Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's not always about me

It’s time to get out of the funk. It’s time to concentrate on my writing work – the thing I always turn to get me out of the deep mud.

Last week I began working on my novel again and I’m fulfilling my goal of writing about 300 words a day. That’s just about enough since I still am writing my own blog plus pieces for other sites. I just love having so much writing work to do. I can’t think of a better way for me to spend my time.

But my life isn’t all about work. Last weekend we saw Mozart’s “Cos Fan Tutte” (Women Are All Alike). It is categorized as opera buppa – comical opera. And it fits that definition perfectly. The most comical parts for me were the five characters singing all at once but singing different words with Mozart’s brilliant score keeping up with them. The plot is hysterical though at times uncomfortable. The two main male characters are convinced that they must test their lover’s fidelity, but in finding out that the women, who are “all alike,” can be enticed to be unfaithful, are being unfaithful themselves. So in reality the joke is on them. And by the end it is never clear if the women end up marrying their original lovers or the ones they are unfaithful with.  What is clear is that they all are reminded to look at life’s realities and be able to live with them.


Also, it’s time to think of others: my friend Jerry who has a neurological problem that is robbing him of his ability to walk, my friend Linda whose brain, which isn’t working properly and is currently being tested for cause, is scaring her to death, and Jason, Alice and Richard’s son, who is waiting for a heart transplant. In this week of the Jewish High Holidays and beyond, these folks need good healing thoughts that they will all be perfectly well by this time next year, and hopefully before.

Another person constantly in this mix, is my husband, Bob. While we were traveling last month he experienced a lot of back and neck pain – we think caused by the wet climates and salty food. However since we’ve been home he’s had a sprained back and just this past weekend a swollen and stiff knee. Ice and rest are helping. But to have his knee spontaneously swell up for no obvious reason is very distressing.

So here are good healing thoughts for a happy, healthy, and sweet new year. Flowers are healing too, like the stargazers Sheila and Tom sent us last week.

Stargazer Lilies - so beautifully fragrant

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23 is never a good day

Paul, 1992 - before bipolar

This is probably my worst day of the year. It’s Paul’s death day. And today it is twelve years since he died.

I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning, not even able to sleep in to my usual 5:30 or 6:00. I finally got up around 5:30 and went to the gym. That I worked out was a good thing. Working up a good sweat is always cleansing.

I also did a couple of things I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. I replaced his photo we’ve had fading on our mantle for the last twelve years with a new vibrantly colored copy. And, after Bob and I went to visit Paul's grave this morning, we stopped into the cemetery’s administrative office to make sure his gravestone is cleaned before our next planned visit on his birthday, December 31. Today, we saw a very dirty stone with grass growing over it. Still, as is our tradition, we each left a stone.

Other than that I am just hanging out – not doing much of anything. Not able to concentrate very well. But I didn’t want the day to go by without a post about him and how I feel today.

I also don’t want to forget all the love and caring that has come to us today from as far away as Berlin, Lake Oswego, and Cambridge England by phone, text, Facebook posts on my wall and Putting a Face on Suicide’s wall, and a flower delivery.  I can really feel the love. And, it sure helps knowing that Paul has not been forgotten. I thank you all for that.


My sister-in-law wrote in an email this week that it doesn’t get any better. And she’s absolutely right.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Welcome, Kathy Handley, author of Birds of Paradise

I am so pleased to host Kathy Handley today on her WOW – Women on Writing Blog tour and chat with her about her novel Birds of Paradise. Her subject matter is sad and powerful – about homeless teenagers in Hollywood California. 

Here is a brief synopsis:

When trucker Joe-Mack picks up a runaway in Vegas and drops him in 
Hollywood, he offers to help him. When the call comes, he reaches out to the boy and becomes embroiled in Freddie’s life along with Starlet, the homeless girl who desires stardom. The three have in common a search for love and for a place to belong. 
Set in California’s beautiful, yet challenging neighborhoods, the characters, like lost Birds of Paradise, take on risks and maintain thin threads of dignity amidst troubling situations with surprising twists along the way.

A recent reviewer said:
I read Birds of Paradise while on vacation in L.A.-- the perfect place to experience Kathy Handley's powerful portraits of young street people lost and found. Walking around Hollywood I saw her characters in the faces of the crowds and in the slumped figures in silent back alleys. She captures the rhythms, dangers, and dreams of Southern California -- dreams that are hard-wired in many an American soul and have pulled people West since the country's first inhabitants wondered what was on the other side of the mountains.

Yes, this is one of those novels where you can't help but imagine the big screen version. 
And the truck driver hero--he's good-hearted, but mighty complicated. 
Hmmm...I could see Chris Cooper playing him...or perhaps a young Harry Dean Stanton. 
What a wonderful and mesmerizing ride this novel takes us on-- 
through the back roads of Hollywood and the wide open highways. 
This story is brimming with beauty, heart and wisdom. I absolutely loved this book!

Kathy was pleased to answer a few of my questions about her book and her writing career.

Choices: How long have you been writing? What else have you published?

Kathy: Madeline, I started late in my life with formal writing.  My daughter tells me I was always a storyteller and I have memories of writing very sad and horrible poetry during my teens and college years. At the tender age of 58, I joined a writing group and from there attended conferences at Wesleyan, Grub Street classes, individual tutoring and mentoring with the fine writer, Bruce Machart, author of The Wake of Forgiveness (a must read!)  Inside the cover of my collection, there is a list of published work and contest placements that include Page to Screen judged by Sara Gruen, Press 53 2010 Flash Fiction, Istanbul Literary Review, and others. I encourage my writer friends to submit widely and enter all levels of contests.

My collection, A World of Love and Envy, Short Stories, Flash Fiction and Poetry was published in tandem with the novel, Birds of Paradise. I loved gathering a decade’s worth of work; the subtitles, love, yesterdays, envy, Irish voices and California Lost fell naturally into place.

Choices: Kathy, Do you have a day job?

Kathy: I’m chuckling at your question- do you have a day job? Now Madeline, I’m a woman of a certain age, retired from teaching and busier than ever. I have pawned off a few household chores on my hubby while I write and I’d recommend that.

Choices: Well, I can certainly relate to that. How many different ways are you putting the Internet to work to promote your book besides this WOW blog tour? Do you think this blog tour is helpful in promoting your book and encouraging sales?

Kathy: Since I’ve lived in CT, CA, MI and now MA, I love connecting through email and Facebook. My blog tour with WOW-Woman on Writing looks promising. I follow many writers, noting they work totally hard and express gratitude for readers.

Choices: What advice would you give a writer just starting a novel?

Kathy: If one is considering publishing, it’s important to review past work while following your own vision. If one is starting a novel, be sure to love your characters and the settings. You’ll spend a lot of time with them. Take classes and continue craft study.

Choices: Even though your book is a work of fiction, it has a very powerful message. What drew you to the subject of homeless teenagers in Hollywood California? What advice do you have for these young people?

Kathy: Rather than advice to the homeless teens, I would encourage folks to reach out and become involved with organizations that help them, such as My Friends Place in Hollywood. Now, my biggest passion involves helping children with cerebral palsy. My grandson, Eric, born at 2 pounds and now 12, is my inspiration. He and I may write a book this year.

Choices: Oh, I can’t wait to read that book when it comes out. 

Are any of the characters in Birds of Paradise based on people you know? How did you research your material?

Kathy: I start with images for my characters and write a lot about them- their backstories, and then, I put them in a scene and the magic happens. My 20 years in California helped me with the settings. I did research some things like the Getty Museum and desert flowers.

Choices: I’m most curious about Katha, aging actress? How did you create her?

Kathy: A dear friend, in Los Angeles, Molly, taught me a lot about older ladies, thus Katha, was born.

Choice: One last question. I’ve heard comments about making a film version of your story. Is a film in the works yet?

Kathy: I’d love to see Birds of Paradise on the big screen, as my friend, Jamie Cat Callan, Bonjour, Happiness, envisions it. It was considered when I won the Page-To-Screen, but no word yet. I’m hopeful and writers live with hope.

Choices: Thanks so much Kathy. We can’t wait to see Birds of Paradise on the big screen. Much luck with that.

About Kathy:

Author Kathy Handley

Kathy Handley’s grandfather entertained his family with stories and dancing, her father quoted Shakespeare and her mother was known as “Mary the Poet” so naturally Kathryn would become a writer…eventually!

Now a published novelist at age 71, Kathy’s short fiction has appeared in many literary magazines. She recently won Word Hustler’s Page-to-Screen Contest (2011) and currently serves as Prose Poetry Judge for the National League of American Pen Women Soul-Making Contest. A collection of her short fiction, flash-fiction, and poetry has also been released under the title A World of Love and Envy. 

Kathryn Handley’s Website:

Publisher’s Website:

Hashtag: #BirdsParadise

Birds of Paradise is available as eBook for Kindle or soft cover.

Please comment and ask Kathy Handley your own questions. She’ll be stopping by today to respond.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Company is coming tomorrow

I'm excited to interview Kathy Handley here tomorrow while she's on her WOW Women on Writing blog tour. Kathy is the author of Birds of Paradise and A World of Love and Envy (short fiction, flash-fiction, and poetry).

Birds of Paradise Front Cover

What is most exciting about Kathy and her newly 
published writing is that she, like I, started her writing career late in life. She was seventy-one years old when her novel, Birds of Paradise was released. 

For more information about Kathy and her work, click on these websites.

Kathryn Handley’s Website:


Publisher’s Website:

Hashtag: #BirdsParadise

And please join me here tomorrow to read what she has to say about her books, her writing career, and what she is most passionate about now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

September dreams and wishes

As it gets closer to the anniversary of Paul's death day, my dreams about him become more vivid. It's happened like this for twelve years. I also think about all the things he's missed in all that time. Here are a few poems on those subjects written in years past and photos in his memory.

Wishing Dreams

I used to think when I dreamed about him
He was near. That if I reached out far enough
I could touch him. That if I looked hard enough
I could see him.  Last night
The tears streaming out of his eyes
Were so real I could taste them
And I knew
They were mine.

Paul's Bench

September 23, 2002

The phone rang once
Startling me awake
From a deep sleep
I jumped out of bed to answer it
Knocking over the Waterford
Crystal perfume bottle
On the way.
And to naught –
There was no one on the line.
I looked over at the clock
Only 5 a.m. but I was up for
This day, September 23, 2002,
The third anniversary of Paul’s death
A day that I dreaded for so long
And all I could think
Paul was calling to check in
Letting us know he was still around
Somewhere, And somehow
That one ring was a comfort rather
Than a wake up call.

The Wishing Dream

I startled and opened my eyes
Wide in disbelief
There was Paul
Standing by my bed
Calm, quiet, his lips turned up in
The little smile I remembered so well.
I reached up to touch him
His pale skin was cool, dry and very real,
Very much alive.
Mom, I’m back, I’ve come back
I really didn’t mean to leave forever
Two years ago.
And as he spoke the tears began
Pouring from my eyes
I was crying for all the days
I’d missed him, mourned him, looked for him
How I scoured the faces of all the
Young men who passed by.
The ones with short blonde hair,
Beautiful blue eyes
Fringed in black lashes
How I listened for his music
Every time I heard a jazz piano tune
In a bar, on the radio, on a CD
How I remembered him everywhere I went
Under the pier in Manhattan Beach
On the wide red-tile stoop outside Starbucks
In a dingy piano bar on Avenue A in New York’s lower East side
In the kitchen chomping on a handful of almonds
In his room where his jazz records still stand
In neat ordered rows on the shelf.
I got up and went to him
Giving him a welcoming hug
Never wanting to let him go again.

September 29, 2001

 Paul's Tree

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thank you for sharing my memory of Paul

A big thank you to all of you who have donated and/or signed up to join me on September 25 for the Didi Hirsch annual suicide prevention Alive and Running 5K. 

Now that I'm on the 5K committee I was asked to set a fundraising goal. And at the outset I set my goal only at $500. But thanks to you I just upped it to $1000.00 and I'm only $48.00 short of reaching that because so many of you responded to my Ask. 

Just to give you a little background, I first discovered Didi Hirsch after Paul died. My husband and I participated in their eight-week Survivors after Suicide workshop. And as depressing as those sessions were, they had a lasting effect on me. I also found out that as horrific a story of  loss as mine was, it could always be worse. 

I also reconnected with a person I've known since grade school in Glencoe, IL through my involvement with Didi Hirsch. Stan Lelewer's son killed himself about six years before Paul, and when he heard about Paul through a mutual friend he was at our home comforting us within an hour. Stan's work at Didi Hirsch has been non-stop: a volunteer at its suicide prevention hotline, chair of the Board of Directors, and now a first responder with the police when a call comes in about a suicide. He also encouraged me to get involved, so of course, as soon as I was able, I joined in. I have found that one of the best ways to keep my son's memory alive is to volunteer in his behalf. 

Again, I hope you'll sign up or donate - you've got about a week left. Click here to visit my personal page. -- to sign up or donate. (If you sign up be sure to join Team Lelewer.) 

If you can't make it, please join me in spirit. And if you can join me, you'll easily find me in the crowd. Just look for this sign on my back.

In Memory of Paul

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No, I shall never forget

Putting a Face on Suicide

Just because I haven't mentioned it all month, just because I've been busy posting about my European trip and September 11, just because I'm working like a fiend on book marketing doesn't mean I've forgotten. No, there is no way that would happen. The anniversary of my son Paul's death day (did I make up that term?) is looming and it is constantly on my mind. September for me is that dreaded month. First because of Paul's death and two years later the September 11 disasters. I've never been able to make sense of either one. 

I wrote this poem (really just a musing) in October, 2001 at an Esalen, Big Sur CA workshop.

Tragedy in Perspective

They say the poets need to retell the story
to find meaning in the devastation, the incineration
of over 3,000 people. We are
the ones who can make the world feel better
with the beauty of our words.

But, I can’t find the meaning.
All I can see is the grief,
the disbelief, the yearning,
searching looks on the relatives, 
friends, colleagues wanting to know 
why their loved ones
vanished so quickly,
just like they were sucked up by a UFO
a tornado, an avalanche
never to be heard from or seen again.

Perhaps if I compare this devastation
to the one in my life
I can find the right words
The day Paul took his life,
September 23, 1999,
my life, the lives of my family,
were never the same again.
But, is it too selfish, too petty
to look at September 11, 2001 that way?

So, let me simply say,
I can relate to those left behind
I can feel their pain
I want to tell them I’ve been there too.
I know what it feels like to have a beautiful
living, breathing human being reduced to
a bag of ashes.

Yet, maybe I’m lucky.
At least I had the ashes
at least I could bury them so when I miss him
I can visit and cry at his grave
and soothe away the dust from his gravestone.
The others have nothing
only the horrific memory 
of watching the collapse
of two massive structures
and the disintegration of thousands 
of people still inside.

I feel for them all
the grievers, the mourners, the lovers,
the children, the mothers
all those left behind.
They are all me
married to me by their grief.
And I know as they know
we will all never be whole again.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A September 11 story

On this tenth anniversary of September 11, it seems fitting that I share a story about my friend, Brenda Newman, who played a huge part in restoring the jewelry recovered from Flight 93.

Flight 93:  The Jeweler’s Story
In El Segundo, CA, known as one of the last lazy 50s style home towns in the country, 3,000 miles from the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, Brenda Newman completed the delicate, intricate and sad work of restoring and repairing the bits and pieces of jewelry and artifacts recovered from the scene. 

Brenda Newman

Newman is an elegant woman. Tall, slim, toned, with short reddish-brown hair softly feathered around her face, she is dressed for business in a tailored pantsuit. Most remarkable about her attire are her jewels – a huge emerald and diamond ring adorning her ring finger on her left hand, a ring with a large diamond surrounded by pave diamonds on her right pinky finger, a gold and diamond watch, hoop earrings with large square solitaire diamonds embedded in them and a whimsical pearl pin perched on her jacket near her shoulder blade.

Newman first told me of the work she was doing in January 2002. At that time she was working with the second batch of 36 pieces found at the September 11 crash site in Pennsylvania. The following April, she showed me the third package, a two-quart size baggie with about 35 smaller baggies inside, each with a number written on it with a black marker. She had no information about the names of the victims that corresponded to the numbers or even if a number corresponded to a victim at all. She restored over 100 pieces in all to be returned to the crash victim’s loved ones if their identity is known or photographed and displayed in a catalog so that family members have a chance to identify and claim them. 

She reached into the baggie and pulled out a smaller one containing a gold ring. It was broken in two and flattened and distorted from the impact of the crash. There was a silver ring in the same condition. 

“Look at this,” she said over and over as if she were trying to grasp the force that had reduced these precious keepsakes into pancakes. Some of the recovered items were loose at the bottom of the baggie. A single pearl, a few purple beads on a short piece of string, a quarter.  “There’s nothing to be done with these, absolutely nothing,“ she said.

“The first batch sort of haunted me,” she said. “I was moved, I was really touched.” Now, she says the impact is not so great. But, I could tell from her eyes – bright, shining from the tears just ready to flow, her work with these items touched her deeply. 

She let me inspect the contents of the baggie a little closer. Everything inside was dirty just as it was picked from the ground, she explained, probably at the point 50 feet below the surface where the crash had the deepest impact. I saw lots of watch and bracelet parts, a large medal perhaps two to three inches in diameter with Latin words on it only bent slightly. I wondered why anyone would carry something like that on an airplane. Also in perfect condition was a heavy gold chain that looked like costume jewelry. There was also a white gold ring, still perfectly round. It once had five stones. Only one was left, and, that was a miracle. 

In November, 2001 Sam Douglass and his son Sean, owners of the neighborhood mortuary, asked Newman to repair the pieces of jewelry that were recovered from the site. Sam explained that each recovered piece would need a before and after picture and that he would simply like them to be straightened and polished so that each piece could be returned to the loved ones with the greatest of care. Sam Douglass had been hired by the airlines to oversee the body identification, preparation, shipment, and funeral arrangements of the September 11 crash victims, work he has done many times before. However, this was the first time he was also asked to help catalog property. 

Because of Newman’s standing as one of a few jewelers in the country accepted as an American Gem Society member for high ethical standards, knowledge, and professionalism in her industry, Douglass knew Newman could responsibly take on the job of restoring this precious property. Besides he has known her and her family since her grandmother was in business on El Segundo’s Main Street.

“I must say I felt both privileged and scared,” Newman said. “I was privileged he asked me because I respect this man and the caring work that his family business does. I was anxious because it occurred to me that I would be handling the jewelry the heroes wore. I feel honored to have touched it, repaired it, cleaned it, and delivered it in our little velvet pouches,” she said.

The first delivery consisted of a large plastic bag with about 24 individual baggies inside, each with the name of the hero whose recovered item was inside. Most notable was Andrew Garcia’s wedding band, identified by the inscription, "All my love, 8-2-69" on the inside. After Newman finished rounding it out with a tool called a mandrel, polishing it and placing it in her store’s, The Jewelry Source, trademark velvet pouch, it was turned over to the FBI who presented it to Garcia’s widow on December 26, 2001. She says Dorothy Garcia now wears her husband's wedding ring on her middle finger on her right hand. 

Once work began she took each piece out of its individual baggie one by one, laid it on the table next to the baggie and photographed it with an Olympus digital camera. After taking the picture, she assessed each piece looking for cracks and fissures and discussed with her craftsman what, if anything besides cleaning and polishing could be done to the piece. If the piece could be repaired it was, like rounding out a flattened ring. After the piece was finally cleaned and polished – and for some pieces that was all that could be done – she laid it back on her table for the after photo and returned it to its baggie. She also made a hard copy of each photo. She gave the pieces of jewelry and photos to Douglass when the entire job was finished. 

“When I sat down to assess what needed to be done,” she said, “I must admit that in those moments of reviewing the jewelry I physically felt the impact of what happened on that day. To hold what looks like a wedding band that is carefully engraved, or parts of an unrecognizable chain, or the wings of what could have been worn on the Captain’s jacket was overwhelming. Inspecting what needed to be done made me realize the impact of the plane. I am amazed that any artifact survived.”

Born and raised in El Segundo, her father was retired from the local fire department and her grandmother, had owned a beauty salon in the downtown area. Inspired by her grandmother’s entrepreneurial legacy, Newman said she wanted to be in the jewelry business since she was a junior at El Segundo high. She had a choice about jobs – the old Broadway Department store in Westchester, waiting tables at a local restaurant like the Main Street Café across the street, or working in a jewelry store. She chose jewelry and never looked back even though in her first job at De Luca Jewelers in 1974 she did little more than sweep floors and polish display cases.  Still, she said, she kept her eyes and ears opened and learned a lot.

After high school she attended the local two- year college, El Camino, and worked part time at the now defunct Christopher Bennett Jewelers at the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City. She later transferred to their Orange County South Coast Plaza store and eventually moved on to Cartier, and later, Jewels by Joseph. Finally, she took the six-month residency program at the Gemological Institute of America and became a graduate gemologist in 1985. This study allowed her to transfer her practical knowledge gained while working over 10 years in jewelry stores to the precise knowledge of gems and metals and findings and the business of jewelry. 

She met her business partner, Roanne Mahoney, now retired, on the tennis court.  Mahoney, a painter who specialized in painting faux images on furniture has a great eye for color and style. Newman persuaded her to go with her to a local gem show where they bought pearls and beads and findings. They made jewelry out of their purchases and hawked their designs to their friends and local businesses. Their success from this adventure – their friends fell in love with their pieces – persuaded them to take the jewelry business seriously. So, seriously that Newman has been in business on Main Street El Segundo for over 18 years – six at her current location. 

After Newman completed her work, Douglass presented her with a thank you plaque that read: “The Jewelry Source – In appreciation of your compassionate assistance in the Somerset County, Pennsylvania air tragedy of September 11, 2001 – S.W. Douglass, Airline Funeral Coordinator. “

 “Though I didn’t personally know the victims and families involved in this tragedy, I have never found jewelry to be more powerful,” Newman said. And even though her long-time business has been the selling of beautiful precious things, this work gave her a new perspective. “You have relations and memories. It’s not the things that matter,” she said.

 by Madeline Sharples

For more information about Brenda's efforts, please read these articles [1] [2] [3].