Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November sunset

As the sun sets on November I'll share a wonderful sunset photo my husband took from the end of the Manhattan Beach pier

and a twitter-length poem for autumn.

Autumn Isolation

I like that as the trees rustle outside,
stripping in the sunlight,
I can’t hear their sway
I can’t hear their song.

[Published on Twitter and at unFold Magazine on September 21, 2011]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Compartmentalization is tough

I’ve been volunteering at the Facebook Putting a Face on Suicide page for nine weeks now. Each Monday I sign in at twelve noon and stay focused on the page until eight in the evening. My job essentially is to either Like or respond with a message to every comment that is posted on the page. Though I’m able to move back and forth to my writing work or look at my emails or write a blog post, as I’m doing now, I need to check back every couple of minutes so I can respond quickly. It’s not good to let people know there is no one minding the store, so to speak.

I have gotten a lot of value from doing this job. I look forward to it every week because I know the wonderful service it provides – solace to those who have lost loved ones to suicide. It is a place where our memories never die. It is a place where we can see their faces and read their stories whenever we want.

 Paul's Putting a Face on Suicide poster

This job is also a huge confront for me. Even though my Paul died over twelve years ago, my grieving for him is not over – and I know it never will be. So I must compartmentalize from my grieving self – as I do in all the other things that go on in my life – and be an objective responder here.

And that is so hard because every week there is at least one photo and one story that brings me to tears. Today it is the photo of a 28-year old man who died fourteen years ago. A young woman commented that he was her first love.

Last week it was the photo of a boy nine years old. Why oh why does a nine year old want to die? But he was not alone. The week before it was a photo of a girl only ten years old who hung herself as a result of bullying at school.

I don’t know what the statistics are for suicides caused by bullying, but I’ll bet the numbers move up every year. A Facebook page Bullying is for Losers may have the numbers.

Suicide happens to people of all ages. Today I see photos of: Terry age 52, Jim age 47, Kelsey age 15, Ashley age 24, Wade age 19, Elizabeth age 33. And they all left behind someone like me who has to go through life compartmentalizing his/her grief in order to survive and move on.

And, please remember that Putting a Face on Suicide is not for people in emotional distress. Please call 1-800 784-2433 [SUICIDE] if you or anyone you know needs help. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving thankfulness - 2011

In early September, my friend Alices’ son started the heart transplant process. First he had to be evaluated to find out if he was indeed eligible. And yes, after a battery of tests, various medications to keep his heart plugging along, and several days wait, his doctors determined he was eligible.

Then the long wait for a heart – that he envisioned as his Golden Heart – began: first at the hospital, then at home with a fanny pack containing a 24-hour medication drip, then quickly back to the hospital again.

By mid October, his heart had began to deteriorate and the lack of circulation was affecting his other organs. To ameliorate this condition he underwent a BiVad the implant of a heart pump that supports both sides of his heart to get the blood circulating and oxygenating throughout his body. Then, by late October and early November, although he was in and out of the ICU a couple of times, he had healed nicely, had a healthy rosy glow, had more and more energy and appetite, and a patient acceptance that his Golden Heart would be along soon.

A 22-year-old heart arrived on November 21. He had surgery that evening and as of this writing he is sitting up and holding good conversations.

As his mother says: it is truly a miracle and a tribute to the staff at the Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

We are all thankful. I’ve known this young man since before he was born. His mother* was the first friend I had when I moved to Los Angeles in 1961. We are like family. I am overjoyed at this wonderful result.

*Alice and Richard Matzkin are artists who created the beautiful book, The Art of Aging.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Public Speaking - a new career?

This past Saturday morning I spoke at a meeting of our local chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). And as usual, after all my stressing about it and worry that I would totally mess up, my talk went very well. I was “on stage” for forty-five minutes speaking about my writing background, local organizations that provide mental illness and suicide prevention help, how I used writing to get me through the grief of losing a son to suicide, and how I created my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On from my journals, poetry manuscript, and writing workshop pieces. I also read two prose pieces and two poems from the book. I never thought I could hold forth for so long. In fact, when the program chairperson called to set up my presentation we decided to give the group a writing exercise if I didn’t have enough to say in the time I was allotted.

Although I had my cheat sheets in front of me and just needed to glance down on them from time to time to make sure I was keeping my place, I really talked off the cuff the entire time. Even at the outset when someone asked about Sandy Banks’ article about a suicide in the Los Angeles Times that morning, and the mother’s feeling of guilt afterward, I was ready. I had read the article and had cut it out to bring along. I commented on the article and how the subject related to me, and I passed the article around the room.

I ended up with many kudos from the powers that be in the AAUW group. One even said it was the most moving presentation they’ve ever had. What a great compliment. They also asked me to join the group.

So all the stressing was worth it. But I do need to look into why I go through this every time I need to speak in front of a group. It’s not that I’m new to public speaking. I spoke and taught classes many times while I worked full time, and even now I’ve presented many times about my book. And I was very prepared. I wrote out a script, I knew which prose parts and poems from the book I would read, and I brought along several things for show and tell. Even if I hadn’t remembered any of the points I wanted to make, I could have read the whole thing.

What I keep forgetting is that I’m an expert on my topic. I could talk for hours about it. After all I wrote a whole book about it.

By the way, we still went ahead with the writing exercise – it just cut our questions and answers time a little short. And, I was delighted that this group of women so readily participated and were so willing to share their writing with the group. Our topic was “your most devastating school experience.” Most of the women wrote about something that happened to them in Kindergarten. And since this was a group of senior women, the experience must have been very devastating if they still remembered it.

What would you write on that topic?

Friday, November 18, 2011

String Bridge - review and author interview

I recently had the great pleasure to read Jessica Bell's debut novel String Bridge. And I happily gave it a well-deserved five out of five stars. 

From the outside it would appear Melody Hill, the main character and narrator of Jessica Bell’s debut novel, String Bridge, has a perfect life. She lives in Athens with her charming Greek music promoter husband, she has an adorably precocious daughter, and she has a dream job as an editor for a publishing company with a promotion and raise in the offing.

But getting deeper into her story, the reader finds what’s hidden behind this fa├žade and her wanting-to-please-everyone persona. She is frightened by her husband’s abusive yelling and mortified at finding out he has had an affair. She is suffering from the effects of her mother’s erratic bipolar behavior and worries that she is bipolar herself. She is constantly searching for help from her silent but loving father. And she regrets giving up her music career for a life that she can hardly bear anymore.

That author Bell is a poet is evident through her use of metaphors, rhyme, and repetition. As I said in my review of her book of poetry, Twisted Velvet Chain, Bell is “a genius at portraying the raw and the dark parts of life through her use of clipped lines, staccatos, onomatopoeia, and descriptions of icky body fluids.”

In String Bridge she describes a character sometimes so disheveled that she wears unmatched shoes to work, she doesn’t wash off yesterday’s smeared makeup or bother to separate whites from darks in the washing machine, and her buttons pop off her dress during a public speech. Melody always seems to be cleaning up jammy fingers or other messes. Bell excels in showing life’s little details.

This is a novel that has it all: regret, romance, sex, desire, guilt, an adorable child, a bumpy marriage, mental illness, a devastating tragedy, and the promise of a live-happily- ever-after-ending. But, that ending doesn’t negate the ever-increasing struggle to get there. String Bridge is a wonderful read, well worth going through the struggle to find out what happens to Melody Hill and her family in the end.

And I also had the opportunity to ask Jessica a few questions about her writing life. 

1.   Describe your writing work day.

To be honest, I don’t actually have one. You know that writing rule, that many an established writer preaches, “If you want to be a successful writer, you need to write every day”? I don’t live by it. I don’t even allocate specific hours. When I have time and feel inspired, I write. I think it’s perhaps because I write slowly and edit as I go. I can’t move on unless I’m satisfied with what I’ve written. It’s just my way. And it works for me. I’m now on to my third novel. Yes, it takes me about a year to finish that “first draft,” and then another year to revise, but my first drafts are more like the quality of a second draft when I’m finished with them. So I don’t mind being slow.

2.   WOW, a third novel already. Do you also have a day job?

Yes. I’m a freelance English Language Teaching text book writer and editor. I’ve collaborated with Macmillan Education, Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, Hellenic American Union (HAU) and Education First. The latest book I’ve written is Build Up Your Writing Skills: for the ECCE, published by HAU.

3.   Did you have other careers besides writing and playing music?

Well, actually, yes, and I still do it. Every now and again I do voiceovers for books, multimedia and toy companies.

4.   You are so busy. Plus I am very impressed with all you accomplished with your blog tour. How did you arrange it? 

Luckily I already had an established blog and have made so many wonderful friends through it. All I did was create an online form for people to sign up. In two weeks I had more than 90 blogs wanting to participate. Never underestimate the power of the social networking!

5.   I'm definitely going to use your example in arranging my next tour. By the way, I love your book of poetry, Twisted Velvet ChainIs String Bridge your first traditionally published work? 

It’s my first published novel, yes. But I’ve had various poems and short stories published in anthologies and literary magazines.

6.   How did you find your publisher? Lucky Press also published my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On and I couldn't be happier.

I actually found Lucky Press online when I was searching for a Small Press to submit to. I couldn’t believe it when I found their website. I just knew we would be a perfect fit. Looks like my instincts were right.

7.   I felt the same way after I found Lucky Press. We're so lucky to have connected with it  and each other. So, what other ways are you putting the Internet to work to promote your book?

Other than keeping my blog and website up-to-date, I’ve started a website dedicated to String Bridge. ( Here readers will find book reviews, lyrics, and be able to listen to samples of the soundtrack and purchase it as well. I’ve also signed up with Bridge Social Media, a company dedicated to marketing authors and their work on all sorts of social media.

Thanks so much, Jessica. I'm indeed impressed. The only advice I have for you is: Keep Writing (which I already know you're doing).

If you are convinced from what you've read here to buy her book, here are some ways to do it and some ways to contact Jessica.