I’m in the editing process for my new novel.
My narrator, like myself (what a coincidence), digresses quite a bit as she tells her story. One story reminds her of another story, which reminds her of another story. But all these little side trips advance the plot or reveal her character or someone else’s.
But sometimes the narrator digresses a little too far. I had nothing to do with this of course – it is all her fault. But my editor has pointed out that a few of these side trips don’t really advance the storyline. They have to go.
Oh, that makes me so sad. I know there are some authors who doubt every word they write. They worry that their writing is garbage. That’s not me. I love all the words I create. Every sentence is my baby.
One particular non-essential side-trip needed to be cut entirely. It was obvious that the whole thing had to go because lifting it out didn’t make one bit of difference to the story. So okay – out you go.
But here’s the sad part. This little anecdote was really cute.
I know, I know… since I’m in love with my own writing, I realize it may not actually be as wonderful as I think it is. But it’s like when you know your child is a genius even though he’s almost nine and still pronounces it ‘pasghetti.’ He’s your kid. He’s endearing, not weird.
I could save those few paragraphs. Maybe use them someday in some other story. Maybe I could make a blog out of that anecdote. That would be a stretch though, since it totally fictitious. Perhaps I can use it as an allegory.
Ah, wait. That’s what I’m doing now.
Because sometimes something you love just isn’t working for you anymore.
It might be a job or a relationship. It may be as simple as a favorite pair of jeans that are falling apart. Or as complex as a friendship that suddenly feels painful.
But whatever it is, you love it. You don’t really want to stop loving it.
Years ago, I left a job that that had turned very unpleasant. A job I had devoted myself to for fifteen years. I loved that job. But the last year or two had been awful. When I left, I felt terrible for a long time. I hated that job and what it had become. But eventually – thankfully -I saw it differently. I saw it as a great job. It was a shame that it wasn’t a good fit at the end, but that’s all it was – a good job that didn’t last forever.
Like my discarded anecdote, I think you have to say goodbye to good things that are no longer quite so good.
Love what it used to be. Love what it used to mean to you.
So what did I do with the unnecessary but cute anecdote?
I didn’t save it for another day.
I hit ‘delete.’
My novel is fine. I am fine.
I’m glad I wrote it. I’m glad I let it go.
Do not worry about your hair during a pandemic.
You look just FINE.
I have finished the first draft of my new novel. Yea for me!
It is off at the editor’s and now I am stuck.
Stuck between that story and whatever come next.
Because I can’t quite shake that story. I’m still in there.
The story is set in 1968 and the main character is a junior in high school. Which is an amazing coincidence, since I just happened to be a junior in high school in 1968. The story isn’t about me though, except that the kid is funny and smart and oh-so-ready to trade the Funny and Smart for a little dose of Pretty.
And like me, my protaganist is stuck. Stuck between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out. Wanting to be like everyone else and wanting to be unique.
I think I am stuck there still. Maybe everyone is – throughout their lives.
Writing about high school more than 50 years later is an amazing experience.
Because it all returns. It’s not coming out of the mist. It’s tangible. It’s yesterday. I’m there.
I remember the corridors and the sounds that lockers make when they slam. I remember the smell of the heavy curtains in the auditorium, the worn spots in the middle of every step in the staircase. The display cabinets of trophies, the scratchy PA systems.
I remember every outfit I ever wore, and which ones were my favorites. I even remember specific outfits my friends wore. I remember my friends’ shoes. I remember the emphatic gestures of my French teacher. I remember everyone closing their books thirty seconds before the bell rang. I remember who sat with who at which table in the lunchroom. I remember hall passes and study halls, and pop quizzes.
And love and almost love and crushes.
And now that I have spent months writing about it all, I’m stuck there.
It makes me wonder about memory in general. My memories are so vivid, but does that make them true?
I have some friends from back then who are still my friends. One in particular spoke recently about a high school memory. It was a memory of ME. But the weird thing is that I didn’t remember the incident at all. How in the world can a memory of me exist apart from me? It’s like I’m starring in someone else’s movie.
But there’s no way I can tell my friend, No that didn’t happen, when her memory is as strong as mine is nonexistent.
Now why would that one little incident leave such an indelible print on her and didn’t take up even one cell of my own brain? I believe the answer must be based on what any experience means to you. So then, this little moment meant something to her, and not to me.
But then again, she doesn’t even know what it meant. Because it only meant something to her at the time, when the memory was made; not now. She doesn’t remember the why of it, only the what.
And here’s another crazy piece: Now, just a week or so after the conversation of the memory/memory lapse – I can’t even remember what the incident was. What were we even talking about, and what was this memory that she shared? It’s gone. All I remember now is being surprised that I couldn’t recall that moment. And now I can’t recall THAT moment, if you know what I mean.
How can I not remember the specifics of a conversation that happened a week ago? I remember 52 years ago, jumping up from my seat as the bell rang, and catching my skirt in the spiral notebook of the boy in the seat behind me, and how I lifted my skirt really high so he could unsnag me. How we were both embarrassed and delighted at the same time.
Yes I was stuck then too.
And yes, that scene appears in my new book, but in writing it, I let a friend have that little scene.
Let her wonder why she doesn’t remember it.
I haven’t written much lately – let me rephrase that:
I haven’t been blogging lately.
But I AM writing. I’m working on a new novel. My target to finish the first draft is the end of June. Then comes all the rewrites and edits. As any writer will tell you, that is usually a longer process than the first draft.
There’s a good reason for this. When you’re writing, the most important thing to do first is just get it all down. Writer Anne Lamott calls this the “shitty first draft.” It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to BE.
Making it good comes later. And that’s why the rewrite takes longer.
But I haven’t given up on blogging. I love that too.
Writing a novel is a very solitary business. Until you are ready to share – with an editor, a reader – no one even knows what the hell you’re even doing.
But blogging is social. You write something. You share it immediately. And people respond. Blogging is communication right from the start. Writing a novel is only communication at the very end.
I love both processes.
It’s also a difficult time for all of us right now. Most of us have more time than ever, but stress is making it difficult to concentrate – to make the best use of that time. I refuse to feel guilty when I have unproductive days.
I hope you are being generous and forgiving to yourself too.
On days when I need a distraction, I paint. As I have already shared with you, I have been painting portraits of people who I admire. People who inspire me.
Here are my latest Hero portraits.
My blogs may be irregular for a while.
But I’ll be here.
Do you ever find yourself in this situation? … (Oh, please say you do… I do not want to feel like the weirdest person in the room) …
You are getting a bit low on some product – it could be toothpaste or hair spray or even salad dressing, so the next time you are shopping, you pick up a replacement. But because it’s on sale, or it catches your attention, or you are just a fickle brat, you don’t buy the same brand. You try something new.
And then you are so keen to try the new product, you break it out right away. You start using the new toothpaste. You open the new salad dressing.
And the old product, which was just fine, sits there with 10% left in the tube, bottle, can, jar, vial, bag, envelope, box, tub.
And in the fridge, and under the sink, and in the bathroom cabinet are multiple, almost-empty tubes, bottles, cans, jars, vials, bags, envelopes, boxes and tubs. All these lonely vessels abandoned in your eagerness to try something new. Your eagerness, your passion, your obsession to get to the next thing.
Is this an American compulsion? An illness of Western civilization? Or is it part of the universal human experience?
(Or am I alone nuts?)
I am beginning to believe all the nearly-but-not-quite empty containers are indicative of a distinctly American phenomenon:
The Glorification of ‘Moving On’
I believe in Forgiveness. I believe in it with all my heart.
But I also believe there is something wrong with our inability to hold an emotion (or an idea) for any length of time without people thinking we are fixated. That we should just “get over it” – whatever “it” is.
Sometimes it is appropriate to be sad or angry or afraid. And okay to stay that way for a while.
I know people who are considered overwrought because they grieve for a loved one for what is considered “too long”.
I know people who are considered fantatics because they recognize injustice and make it their lives’ work to right that wrong.
I know people who are considered hysterical because they insist on answers to questions and will not stop asking those questions.
And all these people are told to “Get Over It” – they should just “Move On”.
It’s as if a short attention span is an admirable state.
And yes, maybe we are happier if we just go on the the next thing, and don’t dwell on anything for very long.
But wouldn’t that also mean that love doesn’t last, and lies don’t matter? And people can hurt us without consequences?
It may not matter if the old jar of moisturizer hangs around in the cabinet because I am distracted by the shiny new one.
But it may matter if I don’t hold my government officials accountable for unethical behavior because I am too distracted by shiny new promises to remember the broken ones.
I for one am resolving to do my part:
I am finishing the Colgate before I open the Crest.
I am finishing the muenster before I open the provolone.
And I am reconsidering all my half-used makeup –
To decide –
which ones are worth keeping
which ones were mistakes I made and need to admit
which ones have clearly gone bad.
Maybe there is an analogy here?
- This post was first published in 2017 .
I am painting a series of watercolor portraits of people that inspire me.
It is my way to stay optimistic through this worry and sadness.
This is Tori.
Tori is the daughter of a former co-worker
Tori is a nurse.
Tori is now Covid-19 positive.
Tori is a hero.
I haven’t written lately.
I don’t even know what to say during these horrible days.
But I’ll take a few minutes to ramble. Maybe it will help.
Is it possible to be bored and terrified at the same time?
The hardest thing this past month has been not seeing my mother. She’s 96 and I can’t put her at risk. On the other hand, I need to see her. I spoke to her often on the phone these past few weeks, and afterwords I would cry a bit. After four weeks though, I just had to look at her face. So two days ago I went and picked up her laundry (which she left on the porch) and spoke to her through the partially opened door. And yesterday I brought it back, and looked at her face again. It’s not much, but it comforted me.
Is your patience at the breaking point? I find myself powering through, priding myself on my self-control. And then – over nothing much – I snap. The other day I made a nice roast, and I had just taken it out of the oven to let it “rest,” and I asked my husband to make a salad. This is our normal routine. But I left the kitchen for a moment and when I returned, he was not making a salad. He was carving the too-hot roast. And I cried.
I understand crying because I miss my mother. But crying because the roast was carved too early?
And my poor pets. One minute I am cuddling with them or playing tug of war. The next minute I am yelling at them to stop the very behavior I found so adorable five minutes before. They have a fruitcake for a mom.
I think we (because it cannot be just me) are balanced so precariously at this moment. We are holding it together, but on our very tiptoes at the edge of the precipice. It doesn’t take much to tip us over.
Then there is the balance between knowledge and obsession. I feel this overpowering urge to know every moment the latest statistics, the latest projections, the latest efforts, the latest outrage. But I also know this isn’t doing me any good. I need to understand what is happening in the world, but I only have control over my own actions. I have to force myself to take even one hour off from the problems of the world.
I am at heart a happy person. But I worry.
Once, years ago, my brother, who was perhaps four year old, went missing for a short time at a lakeside party. Even sixty years later, I can clearly see my mother’s panic-stricken face. And all through these many years since, I cannot “just relax” at the water’s edge. When my husband and I go to the beach, I spend most of my time counting heads. I watch every child. Where is the girl in the pink bathing suit? Where is that little chubby boy? I watch the teenagers too. I watch for the adults if they swim alone. They are not my responsibility, but I take them all on. No one can drown on my watch.
And similarly, I worry for everyone. Now more than ever.
And not just for the many stricken physically by this pandemic.
Are there children at the border still in cages?
Are there folks who cannot pay their bills?
Are there women in abusive situations who are more in danger than ever?
Are the elderly getting enough to eat?
Will cancer patients be neglected?
I worry for people I cannot see. I worry for people I cannot help.
And I worry about people who do not seem to care. How can they ignore so much suffering?
A friend said to me recently, “This is a very difficult time for empaths.”
She told me to take respite – at least a little – every day. To protect my heart and my soul from this punishing worry.
So I paint.
I am painting human portraits right now instead of dogs and cats.
I paint portraits of people who inspire me. Of people graced with faith in the goodness of humanity.
So far I have painted Malala Yousafzai, Jane Goodall, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These people nourish my soul. Painting their lovely faces calms my soul. There will be more to come.
I have also picked up the manuscript I abandoned last year. I’m giving this new story another try. It may not be any good. But at least I will figure out what happens. I can give it a happy ending.
And I try to forgive myself for my temper. I hope my husband forgives me. And the pets. My husband knows why I am a basket-case. My poor dogs and cats have no idea why their mom is bonkers.
The dogs don’t judge me.
The cats, I’m not so sure about.
This week I saw the film “Bombshell.”
I worked at a cable network for fifteen years, so the subject matter intrigued me. Although I was at a different network from Fox News, I was curious if there would be parallels. How much would I recognize? Would I see situations that were similar to what I had witnessed or experienced?
And not just at the male-dominated network where I worked. I saw familiarity in my whole work experience. I think many women can say the same.
I have a terrible confession to make here (and I don’t believe I am alone.) I never experienced blatant sexual harassment at my cable network. But I was the witness to it. Often. And here is the confession: There is a small part of me that felt that I was not sexually harassed because I was just not pretty enough. And that small part of me felt inadequate that I was not more attractive.
Isn’t that sad?
That the very lack of harassment could diminish my self-worth?
How I hope that young women today (and young men) know how unhealthy that is. Sexual harassment is not approval. Sexual harassment s not affirming. It is not a compliment.
It is an abuse of power.
But it was not just the sexual harassment that I recognized in the movie.
It was fear.
My own experience with workplace abuse was not sexual in nature. It was just plain old abuse. But the reaction was the same. And that’s what we need to recognize. That all abuse elicits the same reaction.
And not just for the person who is being abused.
After many wonderful, successful years in a company I loved, there was a change of management. The encouraging and supportive executives I had worked for were gone, and I did not have a good relationship with the folks who took their place.
My own immediate superior was openly hostile. I believe she may have been directed by those even higher up the ranks to rid the company of certain individuals that were strongly connected to the old guard. And I was one.
After a dozen years of glowing reviews and numerous promotions, suddenly nothing I did was right. If I made a decision, I should have consulted her. If I asked her what to do, I had no initiative. My work was late. My work was hurried. My work was superficial. My work was too complicated. I didn’t support my staff. I coddled my staff.
I believe her goal was to make my life so miserable that I would quit. So the company would not only be rid of me, but could absolve themselves of any responsibility.
But I had invested a lot in my career. And I had a pension to consider. And future employment.
So I toughed it out for a very long time. I cried more than I had ever cried before. But not at work. I didn’t cry at the office.
I was not the only one who did not love the new boss. Some of my coworkers and subordinates were subject to similar treatment. And several more – though treated well themselves – were outraged at the unfairness they saw me endure.
One day a few staff members came to me and expressed their genuine concern. They encouraged me to file a complaint with Human Resources. If I spoke up, they promised, they would have my back. They would confirm my complaint and rise up to support me.
And after many sleepless nights, that’s what I did.
In “Bombshell,” Gretchen Carlson files suit against Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. She is sure that if she speaks up, she will give others the courage to also go public. There is a scene where she asks how many other women have come forward.
This is the scene that staggered me.
Because when I went to HR with my complaint, that’s what happened. No one from my staff spoke up in support.
And I couldn’t really be angry with them. They were experiencing the same thing I was.
Abuse of power creates fear.
And the fear permeates. No one wants to be hurt. No one wants retaliation. No one wants to put themselves or their families or their livelihood at risk.
I loved my staff. And I hated how my situation added to their fear. They weren’t to blame.
And although I do blame the boss who was abusive, in some of my kinder moments, I wonder what pressure she might have been under. Who did she fear?
There will always be people with more power than others. And it will not always be used well.
But if you have a little bit of power, you may be able to make a difference.
There was one person in HR who believed me. And although I cannot disclose the details of how it turned out, I was okay.
And I eventually stopped crying.
A year ago I was sitting here writing about all the stuff I wanted to learn in the twenty years I figured I had left in my life. If I was right, and I’m always right (in my mind, anyway), I now have nineteen years left.
Did I learn enough this year?
I’ve learned that math doesn’t always work. Taking care of two dogs is five times harder than taking care of one dog. But also, two dogs is six times more love than one dog. So I am one dog ahead of the game.
I also learned a lesson about friendship that I am astonished I had not already learned by now.
Sometimes we make friends out of convenience. We want someone to have a chat and a cup of coffee with. And we find someone close by, with a similar schedule to ours. And bingo! – instant friends. And that’s fine. But sometimes we are so happy to find a new friend that we don’t pay enough attention to whether that person is really a good fit for us. So we are eventually surprised to be having coffee dates with folks we don’t really like all that much.
But that’s not the main lesson here.
I have also learned: It’s okay. I don’t think having some conversation over coffee always needs to be exquisitely meaningful. Not everyone has to be your soul-mate to have a place in your life.
And that’s about it. One year. Two lessons.
And coming up?
Ah, that’s the big question.
Because the next birthday is one of those huge ones. A milestone birthday. I am 69 now. And next year at this time I will be 70.
So if there is anything I’ve ever wanted to learn/accomplish/experience before I turned 70, I have one year left to do it.
I don’t want to put pressure on this old body and brain. If I accomplished two things this past year, I reckon I can do two things in the coming year.
But what? I don’t want to skydive or run a marathon or even read War And Peace.
But I do want two things that will be my own marathon… my own jumping out of a plane… my own saga.
First, I want to finish my third novel. I started it more than a year ago, but didn’t get far. I’ve written two books. Two books in seven years sounds like quite an accomplishment. And it is. But it is also two books in 69 years. I think perhaps I can do three in 70 years. The end result may not even be worth publishing – who knows? – but I want to see it through. If for no other reason than I want to find out how that crazy story ends.
Second. Well, this is the big one. I want to find the delicate balance between being nice to everyone and telling people what I want.
This has always been difficult for me.
I am a nice person. I am nice to everyone. All the time. And I am happy to be nice. I want to stay nice.
But I also want to be nice to myself.
My life is like a seesaw where the “nice to everyone” side is a big giant guy of 300 pounds, sitting stubbornly on the ground, while the “saying what I want” side is an underweight little urchin hanging onto the top of the seesaw, knowing that she will either be up there forever or will come down in a terrible crash.
So far, I have stayed up there, high in the air, being nice to the big brute so I don’t come crashing down. Never asking, “Please, what about me?”
But I think I am ready to balance this damn seesaw of Life. I think I can be nice and still ask for what I need.
I am giving myself one year to figure it out.
When I am seventy, I will be officially old. I want to be a strong and kind old lady. I believe I’m almost there. I’m only a year away.
PS. Every year on my birthday, I post an unretouched selfie. The purpose, as I have been stating for eight years, is twofold –
To say to the world, “Getting old isn’t so bad.”
And also to say, “Screw you, Mother Nature. I’m NOT QUITE OLD.”
Today, this is what 69 looks like.
A few nights ago, I drove by a building I used to know.
I’ve been by that building hundreds of times, but not at night. The darkness made all the difference.
I worked there. At night.
It was my first job after college. I guess it was a terrible job, but it took me six months in a very bad economy to get that one offer. I jumped on it.
It was 1975. The company was one of the first cable TV companies in Connecticut, and cable was in its infancy. Our company had just 1/3 of one town cabled. The subscription cost $5.95 a month, and for that sum what you got – was not a lot.
It was basically an antenna service. People were seeing a clear picture for the first time. And they loved it. No ghosting, no rolling, no grainy, shadowy images. And channels! We offered – not a lot.
The only channel you might recognize today was TBS. Brought to you by satellite. And we used the satellite to pick up independent stations from New York and New Jersey, which Connecticut folks loved, because it meant The Yankees.
That was it. Clear local stations and a few brought in by satellite (when everything was working, which was only sometimes). And yet people called us and lined up at the door and flagged down our trucks and begged us to come down their street.
We did have unused channel capacity. So we showed old tapes on one channel, and we had three other channels – weather reports and a channel guide and sports scores. All typed in by hand.
Guess who typed in that stuff.
Every evening, I typed in the weather and the sports scores as the they came in via teletype machine. I typed in the next day’s channel guide, cribbing from a TV Guide and the newspaper.
I wasn’t a very good typist. The Rockford Files always came out The Rockford Flies, and more than once the Public Access Channel became the Pubic Access Channel.
But they didn’t fire me. I think because no one else wanted the job.
I came in at 3:30 and worked till midnight.
At 3:30, the building was pretty busy. At 5:00, when all the installers came back from the road, it was bustling. And then … not a lot.
Everyone was gone by 6:00. And I was there in the building alone until midnight.
I didn’t tell my parents I was there alone. I told them there was a security guard. There wasn’t. Just little me. One hundred and ten pounds with an extra two pounds of keys.
But here’s the thing. I loved it.
I loved walking around the building all alone. Going into the computer room with a key and the tape room with another key. Turning on lights as I entered and turning them off as I left. Eating my sandwich in the break room alone. Knowing how the games were going and the latest news before anyone else.
I liked the thought that the people in the cars driving by did not know that the building was not empty. They didn’t know that a girl was in there, typing away by herself.
I liked locking up everything at midnight. Setting the alarm. Turning out all but one light and walking in the total silent darkness to my hidden car.
I guess that was when I realized I was an introvert at heart. I wasn’t a loner. I liked people. But I liked my own company. I felt energized alone. I felt powerful.
Of course, it came to an end.
One night about two in the morning, there was a break-in. I think only the petty cash box was stolen. The computer room and equipment was locked up tight – thanks to me.
It was all kept quiet. I didn’t even know about it for a while. But a very nice, very cute dispatcher decided to tell me. He said that they were all instructed, “Don’t tell Nancy.” Management did not want me to be scared. They did not want me to quit, or to insist on the security guard I told my parents we already had. The guy who told me thought it was wrong of them to keep it from me.
I told my boss that I knew. But I honestly didn’t know what I wanted him to do about it. I liked the job. But I certainly didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. Typing The Rockford Flies was bound to get old sooner or later.
They moved me to Customer Service. Days. They had a guy come in and do my old night shift.
I hated Customer Service. I didn’t like the noise level, and I didn’t like asking anyone for money. (Who knew I would end up a Financial Executive in my next life?)
But they didn’t really need me in Customer Service. I got laid off after a few months.
I hated the loss of control that comes with a layoff. I may have hated that job but I wanted to be the one that decided to stay or go.
I wasn’t really sorry though. I didn’t ask to go back to the night job.
I had learned something about myself during those long evenings. But now that I knew it, I didn’t need to do it anymore.
I learned that quiet is not scary. Solitude is not scary. My own company is not scary.
Time to go on to the next lesson.