Monthly Archives: May 2011

HEADING TO NMWC THIS SUMMER FOR “WHEN IS A WRITER’S WORK DONE” WORKSHOP

Walking the beach at low tide in Provincetown. This is behind Norman's house.

I recently received an e-mail from the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Mass, informing me that I’ve been accepted for a workshop this summer!

I’ll be taking “When is a Writer’s Work Done” with Veronica Windholz, a manuscript editor of fiction and nonfiction for more than thirty years who has worked with Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, and Salman Rushdie, among others. She’s on the staff at Viking Penguin, has taught in the publishing program at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and has held positions at Random House and the Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency.

I’m absolutely thrilled and honored to get the chance to work with her, and this course will focus on revision. A description, from the Norman Mailer website: You’ve finished writing. You’re sure that you’ve said everything you needed to say. In this workshop, we’ll walk through the next stage of manuscript preparation: revision. Using the hands-on editing techniques of the professional close reader, we’ll focus on: avoiding clutter, sharpening organization, maintaining internal logic, and building forward momentum. Whatever genre you write in, you’ll learn how to use fewer words and better words, and how to make them count. 

7 attendees were selected based on merit.

Last year, I had the privilege of working with Marita Golden in a workshop on narrative (called Fiction: The Protagonists), and what it’s done for my work has been amazing. I also met some very talented writers and all-around cool people. I’m looking forward to a repeat performance this year! I’ll be at the colony July 31 – August 7.

GhoStory Guru: “Fat People” by Alison Lurie

Has that diet got you down? Maybe you need to develop a healthy fear of food.

It can be done—thanks to Alison Lurie’s ghost story “Fat People.” Lurie has taken an every day struggle that most of us have experienced—the desperate diet—and cooked up something terrifying. One of the ways she achieves this level of terror is making her dry-humored, frank heroine, Ellie (“The salads all started to have sour low-cal dressing, and there was never anything but fruit for dessert: watery melon, or oranges cut up with a few shreds of dry coconut on top, like little undernourished white worms”) someone with whom we can identify: she’s the dieting side of all of us, that voice we hear in our heads. Read this and you definitely won’t put that donut in your mouth.

“Fat People” is found in Lurie’s 1994 collection, Women & Ghosts. Click here to purchase: http://amzn.com/0385518315

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 2–Poetic Justice

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.

EPISODE 2: POETIC JUSTICE

Poetic Justice, 1994. From left, clockwise: Joe, drums; Julio, sax; Bob, lead singer; Jeff, bass; Hank, guitar; me: keyboard and ornament.

I came back to Connecticut from URI in 1993 an emotional wreck. I had a broken heart, I missed my friends, and I had no idea what I was going to do for work. The work part—well, that sorted itself out in short order. But the other two conditions weren’t as easy to fix, and I knew I had to get creative.

I auditioned for a local band that was looking for a keyboard player, and before long I was spending every Friday night in rehearsal. Not only did I suddenly have all new friends, my social calendar filled up—soon we were playing two and sometimes three gigs every single weekend.

It turned out to be the Balm in Gileadfor which I’d been searching. The band let me go in 1995—which was totally fine with me, I was already getting into other things like community theatre and losing interest anyway—but I’ll never forget how much joy that experience brought into my life. I kept many of the objects associated with it, among them Joe’s chewed up drumsticks, my microphone (which had belonged to my parents, dated back to the late 1970s and was seriously bashed up), my music stand. Over the years, I’ve parted with all of it.

Or I thought I had.

I was going through a tub of miscellaneous keepsakes and I found my filthy file box full of index cards.

The cards were the most important thing other than my instrument: they were, essentially, my sheet music. On them, I wrote all the chords for each song and sometimes other notes, like if I had to sing harmony and when, or lyrics. When the guys put together a set list for a particular gig, I’d just pull the cards out of the box and put them in the appropriate order. Then I could set them on the keyboard or music stand and flip them over as we went.

I was torn about tossing out this box. But then I realized I have a stack of photos and a nice scrapbook, as well as some video and audio tapes—none of which I have any intention of ditching. So I decided that, in the interest of space, I should go through and just pull out the index cards for the songs I loved to play the most, or the ones to which special memories are attached.

Here’s a list of song cards I decided to keep:

“Jackie Wilson Said”—Van Morrison

“December”—Collective Soul

“All That She Wants”—Ace of Base

“Wonderful Tonight”—Eric Clapton

“Everything I Do”—Bryan Adams

“Hotel California”—The Eagles

“Tears in Heaven”—Eric Clapton

“Brown-Eyed Girl”—Van Morrison

“Wild Nights”—John Mellencamp

After that, it wasn’t that hard to throw the box—and the remaining cards—in the trash.

My only regret is that I didn’t have any cards for a couple of the songs on which I played  cowbell.


“WAILING STATION” ADDED TO SYLLABUS

“Wailing Station”’s setting was inspired by the abandoned whaling station on Deception Island in Antarctica. This shot of the Provincetown dunes covered in snow was the very first thing I saw when I pulled into town in winter of 2010—and all I could think of was how stunningly it matched my mental picture of “Wailing Station”’s landscape. If you’d like to know more about Deception Island, visit here: http://www.ecophotoexplorers.com/antarcticadeception.asp

My short story “Wailing Station,” which was a Toasted Cheese contest winner and was included in a syllabus for a course at Wolfeboro, NH’s Brewster Academy last year, has now been added to the syllabus for Composition II: Introduction to Literature at North Shore Community College in Danvers, Mass.

I don’t think there’s an honor as high, at least for me, as this: one of my short stories is being used as an example in the classroom (“Doors” and “Paisley Surprise” were also added to syllabi last year). Every time I hear something like this, I think my Dad the English teacher would be proud.

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 1–The Coat Closet

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.

EPISODE 1: THE COAT CLOSET

Actually, this is the first of many episodes dedicated to the coat closet in our foyer, but I’ll be mixing them up, because I like variety or I get bored.

I’ve been meaning to sort through my coats and jackets for a number of years now—I have so many that I don’t wear. Not because they don’t fit me anymore (honestly), but because I just don’t use them. They’re outdated or they’re just no longer “me.”

So on May 7 I decided to tackle my coat closet. And I got rid of several coats and jackets—surprised to discover that a few I knew I’d never wear again but was just keeping because they meant something. Even more shocking? The tons of other stuff I had in there—hats, gloves, even my first Easter basket—that needed to go as well.

Here’s the bomber jacket in Fall, 1988, shortly after I got it. My sister was into cheerleading. God knows what I was doing.

I’ll start with my beloved Bomber Jacket that my late father bought for me in 1988. These were all the rage then, and throughout most of the 1980s, because of the Indiana Jones craze. What was funny was that I really wanted a leather one. But Dad was more practical than that—he went to Sears at the then-almost-new-Danbury Fair Mall—and bought this padded version (the Canadian flag was sewn on because we’d visitedCanadathat summer). “Keep you warm in the winter,” he said. I was disappointed, but grew to love it. It was my staple fall/winter jacket for almost a decade. I hadn’t realized how much that jacket and I had been through together until I started going through old photo albums.

Yes, Dad, it kept me very, very warm, and because it was in mint condition (unbelievably so), I laundered it and donated it to Goodwill.

May it find a happy second home.

This pic is awful, but it was taken Feb. 24, 1992, and you can clearly see I have the jacket on. What was I doing? Well, I was up in Cranston, RI, with my friend Monique Smith on a very icy night. Her father’s car slid in the driveway and crashed into mine. Because it wasn’t really my car—it was the one Dad let me drive—we were scrubbing the black fender rubber off the door in the hopes he’d never notice. Look closely, though, and you’ll see the dent. I don’t think we ever fixed that.

The next jacket that needed to go was my very first jean jacket—which, of course, was untraditional: it was olive green. I bought it at Banana Republic in the early 1990s (when Banana Republic was still UNIQUE—the stores smelled like cut grass and sawdust and every trip there was like stepping into Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”). And it coordinated well with all of their T-shirts, too—all that and a pair of jeans and I was ready for anything! I wore the jacket all through college, mostly during the time I was writing and directing plays for URI history department’s The ClioPlayers and editing for the daily paper The Good 5¢ Cigar. Every time I hear Def Leppard’s “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” I think of that jacket.

That’s me in the middle with the Tab (which I still drink, and yes, they still sell)—I never took that jean jacket off, not even indoors, where we are here, in the hallway at Washburn Hall at URI (you could smoke in the halls back then). At my left is Andy and at my right, Mark Anderson. We were taking a break from rehearsing a ClioPlayers production, Of Pirates & Queens. March 26, 1992.

The jacket was in good shape, so I laundered it and donated it to Goodwill.

I pulled down a bin of all my winter hats, gloves, and scarves. At the bottom I found the very first item I’d ever purchased at Banana Republic—a cloth scarf, which I wore as an ascot the last year of high school and the first year out at URI. I wore it a couple of times a week with this really cool gold leaf pin to hold it in place.

Me, wearing my favorite scarf. At right is my brother Chip. It was January, 1990, and we were playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle board game and eating pizza. That was our favorite thing to do together for awhile.

The scarf had a huge rip in the middle, so I threw it away.

I used to be a hat person—I was the girl who wore hats with outfits at one time. Needless to say, I found some I couldn’t believe I still had.

I used to wear berets all the time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but I haven’t worn one in years. They’re just not me anymore. I got rid of several, but the toughest one with which to part was what I liked to call my “carousel” beret. I think I picked it up in a thrift store, and it was wool and wow was it warm. But it was the colored buttons on it that made me tremble—it went with just about any bright top I owned. I wore it everywhere. Every day for one whole winter, in fact. I think people started to believe I was bald on the top of my head.

The most special memory I have of this beret, though, dates back to hanging out with a very artistic crowd up in Bridgewater, Connecticut. Theme parties were always afoot, and this beret was perfect for the character I played at a Beatnik Party in one of our friends’ basements. Yes, there was open mic; yes, there were bongos.

Me as “Chloe” at the Beatnik Party, February 24, 2000.

I tossed the beret in my home dry-cleaning kit and donated it to Goodwill.

I dug a little deeper into the bin and found my mother’s leather gloves, which I took as my own after high school and wore them all through college at URI. I did wear them again on and off through the years. In the photo below you can see them.

Me, March 26, 1992, sitting on the back of my car at the URI campus. I was probably taking a break from play rehearsal.

They were very durable and I believe had been purchased in the 1970s, but when I pulled them out of the bin, they practically fell apart. Unfortunately, they went to the trash.

The last thing to go was my very first Easter basket, which was used for that purpose all through my childhood and even into adulthood (Dad gave us Easter baskets until we were way too old to be getting candy and toys, so he’d get creative and fill them with other things. When I was in college, for example, mine was always filled with Tab, cigarettes, beer, and chips).

I kept it all these years despite the broken handle, and would always use it to store things as an excuse not to get rid of it. It’s lived on the coat closet shelf for the past 13 years, acting as a catchall for gloves without mates, emergency flashlights, and batteries.

The handle has been taped back on several times, the white paint has been scraped off, and some of the weaving is splintered. It had to go to the trash.

Me and my first Easter basket, April 1, 1972. I remember that bunny toy—it was plastic and had little jingle bells in the bottom. It smelled like plastic and cherries.

Coming Soon: boxes of old letters

LAST MINUTE—I’M LIVE ON P.M. LITES INTERNET RADIO SHOW TONIGHT AT 9 PM EST!

I’ll be a guest on the internet radio show P.M. Lites with Dawn TONIGHT from 9 pm to 10 pm EST on the Uber Internet Radio Network. You can listen to the show live when it goes on air right from the Uber Radio Network page here: http://www.uberradionetwork.com/

Join us if you can—I’ve got to go get ready.

MISSING MOM? COPING WITH MOTHER LOSS THIS MOTHER’S DAY

My Mom in the hospital after having me in February, 1971. Considering I nearly killed her I think she looks pretty good. Actually...she just looks really HAPPY.

This past April 18 was the 25th anniversary of my mother’s death. I was only 15 and she was only a year younger than me now when she passed, and I can’t lie and say I wasn’t holding my breath to see if I’d make it to forty.

When I did, something strange happened. I was able to open up that door and really examine what little I remember about her and what our relationship was like (not great overall, in case you were wondering). And while Mother’s Day has never bothered me—actually, most years I don’t even know when the hell it is and don’t care—this year I felt some weird compulsion to not only know when it is, but to share some thoughts with those of you (women, mostly) who have lost your Moms and may really be feeling it this coming Sunday.

My Mom’s death was my first real heartbreak, the kind of heartbreak that emotionally paralyzes you and contorts your insides with such physical pain you can barely move, focus, sleep, hold down food or get through one more day (in my experience, for many people the first is when they lose the great love of their lives). Over the years, I’ve had a couple of other severe heartbreaks, but honestly, none as bad as that. It occurred to me that I’m lucky that I experienced it at such a young age—so many people never have, and I have a couple of friends in my life who are experiencing it for the first time just now who can’t understand what it is they’re feeling, much less have coping mechanisms. So when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t trade the experience, the suffering, the depths of despair for anything, not even to have her physically back. It has not only made me who I am, but enabled me to help so many others over the years—and maybe that’s part of what I’m supposed to do while I’m here.

So, if you have lost your Mom and need some comfort this Mother’s Day, here are a few things I can suggest.

Honor some very close sister-or-mother-friends instead (whether they are Moms or not): send a card, go out to lunch, a lecture or for a mani-pedi. Or just call, e-mail or Facebook and tell them how much you’re glad they’re in your life. I don’t know where I would be now if I hadn’t had such close female friends. They stepped in and took over that mother-role over the years, giving me advice on everything from career moves and when to dump that jerk to nail polish and nylons.

Spend some quiet time: light a candle, walk outside, eat your Mom’s favorite chocolate, listen to her favorite music, or go through some scrapbooks and relive the good times (yes, even I had some of those, like the day she made fun of the way my father hung up his pants or the many days we sat there and ate a whole gallon of ice cream no matter what time of day it was when The Poseidon Adventure was on Channel 11). Whether or not you believe in an afterlife, your Mom is always with you—all it takes sometimes is a memory to revive her.

And last but not least, there is always some characteristic—physical, habitual, emotional, behavioral, mental—that you inherited from her. Keep in mind that when all else fails, sometimes all you need to do is look in the mirror.

My 1st birthday, 1972. I look like I'm about to destroy that cake she made. Or maybe it's the candle. Anybody will tell you I LOVE fire!!

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