then she, who was already packed asked, “How long will it take you to get ready?”
     “About an hour.”

     And so it began, as we left an hour later - despite the fact that it was already well passed two in the afternoon – knowing that for this trip, it was Now or Never.
     Our adventure took us from our home just outside of Philadelphia to Memphis, Tupelo, Nashville and finally to Atlanta (to visit my favorite actor Damien Michael Chase,  whose imdb page can be found here:  Damien Michael Chase. He is not only a talented actor, he is also my grandson.)

     My daughter and I had a late dinner that first night in a town close to the Virginia/Tennessee border where, lo and behold, our waitress turned out to be a delightful exchange student named Madeline who was from – yes, you guessed it, England! (You would have thought the two of them were long lost friends as they began chatting away about merry ole England, a place to which they both clearly longed to return.    
     Madeline gracefully accepted a copy of my book, Rude Awakening (which was not her tip) and promptly gave it to her boyfriend who was waiting for her to finish her shift. He must have started reading it immediately for when she returned a few minutes later she, in her British accent, whispered, “He said ‘This is really good.’” Delighted, I thanked her and told her to thank him as Jessi returned from the ladies room and we proceeded on our way, stopping that first night to rest at a hotel in Bristol, Virginia.

And so it began, our great American road trip, which I will continue telling you about at some future time, and, in the meantime, I hope your summer is as exciting and adventurous as ours has been.  


Friday, June 19, 2015

Finding Center

Until I wrote my memoir Rude Awakening I was, both by nature and by nurture, a loner. It was however, during the writing of my book that I began to change and to notice how loneliness was being transformed into aloneness. Alone is different. Alone is better, because while loneliness is distracting, alone is centering.

Then, when the book was done and I was told I would have to market it, I had to change again. I joined Toastmasters and learned how to stand in front of a room full of people and talk about my story. But I still had a lot more to learn. 

If you’ve already read my memoir, you know that for me initiating conversations and interacting with others is as foreign as is the man in the moon. 

Two years ago when I attended my first Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, I found it a good place to learn about marketing. To that end, the most important thing I learned was that if I wanted people to know about my book, I would have to get a presence on the web – and to that end, this blog was born. But as much as I love writing this blog, it is by necessity, a solitary activity and I was once more in danger of become a loner. At least I was until this year’s conference.

Two years ago when I went to the conference, I went alone. This year I was met by four other women, members of the writing groups I belong to, two of whom I had never met in person before. How was I going to perform? How was I going to interact? I was nervous. I was so scared I stopped for a moment to ask God for help.

No problem, He said, just follow me. And so I did as He led me to my first extended meeting with the others. As I met for lunch with my fellow writers – Helene, Kelly, Doreen and Cathy - I told myself to just listen. But the conversation was so lively and intriguing, I wanted to join in and, as we waited for more than an hour for salads that never arrived, I was blessed with a lot of opportunities to enter the conversation.

Of course, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference was designed to keep us busy. There were workshops and rap groups, banquets and buffets to attend and in between each, the other women and I would meet to compare notes and to see which, if any, classes we had together. The three-day weekend moved along quickly as I enjoyed myself and the company I kept.

At this year’s conference I learned many things. From Stuart Horwitz, who wrote Book Architecture, I learned how to structure a book and from James Knipp’s Apples to Writers workshop, I learned about the connection between creativity and fun.

But the most important thing I learned this year was that I am part of a community – a community of writers and, while I loved being in that community and would never go back to being a loner, I have to admit there were moments when I secretly longed to return alone to my room upstairs and just sigh. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Reading, Writing and Maybe Some Sunning

Two weeks ago I was in Quakertown signing copies of Rude Awakening at an event called Arts Alive, where I was seated at a table with about a half dozen other writers. To my right sat a gentleman, an older man. When I say older, I mean he was about the same age as I am. Every once in a while someone would stop to look at the title of his book and comment on it. One man stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Wow! I just got that book from the library and I’m half way through it.”

Now I was curious. Before I had a chance to talk to the author, he disappeared. In his place was a young woman I took to be his granddaughter, although I later learned she was his editor. I pointed to the book and asked, "What's it about?" 

“It’s an earlier version of An American Sniper,” she said.

“Really?” Now I was intrigued. I had gone out of my way to see that movie and loved it. When the author, whose name is Michael Roman, came back we started talking. He told me he had lived in Iran for ten years during the 60s and 70s and that his youngest children were born there. He said he found the Iranians to be warm and generous and made many friends. While there, he served as a Major General in the Imperial Iranian Air Force and was shot at many times by terrorists and by many of the Shah’s opponents. Then he told me a story I will never forget.

He said that one day while he was standing outside his house in Iran, an armed man aimed a gun at him. When his wife, who was inside the house, saw what was about to happen she ran outside and threw her arms around him.

“Oh my God,” I said, feeling breathless as I pictured the event in my mind. “What happened next?”
 “She wouldn’t let go and the shooter ran away.”
I loved that story, but what I loved more was the way he told it – as though even after all these years, he was still awed by what his wife had done. Michael’s book is called Zehbel: The Clever One and is currently being made into a television series.

Speaking of books, I have been able to cross two of them (Touching My Father’s Soul and Quiet) from the list I posted last month. I was also able to read three others that weren’t on the list including The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.

Do you remember what I told you about writing in a post I called Write On? I said that some books (including Gone with the Wind) are written backwards. You can only imagine then how delighted I was to find these words on the back of The Notebook:

“Dear Reader, It’s hard to believe that over twenty years have passed since I began writing THE NOTEBOOK. Drafting this novel was a circuitous process. I wrote first what became the final chapter, and wrote last the first five pages of the novel.” I loved it.

Well, summer is almost here and I am almost ready to hang up my school bus keys until September. I plan to do a lot of reading this summer as well as working on my new book, although I can’t say that either the end or the beginning has been written. I seem to be lost somewhere in the middle, but then writing is such a wonderful process that being lost somewhere in the middle is not such a bad place to be after all. For me this summer, the living may not be easy, but I’m sure it will be delightful.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What's Next

In the very near future I may be moving with my daughter and son-in-law to a small town which is almost an hour away from my job as a school bus driver, so I’m thinking about retiring.

Hold on now, I did say “thinking.” Despite dreaming about retirement for years, I don’t want to rush into it. (Okay, so I am going to be 74  this summer, so what?) When I dream about retiring, what I dream about  is reading, writing, walking and meditating – those four things and nothing else. But then I worry if they will be enough. And then again, maybe they will be since there are already over two dozen books on my reading list including  –

Touching My Father’s Soul by Jamling Tenzing Norgay
Ear of the Heart by Mother Dolores Hart
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Last Train from Memphis by Peter Guralnick
Careless Love by Peter Guralnick
A Grief Observed by CSLewis
So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart
Paula by Isabel Allende
The Self Aware Universe by Amit Goswani
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Rilke’s Book of Hours
Life After Death by Deepak Chopra
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
Quiet by Susan Cain         
Losing My Mind by Thomas DeBaggio

Okay, enough! You get the idea. Besides reading I will be working on my second book and I already have an idea for my third.

So listen, do you think that's enough to keep me busy for the next dozen years or so? If not, I look forward to reading any book you may want to recommend in the comments.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Snow Falling

When a weather forecaster predicted snow for the first time this year, I cried. 

I cried because it made me think of the day last year when I heard that someone I loved had died. But today is March 5, 2015 – a year, a month and a day or two later, and when it started to snow early this morning I thought, Hooray, and when I got the call to stay home and to stay safe, I thought hooray again as I picked up my pen and started writing.

Today I am writing about one of my favorite subjects, a subject whose personality and charm profoundly and infinitely affected my youth, a subject who is playing a dominate role in the book I am writing.  (Some of you know who he is. Some of you may have guessed by now who he is, but for the rest of you, he will be a surprise.)

At 6:30 this morning, I lifted the blinds so I could alternate between writing and watching the snow.  By then I’d been writing for more than an hour, and by 7:30 the snow was falling as though it meant business. The business of keeping me inside. I realized then that the snow was a gift, a gift that gave me the space and the time I needed for writing.  

It’s no wonder, I thought as I looked outside, that writers, like Sue Miller and Stephen King, live in New England. As I watched the snow, something inside me stirred. My head and my hand felt more intimately connected than they had before. The words fell effortlessly from my pen onto the paper as the storm became more intense and the wind grew stronger. The snowflakes became larger and began swirling around in circles.

Now, from my room on the second floor I look out and see that almost everything outside is white. The trees are barely outlined against the white-gray sky and the tiny specks of snow are flying in every direction. Inside my room, I feel safe and warm. Outside, the snowflakes remind me of the earth’s abundance and I wonder how many snowflakes there actually are outside and, as I looked at the space between myself and the trees, I feel it beckon me toward that silent, infinitely abundant space inside myself.   

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Just Write!

Everybody has a story. I do and you do too! I wrote my story and now it’s time for you to write yours.

When I decided to write my story in 2008, I was 67 years old and had no idea how to go about it. So I turned to the experts, to people who had already written their own stories and were now writing how-to guide books to help me write mine.

My story started twenty-three years before I was born, when my grandmother Angelina gave birth to her fifth child and her doctor warned her against becoming pregnant again. Which is why, when she discovered she was pregnant again, thirteen years later (she was forty by then), she decided not to tell him. The tremors that began as a result of that decision effected not just my grandmother’s life, but also the rest of my mother’s life - she was sixteen at the time -, my own life, and could still be felt more than seventy years later.

When I went looking for advice on writing, the best advice I got was from Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones. Natalie had great advice for beginners. She said to start by writing one hour every day. “Don’t plan. Don’t think. Just write,” she said. Her advice proved to be invaluable.

I started writing and within just a couple of months, I had filled almost a half dozen notebooks. True, much of what I had written was worthless. For every one thousand words I wrote, only about one hundred of them made it into my memoir, Rude Awakening. But I didn’t care. I kept on writing. I had fallen in love with writing and the writing process.

When I wrote interesting things happened: the world disappeared, time disappeared - even I disappeared. Writing absorbed me. It took me to a place that demanded, if not blood, then sweat and tears. But it gave back joy.

So I’m here today to tell you to write down your story. Do it now. Don’t wait for the “muse.” Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Don’t doubt that you’ll find the words. Just start writing. Now. Do it now. And prepare yourself to fall in love with the process.   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Write On!

Most of us, when we pick up a book, start at the beginning, proceed through the middle and finally reach the end. Although sometimes, when we are really enjoying a book, the ending comes too soon.
 A beginning, middle and ending. That’s what we expect when we read and, if you are like me, you may assume that is the way a book was written. Not so!

A few years ago, just after the arrival of the new millennium (What do they call those first ten years? Has anyone named them? Are they the Twenty-aught-somethings?), I went to Atlanta to visit the Margaret Mitchell Museum where I felt awed and surrounded by words. Margaret Mitchell’s words. Words from Gone With the Wind! And, as you can imagine, I loved it.

When our guide said that Mitchell wrote the entire manuscript of Gone with the Wind backwards – that is she wrote the last chapter first, and then the one before that, and the one before that etc., I was stunned into disbelief. However, since I wrote my own book, Rude Awakening, I have found that statement to be much more credulous.

When I started Rude Awakening, all I knew was the ending. (Or, at least, I thought I knew the ending until, like an addendum, I needed an epilogue.) And although I knew the ending, most of the middle of the book took a lot of work, more work than I could ever have imagined when I began.

So stories don’t just move from point to point in an orderly, readable fashion. They have to be structured and sometimes, as in life, the ending we were expecting just doesn’t emerge. And, like bread, the middle has to be kneaded, and the beginning comes only after the rest of the story is in place.

Oh, wait. Lest I discourage anyone who wants to write, when I used the word “work” in this piece, it was a misstatement. Writing doesn’t take “work.” It takes passion and discipline and dedication. But what it gives back is pleasure. Pure and absolute! So to all you writers and would-be writers – or should I say will-be writers, I say write on! And to all you readers, I say thank you. Thank you very much.