To keep myself inspired, I used to drive past my “dream house”, the one I would buy someday when I won the lottery, or published my book with wild success. In late October 2013, I did one of my drive-bys. There it was–rolling hill, pond, barns, woods in the back…with a newly placed SOLD above the realty sign. I was devastated.
In the middle of my despair, my 9-yr-old encouraged me.
Having that “dream house” suddenly snatched from me was the last straw in a year of many ups and downs. 2013 included job changes for my husband, a couple of serious health scares for both of us, and the financial stress that accompanies both. I was starting to doubt I would ever finish my book.
By December, we were looking forward to my mother-in-law’s usual ten-day visit. Granny’s arrival meant we could relax, bake cookies for the neighbors, make a zombie gingerbread house, go sledding, and watch holiday movies.
Not one of those things happened. Not one.
Instead, the Friday she was scheduled to arrive by train the weather started turning ugly enough for a snow day. The boys were thrilled to begin winter break a day early, but I was not thrilled to drive on slippery roads to the train station. Nevertheless, we picked her up and made it back home safely. We decided to wait to bake cookies until Sunday. We had a quiet evening at home, as the freezing rain pelted against the windows.
On Saturday, both boys spent time with friends while Granny and I finished some last minute shopping and savored a stop at a cozy coffee shop. By late afternoon, it was clear we should get home because the freezing rain was back with a vengeance.
Around 2 am Sunday, I awoke to the realization that we had lost power. It happens occasionally, but it’s usually restored within a couple of hours. I tried to go back to sleep, but the house was growing cold. By 6 am, the power was still out, and I was sitting in the living room wrapped in a blanket next to the dog, trying to access the power company’s website on my phone. The website wouldn’t load and there were no local news updates. Then my phone died. I couldn’t make coffee. I was cold and cranky. As each family member awoke, they marveled at
the haunting beauty of the ice covered trees, glistening in the morning sunlight.
It was pretty, but I was impatient and still without coffee.
At 8 am, my husband was unable to access the power company’s website on his phone either (we would later learn that it was crashing because thousands of people were doing the same thing). Around 1 pm a power company truck was on our street, so I assumed (wrongly) that the power would be back on soon. At 2 pm I learned from a neighbor that the power company had informed him that they couldn’t safely repair downed lines while dangerous tree limbs were in the way, and couldn’t remove tree limbs until some of the ice melted, and it wasn’t supposed to warm up for about ten days!
The authorities were starting to open warming centers for people without family or friends nearby. We were among over 400,000 across the state without power. The house was uncomfortably cold, and we knew we couldn’t stay overnight, so I drove Granny and the kids to my brother’s house nearly an hour away. It was like a giant slumber party, and we were grateful to be warm and laugh with family. After a long work day, my amazing husband returned to our home with a borrowed generator to heat one room for himself and the pets.
On Monday, some friends of my husband’s offered for us to stay in their vacant home, located just outside the power outage area. We drove back from my brother’s, not knowing what we would find at the new place, but thankful to be closer so we could keep checking on our pets. The drive was breath taking. We were in awe at the surreal layer of ice on all the trees and homes along the way. It was incredible to comprehend such beauty had caused so much damage.
I can still remember the road leading to the house–all of us gasped at the archway of ice covered trees. I had never met the owners until then, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were both originally from Australia (my sister has lived there since the late ’80s). Once inside, it instantly became my new “dream house”. From every single window, we had a postcard view of the icy woods. In the midst of the chaos and inconvenience of the power outage, this truly felt like a gift.
My exhausted, bewildered spirit was restored with the magick of possibility.
We slept there two nights in sleeping bags, including Christmas Eve. It was a quiet, electronics-free zone. We played board games and counted squirrels and watched the birds. We were almost sad to leave when the power returned for Christmas.
A couple of weeks later, as I sent my completed manuscript off to my agent, there had been one last revision.
I changed the title to “The Recollection of Trees”.
I had been toying with the idea for months, but when I stood in the new house, the panoramic views confirmed in my soul that the new title was perfect.
With a renewed calm, I gently held onto the new house as a real possibility. I knew deep within myself that somehow everything would be more than alright. I knew that I would have a home like that someday soon, if not that very one.
My son was right. There was a better dream, well beyond the scope of my imagination.
It was the perfect ending to a crazy year. It was the perfect storm.
For months I have been working on the ending to my first novel. As a writer of YA urban fantasy, I have had the pleasure and pain of creating new characters, hopefully ones that are relatable but not cliché, intriguing but not too weird. There are many reasons writers need to take breaks from writing, and I have discovered a few that are crucial, which I have turned into silly characters:
I saw Near-Hermit in the mirror this morning, and well, I felt sorry for my husband. Yikes! Near-Hermit is so sunlight deprived that she resembles one of those transparent spiders you might find under the basement stairs. Near-Hermit is so “outside world” deprived that she thinks rotating yoga pants and gray sweatshirts is the same as getting dressed. Near-Hermit is in need of more than the usual quick shower–she needs a waxing from forehead to toes. Near-Hermit has even let her black toenail polish get so ragged and chipped that her feet look like they belong in a crime scene with a tag on the toe. Near-Hermit is not a complete and total hermit because she does have contact with family (they occasionally like to eat), and she still runs errands that require limited interaction with people–groceries, doctor appointments, pharmacy pick-up–but there are days when she ignores phone calls, emails and texts. She postpones time with friends and puts off responding to the ignored phone calls, emails and texts. She allows herself 5 minutes on social media and then it’s back to writing, reading, editing and revising. Near-Hermit’s world is way too small and she has started to forget how to speak face-to-face with other adults. (If she ever does, she better bring breath mints.)
This hybrid shapeshifter lives on fear, doubt and occasional paranoia. She is afraid to let anyone read what she’s written, because she doubts it’s any good–but if it is the innocent reader might steal her ideas. If she lets down her guard to allow a close friend or spouse to read her work, any comments–even a “hmm”–sends her into a tailspin. The poor reader suffers a barrage of questions, like a captured spy in an undisclosed location with a single lightbulb and a two-way mirror. Dementianna has a specific type of amnesia in which she has forgotten that the entire goal of writing was so other people–hopefully thousands of other people–will read it. Dementianna’s children refuse to visit any bookstore with her, because she compares herself to other writers and concludes either 1. she will never get published because she’s not good enough or 2. she will never get published because she isn’t writing the drivel on the shelves. She also has a paralysis that affects her ability to write an agent query letter and synopsis. She wears a chain around her neck with a USB drive that contains every typed word. In order to transform herself into a successful, published novelist she might let you read her work–if you can see around her head, because she’s going to be wearing the necklace while it’s plugged into your laptop.
Magnetica has many aliases–painter, TV viewer, theatre goer, chef, dreamer, social media surfer, housekeeper to name a few. Magnetica must write for a good solid hour or two, then take a break. Go to a movie, watch TV, read a book, bake something, talk to a friend, do anything BUT write. Magnetica must do other things in order to make deposits in the Bank of Inspiration. She is fully engaged with the Laws of Attraction, Deliberate Creation, and Expectation. Magnetica often just doodles silly cartoons that have nothing to do with anything. Magnetica needs to laugh and cry and release tension. Magnetica loves to have spontaneous dance-offs with her kids in the living room. She takes quiet nature hikes or picnics in a family cemetery. Magnetica definitely makes time for intimacy with her husband. Magnetica gets enough to eat, drinks enough water, and gets enough sleep, so that she is overflowing with creative juices when it is time to write again. Magnetica is the best spokesperson to show up when it’s time to pitch to an agent, because she wears professional clothes, a smile, and most of all, confidence.
I wish I could say that I am only Magnetica, but I am a combination of all three of these fun characters. (Just ask my supportive family and patient, neglected friends!)
Thankfully, Magnetica decided to go to a writer’s conference this past weekend. She made Near-Hermit take off the yoga pants and dress like a woman on a mission. She locked up Dementianna in a closet at home so she couldn’t sabotage the mission. Magnetica listened carefully, took thorough notes, networked with other writers, enjoyed the inspiration of another author’s creative process, and PITCHED TO AN AGENT.
Thank the green goddess it was Magnetica who showed up–Dementianna tried to get out but she was thwarted–because the agent just might be The One. I’d tell you more about Magnetica’s conversation with The One, but Dementianna doesn’t want to jinx it! 🙂
Stay tuned to see if Magnetica can win the fight against Near-Hermit and Dementianna in the epic battle for The Big Dream!
It was January 1991. The first Gulf War had officially begun, and my small college campus was blanketed with a sobering silence.
We were gathered for a required student assembly in a large auditorium, waiting to be bored. One of the professors, who had spent his recent sabbatical in Romania during their revolution, walked out onto the stage carrying the new Romanian flag—it had a hole in it where the symbol of the overthrown communist government had been cut out. He described his visit to Romania as a thrilling time, because he witnessed the light turn on in people’s eyes. Upon his return to the U.S., he was saddened to see far fewer people who were fully engaging their lives with passionate gratitude and too many people seemed to take for granted our freedoms. He said he hoped that as Americans we would allow the conflict overseas to relight the fire inside us.
His face grew somber as he spoke wise words, “Sometimes it has to get really dark for us to see the little spark of light that is going to bring about positive revolutionary change.” He paused, and then yelled, “It’s always darkest before the dawn!”
All the lights went out in the grand theatre. There were low, nervous whispers and then…a spark of light.
A familiar song, Dueling Banjos, began playing. With each banjo twang, little lights flashed on the stage in a visual back and forth duel. One by one, we each recognized that the little lights were penlights. Two of our campus’s biggest comedians had stuck penlights up their noses, and were flickering their nostrils to the music. By the end of the song the whole audience was screaming with laughter. Our beloved professor’s words inspired us to live passionately despite life’s circumstance, and the laughter shook loose some of the uncertainty we had about current world events.
Renowned new thought author Carolyn Myss gives an insightful perspective of change in our lives. She says to imagine that your angel is standing next to you and keeps hearing you promise yourself things, such as “I will start a new fitness program today” or “I will get out of this unhealthy stressful job and find my dream job”. When we break the promises with excuses like “tomorrow is a better day to start doing my new yoga routine” or “they really need me at my job, I’ll just help them for a few more weeks”, Myss says it’s a betrayal of ourselves.
What looks like crisis to us, is actually a window of opportunity to change the thing we have been saying we would do.
She goes on to theorize that the angel listens patiently and then one day says something like, “Ok, that’s the 100th time she has said she is going to go after her dream job, so she has 30 days to do it, and then I am going to help her”. Thirty days go by and we get fired or sick and have to take time off work. I believe this may be why I was laid off from my “day job” last December–so I would focus on my dream of publishing my novel. 🙂
Whenever we’re experiencing a crisis or major change, it might be wise to reflect on our thought patterns and decide if we are focused on worry or embracing growth. No matter what, my professor taught me that it is vital to maintain a sense of humor to weather the storms of life. Thinking of the laughter that filled the student assembly that morning still brings a smile to my face.
One of the main characters in my upcoming book is a woman who stands up for her granddaughter, and breaks every rule about how a grandmother should behave. Her personality is a hybrid of my father’s mother and step-mother, but there is a lot of “Shirley MacLaine chutzpa” in this character too. Honestly, she is my favorite character.
Recently, I had the fun opportunity to see Shirley MacLaine’s one woman show, and the pleasure to meet her backstage. My ultimate dream is that my book contract includes movie rights, Hollywood snatches it up, and Ms. MacLaine stars in the movie version! 🙂 (photo: Sadie and Shirley backstage. February 22, 2013 Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL)
So much of my book is about the search for self-identity through family and belief systems because I strongly believe that we carry our ancestor’s energy, yet so many of us do not know much about whom and where we come from.
When my father died 14 years ago, he left me his genealogical research which included rare photos and citizenship papers from the late 1800’s. The citizenship documents told of a whole group traveling to the U.S. together. In 1860, the only mode of transportation for that distance would have been boat. It was quite difficult to process paperwork then, sometimes taking years to get approval to visit another country. No airplanes, no computers, no cars, no washing machines, no supermarkets, no indoor plumbing, no toilet paper. Life was completely different, and families lived together much longer. My family purposely emigrated to Michigan, which at the time was a wooded, marshy, mosquito-filled area. Brave souls!
A dozen years ago I was looking through the old photographs and discovered writing on the back of one, indicating my grandmother as a child, in a local cemetery. The little bob-haired girl was standing next to a large monument bearing the family name. Chills went through me as I realized I had been driving past my family members for almost five years.I drove through the vast cemetery one day when the office was closed, yearning to find them, but after following all the curving roads my head started feeling topsy-turvy and I gave up the search. Weeks went by before I could try again. My stomach fluttered as I inquired about the family monument. When the woman behind the desk returned from the back room with an archival record, I was astounded to read that there were five relatives buried there, and another five empty graves. My heart was beating so wildly that I barely heard her explain to me that in the early 1900’s families bought burial plots of ten graves, but that by the 1950’s graves were purchased in groups of four and today they are sold in pairs.
Later, I felt a great emptiness on behalf of the shrinking family. Even in death, today’s families are scattered apart and disconnected. Today, it seems odd if a person lives at home with their parents past college age, yet 150 years ago society would have wondered at a family that did not live together until death.
Does anyone remember the PBS “reality show”Frontier House? It wasarare glimpse into pioneer life: three families lived for five months as their ancestors once had lived. If I remember correctly, Oprah also tried it out for a brief time, along with her best friend Gayle. It seems like the novelty of it all wore off pretty quickly, and the participants gained a deep appreciation for what our ancestors did on a daily basis.
Today’s family comes in many different forms than in days past, yet one thing remains constant—we all need to feel part of a loving tribe. It is where our belief system begins, where we develop a sense of honor, integrity and respect for our elders—and ourselves. We need to feel like we are part of something that matters.
There are those of us who don’t feel we belong to the family we grow up with, so we create a new family by seeking a supportive circle of friends. I have connected with a handful of lifelong friends who have more than made up for the disconnection I used to feel. I have also gained an appreciation for the family I was born into, because “not fitting in” has helped me become who I am today.
This is what I have tried to capture in my story, and I hope readers will find familiarity in the oddity, humor, heartbreak, and drama of the families in my book.
Parts of this blog post have been excerpted and updated from an article I published in a regional magazine in 2002.
Every year on January 20th, I pause and light a candle of remembrance because one of my classmates took his own life. It’s been 23 years.
We were 17-18 years old. High school seniors. We had dreams and goals and plans. It was unthinkable, yet he did it.
It is on days like today that I truly appreciate social media. I posted my status about remembering him, and several of my old high school friends commented with their own perspectives on his death. Some talked about all that he has missed out on. Others spoke to the tragedy that he couldn’t see himself the way we all saw him.
One friend reminded us how silent the halls were as we moved between classes, each of us in utter shock at the news of his suicide. I had forgotten that part. As I closed my eyes, I could hear the roar of the silence. No laughter or horseplay. No talking. Only a few stray whispers and an occasional locker door closing.
You could hear people walking–not because any of us was wearing loud shoes, but because there was nothing else to hear.
There are details I will never share publicly about his death, out of respect for his family and for him.
This particular event in my young life forever changed me. Honestly. I never got over the feeling that maybe I could have done something to stop him. Maybe I missed an opportunity to be his friend when he needed one. I try not to ever miss another opportunity to be a listening ear for a friend, and that has been reciprocated countless times. It is because of him that I strive to keep the lines of communication open and honest between me and my husband and our kids.
If you are depressed or feeling lonely, please know that things really do get better. Find someone, anyone to talk to. A teacher, a coworker, a librarian, a parent, a friend. If they don’t have the answers, they may know someone else who does.
I promise, it really does get better.
For today, I will write in my novel from an old, deep wound in hopes that someone, someday will feel less alone when they read it.