Thursday, December 31, 2009
I said I would keep readers posted on how I was doing. Assessing the situation at year's end, I'd say I was successful 80% of the time - not bad, really. In the 20% of the time I failed to approach something in a positive way, I did usually berate myself for the defeat, so that counts for something too. In a year when there were so many depressing avenues I could have pursued, I'm pretty proud of my follow through. But I know I didn't accomplish it alone.
I have family and friends who never fail to support me, indulge me, and inspire me. But I don't always express to them how much my life depends on their love and friendship. So, my resolution for 2010 is to make certain they know. I plan to do this through written letter, phone communication, and conversations in person. It's way too easy to say to yourself, "They know how I feel" because to express it is sometimes difficult or just plain time consuming. Not an excuse in this day and age when we have so many avenues of expression. And it's too important to me.
I can honestly say that there are scores of people in my life who have no idea that knowing them has influenced or bettered my life; they have touched me, continue to touch me, and, by keeping their caring alive, I think I'll stay on that path of positiveness.
I also believe it will provide me with new threads of creativity. Connecting with other human beings - learning about their needs, their happiness, their goals - fuels me in many ways. Best of all, by doing it, I maintain those ties that are so important to me.
At the end of 2010, I want to be able to say that I've renewed some ties, strengthened others and fulfilled my resolution in a way that was good for both sides. I'll be even busier this next year, and that's a good thing.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I recently read an article about British actor, Bill Nighy, in which he talked about his recent role in "Pirate Radio" and an observation he made while doing that film. The observation had to do with retrospective insight. His words spoke to me. He quoted a line from the film about how people think when reminiscing : "Those were the days of my life." He countered with the notion, "These are the days of my life," going on to explain that he wasn't going to search the past, or the future, for clues about how to celebrate life. He said he planned to "remain in the day, and experience it fully."
"Remain in the day" - perfect advice, especially in these tormenting times of financial and personal unrest. The challenge is not in looking backward to better times, or in projecting gloom and doom for the future based on what might happen. If, instead, you "stay in the moment", applying all your energies to what you can do now, focusing on what is in your life at this moment that is positive, and taking that power and insight and using it to make today the most important time of all, it certainly seems to me the better use of your mental and physical talents.
The last scene in "Remains Of The Day" between Hopkins and Thompson is a silent farewell that borders, for the viewer, on agony. I want so much for one of them to say something or do something that will change the moment into one that will benefit them both. The title of the film is never more true than it is in that scene. I feel they both lose because they are focused too much on past convention and future uncertainty. It makes for a memorable cinema moment, yes, but I grieve for their loss.
I must admit I try but sometimes fail to live in the day myself. I want to, I know I'm more productive when I do, and I know those around me are happier when I do. But it's not something you just "do". It takes concentration and perseverence because it's easier to blame the past or to give up before you make the effort to try. I think I'm getter better at it and Nighy's words gave me a push to "get back in the game". I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
So, it should be no surprise that the "new family member" in the title of this piece refers to a canine. My husband and I have wanted a second dog since saying goodbye to Rascal over two years ago. Unfortunately, circumstances kept preventing that. But recently we found a loophole, so to speak. We learned that our county animal shelter would allow anyone 65 or older (my husband fits that description) to adopt a dog for $1.00! So, off we went to the shelter and, by late afternoon, Shayla had been welcomed into our home.
Shayla is a beautiful 3-year old black Labrador, well behaved, loving, and, best of all, accepted by our 10-year-old hound, Molly Brown. More specifically, Molly is tolerating her at this stage, but each day brings new bonding between the two of them. Yesterday they chased each other around the backyard with playful glee; I haven't seen Molly exercise that much since Rascal was alive! Molly has taken to sleeping near Shayla for part of each night, and she accepts - most of the time - Shayla's attempts to play with her, although she walks away from such invitations so far. But Shayla's only been here for two weeks; I predict they'll be pals before much more time passes.
With the exception of two, all of the dogs we have owned have come from shelters or been abandoned and adopted by us. We promote this way of getting a canine to add to your family. There is just something about rescuing a shelter dog that adds to the love quotient in my heart. We're both winners in this scenario.
The best part of adopting Shayla is the added joy she brings to everyone in the family; she is that bigger dog that's been missing for so long. We know without reserve that we couldn't have found a better canine to fit that empty space. We know that her love and devotion will only add to our homefront blessings.
I'm sure you'll be hearing more about Shayla in future posts; about Molly's acceptance of her, about how she's fitting in to our routines, about her discoveries and our discoveries of her. So, welcome, Shayla, to the wild and wacky Ogren clan!
NOTE: I was felled by a virus in November that had me in bed for over two weeks and I spent the rest of the month recuperating. I hope to be back at my writing full steam beginning this week.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Our family has survived some of the worst financial woes that were responsible for endless stress, crazy schedules and non-stop pursuit of remedies for our darkest nightmares. No, we are not all rich and lazy yet; long way to go to get to that (if we ever do!) But, I am so proud of "us" for remaining positive and forward thinking through all the crap we've had to endure.
We have certainly been luckier than most: we all have kept our respective roofs over our heads, have never gone without some kind of food on the table, and we all have jobs of one kind or another. But it has still been scary - and we've been very lucky with having understanding landlords, and friends and family who have come to our aid.
So, on this ultimate day of thanks, I find myself looking toward the New Year with thoughts of new adventures, better times and, best of all, still having my family around me to spur me on when I falter. I know that everything is getting better and will continue to do so.
At our dinner table today, when I'm asked what I'm thankful for, it will be difficult to name just one thing - there are so many happenings, so many gifts of love, caring and giving and I don't want to leave anyone or anything out. I guess I'll just say, "Thank you ALL for helping me realize throughout this difficult time that I can survive anything. I have people around me who never fail to give me cause to fight for a better day.
Happy Thanksgiving All!
Thursday, October 22, 2009
These visual trumpets of a new Season uplift my spirits and bring to mind the happy holidays that fill the last quarter of the year. I have always been puzzled by those who say Autumn leaves make them think of death. Yes, it is the end of a growing cycle for leaves, but what a majestic rainbow it creates for all of us to enjoy; how can that be a downer?
Our daughter just returned from a short visit to what will soon be her new home state, Wisconsin, and her accolades about the beauty of the Fall leaves was unending. It's hard to believe that only an hour's drive north could gift one with more beautiful images of this time of year, but she insists that it is so. I wish I could journey there and see for myself.
But, I am content with the views from my study, or my car window as I traverse the local scene. Even the leaves that have already fallen to the ground create a panorama of hues; beauty that cannot be matched. Nature knows how to put on a show! I give it five stars and a standing ovation, and hope that, wherever my readers are, they are experiencing a similar display.
I would ask that anyone lucky enough to encounter such splendor wouldn't think of it as an end or a time for dirges, but, instead would be moved in the elementary, naive way my youngest grandson was the other day, upon seeing two totally red trees: "Oh, Wow! Cool!" He gets it -and that makes me joyous.
Friday, September 18, 2009
It was a day of sunshine and warmth, as most days are in Miami, and my first thought when I woke up was that this was the last I would spend in my room at my parent's house. It wasn't long before I was standing in front of that home, where I had spent my teen years, my wedding gown laid out on the back seat of my girlfriend's car, and my dad standing beside me with tears in his eyes. It was only the second time in my life I'd ever seen him cry. "See you at the church, Daddy," I said, kissing his cheek.
Staring out a window, in an upstairs room at the church, dressed in my dream gown, with my bridesmaids and my mother as companions, I had my only moments of nervousness - because the groom was late! I could see my dad, pacing out in front of the church entrance. I had no qualms that R.J. wouldn't show up; he was always late for everything. It was a little distressing to me, however, that he would continue that bad habit on our most important day! But then I saw the best man's car pull up and R.J. get out, looking harried, but handsome. He exchanged words with my dad and he laughed, and they walked into the church. The moment I had waited for my whole life was upon me.
As the strains of the wedding march began, my dad leaned over and whispered, "Be happy, honey" and I answered that I was sure I would. And I was. Walking down the aisle, seeing only R.J. at the altar, I had none of those butterflies or doubts that I've heard many brides have at that moment. I knew I was doing the "most right" thing I had ever done by marrying this man.
Our years together have proven that. No, they haven't all been easy, and a couple of times we nearly gave up. But we always found a way back to each other because neither of us could imagine a life without the other. I always look to him as my confidante, my lover, my rock in times of crisis, and the person I'd rather spend time with than any other. I can truly say I am still married to my best friend.
We've struggled at times, we've thrived and enjoyed our bounty when those times presented themselves, and we've shared experiences so unique we still don't believe that a lot of them happened to us. We are infinintely proud of our two children, who are now raising children of their own. They all give us new joys and experiences that enrich our marriage as well.
So, tonight, after 44 years of learning and sharing together, we will take to the dance floor at our favorite lounge, the historic Pump Room in Chicago, to spend a few special moments recreating the first time we ever danced together, in the cafeteria of our high school, at a dance where we first fell in love. And I will pray that we're still celebrating the same way 44 years from now.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I still remember his effortless and mesmerizing performance in "Dirty Dancing". By the time that movie came out, my dance experience was limited to observation; a posture not easily suffered by those who have known dance as a discipline. The originality of his movements, the style that he introduced in that film, made me a fan for life. Even the last time I saw him dance, in a flawed film he made with his wife and partner of 30-plus years, Lisa Neemi, I was still in awe of the way he maneuvered his body, in a way that any dancer of his age would find almost impossible; he pulled me in to the moment as I marvelled at his unending ability and unique talents.
It wasn't only his physical ability that I admired. His performance in "Ghost" will always be one of the most complete and touching, and I never failed to appreciate the positive effort he gave in his acting choices. But, most of all, his approach to life, and especially to its struggles, gave me much to respect. There was no Hollywood phony there; he was the genuine article.
When I watched his touching interviews, after he became ill, all I could think about was how frustrated he must be that he could no longer will his body to dance. It is a feeling only another dancer can fathom. And, God, what a master he was! I am lucky that I will always have his work on film to enjoy long after this sad day is past. But, whenever I see him catch Baby in that incredible lift at the end of "Dirty Dancing", I know I will mourn the fact that he didn't have enough time on this earth to do all the dancing he still had in him.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
There are some at the top of the political ladder, such as our current President, who "get it"; who realize that the "middle class" that my husband and I considered ourselves lucky to be a part of, is disappearing. There are so many millionaires, or pseudo-millionaires, in our society today, that we have slid into a new type of lower class, I guess.
We no longer enjoy simple pleasures such as eating out on a regular basis, going to movies and shows whenever we want, taking trips to visit friends or explore new areas, going shopping for luxuries and clothes we want, not just need, and generally enjoying the fruits of our honest labors. In a more serious vein, we can no longer buy affordable health insurance, consider buying a home, a new car, or rewarding our offspring with occasional monetary gifts. These were all aspects of our life that were just habit in those journals I read and I thought, we can't do any of this anymore!.
Yes, I know we're in the worst recession since the great Depression, and yes, I know we all have to "bite the bullet" and try to make it through. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm referring to the fact that our society has expanded in an unhealthy way; one that excludes that middle income family. We are not rich enough to afford the things we once took for granted - and not poor enough to have them provided for us by government assistance. We still work just as hard for our money, but our lifestyle - and that of our struggling children - is nothing like what we envisioned or enjoyed in the past.
It makes me angry when I hear the "haves" declaring that "nothing is wrong with our system", that we don't need to tax the ultra rich, that we don't need price controls, or reform for health care, or any of the other measures that might stem this greed that now pervades our society, leaving the defunct middle class forgotten in its wake to make "more, more, ever more".
What a soapbox this is today! Couldn't help it, though. I still harbor hope, in my unending optimism, that things will get better. I know this current economic mess will right itself eventually, but that isn't my focus here. I want to see the endless media seriously address the issue of what has happened to that middle class life I treasured as my children grew up and we were able to constantly strive for better things because we knew they were possible. And I don't mean a two-minute piece on the morning newsmagazine. This is the country where anyone is supposed to be able to have a good life for their loved ones if they work hard. The meaning of that sentence has certainly changed - and not for the better. Think about it.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Before I answer the question, I'd like to explain the birth of this novel, and the strange and lengthy journey it has taken up until now. The idea came to me 25 years ago - yes, you read right - while on a getaway weekend to St. Augustine, Florida. My husband and I were staying in our favorite bed and breakfast there (if you've never gone there, make it a point - great history, great shopping and great places to stay; but I digress!). The protagonist character of the book, Samantha, began to form in my mind as I thought about a possible plot involving a woman who runs a B&B, a tragedy that brings her daughter (Samantha) from her acting profession in New York to St. Augustine to help her with the Inn, and all that happens as a result. I knew I wanted it to be a character-driven novel and I began a couple of chapters on a legal pad in longhand. After that weekend, I returned to my very busy job at Walt Disney World, my home, my family, and all my other responsibilities and - you guessed it - the book remained an idea in my head.
Over the years, and through several moves, I toyed with the book but never devoted the time necessary to finish it. At one point, when my husband and some other collaborators were working on some screenplays, it was suggested that I change the story to a screenplay format. I actually did complete it that way, but was never happy with it because it condensed all the characters, and, as a result, came out flat for me.
Finally, in the early years of the current century, I completed a draft of the book. I had a couple of people read it, and got some positive response, but they pointed out flaws as well - flaws I already suspected and they confirmed. I put the book aside because I was busy ghostwriting an autobiography, and writing articles for regional publications, and just didn't feel I could give it the attention it deserved.
Then, five years ago, we moved to Chicago. That monumental change in our lives - all to the good - saw my writing career come to a screeching halt for awhile. I was simply too busy helping my husband with his career, helping our daughter and her family settle in (they had moved here at the same time), establish a new base for all our activities and home-centered tasks, and I wanted to get acquainted with this wonderful City again.
That was a long-winded way of getting the point, but I wanted to lay it out because, during all those years, the book kept growing in my head, even when I wasn't putting words to paper. The characters grew, the story took on more shape and depth, and I believed in it so strongly that I knew it had to be completed. I revised the first draft, then did another, but still felt something was missing. My "awakening" came when I joined my writer's group last year, and they began helping me to improve what I had already written. Through that process, I have continued to find ways to make the characters come more alive on the page, and, at last, I know I possess the ability to produce the book I've always envisioned.
So, what is it about? As I've said, it's a character-driven novel (for those who are not writer savvy, that means the plot is developed from actions driven by the character's personalities). That generally places it in the category of women's fiction - even though I believe some men would find it an enjoyable read. It is titled, "Ribbons Of Love" and the title refers to all the various kinds of love that impact one's life: family ties, friends, romance, etc. - each type encountered by Samantha, the main character, influences her conflicts and the direction her life takes. The setting of the book begins in New York City before she moves to a small town in Virginia, and also includes time she spends in England. The story focuses on her, but other major characters are essential to the plot; her best friend, her mother, her new boyfriend, friends she acquires in Virginia, and some she meets in England. The forces that drive her are her acting, her love of writing, and the memories of her earlier marriage - all of these figure into her new life and the good and bad that happen there.
Without giving you the actual plot details, I hope I've created interest in reading the finished product. My hope is to have it going out to agents by the Fall (yes, of this year!). Then, we just keep trying, and play the wait-and-see game. Wish me luck - and let me know what you think.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The first library I remember was in the small town of Maitland, Florida, in the mid-1950's. The building had once been a large one-story house, and the steps up to the double doors always signalled a new adventure for me. I would ride my bike there and spend hours exploring the stacks. For several weeks one year, I was allowed to volunteer there to help with various chores, including replacing books on the shelves, so that I could earn a Girl Scout badge. It was then that I learned the Dewey Decimal System for categorizing and filing books by subject. Thirty years later, I would return to that library with our children. Maitland was now a suburb of Orlando, and where we lived for nearly 20 years. The library building had been added to, there were lots more books to peruse and borrow, but every time I walked into the "old" part of the library, all those girlhood memories flooded back. And I loved the connection that our family had to that place.
Currently, I have a card that allows me access to all the libraries in the Chicagoland area; they are all linked by computer and lend books to any branch, if requested. I can go online, search for a book, ask for it, and it is sent to my local library. It's a great help when I'm researching something or unable to locate a book in my town library. But, I still prefer to search the shelves on my own. Everyone in my family knows I could spend entire days inside a library. And there isn't a city I visit that I don't look for a library to explore, from the Library of Congress in D.C. to the smallest little book repository in a tiny hamlet somewhere.
Of course, I love bookstores, too, but access to a library is like finding a pot of gold for me. All those books, and I don't have to pay for any of them! Our daughter and son, their mates and children have acquired this same reverence for books and reading, and that gives me such satisfaction. I know they will never want for a way to escape into other worlds, to take journeys through pages that they might never take in real life, and have the ability to enrich their minds and build their dreams.
There is talk these days that electronic books and their like will mean the death knell to the printed page. I don't believe it. Because for so many like me, there is a special magic in reading a book you've spent time choosing from a library that has no equal. Besides, there are printed documents that are hundreds of years old, and we already know that electronic reproductions will deteriorate fairly rapidly. But, logical arguments aside, you'll never get me to read a book on a computer screen or a handheld device. Give me the smell of the ink, the paper, the binding. Let me escape at my leisure in a comfortable chair by the fire, or a relaxing deck chair in the shade of a tree, or propped up on pillows in bed before sleep overtakes me. That is the joy of the written word, and one of my favorite vices.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
It isn't just the actual work on the novel that is keeping me busy; it's the research. And what could I have to research for a fictional story that takes place in present day? I read. I read other novelists whose work I admire to reflect on how they engage a reader, and how I could apply that to my own writing. I read nonfiction, about people or events that interest me because some of their personality traits can be woven into my characters, and incidents that intrigue me can be re-arranged and possibly used in my work. Lastly, I watch and I listen. I watch good movies to pick up on great characters and decipher what makes them great, and I listen to the snappy dialogue, or the dramatic dialogue, or the romantice dialogue. And, wherever I am, I watch, listen and learn as I study other people and their situations. All of this time is well spent because it spurs my imagination and improves the words I put to paper.
So, I'm back to it now. I have a few stolen moments before my grandson, Fletch, awakes from his nap or the phone rings or my husband comes home from his teaching duties. And, late tonight, I'll be back at the keyboard, when I can work undisturbed - and, hopefully, make some progress on my novel. And don't worry, I won't desert my blog for too much longer. I may even take a few moments, as I did today, to keep you updated on my progress.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The couple exchanged vows in a picturesque chapel, the service included music that spoke to the 100 or so guests in an intimate way because it reflected the personalities of the bride and groom, the wedding party was formally dressed but their apparel spoke to the overall theme of the wedding rather than trying to impress, and the flowers were daisies, evoking special memories for the bride and her family. The entire ceremony took only a few minutes but created a lifelong image for those in attendance.
The reception was a relaxed, happy affair with simple, delicious food, served buffet style, just enough champagne and drink to toast the occasion, recorded music for dancing; all evoking several hours of celebration, laughter and memory creation for all. The tables were personally decorated by the families of the bridal couple and the favors for the guests were packets of daisy seeds to plant and remember the day by. Most importantly, everything we experienced and enjoyed was memorable because it spoke to me, especially, of these two caring families who gathered to mark the occasion by giving of themselves to its end.
I saw no ostentatious extravagance, and I loved that. I was reminded of my own children's weddings, which were also gay, personal and unforgettable - as was mine way back when - and I found myself wondering why there are so many who feel they have to mortgage their lives to put on a phony show on a day when all that matters is sincerely pledging your lives to one another at the altar, and celebrating that exchange with family and friends in a fun, relaxed way. Why do couples feel the need for dresses that cost as much as my first house, floral masterpieces that cover every open space, lavish parties that create indebtedness for years to come, and which include overly expensive favors for the guests and food and beverages fancy enough for royalty? I've attended such gatherings, but, to be honest, I don't remember the details. They just spoke to me of overkill and indulgence for no reason.
So I toast to Kyle and Bev, the honored and most loved couple of last Saturday's happy tidings. They did it beautifully, they did it right, and they gave us all lasting reminders of their unique and most special of days.
Monday, June 8, 2009
So, today, I apologize to the readers of this blog. For the week prior to my becoming ill, I was hard at work on my novel, sacrificing all other writing because I had limited hours to work on anything. Day to day obligations leave precious few awake hours these days to sit at the keyboard and create. It is a constant stress for me because my mind is always active with ideas - which I write down and add to the ever growing pile I'm staring at now.
It doesn't seem fair somehow because the "obligations" I refer to revolve around caring for my family, babysitting, singing at church, helping my husband with his business, juggling time and energy to keep up with household tasks, etc. I pointed out all my duties in a recent blog about time management, so I won't detail them again here. But they are all important to me, and I can't shirk them. The one point I think I failed to touch on in that previous blog about finding time to write is this: my physical well-being is constantly in peril because of all my required tasks and suffers on a regular basis as a result.
I can chalk this problem up to age, to the crazy ever-changing schedules of our family, to the weather, or a myriad of other factors. In a nutshell, however, I have to face the fact that I'm no longer young - even though I think and act young - and I think my body is finally rebelling at all the stress I subject it to. No matter how much I push myself to believe that I can still "do it all", the fact of the matter is: I can't.
So, if you check in here on occasion and find no new entries for a week or more, forgive me. I've just decided that my "best laid plans" have to include some downtime if I am to live the 100 plus years that I dream of, and I've decided not to feel guilty about that. And, in the end, I'll probably be a better writer - I'll certainly be a healthier one.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We usually watch the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC; a great way to stir the patriotism within and to hear some outstanding talent. This year was no exception. Chicago's own Gary Sinise is the perfect host for this program as he gives so much of his time to veterans' charities.
The most poignant moments of this telecast were two-fold. First, a dramatic reading (eloquently performed by Dianne Wiest and Katie Holmes), recounting the struggle of a mother and sister of a severely injured Iraq vet. The sacrifices and devotion of these two women are gifts to our country, just as much as his service. The second was presented by Colm Wilkinson, the well-known British actor/singer, who sang "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables". He originated this song in that now infamous musical, and its powerful lyrics fitted the occasion. I was reminded of a story about the reaction by the cast of the musical, when Colm performed the song for the first time. The director told the cast that this prayerful song was to be added to the show and he wanted Colm to sing it for them. When he had finished, one cast member remarked, "You said it was a prayer. You didn't say you were having God perform it." He was right about that. If you can listen to him sing it and not cry, you have no emotion in your soul.
One other special story touched us this weekend. A story in the Chicago Tribune entitled, "A Day To Remember" by staff reporter Bonnie Miller Rubin. She gave an accounting of a trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C. by World War II vets to visit the memorial there that is dedicated to their service. This is made possible by a non-profit organization called Honor Flight Chicago that was started last year to take WWII veterans to Washington. The men were particularly touched by the special send-off and welcome back they received, even more so than the visit to the Memorial itself. As one man put it, "All these bright, young faces - it's overwhelming." One traveler, who had been signed up for the trip by his son, was lukewarm to the idea initially. He thought, "Why do I need to see a monument? But it turned out to be one of the best days of my life." Another said, "It wasn't until this trip that I thought, maybe we did do something pretty great after all."
What's important to note here, I think, is that our men and women who have put themselves in harm's way for us deserve every "thank you" and accolade we can personally give them. Just watching a parade on this day, or hanging out a flag isn't enough. Remembering those who have died for our country is what Memorial Day was created for, but thanking those who survived, while they are still with us - and some of them don't have much time left - is another way to honor those who are already gone.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Joe is an on-the-go kind of guy. He loves long-distance bike tours, is a professional photographer, travels all over the world, and regards his kids, grandkids, and wife as his most prized possessions. His friendship is unwavering - although he's bad about returning phone calls and e-mails! He has done so much, but has much more to do, see, and experience.
All of that was put in jeopardy recently when he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Lots of prayers were sent heavenward as we waited for him to be put on a transplant list. That happened much more quickly than we anticipated, and, even more remarkable was that he was called only a couple of weeks later and told a donor liver was available.
The transplant was successful, and he is recuperating well. And, for that, we've said a lot more prayers. His most recent e-mail summed it up beautifully when he wrote, "Life is good...and now even better."
He has learned that the donor was a twenty-two year old man, and that he may have saved as many as 15 lives by being an organ donor. What a legacy; sad for his family, but heartwarming for the multiple families he helped. Joe said he was going to write a letter to his family, and hoped they would accept it.
I think we all hope that, once our earthly life is over, we leave behind something of significance. This recent experience has made me realize how important that notation on my driver's license is: "DONOR" in red letters next to my photo. Though I won't be here to know how my particular legacy plays out, the smiling image of our friend, Joe, is the strongest reason I can conjure to validate my choice. And I'd like to thank that anonymous young man, and his family, for giving us more memory-making years with a longtime friend.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I don't think that "big deal" necessarily means spending a lot of money. I know it means more to me, and members of our family, just to have an hour or two targeted especially for that person. Not to say that we don't like getting gifts, but it isn't about that, or a fancy dinner out, or a huge party with friends. No, it is about letting the birthday person know they are loved and cared about because everyone took time from their busy schedules - and everyone is busy to the max these days - to create a special memory.
In the past several weeks, we've done that three times - each celebration unique to the celebrant, and each definitely worth the effort. The first recipient was our son, Sean. His day was marked with a dinner at our house, and the next night, his wife gave him a small party, complete with birthday pie (apple crumb - his special request each year). The following week, our middle grandson, Christopher, turned 12 and got a birthday pie (chocolate - also his request) which we ate on the afternoon of his day. Since only his mother, brother and I were able to be there for that, and the rest of the family felt bad because they were all working, I cooked a dinner the next night when we could all be together to sing to him (over a cake this time). And the following day I took him shopping for new clothes (much more fun for a kid his age than opening up a gift of clothes that he doesn't like). So, both those "big deals" resulted in more than one day of birthday observance.
This week it was my husband's turn to be the center of attention, and I spent the entire day in preparation. R.J. is a big kid when it comes to his birthday, and this was a milestone one for him which made it even more important. Since our funds are stretched just now, I had to get inventive, and was proud of what I accomplished, staying within my budget. I shopped for the items for dinner, decorated his cake (his favorite - yellow cake with chocolate icing), set the table with special linens, china and crystal that have passed down in the family, and was even able to wrap up several small gifts. The smile on his face, the joy of the family as we all sat at the meal, watching him blow out his candles and open his presents was more than worth all the labor I'd expended. Yes, it meant I didn't write that day, or do any of the hundred other chores that awaited me on my desk, in my house or on my to-do list. Who cares? The day was his and, when I collapsed in bed that night, I felt as rewarded as he did.
Maybe that's what my mother wanted me to learn about spending the hours to make a big deal out of a birthday. I tend to think that the people who don't want to celebrate their birthdays, who moan and groan about getting older instead of enjoying the triumph of starting another year, are those who never had "their day" made special every year. It IS important. If you love someone, any excuse to make them feel special is an opportunity to share love. Birthdays are an annual song and dance opportunity; don't let them go by unnoticed.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Of course, it isn't "our" home; it's a magical place we've been lucky enough to stay in on four separate vacations. It is owned by our dear friends, David and Sharon, who rent it out to people they like. We consider ourselves blessed to be on that exclusive list.
The cottage itself is at the end of a larger, two-story structure that encompasses our friends' residence. Originally, we are told, this building housed what would be called, in American parlance, four townhouses. Three were gutted to create their home, but we are lucky that they kept the last; a separate source of income for them, an idyllic destination for us.
We first stayed there in 1985, on our first trip to England, to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. Great care to detail, a friendly welcome, and the ambiance of the tiny rooms inside all served the impression that this was our home for a brief time. Stepping over the raised front door entry, seeing the fireplace, the chintz covered sofa, the winding staircase to the bedrooms above and glimpsing the kitchen beyond, we experienced an immediate cozy kinship with the place. Those sentiments have deepened over the 20+ years that we've been lucky enough to return. Improvements have been made to the cottage; an added bath upstairs, a small conservatory off the kitchen, and amenities upgraded, but it's the same comfortable haven we all look forward to spending time in, if always too briefly.
Our longest, and most recent stay was over four years ago. R.J. and I had just moved back to the Midwest, having sold our house in Virginia, and we decided to splurge on a much-overdue vacation to our second favorite country. That allowed us to book the cottage for three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and our time together there created memories we will always cherish. The weather was cold, which we love, our hosts happy to see us and congenial as always, balancing their friendly, welcoming personalities with a respect for our privacy and comfort. Whenever we left for a day to explore new sights in London or the English countryside, we always looked forward to returning in the evening to our snug, safe home. Our favorite days were those when we just stayed in, enjoying the beautiful grounds, the quiet of the country, and the atmosphere those protecting walls provided us.
When the depression of the economic downturn gets to me, I think about our home away from home, and I'm instantly transported to a happy corner of my world, where time stands still and good memories abound. Its images spur me on to climb out of our financial hole, do whatever it takes, to make certain that I'll soon be able to enjoy the respite it gives my life. I know I share these feelings with our children, who've been lucky enough to visit there as well. In fact, our son and his wife spent their honeymoon in it. We all dream of the next stay. Residing there evokes a timeless warming of the heart and soul. You have to have been there to understand. And I hope to be there again - anon.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Dawn just returned from a nostalgic journey of her own. She spent four days in Orlando, renewing friendships and visiting sites that played a large part in her growing up years. Her express purpose for going there was a reunion of her old elementary school. The building where she spent six happy learning years is being torn down and the powers that be there decided to invite alums and faculty for a last look and a chance to reconnect. That was emotional enough for her, but even more so, she shed tears at the sight of our old house, which is just outside the school gates.
She called me Saturday, obviously sentimental. "Oh, mom, it looks beautiful! The people who live there have kept it looking the same. They've just added things to it that you and Dad always wanted to. " My cell phone soon dinged with the arrival of camera phone pix, sharing her emotional views. It was difficult, on the tiny screen, to see details, but I was immediately transported back to the 18 years we had lived there, and all that meant. When she flew home last night, she couldn't wait to put her additional photos up on our computer screen to fully detail every angle of that house and its landscape. Seeing them, I had to choke back tears of my own.
Ivy covers the garage walls now; I remember when we planted that first ivy plant, struggling to get it to attach. A new picket fence has replaced the one we built ourselves and spent hours painting, and the trees in the backyard, which were hardly taller than me when we moved, now shade the entire yard from a towering height.
I was struck by how those images made me happy and thankful; there is a part of our family history that exists for me to return to. In this era of teardowns in suburbia being the rule rather than the exception, I have often wondered if those walls had been sacrificed for some mistaken idea of progress. I can't tell you how glad I am that they haven't been. The inside, I know, would probably not resemble what it did when we lived there. Each subsequent owner has altered that to fit their own lifestyle. But to see that exterior, lovingly cared for as we had created it so many years ago speaks to my sense of historical order somehow, if that makes sense. It's that realization that our treasured abode is still there and creating memories for its current occupants that will mmic ours, in a way. That reality deserves some sentimental words.
NOTE: I apologize for being absent in my musings this past month; personal responsibilities prevented entries. I think I'm back on track again. Stay with me!
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I'm not talking about baseball caps. I've surrendered to that habit at times, I'll admit, but I really don't consider those hats. (I usually throw one on my head to run an errand when I don't have time to do my hair properly.) And besides, I hate that many who wear baseball caps never see fit to remove them indoors, at the dinner table, or even when our Stars and Stripes parade past. No, I'm talking about proper hats: fedoras, bowlers, porkpies, newsboy caps and Irish golf caps for men, and berets, tams, cloches, sunhats, and what can only be described as Easter finery for women.
I love the Kentucky Derby tradition of women wearing all manner of outlandish millinery to celebrate their attendance of a horse race. Ascot is the English equivalent, with men as well as women sporting the best head finery.
Sadly, our current society seems to have lost the love of hats. It's difficult to find hat shops anymore, and the small selection of hats in department and specialty stores is woefully lacking in quality or variety.
My lament about this trend stems from my love for hats, and wanting any excuse to wear one. In my closet are several hat boxes filled with chapeaus. I am lucky enough to be married to a man who owns several fedoras, a homburg, and an Irish golf cap, among others, and wears them proudly. Our son has adopted this habit as well and I think they both look so smart when they dress up and include a hat with their outfit.
As a child, I remember Easter as the premier hat holiday. No woman would have been seen in their Easter outfit without a hat on her head to match. It was a big deal to choose the perfect chapeau, and they were worn with pride. I cling to that tradition still, and this past Sunday, I coordinated my Easter suit with an appropriate Spring cloche to attend church services. I was the only one, in a large congregation, to wear a hat at all.
The myriad of comments I received, from the youngest to the oldest, confirmed my conviction that hats are still appreciated. I heard: "I love your hat", "you look so Springlike in your hat", "I remember when I wore a hat; wish I still did", and my favorite (from a senior male), "thanks for keeping the tradition; you look wonderful - I love a woman in a hat!"
So, based on the reaction I received - and it happens everytime and anywhere I wear a hat - I am firmly convinced that hats could, and should, make a comeback among society in general. Not that I expect that to happen, but I can dream. And I'm sure the milliners of the world, who still possess the talent to create these wonderful adornments to our physical presence, would cheer.
Hats serve useful purposes, too. Here in Chicago, especially in winter, they protect from the windy climate and the chill winter storms. They shade your face from the harmful rays of the sun. And I totally subscribe to the motto: "A hat hides a multitude of sins."
So, seriously, go buy a hat and let me know how you fare when you wear it in public. I guarantee you'll feel special, and I'm betting you'll love what happens!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The largest part of my dislike for this task is the tedium of gathering all the evidence needed to be able to put a proper number on each line of the myriad of forms that must accompany the 1040. Being self-employed, as my husband and I both are, we are not allowed the luxury of the EZ form. I must wade through every receipt we've kept the previous year, for every business-related expense, organize them, total them and, finally, read all the IRS instructions to be certain I'm entering each total in a legally correct manner.
Once all that is accomplished, I begin punching numbers with my calculator, checking and re-checking my figures as I imagine some IRS auditor gleefully finding a mistake and scheduling us for an audit. I admit it; even though I am as honest as the mind-boggling tax code allows me to be, I still worry that I'm making some terrible error that will come back to haunt me. But this is an undertaking that I cannot assign to a stranger - better known as an accountant - to handle. The only time in our life that I did that resulted in a nightmare defying description. Even though it's hateful, I still prefer to tackle it myself. After all, I'm a college graduate (I tell myself each year), I can do this. So I do - hating every minute, but ultimately successful and fairly confident about the result.
My final aggravation involves the typical end result. We either have to pay the government more money, or we are rewarded with some small pittance that hardly seems adequate given our constant labors which result in nothing added to our savings coffer. Those who are self-employed will identify with this complaint. You see, we have no employer to pay part of our withholding taxes; we get to do that all on our own. We are denied what we consider logical and fair deductions while aware that really rich people are allowed more deductions than we have money. Most vexing is seeing all those figures in black and white; it never ceases to depress.
But, when the job is complete, all the receipts, copies and substantiated paperwork filed away in a safe place (in case that auditor comes looking!), I try to wax philosophical about it. After all, my husband and I both pursue careers that we love. We wake up each morning with new and unique challenges, and we stay young as we figure out ways to deal with them all. And, though we know we could get salaried jobs that would simplify our financial lives, we both know we wouldn't be happy so we persevere. I'll remind myself of that when I mail my 1040 today - mission accomplished, and I have to admit, I'm proud of the effort it took. I'm also resigned to the tiny reward we'll receive in a few weeks from the government; a bonus for taking a loss on our business in 2008. Happy Tax deadline one and all; may your refunds be huge!
Monday, April 6, 2009
The towering pine tree, and the large ash tree beyond it near the street, have branches laden with snow. The same is true for the lantern at the edge of the drive, the roofs of the houses , the bushes, and the cars parked in driveways. That Spring green ground carpet I observed yesterday is now covered in a couple of inches of the white, wet stuff.
This is Chicago, where an occurrence like this is taken in stride. Our weather is never predictable, and it's part of the ambience of living here. However, I still contend it's bizarre that I'm being greeted with this sight a few days before Easter. There's a robin hopping around on the sidewalk and on the street, where the snow has either melted a bit or been cleared away. The bird must definitely be wondering where his green grass and worms are hiding. (He just flew off with a mate; perhaps in search of warmer climes.)
As stated in previous blogs, I am a snow lover. It's part of the winter season that I look forward to, but Winter is over. I'm ready for crocuses - which have already made their appearance - and tulips, and daffodils, and all the other colorful signs of warmer weather and a new season. Yes, the sight of pine branches bending from the white weight is still beautiful, the entire landscape enveloped in snow is a beautiful result of nature's whim, but I'm wishing for strong sun that will melt it quickly, and give me back my view of Springtime. 'Till that happens, I must admit, I may be a bit cranky as I survey the view from my window.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Frustrated and whining about this problem recently, I decided to sit down and calculate just how many hours I must spend on everyday, necessary tasks that keep me from accomplishing what I really want to do. I started with the number of hours in a week, 168, and subtracted 56 hours for sleeping (8 hours a day; I actually sleep 7 at night, but I nap for an hour each day); that left me with 112 hours for the purpose of my assessment.
112 hours; sounded like a lot. So, next came meals, both preparing and eating. I enjoy cooking, but I don't like any recipe that requires more than 30 minutes prep time. Multiply 3 hours by 7. So, there went 21 more hours, now down to 91.
Time spent showering, dressing and preparing to face the world each day I judged took about 45 minutes; I rounded it to an hour for easy subtraction. Again, times 7; I have 84.
Routine household tasks like vacuuming, dusting, mopping floors, doing laundry, etc. Since I'm not keen on housework, this is not a daily priority, so I worked out an average for the week of 15 hours. Then there were phone calls, mail and bill paying; 2 hours a day for those, and that included calls to my children which can eat up an hour or more easily. So, daily routine tasks equalled 29, reducing my total available hours to 55.
As regular readers know, I home school my two older grandsons, so I have to spend 2 hours a week on preparation, instruction and grading. Approximately 12 hours a week are spent babysitting my youngest grandson (that varies, so it's an average), and I included 5 hours for running errands, 3 hours for exercise, and 21 spent watching TV (mostly evenings). After adding that up - total of 43, I was left with 12 hours. Divide that by seven and see, only 1.7 hours a day to write!
But wait a minute; let's get real, here. Breakfast and lunch seldom take more than 30 minutes each, not an hour. And dinner on one or two nights is just heating up leftovers, so I knocked off 5 hours from that total. And I certainly don't clean house, do laundry, run errands or chatter on the phone every day, and, if we're being honest, I don't exercise every day, certainly not on weekends. When I deducted all those "in a perfect world" hours, I gained another 18 hours. Adding that to the 12 I originally calculated, and I had 30 hours.
It's rare for me to write on Saturday or Sunday; I devote those days to household projects, family, fun, church, relaxation - all the things that get pushed aside during my working week. So, if being truthful, I only need to divide that 30 hours by 5: there you go, six hours a day for writing! Whoo-hoo!
That easily gives me the three hours I spend creating, and another three to research, surf the Web for new markets and other writing info., send out queries, etc. So, if you're a writer, do the calculations. It doesn't take long and it's an eye-opener. The hours are what you make them. This isn't a lecture; just a fact.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Fletcher is our third grandson, our son's only son. I am lucky that his parents live only minutes away from us, and that their daily schedules frequently require my skills as babysitter. That term is a misnomer, though, because Fletcher is far and away past the term "baby". His physical age is two years, 2 months and, though his vocabulary is still minimal, his constant curiositiy about the world and the knowledge he's already absorbed about it make him seem much older.
He never fails to greet me with a big grin that instantly makes me forget whatever problems I was dealing with prior to his arrival. Our hours together fly by. We explore books; I read, he turns the pages and pauses occasionally to point at something he wants me to identify or that he himself knows the word for. We invent ways to play with his myriad of cars, trains, puzzles, coloring books, and stuffed animals. We take walks to the playground where I follow him as he races from one area to another and back again, crawling through tunnels, climbing stairs. braving slides and requesting that I push him one more time on the swing. We go shopping together, and he delights in helping me at the grocery store by putting things into the basket with my help. We watch animated movies together, sitting side by side on the couch, I watching his expressions of discovery and delight as he watches the screen. In truth, I spend just as much time observing him as I do playing with him.
Fletch gives me an unprotected view of his world and, in doing so, reminds me why all the struggle and strife in my world are worth enduring. The wonder in his eyes, the constant joy he discerns in exploration, the smiles, the giggles, the shrieks of delight, and, most of all, his detailed perception as he learns something new about his world; all of these give glad meaning to my day.
I am repeatedly thankful that my son and daughter-in-law entrust his care to me. Yes, it means I have to set aside my work, or the housecleaning waits yet another day, or the phone calls I planned to make or the bills I need to pay get done some other time. But, when we're together, that tiny bundle of energy in sneakers and I, he transports me to an innocent place. I am absorbed in his agenda where the priorities are discovery and learning, resulting in unbounded hope and heavenly ignorance. Not a bad way to spend a few hours.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I knew David Lawrence less than a year. He was a member of my writing group. I feel I am a better person for knowing him. All of these facts state truth but do not explain what a unique, talented, loving and loved man he was.
David lived less than 65 years on this earth. He should have lived 100 plus because he had so much to give to others. His musical talents, as director, composer and singer gave countless hours of pleasure to music lovers throughout Chicagoland. And he loved experiencing music as much as he loved making it.
He also loved to write. He completed several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and his niche was mystery stories. He was sharing his most recent effort with our writing group and we are saddened that we'll never hear the end of that work. His passion for writing made him a valued member of our group; his personality and joy of life made him a valued person to call 'friend'.
His devotion to his wife, children and grandchildren was unbounding. All his conversations seemed to include some mention or brag of a family anecdote.
I felt an instant kinship when I met David; everyone felt that way. He was so interested in my writing, my interests, my family, etc., that it was difficult to learn about him at first. He wasn't shy, however, about sharing his opinions. I learned from him, we had give-and-take discussions, and I told other friends about this special human being I was getting to know. I feel robbed now that I won't have the privilege of calling him "an old and dear friend".
They say a man is measured by his family and friends. On Saturday, at David's funeral, the mourners formed a never-ending line to pay their respects to the family, then filled every pew in the large church where David had been the choir director for many years. Over and over, the comments and eulogies talked about his giving spirit, his love of family, his commitment to friends. Tears were shed by everyone from tough grown men to small children. The measure of this man's value to those who shared his life was truly prodigious.
I shall never approach the celebration of St. Patrick's Day again without thinking that it was on that day the light of friendship and love was dimmed a bit in the world as David left us to sing with the angels. Our writing group toasted him with a glass of Irish ale this week. I'll do that on each St. Patty's Day from now on and say, "David, I hardly knew ye; rest in peace, my friend."
Thursday, March 19, 2009
On St. Patrick's Day, my husband and I attended a cocktail reception for the new Athletic Director of his university, hosted by the alumni club. It was held at Sears Tower, a landmark building known to many around the world. It was to be our first visit inside that towering structure, and we looked forward to it and to visiting with old friends from the school that we'd been unable to see for quite some time.
We rode the double decker commuter train from our home in the West suburbs to Union Station. This is always a treat for us because to walk through the sliding glass panels that separate the train platforms from the historic and majestic Station lobby is to experience a step back in time. The immense size of the main building is overwhelming, and the architecture breathtaking. The ceiling, soaring over a hundred feet above me, the huge stone columns that surround the space, even the restaurant and alcoves that are tucked beneath the grandiose staircases, all serve to dwarf me and remind me of the history that has taken place here. Names of the famous who have traversed these polished floors, the movies that have been filmed here, and the millions who have trod the worn steps as they held onto the brass railings that curve down to the floor are all thoughts that never cease to occupy me as we make our way to the busy avenue above the terminal. I cannot imagine how one could just make his or her way from one point to another without being moved by it all.
Stepping through the heavy glass and wood doors out onto Canal Street introduces another love; the impact of the city greets me. Its skyscrapers (which were invented here, by the way, not in New York City), the traffic dominated by impatient cabbies, the sidewalks filled with pedestrians in all manner of dress from professional chic to tourist ugly, and the breeze from nearby Lake Michigan are all signature signs that I am now part of a special atmosphere. It never fails to put a smile on my face and make my heart beat a bit faster.
The walk to Sears Tower on Wacker Drive is only a block, crossing one of the many bridges over the Chicago River, its water bright green for the St. Patrick's Day celebration. Looking up at the black spire of the tallest building in the United States, with its two white needlelike antenna piercing the early evening sky, we wondered aloud about what we would encounter in her interior. Since the reception was being held on the 66th floor, we already knew we would be treated to breathtaking views of the city below. Entering the lofty lobby, I was impressed with its glass, marble and silver decor. The ear-popping elevator ride to the Metropolitan Club added to the dramatic effect the building had on me. We certainly weren't disappointed with the panorama from the windows as the lights of the city took over, either.
With the reception behind us, we joined friends at a nearby pub to partake of a celebratory Guinness before boarding our train for the return to suburbia. It was nearly midnight as we made our way to the train, and I paused on the sidewalk outside, now eerily silent, to gaze at the lights of the Union Station sign far above us, the magnificence of the columns spaced evenly around its exterior for the entire block it occupies, and was once again momentarily transported to that simpler yet grand time in Chicago history when this structure signified so much to so many. Now it is surrounded on all sides with the reality of the present, but it is no less diminished in my eyes. It is a distinctive part of this distinctive City that is like no other to me. And I cherish every moment I spend there.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The current resident who performs those duties is Molly Brown. She is a beagle-sized hound of indeterminate lineage - we adopted her from a shelter - brown and mostly white who spends her days sleeping in her favorite chair or on our bed. She waits each morning, with impatience, for her food to be poured in her bowl, and, if it gets past her dinnertime in the late afternoon, she follows whoever is at home until her needs are satisfied. Her only other unarguable demands surface when she has to go out, which always seems to occur when I'm most busy, or absorbed in a favorite TV show or movie.
Molly just celebrated her tenth birthday; a milestone I find hard to believe. But then, I'm always in awe of just how fast the years fly by. Anyway, on her special day last weekend, I found myself remembering when she became a member of the family. Our beloved Rascal - still the smartest and most precious dog we ever loved - had been morose over the loss of our goofy Sprocket, the bearded collie who had provided the entertainment portions of our days. Rascal had no one to play with, run around the yard with, or lay beside while sleeping. He really appeared depressed, becoming quite lethargic and acting much older than his years. So, we went in search of a new mate for him, and found this hound puppy, along with several of her siblings. We were assured that she would grow to about the same size as Rascal. We signed the necessary papers, had her checked out by the vet, and brought her home. We named her Molly Brown, a favorite historical character but chosen not because of that reference but because our new puppy had a lot of brown markings on her fur.
Rascal's attitude changed immediately. It was obvious he considered Molly his charge and took his responsibility quite seriously. We believe he was instrumental in seeing that she learned quickly what going outside was intended to accomplish, for which we were grateful, and the two were inseparable from the first day. Although her full growth was only about half that of his, she was the adoring hero worshipper to the wise sage, literally looking up to him.
Because they were so close, we worried when we knew that Rascal's days were coming to an end a couple of years ago. She had never known a day without him by her side, and she still looked to him for leadership. How would she survive when he wasn't here any longer? She did have a couple of anxious weeks after his passing. She looked for him in his favorite sleeping spots, and wandered the rooms of the house as if she hoped to find him in one of them. She would sniff at where his bowl used to be. She refused to sleep on our bed at night, though it had always been her favorite snuggling place. That practice had been given up when Rascal could no longer jump up on the bed; she would lay beside him on the floor. Without him, she seemed to see no reason to resume old habits. She would come and sit in front of me or my husband and her soulful brown eyes would search ours as if asking where he was.
But, as time passed, she seemed to take on the role of principal dog, assuming many of the caring and mature attitudes that Rascal possessed. She felt it her role to become the main guard dog, as well as the sympathetic friend when one was needed. In a two-dog household, she had acquiesced to Rascal's lead; now it was her turn to take what she had learned from him and be our primary protector and comforter. We were relieved and a little surprised at the change. She still has her goofy habits that surface now and then, but she definitely has grown up at this latter stage of her life.
Her ten year milestone made me a little sad. The vet says she is still healthy and she certainly shows no aging signs, other than a few gray hairs, but I know she is nearing the end of her pedicated life span, and I don't look forward to that day that inevitably comes. We have talked about getting her a companion dog for her last years with us. I think another, younger dog is more for our benefit really, to ease the loneliness when Molly leaves us. But I think she'll enjoy having a buddy again. And maybe she can be the wise sage to that furry life as it learns the ways of our household. I hope so.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I've been a published writer for over thirty years. I've had bylines (for those who don't know, a byline is having your name under the title of an article in print). You may have read something I wrote and not know it. I'm not famous, I'm certainly not rich, and I don't see myself enjoying either of those life experiences in the future. So, many ask; why do I do it? And how do I keep finding inspiration to motivate me to continue?
The answer to the first question is easy - if you are a writer, you know this one already - writers just have to write. I tell young people interested in my profession: if you always have something in your head that just has to be put on paper, then you're a writer. I have so many of those ideas in my head. I'm sure I won't live long enough to create all that I want to write. It's just part of you.
The answer to the second question is more complex. Subjects are plentiful, certainly, and by reading and observing, I fill notebooks and folders with ideas scribbled on legal pads, articles clipped from magazines and newspapers that spark ideas, and notations of research locations or travel possibilities provide lots of possible topics.
But, being a writer means there's no one to prod you to get on with it, or give you that first line that gets the work flowing. There are lots of motivation avenues to traverse, and each writer has his own pulse point. Mine has been jump-started of late by my writing group. Not only do I get some great constructive criticism about works in progress from the members, but sharing each of our own individual journeys to publication is a perfect path to new inspiration. One person is learning from a writing course, another is querying agents, and a third is working on turning a short story into a novel. It might mean I turn to the internet to research one of their inspirational journeys and that leads to a journey of my own. Or just listening to what is getting them excited gives me new impetus to keep going on a project I've previously set aside.
It's easy to get off the track, especially when writing isn't the main way you find financial security. So many daily obstacles can obscure your road to completion. But, if you're a real writer, you make the time - mine is usually early in the morning or late at night when I'm not interrupted by the routines of the day - and you keep plugging. Because you know you have something to say that someone else will want to read. And you have others, like my writing group members, who motivate and make me believe that what I'm writing is good enough to be read by others. And that idea in my head just has to go through my fingers on the keyboard to the printed page; I have to see it. The bigget motivation is seeing my words on the page, and knowing I have many more to create.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Those words, said to me by the most important person in my life, caused my heart to skip a beat. It set off a series of events that left me thankful for all the good people in the world, relieved that our family had been spared a tragedy, and reflective about how our daily routines can be jolted, resulting in emotional rebalancing.
Emergency personnel were at our door within 2 minutes, our son pulled into the driveway soon after to transport my husband to the VA hospital (a really good one here in Chicago that he, rightfully, has faith in), and the next several hours passed unbearably slow as I waited for hourly phone updates about his condition while I cared for our 2-year old grandson, nursed my own virus symptoms that had lingered for several weeks, and tried not to dwell on the worst case scenario.
I went to bed that night - two weeks ago now - with my beloved resting comfortably beside me. His emergency had been dealt with, we were cautiously optimistic, and I was grateful that he hadn't had to be admitted. I watched his measured breathing and said a prayer asking that I be allowed to do the same for several decades to come.
It wasn't until two days later that my emotions were laid bare. I was driving on a routine errand and my thoughts turned to the drama of the last 48 hours. I was forced to pull off the road. My eyes filled with tears. I had just re-lived, for the hundredth time perhaps, what had transpired. But not until that moment had I allowed myself to face the reality that, if we hadn't been spared, I would now be faced with life alone. Without the man who has been with me since the age of 14, who has loved me, cared for me, fathered our children, been a man to admire and cherish because he chose me to spend his life with. Not a perfect man, understand, but my best friend, husband, lover and the only person I can imagine always wanting in my life. There is no scenario I can invent in my head that would be better without him. He is my life support. I sat there and sobbed for the loss I was spared.
When you reach this stage of your life, although you still think young, act young, and try to go through life with an unending outlook, you still have moments when you contemplate the end of your life. It's an ugly fact. Dustin Hoffman said it best in an interview some years ago when he said, "When you reach this time of life, you can see the end. When you're younger, you never do." I'm sure I don't have that quote exactly right, but I have the meaning, anyway. You do see the end. And it's scary, people - and I hate it. I'm not nearly ready to think about my life being over.
I know that this event has changed me. I've been much more aware of my partner these last two weeks. I covet every moment. I say a lot of thankful prayers. And I remember my mother's words from her hospital bed, when she had just delivered to me her diagnosis of cancer, "Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere. I still have too much to do." She lived a year after she said that to me. You just can't predict what lays ahead now. I get it. And I plan to seriously live each moment to the fullest. I have more reason that ever to follow that resolve.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I don't know who came up with the criteria for this list but I am skeptical that the writer ever polled a significant number of Chicagoans before adding the Windy City to that group. Never in my life have I lived in a friendlier place or one in which the residents have such an upbeat outlook about anything that comes our way. We deal with extremes in weather, our comment to visitors being, "If you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes." Our city taxes are inordinantly high but we accept them because they fund one of the best mass transit systems in the country, provide immeasurable pleasure in our parks, museums, theatres, and a plethora of cityscape necessities. We are told that our air is not the cleanest but we reply that we have the breeze from Lake Michigan to enjoy. Other pessimistic examples were cited in this recent media article which I won't bother to detail. The bottom line is: the writer had it all wrong.
On Valentines Day, my husband and I spent the day in the City. It was quite cold, we encountered some light snow on and off - which we revelled in - and we walked over six miles from Union Station to the Art Institute to Michigan Avenue to State Street with lots of stops along the way. We lunched at a popular cafe while we watched traffic and pedestrians along the Chicago River, paused to rest and people watch in the lobby of the Drake Hotel, peered up at skyscrapers, window shopped in upscale and not so upscale stores, explored the wonders of the art world in the halls of the Art Institute, and immersed ourselves in the smells, sounds and atmosphere of the city in general. It was a perfect day for us and not once did we feel unhappy. Nor did we see unhappy faces, encounter unhappy tradespeople or hear grumblings from residents.
Chicago people are proud of their City, and, like many residents of other large cities, they happily endure the negative aspects of big city life in order to partake of all that they can experience by choosing to live there. That's why I'm certain that the writer who published that article was definitely not someone who lives here. And I defy him or her to do a proper investigation of a cross-section of true Chicagoans and still be able to include our City in that list. Just citing reasons that would make ordinary people unhappy doesn't translate into what happens here. Never has and never will. This is my kind of town, and I can find millions here who would agree.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The organizational side of me has grouped the hangings into themed arrangements. There are the photos of me during my Disney entertainment days beside a photo my husband did of me during that period, and a trio of Snow White illustrations. Another section of wall holds a collage of my theatre performances with certificates of my acting nomination honors. A third grouping includes pictures of my parents from their wedding through their 50th anniversary alongside needlework poems I did for them that used to hang in their home.
Desktop photos feature my grandsons, my husband, the annual family posing, and other favorite images of my nearest and dearest, some unfortunately gone from my life now, including several canines that have enriched my surroundings over the years. Among the many family photos, I have two special favorites; one shows a generational impression of my grandmother, mother, daughter and me. The other is a double frame of our daughter asleep beside her new first-born son, and our daugter-in-law in the same pose with her son. Both were happy accidents and evoke strong maternal feelings every time I look at them.
I'm not going to describe every image I gaze upon daily. (Besides, there are a couple of standouts that deserve a blog post all their own.) My purpose in detailing the ones I've noted is to help you understand how these framed memories influence my writing. I am a sentimentalist and don't apologize for it. The times when I create essays about my past or my family are my favorite moments at the keyboard. There is all too much cynicism and harshness in most of what we read; everyone wants to rale and rant and predict gloom. I think my purpose as a writer is to escape that whenever possible, resulting in how I've chosen to decorate my work space. Each of these recollections is a happy moment that can spur my brain into positive action. A memory, said one of my favorite authors, James Barrie, is "what God gave us so that we might have roses in December" and that certainly says it better than I ever could.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I do make use of technical, time-saving tools to achieve this. I have a Facebook account which I find a joy because it allows me to peer into the lives of some of my nearest and dearest - even my own children - and keep abreast of what is important in their lives. I can comment on their activities, their recent photos, and their comments about other's comments. It also allows me a quick way to write a blurb about something I'm doing. I look forward to it at the end of my day.
E-mails allow me another convenient way to touch base with friends. I will use it when I have a question I'd like an immediate answer to, or to schedule a visit or pass on a bit of news that I can't wait to hear a reply about. I have to admit that it is also a convenient crutch; it's quick and doesn't require me leaving my desk to go to the post office.
When I can squeeze out an hour or so from all the regular duties of my day, I like nothing better than phoning someone to catch up on all our news together. It is a practice that I have revived with much enthusiasm recently, and have been rewarded in full measure. It isn't always easy to accomplish, however. I have to catch them in or I get an answering machine or no answer at all - everyone's life is complicated. And, living in the Midwest, I'm also a slave to time zones, so I have to plan carefully so I don't disturb at odd hours.
Of late, I have also renewed the practice of letter writing. Necessity dictates it in some cases as not all my friends have computers. Sitting at my secretary desk, with a blank page of beautiful stationery in front of me is a challenge I welcome. I don't worry about the proper phrase, or editing my thoughts (as I do when the work of writing is my concentration); I just write what I feel and pen the details about my life that I want to share. I simply picture the recipient of my words and talk to them as if we were face to face.
It is sad to me that today's communication with friends appears to be in cryptic text symbols only. Missing in this mechanical and nonpersonal exercise is not only the beauty of language but the giving of one's precious time to let another know how much you care. Yes, it takes minutes that could be spent in other ways. But opening a mailbox and finding a letter or card from a friend brings welcome light into a day. Answering a phone and hearing a familiar voice on the other end changes the atmosphere in a positive way.
I feel it's important to continue the conventional lines of communications with those we hold dear - in spite of the complicated and stressful lives we all lead. In fact, it's more important than ever because of the complicated and stressful lives we lead. Try it; you'll see what I mean. I promise this; the rewards are unending.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The entire nation is focused on money issues right now. I don't need to detail the myriad of reasons; everyone has their own stressful tale. But, with all the bantering in Washington about who needs money for what reason and how it will all impact the economy, a segment of our society is forgotten: self-employed types like me and my husband.
In times of recession, we are guaranteed to suffer tough times. I have to reinvent myself as a writer as publications fold and editors turn to staff writers more often than freelancers. My husband is forced to look for some other way to pay our necessary bills because people forego buying art, having murals or paintings done, or scheduling private art lessons for their kids. Our entire lifestyle, envied by some, comes to a screeching halt. I know we're not alone in this situation, but we are alone when it comes to help from those in charge.
In the real world, when tax cuts are mentioned, we know it will not include our self-employment taxes, which we always have to pay. Talk about interest rates on investments doesn't impact us: we have none. We aren't considered when talk turns to unemployment compensation because we don't qualify. Even credit card companies will not grant us a stay, because our out of work status is considered non-voluntary.
My rant today isn't even about all those areas, though. It concerns a tiny portion of the stimulus package that the Senate in Washington is now seriously considering eliminating: funds for the National Endowment For The Arts. It's unnecessary, they argue. Why do we need to be worried about the arts at a critical time like this?, they ask. Hello, up there in your ivory dome! That organization funds grants for poor people like us that can mean the difference to eating - or not - for awhile. But then, I'm sure pointing this out to them would mean nothing. As I said, we are the forgotten. Grant money from any source is drying up because it's considered unnecessary spending.
My husband and I chose our lives; we live with the consequences. But it is upsetting never to be included when the government or the media discusses ways to survive during our crisis, and none of their help is directed toward our particular existence. These times are scary for everyone, that is true. But think for a minute how much scarier they are for us. We have talents to share, we work hard at our crafts, and now we are faced with fending for ourselves and hoping we last through the worst of it.
I just thought of a better title for this piece: Artistic People vs. The Real World. Why is it better? Because this is a fight we're determined to weather. We have no other choice - and we're on our own.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
After having several people read it, several agents reject it, and finally making an honest assessment of the work myself, I realized that I needed to do a complete rewrite of the book. It needed character development and a broader story. That strong plot I mentioned was there, but that was all - I had a plot but not an enjoyable read.
With the first rewrite complete, I was aware that it still didn't seem good enough. This is a trap that writers can fall into which results in nothing ever being "finished", but I didn't think that was the case here. My next step was to introduce the work to my writing group.
Their help has been invaluable. In an earlier blog, I described my group as an eclectic one, but we are all of one mind when it comes to aiding each other with our particular work. I have received some excellent suggestions that have improved the current draft. Of course, I don't use all their advice; I think I have enough artistic integrity to sort through the recommendations and decide what will advance the task.
The best part about working on it now is that I am beginning to see a finished product that I will be proud to introduce to agents. Throughout this long process - and it has taken years of work because I've never had the time to devote to it exclusively - I have grown as a writer. I have read instructional books, pored over successful novels, listened to qualified critics and laboured silently on my own to create a work with what I feel are three-dimensional characters and a story that will keep pages turning. It hasn't always been a comfortable road to travel; I'm not sure writers are good at admitting that what they write isn't good enough. But, in coming to terms with the minuses in my book, I have discovered pluses that I wasn't even aware were lurking in my creative brain.
I am eager now to finish it and present it for publication but I am being careful not to be too eager at the expense of good words. I'll let you know how it comes out.
Monday, February 2, 2009
My favorite spot is a velvet covered chaise I inherited from my mother. It is tucked into a corner of my study and also serves me well for naps. Lounging on it and exploring the latest novel or biography or history or how-to book is a perfect respite as well as a remembrance of her.
Reading in bed is the most comfortable but usually results in only a few pages experienced before sleep overtakes my resolve. For that reason, I keep volumes on my bedside table that can be enjoyed in small doses.
When I was a child, the limb of a tree was a favorite. A bottle of soda was my drink of choice then. A breeze rustling the leaves and an occasional ant sauntering across the page were my only interruptions. When the weather didn't cooperate, I fancied my dad's wing-back chair in the living room. I would sit in it sideways, my legs hanging over one arm and my back resting against the other. I cannot imagine such a position being comfortable these days, but I do have a wingback chair that I snuggle into occasionally to explore my latest library find.
A deck chair during the warm days of summer, a bench in the park, an easy chair in the library or even a seat on the commuter train; all can be havens of exploration. The beverage can change too - iced tea or wine refresh at different seasons and times.
My artist husband created a canvas some years back that captures my feelings perfectly. It details a small stacks of books, a bud vase with a yellow rose, an open book with a ribbon marker in it and a glass of wine. He titled it "A Good Read".
A good read, for me, really only requires a time when I'm cozy, warm and able to pursue new worlds or relive familiar ones undisturbed. There is nothing better to complete my day.
Monday, January 26, 2009
From the time my grandsons were old enough to sit up, I have read to them. My daughter's sons, now 13 and nearly 12, still ask me to do it. In the last couple of years, the books I've read have been from the Harry Potter series. It is a ritual whenever they visit that I read a chapter or two as they listen while playing individual games of solitaire. Their cries of "Let's read some Harry!" have become a mantra when I ask what they want to do. Their own rooms contain shelves of favorite books, and they are always eager to tell me about what they are currently reading.
My youngest grandson just turned 2, and books are a major part of his day. He will stop playing with toys to be read to, he wants a story before his nap, and several before bedtime. The shelves of his room are filled with books from his father's childhood that I've passed on, as well as new ones he's received. As I read, he will sometimes interrupt, pointing to pictures to ask, "Dat?" (his word for "what's that?"), and sometimes he is more interested in turning pages than listening to the story, but we both enjoy it anyway.
It makes me happy to have passed on this love of reading to my grandsons. I've always said that I don't completely trust people who don't read, who have no books in their homes. I cannot imagine going through a day without a book in my hand at some point. And reading to Alex, Christopher and Fletcher is a joyful memory that I will cherish when they are all grown and off on their own. I still remember reading to their parents when they were young and nothing makes me happier than to carry on the family tradition.
In a world where too many habits of our day are ruled by electronic devices, and everyone seems to be in a hurry, it is comforting to me to have those moments when the only sound is my voice reading aloud. It is then that I glimpse the faces of the children as they absorb the words and, I know, enrich their souls with them.