Monday, September 23, 2013

Secret Surviving



Clio, Muse of Writing and History
Greek Muses

It’s hard when Passion grabs you by the throat and makes you pay attention, forcing everything else to fall away.  Life fades into the background as you become a thrall to whatever has taken control of your waking mind and dreaming soul.   As a creative person I find it difficult to balance life when Passion takes the wheel.  It's even harder when it doesn’t.



This blog has sat dormant for almost a year.  It isn’t that I don’t have things to say or thoughts to share.  I don’t know why I haven’t been able to put all the thoughts running through my head down in words.  I know part of it is the feeling no one is really interested in my musings and worries.  How vain is it to think someone would want to hear what rolls around in your head on a daily basis?  Part of it stems from an inability to find the right words to grapple with all that I have been trying to sort out.  I have a book, a series of books actually, that I have been working on for almost five years.  I have short stories and essays I have written.  I have words, stories, thoughts, feelings and fears but I don’t seem to have the ability to get them out.  What the hell is that all about?

Pandora's Box by Waterhouse

I also have a secret.  Well, not so much a secret, some people know but it isn’t something I talk about unless life forces my hand.  I wonder though if keeping my struggles to myself, holding the silence, is somehow gaging my voice.  Could it be that secrets bleed silence into more than the object of the secret itself?  So, I suppose the only thing to do is let go of the secret, make it less, give it light, let the monster out of the closet because when we keep our fears and weaknesses in the dark we are only allowing them room to grow.



In 2008 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing spondylitis- a disease where your immune system attacks cartilage, fusing bones over time.  When I moved to New England in 2009 I was on a medication that depressed my immune system.  I caught H1N1 and became very, very ill.  I recovered but, in changing doctors, I also had a diagnosis change from AS to Fibromyalgia.  I will be honest.  It really pissed me off!  Fibromyalgia is a diagnosis many doctors and people alike consider fake and affecting only the weak minded.  AS was scary but it was real.  I felt hopeless and hurting not to mention crazy.  Depression creeped into the edges of my life until it took over almost completely. 


Between the pain of daily life and emotional pain the depression has caused, every day since then has been an excruciating challenge.  I am grateful for the fighting “screw you “spirit I inherited from my parents.  This “never say die” attitude has been my greatest weapon but also my biggest challenge as I resist the very things that help-medication, rest and relaxation.  I have been blessed with a husband who not only accepts my limitations but encourages me to rest when I don’t want to let go; but I see the toll it takes on him when he feels like the whole world is on his shoulders and it hurts my soul.  I don’t want my kids to have their childhood memories tainted with a pervasive image of Mom sick in bed or not at This Game or That Function because she didn’t feel well. 

I am lucky.  It isn’t cancer.  For now it doesn’t seem to be AS- a disease that progressively destroys the axial body- even though there is the chance that my diagnosis will change as a possibly slow progression of AS shows itself over time.  I am grateful for what I have but I want more.  I want to write.  I want to be able to think without struggling to find simple words.  I want to wake up with the energy to take on the world.   I want to let go of the shame of not being enough and embrace my life and my future with the passion I once had. 

I used to say “I will do it later.  There is time.”  It’s later and I am tired of waiting.  I want the world and I want it now.  I am not afraid to work for it, to risk and fail and rebound. I am only afraid this never ending struggle to push through the crap of everyday will overwhelm me.  I can’t bully my way through this as I have always done with life’s inevitable challenges.  Brute force doesn’t work anymore and I am so very tired of trying.

Maybe that is the lesson here.  In the past, I  have reached every goal I set for myself through sheer determination and moxy.  I pushed.  I pulled.  I clawed.  I never gave up.  Maybe this time it is about giving up and letting go.  I don’t mean letting go of my dreams. I don’t think that option is in my DNA. Rather, it’s about letting go of control and learning to steer the boat on the river rather than pushing so hard against the current.  It’s about trusting in the future, letting go of the past and really living in the now.  It’s about letting go of the shame of not being perfect

The secret is out- I am not Wonder Woman.  Not such a big one, is it?  So then why do I feel like I am standing here in my underwear? 

The first step to writing is having something to say. The second step is being honest about what you say- brutally honest.  Writing is about Truth.  So here is my Truth:  I have limits, boundaries and that has to be ok.  I have good days and really sucky days.  There are days when I hurt so much that I can barely move.  There have been days when my depression was so severe I didn’t even care that I hurt.  But there are days like today when I remember that I am on this earth for a reason.  I am a writer and I tell the truth.  
I  teach my children to, above all else, do everything with truth and compassion.  Perhaps it is time I give some of that gift to myself.  Truth: I am human. As for Compassion?  That is a work in progress but it is a worthy work accomplished by love and patience and there can never be enough of that in this world. 

 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from our garden of characters to yours.





Norman Rockwell

Brrr!  It is chilly here today.  Thanksgiving is on the horizon and Christmas is in queue behind.  Brimfield is bustling to get ready for Turkey and stuffing, cranberries and pie and each table set across the small harbor town will be as unique as the people setting them.  Mary spent most of October finding the perfect turkey and cranberry stuffing recipes.  She bullied Burt, proprietor of  Burt’s Fine Meats and Charcuterie, into calling all over New England and most of the mid-Atlantic states for an organic, free range Narragansette bird.  Mike stopped by the butcher early this morning, the bundle now sits deep in the recesses of Mary's fridge, wrapped tight in paper and string.  Mary won’t discover her prized poultry is actually a veniparkey until Thanksgiving morning.  What is a veniparkey, you ask?  It is a curious mix of  turkey around a partridge around a venison roast of course- a Burt Brooks specialty.  The butcher seemed quite happy to change the order when he spotted Mike perusing the glassed displays, too happy in my opinion, but don’t tell Mary.  Mike wants it to be a surprise. Tonight Burt will sneak Mary’s abandoned turkey home and into the smoker behind the barn, far away from his vegetarian wife Sylvia.  He will then guard the location of his contraband jerky with all the finesse of a cold war spy.   But enough about Brimfield and Thanksgiving. It’s time to wrap up our tale of  Mary's garden.  Do you have your tea?  Maybe a quilt or blanket?  Good.  Now, let me tell you a story. -Rebecca



Mothering Nature, Part I
Mothering Nature, Part II

Norman Rockwell

 Mary took to gardening with an intensity most people reserve for national sporting events and primary elections.  For Mary, the idea of gardening brought pleasant images of rubber shoes and pitchforks; fat, orange pumpkins; homespun scarecrows; and grateful children chomping on long, crisp, carrots.  So she was surprised to find gardening to be less zen and more Sun Zu’s The Art of War.  During one of rainiest springs New England had seen in decades, Mary stood outside, braving a vindictive nor'easter making desperate deals with belligerent tomatoes.
"I know the weather stinks,” said Mary.  “I get it!  But can't you please perk up?  Just a little?"  She tucked a blanket of seaweed around their shivering roots.  "I am not asking for much, just some good ol' New England spunk!" Mary wrapped the plants in plastic and considered a space heater.  This wasn’t working. 
Now there are times in one’s life when all you want to be is a grown up.  You want to handle life on your own, call your own shots.  Then there are those times when all you want is to crawl under the blankets and call your Mother.  As the storm battered Brimfield, Mary decided it was time to call Mom.  Armed with a box of tissues and a cup of tea, Mary called her from beneath four quilts.
“Mom,” said Mary, “Mother Nature hates me.”
“What did you do this time?” asked Margie, Mary’s mother. 
Mary sneezed.  “I didn’t buy vegetables and I don’t like the Mayor’s wife and gardening is the pits.”
“Hmm.  Well, that is a lot for her to take I suppose although I don’t understand where the Mayor’s wife fits into it all.”
“It’s just that,” Mary hesitated, sneezed again, and continued.  “Everything I thought gardening would be is wrong.  Corn doesn’t rustle in the wind.  It falls over.  Those stupid rubber boots leak and the bugs eat me and garden.  Mother Nature is a petulant brat.”  Mary sighed.  “Then there is the scarecrow.” 
“The scarecrow?”  asked Margie
“His name is Bob.  The kids made him for me. We have the only scarecrow in 5 counties with a Disney princess tiara, Tinkerbell wings, a light saber and an egyptian cotton head.”
“Bob sounds great.  So what’s the problem?”
“I came down one morning and Bob was tearing across the front lawn.  I thought maybe I was getting a migraine, you know what those do to me,” said Mary, “Then I saw Tex had Bob’s stick in his mouth.  He was trying to play fetch with Alex.”  Tex is the Sullivan’s 140 pound German Shepherd.
Mary laughed into the phone.  “You should have seen it, Mom - Tex tearing across the lawn with Bob the scarecrow dancing above him like some demented Disney character and Alex screaming bloody murder.”
Mary wiped at her eyes with her sleeve.  “We had to lock the Wizard of Oz DVD in Mike’s filing cabinet before Alex would go to bed that night.  I keep picturing Bob and Tex chasing that poor kid.”  Mary took a sip of her tea between giggles.  “Did I mention Alex was wearing his monkey pajamas?” asked Mary.  “I swear, I will never look at that movie the same way again.”
Mary hung up the phone sputtering and laughing so hard tea came dangerously close to coming out her nose.  Worst parent ever, thought Mary, that’s me!
The Great Gardening debacle of 2012, as it would come to be referred to in later years, came one month later over dinner.
"Can anybody tell me what this is?"  Mary held up a long leaf.  Five sets of eyes shifted nervously around the room.
"Um…  A leaf?" asked Molly, sneaking a napkin to her lap to feed the dog her peas.  Mary said nothing.  The dog hated peas.
Mary smiled "Yes, very good.  A leaf.  Have a brownie."
"Well duh!" complained Margaret, the oldest at 13.  "She can't get a brownie for that! It was too easy."
“She’s a baby!” countered Alex.  “That’s like E=MC paired in baby language.”
“MC-squared.” said Mike. 
“I’m not a baby,” argued Molly.
"Shhh!"  Mary said, "Quiet.  It’s a leaf, yes; but, here is the catch."  She waved two double fudge brownies in the air for inspiration.  A hush moved through the dining room.  You could hear a pea drop.  “What color is the leaf?”
“Seriously Mom?" mumbled Margaret.  "It's green.  Even the baby knows that."
“I am not a baby!” yelled Molly.  The dog spit something onto the rug.
"OK, OK.  I know it is green, but…" Mary paused for effect and held up one finger.  "But,” she said again.  “Is it yellowish-green with dark green lines or bright green with yellow lines?"
She searched the faces of her family for understanding and received nothing but vacant stares.  A sick feeling rolled in the pit of Mary’s stomach. 
There it is, she thought, my life in a sad, little nutshell.  I give my blood, sweat and tears to these people every day; but ask for a little support in my time of need and all I get are blank faces, rolling eyes and peas on the floor.
"Great, just great!" said Mary and flung the leaf down.  "Thanks for nothing.  When you don't have anything to eat for lunch but Twinkies and red dye #8 don't come crying to me."
A cheer went up around the table.
“You think she means it?” whispered Margaret to her father.
“Red’s awesome!” Alex cheered.
“What’s a Twinkie?” asked Molly.
“Oh dear,” said Mike.
Mary took a brownie, trying not to look her salad in the eye.  She had failed, failed her garden, failed her children, failed the environment.  Worst of all she had failed to live up to her image of what a practical, sensible, self-reliant woman should be.  Mary figured she might as well hand in her journalism degree and cancel her Martha Stewart subscription.  How could she face the Maven of Home Making now?
"Uh, Honey?” said Mike, looking from the leaf to the brownies and back to Mary.  “Does it really matter? It’s just,” Mike shrugged his shoulders, “green.  Leaves are green."
"Yes it matters!" Mary shrieked, slamming a manual the size of a pickup truck onto the table and opening it to a marked page.
"One means too much calcium and another not enough iron,” Mary read from the manual.  “A bright, greenish-yellow with purple spots suggests a magnesium deficiency.  How could you not know this, Mike?  You’re a doctor."  Mary picked up the leaf brandishing it like a sword.  "Do you see purple spots?"
Mike seemed to think for moment before he rose and moved to the cupboard.  He reached inside, pulled out a large plastic bottle, walked back to the table and set it down in front of his wife.  Colorful bears danced across the white label.  Berrygood Bearivites, A day of energy in each smiling bear” it said.  Mary glanced at the bottle and then back at Mike. 
“They are organic, too,” said Mike and held out his hand for a brownie.
Much later, after the last of double fudge brownie had been scraped from the ceiling fan, Mike and Mary sat together on the porch swing sipping a glass of wine looking out over their gardens.  The house was quiet.  Flowers nodded in the warm night breeze. 
“I don’t know,” said Mary after a while.  “I don’t know what got into me.  I guess I figured bad farmer equaled bad mother.  You know, like if I can’t raise corn how the heck am I going to raise kids?”
Mike smiled and kissed his wife on the head.  “You do just fine, more than fine.”
“But I don’t know what the heck I am doing!” wailed Mary.
Mike laughed.  “Well, if you don’t know what you are doing we are doomed because I sure don’t,” he said. 
“I’m serious Mike.  I can’t grow a cucumber.  How am I going to raise a teenager?”
“Lots of counting to ten,” laughed Mike, “and antacid.”
“But it’s more than that,” she confessed.  “I am supposed to know what I am doing.  People read my columns and assume I am some kind of expert when all I ever write about is how I don’t know what I am doing.”
“Babe, I’m pretty sure that is why they read your stuff, to feel better about their stuff,” said Mike.
Mary leaned her head back to stare at the night sky.  “Do you know Alex went to school yesterday with two different shoes on?  They weren’t even the same kind of shoe - a sneaker and a dress shoe- and they were both the left foot; and he didn’t have any socks on! His pants had a hole in one knee and he was wearing his pajama shirt- not even a clean one! I didn’t notice until he got out of the car in front of the school.”  She lifted her hands up in a helpless gesture and let them fall to her lap again.  “If I can’t get our kid to wear the same shoes to school how will I get Margaret through dating, and peer pressure and college?  Ugh.”  Mary groaned.  “All the other moms seem so put together, so capable.  I’m just - not.  And their kids-“ She trailed off helplessly. 
“Look,” said Mike, turning to face his wife.  “I don’t know what the answer is.  But I do know it isn’t broccoli and brussel sprouts.  We will figure it out together and who cares if Sylvia Brooks serves organic tofu with heirloom tomatoes.  I happen to know her kids stash beef jerky in their violin cases.”
Mary sighed and leaned back into her husband.  “I just want to do it right,” she said. “You know, not damage them too much.”
“If we did everything right,” teased Mike, “years from now, a perfectly nice therapist would be denied his Mercedes.”
Mary laughed.
“You know what they say,” said Mike.  “What ever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
“At least we will go together,” said Mary. 
“Always,” promised Mike.  “Always together.”  He squeezed her hand and held onto it.  They both fell silent, listening to the small noises of one world going to sleep and another coming alive. 
On Monday morning, Mary pulled up to the carpool lane just behind Sylvia Brooks.  As the kids piled out, Mary nearly sprayed a mouthful of coffee across the instrument panel of her Suburban.  Someone had added their own flair to the yellow bumper sticker on Sylvia’s silver Prius.  Instead of reading Go vegan and no one gets hurt, the sticker now read Go vegan and no one gets Burt with a sad face emoticon instead of a period.  Mary smiled all the way to the grocery store.  She was low of frozen beans.

Welcome to Autumn and Brimfield, Maine


Fall is swiftly fleeing, autumn leaves streaming from her colorful heels with winter's wind in fast pursuit. Here in Maine, snow has come and gone with a promise to return soon. This morning I walked my son to the bus and found Jack Frost had graffitied our truck, affectionately known as The Beast, in lovely silver-white swirls and crystalline swoops. Old Man Winter's calling card has arrived here in New England.

When I began working on a freelance writing career, I found most of the stories bubbling to the surface of my creative cauldron revolved around my experiences in life and family. Bored with writing a constant operatic warm up (you know: Meee, me, me Meeeee,)I created a cast of characters and set them to play out their lives within a world very similar to my own. Mike and Mary were born as was the Small and sleepy harbor town of Brimfield, Maine. These stories are meant to be read aloud in the spirit of Garrison Keillor or Stuart McLean.  However, I have read as well as listened to both Keillor and Mclean and have enjoyed the tales equally.

While the following story may not be seasonally pertinent, I think the worries, cares, successes and perceived failures will resonate with all times of the year and many readers locked in the daily struggle of living, loving and laughing. So please, come, sit at my table. Can I get you a coffee? Tea? Something a little, well, more? The fire is in the hearth, cookies cooling over there on the counter. Come, sit, and let me tell you a story.

Wishing you joy and luck on this day and every other, but most of all I wish you laughter. After all, a sense of humor is the only thing that makes sense at all. -Rebecca

 


Spring arrived in Brimfield, Maine on a Saturday morning riding a capricious, sea-scented breeze.  The winter had been full of long nights and cold days.  But on this day, memories of ice fishing and snowshoes, blizzards and sea smoke melted away with the last of the gray snow banks. 

From the stately painted houses on Main Street to the country cottages and farmhouses of the western boundaries, mothers everywhere banished the last remains of the mythic New England winter.  All over town windows were thrown open, porches swept, flowerbeds raked and countless boots, hats and scarves were packed away in bins and boxes by the winter weary Brimfieldians.   New England was ready for Spring, and it seemed Spring was ready for New England.

Perhaps the penultimate harbinger of spring had arrived just this morning. 

“Birdfeed Battle, Bears ON!” declared the local newspaper.  Morris-1, Greeley’s birdfeeders-0.”  Greeley was Mrs. Glenna Greeley, local librarian and town matron.  Morris was a black bear with a taste for birdseed and a penchant for breaking and entering. 

“Go get ‘em Morris,” said Mike to his paper.  

Mike Sullivan was Brimfield’s pediatrician and no one was happier to see the tail end of winter than he was.  Mike was weary of the gray skies and solemn moods, of colds and the cold.  He understood poor old Morris, just woken up from a long nap, hungry and eager to be out and about.  Mike was tired of the unique claustrophobia that came with the annual hibernation all Northerners must endure.  

Rather than an epilogue to old man winter’s deep freeze, Mike welcomed the fine weather as a prologue of what was to come.  It was the kind of April morning that spun dreams of sun drenched beaches, backyard barbeques and ball games governed only by weather and streetlights.  It was the kind of April morning that made people restless and itchy for something, well, something more. 

Mike leaned back from the yellow enameled table ignoring the creaking protest of the old chair.  He stretched his hands behind his head and sighed.  Life was good.  He had his favorite chair, his favorite newspaper, his coffee, his family and most importantly he had absolutely nothing to do today.  He closed his eyes for a moment, drinking in the warmth and light streaming through the kitchen window and allowed his mind to wander back to a similar day many years past now.

Mary and Mike Sullivan lived here in the town of Brimfield with their three children in one of those proud, painted ladies on Main.  The Sullivans were “from away” as they say - “They” being the generations of tough Mainers born with the sea in their blood and ingenuity in their bones.  It has been almost 16 years since Mary found the house one sleeting, winter afternoon.  A freshman reporter for the Boston Globe, Mary had followed a story concerning the declining fishing industry to the small harbor town.  She had spent most of that morning unsuccessfully gathering information from the notoriously tight-lipped Mainers when she wandered past Sixty-Four Main Street, the “For Sale” sign poking above a two foot snow drift. 

Mary was instantly entranced. The porch had drawn her in, its wide wooden bulk wrapping its arms around the blue Victorian in a white gingerbread embrace.  But it was the grand staircase and stained glass windows that had captured Mary’s heart and soul.

“Buy it!” she had told Mike, “It’s perfect.”

Mike hadn’t been so convinced.  While Mary was charmed by the turrets and slated roof, Mike worried over ice dams and leaking rafters.  Where Mary smelled lemon polished history in the old oak paneling and lavender in the sun soaked kitchen, Mike caught the distinct scent of cat and something else.  Formaldehyde wondered Mike? 

But Mary had wanted the house and Mike wanted Mary.  So, on a blustery spring day, the couple moved into Sixty-Four Main and spent the next decade polishing and plastering the old Victorian while working their way into the hearts of the close knit community.

Mike took a job as the town doctor, with an office just down the block - house calls as needed.  Mary kept on at The Globe but transferred to the local paper when Margaret was born.  After Alex was born two years later, Mary freelanced for a number of local papers chronicling the trials and tribulations of small towns and family life, eventually becoming a syndicated columnist.  The town had been good to the Sullivans and the Sullivans worked hard to repay that kindness. 

But on this shining Saturday morning, Mike wasn’t worrying about cats or renovations or doctoring.  He had nothing ahead more strenuous than wondering what kind of fancy new bear-proof feeder Mrs. Greeley would try this year.  Today was a day of possibilities, a day where anything – or nothing- could happen. 

Nothing is exactly what this doctor ordered, thought Mike as he glanced through the headlines. 

“Morris is winning already,” said Mike to Mary when she wandered into the kitchen with her section of paper and a cup of tea. 

“Hmmm?” she asked and joined him at the little yellow table.

“Morris, the bear.  Got Old Lady Greeley’s Ultra-feed 4000 in under 12 hours.  Think that’s a new record.” Mike laughed.  “Saw a big box from Amazon at the Post Office yesterday.  Whaddya’ bet that’s an Ultra 5000?”

“Mmm,” said Mary and sighed.

Mike watched her over the top of the paper with a wary eye.  “You all right?”  Something told him his day of nothing was sliding into something.  Many years of marriage had given him a kind of sixth sense when things were about to go sideways and Mary seemed to be in a sideways kind of mood. 

“It’s nothing.  I’m being silly.”  Mary sighed again and the slapped her section of the paper down onto the table.  “It’s just, ugh.  It’s that Lauren McAlister.  She really fries my cookies,” said Mary, fiddling with her mug of tea.

Mike smiled.  “I think you mean burns your cookies.”

“Whatever.  She drives me crazy,” mumbled Mary.

“What did Our Lady of the Haughty Attitude do now?” asked Mike.

“Ugh, just because her husband is the Mayor she thinks it is her job to be the social conscience of the world.”

“The whole world?”

“Well, maybe just the town but don’t underestimate her.  Total world domination is on her To-Do list.”

Mike put down the Local Happenings section of the Coastal News.  “So what is the new crusade?  Whooping cranes?  Yellow-bellied sap suckers?  Can’t be spotted owls, we did that last year- still have the calendar.”

“Vegetables,” said Mary, head in her hands, pout on her face.

“Vegetables?” asked Mike and laughed.  “Is she for or against?”

“I guess that depends on where you buy them.”  Mary got up from the table and moved across the kitchen.  “She joined this co-op.  They bring you different vegetables each week.”  Mary pulled a bag of green beans from the freezer and banged it on the counter.  “Lauren was going on and on about how great the produce is and how co-ops reduce your carbon footprint.”  She banged the bag again.  It sounded like a sledge hammer.  “So, I got to thinking.”

Oh boy, thought Mike.  Sideways.  He gestured for Mary to give him the bag and she brought it over.  “What are you thinking?” asked Mike, working the block of frozen vegetables loose with his hands. 

“What do we do for the environment?” asked Mary, hands on hips.

Mike blinked.  “What do we do?  Well,” Danger warned Mike’s brain.  Defensive positions.  “We recycle.  We have a compost pile,” he said, “and the Molly never get new shoes.  Hand-me-downs are an institution in this house.”

Mary took the bag from her husband.  “No, Mike, I mean really do something.  I spent years writing about other people doing things, but what have I done?  Haven’t you seen those bumper stickers plastered on every carpool car? “Go Organic! Buy Local! Sylvia Brooks has one that says “Eat vegan and nobody gets hurt.”

Mike snorted and shook his head.  Sylvia Brook’s husband, Burt, was the town butcher.

Mary poured the beans into a glass bowl.  “How can I hold my head up in the carpool lane when our kids think vegetables are naturally frost-bitten?”

“So, you want to join a co-op?” asked Mike

“No.  I want to do her one better.  I want a garden,” answered Mary.  “If she can buy them, I can grow them.  That will put Our Lady of the High and Mighty in her place.”  Mary shoved the bowl into the microwave and pressed start.  She turned to her husband.  “What do you think?”

Now, it would be a full year later, over a pint of Guinness at Smith’s Pub, when Mike would recall that one question - “what do you think?” - and mark it in his memory as the point where everything had gone terribly wrong.  He would tell the story of Mary’s garden with the kind of sentiment men reserve for survival stories, hunting escapades and college drinking tales.  But on this morning, Mike could only register one thought - Run!

Mike felt it coming like a bad head cold.  He recognized that look, that unholy light shining behind her eyes.  It was a light that said many weekends would be lost in the name of family bonding.  It was a light that said cancel your golf game, Mike.  It was a light that said run, Mike, run!  Husbands and children for themselves!

That same light had shone a year before when Mary had embarked on her Zen period.  She had filled shallow bowls with sand, tiny stones and rakes and moved all the furniture according to the principles of Feng Shui.  One night, after a long evening of house calls, Mike thought he was crawling into bed only to fall into the laundry hamper.  The next night Mike tried to put his socks into Aunt May’s potted palm. 

Mary went on to tie little silver bells to all of the doors and windows.  Every time a breeze blew or a door opened there was supposed to be a light, energy cleansing chiming throughout the house.  With three kids, a dog and an ocean breeze, the house sounded like the test room at a miniature gong factory.  The cat had not come out for months. 

Breathe, thought Mike, returning from his gong-filled memory.  It’s only gardening.  How bad could it be?  Mike smiled, relaxing.  Gardening might be just the trick to keep Mary busy this summer.

“Sounds fantastic,” said Mike and kissed her on the head. 

Mary let out a long breath.  “I am so glad you get it.  Lauren said her husband Cliff didn’t understand any of this but I told her with you being a pediatrician, for God’s sake, of course you would understand it.”

“Of course I understand,” said Mike returning to the table and his paper.  “You know me, Mr. Environment.”  Mike ignored Mary’s raised eyebrows.  He was warming to the idea. 

On Sunday, Mike purchased a Farmer's Almanac at the Tractor Supply for his wife - his contribution to the cause.  He gave it to her that night along with two seed catalogs bound together by a red ribbon and a card. 

The card said: I love you Mary, Happy gardening.  Love, Mike. 

Monday morning, Mike followed the smell of French Roast into the kitchen to find Mary at the table.  She was wrapped in a fuzzy pink bathrobe, her seed catalogs spread out before her, coffee in hand.

“What do you think about escarole?” asked Mary.

“Escarole?” asked Mike, fumbling with the coffee pot.  “You want to grow snails?”

“Escarole, not escargot,” said Mary, shaking her head. 

“Oh,” said Mike.  He poured the coffee into a mug with a blue painted handprint on the side.  “Sure.  What’s escarole then?”

Mary smiled and made a check in the catalogue.  “I was thinking I need a theme- maybe Asian,” said Mary, flipping the pages.  “I can’t wait,” she said. 

“I am sure what ever you do will be wonderful,” said Mike and he kissed his wife on the head and spent the remainder of the chilly morning congratulating himself on a job well done.  His beautiful wife was happy and his golf game was safe.

 

 
Thank you for joining me in the inaugural post of Brimfield, Maine and the town's character and characters. Look for part two of Mary and Mikes adventures in gardening tomorrow, same Bat time, same Bat channel. Of course now I have dated myself as ancient and totally uncool. But wait! Batman is cool! Batman, bow ties and fezzes- they're cool. Good thing Retro is always back in style. Now where did I put those legwarmers and cassette tapes? The kids will love them!  -R
 
P.S. If you would like to listen to a master storyteller at work please visit Stuart Mclean at http://www.cbc.ca/vinylcafe/  You won't regret it! 
 



Friday, November 11, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

 
 Venus in Front of the Mirror
Peter Paul Rubens, 1613/1641


I am haunted by mirrors.

It took thirty-seven years, seventy-five pounds gained and lost and countless hours of angst (and therapy) to realize a simple truth: I do not look into the mirror at myself; I am looking for myself.  What does this mean for me as a writer?  Everything.

In a chapter titled Finessing Fear of his book The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes includes a quote from Jill Robinson’s memoir Bed/Time/Story:

…The advantage of not knowing who you are is you can attempt to be all things to all men… or women.  My mother saw me always glancing in every mirror, every window;  in the gleaming blades of knives.  She said, “Jill is vain.”  She did not know I was looking to see who would be there this time.

Jill Robinson was in my head.  I had found a kindred soul  and, all at once, understood myself in a few inked pages. But there was no “Ah-Ha!” or joyous whoop, only a hot and stinging gathering of tears . 
 

Mirror, mirror,
On the wall, 
I don’t know you.
Not at all.


 Girl at Mirror, 1954
Norman Rockwell
This morning I looked hard into the mirror.  I looked past the tired mom, past the hurt friend, past the overwhelmed adult and blocked writer.  I searched for the faint outlines of what made me unique.  I caught a glimpse as the light shifted, but it was gone as quick as it came.  Fleeting, the girl with  sad eyes.

What does all of this have to do with writing?  While watching my reflection I realized my troublesome main character asks the same questions: Who am I beneath all these expectations, these labels?  Am I good?  Am I worth while?  Am I lovable?  Do I even care? 

She too is haunted by mirrors,both the mundane reflective surfaces and the metaphorical ones - the reflection of who she is in the faces of people around her.  Both of us are haunted by the terrifying "What If.".  What if, beneath it all, there is nothing worth finding?  What if, in finding HER, I will find ME?  That is Pandora’s box.  No wonder I can’t write her.  I am afraid of her.

I am a writer.  As such I require two things: something to say; and someone to hear it. What if, beneath it all, the struggle to write a novel, to find my voice, to see myself, there is nothing worth writing, nothing worth seeing, nothing worth reading? 

I write not only to tell a story but to also discover more about myself.   I put it all out there - my fears, my hopes, faults and strengths - for people to read and judge. 

 “Who am I? What do I think?”  asks Writer, me.

 “Who cares?  Why is it important?”  asks Reader, you.

It all comes down to judgment.  Writers write.  Readers judge. 

A reader’s time and money are precious.  It is a writer’s job to earn a share of those commodities.   Judgment Fest begins with the first read of the editor and culminates in sales.  Yes, writers write first for themselves, because they must, but we all need to pay the bills.  Ideas are free, heat and electricity are not.

Enter the independent publisher.  

Long maligned as a superhighway to clog the market with bad writing, independant publishing, otherwise known as vanity press, or self-publishing is gaining a foothold among new and established authors alongside smaller, specialized independent presses as well as the traditional large publishing houses. 

In a recent press release Amazon.com, Inc., announced Amanda Hocking, published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, has joined eleven other authors in the Kindle Million Club, having sold over a million paid copies of her novel in the Amazon.com Kindle store.  She joins such authors as David Baldacci, George R.R. Martin and Stephenie Meyer as well as fellow independent author John Locke.

Self-publishing platforms such as Amazon.com’s Kindle Direct Publishing allow authors to bypass typical obstacles of traditional publishing. The danger?  A glutted market full of careless and inferior writing.  The benefit?  Higher profit margins for authors and an evolving, diverse literary marketplace more representative of a rapidly changing global society. 


Echo and Narcissus (1903),
John William Waterhouse

This idea of independent publishing is gaining momentum within the writing community.   International Thriller Writers now include seminars in self-publishing and marketing in their annual conference.  Writer’s Digest Magazine, a prominent resource for writers, is currently promoting the 20th annual Writer’s Digest Self Published Book awards, a competition held exclusively for self-published authors and their books.


The face of publishing is changing and like any evolving entity there are bound to be growing pains.  When the time comes for the literary world to take a long, hard look in the mirror, what will it see?  For me, for my character and for the publishing industry, the story is still being written. 

Put on your seat belts folks. It could be a bumpy ride.

Ted Krever, author of Mindbenders has first hand experience with the highs and lows of the  self-publishing world.  I hope you enjoy the third and final installment of my interview with Ted Krever as we discuss the changing climate of the writer’s world.


Part Three
Publishing today with AuthorTed Krever

RM:  We met at ITW - International Thriller Writers conference - ThrillerFest.  There were so many amazing authors there, new and established.  It was a bit overwhelming for a newbie like me.


KREVER:  It was an interesting conference.  The most interesting thing for me was the response when I told people I was a self-published indie writer.  It was like I was the correspondent for Al-Jazeerah. Everybody there was either 'published' or seeking publication from a traditional publisher. I seemed to become the emissary from the scary future.

RM:  Everyone is realizing the publishing industry is changing but no one knows what that means- exactly.  There were a number of Indie publishers there, StoneGate Ink being one I remember.

KREVER:  I'm not talking about independent publishers. I'm talking about authors publishing themselves.  There were a few of us there.  You have to do it all yourself- no mommy or daddy to hold hands with.

RM:  Self-publishing or independent publishing is gaining a corner of the market though.  I have seen it gaining speed over the past few years.  Even Writer’s Digest is recognizing the trend with articles, how-to’s and contests.

KREVER:  Yeah, but I was really surprised and taken aback by the response I got. I'm used to writers being very supportive. These guys were uncomfortable with me. I scared them.  Oh for sure, it's a new world and a big one. But it's scary to contemplate. It is scary.  These people wanted nothing to do with it.

RM:  In a "don't talk to the guy with the pencil protector and the liverwurst sandwich" kind of way or in the "Gee, I am on the bus he just launched himself off of...should I stay or should I go now?" kind of way?  I seem to remember one of the Big Guys saying he self-published his first novella this year at a session at ThrillerFest.  That same guy also cautioned to never, ever give up rites to epub without an expiration date.

KREVER:  [David] Morrell said he would never sign a publishing contract these days until publishers made major changes to rights and ebook pricing.

RM:  Ahhh. That is it.  I think the biggest issue with self-pub is the editing process. Writers want to keep the writing intact but sometimes an editor can make a big difference in a million small ways.  I think skipping the editing process with a professional editor is not only foolish but suicidal.

KREVER:  No question. There's an infrastructure to traditional publishing that indies are going to have to find a way to emulate. And right now there just aren't sensible alternatives. But they'll emerge as the market matures. In the meantime, I think the lack of gatekeepers is an issue too. I think reviewers will emerge who people trust. They won't be national names but you'll find two or three whose taste you agree with and they will be your guardians, the ones who let you now who is worth your time and money.

RM:  I can’t help thinking that novels we consider classics today might be labeled as “not relevant” in today’s market and would subsequently remain unknown.  Do you feel like the self-publishing trend along with independent presses could be the remedy for a seemingly finicky and capricious market?

KREVER:  I had a really good agent tell me about eight months ago that she loved ‘Mindbenders’ but couldn’t take me on because she didn’t ‘do’ paranormal. I said, “Great—tell them you don’t like paranormal but you like this” and she answered “That’s not how it works.” And it isn’t. First of all, I don’t like the labeling—the marketing department runs the publishing company now. What ‘genre’ is ‘Huckleberry Finn’? I’m certainly not comparing myself to Twain but I’m saying the tail is now thoroughly wagging the dog.

I think the solution involves another step in technology. Right now, you have publishers—traditional or independent—who can’t afford to sell an ebook at a competitive price. And you have indie writers like me who can’t get paper books in bookstores nationwide, at least not in an effective way. Someone is going to have to put print-on-demand machinery in 5,000 independent bookstores around the country—the local independent bookstore will thrive as the chains go under—so that a customer can walk into the store, browse titles in a kiosk or on their own laptop or iPad , make a selection and walk out with a printed copy of the book all in one trip. The technology certainly exists, it’s just a matter of someone making the investment. It’s just a matter of time and industry politics.

RM:  So, Mr Krever, what is next for you?

KREVER:  The (first) sequel to ‘Mindbenders’. If aggravation is a sign of quality, this is guaranteed to be a great book.
~
Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.  ~George Bernard Shaw, Poet  
To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.  ~Charles Caleb Colton, Writer~
Ted Krever’s books can be found at Amazon.com, at Goodreads.com and  BarnesandNoble.com

For more information about Ted Krever please visit www.tedkrever.com
Ralph Keyes and his book The Courage to Write  can be found here
More about Jill Robinson and her work can be found  here.
Find the Writer's Digest's self-publishing contest here