Friendship isn’t easy on a good day

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5 Things I Want to Tell My White Friends

Having close contact with young people, like my three grown children, has helped me take steps to educate myself about systemic racism in America. With their current interest in the injustices around us, I have been inspired to also learn. Robin DeAngelo’s White Fragility taught me much, opening my eyes to issues that have been right in front of me my entire life but to which I have been blind. Movies like Selma, Fruitvale Station, Do the Right Thing, I’m Not Your Negro, Who’s Streets, 13th, and Malcolm X, gripped me and illustrated themes that drive home what I have learned recently by listening better.

I am trying to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem and so I welcome articles like this one above that focuses on cross-racial friendship. It’s a heartfelt and generous letter from author, Christine Pride, to her white friends.

BOOK TRAILER: You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen

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After months of working on a book trailer for my memoir, You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen, my team of three high school students and I, finished the project. We previewed it in May at a discussion group of my readers that a fellow writer’s club member had already organized.

Those in attendance gave overall positive reviews to our visuals but pointed out issues with tone, pace and messaging. It was a “back-to-the-drawing-board” moment which had me loading more furniture into the truck and heading back into the woods with fresh ideas a few days later. What we have ended up with is vastly different from our earlier version yet strikingly similar as well.

You might wonder, like I did, why a discussion group would gather for an unpublished manuscript and book trailer viewing. The lively, heartfelt #MeToo debate that unfolded would not have been on my radar ahead of time since my story is primarily about isolation and loneliness, but I get it and I loved it. Many thanks to all who were there and all who have helped make this manuscript and this trailer satisfying representations of a story I have been eager to tell.

My book trailer is on the way – almost done!

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This is my Author’s Team, three high school students, myself and my not-yet-putrid Putrid Doll.

Just in time, back in February our team went out into the creek to film these beautiful scenes. Since then we have worked remotely to put together the two-minute trailer featuring a tea party on a rock in the middle of this raging creek. It hopefully will entice the viewer to want to read You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen. A discussion group organized by readers of the manuscript will get to preview our masterpiece this Thursday.

American Idol Magic

 

Last night, my favorite TV show, American Idol, came through. All the behind-the-scenes issues were exposed in fascinating detail. Yes, I love singers, and I loved seeing brave crooners stepping up, but for me, last night’s episode was all about the logistical challenges. Belting it out on your front porch in suburbia trying to imagine you are actually an exceptional singer destined to leave small-town America is far more difficult than standing under the glitzy lights of Hollywood.

The coolest part was the costumes. Of course they had measurements, a selected color palette, style ideas and a potential wardrobe assembled for each contestant before the quarantine. Maybe each person consulted remotely with a stylist who then sent them custom made clothing options. That’s how they managed to have great looking, well-fitting outfits as Julia’ shoulderless peach dress, perfectly suited for playing to America from her living room.

Maybe they had hair and makeup consults too. I kept looking at the eye make-up and hair on the women and feeling grateful my daughter wasn’t one of the contestants. I can’t do hair!

I heard the panel say that everone had the same ring light, the same microphone, the same set of equipment supplied by the producers, and the same access to the professionals for consultation, and that it was up to each contestant to create their own scene. As difficult as this must have been, I love this necessity for creativity. One girl used red lighting and what looked like a dozen floor lamps to set a mood in her suburban garage. It was gorgeous. Did they have to unload all the grass clippings and garbage cans to set that up?

If it were me, after failing the hair and make-up challenge, the lack of an audience would be the biggest stumbling block. Pretending that a glowing ring light positioned in front of the stairs heading to the bedrooms that I have been staring at for six weeks, is actually millions of potential fans, requires heroic acting skills or an unshakable belief in self. The most successful contestants had a song to sing that our present reality could not hold back.

To me, this experiment of producing a talent contest of would-be singer stars from their homes, is a fascinating look behind the scenes of glamour and stardom. It was all a bit more human. I loved it.

And it was destracting and entertaining, and I needed that.

Sisters

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To all my acquired sisters (and brothers) out there: I love you and appreciate all that you bring to my life!

But my background is unusual, and a little fraught, and so the idea of having carried a sister with me from that difficult past into today, to help interpret what was and what is now, would be terribly sweet.

A scene like this picture above always makes me take pause. It is two sisters. Before the pandemic, I used to see them often and just like this, eagerly engaging in whatever it is they have to share, obviously friends. They report, lest I be confused, that as sisters things are not categorically smooth all the time.

I do love romanticizing the idea of two women who have know each other their whole lives. Partners in life who have seen it all. A trusted friend who knows what others do not and can engage in the lifted eyebrow communication reserved for so few in our lives.

My own sisters and I took different paths, primarily characterized by flight. One ran away physically, and the other, although she did move a thousand miles from home, fled by engaging with everyone through that effective distancer, anger. I haven’t gone as far away on the map, but my world is profoundly different than the one I shared once with them.

I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a sister. But it’s kind of too late now. One is gone at the hands of breast cancer and the other has herself hidden far away. There was so much threat in our lives we learned not to trust anyone, even each other. Real communication, like sharing our feelings about anything as it seems these two sisters above have been doing for a lifetime, that’s off the table.

Too bad, too. I was always up for it.

The Perfect Fraud: This gripping novel explores complex realities

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To my delight, Ellen LaCorte carries the reader inside the mind of a psychic in The Perfect Fraud.  There we get a glimpse of the physical and emotional toll, complete with the joys and fears, the discomforts and the thrill, that would come with tapping into the spirit of someone else. But it also raises the question of whether psychics are for real or not. Don’t some of them help the police find the killer? Not having ever considered much about the legitimacy of psychics, I found myself curious to follow the story of Claire, whose powers to see into the lives of others seems to come and go. Readers see what it means to have the ability to channel other people’s experiences, and to see ahead to the threats clients soon will face. This novel idea made The Perfect Fraud a gripping read.

Juxtaposed with the psychic Claire’s emotional life is the ongoing story of another woman, Rena, who goes to great lengths in caring for her seriously sick girl. Just as in the case of the psychic we are carried into Rena’s mind. She is a woman who must take dramatic steps to discover the cause of her daughter’s deteriorating health, tracking down doctor after doctor in search of a diagnosis. It is easy to relate to the mother who will stop at nothing to safeguard her daughter, and this is where Ellen LaCorte’s story grabs hold of you.

But neither Claire nor Rena are what they seem on the surface. They are more than just women with the power to affect the lives of others. As events unfold, subtle hints suggest that the narrators of these two storylines report their worlds as they alone perceive them. Suddenly their ability to see themselves clearly is called into question. The reader turns pages to see who’s telling the truth and how the lives of these two women, both caught in their own mother-daughter entanglements, will intersect.

The Perfect Fraud surprises, entertains and delights with the unexpected story of two women, each struggling to get what they need and what they want out of life while forced to face their complicated realities.

Join me at the Langhorne Writers Group

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Next week I’ll be talking to a writers group in Bucks County about the lengthy path I have taken as a writer. Meet me at the Sheraton on Oxford Valley Road in Langhorne, PA at 6:30pm to join in the conversation about This Writer’s Journey.

I knew I had a story to tell when I realized I’d reached adulthood unwilling to trust anyone. Back then I knew to take things seriously. Not to say out loud anything that mattered to me. Not to expect anyone’s help. To be leery of people who wanted to help. To leave my body if I needed to. That is all different now and it has been eighteen years since starting my project.

I’ll be using Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work “a best-selling guide to getting your work discovered,” to help me describe my own path. I’ll be using his points to make my points. He says that work, or in our case, writing, “is about process not product and that by being open and freely sharing your process you can gain a following that you can then use for fellowship, feedback or patronage.”

My own process has been slow for good reason, and I’ll talk about the hurdles we all face in trying to move forward in the seemingly solitary pursuit of “being an author.”

 

If you notice that you are unloading all of your issues on your fellow humans on a day-to-day basis, maybe you should talk to someone

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I love the title of the book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. It’s a phrase we hear often, but the subtext is a serious one that is easy to ignore. So by making it the title she highlights the notion that no, really, maybe you should talk to someone.

Lori Gottlieb shows us in her informed examination of the psychotherapeutic process, that making contact is the primary goal when a patient shows up on the therapist’s couch. She gives us a sense of what a therapist might experience as they go about their work day attempting to assist those who come to them seeking help. Meanwhile, as she tells us about her various patients and what they talk about in her office, she herself is struggling with her own crisis. This comes in the form of jilted love that derails the life she had been planning, and for which she also seeks the help of a therapist.

It’s a bit of genius to open up the role that is traditionally held secret, that of the therapist but also that of the patient, to demystify the process and therefore welcome us all into what some may see as the scary world of psychotherapy. By positioning herself as both therapist and patient she shows us that it is not that easy to get the job done. That it is not just a matter of showing up and paying the money and claiming you were there, no matter which role you take. Both must engage. Both must make contact.

I know this firsthand for having wandered into a psychotherapist’s office when I was 27 and then staying for about another twenty years. A good therapist can open up their office as a symbol of what it means to be real. I went in believing that psychotherapy was a place to “learn more about oneself” whatever that means, rather than to work on any problems. I actually believed I had no problems, except at some level I must have realized the benefits because I went willingly and openly. A capable therapist, as Lori shows herself to be, has the power to help people make huge changes in their lives if they are able to welcome the opportunity. You must give yourself over to their leadings, trust in their training, their intuition, and their humanity, to guide you where you need to go. And a talented therapist can do it.

Lori Gottlieb is not afraid to show us how this works as she offers both the details and the outlines to the processes undergone by her patients and herself. Each of us at our own pace and in the therapy office, must let down the very useful defenses that keep us from unloading all our issues onto our fellow humans in our day-to-day lives, and Lori shows us that in this engaging book.

 

 

 

Susan Holloway Scott meets Project Runway

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Soon after meeting Susan Holloway Scott this week, the best-selling author of many historical novels including her latest, The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr, I went to her Instagram account. There I found a treasure trove of Project Runway-perfect inspirational photos. Not only does Susan delight in crafting stories about historical figures, she posts lots of artwork. She’s attracted to pictures of women, often wearing clothes of either great richness or great simplicity. I couldn’t help but imagine the designers on Project Runway running away with ideas inspired by the frocks in the many paintings she selects. The dresses themselves tell a story.

Great examples are “The Painter’s Honeymoon” by Frederic, Lord Leighton, c1864, “Lille Marie on Neky’s Arm” N.P. Holbech, 1838, and Kehine Wiley’s 2012 “The Two Sisters.” Thank you, Susan, for sharing these images with us.

Billie on the Street

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About the most fun I’ve had in a while was eating dinner with friends and talking about the goofy Netflix show starring Billie Eichner called “Billie on the Street.”

He absurdly approaches a random woman on the streets of NYC, camera crew in tow, waving a dollar bill, screaming at her to “Name two people!” Somehow it is hilarious to see victims become paralyzed when talked to in this abusive manner, even when it is simply to “name two people.” He really means any two people, such as “Mom” or “Joe.” You see their panic as they realize it is as simple as it sounds yet they cannot make themselves calm down enough to come up with the names of two people. I mean, even saying, “the milkman” would probably suffice, but even that is impossible for these ambushed deer-in-the-headlights people.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t also be terrified. Being abused verbally is not actually funny. It is truly terrifying. But in the spirit of the old comedian Don Rickels, Billie Eichner insults and abuses for a laugh. He’s angry and rude and screaming, impatient with the world and particularly, you.

Because of the humor, I can see his actions as a social experiment. He exposes the truth that we freeze up when treated badly, lose our heads and have no sense of the moment. Become ineffective and weak. Powerless. He shows us that no matter the content of the abuse, we are vicitms simply by virtue of it.

Fighting back is an option, but few people on this show have the presence of mind to do so. That’s why, I guess, we had a hilarious dinner, topping each other with one silly “Billie on the Street” story after another.