Thursday, October 31, 2013

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

My 89-year-old mother’s interest in people is as keen as ever. I’m guessing those who care about others live longer. If they don’t, their lives, whatever the length, are fuller.

My Mom looks at a trip to the dentist as a chance to catch up with Linda, her hygienist. I've long heard stories about Linda, who earned her degree at night and married, happily, later in life. I knew Linda’s neighborhood retained power during Superstorm Sandy, and she invited relatives from far and wide to share her home.

During a recent visit to New Jersey, I chauffeured my mother to appointments and errands and was able to meet and re-meet people about whom my mom is full of anecdotes and high praise. Linda claims my mother is her favorite patient, and their mutual-admiration society is something to see.

At the cardiologist’s office, my mother introduces me to Shannon, her favorite technician. My mom’s also very fond of Erin and every other technician in the place.

Even a correct and businesslike eye doctor can’t hold out against my mother’s interest. He tells her his daughter recently won a Rockefeller Grant. A Rockefeller Grant! My mom is thrilled.

My mom’s hairdresser, who was born in Korea, treats my mother as tenderly as she’d treat her own.  In exchange, my mother, as a stand-in for Sarah's far-away parents, praises her business skills and work ethic.

I don’t know about you, but in my day-to-day life, I rush through errands and obligations and rarely make time to connect with shopkeepers, cashiers, and caregivers. The week I spent ferrying my mother to appointments showed me that asking after others enriches the asker.

Next time I see my dental hygienist, I want details about her daughter's last trip to the Philippines. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Late Joys

Is this the Island of Runaway Moms?

When my now-grown daughters were little, there were days I out-snarled Oscar the Grouch, wept, or yearned to drink wine in the middle of the day.  On one of the bad days, I phoned my mother.

 “You’re not thinking of running away, are you?” she said.

Running away? I hadn’t realized that was an option.

“No, I’m not thinking of running away. Am I the kind of person who runs away? Also, where would I go?”

 It’s not as if Islands of Runaway Moms existed and Cheap Caribbean offered four-day/three night getaways to them.

Luckily for me, parenting’s good days outweighed the bad. Usually. More importantly, parenthood got easier. (Sometimes that doesn’t happen until kids are adults, but we all have to look forward to something, right?)

Eventually, the child who won’t let anything but Cheerios and mashed potatoes touch her lips turns into a foodie and scouts out restaurants for you to try. The one who insists all slumber parties be held at her house because other people’s bathrooms, food, and rules make her anxious, morphs into a world traveler.

Recently, I viewed my adult daughters in new-to-me ways. Late last week, Hubs and I went out of town. On Friday evening, Older Daughter checked my house and fed the cats: the elusive Smokey, needy Scout, and oh-so-friendly Lucky. Later that night, I texted her. “Was everything okay with cats and house?”

Here’s what she texted back: “Yup. Smokey even hung out. We watched WHAT NOT TO WEAR. Not that he needs any pointers, being perfect and all.”

I laughed and laughed. Admittedly, there’s a genetic component at work here, and not everyone responds to cat-oriented humor. In my family, apparently it doesn’t skip a generation. Hallelujah!

On Saturday, Younger Daughter took photographs of a friend and me. Friend needed updated shots for a website and Facebook. I need them for a writers’ group website and this blog.

As Younger Daughter bobbed and stretched to get the best shots, I marveled at her ability to put her subjects at ease and nudge us into showing our best sides. She became invisible behind her camera. The shoot wasn't about her.

Parents hope kids grow up to be responsible adults. When they turn out to be people we not only love but enjoy spending time with, that’s lagniappe or a bonus. 

If I’d known all those years ago what I know now, I’d have taken fewer aspirin and avoided the whole teeth-grinding thing. Those fantasies about running away wouldn’t have made it beyond the suitcase-packing stage.

Parenthood get easier and becomes a lot more fun.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Heroine's Journey or Where's My Flashlight

A few days ago, I had the chance to hear writer, public speaker, and publisher Deb Dixon speak about the Hero’s Journey. Yowza! The HJ narrative, as identified and interpreted by Joseph Campbell, drives many of our stories and myths. Since Dixon’s talk, I’ve been viewing my adventures and misadventures through the prism of the HJ. In short, I've become the heroine of my own life. Here’s what I mean:
Weeks ago, I sat in my ORDINARY WORLD, pecking at my laptop and talking to my cats when an email arrived from my writing buddy Janice Martin. She’d made the finals of Georgia Romance Writers of America’s Maggie contest. Did I want to travel with her to Atlanta for the conference and awards ceremony. Hoo boy! I know a CALL TO ADVENTURE when I hear it. “I’m in,” I wrote back.
Last Thursday, we picked up our seat assignments at the Air Tran counter and boarded our plane. Unbeknownst to me, I was seated in the emergency-exit row. Before the flight took off, a flight attendant approached and said he'd have to move me. Huh? When he pointed to his ears, I realized he’d noticed my sound processors (the external parts of my cochlear implants). I was embarrassed, and my inner child wished I’d never agreed to leave home (REFUSAL OF THE CALL). Air Tran had assigned me that exit-row seat; I never requested it. Wah! Fortunately, my adult brain kicked in to remind me that, even with the implants, I might not immediately understand a crew member’s instructions after a crash or forced landing. Do I want to risk lives? N-O. I swallowed my pride and tried for zen-like calm. The flight attendant moved me toward the front of the plane, but not, alas, to first class. When I was settled, he made the sign-language sign for thank you and my lingering pique vanished. The incident served as a TEST and I like to think I made an ALLY.
Janice and I met many MENTORS, from the person who showed us how to buy a Breeze card for Atlanta’s MARTA train to the conference organizers and workshop presenters, but the uber-MENTOR was Dixon whose workshops on the Hero’s Journey and on Goal, Motivation and Conflict spoke to me. Thanks to her, I didn’t hesitate before CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.
Ah, but there were more TESTS, ALLIES, and ENEMIES to come. Janice and I struggled to perfect our agent/editor pitches. The toilet in the hotel room across from ours flooded, and water seeped into our room, forcing the hotel staff to relocate us. Nevertheless, we made our APPROACH, that is, prepared for what was to come. Good thing, too, because on Friday evening, a power outage shut down part of the Atlanta suburb where our hotel was located. At the time, Janice and I had just taken our seats for an evening workshop. I was stunned into silence, which was lucky since everyone else stayed calm and my whimpers would have attracted attention. For me, the darkness represented an ORDEAL. After fifteen or so minutes, the hotel’s generators kicked in, and the hallway lights came on. We dragged our chairs into the hallway, and the workshop presenters, Annie Rayburn and Susan Carlisle, showed how to write an emotional synopsis. They nailed the workshop and didn’t let us see them sweat even as the temperature inside the hotel climbed.
Shortly after the workshop ended, power was restored. Yay!
The awards ceremony represented a REWARD, as did the success of our agent and editor appointments.
On Sunday morning, Janice and I embarked on THE ROAD BACK. We reacquainted ourselves with MARTA, passed through airport security, and returned to Houston.
In the next few days, we’ll send out requested pages. To do so, we’ll have to battle self-doubt and fear of failure to achieve THE RESURRECTION.
The RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR represents more than one outcome. It could be me signing a book contract or encouraging you, dear readers, to see your lives as story-worthy. You've already answered the CALL TO ADVENTURE, although you term it “motherhood,” or “accounting,” or “truck driving.” Your sullen teenager, attempt to reconcile ledgers, and night-time drive through a storm are TESTS you must pass. There are times when life’s an ORDEAL, and times when it’s a REWARD.  Hang in there. 
Your turn: How would you handle a blackout in a strange-to-you locale? Would you cower in the darkness or turn on your cell phone light the way for others?
Want to know more about the Hero’s Journey? Start here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Links for Writers

If someone had told me years ago a mathematical formula for writing existed, I’d have worked harder in Algebra II.  Before you dismiss the notion of a writing/math connection, read this article.  

In Porter Anderson’s latest Ether for Authors, Phil Sexton, publisher of Writer’s Digest, urges writers to ask questions of their current or potential publishers.  Sexton’s tone is thoughtful, not adversarial. As Anderson puts it, “Sexton’s purpose here was to encourage traditionally published authors and those considering contracts to work against the sometimes parental ‘we have it all under control’ tone such business relationships can take on for writers."

Marcy Kennedy explains (with examples!) the difference between a logline and a tagline. 

I’m a fan of Matt Haig’s take on books and writing. Here he offers advice on how to get published. (How many times do we have to hear this kind of thing before it sinks in? In my case, the number apparently is 205 and counting.)

I’m off to a conference with my writing buddy Janice Martin. Have logline and tagline--will travel.

If you’re a writer, I wish you a productive weekend. If you’re not a writer, consider yourself lucky. The homework! It never ends. Either way, I hope you get to spend time with a good book.