Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bucket list update

Okay, here's the status. The things in Bold are the things I've accomplished. Needless to say, the results aren't good. Of course, it goes without saying, that my priorities have changed considerably since I wrote the first things down in November 2007. Well, yes, a lot of other things have changed as well.

Leave my job as a full-time employee and work as a consultant sporadically
Climb down into the Grand Canyon
Go to the parts of the United States I haven’t been to yet -- Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, the Carolina's
Visit Florida
Get my memoir published
Get a poetry book published
Read all the books that are waiting for me on the shelves in my closet -- starting with "The Golden Notebook"
Spend time outside in my garden
Get a Buddha for my garden
Spend more time in my home office
Write some new poems
Take a cruise on the Cunard in the Princess suites to Scandinavia and Russia
Visit my brother and his family in Denver
Go to Virginia to see Anna and Ian – this should probably be first on the list – and while there see the Annie Leibowitz exhibit at the Corcoran
Contact some folks about my blog
Get into a Mikveh
Be a better friend -- spend time with my friends no matter what.
Learn Italian
Live in Italy for a year
Keep my job until the economy turns around
Keep optimistic that the economy will turn around!!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Movie marathon weekend

We saw three films this past weekend in an effort to see as many Oscar nominated performances as possible before the awards show on Sunday night. We didn't see them all, but came pretty close.

Here's the run-down:

“Doubt” on Friday night -- I loved it – even though we saw the play. The script was very much fleshed out for the movie – the playwright did the screenplay so the story was consistent. And the acting was phenomenal – all the nominated actors – Meryl Streep for best actress, Amy Adams and Viola Davis each for best supporting actress, and Philip Seymour Hoffman for best supporting actor – all deserved their nominations. However, none of them won. Meryl and Amy showed their versatility because earlier in the year they each appeared in very different kinds of roles. And Hoffman is like a chameleon – he can be anyone he wants. Yes, Streep is a cameleon too.

“Frozen River” on Saturday afternoon -- This is a small independent film that I rented from Blockbuster. The lead, Melissa Leo, nominated for best actress, was wonderful in the part. I don’t remember ever seeing her before, but I've heard she’s been working in films for years. The script was also terrific. But, alas she didn’t win either. But what a transformation from how she looked in the film to how she looked on the Red Carpet on awards night. It’s amazing what a little makeup will do.

"Changeling" on Sunday afternoon – just before we turned on the Oscar awards show. I really resisted seeing this film because I can’t abide Angelina Jolie. And, the film in my mind was just okay. Her acting was just okay as well. She did look beautiful – but then, she’s a very beautiful woman. What I liked most about the film were the 1920’s Los Angeles set, and of course, the portrayal of how poorly the police treated women. They could throw them into a mental hospital on a whim – and have a doctor on their side mistreat the women once they were locked up. Absolutely despicable behavior. So, the movie had a good social message. Yet, it was very sad. The Jolie character loses her son. Stories about lost sons are pretty hard for me to take.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Honorable mention -- better than nothing!

I just heard that I received an honorable mention in the Women on Writing (WOW) Fall essay contest. The prompt was to write about creating a space you deserve in your home and using that space to exercise your creativity. I went to my memoir for inspiration, and I adapted my piece for the contest from there.

Since WOW will not be publishing my essay on its website, I'll publish it on mine. Here it is:

Making Room for Me

It took me almost six years after my son Paul died to redo his room. Once in a while we used it as a guest room, but the closet still had the dust accumulated since he last played his keyboards in there and his books and records – first in his meticulous alphabetical filing system on the shelves and later in neatly packed and labeled boxes stacked against the wall. We finally gave away his furniture and instruments and stacked those boxes of books and records out in our garage, leaving the dusty closet empty and ready to be transformed with file drawers and book shelves and a place to store my evening clothes.

I recreated his room, with a new hardwood floor, a bay picture window, walls painted deep taupe, a white ceiling and crown molding, and furnishings in vivid oranges and black, into my writing room and office. But, putting my style and tastes into it didn’t mean I was erasing him. Paul had been my muse for so many years; he would continue to be my muse in my new room. I recreated his room into a place where I could finish telling his story and mine – about his bipolar illness and how the medicines didn’t work for him, about how hard he fought against taking his meds because he realized he couldn’t live a creative life with them and how ultimately he couldn’t live without them either, about his suicide and its devastating aftermath, and how I managed to survive through it all.

Because I don’t want him to be forgotten, because I want the world to know there was a beautiful person named Paul Sharples who once lived and created his beautiful music in this room, it is fitting to write this story there.

I write sitting at a big draftsman table opposite the bay window. I sometimes like to gaze out to the garden, at the three palm trees, the small cement pond, and the ginger plants and my smiling Buddha behind it. I can hear the gurgle of the fountain. Once in a while a pretty colored bird comes by to take a seed from the birdfeeder or a dip in the pond.

It took me a long time to get to this place, but it is worth the wait. The orange sofa is like a futon – he once slept on a futon in this room – only richer and more elegant. A lava lamp in shades of orange like the one Paul wanted me to buy him the day we spent walking on Melrose right before his birthday, December 1995 stands on my desk. I had just bought him a pair of black wing tip shoes, and he saw a lava lamp in a shop window and immediately asked for it. But, I wasn’t feeling generous enough to buy it that day. Now, I know a lava lamp gyrates in time to music. Then, I didn’t realize that Paul didn’t just want a lava lamp. He needed one. He needed the lamp to calm him down and help him deal with the pain of his illness. And he needed it to keep time with his music whether it was the music he played on his keyboard or in his head. So, I needed one, too.

At first I worried that taking over his space and making it mine would be hard on me. But, I needn’t have. When I’m in there I feel cleansed and healed. It is a safe and comforting space. I feel calm in there, and that calm helps my writing. Maybe the little reminders of Paul in there help too. His candlesticks are on the top shelf of the bookcase, his photo is on the next shelf, and a charcoal and white chalk drawing of me when I was pregnant with him hangs on the wall. I also have a photo of a sunset taken on September 22, 1999 – his last night alive. It shows a beautiful reflection of an orange sun in a deep blue ocean. It is so peaceful. I also have an assemblage, another a reminder of Paul, called “Backbone” made by my good friend out of felt-covered wooden mallets originally used to strike the strings of a piano – the instrument that kicked off his music career when he was 10 years old. No, I haven’t erased him. He is in there with me. He is inside me. Always. No, I’ll never be able to erase him.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More about the movies

I really wanted to continue on the path of seeing as many nominated films before the Academy Award presentations next week, but I got out voted.

instead we went to see "Taken," last night, and I can’t believe the interest and the high regard for action films. I just don’t see the point. Liam Neisen was not acting, but being a ridiculous action hero who deflected every attempt to thwart his progress through the plot – bullets, car chases, hanging – it didn’t matter. No matter how people tried to get rid of him, he prevailed. It was really laughable it was so unbelievable. Plus, he’s getting old and isn’t in that great a shape anymore, so that he could do this action hero stuff makes no sense either.

Needless to say, I didn’t like the film. It made me sweaty because the plot line was so uncomfortable – people kidnapping young girls and then selling them into prostitution and slavery. It makes me uncomfortable because I know they do this all over the world – including the U.S.

This film in the end provides a good lesson for parents. Don’t let your young daughters go off on their own to Europe or other foreign countries on their own. The young guy at the airport who offers to share a cab with them may be their first contact in the kidnapping ring -- as was the case in "Taken."

Unfortunately, the film was still on my mind when I woke up this morning. Is that a message to me that the film was better than I thought? No, but the message had a huge impact on me. It's one the serious film makers ought to take on in perhaps a documentary. People need to know about the kind of crime portrayed in "Taken." Young girls need to be educated about it in school. They go around so exposed these days -- not only in the way they look but also in the way they act and think. Unless they are warned they probably think nothing bad could ever happen to them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

End of year letter

I found this on my desktop -- the end of year 2008 letter never sent. Who knows why. So, why not post it here? It's never too late to say happy new year to family and friends and to whomever else reads my blog. I hope this year is turning out the way you want it to, so far....

2008 Year in Review

The death of my brother, Ken, this year made the importance of seeing and keeping in touch with friends and family even more important.

So, this was a year of reconnection – with friends in town, in Ojai and Santa Barbara, in New York at Bob’s 50th Cooper Union reunion, in Washington State, in Colorado Springs at the Kwajalein reunion, and in Chicago and Winnetka for my 50th New Trier High School reunion.

We also visited family in the Washington DC area and New York twice, made a brief trip to my sister’s home in Oregon, and of course visited Denver many times – before and after Ken’s death. Going to Denver became like going across town on the shuttle bus.

Besides all these little trips we worked hard and sometimes very long – still on proposals to procure contracts worth billions of dollars for Northrop Grumman.

For leisure we saw our fill of movies, plays, and opera. Bob relaxed over his daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles and golf when he could find the time. He also started a training program at our gym and likes the results. I am still a gym rat, logging in at least an hour of some kind of exercise every day. I am also writing, querying agents to interest them in my memoir, and I’ve had a couple of publishing successes in the last few months. Sometimes there is an acceptance mixed in with all the rejections.

Ben starred in and produced a short film that was shown at the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival, and he’s working to turn it into a “Webisode.” Plus he’s writing two other scripts. However, tennis lessons still provide his daily bread. Marissa is the love of his life – a very lovely and caring partner for him. She’s also an actor.

So, even though it was a tough year of death and economic downturn, we are doing well. It is so reassuring to have so many loving folks in our lives like you.

Have a happy and healthy 2009.

With love,
Madeline and Bob

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My mother's birthday

Today would have been my mother's 101st birthday, had she not died in her sleep seven years ago. Here's a couple of poems I wrote about her. "Dream World" was published three years ago in the online magazine, "Mamazine."

Happy Birthday, Hilda! I hope you’re having a better time of it wherever you may be.

Dream World

I look toward my mother's bed
in its sunny spot by the window.
Her young nurse is smiling.
So is mother.
She lies in a blue hospital gown
printed with triangles, squares and circles
in shades of gray, burgundy and dark blue.
Her skin looks healthy.
Her thin, white hair brushed off her face.

After the nurse leaves, she looks at me
with wide eyes and asks,
"Do you want to play bridge? We need a fourth."
"I haven’t played in years," I say
She accepts that excuse
and points her long painted nails
to two or three other people
she imagines in the room.
"They will play," she says.

I stroke her damp forehead,
holding her bony hand bruised from the needles
that had been stuck into it.
I brush my fingers down her white, silky legs,
now devoid of hair.
"Do I look a mess?" she asks.
The sun casts a shadow across her bed.
"No, you look wonderful," I say.
She smiles at me, not minding
that her mouth has no bottom dentures,
and brags how her cousins
tell her how good she looks
and how well-dressed she is.
Even here with her gown hiked up to her diaper,
she cares.
I try to pull her gown down
but she keeps grabbing it.
I cover her with a sheet,
and sit down to watch her play cards.

"Six spades," she proclaims,
"Play out." I play out.
Using her night gown as her bridge hand,
she tries to lift off each pattern section
one by one as if it were a card
and place it on an imaginary table
in front of her.

I want to know what happened to her,
and what can be done about it.
"Hospitalitis," the nurse says.
She has seen it a million times before.
I go back to the bed and continue play-acting.
I am thankful too. Her mind is taking her to that other place
where she is young and beautiful
and lives on the west side of Chicago.
"I like this little room," she says.
"I’m glad," I say.

Letting Go

She flexed her fists
on the cold bed railing
keeping in time
with the rhythm of her heartbeats,
Soon her hold relaxed,
and with fingers intertwined
she wrapped her hands gently around the bar

Drugged from the morphine potion
placed kindly under her tongue
she lay there in a ball
like a sleeping skeleton,
her head tucked deep into her sunken chest
I sat with her, stroked her arm
like a skinny rail itself
and soothed the damp hair
off her forehead until she pushed me away
and took hold the railing again.

Finally too weak to reach her metal friend,
she allowed her folder fingers
to rest on the bed.
And I, kissed her graying, fading face
said my last I love you and goodbye.
A woman strong until the very end
took 94 years to finally let go.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All dressed up as a flower girl

My little great niece trying on her flower girl dress. A picture is worth a thousand words!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

UCLA Writers' Workshop

No, I haven't been slacking off. I've been writing, writing, writing all this past weekend -- Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday -- at the UCLA Extension Writers' Workshop. It was exhausting but worth it. I got a lot of good feedback on my memoir and my pitch letter, and I met some wonderful and talented writers in the process.

Barbara Abercrombie, the instructor, asked us to do several 5-minute writing exercises. Here are a few samples. The titles in bold were the assigned topics.

Okay, maybe it’s a habit or maybe an obsession. But, it doesn’t matter. I do it. I do it everyday. When the radio alarm starts playing some piece of classical music I get up in the dark – not even stopping to think maybe I’ll sleep in this morning – and turn off the alarm, go into the bathroom, turn on the light, and begin to get ready to go to the gym. I never lay out my gym clothes the night before. No. I move back into the bedroom and slowly open the armoire doors and pull open the drawers to get my socks, sports bra, tights. Then I gently close the doors so I won’t wake my husband. Then I go back into the bathroom and get dressed. Every morning it’s the same thing – get up, get my clothes, get dressed, wash up, and I’m out the door.

What Stays the Same in My Life
No matter what I do, what I say, Bob loves me. The look of love I see in his blue eyes when he takes my face in his hands is a constant. We’ve been through so much together in our 38-year old marriage – illnesses, deaths, good economic times, bad economic times, and certainly times when his scientific mind and my creative mind don’t see eye to eye. His tastes and mine don’t always jive, his needs don’t coincide with mine, and yet his love for me is always there. I can rely on it. I cherish it. And I know I must preserve it.

What I Believe
I believe that I can accomplish anything that I want – I think a bold statement for someone who grew up in the 1940s and 50s. I got a college degree despite my dad’s insistence that girls need only secretarial training in preparation for marriage. I got a divorce in the mid 60s – not fazed by being called the Black Sheep of the family for going through it – when I realized I had a better chance of happiness without my then husband than with him. I changed my career from technical writer, programmer, realtor, development director, and proposal manager whenever it was necessary for my lifestyle or it was time to learn something new. And, I made space in my life for creativity – early on as a painter and later as a writer. I love to mentor young women and encourage them to follow their dreams. For I believe women – especially now when equality between men and women is must – can compete on the same level as their male peers. They only need the confidence and fortitude to believe in themselves. I believe in yes I can. Yes we can.

Where My Memoir Takes Place
Paul’s room was small and dark. He kept his shades closed so he couldn’t look out to the yard. His double-size bed was pushed over to the wall and instead of using the new bedspread I had bought for him when he came back home to live, he coved his bed with the black comforter I gave him when he went to college. He had a big overstuffed brown chair in there though I don’t think he sat in it very much. Instead he’d lie on his bed or sit cross legged on the floor – his back up against the bed. He also liked to be in his closet. He composed music in there. He had his electronic keyboards, speakers, drum machine all in his closet. Plus, his collection of vinyl jazz records and books – all in alphabetical order on the shelves. When we first moved into our home I had a carpenter put up a wall of shelves in the closet. And through the years the contents on those shelves changed – from Dr. Seuss and Richard Scary books and legos to dungeon and dragon figures and games and miniature trains to adult books that included the complete works of Henry Miller and biographies of Miles Davis and John Lennon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

25 random things

Facebook gave me the opportunity to post 25 random things about myself. So, I just began typing. Here's the list I came up with.

1. I get up at 5 am every morning to go to the gym
2. I am a fanatic about getting over 12,000 steps on my pedometer every day
3. I love to go to the movies
4. I have a blog:
5. I write in my journal most every day
6. I'm trying to sell my memoir -- anyone know an agent out there?
7. My husband and I met at work -- the old TRW
8. We've lived in the same house in Manhattan Beach since 1979
9. We and our family lived on the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific in 1977-1978
10. I want to live in Italy for at least a year
11. My mother and father both immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe
12. I'm studying Italian
13. I don't drink coffee
14. I'm lactose intolerant
15. I haven't eaten red meat in almost 30 years
16. I love my new boss at work
17. My son is an actor and a tennis pro
18. I am a published poet
19. Esalen in Big Sur is my favorite place to go
20. I have many Buddhas around my home
21. My mother lived to be 94 years old
22. One of my favorite vacations included 5 days and 6 nights crossing the Atlantic on the QM2
23. I love to walk down to the beach from my home and along the Strand
24. I've lived in Manhattan Beach since 1972 and watched it grow up
25. I'm glad this is number 25!!!