Monday, December 31, 2012

My writing life in 2012

Writing became a way to live with my son Paul’s bipolar disorder and to survive his suicide as a result. However, I never dreamed it would become my way of life. I still cannot get through the day without writing something. However, in the last few years it has become more than a balm to ease the pain. It has become a joy and a way to meet and interact with some very wonderful writing friends. 

Like writing, I can never have enough Buddhas
(Richard Stock photo)

With that in mind, I thought I write down a few of the highlights of my writing life from 2012, starting with my first publisher’s decision to go out of business. At first I was indeed devastated and then so angry. She closed down with four days warning and cut off our websites even before that. But the devastation and anger were very short lived. I reached out to a few writing friends – especially Keith Alan Hamilton – and got some suggestions about where to query. However, my dear friend and mentor Mark Shelmerdine came through for me yet again. He suggested Mike O’Mary of Dream of Things and within two weeks after I contacted Mike, we had a publishing deal. And I couldn’t be happier with this connection. He produced paperback and eBook editions, began a huge marketing campaign, and scheduled a group of readings and a radio show in Chicago in September. That gave me the opportunity to meet Dina Kucera, another author on the Dream of Things list. Her book Everything I Never Wanted to Be is a sad and funny and heartwarming tour de force.

I also joined a few other Facebook writing groups besides the couple of poetry groups I have been in for the last few years. The National Association of Memoir Writers, Gutsy Indie Publishers, Write Your Life Story, Writing Wranglers, Rabble Writers, to name a few.  Also through Mike’s suggestion that I join Help a Reporter Out (HARO), I got a monthly “paying” writing gig on a site called Aging Bodies and connected with Meryl Hertstein who created Bounce Back Women and is planning an anthology of women who faced adversity and their bounce back stories. Other writing organizations I got involved in this year are Storylane, Story Circle, and She Writes. Too much for sure, but I’m never without some place to submit my words. Speaking of, I also participate in Robert Lee Brewer’s poem a day challenges in April and November and write to his weekly prompts.

Besides I continue to write for Naturally Savvy, PsychAlive, and Open to Hope, Red Room, and my own blog, plus my regular tweets and posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. I wonder what more is in store for me in 2013. The writing opportunities are indeed endless.

I’ve also increased my speaking and signing engagements this year – speaking about my book, writing to heal, and writing tips in general – on NAMW, Google+ hangouts, at a couple of Great Los Angeles Writers Society-sponsored writer’s conferences, and a wonderful evening at my synagogue on a panel about surviving tragedies – plus participating in the GLAWS booth actually selling and signing at the LA Times Festival of Books and the West Hollywood Book Fair.

And still there is always work to do. This writing life is way more than just sitting down to write. It is so easy to see my time gobbled up with marketing activities.

Probably why I keep putting my historical novel back on the shelf. That is not to say that I’ve made no progress. I’ve gotten to over 90,000 words this year. Actually I’m not looking to write many more words but to flesh out what I have – why I’ve signed on to take a workshop in revising my novel in February at UCLA extension – one of my first formal writing activities in the new year.

It’s so easy to be a lonely writer, so going to GLAWS meetings and interacting on hangouts and roundtables, and taking classes is always a way to learn and network. And through these kinds of activities I’ve made some wonderful writing friends this year who have generously hosted me and my book during my three-month blog tour and wrote guests posts on my blog Choices. I cannot thank them enough. Makes me feel I’m not so alone – that we all have the same questions, misgivings, and thoughts about our writing. Now I know whom my go-to people are for sharing and give and take. As with everything else it takes a village to be a successful writer. I look forward to more interactions in the new year.

Thank you again, my writing friends. I appreciate and love you so much.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Still writing to heal

I've written about writing to heal, I've talked about it in front of groups, and I must say, I'm still doing it. I journal, I write pieces for other websites and here about writing to heal from our tragedies, and I'm still reaping its benefits. I suggest, even if you've never written a word in your life, start journaling. You don't have to show what you write to anyone, so you're free to write down anything you want any way you want. And then you may be surprised. You may want to go public with your writing. Sharing our stories can be very healing to others.

Writing has been part of my life since I was in grade school. However, when my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and after his suicide I needed to write down my feelings daily. Writing in my journal became an obsession and a balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. I had used journaling during an earlier stressful period of my life to rant. So I felt that writing would help me again during what turned out to be the most stressful time of my life.

Early on during my son’s illness I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, my writing didn’t always take place in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day.

Right after Paul died I received a gift of Anne Brener’s book, Mourning & Mitzvah – A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993). It was the only self-help book I even opened, and I was compelled to write an answer to every prompt in the book.

Writing was healing because it helped me put my pain on the page. Instead of carrying it with me every moment of the day and night, I found a place where I could have a little relief. There was so much I couldn’t say out loud to anyone. My husband worried I was having a breakdown even if I cried too much. And since there was so much anger and grief in me, I needed a place to put it.  Writing in those days was like repeating a mantra. I just kept moving my pen across the page. And I wouldn’t let anything get in my way.

I recommend writing or another creative outlet to anyone who is looking for ways to heal. My husband and I also found many diversions – working out, work, movies, plays, opera, reading, traveling – that helped. I also recommend that we take good care of themselves and not let others tell us how long it should take to heal. Everyone needs to express their grief and take time to heal in their own way and own time.

I finally decided to take my journals and other writing and turn them into a book when one of my writing instructors kept telling me to get my story out. And the more he said it and the more the rest of the class agreed, the more empowered I felt. 

However, I didn’t have clue what to do next. Fortunately I met a former literary agent who read my poetry manuscript and suggested I organize my book in the order of the poems. She also gave me writing prompts that helped me round out my material.  

Throughout the writing, the querying, the revising, and even now during the marketing, I have had a village of qualified professionals who have been a huge support. These people have made my writing life so much easier. That was a true gift and the most unexpected result of all.

It is dedicated to my son Paul who died on September 23, 1999. We especially remember him on his December 31st birthday. This year would be his 41st.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Diversions still help

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’ve agreed to take on a consulting job for a few weeks. Actually I signed on because I was told the assignment would be over before Christmas. Yet as soon as I arrived, I found out it goes into January as well. So, I offered a compromise. I’ll work in the last week of December (two weeks beyond my initial commitment) – tomorrow and Friday and during the first week of January, and then I’ll be finished – just in time to get ready for my husband Bob’s hip replacement surgery the following week.

It’s not that I don’t like the job. I’m working as a technical writer and advisor to young engineers, helping them write and produce a proposal – something I’ve done in the aerospace business for years. The work is always interesting especially when the engineers are receptive and smart. However, it takes me over an hour each way to get back and forth. In my old work life I never spent more than ten minutes commuting each way because early on, my husband and I decided to live close to work. We never regretted that decision.  

What I do regret right now is that I’m not spending enough time here writing about memories of Paul and his up and coming birthday on New Year’s Eve. Maybe that’s the reason I took the job – so I wouldn’t wallow. I’ve always advocated participating in diversions to take my mind away from this tragedy in my life, and this time is no different. That the work opportunity came in December is a good thing. However, it doesn’t help me remember my son Paul any less.

Last Photo?

Things in Boxes
He left a black canvas box
filled with his music recordings
next to his bed,
the cassette tapes neatly packed
in order of performance.

And on his closet shelf
we found a cardboard box filled
with little games, cars, toys,
1984 Olympic souvenirs,
and the Russian buttons and buckles
his uncle brought back for him.

He fit these favorite things
together like an intricate puzzle,
before he left his body
for us to put in a box
in the ground.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Marilyn larger than life

We recently spent a couple of days in the Palm Springs, California area - ostensibly to see the 26-foot tall (equivalent to about three stories) and 34,000 pound statue of Marilyn Monroe, built out of stainless steel and aluminum. 

We also spent some time with some dear friends who live year-long in the desert. But for me the highlight was Marilyn. The statue, called "Forever Marilyn,"  created by sculptor, Seward Johnson, now age 80, will be in downtown Palm Springs until June 2013. 

Photos taken with my cell phone

Still Life

I walk up behind her.
Her champagne-colored skirt
billows up showing
her matching panties,
and long straight legs
spread wide.
I walk around
to see her face on
and find a Marilyn
smiling, happy,
her red lips parted,
eyes closed.
She holds her skirt
to keep the wind
from flying it up in front.
as a pleated halter
in the same champagne color
keeps her breasts
exactly in the right place.
This Marilyn,
strong, substantial,
built larger than life,
belies the insecure,
melancholy Marilyn
who left us
over fifty years ago.