Everyday Observations

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I had lunch with fellow writer, Julaina Kleist-Corwin, a few weeks ago. We discussed blogging, and she asked me, “What is your message?”

I scrunched my eyes, wrinkled my nose, and gave her a look of total befuddlement. “I don’t have a message. I’m no guru with worthwhile words of wisdom to offer.”

After our meeting, I returned home, sat at my computer, and continued to reflect on Julaina’s question. Neither my muse nor a bolt of sudden wisdom provided an answer. I simply had no well-defined message upon which to weekly wax poetic. I can’t turn anyone into a Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood by sharing long-hidden writing tips. I can’t provide a road map for how to write blogs that bring millions to a website. I can’t even explain how to punctuate a sentence correctly. When I get it right, it’s likely because I reverted to Strunk and White, or my dear friend, Vi Moore, who seems to have the Chicago Manual of Style down pat.

Rather than drive myself crazy (crazier?) trying to answer Julaina’s query, I refocused. I considered what I might want to share rather than identify a specific message. Two thoughts came to mind. The first was everyday observations. The world seems haywire these days. I watch the nightly news, shake my head and ask for the umpteenth time, how did we get here? It’s a rhetorical question. I have minor inklings of how it happened. What I don’t have is a viable clue as how to extricate ourselves from it. Sometimes I just want to share my feelings. Maybe know I’m not alone.

My second thought was that I might want to provide information about Magdelaine La Framboise, the subject of my novel, Ardent Spirit. Magdelaine is a woman worth knowing. I’m not alone in this belief. In 1986, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. I won’t offer inducements for you to run out and buy my book. For many people, Ardent Spirit, simply isn’t going to get their reader juices flowing. Yet I believe Magdelaine La Framboise is due a place in history. My book may not give it to her, but if a few folks interested in Michigan History, Native American History, or Women’s History pick it up and reflect on Magdelaine’s accomplishments, writing the book will have been its own reward.

So, those were my thoughts about blogging, messages, and what I might post in the future. I won’t obligate myself to post on a strict schedule. Too stressful. I have no idea when I’ll observe something I feel like sharing with friends. And I don’t even know when I’ll feel like telling you more about Madame La Framboise. Still, I hope you visit my blog occasionally. Even better would be a comment to tell me your views on my current babble.

Sorry, Julaina, it’s the best I can do.

The Titanic’s Real Love Story (conclusion)

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(This is the conclusion of The Titanic’s Real Love Story started in last week’s post.

Several first-class passengers tried to convince Ida Strauss to board one of the ill-fated Titanic’s lifeboats, but her mind was made up. She would face fate, on board with her husband.

In her place, Ida sent her maid, Ellen Bird. Before Bird stepped into the raft, Ida took off her fur coat and wrapped it about Bird’s shoulders.

In the movie, the Strauses receive only a cameo mention. They retire to their bed chamber and hold each other as the ship sinks. The real life version is as touching. According to witness reports, it was the “most remarkable exhibition of love and devotion,” as the Strauses were last seen standing side-by-side and holding each other on the Titanic’s Boat Deck.

Paul Thiriat drew the above picture based on eye-witness accounts of the last moments of the Strauses’ lives. The drawing appeared in the French daily Excelsior on April 20, 1912.

Isidor’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett. A funeral service for him was delayed in the hopes that Ida’s body would be recovered, and the couple that had lived and died together could also share a funeral and burial, side-by-side—but Ida’s body was never found.

I choose to believe that at the moment of death, the Strauses let go of each other, knowing their earthly bodies no longer mattered, their souls would be together forever—regardless of where their physical remains were buried.

Theirs is a true love story.

Memorial Plaque at Macy’s, New York City

Photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International and is displayed at the New York Macy’s Store.

The Titanic’s Real Love Story

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The 8-8-88 love story I have shared in my last three posts is not the stuff of which Hollywood films are made. I will spare you additional details of my marriage and instead share a true account of an ordinary couple whose ultimate sacrifice raised their love to inspirational proportion.

The movie, Titanic, spiked adrenaline surges and a bonanza in Box Office and Kleenex sales. How could it do otherwise with Kate Winslet and Leonardo De Caprio steaming up the screen? I enjoy passion and a bit of eye candy as much as the next person. The love scene in the Renault Coup de Ville is hot—both the car and the sex.

The Titanic’s genuine love story, however, was not the fictional creation about Jack and Rose, but rather the devotion and deaths of Isador and Ida Straus. Isador was part owner of Macy’s. The couple was wealthy, but their personal lives caught no one’s attention. Neither sixty-seven-year-old Isador nor sixty-three-year-old Ida were beautiful, or Hollywood glamorous. Neither Isidor nor Ida appeared extraordinary as they walked up the ship’s gangplank that ill-fated day. Unremarkable as they seemed, the couple was devoted to one another. They almost always traveled together, were rarely apart, and when circumstances forced short separations, they wrote to each other daily.

On the night of the disaster, a call to board the lifeboats was broadcast. Isidor escorted Ida to the deck. Lifeboat 8 was being filled with women and children. As a member of the elite class, Isador was offered a seat in the same lifeboat as Ida. He refused, telling the ship’s commander that he would not go before the other men.

Then Ida refused to step into the small boat. It was reported that the last words anyone remembered her speaking were to her husband as he urged her to leave him.

She said, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.”

Isador and Ida Straus

(Next week, the last hours of a love story that survives death.)

8-8-88 A Lapse in Sanity

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(Continued from last week’s posting, 8-8-88 The Beginning)

Agreeing to a blind date is no different than buying a Mega Millions ticket and expecting to get rich. It’s more likely you’ll end up with a Ted Bundy clone than Prince Charming. For a short period of time, you’ll be captive to a person whose politics may be diametrically opposite yours, who talks like a big shot but is unemployed and flat broke, and who smells like a mix of wet dog and garlic. That’s if you are lucky and he isn’t a certified psychopath.

Under normal circumstances, I would never have accepted a blind date. Dates with people I knew were stressful enough. The last one had left me catatonic. I picked at remaining crumbs of tiramisu and struggled to awaken brain cells that could provide me an excuse to leave.

My social confidence or willingness to take a risk wasn’t emboldened by the mismatched marriage I’d survived. A marriage wherein we made each other miserable. My mother summed it up eloquently. “You have two beautiful children, a terrific job, a decent house, and great friends. You aren’t good at choosing men. Be happy with what you have. Don’t tempt fate.”

So how, then, could I have been sitting in my big corner office at 4:00 p.m. on 8-8-88 anticipating a blind date and trying to figure out how to escape the predicament I had created? It was Jan Pyle’s fault. I never meant to say yes.

In 1988, I worked for a company that sold workers compensation insurance. Two years earlier I had hired Jan. One lunch hour I sat with her in the cafeteria and she brought me up to date on her personal life. She was in the throes of wedding plans. I offered my congratulations.

She asked, “What about you? Any special man in your life?”

“No, I’m happy single.”

She continued sharing wedding details. Between “I have four bridesmaids” and “the wedding will be in Grand Rapids,” she said, “My fiancé, Jim Dolson, works with an older man, and for an older man he isn’t bad looking. Maybe you’d like to meet him.”

“That’s sweet, but I keep busy and I like my life the way it is.”

“He’s really nice.”

“I’m fine.”

“Well, how about meeting Jim and me for a drink after work and Jim can bring the guy along? His name is Bob Royce.”

I didn’t care if his name was George Clooney. I was becoming uncomfortable and wanted to end the conversation. Since it was a vague suggestion and not a commitment, I said, “Sure, we could do a drink after work.”

I didn’t think anymore about it. Weeks went by. Jan was caught up in the minutia of her marriage plans. The drink was forgotten and so was Bob Royce.

Then one Friday night, I invited my best friend over. Anne and I were stuffing our faces with Irish nachos and watching a movie when the phone rang. I excused myself and went into the kitchen to answer it.

“Hello, this is Bob Royce.”

My silence prompted him to add, “I work with Jim Dolson. He told me I had to call you.”

It was all coming back to me. This was the guy Jan wanted me to meet for a casual drink—but with her and Jim running interference. Recognition of the name didn’t loosen my tongue.

He went on. “I’m wondering if we could have dinner on Wednesday?”

“I can’t. My daughter has gymnastics on Wednesday night.”

“Thursday?”

“She has gymnastics Thursday nights too.”

“Friday?”

“I’m driving to my parents for the weekend?”

“The next Monday?”

By this time I was out of excuses and my common sense turned to mush. I felt sorry for the guy. He couldn’t take a hint, and I wanted off the phone. “Sure.”

“The Pour House at 6:30?”

“Okay.”

And with that, he hung up.

(Next week, 8-8-88 Pre-date Jitters)

8-8-88 The Beginning

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At the beginning of a book, usually right before or after the title page, the reader often discovers a dedication.

In literature, a dedication, sometimes called a dedicatory epistle, is included by an author to express appreciation for someone who helped with the writing endeavor. Other times writers use the dedication to profess their endless love for someone who is important in their life. The last time I read a book dedicated to the “love of my life,” the couple had divorced by the time the book reached the top of my to-read list.

Never skip dedications. They may be better than the books.

I’ve read funny dedications:

Joseph J. Rotman
To My Wife Marginit
and my children Ella Rose and Daniel Adam
without whom this book would
have been completed two years earlier

Shannon Hale
For Colin Firth: You’re a really great guy, but I’m married so I think we should just be friends.

Spiteful dedications:

Jenny Lawson
I want to thank everyone who helped me create this book, except for that guy who   yelled at me in Kmart when I was eight because he thought I was being “too rowdy.”
You’re an asshole, sir.

Serious dedications:

Jack Kerouac
Dedicated to America, whatever that is.

Romantic (I think) dedications:

Lemony Snicket
For Beatrice –
I cherished, you perished.
The world’s been nightmarished.

Carl Sagan
In the vastness of space and immensity of time, it is my joy to spend a planet and an epoch with Annie.

Gillian Flynn, author of Dark Places
What can I say about a man who knows how I think and still sleeps next to me with the lights off?

and snarky dedications:

Pedram Amini
I dedicate this book to George W. Bush, my Commander-in- Chief, whose impressive career advancement despite remedial language skills inspired me to believe that I was capable of authoring a book.

e.e.cummings
No thanks
Farrar & Rinehart
Simon & Schuster
Coward-McCann
Limited Editions
Harcourt, Brace
Random House
Equinox Press
Smith & Haas
Viking Press
Knopf
Dutton
Harper’s
Scribner’s
Covici-Freide

Dedicatory epistles fascinate me. All are brief and sometimes I have to guess at the author’s meaning and the context in which she wrote it. They may become a writing prompt that has me imagining an entire story. At the very least, dedications provide a few seconds of procrastination before getting to the serious business of reading the book.

The dedications to my books are not particularly creative, but they enjoy a common thread. In our bedroom I have a framed cross stitch, the only needlework I ever attempted. When artistic and craft talents were handed out, I decided the line was too long and skipped out for chocolate ice cream.

In PILZ, the dedication mimicked the cross stitch:

For Bob Royce
8-8-88, a day of new beginnings.

In Ardent Spirit, I was wordier:

For Bob
Without your constant support as I worked in front of a computer for hours, days, months and years, this book would not exist. I will always be grateful for the blind date of 8/8/88.

I’m posting a day early this week in honor of the twenty-nine years that have passed since 8-8-88.

Starting next week, I’ll tell you about 8-8-88. My version of a love story.

All You Really Need

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I met Margie Lampel when she lived in an apartment down the hall from us. I opened the door one morning and found her sitting on the floor reading our morning Cincinnati Enquirer. Prior to that I only knew her by sight as the attractive girl with long, beautiful dark hair who owned the sweet mixed-breed dog, Bodie. That was fifty years ago. Margie became my best friend, Godmother to my son, my shoulder to cry on, and a person who made me laugh. I have moved many times over the last half-century, but always stayed in touch with her. She recently read my blog, A Grandson’s Book Review, and emailed:

“Love your Ezra story. I take it Ardent Spirit is available through Amazon? Will check as soon as I am through here.”

I immediately emailed back that she didn’t need to go to Amazon. A copy was already in the mail to her.

I got a one-word reply: “Yippee!!!”

The next day I got a phone call and heard Margie’s exuberant, breathless voice. I was sure she was going to tell me she’d won the Mega Millions with the first ticket she had ever purchased. But, no. Something more exciting: My book had arrived. She raved about the velveteen-looking hard cover.

“It’s so beautiful, I think I’ll put it on a display easel and just look at it.”

I thought maybe that was a good idea. I’d never have to hear if she hated it. I replied, “I won’t hold you to reading the book, but I did not want you to buy a copy.” Then I shamelessly boasted, “The Sanilac County News, my hometown newspaper ran an article about the book two weeks ago. The paper has a limited readership, but the article made my mom happy. A bookstore on Mackinac Island called and wanted me to do a book signing, but given that we live in California, that wasn’t reasonable.”

I finished bragging—and who can you brag to if not your closest friends—I continued. “There is one page in the book that should make you smile. It makes me laugh every time I see it. In the glossary there is a picture of a tikinagan, (p. 369). I got the photo from the internet, but it had the face of a Native American baby. It seemed wrong—if not illegal—to publish a picture of someone else’s baby, so Bob photo shopped the picture. That is Ezra’s face.”

Margie sent back: “I don’t know which part to respond to first. Ran upstairs to gingerly open my “velveteen” book to page 369. Smiled from ear to ear. How precious is this? AND my dear friend, Julie, the infamous writer passed up a book signing….where she and her just-released new novel, Ardent Spirit, would be introduced to the masses. Okay, I get it. The distance is prohibitive. I’m just so doggone proud of my dear friend. And moi? I didn’t do squat and I’m in two books. Not bad for someone who can’t punctuate a sentence correctly. I can add numbers pretty good! Gotta love that husband of yours. What a gem he is!!”

I chuckled at the part about infamous. I’d much rather be infamous than famous. As for being in two books, I thanked Margie in the acknowledgements to both PILZ and Ardent Spirit. Along the way, she and many friends read a page, or a scene and gave me their input. And everyone who knows him agrees that sweet husband of mine is a gem.

The emails from Margie gave me a few quiet, gentle smiles. Sometimes that’s all you need to get through a day.

Children’s Restaurant Behavior

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I met my dear friend and fellow-writer, Julaina Kleist-Corwin, for lunch on Monday. It had been months since we enjoyed time together, and we carved out two hours to catch up. We had so many things to discuss. Her writing, my writing, Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon, writing distractions, parents, husbands, marketing, the online class she is going to teach, mutual friends, the sad state of politics in this country, the soup of the day. And eventually a topic neither of us would have imagined we’d touch on: child-rearing.

We were discussing riffing, a technique for improving your writing, when a man with two small boys walked in and took a table next to us. I’d have pegged the little ones as maybe a two-year-old and a four-year-old. For the next hour, Julaina and I raised our voices to be heard over the ruckus of yelling, screaming children who thought tantrums were part of lunch protocol. I wondered why the harried father hadn’t just bought sub sandwiches and taken his little ones to a park. Everyone would have been happier.

When the family finally left, and the bus staff had cleaned up the mess, another man with two small boys came in and sat down next to us. We couldn’t believe our good fortune. However, these two children were not at all like their earlier counterparts.

“Your boys are incredible,” I said to the father before I left. “How old are they?”

“They’re twins. Fourteen-months-old.”

Not all children are alike. My two grandsons are as different as ice cream and Brussels sprouts. I took Ezra to El Buen Sabor from the time he was one year old. As he added months to his age, our discussions deepened. We’d sit, eat chicken tacos and carry on real conversations. Noah? Although equally sweet, as a two-year-old, he unscrewed the salt shaker and dumped salt in his water. He stirred this concoction with his straw. He opened the pepper and in a sneezing frenzy tipped over his water. I didn’t have enough hands to keep up with him. I took a wad of napkins from the dispenser, sopped up the mess he’d lovingly created, and got him out of there as quickly as my clean-up efforts allowed.

I am fond of children. All children. I adored my own children when they were little—and still do. I dote on my grandchildren. I love Noah as much as I love Ezra. But Noah is a child who prefers sub sandwiches in a park where he can climb trees, swing from bars, and run wild.

When I raised my own children, I was a frazzled, single mother who made countless mistakes. I would never have been nominated mother of the year. But the following two axioms served me pretty well:

  1. Strangers don’t love my children as much as I do.
  2. If my child is creating a major, ongoing disturbance in a restaurant, it is up to me to remove him or her from the eatery.

Am I an ogre or is this just common sense?

A Grandson’s Book Review

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My grandson, Ezra, lives in San Francisco. His second-grade class hosted a book release on the Friday that I was attending the San Francisco Writers Conference.

I love all things about writing. How could I miss my own grandson’s book launch? I went AWOL from my conference. At 7:00 a.m., in the pitch-black darkness of a beastly February morning, while the sky poured wind-driven rain that turned my umbrella inside-out, drenched me to the skin, ruined my wool dress, and caused major damage to my leather boots, I bravely hailed a cab and attended Ezra’s book release.

On the wall of his classroom, his teacher had posted a chart:
1. You need a good story.
2. You need to write it.
3. You need to edit and re-edit and re-edit.

Sound advice for writers of any age. Parents, grandparents, and an uncle sat, circled around Ezra as he read his book aloud. I was giddy. He was learning about publishing at eight years old!

Ezra gave me his only copy of All About Ancient Egypt. The treasure sits on my bookcase with other cherished memorabilia. In return, I gave my grandson a draft of Ardent Spirit. My novel is for adults, and he wasn’t expected to read it. The exchange symbolically sealed a bond between us. A week ago, when I got the first hardcover copy of my book, I autographed and gave it to Ezra, along with instructions to burn the prior draft.

Sunday at Family Night Dinner, after the main course and before dessert, Ezra announced he was reading Ardent Spirit. I was flabbergasted. The story is the fictionalized biography of Magdelaine La Framboise, a Great Lakes fur-trader who lived from 1780-1846. The novel is 470 pages and 140,000 words. It has several appendices, genealogy charts, background notes, bibliography, and glossary. It is intended for adults. Ezra is eight.

“You’re reading it?” I asked.

“I’m on chapter seven.”

I thought to myself, hmmm, he’s already past the murder of Magdelaine’s husband, the death of her daughter in childbirth…who knew he’d actually read it?

Ezra is an early riser, a habit he shares with his Nana. He is forbidden from waking anyone else in his household before 6:30 a.m. His mother confirmed that he gets up and reads a chapter of Ardent Spirit each morning before school.

I imagined him sitting in bed, reading my book. He broke into my thoughts with words that melted my heart. “It’s a good book. You’re a good writer, Nana.”

If I could live long enough or write well enough to get a positive NYT’s review, it would not mean more to me than those seven words spoken with the love of a grandson.

Jumping Back on the Blogging Bandwagon with More Paraprosdokians

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Two years and thirty-seven days have passed since I last blogged. Should I explain my reasons for the hiatus? Not unless I give the hashtag, # /insomnia cure.

It has been so long that I couldn’t remember how to post a blog. I consulted my tech guru (aka husband Bob) and he got me over that first hurdle. I then bemoaned not knowing what to write, and he said, “Can’t you just pick up where you left off?” What does he know? He’s never written a blog…has never even read one. Still, there was some logic to his suggestion.

My June 4, 2015 blog was a list of paraprosdokians. I could pick up there, perhaps give word lovers an additional baker’s dozen, and ask some kind soul who is reading this to confirm that my blog is in working order.

BTW, a paraprosdokian is a compound sentence where the latter part offers a phrase that is surprising or unexpected and forces the reader to rethink the first part. These amusing devices are a favorite of satirists.

1. A fool and his money are soon elected.” — Will Rogers

2. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says,
‘In case of emergency, notify,’ I put ‘DOCTOR.’

3. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall
of a successful man is usually another woman.

4. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

5. I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

6. I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got there, I’ll never know. (Groucho Marks)

7. I asked God for a bicycle, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

8. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” — Groucho Marx

9. Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars but check when you say the paint is wet?

10. Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and fifty for Miss America ?

11. Always borrow money from a pessimist. She won’t expect it back.

12. A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

13. Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

And one more because it makes the writer in me smile: The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!