Category Archives: Writing

The Storyteller

During prep for a recent medical procedure, gowned and lying on a bed in the hospital surgical center, I listened as the attending nurse told me the side effects of the sedatives. “You may have slight amnesia when you wake up,” she said.

She rolled my bed to the procedure room. The last thing I remember is “I’m starting the medication now.” When I awoke, I was dressed, sitting on the side of the bed in recovery, and that nurse was putting my shoes on my feet. I still have no memory during the gap.

Later, I consulted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the full scope of amnesia.

1) Loss of memory due usually to brain injury, shock, fatigue, repression, or illness
2) Gap in one’s memory
3) The selective overlooking or ignoring of events or acts that are not favorable or useful to one’s purpose or position

My brother—I’ll give him the fictitious name of Josh—disappeared from California many years ago leaving his wife and children destitute. When a friend recognized him operating a business in Washington state years later, Josh’s explanation was that he’d been in an auto accident in Arizona and surgeons had removed a brain tumor. He’d had amnesia ever since. Or so he said as his explanation for why he had remarried in Oregon, moved to Washington, and had two more sons without divorcing his first wife.

Mother, a brother, and a sister went to see Josh, sure that would jog his memory. He was undergoing a federal clinical trial of shock treatments. It wasn’t working, he said. He didn’t recognize any of them. My mother was devastated.

I searched for the accident. No similar event in Arizona for the time and place he said his car went off the side of the mountain. But wait! If Josh had complete amnesia, how did he know the location when I couldn’t remember getting dressed after mild sedation? Josh had selective memory (Merriam-Webster definition #3).

My mother received a call from the treatment center after that distressing visit. Josh and his second family had moved. Did she know where to reach him? But wait! If he had no memory of his past, how did her name and phone number get in his secondary contacts when he registered at that facility? She couldn’t understand why Josh had always been a storyteller—her gentle word for liar.

The Social Security Administration notified Josh’s first (legal) wife of his death about thirty years later. Determined to find his burial place, I called mortuaries in the nearby towns.  Success on the third call. Josh’s ashes were still at the mortuary months later. I had his cremains returned to California for burial in the cemetery near his parents and brothers.

Josh was an amiable charlatan, a great main character for a mystery book. He hid his past and controlled the present with convenient lies. I’m a storyteller, so perhaps there is a bit of Josh in me. If the detective in the novel asked me how I skirted the mandate that Josh’s ashes could only be released to his youngest son, I would claim amnesia.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Events, Memoir, Uncategorized, Writing

New Year’s Resolutions 2019

Lose weight. Exercise more. Learn something new. All these are popular New Year’s resolutions according to Peter Economy on Inc. Statistics show that many abandon their goals the first week. Some manage 21 days. Even some of the hardy falter after 90 days. The stalwart hang on but few accomplish their goals.

I’ve been successful at keeping my New Year’s resolution for many years. My secret to success? Skip the resolutions. This year, a few celebrities have expressed that mindset.

Melinda Gates chooses a word for the year. Last year, her word was grace.

Oprah Winfrey reminds us to be careful what we chose. With a twist of humor, she advises not to ask for courage because you don’t know what you’ll have to go through to get it. She says she “lives in the moment.” Instead of making resolutions, she has written five things in a grateful journal each night since 1995.

I began my grateful journal with three things each night on New Year’s Day 2017.  I made it through the next day. I skipped a week, then a month. The last entry on May 24, 2018, was a single line. “I am grateful for the stability of a cane.”

This year, after a thirty-month absence from my journal, I wrote my chiropractor’s name.  Those treatments have made it possible for me to walk cane-free on most days and to sit at my computer for longer periods.

Perhaps I will end 2019 with gratitude that my novel has been published. Along the way, I will be grateful for my novel critique group who have helped me over the rough spots.

 

 

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Filed under Events, Holidays, Publishing, Writing

Thoroughly Broken at the ATT Store

Last week I blogged 2+2=5 at the ATT Store. This is the postscript, “Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.”

Slippy Pants looks at the screen where my name blazes alone. She approaches me but doesn’t sit as she had with all the previous customers. She looks down at me. “What can I do for you today?”

    Wikipedia

“My modem quit. I need to buy a new one,” I said.

Slippy Pants (SP) takes on a role similar to O’Brien, Winston’s interrogator in George Orwell’s 1984. “How old is your modem?”

Me: “Six years old. I bought it in this store in 2012.”

SP: “What kind is it?”

Me: “ATT.”

SP: “I mean what type?”

I hand her the note with the information I had copied from the Device Manager file on my hard drive.   She draws her heavy blackened brows together. Her ruby mouth painted larger than her lips frowns into a deep scowl. “I can’t read that.”

I stare at the associate young enough to be my great-granddaughter. “Oh, I guess  you can’t read cursive.”

SP: “Oh yes, I can read cursive. Just not yours. It’s messier than most.”

Chastised—broken—I read the details aloud.

SP: “Never heard of that modem.”

ATT probably stopped selling it when she was in ninth grade.

SP peppers me with more questions. “How do you connect? Is it dial-up? Broadband? Do you have to use the yellow cord?” Before I can respond, she says “One minute while I check something.”

SP stops Smiley, the other associate still assisting the puzzled man with the iPad. “A quick question,” SP says. She hands the cursive note to Smiley. “What kind of modem does she need?”

Smiley reads my written note, or perhaps she overheard the conversation and pretends to read it. “The standard modem.”

SP: “I wasn’t sure because she doesn’t know how she connects to the internet.”

Me: “Wi-Fi.”

SP: “Oh.” She turns to Smiley. “Does the regular modem work with wireless?”

“Yes, it should work with all connections,” Smiley says. She hands the note back to me without speaking, an apology in her eyes softened by wisdom.

“I’ll be right back,” SP tells me. She tugs her pants up, strides to the back room, and returns with an unmarked plain brown box. She processes my credit card and hands me a receipt, staring at my silvery hair. “Keep the receipt in case this modem doesn’t work, and you have to return it.”

Why wouldn’t it work?

SP continues her lecture. “But first you have to call the number on the instruction sheet.” Staring at my hair again, she says, “If they can’t help you, they will send a technician to your home. But, you’ll have to pay for that.” She thrusts the box into my hands and turns toward the exit. Dismissed like a misbehaving child, I follow. She pushes the door open and says, “Have a nice day.”

I leave not only convinced that 2+2=5 at the ATT store, but with my confidence to install a new modem thoroughly broken.

Side by side on my desk, the identical Net Gear/ATT modems remind me of an old perm commercial, “Which Twin Has the Toni?” With no curls to guide me, I’ll keep the twin with the green lights. The one on the left will go to the hazardous waste recycling facility.

Can you read cursive? I aced the test. (Could it be because my handwriting is so poor?) Let me know how you fared.

 

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Filed under Blogging, Events, Memoir, Rants and Raves, Reading, Writing

Thursday’s Child

Thursday is blogging day for me. Fingers poised on the home row of a QUERTY keyboard, I stare at the blank white sheet my laptop screen. Thursday’s child with far to go hammers at me.

When I was a child—not a great hook, but true—more than a century after the nursery rhyme about fate  the day of the week a child was born, still brought accolades and commiserates.

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for his living
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

“She’s beautiful. She must have been born on Monday.” Or, “That kid works hard. He was born on Saturday, you know.” The saddest day for births was Wednesday because the nursery rhyme declared that misfortunate baby to be a child of woe.

What about blogging? Do Monday’s bloggers produce the best looking blogs? Do Saturday bloggers struggle more to monetize their posts? Are Sunday bloggers happier than others?

I chose Thursday as my WordPress blogging day years ago. I try to post about lunchtime in California. I don’t worry about Google Analytics statistics because my goal isn’t about monetizing (Those ads you see are a WordPress tradeoff for a free site). I’m more interested in where you live than how many clicks. Now and then, one of my blog posts will resonate worldwide, but more often within the northern continent.

There are dozens of posts about the best day and time to blog. None seem to agree. For me, success is measured by your likes and comments that tell me how many smiles I created on Thursday.

 

 

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Filed under Blogging, Writing

Too Much of a Good Thing

Family stories shaped my life in hand-me-down stories of my French and Native American ancestry. DNA proves the French but disagrees on the other. That doesn’t erase the historical moment my mother blurted two full sentences in Cherokee, part of a conversation she remembered from her young years in Indian Territory, later Oklahoma. I can identify the colors and material of clothes my twin and I wore in aging black and white photos. Cloudy memories say I excelled in high school, but math transcripts disagree. I played shortstop a few times in physical education. I like to think I was good, but the truth is I was the last choice for the position.  True or false, these are part of my backstory.

My critique group often tells me to cut the backstory in my crime fiction novel. “But you need to know my character’s history,” I insist. “How else will you know why she reacts like she does.”

The most common statements my physicians repeat are backstory. “At your age . . .” and “With your history . . .” followed by how genetics and medical history affect a specific ailment now. Despite my poor athletic abilities, I jump like a pro reaching for a fly ball. I catch words preceded by high—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high heart rate.  Imagine my surprise when a specialist lobbed me a slow grounder.

 

“Your sodium level is too low.”

My mind raced to backstory ten years ago when physicians, nurses, and dieticians counseled me to lower my salt levels. No more pizza. Go light on the bread. Ditch the cheese. It was difficult after a lifetime of enjoying salt, but I followed the advice. I switched to organics, bought no-salt-added canned vegetables or rinsed regular ones to remove the excess sodium. I substituted Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns for my spice-of-the-day. No more salt on watermelon or fresh sliced tomatoes. My taste buds refused to cooperate at first but eventually acclimated to the new taste.

“But lowering my salt intake was the goal,” I countered, back in the present where my new endocrinologist didn’t know my history.

She turned the computer screen my direction and pointed to the < sign before the sodium level.

“Dangerously low,” she said. “Increase the salt in your diet.”

That reversal echoed advice from my critique group when I revealed the antagonist in the last chapters. “You need to flesh out this guy,” they said. “Give us some backstory.”

At home, I made a sandwich with cheese. I sprinkled the sliced tomatoes with salt and ate a handful of potato chips—rare foods in my kitchen.

Backstory and salt. How do I balance the levels to avoid too much of a good thing?

 

 

 

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Filed under Editing, Memoir, Writing

Happy Trails

Roy Rogers, King of Cowboys, and Dale Evans, Queen of the West, sang “Happy Trails to You” on the radio during the 1940s and 1950s, then in movies and television. Horse riders while they sang in their younger years, then sitting on a fence as they aged, they captured the hearts of American families. Youngsters wanted to be cowboys and cowgirls, riding the trails to happiness. But who would have listened to their family-oriented broadcasts if they weren’t movie stars? And who would have listened if they hadn’t sidestepped their birth names?  The end of their happy trail for both is Sunset Cemetery in Happy Valley, California where Leonard and Octavia rest with no hint of the famous trails of Roy Rogers or Dale  Evans.

John (Johnny Appleseed) Chapman

Long before this duo made “Happy Trails” Johnny Appleseed preceded them in a precarious trail to a different type of stardom. His historical marker, placed by the Allen County Historical Society in 1953, honors John Chapman for planting his first apple nursery on a half-acre of in Allen County, Ohio, in 1835. That was the beginning of his Johnny Appleseed trail. Although the actual gravesite has been lost, the end of his walking trail in 1774 is marked by a rock—more like a boulder—in a memorial park named for him in Leominster, Worcester County, Massachusetts.

Now, the first historical marker honoring southern writers has begun a new Happy Trails route. Eudora Welty (1909-2001), Pulitzer Prize winner with The Optimist’s Daughter claims this honor. The downtown library in Jackson, Mississippi, is named for Eudora Welty, but I believe this short-story writer and novelist would count that secondary to the new marker for happy trails of recognition for Mississippi writers on the Jackson property where she wrote her famed novel.

 

Happy reading trails begin for me at the city library

and end at home where I immerse myself in my favorite books.

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The Fugitive

An email from National Novel Writing Month (NanoWriMo) was a stark reminder that my first novel manuscript sleeping in my computer like Rip Van Winkle has many of the basics, but the reader wants action and a conclusion. That reminded me of the original The Fugitive TV series from 1963 to 1967.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

“That was just a TV show,” some say. To viewers, it was much more. Dr. Richard Kimball (David Janssen), convicted of killing his wife, Helen, escaped when the train carrying him to prison wrecked short of the destination. I watched those weekly episodes—Kimball’s unfruitful search for the one-armed man who knew the truth—while pursued by Lt. Phillip Gerard (Barry Morse) who was determined to put Kimball in prison. After a while, I lost interest. Not because there was no tension. It was there. Not because there was no action or emotion. They were there too. My interest waned when I realized the chase continued without a solution.

After four years, producer Leonard Goldberg realized the same thing. Solving the mystery would terminate the series, but the viewers wanted resolution. In years that followed, this pattern of conflict, tension, and resolution would become the basic for movies and TV shows.

Like Dr. Kimball in The Fugitive, I’m hiding while trying to solve a mystery.  The IRS is sending a constable to arrest me. Microsoft “technicians” are warning me that my computer has been hacked. The same voice leaves messages when I don’t answer a dozen unknown calls a day with warnings that I’m paying too much for health insurance.

But unlike the dramatic ending in the last episode of The Fugitive when the one-armed man was apprehended and Dr. Kimball was freed, even my long-time registration with the Do-Not-Call center brings no relief from my adversaries. I’m hiding from the robo-cops while I revise my crime fiction novel that began as a NanNoWriMo contest in a long-ago November while Detective Morgan Madrid of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office can bring closure to my story.

 

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