They Found ME

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Writing Challenge Digging for Roots In this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, tell us about what makes you, you.

I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.

But…

While writing Martin of Gfenn, I became fascinated by one of the characters, the Commander. In 2005 I set out to write a prequel that would tell the story of the Commander’s life before he came to Gfenn.

Anyone who’s written a novel knows that characters have lives of their own and at certain point, a writer must allow the characters to tell their own stories. I had no idea where that would lead me when I set out to write this book. I finished a draft in 2005 and put it aside; other (rather dire) circumstances had captured my life and I had to attend to them. In 2010, when I returned to this novel, I was a different person and a different writer.

In what was going to be the “prequel” to Martin of Gfenn, the Commander was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived…where? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some interesting information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Anna and a fiancée named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in a bad dream with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancée— Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out. I sent copies to four newspapers around Zürich. Three interviewed me and published reviews of the novel. Martin of Gfenn became a big seller in a small part of Switzerland, and I got a email from a Swiss fan asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I had looked, to no avail (I looked because my grandmother’s cooking was exactly the same as a few “typical Swiss” dishes I’d eaten in Switzerland), so I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zürich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of relatively minor knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis in Canton Zürich. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower.

Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives a significant and bloody battle, while his brother is killed.Once I found all this, I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one of two important changes I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It left the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. The “real” Rudolf had also had children (and so I’m here :-) ). I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

Though it is impossible, it seems that my ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are two chapters posted on Rudolf’s blog.

I also Lunkhofen Coat of Armsremembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family is on that wall. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful. In Aargau there are towns that bear their name. Over time, “my” side of the family changed its name. That name was Anglicized in the 18th century when some of the members emigrated to America. The last person in my family with that name was a woman. Her daughter was my grandmother’s grandmother. All of my grandmother’s female ancestors (and most of the male) were Swiss (Amish!). That explained her cooking.

Uncle Tony, You Mean

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Daily Prompt Calling Uncle Bob Have you ever faced a difficult situation when you had to choose between sorting it out yourself, or asking someone else for an easy fix? What did you choose — and would you make the same choice today?

Go for da easy fix? Call in your uncle, and you gonna’ end up with a horse head in your bed. And da desert has soaked up more blood. You dumb fuck.

Waddaya doin’, Lamont? Channeling your inner Brando?

Dis here prompt? It could take a guy right down duh rabbit hole, you know what I’m sayin, Dude? Do you? Do you?

Quit hitting me in the face with that pistol.

You had plenty’a time, Dude. Me and da boyz, we give you, what? Two, tree yeahs to settle dis ting.

WHAT are you talking about?

It don’t get you no where to pretend you don’t know. Vito der, he was here at da time, dat right, Vito?

Dat’s right boss.

You remember da deal, right?

Yeah. Either Dude pays up now or you gonna’…

Not me, Vito? Waddaya talkin’ about?

Sorry boss…

***

The moral of the story? Do it yourself. You get the family involved, and you’re asking to be pistol whipped.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/calling-uncle-bob/

One Man’s Envelope is Another Man’s Golf Course

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Daily Prompt Envelope Pushers When was the last time you took a risk (big or small), and pushed your own boundaries — socially, professionally, or otherwise? Were you satisfied with the outcome?

Serge was probably in his late sixties or early seventies when he came to study English at the language school at which I was teaching in my thirties. He was French. He was quiet, wouldn’t speak in class for fear of making mistakes. The French are notorious for being intolerant of the mistakes people make speaking French and maybe he thought we were the same. He was a small neat man, scrupulously and conservatively dressed, wire rimmed glasses. I learned he had lived with his mother until she’d died a few months before. That was when he decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of coming to America.

Hopefully, by now, you’ve made some unconscious assumptions about Serge — I certainly did — I imagined him a little French accountant of fastidious habits who cared for his widowed mother. C’est ca!

One day I was walking across the campus toward the end of term party with some students, Serge was one of them, and another was a young French man who had become a friend of Serge’s. I said to them, “I’m sorry you’re leaving. I wish I’d had the chance to get to know you better.”

“Oh, I’m staying,” said the French boy. “Serge is going home, though. He can’t afford another term.”

Serge nodded, then said, in French, “Belles femmes devraient ne regrette rien.”  Of course, I didn’t understand this and I looked at the boy.

“Beautiful women shouldn’t regret anything.” He laughed. I blushed. This was NOT the Serge I “knew.”

Serge then spoke to me in English. “It was my dream to come to America,” he said. “But I could not come until now and now I go home. I have love meeting you.”

I learned later that Serge had been an aviation pioneer in France, a kind of Chuck Yeager. He had been a friend of Antoine St. Exupery.

I thought of Serge the other day as I was walking around the local golf course with my dogs. It was hard. I have no cartilage in either knee, but I know moving is better than not moving; muscles are better than no muscles and the days are beautiful and the mountains on either end of the walk are beyond belief in their snow-covered beauty. Anyone seeing me would see a little white-haired lady with two big dogs going very slowly around a piece of absolutely flat property. They might think, “Look at that little grandma. Maybe she had a heart-attack. Those must be her kids’ dogs.”

Much as I had seen Serge.

Only ten years ago, I often hiked twelve miles in four hours. That is screaming fast when you know that this was at 6000 feet over hilly (mountainous?) terrain. On normal days — before I moved up to the mountains and was hiking at Mission Trails Regional Park after work almost every day — my hikes were even faster but shorter. Only six or eight miles, up and down hills. I did this for more than twenty years on knees that had already been injured in skiing accidents. The only reason I can give for this is that hiking, for me, was pure joy. I took a lot of pleasure in the competence of my body and being ever and ever closer to the mysteries of the chaparral and the coastal mountains. Growing up in the Rockies, I saw mountains as wondrous yet forbidding (and alluring) palaces of rock and snow. I loved them and I went to them, but the distances and the altitudes did not make them easy to get along with.

My little mountains in San Diego County WERE easy to get along with, but they had their perils. At least once a month I saw a helicopter come in to rescue someone from the climbing rocks near the entrance to the park or to haul out someone who had been snakebit or had not brought water and was woozy from dehydration. Weekend warriors, their paunches punishing new lycra bike shirts, sometimes had fatal coronaries. And while a “mountain” that’s 1500 feet high isn’t much, it’s a pretty good climb when it’s 1500 feet up from sea level in less than 1/8 mile. Hard to climb up, fun (and dangerous) to run down. :)

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It was a wild place — moreso then than now — and I identified with it completely. We — the “park” and I — were wild things surrounded by shopping malls and freeways. Most summer evenings I saw at least one rattlesnake (this is why I hike with my dogs leashed) and spent time with coyotes in conversation. A mountain lion occasionally prowled the park. I watched raptors swoop — my favorite was the black shouldered kite who hovered like an angel over her prey. The angel of death? And I learned that every single season in that landscape something bloomed, even in the most searing summer heat.

In my early 50s, I hiked most often with young men. I was the workout buddy for a couple of elite athletes — one a champion weightlifter who needed to add an aerobic component to his training and the other a pro-surfer who started out wondering what to do outside the water.

In 2002, two years before what I’ve come to regard as “the reckoning,” my dog Molly (RIP) and I hiked a marathon, 26 miles in 8 hours, in the Laguna Mountains near where I lived, altitude 7000 feet. It was December. Beautiful season in San Diego County. The air was clear, scoured by the wind, and the light was angled and silvery. It was not my (our) intent to hike a marathon, but that day was so lovely, so perfect, that at every turn I wanted to see what the next thing would look like. By the time we returned to the truck, the day was gone; it was pitch dark. My feet hurt — bottom and top — and we were both starving. I sensed at the time that that was the pinnacle. I knew I wasn’t going to do it again, anyway. I was 50 at the time. Now I am 62.

I’m no longer in California, but back in Colorado (home). There are “real” mountains here, on both sides of my town. There are hiking trails everywhere. Unfortunately, I no longer walk that well. I know I can do better if I keep at it, build up my leg muscles again and lose some weight. It’s OK with me that it will take some time. Anywhere is better than no where and anything is better than nothing.  A couple of days ago, I walked all the way around the Monte Vista golf course, 1.65 miles, in 30 minutes. The important thing here is that I could not have done this three months ago.

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Throughout our lives, the “envelope” changes. For Serge, the French aviation pioneer, at age 70 or so, the envelope was a journey to America. For me, at this moment, it’s the circumnavigation of the local golf course.

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/envelope-pushers/

The Best Story Teller

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Daily Prompt Spinning Yarns What makes a good storyteller, in your opinion? Are your favorite storytellers people you know or writers you admire?

The best storyteller is the person who tells a good story well. The story has to be good and the teller has to be skillful at getting and keeping the attention of the audience.

In the early 20th century a little boy lived in Beijing and he loved — more than anything — to go listen to a story teller. Traveling story tellers in old China captivated everyone with ghost stories, history stories, adventure stories, and love stories. The stories were long — serialized — and the children and adults would come every night to listen until the story was over. Some of the stories were hundreds of years old. The story teller punctuated his story with the sound of bamboo sticks — special equipment for story tellers — clapping together. He used his voice, too, exaggerating the already highly inflected tones of whatever Chinese dialect he was speaking — for little Lao She, it would have been Mandarin.

Sometimes the stories concealed (well or not) social and political messages. If the story teller wanted to keep his life, he probably did a good job hiding the messages so only his listeners — those with ears to hear — could get their subtle drift. Certain old Chinese stories are, in their very nature, political messages. For example, the very popular tales from The Water Margin tell of a rebellion that ended a corrupt dynasty. The rebellion itself is a quiet thread running through one great wild story after another throughout the long episodic tale.

When Lao She grew up, he wanted ONLY to be a story teller. He reached manhood in perilous times. Non-Chinese culture was making inroads into the ancient customs of Beijing, and while much of the change was — even in the eyes of Lao She — for the good, he could see that his world would NEVER be the same. He began to write the stories of a world that was vanishing. He followed the practice of the old story tellers he admired, hiding bits of political comment in the conversations between characters. With poverty and hardship all around him, he created a different kind of protagonist — as in the character of “Camel” who pulled a rickshaw and struggled to make a life in old Beijing.

Lao She recreated his childhood and the life in the courtyard “hutongs” where he’d grown up — ordinary people, old teachers, a tired old man with a pipe, a screaming Amah, a cheap, flashy, greedy woman who steals the soul of a good man, a little girl who becomes a prostitute so her family has food, even a work of science fiction that openly criticized Communism. When the Japanese invaded his city, Lao She wrote passionately against them (and against Chinese collaborators) through the actions of characters in his novel Four Generations Under One Roof. It is a vivid picture of the Japanese occupation and reveals all of the sinister stragedies (including opium laced cigarettes) used by the Japanese to conquer the Chinese, body and soul.

Another great storyteller — Pearl S. Buck — grew up in a similar China — the same era, a different geographical location; south China — Hangzhou and Nanking. Her attitude toward writing was similar to that of Lao She. She, too, had learned from the story tellers. At the end of WW II, she invited Lao She to come to America to which she had returned in the thirties, fleeing the Japanese. Lao She came to the US on a State Department Cultural Grant, thinking he might live here, but it didn’t work. He could not be happy outside of China, and so he returned to Beijing. During the Cultural Revolution, he was hounded and punished by the Red Guard. The humiliation he suffered led him to kill himself — a dignified action according to old Chinese values.

One of the most amazing stories I have ever heard was Lao She’s play, Teahouse. It came wandering through San Diego sometime in the 80s and I got to see it at a local art theater. In the play is a story teller. I wish so much I could find that film again.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/spinning-yarns/

Romancing the Form

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Daily Prompt Grateful and Guilty Whether it’s a trashy TV show, extra-pulpy fiction, or nutrient-free candy, write a thank-you note to your guiltiest guilty pleasure (thanks for the prompt suggestion, Sarah!)

I read a crappy romance novel once. It left me feeling dirty, but I couldn’t stop. Everything about it was bad except the mastery this author had over the “hook.” I couldn’t stop. Literally.

I was in Italy, studying Italian. Someone had left books in English at the apartment of one of my classmates, a woman from Manchester. She gave it to me along with The Da Vinci Code. Also impossible to put down.

Anyone who writes fiction wants to write something that is impossible to put down, and they’d like to write a best seller, so I was interested in the novel for those reasons because, after a while, I was no longer interested in the book as a book. I finished it and plowed on with the second one, the EWWWW! icky book.

It was more than 500 pages, a long and circuitous tunnel in which one could lose ones self. The characters were types, but realistic enough to be compelling, There was the good guy (who was a paraplegic woman in a wheelchair living alone [god help us] in a house by a lake) and the bad guy (another woman but other than that she could walk I remember nothing about her) and the love interest — a handsome, red-haired doctor. The twists and turns involved, predictably, the protagonista falling out of the wheelchair into the snow dangerously near the lake and being rescued by some towns folk and cared for by the doctor who falls in love with her. Of course, she can’t believe it. I can’t either — not because she’s a paraplegic in a wheelchair, but because she’s so obnoxious.

I read that book exactly as if it meant something to me and I hated every minute. It was like crack. I left it in a trash can in a hotel room in Milan, finally finished it, the culmination of everything completely predictable. She married the handsome red-haired doctor who carried her down the aisle. The antagonista had some horrible thing happen to her that taught her a lesson. She didn’t die, instead she learned that nice people — even sexy people — might be in wheelchairs.

Nonetheless, that novel did something I had not yet learned (may not have learned) how to do with my own writing — it held me completely in thrall, even though, the whole time, I felt like I was eating from an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Somehow that novel even smelled gross. I didn’t feel guilty for reading it, a little shame, naturally, but I learned a lot from the experience.

The Da Vinci Code was well written, not overly accurate (some years before, I’d actually read the books Dan Brown is said to have plagiarized — if I hadn’t I might have liked the book more). It contained a mystery (a sinister one), a love interest and some mildly deviant sex. It was a good book – not a great book, but a simply very readable and engaging decent novel (that I didn’t like). The other? Everything focused on the lowest common denominators of human life in our times. If it were two celebrities, Carmen Diaz would be The Da Vinci Code) and Kim Kardasshian the other novel.

The novel left me feeling sort of sick for a day or two. I had a hard time sleeping that night, not only because I was leaving Italy, but because I felt ashamed that I’d actually spent some of my precious time in Italy reading that. I still haven’t figured out what the author did in her writing or even if it was her writing or if it was just normal, morbid human fascination.

I recalled a trip I had made to a writer’s conference seven or eight years ago. I had paid the fee for the “right” to speak to some literary agents about Martin of Gfenn. Martin of Gfenn is about a leper. The protagonist is a young painter, who gets leprosy. It’s the 13th century so there’s no cure.

I’d written each of these agents the required synopsis of the book. They had the story in front of them when we met. Each experience had its own wrinkle of bizarreness. The first was a brand new agent really looking for novels. She was interested in my book, but asked if I’d done any research at all. “A lot of you writers get an idea, but you never do any research,” she said. “You can send me a chapter but only if you send a complete bibliography.” The next agent was so tired and burned out from the conference — and possibly from being a literary agent — that when she sat down with me, she talked about her son (of whom she was proud) and the trials and tribulations of her job. The third…

“So your protagonist is a young man who gets leprosy?”
“That’s right.”
“What happens at the end of the story? Does he get married and have a family?”
I’m thinking, “He’s a LEPER.” I say, “No, he probably dies, but I didn’t write that in the novel. It didn’t seem to fit.”
“Why does he die?”
“Leprosy was fatal in those days.”
“Really? So he has to die? Readers don’t like sad endings.”

P.S. This post is not meant to say I think romance novels are bad nor is it meant to criticize people who read and like them.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/grateful-and-guilty/

First We Read, then We Write…

I’ve said this before, BUT if a prompt sucks, not only do people not write it, but they do not read what others do write. Realizing this, I made the decision that even when a prompt sucks, I’ll see what the people I’m following are writing. I’ll also try to write it (my protest a month ago really had NO effect. It seems WP makes its money by paid bloggers and “attracting” new writers to develop a “blogging habit” and placing ads — that’s all fine but it means that the daily prompt will be repetitive because the vast majority of people writing it are just starting up.)

Very often, the bloggers I follow write nothing. Or a gripe. A reasonable gripe. (Like this one.) The last three daily prompts (maybe more, but those three are close to the front of my mind) have been really awful. Today we were tasked to discuss (upload?) the soundtrack to our lives. Many readers don’t bother to listen to posted videos (peoples’ taste in music is quite personal and they like what they like) and other readers just don’t want to write the story of their lives. There is a lot of “tell us your life story” here on WordPress. I’ve noticed that since the beginning.

I suppose it comes from the “write what you know” fetish. I suppose the idea is that we write better about things with which we are familiar. It seems that “write what you know” means — to most people — write incessantly about your own personal experience with you as the protagonist. I wonder that no one has noticed how unremarkable most of our lives are, how little variety (except in the details). Almost everyone I know was born, went to school, suffered a heart break. Down the road some terrible personal tragedy occurred (knowing this about others should be the foundation for compassion) and then the triumphing over that tragedy (otherwise, they’re not writing about it). A lucky number of us get to live to a relatively old age and then we die. That is what we know. Universally across the board, across national borders and generations. That’s IT.

The really interesting stuff is not that; it’s what we can do with our experiences in creating something new — a poem? A story? A play? A conversation?

The man I was lucky enough to have as the adviser for my thesis grew up (left teaching) to be a noted Emerson scholar. He wrote a beautiful book about writing based on ideas he’d gleaned from Emerson’s journals. The book is First We Read, Then We Write. It is a textbook of a very special kind. Emerson saw himself as a poet. Dr. Richardson saw/sees himself as a writer. It seems to me the two have been in close trans-generational contact.

One of Emerson’s main points was always “The first rule of writing is not to omit the thing you meant to say.” Interestingly, blogs that rehash ones life story do not need to have a point. The writer doesn’t even have to think about actually SAYING something. With enough practice, people will probably START saying something or realize that have nothing to say, but writing with intent is something else.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/cue-the-violins/

Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That…

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Daily Prompt Cue the Violins If your life were a movie, what would its soundtrack be like? What songs, instrumental pieces, and other sound effects would be featured on the official soundtrack album?

One of Denver’s “nothing” streets, E. 14th Avenue. It wasn’t Colfax, where it was all happening and it was a zoo, but it worked. Every morning I launched myself from my apartment on 12th and Marion and arrived half hour later at the law firm on 17th and Welton. I didn’t take exactly the same route every day, and, after I’d made the walk for a while, I turned it into a loop. Going? Down past the capital building, then across the park to Broadway, then to 16th street — much more interesting before the Mall was built — then over to work. Coming home? Up 17th street past Trinity Methodist church. The map below shows it exactly — down on the blue dotted line, back on the gray trail that’s NOT Colfax.

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One morning, as I passed a large brick apartment building I (inexplicably) noticed the sounds of passing traffic. Maybe because it was the first warm day after a longish winter, and people had their windows rolled down, I heard music coming from the various cars. At that moment I had the idea that it would make a cool movie, just this, my 7 a.m. walk to work and the sound track, radios and tape decks of the random passing songs. (You don’t hear any of this if you’re wearing ear buds, but the Walkman had not yet been invented and/or if it had, I couldn’t have afforded one.)

So if you ask me for the sound track for MY life? I’d say it’s just that. Me moving along toward the destination accompanied by random, passing songs. The most dramatic of these moments happened in San Diego, at the corner of University and 54th. This is a mixed neighborhood in every way. It is near housing where many brand-new immigrants go to live. The ethnic mixture of this hood changed almost daily. At this particular moment, the Cambodians were moving on, leaving a gap that would be filled by Eritreans, Somalis and Afghanis. New immigrants still wear their “colorful national costumes.” It was also a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity — Mexican and African American territorial disputes raged constantly, and, at that point, the Hells Angels were still a presence. And within all that were people like me just trying to put a life together in one of the only financially affordable (it’s not any more) sections in San Diego.

It was the mid/late 90s. I was in a friend’s truck, coming down the hill from school to this intersection. On this corner was a largish and newer Asian mall with a restaurant and grocery story, pool hall, manicure shop, etc. Across the street was the soon to be defunct Jewish Community center. Across from that was K-Mart and a Chinese restaurant of the all-you-can-eat buffet variety. The next corner was houses, up on a hill. My friend had just asked if I’d ever heard Cypress Hill. I’d just asked what kind of music it was. He’d just said, “Rap,” and I’d just said, “I don’t like rap,” and he’d just answered, “Listen to this anyway.” At the moment we reached the intersection, the whole mad reality of City Heights, San Diego, was crossing the street in front of us, this song came on. Never has the vision of street reality coincided so perfectly with a song, the sound track of the moment.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/cue-the-violins/

Ticket to Paris

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Daily Prompt Sparkling or Still What’s your idea of a perfect day off: one during which you can quietly relax, doing nothing, or one with one fun activity lined up after the other? Tell us how you’d spend your time.

“This is no good. If I sleep in on Saturdays, I miss the day. From now on, not happening, I don’t care what I do on Friday night. Nope. “

She shoved aside her covers and got up, shaking off a mild hangover and her persistently aching heart. February, and cold, but the sun was shining. 9:30. She went out to her kitchen and poured a glass of grapefruit juice and made a Carnation Instant Breakfast in her blender.

By eleven o’clock she was on her way downtown to her office. Not to work, but because of the typewriter. An IBM Selectric II with an erase feature. In every way it was a lot easier to work with than the Smith Corona portable her mom had given her for high school graduation. She liked her job, anyway, working in the development office for a large university’s college of law. Besides, working on her thesis at the office was a sure way not to be interrupted. Her friends would call her at home and there were no message machines, no cell phones, so she would not know. She liked the idea that by her not being home, if a friend did call her, it would seem that she had an interesting life.

She was so restless. There was a whole big world out there — she knew it — some of the people with whom she worked had been there. She had friends out there, too. But she wasn’t out there. She was stuck in a job that barely paid her bills writing a thesis that seemed never to be finished. Yeah, she wanted it to be as good as it could possibly be. What revision was this? Ten or something. It was due in two months if she wanted her MA this year. She did. She wanted out. They wanted her out.

She looked at the two shoe boxes of alphabetized and annotated references, all handwritten on index cards, that made up the bibliography. No one had ever indexed this source before. “Your bibliography alone is worth the MA,” her adviser said. “You should publish it.” She’d already figured that she’d never be able to type that with any accuracy. She’d hired a professional to do it. Pricey. $140. At least that was done and she had the cards back. A twenty page bibliography. “Too bad this isn’t a dissertation,” her adviser said.

“Should I apply for the PhD program?”

“Why? You want to teach English?”

“Well, yeah, I like teaching English.”

“No. You don’t have to teach English. You can do other things. You should write.”

Years later she would wonder about that conversation. Was he trying to let her down slowly? To tell her in a kind way that she wouldn’t get into the PhD Program? (She wouldn’t have gotten in. She’d been more or less ejected from the MA program, not given that precious third year teaching assistantship with its classes to teach and its monthly stipend.) What was he saying? But at the time she took his comment at face value, thinking, “He might not like teaching any more, but I love it.” Nonetheless, she was, even then, trying her hand at freelance writing.

The fun part of the thesis had been the research. The hardest part was typing without errors. The most important part in the long term was that it taught her to type fast, but learning how to do research at that level added a great deal to her life down the road when she found herself writing historical fiction.

The sun came in the window behind her, giving the lie to the chill-struck and glittering February afternoon. She edited. She typed. The afternoon wore on. Around five, there was a knock at the door. She got up and there was her best friend, a law student, “You wanna’ get dinner?”

“Absolutely. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, bar exam review and I’ve been working on that brochure. Thesis?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you about finished?”

“You mean finished-finished or for now?”

“Finished finished.”

“I hope so. I see Dr. Richardson next Saturday. I need a whole draft by then.”

“How many drafts is this?”

“Ten? You want to go now? I still need a few to finish up this part. Just a couple of minutes. You can wait?” She noticed her friend was already wearing her parka, hat and mittens.

21010-2“No problem. I’ll go check out the executive toys in your boss’ office. I never knew anyone really BOUGHT those things.”

“I know, right? Check out the Executive Sandbox. I had a lot of twisted ideas for that, but I wouldn’t. It’d freak him out too much.”

“Like what?”

“Tootsie-rolls. It looks like a catbox to me.” She went back to her typewriter and the paragraph she was writing. She did what she could to make the point clearly. The thought of “style” had not yet crossed her mind. That would not happen for years. She finished and turned off the typewriter. She carefully placed the finished pages into a box that had held a ream (now used up) of bond typing paper and slid it onto the shelf under her desk. “Let’s go. Cisco’s?”

“Sounds good!”

She got her coat and hat, turned off the lights, and locked the door behind them. They rode the elevator down ten floors, left through big glass doors and walked into the frigid night, thinking of guacamole.

*Tasked to write about my perfect day off (sigh) I wrote about a Saturday afternoon at the beginning of the ride, back in 1979. The title comes from something my boss did when I expressed my frustration at being stuck in Denver when I wanted to see the WORLD. He got on the phone and reserved a seat for me on a flight to Paris. His goal was just to show me that it was THAT easy.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/still-or-sparkling/

Day of Unusual Happenings

addamsfamilydinner

Daily Prompt Cousin It We all have that one eccentric relative who always says and does the strangest things. In your family, who’s that person, and what is it that earned him/her that reputation?

“Ha, ha, ha, ha. Oh man. Whew. Dude, let me borrow your handkerchief.”
“Lamont, what’s so funny?”
“Look at that dumbass prompt.”
“Yeah.”
“I suspect that I am (in the eyes of my family) ‘Cousin It’.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Oh, sometimes they let things out, you know, stuff like, “In spite of everything, you’ve done all right for yourself, haven’t you, Lamont,” like they’re surprised. “
“Well, you haven’t really followed the, you know, beaten path.”
“I tried.”
“I know. It’s just not in you.”
“No. I guess not.”
“Well, you’re OK. I mean you found a nice OLD place to live IN THE FRIGID NAVEL OF AMERICA, down here in the MIDDLE OF NO WHERE where you don’t  know anyone, living with a bunch of OLD DOGS and no TV or HUSBAND. Back in the 90s you…”
“Dude, we KEEP the laundry IN the laundry basket, right?”
“I guess, Lamont, no one else in your family would’ve made the choices you’ve made.”
“They all made their own bizarre choices.”
“No argument there.”
“Fact is, Charles Addams and I have the same birthday. We share it with William Peter Blatty. In a book I read that gave information about each birthdate, mine — ours — was headlined ‘Day of Unusual Happenings’. When it comes down to it, in the Greek Orthodox Church, Christ was born on that day, too. What could I hope for entering the world on the same day as those guys? Well as my friend Pietro used to say, ‘Tutti famiglie pazzi’.”
“Giusto.”*

*”All families (are) crazy.”
“True
.”

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/cousin-it/

To Blog or Not To Blog II — Dear Blog Readers!

…I’m not going to stop posting. In To Blog or Not To Blog Part 1, I was just ruminating over the past year writing a public blog — how what actually happened did not coincide with my aspirations, how the word “blog” is never going to be what I do — these are all things I didn’t know when I started just as I didn’t know that the Daily Prompt would result in some awesome stories. This has been a totally positive experience. I really had no expectations. It’s been a year of huge changes for me as well — I had no idea last winter when I started this that would be the case, either. The Daily Prompt (oddly enough) sometimes served as a buoy in a sometimes chaotic sea. And, you know, I don’t care how many people read it — I’m just gratified and a little surprised that people do and I really enjoy the connections that have resulted. I’d have to be someone else to write a blog that attracted hundreds of thousands of readers.