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THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 25—The Stephen King Books

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 25: THE STEPHEN KING BOOKS

My cousin Maryanne, left, and me at Thanksgiving at my house in 2010. Maryanne is the reason I write scary stuff today.

It’s hard to believe that my father let me read books like The Andromeda Strain, The Word, Jaws, and Catch 22—but I was forbidden to read any books by Stephen King.

I never really thought to ask him why. I suspect now that—because none of King’s books were ever in our house—it was because my father didn’t like King’s writing; I don’t think it was because of the craft, necessarily, but because Dad didn’t really seem to gravitate toward anything scary (in fact, all I heard from him when he was alive about my work was, ‘why the hell are you wasting yourself on all this dark stuff?’). Big on spy and contemporary thriller and science fiction, I think King never struck Dad’s fancy. My mother loved scary stories—but wasn’t a reader. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw her read anything but The Bible and those great old 1970s feel-good things like Anger is a Choice and The Less is More Cookbook.

I lucked out, though, and got to read King’s work at one of the most impressionable times in my life—between the ages of ten and thirteen.

Because I had an older cousin who had a shelf full of his books.

Every Sunday for the first 14 years of my life, we went down to have dinner at my Aunt’s house in West Haven. My cousin Maryanne and I didn’t really get along when we were kids. But that would change one day when I was in her room, looking at the books on her shelf. I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember asking her about them. She pulled out Cujo.

I was instantly fascinated by the cover art: I had been attacked by Doberman Pincers in our neighborhood when I was so young I was terrified of any dog, even hers, who was really no more than a friendly excitable puppy at the time.

“Wanna read it?” she asked.

At first I wasn’t sure if it was a trick to scare me (remember, I said we didn’t get along well for a number of years).

“It’s really good,” she said. “You totally won’t be able to put it down.”

I remember feeling a pit in my stomach—I was afraid of getting caught; you’d think she was offering me crack or something, like if I dared open that book I’d ruin the rest of my life. But anything that promised to be too good to put down was too tempting to resist. And oh, that cover art (someone somewhere said that fear and fascination are tied together, and I’d have to agree). I dove into Cujo.

So, every Sunday thereafter, while the women would talk as they cleaned up dinner and my Dad would either be talking or watching sports, I hid out in Maryanne’s room reading every King book she had. She even went to the trouble to put paper bag covers on them, so that if one of my parents walked in they wouldn’t know what I was reading.

It was shortly after that I started writing scary stories, and once I started writing scary stories, the only things I wanted to read were scary stories. Once I got into my late teens, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, so that became easier. In fact, once I went to college, Dad would always buy me books—and ironically, many of them were Stephen King. I read Nightmares and Dreamscapes (which contains one of my favorite short stories, “Rainy Season”) on a long car drive to Lake Placid, New York. I read Night Shift when I was working at the URI Security Office in the summer of 1992 (that was totally creepy; the office was in the basement and I was usually only with one other person and he hated me). I read Delores Claiborne when I was married to my first husband and we had no money for cable.

The rest is history. As for Maryanne, we’re really close now. We love all things dark and scary, not just books. We love to get together and watch horror flicks like Gargoyles, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and Poltergeist. And we usually do all of that when she’s staying at my house helping me get ready for a party.

The cover of Cujo, the very first Stephen King book I ever read.

The hardest things to get rid of were my books—and I still kept many, don’t worry. But these King books weren’t the ones I read in that darkened purple shag-rugged room full of glass unicorns—they’re copies I got at tag sales years later, so I’d have them in case I ever wanted to re-read them. It’s the memory of those secret afternoons that I want to keep alive, not the books themselves—and since many of them are King’s classics, I can always get them another time.

Of course, Maryanne is such a collector of King’s books that she has all the copies that I read from. So they’re still out there. But for right now, it’s time to say goodbye. They went to a library book sale this past summer.

The cover of Carrie, which was the second book I read. I recall little of it, other than that I couldn’t put it down, and that I was really grossed out by the shower scene and all that blood—but on the other hand, I could understand it. At that time, we had just started the whole ‘taking showers after gym class’ thing in school, and I was often teased because I was larger than the other girls.

Pet Sematary scared the living hell out of me—mostly because we had a cat, Cuddles, for many years, who just before I read this disappeared. Dad insisted Cuddles had run away, but dense, creepy woods surrounded our property, and I was convinced then—as I am now—that he lied and that cat is buried someplace in those woods. While I was reading this book I was haunted by visions of the dead cat coming back in middle of the night.

The VHS of Pet Sematary. I bought this second-hand at a video store up at the University of Rhode Island, and made the mistake of watching it one night on one of my long security overnight shifts in the summer of 1992. The guy who hated me did manage to put his feelings aside and walk me home after work, but I remember jumping at every sound. I’ll eventually get this on DVD, so I figured, why keep it?

Christine didn’t scare me as much as the others, although the idea that a car could have a personality terrified me—especially when I thought of the old green 1970s Pinto we had. Dad told me he’d gotten rid of it because if someone hit it in the back end it would blow up.

Firestarter was the only one of those first books of his that I read that didn’t feel like it fit—I remember not really understanding the whole scene with the parents and how they’d hooked up (for those of you who know EXACTLY what’s going on in the book and may be sitting there saying, ‘there’s no scene like that,’ I don’t remember books well, which is why I re-read them. It’s often the images in my mind I recall best. I haven’t read this book in thirty years, so all I’m recalling are a few vague images my mind invented to accompany the words).

What’s funny about Salem’s Lot is that I don’t recall any of it. I’m not really surprised—I’m still not a big vampire person, book or film-wise.

Actually, I’m not getting rid of this—it’s rare now, I think. It’s the April 1997 issue of TV Guide that printed a never-before-published prologue to King’s The Shining called “Before the Play” in honor of the new made-for-TV miniseries that was airing that week. Charles was out somewhere—at a play rehearsal, maybe, I don’t exactly recall—and I was home alone. I had just gotten divorced and moved out of a tiny one-bedroom I’d shared with my ex into this brand-new house that was bigger than the one I’d grown up in, was totally isolated on three acres up a long, dark, winding drive, and contained very little furniture so my voice echoed everyplace my went. I couldn’t wait to read King’s prologue, so I sat up on my bed and started reading—only to be left terrified to reach over the space between my bed and the nightstand. Just as I’d swallowed my fears and was doing that—to turn on an extra lamp—Charles walked into the house and yelled, “Hello!” I totally screamed like I was being stabbed. I slept with the lights on for weeks after that—and I was 26. So why am I showing you this as part of The Goodbye Project? I tore out the pages that contained the prologue and threw out the rest of the magazine.

Maryanne and me at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, New York, September, 2010. She is trying garlic ice cream for the first time (so I guess I got to introduce her to something new, too!) Going to the festival has become a tradition for us over the years, and when we come home, we always have a few drinks and watch some scary movies. In 2010, we watched that old 1970s made-for-TV movie turkey Gargoyles.

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THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 24-TRAVEL SIZES

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 24: TRAVEL SIZES

Video: Sometimes, it’s hard to get rid of that collection of travel sizes because holding one in your hand can bring back all the magic of those first moments of a trip, as this video of my friend Meghan and me exploring our room at the Contemporary Resort in August, 2008 suggests. (Note: Some adult language; we were a little too excited to control ourselves.)

Who hasn’t taken at least one of those cute little shampoo bottles or wrapped soaps from a hotel room? I think most of us snag them because we think they’ll come in handy when next we travel (especially with the change in airline regulations over the last decade)—but then, inevitably, they end up in some drawer or box with all of the other ones we’ve accumulated over the years, and before we know it, we have a pile of travel-sized soaps, shampoos, shower caps, make-up removers and sewing kits that are doing nothing but aging and collecting dust.

I have a huge tub of travel-sized toiletries, and I realized when I was going through them that I wasn’t saving them for future use—when I travel, in fact, I bring all of my preferred products, just in smaller containers—I was keeping them because each invoked a memory of a pleasant trip.

Because of that, I couldn’t bear to throw them out, no matter how old they were. So I decided, instead, that I would start using them on a daily basis. Not only did I discover that it saves me some money (it’s going to take a long time to use everything up)—I found that the specific smell of each product brought back a memory, too, as in the case of the Disney Resort products. One whiff of that lotion or soap, and I’m at the Polynesian.

Below, some of the items I’ve collected over the years and the fond memories they conjure.

These date back to the Howard Johnson’s in Niagara Falls, Canada, August, 2001. Charles and I were on our way up to Thunder Beach in Ontario to visit some friends, and we spent the night in a HoJo there.

The flyer for the hotel in which we stayed in August, 2001, where I got the shampoo/conditioners.

Niagara Falls at night. That was the very first time I’d seen the Falls for real (as an adult—I think I was 4 the first time and have no memory of it whatsoever). It was completely breathtaking, and definitely spawned my love of Niagara Falls kitsch as well for the short-lived television series Wonderfalls, which aired on Fox in the Spring of 2004 (a really interesting tour of the show’s shooting locations is here: http://www.wondertour.org/)

Me, left, and Charles on Thunder Beach, Ontario, Canada, August, 2001.

These were available in the Walt Disney World moderate-level resorts in 2005 and 2006. I haven’t started using these yet.

The back of the wrapping of the bar soap that was placed in moderate-level resort WDW hotel rooms in 2005 and 2006.

The shower in Room 1750 in Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort (the Alligator Bayou section), September, 2005. This was the first time I had stayed in an on-property resort since the 1980s, so it was very magical for me. You can see the soaps/shampoos on the edge of the tub.

Charles, left, and Nathan, right, accompanied me on that 2005 trip—the last time we drove. Here we are getting ready to pull out of our driveway and head for Walt Disney World in September, 2005.

The shower in Room 1745 in Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort (the Alligator Bayou section), September, 2006. That trip was special because it was the first time I’d been to the Disney Parks with my sister, Missie, since 1987. You can see the soaps/shampoos on the ledge.

At left, my niece, Andi—that September, 2006 trip was her very FIRST time at Walt Disney World in Florida—and, to the right of me, my sister, Missie. One of our goals was to have a photo of the three of us taken in each country in the World Showcase. Here we are clowning around in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion.

In 2007, Disney changed the design of its resort toiletries. Here is the bath soap.

I’m using this soap now, so I was able to open it and get a shot of the Mickey Mouse profile carved in each bar. I’m surprised at how long this soap is lasting, seriously. I opened it up at least four weeks ago, and there’s still plenty left. And if anyone knows how much I love suds (I like A LOT), then you know this says a great deal about the fact that Disney puts soap bars in their hotels they’re pretty certain will outlast the average stay.

Here’s the matching facial soap and shampoo.

Half the fun of staying in one of WDW’s on-property resorts is the way the room’s amenities are presented. Here is what Nathan and I found upon check-in to Room 1721 of the Port Orleans Riverside Resort (Alligator Bayou side), September, 2007.

Our first night in Walt Disney World in 2007, Nathan and I had dinner at the Concourse Steakhouse in the Contemporary Resort; part of the magic of eating there was that the monorails whizzed in and out of the building while you dined. The Steakhouse, sadly, is gone now—it’s a huge quick-service area. I’m sure you still get all the magic of those speeding monorails above you, but let’s face it—there’s just no romance in a quick-service.

I got this toothbrush during my stay at the Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World in August, 2008; mostly, I really loved the art on the box, which is why I never opened it up and used it. Given The Goodbye Project, however, I figured I had to let it go sometime, and so I used it on my August, 2011 trip to Austin, Texas, to visit my sister. I was surprised when I opened the box and the toothbrush was wrapped in plastic—and included a tiny (I do mean TINY!) tube of toothpaste. The toothbrush now sits in my travel kit, ready to accompany me on my next out-of-town jaunt.

Notice that the design of these packages matches that of the toothbrush. These are from my May, 2008 stay at the Polynesian Resort—however, I don’t think there was a design change from the 2007 packaging; rather, I think I remember reading someplace that WDW’s Deluxe Resorts (i.e., the Animal Kingdom, Beach Club, Boardwalk, Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness, and Yacht Club) carry a slightly higher quality brand of product and packaging (if anyone knows if this is true or not, please write to me).

A close-up of the 2008 Deluxe Resort soap.

A close-up of the 2008 Deluxe Resort lotion. In 2008, the shops in the Deluxe Resorts carried full-sized soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and shower gels for purchase…yes, I brought home a few full-sized ones to enjoy and used them up a long time ago!

Towel art in Room 3317 at the Polynesian Resort, May, 2008, where I got some of the Deluxe Resort soaps/shampoos pictured above.

My friends Jennifer Winston (now Mayette), left, Rob Mayette, center, accompanied me on that May 2008 trip to the Polynesian. Here is a shot of us getting ready to go to the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. The pair got engaged on that trip and were married in 2009.

A spread of the toiletries in Contemporary Resort Room 4428 (in the A-frame tower). My friend Meghan and I stayed in that room in August, 2008.

My Goddard College buddy Meghan, right, and I raise a toast at a bar in the Polynesian Resort, August, 2008. We arrived during a hurricane, and it was raining, so we decided to “Drink Around the Monorail Line”—meaning ride the loop among the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian and stop at each bar for a cocktail. It really was a lot of fun—and the next day, despite the fact that it was raining, we went to the Magic Kingdom and there were NO LINES. We did like nine E-Tickets in something like an hour and a half. Amazing.

If you’ve ever bought stuff at The Body Shop, then you know you never walk out without some neat little samples of their newest products. My friend Heather, from my college years at the University of Rhode Island, and I splurged on stuff at The Body Shop every time I visited Newport for several years (that store is closed now). I’m just starting to rip through the hefty stack of samples now.

A display of all the stuff I bought at The Body Shop on an August, 2008 trip to Newport.

Me on the beach in Newport, RI, August, 2008. I believe this was after we’d done our ritual shopping spree.

Heather on the beach in Newport, RI, August, 2008.

These were in my hotel room in Miami in May, 2009; I went there for a four-day writer’s conference at Miami-Dade College.

The pool at my hotel in Miami, May, 2009, where I got the LaSource toiletries.

Me, left, with writers Rashena Wilson, Steve Almond, Tamara Linse, and Nikki Naseer at The Writer’s Institute at Miami Dade College, Miami, Florida, May, 2009.

This massage bar came from Room 645 at the Hyatt Place in Uncasville, Connecticut, just a few miles from Mohegan Sun. My brother Chuck treated Nathan and I to an overnight there for my 40th birthday this past February, so every time I see this soap in the box, I think of that awesome weekend.

Our room at the Hyatt Place in Uncasville, February 5, 2011.

Here’s where the massage bar was displayed. We used the other products while staying there, so I never brought anything else home.

From left, Nathan, my sister-in-law Sana, my brother Chuck, and I enjoy a drink at Leffingwell’s (yes, the crystal mountain) at Mohegan Sun casino in celebration of my 40th, February 5, 2011.

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 23-Jim Morrison, The Doors

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 23: JIM MORRISON, THE DOORS


Death makes angels of us all
& gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as raven’s
claws[1]

This is not only a famous Jim Morrison quote, it happens to be my favorite. I always took this to mean that when we die people get up at funerals and say wonderful stuff about us, even if we were total a-holes. Let’s face it, no one gets up at a funeral and says, ‘that guy was a totally nasty person.’ A portion of a scene from my unpublished novel Mourning After (keep in mind, it’s a totally unedited raw draft, there may be errors and things which need clean-up):

“See, this is the thing…” I have no idea what’s in the Kongaloosh thing I’m drinking, but I’m having trouble moving my tongue. “…this is the thing that Jim Morrison was talking about, at least I think so, I think there are people that would disagree with me: ‘Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven’s claws.’ That poem, just that line, death makes angels of us all, I always thought it meant, like…”

I look up at him. His eyes are watching me and only me. His drink has been drained.

“…that when we die, no matter what kind of an asshole we were, suddenly, we’re this great person. I’ve been to a lot of funerals. And a lot of wakes. And let me tell you something, there are some guys out there who died who were total fucks and then you have to sit there and listen to the daughter or somebody say, “oh, he was so full of life,’ or, ‘he had such a great sense of humor’ or, ‘he loved life.’ That last one in particular is my favorite. Everybody who dies suddenly loves life. I went to one funeral once and they said that about a woman who had hanged herself.” I drain my glass. “I think it would be really cool if everybody were just honest. You know, ‘I hated my mother, she was a bitch. She was always mean to me, and she was a petty gossip.’ Or, ‘My Dad was a drunk and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with his beatings anymore.’”

To my surprise, he laughs.

“What?”

“Nothing, you’re just totally right on, that’s all.”

“Am I?”

And then his mouth is on mine, and I am surprised to feel myself responding, and to stick my tongue into his mouth and taste the sugary drink, and his mouth is cold, cold like he just drank a cold beer, and the people in the room are still talking and then, just then, there is one loud, booming voice that startles us and I turn and look and there he is: OTIS T. WREN, the fake “ichthyologist adventurer” who is often at the club.

“Well, it seems there’s been some hanky-panky stuff around here!” He knocks on the wall. “I thought you were supposed to be keeping an eye out for this kind of behavior!”

Two spotlights flash onto a pair of goofy Amazonian masks that open their eyes and blink start to chuckle. “Hey, we can’t do everything as long as we’re just hangin’ around, huh, huh, huh.”

I first heard of The Doors when I was nine and in the fourth grade. One of my classmates—I don’t know why I associate it with my friend Joel Baglia (it might not have been him, you know, that whole persistence of memory thing), but I do. He had drawn the band’s logo on his notebook, and I wondered what it was. Too embarrassed to ask him, I went home and asked my Dad, and he said, “that’s trashy music, you don’t need to be listening to that garbage. It’s bad for you.”

I took his word for it, and didn’t probe further.

What you have to understand is that we were never allowed to have any music in our house except Broadway Shows and Christian Choir Music—possessing anything other than that was taking a huge risk: if you got caught with immoral rock music that was sure to influence you to do drugs or have sex or God knows what else, you were in a lot of trouble.

It was my brother Chuck who finally figured out how to get the stuff in the back door. He just started labeling his cassettes ‘God Stuff’ or something like that, and you’d stick it in the machine and out would come Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” He encouraged me to do it. “Dad’ll never catch on,” Chuck said. “Trust me.”

Dad never did. It’s why I have tons of rock-infused cassettes in my basement to this day labeled ‘Jesus at the Spring,’ and ‘The Olive Branch’ (once I got daring and called one in particular ‘Water into Wine’).

We did this for years, all through high school. But still I never thought to check out The Doors.

Until, in 1992, Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors was playing at Edwards Hall—the campus’ “movie theatre” on occasion. They would show slightly older films and charge students $2, I think, $3 or $4 if you wanted popcorn or candy and a soda. It was a pretty good deal.

I came home from the movie weirdly fascinated: in a way, it had been like watching a train wreck. Here was this man with all this talent, and he destroyed himself. I wanted to know more about him and why he did what he did.

I don’t remember how, but I got my hands on the book No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny  Sugarman (I had the original 1981 printing; there was a 1995 printing and you can get the 2006 reissue here: http://amzn.com/0446697338). I hadn’t had a chance to crack it open and read it, but I was hoping I would soon because Spring Break was coming up about a week later. I didn’t have any plans to go anywhere—there was nowhere to go, really. I had just planned on staying in Rhode Island and maybe going out with some friends.

My father called me to ask when I’d be home for Spring Break.

“Um…I wasn’t planning on coming home,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “where did you think you were going to go? I have the whole week planned for you. There’s lots to do here at the house and I need you to do a bunch of stuff for me too.”

I remember rolling my eyes. Home was a hole. And home was nothing but work. In fact, I can’t recall a single time I would go to my father’s house when he didn’t have me working: paint this wall, we have to build this deck, go through the kids’ closets and get rid of what doesn’t fit them, we need to clean out the barn, et cetera, et cetera. There was no such thing as a “visit,” and your value as a human being was measured on the basis of how much you got done in one day.

I found myself wishing I had some kind of excuse so I could tell him no. At that time, I was in the middle of producing a play for the campus chapter of Phi Alpha Theta history honor society (more on this some other time). The production of Pirates and Queens was a lot of fun—but a lot of stress.

Part of the cast of “Of Pirates & Queens” on the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut, March 1992. Back, from left: Brian (Pirate), me (Isabella), Andy (Pirate), Christian (Hawkins), Mark (Raleigh). Front: Derek (Drake) and Monique (Catherine).

We were one month from opening. It was constant rehearsals, script revisions, making costumes, and doing publicity among other things—on top of my regular academic load, my position at the school’s daily newspaper, The Good 5¢ Cigar, and my job at the URI Security Office, which was practically an overnighter a few times a week—that was killing me. I needed a break. The last thing I wanted to do was go home and do more work.

I was bemoaning this fact to my childhood best friend Kristen, who had lived up the street from me until she moved to Plantation, Florida (near Ft Lauderdale) in 1984.

“I have to go home and do God knows what, clean the house or whatever.”

“F**k him, you’re twenty-one years old, you can make your own f***in’ decisions, good Lord almighty,” she said (Kristen is the original ‘bad girl’ and still is—can’t wait to get into trouble with her again when I move to Florida!). “Why don’t you come down here? My parents will put you up just fly down. We’ll party and go to the beach and stuff. I have to work, but you can sit by the pool all day and read.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I have to go home.”

“Just lie. Say you have to work. You know that with him that’s the only thing that’ll excuse you.”

I hadn’t thought of that—she was right. With Dad, work was really the only excuse that could get you out of anything. And the only job I had was the Security Office, and I wasn’t scheduled to work over Spring Break. He didn’t have to know that.

“What if he finds out?”

“He won’t. And even if he does, what’s he going to do, take you over his knee and paddle your ass?”

She had a point there—I was 21, like she’d said. I could legally go into a bar and have a beer. I was an adult. If I didn’t want to go home and slave, there was no reason I should. With a lump in my throat, I called Dad back and told him I had to work all week. He bought it. Then I went to the Student Union, bought a plane ticket, packed—grabbing my copy of No One Here Gets Out Alive—and off I went.

Kristen, me at her house in Plantation, FL, March 5, 1992. It was the first time we’d seen each other in eight years.

Kristen and I hadn’t seen each other, at that point, since she’d left in 1984. It had been far too long. When she picked me up at the airport, she had The Doors playing in the car. The song was “The End.”

“It’s the movie soundtrack,” Kristen said as she pulled into traffic. I don’t know what kind of car she had, but it was one of those older, enormous boats that you could fit six people in (it was like a flashback to the time when The Doors might have been on the radio instead of on cassette).

This is one of Kristen’s friends in the front seat of the car (help, Kristen, I can’t remember her name! I met so many people when I was there!). I don’t know what city’s in the background—probably Miami—but we were on our way to her house from the airport. The Doors’ music would have been playing in the background.

“I just saw this movie last week,” I said.

“You can totally listen to it. We can dub a copy before you leave.” (For those of you who don’t remember cassette tapes, at that time, most people had dual cassette players so you could copy each other’s cassettes or make mix tapes. There was no copy protection—if you wanted to copy a factory-made cassette, all you had to do was throw a little scotch tape over the two square holes that were at the top of the cartridge).

The whole week, while Kristen was at work, I slept until Noon, then sat by her pool and devoured No One Here Gets Out Alive.

Kristen out on her lanai with her pool in the background. This is where I would hang out during the day and read No One Here Gets Out Alive.

When I was done reading for the afternoon, I’d swim, and then I’d listen to her cassette. Because I remembered what my father had said all those years before, I was a little disturbed that not only did I love the music—I thought the lyrics were beautiful, haunting. There was something deeply romantic about them; although I understood that Morrison was obsessed with death, there were certain lines that, to me, didn’t have anything to do with death at all. This section from “The End,” for example: “Desperately in need of/some stranger’s hand/In a desperate land” spoke to the isolation and loneliness I’d felt as a teenager, when it was so hard for me to connect with others.

When Kristen got home from work in the late afternoons, or on that weekend, we went tooling all over the place in her car with the music to accompany us. We went to Flea Markets, the beach, had lunch at some really cool joint in Miami, went shopping, visited Vizcaya.

Me at the beach, March 7, 1992.

Left to right: Kristen, me, Kristen’s friend. We’re clowning around in the gardens at the famous Vizcaya, a 1916 Italian Renaissance-style villa (similar to the mansions in Newport, RI).

By the end of the vacation, I felt like I’d been cheated and should have discovered The Doors’ music sooner.

I have many nice memories of that trip—I’d have to say it was one of the most magical vacations I ever had, and I suspect it was because it was the first time in my life I was seriously rebellious in asserting my independence. When I think about that concept, it has an uncanny connection to The Doors as a cultural shift. That period of my life was also three months before I fell in love for the first time and it was a totally devastating train wreck, so conversely, the sun was about to set on the blissful innocence and idealism about love that I’d held since childhood (and you can imagine how much more depth Morrison’s lyrics gained after all of that). It’s why giving away these three books on Morrison is going to be hard, because even if I got them years after that vacation was a distant memory, I associate them with a golden time in my life.

As for No One Here Gets Out Alive, I’m keeping that one. I will more than likely re-read it in the near future.

As for Dad? He never did find out about that trip, and since he passed away in 2008, I’m sure he never will.

I got this at a book sale in the mid-1990s. There is a new edition of this out; you can purchase it on Amazon here: http://amzn.com/0859652467

This is an older edition of this book which I found at a tag sale. What’s really interesting is that someone posted photos of this same edition over on Amazon, and took the time to photograph a couple of pages that were written on in red ink. You can see those images here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/product-gallery/0671210440/ref=cm_ciu_pdp_images_3?ie=UTF8&index=3

If you want to purchase a newer edition of this book, visit here: http://amzn.com/0671210440

This one I bought new shortly after I got back to Rhode Island from the March 1992 Florida vacation—it had just been published a couple of years before, so the bookstores still had it (yes! This was way before the days of Amazon and you still had to buy or order at a book store!) I ate everything in it for breakfast. You can purchase this edition here: http://amzn.com/0679726225


[1] Jim Morrison, An American Prayer. Baton Rouge, LA: Zeppelin Publishing Company, 1983.

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/

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 14–V

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 14: V

Who remembers when V—the first miniseries, not the most recent one—aired on television back in 1983? The two-parter was absolutely the talk everywhere: the Visitors are lizards! Oh, my God, did you see her swallow that guinea pig? How did they do that? A year later, the three-part follow-up, V: The Final Battle, delivered such shocking surprises as the birth of twins—one lizard, one human—and the secrets of the Visitors’ “Conversion” process. V: The Final Battle aired in May of 1984.[1]

I was in middle school, and was tantalized by all the talk in the halls. I wasn’t allowed to watch either miniseries—my parents felt it too scary. By the time The Final Battle aired that October as a lead-in to the ensuing series, though, I was 13 and made it clear that I did not care what they thought and was watching it anyway.

I got caught up on what I’d missed and was hooked. Several friends of mine at school were watching it, too, and soon it became part of our daily lives.

It started with each of us choosing a “role” from the series to play. While I don’t remember exactly who was who, I can tell you that my friend Kristina was Mike Donovan, I was Diana, my friend Sam was Julie, my friend Sue was Elizabeth, and my friend Shannon was Lydia.

Back in the mid-1980s, it was the cool thing to do to pass decorated notebooks back and forth in class: you’d write a note in the book to say something to your friend, pass it to her, she’d either pass it back to you or someone else, et cetera (many of the ones I saw floating around the school were adorned with sticker collections—remember those?) In this way, plans were made, gossip was shared and rumors were spread. We wrote notes to each other not just as ourselves, but as the characters from the series.

Here’s the notebook we had for passing notes in the fall of 1984—before we got into V. You can see the big attractions before V were Hunter and The A-Team, but there are the names or references to several other extinct shows on there—who remembers Paper Dolls? (If you don’t, you can check it out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_Dolls).

Also, you probably can’t see it well in this photo, but part of the cover is cut out (I suspect I moved it to the cover of some other notebook), and if you could read the handwriting beneath the hole, you would see part of the word “Magnum” (for Magnum, P.I.) and part of the world “McCormick” (probably Mark McCormick, from the TV series Hardcastle & McCormick). I got all of the wording and pictures from the T.V. Guide. Yes, for those of you too young too remember, T.V. Guide used to be a decent magazine with lots of cool artwork that enticed you to watch your favorite programs. I found another V Geek who knows this to be true—check out his very cool page here:

http://fantasticflashbacks.blogspot.com/2010/04/v-final-battle-1984-tv-guide-article.html

 

Here’s the notebook we had for passing notes AFTER V became the center of our universe. This notebook was probably from the winter of 1985, because I believe the episode to which the artwork at the center is referring is called “The Champion,” which aired on February 8, 1985—the night I had my birthday sleepover. Part of the party was watching this episode. One of our favorite dialogue exchanges which we quoted often in the halls was one that happens to be cited on IMDB (it truly is a funny piece of dialogue, so I’m not surprised):

Lydia: I’ve never been defeated in mortal combat.

Diana: Idiot. If you had been, you would be dead.

The note-passing gave way to full-blown role-playing. To pass the time until the next episode, we’d role-play, mostly in school at lunch, or in the halls between classes, but if we were at someone’s birthday party or over someone’s house, we’d play there, too. Here are photos of some of us in action (I’m pretty sure my friends are going to kill me, but why not? Click on the photos to see the captions alongside them—it’ll tell you who’s who):

To maintain the momentum, I produced a weekly newspaper (which I did all by hand in colored marker) called The Reptile Republican. I only made one copy of each issue, and it was passed from person to person. There were 25 issues; this is Issue #24. I only have #24 and #25, and thought they were lost to history until I recently reconnected with childhood friend (and Mike Donovan! Ha!) Kristina Hals, who discovered she has the first 23. Considering how much time and effort it looked like I put into these, I’m amazed I was a straight-A student (except for math and gym). And now, here’s Issue 24 in its entirety:


I enjoyed doing Reptile so much I made supplements in between issues. Here’s a card I made, although it’s not clear what it was for (somebody’s birthday? Watch TV this week? I have no idea—I don’t remember):


If you’ve gotten this far, then you’re probably wondering what I’m letting go: six of the eleven paperbacks in Pinnacle Books’ 1984 tie-in series (Tor had a series also, but I never owned or read those). I bought each one as it came out. Here is the full list of titles in the series:

V

V: East Coast Crisis

V: The Pursuit of Diana

V: The Chicago Conversion

V: The Florida Project

V: Prisoners and Pawns

V: The Alien Swordmaster

V: The Crivit Experiment

V: The New England Resistance

V: Death Tide

V: The Texas Run

For some reason, I did not read or own The Alien Swordmaster, The Crivit Experiment, or The Chicago Conversion. I don’t remember in what order these books were published, so I could have missed them, or I could have grown beyond V by the time they hit the shelves. Still, these books were an important part of my escapism. They especially kept me going when I was away from my friends, like on weekends or family vacations.

Left, my sister, right, me, eating gummy worms V-style on our grandmother’s lanai in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 1985.

My brothers, Chip, left, and Chuck, right, eating gummy worms V-style on our grandmother’s lanai in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 1985.

While many fans of the old Friday night V series speak of it with nostalgic disgust, I think it’s true that we often glamorize stuff we watched on TV from our youth, and when we rediscover it in adulthood, we often can’t believe how campy it was. If you’re a V fan who wishes to engage in some of this camp, here you go:

To purchase V: The Original Miniseries

http://amzn.com/B00005B8UD

To purchase V: The Final Battle

http://amzn.com/B000067FP2

To purchase V: The Series

http://amzn.com/B00023BKMC

To watch full episodes of the series online through the WB, visit here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086822/episodes

And now, the tie-ins with which I’ve parted:

Although I wasn’t a big fan of the books that didn’t feature the original characters, I remember liking this one because it was set in Florida.

I don’t think there was any love-interest in this one, although I don’t recall exactly. I just remember waiting for it with the turn of every page and it never showed up. Anyone know if I’m thinking of a different book in the series?


I remember being disappointed in this one. I just didn’t like the characters and wondered why they didn’t just let the Visitors blow Connecticut off the map. I was really hoping for that to happen in the story, and it didn’t. I seem to remember it took place mostly in Boston, but my memory’s fuzzy.

It was a tough decision to get rid of this one. Diana was my favorite character.

There are two that I’m keeping—favorites that are full of highlighting and comments and in the worst shape you can imagine: V and Death Tide. I’ve read those two a few times over the years, and I’m sure I’ll read them again.


[1] In case you’re all wondering? I didn’t care for the new series that debuted in 2009, and here’s why: there weren’t any surprises. We all know they’re not who they say they are—AND we all know everything’s done with CGI. Where’s the magic in that? I made it through the first episode and that was it for me.

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 13—Down in Flames

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 13: DOWN IN FLAMES

A fine writer and friend of mine, Chris Emmerson-Pace, pointed out once that fire is a recurring theme or motif in my fiction.

I’ve always had some sort of strange interest in disasters—mostly firey ones—and I didn’t know why, even as I kept collecting books like Fire in the Grove and The Circus Fire—books that didn’t just sit on my shelf; books I devoured and defaced with research and notes.

Now, though, because of The Goodbye Project, I’ve spent time processing and thinking about why it is I’m attracted to certain things. In the case of disasters, they’re metaphors for situations in life: something grand and beautiful—something light—can always fall into unrecognizable ruins—something dark (it’s probably the same reason I have an obsession with abandoned buildings). One of the most moving passages I’ve ever read which illustrates this appears in Ron Elliott’s Inside the Beverly Hill Supper Club Fire: “I glanced around the garden. At least 100 bodies covered the ground, making it look more like a battlefield than the lovely spot where sparkling fountains, pagodas, and flowers had saluted many a radiant, just married bride’s promenade. How well I could recall their beaming faces’ disclosure of the dreams alive in their hearts. Now the garden hosted the dead, their blank eyes staring unseeing; their dreams tragically and abruptly ended.”[1] Such disturbing eloquence should serve as a reminder that each one of us needs to stop and cherish every single minute we’re here—because the next minute? We may not be.

I don’t think I knew anything about the Hindenburg until I was sixteen. New York Times reporter Leonard Buder lived a couple of miles from me, and I don’t remember how I was lucky enough to get invited to his home one day, but it probably had something to do with my position as the high school columnist for the local newspaper.

I remember him giving me a lot of good advice on being a reporter. But at that time in my life, I didn’t want to be a journalist. I was doing it because Dad said he wouldn’t pay for college for marine biology. So, I’m sad to say I don’t even remember what Mr. Buder’s wise words were. But I do remember something else—our entire discussion about The Hindenburg disaster. And here is where Dali’s Persistence of Memory comes in: I could swear, even to this day, that he pulled out a scrapbook and was showing me old clippings of the great zeppelin in flames, and the pictures were burned into my memory. However, given how he would have been 8 or 9 at the time of the event, I don’t know if this memory is something my mind may have fabricated—the famous photo of the thing going down in flames is everywhere. It’s possible we simply talked about the Hindenburg as a major turning point in media coverage of events, and I made an association later.

It really doesn’t matter, though, because after that I spent some time in the library with the microfilm and microfiche, reading all the material I could find on the disaster and its aftermath.

Over time, my interest in the airship waned—and most of the books I read on the subject I checked out of the library—so there isn’t much in my collection on that subject. In addition, several dedicated, passionate people out there host websites that really should be turned into books—they’re well-researched, well-written, and fascinating. My two favorites are Patrick B. Russell’s Faces of the Hindenburg and Daniel Grossman’s Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins (links to these are below the photos). So in essence, I feel as though I can re-visit trusted sources anytime I might be curious.

Here’s the scoop on what I’m letting go; I’ve put some links to information on the Hindenburg disaster if anyone is interested.

Published by Scholastic, this book is intended for younger readers. I picked it up because I liked the extensive detail of the drawings.

This book featured Hindenburg as the cover art probably because it would be the most eye-catching, but it literally did contain an article on several of last century’s greatest disasters, including some I’m sure have slipped out of our general consciousness, like the 1903 Iroquois Theater Fire and the London Killer Fog of 1952. This book is no longer in print, and I can’t even find a used one anywhere online so I can give you a link—however, there is a book called Catastrophe! The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time, by Stephen J. Spignesi, and that is available from Amazon here: http://amzn.com/0806525584

I was going to ditch this video set, but then discovered it’s not available on DVD, so I’m keeping it—the DVD the History Channel and Amazon have is 54 minutes; this set is 100 minutes on two VHS tapes. To purchase, visit Amazon here: http://amzn.com/B000006DMW

HINDENBURG SITES OF INTEREST

Faces of the Hindenburg

Patrick B. Russell has spent many years building this site, and has conducted painstaking research into the lives of each of the Hindenburg’s passengers to provide in-depth biographies. In many cases, he has had direct contact with the passengers’ kin. He updates this site every time he receives new information—and, earlier this year, he posted an approximate position of each passenger on board at the time of the disaster. This site truly honors those who didn’t survive—and those who did.http://facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com/

Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins

Daniel Grossman has the most in-depth site on airships in general—let alone the Hindenburg—that I’ve ever seen. There are photographs of Hindenburg’s interior, detailed close-ups of the ship’s décor, diagrams, specs on the interior and exterior, a diagnostic of what happened in the last few moments, and more; Grossman has worked closely with historians to provide much of the information (http://www.airships.net/sources). Find the site here: http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/disaster

The Hindenburg Photos: -A Mystery-

Todd L. Sherman found a scrapbook of his grandfather’s that contained photos of the Hindenburg—but a few things didn’t match up. This page details his burning quest to uncover the truth. Why do I like this page? Because I have lots of mysteries in my past like this, too—and I think, so do we all. The coolest thing about this is that other people from all over the world have written to him with bits of information to help him solve the mystery. It’s worth the read; the detail Sherman gives is amazing.http://www.afn.org/~afn42211/genealog/sterner/hindenburg/

Herb Morrison’s Groundbreaking News Coverage on Old Time Radio: Radio Days: A Radio History

James F. Widner has an astounding collection of old time radio broadcasts. To hear Herb Morrison’s radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster as it occurred, visit the link below. The explosion happens just after minute:second  8:30, and the recording seems to skip or miss a couple of Morrison’s words; a fascinating explanation for this also appears on this page (apparently the explosion was so powerful it jarred the then state-of-the-art recording equipment):http://www.otr.com/hindenburg.shtml


[1] Ron Elliott, Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company), 15. Note: this book was reissued in paperback in 2010. Here’s the link in case you’d like to purchase it: http://amzn.com/159652751X

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 12–The Shell Collection

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 12: THE SHELL COLLECTION

My shell collection.

The box in which I kept my shell collection.

Okay, I’ll admit my shell collection wasn’t very impressive: that’s probably because I wasn’t out to collect them, it was more like every once in awhile I’d come across something cool on a beach, someone would give me a shell as a gift, or I’d buy an interesting one as a souvenir from a sea-side vacation. But each shell (or piece of animal, as you’ll see) was also special because after I became an aquarium volunteer I was not only able to identify what which animal it belonged to pretty easily, I knew something about the animal’s biology or behavior. The shell collection, and my interaction with it, was a constant reminder of the excitement I felt as an aquarium volunteer—and was a constant source of inspiration for several of my short stories, among them “Jingle Shells,” “Cancer Moon” (unpublished), “Tooth and Claw” (unpublished), and “Gorlak” (unpublished).

The fascination with shells began, oddly enough, nowhere near a beach. It began in my parents’ dining room way back in the 1970s, when I discovered a dried sea star (back then, I thought “starfish”) they had sitting on their hutch.

The dining room was like everything else in my parents’ house—dark. Growing up in that house was like growing up in a cave. It was dark, it was damp, it was always getting hit by lightning and the bottom floor was always so cold in the winter you could see your breath (oh, and did I mention that we had to spend a lot of time thawing out the frozen pipes using a hairdryer?). If you think I’m exaggerating, feel free to ask my three siblings and they’ll tell you the same thing. It was probably why, once I’d had my first taste of bright, sunny Florida, I never wanted to come back.

As children, none of us was allowed near the hutch. It was full of my parents’ most sentimental, fragile stuff—their wedding cake topper and engraved cake knife set, plates from various states, the crystal wine glasses, the punch bowl, the serving platters, the china, Dad’s childhood poached egg cup—and a nesting doll from the Frisian Islands (Föhr), where my Dad’s father’s family is from.

It was that nesting doll that grabbed my attention, and why I was near the hutch one afternoon when I shouldn’t have been.

Above, my cousin Maryanne holds my brother Chuck, 1974. Look in the background—that’s the hutch. The sea star, which isn’t visible in the picture, was on the first shelf. Some of you might recognize it, because now the hideous thing is in my dining room.

I grabbed the nesting doll and pulled her toward me, and that’s when I noticed the sea star. At first I thought it was a big cookie—it reminded me, for some reason, of those colorful, oversized giant sugar cookies I saw down at a deli near us where we used to go every Sunday to get fresh black ‘n’ white cookies—although I didn’t try to eat it. I shook it, and I could hear little parts or something rolling around inside; it seemed very fragile. At that point, Dad came into the room and asked me what I was doing. I asked him what it was, and he told me it was “a starfish from Florida.”

“It used to be alive,” he said. “It lives in water.”

This made me excited. “Like, down at the beach?” (I was referring to our community’s beach on Candlewood Lake).

“No, they only live in salt water. In the ocean. You won’t see those until we go to Florida again.”

After that, the Forbes’ Common Sea Star (I wouldn’t learn that’s what it was called until many years later, after I started aquarium volunteering) became a symbol of hope. Every time I thought I’m never going to get out of this hole I’d go to the hutch, pick it up in my hands, run my fingers along the creature’s prickly tube feet, and count the days until our next trip to Florida.

Sometime during my adult years, while I was no longer living at my Dad’s, the Star disappeared. In 2008, my father passed away, and I was thrilled to re-discover it. It hadn’t gone far from the hutch—it was just inside it. It had been shoved into a drawer with a menagerie of items that didn’t go together, such as photos, placemats, and remotes for televisions we no longer owned. It also wasn’t in bad condition—only the end of one arm, where the creature’s “eyes” would be, had a small chip in it. I decided to keep it, and took it home.

The Forbes’ Common Sea Star (Asterias forbesi) that was my symbol of hope. I am not getting rid of this; instead, I packed it in bubble wrap and placed it in my childhood keepsake box. I’m very thankful it survived and I’m grateful to have it—and when I rediscovered it, I automatically had some new memories attached to it, like how many kids I’d freak out at the Touch Tank when I’d tell them the story of how a sea star eats: by inverting its stomach into the body of the prey.

That sea star was one of the many items or experiences that contributed to my fascination with the sea and my eventual role as an aquarium volunteer, but my love for it would eventually lead to collecting all kinds of other stuff that, sadly, I just can’t keep. Here’s a little tour of my aquarium adventures and the shells that I am letting go.

My Maritime Aquarium volunteer badge. I started working at the aquarium in late June, 2001; in my tenure there, I logged 1,319 hours. Very often, I’d work all day long both Saturdays and Sundays. I just loved it.

That’s me working the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s Touch Tank, summer, 2001. There were several stations where we could work, but the Touch Tank was my favorite. Here, I was making the spider crab (Libinia emarginata) “sleep” by turning it on its back so the kids wouldn’t be afraid to touch it—actually, it’s not really anything like sleep at all. It’s a defensive pose to ward off predators.. A little-known fact? I was actually TERRIFIED of working the Touch Tank when I first went to work there, BECAUSE of the crabs. True story: I’ve anxious-ambivalently romanced crabs since I was five, when my father had carried me to a Long Island Sound sandbar, set me down, and made his way back to the mainland. “You can do it, Kristi!” he’d called. “Walk to me!” Between us, a submerged field littered with half-buried—but very much in motion—crab claws; I imagined, attached to each indigo, white, bright orange pincer, a salivating beast. Whimpering like a seagull, I’d squinched my eyes closed and walked toward my father’s beckoning gestures. I made it pinch-free, but the experience scarred me, and I possessed a fear of crabs that wasn’t cured until I started working the Touch Tank.

April 5, 2002—I was working an overnight (a camp-type deal in which the kids sleep over at the aquarium) at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Here, I’m talking all about the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus). My favorite stories to tell about this crab involved its instinct (and terrifying) Silurian, Cambrian and Devonian ancestor Pterygotus, which could grow up to nine feet. I had a photo I used to show the kids. If you want to know what Pterygotus looked like and get a sense of its size, here’s a pretty good model: http://bugguide.net/node/view/505441/bgpage. I also liked to show the kids how the horseshoe crab uses its spike-esque tail to flip itself over, and got a huge thrill out of allowing the kids to stick their fingers into the crab’s chelicerae (pincers near the mouth) so they could feel that there was only pressure and not a pinch.

Part of being an aquarium volunteer at Maritime involved working outside events. Above, me and fellow volunteer Judy work the aquarium’s booth at Norwalk’s annual Oyster Festival, September 7, 2002.

In March, 2002, I signed on as a Fishes & Inverts volunteer at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut. I never wore this badge—no one in our department wore badges—because the work was hands on, you crawled around a lot, you were up on ladders over tanks, et cetera. There was just too much danger of it falling off, or getting snagged on something. I logged 207 volunteer hours during my tenure at Mystic.

I was also a member. This is one of the stickers that never quite made it to my car.

In January 2009, I visited the National Aquarium, Baltimore. Set near one of the tanks was the above container—a familiar sight for me, since this was exactly the same system we’d use for storage and distribution of feeds at Mystic Aquarium, even though this clearly belonged to the Education department and not to whatever their F&I department equivalent is. Lettuce is a common feed, by the way—even the fish need vitamins and roughage!

Of course, visiting aquariums is as much fun as working at them! Here’s me in the salt marsh exhibit at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island, June 21, 2002.

Me at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island’s Touch Tank, June, 2003. The girl in pink is my niece, Andi.

A Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata), caught on the beach at Duck, North Carolina (in the Outer Banks), June, 2003. I only kept him for a half hour or so. He was safely returned to the beach with his buddies.

Ghost crabs were always a favorite of mine, and they figure prominently in more than just one scene in an unpublished novelette of mine called Gorlak, which I wrote back in the early 2000s. For fun, I’ve put one scene in which the crabs are prominent here. I’ll just give you this caveat: this has the potential to be a great scene to move the story forward in terms of both escalating danger (plot) and clarifying the issues between Petra and Simon, but in its current state it feels like it’s an outline. I’ll definitely be reworking this entire book when I get to Florida. Still…enjoy!

Gorlak-Chapter 5, Last Scene

It looks like I’m examining a mussel at the New England Aquarium (Boston)’s Touch Tank in October, 2004.

Remember when I talked about my favorite things to do with horseshoe crabs? Here, I’m showing Nathan’s nephew Jakob that there’s no pinch—only pressure—to the crab’s chelicerae. This photo was taken at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, April, 2006.

I know, isn’t this awful? There isn’t just an adult in here, but a baby hooked around the adult’s tail, so look closely. I am not sure what species of seahorse this is—I’d say Potbelly (Hippocampus abdominalis—the most common varieties you will see in aquariums are abdominalis and H. erectus), but not only are the skin markings inconsistent, the shape is a little too classic, especially since baby Potbellies tend to be extremely slim in the middle. If I had to guess, I’d say a Zebrasnout, because although you can’t see it in the picture, if I look at the object itself very closely, the animal appears to have markings consistent with that species. I have no idea how old this paperweight is; my housemate picked it up for me at a tag sale. I am actually NOT getting rid of this—I’m keeping it. Just because it’s the only seahorse-related object I own, and on my first day volunteering at Mystic, they asked me to water change a behind-the-scenes seahorse tank. It was my first time getting a siphon going, and I ended up with a mouthful of seawater. One of the most interesting things about seahorses—besides that the males give birth—is that they have no stomachs.

This is a Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), which you’ll mostly find from Alaska down to Southern California. I bought this at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke in 2003.

This is the endoskeleton of a Brown Sea Biscuit (Clypeaster rosaceus). Sea biscuits are echinoderms, just like sea stars and sea urchins. They are indigenous to the southern North American coast: from North Carolina to Florida, the Bahamas, the West Indies.

This is a variety of “knobby” sea stars, such as the Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus). I remember being thrilled to find this in the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke gift shop in 2003.

I swear, I really DID take a photo of a Chocolate Chip Sea Star in a tank, and I’ve been through all my files and can’t find it. So, I’ll give you a picture of another pretty sea star. This one is, I think, a Cushion Star (Oreaster reticulates). The reason I’m leaning toward Cushion Star is because of the way the knobs on its exoskeleton are not only equidistant, they form a “network” of squares and that’s a dead giveaway for that species. This was taken at Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo & Friends (formerly The Living Seas) Pavilion in Orlando, Florida, in September, 2006.

Clams are, in all fairness, not my forte. So many species are so close to each other in shape that for me it’s tough to sort them out. I’d say this is a Northern Quahog, but the “notch” at the top doesn’t lean the right way, so it could just be a good old Surf Clam. I’m totally guessing, so if anyone knows for sure, please give a shout out.

The glass jar in which I kept the smaller, smellier shells and pieces of animals (God, I opened this, the stink was out of control, even for me, who has no problem with dead fish/animal smells).

While this endoskeleton is commonly referred to as a “Sand Dollar,” it isn’t. Technically, it is a Keyhole Urchin (Mellita quinquiesperforata), although in fairness, it’s more closely related to sand dollars than to urchins. How can you tell if you’re buying one at a shop? Look for the single large “keyhole” toward the middle (if it’s an adult). If you’re looking at a box of really small ones, chances are they weren’t adults yet, and the “keyhole” shape might be filled in.

This is an egg case for a skate—sometimes referred to as a “Mermaid’s Purse.” While skate cases are basically of similar shape, they can be different, depending upon the species. The one pictured here is a Winter Skate (Raja ocellata ) egg case—notice its “olive” coloring and the very long, curled tendrils on either end. You’ll find these commonly washed up on the beaches of New England, but I know for a fact I got this one from Mystic Aquarium because we had that species there at one time. At Norwalk, on the other hand, the types of skates we had were mostly Clearnose (Raja eglanteria). Their egg cases are more toward black in color (think Hefty garbage bags) and are more plump, and the “purse” part of it is shorter in length than the tendrils.

A young Clearnose Skate in the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s nursery area, April 5, 2002.

I have to take a break here and tell you a couple of stories about my experiences with skate cases.

It seemed like—particularly at Norwalk—the skates were always producing them, and most of the time they were empty: nothing in them, so they’d float. On one occasion, I was working an after-hours wedding reception at Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, and the cocktail hour was set up in the Long Island Sound gallery on the second floor near the Touch Tank. The bride came to me, very distraught. She said it looked like the fish in this one tank were dying.

I left the Touch Tank in the hands of the other volunteer, but not before I grabbed the keys to the back-up area for that section of the building, just in case. I had already, at that time, been working for Mystic for a few weeks, so I knew more about intakes/outtakes and how the tanks and filtration systems worked than most of the other volunteers, who were only trained in facts and procedures (why I went to Mystic in the first place—I wanted hands-on experience. I wanted more doing and less talking). The bride led me to the Sandy Bottom tank—this was a tank that contained Clearnose Skates, Weakfish, Flounder.

The Weakfish were listless, some of them listing to the side, a couple resting on the bottom. The gills were still pulsing. That was when I noticed the water had a “soupy” quality to it—it looked thick, almost like how heat waves look coming up off asphalt if it were air we were dealing with.

I knew that had something to do with the water not being aerated properly.

I had to admit I was panicked then, but I told the bride it wasn’t a problem and thanked her for alerting me. Then I took the keys, went into the back up area, climbed the wooden stairs that lead to the top of the Sandy Bottom tank, and was relieved to discover that the source of the issue was right in front of me: without getting too complicated, I’ll just tell you that everything was jammed up behind a bunch of empty skate eggs. I got a net, I removed them, and by the time I left the aquarium a few hours later, the “soupy” water had thinned out quite a bit and the fish looked like they were beginning to recover.

That was one problem with empty egg cases. Occasionally, you did find a full one.

Below in PDF, a section of my journals from that year entitled “Embryonic Mess,” dated April 14, 2002. Enjoy!

Day Before Mystic 04-14-2002

At Mystic Aquarium, it was the Horn Sharks (Heterodontus francisi, I THINK) in tank T-13 (don’t hold me to that, I’m pretty SURE it was T-13, but it’s been eight years now) that were always laying eggs. Above, one I removed from the tank and kept—I pulled about fourteen out of there on that day, more than enough to go around to the education department, etc., and still keep one. Yes, it was empty!

These are egg cases for the Channeled Whelk (Busycon canaliculatum). They are Gastropods (snails), and are usually strung together, so a strand of them is sometimes referred to as a “Mermaid’s Necklace.” From a journal entry entitled “Salt Water,” I wrote about working at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk dated December 5, 2001: The woman stands up. “Yes,” she says, “what is that thing?” I reach in and retrieve the Mermaid’s Necklace. “This,” I say, “is an egg case for a Channeled Whelk, which is a Gastropod – a snail.” I hand her the necklace. “It just feels a little bit like a wet garbage bag. It’s constructed of a high-grade biological protein that the female makes from a gland in her body. What she’ll do is she’ll weave a strand like this and bury it in the sand and then she’ll make each one of these pillows and fill them up with eggs, about 20 to 30. It takes her about 2 hours to make each one of these pouches, and it takes her two weeks to make something about this size, but I’ve seen them bigger.”

I miss those days as a volunteer, and every once in awhile it’s still possible for me to get a taste of that. Provincetown is one of those places where it’s possible.

Here’s some neat discoveries I made on the beach at low tide behind Norman Mailer’s House in Provincetown, Mass, August 14, 2010.

This was the view from Norman Mailer’s back porch in the morning before class started. When the tide is out, it’s possible to walk almost as far as the eye can see. Boats are sitting on the sand, animals are left behind. It’s almost like walking in a Dali painting. But it’s also like walking into a glassless aquarium. On my walk, I ran into some children, and it gave me the opportunity to share some of what I knew about the animals we found—it felt like old times.

The following are all items I picked up walking at low tide in Provincetown, or on the beach in Newport, RI.

PROVINCETOWN, AUGUST 14, 2010

I just photographed this but didn’t pick it up. It’s obviously a clam or mollusk.

This is a Northern Moon Snail shell. There’s a Hermit Crab hiding inside.

The Long-Clawed Hermit Crab (Pagurus longicarpus) in the shell of a Moon Snail. On a couple of occasions at the Maritime Aquarium, I got lucky and saw one of these run out of one shell and into another—basically, moving from one home to another. It’s hysterical—they make a mad dash, and if you blink you miss it.

This is the carapace—actually, when I picked it up it turned out only to the be the “back,” so to speak—of a Lady Crab (Ovalipes ocellatus). This was not a molt; rather, it’s probably what a feasting bird left behind—when I flipped it over there were bits of the animal’s flesh stuck to the underside.

A baby Common Spider Crab (Libinia emarginata). This little male was pretty feisty, but his teeny pincers really couldn’t do very much, so I spent time making fun of him. Trust me, I’ve been pinched by adults plenty of times and it HURTS.

If there was any crab it took me the longest to learn how to handle effectively, it was the super-aggressive Green Crab (Carcinus maenas), a nasty-tempered invasive species that found its way over here from Europe. This one is covered in Jingle Shell Clams (Anomia simplex).

This one is a male. Flipping him on his back like this puts him “asleep.” He won’t be pinching me this way.

See how these Jingle Shell Clams sparkle! Totally cool. However, this crab is displaying its defensive posture. Don’t get too close.

The kids I met on the beach had a red wheelbarrow in which they were keeping their live treasures (they did plan on returning them, they just wanted to “play” with them for a little while). Here in their wheelbarrow, we see the Green Crab (which I put in there for them) in the back corner and an assortment of small gastropods. The two gastropods you can see clearly in this photo are called Shark Eye (Polinices duplicatus).

Here, we see a Hermit Crab hiding in a shell I can’t identify because of the photo (this is a different Hermit Crab than the one I was holding before; one of the kids picked it up and put it in there) and four Shark Eyes lolling about.

Holding the Shark Eye.

Holding our Shark Eyes. I love picking up snails, especially on a hot day. Their “feet” feel cool on the palm of the hand.

The pool in which we found most of our treasures.

Here’s that little Libinia again! I love it! He’s so mad! “Scrappy” is the word I would use here.

These loopy tracks could have been made by the Hermit Crab I found nearby, but it’s more likely they were made by a small gastropod, such as a New England or Mottled Dog Whelk.

An anchor/float for a boat. When the tide pulls out, stuff like this just rests on the sand. It reminded me of something in a Dali landscape, so I took the picture.

This baby female Green Crab is missing a claw.

This female Lady Crab hid as soon as we put her in the bucket.

I stuck my finger in the water in front of the crab, and out came her claws in defense. She is pissed off.

A Lady Crab carapace and two Clearnose Skate Eggs. I found these on the beach on Provincetown on April 4, 2010.

April 4, 2010, Provincetown: I picked up that Lady Crab carapace and cleaned it out so I could keep it, but it was so fragile it broke in half. I kept these pieces in the jar.

Crab claws I found on the beach in Provincetown, April 4, 2010. I’d say these belonged to a Lady Crab, but they don’t seem long and thin enough, and they’re also too long and thin to be from an Atlantic Rock Crab, even though the coloring and pattern for an ARC is consistent. If I had to guess, because of the shape and the fact that they’re uneven, I’d say this is a type of Mud Crab with which I’m unfamiliar.

Several clam shells I kept in the ball jar. Again, clams are a weak point for me (well, other than EATING them!). There are probably a few different species here. If anyone wants to take a stab at identifying all of them, please do. Put some stuff in my comment fields.

This is a common Jingle Shell (Anomia simplex). The inspiration for my short story “Jingle Shells,” which was published in Full of Crow Fiction’s October 2010 issue. You can head over and read that here: www.fullofcrow.com/fiction/2010/10/schoonover/

Shell for the Common Slipper Snail (Crepidula fornicata). I can’t even tell you how many inside jokes there were about “fornicata” in this poor snail’s scientific name. If you’re wondering about that, I’ll tell you: it’s because these snails stack on top of each other and pretty much it’s what they do all day. Larger shells are on the bottom, smaller ones on the top, and if I remember correctly, they can change sexes. I’d have to look it up again to be sure, but that’s what I remember—unless I’m confusing it with something else. I have a lot of facts in my head and sometimes get them mixed up because it’s been so long since I lived and breathed this stuff. I’m surprised I remember all the Latin, to tell you the truth.

This is an older oyster shell, I think. It’s pretty badly damaged. If anybody can tell me what this is and why it looks like this, I’d appreciate it.

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 11–The Easy Bake Oven

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 11: THE EASY BAKE OVEN

The unit itself was tossed out years ago (probably by my parents when I was young and still living with them; I don’t even remember what it looked like)[1], but somehow I ended up keeping all the pieces. When I cleaned out my baking supply cabinet, I found them. I’d forgotten all about them.

Who remembers the Easy Bake Oven? I’m sure many of you do. While the one you had might have looked different from the one I had in the 1970s[2], the fact remains that they all pretty much worked the same[3]—and they all probably defined our adult attitudes toward baking.

My mother loved to bake, and she was good at it. Although she baked many cookies, she was most creative with cakes.

February, 1973: The cake my mother baked for my 2nd birthday.

A Barbie Cake at my local ShopRite, June 2011. While the design for this type/style of cake with the doll in the middle was probably available in some how-to book way back in the 1970s or even earlier, I don’t recall seeing this type of cake available for orders at grocery store bakeries before the last five years or so. Please comment if you know anything about this type of cake or its history.

The Pooh cake my mother made for my brother Chuck’s 3rd birthday, March, 1977. She loved to bake Disney character cakes, mostly because that was what we were into at the time. I wish I had a photo of The Rescuers cake she baked for me one year, but I’ve sifted through all the family photos and haven’t found one.


The angel cake my mother made for my sister Missie’s 1st birthday, March, 1977.

Mom was always baking—when it wasn’t cakes for our birthdays, it was cakes for her friends’ baby showers, weddings (yes, really), and parties; when it wasn’t cakes, it was cookies, especially for Christmas. She’d start at the end of October and bake, literally, day and night—sometimes I’d get up to go to school and it was clear she had been up all night—which was probably something she considered “normal,” since her mother did the same thing (my cousin Maryanne and I swore Grandma had elves helping her, because there were thousands of cookies but never a mess. We also swore she could have robbed banks and gotten away with it, because she didn’t have fingerprints due to the fact she never used oven mitts to pull the baking pans from the oven).

I was always Mom’s dutiful assistant, although I have to admit most of the time it was because I’d wait for her to answer the phone and then shove a glob of uneaten dough in my mouth. She used to tell me my intestines would turn to jelly if I kept doing it, but I’m 40 and as far as I know have not yet developed symptoms of any such thing.

When she considered me old enough (four years old), she bought me an Easy Bake Oven. At first, I loved eating the powder for the cake mixes more than I did baking them—the taste was so distinctly vanilla-malt, like a cheaper version of Ovaltine. But soon I was making tiny little cakes on my own. I was fascinated with the tiny red bowl and how the powder would turn to batter when I added water. And I was fascinated with sliding the pan full of batter in one side, and when it came out the other, I had a cake. Just like Mom’s big oven!

I don’t know how many years I used the Easy Bake, because by the time I was ten, I was baking on my own for real, making cupcakes and cookies and cakes that usually didn’t make it past my family’s kitchen. Soon I graduated to making biscuits to go with beef stew, bread, and pizza dough—and even pies, because every October we had to do something with all those apples we picked at our local orchard. In 1986, my mother passed away, and so the baking of my siblings’ birthday cakes officially passed to me.

The cake I baked for my brother Chip for his 7th birthday, July 6, 1986. I couldn’t figure out how to do a cut-out of Godzilla, but I think I did a pretty good job with the frosting.

I baked these cookies for my friend Susie’s Halloween party in October, 1988. I couldn’t figure out why they came out like huge, soft biscuits instead of sugar cookies. Then I realized I’d been so excited about the party I hadn’t been focused on what I was doing—and used baking powder instead of baking soda. Ooops. My friends ate them anyway.

I don’t do cakes anymore, but I still love to bake cookies. I’ll bake for just about anyone for any reason, in fact.

1997 was the first Christmas in Charles’ house, and the first time in many years I had a huge kitchen in which to create. These were my Christmas cookies that year.

A shot of more of 1997’s cookies. Charles and my friend Manzino helped me frost them. In fact, frosting parties would become a Christmas tradition. They were a lot of fun!

I bake for other holidays as well, but my favorite time of year to bake is the dead of February—usually when I’m snowed in. I bake Valentine’s Day cookies. Sort of.

Have you ever heard the Sting song, “Shape Of My Heart?” (It’s on his 1993 Ten Summoner’s Tales album, which can be sampled or purchased in MP3 format here: http://amzn.com/B000W237L0). If I were hard-pressed to choose a “favorite” Sting song, I’d have a rough time, but “Shape” is probably the closest. For my birthday in 1999, my housemate Charles bought me this book:

The book Charles bought me for my birthday, February, 1999. Sting and Pablo Picasso, Shape Of My Heart. New York: Welcome Enterprises, 1998. It’s part of Welcome Enterprises’ Art and Poetry Series, which pairs a poem with the work of a famous artist in each edition. Want to purchase this? You can at Amazon here: http://amzn.com/0941807207

As you can see, I loved this book so much it became part of my household décor. Here it is on the mantel of our fireplace, where it lived for many years.

It was this book that inspired what everyone calls the Shape Of My Heart Cookies.

My mother had many cookie cutters, and one set she had that I always found rather curious was the four suits from a deck of cards—I don’t ever remember her using them, and I, up until that point, hadn’t ever thought of an occasion to use them either. I’d been a fan of the Sting song for several years at that point, and on one snowy afternoon a week or so after I got the book, I retrieved my Ten Summoner’s Tales cassette (it was 1999) and listened to the song as I flipped through the pages.

If you’re familiar with “Shape,” then you know it uses the four suits in a deck of cards and tells a heartbreaking story. For some reason, I recalled the curious cookie cutters—and I got baking. From an e-mail to the guy I was dating at the time:

…I find a diamond, heart, spade, and club, and remember that my mother used to call the clubs “puppy feet,” and I used to berate her for not looking at the reality of what they were: clubs, which a person uses to beat another. Another glimmering view of her now: puppy feet. She wanted to take a weapon of war and make it into something harmless.

            I roll the dough, I cut, and I put on ONE of my favorite Sting songs, “Shape Of My Heart.” …funny, very few of the heart shapes came out without being broken…but I burn not one…

            …time to frost. I make butter-crème frosting, flavor the white ones (clubs, spades) with almond, and then there is no red food coloring for the red, and I dip into my memory and recall maraschino cherry juice would do nicely as well as give it flavor.

            And I frost the hearts and diamonds with a thick layer of pink, and now the hearts that were broken are harder to tell apart from the ones that were not.

This is that very first 1999 batch of Shape Of My Heart Cookies.

December, 2000: I threw a baking party that year. Several people came by to help us bake and frost. The wine was flowing, so I’m pretty sure we didn’t get as much done as we wanted to!


In 2001, I discovered those everything-in-a-box decorate your own gingerbread house kits. I had always wanted to make my own from scratch, and thought it would be good to get some practice actually putting one together to see if I enjoyed the process first. I did, but not enough to really go beyond the kit. This photo was taken December 9, 2001.

2001 was also the first year we threw “A Christmas Cocktail,” a 1960’s-themed Christmas party (yes, complete with a vintage silver aluminum tree and the color wheel). I baked a LOT of cookies for that party. My friend Manzino (pictured below) came over to help me frost all the cookies for the party.

Manzino and his frosting creations, December, 2001. What I remember most about this night was something he said: “I really think that animals already went through a talking phase and they figured out it doesn’t make any difference. It only adds to confusion. So they decided not to talk anymore. They figured they were better off. So they run around naked with their tongues hanging out all day. But if you look at their faces and into their eyes they have a real Old World look about them, like they’re very wise.” The comment made such an impression on me (I cracked up, actually), that I wrote it down, and it was one of the inspirations for my short story “How I Stopped Complaining and Learned to Love the Bunny,” which was published in Citizen Culture’s Issue 4, Spring 2005 and is now only available at AnthologyBuilder.com (you can find the story for purchase as part of a custom anthology here: http://www.anthologybuilder.com/viewstory.php?story_id=593)

Our aluminum tree with the color wheel. The cookies were on a table right near it during the party.


The plate of cookies as it appeared the night of our first “A Christmas Cocktail” party, December 1, 2001.


Baking is a favorite activity year-round. Here’s what I was working on one afternoon in January, 2002. That was also the year I learned how to make candy penguins. They didn’t come out so well, but maybe in the future I’ll have time to try it again.


The only reason I started baking every Halloween was because someone bought me a bunch of Halloween cake/cookie decorations as a gift. Here’s the first batch of Halloween cookies I made in 2002.

 

When I discovered they had gingerbread house kits for Halloween, I couldn’t resist—in case you didn’t know already, Halloween—or “Poe Season” as I refer to it—is my favorite time of year. Here’s me at work in 2002.


Thanksgiving weekend, 2010: Christmas Cookies. Yes, those are shapes inspired by the movie A Christmas Story. A set of them came in a DVD gift collection. They’re fun to give—especially the leg lamps—but as a baker, I can tell you a marketing person and NOT a baker designed the cutters. They’re flimsy, stick to the dough even when floured, and have way too many small extensions in the shape that make it nearly impossible to get it out in one piece.

Now that I’ve told you about my relationship to baking because of my Easy Bake Oven, here are the pieces that are no longer with me. If you’re a fan of Easy Bake, consider liking the Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Easy-Bake-Oven/102723333341

The paper lunch sack in which the items were stored. I kept them in the corner cabinet with all of my other baking goods.

The mixing spoon.

The rolling pin.


The baking pans for cakes.


Farm animal cookie cutters. I only had three in the bag; I don’t know how many the set came with. Three doesn’t make sense to me—it seems like there would be four, but maybe not. If anyone knows, please drop me a line!


Cookie Cutter #1: I’m not sure, but I think this is a pig.

Cookie Cutter #2: Rooster

Cookie Cutter #3: Horse


The mini cupcake pans.


My favorite piece: the mixing bowl.


[1] I have a vague notion that mine was probably the avocado green one that was manufactured by Kenner in 1970—the pieces on the box match the ones I have. You can see what that one looked like here, at the National Toy Hall of Fame’s online collection: http://www.thestrong.org/online-collections/nthof/alpha/easy-bake-oven/104.1201

[2] Hasbro has a neat little write-up on the Easy-Bake’s History:http://www.hasbro.com/easy-bake/en_US/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=1803 The oven was also adopted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006: http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/easy-bake-oven  — ironically, the same year that Hasbro, the company that now makes the ovens, had to issue a recall due to risk of burnt fingers (just Google “Easy Bake Oven 2006,” there are tons of articles on the subject).

[3] Shocking, but true: “Even the Easy-Bake Oven must lose its light bulb”http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/02/25/6131341-even-the-easy-bake-oven-must-lose-its-light-bulb

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