Letting Go

Last week I attended a luncheon hosted by author Leslie Johansen Nack who spoke about her newly published memoir ‘Fourteen’.

Having already downloaded her book to my Kindle, not only had I read it, but my mother and my husband had also read it. We all agree…it’s a gripping story. The title’s byline leads you to believe that ‘Fourteen’ is primarily a coming of age story, but I think that’s the least of it, quite honestly. Beginning well before she was a teenager, this is about the unfolding determination to find the wherewithal to conquer circumstances no young girl should have to face. Climaxing in 1975, aboard a sailboat with only her sisters and her bizarrely controlling and sexually menacing father aboard, this is a story about courage as well as survival as they navigate clear across the Pacific ocean, from San Diego to the French Polynesian Islands… and then back again. Whether or not you know anything at all about sailing, the journey of this family unfolds in a way that is meant for the big screen of a movie theater.

Although Leslie and I had become acquainted two years ago through an online class called ‘Write Your Memoir in Six Months’, we’d never met in person until last week. I know publishing wasn’t without an emotional toll, and I admire her all the more for her bravery to take it public. She’s been traveling around the country on a book tour, and I got the sense last week that although she is extremely appreciative of the solid reviews and favorable attention her book is getting, she feels uncomfortable speaking so openly about it in public.   Thus is the dilemma of writing memoir.

From the get go, I had no interest in publication for my own memoir. My interest to write had been purely to leave a documented explanation of family history, which was already complicated long before I was born. I wanted my children to understand the circumstances and complexities that shaped not just me, but in part how it also shaped them.

As I was approaching the home stretch I already knew I’d be ditching and re-writing most of it because that online class inadvertently taught me an invaluable lesson; writing to appease someone else changes the tenor of my narrative, which in turn caused me to lose my own voice. Now it’s my firm opinion that family therapists who are unable to stop analyzing every situation have no business teaching and mentoring writers who are navigating memoir.

I actually got quite close to finishing that shitty first draft of my memoir. But just a few weeks shy of that six-month finish, the reemergence of cancer abruptly brought a screeching halt to my memoir efforts and immediately redirected my priorities.

We all know that the seconds, minutes and hours of our lives don’t ever move in reverse, just like the sun never sets in the east. Statistics prove out that life is short when you’re living with stage IV cancer.

For me, the only way to move forward is to simply let go. Hanging on only to look back serves no purpose. Whatever the future holds, I’ve let go of what was, and I live with what is. Because the ‘here and now’ is my future.

Memoir Music: What’s In Your Playlist?

IMG_0385As the holidays approach and the year winds down,  I’ve created a ‘memoir playlist’ on iTunes.  It’s all the music that I became immersed in as a twelve year old after an incomprehensible loss.  These songs will once again comfort me as I embark upon a six month intensive writing curriculum, transporting myself back for one last microscopic journey into the life that was mine. I will come full circle, as I finalize the narrative to the broadest circumference in the ripple effect that was launched by the careless toss of somebody else’s pebble.

Do you have a memoir playlist that transports you to a pivotal time in your life?

Crisis theme: Flash Fiction (in-class assignment)

Picture 3Recently I’ve joined a small writing group (just 5 of us along with the instructor) that meets every two weeks or so.  It’s been really fun trying my hand with a different genre of writing (fiction) and I’ve already learned that I need to stop thinking so much and just go with it.  Of course, it certainly helps that the other participants are incredibly gifted writers, most of them published, and many of them with multiple books out there.   I think I’m the first ‘newbie’ to join this group in a long while, so I’m especially thankful they’ve allowed me to join them.  Maybe some of you might enjoy these exercises as well…it’s good to stretch the brain in different directions, don’t you think?

IN-CLASS  ASSIGNMENT:  Write a story with a developing crisis, with these sentences in order (2 to 3 minutes writing time between sentences):

I got back to the house just as…

The house seemed to…

I sat silently for…

I thought distractedly of a…

RESULT:

I got back to the house just as she was packing her bags.  “Where do you think you’re going to go?” I asked.

“Anywhere but here.  It’s too dangerous.  He’s everywhere, I can feel him watching me.”

“If you think he’s watching your every move, what makes you think he won’t just follow you to your next stop?”

“Because I’ve chartered a private plane. It’s going to fly me to another major airport across the country.  And from there I’m boarding a commercial flight, so he’ll have no idea where I’ve gone.”

I just stared at her.  Even though I’d sat down the minute she grabbed her empty suitcase, I wasn’t able to keep my right leg from jittering .  This whole situation was giving me the willies.

The house seemed to stop breathing.  She was folding shirts and pants, tossing them into her massive suitcase that would surely weigh well over the 50 pound limit.  But, then again, on a private charter, there’s probably no weight limit at all.   I could hear water gurgling through the baseboards, and was relieved to know that the chill in the room might be somewhat alleviated when the heat got ramped up.

 I sat silently for another few minutes…still watching her as she scrambled around through her closet, the drawers of her bureau, and then in and out of the bathroom.  I watched as headlights ran across the wall, likely our neighbor coming home from work.  Then, a car door slamming.

 “Oh my God!  Do you think that’s him?” she said.  She ran to her purse and pulled out her Sig Sauer.  She checked the chamber and attached the clip.  I thought distractedly of a newspaper headline that would read “Woman kills stalker dead as he breaks down the front door”.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud”, I said.  “Put that thing away.  It’s just the neighbor coming home from work”.  But she was already at the window, having pulled at the side of the drape just enough so she could see.

“He’s coming up the sidewalk!  It’s not the neighbor.  He’s coming up the sidewalk!” In a panic she ran into the hallway and took position at the top of the stairs…where she had a clear shot if he came through that door.

 “Calm down!” I hissed.  “That could be anyone…let me at least see who it is.”

“NO!” she screamed.  “It’s HIM …I know it is!”  We could hear the door handle creak.  We both stood absolutely still as we watched it turn.

GOLF! (Flash Fiction)

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Using dialogue, write a 5 minute (1 to 2 page) essay that begins with something true but quickly becomes fictional.

RESULT:

As we walked down the first fairway, I was pondering my tee shot.  Had I left all my skills on the driving range?  Was it pointless to practice beforehand? It seemed so.  As I lugged my clubs along, I was noticeably quiet, or at least my husband thought so.

“How’s your cold?” he asked.

“About the same, and not to blame for that lousy drive off the tee” I responded without glancing over at him.  His drive was straight down the middle of the fairway and hundreds of yards further out than my short and wonky shot.

My yellow neon ball was off in the knee-high weeds somewhere to our left, and as I approached the general vicinity, I veered off to take a look.  Figuring it was likely unfindable, I’d already put a spare ball in my pocket ready to drop and hit if need be.  I grabbed my 7 iron and used it to bat the growth out of my way, while leaning down towards ground level to get a better look.  It was not only tough to see below all this stuff, it was also very damp.  With each step I took, I could feel the moisture seeping around the soles of my golf shoes.  I took a few more steps in, carefully placing my feet so that I could avoid anything that looked obviously muddy.

“Let me help look” I heard him say.

“It’s a goner, I think.  I’ll just hit another one.”  But instead I continued to use my 7 iron to push weeds from side to side, looking for that wildly belligerent golf ball.  I hate losing golf balls more than recording a double digit on a hole.

As I worked my way along, I finally stepped back out onto the edge of the fairway.  I dug the spare out of my pocket.

“Found it!”  I looked around me to see where my husband was.  “Over here!” he yelled.

I looked back behind me and there in the middle of the weeds, he was bending over to retrieve my ball. But instead of coming up with it, he stood back up and looked at me.  “It’s hittable,” he said.

“Huh? Isn’t it out of bounds there?”

“Of course, but since you don’t keep score anyhow, it’s hittable.  These are the kinds of shots that are fun to practice…if you get yourself in trouble when you ARE keeping score, you’ll be more confident hitting the trickier shots if you’ve practiced on weird ones like this.”

I stared at him for a moment.  Okay, fine.  I pulled my pitching wedge, my 9 iron and my 8 iron from my bag, and I hung onto the 7 iron too.  Until I was literally standing over that ball, I wasn’t sure which club I’d want to use.

I picked my way over to where he was, noticing that my socks were now absorbing the mud that was already seeping over onto my shoes.  There was really no way to avoid it, no matter how carefully I placed my feet.

He backed off as I approached.  When I got to the ball, I studied it a moment.  He was right…it was hittable.  There was just enough space around it to get a club head in there…but it was also very muddy so I’d have to be careful not to drive it in further…or just pop it up and land it a few inches away, maybe to be lost forever.

“Hold these.” I said, as I gave him three of my clubs.  I kept the 7.

“The 7 isn’t steep enough to clear the weeds,” he said. “Use your pitch.  It has to pop out high”

“The pitch will pop it up, but it’s gonna leave it well short.  I’ll just bury it again in a new crappy spot”.  He gave me that expression…the one I know so well.  The one that says ‘I’ve played this game my entire life.  Don’t be stupid.’

I gave him my own look.  The one he knows so well. The one that says ‘I hear you, but I’m doing it my way.’

I carefully got into position, placing each foot so that the ball lay squarely in the middle of my stance.  I took hold of my 7 iron, and glanced at my husband.  “Heads up,” I said calmly.

I gently placed the club head into position.  Deciding I might need to blast it with a launch normally reserved for rocket ships, I bent my right knee ever so slightly to give me more leverage in my swing.  Without further ado, I worked that club as I’d never done before, driving the ball like a bullet out of the mud with a ceremonious spray for my cheering squad.

“JESUS!” I heard.

“Where’d it go?” I asked.   I couldn’t see it, but because it wasn’t still sitting where I’d last seen it, I assumed it’d gotten airborne. My husband ran to watch the landing, having first to clamber through the weeds to get out to the fairway. By the time I got back out there myself, my feet were soaked, my shoes ruined.  I squinted to see how far my ball had gone.  I couldn’t see it.  “Where’d it go?” I asked.

He was just shaking his head, with that other look I know so well.  The one that hates to admit that occasionally I can do things my way, and it all turns out okay.

Walking along side by side once again, I soon spotted my ball. It was not only out of the crap, it was well down the fairway, coming to rest in a sliver of sunshine…and just a few feet short of his own stellar drive off the tee.

“Where’s the scorecard?”  I asked.

++++++++++++++

That was a fun writing assignment.  And, yes…it was fictional (well, except for the golf and the hubby part. Good thing my hubby has a sense of humor!)  Writing fiction is a good challenge for me and forces me to use my imagination.  Even more challenging is to come up with a fictional story QUICKLY.   Now there’s a skill that remains elusive.  I’m participating in a new writing group that meets a few times each month…primary focus is fiction.  This has been a good thing for me, but beginning in January I will be pushing even harder on my memoir project with the goal to have it COMPLETED (and COMPLETELY completed) by June 2014.  I’m so excited to be working with Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Myers, who will be coaching me throughout the next six months.  Finally, the HOME STRETCH!  It may never see the light of day for publication, but quite honestly that’s never been my objective in the first place (for background, you’ll need to read my post titled ‘About being a writer‘).  Simply having my memoir completed will finally put the past back into the past, where I’d kept it emotionally locked up for decades. Until something unexpected happened that blew the lock wide open…

Perseverance, Thick Skin and Debbie Macomber

This is NOT my mom, but this is how she looks when she's reading!

This is NOT my mom, but this is how she looks when she’s reading!

My mom just FLEW through Debbie Macomber’s new book, called ‘Rose Harbor in Bloom’. Mom tends to power through any book if she finds it engaging.  She can read cover to cover in a matter of hours, or days, as she did the hefty book about Steve Jobs.  She’s been reading book after book on her iPad, which I purchased for her about two years ago.  I loaded the Kindle app on there and then set it up using my own Kindle account, so anything I read she can read too. (I didn’t set up her own Kindle account because she watches her pennies and feels indulgent purchasing a book).  Now, using Amazon, I can purchase and download  any book she’d like to read, whether it appeals to me or not, and it appears on her iPad within minutes. Which is how the book by Debbie Macomber materialized.

At almost 91, she has been managing the world of the iPad quite well over all.  Every now and then, she calls asking me for some Genius Bar assistance.  Even though I myself don’t own an iPad, as a rule I am able to help her out by phone, but occasionally it has to wait until I can hop a plane for the 4.5 hour flight that will take me to her place of residence.

As she was telling me this morning about the plot line on this book (and how quickly she got pulled in), I decided to Google the author, thinking I may have read one or two of her books over the years.  None of the titles on her list of published books rang a bell, but I then decided to read up on her career as a writer.  According to Wikipedia, here is how she got started:

Although Debbie Macomber is dyslexic and has only a high school education, she was determined to be a writer. A stay-at-home mother raising four small children, Macomber nonetheless found the time to sit in her kitchen in front of a rented typewriter and work on developing her first few manuscripts. For five years she continued to write despite many rejections from publishers, finally turning to freelance magazine work to help her family make ends meet.

With money that she saved from her freelance articles, Macomber attended a romance writer’s conference, where one of her manuscripts was selected to be publicly critiqued by an editor from Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. The editor tore apart her novel and recommended that she throw it away. Undaunted, Macomber scraped together $10 to mail the same novel, Heartsong, to Harlequin’s rival, Silhouette Books. Silhouette bought the book, which became the first romance novel to be reviewed by Publishers Weekly.

I’m not a reader of the romance genre, so although her name sounded very familiar to me when Mom mentioned it, now I realize it was only because I’ve seen her paperbacks in every book store, grocery store and airport hub for decades. Turns out, there’s over 170 million copies of her books in print, and her titles have spawned four made-for-tv movies.

What really caught my eye in her bio was the determination to persevere EVEN in light of the fact that an editor from a highly respected publishing house trashed her work at the very early stages of her writing journey.  Now let me tell you…romance novels are the LAST thing my mother would be reading now (or EVER).  ‘Rose Harbor In Bloom’ has been categorized to the ‘contemporary women’s fiction’ genre, and if my mom says it’s a great read, I’ll be reading it next (just as soon as I finish the lengthy book about Steve Jobs).

The Wikipedia bio goes on to report:

Macomber is a three-time winner of the B. Dalton Award, and the inaugural winner of the fan-voted Quill Award for romance (2005, for 44 Cranberry Point). She has been awarded the Romantic Times Magazine Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award and has won a Romance Writers of America RITA Award, the romance novelist’s equivalent of an Academy Award, for The Christmas Basket. Her novels have regularly appeared on the Waldenbooks and USAToday bestseller lists and have also earned spots on the New York Times Bestseller List. On September 6, 2007 she made Harlequin Enterprises history, by pulling off the rarest of triple plays—having her new novel, 74 Seaside Avenue, appear at the #1 position for paperback fiction on the New York Times, USAToday and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. These three highly respected bestseller lists are considered the bellwethers for a book’s performance in the United States.

Isn’t it nice to know that the success of a writer doesn’t lie within the opinion of an editor…even one from a highly regarded publishing house?  It seems to me that the success lies within the effort put into the journey.  Perseverance, thick skin, and having the determination to NOT look back unless you’re going that way. Those are the surely the cornerstones of success, don’t you think?

Searching for the Happiness

It’s rather unusual for me to have the time to actually pay attention to the notices I get from LinkedIn with regards to the various ‘groups’ I’ve joined there.  But, today I’m home earlier than expected. With a cup of tea by my side, I decided to peruse one of those emails which reports recent discussion activity on the LinkedIn group for Aspiring Writers.  Interestingly enough, Wendy from Michigan has offered a free blog critique for anyone interested to link her personal blog, called ‘Searching for Happiness’ to their site.  Now, it may seem somewhat odd that I would care what a random person truly thinks about my blog, but in reviewing hers, she comes across as someone I would enjoy getting acquainted with, who happens to be blogging about her own personal experiences in life, and would like to share what she’s learned along the way with others. And, besides, she has 3 children.  I have 3 children.  She has 4 pets.  I have, well I have just one pet…at the moment.  But I’ve had several MORE pets in the past.  I suspect we have a whole bunch in common …and look forward to finding out.  You can too, if you want to see what she’s up to.   Just click here:   http://searchingforthehappiness.wordpress.com

P.S.  I can tell you already, she’s way cooler than I am.  She tweets, she posts on LinkedIn, and she’s won blog awards.  She has a ‘following’.  I’m not sure I even aspire to have a ‘following’.  Doesn’t that suggest ‘expectations’ laid upon you by your followers?  I don’t want anyone else’s expectations laid upon me.  I only write because I like to, and I don’t want to write to an audience, but I do want to write for any followers that like to follow along.  Like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, I cover a lot of territory.  And, what I choose to write about has no preconceived agenda.  It’s just who I am, where I’ve been and what’s on my mind.

Who exactly is out there, anyhow?

As the night winds down here, I’m drawn to the fact that my blog site has had 6 views today.  And now I find myself wondering who those viewers are, exactly.  Each evening before I go to bed, I do take the time to look at the site stats, just to see if anyone has inadvertently stumbled upon me, knowing full well that the odds are very slim, since I kind of cower, I mean hover here in the corner of cyberspace rather worried that someone might actually take notice, but secretly hoping that someone might find what I have written to be of help in some way…either a good laugh, or a good cry, or just a good few moments away from their own daily routine of life.  I’d fully intended to write more frequently, which was the whole point of setting up this blog.  But instead, I find myself too concerned about editing what I might want to blog about, for fear of upsetting the invisible reader-to-be.  Which is totally stupid, and defeats the entire purpose of blogging in the first place.

But, I can proudly say that I’d  been working on my memoir project quite recently, up until a sudden family emergency whisked me away from not only my writing progress, but also from my frame of mind.  And frame of mind is critical to getting anything accomplished when it comes to memoir. I’d never really intended it to become anything other than the original essay I wrote in response to this writing prompt:  Write about something that happened early in your life that years later had a profound effect on you.

The essay that I finally produced just hours before it was due, got quite the reaction…not only from my writing teacher, but also a year later from a well known author whose writing workshop I’d attended.  Both had strongly encouraged me to expand that original essay into an expansive manuscript.  But the problem, you see, is that even after all these years, I find the process of ‘going back in time’ to capture the events that took place so very long ago is akin to being told you have a malignancy.  You experience the moment, but you don’t fully comprehend the ripple effect until you are light years away.

And now that I’m back to my daily routine again here at home, I’m swamped trying to get caught up at work, which has nothing to do with writing, but everything to do with total brain focusing work.  Eventually, I will get on with my personal journey, both forward and back. I’ll begin once again to tap away on my computer so that I can push through the hard stuff and just GET ON WITH IT.

It’s nice to know that of all the inconsequential blog sites out there in cyberspace, mine attracted 6 reads today.  That little fact makes me smile, wondering who exactly is out there, zeroing in on the words I’ve written?