Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Some days just are like this

Writer’s Block

It’s not usual for me
to sit and look
at the blank page
and have nothing come.
So, I’ll write about nothing coming
from this poet’s brain this afternoon.
Even as I write I need to stop
and think and go back and edit,
something I almost never do.
I usually write, keeping my fingers moving
on the keyboard until I finish.
And then I go back and read
and edit and maybe do a little rewrite.
But, this is not a usual writing day.
I am stumped.
I can’t think of anyone I don’t know
to write about.
My poem a week challenge to myself
may have to remain unfulfilled today.
Instead I write about this unknown
thing about myself and pretty soon
the page once blank seems
to be filling up with words
and I’ll come to the end of it
and perhaps forgivingly let myself
and my challenge off the hook
and call it a day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting ready to retire -- it's hard work!

I thought once I made the decision to retire, the rest would be easy. I’d go through a few papers, toss a few, keep a few, and that would be it. Not so. I’ve found this process of packing up and moving out very slow going. I’ve already dumped piles and piles of documents into a huge trash bag, and my office still doesn’t look like I’ve made a dent. No shelves are completely empty, no drawer is void of papers or supplies, and every wall and table and desk top still has things. I’ve packed up one box of personal things and left it on the floor for two weeks. Why don’t I just pick it up and bring it out to my car and drive it home? Then I could fill up another box and another and another.

Why am I so hesitant to break up this office and make it look like I’m actually moving out? Well, for one thing, assembling all my personal things in here and taking them home means finding a home for them there. There is definitely no room for all of this stuff there. I only have a small home office space with a limited number of drawers and shelf space and most of that is already filled up. I have no more room for all the stuff I have accumulated at work. And, I don’t want to give any of it up. It is all meaningful.

For example, I have a little sock doll that I got from my Uncle Phil that used to sit up on one of the shelves. I have toy cars and a set of boxes that belonged to Paul, I have several pieces of art glass, I have my family photos and the one of Bob and I with Bill Clinton, and I have several pieces of artwork on the walls: Paul’s prize winning water color from 6th grade, photos of the paintings I did for a harpsichord soundboard, a group of collages Adele did after Paul died, and a wonderful Doughty water color. Now how could I get rid of any of that? Plus I have a huge amount of photos – of family, friends, Adele’s work, and favorite New Yorker covers pinned to my wall. It’s all near and dear to me. It’s all important. And that’s my point. I don’t want to get rid of any of it, and I don’t know what I’ll do with it once I dismantle it and take it out of here.

So I’m stuck in inaction. I just sit here and look at it. And, now I’m just sitting here and writing about it. It’s the way I felt about 8 years ago when we actually thought about moving out of the house we’ve now lived in for 30 years. I opened one file drawer, saw some files that I couldn’t bring myself to look into, and I shut the drawer almost immediately. And, right then I decided there was no way I could move. Moving is just too daunting for me. It means looking at everything, reliving every memory those things bring to mind, and then making a choice about each and every one of them: keep or toss, toss or keep.

I also know another thing about myself. Once I get the stuff I decide to keep into my home, I’ll not rest until they each are in a proper place. I won’t be able to stand a clutter of unorganized boxes and papers. And, once I’ve settled on a place for each, there they will stay. I have things sitting in the same place in my house for over 10 years. The only time they get moved is to get dusted. That’s me. I’m a creature of habit. I don’t like change. And I especially don’t like to move.

Well, I still have a month to go. I’ll get it done I’m sure. But, every decision will be heart wrenching and difficult. It’s what moving out is all about.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Runaways

I took my darling 16-year old friend to see "The Runaways" yesterday about Joan Jett and Cherie Currie and the first ever all girls electric rock and roll band. The film had everything bad in it: drugs, heterosexual sex, lesbian sex, smoking, swearing, alcoholism, and punk rock and roll. And out of the mouths of babes. My young girl friend, who is a very mature for her young age, wondered why the parents of the 16-year old star, Dakota Fanning, even allowed her to take on such a part. She is really a baby herself. Although she was playing a 16-year old gone awry, she portrayed experiences in the film definitely not appropriate for a 16-year old. I definitely should have done more research on that one before offering to take my friend to see it.

Well, there was redemption. Currie, got over her addictions and went on to counsel teenagers about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. And, she wrote the script for the movie. The only thing that boggles my mind is that she now is a chainsaw sculptor. I couldn't belive it when I saw that fact in the notes at the end of the film. But, yes. it is true. Here's a sample.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Who pulled the trigger?

My massage therapist told me the story of a 15-year old boy’s death by suicide. He was defending another boy in his school whom his classmates, including his girlfriend, were harassing about being gay. He got into a physical fight over it even though he had a physical injury himself. Afterward his classmates accused him of being gay because he had tried to protect the gay boy, and his girlfriend got on the bandwagon. She sent him a text calling him gay and told him he ought to kill himself. And, he took her up on it. He knew where his dad locked away his gun and he got a hatchet to break the lock. Then he pointed the gun to somewhere on his head, neck, or throat, took a picture of that, sent it off to his girlfriend, and then pulled the trigger.

I wrote this short poem about the event. My final question is the point. Who actually pulled the trigger? Who or what actually pulls the trigger on any suicidal action?

This Speaks for Itself
I don’t even know his name
and I mourn for him
dead at 15.
He shot himself with his dad’s gun
after his girlfriend
called him gay
and texted him to kill himself.
He took her up on it.
He sent her his photo
with the gun pointed at his throat
just before he pulled the trigger.
Or did she
with her malicious text
pull the trigger for him?

Kay Jamison said in her book Night Falls Fast that in most cases of young male suicides the loss of a love is a contributing factor – along with their age and bipolar disease. So, I could very well have accused my son Paul’s girlfriend of killing him. After all she left him for another man about two months before he killed himself. I could also put more blame on myself. I was concerned that he stopped taking his medicine and shared that concern to his girlfriend. I thought she might be able to persuade him to resume taking it. Instead she followed through on an earlier threat that should he ever stop his meds again, she would leave him. Did I trigger her action to leave him and inadvertently cause his death? Really I don’t suspect I did. I think she just found someone else and was looking for a way out. His not taking his meds anymore was that out. Plus she probably already knew by his behavior that he had stopped.

I don’t, however, absolve myself from all blame. There is plenty of blame to go around. If I ever get my memoir about this published, you’ll be able to read all about it there.

In the meantime, I’m very worried about the maliciousness of teenagers and pre-teenagers toward their peers and how text messaging has become a vehicle to carry out that maliciousness. And I think what we know is just the tip of the iceberg. We have really no idea how these young folks are relating to one another through their various social networks.

The young adult book and film genre is huge. Perhaps there is a way we can get to these young people through the films and books we create for them. There has got to be a way to let them know how permanent the effects of their actions are whether they are loving or mean. This 15-year old young man died uselessly. And, the after effects on his family and the young girl who goaded him on will last forever. I suspect, though I’ll never know for sure, my son’s girlfriend will always carry with her the fact that her actions probably triggered his death. I know I’ll carry around my own guilt forever as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

To submit or not to submit; and if I do, what's next?

I submitted three poems to a fairly new journal on March 2, thinking its vision definitely fits the kind of poetry I write. Well, was I ever wrong. I received a lengthy rejection letter from the editor in chief yesterday – does he have nothing better to do than write long rejection letters?

Certainly I appreciate the time he spent in writing the letter and certainly I know that the poems I submit might not fit the subjective point of views of those who make the publishing decisions, but the way he characterized the critique criteria in his email to me boggled my mind: “Content was good or lacking; quality was good or deficient.”

My questions were: lacking in what, deficient in what, and even good in what? And I felt so strongly about it I actually wrote the editor back. And then he wrote another lengthy letter back to me and again I ask doesn’t he have something better to do? And, of course he turned it all around. He thinks I am complaining about his decision not to publish my work. No. I totally accept that. I was just complaining about the confusing nature of his critique and his rating scheme.

Actually it is all laughable. I sent the back and forth emails to my cousin Larry who publishes our poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show. His response is too funny. I’ll quote some but not all of what he said:


And, now I’m finished with this chapter. I’ll not respond to Mr. Editor again. And, I’ll probably not submit to that publication again. I’m doing quite okay publishing-wise without him, thank you very much.

And, don’t forget. Volume 2 of The Great American Poetry Show will appear later this year – it’s bigger and better than Volume 1.

Monday, March 15, 2010

There's always someone to think about

Here's another entry from my poem a week project about people I don't know.

The Guy at the Front Desk

Every morning it’s the same thing.
I walk into the gym at 5:15
I hand my pass key to the guy
at the front desk
he takes it and scans it in
says, “how are ya?”
and I’m off to workout.
His name is Henri
spelled with an i
though he doesn’t have a hint
of a French accent.
He’s tall, has a totally bald head
that he sometimes covers
with a knit beanie
to protect him from the morning chill,
and he always seems to be studying something
always standing up.
That’s it.
That’s all I know about him.
He rarely smiles
He’ll answer questions if asked
And I’m sure no matter how many times he’s seen it
on his computer screen
he has no idea what my name is.
I’m just one of the many
whom he encounters
with his standard greeting
over and over
until it’s time for him to leave
his post at the counter
at noon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Forty-three years

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the day Bob and I fell in love. And tonight we will wine and dine to celebrate. My husband is still a romantic, and I definitely love him for that -- and for so many more things for that matter. But, lately I've been very preoccupied with things work related -- actually not about actual work but reminiscing about my long work history, probably brought on by the goodbye speech I have to make when I retire.

I know that’s several weeks from now, but I’ve been working on it anyway. What I’ve come up with is a list of things that I’ve experienced in the company since I’ve been involved with it – that is not to say that I’ve worked here all that time. I started in 1963 and I’m retiring in 2010, but I did not work in this place straight through for 46 years. There were long patches of time when I was gone from the company. What's so is that I hired in five times and will have left voluntarily four times. The first time I had to leave because I was laid off with about 50% of the company. That was when Bob decided to rescue me and marry me. He actually first said he’d take care of me, but I was independent even then. I had gotten myself another job out in Azusa and was prepared to go ahead and take it. But he wouldn’t let me. So, we got married. That will be 40 years ago this coming May.

So, there’s been a lot of time to think about – 46 years worth, though I don’t feel old enough to have lived through them all. I can still remember what I wore the first day of work back on July 16, 1963. I had short dark brown hair and I wore a turquoise blue linen suit. The skirt was straight and short, the jacket was boxy, and the sleeves came down just to my elbows. I of course wore the mandatory girdle and nylon stockings and 3-inch stiletto pumps that all of girls wore in those days. I’m lucky I got away with it without the crooked toes and bunions that so many women in my generation have. I was just 23 years old and so eager and shy and ready to take on the world.

Very soon I realized that women and men weren’t treated equally at the company I had just joined. I had a college degree and was hired in non-exempt. The men in my department whether they had degrees or not were classified exempt. Plus they were lazy. We women did all the work. Even our boss spent most of the day sitting in the corner of his office smoking and dozing from the effects of all the alcohol he consumed. His face was always red. I don’t remember having one one-on-one conversation with him. His assistant, a woman, took on all things regarding personnel and work scheduling. She of course was non-exempt too. The only time we ever really interacted as a group was the day JFK was assassinated. We all stood at the door of his office listening to the news on his radio.

Three years after I hired in I was asked to be in a class action suit with other women in my company. If we won we’d get the same job classifications as the men. Well, we won. We got exempt status. But we still didn’t get equal pay. Instead we got a little $10 a week pay bump to make up for all the overtime we wouldn’t be eligible to get anymore. Hmm. So, was the suit worth winning or not? At the time I didn’t think so, but in the last few years I feel like my pay rate has finally caught up. Anyhow, I’m okay with what I make now.

And, now we even get a women’s history month. Of course the men get the other 11 months of the year, but at least the women get one. Perhaps by the time the little children grow up there will be real equality in the workplace between men and women. I’m sure I’ll never see it in my lifetime.

Enough about work. In fact, I’m looking forward to not writing about work at all pretty soon. I’ll just be writing. I feel like I have a good first draft of the first chapter of my novel. I’m just stuck in places where I need to fill in real data, and I haven't found out where to get it yet. Well, in due time. Like Jessica said, once I’m retired the real work of my novel will begin.

In the meantime, happy 43rd anniversary to us!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

More about More Magazine

A few comments about the More Magazine Reinvention Contest. 

Supposedly no more entries have been allowed since the end of February, but I had assumed voting could go on until March 26, the end date in the contest rules stated in the magazine. However, this week they’ve posted that the contest is over. Confusing at best. But, I think votes for me are still being counted. So please keep voting folks out there who might be reading this.

This process has been a real confront for me. I’ve asked everybody I can think of to vote: family, friends, work colleagues, and old buddies from high school. And I’ve found that a lot of people had no idea about Paul’s illness and death and how it’s affected my life. And, some of the comments I’ve gotten back from people have made me cry. At one point, I started crying so hard; it felt like I was reliving the whole experience of losing Paul again. It made me wonder whether this contest was worth it. I entered it to try to establish my writer’s platform – something I’ll need if I ever sell my memoir or any book for that matter. In fact the more writing credits and the more visibility I have the more chances I’ll have to get my book sold at all. It’s like a catch 22 – you have to be known to sell a book – especially a memoir, but how can you be known unless you’ve sold a book? It’s definitely crazy making.

Right now I’m nearing my goal of being one of the top ten contest vote getters – as of today I’m number 11. Perhaps if I get in the top ten, I’ll get some recognition in the print magazine. And, if so that would make the whole experience worth it.

Please vote for my More magazine story at:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Retirement countdown

Already March. And now the countdown really begins. I will be a retired person again exactly two months from today.

So, many people have said they’ll miss me and asked how can I leave when I’m so good at what I do. They've have asked why I’ve decided to retire and why now. Of course those who really know me know the reason. On my next birthday I’ll be 70 years old. Need I go on? Well, I don’t have to, but I will. Since my brother-in-law died last month and since my friend had her neck breaking automobile accident the month before last, I’ve felt how temporary life is. And at my age it’s more temporary than for most.

Plus it’s time for the young folks to take over. I’ve definitely overstayed my welcome. Sure, I’m good at what I do. Sure the department and proposal teams will miss me. But, I suppose that will be only for a short while. (Besides they'll probably have me back once in a while as a consultant, so they won't have to miss me for long.) I’ve always been a stickler for sticking to the process and for overachieving when it comes to preparing proposal tools. Now those folks who don’t care about such things can leave them by the wayside. Madeline, the curmudgeon, won’t be around to check to see if they’ve done their work.

A colleague suggested I write a memoir about my experiences working on proposals – about each individual proposal and what lessons could be learned from them. It was a compliment that he asked me to do that, but I’ll definitely pass on that writing assignment. Proposal teams can do a much better job at lessons learned themselves. Plus I have a novel to write.