“I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning”
(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.”
“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.”
“She has gymnastics Thursday nights too.”
“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?”
And with that, he hung up.
(Next week, 8-8-88 Pre-date Jitters)
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
For Colin Firth: You’re a really great guy, but I’m married so I think we should just be friends.
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.
Dedicated to America, whatever that is.
Romantic (I think) dedications:
For Beatrice –
I cherished, you perished.
The world’s been nightmarished.
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:
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.
Farrar & Rinehart
Simon & Schuster
Smith & Haas
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:
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.
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.
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:
Am I an ogre or is this just common sense?
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.
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!
A friend shared the following, and since I like anything that has to do with wordsmithing, I liked this, I decided to share. Paraprosdokians are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected and is frequently humorous. (Winston Churchill loved them). Here are some samples:
1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you … but it’s still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.
5. We never really grow up — we only learn how to act in public.
6. War does not determine who is right, only who is left.
7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
8. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
9. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
10. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
11. I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.
12. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
13. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
14. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.
15. I’m supposed to respect my elders, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one now.
Answers to last week’s blog quiz:
1. b. Since 1992 the percentage of teenagers abusing prescription drugs has tripled.
2. True. Prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drug among 12- to 13-year olds.
3. False. The statistics are even more dire. Nearly 1 in 5 teens has abused prescription drugs.
4. True. Nearly 30% of teenagers believe prescription drugs are safe and that legal pain killers aren’t addictive.
5. False. For a pharm party attendees raid their parents medicine cabinet and bring a stash of prescription drugs to be mixed in a large bowl. The resultant smorgasbord of pills is called trail mix.
6. False. People have died from cannabis overdoses.
7. The price varies, but it is generally worth $5.
8. Methamphetamines are also known meth, speed, chalk, white cross, fire, and glass. Crystal methamphetamine, called ice, is smoked, but meth can be injected, snorted, or taken as a pill.
9. Dextromethorphan, also known as Candy, Dex, DM, Drex, Red Devils, Robo, Rojo, Skittles, Tussin, Velvet, Poor Man’s X, and Vitamin D, is the active ingredient in over the counter cough suppressants. It is popular because of its availability and abusers drink it for the hallucinogenic affect.
10. False. Revoking a doctor’s license does not necessarily mean the doctor will never practice medicine again. In Michigan a revocation prevents a doctor from seeking to have his license reinstated for three years. After that he or she can ask for a hearing to show rehabilitation. In recent years, the California Medical Board has reinstated the licenses of doctors who were convicted of sexually assaulting patients, defrauding insurance companies of millions and hiring hit men to kill their wives.
PILZ is a fictional novel about an assistant attorney general, Casey Lawrence, who is caught in a conspiracy to sell prescription drugs. How much do you know about the abuse of prescription drugs? Take the following quiz and find out. Answers will appear in next week’s blog.
1. Since 1992 the percentage of teenagers abusing prescription drugs has:
c. stayed the same
d. due to diligent efforts it has gone down
2. True or False. Prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs among 12- to 13-year olds.
3. True or False. Nearly 1 in 8 teens has abused prescription drugs.
4. True or False. Nearly 30% of teenagers believe prescription drugs are safe and that legal pain killers aren’t addictive.
5. How much is a 5 mg dose of oxycodone worth on the street?
6. True or false. People have died from cannabis overdoses.
7. True or false. A pharm party is a kegger on someone’s family farm.
8. What are other names by which methamphetamines are known?
9. What is Dextromethorphan, is it dangerous, and why do people use it?
10. True or false. If a doctor’s license is revoked for selling prescription drugs, he’ll never practice medicine again.