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THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 21—The Espresso Machine

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 21: The Espresso Machine

The machine.

I know, it’s just your ordinary (although very high quality) household espresso machine—and one we barely used; whoever gets this will get all the parts in mint condition and even the instruction book (it also comes with a set of gold demi-tasse cups, saucers, and gold-plated spoons).

So what made this hard to get rid of?

Most people don’t pack up their espresso machines and take them to Disney World.

Back in the summer of 1998, my housemate Charles and I were wondering what we were going to do for vacation that year. Eventually, we decided on taking the long drive down to Walt Disney World for a week. We booked ourselves into a Best Western in Kissimmee, packed our clothes—and at the last minute, decided to bring the espresso machine, which, at that time, was the only coffee maker we had in the house (the one I had moved in with had broken just a week or two before and we hadn’t replaced it yet). We figured we were going to need high-test coffee to keep us going so we could power through all the parks, plus Sea World and Universal, in seven short days.

The parts of the machine, as well as the two cups we brought, on the back of the hotel room sink.

When we came home, we bought a new coffee maker, and the espresso machine went in one of those high cabinets that all kitchens seem to have above their refrigerators—and, except for the couple of parties at which we wanted to serve espresso, it hasn’t seen the light of day since. We tested it and it’s fine, but we decided…why keep it around if we only seem to use it every few years?

Still, the espresso machine brings back all the fond memories I had of that trip. So it wasn’t easy to let it go.

Me on arrival at our Kissimmie Best Western. We found out many years later (when we went back in 2005) that it had been bought out and converted to an exclusive resort. From my understanding, it's now abandoned.

My housemate, Charles, knocks back a Mai Tai at Sea World. Because we had the espresso machine back in the room, we COULD drink in the middle of the day and then go back and pump ourselves full of caffeine so we could go back to another park—or to Pleasure Island—at night.

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THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 17-Rejection Slips, Part Two: BURN THE REST!

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 17: REJECTION SLIPS, PART TWO: BURN THE REST!

A rejection slip goes up in flames in my writing buddy Al’s fireplace, February 23, 2008.

In a recent conversation thread on LinkedIn, several writers were sharing the best and worst rejection slips we’d ever gotten. Although I remembered a few of the worst ones (Lunch Hour Stories told me that little boys would NEVER torture bugs or caterpillars, and so how dare I put that in a story?), the funny ones (I once got one that said, “HAVE A HAPPY DAY!” at the end of it), and the best ones (either signed by someone really cool, full of compliments or offering helpful feedback), I knew that I could have more actively participated in the conversation had I not burned—that’s right—burned—most of my rejection slips.

Saying goodbye doesn’t always mean just saying goodbye to objects. Sometimes it’s saying goodbye to an era, a group of friends, even an annual event. In this case, it’s all three.

In the summer of 2003, I founded a writer’s group called Pencils! Writing Workshop in Norwalk, CT (our original website is still up here: www.pencilswritingworkshop.com, although I will tell you that the layout is nowhere near what it was due to the fact that when I set up the site, it was Google Pages, which changed over to Google Sites in 2009). While the group’s main focus was to meet twice a month to critique work, its secondary aim was to create a community of like minds who could gather socially, attend conferences, and embark on writing-related outings.

(Note: if you visit the Pencils! website may see some of the copy you’re about to read over there. It’s okay—I wrote that stuff, so I’m only plagiarizing myself).

One Valentine’s Day in 2005, when the weather had dipped below zero, five Pencils! who had nothing to do decided to gather around a fireplace with a couple of bottles of wine and a plate of pepperoni and cheese. Somehow we got the idea that, because of theHoliday, we should bring our rejection slips and share them.

What started as a share and wallow became a banishment of our angst and negativity toward rejection—after taking a few minutes to explain our frustrations and anger, we hurled our slips into the burning fire.

We couldn’t believe how great we felt afterward—unburdened, ready for another round of submissions. We dubbed the night “The Rejection Slip Burning Party,” and the difference it made in giving us the courage to go forward through another year of submitting our work was so positive we made the party a Pencils! annual tradition.

There aren’t any pictures from that first event in 2005—it truly was a last-minute thing; I think we just all agreed to grab a snack and BYOB and meet at someone’s house at 5 p.m. But it was the start of something that grew exponentially, something to which everyone looked forward—and what was really great was that you could only come if you had submitted your work the previous year and had at least one rejection. Over time, the evening became an incentive—people who never would have had the courage to submit anything otherwise started sending out their work.

So, I share these photos of the four rejection slip burning events we had after 2005, and in doing that, I say goodbye to the era of mid-winter burnings with my writing friends in New England.

2nd Annual March Against Rejection 2006

A screen shot of the 2006 invitation. It was the "March Against Rejection" that year since the gathering had to be on March 4 instead of the usual mid-February due to a blizzard! No matter, we got that fire burning hot -- and our disappointments down to ash!

Al's FABULOUS sparkly fire! He bought the color powder so our unhappiness would go out in all the colors of the rainbow.

Kathryn, humorist and columnist, and Al, science fiction writer and our gracious host. Kathryn went on to pursue her MFA at Sarah Lawrence, have her humor columns published in numerous magazines including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and is now a professor at Quinnipiac College.

Writers at work! Jen, journalist and webmistress; Al, seated on couch; Peter Duveen, magazine freelancer who traveled to the Far East pretty frequently; and Kathryn, who was reading the rejection that pissed her off most!

3rd Annual REJECT-A-RAMA 2007

A screen shot of the 2007 invitation. Once I found I liked this layout, I just did it year-in and year-out and only changed the necessary information and the color scheme. Doing that also provided a “branding,” so that when members received it in the mail (yes, even though we used e-mail, invitations to events were sent via postal—made it more special) they knew what to expect from the event.

The 2007 rejection gathering, held on February 10, was a smash hit and saw a jump in attendance from five people to twelve. Amid shouts of “Burn It!” and some other things not appropriate for the web, feelings of anger, hopelessness and frustration went up in smoke.

The candles at the center of the buffet table.

What would ANY Valentine's Day be without candy hearts?

Hostess Maryann lets her hair down!

Our host, Al. At the time he joined Pencils!,Al was writing short stories in the science fiction and fantasy genres; his short story “Lucerange” was included in the Pencils! Writing Workshop anthology Every Other Tuesday. His most popular story, though, is called “The Christmas Man.” Al is definitely a Christmas enthusiast—it’s his passion, and it spills over into his basement woodworking shop, where he makes ornaments, sleds, and all manner of hand-crafted Christmas gifts. Al has also just completed the third rewrite of a fantasy novel he’s been working on for several years. Since this photo was taken in 2008, he has managed to read nearly all the classic novels including Moby Dick, Great Expectations, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask. He’s the only guy I know who purchased one of those home library collections and really did read every single one!

Pencils! supporter and friend Andrea expresses dismay at someone’s rejection story, though I don’t remember whose. She and her husband, Jim, are close friends of Al and were frequently at Pencils! gatherings.

Since this is part of The Goodbye Project, I should probably mention that I still had these paper hearts up until a couple of months ago. Hey, party stores can be expensive, and if the stuff’s in good shape, you might as well re-use it. However, great shape or not, I’m not paying to move these to Florida!

Maryann and I always put out a nice spread, and we always enjoyed shopping together. That year we did typical hors d’eouvres. The half of the table in the foreground is empty because Pencils! members always brought a dish to share, so we had to leave room. I should also note here that Maryann’s talented in her own right—she does beautiful, creative centerpieces and flower arrangements and party theme design.

Vance, who writes mysteries set in the Italian Renaissance as well as shorter nostalgia pieces, kicks off the night with his turn to burn! Kathryn looks on.

I don’t exactly remember the exchange here, but I think Vance and Kathryn had had the same rejection experience with the same publisher. I seem to recall something like that.

Vance presents: "And do you think they'd at LEAST have the courtesy to use a FULL sheet of PAPER?" At left, me, and at right, Kathryn, laugh it up.

Joyce, a memoirist and travel writer who is working on a novel set in the 1950s, expresses her disappointment over a slip from a certain Review.

Al: What's this? We found this yummy box of very expensive cookies on the front porch when we got home from shopping that afternoon, but we didn't know who it was from! "Please tell me," he said, "that one of you dropped this on the way in." We said "no," and of course LOTS of wild theories presented themselves. (We found out later it was VERY thoughtful member Yvonne, who at the last minute could not attend.)

Both Al and Maryann had to take a turn posing with the cookies.

Jen, a journalist who now works for NJ.com, and Vance enjoy a snack.

Cally, who wrote short pieces about a country in which she spent a great deal of time—Greece—is a lot like me—always talking with her hands.

Chatting it up! Left to right, Al, Vance, and Cally near the bar. I just love Al’s expression here. It says it all about what that night was like.

Here’s me, all dolled up in a very appropriate pink and red. I just got rid of those earrings last week, and the hair band three weeks ago—the earrings I’m just not into wearing anymore, and the hair band was broken.

Pencils!’ newest member at the time, Jerry, who writes mystery and crime stories, welcomes Andrea, who’s just been invited in by Maryann.

We never had many leftovers at these parties; it always seemed like it was just the right amount. Here, Cally and Andrea have pulled away from the main crowd in the living room to enjoy some conversation.

I have no idea what rejection story Cally was sharing here, but it doesn’t look like it was pleasant.

Kathryn takes a moment to smile for the camera and show how much better she feels now that she’s gotten rid of her rejections.

I know. Jen is one of my closest friends and one of the things I love about her is she loves to clown around. She totally couldn’t resist posing between these hearts.

Our newest Pencils! member and mystery/crime/suspense writer Jerry, who presents his only rejection slip thusfar -- oddly enough, one from Pencils!, a private e-mail he wasn't supposed to receive! (I reacted a little badly to his first queries about joining the group; I'll admit it. Today, he’s one of my best friends and trusted feedback provider.) Ouch! I was HOSED! Pretty funny. Everybody had a laugh.

Jim, a Pencils! supporter and friend, chills out with a glass of wine.

I just love Joyce’s expression here. She looks like she was having a great time.

Kathryn tells her own horror story. Always funny, even when annoyed!

No, I’m not really that tired—just looks like someone caught me in the middle of a sentence when I was blinking. That was getting on in the evening, though, and so I probably was getting tired. Maryann and I had, as usual, been running around all day getting prepared.


Kathryn heads to the bar area.

Maryann and I would always purchase plates and cups in an appropriate theme. Believe it or not, I just used up these napkins (we’d bought way too many) in the past couple of weeks. One of the processes of The Goodbye Project is using up all those paper goods that everyone seems to have leftover from parties.

Kathryn and Cally exchange stories.

Jen, me: Have some more wine!


4th Annual “Oh Sweet Rejection!” Slip Burning 2008

The 2008 event, held on February 23, was the most well-attended and celebratory burning of them all. Highlights? For starters, somebody got ballsy and burned a bestseller (We have proven over time that just because it is a bestseller does not mean that it has the best, or even decent, writing.) Someone else brought an entire BAG of slips to burn. And the capper? Well, the Pencils! gave me a great big surprise that was so awesome I couldn’t even accurately express my gratitude; basically, I was stepping down from many of my duties as founder and moderator of Pencils! that year because I had my hands full with my MFA.

Your hostesses: me, left, Maryann, right. The party was held at Al and Maryann’s for the third year in a row.

Me, left, and Yasmine, Pencils! supporter and friend. Yasmine is an actress who had come to the party bearing the good news that she’d gotten a part she wanted – so, here, I suspect the two of us are more than a little "winey"!

The 2008 buffet was desserts only—we wanted to do something other than the same old hors d’eouvres. We decided to start the party later, around 9, to make the dessert service work as an after-dinner event. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why we got such great attendance—it was later on a Saturday evening.

The black and white cookies have been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl. These aren’t as good as the ones that Dad used to get from the deli down the street every Sunday morning (the guy had them brought up fresh from NYC every week), but they’re close enough. Heck, I only eat the vanilla half anyway. It’s true. I was never a fan of the chocolate.

Hostess Maryann sweetened the deal with lots of sugary goodies!

Yasmine enjoys dessert before the party begins. I remember it was a pretty cold night, so that fire was toasty!

From left, the late David Roberson (standing), Maryann, and Jerry. Dave passed away suddenly in 2010. He was a science fiction writer who achieved the honor of being accepted to Breadloaf, but had many other passions: he was heavily involved in political activities in Greenwich, CT, and had worked at the NASA Johnson Space Center. He had a great sense of humor, especially about SF writing. I miss him.

From left, me, Tom Barker, who writes humor stories as well as science fiction and is now working on writing nonfiction about motorcross, John, horror writer and filmmaker, and Joyce. We’d usually sit around and chat before the actual ceremony got started.

Another view of the guests: the gentlemen waving in the chair is a friend of a Pencils! member, Al (standing against the wall), Dave, Maryann, and Jerry. I can tell by the position of Jerry’s hands that he was expressing a strong opinion. The original caption I’d written for this picture on the Pencils! website reads: Left to right, Michael, Al, Dave, and Maryann listen to Jerry complain about the state of the publishing industry. Why not?

That’s me, kicking off the festivities.

Burn, baby, burn! All flames burn hotter following a good long smolder...

I love this picture; it’s such a nice shot of the thing literally going up in flames.

Dave smiles for the camera. I really miss him. We used to have the most interesting conversations about the state of science fiction and tons of other things.

Joyce. It looks like she's hearing something horrible, doesn't it?

Roger. At the time he joined Pencils! he was working on a memoir about his retirement. It was his first burn with us, and it looks like he’s enjoying it! He had a few things to burn, too...good ones. We like those!

Now THAT'S the spirit! An entire BAGGY! Way to go, Lon Prater, sci-fi and horror writer extraordinaire! Yes, he’s the one who brought the whole bag of rejection slips, and it was incredible to watch. Lon now lives in Pensacola, FL, so I’m looking forward to being in the same state. Maybe we can get some kind of horror organization going down there, since at the moment, I don’t think there is one.

Joyce—it looks like I caught her by surprise.

John shares...this was a particularly important one, if I recall...

Is Maryann having a little too much fun?

John had lots to say...and more than a couple of things to burn. Just look at how happy he is! I'd say this is gleeful.

Roger socks it to 'em!

Left to right, Al, Yvonne, who was writing an ecothriller, and Dave watch things burn.

Lon's got piles...he's only just begun...

My pile of things to burn.

Lon gets started…lots to burn…

It's Joyce's turn...and boy does she have her say!

Maryann listens in.

Dave's got yet ANOTHER great story!

Lon and Roger share a hearty laugh. I believe it was during John's rejection story. Which had a fair element of $%^&*#@ you in it!

Dave tosses some of his in the fire.

Dave had a true winner...the rejection slip in his hand was his fault, he says...because he never changed the name of the magazine in the letter he sent out. OOPS!! I know I've done that at least once...maybe twice...depends on how much I've been drinking...

Dave brought quite a few that year, as I recall.

Jerry shifts the party’s focus—the group gives me a “goodbye” and “thank you” gift!

I’m standing in the archway with John and Yasmine, watching Jerry, and clearly I’m clueless.

Pencils! Writing Workshop outdoes themselves…

Well, here it is…the big surprise. Jerry headed the whole thing up, and the story goes way back to December, when Jerry apparently sent out an e-mail about surprising me with a gift — and he didn’t realize one of my other e-mail addresses was on the “cc” list!  I did read the e-mail, but discreetly ditched it and said nothing.

At that time, my Dad was really going downhill. In fact, I came home pretty depressed on a Friday night…my family was descending that weekend, the weekend before Christmas, to go spend time with him in the hospital. I stopped to get the mail and there was a card in my mailbox from Pencils!. I thought it was going to just be a Christmas card.

I was so overwhelmed with happiness when I opened it to see everyone’s signatures…and a gift card for Disney (they all know I go to Disney World at least once a year!). I just started to cry. Good tears! Here’s what I received on that cold, depressing day. I’ve gotta tell you, there aren’t really words to express how brightening and emotional this was. It made me realize that I’ve got the best thing in the world…good friends. And they’re hard to find.

In case you’re wondering, “Kaye” is my nickname. Several people know me by it, and when I move toFloridait’s likely the nickname I’ll use.

Here’s the envelope the Christmas card came in. The return address is Borders Wilton, where we were meeting at that time.

The front of the card.

The card’s interior. What’s really cool about this is the group did it through Zazzle, and so all of their signatures are different. It was a great way to do it, since Pencils! members were from a widespread area—everyone could e-mail whatever they wanted to say to the coordinator and whoever it was could order the card online.

The card’s back.

The Disney Gift Card Cover.

The Disney Gift Card Interior.

The Disney Gift Card Back.

Now, fast forward to our rejection slip burning on February 23. They totally shocked me with this other gift — because they realized that I had probably seen the first gift and therefore wasn’t surprised enough, the card and gift card in December were just a “Decoy!” Several Pencils! members pointed out that Jerry is so good at this stuff that if he wanted to overthrow a country, he could probably do it.

What did they give me? Well, besides a REALLY cool card with pencils on the cover –which meant so much to me because it just proves that great art comes from great people — it was another gift card to Disney World, and dinner with Lorraine Warren — someone I’ve always wanted to spend time with but never got the opportunity!

The card’s cover. I love the whole idea behind this card cover, because we had a slogan among ourselves: once a Pencil!, always a Pencil!

The card’s interior.

Disney Gift Card Cover.

Disney Gift Card Interior.

Disney Gift Card Back.

Lorraine Warren Gift Card Front.

Lorraine Warren Gift Card Back.

So, here’s me, being stunned:


After the big surprise, there was another one. Jerry decided to burn a bestseller. With good reason. The first few sentences were so poorly written, why pass it on to anyone else?

Jerry, on why crap should not be allowed to exist -- although, he didn't really need to justify it. At least, not to us!

“This is a piece of crap,” said Jerry, blithely. (Every tag line in this book had an adverb like that. I swear to God.)

Our hosts, Al & Maryann, yukkin' it up!

Bestselling crap in the fire! And, oh, what a nice pile of rejections it had to fuel its deserved demise...


5th Annual Rejection Slip Pyre & Potluck 2009

This was Pencils!’ last rejection burning event, and it was held at my house inDanburyas a luncheon on March 14, 2009. Several Pencils! were in attendance, but having it inDanburyallowed some other writer-friends who live locally to come on by and share in the festivities.

The lunch!

At right, Kay Cole, a Pencils! member whom I met through the original Truth & Lies writing group that met at Barnes & Noble in Danbury, and me.

Tom Barker, and, at right, Henderson Cole. Henderson, at the time, was working on a science fiction novel, but he had also published a book on theory and wrote many opinion pieces that were printed in The News-Times (our local paper).

The favors. Anyone who’s been to any kind of party at my house that has to do with a theme can tell you there are usually favors given out.

Nathan—who was pretty much responsible for Pencils!, and funny enough, Pencils! is responsible for us. In June, 2003, he was the Community Resource Manager for the Barnes & Noble store inNorwalk. He scheduled our first Pencils! meeting for July 15, 2003. That’s the day Nathan and I met. The rest is history.

Tom enjoys a soda.

Henderson breaks the ice and is our first presenter. Here, he presents a rejection slips from (if I remember correctly) a publishing house for his book, which, at that time, he had already had published with another house. Persistence pays off!

Obviously I’m horrified by Tom’s rejection story.

Me, presenting.

Tom chucks his stuff in the fire.

Rob Mayette, fellow writer and friend of mine since childhood, presents his rejection slips. Just a few months later, we would start up the magazine Read Short Fiction. In fact, I’m thinking that some ideas for Read Short Fiction may have been discussed later that night, after most had left.

Leon, a poet who had been with Pencils! since its inception in 2003.

Rob presenting.

Rob presenting.

Nathan chills out and listens in.

Jen has a laugh.

Henderson listens to Rob’s story.

Leon, left, and Kay.

Rob.

The fire. Nathan is great at building fires, so we had a nice one going!

Rob gets rid of his rejections!

Nathan had pens for everyone in the group. They were nice expensive ones.

Nathan gives out his pens.

Maureen, photographer, stopped by later on to have a glass of wine and put a cap on the final Pencils! Rejection Slip Burning Event.




THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 16-Rejection Slips, Part One: KEEP YOUR FAVORITE!

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 16: REJECTION SLIPS, PART ONE: KEEP YOUR FAVORITE!

The current binder I use to keep track of my submissions. For a long time, I had five or six very large four-inch binders that contained rejection slips and acceptances going all the way back to 1992. I no longer have them; this is the only tracker I keep now, and I clean it out frequently.

The inside of the binder. Each sheet protector holds two submissions, unless there happens to be too much correspondence connected with one submission so there isn’t room for a second.

Are you a writer? If you are, do you remember your very first rejection slip? I do, and although I knew it was somewhere in my files, I wasn’t sure where. While going through everything I own and getting rid of stuff, I came across it in a file marked “Special Letters.”

I know, it doesn’t seem like a writer’s first rejection should be held in such high esteem, but to tell you the truth, this one was so magical because of where it came from and what it meant it is my earliest memory of writing-related correspondence.

It was 1985. I was fourteen years old, and had been writing short stories since I was five or so. The only places to which I’d ever “submitted” my stories were to my teachers (pretty much the only people who supported my writing besides my friends, my Auntie Del, and my cousin Maryanne), or to my elementary and middle school writing contests or magazines.

My favorite television show at the time was the new Twilight Zone series, which had just begun airing on CBS on Fridays as part of the Fall Line-Up (remember THOSE?). I had watched the original Twilight Zone whenever my mother had it on, but this new, updated series was much more hip to my teenaged eye. After watching a few episodes and loving the endings of each, I got the thought in my head that a short piece I’d written might make a nice fit for this TV series (oh, man, did I understand NOTHING back then!). I typed it up on the old manual typewriter I had at the time, somehow got my hands on CBS’ address (remember, there was no Internet; I probably looked it up in a huge directly in the library), wrote a letter to go with it, hitched a ride to the post office with my Mom so I could get stamps (she wanted to know what the stamps were for, I told her I was sending thank-you notes), and mailed it from school.

I kept a copy of the letter I sent.

Here’s the cover letter I sent with my story. I know, it’s pretty badly written and stiff. I have to say, though, I was gutsy for 14. Then again, I didn’t know there were rules, let alone what they were. Had I NOT been ignorant of the way these things worked, I probably would have been too terrified to send in anything at all—and it’s unlikely I’d be where I am today. PS-You can read the story in the next photo, but I don’t think it has the ‘twist’ ending, nor do I think it’s well-written or complete in terms of conflict or anything.

Here’s a copy of the story. It’s typed on onion skin erasable paper.

About a month later, I came home from school and opened the mailbox—and was surprised to see a familiar logo: that of The Twilight Zone TV series! I was shocked I’d gotten a response that fast (remember, this was the world pre-e-mail and pre-Internet). And it had also come from an entirely different address than the one to which I’d sent it. I set down my book bag, fished the letter from the mailbox, and, at first, held it in my hands in disbelief. There was a name typed underneath the logo: Rockne S. O’Bannon.

The envelope that came in the mailbox.

The back of the envelope. I find it interesting that the address from whence it came is completely different from the one to which I’d sent it.

Wow. Rockne S. O’Bannon himself had typed his name under the return address! Yes, of COURSE I knew who he was. His name appeared on the credits as the series’ story editor, and he’d written one or two of the show’s segments. Other writers for the series included names of people whose stories I read all the time, like Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury.

I opened the letter and, even though it was a rejection—and it stated my story hadn’t even been read—I wasn’t disappointed. Rockne S. O’Bannon himself had written a personal letter on his letterhead to little old me! And he was even nice enough to send back the self-addressed, stamped envelope, which meant I could re-use the stamp (of course, I never did; I wanted to keep my prize intact)!

The letter I received from Mr. O’Bannon. It’s typed, on a typewriter—undoubtedly the most modern one available in 1985—and is on a dark gray 100% Cotton 32-lb. stock.

My story was returned to me in exactly the condition I’d sent it. It was quite obvious it hadn’t been read.

The SASE he returned. I’m not sure if you had a choice in what designs on the stamps you wanted back then, but I find it amusing it was a whelk, which means if I DID have a choice, I probably deliberately picked it for good luck.

So there it is, my first rejection. That letter should have crushed me, but instead, it fueled the fire. Because to a lonely fourteen-year-old kid who didn’t get any support for her writing from her parents, this was not a rejection: this was communication. This was response.

I started looking up magazines and sending my short stories all over the place. I became addicted to checking the mailbox, to receiving rejections, or even just ‘we don’t accept fiction, read our guidelines’ from those invisible, God-like beings called Editors.

I attribute my entire career to Mr. O’Bannon’s letter.

What’s more interesting, though, is to think about what I’d done, as well as the response I got, in the context of my own maturity, how things have changed in the submissions process over the years, and how my experiences during those years have altered my once-naïve view of it all.

As I’d mentioned in one of my photo captions, I had no awareness of rules. No awareness of ‘type it this way’ or ‘this is how you write a business letter’ or ‘oh my God, you do NOT send your unsolicited ideas to television!’ Being my fiancée works in television, I understand now it’s an entire process that, in itself, has changed since the 1980s—and had I not been ignorant, I probably would have been too embarrassed to send anything. It was a true case of ignorance is bliss.

What I also find amazing is that at that age I just had no fear. I had no fear of anyone saying ‘no,’ but it seems like, when everyone did say no, I somehow just accepted it as “part of the business”—well, it certainly couldn’t be because my stuff was BAD, right? There had to be some other reason, yes! My typical teen arrogance, in essence, saved my ass—I never questioned the quality of my own work. I was really lucky I started when I was so young and bold and naïve, because that attitude never changed. It just grew and matured along with me (now I certainly do understand that yes, my stuff can be bad). But I’ve been submitting for so many years it’s literally become routine, like paying bills. Yes, once in awhile I have that stab of disappointment because I got rejected by something I REALLY wanted to get into, but it goes away with a glass of wine and then it’s on to the next. I often wonder, if I hadn’t started all this when I was ignorant and bold, would I still be doing it now? After all, I know adults today that have all their writing hiding in drawers because they’re afraid of rejection. Would I have been like them?

Something else that, in retrospect, is amazing: this letter, in the days before e-mail and Internet, got where it needed to be and came back in just about thirty days. First, it was sent to a general address for CBS in Hollywood. No name, no attention of, nothing. The fact that someone at CBS opened it, took the time to read it, probably had to figure out where the hell it was supposed to go, and THEN took the time and effort to make sure it got into Mr. O’Bannon’s hands is incredible to me, especially when I think of how our world now is so fast, so computer-based, that I suspect sometimes snail-mail that isn’t specific is just tossed at a lot of places.

Second, Mr. O’Bannon HIMSELF then stopped what he was doing to actually peek at the envelope’s contents, recognize an amateurish cover letter composed on what-was-even-then-considered an outdated, shitty typewriter, recognize that this was unsolicited material—and still sat down and dictated a courteous, respectful, professional, NOT condescending and polite response to his secretary to type up and send back to me. My letter was part of three people’s normal course of business. I was on a to-do list. What’s amazing about that? Well, first, we know now that submissions of any sort have to go through channels. Guidelines must be followed. If you don’t do it right—and especially if you send unsolicited material that could be potentially a legal land mine for them if your idea is ever used and you notice—you’re likely to not get ANY response at all, let alone one that had some thought put into it AND made a point to be considerate of the recipient’s feelings.

Which brings me to my next point: Mr. O’Bannon’s kind response was my very first experience with rejection, and I’m glad it was. In the years that followed, every once in awhile I’d get one that was nasty (yes, really), or vague, or upsetting in some other way (like full of misspellings), and I’d think, ‘gee, if this one had been my first rejection instead of Mr. O’Bannon’s, I wonder if I’d even be doing this at all.’

So, you’re asking me now what this has to do with The Goodbye Project? I’ll tell you in Episode 17: REJECTION SLIPS, PART TWO-BURN THE REST!

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 15–Handbags

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 15: HANDBAGS

 

Are you a shoe girl, or a bag girl?

I’ve always been a bag girl. I can own three pairs of shoes and they’re all black and almost the same, but bags? I could have bags for every occasion and a bag to match every outfit. In fact, my handbags, at one time, took up four times the space of my shoes.

Every few years—and many years before I started The Goodbye Project—I’d go through and clean out my tubs of bags without photographing them, which now I regret, although I’m certain there are many photos of old handbags I used to wear in the backgrounds of several photos.

I kept one tub of bags with which I just can’t part—ones that are all in good shape. Here are the last few I’m letting go, and the memories associated with them. They’ve already been donated, but I’m proud to say each was in very good shape enough to donate. I don’t ever donate stuff that ripped or grubby or damaged, so whoever gets any one of these should be pleased—each one has a lot of life left in it.

Dad always filled our stockings every Christmas (I have to admit, the last few years he was alive I was filling all the kids’ stockings and he was filling mine, although a couple of years I bought stuff for myself and stuffed my own). He gave me this case for Christmas in 2006, and I carried it for a few years until it split apart. Because it was his last Christmas when he was able, I just couldn’t bear to throw it out, so I kept it for awhile. Now it’s time to let go. I tossed it. It was in terrible condition and I couldn’t in good conscience give it away.

Here’s the case with all the other stuff I got from Dad. You can see the case was filled with items—travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, some band-aids, and the like.

This was one of my favorite bags; I bought it in 2001 at Old Navy, and it became a favorite, especially during Fall and Poe season. It was especially appropriate for autumn in New England.

Me, November 3, 2002, at Poe Park in the Bronx. I had gone to visit Poe’s Cottage and was carrying the sweater bag that day. At that time, the bag was new—I think I’d only owned it for a couple of months, which would make sense, because Old Navy’s Fall line probably would have been out in late August.

I loved the bag so much I carried it through the winter. Here it is on February 23, 2003, in a hotel room in Mystic, Connecticut. It was my annual Fear & Loathing birthday weekend at Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, I forget which one we did that year. You can see there’s a journal inside it—I never went anywhere without one at that time in my life.

Turns out the sweater bag was lucky! I won a couple of hundred dollars that weekend at the slots. This was when they still took quarters (now, everything is on a card). It’s fun to win still, but it’s just not as much fun as seeing all those quarters come flying out of the machine. Notice I won on the Titanic game—I have an obsession with Titanic, and we’ll be talking about that in future episodes. This was taken Sunday, February 23, 2003.

I loved this fur bag. I purchased it at Old Navy probably after Christmas in 2000, and the only reason I say that is because I know it was a winter favorite in 2001. At that time, I had a faux fur coat, and this was a perfect match.

Me in 2001 in a hotel room in Mystic, CT. This was another of our famous Fear & Loathing weekends—we’d go to the casinos to celebrate my birthday. This was just before dinner February 2, 2001—we ordered pizza from Angie’s, which is a really great pizza place in town. You can see the fur bag at the left of the picture.

That same February weekend in 2001, only this was on the Saturday, just before we went out to hit the casinos. The fur bag is at the left of the photo; behind it, my red IBM Hunter Thompson typewriter. Yes, I even traveled with that damn thing.

Part of the reason I was probably attracted to the fur bag was because it reminded me of something a woman might carry in the 1960s. At that time, in the early 2000’s, winter was a big deal in our house, and on snowy nights we’d spend time watching a lot of those old turkeys like Winter-A-Go-Go (my favorite) and Ski Party. Above, Heather, me, and Walter, at right, at the annual Beatnik Party that was held every year up at one of our friends’ houses in Bridgewater. I was carrying the fur bag that night; it was the perfect compliment to my outfit. Photo taken March 1, 2001.

In the early 2000’s, just as there was an annual Beatnik Party, there was an annual Winter-a-Go-Go Party. The Go-Go Party was usually in January; the Beatnik in February or March. Here, at 2001’s Beatnik Party, Heather and Holly check out the “record” set I made—basically, a scrapbook of that year’s Winter-a-Go-Go party in the form of records. I carried the fur bag to the Winter-a-Go-Go party that year as well.

Here I am in Kaitlyn’s house with John of Loki Graphics, New Year’s Day, 2003. If you look behind me, you can see the fur bag—it was, along with a small tote bag, all I brought. Charles and I were hanging out on New Year’s Eve by ourselves, we called Kaitlyn, and she said, ‘get in the car and come here.’ So we did. It was totally last minute; we were out of the house and making the two and a half hour drive in just under 10 minutes flat. It’s one of my happy New Year’s Eve memories.

I loved this brown quilted bag; I acquired it in early 2007 and used it up through late August 2010 as my main handbag—when I went and bought an alligator-pattered laptop bag to use, because I was tired of not being able to grab stuff—I’d always have to dump out my whole bag to find what I was looking for, and with the publication of Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—well, my already limited time became even more limited, so I needed to get more organized. The bag is still, though, in awesome shape—you can barely tell it was used for three years as an every day bag. It went to Goodwill.

One of the neatest features of the brown quilted bag was its detachable matching wallet.

I also liked the lining on the bag. It is, even after three years of use, in mint condition.

March, 2007. The quilted bag was brand new then, and it came in handy because it was not only big enough to carry all of my every day essentials, but also tall enough to hold files I might need for writer’s group or meetings—therefore, I didn’t have to carry a separate tote. Above, Carol, me, and David Roberson knock back a couple of cocktails after a Pencils! Writers’ Workshop meeting in Wilton, CT. I really miss Dave—he passed away a couple of years ago. He was not only a talented writer, he was a good friend. I associate this bag not only with Pencils! Writing Workshop, but with him. So it is a little tough to give it away.

I headed to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, in the summer of 2007 to begin my graduate program in Creative Writing. The brown bag, of course, was with me—even though I had to adapt, after eighteen years, to walking all over a huge campus again, so it mostly sat in my room unused in favor of a backpack. At left, McKenna, my dear friend Cyn (who passed away in December 2010), and me take a break on a hot summer day. That was the moment the three of us met, actually. Another reason I’m having a hard time letting go of the bag. But you know what? I’m moving to Florida. I just won’t use it again.

Oh, man, is this ever soooo 1980s. I made this purchase on purpose—I wanted something 80s-ish to wear to my 20th High School Reunion in July of 2009. Why silver? Well, it also had to match my navy blue dress. I had silver shoes and a necklace too. But the real reason I chose this style is because I had a maroon bag back in the mid-1980s—which I referred to as my DeeDee McCall bag, because it reminded me of the bags that character from the TV show Hunter carried—that had exactly the same style of flower and ribbed top.

Here’s the “DeeDee McCall” bag I mentioned in the last caption. Here, it’s being carried by my friend Emily, as she was playing the role of McCall in a scene we were doing to pass time waiting for our parents to pick us up from chorus practice after school. If I had to choose a “favorite bag of all time,” this bag was it. I was heartbroken when the strap broke and I had to get rid of it. This was taken in March of 1985 outside Schaghticoke Middle School in New Milford, CT.

Billy Buckbee, me, and Greg at the New Milford High School Class of 1989 20th Reunion at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury, July, 1989. It was the only time I used that silver bag—whoever gets it will find it in mint condition—but it’s still hard to get rid of because that was a very magical night.

Maria Giannone, Me, and Melissa Poodiak at the New Milford High School Class of 1989 20th Reunion at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury, July, 2009.

There’s an interesting story behind this one. A friend of mine purchased a gift for his wife for Christmas, 2008—cosmetics or jewelry, I guess—and this bag and purse set came with his purchase. He knew his wife wouldn’t go for it, but knew I would (“you like all that flashy retro stuff,” he said). Of course I was thrilled to get this, and it was my winter 2009 bag—I used it for going out and when I didn’t want to carry the big huge brown quilted bag anyplace. The small purse was perfect for carrying business cards.

Here it is on the bed in my dorm room—Giles 3—up at Goddard’s Winter Residency, January 4, 2009. That was a unique residency. First of all, it was HELL IN THE SNOW. Every time we turned around it was snowing again. We could barely get off campus, it was gray, it was cold, we had a leak in my dorm room (because some idiot decided it would be wise to design the Village Dorms with flat roofs—seriously? In Northern New England? What was he smoking?)…but we also threw the best graduation dance ever—Cyn, me, and Julia did the shopping, so there are lots of funny stories about Cyn (from down south) driving in the snow, the people at the supermarket not knowing how to count, and icing down the shrimp with fresh, clean snow because we’d forgotten to buy ice. The bag accompanied me on that very special day, so those are the associated memories, and being that Cyn is gone now, it’s harder to let this go than it would normally be.

As a treat, here’s what that winter up at Goddard’s January Residency 2009 was like. One good thing about being in SNOW HELL was the opportunity to drink—and then do stupid things like sled as though we were ten years old. Here’s one early afternoon impromptu sledding party. The snow was literally up to our knees. It was hard for everyone to walk, let alone haul the sled back up the hill. Joining me are my friends Charles, Joe, and Julia—and there are a few other classmates as well, but they’re not in the video.

The women of Giles. Left to right, Julia, Julie, me. Amy is across us. Yes, we’re all in lighter clothing, but trust me when I tell you our dorm was hot all the time—some of it might have had to do with the fact that Goddard was doing this experimental program in which they were heating some of the dorms using “recycled” vegetable oil from fryers in Burlington restaurants. The place was hot, we were always thirsty, our hair and skin always felt like it had a sheen of oil on it, and worst of all—we all reeked like fried onions. I’m sorry, I didn’t see that as a “healthy” alternative to regular heating oil. It was absolutely disgusting.

This bag was also an Old Navy choice; I bought it in the late summer of 2005 (I also bought an orange one just like it, as I recall) so that I’d have a bag that would fit my camera, maps and money.

That’s me, September, 2005, in the tunnel under the Railroad Station that empties into Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. That was the first time I used the green bag. What else is significant about this photo? I ended up buying the Splash Mountain full-sized attraction poster at my Dad’s request—he was redoing his bathroom at the time and wanted something to “cheer the room up” (um, it was still avocado green and the over-the-sink cabinets and wood accents were still dark dark walnut, so I really didn’t see much difference when it was done). After he died, I got to keep the poster (the frame broke, which is fine with me since it was—you guessed it—dark, dark walnut! YAR!). The poster is rolled and carefully stored and will grace a wall in my new home in Florida—once I get a really cool appropriate frame for it, that is!

September, 2005. Me wearing the green bag in front of one of my fave current Magic Kingdom attractions—The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. My short story “Charlotte’s Family Tree,” which is in my collection Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World—is set in the treehouse. You can get that book here: http://amzn.com/0615402801, or, if you want a signed copy and I’ll send you some goodies with it, you can order from here: http://haunteddisneytales.com/purchase/

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