Author: sub524

On Acorns and Tornadoes

On Acorns and Tornadoes

It’s finally Fall here in Dallas. The trees were green one day, and the next they were not. A few stalwart sweetgum trees changed colors, but most just went yellow then brown, their leaves fluttering down as if the trees couldn’t wait to be shed of them. The live oaks are a different story. They keep their leaves but aggressively hurl their nuts to the ground. They land like miniature grenades with great POWS, slamming earthward in a final statement of intention. These are not the adorable little acorns that come off of regular oak trees, with cunning little caps and round cheeks. No, the live oaks mean business. They sport huge, pointy lethal weapons meant to carry on the line. They are survivalist trees that endure scorching hot summers, no rain, and then bitterly cold winters. They have no reservations about bombing you with their fusillade of ground-penetrating nuts. The squirrels busily dodge about collecting them and then bury them to eat later. It occurs to me that whole forests have been grown by squirrels forgetting where they buried their nuts. At any rate, if squirrel activity is anything to go by, it’s going to be a cold winter this year.

In East Tennessee where we lived for 10 years, you could ostensibly tell if it was going to be a cold winter by looking at wooly caterpillars. The wider the band in the middle of the “wooly bear” – not to be confused with the actual bears that live in the forested mountains nearby – the harsher the winter. Texas is altogether different state, and doesn’t seem to have any decent animal prognosticators, four-legged or no-legged, squirrel activity notwithstanding. We rely on the weatherman. I don’t envy him his job. It’s just brutally hot for months on end, then you get to mid-November and its blazing hot one day and then cold for the next three months, with perhaps two nice fall days as a placeholder between.

The squirrels don’t want to be bothered as they stock in their winter food supply. They taunt my dog as we walk, letting her get thisclose before scurrying up a tree. They’ve been going the extra mile this year. One intrepid squirrel took advantage of my October squash display outside our door which I’d left out for another month since they are equally good as Thanksgiving decorations. The squirrel latched onto an ugly, nobby squash and dragged it to the edge of our porch and allowed it to defenestrate itself to the sidewalk below and, well, squash open. It left a tell-tail trail of weeping squashy insides to the bushes where the little rodent had its feast. I don’t mind actually. I like creatures in general, even if they are rats in disguise just squirrels, and can certainly share my porch decorations.

While discussing the weather here in Dallas, I cannot leave out the sudden arrival of not one but ten tornadoes here one evening a few weeks ago. The largest of them skipped along quite close to us, about a half mile north, leaving behind a swath of destruction. It came on quite suddenly, which seems to be a theme with the weather here in Texas. Fifteen minutes prior to the tornado warning sirens going off, the dog and I had been enjoying a balmy evening walk. There was a bit of sheet lightning way off to the east, but nothing that said a tornado was coming, let alone ten of them. Having grown up in Kansas, which is a whole ‘nuther kind of weather place that has notable and dramatic storms, I’m knowledgeable about what to do when a tornado siren goes off. I’m also the generation that learned how to hide under our desks with our arms over our heads to protect us from the nuclear bombs about to drop when these same sirens sound, so, you know, I respond with alacrity when one goes off.

My alacrity in this case was in the form of dragging my college-aged son outside to prove to him that, yes the sky does turn green when there is a tornado nearby. This no doubt earns me a nomination to the Darwin Awards of parenting (however I shall lose to the man who put honey on his child’s hand so the bear would come closer for the photograph. There are degrees of dumb). In my defense, I’d been politely eye-rolled and mmm-hmmm’d about this green-sky thing for years, and the ability to prove myself right was irresistible. I carpe diem’d and grabbed a teachable moment. We stood outside on our balcony as the wind gathered steam with enthusiastic whirling gusts. A good burst of lightning revealed an emerald green sky laced with towering black clouds. Truly emerald green, not just the muddy bruised green the sky turns when there is still time to get to the cellar. This was an alarming green, a this-sucker-is-right-on-top-of-us sort of green. We dashed inside and hustled into the bathroom (no basements in Texas) to ride out the storm with my husband and our dog.

Later, seeing the damage the storm had inflicted, I felt chastened. It’s dumb to go outside during a tornado warning, as the things are so unpredictable and can level buildings in just moments. The whirl could have easily sucked us up into the vortex like Dorothy or chucked a roof at us. Acorns slammed down like good poetry are dangerous, but nothing to the full-on unpredictable rage of a tornado. Maybe I should re-think my idea that fall is my favorite time of year. Or invest in a helmet.

 

Photo by me shows the lovely little capped acorn surrounded by the lethal ones.

 

On Self-Publishing a Book and Gigging on Fiverr

On Self-Publishing a Book and Gigging on Fiverr

Being able to claim “published author” feels great. I’m over the moon about having my book up on Kindle and in a “real” paperback version. I keep going into Amazon and staring at the page they’re on. I even bought a copy to put on my own Kindle and am burbly (yes I know that isn’t a word, but it describes exactly what it feels like: half bubbly, half incomprehensible babbling) when flipping to it and reading my very own words in justified Garamond font flowing along.

Choosing to self-publish came with the understanding that there’s a certain amount of accompanying tarnish. That perhaps it’s a lesser  form of publishing. After all, there was no querying or submitting to agents and publishing houses involved. Amazon is happy to publish anything you want to write, as long as you meet their guidelines. They even give you a sixteen-page manual about how to format your book so it can become a paperback as well as an eBook. More about that terrifying manual in a bit.

I thought long and hard about how I wanted to publish my book. The rule-follower part of me wanted to go the old-fashioned traditional way of being rejected 47 times and use up three years of my life to perhaps find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unconventional author starting their authoring career at the ripe (some might even say stinky) old age of nearly-58. I even imagined boxing up manuscripts with string and brown wrappers the really old-fashioned way. No one does it like that anymore. You could make the case that I was making this choice even harder to justify my eventual course of action.

Truth is, I just wanted to have the book out there in the world. Since I’m donating half my proceeds to animal rescue and no-kill shelters, the hope is that it sells jillions of copies. I also hope to get to go do a book signing tour and hug people and let them know they too can get through the thing they are going through and no you don’t have to be graceful or smart to do it, you just have to keep trying and after a while the tries end up looking something like forward movement. So hey, book me. (Ha, no pun intended.)

There are some things I recommend you do if you’re thinking about self-publishing. First is that yes, you need an editor who can point out not only grammar errors and where commas don’t belong, but will also ask you things like, “Will your readers want to keep going after they read this part?” Pam my wonderful editor asked me that one, and my initial toad-like response was to puff out my cheeks and think, “well of course they will, don’t you know who I am?” Not out loud of course, I kept my snarky to myself. Irritated, I put the manuscript with the offending question in a drawer and stewed about it for a month. My excuse was that it was the holidays and I had to focus on baking and having my kids home. Pam was right – your editor is nearly always going to be right. In January I did a re-write specifically with the reader in mind. That was great advice. The other great thing about booking Pam was she had only a narrow editing slot she could fit me into, so it gave me deadlines. I recommend deadlines too.

Once you’ve written “The End,” the fun part begins for a self-publisher. You go to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and stare at their exuberant “how to” content for a week or so. Uploading the manuscript for the eBook was simple, even though I had lots of photos to insert. The paperback version was much harder. Lots of steps and requirements. If you’ve ever put together a serious piece of Ikea furniture with lots of fiddly bits and instructions that seem simple until you try to do them, you’ll know what prepping a manuscript for paperback publication is like. It took me 7 hours. I did it wrong three and a half times and nearly erased my whole document once. Word backups are key. You can’t fix a PDF, so be sure you have your trusty malleable Word .doc version so you can go back and try again. And again.

During the process, I learned that my Word program does all sorts of things besides be a glorified typewriter. That Styles scroll does a lot and ends up giving you a TOC (Table of Contents) automatically. That was cool. Layout and Inserting are very handy. Still, making sure my ‘front material” was correctly formatted was tough, as was figuring out page mirroring and how big my gutter should be. (I know, I’m chucking around all these terms, it may be just a teeny bit of showing off. I’ll stop now.) I wanted to get fancy and put in “drop caps” where the first letter of each chapter is bigger than the rest of them, but it eluded me. At 2am I pushed the glorious “Publish” button. And so, just shy of two years post-trauma, “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” became a real book.

The other fun thing I’ve been doing on the sly besides finishing the book is gigging on Fiverr. I love that word, gigging. Makes me feel all Millennial with aspirations of hip-ness. What’s Fiverr, you ask? It’s an online clearing house for getting things done by freelancers. You can find people to do graphic design, build your website, do illustrations, edit your paper, heck even do research for you. The term “Fiverr” comes from the idea that most of these gigs are offered at prices starting as low as $5. The site is the safe connector between buyer and seller. I have a seller “gig.” I will read and do coverage and/or coverage and notes for your screenplay. It’s been up since November, and it’s fun. The writers I’ve helped have been creative and passionate. I love being of service, and consider the gig to be a way to give back. No, I don’t make anywhere near the $$ I made doing the same work in Hollywood, but I get to help people develop their dreams, and that feels really good. Part of my healing process.

I had my book cover done by another seller on Fiverr. I’m happy with the result that arrived about 48 hours after I asked for it, and made sure to give the designer full credit in my “thank you” section. Now to be fair, there is a valid “Fiverr is bad” argument. That people on there are usually undervaluing their work (true). That there is a cut-throat atmosphere of low-balling offers to get people to buy (not that I’ve noticed, but then I’m doing an odd service). The site does take 20% as its cut, which is steep. Up side is that if you want to make a little extra money, don’t mind waiting a couple of weeks to get paid, and are good at something, you can earn a bit of cash and maybe help someone too. And you get to sound hip because you are gigging.

You can find my eBook or Paperback here

For coverage/notes on script click here

On Bridges and Reunions

On Bridges and Reunions

A graceful bridge connected the Art Institute and the Children’s Theatre to the parking lot where our parents would wait for us, car engines running to keep either cool or warm, depending on the season. The bridge was artfully shaped, its high arch over the stream below reminiscent of something you’d find in a Japanese garden. It was lovely, but in cold weather during the space between drop off and pick up, that bridge would ice over to a black glossy finish that promised broken limbs if not navigated with care.

Those of us getting out of classes or rehearsals would gather our courage, grasp the wooden rails on the side of the bridge and haul ourselves up one side, slipping every step of the way, hoping that our little grade-school arms would hold up to the task. At the apex, we’d turn backwards and lower ourselves down the other side, sliding from rail-grasp to rail-grasp. There was always that show-off kid who’d Kamikaze it, running up the middle and if they made it intact to the top, shoot down the other side like a snowboarder before that sport was invented. The sides of the bridge were open so the opportunity to fall into the stream below was always present. No one got injured beyond a bruised hip or rear-end as a result of that passage, but it always took a burst of courage to make the crossing.

I was reminded of that process a few weeks ago when I attended my reunion at Northwestern University outside of Chicago. It’s the second college reunion I’ve been to. I haven’t been to any of my high school ones yet, but am contemplating going to the big one coming up next year. It doesn’t seem like forty years since I graduated from high school but hey, time flies when you’re having fun. Or when you’re living life. I’ve moved through the weird time when teen anthems graduate to “oldies” stations, become nostalgic movies, or get remastered into elevator music. If you haven’t had that particular jarring experience, just wait. Winter is coming.

What I loved about this particular reunion was that everyone I reconnected with could not have been nicer. It was such a good time. Part of it was good housing planning. Two of my best gal pals and I stayed at a VRBO down in Andersonville instead of jamming into an overpriced hotel. The Andersonville area was dicey when I lived in Chicago in the early eighties, but it’s great now. We each had our own room and bathroom, which is important as you age up. We ordered in deep dish spinach pizza from Giordano’s like you’re supposed to when in Chicago. I didn’t care that my one-time best friend cheese has declared war on my innards now that I am of an age to attend reunions in the double digits; that was some damn fine pizza. We invited local friends over to join us, and later met other friends for brunch at a funky little breakfast place. We laughed a lot, and if you were observing us you’d want to be at our table.

I’d been nervous about seeing people again at the soiree for just our class. You know, comparing myself and finding myself lacking in some arena. It was unfounded fear. No one had anything to prove. Life had sanded off our edges. We were who we were. It’s relaxing about being around people who’ve become comfortable in their own skin. We traded stories about life and kids, ex-spouses, and favorite vacation spots. We relived moments from our college years. All of us were glad there was no social media back then recording the crazy things we thought were good ideas at the time.

A couple of universal truths emerged in those chats. The first was that without exception, terrible loss, a shock to our world view, or a bad health scare had taken our lives sideways at some point. We’d muddled through with varying degrees of grace, and now shared a wow-you-too? bonhomie. The second was that everyone had experienced at least one major career change. Very few saw it coming. A surprise ‘third act’, one substantively different from the vision we had traipsing the hallowed halls of NU all those years ago. For me, it’s writing books. Another friend became a hypnotherapist. One was voted president of a huge condo association in NYC. A poly-sci major turned into an urban engineer. A journalist turned psychologist. Story after story told without rancor or bitterness, of forging new paths and learning new skills, embracing the idea that there’s MORE to be explored even if we are past the half-way point in life.

 

I came away so impressed with my college friends — who they are willing to transform themselves to be. I don’t think this is limited to our particular university. It occurs to me that ours was the last generation who had music and art and gym hard-wired into our school schedules from kindergarten through high school. We had lots of recess and plenty of free time to play outside, mostly unsupervised. We pulled ourselves over icy bridges with nary a parent jumping from their warm cars to help out. I wonder if our third-act resilience, the ability to get up after a serious upper cut to the chin and head in a new direction was made possible as a result of those non-STEM classes building an out-of-the-box thinking ability. That the courage we found at ten to get over the icy bridge led to having the fortitude to embrace a third act with tenacity and confidence. Something to think about.

 

On Jolts and Strengthening the Core

On Jolts and Strengthening the Core

Tragedy comes jaggedly. It jolts you into a new awareness of the life around you. Just minutes before you were bumbling along in the usual manner, easily disturbed by trivialities – a cart in the checkout at the grocery store with more than fifteen items in it, a driver who didn’t signal to move in front of you. An unkind word. An unexpected bill. Then the jolt of tragedy, and new perspective is forced on you.

It’s a kindness that tragedy is nearly always unexpected. It would be impossible to live in the moment if you knew tomorrow your loved one was going to die. Your grief would be extended and the time remaining would be tainted.  I guess I’m grateful you can’t see that shit coming. It’s like falling down when you get older. Falling is no big deal when you are under the age of 40, but after that, shew-eee. It’s alarming as all get-out. Personal history tells me that at least once a year, gravity is going to win and I’m going to take a tumble. It’s always a shocker though. I tend to fall up stairs while distracted, which is not so bad, not a lot of distance to drop. My eighty-eight-year-old Mom falls with monthly regularity and breaks her bones in the process. The latest topple featured three of her ribs losing an argument with the bathtub. She gets angry with herself for the mishap, then stoically bears the indignities of strangers picking her up and other strangers mending her. She’s from another era, lived through people bombing her house in WW2 and travelled the world, but none of that helps her now, none of it stops the jolt of falling. Makes me want to take up yoga and strengthen my core.

The jolts come from other places too. There seems to be a lot more tragedy these days than there used to be. I’m becoming immune to being shocked, it comes from so many places. It’s losing its jolty-ness. I’ve hardened my heart and my core for the most part. Globally, there’s always a natural or ego-driven disaster somewhere in the world. Nationally, the insanity stemming from Washington, DC is a constant barrage. My old home state of California is on fire. Again. Locally, we live in a big city so I pass by car wrecks daily and move aside for fire engines. We live near a hospital, so I hear ambulances and helicopters hurrying there with their precious cargo at all hours. It wears on me, even if the news of tragedy is no longer very shocking. I yearn for a cottage in Northern Maine with a view of Canada from my front door, the sea shushing over black rocks, the cry of gulls above replacing the sirens. Away from all the fear and pain represented by those wailing sirens.

Sometimes, though the jolts hit close to home. You’re never ready for them. No amount of training can strengthen your core for them. This weekend contained one of those. The dearly beloved son of a friend was killed in an accident. He was just a little older than my oldest boy and was a brilliant saxophonist. This was the friend I talked to when my older son thought buying a motorcycle was a good idea and I wanted good arguments to throw down when I went to talk him out of it. She shared that her son rode a motorcycle, and that she was always a little worried about him on it, all the time. And then the news this weekend. Her son lost his life in a motorcycle accident.

I read once that a grief shared is a grief halved. I don’t think that applies to your kids though. When I read this terrible news via my friend’s beautiful, graceful post on Facebook, and understood that she had just lost her oldest boy, I flashed on my boys when they were young. Their gaze as newborns taking in the world for the first time, their joy at eating cake on their first birthday. Swing sets and waterslides. Parks, looking at dappled summer skies through the leaves. First days of school. That fraught process of growing your child that requires trust that they will come home intact from the first day of school, the first sleepover, the first road trip, the first trip to another country. There are so many goodbyes, and then – one of them – unfairly, unbearably – one of them becomes the unexpected final one. My heart ripped for my friend as what had happened sunk in. My next thought was incredibly selfish. Fear that my child might be next. Followed by a desire to help, to fix, to make it better for her, and then gut-wrenching inadequacy realizing there is literally nothing you can do for a parent who has lost their child. Too soon, too young.

How do you survive something like that, after raising your child past fevers and disappointments and joys and showing him there are no monsters in the closet or under the bed? I can see my way through the pain of losing a pet, a relative, or a friend. I’ve done all those many times in my 57 years. I can even see how you get through losing your spouse. But not my child. It’s just not right, outliving your children. Yet it happens all the time. In African villages of disease and hunger, at Sandy Hook, on a drunken Friday night after a football game, on a team bus trip, on the battlefield, in a hospital room after a valiant fight.

The price of love is pain. My instinct is to lean in to my friend, yet simultaneously I don’t want to intrude. Ungraceful, without the proper words, silently for now, I share her pain. I share it as a parent who loves her children fiercely, knowing the gutted hollowness I feel is less than an eyelash worth of what she feels. I will go to the memorial, I will let her know I love her. And I will hug my boys a little tighter tonight, even if they are too big for it now. And call myself blessed.

photo credit: mcGill.ca