The Course of Gratitude

On Thanksgiving, I was invited to dinner an hour or more from my house. There would be family and friends and I was excited about going.

Already stressed from running late, I ticked off my checklist of things as I tossed them into the car, hopped in, turned the key, and …. click.. click…click.

Uhm. No. I must have been hallucinating. I didn’t depress the gas. I didn’t turn the key completely. Confidently, I tried again. Click, click, click my car responded to each and every try. Not one hint of the engine igniting.

I called my daughter who had arrived ahead of me – stress and disappointment overwhelming me. She said it was probably just the battery and she arranged for someone to jump my car.

They arrived, hooked up the cables, and said – turn the key. Click… click… click. Okay, wait a few minutes and try again. But with each and every try the click, click, click even seemed to get weaker.

Not only was I missing the dinner that I was already late for, but my baby – my car – my very dependable, has never let me down was ailing. I assumed since the battery couldn’t be jumped, there was something very wrong with her. I imagined the costs, the time, began to wonder how I would get to work.

Too late for dinner. Too late to make alternative plans. I donned my big sunglasses to hide my tear swollen eyes and took my dogs for a walk. I returned home, ate a bowl of fruit (I hadn’t shopped for heaven’s sake, I was going elsewhere for dinner!) and cleaned out my closet. What else might one have done?

As I thought of the dinner conversation missed, what are you grateful for? I had to consider what I was and am grateful for. Of course, I am blessed.

As with the immediate circumstances, the car with the suddenly dead battery, spending Thanksgiving with my dogs instead of a table filled with food – I was still grateful.

I’m grateful the car didn’t die anywhere else! It died here, in my own driveway, leaving me safe at home and not on the freeway or the supermarket or an hour away from my house on a chilly holiday night.

I’m grateful for the amazing family I have. I may not spend every holiday with them because they have a father, in laws, friends, but I see them all the time. As I walked the dogs around the neighborhood, I saw my neighbors enjoying their family – some of whom only visit on holidays. I am bless to have family who want to hang out with me, want to be here with me, and don’t just come on holidays.

I’m grateful for the beautiful souls I’m fortunate enough to call friends. In the last some years, I’ve attempted to align myself only with those who glow with positivity. They are people who I can count on, people who care about me and I care about. I probably could have even called them on Thanksgiving for a ride, but I didn’t want to disturb their holidays.

I was fortunate enough to have my daughters recreate Thanksgiving on Saturday – which, somehow, was better than the original could have been.

Of Importance

Someone recently allude to the reason they haven’t been writing is they felt their work wasn’t important.

But – is that why we do this? Out of some idea of importance to the world or to ourselves?

Are we not just driven to create because we are creators? Or does it lose meaning when we think our creations are not important?

As a young person, I wrote. I wrote with no thought of audience or publisher or awards. It was a drive within me, for as long as I can remember, to just write. Get it all out. Put it down on paper.

The idea of importance to the world didn’t come until later – college, in fact, when one professor said – but what is the deeper meaning?

And a student answered – maybe it was just for fun?

And she, slitting her eyes, growled, “We don’t do that.”

My writer friend always got stuck on audience. She’d start on a piece, but then she’d become stalled, staring at it for hours and rereading it and attempting to answer the question – Who is the Audience?

All these expectations stifle the creative spirit. Maybe these questions need to be answered, but I believe the answer must come after the creation.

Perhaps that is the true spirit of creation. Create first, ask questions later.

The spirit of commercialism to which we are all pulled, drawn, or lead is in opposition with the authentic need to create. For the product, we must ask the questions and then create something tailor made.

I don’t want to make products. I suck at sales. I just want to write. The writing is important to who I am as a human. Writing makes me a better human. Isn’t that important?

Morphing Memory

Psychologists believe that memory is fallible. We don’t really remember everything correctly. Every time we take out a memory, we add to it, subtract from it, try to reason with it – which, essentially, changes the memory.

People are highly suggestible. Their memories can suffer from suggestions from others, from pop culture, from their own emotional instability.

We all have those stories when we’re wrapped around the holiday table reminiscing and someone misremembers something – or remembers it differently than others. They swear they are right and the other is wrong.

Remember that scene in Scrooged with Bill Murry when he’s in the taxi and he’s recalling a memory: “I was running down a hill, and there was this beautiful girl in pigtails.” The taxi driver grumbles – “That was Little House on the Prairie!”

I used to know someone like that. Her misremembering took on a life of its own. It’s a wonder she’s not the fiction writer.

I find memoir exciting. Not because of the fictional aspects of the things we fill in. I completely accept that memory, and thereby memoir, is corrupt, but the exploration is enlightening. In memoir, we discover who we are. In my search for my sacred parts, in the healing of my broken parts, I strive for authenticity.

“Days of Remembrance” is an effort for me to come to terms with my brother’s passing. I didn’t get to say goodbye, so this is my goodbye to him. I think he’d appreciate it in the same way he appreciated when others reached out of their comfort zone, as he was trying to do in his last year or so of life.

“Days of Remembrance” was published in MemoryHouse Press. A lovely little journal of which I am proud to be included.

What is Creativity?

My friend believes creativity is a gift direct from the powers that be.

I believe everyone is creative in different ways.

My friend feels when she is ill, she is unable to write. The body, she says, is recreating itself, creating health from illness.

I think of the great minds in our society – Mozart’s last work, although incomplete was powerful, was written on his deathbed. Einstein was working on his next great theorem as he lay dying. Howard Hughes, burned and bleeding, after a plane crash left him near dead, redesigned the bed he lay in, redesigned the plane in which he crashed.

My friend is not completely wrong. When I’m not well, the last thing I’m thinking about is how my character will move forward.

But maybe that’s exactly what we need when our body is focused on healing, that our mind needs to be occupied with our passion in life. Maybe there is something to the creation – the connection between healing and writing – that makes magic.

We know that, already, don’t we? We heal though creativity. We are fully present when involved in our purpose.

I wrote the first draft of Our Gentle Sins during a stressful time. It came out fast and easy. The flow was beautiful and powerful and made me feel better, more in control, and hopeful.

When I think of the book now, the characters hold a special place in my heart. Jack and Valerina are the epitome of hope

What Beautiful Souls

In dusty, breezy classrooms I stand for eight, sometimes ten hours a day, depending on the day. I’m one of the fortunate ones. I don’t have a single classroom, or even a single location. I move from city to city, even on a single day, from school to school, walking across hot blacktop and behind dusty construction. All for the beautiful souls.

I love students, young people, for all their awkward, wonderful, perfect imperfections.

There’s the brave souls who seem to know themselves and push forward in original dress or make up, the shy ones who cower at the back of the class, the jocks, the nerds, the quiet and boisterous, the bright, bouncy, round, and rolling. The variety is marvelous to experience.

There’s the one who know what they want to do every day for the next thirty or forty years of their lives, and the ones who wander lost, stumbling through their education, and the one who thinks they know their sexual power, and the other who hides behind their hair.

They’re all so amazingly beautiful – without really knowing it.

Beauty lies in their movements, in their anxious thoughts, their mistakes and missteps and goals and exceptional struggle to achieve.

Many people are concerned that our future, the future of our planet or mankind is in trouble; but there is hope.

In their clean, fresh faced, pimpled, freckled beautiful souls – earth’s only fountain of youth is our youth.

I sometimes believe I became a teacher by chance, but maybe it was always my fate. In either case, I’m fortunate. One of my professor’s suggested I join the TA program. I didn’t know if I had the time, could afford the low pay. I was certain I’d flubbed the interview. I walked away believing that I would never hear from them. But I did.

And even now, all these years later, I get to stand in front of the class and watch these young people grow and flourish before my eyes. I watch them struggle and see their eyes brighten when they’ve met the challenge. It’s a gift.

I occasionally complain, shake my head. The pandemic and now post pandemic has not been easy. The lack of appreciation. But – the students.

They are not perfect, they are not fully formed, but they are lovely humans just trying to adjust to life. There’s a lot on their shoulders, and they’ve seen so much darkness. Let’s teach them kindness, let’s encourage their open minds and praise their open hearts.

Imperfection, struggle, growth, change, and challenges met create the beautiful souls – and I get to witness that miracle!

Edgar Allan Poe in his time…

Have you ever wondered what it was like – the 1830’s/1840’s – when Poe was alive and walking around the streets of Boston or Richmond?

I’ve imagined the dark nights with gas street lights to guide the people at night. I’ve thought about his mother rushing him home after her show at the theater in the billowing cold of a frosty October, as she burned with fever, desperately fighting for breath.

Or Edgar, as an adult, leaving the pub on a similar cold winter night.

in the 1830’s, there were 12 million people in all of the United States. Now, there are 10 million in LA County alone!

In the 1840’s, the latest medical invention was a mechanical leech – let that sink in for a moment.

Boston grew phenomenally – from 1830 to 1840, the population grew from 60,000 to over 90,000. Today, Boston has nearly 700,000 people.

Poe lived in a town (Richmond) with 16,000 people. It was a growing metropolis with plans for paved streets (paved with wood, by the way). Richmond now boasts over 200,000 living souls.

These thoughts inspired the first lines of Eddy:

He stumbles from the pub, slips and falls on the iced over bricks of Boston’s November streets. Save for the muddled voices beyond the closed door, the street is quiet as his body thuds to the ground. His breath billows in front of him as he gasps and grumbles and struggles to his knees, then to his feet to regain his drunken balance…

I wanted to tell an imaginary tale of Edgar Poe the night he nearly took his own life… what saved him? what changed him? But the details needed to support the time, to place the reader in the 1800’s with a sick mother, a dying wife, a bottle of poison. When I read this at the Poe Museum in Virginia a few years ago, the employees complimented the personal grasp on Edgar’s life.

It serves still as a source of pride. And I come back to it – I want to write more about Poe, his life, not the dry biographies, but a more personal investment in a man who is still very much admired for his literary accomplishments in the face of his personal challenges.

Grief Memoirs

I handle grief by writing. I handle stress by writing. I handle many things by laying a line on paper and allowing the dark moments to flow out. Image and rhyme and memory and magic blooms and appears sometimes in chaos, other times in patterns however rarely symmetrical.

People all handle grief differently and all the ways are valid. Many people don’t understand those who don’t bawl and post and praise. Other people don’t understand the public display.

After my brother passed last year, my mother followed him in a matter of days. It took me a bit, but I wrote. While I’m working on a longer piece about my mother, I’m proud to say Memory House Magazine out of Chicago accepted the piece about my brother.

“Days of Remembrance” is a mystical memoir of my brother’s passing, more specifically the days following his death. The print version will be out soon. They’ve invited us to read their digital version at https://chicagomemoryhouse.wordpress.com/

Setting Your Baby Free

I was in conversation with someone who works for… let’s say… a certain network about Our Gentle Sins. How Exciting!

But, she warned, “Once they get their fingers into your story, it will no longer be under your control.” She went on to intimate that they would twist and change and do what they wanted with it.

I’ve heard many writers get upset about this. Some writers in my own circle were offended for me when an editor from the Chicago Tribune’s Printers’ Row Journal asked if they could change a name in my story. The editor felt the nickname would confuse the readers. I responded – please change what you feel is confusing. My writer acquaintances took me to task on that – how dare I give them permission. I should fight for my story.

There are things I would fight for, things I have fought for. When the editor publishing West End wanted to change a slang Midwestern term, I didn’t agree. I argued that it made it more authentic and we had to trust the reader to figure it out in context. But small things like a nickname or a comma, I have no problem with those. Some writers do, however.

One publisher asked me to take one of my short stories and turn it into a long style poem. My first response, no, no, it can’t be done – but then, I was intrigued by the task! Picasso was once challenged to change one of his paintings to a negative – black and white inverse – he took that challenge and ran with it, changing the colors in multiple ways! The results of which line the halls of his museum in Spain. Sometimes change is not the enemy.

However, I do know what producers, directors, movie studios, and television does to novels and stories. They interpret into their own little idea. They change things for dramatic purposes, for comedy, for whatever reason may suit their purposes at that point in time. But – isn’t that what they’re paying you for? They are taking your characters, your setting, and they’re bringing new life to it. This may be a very different life that the writer intended. But that happens anyway.

Many people have misunderstood “The Ghost in her Room.” However, it didn’t stop them from enjoying the story. They just had their own interpretation of it. It brought something to their lives that I hadn’t intended. It didn’t make it wrong. I think that means I did something right!

When a reader engages in your story, identifies with your character or event, aren’t they changing it into their story or their idea of your story? Once we set the baby free in the world – that baby becomes something else and we have no control over it. It takes on a life of its own. It affects the world and the world affects it.

There are certain things I hope Our Gentle Sins will carry forth – the message of hope, of recovery, of leaving the mistakes of the past in the past, and building the strength as an individual to move forward in this world. We can only wait and see!

I like words…

I like sentences. Big, beautiful sentences so long and thick you can wrap them around yourself and keep yourself warm in the winter. Yeah, those. But I like words too. They go together, you know, words and sentences. I like to make them move with rhythm, sing and dance in a way that you fall into them as if you’re hypnotized by them and you never want to leave them, you just want to sway back and forth and keep reading until you slip off of your seat.

It takes time to create those. They start small, like these. Then you have to let them sit, like yeasty bread, and let them rise. You leave, come back, lift the towel, pinch and poke at them, and leave them again thinking, “I know it can be better than that.”

Then you have to sit down with them, you have to get to know them, talk to them, talk through them, try them on, and break them then mend them, try this and try that. It’s frustrating too, I know. You fight with them, want to give up on them, want to trash the whole thing and sometimes you might leave in tears with hopelessness tearing at your soul, but then you come back on another day, maybe an overcast day that holds the threat of rain, and you sit down and talk it all out once again. Maybe this time, this time, it works. Someday it will.

Then you’ll move on to the next sentence.

This is writing. It hurts. It cuts giant gashes filled with jagged edges through you. It scars. It gives you nightmares and makes you curl up in a ball and rock not so gently back and forth.

But it’s also the only thing that pushes you forward, fills the empty spaces, gives you purpose. It keeps the dark shadows at bay and protects you from the harsh world.