Tag Archives: life

STRANGE AND REAL

“You’re worth it,” he said.

Strange, she thought, that’s the same mantra I’ve been telling myself since October and it still doesn’t feel real, but it is. Real.

They stood in the street in front of his truck after she had shown him a fixer upper house that wasn’t worth fixing. The sun slanted dangerously low in the west.

“I blame your boyfriend for some of it,” he said, “because he’s smart. He should have known better. Women are cyclical. They’re emotional. They change their mind. He can’t pick this, this, and this about you and leave out that, that, and that.” He jabbed the hood of his truck with his fat finger. “I know. I was married to someone like him who only wanted this, this, and this.” He pointed to the spots on the hood he had smeared with his finger. “But I had to remind her I was one person. I came with that, that, and that.” He pointed to the other spots he had previously missed.

Tears clung to the bottom of her lashes. She was not going to cry. Already her teenage daughter had told her that she had cried one too many times this week.

“You know what I’d like for you?” he asked.

“What?” She looked up with an expectant gaze.

“I’d like for you to get your legs,” he said. “Find your bearings. Stand up for yourself.”

She took a deep breath and exhaled. “How do I do that with him?” she asked.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Your boyfriend isn’t a bad man, but he doesn’t like variables.”

“I’m full of variables.”

He laughed. “So am I. That’s why I’m single.”

She smiled. At least, she thought, I didn’t say, ‘Why am I with him and not you?’ like I said the other night at the restaurant when I told him the story about how my boyfriend ordered for me the first night we dined there because the dish I wanted to order was fried, not baked, and he didn’t want me to ‘spoil my lovely figure.’

“Maybe you should invite me over. Let me tell him what is what.”

“Only before he’s had a drink,” she reminded.

“Ah, yes, that’s the dark horse for him.” He gazed up for a moment. “For all of us,” he corrected. “I’m a happy drunk, but he’s closed off. He doesn’t let anyone in, and I’ve known him for 10 years.”

A lifetime, she thought, compared to me.

“Maybe someday we can get together, have a few drinks, talk about life,” he said, a belated invitation. “But right now, we have to talk business. And that means you need to stand up for yourself because you’re worth it. Your feelings are worth it.”

“It takes practice,” she said.

“Then let’s start practicing.” He stood up straight and said, “Say it. ‘I’m worth it. My feelings are worth it.’”

She stood up straight, shoulders back, but still she felt small, crouched over, a coward. “I’m worth it,” she mumbled. “My feelings are worth it.”

“Louder!”

“I’m worth it! My feelings are worth it!”

“LOUDER!”

“I’M WORTH IT! MY FEELINGS ARE WORTH IT!”

“That’s it, dear,” he said. “Now we both have to get home. Tell your boyfriend I said hello.”

She didn’t want to have to return to the empty house with her daughter who huddled behind a closed door completing her homework while her boyfriend was out having dinner with his friends. She wanted to go anywhere but the house he owned. It was the house he would not sell so they could buy a home of their own with money from her divorce and whatever he wanted to add to it. But she had nowhere else to go, no place to call home. She stood up straighter, shoulders back, her confidence abating under her stance. “I will,” she said, her voice weak. “I will,” she said, her voice stronger. “I WILL.”

My Apology

I’m sorry for disappearing.

I should have told you the truth sooner. Maybe you would have understood. I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I was just unable to write.

For over the last year, I’ve been embroiled in the process of ending 23 years of marriage to my biggest fan.

I pushed through the first six months, propelled by the sales and marketing campaign for my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, and the resulting nationwide book tour. But when I returned to California last November, I stopped writing. I would pick up a pen, but I could not find the words to express what was going on or what I felt or needed to say. I could not tell a story, write a poem, or compose a letter. I thought my writing days were over, that I had done what I needed to do, and that my career was finished.

But once my ex-husband signed the final marital settlement agreement, I felt my spirit lighter and my attitude brighter. The first half of my adult life was over. I was free to start again.

Instantly, the words returned.

The first thing I wrote was an apology to you, my fans, my community of readers, my extended family.

I want to thank my ex-husband for the gifts he gave me. For 25 years he protected me, cared for me, guided me, and partnered with me. He helped me grow up and into the woman I am today. He read every story I handed to him, encouraged me to continue on the writing journey despite rejection letters and other setbacks. He never said, “Quit. Get a real job.” I will always cherish those memories of unconditional love and support.

I admit I failed him. I broke his trust and his heart. I didn’t give in and I eventually gave up.

It’s always been difficult for me to write a good ending. That was my ex-husband’s specialty. Getting those last few words right. He isn’t here to do that anymore. It’s one of the many skills I am going to have to learn going forward.

And that’s alright because you’re here with me. We’ll help each other, one word at a time.

Life is Laundry

Lifeislaundry
Life is dirty. Life is clean. Life is colorful. Life is dull. Life can be sorted, washed, dried, folded, hung up, or neatly put away.

Laundry is the great equalizer. Everyone needs freshly laundered clothes. It doesn’t matter if you wash them yourself or hire someone to do it. It is a task that must be done.

Parents teach their children how to launder clothes as a necessary life skill. For many, wearing a pink shirt as the result of mixing white shirts with red towels is a rite of passage.

The life is laundry motif runs throughout my writing, most noticeably in my short story collection, The Human Act.

In “Fistful of Love,” a pregnant woman carries her laundry on her head, negotiating the stairs and the narrow walkway to the laundry room to wash and dry her family’s clothes. The narrator surreptitiously watches her through the peephole, infatuated with her. Laundry symbolizes the pregnant woman’s burden. Behind the safety of a front door, the narrator fantasizes about rescuing the pregnant woman and relieving her of her misery.

In “Randy Returns,” the narrator reminisces about her husband teaching her how to sort the clothes when they were newlyweds. The act of instructing a basic skill symbolizes the fundamental love her husband had for her long after he has passed away. It is a legacy that cannot be stolen. When the narrator washes the homeless friend’s clothes, it is an act of love.

In “Hope in the Laundry Room,” a woman loses her charm in a washer. The narrator finds it and returns it to her, sparking the start of a relationship full of caring and caretaking.

I have washed and dried many loads of laundry throughout my life, from the baskets full of soiled infant bibs to adult work shirts and pants and everything in between. I’ve watched colors fade and bleed, stains removed or set, clothes shrunk from XXL to XXS.

Laundering is as much a science as it is an art. No two people launder the same. No two items of clothing require the same care. Pockets full of tissue can cause a whole load to become full of lint. Candy wrappers may wash out just fine, but gum may stick and later dry on material that is hard to remove.

But no matter whether the clothes fade or shrink or come out just fine, we are all in this laundry of life together, and the lessons we learn are as necessary as clean clothes.


GPlus Share

Coincidences

Writing Coincidences

In writing, coincidences look forced. If a writer doesn’t plan for a coincidence to occur, the reader will complain the circumstance was intentionally planted by the author to make the plot move in the right direction.

In life, coincidences are happy reminders that we are not directionless boats floating through our days but purposeful human beings with goals and dreams.

During a rewrite, an author works hard to eliminate any coincidences that are not necessary. If a coincidence is vital to the plot, an author will work to foreshadow it so that it doesn’t seem random.

Yesterday I received a card in the mail from a business associate. The picture on the card depicted a scene from my crime novel, the inside of Hank’s office, complete with the chandelier and red velvet divan on which a pivotal event takes place.

Coincidence?

I laughed aloud, wondering what the writing gods were trying to tell me. It’s been a distracting summer, full of diversions and demands that would derail even those writers with the best intentions. Sometimes I feel like I will break under the pressure. But the card reminded me I am on the correct path, and if I just keep calm and write on I’ll make it to my next destination.

In a novel, this same event would have to be so careful planned and executed that it would appear seamless and natural to the reader, an organic part of the story, so inevitable that the reader would say, “Of course, that would happen. Why didn’t I see it coming?”

A writer must use every trick in the tool box to get to this point.

In life, coincidences are unexpected surprises that leave people wondering about the grand plan of the universe. People may want an explanation, but the universe doesn’t have to deliver one.

In writing, coincidences are planned events, carefully thought out and rewritten until they appear essential to the story. Readers need a reason to keep reading, and writers must deliver one.

Like


GPlus Share

Passionate Though Penniless

Yesterday I enjoyed a quiet lunch with a man who confessed he was miserable. “I’ve never found my passion,” he said, “and I fear it’s too late.”

He wasn’t that much older than me. As a child, he dreamed of being G.I. Joe. But by the time he grew up, those boyhood dreams were forgotten. Now at middle age, he looked back at the terrain of his life and realized he had spent the past 30 years building great wealth at the expense of great passion.

How could someone feel empty and meaningless with an abundance of money, prestige, and good fortune?

My story was the polar opposite of his. As I child, I dreamed I’d live next door to Snoopy and raise my family while writing and illustrating books. When I was 19, I moved next door to Snoopy’s Ice Arena. I married and had two children. I’ve written several books and painted many canvases. But I never made enough money to quit my day job or replace my 15 year old car or remodel my fixer-upper house. I had plenty of passion, although I was penniless.

My problems, however, paled in comparison to the lonely man sitting across from me. I could find a way around the financial potholes, but the man before me could not summon the spirit of adventure he had lost since boyhood. Money can always be made, but passion cannot be manufactured. No matter how much I shared the adventures of living in the land of the passionate though penniless, the man before me could not enter the circle of believing. He just stood outside the edges, full of fear and longing of who he so desperately wanted to become.

Change the World

It's a Circle

I don’t often talk about what inspires me. It’s difficult to share something so personal. I always assume it’s irrelevant to others. But sometimes it’s necessary to understand how something comes about, especially when it surprises you.

During the Thursday night Art Faire, several people came by my booth and looked through my cards. I can predict the perennial favorites: ocean scenes and flowers. What surprised me tonight was the interest in my avant garde piece. A blue spiral. Beneath the spiral, it read, “A single sentence can change the world…” and inside it read, “Thank you for changing my world.”

The card was inspired by my autistic son. For years he never spoke. Then, one day, out of blue, he said, “It’s a circle.” It’s one of the few sentences he can say on his own without prompting. Although I hear the sentence as frequently as a Top 10 song on the radio, each time Gabriel says it, the sentence sounds miraculously new. It literally changes my world.

When I was trying to think of new greeting cards to paint, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking, “It’s a circle.” I padded into the kitchen and turned on the light and wrote: It’s a circle. I drew a spiral above it. In the morning, I got out the scrap of paper and wrote on a new greeting card, “A single sentence can change the world…” I painted the spiral above it. Then inside the card, I wrote as a tribute to my son, “Thank you for changing my world.”

Simple, sweet, and heartfelt. I just didn’t know it would mean anything to anyone else.

On the back of the card, instead of signing my name, I wrote, “Second Thoughts Buddha.” I had been reading a lot of Buddhist literature, weaving it into the Christianity I already followed, getting back to the other half of my life which I had never really known. Of course, because I wrote the second sentence I thought of and not the first, it seemed only natural to write Second Thoughts Buddha instead of First Thoughts Buddha. The first thought was my son’s sentence, “It’s a circle.” My second thought was, “ A single sentence can change the world.”

My son has changed my world. With his single sentence. May someone somewhere change yours.