Today I provide the guest writing prompt at storyaday.org. This site is considered by Writer’s Digest to be one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” so take a look at https://storyaday.org/ to learn how you can mine your memories for writing gold.
Apparently my high school superlative award is very important to me! My classmates thought I could eventually get something done so I keep a framed picture of this yearbook drawing near my desk for emotional support. I’d hate to let them down.
They should not be worried though because I don’t seem to be giving up on this project. My latest beta readers have provided feedback after I completed a major restructuring of the story this July. It took a whole year because I read three books on the craft of writing after a Simon and Schuster editor suggested I needed attention to the underlying themes. I took notes on each book then applied those notes to the manuscript, then rewrote and reworked and reconsidered. That editor was quite right and I am forever grateful to her for taking the time to comment. Now I have addressed those themes and my beta readers have noticed.
I paraphrase below what one of my recent readers said.
“You have a phenomenal resolution to the circumstances of your story, showing tremendous strength and courage as you face the dragons and giants of your life and try to connect with them. So many people would benefit from your story because it shows a person can come out of terrible circumstances and rise above them,offering hope while working towards reconciliation.”
So, for all of you high school friends out there who thought I was most likely to succeed, do not give up yet. I’m almost there.
I recently learned of a podcast that is pretty funny and useful for settling down. It is called Sleep With Me (https://www.sleepwithmepodcast.com/.) There are hundreds of episodes and it is designed to help people fall asleep by telling really boring stories. These are “bedtime stories to help grown ups fall asleep in the deep dark night.”
The one I listened to was called “Baked Beans: The Adventures of Mr. Triangle and Isosceles.” A town of math-appreciating people will see a show that they must pay for with cans of baked beans, but there is trouble when it is realized that the wagon scheduled to carry all the cans of baked beans cannot stand the load. This story, told by a man who drolls on and on, often stumbling around for words and deftly emphasizing little parts of speech that make you stop and question what you just heard, breaks all the rules of writing by never getting to the point, using mindless dialogue, reiterating points and leaning on cliches.
The other one I heard was called something like “20 Steps to Self-Skin Care” and the first ten minutes were devoted to applying one’s fingertips to the face very deliberately and specifically in order to execute a light massage he called “running through Strawberry Fields.” It’s hilarious and relaxing and soporific.
I am planning on sharing this with the students in the Creative Writing class come Fall because it really drives home the idea that good writing should not put one to sleep.
This is the “love altar” I created as a centerpiece for my son’s recent wedding. A number of women special in their lives were invited to make a table decoration that reflected the love they feel in their lives and particularly as it relates to either the bride or the groom. Each table had a different creation but all had a crystal as the centerpiece. After the wedding the bride and groom took home the crystals and now have a centerpiece there, of crystals, to take into their future that are charged with the love of family and friends.
My card reads, “The authentic bird’s nest here represents the happy home that the bride and groom have created that will serve as the foundation for their love going forward. Mom’s love, the groom’s love for his bride, and her love for him, are sometimes expressed through baking, thus the spatula. Worn but faithful, Spot, is present at this wedding as a reminder of the security found among old friends. They joy, laughter and sense of extended family is tied up in one Wise and Otherwise playing card. The wooden photo frame made by and depicting the groom’s great-great-grandfather hints at the groom’s own creativity, a source of solution should trouble arise. And the idea, no matter how lame, of the groom’s parents as Brazilian dancers, suggests you do not have to be great at what you do together, you just have to mean it.”
I’ve heard that creative people are creative in multiple ways and so we should not be surprised to find that Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan also paint pictures. But when you are struggling to be the artist you imagine yourself to be, like me, writing a memoir and telling a story I very much want to share, finding that I have hidden talents is confirmational.
In cleaning out an old trunk in the spare bedroom I came upon this drawing I made when I was sixteen. I’d forgotten that I once believed myself capable of such creations because honestly, right now, I can barely play Pictionary. But possibly if I renewed that notion that I can draw and I put my mind to it, I might win a few rounds.
This sketch is the result of the one drawing class I had in high school, with Robin Burkhardt, who insisted it was about taking the time and seeing clearly. And voila, she was kind of correct! This Bonwit Teller department store ad is a direct mimic of one I saw in the newspaper at the time. The coloring-outside-the-lines I allow occasionally suggests a little artsyness!
Believing in yourself is half the battle.
One of these days shortly I’ll be showing up in the New York Times in a story about bank scams. Yes, I made some mistakes and landed at the local branch of my bank looking for help getting my account resecured. It was my son’s money that was taken and when he tweeted about it, a New York Times reporter, Stacy Cowley, who likes to write about Wells Fargo, contacted us and did an interview. Should show up in the financial section soon.
Turns out I’m on the cutting edge of scams relating to the latest banking feature, Zelle. It’s supposed to make it easy to move money out of your account, a bit like venmo or paypal, and I can tell you for sure, it was easy.
After failing to log into my bank account one day because I kept putting in the wrong password I got an email indicating the online access had been shut down due to too many false tries. If you want to reinstate your account click here and log in again, it said. I did that and thought nothing of it since I obviously was the one who had tried the multiple erroneous passwords. In my defense, I was trying to talk and enter my super-secure-confusing-and-difficult-to-remember password at the same time.
This alone was not enough to get me in trouble since there is a two step process to sending money through Zelle. The next day I got seven calls (!) from the same 800 number, all of which I ignored. It continued to the point, though, that we felt compelled to do a google search. That indicated it was my bank’s fraud detection unit so I answered. A wire transfer was supposedly in progress and we could intercept it by blah blah blah. I was texted, from the fraudster via my account and the Zelle function, a code number which I gave them. That was the second mistake. Then he siphoned off dollars as we spoke, but promised to reinstate my account with new credentials he’d fedex in 24 hours.
As soon as I hung up, a gentleman from the bank’s real fraud detection center called, but there was no way to recognize him as real. He was not as friendly, or as easy to talk to as the kindly fellow who had just bilked me, mostly because he wouldn’t even give me his name or the reason for his call, except to say he thought my account was under attack. Same as the first guy. He gave me some unlikely information that sounded suspect about how to be in touch with the fraud detection unit (call between 4:30am and 6:00pm Pacific Standard Time even though we live in the east and I was already on the phone with them right?, for instance), but he did urge me to go into the bank right away. It was unclear whether either of these calls was legit or not. Even the banker was confused once we explained it to her.
Three hours later and after speaking to a Wells Fargo representative at the fraud detection unit I could barely understand due to his accent, and who would not discuss certain elements with me because they had to do with my son’s account (which I have full access to), and after mistakes he made were corrected, we felt secure again. The bad guys sure were easier to deal with, though!
In the end, the bank returned our money in just days.
I want to be in the New York Times but I was thinking it would be for a book review or some other literary accomplishment some day. For now, I am going to bask in the glory of this tangential event and the happy ending Wells Fargo was able to secure.
A few weeks ago I met with a woman I did not know, my first beta-reader for my manuscript of You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen, specifically to get her reaction. She, of course, knew all about my life and had opinions on it, and that was a shock. It was a surreal experience. Because I grew up in isolation one of my childhood dreams had been to have a witness, someone there to see it all unfold, so I wouldn’t have to live it alone. I used to tell the stories of my life to the trees, to the air, to no one, pretending there was someone there, and practicing in case someday someone would be there. Now that I have done that, told the stories to that nebulous someone out there, it feels pretty crazy.
She called the book “compelling” and “honest”. I was aiming for that! She said that the characters were living in her head even when she wasn’t reading the book. She even put in writing on my feedback questionnaire this: “It was also a powerful reminder of the importance of staying in touch with one’s feelings. From the standpoint of a writer, it was a strong example of powerful writing techniques.” When I asked what the theme was she wrote, “Finding one’s own voice, self, and sense of purpose in spite of great family challenges.”
She is a co-director at the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project whom I’d met at a writing workshop two years ago where I got her name and email address. So glad I dared to contact her recently asking if she’d be up for reading my story. I could not have asked for a better first beta-reader experience. Many thanks, Janice.
Today I started volunteering at a local elementary school, reading for thirty minutes separately with two second graders. I’ll be going every week throughout the school year to be their personal cheerleader in reading.
We had a lot of fun because discovering the story together, was a delight. Even though I know the story already, and even though I read it twice in one hour, it was a special experience each time. Each of the kids saw different parts of the story as significant and each was excited by different parts.
The little girl I read with was ridiculously cute, asking me when I would be coming back. She was clearly keeping tabs on me, calling out as she left, “See you next Thursday!”
This is a video of me telling my story at the West Chester Story Slam Grand Slam in November 2014. The theme of the evening was ‘thin line’ and all us, myself included, beat that idea to a pulp. My story is about losing my last baby tooth last year at Thanksgiving dinner.