Archive for August, 2010

Que Sera Sera

Monday, August 30th, 2010

I’ve never been too good at letting go, even with small things. Hell, I’m still hanging onto some size six clothes from the late 80′s (not sure if this is out of unfounded optimism, sheer folly, or a merely a strange affinity for shoulder pads). So letting go of important people and things is especially trying for someone like me. My reluctance to even send my 16-year old away for a simple two-week trip with her grandparents drove this realization home. But I find myself in what seems to be a season of letting go—of a parent, not of my choosing; of a child, off to new adventures as a newly-minted adult; and of long-held dreams that may well remain just that. These days it seems the only thing I’m not losing is weight (and with that class reunion looming, that’s a whole ‘nother issue).

The loss of my mother has been especially hard because technically she isn’t gone. But for all intents and purposes she is–now merely a sad, lonely prisoner of prescription drugs that have locked her into her own deadened universe, well beyond a point at which anyone can reach, let alone help her. The hardest part about losing her might well be that: she’s not officially gone. Except the mother that I once knew is. And the stranger in her stead is helpless and hopeless. While it feels like I’m quitting by giving up on her (and I’m not a quitter), I know I can no longer allow her to ensnare me in her addiction. It’s a loss that is perhaps most bitter, having seen the toll her abuse has taken on everyone whose lives she touches. Not to mention having to witness someone who lived a good life allowing it to wither away like an untended flower until it fades into nothingness. Maybe the logic of it makes it hardest: how can anyone waste a life like that?

With the “loss” of a child to the inevitable transitioning into adulthood, well, that’s not at all bitter. Bittersweet, perhaps, but it’s something that is ultimately the happy culmination of many years of love and caring. While I’ll miss my girl like mad when she’s gone off to college, I’ll revel in her ever-expanding world, enjoying as she seizes opportunities she can’t yet imagine are in front of her. I know despite her anxiety over the unknown, ultimately she’ll be happy, and that eases the sense of loss that inevitably accompanies a child moving away. Although I’d be lying if I said there won’t be plenty of tears shed over the next several weeks.

My third loss is even less tangible but saddening nonetheless. I’ve worked endlessly over the past several years to try to establish a successful career as a writer that would enable me to actually earn enough to enjoy a career as a writer. Unfortunately I picked a rotten time in the history of publishing to do so, with an industry in the grips of radical change, a public that doesn’t actually pay for books anymore, and an economy that doesn’t encourage it anyway.

And so I find myself at a crossroads, in which I can no longer afford to try to sustain the full-time job of writing, and need to find a full-time job to support my full-time job. I know that inevitably what this means is that my writing career will be relegated to the wee hours of the morning, and the incremental gains I’ve worked so hard for will creep back as I’m unable to continue the consuming work of finding readers and getting my name out there (not to mention the actual writing part). Probably what is most frustrating about this is that the likelihood of my having succeeded fiscally only a few short years ago was great. But timing is everything, and with a publishing world that is in dire straits, my family can no longer afford to support my tilting at windmills.

I remember years ago when I was first trying to become a published author I met a woman who asked me what I did. When I told her she said, “Oh, my mother tried to publish her books. She’s dead now.”

In a business fraught with rejections, there have been times along the way that I could pretty much relate to her mother’s current state—and I’ve been lucky enough to achieve Part A of that dream: I’ve succeeded as a published author–hard enough under the best of circumstances. But I’m sad that in today’s world a career in panhandling likely pays better than a career in writing.

My eyes well up as I write this—at the losses themselves, perhaps at the compounded nature of it. Losing a little here and there is hard enough but the onslaught of many at once is sometimes overwhelming. And I can’t help but mourn the loss of what could have been, just as I mourn the loss of what once was with my mother. But now is the time to turn my focus to what can be.

As my daughter faces the unknown with great apprehension, so do I. But also I know I’ll make lemonade from these lemons and will turn this into something of a gain. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even write about it some day.

And while I hang onto those shoulder-padded clothes that wouldn’t fit if my life depended upon it, I’ll continue to cling tightly to my dream, and hope that someday, now against even greater odds, Part B will indeed materialize. It’s a dream I choose not to abandon, circumstances be damned.

In the Trenches (preferably sans Charles Manson)…

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Pity the man who looks like Charles Manson. Because no matter if he’s a perfectly sane accountant from Dubuque with 2.5 children, a wife and a home in the suburbs, most everyone will snap to judgment that he’s a crazed maniac with murder on his mind.

Perhaps the thing about Manson that set him apart was that maniacal glint in his eye, the very anti-twinkle that translated into the suggestion of the evil of which he was capable.

Thus was my thinking at my very first book signing. I was already apprehensive about the event, feeling an enormous sense of pressure to perform well, to sell enough books to justify the efforts the booksellers had gone to on my behalf. To not be a complete loser.

So when I ended up at a bookstore that was located in the sketchier part of the unfamiliar city in which I was signing, I was a little dismayed. Most of those entering the doors of this bookstore had more piercings on their faces than the sum total of pierced anythings on my entire street back home. These customers didn’t strike me as the type willing to pony up a moment of attention (let alone seven bucks) to learn about a book titled Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Nary a happy (or unhappy, for that matter) housewife meandered into the store for the first 15 minutes of my signing. That’s who I was on the lookout for: a wife, a mom, the type of person who would most definitely get the humor behind Sleeping with Ward Cleaver because let’s face it, there’s an experiential element to the novel. If you’ve been there, done that, with my protagonist Claire, you’re going to be far more receptive to randomly picking up a book you’ve never heard of and spending money on it at the behest of a newbie author, especially when you only went into the store to purchase a book for someone else in the first place.

Now, I’d heard warnings from authors about book signings:

Prepare yourself for everyone coming up to you, looking enthusiastic and ready purchase your book at first sight, only to instead ask you directions to the nearest bathroom.

Expect people to come up to your table just to grab a handful of the free candy you’ve got on display.

And expect the nut jobs, the ones who show up at your table with no intention of leaving, prepared to regale you with endless tales of their public transportation experiences and parents who don’t love them, all the while helping themselves to half your candy stash.

So when the Charles Manson look-alike ventured into the store about 30 seconds after I’d sat down at the signing table, I wasn’t surprised. It was fate, I knew it. As soon as our eyes met, I immediately averted my gaze—I couldn’t not. I mean come on. Who wants to encourage a mass murderer over your way? But the eye contact had been made, and I knew, I just knew, sooner or later Charlie boy would wend his way over to my table.

Now I should mention that yes, this guy had the grizzled, unwashed look of Charles Manson. He had the creepy glint of madness in his eyes. He also was lugging a small watermelon beneath his armpit. Don’t ask me why.

Charlie didn’t come immediately to my table. Perhaps because the bookstore employee was nearby, who knows? But within ten minutes he’d made his way back to my lone desk. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He then proceeded to pick up a copy of my novel from the pyramid of them stacked in front of me, and feigned interest. In case you haven’t seen my cover, I’ll describe it. It’s a campy 1960’s-style green, pink and aqua cover that triggers the tune of “I Dream of Jeannie” whenever I look at it, what with the Judy Jetson-lookalike woman perched atop the bed, her striped pink hair pulled back in a headband a la Marlo Thomas in “That Girl.”

Trust me, this is not the cover that normally lures 40-something men (and certainly not those who look like they’ve just been sprung from court-mandated rehab. Again.). I have yet to have a man pick it up and leaf through it out of interest, unless their wife is along or unless it’s someone I know.

So I was onto Charlie. I knew he wanted something from me, and it wasn’t a humorous 300-page novel about a housewife in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

I tried to make small-talk. But Charlie didn’t talk beyond a few indecipherable mutterings. It was like being in the presence of Sherry and Lambchop, or a ventriloquist from the Ed Sullivan show. Or Charles Manson.

Instead, Charlie plunked his watermelon onto my miniscule tabletop, knocking over books in the process, picked up my signing pen (and his dirt-encrusted fingers did sort of bum me out, since I knew I’d soon have to touch that very pen myself), took one of my business cards, flipped it over, and started to draw.

Now the first thing Charlie inked for me looked suspiciously like a puerile attempt at a set of naked breasts. I forced a weak smile, unwilling to ask exactly what he was illustrating. But he finished it off with what I soon realized was a mouth and eyebrows, and it dawned on me that he’d drawn a rudimentary smiley face. Okay, I was hoping Charlie was done at this point. I thanked him for his lovely illustration. But he continued. His palsied hand trembling in classic heroin-withdrawal fashion, he then sketched out a Keith Haring-like stick figure that had a hint of Mr. Bill to it. And topped off his masterpiece with his illegible signature. What do you think of it?


For all I know I am in possession of a work of art by a famed contemporary pen-and-ink master who took a wrong turn in life. Who once knew of fame and fortune and now wanders aimlessly, unwashed and odoriferous, with a watermelon tucked in his arm like a pigskin cradled by a running back. As much as I was oddly charmed by my newfound artwork, I wasn’t particularly interested in having Charlie block my signing perch from the few mom-like individuals who ventured into the store that night. So I immediately offered him some kisses (the kind from Hershey’s, not my lips), which mercifully satisfied his need. Grateful, he wandered off, peeling the silver wrapping and discarding it in his wake.

And leaving me well aware that I’d experienced one of my first rites of passage as a published author. Armed and ready for the next one to come along.

Excuse me, can you tell me where the bathroom is?

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((¸¸. ·´ .. ·Jenny-:¦:-
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