I’m Ready for You, 2016

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5 and 5: My wishes vs resolutions:

*I wish that my friends and family members would never know serious illness, that they would each live to be at least in their 90’s, and when they pass, it would be in their sleep, their souls at peace.

*I wish empathy and compassion were emotions as vibrant and strong as those voiced in heated political or religious arguments.

*I wish that instead of it being easy to lose self-confidence and hard to regain it, it would be easy to lose weight and hard to regain it.

*I wish I could time travel to correct wrongs I’ve done to others and to better understand those who wronged me.

*I wish people would stop expecting creative work to be done for free.

While…

*I resolve to write something, even if it’s just a paragraph, every day.

*I resolve to be grateful for every 24 hours I’ve been given.

*I resolve to say or do something to help lift another person up as soon as I recognize the opportunity.

*I resolve to not only say to people, “I’m here for you,” but to take action to prove it.

*I resolve NOT to give up dark chocolate or red wine or popcorn at movies or red nail polish or lipstick or eyeliner, because life is short and joy lies in both big and small matters.

I am ready for you, 2016.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

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Sometimes, it happens in a moment. That realization that you’ve passed the halfway point in your life. The future has limits now and it’s not the most comforting idea. I can’t say, “In fifty years, I hope I will…” with any degree of possibility.

But, the limits are confined only to measures of time. I look back at the chapters of my life and am determined that the remaining ones are not going to be some kind of flat, uneventful existence that look at the past as my glory days. Not that I haven’t been fortunate in many things. My husband is supportive and encouraging, I have a close relationship with my son, I have the love and support of family members,¬†and have friends who are genuine and loyal. I am rich indeed since I possess those things.

Recently, I came across a quote: “Everyone has a chapter they don’t read out loud.” And I’m not going to read that chapter out loud here. Or probably ever. I’ll only say that something happened decades ago that threw me off course. That robbed me of self-confidence and self-worth. It took a while to regain a portion of that and, when I became a mother, my sense of purpose and love for my son gave me the strength I’d lost for so long.

As it turned out, my son had an auditory processing disorder–something like auditory dyslexia. We were advised by experts at Vanderbilt Hospital that Thomas’ best chance to be successful would be if he was home schooled. And so I did just that. From kindergarten through his junior year of high school, I tried to be as diligent and creative as I could be in creating a positive learning environment for Thomas. I delighted in those “Aha!” moments when hands-on learning enlightened him and, in later years, when we kept re-reading a passage from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities because we couldn’t get over how cinematic that scene was, decades before movies had been created. My days were spent teaching and my evenings were spent grading papers and detailing the next day’s curriculum. For twelve years.

And it was worth every minute. Thomas and I have a strong bond of trust and understanding. He’s doing a terrific job at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, working towards a degree in film-making. ¬†Since he opted to go to a traditional high school for his senior year, I returned with focus towards my earlier love, writing. I managed to have two short stories published and a short script produced as a film. But, there’s as little money in the arts as ever. So, I needed to find a job that actually paid money.

As a woman “of a certain age” who had been out of the workforce for more than a decade, this was a challenge. One twenty-something interviewer, discussing my resume with me, pointed out the gap. I explained the need to home school during those years, that my son is now academically and socially successful at college and he interrupted me with, “So, basically, you did nothing for twelve years?”

Finally, a nearby hotel hired me to work at their front desk. You may notice my blog hadn’t been updated since June. It’s difficult to write creatively when you work evenings past 11:30 p.m. and go in the next morning at 7:00 a.m. But, oh, the notes I’ve taken and the rich material for future writing projects that was gained during those five months of working at a hotel!

And now, I’ve just started a new job as a scheduler at the Waisman Center department of UW’s American Family Children’s Hospital. The center’s focus is on children with developmental disabilities and I feel that I finally have a job with a deeper focus. For a moment this week, my first week of training, I wondered, “Who in the world steps this far outside their comfort zone and begins an entirely new career at 55 years old?” Apparently, the answer is me. And as I’m meeting my colleagues, gaining knowledge, and learning new skills, I realize a brand new shining chapter is beginning. I couldn’t be more excited.

 

What Am I Reading? Lyrics.

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When someone finds out you’re a writer, people seem to want to know what you’re reading. I suppose what they’re really asking is, “Which authors inspire you?”

There were many years when I was an avid reader. I don’t know if I should admit this, but for some time, the truth is I’ve found the moments that jolt a creative nerve in me have darted out from lyrics rather than from words on a written page.

“Regrets collect like old friends, here to relive your darkest moments.” – “Shake It Out”, Florence & The Machine

Really, I can listen to that song on repeat for longer than I want to admit. The thing about lyrics is they have to shape a strong emotion using so few words. Songwriters don’t have the luxury of a 110 page script or a 200+ page novel. They basically have to get it all down on one page. And make every line count.

“I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame, and every time I pass that way, I always hear my name.” – “Every Grain of Sand”, Bob Dylan

Show, don’t tell. Songwriters, the good ones, follow the rule out of necessity. I tend to realize during my second or third drafts that there’s too much exposition or scenes don’t flow because I’m telling too much.

“I took my love and took it down, I climbed a mountain and I turned around; And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills, til the landslide brought me down.” – “Landslide”, Fleetwood Mac

Mystery. Sometimes, you can sing along with a song countless times and then suddenly ask yourself, “What’s this about?” Not that it’s incoherent, but there’s a message that has an ability to mean different things to different people. And there are songs that carry separate meanings at different times in one’s life.

“Let it out, let me in, take a hold of my hand; There’s nothing like another soul that’s been cut up the same.” – “Handwritten”, Gaslight Anthem

Action. Lyrics by their nature keep the narrative moving, they push to make things happen. Of course, not always. My favorite song by The Beatles is “In My Life”, which is entirely contemplative. Even in that case, the words are concise and evocative. There’s no time for stream of consciousness ramblings.

“Just a perfect day, you made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else. Someone good.” – “Perfect Day”, Lou Reed

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Lou Reed was asked what he was most proud of. “The thing I’m proudest of from a career point of view is writing. When I can write a really good line, I get enormous pleasure from that.” Later, he added, “When you put simple words together, you can generate a great deal of emotion.”

Exactly. And sometimes, it can be one well-written lyric that serves as a catalyst for a bigger writing project to launch.

Official Trailer to “Full Circle”

I’m excited. Excited to finally see the characters I imagined saying the words I wrote for them, onscreen. I adapted my short story, “Full Circle”, to a screenplay that was produced by Living Storm Productions…and what an amazing job they’ve done. Still some post-production work to continue, but the trailer is excellent.

After WWII, That Moment

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One of my favorite men will be turning 101 years old in July. He lives at a nearby residence for the elderly and disabled and I see him every month when I help out at the food pantry there. I’ll call him James.

James, at 100, is still almost 6’2. He remains a handsome man with fine features, but he doesn’t smile readily or put up with fools or fake comments like, “Hello, young man!” . He’s lived too long to waste time.

James’ parents immigrated from Belgium to Canada and then to Wisconsin, where they worked as sugar beet farmers. James worked in the fields and one of his earliest memories is of his mother wrapping rags around his bleeding knees as he thinned the beet roots in the late spring. He kept working with the rags on his knees. He was five years old at the time.

At the beginning of World War II, James was married and his wife was expecting their first child. He was drafted and went to Europe, where he fought until the war was over. He was among the troops that landed on Normandy the day after D-Day. All they were told was that they wouldn’t face “the resistance the boys had the day before”.

James was one of the first American soldiers to liberate Dachau. He said that when he was later on a boat on the Rhine, he stared at the perfect symmetry of the German vineyards. All he could think about was how it echoed the symmetry of the bodies at Dachau, stacked like firewood.

Once the war ended, James came home to the family farm where he’d lived most of his life. His wife and child were living with his parents there and they had a huge dinner to welcome him home. After dinner, he asked if he could go for a walk by himself.

As James walked down the paths he knew like the back of his hand, the sun set and the house was out of sight. He stopped for a moment and looked up at the moon. And, suddenly, he had no idea where he was. He didn’t know what continent he was on nor which direction to walk. It lasted about thirty seconds and then the disorientation went away. As James told me the story, he paused and said, “Just thinking about that moment puts me right back there. You know, I’m a hundred years old and that’s the only time in my life I’ve been disorientated.”

I looked at James, but there was nothing to say. I can’t fathom what he’s experienced, what he’s seen. I don’t understand fully what that particular moment meant to him. But from the expression on his face, a combination of puzzlement and joy, I know it never left him. And I’m honored he shared it with me.