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Friday, September 25, 2015

My Most Memorable Childhood Book


Earlier this month I reported on the book that changed my life, Wayne Dyer’s first book, Your Erroneous Zones. Today I will tell of the book that made me enjoy a bit of history when I attended grammar school. I wish I could say that I continued to enjoy history after reading that memorable book, but few teachers taught it the way Robert Lawson did in the 1951 edition of Ben and Me: A New and Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin as written by his Good Mouse Amos.

When I was in the fourth grade back in the 1950s, the building predated me by some thirty or more years. The wood in the steps, paneling, and floors emitted a specific scent. When I smell old lumber today, I’m transported back to my first years in school. I can almost hear and smell the hiss of the old radiators under the large windows that sported wavy glass.

Let me digress and discuss wavy glass, sometimes called cylinder glass, a typical glass manufactured and used in buildings in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To make cylinder glass, a glassworker blew a large tube of glass. After cracking the glass off the blowpipe, the glassworker cut off the ends and slit the tube down one side. From there the sheets of glass were put into an oven, where they wilted and unfolded into a flat sheet. The result was glass with imperfections and bubbles, and if you looked through the glass and shook your head a little, objects in the distance jiggled and bobbed.

As a child I did not like school. History lessons struck me as the worst of the bunch. During lectures I distanced myself, gazed through the wavy-glass windows, nodded my head, and made trees in the distance dance and quiver.

I might not have learned a thing, if not for the school library.

Once a week the teacher released us from the classroom and gave us an hour to spend in the old library downstairs, where the aroma of wood mingled with the bouquet of paper and glue emitted from hundreds of hardback books. My sister Sandi, two years older than I was, had read and recommended Ben and Me, so I searched for it in the musty library, found it, and checked it out.

That book changed my perspective. First, I loved animals, so a book written from the point of view of a mouse appealed to me. Next, it opened history to me in a way I had never before experienced it. For the rest of my educational experience, though, I hoped to find something that would make history come alive as much as that book did. Only as an adult, when I travel to places I studied in school, do I feel history finally come alive again the way it came alive to me when I read Ben and Me.

When I talk to people born after me, Baby Boomers and others, I hear their favorite childhood books were fantasy or horror stories that entertained them but did nothing to teach them anything. What a shame! When I read Ben and Me, instead of going into some fantasyland that could never happen in real life, I learned about an important man in history and an era in America that actually took place.

I looked on Amazon today and was not surprised to see that Ben and Me has been re-released many more times since 1951 and is still in print. Way to go, Robert Lawson, Benjamin Franklin, and Amos!


Friday, September 18, 2015

A Truly Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday (September 18). My father used to say, “When you’re past fifty and nothing new hurts when you wake up, it’s a good day.” Nothing new hurt this morning, which means it will be a good day. Heck, every day is a good day in one way or another, although sometimes I have to search to find it. I usually need only a few seconds. You see, I am a happy person; it’s my nature to be positive. Yes, things hurt, and almost every day it’s something new. My philosophy, though, is that everything is temporary, and pain is too; at least it has been for me, thank goodness. I do know people who live with chronic pain, and I have sympathy for them, but I am determined that all my pains will be temporary.
Another philosophy of mine that gets me through many a difficult situation is that “If money can fix it, it isn’t a problem.” Yes, my air conditioner, furnace, stove, fridge, computer, or you name it always dies at the worst possible moment and sometimes puts me in a financial bind, but money can fix the problem, so soon it is not a problem at all. In contrast, the loss of one’s health or one’s loved one is a loss nothing can fix. I’ve lost many a loved one, but here I am, surviving every loss and setback

I know it sounds odd, but an acquaintance of mine once broke off our friendship because of my positive attitude. Her last comment to me was that I was not being honest or authentic, because I was always happy. She was a therapist who listened to problems all day long, and she often vented her own problems to me over lunch or dinner. Her “problems” involved disliking the color of the paint on her walls, resenting that her daughter’s mother-in-law got to see their grandchild more often than she did, faults she saw in the men she was dating or not dating, issues with her body image, and more. I watched her buy house after house, moving from place to place, trying to find her happiness, but of course nothing worked. Instead she complained. Eventually she complained about me. She said that if I were authentic, I would tell her what was wrong with my life.
Wrong with my life? I could find nothing wrong. I have followed a career path that I love. I have loving siblings and relatives and a few dear close friends. I live alone and love my privacy, yet I have experienced true love. Neither of my marriages worked for long, but good things came from both, including a handsome, intelligent son who practices veterinary medicine near D.C. and is married to a woman I love as if she were my own daughter.

I have accomplished almost all my goals. When I was in high school, for example, I knew that I wanted to write for a living, and eventually I wanted to write a book that would live on after me. In the 1960s I did not know the subject of the book or how I would get it published, but I have now written several books, sold one to a traditional publisher, and self-published others. The ones about creative writing go a long way toward helping fellow writers, and helping others makes me feel even better about achieving that goal.
When I was in my twenties and a young mother, I longed to travel. I used to say that I wanted to see Venice before it sank and the Grand Canyon before it filled back in. Now I have been to both places—Venice twice and the Grand Canyon three times.

Today I have traveled the world, but I have not yet seen it all. In fact my sister and I have planned two big trips for 2016 together. In the spring we are going to take a ten-day river cruise and see the Netherlands and Belgium during tulip time. In the summer we will tour through the Canadian Rockies together for another ten days.

I look back over my accomplishments and realize I would be impressed by someone who has achieved all that I have. I have been self-supporting for most of my life. I started my own business, Zebra Communications, and it has supported me since 1992. I bought a house all by myself without knowing what my income was going to be from my then-new business, yet I paid off the mortgage in sixteen years. I found someone to customize my brand-new Honda and turn it into a zebra car, and I drove that sweet automobile that I called Zebadiah for twenty-four wonderful years.
I find my work fascinating, as if I solve an interesting puzzle every time I tackle a manuscript, and best of all, my work helps fellow writers. I get to speak at conferences and meetings for writers, again helping them on their path.

Recalling when our family used to bowl together when we kids were young, I talked my brother and sister into bowling together, once we all landed back in the same area for the first time as adults. For some fifteen years or more, now, we have bowled together at least once a week and sometimes twice a week, enjoying love, laughter, and lunch, too.
I feel fulfilled. I smile often, even when I’m alone.

Oh, and about nine years ago I rescued a parakeet that landed on my deck starving and shivering. Today a plump and healthy Bruce Bird sings delightful tunes in my home every day. Shortly after rescuing Bruce Bird, I took in a dog that had been in the wrong home, and today he is a loving companion who adores being cuddled.

Most recently I've been writing my relationship memoirs, because my encounters with the opposite sex have been funny, odd, unusual, sometimes sexy, but always plentiful. Although my book proposal has met with a few rejections, I learn something with each one. The latest said there may not be a market for my book. Hm. How do you find out if there is a market for a book? You start a blog and see if people want to read what you have to say. A couple of weeks ago I started a blog with the working title of my book, Neurotica. See, and I hope you will sign up to follow that blog to see more stories when I post them.
Many people have read my new Neurotica blog entries and said they love my stories, and I have dozens more to write. The encounters in the blog may not appear in the book, because the book covers relationships with more depth, but if people like my stories, they will buy the book. Yes, there is a market, and I will prove it. If no publisher wants to invest in my newest book, I will self-publish it. I am a writer, and I will not be daunted or thwarted.

I have food, shelter, warmth, love, something interesting to do, and something to look forward to. Yes, happy birthday to me.
Happy every day to me!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Book That Changed My Life: A Tribute to Wayne Dyer

Wayne Dyer, the world needed you. I needed you. I am sorry you left this earth this week, but you left a legacy that will never die.
I was in my late thirties when I read your first book, Your Erroneous Zones. While I can’t recall the details, it opened my eyes to the things that were wrong in my life, the reason I could not find the inner peace and happiness I wished I could feel. Your wisdom taught me that I was the only barrier to my success and happiness. No longer did I have to wait for something else to come along that made me happy; I had all the ingredients at my fingertips and in my heart. 

Once I began applying the principles I learned in your book, my relationships began to shift. Some transformed for the better; some changed for the worse. My husband complained that while he had not changed during our fourteen-year marriage, I had, and in ways he did not appreciate. Of course he did not appreciate that I no longer acceded to all his demands. No longer did I let my husband dictate every decision made in the household. Thanks to you, Wayne Dyer, I accepted that I had the right to make decisions that affected my life. I deserved to be happy. Of course my husband, who had previously been in complete control of everything in the household, did not like to see my transformation. When I look back on that era, I should have laughed, instead of suppressing anger, when my husband turned my copy of Your Erroneous Zones into a used-book store for a few dollars' worth of credit. “You already read it,” he said. My husband bypassed passive and went straight for the aggressive. Oh, yes, he knew where my new strength and courage came from. It came from your wisdom, Wayne Dyer.  

Divorce eventually became inevitable, and it turned out to be one of the best things that could happen. At last I was free to pursue my own interests, make my own friends, and even find my own spirituality.  

How interesting that at the same time I began exploring and discovering my own spirituality and beliefs, you, Wayne Dyer, did the same, and again you wrote books that spoke to me and gave me even greater insights. Your meditations became my meditations.  

I felt greatly honored to have seen you speak. I walked up to you afterward and introduced myself. I was just another person among your minions, but I was so excited to meet you that I forgot to take a picture of you, even though I’d been careful to bring a camera. 

Wayne Dyer, you are over the rainbow now, on to your next adventure, and wherever you are, I know you will have a blast. Back here on earth your legacy—your many books and recordings—will continue to enlighten, empower, and free millions of people.  

Way to go, Wayne!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I Am a Writer, Damn it!

     Today a friend told me how she woke up with an idea buzzing around in her head, and she simply had to write it out as a story. She seemed surprised by the incident.
     I responded, “You’re a writer.”
     Why is it so hard for us to accept the simple truth that we are writers? We writers wake up with lines in our heads that we simply must write down, even if only in a journal, a text message, or a Facebook post.
     We also see situations we don’t understand and create backstory that explains everything. For example, we might see a Korean woman with a small child of mixed race, and we can imagine she met her husband when he was in the service, and despite the fact that both their families were against the relationship, they married and gave birth to a stunning child with slanted eyes and light brown skin, straight black hair, and petite hands and feet. The grandparents all fell in love with the child, who then healed both families and brought all the relatives together in a loving relationship. Well, one can always hope that if a relationship starts out rocky it can still end up with a happy conclusion, anyway.
     Next we might spot a twenty-something man with a black eye, and our minds instantly conjure up situations that might have brought the fellow into a collision with someone’s fist, even though the guy might really and truly have simply walked into a door left half open in the dark.
     Writers write. It’s what we do. If we don’t write with pencil, ink, type, or computers, we write in our heads. If someone cut open our scalps, words would pour out. We are writers. We need to own the fact, be proud of the fact, and keep writing.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sleep Deprivation, Jet Lag, and Writing

On the good side, I recently took a lengthy vacation and flew across the pond to Greece for the first time. On the bad side, the trip required that I get up early one morning, travel all day, and arrive where the time zone was eight hours ahead. As a result, I did not get to go to bed for almost a full twenty-four hours. I thought I felt fairly good under the circumstances. I could sense my excitement rising while I attended an orientation session followed by an evening bus ride into the city center of Athens and then a long walk deep into the old town for my first authentic Greek dinner, accompanied by Greek music and dancing. The fact that it was noon on my body clock and I had been up for nearly twenty-four hours did not seem to affect me. After dinner our group trekked back down through the steep, winding cobblestone streets to climb aboard our bus for a return to our hotel around ten thirty at night for what I thought would be blessed sleep. Wide awake (I thought) from the excitement and exercise, I sat down in my room to write an e-mail or two and play Scrabble and another a word game called Ruzzle, which I find addictive.

To my surprise I discovered myself making huge errors and also being far too slow at the Ruzzle game, losing round after round, until I realized I was a victim of exhaustion, even though I felt fine. The Ruzzle game became my gauge. As my exhaustion and jet lag abated over the next few days, I saw my Ruzzle scores rising back to normal, an interesting phenomenon indeed.

Upon my return to America two weeks later, I went through the same process, after being up for twenty-three hours and once again out of the time zone I had grown acclimated to.

I wondered about how exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and jet lag can affect our writing skills. I’m sure that it affects my reflexes and logic. I know I work best in the mornings, but by evening my enthusiasm, concentration, and logic go on vacation, and I need to rest and revive myself. Obviously the same holds true if I get too much excitement and not enough sleep.

We writers need to stay aware of exhaustion levels and our best times to write, and we must schedule time accordingly. Vacations are great, and I’m filled with terrific memories and more than 600 new photographs, but I was in no way a worthy writer after climbing hills and steps and cobblestone streets in southern Europe. No, I had to get home, get my sleep, and return to my routine before my writing passion and ability returned.

Fellow writers, to sum up my observations in a groaner of a simile, like a good pencil, we writers must all stay sharp.

Oh, and here's some terrific news: the second edition of Write In Style is finally available. After the first edition sold out, writers across America, Canada, and Australia begged me to re-release the book, but I needed first to update the old 2004 version. The 2015 edition is bigger, better, up to date, and indexed, as well. Find your fresh voice with the advice in Write In Style: How to Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing. Just click here:


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Falling Prey to a Commercial

I fell prey to a commercial that made my mouth water, and I have learned my lesson. Little Caesar's bacon-encrusted deep dish pizza spoke to me yesterday when dinnertime came, not only because of the mouth-watering image on TV, but also because I had nothing prepared to eat.
A red flag rose when I called in my order and was told it would be ready in only ten minutes. By then I had already committed and even given the unenthusiastic phone operator my name, so despite my misgivings and my concern about how a good pizza could possibly be prepared, baked, and boxed in ten minutes, I drove about a mile to pick up my order.
I rarely eat pizza, so I don't know why the urge overcame me, but bacon. Really. Bacon, and also deep dish. I remember marvelous deep-dish Chicago-style pizzas when I was living in Charlotte. Back in the 1970s I would drive across town to Liberty Pizza to get a deep-dish pizza crammed full of tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and pepperoni piled atop a deep-red sauce and crowned with thick, gooey, tasty cheese. I had that image in mind when I went to Little Caesar's for the first time in about 25 years. Yes, I had a vague recollection that the chain’s pizza 25 years ago was edible, but that was about it. Now, though, those commercials enticed me. Crispy-bacon-encrusted deep-dish pizza. My mouth couldn't wait to taste it.

When I reached the store in less than ten minutes, the pizza was ready already. How could it be? They must really throw those things together, I decided, until I saw a worker behind the counter pull another pizza out of a microwavable dish, and the realization hit me. Of course! No wonder I couldn’t order anything extra on my pizza that wasn’t listed on the menu on the Internet. These things are not made to order; they are premade and warmed a microwave, Ugh.

Again, I had already committed. They had my name, and I was standing in the store, so I asked for my pizza. A clerk who looked everywhere but at me mumbled some price I could barely hear and stared over my head while I dug out my money. Expressionlessly she pulled my change from the cash register and counted it out to herself, not me. She was someplace else entirely, possibly gaming on a yacht in Monaco, but certainly not counting change at a counter at Little Caesar’s Pizza. She turned to a warming shelf, pulled out a box that held my pizza, opened the box for my inspection, and looked over my shoulder while I viewed something that looked more like a burned sponge than a luscious bacon-encrusted deep dish pizza. I had committed to it, though, so I nodded, she closed the box, and I drove home. The worst was yet to come.

When I bit into the pizza, I felt texture--crispy bacon, soft bread-like deep-dish crust, and that was about it. Where was the sauce? Where was the cheese? Where was the taste?
It had pepperoni and some shards of things that were a bit tangy but unrecognizable scattered on top, little chips that mostly fell off when I lifted the pizza slice (if you can call a rectangle a slice).

The pizza had texture but no taste, no moisture, and no appeal. Even the crispy bacon that surrounded the pizza had very little bacon taste, probably the result of having been cooked much earlier and simply reheated when I placed my order.
Will it be another 25 years before I again buy a Little Caesar’s pizza? No, I think it will be more like never again. I will fast-forward past the pizza commercials when I see them again. Meanwhile, I still have a box full of pizza left over. Maybe if I add tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, ground beef, real cheese, and red sauce, the pizza will become edible.
Maybe not.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Words and Music

I feel moved by Truman Capote's quote, "To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the music the words make." I often listen to the music of words and revel in their rhythm. Last night, for instance, I fell asleep thinking of Little Orphan Annie. That's it, just the title, Little Orphan Annie. Three words, six syllables, with the accent on the first syllable of each word. Such rhythm! No wonder the title was catchy.

 Titles with rhythm stay in readers' minds. We need to think in terms of rhythm when we title our stories, books, and plays. Prose writers who keep rhythm in mind add a subtle creativity to their writing that does not stand out, but quietly, in the background, forms a masterful, musical composition of words.

 As an example of an extreme, however, years ago a woman attended one of my workshops, and afterward she handed me a sheet of paper and said, "I don't know what I've written. What would you call this?"

 The page consisted of about six paragraphs that described the author's feeling about life. The piece had such inherent rhythm that I said, "This is pretty prose, but break this into lines, and you've written an outstanding poem."

 "I'm a poet?" She looked surprised, startled, and proud.

 Instead of being consciously concerned about the accents on syllables, strong prose writers add rhythm to their work by adding a little alliteration here and there, plus changing up the lengths of words, sentences, and paragraphs. With a combination of lengths, the prose forms a natural rhythm. An occasional one- or two-word sentence adds spunk to writing. The infrequent long sentence adds intrigue and sometimes mystery, in the same way. Rats! I wish I could write that way.