Monday, January 28, 2013

Why I added photos, poems and quotes in my memoir

One of the first reviewers of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, said, “….The poetry and photographs add an extra dimension that is missing from most memoirs like this since as a reader you get much closer to the reality of what is being described on the page….” (Mark Shelmerdine, CEO, Jeffers Press). Another reviewer said my book is “poetically visceral.” Those statements helped validate any misgivings I had in adding other creative works into my manuscript.

First photo in the book

I really hadn’t thought of putting photos in my book until my publisher suggested it. And of course I was delighted. At first she suggested photos interspersed within the chapters, but my book didn’t lend itself to that. So I picked out photos in groups: of my son Paul – the main subject of the book, of him and his brother, family photos, views of my office, garden, and one of the memorials to Paul – a bench dedicated to him on the greenbelt outside our home. At the time I had no idea what an impact these photos would have on the message of the book. However, I was then reading Keith Richard’s memoir, Life. It has two photo sections. And I kept going back to these photos as I got to know more about the characters in his book.

Inserting my poems was another story. I never even considered leaving them out. They were instrumental in my book’s organization. I had journal entries and other writings to draw from and a poetry manuscript, and I arranged my book’s chapters according the order of the poems in my poetry manuscript. However, I still worried about what others would think. So many agents state that they don’t look at poetry. A memoir workshop instructor didn't like the idea. However, one of the people who had read my poems several years ago now says he can relate to them better because of their context in the story. The bottom line is: I was fortunate to find a publisher who not only liked the poems I had in the book, but asked for more.

Because I collect quotes – I usually note them down when I read, and I continually post them on my Facebook author page – I decided to insert three quotes in my book– two from books and one from a song. And that turned out to be the biggest problem in finally getting my book to print. Since I felt they were integral to my story I was adamant, but it took months to get the necessary permissions (see my Red Room blog posts dated September 15, September 29, and November  13, 2010 - The main lesson is: if you want to include other authors’ words in your book, start getting permission early.

All in all I felt it was well worth the extra time it took to include other works in my memoir. My writing is very personal and I feel the photos, poems, and quotes helped deepen the personal message of my words.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Paul’s lyrics – found after 25 years

I received a note just after the first of the year from one of Paul’s friends from Crossroads High School. Martin and Paul spent a lot of time at each other’s homes on the weekends writing and recording music. When they were at our house we could always expect a new recording waiting for us to play in the morning.  We’ve kept in touch with Martin and his family since Paul died. 

The Sharples family, 1988 (Paul is in back)

Martin said in his note,

“I was cleaning out some very old files and found two old hand-written lyrics by Paul, both written aged 16-17 I'd say.  One is a straightforward love gone wrong song and one is a rather harsh reproach of hippies who've sold out.”  

Having something else that Paul created is such a gift – it helps fill in another piece of the puzzle, showing his prowess as a writer along with his playing and composing talents. The two pages that I received in the mail from Martin yesterday are ripped and faded, but no less valuable to me. 

The other page is barely readable

I’ve copied Paul’s lyrics here to share with you.

When I’m With You

Chorus    I never feel more alone than when I’m with you

Verse 1    Take me away to a faraway place
              You do it, then you slash my face
              Sometimes it’s useless to even try
              I’m still in love and I wonder why

Verse 2    A different excuse but it’s all the same
              You don’t love me but no one’s to blame
              We learn from mistakes made in the past
But we forget and move too fast

Verse 3    It’s cold and dark and raining outside
But if I don’t leave I’ll swallow mu pride
There’s no one else like you out there
But I’m too hurt to even care

Bridge     Where’s your kindness, your sense of shame?
I guess to you, it’s all a game
You lock me out, then pull me in
When I respond, you burn my skin

You Just Don’t Care

Do you still draw peace signs on your clothes?
Do still wear flowers in you hair?
‘Cause if you did, we all might be alive tomorrow
But you just don’t care. You just don’t care

You got your million dollar house and your two-car garage
That’s filled with the spoils from your latest treasure chase
You can see your own reflection in the pools of blood you’ve spilled
But your friends from when you were a kid wouldn’t recognize your face.

If I asked you solemnly would you tell me the truth
About why you have turned out this way and where your love has gone
Do you think that the problems in the world have gone since you’ve grown up
Or you have just erased them from the pictures you have drawn

Monday, January 21, 2013

Magical thinking revisited

I wrote the following piece for the Bereaved Parents Newsletter, lovingly produced by Peggy Sweeney of The Sweeney Alliance and her Journeys Through Grief blog. And I'm thrilled to share that it's listed on the newsletter's Top Ten for 2012. The Sweeney Alliance is a nationally recognized company that provides help to families and professionals coping with grief and stress. Since 1990, they have developed and facilitated specialized programs that teach children and adults how to reinvest in life and living following a life-altering event such as the death of someone loved, divorce, violence, neglect or disability. Here's how to contact Peggy.
Peggy Sweeney, Founder and President
The Sweeney Alliance
1601 Quinlan Creek Drive
Kerrville, TX 78028
Phone: (830) 377-7389

Here's my article:
Magical thinking is an ancient idea that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions, an event can be averted or turned around. Though this kind of thinking made no sense to me, I couldn’t stop doing it in the first months and years after my son Paul's suicide death. I didn’t want to believe that my son was really gone – I didn’t want to believe that it was true, that I would never see him, talk to him, or hold him again. Magical thinking was my way of hiding that reality from myself.
Joan Didion in her book The Year of Magical Thinking described her own magical thinking, particularly how she wouldn’t give away her husband John Gregory Dunne’s shoes after his sudden death of a heart attack because he would need them when he returned. And ever since Etan Patz went missing thirty-three years ago in the Soho district of New York City, his parents have never moved nor changed their phone number in hopes he might return or call. Perhaps this is because there has never been closure – Etan’s body has not been found and no one has been convicted of his killing. However, it seems more like magical thinking to me.
I wrote about my magical thinking in my memoir. Even the title, Leaving the Hall Light On, refers to it. Our story was different for the Patz story because our son was declared dead by a coroner who examined his body, and we buried his ashes. But even though many of our friends and family encouraged us to move because his suicide took place in our home, I didn’t want to move or change our phone number for fear Paul wouldn’t know how to make his way back. I wanted him to know we were still here waiting for him.
For a long time, I waited for that familiar sound of his Volvo coming into the garage, the sound of the door from the garage slamming as he entered the house and went down the hall to his room, the sound of him walking around the house at night, the sound of the door opening and closing as he went in and out of the house. In fact, for a while I thought I heard those sounds. And for a long time I left most of the things in his room and closet alone for fear of removing his presence there, refusing to give away his things like Didion, in case he would need them.
Paul and Madeline Sharples
Leaving the hall light on became another one of the things that helped me get through it. We left the hall light on for him when he was home, so I just couldn’t break that routine. However, my husband Bob and I had a push-me, pull-you interaction about it. Bob always had a habit of turning off all the lights before he went to bed. Since he usually went to bed after me, I would wait until he got into bed. Then I’d get up and turn on the hall light again. Sometimes we’d go back and forth on this several times in one night. If he forgot his glass of water he’d get up and turn the light off again. If he needed a certain vitamin from the kitchen cabinet, he’d get up, go into the kitchen to get what he needed, and then go down and turn the light off again on his way back to bed. And, if I fell asleep before him, I’d wake in the middle of the night and go back down to turn the light on once more.
Once in a while I’d ask him to leave it on. If he asked why, I’d give him the lame excuse that I needed a light on to guide me through the house when I left to go to the gym in the early morning dark. Sometimes he’d buy that. Most of the time he’d forget and turn off the light.
However, only in the last two or three years, leaving the hall light on has become less and less important. That meant I was healing. It also meant that I had faced the reality that magical thinking and leaving the hall light on would not bring him back, so my magical thinking phase of my grieving process was over. We have also given away most of his things. However, we still haven’t moved and changed our telephone number in the twelve years since our son’s death – and we don’t intend to.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why I journal

I just spent an hour with my friend and fellow journal writer, @DawnHerring chatting about journaling #JournalChat. Dawn hosts these Twitter chats every Thursday at two o’clock Pacific time. I hadn’t participated for the last few weeks, so it was good to be back today. The topic was Take Action. Before I get into that here’s a bit about my journaling history.

When I was in grade school I had one of those little leather (or faux leather) bound diaries that had a tiny key. Mine was a 5-year diary so I wrote down in teeny script my daily events. I think my parents must have thrown it out when they sold our house and moved to California because I never saw it again after I went away to college.

I journaled in fits and starts over the next forty years or so. I kept a journal when we lived in the South Pacific during the seventies, and some of those journal entries became a magazine article about our island adventures.

However, I began journaling regularly when my son Paul was diagnosed as bipolar in 1993 and after his suicide in September 1999. Writing became my therapy. It became a habit, and as it turned out, writing through my grief totally turned my life around. My journal entries during that period became the basis for my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide.

The page was always ready for my tears, my rants, my sorrow, my complaints, and my thoughts and ideas. And it still is. I journal regularly – at least every other day – usually on the days I don’t blog.

Also, I used to journal in long hand in a notebook. Now  I use the computer – the notebook went by the wayside after I left one on an airplane. The computer gives me the ability to have complete privacy – the key to honest and truthful journaling. I keep my journal entries in a password-protected locked document file.

Getting back to the Take Action journaling topic. It’s designed for us to take power and move from thinking into living and doing - not just waiting for things to happen to us. I like to make lists while I’m journaling. I regularly write down what I’ve accomplished in the past week or so, and I write down what I have to do in the next few days. This gives me a chance to revisit what commitments I’ve made, and which I should or shouldn’t be doing. Since I’m the one who’s made the commitment, I get to decide whether or not to weed some of them out. Of course I have to consider my accountability as well. Having an action journal holds me accountable – even if I’m only accountable to myself. However, an action can be as simple as writing something down and considering what I have written.

Of course there are other ways to journal, and I plan to go into some of them in the future. In the meantime it suffices to say that I find journaling very rewarding. And I love having a little group I can share with about the different ways to accomplish it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Here's what's been going on

As soon as I finished my four-week consulting job, I had to get ready for my husband’s hip replacement surgery. That is get my head in gear for the stress of waiting for results, the driving back and forth to the hospital, and then caring for him once he got home.

Legs and feet all ready for surgery

We’re at the third stage now. The surgery went very well – it only lasted one hour – and he was released from the hospital after a two-night stay. I not only brought him home, I also brought a cold and compression machine to aid in his healing process. Plus we are proud owners of a brand-new walker.

The first day he was feeling pretty puny, but once he started to take his prescription strength ibuprofen, he was back to his feisty self. So feisty that he abandoned his walker sometime during his first night  home – while I was sleeping – and began hobbling around on his own two feet. Needless to say I had to insist on the walker the next morning. It enables him to  walk straight and tall at a regular clip, and I don’t have to fear he’ll fall and either ruin his new hip or break something else. Well, he behaves during the day, but still exerts his independence when he’s up during the night. This morning I called him a brat. 

So I must change the subject.

Our niece and nephew sent us these darling photos of their children (our greats) to cheer us up. I can’t believe how grownup Anna looks. Those long legs are to die for. And Ian is very proud to have lost his first tooth.  

 At the Lichtenstein exhibit

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A formula for good health and happy spirits in 2013

Madeline and Marissa

My lovely daughter-in-law, Marissa Hall Sharples is a very spiritual woman. And she is a certified Reiki healer. I had a Reiki session with her yesterday and came upon the following hanging in the bathroom of her studio. I felt I had to share it with you. It's another way to change your life in this New Year. 

By the way, the session was so relaxing and healing. I recommend you try Reiki out sometime. You’ll definitely get hooked.


Practice these three at all times:
  • Be Positive
  • Be Present
  • Be Grateful
Add these practices to your daily schedule:
  • Eat lots of fresh food
  • Open and air-out residence
  • Take lots of relaxing walks amongst nature
  • Play uplifting music
  • Wear comfortable clothes at home
  • Take relaxing baths (herbal is great)
  • Read uplifting literature
  • Practice deep breathing three times a day
  • Do some exercise daily (walk, bike, hike, yoga, dance aerobics, Pilates, etc.)
  • Be creative (the arts, music, cooking, writing, woodwork, graphic design, etc.
  • Keep a journal daily
  • Have a massage weekly
  • Be sincere, speak the Truth
  • Express your feelings openly
  • Keep positive, uplifting company
  • Do some service for others
  • Practice compassion, loving kindness, patience
  • Use positive speech (our words create reality)
  • Be a good example to others
  • Have fun! And do whatever brings you and others peace, love, joy, happiness, harmony, and good health
  • Enjoy the journey
  • Live life fully each moment
  • Share love with all.