On Nietzsche and Negotiating a Different Mom Status

On Nietzsche and Negotiating a Different Mom Status

Our youngest son has a habit of starting deep conversations at the very end of the day.  You know that time.  You’ve done multiple meals, multiple drives, multiple errands, spoken with varying degrees of success to multiple people, listened politely or perhaps listened in seething anger to multiple opinions, and now what you really want to do is get into sweats and Go To Bed.  However, I love listening to what our son has to say, so I rustle up a spare pair of listening ears.  A few nights ago, he was sharing some Nietzsche philosophy about the morality of accountability.  Yep.  As Spencer says, its “incomprehensible, but not as incomprehensible as Hegel.” …Sure. I’ll roll with that.  I genuinely tried to listen and participate, but my head kept wanting to be horizontal.  Experiencing the past year, I should probably embrace Nietzsche.  After all we seem to be living and embodying his famous phrase, “What does not destroy me makes me stronger”.  Oh Joy.

The ideas and subsequent half-conversation of the other night (Spencer explaining, my husband asking smart, interesting questions and me “Mmmm”- ing occasionally to let them know I was still in the game) was above my intellectual pay grade, which is humbling.  I’d love to chalk it up to the late hour and that my brain had reached it’s automatic shut off point, but truth is, I wouldn’t have grasped the concepts even bright and chipper after 8 cups of coffee first thing in the morning.  In college I loved reading books by Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf, and could wrap my mind around complexity, symbolism and deep meaning. Not anymore. My mid-life brain is happiest in Nora Roberts land, or a good fantasy trilogy.  I don’t know if I just killed a lot of brain cells between then and now, or if at the end of the day I just want something easy to do.

Speaking of easy, parenting is not.  Easy.  I rather liked the younger years of parenting our boys, there was a transactional quality to them – I feed you and dress you, you do what I say and our playdates are with kids whose Moms l like.  The middle years got harder, and I am profoundly grateful I never have to help with another science project ever again.  Future grandkids, you’ve been alerted.  Then there was the whole take-tests-await-results-apply-to-and-visit-colleges phase. I liked the visiting phase of that, but then I’m always up for a road trip. Now however, all our kids are either in college, or have graduated from it and a new negotiation has started.

Yes, I am still the Mom, but my influential, personhood-creating Mom-ing days are done.  I’m now in relationship with adults who have their own ideas and preferences.  And who are clearly reading and thinking in atmospheres my rocket ship can no longer reach, even with booster engines.  Its been painful for me, wending through this past holiday season and having our boys sometimes kindly, sometimes snippily letting me know that my services are no longer required – they’ve got it handled.  I am grateful on one hand that they are equipped for life and can do their own laundry, drive the car, and cook and think deeper thoughts than me.  But.  I miss the days of picking out their outfits and deciding what fun thing we will do today.  I miss feeding the ducks, going to see the trains and the fun of swings swishing through the air on a cool spring afternoon. Nietzsche discussions while impressive, just don’t fill my heart the same way.  There is a line at the very end of the Inge play “Picnic”, when the Mom of the play learns her daughter has run away to be with a wayward boy.  She pauses, and says: “But there was so much more I wanted to tell her”.

On Not Writing and Monarch Butterflies

On Not Writing and Monarch Butterflies

I know. I broke faith with you.  Instead of pushing through the deep valley of Nothing Good To Say these past few weeks, and writing about it, I just… didn’t. I did TRY to write, but it was all so very whiny and complain-y and that is sooooo boring. I know this because I’ve lived through having 3 teenagers. Side note, my British cousins say “whingy”, for this same affliction.  I like that more.  Whiny is like a dog whimpering because you forgot to feed it, whereas whingy sounds like an old door that creaks every time you open it.  Annoying vs. something you might be moved to feel sorry for.  For everyone’s sake, backing away from this public journey, and keeping my bleak thoughts chained in a dark corner where they could brood and scratch epithets on the dungeon wall was a clear best choice.

Usually when I go “inner” like this, I have a writing project starting to swirl and form like a galaxy that is still far, far away.  Being quiet and letting fragments of ideas float up is an exercise in patience, but its part of the creativity deal.  That’s half the equation for my wading back into this weekly blog.  The other half was the realization, “Hey, maybe I’m not half bad at this,” which was prompted by the news that two theatres are looking to produce “Like Kissing Moonlight”.  That’s my wonderful laughter-through-tears mashup of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and “Cherry Orchard” set in modern-day Appalachia. My newest play, a fun murder mystery in the vein of “Death Trap” or “Sleuth” is also nearly done. I love the phase of writing I am in with that one. The hair-pulling, grinding agony part of creation is done and now I am in the delicious slashing of at least 10% of the sucker. I love cutting.  And! A screenplay I wrote a couple of years ago is getting serious attention from…  Someone Rather Important.  That’s all I will say on any of that, as excess talk can juju up good news when you’re a writer.  Call me superstitious, I don’t mind. I just know not to flap my gums overmuch. If anything happens in these next few months I will tell you. Scout’s Honor.

Speaking of a few months, we’re closing in on the 1st anniversary of The Fire. I chalk up some of my inner Quasimodo feelings to this pending event and have been looking for ways to mitigate it.  My Mom’s Garden Club** met yesterday, and a sheet was passed around to help plant milkweed in a Monarch Butterfly habitat at the local grade school on March 3rd, which is the exact date of The Fire.  I signed up immediately. It’s an antidote of sorts – doing something worthwhile to balance out the destruction of that night.  I can help the remaining 10% of Monarchs left in the world have a snacking place.  It’s a shocking statistic, isn’t it?  According to the etymologist who came to speak to the Garden Club, in the past 30 years, we’ve killed off 90% of the Monarchs.  That makes me sad. I hope they can make a comeback, like the Grizzly Bear or Przewalski’s Horse.  And no, I’d never heard of Przewalski’s Horse either, but came across it when I was looking up animals which are no longer on the endangered list. They’re adorable and extra furry and live in Asia.  They are the only true wild horse known in the world today. I love little facts like that.  Watch, it’ll swirl up in my next play.

** I felt quite out of place sitting with the perfectly coiffed and size zero bedecked women at the Garden Club.  Additionally, I was blindsided and informed that as a new member (and here I thought I was just bringing Mom), I am required to create a flower display for the “Mini Flower Show” that is coming up in March. I was given a large, detailed packet on how to do it correctly, so my initial thought to go to a florist and have them do it is out.

On Not Sleeping and Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream

On Not Sleeping and Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream

I heard on NPR a few days ago that author Dan Brown starts writing daily at 4am. That’s probably why dark and complex conspiracies haunt his books. Not a lot of positivity floating around at 4am in my experience. Happy and uplifting ideas start appearing around 5:30 or so, but not before that.  Used to be, I’d automatically define any idea that popped up past 11pm as not being a good one.  Over the years, I’ve expanded those parameters.  These days any idea that surfaces past 9pm or before 5am is plopped in the “questionable” pile.  First off, I’m not asleep when I want to be, and feel robbed of a basic human right and grumpy about it.  Secondly, those dark hour ideas and thoughts are consistently negative.  There are no great ideas of how to save humanity or make the world a better place.  Nope, its all about things that could have, should have happened.  Or what I should’ve said, or worse, what they should’ve done.  Its astonishing how far back into the past resentment and regret go at that hour.  Just last night, on a wee hour mental wander, I got mad all over again that a schoolmate in middle school (we called it Junior High back then) took the last chocolate ripple ice cream* at lunch time when she KNEW that was my favorite. Did it right in front of me and laughed.  These are not helpful thoughts for anyone. Because on the heels of the memory is, “Why the hell am I remembering this?”

This time of year, there’s a proliferation of good thoughts and perky memes that pop onto Facebook. Hopeful declarations that yes indeedy we can live life without regret, dancing to our own tune, planting happy seeds of joy and let go of doubt and fear, no matter our age or life conditions.  It’s a new year, a new day, and the authors are feelin’ fine. These memes and wishes were clearly all conceived during the daytime and not in the 9pm-5am pocket of doom.  Now, I’m not a curmudgeon (yet). I like seeing them, and often take a moment to try them on for size. I just don’t think they reflect our true human condition.  I think we all try really hard every day, but none of us is regret free, and I bet nearly everyone has those 3am visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past that are decidedly unpleasant.  I’m learning the best way to make peace with myself is to embrace my regrets, and even my resentments as opportunities for me to Not Do That Again.  Problem is, if you’ve had a bout of early morning memory review, and haven’t slept, those happy-sappy memes are likely to simply make you mad.  Hands up if you’ve ever just wanted to punch something after you see a carefree, lilting little graphic blissfully assuring that you CAN do it, little camper, if you just buck up.

Yet. I’m guilty of hopeful posting myself.  I posted about going wheat-free, dairy-free, soy-free, booze-free, coffee-free, and sugar-free for 30 days on New Years Day. By gum it was a perky post, reflecting my expectation of getting comfortably back into my jeans without resorting to lying on the floor to get the zipper up.  I loved eating all those holiday treats, and baking them, but am past the point of leggings being a fashion choice, so must perforce, get back into my jeans.  I’ve done this detox before, with great results, and now on day 4 can expect to start feeling better as I am nearly past the sugar detox, which is always the worst – its probably why I was grinding about someone stealing my ice cream when I was 12 at 3:30am this morning.  So, my apologies if my perky and hopeful post about getting back on the health track annoyed you – here, you can have my chocolate ripple ice cream if you want it.

*side note: my standard lunch in those days was a container of chocolate milk which cost 5 cents, and a container of ice cream which cost 6 cents.  You’d get a glass, put the ice cream in it, and then pour the chocolate milk over and mix it up, creating an ice cream sundae for lunch.  It was great, and cost 11 cents.   

Of Rescue Dogs and… Squirrel!

Of Rescue Dogs and… Squirrel!

The adage that people and their dogs look alike is debatable in our house.  However, as Christmas day approaches, I find that I am ACTING like our dog Keisha in many ways.  Here are a few:

Treats:   Keisha gets a biscuit after her walks. She has a habit of going in the kitchen and staring up at the glass jar on the counter we keep them in, and then at us in clear communication she’d very much like another please. I am behaving the same way with the almond paste* I made this week. I keep going to the refrigerator and looking at it. Being an adult human with an opposable thumb, I also reach in, take it out, and “taste” it to make sure it’s just as good now as it was 15 minutes ago. This is proving to be not a good thing. 

Sleeping:  The holiday bustle and keeping up my swim schedule in the attempt to keep weight-gain carbon-neutral this year makes me need a nap every day at 4pm precisely.  Just like our dog, I lay down anywhere and within seconds I’m out — perhaps snoring and woofing in a muffled way as I dream of all the things I can make with almond paste. If I don’t get the nap, I am apt to become growly.

Over-excited reaction to the doorbell:  I’ve shifted to pushing “submit order” for most of my holiday shopping this year.  The UPS delivery gal knows my gate code.  We’ve been seeing a lot of each other recently.  Perhaps should get her a gift.  When the doorbell rings I don’t leap up and bark, but do bounce to the door and get that little “whoo” feeling on seeing the boxes and prance about excitedly.

Wearing odd clothes: Yes, the photo is our dog tolerating her reindeer hat.  She shakes it loose after about 20 minutes – which in dog years is about the same amount of time that I will deign to wear my ugly Christmas sweater.

Heavy dog:  Keisha’s super power is making herself weigh more than ten times her actual weight when she doesn’t want to move. I’ve adopted this strategy at the end of a busy day.  Don’t try and get me off the couch if “The Crown” or “The Great British Baking Show” is on – or “Peaky Blinders” soon. I shall simply deploy “heavy dog” with Ghandi-esque calm. I plan on keeping this behavior past the holiday season.

The …Squirrel! effect is the final and most pertinent way I’m like Keisha in this holiday season.  She loves going for a walk, politely sniffing at the pee mail and enjoying the stretch of her legs, and then… squirrel!  You can see her spin out and lose any mandate except to Chase That Squirrel!  That’s me these past few days. I’m usually organized and on-point, but this week I’m permanently distracted.  Even with a list, my brain scatters at the slightest thing:  I dart to and fro, sure I can catch the …Squirrel!  Ooooo, Pretty wrapping paper. Ooooo Almond Croissants in the window of the bakery. Oh! Pop-up Ads from Amazon with MORE gift ideas. UPS is here, must say hi to my delivery gal and then hide or wrap the new arrivals…. Oh, the laundry… what did I come in this room for?

I need a biscuit.

 *recipe in last week’s blog. It’s very good, but perhaps I should go taste it one more time to be sure….

On the Elusive Christmas Spirit and Marzipan

On the Elusive Christmas Spirit and Marzipan

I’m going out on a limb today. Telling the truth can feel terrifying sometimes, but then later its better, and you don’t have to remember the lie you told.  My truth is that the Christmas spirit is proving to be an elusive sprite this year.  I think it has to do with how bare our Christmas tree is.  I know the holiday ornaments that were burned in The Fire were just things, but I miss the popsicle-stick ornaments my little boys made. I miss my Star Trek ornaments. I miss the clay leaves that Sarah made in Kindergarten. All their “my first Christmas” baby photo ornaments. And the angel and candy-cane ones my husband brought into our marriage 23 years ago. The missing them is like darts popping my happy feeling balloons. Our Red Cross case worker warned us about this way back in March.  The current fires out in California are adding to my sadness, some of our friends out there have just gone through what we did, losing everything, and I hate knowing how that feels. 

I know of only one way to find my Christmas spirit, and that is to be grateful for what we do have, so with your kind permission, I have some gratitude to share. I am grateful they just put new windows in my apartment, its much quieter and less drafty in here now.  I am especially grateful for my husband and kids.  And my friends, old and new.  I’ve enjoyed several fun parties with my Masters swimming buddies and with my Mom’s Garden club this past week.  I got to see some cool art by a grad student at SMU. Coffees and walks with new friends. Swim workouts. My company sent me Tiffany. I’m grateful for Amazon Prime and boxes that come to my door. And Netflix.  It’s sweater and fuzzy sock weather, my favorite things to wear. I’m grateful that soon all our kids will be with us here, even though it will be super squishy (borrowing an air mattress today).  I’m grateful to be coaching my Arbonne team and that I learned how to do Facebook Live technology.  I’m grateful for the way Alabama voted this week.

Whew that feels better already. If you too are also having a rough Holiday season, I recommend a quick blast of gratitude.  I promise as you replace the “bleh” files with happier ones, you’ll feel better.  Now I’m off to go get what I need to make marzipan for my Christmas Stollen.  Stollen is a German coffee cake studded with dried fruit and in the center is a roll of delicious marzipan – you may call it almond paste, but by any name it’s delicious.  I’ve never made marzipan before, but its got to cost less than buying it. Goodness gracious, you’d have to take out a loan. Here’s the recipe. Marzipan makes everything more delicious, truly… and I am grateful for that too.

Almond Paste/Marzipan Recipe

From Kimberly at “The Daring Gourmet”, this makes about 12 oz.

1.5 cups finely ground blanched Almond Flour

1.5 cups confectioners sugar

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon food-grade rose water (if you don’t want to buy this, just add an extra teaspoon of the almond extract)

1 egg white (vegan = 2 teaspoons corn syrup)

By hand or pulsing in a mixer, combine the flour and sugar until no lumps. Then add your almond extract and rose water until mixed, and finally the egg white.  The dough will be wet and sticky, and at this point you may need to add a little more almond flour and sugar, but it does firm up in the fridge.  Turn out the dough and knead a few times and then form a log, wrap in plastic and put in fridge for at least 24 hours.  Bring to room temperature before using it.  This will keep in fridge for a month, or in freezer for 6 months, but it won’t last that long, trust me.  It has a zillion calories, and is worth every one.

 

 

 

 

On Being a Boy Mom and Trifle

On Being a Boy Mom and Trifle

On my walk this morning I saw a little boy in a stocking cap holding his sippy cup and blanket. He was being loaded one-armed into his car seat by his mom, and my heart stabbed me. I miss my little boys.  Having them grown isn’t shabby, mind you.  My 21-year-old son made prosciutto-wrapped marinated pork loin for dinner this week. In his sojourn with us, we’ve been served lovely sauces and dressings, home-made empanadas and had only one catastrophe with the iron skillet.  His brother makes fettucine chicken alfredo, and some fancy fish thing and hot breakfasts. They do their own laundry too. They don’t iron, but then neither do I.  Mustn’t put the Dry Cleaner out of business. All our kids have turned out great, but I miss them being little some days

When they were young they helped me bake.  I’d always wanted to be a cookie-and-bread-baking mom.  The extent of my own Mother’s baking was one thing — a yearly “Christmas Cake” which in our family is a very large fruit cake wrapped in an almond paste crust and white icing.  The almond paste makes it worth eating.  My dad’s baking consisted of “sugar sandwiches” which (as you may have inferred) is two pieces of white bread buttered and sprinkled with white sugar.  Depression cake is what he calls it.  It is.  Depressing.  

My guys were very boy-y growing up. I helped raise a daughter too, and the two species were quite different. As a boy mom, like it or not, I was the recipient of “cool” bugs and crawly things dumped in my lap without warning.  The reptile house at the zoo was a regular stop. I would have preferred spending my time viewing animals with fur, but there you are, not happening as a Boy Mom.  Starting at the age of 2 and forever afterwards, everything became a gun for the boys. Toast was chewed into gun shapes, sticks were guns, bananas were guns.  This seems to be a universal Boy Mom experience.  I tried gun deflection via multiple versions of light sabers and enrolling them in fencing class, but alas no.  They still like guns.  Craig made sure they learned how to shoot properly and take care of their weapons and how not to be an idiot with them.  I just sigh and try not to be judgmental.  

They were often dirty and grubby when little and had their share of accidents that involved bleeding.  Normally I am woozy at the thought of a cut, but for my boys I was able to mop up and bandage with the best of them.  Or take them to the ER when needed.  Spencer slid down a hillside and smacked his head open on an iron bar when he was 4.  It was clear that a band-aid was not going to fix the gaping wound, so off we went to the ER.  Spencer looked tiny laying on the gurney, which was parked in the hall of the busy hospital while we waited for the CAT scan machine to free up.  My main job was trying to keep the boys from seeing the gunshot victim next door.  The doctor pinned up the X-rays of the kid in the hall and you could see the multiple bullets in the little guy.  About an hour after we were there, I heard horrific Mom weeping from his room, and knew he hadn’t made it.  I kept my equanimity through that and my wiggly 4-year-old son bravely lying still getting a CAT scan, but I’ve never forgotten the sound of that Mother grieving her child.

Another universal Boy Mom issue is that you GET NO INFORMATION.  I solved this in grade school by being the room mom.  In later years, I relied on my mom friends who had girls to find out important info.  Things like when Graduation was, that there was an Awards ceremony to attend, that we need to get the school photo done by tomorrow.  Those things.  This was especially necessary for Swim Team – the boys often had to be places incredibly early, or with massive amounts of food and gear and it was nice to have my Girl Mom network. I loved that swim team.  It gave my boys a real lesson in how to be friends with women and respect them. The girls were just as fast and strong and dedicated as the boys, and after multiple years of everyone being in swim suits, objectifying anyone’s body simply isn’t an issue.

My adult son and I stumbled onto the “Great British Baking Show” on Netflix.  Now we want to make pastry all the time.  I get to make a Trifle (a tiered very British dessert featuring layers of cake, jam, cream, fruit and whipped cream) for a “The Crown” viewing party this Friday. I can’t wait to make a sponge and whip up a custard just like on the baking show.  I’m hoping Steven gets to help me, or at the very least lick the spoon.  I miss the days past of having my little boys rattling around the kitchen.

There are two ways to make Trifle. The easy way:  Buy a pound cake and cut it lengthwise into 3 or four strips.  Mix up a large box of Jello-brand vanilla or banana custard and let it cool. Get some berries and cut them up, and a container of Kool Whip.  Layer the dessert starting with the pound cake, and alternate layers of custard, fruit, and cake and top with a whipped cream layer.  Cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours.  It takes about 20 minutes to make and will make many people happy.

If on the other hand, you have been binge-watching the “Great British Baking Show”, you will want to make this scratch recipe, courtesy of Anna Olsen. I fell in love with it because of the line: “Add this buttered batter to the bigger batter”.

Directions for: Classic English Trifle by Anna Olsen

Ingredients

Sponge Cake

6 large eggs

2 egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pastry Cream

2 cups 2% milk

1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla bean paste

6 large egg yolks

6 Tbsp granulated sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Fruit and Assembly

1 ½ cups whipping (35%) cream, divided

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups assorted fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries)

⅔ cup berry jam

⅓ cup cream sherry

¼ cup toasted sliced almonds

Directions

Sponge Cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Line a baking tray (11-x-17-inches/28-x-43-cm) with parchment paper, but do not grease the pan.

2. Warm the eggs in their shells in hot tap water for about 5 minutes (change the water once halfway through warming). Place the whole eggs and 2 yolks in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Add the sugar and whip on high speed until the mixture is pale and holds a ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. You can’t overwhip whole eggs, so if in doubt, keep whipping!

3. While the eggs are whipping, sift the flour and salt together in a small bowl. Add the flour to the eggs gradually while whipping on medium low speed. Spoon a generous dollop of the batter into the melted butter, add the vanilla and stir this together (don’t worry if it deflates a little). Add this buttered batter to the bigger batter and fold in by hand. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for about 25 minutes until it is an even golden brown on top and springs back when gently pressed. Cool the cake completely in its pan.

Pastry Cream

1. For the pastry cream, heat the milk with the scraped seeds of the vanilla bean or the vanilla bean paste until just below a simmer.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Ready a bowl with the butter, placing a strainer on top of it.

3. Gradually whisk the hot milk into egg mixture and then return it all to the pot. Whisk this constantly (switching to a spatula now and again, to get into the corners) over medium heat until thickened and glossy, about 2 minutes. Pour this immediately through the strainer, whisking it through if needed, and stir in the butter. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard, cool to room temperature and then chill completely until ready to use.

Fruit and Assembly

1. To get ready to assemble, find a glass vessel that can hold 10 cups (2.5 L). Whip the cream and fold a third of this into the pastry cream. Add the sugar and vanilla to the remaining two thirds of the whipped cream. In a separate bowl, toss the berries gently with the jam.

2. To assemble, turn the sponge cake out onto a cutting board and peel away the parchment. Cut out 3-4 layers (number depends on the size of your trifle dish) of the cake so that the fit into the dish snugly. Place a layer of cake in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle or brush generously with the cream sherry. Top this with dollops of the pastry cream and spread. Spoon the berries overtop and cover this with a second layer of the cake. Repeat this 2 to 3 times, until the cake layers, cream and fruit have been used. Top the trifle with the reserved whipped cream and sprinkle the top with toasted almonds. Chill the trifle until ready to serve.

 

Photo courtesy of dishmaps.com

 

 

On the Journey to Becoming a Writer

On the Journey to Becoming a Writer

Being a writer was not my childhood dream.  Reading was my passion when I was young. I never saw myself having the gift of creating worlds with words.  As a chubby, cat’s-eye-glasses-wearing lonely child, books were dependable companions. I came to love epic fantasy and science fiction – Jules Verne, HG Wells, and JRR Tolkien were my go-to pals. I’d read 3 or 4 books at the same time, and my childhood defiance (aside from sneaking drinks from my parent’s Crème de Menthe bottle, but that’s a whole different post) was staying up past my bedtime reading under the covers with a flashlight.

High school didn’t uncover a yen to write either. While English was one of my favorite classes, I detested grammar. I couldn’t tell you what a noun was or why we would have to diagram it. I tiptoed through grammar tests, guessing at most of the answers.  Then came along one of THOSE teachers, the ones that change your life forever.  June Dirks stood maybe 5 feet tall and always wore heels.  She had helmet hair that needed a full container of Aqua Net to build every morning.  She was my AP English teacher in High School.  Eagle-eyed Mrs. Dirks noticed my grammar shortcomings after I failed a “review” grammar test.  She handed me her worn copy of Strunk’s “Elements of Style”, and gave me one weekend to learn it and retake the test.  I crammed grammar for 48 hours. It didn’t make me like it, but I learned about nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositional phrases.*  I passed the test.  Mrs. Dirks was also the one who submitted, unknown to me, one of my short stories to a contest.  I ended up winning it and a nice sum of money.  That was the first time I got paid for writing.  Extra perk from learning that grammar: I got a nearly perfect Verbal score on the SAT (it balanced out my abysmal Math score) and didn’t have to take English classes in college.  In college, the extent of my writing was what I needed to do in classes.  

Despite evidence that writing might be an ideal path, I insisted on being an actor and ignored writing unless it was a thank you note or a complex explanation to the landlord as to why rent was a wee bit tardy.  I worked with an Improv Comedy group in Los Angeles that was heavy on “boy” humor, leaving nothing interesting for me to do except be an adjunct pair of legs for a sketch. So, I started writing sketch comedy to give myself good lines and fun roles.  People laughed, it felt great. I wrote some one-act plays that got good reviews and attention from the industry –  not for my acting, but for the writing.  A few director friends asked if I had any screenplays. I didn’t, but I took a class and got cracking.  Writer’s Boot Camp was a fantastic 6-week course taught in an apartment living room.  In 6 weeks, I learned structure and a system that helped me not waste time.  With a raft of story ideas in my head, I wrote a bunch of screenplays. They kept getting optioned but not made, but as a side effect, I became known as a female action writer who could write fast, and got “ghost writing” gigs that paid well.  I was valuable because there are laws in Hollywood that require inclusivity of minorities on projects.  I covered two minority bases – I was “old” as in over 30, and I was a woman. To my knowledge both those categories are still considered minorities in Hollywood.

One of my movies was made, and I got a real paycheck and the opportunity to see my writing ripped to shreds by poor directing and worse editing.  Upside: one night I was allowed on set.  It happened to be a night shoot action sequence with explosions, and people on wires doing flips and fighting.  There had to be 200 people present from precautionary firemen to stunt people and actors and all the riggers, grips, etc. gathered together to make my 4-sentence description in the script a reality.  I sat on the periphery of the set, and thought, “I made this up”.  What had been little black words typed on an IBM Seletric typewriter in my apartment off Laurel Canyon in Hollywood had metamorphosed into reality.  The explosions went off, the actors acted and fought, the firemen hosed down the set after the pyrotechnics went off and the cameras captured it. You can still find this movie if you look hard, its called “Lord Protector”.  I can’t recommend it, but Charleton Heston did the voiceover work.  That was cool too, having Ben-Hur say my words.  He’s a fellow Northwestern alum. Rawr.  

Since The Fire and starting this blog it seems that writing may be re-entering my life after a 15-year hiatus.  I’ve written a couple of full length plays which have gotten lovely productions.  Perhaps this weekly blog could turn into a book. I have a multi-volume Fantasy book growing in my head too, although truth be told, writing it scares the heck out of me.  Telling stories sure is a lot of fun, and sometimes, just sometimes you get to touch hearts and let folks know they aren’t alone.  That’s pretty cool, coming from a cat’s-eye-glasses wearing, chubby, lonely child perspective.  My younger self is quietly urging me on, saying “please, oh please… make it so.”

 *side note, I think they must have added to some grammar rules.  When my sons had to do the dreaded ‘grammar project’ in 9th grade English, Gerunds, Clictics (!) and Grawlix appeared.  I didn’t know there were things.  My son Steven takes after me.  He named his grammar project “Pain and Sorrow”, and almost passed it.